Archive for August 2009
|See Earlier Stories 1 2 |
|Dana Moss||August 31st 2009|
|Libyan strongman Col. Muammar Qadhafi|
Numerous celebrations in Libya have recently marked the fortieth anniversary of the September 1 revolution spearheaded by Muammar Qadhafi. For the Great Leader, these events are an opportunity to demonstrate the achievements of the Jamahiriyya and to further legitimize his rule. At the same time, the release and triumphant reception of terminally ill Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, convicted of murder for the Lockerbie air disaster, as well as the recent crisis in Swiss-Libyan relations, serve as a warning about Libya's leveraging of its hydrocarbon riches to achieve policy goals.
Important also to U.S.-Libyan relations is Qadhafi's upcoming visit to the United States, where he will address the United Nations General Assembly on September 23 -- which Libya is scheduled to chair -- and attend the UN Security Council meeting. This visit is widely expected to have awkward moments -- beginning with Qadhafi's plan to pitch a tent at the Libyan diplomatic compound in Englewood, New Jersey, home state to a number of families of Lockerbie victims. Beyond this, Qadhafi's visit may also have wider-ranging consequences.
Al-Megrahi's Return -- a Libyan Success?
For the United States, al-Megrahi's release and reception were, as President Barack Obama noted, "highly objectionable." For Qadhafi, however, al-Megrahi's release represented a domestic success, demonstrating to Libyans opposed to renewed U.S. ties that although Libya has given up its nuclear weapons programs, it is no puppet of the West. Read more ..
Haiti on the Edge
|Charlotte Griggs||August 31st 2009|
|Preparing Biscuits Made of Dirt in Impoverished Haiti|
In 1994, delegates from 179 nations met in Cairo to redefine the international policy regarding population growth. During this convention, the participating countries adopted a 20-year plan which emphasized the rights and aspirations of those countries to regulate population growth in order to achieve demographic and development targets. The result of the meeting, which would eventually become known as the Cairo Consensus, was the “first international document to recognize the interconnections between reproductive health, a sustainable environment, and economic development.”
These interconnections highlighted the necessity of increased family planning initiatives, which can prolong lives, improve health (especially for children), reduce the need for abortions, promote economic growth, expand life choices for women, decrease the spread of HIV/AIDS, and constrain the consumption of natural resources and the many environmental problems associated with the usage of such resources. Read more ..
|Martyn Drakard||August 31st 2009|
Cutting Edge Africa correspondent
Winston Churchill called the Ugandan protectorate the “Pearl of Africa” because of the lush vegetation, pretty undulating hills, flora and fauna, bright colours under the equatorial sun, the majesty of the Nile, ever-warm climate and fertile soils. Even hot northern Uganda, where most Ugandans have never ventured because of a twenty-year insurgency that ended two years ago, produces good crops owing to a regular rain pattern. Only the parched north-east, home to the more traditional Karamojong people, sidelined during colonial times, occasionally experiences famine.
But this year, famine has struck most of the east as well as other parts of the country. Eighteen months ago this area, which is generally swampy, had El Nino floods, followed by low rainfall during the rain seasons. People here live by subsistence farming, and, when rainfall is favorable –as is usually the case- sell their cassava, maize, pineapples, bananas and other tropical fruit, in local towns or the capital, Kampala. When rains fail, -which they are not expected to do - there is no safety net, and famine occurs.
In the middle of August, Robert Zoellick, World Bank president, visited the area to see how Uganda can move towards “commercial farming and greater food security.” Although, territorially the smallest of the original three East African countries, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda –to which have recently been added even smaller Rwanda and Burundi- Uganda has 47 percent of all arable land in the region. Yet, the lack of investment and financing, traditional practices and attitudes, and huge areas given over to plantations, have prevented subsistence farming climbing to higher levels. Zoellick repeated what others have said many times before, that Uganda has the potential to be the bread-basket of the region. Read more ..
Edge of Palaeontology
|Mark Purnel||August 31st 2009|
|Dung Beetle with Dung Ball|
The dung-beetle has fallen on hard times. Once worshipped by the Ancient Egyptians its status has now slipped to that of unsung and forgotten hero, the butt of scatological jokes. Yet the dung-beetle is truly heroic. It is a well known 'fact' that were it not for the dung-beetle the world would be knee-deep in animal droppings, especially those of large herbivores like cows, rhinos and elephants which, because they eat more food, produce more waste. By burying that waste dung-beetles not only remove it from the surface, they improve and fertilize the soil and reduce the number of disease-carrying flies that would otherwise infest the dung.
If the modern dung beetle deserves praise for these global sanitation efforts, then the extinct dung beetles of ancient South America deserve a medal. A new study of 30 million-year-old fossil 'mega-dung' from extinct giant South American mammals reveals evidence of complex ecological interactions and theft of dung-beetles' food stores by other animals. Read more ..
|Martyn Drakard||August 31st 2009|
Cutting Edge Africa correspondent
It's our turn to eat: the story of a Kenyan whistleblower. Michela Wrong. Fourth Estate Books, 2009. 354 pages.
“Eating” is how Kenyans dub the gorging on state resources by the well-connected. After the 2002 elections, writes Michela Wrong in It’s our turn to eat, many eyes were on Kenya. President Moi stepped down after twenty-four years as head of state. The atmosphere after Christmas –when elections are generally held in the country- was euphoric. In an international poll taken at the time, Kenyans were rated the “most optimistic people in the world.” Things were looking good. Five years later, the electorate was more divided, with more than half in favor of a change of rule.
Many eyes turned to Kenya again in the low news season at the end of December. If only the new regime could get it right on corruption, if only Kenya could find its way, there was hope for the rest of Africa. Post-apartheid South Africa, post-military Nigeria and a revived Kenya could form the three points of a triangular success establishing Africa on firm, unshakeable foundations. This was the thinking in Western embassies and corridors of power.
After the 2002 elections, the new regime started to do all the right things: free primary education, prosecute land grabbers, clean up the judiciary….. John Githongo was appointed anti-corruption czar, the new government thereby showing its determination to end sleaze. In his youth, John had written a short story about a man who wakes up one morning to discover a giant pile of manure dumped outside his house. Puzzled, he tries to discover where it came from and how to shift it. This, somewhat modified, was to be John’s future task. Read more ..
America's Economic Collapse
|John Dunbar ||August 31st 2009|
Center for Public Integrity
Firms that fed off the subprime lending frenzy that devastated the banking system are lining up to collect more than $21 billion in taxpayer funds meant to help bail out borrowers now in trouble on their loans.
The funds come from the federal government’s Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), begun in February by the Obama administration to coax lenders into modifying mortgages that might otherwise result in foreclosure. According to an analysis of public records, of the 25 top participants in the program, at least 21 were heavily involved in the subprime lending industry. Most specialized in servicing subprime loans, but several both serviced and originated the loans.
Among those on the list:
• At least two firms that earlier settled charges of illegal collection practices brought by federal regulators; another was placed under federal supervision before voluntarily surrendering its bank charter;
• A subprime subsidiary of top-bailout recipient American International Group Inc. (AIG);
• Two former subsidiaries of Merrill Lynch & Co. and one former subsidiary of Lehman Brothers, investment banks that helped underwrite the subprime boom, and;
• A subsidiary of the now-sold, former No. 1 subprime lender in the nation, Countrywide Financial Corp. Read more ..
Turkey on the Edge
|Soner Cagaptay and Yurter Ozcan||August 31st 2009|
Washington Institute contributors
Over the past years, some analysts have suggested that George W. Bush's unpopular administration spawned the high levels of anti-Americanism in Turkey. Referring to this phenomenon as "anti-Bushism," however, discounted the rise of anti-Americanism in Turkey and implied that the country's adverse view of the United States would change with a new administration. Unfortunately, two recent polls suggest otherwise. Despite the new faces in Washington -- policymakers who have gone out of their way to embrace Turkey and its citizens -- anti-Americanism persists across Turkish society.
A poll by the Pew Global Attitudes Project reveals that President Barack Obama's election has led to significant improvement in America's standing in the world, including in European and Muslim-majority countries; France and Indonesia, for instance, witnessed increases in U.S. popularity from 42 percent to 75 percent and 37 percent to 63 percent, respectively, between 2008 and 2009. Turkey, however, is a rare exception to this trend. According to Pew, the U.S. favorability rating in Turkey in 1999-2000 was 52 percent, but then sharply dived to 30 percent in 2002, 15 percent in 2003, and 12 percent in 2008. In 2009, with the advent of the Obama administration, there has been only a minimal increase of 2 percent in U.S. favorability in Turkey, from 12 to 14 percent. Read more ..
Kicking our Oil Addiction
Cutting Edge Energy Desk
One hundred and fifty years ago, give or take a few days, in the sleepy lumber town of Titusville, Pa., “Colonel” Edwin Drake was persistently hammering a pipe into the ground in search of a replacement for depleting whale oil as a fuel for lamps. At a depth of 69 feet below ground he finally struck oil, and the world changed forever. Over a century and a half his 25 barrels per day well would give rise to a global industry of 85 million barrels per day, making oil the world's most strategic commodity, one that supplies 40 percent of the world's energy.
Just like in Drake's own life — he died two decades later penniless — oil has been both a curse and a blessing for humanity. It has been a driver of seminal events and a backdrop behind great powers' foreign policy. During World War I, “the Allies had floated to victory upon a wave of oil,” as the British statesman Lord Curzon noted. The post-war contention between Turkey and Britain in the early 1920s over Iraq's oil-rich Mosul, Imperial Japan's expansionist policy of the 1930s that led to a four-year war in the Pacific, Adolf Hitler's invasion of Russia, America's repeated military interventions in the Middle East and the “New Great Game” currently taking place in Central Asia have all been tied to oil dependence. Read more ..
|Armstrong Williams||August 31st 2009|
Cutting Edge Commentator
Free speech is such a fundamental principal in the United States that it was codified by the First Amendment to the U.S Constitution.
The First Amendment protects all speech, especially political speech which criticizes the government or proposes unpopular or obnoxious ideas. The founding fathers recognized that unfettered political discourse is the sine qua non of a successful democracy. It is necessary to publicly discuss all sides of issues that may result in laws that affect all Americans.
While the First Amendment protects speech, it does not protect the speaker from the consequences of his speech. Thus, the proponent of unpopular ideas sometimes subjects himself to economic and social sanctions from political opponents who choose not to engage him in challenging responsive discourse. When this happens, it tends to chill discussion and inhibit new ideas.
John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, found this out the hard way. Mr. Mackey wrote an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal in mid August suggesting a number of health care reforms that do not entail a single payer public option.
He opened the article with a provocative quote from Margaret Thatcher that was bound to offend the far left: "The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money." Read more ..
|Yaakov Katz||August 31st 2009|
Jerusalem Post correspondent
"Iran can now reach Israel but still wants to develop longer ranges," a NATO official has said. "We believe that in the foreseeable future, Iran could fire conventional or nuclear-tipped missiles into Europe."
As a result, NATO's interest in Iran has dramatically increased in recent months as the Islamic Republic works to upgrade its ballistic missiles and increase their range so they can penetrate deep into Europe, according to officials at the Western military alliance.
While the interest has not taken on a practical form, except in NATO and the United States's plan to deploy a missile defense shield in Europe, Israeli defense officials said that the military alliance no longer viewed Iran as taboo. Read more ..
Oil and Terrorism
|Walid Phares||August 31st 2009|
Cutting Edge Terrorism Analyst
|Col. Moammar Gadhafi|
The release by Scottish authorities of convicted Libyan intelligence agent Abdel Baset al-Megrahi from prison has created one of the most negative emotional reactions in the United States and other countries. Moved by anger toward the injustice displayed by Scottish authorities to the families and survivors of the victims of the terror attack against Pan Am Flight 103, Americans and large segments of international public opinion are infuriated by the freeing of the convicted terrorist, even under the so-called Scottish legal values based on compassionate release due to terminal illness.
These exceptional stipulations, when applicable, are designed for criminal cases where one person killed another individual under complex circumstances. A sudden terminal illness is perceived as enough punishment by nature or the divine to grant a severely conditioned release to the family, without any affront to justice and pain to the survivors of the victim. Read more ..
|James F. Reynolds||August 31st 2009|
I was astonished to learn in the Cutting Edge News (see Page One Government Death Panels and Mass Murder was Always an Option in 20th Century America's War Against the Weak by Edwin Black) that America's national health policy in the first decades of the last century was to wipe out the majority of its own citizens, ten percent at a time--millions of people at a stroke, leaving only a so-called blond Nordic utopian class to rule. I bought the book War Against the Weak by Edwin Black and read the details backed up up thousands of primary footnotes and am in disbelief that the official policies included state-run gas chambers, confinement camps, marriage restrictions of all sorts, forced surgical sterilization from California to New Jersey and that it was all upheld as the law of the land by the U.S. Supreme Court. Was this not ethnic cleansing in America, neighbor against neighbor? This country owes a debt to those like author Edwin Black who expose such horrors. I ask why this book and its terrible revelations is not taught in every classroom, discussed on every network, and available in every bookstore. I myself tried for days to secure a copy and was told the publisher was unable to keep up with demand. I did find the book in the library and it kept me up all night and then gave me nightmares. For shame.
Eugenics in America
|Edwin Black||August 24th 2009|
This article is based on the award-winning bestseller War Against the Weak--Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race (Dialog Press). Buy it here
The summer of 2009 has been rife with misplaced fears about government death panels arising from proposed insurance reform. These fears are not based on anything in the proposed legislation. But government death panels and mass euthanasia were always a public option during the first decades of the twentieth century. This campaign to exterminate all those deemed socially or medically unworthy was not conducted by the worst segments of our society but by the elite of the American establishment. They saw themselves as liberals, progressive, do-gooders—and even utopians— trying to create a more perfect society.
The mission: eliminate the existence of the poor, immigrants, those of mixed parentage, and indeed anyone who did not approximate the blond-haired blue-eyed ideal they idealized. This racial type was termed Nordic, and it was socially deified by a broad movement of esteemed university professors, doctors, legislators, judges and writers. They called themselves eugenicists. This widely accepted extremist movement was virtually created and funded by millions in corporate philanthropy from the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harriman railroad fortune through a complex of pseudoscientific institutions and population tracking offices at Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island. From there, leading academics supported by big money lead a termite-like proliferation of eugenics into the laws, social policies and curricula of the nation. During these turbulent decades, eugenics enjoyed the active support of the government, especially the U.S. Department of Agriculture which wanted to breed men the way they bred cattle, and many state and county offices.
Indeed, Eugenics was enacted into law in some 27 states during the first decades of the twentieth century, and then exalted as the law of the land by the U. S. Supreme Court. In a famous 1927 opinion, revered jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes compared social undesirables to bacteria to be wiped out. The sanctioned methods to be used were nothing less than a combination of pseudoscientific raceology, social engineering, ethnic cleansing and abject race law, designed to eliminate millions in an organized fashion. More specifically, the American eugenics movement sought to continually subtract the so-called “bottom tenth” of America. These were to include Blacks, Native Americans, Southern Italians, East Europeans, Jews, Hispanics, the poor, criminals, the intellectually unaccepted, the so-called “shiftless,” and many others. The drive for perfection even included excising the existence of Appalachians with brown hair, frequently rounded up by county officials for confinement. When this effort began in the early twentieth century, some fourteen million Americans were targeted for elimination. Read more ..
|John Westwood||August 24th 2009|
Europe, despite the growth of other regions, remains one of the world's largest offshore producers. Nearly 600 offshore fields have been developed off Europe, involving a similar number of platforms, about 400 subsea wells, over 200 subsea templates, and some 1,000 pipelines.
During the past decade the corporate scene has changed dramatically as declining production and high costs have forced the original developers, the oil majors, into other regions. That exodus opened the way for a new breed of smaller player better geared to economically extracting the remaining reserves from a multitude of small fields and squeezing the last drop out of massively depleted existing ones. Read more ..
America's Economic Collapse
|Holly Auer||August 24th 2009|
Center for Public Integrity
The nation's home foreclosure epidemic may be taking its toll on Americans' health as well as their wallets. Nearly half of people studied while undergoing foreclosure reported depressive symptoms, and 37 percent met screening criteria for major depression, according to new University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine research published in the American Journal of Public Health. Many also reported an inability to afford prescription drugs, and skipping meals. The authors say their findings should serve as a call for policy makers to tie health interventions into their response to the nation's ongoing housing crisis.
"The foreclosure crisis is also a health crisis," says lead author Craig E. Pollack, MD, MHS, who conducted the research while working as an internist and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar at Penn. "We need to do more to ensure that if people lose their homes, they don't also lose their health." Read more ..
Edge on the Media
|Denyse O'Leary||August 24th 2009|
The new social media -- blogging, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and YouTube are current faves -- revolutionising the publishing world, for better and worse. Let's look at both the better and the worse in perspective.
The current tsunami of personal choices in communication is slowly draining the profit from mainstream media. These media traditionally depend on huge audiences who all live in one region and mostly want the same things (the football scores, the crossword, the TV Guide, etc.). But that is all available now on the Internet, all around the world, all the time.
One outcome is a death watch on many newspapers, including famous ones like the Boston Globe. As journalist Paul Gillin noted recently: "The newspaper model scales up very well, but it scales down very badly. It costs a newspaper nearly as much to deliver 25,000 copies as it does to deliver 50,000 copies. Readership has been in decline for 30 years and the decline shows no signs of abating. Meanwhile, new competition has sprung up online with a vastly superior cost structure and an interactive format that appeals to the new generation of readers." Read more ..
Iran on the Edge
|Michael Cook||August 24th 2009|
Despite its fundamentalist Islamic reputation, Iran has experimented with birth control with some unexpected and unwelcome, consequences.
If demography is destiny, the family of Farzaneh Roudi is a snapshot of Iran’s past, present and future. A program director at the Population Reference Bureau in Washington DC, Ms Roudi was born in Iran. Her grandmother had 11 children, her father had 6 and she has 2.
Her profile is not unusual in Iran, where women give birth to fewer than 2 children, on average. This is one of the most remarkable demographic shifts in world history. Its fertility rate has declined from 7 children per woman in 1980 to 1.9 today – a decline of 70 percent in the space of a single generation. And about 80 percent of married women in Iran use contraception -- the highest rate among all the countries in the Middle East.
These staggering statistics confound stereotypes about Iran. Even though the Western media depicts this nation of 70 million as a teeming cauldron of Islamic fundamentalism and social and moral conservatism, the trend to lower birthrates began long ago. In 1967 Mohammad Reza Shah signed the Tehran Declaration. This acknowledged family planning as a human right and programs were quickly established. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution which booted out the Shah, they were dismantled for being pro-Western. But contraceptive use was not totally banned and Imam Khomeini and other Ayatollahs did grant fatwas allowing it as a health measure. Read more ..
The Edge of Terror
|Walid Phares||August 24th 2009|
Cutting Edge Terrorism Analyst
Over the past months, the narrative of Washington's "new direction" in world affairs blurred the clarity of the confrontation with the terror forces worldwide. Are we at conflict with a global threat? The administration, insisting on treating the issue locally, claimed otherwise.
But during President Barack Obama's July 11 speech in Accra, he said that "when there's a genocide in Darfur or terrorists in Somalia, these are not simply African problems,” explaining, "they are global security challenges, and they demand a global response."
This zigzag between local and global risk is confusing not only to the public but to strategists as well. If terrorism in Somalia is a global security challenge, then it is a global threat. And thus it is a global confrontation, call it war or call it anything else. Therefore, the response has to be global, security, military, political, economic, and ideological.
Responding to the jihadi threat throughout Africa must be continental and integrated with international efforts. The president should have drawn the attention of his audience to the trans-African jihadi threat commencing in Somalia with the al-Shabab, and thrusting through the immensity of the Sahel via Chad, Niger, Mali, and Mauritania. The menace is even wider as the Salafists (al-Qaida-like jihadists) threaten northern Africa via Algeria, Morocco, and even Egypt. Read more ..
The Edge of Cyber Warfare
|Brock Cooper||August 24th 2009|
U.S. Department of Energy laboratories fight off millions of cyber attacks every year. But a near real-time dialog between these labs about this hostile activity has never existed – until now.
Scientists at DOE's Argonne National Laboratory have devised a program that allows for Cyber Security defense systems to communicate when attacked and transmit that information to cyber systems at other institutions in the hopes of strengthening the overall cyber security posture of the complex.
"The Federated Model for Cyber Security acts as a virtual neighborhood watch program. If one institution is attacked; secure and timely communication to others in the Federation will aide in protecting them from that same attack through active response," cyber security officer Michael Skwarek said. Read more ..
|Martyn Drakard||August 24th 2009|
Cutting Edge Contributor
While Secretary Clinton was "overwhelmed" by what she saw in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), she said that it is ultimately up to the locals to sort out the violence committed against women and children. “I was overwhelmed by what I saw,” she said. “It’s almost impossible to describe the level of suffering.” These were the words of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after visiting the Mugunga displaced persons’ camp in eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo during the second week of August.
Mugunga is home to some twenty thousand refugees. It is a wretched place: makeshift hovels, smoke, dust, the stench of human waste and the pitiful tragedy of human suffering everywhere. To her credit, Secretary Clinton shrugged off fears for her security and insisted on making the trip to Goma (Kivu), where she also visited a hospital trying to cope with hundreds of rape victims. She met one woman, eight months pregnant, whose baby had been ripped out of her womb. Unfortunately most of the world media, including the US, omitted these significant details of her African safari. Read more ..
The Obama Edge
|Walid Phares||August 24th 2009|
Cutting Edge Terrorism Analyst
Many are still talking about the issues raised by President Barack Obama during his July 11 speech at Accra in Ghana. In particular, not a few critics are struck by his “relative” notion of democracy. In contrast with the previous administration’s call for a U.S.-backing for the “spread of democracy,” Obama underlined that “America will not seek to impose any system of government on any other nation. The essential truth of democracy is that each nation determines its own destiny.”
In fact, the difference between the previous and the current U.S. approach is not about the “role,” as no one in Washington’s government has had any project to “impose” democracy, or specific institutions. The George W. Bush approach tried to say that all nations yearn for democracy and freedom with the same intensity, if given the opportunity. Read more ..
|Jason Weixelbaum||August 24th 2009|
Cutting Edge Contributor
IBM and The Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation. Edwin Black. Dialog Press 2008. 528 pages. Buy it here
The nature of American business activity in Nazi Germany has only recently started to be reviewed in a critical framework. Given America’s popularized role as the liberator of Europe in World War II, many sources of a now rapidly expanding body of research have been neglected for decades. The widely read book, IBM and The Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation, is a testament to the public’s growing interest in this topic. Furthermore, the importance of such work cannot be understated as the American version of the events of World War II, omitting this recent research, is often used to justify the moral intentions the U.S. has had in most of its subsequent conflicts.
Edwin Black has preemptively responded to the tendency in America to dismiss controversial books by producing one of the most exhaustively researched works on the subject. IBM and the Holocaust utilized over 100 hundred researchers working in seven different countries, producing thousands of footnotes, and reviewing an enormous number of documents. The breadth of this work provides inspiration to serious historians willing to embark on the unpopular journey of exposing the misdeeds of one’s country.
IBM and the Holocaust is a thoroughly detailed book about the history of International Business Machines’s (IBM) dealings with Nazi Germany. As densely packed with information as this text is, its thesis is simple: Directed from its worldwide headquarters in New York, IBM was a willing and decisive organizational force behind Nazi rearmament and genocide plans. The documentation supplied to support this thesis is both massive and well organized. Read more ..
Inside the Mideast
|Shoshana Bryen||August 24th 2009|
Cutting Edge Commentator
|Syrian President Bashir Assad|
American relations with Syria have been frosty, if not downright icy for decades. Starting with Syrian involvement in the 1976 Lebanese Civil War along with the subsequent occupation of Lebanon and arming of Hezbollah, the diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and Syria has been poor.
The list of problems is long: complicity in the 1983 Hezbollah bombing of the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut as well as the Iranian-sponsored rearming of Hezbollah after the 2006 war with Israel; the 1982 destruction of Hama by then president Hafez Assad, killing an estimated 10-25,000 people; the UN finding of Syrian involvement in the car bomb murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others; al Qaeda and related insurgent organizations grouping in eastern Syria and infiltrating Iraq; and the open sponsorship of Hamas and other terrorist groups in Damascus. These are some of the factors intensifying the belligerence between America and Syria.
This list is not complete without the Syrian-North Korean cooperation on missiles and building a nuclear facility (since destroyed by israel), and Syrian-Iranian economic, political and military relations, including public approval by Bashir Assad of the "re-election" of Iranian President Ahmadinejad in June. Read more ..
|Angus Sibley||August 24th 2009|
Cutting Edge Contributor
This August, let us forget for a moment our economic woes and take a stroll in the beautiful city of pre-Goodwin Edinburgh, where I spent many years at school and university and working in a stockbroking firm. In those days, Scotland did not yet have its own Parliament, but it still had its own stock exchange, the former Scottish Stock Exchange with a small trading floor in Glasgow.
Edinburgh manifests in various ways the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France. The royal palace of Holyrood was rebuilt in the seventeenth century in good Louis XIV style. The famous New Town was built from 1767 onwards for the nobility and upper classes of the Age of Enlightenment, who no longer tolerated the gloom, congestion and squalor of the mediaeval Old Town, clinging to the skirts of the grandiose Castle, high in its rock. The New Town is vividly reminiscent of the gracious streets of eighteenth-century Bordeaux. The more recent Victorian buildings and park of Bruntsfield give this open, elegant quarter some resemblance to the Parisian Champ de Mars. Read more ..
|Jeff Aronson||August 24th 2009|
I have read with great interest the articles on the Cash for Clunkers program written by Edwin Black and a number of other contributors to The Cutting Edge News. Recently I sent a letter to the leadership of the Senate and House (with a CC to President Obama) regarding the PR and marketing success of the “Cash for Clunkers” campaign. In that letter, I drew parallels between the economic stimulus provided by my own company, Cash4Gold, and the Cash for Clunkers program. I noted that within just one week, the government doled out $1 billion with the intended goal of providing consumer-confidence-building liquidity. In parallel fashion, though at an admittedly smaller scale and on the basis of our own entrepreneurship and self-financing rather than through an Act of Congress with the support of the President of the United States, Cash4Gold has paid out more than $100 million since our launch in 2007.
In my letter to Sens. Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell and Reps. Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner, I offered to dispatch a delegation of our core executive team-- including global brand strategists, marketers, alternative media experts, industrial metal recycling innovators, and communications specialists – to Washington to lend the initiative the benefit of our considerable collective experience. My staff is prepared to share best practices with the government that have enabled our success as the industry innovators and leaders in the consumer-direct precious metals recycling business, also known as mail-in refining.
I also recommended a series of steps that the government should consider to get the most mileage (please pardon the pun) out of its clunkers campaign. Among those recommendations were carefully selected celebrity endorsements to appeal to a wide range of Americans, more extensive Spanish-language outreach, and the use of a diverse array of innovative marketing strategies.
At the end of the day I am a businessman with an expertise in marketing and advertising who is singularly committed to providing the best possible precious metals recycling service to my customers. I don’t pretend to be an authority on the intricacies of the Cash for Clunkers scrappage program. Nor am I an expert who analyzes the impact that “inside the Beltway” policies have on our world today and their implications for the future. For that kind of insight I rely on The Cutting Edge.
Afghanistan on the Edge
|Adam Wallace||August 17th 2009|
Cutting Edge London correspondent
It is almost decision time again for Coalition forces in Afghanistan. In village after village, men will be plowing their fields in readiness for planting the second annual opium crop in November. The first crop has already been harvested, and the temporary respite from attacks, caused by the Taliban granting furloughs to their fighters to help gather the illicit harvest, will be briefly repeated as many head back to the family farm to broadcast the poppy seed across their fields in scenes reminiscent of medieval European agriculture. The difference, of course, is the presence of hi-tech, unmanned Predator drones flying silently high above the ground, searching for Taliban activity.
Currently, according to DEA estimates, Afghanistan is responsible for production of between eighty-five to ninety percent of the illegal heroin consumed worldwide, with the remainder divided between the so-called Golden Crescent area of northern Burma, Laos and Thailand as well as, increasingly, Colombia. For the time being, Afghanistan remains the mother lode when it comes to illegal opiates. Read more ..
Inside Latin America
|Anagha Krishnan||August 17th 2009|
July 25, 2009 marked the passage of a landmark piece of reform that was brokered between Brazil and Paraguay. The agreement, signed in Asunción, finally resolved a decade long disagreement between the two governments regarding the Itaipú dam. The revisions in the Itaipú treaty had far reaching implications for the national standing of Paraguay’s President Fernando Lugo and Brazil’s President Luíz Inacio Lula da Silva as well for Brazil’s leadership role in Latin America. It is also expected to bring about a series of new prospects for energy initiatives in the region. The agreement represents a historic turnaround on the part of Brazil, which had been vehemently opposed to tariff concessions for decades. Analysts believe that the new agreement is indicative of the “good neighbor” policy that Lula has recently advocated in the region, as Brazil attempts to solidify its leadership role and shore up a base of moderate democratic support for its foreign policy initiatives. Read more ..
Iran on the Edge
|Mehdi Khalaji||August 17th 2009|
Washington Instiute correspondent
|Public Execution in Iran|
Widespread reports suggest that Sadeq Larijani, a young and inexperienced cleric with close ties to Iran's military and intelligence agencies, will officially replace Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi as head of the Iranian judiciary on August 16. This appointment is particularly significant, since the judiciary in Iran wields considerable power -- albeit through the approval of Iran's top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- and has a great deal of latitude to make decisions without reference to law or Islamic concepts, especially when "safeguarding the interests of the regime" is deemed necessary.
Who is Sadeq Larijani?
Born in 1960 in Najaf, Iraq, Sadeq Larijani is the son of Grand Ayatollah Hashem Amoli and the son-in-law of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Vahid Khorasani, currently one of the most widely followed marjas, "sources of emulation" whose rulings are regarded as binding by devout Shiite believers. Read more ..
|Bernice Chalmers||August 17th 2009|
I for one had now idea that "Arab Nationalism" was really just a 20th Century phenomenon and that the real quest for an Arab national identity focussed on Syria as I read in Edwin Black's eye-opening history of the original Mideast peace deal in 1919 (see Page July 27, 2009 One Original Mideast Peace Plan Recognized Jewish State in Return for Arab Nation in Syria)
. Nor did I know that the Arabs agreed in writing to a Jewish state in Palestine-Israel, not until until I read this illuminting article. As I look at it, the Mideast was carved up by the international community into a long list of Arab Islamic states and one tiny Jewish state. The Arabs all got their states. Israel should be allowed to live in peace in the one little parcel of land it lawfully developed in that region.
Cuba on the Edge
|Christina Cornell and Tara Patel||August 17th 2009|
Sunlight brightens the paved streets and historic buildings of Havana, Cuba, bouncing off the tents of vendors and the tin drums of a street band. Once stricken by poverty and inequality, the city has slowly blossomed as a result of the bustling enterprise of urban agriculture. Between buildings and behind street walls, in every green space available, locals have cultivated crops, utilizing the techniques of sustainable urban farming.
After years of isolation from the United States and the former Soviet Union, Cuba has independently fostered development of urban agriculture and now provides an environment of growth and structure for its economic, social and political policies.
Cuba is the only country in the world that has developed an extensive state-supported infrastructure to support urban food production. Functionally, this system was established in response to acute food shortages in the early 1990s, which occurred after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the island was forced to find an alternative manner of cultivating crops. Read more ..
The Push for CNG
|Marc J. Rauch||August 17th 2009|
Auto Channel Co-Publisher
Ironically, the leader of the “Axis of Terror” looks to the very same abundant national fuel source for economic stability and environmental improvement that America continues to shun.
Ironic indeed. For years, some of us in California have laughed whenever we see trucks full of tomatoes heading south on the interstate freeways, because within minutes we inevitably see another truck loaded with tomatoes heading north. You would think that the practical thing to do would be to just leave the tomatoes farmed in the south for those living in So Cal, and to leave those tomatoes farmed in the north for the northerners. Perhaps there are good reasons for this shell game; maybe the tomatoes ripen better in the hot sun of a long I-5 ride. Maybe it’s a way to jack-up the price of the produce by claiming higher transportation costs. Whatever, no one seems to know or have an answer.
There’s a similar shell game going on in America with oil and CNG (compressed natural gas) that no one in a responsible position seems to be willing or able to explain. Read more ..
Edge of Terrorism
|Rachel Ehrenfeld||August 17th 2009|
The economic downturn and instability of the financial markets in the West has battered global economies. Despite the accompanying drop in oil prices, the current financial crisis has actually presented opportunities to expedite the influence and extend the global reach of Islamism in ways Sunni imams and Shiite mullahs could have only fantasized about before.
Saudi & Gulf Funding
The financial tsunami that swept state and local governments, as well as national and international aid organizations, has led to a precipitous decline in services to growing numbers of unemployed or needy citizens, not to mention subsidies to academic institutions and other organizations. This provided petrodollar-loaded Islamist regimes with an opportunity to practice da'wa (Islamic missionary outreach) through donations in the name of Islam. Such donations, including financial bailouts of cash-strapped Western institutions and businesses, have helped directly and indirectly to spread Islamism globally.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is commonly recognized as the primary exporter of Wahhabism, among the more extreme strains of Islamism. In 2008, Saudi Arabia earned $285 billion, up from $201.1 billion in 2007. Indeed, the Saudi Kingdom took the lion's share of the $968 billion total revenue of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Read more ..
Cutting Edge Energy Desk
In an effort to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, Congress has set its sights on the Islamic Republic's foreign gasoline dependence. The logic is straightforward: Iran, it has been widely reported, is an oil giant that nonetheless imports 40 percent of its gasoline; internationally coordinated sanctions stopping it from obtaining enough could pain the regime into rethinking its nuclear ambitions. Little wonder the bipartisan Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, introduced in both the Senate and the House, enjoys the support of at least 74 senators and 294 representatives.
There is just one problem: Iran is much less vulnerable to gasoline sanctions than is commonly believed on Capitol Hill, and its foreign gasoline dependence is dropping by the day.
The little-known reason is that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has imposed dramatic measures to eliminate this strategic vulnerability. He has massively expanded the country's refinery infrastructure. Seven of Iran's nine existing refineries are undergoing expansion projects; seven new refineries are on the drawing board or already under construction. In three to five years, these projects will double Iran's refining capacity, putting it on par with Saudi Arabia.
These efforts, in addition to an effective petrol rationing scheme, have slashed Iran's need to import petroleum products. As of this fall, Iran's daily gasoline dependence will stand below 25 percent. This figure is expected to decline even further to roughly 15 percent over the next year as new refining capacity comes online. By 2012 Iran is projected to be gasoline self-sufficient; shortly after that, the Islamic Republic is likely to become a net gasoline exporter. Read more ..
The Nuclear Edge
|Jack Spencer||August 17th 2009|
On July 31, Congressman Joe Pitts (R-PA) introduced the Streamline America's Future Energy Nuclear Act, which brings a fresh approach to U.S. nuclear energy policy. Instead of the well-worn subsidy-first approach that often dominates congressional attempts to support nuclear energy, Congressman Pitts's bill focuses on reforming the arduous regulatory and policy environment so that the nuclear renaissance can flourish. Read more ..
|Martin Barillas||August 17th 2009|
Cutting Edge Senior Contributor
|"Carole" in her Burkini|
A woman in France, a convert to Islam, was turned away from a public pool for wearing a burkini: the Muslim answer to the more liberal bikini.
The debate over Muslim attitudes regarding clothing, especially for women, took another turn in France when on August 1 a woman was refused admission to a public swimming pool in a Parisian suburb. The citizen identified as “Carole” had previously frequented the pool but was this time turned back by administrators who decided that her bathing costume, which some call "a burkini," was not acceptable.
In a country famed for its topless beaches and sun-loving bathers, Carole was turned away for wearing a garment that revealed nothing but her face, hands, and feet, much in the tradition of Muslim countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia that impose strict dress codes on women.
Having been previously allowed to bathe at the pool in her aquatic hijab, Carole went to the nearest police station to file a complaint that she had been subjected to illegal “segregation.” Said the convert to Islam, “I understand that it is something that may come as a surprise, but what bothers me the most is that they would have me believe that it is a political problem.” Carole is planning to file suit against the the town of Emerainville, which operates the pool.
One of the pool administrators gave assurances that “under no circumstances” should the affair be understood as a “political or religious matter” but instead a matter of “hygiene.” As for using other services provided by the community, such as the public library, the same administrator said that Carole is welcome to wear a veil there. He also admitted that there had been an error in previously allowing the Muslim woman to swim in her burkini.
André Gerin, a Communist member of the French legislature and of a committee that is studying the widening use of Muslim clothing, referred to the burkini incident as another “provocation by militants.” He added in response to the Muslim woman's complaint to the police and threatened lawsuit “We cannot accept that”, while asserting that this is a militantly political act. Gerin said that burkinis are “ridiculous” and put him in mind of wetsuits used by undersea divers. Read more ..
|Martyn Drakard||August 17th 2009|
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's whirlwind safari of sub-Saharan Africa, to deliver messages from President Barack Obama, has fallen on deaf ears.
The population here is helpless to improve its condition in the face of widespread corruption and elitism. Water rationing in is the norm. Water sources have been drying up, and huge forested areas given out for settlement, for political reasons. Ten million people are at risk of starvation, one third of the population.
As all know, Obama traces his roots to this nation, but he deliberately by-passed it on his lightning trip to the continent, choosing Ghana instead.
So he sent his Secretary of State to give the Kenyan authorities a piece of his mind. Namely that in the wake of the post-election violence last year, reforms are dragging on too long, and the culture of corruption and impunity is not being tackled with anywhere near enough determination.
In more developed democracies like the United States it is unthinkable that anyone should consider himself above the law; in democracies that are still finding their way around, such as those of most of sub-Saharan Africa, it is almost taken for granted that the kind of justice you receive is in proportion to your wealth and power. For example, a couple of days before Mrs. Clinton arrived two youths were sentenced to death in the coastal town of Malindi for stealing forty shillings (half a dollar) from a fisherman. The magistrate issuing the sentence said she was convinced that the robbery had been carried out by violent means. Robbery with violence is a capital offence in Kenya. Read more ..
Deep Water Archaeology
|Ben Sherman||August 17th 2009|
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospherice Agency (NOAA) will lead a three-week research expedition in August 2009 to study World War II shipwrecks sunk in 1942 off the coast of North Carolina during the Battle of the Atlantic. The shipwrecks are located in an area known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic," which includes sunken vessels from U.S. and British naval fleets, merchant ships, and German U-boats.
"The information collected during this expedition will help us better understand and document this often lost chapter of America's maritime history and its significance to the nation," said David W. Alberg, expedition leader and superintendent of the USS Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. "It continues the work conducted by NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries last summer to research and document historically significant shipwrecks tragically lost during World War II."
Alberg said the expedition, now underway, will also help document the condition of these vessels some 67 years after they were lost. Understanding the wrecks' current condition is a crucial first step in establishing efforts to preserve these historic sites, which serve as "time capsules from one of the darkest times in the nation's history," he said. Read more ..
|Deepak Tripathi||August 12th 2009|
Only about 20 years ago, the United States was the preferred destination for dissidents tortured and incarcerated in secret prisons in the Soviet Union and satellite states in Eastern Europe. Pictures of the brief journey on foot by the Soviet dissident, Anatoly Scharansky, across the Glienicke bridge to West Berlin in February 1986 have acquired a permanent place in the annals of Cold War history. Scharansky, a Soviet Jew, settled in Israel, but Alexander Solzhenitsyn and many others made the United States their home upon escaping persecution.
As the Iron Curtain was blown, who could have imagined that barely a decade after, the United States would commit large-scale acts of kidnapping, torture and murder beyond its territory and send people, based on mere suspicion or hearsay, to secret prisons in ex-Soviet bloc countries for interrogation under torture, euphemistically called ‘extraordinary rendition’?
The unimaginable two decades before happened during the presidency of the George W Bush. In the shadow of 9/11, innocent, vulnerable people, some as young as 13 and as old as 93 years of age, were kidnapped and handed over to American military and intelligence officers for bounties by local players in countries where the United States had no legal jurisdiction. Among them were Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Morocco – allies of America.
To neoconservatives in the corridors of power in Washington, the fact that many of the detainees were condemned to extreme acts of torture and humiliation in friendly dictatorships was of no consequence. Laws had to be broken, justice denied, human dignity violated, individual liberties curtailed at home and abroad to ‘defend freedom’. That all this was perpetrated under a president who was previously governor of a US state (Texas) with the worst record of judicial executions is worth noting. The number of inmates on Death Row in Texas showed a steady increase during the governorship of George W Bush from 1995 to 2000. Read more ..
Edge of Archaeology
|Rachel Feldman||August 11th 2009|
A joint experiment by researchers at the University of Haifa and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. succeeded in solving the riddle: Could cannon balls from the early 19th century sink warships?
At first glance, the hull of the warship that sank off the coast of Acre seemed strong; but a unique experiment indicated that the thick timbers could not withstand the cannon balls.
The joint experiment carried out by researchers from the Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies at the University of Haifa and staff of Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. has solved the riddle that has been puzzling researchers ever since they first observed the thick wooden sides of the sunken ship opposite the shore of Acre: could cannon fire have penetrated the hull?
The ship was discovered in 1966, but only since University of Haifa researchers began examining it about three years ago have its mysteries been exposed. The initial matters of interest related to the ship's origins, date and the reason why it sank. A map drawn up by a British officer in 1799, during Napoleon's siege of Acre, led the researchers to assume that this was a blockship sunk by the British to bar French vessels from entering the port. Read more ..
Inside Latin America
|Tara Patel||August 10th 2009|
Luis Adolfo Cardona worked as a forklift operator at an American-owned bottling company that packages 50,000 cases of Coca-Cola’s famous fizzy beverages a month. On an unassuming morning, Cardona narrowly escaped death when right-wing paramilitary troops attempted to kill him. Unfortunately, not all labor union activists are so lucky.
Isídro Segundo Gil, the gatekeeper and the union’s chief negotiator at another Coca-Cola bottling plant in the small, rural town of Carepa, Colombia, was gunned down by a band of paramilitary insurgents on December 5, 1996. After shooting Gil ten times, the armed men sped away from the premises on motorcycles. Not even a few hours had passed before the militants were back. They attempted to kidnap another union leader, who just barely got away, and then set fire to the union’s offices later that night. The armed group returned a week later. The workers were then gathered in the cafeteria and given an ultimatum—either quit or be killed. Read more ..
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