Archive for July 2009
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Arabs and the West
|Edwin Black||July 27th 2009|
This article is based on the Banking on Baghdad--Inside Iraq's 7,000-Year History of War, Profit, and Conflict (Dialog Press). Buy it here
Every day, politicians and pundits talk of another chance at Mideast peace missed, delayed or subverted. The focus is always on Palestinians and Israelis as the keystone to a global settlement with the West and across the region. But in the original peace arrangement between the Jews, Arabs and the Western powers, it was not settlements and Jerusalem that were at the heart of the problem. In fact, the Arabs originally agreed to a Jewish state complete with massive Jewish immigration. For Arabs, the prize was not Palestine, it was Syria.
This is the story of how the original Middle East Peace Plan crafted among all sides in the aftermath of World War I was subverted—not by Jews or Zionists, but by the French.
It begins at the Paris Peace Conference, on January 1919, in a flag-bedecked, battle-scarred—but victorious—Paris. There, the great top-hatted Allied men of vision and illusion gathered to remake the world and invent the post-Ottoman Middle East. At those fateful meetings, the Arabs and Jews formally agreed to mutually endorse both their national aspirations and live in peace.
This was the deal: The Jews could have an unrestricted Zionist state in Palestine. The British could have Iraq and its fabulous, albeit still undrilled, oil. The Arabs only wanted Syria and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in the Arabian Peninsula.
During the first days of the League of Nation’s Paris Peace Conference, Faisal, accompanied by T.E. Lawrence, widely dubbed "Lawrence of Arabia," met in Paris with Zionist Organization president Chaim Weizmann. Following up on meetings the two leaders had held the previous June in Aqaba, Faisal signed an enlightened and tolerant nine-point agreement endorsing the Balfour Declaration and inviting the Zionists to coexist in Palestine. The text includes great specificity about mutual national aspirations. But the chief goal of the Arabs for an Arab national state at that time was not Palestine—but Syria. The text: Read more ..
Inside Latin America
|Eduardo Szklarz and Martin Barillas||July 27th 2009|
Cutting Edge Correspondents
|President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner |
President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina has now been in office one year and a half and is facing enormous challenges from within and without. Domestically, her call for national dialogue has been received cautiously by her opponents and the business sector, while her hard-core supporters appear to be flagging.
The Kirchner administration has been accused of corruption and manipulation of economic statistics, as well as putting pressures on both judges and the media. Industrial output dropped by nearly 11 percent this May with respect to the same period in 2008, according to the Argentine Industrial Union – a pro-business group. The annual rate of inflation has now surpassed 15 percent. Swine flu has now caused more than 165 deaths, according to official figures, but could actually be more, while official statistics have been called into question. World-renowned for its range-fed beef, Argentina may actually have to import beef this year because of the current impasse between the government and the private sector. Importing beef is something that just a short time ago would have seemed beyond comprehension.
As far as international affairs are concerned, Argentina appears to be more and more isolated. While its revenue appears to be in freefall, Argentina has no access to international financial markets even while it continues its feud with the International Monetary Fund. Recently, President Barack Obama placed Brazil and Chile at the forefront as examples of countries enjoying good relations with the United States. He failed to mention Argentina. Read more ..
Honduras on the Edge
|Luis Fleischman||July 27th 2009|
Cutting Edge Contributor
|Hugo Chavez and allied Latin American presidents|
As the Honduran crisis is still unresolved and attempts at mediation continue, the case has presented an interesting challenge whose outcome could be crucial for the future of the region and the United States.
For the time being Costa Rican President, Oscar Arias, is trying (so far unsuccessfully) to mediate between the current President of Honduras, Roberto Micheletti, and ousted Honduran President, Manuel Zelaya. The Obama Administration did the right thing by encouraging President Arias’s intervention as well as opposing Zelaya’s demand that a deadline be set for his return to power.
Yet, the Obama Administration, in principle, has supported the return of Zelaya to power as part of any settlement. This point requires further analysis because we are not merely dealing with an internal Honduran problem but also with a problem that has far reaching regional and international implications. Read more ..
The Race for Hydrogen
|Angeline French||July 27th 2009|
|Hydrogen Storage Process|
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Savannah River National Laboratory have created a reversible route to generate aluminum hydride, a high capacity hydrogen storage material. This achievement is not only expected to accelerate the development of a whole class of storage materials, but also has far reaching applications in areas spanning energy technology, synthetic chemistry, and alternative fuels for hydrogen fuled vehicles.
"We believe our research has provided a feasible route to regenerate aluminum hydride, a high capacity hydrogen storage material," says Dr. Ragaiy Zidan of SRNL, lead researcher on the project. The SRNL team, supported by the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, has developed a novel closed cycle for producing aluminum hydride (AlH3), also known as alane, that potentially offers a cost-effective method of regenerating the hydrogen storing material in a way that allows it to repeatedly release and recharge its hydrogen. Read more ..
The Cuban Edge
|Stanley Cohen||July 27th 2009|
In 1995, when I first visited Cuba, it was after years working in support of Soviet Jewry. My mission was discovering what had happened to the Cuban Jewish community, after the Cuban Revolution and years of Soviet influence. The question I asked myself was could I help the community not only survive, but thrive after decades during which practicing religion was discouraged and daily life was challenged by dire economic conditions.
In many ways, my effort began after I met Abraham Berezniak in 1996. Abraham had a lively smile and a powerful voice and was the President of the Orthodox Synagogue in Havana. The synagogue had managed to survive because of his leadership and the force of his personality, notwithstanding pressures from the Soviets and Cuban government.
Although cancer forced him to spend most of his time in hospital, his congregation would place a bed next to the Ark that housed the Torah so that he could spend every Friday night service with them. Abraham knew that his congregation needed to see him there.
Years later, his son, Yacob, now a Vice-President of the congregation and a true leader like his father, became the first child to be bar mitzvahed in Cuba after the Soviets left. I attended that bar mitzvah and later returned to Cuba with the video I had made which I gave Yacob so that he could see on film how proud his father was of him. Read more ..
The Edge of Terror
|Micah Halpern||July 27th 2009|
Cutting Edge Contributor
|Manchester United in the red jersey|
The double bombing of the Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels in Jakarta that killed nine people and wounded over sixty was a clear attack on Western targets. The organizers were members of Jama Islamiya, an al Qaeda splinter. Even before JI publicly claimed responsibility for the attack, it was easy to determine that they were the perpetrators. All the indications were there—and not just because this same Marriot hotel was hit in 2003 by this same group, killing twelve people.
Luxury hotels are obvious targets. Western travelers enjoy luxury hotels around the world. Indonesia is the most populated Muslim country in the world. Indonesia is therefore the perfect place for extremists to ply their trade. Clearly, this attack was intended to cause a bigger bang for the terrorist world than it actually did cause. Was it just another bloody attack on a luxury hotel—or was something more at play? Read more ..
|Joseph K. Grieboski||July 27th 2009|
Cutting Edge Foreign Desk
|North Korean Christians|
A 33-year-old Christian mother of three, Ri Hyon Ok, was publicly executed on June 16 by the North Korean regime for the crime of distributing the Bible, a book banned in repressive North Korea, the South Korean Investigative Commission on Crime Against Humanity reports.
Ri was also accused of spying for South Korea and the United States and of organizing dissidents, the Commission said, citing documents obtained from the North. The Commission’s report also stated that her husband, children and parents were sent to a political prison the day after her execution.
The claim could not be independently verified, and there has been no mention by the North's official Korean Central News Agency of her case. However, a copy of Ri's government-issued photo ID was provided by the activists. North Korea is well known for its crackdown on unofficial religions and for its overwhelming human rights abuses. Read more ..
America and Iran
|David B. Crist||July 27th 2009|
Washington Institute Contributor
Tehran came away from the confrontations with the United States in the 1980s convinced that Iran’s strategic and tactical approach had been sound, but that its operations had been technologically flawed. In early 1990, Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) leaders met in Tehran and concluded that mining and IRGCN small boats provided an effective counter to the superiority of the U.S. Navy. For Tehran’s naval officials, the disaster of Operation Praying Mantis revealed that they could not contend with the Americans in a conventional engagement, but that their asymmetrical operations had proven successful. Their mining campaign succeeded, with one mine in ten finding a target. The mines stopped the first convoy of the world’s most powerful navy, and a $1,500 SADAF-02 mine inflicted $96 million in damage to the USS Samuel B. Roberts. Read more ..
Edge of Energy
|Steven R. Kopits||July 27th 2009|
Cutting Edge Contributor
In seeking to explain the run up in oil prices from 2004 to 2008, commentators often turn to ‘speculation’ as the primary cause. While speculation—or at least a kind of piling-on—may have explained the very late stages of the oil price rally, the willingness to attribute oil prices primarily to financial investors, as the CBS news show 60 Minutes did a few months back, risks drawing the wrong lesson from the period.
Let’s rewind the clock and recall the events of the time. After many years of solid growth, oil production plateaued in October 2004. Regardless of the price level, the oil supply simply stopped responding, and from then on, the world had to make do with broadly flat supplies. Ordinarily, the expansion of the world’s economy would be accompanied by increased energy consumption and an inelastic oil supply might have been expected to hinder economic development. It didn’t. In the four years to mid-2008, the world economy expanded by 18 percent. The global economy boomed, even without new oil. Read more ..
|Leonard Nelson III||July 27th 2009|
Last fall, there was great concern among the United States Bishops about the possible passage of the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) and its threat to Catholic health care. President Obama had promised to sign FOCA during the campaign. If passed in the form it was most recently proposed, FOCA would have displaced current conscience legislation that protects Catholic hospitals from being forced to provide abortions. Some U.S. bishops indicated that passage of FOCA could result in the closure of Catholic hospitals.
FOCA was not passed, but the Obama administration has moved ahead with the rescission of the conscience regulations adopted in the waning days of the Bush Administration that reinforced current conscience clause protections. President Obama recently indicated to a group of Catholic leaders that he was in favor of robust conscience protection, but it is difficult to determine what this means in light of his actions. He has indicated that passage of FOCA is not a priority for him. And in fact there may be no need for a direct confrontation because he can achieve most of what FOCA would achieve by the passage of federal health care reform legislation. Read more ..
|Scott H. Bennett||July 27th 2009|
History News Network reviewer
Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Disarmament Movement. Lawrence S. Wittner. Stanford University Press, 2009. 272 pages.
In Confronting the Bomb, historian Lawrence S. Wittner provides an abridgement of his massive, award-winning Struggle against the Bomb: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement trilogy (1993-2003). An encyclopedic project on a vast transnational scale, his struggle entailed seventeen years of research and writing and made landmark contributions to peace history, international history, diplomatic history, and the history of social reform movements. Reviewers hailed it as a model of international and transnational history, with exhaustive research in archives on five continents. Based on the records of disarmament organizations, previously secret government documents, interviews with antinuclear activists and government officials, peace movement periodicals, and memoirs, Struggle examines both top down government policies and bottom up citizen activism. It chronicles scores of antinuclear organizations and individuals over six decades of global antinuclear activism.
At 225 pages, Confronting the Bomb offers a cogent summary of the trilogy’s powerful arguments and supporting evidence, without its extensive detail, notes, and bibliography. (By my count, the trilogy totals nearly 1,800 pages, including 1,300 pages of text, 280 pages of reference matter containing nearly 3,500 notes, and nearly 100 pages of bibliography.) This well-written, persuasively-argued book is a pleasure to read. By making his research and arguments assessable in a short, single volume, Wittner has performed a valuable service—one that promotes the mission of encouraging professional historians to write for a popular, though serious, audience. This book will appeal to general readers and experts alike—and will work well in courses on peace studies, diplomatic history, international relations, and social movements, as well as courses on modern history and politics. Read more ..
|Helene Marks||July 27th 2009|
I was struck by the fact that just after Barack Obama met with 16 Jewish leaders, three of them wrote their view of the meetings or the issues involved for tyhe very next Monday morning issue of The Cutting Edge News: Howard Kohr, the head of AIPAC [American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee]; Marla Gilson, the Hadassah representative; and Abraham Foxman of the ADL [Anti-Defamation League]. I found their three views fascinating, especially Gilson, as she was the fly on the wall. But no one has been able to answer the question why was the so-called "J Street" lobby invited. You cannot compare the stature of the historic Jewish organizations invited with this one-year upstart with a radical agenda and questionable funding. I think more should have made about that.
Edge on Homeland Security
|Sarah Laskow||July 20th 2009|
Center for Public Integrity
Tom Ridge, the Department of Homeland Security’s first secretary, testified before the 9/11 Commission on a May morning in 2004. Ridge spoke before a hall packed with emotional New Yorkers, about two miles from the site of the World Trade Center. His subject, however, was Washington.
When Commissioner Tim Roemer asked for suggestions on improving DHS, Ridge brought up an institution in which both he and Roemer had served: Congress. It would be helpful, Ridge said, if Congress took a look at the number of committees that had power over DHS.
"I think we could be even more effective in what we’re doing," he began, "if there was some means of reducing, frankly, the multiple layers of interaction that we encounter every single day."
"Well, sir, you’re very polite about it," Roemer responded. "It is absolutely absurd that Congress would require you to report to 88 different subcommittees and committees when we’re supposed to be fighting al-Qaeda."
Five years ago, the 9/11 Commission, a congressionally mandated panel investigating al-Qaeda’s 2001 attacks, made 41 recommendations on such topics as improving screening at airports and creating a director of national intelligence. Commissioners say Congress and the executive branch have enacted 80 to 90 percent of their suggestions. The recommendation that Congress "create a single, principal point of oversight and review for homeland security" is a notable exception. Read more ..
The Obama Edge
|Marla Gilson||July 20th 2009|
Cutting Edge Contributor
|Barack Obama Meets with 16 Jewish Leaders|
Last Monday afternoon, I was called to represent Hadassah at a small meeting at the White House with President Obama and 16 representatives of several American Jewish organizations. Here are the “fly-on-the-wall” details.
The President spent nearly an hour with us, and also in attendance were several senior White House and policy staff including Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, Valerie Jarrett, Tina Tchen, Susan Sher, Dan Shapiro, and Danielle Borrin.
The President entered the Roosevelt Room—just across from the Oval Office—without fan-fare at exactly at 3 pm and personally greeted each attendee, and hugged Lee Rosenberg (President-elect of AIPAC.) On my way to my seat I almost collided with the President when I went around the table to my seat and Obama suddenly entered thru a door in my path.
The President sat mid-table (with Emanuel to his left) and began by saying that Israel is an incredibly important ally; that the long term effect of the economic crisis has unfavorably impacted charities just as we are being called upon to deliver more services, and that reforming health care is an important priority for the future. Read more ..
Iran's Voter Revolt
|John Chapin||July 20th 2009|
|LA Metro Rail Car Manufactured by Siemens |
Siemens could lose hundreds of millions of dollars in a pending Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) rail car deal because its Nokia subsidiary sold the Iranian regime the equipment used to monitor dissidents and suppress its voter revolt, according to details reported exclusively by Washington Times correspondent Eli Lake.
Siemens Nokia was exposed as a prime cuplrit enabling the Iranian regime crack down on internet access, cell phone use, and Twitter accounts of protesters and dissidents. Now, Iranian human rights advocates in California are pressing local politicians and government executives with veto power over contract awards to punish the giant German company, according to Lake. In the coming days, a key contract for Metro rail cars for Los Angeles County is up for a vote, according to Lake. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
An international collaboration of 390 scientists reports the discovery of an outburst of very-high-energy (VHE) gamma radiation from the giant radio galaxy Messier 87 (M 87), accompanied by a strong rise of the radio flux measured from the direct vicinity of its super-massive black hole.
The combined results give first experimental evidence that particles are accelerated to extremely high energies of tera electron Volt (one electron Volt is the energy an electron or proton gains when it is accelerated by a voltage of one Volt) in the immediate vicinity of a supermassive black hole and then emit the observed gamma rays. The gamma rays have energies a trillion times higher than the energy of visible light.
The large collaborative effort involved three arrays of 40 foot to 75 foot telescopes that detect very high-energy gamma rays and the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) that detects radio waves with high spatial precision. Read more ..
|Robert P. Kirchhoefer ||July 20th 2009|
As soon as a coin in the coffer rings
A soul from purgatory springs.
So went a mantra from 16th-century Europe, when salvation -- or, so the idea went -- could be purchased by anyone willing to pay the price: sold to the sinner for cold hard cash. Sins were absolved, sinners sanctified, offenses forgotten. Money, not the commitment to a better life, promised that debauchery and divinity could cohabit in the ledgers of the holy treasurer.
By virtue of a self-promoting religiosity, these indulgences, as they were called, purported to place spiritual caps on the consequences of forbidden acts. A weekend of decadent and intemperate living brought no punishment for breaking with accepted piety.
In theory, at least, a person could excuse all the depravity he wanted, as long as those indulgent acts were economically sanctioned by appropriate authorities. Contrary to the hopes of the sinner, however, financial machinations had not the power to sanctify the sinner. The sins remained even when the money did not. Read more ..
|Richard Pachter||July 20th 2009|
Miami Herald Reviewer
Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the Inside Out. Douglas Rushkoff. Collins. 336 pages.
The new age of marketing books is upon us. It has actually been going on for a while. The author of this latest entry, Douglas Rushkoff, is calling for a business Renaissance, or says that we're already in the midst of one (I'm not sure which). That's easy for him, since he's certainly the embodiment of, well, a Renaissance Man, having covered culture, media and technology as a journalist for NPR, The New York Times, CBS News and other venues, and has been a consultant to various organizations. He's also written graphic novels, the latest, Testament, is a science fictional explication of the Torah, which he refers to as ''a media hack.''
Whatever . . .
In this book, Rushkoff joins people like Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, Daniel Pink and the ''Cluetrain Manifesto'' guys who understand that business has changed dramatically, mainly due to increased choice, media fragmentation and the Internet. But, like dinosaurs with a huge bodies and tiny brains, many firms just can't seem to move fast enough, or break their old, bad habits. Worse, they seek quick fixes, fast turnarounds and overnight transformations without making the fundamental changes or commitments required to really improve the ways they interact with their customers and employees. And when the needle fails to move after their half-hearted atmospherics fall flat, they're baffled. Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Jules Asher||July 20th 2009|
What is going on in teenagers' brains as their drive for peer approval begins to eclipse their family affiliations? Brain scans of teens sizing each other up reveal an emotion circuit activating more in girls as they grow older, but not in boys. The study by Daniel Pine, M.D., of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the National Institutes of Health, and colleagues, shows how emotion circuitry diverges in the male and female brain during a developmental stage in which girls are at increased risk for developing mood and anxiety disorders.
"During this time of heightened sensitivity to interpersonal stress and peers' perceptions, girls are becoming increasingly preoccupied with how individual peers view them, while boys tend to become more focused on their status within group pecking orders," explained Pine. "However, in the study, the prospect of interacting with peers activated brain circuitry involved in approaching others, rather than circuitry responsible for withdrawal and fear, which is associated with anxiety and depression." Read more ..
|Abraham H. Foxman||July 20th 2009|
Cutting Edge Commentator
I had the opportunity to meet with President Barack Obama at the White House on July 13, along with fifteen other representatives of Jewish organizations. Afterwards, everyone wanted to know whether I now felt reassured about the state of US-Israel relations.
I start off with the premise that pro-Israeli attitudes in this country are so deeply embedded and multi-layered that no particular policy approach can easily change that. On top of that, the President said a number of things that reminded me of the bi-partisan character of support for Israel which has been the hallmark of the relationship.
He said, as he did in Cairo, that the bonds between the countries are unbreakable; that America would never allow Israel's security to be in jeopardy. He talked about the need for the Arab world to take steps toward normalizing relations with Israel and indicated, though the media had not focused on it, the many steps the administration has taken to move the Arab world in that direction. He acknowledged the need to deal with public perceptions that he was focusing only on what Israel had to do by speaking more often about the Arab and Palestinian requirements.
In sum, grounds for reassurance.
Where I and others felt less comfortable was in the assumptions that seem to underlie the President's approach. First, is his outreach to the Muslim world. I understand the need to do this as a vital factor in protecting American interests, as long as it is not at Israel's expense. However, I left the meeting with the sense that the Obama administration believes that after the Bush administration, there is a need for the US to demonstrate that it can be tough with Israel to win back credibility with Muslims. We are seeing it already on the settlement issue and once established as a mode of operation, it can emerge again and again. Read more ..
Edge of Energy
|Steven Kopits||July 20th 2009|
Cutting Edge Contributor
The events of recent months have exposed the differing approaches to energy as practiced by China and the US. China has lent Brazilian oil giant Petrobras US $10 billion to further its offshore exploration work in return for a flow of oil equaling 160,000 b/d. It has lent Russian oil firm Rosneft $15 billion and Russian pipeline operator Transneft $10 billion for agreeing to supply 300,000 b/d from new fields in East Siberia for the next 20 years. In Venezuela, China is to contribute $8 billion to a strategic fund for oil development that aims primarily to increase Venezuelan oil exports to China by 650,000 b/d by 2015.
China is taking the long view, paying money now to ensure growth in the supply of oil and long-term access to its share.
By contrast, the Obama administration announced measures intended to achieve greater payments from oil E&P companies operating in the core area for US oil production — the Gulf of Mexico. The administration has argued that oil companies failed to pay royalties which might otherwise have been expected. While the US government is entitled to sell its societal resources on fair and commercial terms, the net result nevertheless will be to make oil production more expensive in the US. Furthermore, the US government has delayed opening other offshore areas to incremental exploration and possible production.
So while the Chinese are forging ahead to assure access to production around the globe, the US is seeking to reduce or limit its domestic productive capacity. Why the differences in approach? Read more ..
America and Iran
|David B. Crist||July 20th 2009|
Washington Institute Contributor
|U.S. Naval Carrier|
Iran’s military approach in its 1980s clashes with the United States show that the Teheran regime pursued one simple objective in opposing the U.S. escort of Kuwait’s tankers: force the U.S. Navy out of the Persian Gulf.
Iran’s leaders viewed the U.S. decision to safeguard the Kuwaiti tankers as a direct intervention in their war with Iraq. It was a common belief in Tehran at the time that the Iraqi invasion had been carried out at the behest of Washington to undermine the Islamic Revolution. With Iran’s dramatic seizure of the al-Faw Peninsula in February 1986, the United States had intervened to support Baghdad. According to U.S. intelligence, one Iranian commander at Bandar Abbas stated that the United States seemed intent on doing everything to "protect" Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s war machine. And since Kuwait was one of Iraq’s chief financial supporters, safeguarding the emirate’s oil tankers was tantamount to aiding Baghdad’s war effort. Read more ..
Iran’s Voter Revolt
|Howard Kohr||July 20th 2009|
Cutting Edge Commemtator
"Our future society will be a free society and all the elements of oppression, cruelty and force will be destroyed."
Can you guess who said that? Was it Thomas Jefferson? George Orwell? A character in an Ayn Rand novel?
The answer is Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution—the man who established the "Islamic Republic" that has, for 30 years, existed through the very means he said would be destroyed.
So if there was one good thing to emerge from the Iranian regime’s violent crackdown on protesters in the streets in the past month, it was compelling evidence that the Islamic Republic is today really nothing more than a crude military dictatorship.
No government censor could stop, and no Western apologist could deny, the deluge of heart-searing images of Iranians standing in the streets, facing down armed government militias and chanting "Where is my vote?" Facebook updates, Twitter posts, YouTube videos—all of these new technologies helped Iranians communicate with each other and the outside world. Read more ..
|Bruce Bridgeman||July 20th 2009|
Your July 13 Energy article "BioFuels are No Longer Just a “Field of Dreams" was written as though corn ethanol actually increases our fuel supply. This is an exercise in self-deception. Some experts calculate that producing corn ethanol consumes as much energy as burning it releases; others are more optimistic. Which side is right? Until now, cost and benefit calculations were largely theoretical. Now the data are in: As production ramps up, gasoline use should ramp down if ethanol is a net benefit. Since ethanol is about 3 percent of vehicle fuel, gasoline use should decrease correspondingly. But U. S. gasoline consumption increased by 1.4 percent annually for five years (using figures ending in 2006, the last year before wild oil price swings and economic downturn distorted markets). If ethanol had substituted for gasoline, gasoline use should have decreased 1.6 percent. The discrepancy might be explained if fuel demand had spiked upward, but total miles driven increased only 1.2 percent from 2005 to 2006. The only explanation is that the critics were right—there is no measurable gain from ethanol.
Why is this? One reason is that most of the energy that goes into corn comes not from sunlight, but from fossil fuels. Tractors run on oil, fertilizer is made mostly from natural gas and moved around on oil-consuming trucks, and the list goes on. Small changes in the statistics won’t change the conclusion: ethanol production is a disaster, one that will get worse as new distilleries come on line in the Midwest. More and more corn will be distilled, leaving less and less for food and feed. Already we see higher prices for milk, chicken and other corn-based products. High corn prices hurt us, and cause real suffering in the third world. It is time to end this failed experiment before it does even more damage without producing any benefit. Corn-based ethanol as a substitute for gasoline is a tragic illusion. The major obstacle to a rational policy is not engineering, but politics. The corn lobby is well-entrenched. But other lobbies, and the interests of the country as a whole, demand that we change course. Grass-based ethanol does not yet exist, because of the difficulty of breaking down cellulose. We naturally try the easy things first, and cellulose ethanol isn't easy. Maybe it will work, but we can’t count on it. We would be better off to burn our corn in powerplants to produce electricity - at least we would avoid the energy cost of distilling the alcohol. The idea seems absurd, and it is, but it is less absurd than the alcohol alternative.
Neil Goldstein responds: Whether Mr. Bridgeman likes it or not, we will all have ethanol in 2012. Had Mr. Bridgeman bothered to read the EPA study in my article, he would have understood that that is the point. As for the specific science behind the EPA’s decision to force corn-based ethanol production, EPA concludes that corn-based ethanol is a net energy saver and CO2 reducer when the costs of clearing and tilling the soil are amortized over 100 years, but not over 30 years. The California Air Resources Board (CARB), similarly, has called homegrown ethanol a low-carbon lifecycle fuel. But, whether Mr. Bridgeman’s analysis is right and the EPA and CARB are wrong is a completely moot point. Whatever the net energy impact may be, ethanol is going to be produced because that is the law. Read more ..
|Daniel R. Schaefer||July 20th 2009|
President Obama’s Cairo speech June 4, 2009 continues to be of current interest, because he stated policy objectives which are long-term. First, Obama complained about occupation for Palestinian Arabs, but failed to disclose that their horrific terrorism necessitated these conditions. He thus disregarded his own warning about being “blind to the truth,” together with Israel’s legitimate security needs. Second, he stated: “No single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons.” This could deny Israel the right singlehandedly to prevent Iran from developing nuclear arms. Third, Obama said “I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not, ” urged that “no nations hold nuclear weapons,” and hoped that “all countries in the region” shared the goal of peaceful nuclear power under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Article VI of that treaty requires the parties to negotiate in good faith “on effective measures relating to…nuclear disarmament,” supposedly under “strict international control.” This would require Israel to surrender any nuclear advantage she may have. The present controversy with Obama thus involves not merely settlements-which themselves may implicate security because of Israel’s narrow 1949 lines-- but also an attempt to impair Israel’s other security measures, no matter how justified, and to alter the military balance of power to Israel’s disadvantage and harm. Obama fails to distinguish between aggressor and victim. This is like equating the Holocaust Museum murderer to the armed security guards who shot him down in self-defense and defense of other innocents. Supporters of Israel—and Congress—should wake up and have the courage to stand up.
America and Iran
|David B. Crist||July 13th 2009|
In the 1980s, the United States faced significant security challenges in the Persian Gulf. The Islamic Revolution in Iran had replaced Washington’s ally, the Shah, with a decidedly hostile regime in Tehran. In September 1980, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein seized upon the chaos in Iran by sending Iraqi forces to capture the oil resources located across the border in southern Iran.
However, Iran fended off the assault and drove Saddam’s forces back into Iraq, where the fighting bogged down. Despite repeated offensives costing hundreds of thousands of lives, the Iranians were unable to defeat Iraq, and the war stalemated into a bloody struggle, eerily reminiscent of the First World War.
Fearing an Iranian victory and the export of its Shiite revolution to Iraq, the pro-Western Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—provided Iraq with US$25–$65 billion in assistance. Kuwait allowed weapons destined for Iraq to transit its ports; in one week alone, ships arrived at Kuwaiti harbors delivering nearly a brigade’s worth of T-72 tanks. In 1984, the Iran-Iraq War spilled into the Persian Gulf: In an attempt to force Iran to accept a ceasefire, Iraq initiated the so called Tanker War by attacking Iranian oil tankers. Iran responded by attacking ships destined for Iraq’s financial supporters, particularly Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Read more ..
America and The Arab World
|David Pollock||July 13th 2009|
Several new polls suggest that the United States is gaining ground in the Arab street, and that President Barack Obama's latest overtures, specifically his June 4 speech in Cairo, were well received by some important Arab constituencies. Although a great deal of skepticism remains, students of Arab public opinion would regard these numbers as surprisingly encouraging. In contrast, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's popularity has slipped dramatically in the Arab world, with many saying that the outcome of Iran's recent presidential election will hurt the region. Approximately half of the Arabs questioned even agree that "if Iran does not accept new restrictions and more international oversight of its nuclear program, the Arabs should support stronger sanctions against Iran around the end of this year."
Polling Difficulty in the Middle East
If the Middle East were more like the United States or Europe, an overnight phone poll would provide immediate answers to important questions. The reality is that phone polls in the region are notoriously unreliable and that most individual polls, however elaborate or well intended, are inevitably suspect of government interference, social bias, or other distortions. Still, if evidence from several different pollsters can be gathered, evaluated, and compared, some reasonable and even significant judgments can be rendered. This is precisely the case today when comparatively solid (and in great measure previously unpublished) data of this kind are at hand for three key Arab societies: Egyptians, Jordanians, and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
The data in question derive from three different sources, all using in-person rather than phone or online interviews: the Washington-based Zogby International, the Ramallah-based Palestinian AWRAD Institute, and the Princeton-based Pechter Middle East Polls. This last is a new entrant on the scene, but one whose fieldwork is conducted by a very experienced, professional, and completely apolitical regional commercial survey firm—and unlike most other polls in the region, without any government sponsorship or supervision. Read more ..
The Health Edge
|Lily Fesler ||July 13th 2009|
|Chalk River Reactor|
With the temporary shutdown of the nuclear research-reactor at Chalk River, Ontario, Canada’s medical isotope industry has fallen into crisis, threatening health services across North America. The National Research Universal (NRU) reactor, as it is called, produced a third of the world’s molybdenum-99 (Mo 99), a medical isotope that decays into technetium-99 (Tc 99), which can be used to diagnose and treat cancer and other diseases.
North America’s main suppliers of medical isotopes, Covidien and Lantheus, are desperately trying to meet demand for Mo 99 by increasing the supply coming from other reactors. However, there are only five medical isotope producers worldwide, including Chalk River, and the other four do not have sufficient capabilities to fill the gaping hole the NRU shutdown has left in Mo 99 production. Read more ..
Latin America on the Edge
|Courtney Carvill||July 13th 2009|
In a country where an average of 17 murders are committed each day and 98 percent of criminal cases remain unsolved, the May 10, 2009 assassination of prominent Guatemalan lawyer, Rodrigo Rosenberg, could easily have been dismissed along with thousands of other ill-handled and heavily manipulated political murder investigations. Instead, the dramatic elements of a video recording shown at the attorney’s funeral, in which Rosenberg forewarns the viewers of his own death as a result of the alleged plotting of President Álvaro Colom, his wife Sandra Torres, and Colom’s chief of staff Gustavo Alejos, has brought Rosenberg’s murder to the height of national attention.
In light of the recent sharp protests that erupted in the aftermath of the video’s release, the political divides of Guatemala’s economically and culturally conflicted society are even more obvious now than before the garish Rosenberg murder. The government bussed thousands of Colom’s supporters from the country’s rural area to the capital to counter the protests of equally large numbers of urban middle and upper class residents using the event as a wedge to call for Colom’s immediate resignation. Read more ..
|Andre Shoumikhin and Baker Spring||July 13th 2009|
In the aftermath of the Moscow Summit between President Barack Obama and his Russian counterparts, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev, a new nuclear arms treaty is in the offing. Moscow and Washington are eying the end of 2009 for completion of negotiations, both because of Obama's usual desire for speed, but also because the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty treaty expires in December unless renewed. But the desire for speed and the pressures of the clock should not infringe the duty to observe the basics of nuclear negotiations going forward. Five rules should govern the next steps.
Step #1: The Administration should not be afraid to let START expire.
START will expire in December unless both sides agree to extend it for five more years, pursuant to the terms of the treaty. This circumstance presents three practical options for the Obama Administration and Russia: allowing the treaty to expire, extending the treaty for five years, or negotiating a new comprehensive treaty to replace both START and the Moscow Treaty. While the April 1 joint statement on arms control implies that the U.S. and Russia have decided to negotiate a new comprehensive treaty, allowing START to expire is the best option.
Letting START expire would remove an unrealistic deadline for negotiations with Russia on strategic nuclear arms limitations. Negotiating a new treaty under such a deadline would prohibit a careful review of the U.S. strategic force posture, which cannot be concluded until the Nuclear Posture Review is completed at the end of this year or early next year. Furthermore, hasty negotiations are much more likely to produce a deeply flawed treaty that is inconsistent with U.S. security requirements. The Senate would be wise to reject such a treaty. Finally, there is no compelling reason to keep START in place. Its expiration will not end numerical limitations on U.S. and Russian operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads because the Moscow Treaty will remain in force through the end of 2012.
However, it should be noted that one school of thought in the Russian policymaking elite argues that Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) may simply cease to exist on its own terms if START expires: Read more ..
Inside Latin America
|Shoshana Bryen||July 13th 2009|
Cutting Edge Commentator
The Obama Administration has made a name for itself by apologizing for a variety of American political decisions for which it was not responsible. It is much harder to apologize for your own mistake than to apologize for what other people did in other times.
But an apology is in order. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who plans to meet with former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya on behalf of President Obama, should apologize to him and to current Honduran President Roberto Micheletti.
I suggest something like this.
"On behalf of the President of the United States and myself, I apologize for having jumped to the conclusion that events in Honduras last week constituted a military coup. We should have taken the time to understand the legal and constitutional issues in play in Tegucigalpa and should not have pre-judged the outcome. Our knee-jerk decision to stand with Hugo Chávez, Daniel Ortega and Raúl Castro was based on our political proclivity, not on an informed understanding of the issue at hand. Read more ..
The Race for BioFuels
|Neil B. Goldstein||July 13th 2009|
Cutting Edge Contributor
In the movie "Field of Dreams," Ray Kinsella (Kevin Kostner) hears a voice saying "if you build it, they will come." Following his dream, he builds an elaborate baseball stadium in the middle of an Iowa corn field, and lo and behold, the Chicago Black Sox return from the afterlife to play ball on his field, and his stands are soon filled with fans. For more than a year, a number of proponents of biofuels have suggested a similar approach for solving America’s energy crisis: require auto manufacturers to produce "flexible fuel" vehicles that can run on alcohol fuels, and the demand that these vehicles will create for alcohol fuels will result in the production of additional billions of gallons of alternative liquid fuels that will replace gasoline and help end our nation’s dependence on foreign oil. Rather than "build it, they will come," their approach has been "make Detroit build cars that can run on alternative fuels, and the alternative fuels will come."
Until now, the problem with achieving this vision has been that officials in Washington have been slow to levy such a mandate on the auto industry and on American auto buyers, based merely a dream, and absent a guarantee, that these alcohol fuels will be produced. Just this past May, the House Energy and Commerce Committee resisted incorporating in the House climate bill such a mandate for flexible fuel vehicles—proposed by Congressman Eliot Engel in the form of the Open Fuel Standards Act of 2009 (HR1476)—because of auto industry objections that the fuels will not be available. The auto lobbyists’ argument was given particular weight because of the current economic downturn, and because of fears that producing alcohol fuels would either end up raising the price of corn, require the importation of ethanol from Brazil where fragile rain forests would be injured (again spurious), or increase the production of methanol from coal, which would increase the emission of greenhouse gases. What the Committee, and its Chairman Henry Waxman, were willing to agree to in the face of these barriers was a watered down version of the Engel proposal, providing the Secretary of Transportation the authority to require the production of some flexible fuel cars, but refusing to set a specific target for how many such cars would have to be produced. Read more ..
Edge on Terrorism
|Walid Phares||July 13th 2009|
Cutting Edge Terrorism Analyst
During a Congressional briefing in July of 2007, a plan called "Freedom Lines" was submitted to the U.S. House Caucus on Counter Terrorism which suggested a second phase in the American military campaign in Iraq. Freedom Lines suggested a rapid training and expansion of the Iraqi armed forces followed by a gradual redeployment of U.S. and Coalition forces out of the cities and urban zones. This was part of a long term goals of al Qaeda and the Iranian regime in Iraq by CENTCOM officials and National Defense University professors. Today, we see the first phase of withdrawal beginning to take place. It is in this redeployment stage that Iraqi forces will be taking over from Americans and allies in all cities and most towns.
Two crucial questions immediately arise: 1) Will Iraqi forces be able to control their own urban zones? 2) And, as a corollary, what should be the next phase for U.S. and Coalition forces on Iraqi soil According to the proposed plan, the answer to the second question can determine the success or failure of the first. Indeed, for Iraqi forces to win the battle against their security challenges, it will depend on what kind of strategic mission U.S. armed forces will be tasked with in the next stage of their new deployment. Here is why:
The two main forces the U.S. and the West are facing in the region, and which are threatening the rise of democracy amongst local civil societies have been and continue to be the Salafi Jihadists led by al Qaeda on the one hand and the Ayatollahs' Pasdaran on the other hand. These two threats—regardless of how various U.S. administrations perceive them or project them—are the main challengers to Iraq's national security. Read more ..
The Edge of Life
One of nature's most gripping feats of survival is now better understood. For the first time, scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory observed the chemical changes in individual cells that enable them to survive conditions that should kill them.
The team tracked the chemical changes in Desulfovibrio vulgaris, which is a single-cell bacterium that normally can only exist in an oxygen-free environment. They exposed the cells to the most hostile of conditions — air — and watched as some cells temporarily survived by initiating a well-orchestrated sequence of chemical events.
Until now, scientists have not been able to monitor, at a molecular level, the chemical changes in individual cells as they survive extreme conditions. The ability to watch this Herculean adaptation to stress, from such an up-close and real-time vantage, gives scientists an improved way to study adaptive responses in a range of microbes, such as disease-causing pathogens and microbes that play a role in photosynthesis, energy production, and geochemical phenomena. Their work was recently published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, as "Real-time molecular monitoring of chemical environment in obligate anaerobes during oxygen adaptive response" by Hoi-Ying Holman, et al.
Read more ..
|Armstrong Williams||July 13th 2009|
Cutting Edge Commentator
Many of us grew up as huge fans and were consistently affected by his music and persona for much of our lives. Hearing the news of his shocking death has quickly reminded us of our own mortality and imminent death. The world was absolutely crushed when the reality set in that he was gone too soon and would never return. This will deeply resonate within the now seemingly hollow spot Michael Jackson left in the hearts of cult global followers that grew up with the pop star turned tragic figure---one that even the masterful craftsmanship of Shakespeare couldn’t create.
Many of us are well versed in his trials and tribulations, but, maintained empathy and downright pity for him as we continued to see him slide into depression and plain weirdness. Many can tell the story of befriending his posters in our rooms, eating breakfast with him on our cereal boxes, driving with him on our radios to work, even masterminding genius plans to find ways into his concerts. Everywhere you looked, Michael Jackson made cultural imprints as he easily crossed genres. It is without question that there was deep love and affection for him from sea to shining sea.
Through the years, Michael endured the curse of being the world’s most famous person, and, at times bore the weight of being one of the most infamous people. His relationships with others were dissected and called weird or fake. He was swarmed by fans spontaneously anytime he left his home, and tracked by helicopters and paparazzi on the way to court to defend himself before the world. Having communicated with Mr. Jackson during the furnace of his trials, I really began to see that that this superstar was only a man. What came across? A man who reached great heights and had his childhood stolen from him. He was skeptical of people because he was oftentimes exploited. He was clearly twisted and warped. I had to wonder who was responsible for this mess. Yet through his emotional underdevelopment, he remained sincere, humbled by stardom, and a man you wouldn’t be afraid to call brother and friend. Read more ..
|Anita Crane||July 13th 2009|
On July 10, The Hurt Locker expanded from Los Angeles and New York City to more cities around the United States. From beginning to end, it is an eye-opening, teeth-clenching thriller about a U.S. Army bomb squad, formally classified as Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD).
Jim O’Neil, executive director of the EOD Memorial Foundation of Niceville, Florida, endorsed this film. As a retired master explosive ordnance disposal technician and chief warrant officer for the U.S. Navy, his praise doesn’t come lightly.
“This film is intense, but the world is intense,” said O’Neil. “EOD techs don’t give a flip about the political reasons for bombs; they just care about saving lives. These are people who voluntarily take that long walk into uncertainty.”
Director Kathryn Bigelow co-produced The Hurt Locker with screenwriter Mark Boal, Greg Shapiro and Nicholas Chartier. Bigelow’s previous films include Blue Steele, Near Dark, Point Break, Strange Days, and K19: The Widowmaker.
What’s her take on the bomb squads? “The fact that these men live in mortal danger every day makes their lives inherently tense, iconic, and cinematic,” Bigelow is quoted in the production notes. “And, on a metaphorical level, they seemed to suggest both the heroism and the futility of the [Iraq] war.”
“Futility”? We’ll get to that later.
Mark Boal’s background is journalism, and impressive at that. He co-wrote In the Valley of Elah, which was hailed by reviewers as an anti-war movie.
However, that film was based on his Playboy article, “Death and Dishonor,” the tragically true story of an Army veteran who found out that his son didn’t deserve to join the Armed Forces. (While I hate Playboy, Boal’s article is free online and it actually gives a little credence to the old excuse that some men buy this magazine for the writing.) Read more ..
|Ruth R. Mosler||July 13th 2009|
I am like many Americans and find it unconscionable that our government has bailed out and in essence become the successor to the corrrupt General Motors empire. Read Edwin Black's "GM and the Nazis" series in The Cutting Edge News
(see Investigation), and then check his book Internal Combustion.
Not only did GM put the Third Reich on wheels, they did it while they were destroying mass transit in America by killing electric street cars. The company and its executives were successfully prosecuted by the federal government for their conspiracy against mass transit but never really tried at Nuremberg like other Nazi collaborators. The case against this company as a decades-long criminal enterprise is there for anyone to read, highly documented and highly recommended. Instead of receiving taxpayer money, this company should have have dismantled with its most valuable parts sold off to the highest bidder. America would have more jobs, better and more fuel efficient cars, and less addiction to oil.
The Edge of Terrorism
|Richard Falkenrath||July 6th 2009|
The NYPD has a highly developed counterterrorism program, due in large part to the strong support of city and department leaders such as Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who are both committed to having a strong counterterrorism program that effectively complements federal efforts. Our department is by far the largest police department in the country. While most police departments have only a few hundred employees, the NYPD has 53,000 men and women plus an operating budget of $4 billion. In addition, the city currently has a very low crime rate. All of these factors make it relatively easy for the NYPD to devote significant resources to counterterrorism.
To say that the NYPD is filling in the gaps in federal counterterrorism efforts is not a criticism of the federal government, which is very good at acquiring information on individuals connected to overseas terrorist organizations. Rather, our department has something the federal government lacks: plenary police power, which gives the department a broad ability to maintain public order, and a unique and important role in overall counterterrorism efforts. The NYPD counterterrorism bureau comprises several main elements. Read more ..
America’s Economic Collapse
The following recounts my experiences working for the Loan Delivery Department of a large multinational bank (hereafter known as The Bank) in Western New York during the hyper-inflated housing market. Almost all economists see the bursting housing bubble as a primary cause of the current global financial crisis. While there are many factors and actors to blame for the current crisis, my story highlights the impact securitization—the packaging and reselling of pools of mortgage loans—had on bank behavior.
Specifically, since the majority of profits for many banks were being generated by fees from loans, and as quickly as new loans were made, they were put into pools and sold to investment banks—who then manipulated these into more exotic financial instruments to sell to global investors—the banks’ incentive was to generate as many loans as possible, risk be damned! Everyone up and down the mortgage loan food chain was making money hand over fist, and no one wanted the gravy train to stop. But, as you will soon see, it required the complicit fraudulent behavior of banks (and others) to maintain it. Finally, while most analyses on the cause of the crisis have rightfully been directed at so-called “sub-prime loans,” my experience shows that fraudulent behavior was endemic, as the loans I dealt with were all classified as “prime mortgages.” Read more ..
Iran's Voter Revolt
|Michael Singh||July 6th 2009|
The questionable outcome of Iran's June 12 presidential election and the regime's harsh suppression of the ensuing popular protests have sparked a global outcry, and would appear to offer a golden opportunity to rally international pressure on Tehran. The international community's response, however, has so far offered little in concrete terms, being diverse -- ranging from U.S. president Barack Obama's caution, to German chancellor Angela Merkel's tough criticism, to Russian and Chinese leaders' embrace of the announced results -- and seemingly uncoordinated. To mount a more tangible response to the Iran crisis, the United States and its allies will have to weigh their options against varying international policy priorities.
The election crisis in Iran is not dissimilar to past events elsewhere around the world. Devising an effective international response, however, is more difficult than in other cases because of the tension between two competing international priorities. First is the U.S. and EU desire to stay out of the way of any internal transformation in Iran. To this end, these countries have avoided inserting themselves into what appears to be a growing challenge to the legitimacy of the autocratic regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The second priority is to demonstrate to Tehran that flagrant disregard of international opinion incurs a cost, a lesson with clear implications for nuclear diplomacy with Iran. Read more ..
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