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Archive for January 2010

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The Edge of Lobbying

Why 650 Local Governments Use Lobbyists To Get Cash for Buses, Trains, and Roads

January 25th 2010

Transportation Topics - Broken Road

Last September, city fathers in Dubuque, Iowa, lured three members of the White House cabinet to the banks of the Mississippi River on the same day they welcomed officials from one the world’s biggest corporations, IBM. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, accompanied by a host of aides, all climbed aboard the city’s green trolley car. Among their stops: Dubuque’s renovated harbor area, and then the historic millwork district — once the nation’s largest — and the nearby Roshek building, a depression-era department store undergoing a grand remodel.

Meanwhile, Dubuque’s private sector guest, IBM, was over at the convention center announcing plans to make the city a living laboratory for its Smarter Planet program. Up to 1,300 new IBM employees will begin fielding tech service calls later this year at the Roshek building, and the company hopes those workers will also be able to enjoy the fruits of a sweeping partnership between IBM and its host city — a partnership aimed at creating an integrated transportation system involving smart new bus routes, pedestrian-friendly streets, and arterial roads to take trucks out of neighborhoods. Read more ..

Religious Freedom

Greece is Jarred by Anti-Semitic Terror and Apparent Indifference

January 25th 2010

Jewish Topics - Greek Synagogue Fire
Burnt Jewish Books in Greek Arson

On January 22, police apprehended three men accused of setting alight an historic synagogue on the Greek island of Crete earlier in the month. Two Britons and a Greek national were arrested, while a US citizen is also sought in connection to the January 16 attack that caused extensive damage to the roof of the 16th century synagogue, its computers, and thousands of precious books. Police have identified the culprits of two assaults on the synagogue as nightclub employees. The two Britons are in their early 20s while the Greek is 33-years-old. They will appear before a prosecutor next week.

Alarmed by the arson, Moses Constantinis of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, said "I can't say I'm happy now; they should have arrested them earlier, after the first attack and not leave the synagogue unprotected." Read more ..

Inside the Vatican

Making Sense of Pope Benedict's Relationship with Jews

January 25th 2010

Christian Topics - Pope Meets Jewish leader

By this stage, outsiders trying to make sense of Pope Benedict XVI’s approach to Jewish-Catholic relations might be forgiven for wondering if the pontiff suffers from an undiagnosed case of schizophrenia.

After all, this is the pope who made a point of visiting a Cologne synagogue in 2005 on his first foreign trip, and Auschwitz on his second, only later to revive a controversial Good Friday prayer for the conversion of Jews. More recently, this is the pope who rehabilitated a Holocaust-denying traditionalist bishop and who announced that Pope Pius XII (whose alleged “silence” during the Holocaust remains a bone of contention between Jews and Catholics) is a step closer to sainthood, only to visit Rome’s Great Synagogue on January 17 to express his “esteem and affection” for Judaism, and to pledge that the “faces, names, tears and desperation” of Holocaust victims must never be forgotten.

So, the obvious question in many Jewish minds likely is: Will the real Benedict XVI please stand up? Read more ..

Religious Freedom

Coptic Christians Demand Australian Government Intervention to End Persecution in Egypt

January 25th 2010

Christian Topics - Coptic Girl

An Egyptian in Australia lives in fear of a backlash against his family because of his conversion from Islam to Christianity. "Mina," 36, is afraid for the safety of his family in Australia and in Egypt, for defying the police and fleeing the country after he converted to the Coptic Orthodox Church. He had been arrested and beaten numerous times, according to media reports.

His lawyer Jimmy Morcos said that after one arrest, "Mina" was thrown in a room with Islamic radical prisoners who were encouraged to beat him.

Mina is one of 70,000 Coptic Orthodox Christians who have fled persecution in Egypt and resettled in Australia since 1971, according to Coptic Orthodox Bishop Suriel. He is also one of 12,000 who marched on the Egyptian consulate in Melbourne to protest over the killing of six Coptic Orthodox Christians in a drive-by shooting in Egypt on December 6 during the Coptic observance of the birth of Jesus. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Energy Companies Face States Action for Actions on Climate Change Reform

January 25th 2010

Environment Topics - Smokestacks

Energy companies that have fought climate legislation in Congress are also facing threats in the states, where governors and legislatures are acting on their own to curb carbon dioxide emissions.

The latest example is a move by 11 governors from the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic region to adopt a low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS) to reduce greenhouse gases from cars and trucks, and possibly home heating systems that use oil products.
Emissions from the transportation sector alone account for 30 percent of the carbon dioxide released in those states.

Greenhouse gas emissions from human activity pose “serious risks to human health, terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and economies globally and in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region,” states a memorandum of understanding (MOU) the governors signed on Wednesday.

The goal is to develop a framework to reduce emissions from fuel use by 2011.

Oil companies and industry-backed groups argue there aren’t good alternatives to gasoline. Efforts to lower carbon dioxide emissions from fuel use in the Northeast won’t have an impact on global emissions and could raise energy prices in the region, critics say. Read more ..

Iraq on the Edge

The Iranian Threat to Iraq

January 25th 2010

Iran - Ahmadinejad pointing
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iran has sought to dominate Iraq politically, economically, and militarily. The most recent and visible manifestation of Iran’s meddling with its neighbor was the late December 2009 seizure of a portion of the remote Fakka oil field in Maysan Province in southeastern Iraq; although the Iranians, however, withdrew after three days, the seizure made it clear that Tehran has the capability to enforce its will on Baghdad. Also, there is the threat of suicide bombing in Iraq by foreign Arabs; in addition to Syria—Iran’s only Arab ally—Iran itself has become another entry point for foreign suicide bombers to enter Iraq, e.g., for Arabs entering Iraq from Afghanistan. 
Political Threats

Despite promises to the United States not to do so if Washington took action against the main political opposition to Tehran based in Iraq, thousands of Iranian-sponsored clerics crossed into Iraq from Iran. They carried books, compact discs, and audiotapes that promoted the Iranian version of militant Islam in spring 2003, following Operation Iraqi Freedom. Furthermore, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Qods (Jerusalem) Force established and continues to support armed underground cells across the Shiite southern region of Iraq, using the humanitarian organization, the Iranian Red Crescent, as a front. Read more ..

The Hell of Haiti

President Obama Risks a Katrina-sized Fiasco in Haiti's Bleak Prospects for Recovery

January 25th 2010

Disaster - Haiti Eathquake Devastation

As the days go by, it has become almost impossible to exaggerate the untold devastation left in the wake of the massive earthquake that struck Haiti on Tuesday, January 12, with its epicenter just southwest of the capital city of Port-au-Prince. The quake, registering a magnitude of 7.0 on the Richter scale and followed by over thirty serious aftershocks, left what is likely to be well over 200,000 dead and millions more injured. Many additional victims remained trapped in the rubble of homes, schools, hospitals, and government buildings as the primary three-day window for search and rescue ran out. Early this morning, a major aftershock registering a magnitude of 6.1 wreaked yet further havoc on the island.

The crisis has thus far drawn significant contributions of humanitarian aid from around the globe, including $100 million pledged by the US and tens of millions more by public and private agencies, in addition to relief efforts bearing food, medicine, and supplies for critical search and rescue operations. Still, the international response has been insufficient to keep up with the mounting challenges stemming from Haiti’s weak existing national infrastructure, social and political instability, and chronic underdevelopment, amplifying the disastrous impact of the earthquake. On Friday, January 15, the United Nations announced an emergency appeal of over $550 million in international humanitarian assistance for earthquake relief efforts over the next three to six months. However, the overpowering logistical and bureaucratic challenges that have complicated relief efforts so far may prove even more difficult to confront in the face of the enormous challenges posed by rebuilding the infrastructure and institutions of Haiti, above and beyond coping with the immediate devastation wrought by the earthquake. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Report Examines Options for Detecting and Countering Near-Earth objects

January 25th 2010

Science - Asteroid

A new report from the National Research Council lays out options NASA could follow to detect more near-Earth objects (NEOs) – asteroids and comets that could pose a hazard if they cross Earth's orbit. The report says the $4 million the U.S. spends annually to search for NEOs is insufficient to meet a congressionally mandated requirement to detect NEOs that could threaten Earth.

Congress mandated in 2005 that NASA discover 90 percent of NEOs whose diameter is 140 meters or greater by 2020, and asked the National Research Council in 2008 to form a committee to determine the optimum approach to doing so. In an interim report released last year, the committee concluded that it was impossible for NASA to meet that goal, since Congress has not appropriated new funds for the survey nor has the administration asked for them. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Fifty Years of The Pill... and Counting

January 25th 2010

Social Topics - The Pill

On May 9, 1960, the FDA took the momentous step of approving the contraceptive pill for birth control.

The acceptance of the hormonal contraceptive pill has been cited as one of the most important historical events of the 20th century because of its effects on marriage and family life. In this paper, I would like to discuss the medical history of the development of the pill, presenting historical events primarily from the perspective of science and scientists, but also – and necessarily – from the perspective of other personalities outside of science whose contributions to the cause were just as important.

I will focus on the 50 year period from 1910 – the year of the birth of reproductive endocrinology as a scientific discipline – to 1960 – the year in which the first orally active hormonal contraceptive was first approved for sale to the general public in the US.

At the turn of the 20th century, there was growing confidence in the power of the medical sciences to finally understand human physiology and the patho-physiology of diseases. The source of this confidence was due in no small part to advances in the field of endocrinology: the study of hormones and the glands that produce them.

The term "hormone" was coined in 1905 by the British physiologist Ernest Starling, after the Greek word meaning "to incite to activity". In the early 20th century, a variety of chemicals were found to have "hormonal" effects in humans: they were produced in one tissue, entered the bloodstream and incited a specific effect on another distant and unrelated tissue. Insulin, thyroxine,testosterone and cortisone were discovered at this time and were found to have remarkable restorative properties when given to patients with a number of common diseases. Read more ..

The Hell of Haiti

How One Man's Rant Spread Globally

January 25th 2010

Contributors / Staff - Abraham Foxman Color cropped
ADL national director Abraham Foxman

In today’s hyper-connected world, one individual’s extremist rant on the Internet can quickly become fodder for a newspaper headline halfway around the world.

 This was the case when a Seattle man posted an incoherent tirade on YouTube, making the preposterous allegation that the much-lauded Israel Defense Forces mobile hospital unit in Haiti might be involved in stealing organs for profit. 

Identifying himself as “T. West" of "AfriSynergy Productions,” he declared: “People have to be aware of personalities who are out for money.  The IDF has participated in the past in steal [sic] organ transplants of Palestinians and others.”

 Several anti-Israel Web sites and Middle East news sources immediately picked up on and reported as credible the allegations made by “T. West” that Israel may be involved in stealing organs from earthquake victims.  “Israel Harvesting Organs in Haiti?” asked a banner headline on the Web site of Press TV, a state-funded Iranian news channel. The answer was readily provided in the adjacent article, quoting directly from the “T. West” tirade.

Similar articles appeared on other anti-Israel Web sites in the Middle East, including that of Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, an armed wing of the terrorist group Hamas.  In the United States, Alex Jones, an American anti-Israel conspiracy theorist, picked up on the “story” and reported it as fact.

All of these reports cited the YouTube video from “T. West” in Seattle as their source.

How does such an outrageous accusation, made by someone virtually unknown ostensibly sitting in his living room with no information other than what he has read on the Internet and seen on television, get broadcast around the world in nano-seconds as the truth? Read more ..

Book Review

Haiti's Legacy of Freedom to the World

January 25th 2010

Book Covers - African Americans and the Haitian Revolution

African Americans and the Haitian Revolution: Selected Essays and Historical Documents. Maurice Jackson and Jacqueline Bacon. Routledge publishers. 2009. 272 pages.

Scholars as well as religious and political leaders have rightly condemned Pat Robertson’s racist and absurd claim that the recent earthquake in Haiti was punishment because the Haitian people “swore a pact to the devil” during their revolution in the 1790s to gain freedom from the French.  It has been ably noted not only that Robertson’s remarks were bigoted and heartless but also that the “history” he alluded to was a crude misrepresentation. 

But beneath the surface of Robertson’s remarks there is another underlying assumption, one both racist and ingrained in conventional American lore.  In his bizarre and merciless condemnation of the Haitian Revolution, Robertson perpetuates an unfortunately all-too-common historical myth:  that black people are incapable of freeing themselves, and must rely on outside forces to “save” them.

This illusion has long been promulgated in popular culture and historical texts, from the representations of abolitionist leaders as white men to the white saviors of Mississippi Burning.  The reality is in fact quite different—African Americans were the primary founders and innovators of antislavery activism in the United States and the architects of the Civil Rights struggle—but the misconception endures. 

Within scholarly circles, many historians have finally begun to attend to the important work done by African-American scholars such as Carter G. Woodson, John Hope Franklin, and Nathan Huggins, but cherished myths die hard.  Claims that white abolitionist leader William Lloyd Garrison “started” the abolition movement and influenced the thinking of his black colleagues (when in fact it was the other way around) can be found in books published in the last decade.  It’s not difficult to figure out what is at play here and why these narratives persist:  white supremacy depends upon the notion that freedom and rights, when attained, are “granted” to blacks by benevolent whites, who then can distance themselves from their racist history through their purported efforts at salvation. Read more ..

US Air Visa Credit Card Hawkers at Airports Are Obnoxious

January 25th 2010
Recently, I was trying to make my way through the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Every few feet, a US Air credit card hawker motion to me to approach with all the come-on of an alley dope dealer. The come-ons involved seductive, finger waving, "hey you" shouts to the middle of the aisle and invariably they all want to know where I am flying. It is none of their business where I am flying. Yet I am bothered every few feet in the terminal. The TSA refused to act when I complained. US Air personnel at the gates say they are helpless and emphasize the credit card hawkers only appear to be US Air employees--they are in fact not. Does US Air not know how bad this looks for their business? US Air must stop this conduct at the airports which sells their product. If US Air must sell its credit card--who needs it--it should do so quietly and courteously without hassling travelers.

Edge of Terrorism

Fighting al-Qaeda: The Role of Yemen's President Saleh

January 18th 2010

Yemen Topics - Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh3
Yemini President Ali Abdullah Saleh

Yemen's reemergence in the headlines as a crucial player in the fight against al-Qaeda raises questions about Washington's next steps. What sort of relationship will the Obama administration have with President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the longtime leader of what could be the world's next failed state? Saleh spoke with President Barack Obama by telephone on December 17, 2009, and later met in Sana with General David Petreaus, the head of U.S. Central Command, on January 2. But the lessons of Saleh's relationship with the Bush administration suggest that close ties can be matched by sharp policy differences.

Saleh's Bloody Background

Apart from Muammar Qadhafi of Libya, Saleh is the Middle East's longest-serving leader. Now a field marshal by rank, he first came to prominence in 1977 as a thirty-one-year-old major during political turmoil in what was then North Yemen (which united with South Yemen in 1990.) The country's military leader at the time, Ibrahim al-Hamdi, was assassinated, as was his brother, by unidentified gunmen who riddled their bodies with bullets. An Arab newspaper described it at the time as a well-planned coup, naming Saleh as a conspirator along with his mentor, Lt. Col. Ahmed al-Ghashmi, the deputy commander-in-chief of the army who became North Yemen's new leader. Al-Ghashmi himself survived an assassination attempt five days after taking power but was subsequently killed in June 1978 when the briefcase of a special envoy from South Yemen exploded in his office. A month later, Saleh was voted into office by the quasi-parliament as president and commander-in-chief; he survived yet another assassination attempt only months later. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Homeland Security Panel Launches Attack Probe in Europe

January 18th 2010

Transportation Topics - Schiphol

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee dispatched staffers to Europe to investigate the attempted terror attack on a Christmas Day flight. Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) announced that he's sending a delegation of staff to England and the Netherlands to investigate the security breakdowns that led a Nigerian man, Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, to successfully smuggle explosives on board a flight from Amsterdam in Detroit in December and almost successfully blow up the plane.


“I have directed Committee on Homeland Security staff to get a first hand look at the security systems that failed on December 25," Thompson said in a statement. "I am confident that this in-person examination will inform the Committee’s January 27th hearing on Flight 253 and provide insights on information sharing infrastructure, the watchlisting process, and passenger screen technologies." Read more ..


A Double Dip Recession Looms as Oil Prices Rebound

January 18th 2010

Energy Topics - Oil Barrels 400px

In 2010, oil demand will resume its upward march. OPEC will respond by increasing supply—but the increase will come too late to keep prices down as emerging-market consumption pushes them up. In the extreme case, resurgent oil prices could drive the U.S. economy into a double-dip downturn. Here's what to expect, and what a limited oil supply will mean for the United States and the world.

As the global economy recovers, oil demand will continue to strengthen from the 85 million barrels per day that it hit in November. That's already 4 percent higher than it was at the recession's trough in May of last year. As a result, inventories both onshore and offshore have begun to decline. The number of tankers storing crude oil in the Gulf of Mexico, for example, fell to seven in October from a high of 22 in May. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Al Qaeda Takes the Initiative in Attacking the West

January 18th 2010

Terrorism - Zawahiri

In 2001, one would-be shoe bomber forced millions of travelers to take off their shoes. In 2006, terrorists planned to bring down aircraft on transatlantic flights by smuggling liquid explosives onto planes. They were thwarted but they succeeded in preventing passengers from bringing liquids into airline terminals.

Lesson number one: In this terror war, the jihadists have the upper hand. They are the ones who choose to use a new weapon and they are also the ones who—by using simple logic—have refrained from using the same terror weapons more than once. In fact, since September 2001, Al Qaeda’s terrorists have avoided rushing into the cockpit of an airliner with box cutters.

Does this mean we were successful in deterring the terrorists? Of course: as long as we can prevent them from using the 9/11 methods, they won't be naive enough to repeat the same strategy. So is the US winning the fight with Al Qaeda by using these specific measures? No, we are simply protecting our population until the war is won. But winning is not measured by surviving potential copycat attacks.

Instead, this confrontation will be won by striking at the mechanism that produces the jihadists. And on that level, no significant advances have been made either under the previous administration or under the current one. For, as President Obama admitted late last month after a near-terror attack on Northwest Flight 253, there is a "systemic failure" in our defense against the jihadi terrorists. Read more ..

Diplomacy on the Edge

Turkey-Israel Relations—Straining to a Split

January 18th 2010

Islamic Topics - Turks Protesting Israel

The recent diplomatic spat between Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and the Turkish ambassador Oguz Celikkol was the worst thing that could have happened to the already strained Ankara-Jerusalem ties.

Relations between Turkey and Israel have weakened dramatically since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in Ankara in 2002. In the aftermath of the Ayalon-Celikkol incident, bilateral ties between the states face their biggest crisis since they established diplomatic relations in 1949.

To save its ties with Turkey, Israel needs to implement a strategy that tackles the AKP's anti-Israeli policies and rhetoric without simultaneously offending the Turks. As difficult as this balance sounds, it is Israel's only choice. Given the AKP's mostly negative attitude toward Israel, if the proud Turkish public is offended by Israeli actions, it would certainly sound the death knell of Turkish-Israeli ties. Read more ..

Edge of Climate Change

Wilder Weather Exerts Stronger Influences on Biodiversity

January 18th 2010

Energy / Environment - Pollution Made in China

An increase in the variability of local conditions could do more to harm biodiversity than slower shifts in climate, a new study has found.

Climate scientists predict more frequent storms, droughts, floods and heat waves as the Earth warms. Although extreme weather would seem to challenge ecosystems, the effect of fluctuating conditions on biodiversity actually could go either way. Species able to tolerate only a narrow range of temperatures, for example, may be eliminated, but instability in the environment can also prevent dominant species from squeezing out competitors.

"Imagine species that have different optimal temperatures for growth. In a fluctuating world, neither can get the upper hand and the two coexist," said Jonathan Shurin, an ecologist at the University of California, San Diego who led the project. Ecologists have observed similar positive effects on populations of organisms as different as herbacious plants, desert rodents, and microscopic animals called zooplankton. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Why Sanctions Help—Not Harm—Iran

January 18th 2010

Iran - Iranian nuclear facility

After giving Iran another full year to move closer to building a nuclear weapon, the Obama Administration is finally coming to the realization that its engagement strategy was a failure. Its fallback position has been to threaten new sanctions, but this approach will not succeed and may, in fact, help the Iranian regime and ensure it becomes a nuclear power.

Perhaps the most significant problem with the idea of sanctions is that it gives the impression of action without really achieving anything.

Sanctions are already in place and have not stopped Iran's progress. Proponents say that they simply need to be stronger, but a tougher sanctions regime has a number of problems. First, it will take yet more time to adopt any new measures and, with each passing day, Iran's program advances. Many experts already believe Iran can now build a bomb and the point of no return has passed. Read more ..

Edge of Economic Recovery

Should Money Store Value?

January 18th 2010

Economy - Money Money Money

A series of powerfully written articles by Charles Eisenstein at Reality Sandwich has renewed my interest in money alternatives, in particular a money-type which by design does a poor job of storing value. This money contains a built-in “rotting speed” in the form of negative interest, or demurrage. Demurrage would mean a money that acted as a very poor store of value, as compared with, say, income-generating entities such as farms or property or corporations. Not storing money to secure against future want would speed up its movement through the economy, thereby improving employment and, hopefully, community bonds. It would help turn money into a medium of exchange pure and simple, not something to stuff under the mattress. A money suffering negative interest was conceived to reflect the fact that value decays over time, like grain and meat for example. So the theory.

At first I was attracted by the idea of demurrage, but more thinking on it has led me to doubt its potential efficacy long-term. Any money, no matter its design, is based on the presumption of insoluble scarcity. If everyone just knows scarcity is insoluble, they will hoard to protect against want. With a money that decays, all that would change would be that which is hoarded. Read more ..

Religious Freedom

Renewed Violence Against Egypt's Coptic Christians

January 18th 2010

Christian Topics - Coptic Girl

On January 6—Christmas Eve according to the Eastern Orthodox calendar—six Coptic Christians and a policeman were killed in a drive-by shooting while exiting church in Naga Hammadi, Upper Egypt. The attack, which came in retaliation to an alleged rape of a twelve-year-old Muslim girl by a Christian man, was the largest assault on Copts in Egypt since a January 2000 massacre left twenty dead in Sohag. The days since the shooting have been marked by violent clashes and the burning of Christian and Muslim property.

These developments have unfolded against the background of increased political pressure on Islamists—evoking the 1990s, when the killing of Copts by Islamist militants was a routine occurrence and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) was banned from political participation. Thus, while Naga Hammadi might be an isolated incident, it could also presage the return of Egypt's Islamists to the bloody sectarian attacks of the 1990s.

Coptic Christians constitute nearly 10 percent of Egypt's population at 8 million strong. Long integrated into Egyptian society, the community was politically marginalized after Gamal Abdul Nasser's 1952 coup. Although Copts have since served in prominent positions such as minister of finance and foreign affairs, they have not held the premiership—which they did twice prior to 1952—or served as minister of defense or interior. And with only six members in the 444-seat parliament (only one of whom was actually elected), they are vastly underrepresented on legislative matters. Read more ..

Book Review

Altered States and Ordinary Miracles in Africa Still Dazzle

January 18th 2010

Book Covers - Altered States

Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles by Richard Dowden. Public Affairs. 2009. 592 pages.

Few people come here, writes Richard Dowden, former Africa editor of The Economist, even though it’s only a few hours from Europe. The visitors are package tourists, back-packers, aid workers, multi-national CEOs and international civil servants. They seldom stay long. But when they do they’re often surprised by Africa’s welcome, entranced rather than frightened, because its people are friendly, gentle and infinitely polite. They have a natural ability for social skills; they look you in the eye and empathize, share and accept from others without twitchy self-consciousness.

Africa is big and dazzlingly beautiful. Outsiders lose inhibitions and feel more themselves here. The essentials of existence—light, water, food, birth, family and death—are more immediate and more intense. Visitors suddenly understand what life is about: the richness of humanity, of other people.

This positive scenario is counterbalanced by the hell of poverty, famine, disease, war, corruption and chaos in countries like Zimbabwe, Somalia and Darfur. "Africa just can’t get its act together," mutter newspaper readers in London and New York.

But as Dowden wryly points out, it’s in the media’s interest to keep Africa backward, as it is for the aid agencies too, and the arms manufacturers. A Nigerian journalist tells him: "Yes, Nigeria is chaos. But the chaos is created by the government. Chaos allows it to stay in power." And so for much of the continent. Read more ..

The Hell of Haiti

Brazil's Burden in Haiti

January 18th 2010

Latin American Topics - Brazilian Peacekeepers
Brazilian peacekeepers

After a promising beginning that included, among other accomplishments, being the second country in the Americas to achieve independence and the first and only to do so after a slave revolt, Haiti’s prospects soured so precipitously that by the end of the millennium it was being dubbed the failed state of the Western Hemisphere.

Thus, one can hardly imagine a country that, even with the support of the international community, would take longer to bounce back from the catastrophic earthquake just witnessed on the island. If in the past, Haiti has almost chronically relied on foreign aid and debt relief, the devastating ramifications of this natural disaster will demonstrably increase this dependency. Brazil, which in recent years has maintained a strong presence in Haiti, might prove to be a favored source of such aid.

For the past two decades, Brazil has been working to expand its voice in the hemisphere. Thus, it was only natural that when the United Nations decided to replace its decade-long stretch of failed Haitian initiatives with a newly formed stabilization mission, Brasilia seized the opportunity. Read more ..

Ancient Iraqi Tomb Being Altered to Erase Hebrew Inscriptions

January 18th 2010

Following Shelomo Alfassa’s January 11,2010 article, Islamists Erase Jewish Identity from Ezekiel’s Tomb in Iraq, I wish to remind your readers aware of this potentially disastrous development in cultural history. The tomb of the prophet Ezekiel at al-Kifl, near Baghdad, is one of the oldest Jewish shrines in the world. It has been a centre for Jewish pilgrimage through the ages. But 150,000 Jews have been driven out of Iraq in the last 50 years. In the entire country there are only seven left. Not content with erasing Jews physically, according to a recent news report, the Iraqis now want to erase traces of their 3,000-year old Jewish history. As part of their renovation plans the Iraqi authorities are coming under pressure from Islamic parties in Iraq to obliterate the tomb’s Hebrew inscriptions and panels. Only international pressure might force the Iraqi authorities to reconsider their plans. We urge your readers to contact UNESCO Director-General, Mrs Irina Bokova at the following address. See: http://www.unesco.org/webworld/portal/processing/forms/contact/en/form.php)

Lyn Julius represents the UK Association of Jews from the Middle East and N Africa.

Invasive Biology and Genocide Suggested

January 18th 2010

There is a new biological threat to Jews around the world that has the potential for mass destruction of life. It is not in the form of a disease or mutation. This biological threat comes in the form of a theory, called invasion biology. It started with the Nazi's, and it now dominates environmentalism worldwide. It extols the “native” and exterminates the “alien”. It seeks to purify the environment of the unwanted and destructive influence of “invasive species.”

But the analogy to humans is clear. As Hitler put it in 1943, "Everywhere we encounter seeds which represent the beginnings of parasitic growths which must sooner or later be the ruin of our culture...(O)ne of the most potent principles of Nature's rule: the inner segregation of the species of all living beings on this earth."

As a result of contact, immigration and assimilation, cultures that once had a relatively unified sense of identity are now changing, alarming the old guard and causing a resurgence of nationalism and exclusivism, along with anti-immigrant hostility. They have gone from promoting immigration to the other extreme of xenophobia. Likewise, the environment has been treated as a melting pot, with plants and animals transported around the world to increase biodiversity and bring desirable species to new areas. And the resulting threat to the identity of the environment has led to a form of biological nationalism, with laws protecting native species and hostile to immigrant species, a form of bio-xenophobia.

The issue is especially relevant to the Diaspora Jew. Jews are all around the globe, and come in all colors and races. Where are we considered “native”? More to the point, what will happen to us when the “natives” in cultures in which we live decide that we are unwanted “aliens”?

To God, and nature, it's all one planet. People, creatures, and plants move around. It has been going on for millennia and will continue. It is only to man, with his desire to control and create an artificial order to the world, that nativity has any meaning. Surely, there is a time and place for weeding, selecting, and controlling species, and people. But we must reject the very notion that some species should be eradicated simply because they are not “native.” In human affairs we call this ethnic cleansing and genocide, and we have seen how ugly it is. It is no less ugly when unleashed on a plant or animal, its seeds of intolerance and hatred lying dormant for the next Holocaust.

Inside Latin America

Nuclear Security Issues in Latin America and the Caribbean Under the Radar

January 11th 2010

Latin American Topics - Peru Mining

Globally, nuclear power has become an increasingly important source of energy, accounting for about 15 percent of the world’s electricity supply. When it comes to Latin America, 3.1 percent of electricity comes from this source. However, the nettlesome security issues resulting from utilizing nuclear energy sources largely have been ignored.

On March 2008, Colombian authorities discovered that the FARC insurgent movement managed to obtain (it was never clarified from where) 9 kilograms of depleted uranium. Then, in early 2009, the Argentine media reported that an employee of the Baker Atlas Company oil-drilling operation in Neuquén had stolen a canister of nuclear substance Caesium-137, demanding up to $500,000 in ransom payments from Baker Atlas.

Meanwhile, if Brazil successfully completes the construction of a nuclear-powered submarine — a national security goal since the era of the country’s brutal military junta (1964-85) — the repercussions for regional geo-security could be profound. Reports suggest that countries such as Venezuela and Chile are also currently assessing the benefits of nuclear energy. One can add to this growing list of nuclear issues the ongoing transshipment of nuclear waste from Europe to Japan via the Caribbean and Panama Canal.

The Edge of Terrorism

Yemen and the Resurgent Al-Qaeda Threat

January 11th 2010

Islamic Topics - Yemeni Tribesmen

The failed attempt to bomb an American airliner bound for Detroit on Christmas Day has focused attention on the rising threat posed by the al-Qaeda franchise based in Yemen, long a stronghold for radical Islamist forces.

Yemen offers al-Qaeda many advantages: the protection of friendly tribal leaders opposed to a weak central government, the support of radical Muslim religious leaders, porous borders that facilitate covert movements and offer a back door to Saudi Arabia, and a sympathetic population that has been spoon-fed anti-Western propaganda for decades by militant Islamists and pro-Soviet Marxists. To combat the growing threat of terrorists based in Yemen, the U.S. should work with the beleaguered Yemeni government, Britain, Saudi Arabia, and other threatened countries to attack al-Qaeda's regional leadership, disrupt its operations, and diminish its ability to launch terrorist attacks. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

The Importance of Latin America to U.S. National Security Policy

January 11th 2010

Latin American Topics - Chavez and Latin American Presidents

The Christmas attempt at blowing up a Northwest Airline flying from Amsterdam to Detroit has rightly raised the level of concern regarding national security.

If some still believe that the 9/11 attacks were isolated cases that were not likely to be repeated, the Christmas event, as well as the massacre perpetrated by a radical Islamist at a military base at Fort Hood Texas and the capture of five Pakistani-Americans who tried to enlist with Al Qaeda, confirm that national security issues need to be comprehensively addressed. This is why paying full attention and giving priority to events occurring in Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan is imperative.

However, a national security policy cannot be subject to emotions or to the ideology of people who profess mere pacifism or wrongly believe that the enemy would not be our enemy if we treat it differently. Likewise, it is reasonable to say that no national security policy should be based only on a reaction to one specific dramatic event. Read more ..

The Political Edge

Lawmakers Visiting Detroit Auto Show Drive Tea Party Protests

January 11th 2010

Energy Topics - Detroit Auto Show 2010

Detroit has become a political battleground as lawmakers and activists descend on the city for its international auto show.

A delegation of Democratic lawmakers, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), will travel to Motown on Monday for the opening day of closed-door previews for the media, industry officials and other VIPs. They will be met, though, by conservative “Tea Party” activists, who plan to rally against the show.

The scene will represent one of the most high-profile demonstrations of the political battle over the bailouts for Chrysler and General Motors, nearly a year after the U.S. government provided tens of billions of dollars to prop up the companies.

Pelosi will travel to Detroit along with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and a bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers with an interest in the auto industry. The group comes at the invitation of Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), a longtime advocate for the auto industry. Read more ..

The Auto Edge

The Ultimate Driving Distraction: Electric Cars

January 11th 2010

Corporate Logos - Ford

This past week Ford Motor Company's president and CEO Alan Mulally gave the opening keynote speech at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The purpose of the presentation was to unveil an entire suite of new SYNC signature brand in-car innovations.

While the technology is undeniably exciting and amazing, it was darkly ironic given the amount of commotion that is currently going on around the country to try and eliminate “driving distractions.” If you think that the use of cell phones and texting has already created a safety problem, then you’re going to be shocked by what Ford now has in mind. Mr. Mulally actually seemed to champion and encourage the use of texting while driving when he rather gleefully announced that “Texting is now the favored form of communication for every age group,” within his description of Ford’s success in putting more than a million SYNC-equipped cars on American roads in 2009.

Incidentally, Ford wasn’t alone in exhibiting new “dashboard distractions” at CES; Kia showcased an elaborate Microsoft in-car multimedia system called UYO (which somehow stands for Your Voice), along with about 300 other in-vehicle exhibitors touting their own innovative products. Read more ..

Book Review

A Hard Look at Scientific Fact

January 11th 2010

Book Covers - What Science Knows

What Science Knows And How It Knows It. James Franklin. Encounter Books. 2009. 200 pp.

In What Science knows and how it knows it James Franklin presents us with a defense of reality and common sense against the attempt by post-modernists to dismiss science as just another form of colonial, white male oppression. Irrationalists love to pepper their works with quotation marks around such success terms as “facts” or “proof” as a way of downplaying their value.

A few moments of reflection are sufficient to show that post-modernist skepticism is as dim-witted as the liberation group in Monty Python railing against the Romans: ‘what has science ever done for us? Nuffing!’ ‘Well, there is penicillin, adult stem cell cures, the Internet, awareness of the importance of eco-systems and biodiversity, a tripling of the average life span...’

Science is not Voodoo. Science is a systematic practice that leads to knowledge about the world, much of which seems pretty straightforward once it has been pointed out to you. Theses like ‘sex can lead to conception’ or ‘the blood of animals circulates’ were not always known among our ancestors but they can be easily tested and are not about to be falsified.

The rationality of science rests on the validity of induction and thus on probabilities rather than metaphysical certainties. If the sun has risen everyday in the past, and no blackhole is in the vicinity, it’s a safe bet that it will rise again tomorrow too. An analysis of π’s first million decimals reveals randomness.


Edge of Climate Change

Bering Strait influenced Ice Age Climate Patterns Worldwide

January 11th 2010

Environment Topics - Bering Sea ice
Bering Strait Ice

In a vivid example of how a small geographic feature can have far-reaching impacts on climate, new research shows that water levels in the Bering Strait helped drive global climate patterns during ice age episodes dating back more than 100,000 years.

The international study, led by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), found that the repeated opening and closing of the narrow strait due to fluctuating sea levels affected currents that transported heat and salinity in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. As a result, summer temperatures in parts of North America and Greenland oscillated between warmer and colder phases, causing ice sheets to alternate between expansion and retreat and affecting sea levels worldwide.

While the findings do not directly bear on current global warming, they highlight the complexity of Earth's climate system and the fact that seemingly insignificant changes can lead to dramatic tipping points for climate patterns, especially in and around the Arctic.

"The global climate is sensitive to impacts that may seem minor," says NCAR scientist Aixue Hu, the lead author. "Even small processes, if they are in the right location, can amplify changes in climate around the world."

Hu and his colleagues set out to solve a key mystery of the last glacial period: Why, starting about 116,000 years ago, did northern ice sheets repeatedly advance and retreat for about the next 70,000 years? The enormous ice sheets held so much water that sea levels rose and dropped by as much as about 100 feet (30 meters) during these intervals. Read more ..

Inside Africa

Life for Africa's Albinos is Nasty, Brutal--and Short

January 11th 2010

Africa Topics - African Albino

White people no longer stand out, literally, in sub-Saharan Africa, not even in the villages and urban slums where a NGO Land-cruiser, with its White crew, is now a familiar sight. For Albino Africans it’s a different story.

The Whites are visitors, who are there usually for a specific purpose, but they won’t stay forever. An Albino may not find it easy to move out. He or she was born there and from an early age is likely to have encountered discrimination and taunts: at school, at sports and leisure, and later when looking for work.

An Albino child will very likely be rejected by his father. He will accuse the child’s mother of “infidelity”, or tell her that he, the father, is normal; there must be something wrong with the mother, and so will leave her because he doesn’t want “more children like that one”. But Albinos were left to follow their own way, a grim one in a place where the sun is bright and hot, and shines every day of the year. Despite popular misconceptions, they are not mentally-handicapped. They are intelligent and smart. They have to be; they are survivors.

That was until three years ago, when a “trade” in Albino body parts started, especially in the south-west of Lake Victoria, where Albinos are about 1 in 4,000 of the population, as opposed to the 1 in 20,000 of Europe and North America, where they are also less noticeable from their complexion. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

The Fort Hood Massacre: The Price for Political Correctness

January 11th 2010

Terrorism - Fort Hood

The massacre at Fort Hood intensified the ongoing debate about the role that Islamic extremism played in such crimes. Some pundits and politicians seem to spare no pain in arguing that there were no ideological motives behind the actions of Major Nidal Hassan, the executioner of Fort Hood. They all volunteer to find an apolitical excuse for this hideous transgression. The strangest of all ought to be the claim that the major had contracted Post-traumatic Stress Disorder from treating soldiers returning from the Wars of Iraq and Afghanistan!

The records show that the Fort Hood incident was made possible by a Political Correctness going awry. Although the signals coming from the murderer were clearly suspicious and worthy of investigating, his religious affiliation appears to have prevented his superiors from questioning his political beliefs. While being in the US army exposes every officer to deep scrutiny, in the Major’s case one easily wonders how his open ranting and his communications with known extremists failed to raise any suspicions.


The Ancient Edge

Islamists Erase Jewish Identity from Ezekiel’s Tomb in Iraq

January 11th 2010

Jewish Topics - Ezkiel
Ezekiel´s Tomb

The Iraqi news agency Ur news has revived fears that under pressure from Islamic political parties, the original Hebrew inscriptions and ornamentation on the walls around the tomb of Ezekiel are being (or have been) removed, this under the pretext of restoring the site. According to sources, the Antiquities and Heritage Authority in Iraq has been pressured by Islamists to historically cleanse all evidence of a Jewish connection to Iraq—a land where Jews had lived for over a thousand years before the advent of Islam.

Four months ago a German-based Iraqi journalist tipped off the Association of Jewish Academics from Iraq in Israel that plans were afoot to build a mosque on the site of the shrine of the Jewish prophet Ezekiel at al-Kifl, this was first reported on the “Point of No Return” news blog. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Abdelmutalib: A Jihadi Human Missile

January 11th 2010

Contributors / Staff - Walid Phares new
Walid Phares

In the Arab world there is a saying: “Take their truth from their crazies” I didn’t think it would fully apply in geopolitics until I heard Libya’s dictator, Moammar Qadhafi, claiming on al Jazeera few years ago that Bin Laden had acquired intercontinental missiles.

The “crazy boy,” as the late Egyptian President Sadat used to call him, argued sarcastically that al Qaeda has developed an unstoppable weapon: human transoceanic missiles. He meant by that Jihadists who were committed to istishaad (martyrdom) by blowing up commercial jets over targets in America.

The man who has been ruling Libya for the past forty years knows his region very well and despite his peculiar behavior, has predicted what most observers of the Jihadist movement have also projected: al Qaeda and its allies worldwide have discovered the Achilles heel of American defenses: the inability of its security apparatus to identify the readying of the new weapon, its deployment and its launching.

The situation is so bad, that a man who was on some “persons of interest” list was nearly able to massacre hundreds of passengers and probably many innocent people on the ground but for the failure of his underwear bomb and the courage of a citizen of the Netherlands who rose to defend humanity with his bare hands.

A Nigerian young man, educated in Europe, with no antecedent (and visible) involvement in “violent extremism” -- as defined by new US doctrines -- with a family wealthy enough to elevate him well above any sense of disenfranchisement and the other so-called roots of radicalization, burned parts of his body as he was leaping into the “heaven of virgins.” Had he succeeded he would have accomplished a considerable feat: the second bloodiest terror act within US borders, pushing back the Fort Hood jihad to third position after 9/11.

Authors on Tour

Edwin Black in Atlanta for Nazi Nexus Book and War Against the Weak Film

January 11th 2010

Contributors / Staff - Edwin Black
Edwin Black

Award-winning author Edwin Black – author of  War Against the Weak, IBM and the Holocaust, and other groundbreaking works of investigation, will appear on January 12 in Atlanta GA to speak about his latest book Nazi Nexus. Black will appear at Congregation Beth Tefillah in Atlanta. The event is cosponsored by Congregation Beth Tefillah, Ahavath Achim Synagogue and the Hebrew Order of David in association with the Georgia Holocaust Commission.

Nazi Nexus links five major American corporate entities in direct and pivotal complicity with the horror of Nazi genocide. Corporations working to advance Adolf Hitler’s murderous racial policies and military conquest were household names in the United States: Ford Motor Co., General Motors, the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation, and IBM. A review in the Miami Herald called the book “powerful and astounding.” Black has given lectures on Nazi Nexus at dozens of campuses, synagogues and resource centers since its 2009 release, and has published on the topic extensively. Echoing other reviewers, Michael Hirsch of Newsweek called the research “Stunning.”

Following his appearance, the award-winning film War Against the Weak, based on Black’s bestseller of the same name, will be screened at Lefont Theater in Sandy Springs, GA on two dates: January 17 and January 20, 2010,. The film by director Justin Strawhand, reviewed as “chilling,” has already won numerous awards including Best Feature Film at 2009 Beverly Hills Film Festival and Best Documentary at the 2009 New Jersey Film Festival. Black will not be in attendance at the screenings; but in an Atlanta Jewish Times interview, Black described the film as “factual to a fault.” Read more ..

Religious Profiling Unfortunate But May Be Necessary

January 11th 2010
Our media and "talking head" establishment is once again talking in circles. This time is it is about the need to profile. As we have seen from shoe bombers, to underwear bombers--from Mexican-Americans to Pakistanis to home grown boys in Arkansas, by and large it is not their race or nationality that matters but their connection to religious extremism. I mean Islamic extremism. To debate this newest threat properly, we need to get away from Middle East men and focus on the reality. The overwhelming majority of the terrorism threat comes from Islamic extremism whether it is Jose Padilla, Richard Reid or Nidal Hassan, they share on thing in common. So start the conversation there. Religious profiling is hateful and un-American. But if all the bombers are affiliated with the IRA, look for the Irish. And so on.

Edge of Economic Recovery

2010—Grim Economic Predictions For What May Be the Tipping Point Year

January 4th 2010

Economy - Out of Business

For the last week or two “experts” and pundits have been making their forecasts for 2010. I always take these forecasts with a grain of salt. The people making the forecasts generally have some skin in the game and will tailor their forecast to benefit their particular agenda or investment portfolio. I pride myself on dishing out punishment to both political parties and most investment shills. I will take on the thankless task of predicting the future. Below are my prognostications in the areas of the economy, domestic politics, global geopolitics, and the investment markets.

To date, the Federal Reserve has printed well over a trillion dollars in an attempt to evade a deflationary collapse, including a $700 billion bank bailout and a $787 billion stimulus package. And then there was $3 billion wasted on Cash for Clunkers ($24,000 per vehicle), $28 billion squandered on the $8,500 homebuyer tax credit, and an artificial suppressing of interest rates to 0 percent with $300 billion of mortgage-backed securities purchased by the Federal Reserve and Treasury. And all we’ve received is a 2.2 percent increase in GDP? The fourth quarter of 2009 will show a positive GDP as government spending and Federal Reserve quantitative easing have continued at a rapid clip. As the government stimulus winds down in the first half of 2010, the true weakness of the economy will reveal itself. I expect a double dip recession commencing by June of 2010. Read more ..

Inside Islam

Al-Qaida Connection to Attempted Murder in Denmark

January 4th 2010

Islamic Topics - Little Burka Mermaid
Copenhagen's Little Mermaid in a burka

The assailant who was shot on January 1 by Danish police after battering the door of a celebrated cartoonist has been identified as a native of Somalia. Armed with an axe and a knife and accompanied by two other assailants, the 28-year-old Somalian male entered the home of Kurt Westergaard in the town of Viby.

According to a press statement, the man is accused of entering Westergaard’s home to kill him. Westergaard was at home at the time with his 5-year-old grandchild and managed to elude his attacker by locking himself in his lavatory – bolstered as a safe room.

Westergaard was denounced by Muslims worldwide for his 2005 cartoon that appeared in the Jyllands Posten newspaper that depicted the Prophet Mohammed wearing a turban in the shape of a smoldering bomb. Outrage ensued in the Muslim world. Danish consulates and embassies were attacked and Danish products boycotted by Muslims worldwide. Read more ..

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