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Archive for May 2010

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The BP Spill

Obama Administration Should Take Over BP in Gulf—A Company with a History of War and Government Intervention

May 31st 2010

Energy / Environment - Anglo-Oil BP Sign Change

This article is based research originally done for Banking on Baghdad--Inside Iraq's 7,000-Year History of War, Profit, and Conflict (Dialog Press). Buy it here

America’s unrelenting addiction to oil has compelled it to recklessly drill off its most pristine shores without an emergency plan. Now, the country’s territorial integrity is increasingly threatened while the Obama administration is essentially powerless to control the outcome and prioritize the response. This country’s government—state, local and federal--fights its own community fires, responds to its own natural disasters, and maintains its coastal defenses against all comers.

However, although oil spills incrementally equaling the Exxon Valdez spill occur annually--and have for decades--our nation has never developed its own response capability. By necessity, the legacy of neglect to this addictive oil supply means consigning those governmental responsibilities in the Gulf to a foreign company — BP.

Hence, the panoply of stoppage efforts are under the control BP, the video feeds are under the control of BP, the dispersants deployed are under the control BP, the clean-up efforts are under the control of BP, the estimates, progress, operational facts and figures are under the control of BP, and the communities are at the mercy of BP. Read more ..

The BP Spill

Congress Assails BP for Vested Interest in Minimizing Damage

May 31st 2010

Energy Topics - Gulf oil spill

A top White House official and a senior Democrat on Sunday attacked BP for downplaying the amount of oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, accusing the oil giant of protecting its financial interests in low-balling the gusher’s size. The tough line with the company comes a day after BP and federal officials abandoned the “top kill” effort to block the damaged well.

“It is important to understand that BP has a financial interest in what those flow rates are. They will ultimately pay a fine based on those rates,” said Carol Browner, the White House climate and energy adviser, on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“It is important for people to understand [that] BP has a vested financial interest in downplaying the size of this,” Browner later added. “We are on top of it. We have the best minds looking at it.” Read more ..

Gaza on the Edge

Israeli Interdiction of Palestinian Flotilla Met with Violent Armed Activists

May 31st 2010

Gaza Topics - Gaza Flotilla1
One ship in the Turkish/Hamas flotilla

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon held a press briefing on May 31, several hours after Israel Defense Forces seized a flotilla of ships organized by pro-Palestine sympathizers that was headed to to the Gaza Strip. In the fray, at least 11 people were killed, with numbers climbing. Ayalon accused the fleet's organizers of having ties to Hamas and al-Qaeda terrorists. Israeli naval forces swooped down on the flotilla and were met with small arms fire, according to the Israeli Defense Ministry, while those on board the flotilla also met Israeli marines with edged weapons.

Before the incident had occurred, MEMRI had published this footage, with Arabic to English translation, showing participants on board one of the ships chanting violent anti-Jewish slogans before setting sail.

According to an official spokesperson, Israel was defending itself, with the Israel Defense Forces saying the soldiers' lives were in danger after they were attacked with "severe physical violence, including live fire, weapons, knives and clubs." An Israeli news video of a "peace activist" stabbing a soldier can be seen here at You Tube. A second video, seen here, shows an Israeli commando being thrown off a deck by peace activists and attacked with a long pole. The BBC has run military footage showing Israeli being viciously beaten with metal poles, see it here. Read more ..

Inside Africa

International Criminal Court begins War Crimes Investigation in Africa

May 31st 2010

Investigation - Luis Moreno Ocampo

On May 31, a two-week ICC (International Criminal Court) conference opened in Kampala, Uganda, the first formal review conference since the ICC was set up by world leaders gathered in Rome in 1998. In March of this year, Bangladesh became the 111th party to the Rome Statute, while 37 others have signed but not yet ratified it. The US, Russia, India and China, however, are not signatories. The ICC is a court of last resort, which intervenes only when national courts do not or cannot act.


The evening before the conference opened, to give the event international publicity, Ban Ki-Moon and President Museveni played on opposing sides in a soccer match at the Namboole National Stadium, which also featured survivors of the wars in Uganda and Darfur as players – the match ended in a 3-3 draw. ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo and ICC president, Sang Hyun Song, are also at the conference. Read more ..

Edge on Domestic Security

Response to Illegal Immigration is a Problem for Arizona--and all America

May 31st 2010

Social Topics - Arizona immigration rally

Section IV of Article IV of the US Constitution states:

The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against invasion; and on application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic violence. (Emphasis mine).

That the state of Arizona has need for the United States government to guarantee its protection from invasion and domestic violence is beyond question. It is expressly Constitutional. That Arizona has become frustrated by the insouciance of federal Immigration policy that evinces reluctance to sufficiently enforce laws that would limit the misery that Arizona is enduring through no fault of its own is clear. That Arizona has enacted a law to prevent financial, civil, and mortal chaos from worsening is understandable. And that the law, as currently enacted, has been misrepresented by myriad politicians, talking heads, and unelected elites is, sadly, typical. Read more ..

The Edge of Terror

Ignoring al Qaeda’s Ideology is a Threat to US National Security

May 31st 2010

Presidential - John Brennan (Counterterrorism)
House Counter Terrorism Advisor John Brennan

In preparation for publicizing the new National Security Strategy by the Obama Administration, John Brennan, White House Advisor on Counter Terrorism, said the President’s strategy “is absolutely clear about the threat we face.” From such an announcement, one might project that the new narrative would be as precise as it should be. That is, to define the ideology and the goals of the forces we’re facing, namely, the Jihadists--either Salafists or Khomeinists. Unfortunately, it was just the opposite. Mr Brennan said the Obama Administration doesn’t “describe our enemy as Jihadists or Islamists,” because, as he argued, "Jihad is a holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam, meaning to purify oneself or one’s community.” He added that “the use of these religious terms would play into the false perception that al Qaeda and its affiliates are ‘religious leaders’ and defending a holy cause, when in fact, they are nothing more than murderers.” Read more ..

Latin America on the Edge

Connecting the Dots of Internal Developments and Regional Security in Latin America

May 31st 2010

Latin American Topics - Latin Love Fiesta

Today, a large part of the Latin American continent is in danger of collapsing into a situation that fluctuates between totalitarianism and anarchy, between authoritarianism and chaos. The region is also in danger of falling under the strange influence of insurgent and terrorist groups, drug cartels and distant countries that historically have been poles apart from the region's culture and civilization (mainly Iran , China , and perhaps Russia ).

Part of the reason for this is the rise of Hugo Chavez and his Bolivarian revolution, which has had a mix of domestic, and foreign policy repercussions. The Bolivarian revolution has opened up a "window of opportunity" for external actors such as those mentioned above.

Venezuela has established a model of government and ideology that has implications on domestic and foreign policy. In terms of domestic policy, the regime is socialist and absolutist. It attacks private property and market forces, and it suppresses the political and civil opposition as well as the media. For foreign policy, the model expands the Bolivarian revolution and is inclined to unify Latin America as much as possible under Chavez's leadership. Read more ..

After 9-11

Rally Planned to Protest Mosques at Ground Zero

May 31st 2010

Islamic Topics - Muslim Day parade NYC

Now that it has been revealed that not one, but two mosques are planned for the area around Ground Zero, the supremacist and triumphalist character of this effort is clearer than ever. Is the Muslim population of lower Manhattan so huge that one projected mosque—even one so large as to be housed within a 15 story Islamic Center—would immediately be bursting at the seams, and thus yet another is required even before the first is built?

Of course not. Muslims are already praying at the projected site of the massive Islamic Center, an old Burlington Coat Factory outlet that was damaged by a piece of one of the hijacked airplanes fell through the roof on 9/11. (A Muslim real estate company paid $4.85 million in cash for the building. Where that cash came from has not been explained).

That building doesn’t appear to be overflowing, although Muslims are reportedly holding prayers on the sidewalk outside another lower Manhattan mosque, apparently in order to give the impression that they’re in dire need of more space. This is, however, more for show than for necessity. Read more ..

Inside Latin America

South America's Soy Bean Wars

May 31st 2010

Farming - Soybeans

After 35 years of Alfredo Stroessner’s brutal dictatorship (1954-1989) and six decades of wasted opportunity under the authoritarian Colorado Party rule, Fernando Lugo’s presidential victory in 2008 marked a historic breakthrough for Paraguay. While campaigning, then-Bishop Lugo characterized himself as the “bishop for the poor,” and was successful in giving hope to Paraguay’s indigenous and disadvantaged communities. However, after two years in office, comparatively little has been done to address the promised redistribution of land to landless farmers as well as the rising tensions between campesinos and large monocrop (primarily soy) producers. Read more ..

Child Rearing on the Edge

Spare the Rod, and Spare your Child the Aggression

May 31st 2010

Social Topics - Angry Child

Discipline—whether it's spanking, yelling or giving time-outs—may sometimes do little to reduce children's behavior problems, a new study indicates.

Researchers at the University of Michigan and five other universities looked at practices and perceptions of discipline in six countries. They found that spanking leads to more child aggression and anxiety, regardless of the country.

So what should parents do to teach children right from wrong?

"It may be that the long-term investments that we make in children, like spending time with them, showing that we love them and listening to them, have a more powerful positive effect on behavior than any form of discipline," said Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, U-M associate professor of social work.

The study examined the associations of mothers' discipline techniques with children's aggressive and anxious behaviors in China, India, Italy, Kenya, Thailand and the Philippines. Read more ..

Inside Islam

Religious Minorities Fearful in Pakistan following Deadly Taliban Attacks

May 31st 2010

Terrorism - Taliban

On May 28, Taliban extremists killed at least 93 members of the Ahmadi religious sect and injured around 100 others in attacks on two Ahmadi mosques during Friday prayer services in Lahore, Pakistan’s second biggest city. According to local police, more than 10 terrorists attacked the Ahmadis, who Muslims consider heretics. After an intense police operation, two teenaged attackers were arrested while others killed themselves by detonating explosives. Although members of Ahmadi community and their places of worship have been attacked by fanatical Muslims on an almost regular basis in Pakistan, this was the bloodiest incident in recent memory.

Local reports appear to show that the terrorist group was well-trained and armed with panoply of AK-47 rifles, pistols, grenades and wore explosive vests. They opened fire indiscriminately at the crowd of one mosque and occupied it for several hours while taking the congregation hostage. When the police decided to raid, the terrorists blew themselves up, causing further carnage. Read more ..

Gaza Flotilla A Stunt That Would Not Be Tolerated by Any Nation-- We Didn't in Cuba

May 31st 2010
Your coverage of the interception of the armed protesters aboard the Gaza flotilla by Israel (see Israeli Interdiction of Palestinian Flotilla Met with Violent Armed Activists, New May31, 2010) was among the most balanced I could find in the first hours of the media coverage. The clear provocative nature of this pro-Hamas stunt is amazing to any who will look. No country would allow a fleet of boats whether pleasure craft or military boats to approach its shores. Israel offered to accept the complete cargo of goods at its regular port of Ashdod. That was refused because as one organizer admitted to the media the goal was not humanitarian aid as much as "breaking the blockade." Had this happened off the coast of San Diego or the British shore, or even that of Saudi Arabia, the response would have been probably more escalated. For this reason, the protesters armed themselves with common weapons such as knives and rams, and began a violent resistance when the Israeli Navy came to interdict. For the media and to make martyrs. This was a stunt--nothing less and no country should be expected to tolerate it. America was prepared to engage in a nuclear war with the Soviets to enforce the blockade of Cuba. I remember that. Does anyone else.

The Edge of Climate Change

Small Mammals -- and Rest of Food Chain – At Risk from Global Warming

May 31st 2010

Animals - Prairie Dog

The balance of biodiversity within North American small-mammal communities is so out of whack from the last episode of global warming about 12,000 years ago that the current climate change could push them past a tipping point, with repercussions up and down the food chain, say Stanford biologists. The evidence lies in fossils spanning the last 20,000 years that the researchers excavated from a cave in Northern California.

What they found is that although the small mammals in the area suffered no extinctions as a result of the warming that occurred at the end of the Pleistocene epoch, populations of most species nonetheless experienced a significant loss of numbers while one highly adaptable species – the deer mouse – thrived on the disruptions to the environment triggered by the changing climate.
"If we only focus on extinction, we are not getting the whole story," said Jessica Blois, lead author of a paper detailing the study to be published online by Nature on May 23. "There was a 30 percent decline in biodiversity due to other types of changes in the small-mammal community."

Film review

Robin Hood: A Legend is Re-born with Gusto

May 31st 2010

Film - Robin Hood

Robin Hood. Directed by Ridley Scott Starring Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, and Max von Sydow. 140 minutes.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) starring Errol Flynn will always be for my generation, and for many others, the definitive film version of the legend. The Robin Hood (1922) of Douglas Fairbanks, however admirable in its buoyant American hero, pales before the Technicolor glory, then new, of the Warner Brothers production. Hollywood followed by making two films about the sons of Robin, The Bandit of Sherwood Forest (1946), starring Cornel Wilde, and Rogues of Sherwood Forest (1950), starring John Derek. It also produced a B version, Prince of Thieves (1948), with Jon Hall in the lead. Everyone loves Robin. Read more ..

Edge on Interfaith Relations

Exhibition of Jewish Manuscript Treasures Reveals Centuries of Cultural Exchange

May 31st 2010

Jewish Topics - Hebrew manuscript

The Jewish Museum of London is launching its first major temporary exhibition since its reopening in March 2010 with an exhibition of Hebrew literary treasures on loan from the Vatican and major British collections. The exhibition will bring together a collection of 27 rare manuscripts, many exquisitely illuminated, including three from the Vatican Library, eight from the British Library, three from Lambeth Palace Library, and eleven from the Bodleian Library. The manuscripts reveal a story of rich cultural exchange, practical cooperation and religious tolerance between Jews and non-Jews in the Muslim and Christian worlds during the Middle Ages and beyond. The exhibtion opens in June and continues until October.

Among the highlights of the exhibition are a richly illuminated 15th century version of the Mishneh Torah, an important Renaissance masterpiece, written in the 12th century by Maimonides, the greatest medieval rabbinical figure. There is also a 9th century midrash  on the book of Leviticus, thought to be the earliest Hebrew document in codex form. These two are both on loan from the Vatican Library. Read more ..

The Edge of Lobbying

Five Lobbyists for Each Member of Congress on Financial Reforms

May 24th 2010

Economy - Financial reform now protest

More than 850 banks, hedge funds, companies, associations, and other organizations hired 3,000-plus lobbyists to work on the reform bills, according to an examination of lobbying disclosure data for all of 2009 and the first quarter of 2010. However, public outrage over Wall Street’s role in the 2007-09 financial meltdown blunted industry attempts to win loopholes in the measure now before the U.S. Senate.

Most of the big players in American business lobbying were active as regulatory reform proposals worked their way through Congress. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce deployed 85 lobbyists, including 49 hired from outside lobbying firms. Among financial services groups, the Securities Industry and Financial Market Association employed 54 lobbyists, including 37 from outside firms. The American Bankers Association deployed 53 lobbyists, the Business Roundtable 42, and the Mortgage Bankers Association 29, according to Center data.

In the financial services industry, some 175 companies and groups—ranging from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to CME Group Inc. to the Private Equity Council—hired lobbyists to try to weaken or eliminate reform proposals aimed at banks and the capital markets. A distant second was the energy and utilities sector, with 91 companies and organizations, followed by manufacturing with 66 firms. Read more ..

The BP Spill

Criminal Probe of BP Suggested

May 24th 2010

Energy / Environment - BP Execs Testify

A group of Senate Democrats is pressing the Obama administration to escalate its probe of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill by launching a criminal investigation of BP. Eight members of the Environment and Public Works Committee in a letter Monday to Attorney General Eric Holder asked him to explore whether BP made “false and misleading statements to the federal government regarding its ability to respond to oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico.” The letter points to an exploration plan that BP provided Interior Department regulators in February of 2009 that addresses the company’s ability to respond to a spill. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Hezbollah’s Coalition Partner Meets President Obama

May 24th 2010

Arab Topics - Saad Hariri
Saad Hariri

Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri was in Washington for a meeting with President Obama. In announcing the meeting, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs called it "a symbol of the close and historic relationship between Lebanon and the United States." Indeed, between 2005 and 2009, bilateral ties were never closer or more consequential, with the Cedar Revolution ending nearly three decades of Syrian suzerainty in the country.

Over the past year, however, Hariri has had to govern in coalition with Hezbollah. The Iranian-Syrian backed Shiite militia was undoubtedly the elephant in the Oval Office meeting.

Prior to becoming prime minister, Hariri was a frequent visitor to the Bush White House as head of Lebanon's ruling March 14 coalition. This will be his first visit as premier, his first meeting with Obama, and his first trip to the White House since last year's seeming reversal of the Cedar Revolution. Read more ..

Edge on International Finance

The Fabulous Life of the Ravenous Vulture Funds

May 24th 2010

Africa Topics - Vultures eating zebra treat

Since the mid-90s, the so-called vulture funds have been suing poor countries so that they would fully pay back their debts which they had purchased for pennies on the dollar. In this way, the vulture funds frequently manage to exacerbate the economic situation in the poor countries, most of which are located in Latin America and Africa. Since the beginning of this year, Britain has worked to end these extortionist actions of the vulture funds. However, Christopher Chope, a Conservative member of the British House of Commons saw to it that the government’s “Debt Relief Bill for developing countries,” which had impressive cross-party support, would be terminated.

The purpose of the bill was to limit the amount that can be recovered by any commercial creditor from defaulting on countries designated as possessing unsustainable external debts. If passed, it would have limited successful claims to an internationally agreed level and would apply equally to all commercial creditors. The bill would cover the 40 countries qualifying for the IMF/World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. The only chance of passing the bill before the British general elections this June was if there was unanimity in the House of Commons. Chope has single-handedly prevented the Debt Relief Bill applying to developing countries from passing in its third reading by shouting the word “object!” Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Turkey and Brazil: Iran Supporters for Different Reasons

May 24th 2010

Iran - Lula and Ahmadinejad
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and Lula Da Silva of Brazil

At the time the “P 5 + 1” members of the United Nations Security Council were about to agree on sanctions against Iran, news of a a deal a 10-point deal reached between Brazil, Turkey, and Iran emerged.

As the idea of sanctions against Iran aims precisely at preventing Iran from further enriching uranium, something which eventually will give Iran a nuclear capability, the Iran-Turkey-Brazil deal does exactly the opposite. Such agreement called for the transference of low enriched uranium to Turkey without discussing the 20 percent enrichment activities that Iran began in February. Turkey, in principle would enrich the uranium and return it to Iran ready for civilian, medical use.

The deal did not stipulate that Iran discontinue uranium enrichment at home, but the opposite. It lays down the right of every country—including the Islamic Republic of Iran—to develop, research, produce, and use nuclear energy and the nuclear fuel cycle, including enrichment activities, for peaceful purposes without discrimination. In other words, the deal had nothing to do with the problem of nuclear proliferation or with Iran’s nuclear program. It rather served Iran’s interests in delaying UN Security council sanctions and probably more severe economic sanctions expected to come from the U.S. Read more ..

Inside the Eurozone

Leaving the Euro: An Exit Strategy for Germany and Greece

May 24th 2010

Europe Topics - Euro money

Rumors of the imminent collapse of the eurozone continue to swirl despite the Europeans’ best efforts to hold the currency union together. Some accounts in the financial world have even suggested that Germany’s frustration with the crisis could cause Berlin to quit the eurozone — as soon as this past weekend, according to some — while at the most recent gathering of European leaders French President Nicolas Sarkozy apparently threatened to bolt the bloc if Berlin did not help Greece. Meanwhile, many in Germany — including Chancellor Angela Merkel herself at one point — have called for the creation of a mechanism by which Greece — or the eurozone’s other over-indebted, uncompetitive economies — could be kicked out of the eurozone in the future should they not mend their “irresponsible” spending habits.

Rumors, hints, threats, suggestions and information “from well-placed sources” all seem to point to the hot topic in Europe at the moment, namely, the reconstitution of the eurozone whether by a German exit or a Greek expulsion. We turn to this topic with the question of whether such an option even exists. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Brown Defends Right to Seek Return of Artworks Stolen by Nazis

May 24th 2010

Politics - Jerry Brown
California Attorney general Jerry Brown

California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court on May 17 in support of a Connecticut woman who seeks the return of a pair of nearly 500-year-old paintings looted by the Nazis during World War II, kept for a time in the estate of Nazi leader Hermann Göring, and purchased almost 40 years ago by the Norton Simon Museum of Art.

Brown's “friend of the court” brief backs Marei Von Saher, who sued the Pasadena museum in 2007 over "Adam and Eve." The two panels painted by the 16th century German artist Lucas Cranach the Elder are evocative of original sin, according to the museum's website.

The works were confiscated by Nazi soldiers from an Amsterdam gallery owned by Von Saher's father-in-law, Jacques Goudstikker, during the war. From there, the panels were moved to Göring's country estate near Berlin until May 1945, when they were discovered by American troops. The following year, they were returned to Amsterdam. From there, the artwork's trail grows murkier, leading through Russia and to a sale in 1971 to the Norton Simon Museum, where the panels are on display on the main floor. Read more ..

Inside Islam

How Much Female Genital Mutilation is Good for Women, and Society?

May 24th 2010

Islamic Topics - Infibulation

Take two of the most combustible issues of our time, feminism and Islam. Mix. Shake. Pour. Duck.

This is more or less what happened last week when the bioethics committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics revised its long-standing opposition to female genital mutilation. Up to now, the AAP’s position was simple: never. In the United States, as in many other countries, opposition has been reinforced with legislation. One American father has been sentenced to 10 years in jail for cutting his two-year-old daughter.

But after years of experience with emigré communities from places like Somalia and Sudan, the AAP decided that absolute refusal to cooperate could do more harm than good. Parents have taken their daughters back to the home country where the procedure might be done in septic conditions without anesthetic, sometimes with scissors or a shard of glass. Read more ..

Arts on the Edge

British Singer Elvis Costello Bows to Palestinian demands to Boycott Israel

May 24th 2010

Art Topics - Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello, the British songster who is married to American jazz singer Diana Krall, has decided to join an artists boycott of Israel, having now cancelled two concerts there allegedly in protest at its treatment of Palestinians. Costello had initially said in an interview with the Jerusalem Post that he was against such protests. Costello and his new folk band the Sugarcanes were to have had two concerts in Caesarea on June 30 and July 1. Costello and Krall currently reside in New York City. In a highly personal statement, Costello wrote “It has been necessary to dial out the falsehoods of propaganda, the double game and hysterical language of politics, the vanity and self-righteousness of public communiqués from cranks in order to eventually sift through my own conflicted thoughts.”

Costello offered apologies on his website to advance ticket holders while also expressing appreciation to members of Israeli media. Apparently seeking some kind of balance, he said in his statement “I am also keenly aware of the sensitivity of these themes in the wake of so many despicable acts of violence perpetrated in the name of liberation.” Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

A Look at Kidnapping through the Lens of Protective Intelligence

May 24th 2010

Crime Topics - kidnap victim

While there have been suicide bombings in Afghanistan, alleged threats to the World Cup, and seemingly endless post-mortem discussions of the failed May 1 Times Square attack, one recurring and under-reported theme in a number of regions around the world has been kidnapping.

For example, in Heidenheim, Germany, Maria Boegerl, the wife of German banker Thomas Boegerl, was reportedly kidnapped from her home May 12. The kidnappers issued a ransom demand to the family and an amount was agreed upon. Mr. Boegerl placed the ransom payment at the arranged location, but the kidnappers never picked up the money (perhaps suspecting or detecting police involvement). The family has lost contact with the kidnappers, and fear for Mrs. Boegerl’s fate has caused German authorities to launch a massive search operation, which has included hundreds of searchers along with dogs, helicopters and divers.

Two days after the Boegerl kidnapping, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) posted a message on the Internet claiming to have custody of French citizen Michel Germaneau, a retired engineer who had previously worked in Algeria’s petroleum sector. Germaneau was reportedly kidnapped April 22, in northern Niger, close to the border with Mali and Algeria. The AQIM video contained a photo of Germaneau and of his identification card. The group demanded a prisoner exchange and said that French President Nicolas Sarkozy would be responsible for the captive’s well-being. Read more ..

Book Review

The Referral Engine: How to Make Your Business Market Itself

May 24th 2010

Book Covers - The Referral Engine

The Referral Engine: Teaching Your Business To market Itself. John Jantsch. Portfolio. 233 pages.

I skipped his last book, a bestseller called Duct Tape Marketing, for reasons that are now unclear; perhaps out of loyalty to Garrison Keillor and A Prairie Home Companion. Regardless, I may have to go back and give it a gander, as John Jantsch's latest is a real gem. Under the guise of developing a system for generating business referrals, the Kansas City, Mo.,-based author also provides coaching on just about every aspect of entrepreneurial enterprise -- but more about that in a bit.

First of all, Jantsch identifies humans' inherent need to refer and recommend. He writes: "We refer to connect with other people. Being recognized as a source of good information, including referrals, is a great way to connect with others. Think about how eagerly you responded the last time someone asked you for directions, offering up your favorite shortcut and tips for avoiding traffic. We all do it. Making referrals is a deeply satisfying way to connect with others -- asking for referrals is just the other side of the same phenomenon. I think the growth of many popular social networks can be traced to the fact that people love to connect and form communities around shared ideas."

In order to have customers refer you to others, you must ensure that you delight them and surpass their expectations. Guys like Guy Kawasaki and Seth Godin have been pounding on that drum forever, but Jantsch updates the pitch quite nicely by adding his own perspective and experiences. Then he invokes using Facebook and Twitter, among other things -- which should be a no-brainer these days, although they're surprisingly absent from many businesses. He also covers stuff like product development and innovation, as well as market differentiation -- all vital elements in today's commoditized marketplace. Read more ..

Turkey on the Edge

Islam, Alcohol, and Government-Engineered Social Change in Turkey

May 24th 2010

Turkish Topics - Raki

Since the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, rose to power in Turkey in 2002, special taxes on alcohol have increased dramatically, making a glass of wine or beer one of the most expensive in Europe, and, for that matter, anywhere in the world. The AKP leadership is known for their aversion to alcohol. Yet, the Turkish people are divided on this issue, with some who believe that drinking alcohol is a sin according to Islam, while some believe it is not. While the debate continues, the AKP is implementing policies to make alcohol exorbitantly expensive and therefore out of reach for many Turks.

The issue at stake in Turkey is not whether the government promotes or condemns drinking, nor is it defending one’s ability to get drunk, as would be the case in non-Muslim societies. Rather, given the split religious and cultural attitudes towards drinking in Muslim Turkey, which is also a democracy, the issue at stake is maintaining the notion that citizens in a liberal democracy are free to choose for themselves. Drinking might, therefore, be seen as one of the litmus tests of the AKP’s commitment to liberal democratic values within the context of the Turkey’s majority faith, Islam. Research shows that after eight years of rule by the AKP, drinking has become an expensive luxury in Turkey due to large tax hikes.

For starters, the AKP’s tax hikes against alcoholic beverages do not appear to be connected to a drinking problem in Turkey. In fact, Turkey has traditionally low alcohol consumption rates. According to data provided by the World Health Organization, at the time when the AKP came to power in 2003, Turkey's per capita alcohol consumption rate was 1.4 liters (L) per year. For that same year, this amount was 10.9L in Belgium; and 11.5L and 9.0L in neighboring Cyprus and Greece respectively. Even, Qatar, which implements a rigid version of the Shariat under the Wahhabi school, had higher per capita alcohol consumption rates than Turkey, at 4.4L per capita. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Water Ice Found on Asteroid Surfaces

May 24th 2010

Science - Themis main belt (NASA)

Asteroids may not be the dark, dry, lifeless chunks of rock scientists have long thought.

Josh Emery, research assistant professor with the earth and planetary sciences department at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has found evidence of water ice and organic material on the asteroid 24 Themis. This evidence supports the idea that asteroids could be responsible for bringing water and organic material to Earth.

Using NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility on Hawaii's Mauna Kea, Emery and Andrew Rivkin of Johns Hopkins University in Laurel, Md., examined the surface of 24 Themis, a 200-kilometer wide asteroid that sits halfway between Mars and Jupiter. By measuring the spectrum of infrared sunlight reflected by the object, the researchers found the spectrum consistent with frozen water and determined that 24 Themis is coated with a thin film of ice. They also detected organic material.

"The organics we detected appear to be complex, long-chained molecules. Raining down on a barren Earth in meteorites, these could have given a big kick-start to the development of life," Emery said. Read more ..

Destination Africa

Be Prepared for Spontaneity while Traveling Africa by Taxi

May 24th 2010

Africa Topics - Taxi in Guinea

Travel in Africa has always been precarious; but somehow, and often miraculously, one usually gets from point A to point B, and often on time too. Instead of modern, efficient and congested subway systems –too difficult and costly to construct- urban Africa moves above ground. Although the wheel wasn’t invented here, it would have been sooner or later, if it hadn’t been introduced. 

Though overshadowed by Nairobi, the current regional hub of eastern Africa, Kampala, Uganda, is catching up fast, thanks to the mobile phone (which reached here several years before Kenya), - and the wheel. While it is normal to take two hours to cross down-town Nairobi, longer when it rains, Kampala has the “boda-boda,” the motor-cycle taxis, which move you around fast. In Nairobi they hardly exist. Read more ..

The Philippines on The Edge

Election of Benigno Aquino Sparks Hope in The Philippines

May 24th 2010

Asia Topics - Benigno Aquino

The expected victory of leading candidate Benigno Simeon Cojuangco "Noynoy" Aquino III has raised the hopes and expectations of the people of the Philippines. The people judged him to be the most worthy of trust and the best one able to realize their hopes and most likely to fulfill campaign promises to end corruption and work to end widespread poverty.

His greatest challenge if proclaimed president will be to resist the power, influence and pressure of the vested interests of the powerful dynastic families and foreign corporations and governments that have dominated Philippine politics and the economy for generations. The people have spoken through the new fairly effective electronic voting system that has minimized cheating and brought a swift result.  Read more ..

Thailand on the Edge

Attack on Thailand’s Red Shirts Puts Down Insurrection

May 24th 2010

Asia Topics - Thai Red Shirt--400w

On May 19th, the Thai armed forces stormed the barricades of Limpini Park, the Red Shirt holdout and gathering place for protest in the business district of Bangkok. Charging through bamboo pikes and pillars of gasoline-filled tires lit aflame, Thai armored personnel carriers struck at the heart of the nearly three-month protest whose leaders were demanding Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva call new elections.

The Army’s attack scattered protesters, arrested scores, and killed five protesters, including an Italian free-lance photographer. In the last few days of fighting, some 53 people were killed and 400 wounded. Since the protests began in March, some 80 people have died, including the Red Shirts’ self-proclaimed military leader, General Khattiya Sawasdipol, known as Seh Daeng (Commander Red), who was shot in the head last week as he spoke to a New York Times journalist. Read more ..

World's Oil Addiction Hurts in Many Ways

May 24th 2010
By now it must be perfectly clear to all Americans that our addiction to oil hurts us in so many ways. We have seen how foreign oil can squeeze our economy. Our troops are bogged down through the Middle East and in other Islamic countries essentially because of oil and what our involvement with foreign oil has wrought. Now it is abundantly clear that even domestic oil is a massive risk to our environment. In addition to infecting the air we breathe through the tailpipes of millions of automobiles and trucks, the spills are poisoning our waterways, from the Exxon Valdez, to the annual spills big and small, to the ecological disaster now playing out in the Gulf of Mexico. If anyone thinks we really ever needed to be on oil, I suggest reading Edwin Black's book Internal Combustion and his companion book The Plan.The world never needed to be addicted to oil, and these books and many others like them, make it clear the solutions and alternatives are more than a century old and begging to be revived. It would cost us a fraction of what we now spend on the economic, environmental and military catastrophes oil -- foreign and domestic -- has inflicted upon us to do the right thing and save our world.

The BP Spill

Training Exercises Showed Gaps in Government Preparedness Before BP Oil Spill

May 17th 2010

Energy / Environment - Oil Spill Cleanup Crew

Over the last eight years, the U.S. government has conducted four major drills to prepare for a massive oil spill, the results of which foreshadowed many of the weaknesses in coordination, communication, expertise, and technology that have plagued the federal response to the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

According to interviews and after-action reports, the training exercises conducted in 2002, 2004, 2007, and just this past March caused federal officials to express concern about a host of issues. Most prominent among them:

  • coordination and communication between the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security, especially involving the process for naming a National Incident Commander (NIC) to take charge of the crisis;
  • a slow or inaccurate flow of information from the industry, particularly caused by companies' desire to protect proprietary information and officials' tendency to exclude industry representatives from the government's command center; and
  • a lack of expertise and modern technology for closing a spewing oil well leak and containing a slick through controlled burns and dispersants.

Since then, the government has faced questions about why it took so long to declare the spill an emergency, why it didn’t use Pentagon planes sooner to spray dispersants and why it lacked a ready supply of specialized booms to contain and burn the growing oil slick. Read more ..

The Edge of Oil

OSHA Says 97% of Worst Industry Violations Found at BP Refineries

May 17th 2010

Energy / Environment - BP Refinery Explosion
BP's Renegade Refinery after Explosion

Two refineries owned by oil giant BP account for 97 percent of all flagrant violations found in the refining industry by government safety inspectors over the past three years, a Center for Public Integrity analysis shows. Most of BP’s citations were classified as “egregious willful” by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and reflect alleged violations of a rule designed to prevent catastrophic events at refineries.

BP is battling a massive oil well spill in the Gulf of Mexico after an April 20 platform blast that killed 11 workers. But the firm has been under intense OSHA scrutiny since its refinery in Texas City, Texas, exploded in March 2005, killing 15 workers. While continuing its probe in Texas City, OSHA launched a nationwide refinery inspection program in June 2007 in response to a series of fires, explosions, and chemical releases throughout the industry. Read more ..

The BP Spill

Congress Probes Federal Role in a Devastating Oil Spill

May 17th 2010

Energy Topics - Gulf oil spill

Congress turns its focus to the federal role in the ongoing Gulf oil leak this week after an initial round of hearings probed the culpability of oil companies tied to the ongoing spill. Three Senate committees will hold hearings on the Gulf spill on May 18, to be followed by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on May 19.

Oil industry executives testified before three congressional panels on May 11-12, largely blaming each other for the accident that may pose more of an environmental threat than originally believed. Friday reports said the rate of the spill could be three or four times higher than the 5,000 barrels a day estimate that had been thought to be pouring into the Gulf.

Although the congressional investigation has just begun, a House panel has uncovered a number of potential equipment problems on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that could have contributed to the spill. Read more ..

The Edge of Oil Interruption

The World's Naval Powers Converge on Iran and the Strait of Hormuz

May 17th 2010

Iran - Iranian missile vessel

At the end of April 2010, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Navy conducted three days of “Great Prophet V” exercises in the Persian Gulf. Hundreds of fast boats were deployed in what appears to be a rehearsal for Iran’s first wave of attackers against ships in the strategic Strait of Hormuz where 40 percent of the world’s oil passes. These are the same swarming boats that harassed U.S. Navy ships in January 2008. The fast boats may have been reinforced recently by Iran’s furtive acquisition of the Bradstone Challenger, the world’s fastest speed boat, which could now be cloned. Some of the speed boats are reportedly equipped with anti-ship missiles and torpedoes. 

The danger of small boats was proven when the USS Cole was hit in October 2000 in Yemen by a bomb-laden inflatable boat – an order of magnitude slower than the speed boats. Seventeen sailors lost their lives in the Cole attack.

During the Iranian exercise the Revolutionary Navy also interdicted and searched a French and an Italian vessel in the Strait of Hormuz for "environmental" checks. Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Aerial Drones Bring Stealthy Devastation from Above

May 17th 2010

Military - MQ-1 Sky Warrior drone

The United States has come under significant criticism for the harm to civilians caused by unmanned drones operating in Afghanistan and occasionally across the border into Pakistan. Steps are being taken to alleviate the collateral damage and public relations concerns, steps which will also enhance rather than decrease the effective of the delivery system.

The Air Force began acquiring unmanned drones when avionics matured enough to permit the operation of such vehicles almost thirty years ago. The 15-year-old Predator started out life as the RQ-1, with the R denoting reconnaissance and the Q indicating that it was an unmanned vehicle. The mounting of Hellfire missiles meant a new designation, MQ-1 for its multipurpose role, and the hunt was on.

The MQ-1 weighs a bit more than a ton fully loaded, half of which is fuel and a pair of hundred pound Hellfire missiles, when fitted for combat missions. The turbocharged gasoline engine, a 115 horsepower Rotax 914F, is a larger version of the those used to power ultralight aircraft. The machine can fly out 400 nautical miles over a five hour period, loiter for fourteen hours over the target area, and come home with fuel to spare. The longest mission on record was just over forty hours. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Effective Sanctions Against Iran Depend on Timing and Synergy

May 17th 2010

Iran - Ahmadinejad pointing

At this juncture, effective economic sanctions are the best way to deal with Iran’s maniacal regime. Sanctions have more advantages and fewer potentially serious consequences than the other two options—do nothing (so called “containment policy”) or attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. Although there are many ways to get around sanctions, they are having serious consequences. The Iranian economy is clearly afflicted by slow growth, high inflation, substantial unemployment and limited economic prospects. The backbone of the country’s economy—the oil industry—is suffering from aging infrastructure and it has received little in the way of new investment in the last year or so. Furthermore, its ability to borrow on the international market has been seriously limited. Read more ..

Inside Iran

America Needs to Get the Message Across to Iran

May 17th 2010

Iran - Iran protest

Persian-language radio and television broadcasts are among the main tools of U.S. public diplomacy toward Iran. Yet both of Washington's primary outlets for such broadcasting -- Radio Farda (RF) and the Persian News Network (PNN), an arm of Voice of America (VOA) television -- have been harshly criticized since their inception.

The most recent criticism surfaced last month, in a letter from Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) to President Obama. Signed by sixty-nine other congressmen, the letter accused PNN of "anti-American rhetoric" and an "apparent lack of oversight regarding the context of VOA-Persian broadcasting." Subsequently, an April 14 Washington Times editorial described VOA as "Voice of the Mullahs," stating "if VOA is telling Iranians struggling for freedom that resistance is futile, we hope Tehran keeps jamming it." As evidence of VOA's anti-American stance, the editorial noted that PNN had interviewed two "pro-regime" figures, Houshang Amir Ahmadi and Trita Parsi. Five days later, VOA director Danforth Austin responded to the allegations by defending VOA's objectivity, asking, "[W]ould the government of Iran waste time and money jamming VOA's PNN if it didn't find the content objectionable?" Read more ..

Israel on the Edge

Will Israel Face a 2012 Apocalypse during the Second Obama Administration?

May 17th 2010

Obama Admin Topics - Obama and flags

Some people believe the Mayan calendar predicts a global catastrophe in 2012. This was the premise of the film 2012, which imagined the earth's temperature rising to the point where much of the planet and its population is destroyed. Israel could face its own apocalypse in 2012 if the political heat continues to rise.

Imagine the following scenario:

In 2012, Obama is narrowly reelected. He is angered by the defection of Jewish voters disenchanted with his Middle East policy. Unfettered by electoral concerns, he is prepared to use his remaining years to consolidate the relationships he has built with Arab states and further reassure the Muslim world of America's friendship.

After delaying their intended 2011 announcement, the Palestinians declare independence and ask the world to recognize Palestine and to force Israel to allow the establishment of its capital in Jerusalem.

Israel protests and says that it will no longer honor its past agreements with the Palestinians. It closes its borders and reasserts the unity of Jerusalem. Read more ..

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