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Archive for June 2011

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Europe on Edge

No More United States of Europe

June 29th 2011

Europe Topics - European spheres of influence

Europe continues to be engulfed by economic crisis. The global focus returns to Athens on June 28 as Greek parliamentarians debate austerity measures imposed on them by eurozone partners. If the Greeks vote down these measures, Athens will not receive its second bailout, which could create an even worse crisis in Europe and the world.

It is important to understand that the crisis is not fundamentally about Greece or even about the indebtedness of the entire currency bloc. After all, Greece represents only 2.5 percent of the eurozone’s gross domestic product (GDP), and the bloc’s fiscal numbers are not that bad when looked at in the aggregate. Its overall deficit and debt figures are in a better shape than those of the United States—the U.S. budget deficit stood at 10.6 percent of GDP in 2010, compared to 6.4 percent for the European Union—yet the focus continues to be on Europe. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

The Growing Al-Qaeda Crescent in Strategic Yemen

June 29th 2011

Yemen Topics - Yemen sheik your mamy

The key battle with al-Qaeda in Yemen is in the countryside, where the U.S. government is paying too little attention.

The June 22 jailbreak of dozens of al-Qaeda-linked prisoners in southern Yemen's Hadramawt province is the latest evidence that the main battle with the group has been taking place in the countryside. Although conflicts in the capital -- such as the ongoing faceoff between supporters of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and members of the Hashid tribal confederation -- will affect Yemen's future course as a nation, efforts to control the provinces more directly affect U.S. national security interests. Read more ..

Second Flotilla

Don't Be Fooled by the Next Gaza-Hamas Flotilla

June 29th 2011

Palestine Topics - More Gaza flotilla

We're on the verge of another "flotilla" to Gaza. Estimates of the number of ships and participants vary from day to day, tending downward, but the erstwhile organizers insist that the maritime operation will take place.

Their spokesmen have been hyperactive in drawing attention to the event. After all, without coverage, they'd be denied their oxygen. And the kind of coverage they seek - idealistic humanists and peace activists determined to aid the poor, beleaguered residents of Gaza versus stone-hearted oppressors in military uniforms determined to block them at all costs - would, needless to say, portray Israel in the worst possible light. Read more ..

Book Review

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris get an Eyeful and are Transformed

June 29th 2011

Book Covers - Greater Journey

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. David McCullough. Simon & Schuster. 2011. 576 pages.

The Greater Journey is a masterful exploration of the experiences of Americans in Paris in between the 1830s and the end of the nineteenth century. Some, like Harriet Beecher Stowe, only came for a few months. Others, like Oliver Wendell Holmes or James Fenimore Cooper, stayed longer, sometimes for years. Some, like Charles Sumner or Samuel F. B. Morse, kept coming back, and a few, like George Healy and Mary Cassatt, ended up settling in Europe for good. They came alone or with their families, or like John Singer Sargent, were been born in Europe of expatriate American parents. The book provides wonderful vignettes of people and places, but it is much more than that.

The title in itself evokes the main idea of the book: by going East, toward “civilization,” these Americans achieved as much for themselves and for the United States as a nation as others did by going West and exploring American “wilderness.”

Beyond the title, McCullough does not present an overarching grand argument upfront (there is no formal introductory chapter). Instead, relying heavily on letters, diaries and personal accounts, he immerses the reader in the experiences of Americans in Paris, and lets the picture emerge and come together. McCullough is a master story teller, but his touch is light, and reading The Greater Journey feels like taking a stroll through a gallery with an expert and passionate guide. It is fitting that much of the book focuses on artists, as it reads like a good painting. Brush strokes of varying width and depth make for a textured and multi-layered tableau, which will leave different readers with their own particular experience of the book.

The Greater Journey is organized chronologically. Part One explores the 1830s; Part Two, the 1840s through 70s; and Part Three, the last thirty years of the century. Each part is in turn divided into chapters revolving either around an important aspect of the lives of Americans in Paris, or around an important historical event, such as the cholera epidemic of 1832 or the 1870 siege of Paris. By choosing to approach his subject chronologically, McCullough achieves both a greater depth and a more subtle picture than had he chosen to treat each individual in separate chapters. It also allows him to make the narrative richer by inserting shorter passages on characters whose experience in Paris did not warrant full examination, or for whom he had limited sources. More importantly, the portraits croisés approach allows him to explore the relationships between his subjects, and to bring dynamism to the story by highlighting the evolution of both the city and its American visitors. Read more ..

Political Scandals

Sex, Lies, and Twitter

June 29th 2011

Contributors / Staff - Armstrong_Williams

What is it that makes us all think we can get away with it? And by all, I mean men. It seems that across the board, and irrespective of political affiliation, men have failed at exhibiting the better part of valor when it comes to sex. The recent and devastating implosions of once powerful men, whether Arnold Schwarzenegger, Congressman Anthony Weiner, or Senator John Edwards suggest a powerful connection between sex, power, and the public eye.

Let’s face it, married men cheat all the time. The alarming rate of divorce and out of wedlock births alone is evidence enough of this. So it should come as no surprise that men who reach the pinnacles of power succumb to some of the same temptations that mere mortals struggle with every day. Or should it? After all, people in power should know that fame can be a double-edged sword. It amplifies successes and failures alike. You would think that sexual discretion would be chapter one of the public figure’s handbook. And yet, time and again, the sexual indiscretions of powerful men spill out of the bedroom and onto the front page. Read more ..

The Gun Trade

Badly Flawed Background Check System Fails to Contain Firearms Sales

June 29th 2011

Crime Topics - Guns for sale
(credit: Emma Schwartz, iWatch)

Like many states, Maine depends on the FBI to conduct background checks of people who want to acquire firearms from the state’s federally licensed gun dealers.

And like many states, Maine is a slacker in supplying the records that the FBI depends on to run those checks.

That’s how Raymond Geisel got his guns, including a Glock Model 17 pistol and a semi-automatic version of the AK-47 assault rifle. Geisel had previously been committed to a psychiatric hospital in Bangor, which made him ineligible under federal law to buy or possess a gun. But because state officials had not supplied records of his commitment to the FBI, Geisel passed background checks without being flagged.

Eventually, the law caught up with Geisel. He was arrested in Miami in August 2008 for making threats against Barack Obama, who was campaigning in south Florida around the same time. Another gun that Geisel had acquired in Maine was subsequently recovered by federal agents in his hotel room, along with a combat-style hatchet, armor-piercing ammo and canisters of tear gas. Read more ..

Military Edge

Pentagon Spends Billions on Incentive Pay—but Doesn’t Measure What Works

June 29th 2011

Military - Army in Afghanistan

The Pentagon spent $5.6 billion in 2010 on special pay incentives for active-duty service members, including $1.2 billion for enlistment and re-enlistment bonuses. But the Pentagon has no way of measuring whether it is setting bonus amounts wisely.

DOD allows military branches to offer a bonus to any occupation they have difficulty recruiting or retaining. From 2006 to 2010, the services spent a total of $11 billion for bonuses—52 percent went to the Army, 24 percent to the Navy, 16 percent to the Marine Corps, and 9 percent to the Air Force.

About $4.5 billion of the $11 billion was used for enlistment bonuses and $6.6 billion for re-enlistment bonuses. During this same period, all branches met their enlistment goals and quality, with the exception of the Army in 2006 through 2008. Read more ..

Saudi Arabia on Edge

Saudi Arabia’s No Good, Very Bad Year

June 29th 2011

Arab Topics - King Abdullah and sword

Saudi Arabia—the spiritual center of the Islamic world, the world’s leading oil exporter, and the leader of the Arab world—is used to being the center of attention. But this year will be remembered as the moment when the world finally looked elsewhere for leadership.

It’s hard to imagine a more disastrous year for Saudi foreign policy. In January, Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled from riotous mobs to exile in the Saudi port city of Jeddah. Now the new regime in Tunis wants him back to put him on trial. In February, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a longtime Saudi ally, was forced from office. In the space of days, Washington went from words of support for Mubarak to saying it was time to go. Then in March, after Bahrain looked as if it may concede the principle of a government ruled through the will of the people, Saudi riot-control forces backed by tanks poured across the causeway to the island. Read more ..

The Battle for Libya

Toward the Endgame in Libya

June 29th 2011

Libya Topics - Muammar Qaddafi

The conflict in Libya is now dominated by deliberate offensive warfare conducted by the rebels and NATO, and both Muammar Qadhafi and his regime will likely be gone by the end of this phase. The confrontation has been, and will continue to be, a very dramatic event: a once-powerful and entrenched regime pitted against its people and now in its last throes. The conflict has also been instructive in many ways, serving as one model for the processes unleashed by the Arab Spring and teaching us about the resilience of regimes, the power of an angry people, and the challenges and limits of external military intervention.

The war is not over, though, and a favorable outcome is not assured. The rebels are rapidly gaining diplomatic recognition and financial assistance, but they still need military aid. For his part, Qadhafi shows no signs of ending the war except on his terms and is likely hoping for a diplomatic miracle to save his regime. The international community should avoid feeding that hope at all costs, rejecting any ceasefires or diplomatic solutions that do not include Qadhafi’s immediate and unconditional exit from the country, along with those who have sustained him. Read more ..

The Edge of Debt

Lawmakers Grumble over Lack of Info on Secret Biden Debt-limit Negotiations

June 29th 2011

Economy - One Million Dollars

Lawmakers are expressing frustration with the lack of information they have received from Vice President Biden’s debt-limit negotiations.

The growing restlessness comes as Biden and six members of Congress are aiming to release the framework of a bipartisan deal by July 1 that will lift the nation’s debt ceiling while cutting trillions of dollars from the budget.

While the Biden group has expressed optimism that a deal is within reach, rank-and-file members are skeptical, and are raising questions about the lack of transparency.

In a recent floor speech, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) warned that a debt-ceiling deal being negotiated in the closed-door talks might be too modest and could draw little support in the upper chamber. Read more ..

Edge on Aging

Nanoparticles May Help Inhibit Alzheimer's Disease and other Neurodegenerative Disorders

June 29th 2011

Social Topics - Baby Boomer

Nanoparticles of the right dimensions and shape may be the key in combating the plaque that destroys neurons and leads to symptoms associated with Alzheimer's disease, a new report shows.

University of Michigan chemical engineering professor Nicholas Kotov says the nanotechnology means can attract and capture the longer fibrils that are known to form plaque related to neurodegenerative disorders.

"Both amyloid peptides and nanoparticles exhibit a strong ability to self-assemble into fibrils," Kotov said. "We were open to any possible effect of nanoparticles on the amyloid fibrillation. We were very pleased to see amazing inhibitory effect on amyloids fibrillation which opens the door for new approaches to the development of drugs to prevent Alzheimer's disease." By introducing tetrahedral nanoparticle that were comparable in size with growing fibrils, he discovered that the dangerous plaque readily bonded to them, and their geometry was strongly distorted. Such drastic change in shape results in complete inhibition of their further fibrillation. Read more ..

Senegal on Edge

Protests in Senegal Disrupt President Wade’s Plans for Succession

June 29th 2011

Africa Topics - Abdoulaye Wade and Karim Wade
Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade and son Karim Wade

Violent protests and opposition from his own party late in June forced Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade to give up changes that would have made it easier for him to win re-election. The reversal also disrupts Wade’s plans for a vice presidency, which could have benefitted his son.

Objections to creating a vice president for Senegal focus chiefly on concerns, both within the ruling party and within the opposition, that President Wade would use that post to put his son, Karim, in place to succeed him.

Karim Wade is already a powerful member of his father’s Cabinet. As minister of state for international cooperation, regional development, and infrastructure, he controls more than one-quarter of Senegal’s federal budget, including the energy portfolio. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Forever Changed: A Belarus Shtetl 70 Years After the Nazis

June 29th 2011

Russian Topics - Senno, Belarus
Senno, Belarus (credit: D. Markosian, VOA)

On a recent afternoon, Rosa Faitelson was sitting at her kitchen table eating cucumbers—a typical lunch on just another ordinary day. She didn’t seem at all surprised that strangers walked unannounced into her wooden cottage in northern Belarus bringing her oranges, a rare treat on a hot day. Maybe that composure was to be expected from a woman who, at age 91, had lived through extermination of her people and had decided to stay on when nearly everyone else was gone.

Seventy years ago last week, on June 22, Nazi forces rampaged through this part of Belarus. In three years, they wiped out 80 percent of the country’s 980,000 Jews. Mobile death units rounded up entire shtetls, or towns, of Jews, confined them to cramped ghettos, and then marched them off to pits where they were shot dead. That’s what happened in Faitelson’s village, Senno. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Al-Qaida’s Business Savvy Sows Uncertain Future

June 29th 2011

Terrorism - Ayman Al-Zawahiri (al Q #2)
Ayman Al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s former second in command

Osama bin Laden’s second-in-command has taken the helm of al-Qaida, following what many call a “corporate succession plan” charted out by the terrorist group’s late leader. This plan illustrates bin Laden’s business sense that he picked up long before he was the face of jihad, while working for his Saudi family’s multi-billion dollar construction company. His knack for business has been critical to al-Qaida’s growth, but it is also proving to be a vulnerability.

Al-Qaida runs like any other business. It keeps financial records with trails of receipts, often scribbled on notebook paper. Even arguments over printer toner cartridges are tracked. The hiring process is thorough, with a questionnaire asking recruits for personal references, previous jihad experience and whether they are exiled from their home country. If a candidate is hired, al-Qaida’s bylaws neatly define their top operatives’ job descriptions.

These rare details of al-Qaida’s inner-workings are outlined in a series of documents from the U.S. Defense Department’s Harmony Database. U.S. forces uncovered the files in Iraq, Afghanistan and other battlefields over the past decade. Read more ..

The Afghan War

Obama’s Afghan Drawdown Could Spawn Revival of Opium Industry, says Rep. Turner

June 29th 2011

Afghan Topics - Afghanis in poppy field

President Obama’s plan to remove 33,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by next September could revitalize that nation’s opium industry, which has been a cash cow for the Taliban, says Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio).

American and NATO commanders have for nearly a decade tried various tactics in the war on Afghanistan’s narcotics industry—and fought mainly a losing battle.

Data compiled by both the Congressional Research Service and the Gen. David Petraeus-led NATO command in Afghanistan shows opium production rose from about 3,400 metric tons in 2002 to 4,200 two years later. Production then shot up to 8,200 metric tons in 2007. Production dropped steadily to 6,900 metric tons in 2009, according to the CRS and NATO data. Read more ..

The Toxic Edge

Canada Resists Adding Asbestos to Toxics Blacklist

June 29th 2011

Environment Topics - Indian Woman and Asbestos

Canada reinforced its reputation as a public health outcast this week by declining to support the inclusion of asbestos on a toxics blacklist.

At a United Nations meeting Wednesday in Geneva, the head of the Canadian delegation stunned other attendees by announcing that Canada opposed the listing of white, or Chrysotile, asbestos, under Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention. The treaty requires would-be exporters of toxic substances to warn and obtain permission from developing nations before sending their products abroad. Canada remains a major exporter of Chrysotile asbestos to India and other countries in Asia and Latin America. Read more ..

Egypt after Mubarak

Egypt’s Enduring Challenges: Politics in Egypt

June 29th 2011

Egypt - Members of Muslim Brotherhood

As the Ahmed Ezz and Hisham Talaat Mustafa examples amply show, the narrative propagated by the National Democratic Party (NDP) of a government run by technocratic and competent businessmen was not widely embraced in Egypt. Instead, despite overwhelming obstacles, a dedicated opposition developed over the years. While fragmented, infiltrated, and periodically brutalized by the government, secular and Islamist dissidents protested, remonstrated, signed petitions, and worked to embarrass the authoritarian leadership. These adversaries of the NDP hoped to capitalize on popular anti-regime sentiment, even as the security state continuously targeted them as emerging political threats. Read more ..

The 2012 Campaign

Dialing for Dollars Gets a Boost from Hollywood and Wall Street

June 29th 2011

Obama Admin Topics - Obama: call me

Two Democratic groups seeking big bucks to boost President Obama’s re-election have tapped several high-powered fundraisers to help rope in $4 million to $5 million in the first two months. They’ve also snagged pledges for two to three times those sums towards their joint goal of raising at least $100 million.

The two groups, Priorities USA Action and Priorities USA, are benefiting from the help of leading Democratic fundraisers and donors such as Hollywood producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, Wall Street hedge fund executive Orin Kramer and Washington lobbyist and strategist Harold Ickes.

Priorities USA Action is a 527 Super PAC which must disclose its donors and file quarterly reports, but Priorities USA, is a 501(c)(4) group that doesn’t have to reveal its donors or file regular reports. Both groups can accept unlimited checks and under law must operate separately from the Obama campaign. Read more ..

Edge on Africa

US First Lady Calls Africa's Youth to Action

June 28th 2011

Africa - Obama and Mandela
Michelle Obama and Nelson Mandela (credit: Nelson Mandela Foundation)

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama has delivered a motivational speech to Africa’s youth, and in particular to the continent’s young women, calling them to action for a better future.

Following a boisterous choir and introductory remarks by South African women leaders, an emotional Michelle Obama, the first African-American first lady in U.S. history, spoke before a packed Regina Mundi church, directly addressing young women.

“You can be the generation that makes the discoveries and builds the industries that will transform our economies,” the first lady said. “You can be the generation that brings opportunity and prosperity to forgotten corners of the world and banishes hunger from this continent forever. You can be the generation that ends HIV/AIDS in our time, the generation that fights not just the disease, but the stigma of the disease.” Read more ..

A Disagreement on Immigration Reform

June 28th 2011

After reading Armstrong Williams’s June 23rd 2011 article “In Immigration Reform, It’s The Consumer that Matters” I must offer a correction. There is no “edge” to hiring illegals. Companies that hire illegals are held in court to be liable to pay for the cheap labor from individuals who have rights and are represented by the lawyers from NCLR, MALDEF, LULAC, or ACLU, while groups like the Brown Berets de Aztlan, Barrios Unidos, and M.E.Ch.A., network to defend the illegals’ unlawful presence. Ilegals who are material witnesses in court cases are offered Permanent Residence Under Color of Law (PRUCOL) status where they have every right except to vote or apply for citizenship.

How is PRUCOL determined? If you have been able to escape capture as an illegal alien and has been able to give birth to a US citizen; become so debilitated that you can collect SSI or for other health reasons; or had somehow illegally obtained a job and gotten laid off or fired and have benefits coming to you; or you are in the process of filing complaints to obtain such taxpayer-funded benefits.

Each PRUCOL criterion is handled by a different federal and / or state agency. So if you are an alien who has been here for more than twenty years, or have been granted a stay of deportation by the courts, or are not being deported because you have U.S. citizen children, or you are just not going to be deported (a Salvadoran or a Cuban for example) you can go on with this sometimes for the rest of your natural life. So, yes they can, and they do complain if they are cheated on their paycheck, protest unhealthy working conditions, or reject wages beneath the minimum federal wage level. If they do complain, they can be placed in PRUCOL, immediately detained, and not sent back to their countries of origin, at cost to every honest hardworking US citizen. And so this keeps them coming here to work as “slave labor.” Give me a break! Read more ..

Egypt after the Revolt

Emboldened Muslim Brotherhood May Emerge from Egypt's Spring Power Transition

June 27th 2011

Islamic Topics - Egyptian Muslim bros

The June 22 announcement that a youth wing of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is splitting off to form its own secular party is emblematic of the unprecedented political activity in post-Mubarak Egypt. June 21 saw the second meeting of the National Democratic Alliance for Egypt, with fourteen smaller parties agreeing to join the coalition's founders, the MB's newly formed Freedom and Justice Party and the liberal Wafd Party. Although the alliance is unsustainable in its current form, its mere existence points to two disturbing trends in Egyptian politics: first, parties are negotiating over the distribution of candidates to predetermine electoral outcomes and, second, anti-Western foreign policy views are uniting parties with wildly divergent views on domestic issues. Read more ..

Israel Failed to Jail First Flotilla

June 27th 2011

I am one of those who completely agree that Israel messed up when it failed to jail the first Gaza flotilla team. I regret the loss of life on all sides. But the ones Israel took into custody were the cause. They should have been prosecuted for what they did. That is why the second flotilla can sail with impugnity. Because Israel messed up. Hopefully, it will be wiser the next time around--which will be any day now. What would the US do if that flotilla was headed our way.

Send Gaza Flotilla Activists to Jail--Israel Erred Last Time

June 26th 2011
For sure, sending Gaza flotilla agitators to an Israeli jail would be the best idea. By now, it must be obvious to everyone that Israel erred the last time in simply coddling and releasing those who had entered combat with her own naval officers. Long terms behind bars are called for--whether the agitators are Turkey or American.

Imprison Flotilla Participants in Israel First and Then Prosecute in the USA

June 26th 2011
I agree with the notion that Gaza flotilla participants who are obviously coordinating with a known teroriorst entity--that is, Hamas, should be prosecuted. But not just in America. The Israeli government should go beyond simple detention and deportation. They should arrest, try, convict, and imprison all those involved, from the ringleaders to the passengers to the deck hands. Monetary penalties to recoup the naval and military expense should be added. The second Gaza flotilla, like the first, is an obvious naval provocation. The crossing with Egypt has been open for some weeks. Israel has expanded all international deliveries. So what is left but but what the flotilla organizers profess: violate Israeli sovereign rights to protect itself and create an international incident. After the provocateurs are released from Israeli prisons--then and only then should they prosecuted once more in their home locations. Then the next wave may think twice about such antics.

After the Holocaust

Israeli Ambassador to Vatican Praises Pope Pius XII for Saving Thousands from the Holocaust

June 25th 2011

Christian Topics - Pius XII sede gestatore
Pope Pius XII

Israel’s ambassador to the Vatican has recognized that Pope Pius XII, who reigned over the Catholic Church during the Second World War, did actually save thousands of Jews during the years of Nazi-inspired terror.

Ambassador Mordechai Lewy affirmed on June 23 that “as of the raid of 16 October 1943 and the days following in the ghetto of Rome, the monasteries and orphanages of the religious orders opened their doors to Jews, and we have reason to believe that this occurred under the supervision of the highest authorities of the Vatican, who were aware of these measures.” The diplomat spoke at a ceremony on June 23 in which a Catholic priest, Don Gaetano Piccinini of the order founded by Don Luigi Orione, was post-humously awarded the Yad Vashem medal honoring him as a Righteous Gentile for saving Jews from Nazis. Numerous survivors of the Holocaust and members of Rome’s Jewish community were on hand to speak of their salvation. Read more ..

Economic Jihad

Counter-Boycott of Whiskey Emerges in Response to Scottish Boycott of Israeli Goods

June 24th 2011

Food / Wine - Chivas whiskey

The Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs (FJMC), comprising 250 Jewish men’s clubs and more than 25,000 members throughout North America, joined synagogues in Israel and elsewhere calling for a “boycott of scotch from distillers located in West Dunbartonshire Council in Scotland at Kiddush and [in] public and private” celebrations. The clubs are affiliated with the Conservative movement of Judaism and called for Jews to avoid certain liquor brands in the wake of a boycott of Israeli goods instituted by the local council of the whiskey-producing region of the United Kingdom.

“A boycott is like a snowball heading downhill,” said FJMC Executive Director Rabbi Charles Simon. “It begins at the top of a large mountain, and gathers momentum until it is transformed into an avalanche. If we wish to stop it, we need to act as soon as possible.” Read more ..

Washington Warns Flotilla Against Arrest

June 24th 2011
On June 21 I wrote to Attorney General Holder urging the Obama Administration to warn the Gaza flotilla participants "that they are placing themselves in jeopardy of breaching federal criminal law." Today's  warning from the State Department does just that. Since the participants have made clear that they are moving forward, the question now is whether the government will follow through and investigate and prosecute.

The Race for Electric Aircraft

Hybrid-Electric Airplane on Display at Paris Airshow

June 24th 2011

Transportation Topics - Boeing Diamond Aircraft's HK36 Super Dimona

Hybrid-electric drives are no longer a matter of cars only: At the Le Bourget air show, small plane manufacturer Diamond Aircraft shows what it claims to be the world's first airplane with a serial hybrid electric drive system. There are however significant differences to automotive drives.

The plane, a motor glider based on Diamond Aircraft's HK36 Super Dimona, features a serial hybrid drive - similar to an electric vehicle with range extender. The propeller is driven by a 70 kW electric motor made by Siemens.

The electric energy required to drive this motor is generated by a generator which in turn is driven by a small 30 kW Wankel combustion engine from Austro Engine. An electronic converter, also provided by Siemens, supplies the electric motor with power from the battery and the generator. Read more ..

Mexico's Wars

The Truth May Be a Victim of Narco-War Firefights just South of the Border

June 24th 2011

Mexican Topics - Los Zetas cartel recruiting poster
Los Zetas recruiting poster offers 'dirty work'

Around 5 a.m. on June 17, simultaneous firefights reportedly broke out between elements of the Gulf and Los Zetas cartels in several locations in Matamoros, Tamaulipas state, a Gulf stronghold. The Mexican military has confirmed that a gunbattle did indeed take place in the Colonia Pedro Moreno area but has not confirmed media reports of additional firefights in the Mariano Matamoros, Valle Alto, Puerto Rico and Seccion 16 neighborhoods. The military also has not confirmed a reported gunbattle in the rural area of Cabras Pintas, where six Mexican soldiers are said to have been killed.

Details of the confirmed firefight remain unclear, but from all indications, a large movement of Zeta forces into a Gulf stronghold did occur, and it suggests a heightened operational tempo in the war between these two cartels. In the coming months, this increasing violence is likely to continue in Gulf-held Reynosa and Zeta-held Monterrey as well as Matamoros.

The Mexican military said the June 17 gunbattle in Matamoros’ Colonia Pedro Moreno neighborhood resulted in three deaths and nine arrests, while an unnamed U.S. law enforcement official said four Gulf cartel gunmen died in the exchange of fire. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Obama Releases Oil from Strategic Reserve

June 23rd 2011

Energy Topics - Oil Barrels 400px

The Energy Department has said that it will release 30 million barrels of oil from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, citing supply disruptions threatening the global economy and hailing from the unrest in Libya and other nations.

If all 30 million barrels are sold, it would be the largest sale from the reserve in history.

The release is part of a coordinated effort with other members of the International Energy Agency that will send a total of 60 million barrels of crude oil into world markets over the next 30 days, according to the Energy Department.

The decision comes amid signs that the economic recovery is faltering—which is a political threat to the White House heading into 2012—and concerns that high energy prices are acting as a brake on growth. Read more ..

Edge on Immigration

In Immigration Reform, It’s The Consumer that Matters

June 23rd 2011

Contributors / Staff - Armstrong_Williams

The recent Supreme Court Ruling in Chamber of Commerce v Whiting highlights a fundamental and before now underappreciated factor in the immigration debate: immigrants come here illegally because they know that U.S. companies will hire them. Furthermore, while most of the immigration laws have focused on the status and treatment of illegal immigrants themselves, very few of them have focused on the consumers of their labor: companies, and, by extension the consumers they serve.

Many people at the highest levels of Government and industry have taken a cynical and duplicitous approach to illegal immigration. In a way, it’s symbolic of the approach most average Americans have taken. We rely on immigrant labor to fill jobs that Americans won’t do (at the wages and under the working conditions immigrants are subjected to), while complaining about the side effects—overburdened social services, crime, and cultural dilution in the border states. After all, it’s not hard to spot the illegal immigrants in any given neighborhood. In fact it’s quite simple. They are the only people tending your lawn, babysitting your children, and running your restaurants on the cheap. Illegal immigration in many ways acts like outsourcing for non-exportable jobs in this country. Read more ..

Book Review

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, Complexity and Mystery

June 23rd 2011

Book Covers - Reinventing Malcolm X

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. Manning Marable. Viking, 2011. 608 pages.

Based upon the extensive Malcolm X project conducted under the auspices of the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning, a deconstruction of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, oral histories and personal interviews, archival research, and an extensive investigation of FBI records and other government documents made available under the Freedom of Information Act, Manning Marable, the M. Moran Weston and Black Alumni Council Professor of African American Studies at Columbia University, has produced what should long stand as the definitive biography of Malcolm X.  Marable celebrates Malcolm as a “truly historical figure in the sense that more than any of his contemporaries, he embodied the spirit, vitality, and political mood of an entire population—black, urban mid-twentieth century America”.  Embodying the two central figures of African-American folk culture, the hustler/trickster and the preacher/minister, Malcolm displayed an amazing talent for reinvention that allowed him to reach the most marginalized sectors of the black community.

The theme of reinvention is, of course, crucial to Malcolm’s Autobiography, but Marable argues that the structure of the book may better reflect collaborator Alex Haley’s perspective than that of Malcolm. Haley originally envisioned focusing the book around Malcolm’s criminal career as “Detroit Red,” leading to his salvation by Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam (NOI).  According to Marable, the integrationist Haley viewed Malcolm’s life as a cautionary tale; for if the United States did not address its history and polices of racial discrimination then the result would be increased frustration and growing extremism within the black community.  This approach, insists Marable, encouraged Malcolm to depict himself as a far more hardened criminal than was really the case.  The split between Malcolm and the NOI, however, challenged this structure of the Autobiography.  Malcolm was assassinated before he could adequately review the material dealing with the break from Elijah Muhammad. The Autobiography, accordingly, centers primarily upon Malcolm’s early life, criminal activity as “Detroit Red,” prison conversion to the NOI, and his career as a minister spreading the message of Elijah Muhammad. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Improved Vitamin A may Prevent Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Vision Loss

June 23rd 2011

Science - Macular degeneration

Slowing down the aggregation or “clumping” of vitamin A in the eye may help prevent vision loss caused by macular degeneration, research from Columbia University Medical Center has found.

Rather than changing the way the eye processes vitamin A, a team of researchers led by Ilyas Washington, a professor in the department of ophthalmology at Columbia’s Harkness Eye Institute, decided to focus on changing the structure of vitamin A itself. In turn, Dr. Washington and his lab have taken a novel step toward treating age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a top cause of untreatable blindness – and Stargardt’s disease, the most common cause of juvenile macular degeneration. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Insights on the Conflict as Obama Draws Down Afghanistan Troop Levels

June 23rd 2011

Afghan Topics - Afghanistan casualty

U.S. President Barack Obama announced June 22 that the long process of drawing down forces in Afghanistan would begin on schedule in July. Though the initial phase of the drawdown appears limited, minimizing the tactical and operational impact on the ground in the immediate future, the United States and its allies are now beginning the inevitable process of removing their forces from Afghanistan. This will entail the risk of greater Taliban battlefield successes.

Afghanistan, a landlocked country in the heart of Central Asia, is one of the most isolated places on Earth. This isolation has posed huge logistical challenges for the United States. Hundreds of shipping containers and fuel trucks must enter the country every day from Pakistan and from the north to sustain the nearly 150,000 U.S. and allied forces stationed in Afghanistan, about half the total number of Afghan security forces. Supplying a single gallon of gasoline in Afghanistan reportedly costs the U.S. military an average of $400, while sustaining a single U.S. soldier runs around $1 million a year (by contrast, sustaining an Afghan soldier costs about $12,000 a year). Read more ..

Media Freedom

The Loneliness of El Diario of Juárez

June 22nd 2011

Mexican Topics - Juarez Crosses

Blanca and Alicia

The two reporters are at a crime scene on Pisces Street between Aquarius and Leo, a rather astrological crossing in a dusty and disjointed neighborhood, much like most of the neighborhoods in Ciudad Juárez. It’s the first reported victim of their burdensome nightshift. The photographer can’t get close to the body. She’s not allowed past the yellow tape put up by the forensics team. They have been told that the victim is a police officer from the Attorney General’s Office. So she zooms in. Click, click. A boy steps into the picture. He steps out. The officers’ four-by-four drives away.

I was late. One of the reporters was already finishing up with her pictures; the other one had already hopped onto a crane that happened to be there, filmed the scene with her cell phone and posted it directly to her newspaper’s website. Read more ..

Egypt after Mubarak

Egypt’s Enduring Challenges: Frustrations with Governance

June 22nd 2011

Egypt - Bye bye Mubarak

The end of 2010 and beginning of 2011 marked a watershed for the Middle East. Revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya—and the attendant unrest directed toward other autocrats and their corrupt and cruel regimes—shook the region to its core, raising popular expectations and challenging status quo politics. While the longer-term trajectory of these developments remains unclear, the uprisings and their reverberations are the region’s most consequential such events since 1979, when the Islamic Revolution ushered in theocratic rule in Iran.

Among these remarkable developments, the toppling of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak stands out. While Mubarak’s tenure in office did not match the longevity of Libyan strongman Muammar Qadhafi or the brutality of Tunisian president “for life” Zine al- Abidine Ben Ali, compared with other regional shifts, the ramifications of regime change in Cairo are potentially more profound. With 83 million people, Egypt is the most populous Arab state and historically has served as a regional trendsetter.

More important still, Egypt has served as a pillar of Washington’s security architecture in the Middle East since the late 1970s. What happens in Egypt will have an impact both on the region and on U.S. interests. In the short term, it is not clear that Washington will benefit. Read more ..

Edge of Oil Addiction

Obama Administration Signals Higher Gas Royalties on Public Lands

June 22nd 2011

Energy / Environment - Offshore Oil Rig

The Obama administration may be readying for a fight with the energy industry as it prepares to raise royalty charges for oil and gas obtained from public lands—and tighten up practices that have allowed companies to pay less than they should.

Anticipated rollout in 2012 of new regulations to raise royalties could spark a fight with Republicans in an election year, and slightly reduce the spiraling deficit within a decade by adding nearly $1 billion to Interior Department collections.

The Interior Department has a poor track record of collecting royalties. As reported, the oil and gas industry regularly underpays what it owes, with a possible loss to taxpayers in the billions of dollars.

Oil and natural gas extraction from federal lands and waters make up one of the biggest sources of revenue for the government, behind taxes. In fiscal year 2010, Uncle Sam collected about $9.1 billion from oil and gas companies. Read more ..

Edge on Health

Heightened Immunity to Colds May Cause Asthma Flare-ups

June 22nd 2011

Health/Medicine - Childhood asthma

People often talk about “boosting” their immunity to prevent and fight colds. Nutritional supplements, cold remedies and fortified foods claim to ward off colds by augmenting the immune system.

A new University of Michigan study shows this strategy might actually be flawed. The results may hold important implications for individuals with asthma, who often experience life-threatening flare-ups due to infections with cold viruses.

The study, using a novel mouse model, shows that, in the airways, the immune response to the common cold is actually maladaptive. Mice that were engineered to have a reduced innate immune response to the common cold actually showed less - not more - airway inflammation and bronchoconstriction (airway spasm) following infection. Read more ..

Edge on the Environment

Mississippi Flooding Brings Record 'Dead Zone' to Gulf of Mexico

June 22nd 2011

Environment Topics - Dead Zone Gulf of Mexico
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center graphic

Extreme flooding of the Mississippi River this spring is expected to result in the largest Gulf of Mexico "dead zone" on record, according to a University of Michigan aquatic ecologist and his colleagues.

The 2011 forecast, released today by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), calls for a Gulf dead zone of between 8,500 and 9,421 square miles, an area roughly the size of New Hampshire.

The most likely 2011 scenario, according to U-Michigan's Donald Scavia, is a Gulf dead zone of at least 8,500 square miles, surpassing the current record of 8,400 square miles, set in 2002. The average over the past five years is about 6,000 square miles. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Obama Rewards Big Bundlers with Jobs, Contracts, Stimulus Money, More

June 22nd 2011

Obama Admin Topics - Obama and Flag

Telecom executive Donald H. Gips raised a big bundle of cash to help finance his friend Barack Obama’s run for the presidency.

Gips, a vice president of Colorado-based Level 3 Communications LLC, delivered more than $500,000 in contributions for the Obama war chest, while two fellow senior company executives collected at least $150,000 more.

After the election, Gips was put in charge of hiring in the Obama White House, helping to place loyalists and fundraisers in many key positions. Then in mid-2009, the new president named him ambassador to South Africa. Level 3 Communications, in which Gips retained stock, meanwhile received millions of dollars of government stimulus contracts for broadband projects in six states—though Gips said he was "completely unaware" of the stimulus money.

More than two years after President Obama took office vowing to banish “special interests” from his administration, nearly 200 of his biggest donors have landed plum government jobs and advisory posts, won federal contracts worth millions of dollars for their business interests or attended numerous elite White House meetings and social events, according to an investigation. Read more ..

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