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Archive for April 2012

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The Obama Edge

Obama Administration Weakens Initiative that Identifies Criminal Aliens

April 30th 2012

Aliens busted

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on April 27 implemented several changes to weaken their Secure Communities Program, an initiative that keeps American neighborhoods safe by identifying illegal and criminal immigrants in police custody who have been arrested and fingerprinted, according to House GOP lawmakers.

Among these changes, ICE will not take enforcement action against those charged with minor traffic violations if they have not been previously convicted of other crimes. This means that an illegal immigrant previously arrested for a serious crime, such as murder or rape, but not convicted would be cut loose under ICE’s new policy.

ICE also indicates that it could punish states and localities that are serious about the enforcement of federal immigration law by reviewing the number of illegal immigrants identified by Secure Communities in each jurisdiction and possibly taking action if the number is too high. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

U.S. Continues Pursuit Of Al-Qaeda at Home and Abroad, Say Officials

April 30th 2012

Ayman Al-Zawahiri (al Q #2)

The United States is a safer place since Navy SEALs located and killed al-Qaeda's infamous Osama bin Laden in his hideout in Pakistan on May 1, 2011 [May 2 in Pakistan], according to Pentagon and Justice Department officials on Saturday. Today, nearly a year after bin Laden’s demise, the United States and its allies continue to hunt down al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups wherever they are located. Within the United States police departments and law enforcement agencies are conducting counterterrorist operations against both foreign fighters who have illegally entered the U.S., and against homegrown terrorists who are radicalized American Muslims. Overseas, the nation's intelligence and military organizations pursue terrorist groups throughout the Middle East and North Africa and provide assistance to countries still fighting al-Qaeda and its allies. 

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta -- who served as Director of Central Intelligence on May 1, 2011 when the al-Qaeda leader's reign of terror met its end --  recalled the high-risk mission the Defense Department called Operation Neptune Spear, according to American Forces Press Service's Cheryl Pellerin. Read more ..

Broken Banking

Volcker Rule May Make the Financial and Banking System Riskier

April 30th 2012

Bundles of Cash

By now, it should be clear even to casual observers that the Volcker Rule, which was intended to limit the “risky” activities of banks by banning them from certain types of transactions, will be nearly impossible to implement without severe unintended damage to the U.S. financial system and many other types of businesses both here in the U.S. and overseas.
Even though the Federal Reserve now says that banks will not have to fully comply with it until July 2014, they will have to show “good faith planning efforts” to prepare for full compliance in the interim.

Combined with the continuing confusion about what the Volcker Rule will actually prohibit, the rule will continue to cause serious uncertainty about the structure and services provided by banks for at least the next two years. Since neither the banks nor the regulators have any idea what the final regulations will say, they will have no idea what constitutes good faith efforts to comply. Because of the continuing confusion and its effects on the financial system, Congress should immediately begin a serious re-examination of the Volcker Rule’s likely effect both in this country and abroad and repeal it as quickly as possible.

The Cyber Edge

Target Cyber-Oppressors, Not U.S. Businesses

April 30th 2012


The Obama Administration has been heavily criticized for not acting forcefully to stem human rights abuses in the Middle East. Criticism of the Administration has largely focused on Iran and Syria, where Bashar al-Assad’s government is guilty of atrocious bloodshed against its own people. In response, President Obama announced several new initiatives on April 23, including an interagency Atrocities Prevention Board and a new presidential executive order to protect Internet freedom, taking effect the same day. In a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Obama explained that the order was aimed at curbing the abuse of information technology, targeting Syrian and Iranian cyber-activists. There is good news and bad news in this. The good news is that the Obama Administration, under pressure, is finally putting teeth into its two-year-old Internet freedom policy, showing seriousness by sanctioning regimes that perpetrate human rights abuses via the Internet. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

A 100-Gigabit Highway for Science

April 30th 2012

Columbia Supercomputer NASA Advanced Supercomputing Facility

Researchers take a 'test drive' on ANI testbed. Climate researchers are producing some of the fastest growing datasets in science. Five years ago, the amount of information generated for the Nobel Prize-winning United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report was 35 terabytes—equivalent to the amount of text in 35 million books, occupying a bookshelf 248 miles (399 km) long. By 2014, when the next IPCC report is published, experts predict that 2 petabytes of data will have been generated for it—that's a 580 percent increase in data production. Because thousands of researchers around the world contribute to the generation and analysis of this data, a reliable, high-speed network is needed to transport the torrent of information.

Fortunately, the Department of Energy's (DOE) ESnet (Energy Sciences Network) has laid the foundation for such a network—not just for climate research, but for all data-intensive science. "There is a data revolution occurring in science," says Greg Bell, acting director of ESnet, which is managed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "Over the last decade, the amount of scientific data transferred over our network has increased at a rate of about 72 percent per year, and we see that trend potentially accelerating." Read more ..

North Korea on Edge

Expectation Grows for North Korean Nuclear Test

April 30th 2012

Kim Jong-Un

North Korea is giving no official indication it is preparing a third attempted nuclear test—but reports abroad say such an underground detonation could come at any time. Some regional media outlets are reporting a North Korea nuclear test is expected between early and mid-May. One report, in the Joong-Ang Ilbo in South Korea, quotes a diplomatic source in Washington as saying the United States has told South Korea such a detonation could occur as soon as this week. Asked about that, a U.S. diplomat in Seoul replied the Embassy does not comment on “security matters.”

Diplomatic and intelligence sources, who do not want to be quoted, say they have seen no indication from satellite imagery that the equipment and associated cabling necessary to conduct such an underground detonation are in place. Images taken by surveillance satellites in the past few weeks did reveal that digging of a new tunnel was underway at the Pyunnge-ri test site.

There is growing speculation that North Korea will attempt to detonate a uranium-fueled weapon. Its previously announced tests, in 2006 and 2009, are widely believed to have used plutonium, although no traces of radioactive isotopes were detected following the second attempt.

At an April 30 briefing, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-suk told reporters preparations are underway to activate an emergency task force concerning a North Korean nuclear test, but it is not yet operational. Kim says it is impossible to get precise information in real time about what is happening at the test site. But the South Korean military is utilizing various methods—in cooperation with U.S. forces—to collected pertinent information. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Remarkable Outburst Detected From Old Black Hole

April 30th 2012

baby black hole

An extraordinary outburst produced by a black hole in a nearby galaxy has provided direct evidence for a population of old, volatile stellar black holes. The discovery, made by astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, provides new insight into the nature of a mysterious class of black holes that can produce as much energy in X-rays as a million suns radiate at all wavelengths. Researchers used Chandra to discover a new ultraluminous X-ray source, or ULX. These objects give off more X-rays than most binary systems, in which a companion star orbits the remains of a collapsed star. These collapsed stars form either a dense core called a neutron star or a black hole. The extra X-ray emission suggests ULXs contain black holes that might be much more massive than the ones found elsewhere in our galaxy. The companion stars to ULXs, when identified, are usually young, massive stars, implying their black holes are also young. The latest research, however, provides direct evidence that ULXs can contain much older black holes and some sources may have been misidentified as young ones. The intriguing new ULX is located in M83, a spiral galaxy about 15 million light years from Earth, discovered in 2010 with Chandra. Astronomers compared this data with Chandra images from 2000 and 2001, which showed the source had increased in X-ray brightness by at least 3,000 times and has since become the brightest X-ray source in M83. Read more ..

The Race for Wind

Scientists Find Night-Warming Effect Over Large Wind Farms In Texas

April 30th 2012

Wind Farm

Wind turbines interact with atmospheric boundary layer near the surface.  Large wind farms in certain areas in the United States appear to affect local land surface temperatures. The study, led by Liming Zhou, an atmospheric scientist at the State University of New York- (SUNY) Albany, provides insights about the possible effects of wind farms. The results could be important for developing efficient adaptation and management strategies to ensure long-term sustainability of wind power. "This study indicates that land surface temperatures have warmed in the vicinity of large wind farms in west-central Texas, especially at night," says Anjuli Bamzai, program director in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, which funded the research. "The observations and analyses are for a relatively short period, but raise important issues that deserve attention as we move toward an era of rapid growth in wind farms in our quest for alternate energy sources." Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

Putting Our Premiums Into Medical Care, Not Profits

April 30th 2012

medicine and money

The recent news from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation that health insurers will have to send rebate checks totaling more than $1.3 billion to Americans this summer was especially gratifying to me. It more than justified my decision three years ago to clue members of Congress in on how insurance companies have systematically been devoting ever-increasing portions of our premium dollars to rewarding their shareholders and top executives.

Following my initial testimony in June 2009, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and other lawmakers drafted language for the health care reform bill requiring insurance firms to spend at least 80 percent of what we pay in premiums on actual medical care. Despite an intense lobbying effort by insurers, the language emerged unscathed in the final bill. That defeat for the insurance industry is turning out to be a big win for consumers.

One of the reasons I decided to testify in the first place was to explain why Americans are getting far less value for the premiums they pay than they were a few years earlier. As I told members of the Senate Commerce Committee, which Rockefeller chairs, for-profit insurers are under intense pressure from both shareholders and Wall Street financial analysts to show that the portion of their policyholders’ premiums they used to pay claims during the preceding quarter was less than the amount they paid during the same period a year earlier.

I explained that even profitable companies can see sharp declines in their stock prices within minutes if shareholders and analysts are disappointed in an obscure measure called the medical loss ratio (MLR). The MLR is the ratio between what a company actually spends on medical care and what it has left over to cover sales, marketing, underwriting and other administrative expenses, and, of course, profits. The less a company spends on care, the more is available to reward shareholders. That’s why insurers consider the money they spend on our care to be a loss. Read more ..

Broken Borders

No Prosecution for U.S. Border Agent accused of Killing Mexican Teenager

April 30th 2012

US Border Patrol arrest

A U.S. border patrol agent and his family were relieved on April 27 when they were informed that the agent won't be prosecuted for shooting and killing a Mexican teenager on the banks of the Rio Grande on June 7, 2010, according to a press statement from the U.S. Attorney General's office.

Justice Department officials said in a news release that its "comprehensive and thorough investigation" determined there was "insufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal charges."

The Justice Department also concluded that no federal civil rights charges could be pursued in this matter. Under the applicable civil rights statutes, prosecutors must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a law enforcement officer willfully deprived an individual of a constitutional right, meaning with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids. This is the highest standard of intent imposed by law. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

FBI has a Shortage of Counter-Terrorism Personnel

April 30th 2012

FBI dudes

This report is based on an unclassified version of a classified report the GAO issued in February 2012. The unclassified version was released on April 17 and it was immediately obtained for analysis by the National Association of Chiefs of Police and the Law Enforcement Examiner.

In the wake of the shocking September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Federal Bureau of Investigation made counterterrorism its top investigative priority. Since that fateful day, the FBI has hired thousands of additional staff, increasing its total onboard workforce by 38 percent, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office. In particular, the FBI has increased both the size and the role of its Counterterrorism Division (CTD) that is located in Washington, D.C., according to FBI officials.

In 2005, the FBI reported that nearly 40 percent of staff positions in certain parts of CTD were vacant, raising concerns about the FBI’s ability to fulfill its most important mission, and as a result the U.S. Congress requested that the GAO review FBI CTD vacancies. The latest GAO report describes "the extent to which counterterrorism vacancies existed at FBI HQ since 2005 and the reasons for the vacancies as well as the impact of the strategies implemented by the FBI to address these vacancies." Read more ..

Islam's War on Christians

Deadly Terrorist Bombings Strike Nigeria Twice within Two Days

April 30th 2012

Nigeria car bombing

Authorities in eastern Nigeria say a suicide bombing targeting a police official has killed at least five people. Officials said the April 30 explosion in Jalingo, the capital of the largely peaceful Taraba state, was triggered near the state ministry of finance and police headquarters. The police official was not harmed.

The attack comes a day after gunmen in northern Nigeria killed at least 15 people in an assault on a university theater used for church services. Security officials said the gunmen threw small explosives into the site at Bayero University in Kano on Sunday, then fired on worshippers as they ran outside.

A faculty member at the university, Dr. Nasir Fagge, says the killings happened at two locations at the school, and that security had been increased in the days leading up to the attack in light of other deadly incidents in the city. He also said three professors were among those killed. One of at least 22 people wounded in the April 29 attack described the assault as coming just before worship service began. Read more ..

Jordan on Edge

Jordanian Prime Minister Suddenly Resigns

April 30th 2012

Former Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh
Former Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh

Jordanian politics has just taken an unusual and unexpected turn as Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh tendered his resignation while in the middle of an official visit to Turkey. The Royal Palace swiftly announced his successor, former prime minister Fayez Tarawneh.

This surprise move capped a remarkably swift descent for Khasawneh and a U-turn on Jordan's recent efforts to deflect "Arab Spring"-type upheaval through managed reform. Last October, King Abdullah asked Khasawneh, a lawyer and jurist, to leave his position as a judge on the International Court of Justice and return home to lead Jordan's legislative, political, and electoral reform effort. Celebrated as a "Mr. Clean" in a political environment tainted by scandal and corruption, the onetime legal advisor to Jordan's peace delegation was widely viewed as having the king's full confidence to engage the broad range of domestic public opinion and civil society in a dialogue on reform. Read more ..

Obama and Latin America

The Failure of Obama's Foreign Policy towards Latin America

April 30th 2012

Obama at Cartagena summit
President Obama and Latin American heads of state.

On the weekend of April 14th and 15th, Colombia hosted the Sixth Summit of the Americas, as 33 inter-American governments convened in Cartagena to discuss a broad host of topics. Dominating the agenda were scheduled discussions of the ongoing War on Drugs and the prospects of debating the legalizing of cocaine, marijuana, and other drugs in an effort to reduce criminal drug trafficking and the rampant violence it has brought to Latin America. Other notable discussions included the newly-inflamed Falklands/Malvinas Islands conflict and new sovereignty claims over the territory by Argentina, as well as Latin American criticism of the United States’ expansionary monetary policy as a response to the ongoing European debt crisis.

The most contentious and prominent of discussion topics, however, was the continuing exclusion of Cuba from OAS-sponsored gatherings, including the previous five Summits of the Americas, and this newest meeting in Cartagena. The issue dominated news coverage leading up to the Summit, and despite hopes by many that the U.S. would relent in its unilateral opposition to Cuba’s participation in OAS activities, President Barack Obama instead reaffirmed the U.S.’ long-held default stance on the matter. To this end, he stated that Cuban authorities have “shown no interest in changing their relationship with the United States, nor any willingness to respect the democratic and human rights of the Cuban people.” Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

Islam in Post-9/11 Pakistan: Education and Security

April 29th 2012

Red Minaret, Hyderabad
Red Minaret, Hyderabad

In 1984, while reflecting on Pakistan’s political history, Lawrence Ziring, a leading scholar on South Asia, noted how the country had changed from an Islamic Republic to an Islamic State. Ziring observed that under the former, Islam played a moderating role and encouraged liberal discourse and a separation of religion, while under the latter, Islam was a central, official, and pervasive feature within the state, affecting and dominating every facet of society. Since 1979, the relationship between Islam and the Pakistani state has become closer, as seen with the adoption of the Hudood Ordinance as well as the willingness of non-religious political parties and actors to work with the religious parties. Thus, the shift toward a more Islamic society has been supported, if not led, by consecutive Pakistani governments.

This heightened sense of religiosity has increasingly been viewed as a cause for concern in the international arena because of the type of intolerant and violent Islam that appears to be in the ascendency there. This concern is also a product of a neoliberal prejudice that is inherently uncomfortable with religious states, as in such societies authority is derived from the divine, as opposed from the people. Thus, it is argued that unless Pakistan ceases its close association with religion, which in effect means to move against Islamic education, the threat posed by radical Islamism to international peace and security will become even greater. Read more ..

The Edge of Society

TV Alcohol Advertising May Play Role in Underage Drinking

April 29th 2012

TV alcohol

Minors who were familiar with television alcohol advertisements were more likely to have tried alcoholic beverages and binge drink than those who could not recall seeing such ads, according to a study to be presented Sunday, April 29, at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Boston.

"Underage drinking remains an important health risk in the U.S.," said lead author Susanne E. Tanski, MD, MPH, FAAP, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Children's Hospital at Dartmouth, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. "In this study, we have shown a link between recognition of nationally televised alcohol advertisements and underage drinking initiation and heavier use patterns." Previous research by Dr. Tanski and her colleagues showed an association between seeing smoking and drinking in movies and adolescents engaging in these risky behaviors. This study expanded on that research by exploring whether there is an association between young people's exposure to television alcohol advertising and substance use. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Somali Pirate Convicted in U.S. for Abduction, Killing of Americans

April 29th 2012

Mohammad Saaili Shibin
Mohammad Saaili Shibin

A Somali pirate, who acted as the primary negotiator during kidnap-ransom negotiations, was convicted Friday by a federal jury in Norfolk, Virginia,  for his involvement in the abduction of Americans onboard a yacht, the S/V Quest. He and his fellow pirates took four U.S. citizens hostage and ultimately killed them before their release could be secured by U.S. special forces.

Mohammad Saaili Shibin, a/k/a “Khalif Ahmed Shibin,” a/k/a “Shibin,”  was found guilty of all counts of a superseding indictment which charged him with serving as the ransom negotiator for conspirators. Shibin was also found guilty of all counts relating to the attack on the Quest. A full list of the charges and their penalties are provided below:

1) two counts of piracy under the law of nations, which each carry a mandatory penalty of life in prison; 2) two counts of conspiracy to commit hostage taking, which each carry a penalty of up to life in prison; 3) two counts of hostage taking, which each carry a penalty of up to life in prison; 4) two counts of conspiracy to commit violence against maritime navigation, which each carry a penalty of up to 20 years in prison; 5) two counts of violence against maritime navigation, which each carry a mandatory penalty of up to 20 years in prison; 6) conspiracy to commit kidnapping, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison; 7) kidnapping, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison; 8) three counts of use, carry, and discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence, the first count of which carries a mandatory minimum 10 years and a maximum of life in prison, and the latter two counts of which carry mandatory consecutive life sentences. Read more ..

The Edge of Science

Single Nanomaterial Yields Many Laser Colors

April 29th 2012

Laser burst

Red, green, and blue lasers have become small and cheap enough to find their way into products ranging from BluRay DVD players to fancy pens, but each color is made with different semiconductor materials and by elaborate crystal growth processes. A new prototype technology demonstrates all three of those colors coming from one material. That could open the door to making products, such as high-performance digital displays, that employ a variety of laser colors all at once.

“Today in order to create a laser display with arbitrary colors, from white to shades of pink or teal, you’d need these three separate material systems to come together in the form of three distinct lasers that in no way shape or form would have anything in common,” said Arto Nurmikko, professor of engineering at Brown University and senior author of a paper describing the innovation in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. “Now enter a class of materials called semiconductor quantum dots.” Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Defense Spending Sees Smooth Road Ahead

April 29th 2012

F15 in Afghanistan

The partisan battles that nearly derailed two Defense authorization bills appear to have subsided as lawmakers get down to work on this year’s version. In 2010 and 2011, passage of the Defense bill came down to the wire amid bitter fights over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the DREAM Act and terror detainees. This time around, the biggest defense fight of the year in Congress is looming after the Defense authorization bill is complete: the sequestered spending cuts set to hit the Pentagon in 2013. There will undoubtedly be skirmishes as the House Armed Services Committee marks up the Defense authorization bill, but Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) told The Hill he’s optimistic the bill can get passed before Congress recesses for the November election.

“This should be done before the election, before we leave town,” McKeon said Friday, adding he’s discussed that goal with Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.). That’s not to say that there won’t be robust debate and disagreement over the bill, or that the legislation isn’t at risk of getting stuck in a political floor fight. But the authorization bill, which has a streak of passing for 50 straight years, looks to be returning to its more normal course in Congress following the beginning of markups on Thursday. Read more ..

Broken Borders

Federal Government Contemplates Further Use of Military Assets for Border Control

April 29th 2012

soldiers and phone

A section of the National Defense Authorization Act requires the Government Accountability Office examine the costs and benefits of an increased Department of Defense role in helping law enforcement officers secure the southwest land border. The mandate directed the GAO to submit a report to the U.S. Congress, which was recently released. The GAO report examined, among other things, the potential deployment of additional military units, increased use of ground-based mobile surveillance systems, use of mobile patrols by military personnel, and an increased deployment of unmanned aerial systems and manned aircraft in national airspace.

The Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection bureau admitted to GAO analysts that the southwest border continues to be vulnerable to cross-border illegal activity, including the smuggling of humans and illegal narcotics, which directly contradicts statements made by President Barack Obama, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, and the leadership of the U.S. Border Patrol. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Pay-Go’s a Pain

April 29th 2012

Obama working a crowd

In yet another election-year display of blatant presidential pandering, President Obama launched a nationwide college tour to erroneously claim that House Republicans were doubling student loan rates. Federally subsidized Stafford loan rates will double on July 1 of this year, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, if Congress fails to act. It’s unlikely the president is ignorant of the fact that Democrats and Republicans have been working on the issue so that it is remedied before the deadline. Instead, he chose to lie about what congressional Republicans intend. Republicans will fix the law put into place by Democrats that triggers the increase in the rate, and will adhere to the pay-as-you-go (pay-go) rules dictating that when Congress causes an increase in expenditures in one area, it must find the budget offset in another area to pay for it, rather than simply passing the cost on to future budgets and generations. President Obama is finding out that sometimes, pay-go’s a pain. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Confronting Damascus: U.S. Policy toward the Evolving Situation in Syria

April 29th 2012

Bashar al Assad Stop Killing

The Assad regime's continued suppression of the Syrian opposition continues, and has claimed upwards of 10,000 lives thus far. Thousands more have been arrested or displaced, including those that have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. Recently, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution backing a six-point plan developed by special envoy Kofi Annan intended to bring about a cessation of hostilities and a process to facilitate a "Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system." Despite agreeing to the plan, the Assad regime has failed to meet agreed deadlines to cease use of live fire and heavy weapons, as well as its commitments to withdraw its forces from population centers. The UN has also approved a plan to place up to 300 monitors in Syria for up to three months to observe implementation of the plan. Given the regime's failure to observe the agreement thus far, it is unclear if the monitors will be able to do their jobs. What the regime's failure to implement the agreement thus far shows, however, is that what has become known as the "Annan plan" may be able to deal with some of the symptoms of the crisis in Syria, including introduction of monitors and delivery of humanitarian assistance, but it has little hope of dealing with the disease itself -- a minority-dominated regime with a forty-two-year track record of being unable to reform, and now brutally suppressing an opposition carved out of one of the youngest populations in the Middle East. Read more ..

The Performing Arts

Historic Theater Reopens in Washington

April 29th 2012

Howard Theater, Washington, DC

The Howard Theater, a Washington, DC landmark, is reborn.

Some of the greatest African-American entertainers—including Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington—have performed at the Howard Theater. Some of them even launched their careers there. However, by 1980, The Howard, which is located in a traditionally African-American neighborhood, had fallen into disrepair and was set to be torn down.

But the arts community joined forces to save the building and restore it to its previous grandeur, and now the sound of music once again fills the historic venue, which has played—and continues to play—a big part in black history.

Built in 1910, it was the largest theater in the world for African-American entertainers and audiences. In the 1930s, Washington-born composer and big-band leader Duke Ellington made his mark at the Howard. Black artists like Diane Ross and the Supremes also graced its stage. Grammy award winning singer Marvin Gaye was discovered here. Read more ..

Broken Labor

Fatal Work Injuries Rose in 2010

April 29th 2012

EMS with injured worker.

The Department of Labor reported this week that 4,690 U.S. workers suffered fatal injuries in 2010, a 3 percent increase from 2009. The higher number in part reflects a string of high-profile disasters in 2010: An explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia that killed 29; BP’s Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11; and a blast at the Tesoro Corp.’s oil refinery in Washington State that killed seven. Even discounting the 47 deaths from those three events, the toll rose in 2010. In 2009, 4,551 workers died, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

The fatality rate rose slightly as well, from 3.5 fatal injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers to 3.6. The number of workers killed in fires or explosions jumped from 113 in 2009 to 191 in 2010. Work-related transportation deaths increased from 1,795 to 1,857, suicides from 263 to 270. The number of construction-related deaths fell from 834 to 774—a probable reflection of a weak housing market and a generally rotten economy in 2010. Read more ..

The Health Edge

Low-Income Moms Under Stress May Overfeed Infants

April 29th 2012


Single mothers and those with symptoms of depression more likely to add cereal to bottles. Efforts to prevent obesity among low-income infants should focus not only on what babies are being fed but also the reasons behind unhealthy feeding practices, according to a study, Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS). Adding cereal to bottles is one unhealthy practice that is discouraged by the American Academy of Pediatrics because it may lead to overfeeding and excess weight gain in infants. Researchers sought to determine factors associated with putting cereal in bottles among low-income, primarily Latino households in which the risk for child obesity is high.

Mothers of 254 infants were asked if they ever added cereal to bottles to help their babies sleep longer or stay full longer. Researchers also collected information on mothers' age, language, country of origin, marital status, education and income; whether the mother had symptoms of depression; and infants' age, gender and whether the infant was felt to have strong emotional reactions (a high intensity temperament). The data were collected as part of the larger Bellevue Project for Early Language, Literacy and Education Success (BELLE Project). Funded by the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the BELLE Project is following infants from birth to first grade to study issues related to parenting and child development. Results showed that 24 percent of mothers put cereal in bottles. Those with depressive symptoms were 15 times more likely to add cereal than mothers who did not have symptoms of depression. Read more ..

The Americas on Edge

Latin America's Growing Scourge: Child-Soldiers

April 29th 2012

El Salvadoran Child Soldier

Approximately 300,000 children around the globe have been recruited as child soldiers. These children are forced to enter “various armed groups, civil militia, paramilitaries and government armed forces.” According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child, any person under the age of 18 years unless under specific law is considered a child. In accordance with international law, it is illegal for a child under the age of 18 to actively participate in the armed forces of their country, and the recruitment of a child under the age of 15 is deemed a “war crime.”

A child soldier is deemed as anyone “under eighteen years of age, who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force, any group serving in any military capacity, including, but not necessarily limited to: cooks, porters, messengers, and anyone accompanying such groups other than family members.” Young girls and boys are also noted to be recruited “for forced sexual purposes and/or forced marriage,” and are often times trafficked.

Although this age limit is moderately new (created in 2002 by the Optional Protocol to the Convention of the Rights of a Child), this decadent practice stills occurs in different parts of the world, particularly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. It is important to highlight the fact that prior to the above-cited protocol passed in 2002, the minimum age for participating in the armed conflict was fifteen, according to the 1949 Geneva Convention and the 1977 additional protocols. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

US Reportedly Moves Stealth Combat Aircraft Within Striking Distance Of Iran

April 29th 2012

F-22s at Sunset
An F-22 formation


The Health Edge

Familiarity With Television Fast Food Ads Linked to Obesity

April 29th 2012


Adolescents and young adults who recognized TV ads for quick-service restaurants more likely to be overweight. There is a long-held concern that youths who eat a lot of fast food are at risk for becoming overweight. New research shows that greater familiarity with fast-food restaurant advertising on television is associated with obesity in young people. "We know that children and adolescents are highly exposed to fast-food restaurant advertising, particularly on television. This study links obesity in young people to familiarity with this advertising, suggesting that youth who are aware of and receptive to televised fast-food marketing may be at risk for health consequences," said lead author Auden C. McClure, MD, MPH, FAAP, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Children's Hospital at Dartmouth, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

Previous research has shown that watching TV is associated with obesity. Dr. McClure and her colleagues sought to determine whether recognition of fast-food ads on TV is associated with obesity in adolescents and young adults. The researchers surveyed a national sample of 3,342 youths ages 15 to 23 years. Participants were asked about their height, weight, age, gender, race, socioeconomic status, exercise, consumption of soda or sweet drinks, frequency of eating at quick-service restaurants, how many hours they watched TV each day, and whether they snacked while watching TV.

They also were shown 20 still images selected from television ads for top quick-service restaurants that aired in the year before the survey. The images were digitally edited to remove the brands. Individuals were asked if they remembered seeing the ad, if they liked the ad and if they could name the restaurant brand. In addition, they were shown 20 ads for alcohol. Results showed that about 18 percent of participants surveyed were overweight, and 15 percent were obese. The percentage of youths who were obese was significantly higher among those who recognized more ads than those who recognized few ads (17 percent vs. 8.3 percent). Even after controlling for the variables listed above, youths who recognized many ads were more than twice as likely to be obese compared with those who recognized few ads. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Atmospheric Warming Altering Ocean Salinity

April 29th 2012

Ocean scene

The warming climate is altering the saltiness of the world's oceans, and the computer models scientists have been using to measure the effects are underestimating changes to the global water cycle, a group of Australian scientists have found.

The water cycle is the worldwide phenomenon of rainwater falling to the surface, evaporating back into the air and falling again as rain. The wetter parts of the world are getting wetter and the drier parts drier. The researchers know this because the saltier parts of the ocean are getting saltier and the fresher parts, fresher. Records showed that the saltier parts of the ocean increased salinity -- or their salt content -- by 4 percent in the 50 years between 1950 and 2000. If the climate warms by an additional 2 or 3 degrees, the researchers project that the water cycle will turn over more quickly, intensifying by almost 25 percent. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Pacific Islands May Become Refuge for Corals In a Warming Climate

April 29th 2012

Easter Island statues

Scientists have predicted that ocean temperatures will rise in the equatorial Pacific by the end of the century, wreaking havoc on coral reef ecosystems. But a new study shows that climate change could cause ocean currents to operate in a surprising way and mitigate the warming near a handful of islands right on the equator. As a result these Pacific islands may become isolated refuges for corals and fish.

Here's how it would happen, according to the study by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution scientists Kristopher Karnauskas and Anne Cohen, published April 29 in the journal Nature Climate Change. At the equator, trade winds push a surface current from east to west. About 100 to 200 meters below, a swift countercurrent develops, flowing in the opposite direction. This, the Equatorial Undercurrent (EUC), is cooler and rich in nutrients. When it hits an island, like a rock in a river, water is deflected upward on the island's western flank and around the islands. This well-known upwelling process brings cooler water and nutrients to the sunlit surface, creating localized areas where tiny marine plants and corals flourish. On color-enhanced satellite maps showing measurements of global ocean chlorophyll levels, these productive patches of ocean stand out as bright green or red spots, for example around the Galapagos Islands in the eastern Pacific. But as you look west, chlorophyll levels fade like a comet tail, giving scientists little reason to look closely at scattered low-lying coral atolls farther west. The islands are easy to overlook because they are tiny, remote, and lie at the far left edge of standard global satellite maps that place continents in the center. Read more ..

The Race for Hi-Speed Rail

Italy's New 'Bullet Train' Aims to Shake Up Euro Travel

April 29th 2012

Italian Hi-Speed Rail
Italian High-Speed Rail

Italy will launch Europe's first private high-speed train service Saturday, as the country moves towards a more liberal economy.  The move could lead other European countries to follow Italy's example of privatizing rail transport and creating new jobs and competition in the marketplace.

The new bullet-shaped "Italo" trains can travel at a top speed of 360 kilometers per hour. They are run by NTV, a company headed by Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo, which invested $1.3 billion. He says the real achievement was having brought about liberalization in Italian rail transportation. "At last, Italian citizens and foreign travelers will be able to choose, and one of the longest monopolies in our country has come to an end," said Montezemolo. Montezemolo says passengers would benefit from the competition.  He adds that the aim is to take a quarter of the market from the state rail network Trenitalia, the biggest employer in the country, by 2014. Read more ..

The Edge of Food

Basil by the Tree-ful

April 29th 2012

Basil Tree

Sacred to some, and with a long list of medicinal properties, basil is an herb Americans usually like tossed into spaghetti sauce or on top of pizza. Like most herbs, basil tastes best when it’s fresh.

The Israeli company Hishtil (“seedling” in Hebrew) revolutionized the market for fresh herbs and spices around the world, and now it has developed a new strain of basil for discerning taste buds. Normally basil has a short shelf life, and the plant rarely lives longer than a year.

Using patented techniques, Hishtil grafted two types of basil plants together — a hardy “secret” strain that grows a sturdy trunk, and a leafy aromatic Greek variety with tasty leaves. Together they form the world’s first basil tree. And while the tree still may be sensitive to lower temperatures come winter, bring it inside where it’s warm, says Menny Shadmi, the head of marketing for the company, and it will live a long time.

One of the company’s first grafted trees is already five years old and is doing well, Shadmi adds, hoping the new basil tree will attract hobby plant growers and the nurseries that cater to them. The new basil tree can also be grown as a bonsai — perfect for city-dwellers looking to grow their own herbs and spices, and also for suburban vegetable gardeners. It can be harvested regularly, but it must keep two-thirds of its leaves at all times to stay healthy. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Wristwatch Sized Heart Monitor in Development

April 29th 2012


Plessey is developing a heart rate monitor demonstration using its EPIC sensor technology, which is the same size as a wristwatch and does not require a chest strap or second sensor at the end of a cable. The reference design shows that simple and effective personal monitoring of electrocardiograph (ECG) signals can be as easy as taking a pulse measurement. The device straps to the wrist with a sensor electrode on the rear of the device in permanent contact with the wrist and the second electrode is on the front of the device. Touching this top electrode with a finger from the opposite hand enables the device to collect the heart signals.

"Our EPIC technology really makes heart monitoring so much simpler," explained Plessey's EPIC Programme Director, Dr Paul James. "Just two small contacts and no gels. This is ideal for the Sports and Fitness market where people want to measure more than just their heart rate when exercising for display either on the device or via a Bluetooth link to a mobile phone, tablet or PC. The data gathered is accurate enough that it can provide detailed ECG signals with the appropriate signal processing, including precise pulse rate and pulse rate variation. This opens up the possibility of estimating key aerobic performance parameters such as VO2max." Read more ..

Inside Africa

Banda and Sirleaf Pave Way for More African Female Leaders

April 29th 2012

Joyce Banda
Joyce Banda

Joyce Banda’s swearing in as president of Malawi this month made her the second female head of state in Africa - following Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s election victory in Liberia in 2005. Many see this as a key advance for women on a continent that has been dominated by male political figures.

John Kapito, chairman of the Malawi Human Rights Commission, has been following Joyce Banda’s career for many years. He watched in 1990 as Banda founded the National Association of Business Women, which provides training and loans to women wanting to start up small-scale businesses. 

He also followed the creation of the Joyce Banda Foundation, a charity that helps orphans and low-income children in Malawi get an education. In 1997 Banda was awarded the Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger - conferred by the U.S.-based Hunger Project. Banda’s slow but steady climb to the top has not been easy. She walked away from an abusive marriage in 1981 at a time when most women stayed in such situations. Much later, as vice president of Malawi and also deputy president of the ruling party, she lost her party position after refusing to support then-president Bingu wa Mutharika in his bid to have his brother take over the presidency. So, after Mutharika died suddenly at the beginning of April, Vice President Joyce Banda became President Joyce Banda. Read more ..

Broken Peace Process

Mideast Peace Process to Nowhere

April 29th 2012

Abbas Hillary and Bibi

Something has gone horribly wrong with the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's recent decision not to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is only the latest example and reason for the widespread pessimism about its trajectory. The so-called Middle East conflict has grown more rather than less intractable since Palestinian and Israeli leaders began their efforts to resolve it through negotiations. Indeed, almost two decades of negotiations have failed to convince Palestinian and Israeli leaders of a way to share the land and its resources. And in fact the core of the conflict is more about co-existing on the same land than just dividing it. Perhaps the realization of how many dreams would remain unfulfilled if the compromises necessary for an agreement were struck convinced politicians on both sides that resolving the dispute would be more costly and unpopular than perpetuating it.

Perhaps, both sides have clung more tightly to their national narratives than to proposals to be exchanged for concessions because discussions, themselves, disclosed the gap, not so much between the two sets of negotiators, but rather between reality and the dreams ordinary Palestinians and Israelis have been encouraged to imagine of the final resolution. At the very least, national narratives give Israelis and Palestinians a clear definition of their collective identities even if they lock them into their confrontation. Read more ..

South Africa on Edge

Infamous Johannesburg Minibus Taxi Drivers Trained to Behave

April 28th 2012

Taxi Driver Protest
Taxi Driver Protest

In South Africa, minibus taxis are the most used and yet the most dangerous public transport. They account for double the rate of crashes than all other passenger vehicles. It is rush hour for one of the busiest taxi stands in downtown Johannesburg. Hundreds of people zigzag through the lined-up minibus taxis. One passerby almost gets hit by a taxi as it suddenly pulls out of the parking area. South Africans have a live-hate relationship with minubus taxis. Princess has been using them for over 20 years. "I take taxis because to me, it's quick, and it’s cheaper than the bus," said Princess, who is among the 65 percent of South Africans who use minibus taxis every day. The minibus taxis came into use in the 1980s, under the apartheid, to take black workers from their restricted home communities to work and back. But now it is the most available and affordable means of transportation in the country. Despite its popularity, the minibuses have a disastrous reputation for dangerous and careless driving, posing hazards to not only all cars on the road - but the very passengers who support the taxi business. Read more ..

The Edge of Society

Can Nature's Beauty Lift Citizens From Poverty?

April 28th 2012

Hawaii bay

Using nature's beauty as a tourist draw can boost conservation in China's valued panda preserves, but it isn't an automatic ticket out of poverty for the humans who live there, a unique long-term study shows.

Often those who benefit most from nature-based tourism are people who already have resources. The truly impoverished have a harder time breaking into the tourism business, according to the paper, "Drivers and Socioeconomic Impacts of Tourism Participation in Protected Areas," published in the April 25 edition of PLoS One.

The study looks at nearly a decade of burgeoning tourism in the Wolong Nature Reserve in Southwestern China. China, like many areas in the world, banks on tourism over farming for economic viability, while attempting to preserve fragile animal habitat. But until now, no one has taken a close look at the long-term implications for people economically. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Slow-Growing Babies More Likely in Normal-Weight Women; Less Common in Obese Pregnancies

April 28th 2012


Obesity during pregnancy puts women at higher risk of a multitude of challenges. But, according to a new study presented earlier this month at the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine annual convention, fetal growth restriction, or the poor growth of a baby while in the mother’s womb, is not one of them. In fact, study authors from the University of Rochester Medical Center found that the incidence of fetal growth restriction was lower in obese women when compared to non-obese women.

Researchers, led by senior study author and high-risk pregnancy expert Loralei Thornburg, M.D., conducted the study because a wealth of data shows that obese women are at greater risk of fetal death or stillbirth. Unfortunately, in the majority of cases, doctors don’t know why. Thornburg’s team wanted to determine if fetal growth restriction – which increases the likelihood of stillbirth – might play a role. She says growth restriction may go undiagnosed in obese women because it can be difficult to get an accurate measure of mom’s belly size, which is a tool used to gauge the baby’s growth – or lack of growth.

“We wondered if the increased risk of stillbirth could be due to a high level of undiagnosed growth restriction – the idea being that if the physician doesn’t know that the baby is too small then they don’t know that mom and baby need additional monitoring, which is essential to prevent fetal death,” said Thornburg, an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Medical Center whose research focuses on obesity in pregnancy.

The team, including lead study author and Maternal-Fetal Medicine Fellow Dzhamala Gilmandyar, M.D., found that growth restriction was significantly lower in obese and diabetic women; it was higher in women with preeclampsia, or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, and smokers – a finding in line with past research. Of the babies that had growth restriction, they determined how many moms were given an accurate diagnosis before birth and found that the rate was the same for obese and non-obese women, suggesting that missed diagnoses are not a major problem in obese pregnancies. Read more ..

The Edge of Food

New Avocado Rootstocks Are High-Performing and Disease-Tolerant

April 28th 2012


Avocado, a significant fruit crop grown in many tropical and subtropical parts of the world, is threatened by Phytophthora root rot (PRR), a disease that has already eliminated commercial avocado production in many areas in Latin America and crippled production in Australia and South Africa. Just in California the disease is estimated to cost avocado growers approximately $30-40 million a year in production losses.

Research on developing PRR-tolerant rootstocks to manage the disease has been a major focus of avocado research at the University of California, Riverside since the 1950s. The latest research now comes from a team that has released three rootstocks, available for commercial propagation by nurseries, that demonstrate superior tolerance to PRR. The research, scheduled to appear soon in the journal HortScience, describes the three avocado root-rot-tolerant varieties: Zentmyer, Steddom, and Uzi. Read more ..

The Race for Hydro

Many Along Mekong River Concerned About Hydropower Expansion

April 28th 2012


A Thai company says it is going ahead with construction of the controversial $3.5 billion Xayaburi dam on the Mekong River in Laos. Some 12 planned hydropower dams on the Mekong are expected to bring in lucrative profits, but environmentalists warn the dams threaten the health of a river that sustains tens of millions of people. Ek Than's family has lived in this remote Mekong village in northern Kratie, Cambodia, for more than three generations. As dams have popped up in China, as well as on upstream tributaries, he has noticed the difference. "In the past, there were plenty of fish. Now, even if we use 10 fish traps, it's hard to get fish," he said. Than's family lives north of one proposed hydropower dam, in Sambor district. It would be Cambodia's first on the mainstream Mekong - and one of 12 planned along the 3,000-kilometer river. Most remain suspended over environmental concerns, but governments are eager to develop hydropower to boost their economies. Read more ..

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