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Archive for August 2012

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America on Edge

Anti-Chemical Alarmism Spreads to Your School

August 31st 2012

Student Backpack

Today’s toxic headline: a plastic gun is pointed at your children and it looks like SpongeBob, Hello Kitty and Dora the Explorer. Campaigning NGOs and many journalists share a not-so-attractive sensibility: they are often uncomfortable with complexity. Dividing the world, and prickly science policy issues, into black and white makes for exciting narratives. Unfortunately it’s invariably wrong, authoritarian and, as Freud would say, crazy (“neurosis is the inability to tolerate ambiguity”).

That’s certainly the case in today’s anti-science campaign du jour: a ferocious attack on the harmless backpacks, book covers and lunch boxes that your children tote to school.

The hysteria kicked off earlier this week with a news conference organized by the Center for Health, Environment and Justice starring anti-chemical flack Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) at which the CHEJ released a guide ominously titled, “Hidden Hazards: Toxic Chemical Inside Children’s Vinyl Back to School Supplies”.

“These dangerous chemicals manufactured by ExxonMobil have no place in our children’s school supplies,” said Mike Schade, CHEJ’s “Markets Campaign Coordinator” who orchestrated the media blitz. The non-profit, composed almost entirely of fulltime campaigners, has one lone non-PhD scientist on staff—with no research expertise in this area. Read more ..

Media on Edge

CNN Suffers Massive Drop in Viewership

August 31st 2012


Atlanta--we have a problem. CNN viewership is so massively down, it is now just a shadow of what it was a year ago. One outlet reported, "Just days after CNN President Jim Walton announced his departure from the network, the latest ratings suggest he never got the memo. CNN’s numbers are once again plummeting fast."

Another report stated, "For the month of July 2012, CNN’s viewership was only around one-fifth of what they saw just a year earlier." Media Bistro released numbers that demonstrated the network has suffered top to bottom losses and is now struggling to attract viewers. What is called "serious revamping" has not helped.

The LA Times wrote: "CNN's current predicament is a stunning reversal from years past, when the network was a news colossus." RT reported: "Compared with statistics for July 2011, total viewership for CNN has sunk 20 percent, and in other categories the figures are ever worse. Among 24-54 year olds, CNN is seeing a drop of 23 percent this year, with the same decline in ratings down for its primetime broadcast. In terms of how often same age group tunes in during primetime hours, CNN’s statistics are down 26 percent from last year." Read more ..

Healthcare on Edge

Adolescent Smoking Prevention Progams Still Critical

August 31st 2012

cigarette burning

While many might see the case for programs to prevent adolescent cigarette smoking as already made, a pair of Wayne State University researchers believes that due to increasingly challenging economic times, policymakers need to be reminded to continue allocating funding for such programs. Xinguang Chen and Feng Lin have found a way to provide policymakers with some hard evidence.

Most adult smokers in the United States report trying their first cigarette before age 18, according to government statistics, with more than 80 percent of established smokers starting before high school graduation. Earlier initiation has been shown to be associated with greater smoking frequency and number of cigarettes smoked per day.

Only about 5 percent of established smokers ever quit completely, Chen said, making prevention in adolescence a critical and strategic priority for tobacco control. "The number of smokers year to year at any given time is an accumulation of past experience," he said. "Our methodology has the power to glean that information from one cross-sectional survey, overcoming the limit to track people over time."

School-, community- and family-based prevention programs have been effective, he said, but evaluating their success at the national level has been a challenge because of the high cost associated with longitudinal data collection and blank groups for comparison. Read more ..

After the BP Spill

Hurricane Isaac Necessitates Update on BP Oil Spill Cleanup

August 31st 2012

Deepwater Horizon spill response

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) wants two federal agencies to explain how they will address lingering oil contamination from the 2010 explosion of the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. Markey told the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in letters sent Friday that Hurricane Isaac makes the Gulf of Mexico cleanup effort imperative.

He said as much as 1 million barrels worth of oil from the BP incident could be tied up in sediments and water that Isaac pushed ashore. “As the storm passed any oil carried by the winds and storm surge could be pushed deeper into the marshlands and potentially back onto land, re-igniting the potential for this oil to impact the plants and animals that thrive in the swamps and marshes,” Markey wrote EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco. Read more ..

The Race for Methane

Biology Search Reveals Sources of Ocean Methane

August 31st 2012

Ocean scene

Up to 4 percent of the methane on Earth comes from the ocean's oxygen-rich waters, but scientists have been unable to identify the source of this potent greenhouse gas. Now researchers report that they have found the culprit: a bit of "weird chemistry" practiced by the most abundant microbes on the planet. The researchers who made the discovery did not set out to explain ocean geochemistry. They were searching for new antibiotics. Their research, funded by the National Institutes of Health, explores an unusual class of potential antibiotic agents, called phosphonates, already in use in agriculture and medicine.

Many microbes produce phosphonates to thwart their competitors. Phosphonates mimic molecules the microbes use, but tend to be more resistant to enzymatic breakdown. The secret of their success is the durability of their carbon-phosphorus bond. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Tax Policy Center’s Findings on Romney's Tax Plan

August 31st 2012

Romney and Ryan--Virginia Announcement

In a recent paper, we showed that any revenue-neutral tax reform that included Governor Romney’s specific tax cuts and that met his stated goal of not raising taxes on saving and investment would cut taxes for households with income above $200,000 and would therefore necessarily have to raise taxes on taxpayers below $200,000. This was true even when we considered an unrealistically progressive way of financing the specified tax reductions, and even when we accounted for economic growth and revenue feedback.

Writing in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, Romney economic adviser Martin Feldstein attempts to contradict our finding. Instead, his analysis actually confirms our central result. Under the stated assumptions in Feldstein’s article, taxpayers with income between $100,000 and $200,000 would pay an average of at least $2,000 more. (Feldstein uses a different income measure than we do – see technical note at end.) Read more ..

The New Egypt

U.S. Security Interests in Egypt

August 31st 2012

Mohammed Morsi

How much recent events have eroded U.S. security interests in Egypt depends on how deeply rooted those interests were in the first place. Although the Mubarak government did some things we wanted it to do, it did other things that were anathema. Mubarak, with U.S. complicity and Israeli acquiescence, fed the growth of a military that could be used for good or ill while he fed the Egyptian people lies about Israel, about war, about Jews and about peace. In the bigger picture, Egypt always saw itself with Arab and Sunni and larger Muslim responsibilities as well as responsibilities to its non-Muslim patron, whether the U.S. or Russia before it.

The smart bet was never on Egypt as an actual ally – which presumes a certain fundamental alignment – but on the understanding that things would be worse if Mubarak weren't there. The now-complete demise of military structure embodied in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) – America's erstwhile ally – was utterly predictable. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

2008 Was a Major Aberration for Democrats

August 31st 2012

Obama and Romney

By itself, the state of the economy is enough to guarantee a close election, and every national survey during the past two weeks has put Obama and Romney in a statistical tie. Now another key factor points in the same direction—the shifting balance between the political parties. This matters because party preferences and voting patterns are more closely linked today than they have been in several generations—and two recent in-depth surveys of the party system document that a clean Democratic victory, of the sort the party enjoyed in 2008, is exceedingly unlikely. The surging Democratic tide of four years ago has ebbed, exposing a partisan shoreline that more closely resembles what prevailed in 2004. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

A Surprisingly Large Superbubble Has Appeared

August 31st 2012

A Surprisingly Bright Superbubble

A composite image now shows a superbubble in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a small satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, located about 160,000 light years from Earth. Many new stars, some of them very massive, are forming in the star cluster NGC 1929, which is embedded in the nebula N44. The massive stars produce intense radiation, expel matter at high speeds, and race through their evolution to explode as supernovas. The winds and supernova shock waves carve out huge cavities called superbubbles in the surrounding gas. X-rays from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory (blue) show hot regions created by these winds and shocks, while infrared data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope (red) outline where the dust and cooler gas are found. The optical light from the 2.2m Max-Planck-ESO telescope (yellow) in Chile shows where ultraviolet radiation from hot, young stars is causing gas in the nebula to glow.

A long-running problem in high-energy astrophysics has been that some superbubbles in the LMC, including N44, give off a lot more X-rays than expected from models of their structure. A Chandra study published in 2011 showed that there are two extra sources of the bright X-ray emission: supernova shock waves striking the walls of the cavities, and hot material evaporating from the cavity walls. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Uncoiling the Cucumber's Enigma

August 31st 2012


Captivated by a strange coiling behavior in the grasping tendrils of the cucumber plant, researchers at Harvard University have characterized a new type of spring that is soft when pulled gently and stiff when pulled strongly. Instead of unwinding to a flat ribbon under stress, as an untwisted coil normally would, the cucumber's tendrils actually coil further. Understanding this counterintuitive behavior required a combination of head scratching, physical modeling, mathematical modeling, and cell biology—not to mention a large quantity of silicone. The result, published in the August 31 issue of Science, describes the mechanism by which coiling occurs in the cucumber plant and suggests a new type of bio-inspired twistless spring.

Led by principal investigator L. Mahadevan, Lola England de Valpine Professor of Applied Mathematics at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and Professor of Physics at Harvard, and a Core Faculty Member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard, the researchers were motivated by simple curiosity about the natural world. Read more ..

South Africa on Edge

Justice Minister Demands Explanation for Miners' Charge

August 31st 2012

Police miners

South Africa's justice minister, Jeff Radebe, has demanded that prosecutors explain why striking miners are being charged with the murder of 34 fellow workers who by all accounts were shot and killed by police.

Radebe said the decision by South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority to invoke an apartheid-era legal charge has induced a sense of "shock, panic and confusion."

Prosecutors charged the 270 miners involved at the strike at the Lonmin platinun mine on Thursday, using an obscure statute, known as the "common purpose law," under which people in a crowd where a crime was committed can be charged as accomplices. That law was used most famously in the case of the so-called “Upington 14,” who were sentenced to death for a crowd killing a policeman in 1985.  The black activists were convicted under the clause even though it was acknowledged that they did not commit the act. Read more ..

Daghestan on Edge

Assassination Of Daghestan's Sufi Spiritual Leader Raises Specter Of New Violence

August 31st 2012

Said Efendi Chirkeisky,

As Daghestan's Sufis buried their spiritual leader on August 28, the sea of almost entirely male faces seemed to stretch to the horizon around his grave in the small town of Chirkeisk.

Observers put the number of mourners at more than 100,000 -- an almost unheard of crowd for a public figure in this small North Caucasus republic.

But Said Efendi Chirkeisky, born 74 years ago as Said Atsayev, was no ordinary mortal to his followers. He was the spiritual leader of Daghestan's official brand of Islam, Sufism, and regarded by his admirers as inspired by God. Now, his death at the hands of a suicide bomber threatens to add new fuel to the cycle of insurgent violence and security crackdowns that is gripping this corner of the Russian Federation. The suicide bomber who killed Chirkeisky and at least five of his followers on August 28 has been identified as Aminat Saprykina. Russian media quoted security officials as saying she was the wife of a fundamentalist Islamic militant who has long been on the police wanted list. Read more ..

Destination Jordan

Cosmic Love Lantern Festival Will Light Up Jordan’s Wadi Rum

August 31st 2012

Sky Lanterns
Sky Lanterns

The Cosmic Love Sky Lantern Festival is sure to be a feast for the eyes this fall in Wadi Rum.  As if the dramatic mountain scenery weren’t breathtaking enough, sky lanterns will rise like one thousand moons over the vast expanses of the desert at 9:00pm on the projected date of September 27. Crafted of paper, a sky lantern, also called a sky candle or fire balloon, is typically made by attaching oiled rice paper to a bamboo frame, and the light inside is either a candle or a fuel cell.  After the air inside the lantern is heated, the density is lowered enough to cause the vessel to rise and fly for as long as anywhere from five minutes to half an hour.

Sky lanterns are traditionally used in East Asian cultures; as per the belief, good luck comes to those who launch sky lanterns, which when flying, symbolize hardships floating away.  Throwing cares to the wind is so much more glamorous when sky lanterns act as emblems, in my opinion. The autumn event will be held near the Bait Ali settlement in Wadi Rum; attendees are encouraged to take advantage of the chic accommodation of the campsite, perhaps extending their Wadi Rum adventure a few days past the conclusion of the festival. A Facebook event page will keep those who are interested informed; the allure of exclusivity entices Facebookers to “join” the event. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Saudi National Faces Multiple Terrorism Charges at Gitmo

August 31st 2012

Click to select Image

A Saudi Arabian national on Wednesday was officially charged with several terrorism offenses by the Chief Prosecutor for Military Commissions at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, military detention center.

Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed Haza al Darbi is accused of a number of offenses triable under the Military Commissions Act of 2009. The 37-year-old suspect faces several charges including: Aiding and Abetting the Offense of Attacking Civilian Objects; Aiding and Abetting the Offense of Hazarding a Vessel; Aiding and Abetting the Offense of Terrorism; Aiding the Enemy; and other charges.

The U.S. prosecutors allege that al Darbi entered into a terrorist conspiracy with al Qaeda by the year 1997. He allegedly attended the Khalden training camp in Afghanistan, and he have received personal permission from Osama bin Laden to train at al Qaeda’s Jihad Wahl training camp in Afghanistan. He later allegedly became a weapons instructor at al Qaeda’s al Farouq training camp, also in Afghanistan. From approximately 2000 through 2002, al Darbi is also alleged to have committed multiple overt acts in support of a plot to bomb civilian oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz and off the coast of Yemen. Read more ..

The Race for EVs

Israel’s Better Place Electric Car Network Bleeds Capital

August 31st 2012

Better Place

Last month Israel’s Better Place rolled out their all-electric vehicle network to the Israeli public with much fanfare. Of the hundreds of civilians that bought the cars, warm reviews of excitement ensued. Pictures and photo ops were maximized. Since opening the car sales channel to the public the number of Better Place cars on the road now exceeds the number of Better Place cars being driven by company employees. The company also released news that it had set an electric car distance world record, garnering some fresh enthusiasm for the business.

But a new report warns that the company is seriously bleeding cash, suggesting it’s light years away from putting 10,000 cars on the road – its break even point.

Even after recent news of a $40 million Euro loan,  in order to set up a network in Denmark and continue deployment in Israel, the company is ripping through cash. Much of it being spent on PR, public education and wrapping.

Will the Better Place car network and its rechargeable battery stations survive the long-term? I have a feeling that unless it starts to make its car the much cheaper alternative to driving a petrol-powered car in Israel, it will not. The Renault cars aren’t attractive, or different looking. Read more ..

America on Edge

Countering Workplace Violence

August 31st 2012

Police Running

On the morning of Aug. 24, Jeffrey Johnson returned to his former place of work, Hazan Import Corp., and waited on the street outside the building. Johnson, who was wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase, blended into the crowd of people on the street who were rushing to work that morning. As one of Hazan Import's executives, Stephen Ercolino, approached the building, Johnson drew a pistol from his bag and gunned Ercolino down with no warning, making Ercolino a victim of workplace violence. Media reports suggest that Johnson and Ercolino had been involved in several confrontations, at least one of which became physical, and that Johnson held Ercolino responsible for his being laid off. Each of the men had also reportedly filed police reports claiming the other had threatened him.

Violence in the workplace is a serious security problem in the United States and elsewhere, although it is not nearly as widespread as the media coverage suggests. On average, there are around 500 workplace homicides per year in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2010, the latest year for which statistics are available, there were 518 workplace homicides, and only 12 percent were conducted by a co-worker or former co-worker. This means that while workplace violence incidents tend to get a lot of media attention -- even more so when an incident occurs near the Empire State Building, like the Johnson incident -- they are not common. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Refugee Crisis Unsustainable

August 31st 2012

Syrian Refugees in unhcr

Syria’s neighbors, who have absorbed more than 220,000 refugees fleeing violence in that country, told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that they need international assistance to meet the growing tragedy. Syria’s humanitarian crisis is spreading to its neighbors as they try to cope with a growing refugee crisis.

Turkey has so far taken in the largest number of Syrians -- around 80,000.  Ankara says it cannot handle much more than another 20,000, which it could reach soon.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the 15-nation Security Council that Turkey has spent more than $300 million, built 11 camps, and is finding it increasingly difficult to cope without international help. “Yes, we are building new camps and will try to transfer them to these camps.  Yet, we are fast getting short of suitable areas to build camps and means to support them,” Davutoglu said.

The United Nations says there are more than 2 million displaced people inside Syria. Davutoglu said something should be done to protect them. “In the face of such a humanitarian disaster, the U.N. should initiate the establishment of IDP [i.e., internally displaced persons] camps within Syria without delay.  Needless to say, these camps should have full protection,” Davutoglu said. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syrian Rebels Attack Aleppo Security Compounds

August 31st 2012

Syrian Rebels in Aleppo

Activists say Syrian rebel fighters have attacked several security compounds in the northern city of Aleppo as clashes continued in other areas of the war-torn country. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday that one of the assaults in Aleppo sparked a firefight that killed and wounded a number of government troops. It gave no figures. Last month, rebel forces  took control of parts of Syria's commercial hub, sparking fierce fighting there.

Also Friday, the monitoring group said government troops and rebels were locked in battle north of the capital, Damascus, and in Albu Kamal, on the Iraqi border. Internet video appeared to show fighting in Homs, Daraa and Damascus. ​​On Thursday, Syria's neighbors - seeking to assist more than 200,000 war refugees - asked the United Nations Security Council for urgent help in coping with the growing humanitarian crisis.

The 2012 Vote

Obama in Political Trouble--Chances Less than 50-50

August 31st 2012

PBObama contemplative

President Obama is in political trouble. In my opinion the probability he is elected is slightly less than 50-50. The best case for Obama today, on current course, is that he wins a narrow victory without any mandate to govern, without a Democratic majority in the House and without enough Senate Democrats to challenge the inevitable Republican filibusters.

This outcome would leave the Obama presidency permanently disfigured, deformed and destroyed. The alternative is even worse. If Mitt Romney is elected the entire progressive legacy of economic betterment and social progress from the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt until today would be disfigured, defunded, deformed and destroyed, which would take America back to the days of the robber barons. Let’s be clear. Republicans today would not recreate the Reaganism of 1980, they would recreate the Gilded Age of 1890. They would destroy any role of government as a balance against the excesses of greed and corruption that poisoned America before Teddy Roosevelt, and continue to attack the middle class and poor today.

Today Republicans have an enthusiasm advantage, a turnout advantage, a money advantage, a voter suppression advantage and a media advantage, which is why I warn Democrats so severely. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Clint Eastwood Tells America: "Let Him Go."

August 31st 2012

Clint Eastwood at Tampa Convention
Clint Eastwood Grilling an Imaginary Obama in Chair

Actor and director Clint Eastwood tried a risky and sometimes awkward 10-minute routine Thursday before the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla., that involved several minutes of him pretending to ask questions to a non-present President Obama, though he won big applause for lines saying it's time for him to leave office.

"When somebody does not do the job, we got to let him go," he said near the end of his remarks, to rowdy applause. "We own this country," he added. "Politicians are employees of ours. They're just going to come around and beg for votes every few years, it's the same old deal." Before grilling an invisible Obama in an empty chair, Eastwood said he was initially fine with Obama's election, but that the state of the economy made him sour on the president.  Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Mitt Showed the 'Deepest Part of his Soul' say Ann Romney

August 31st 2012

Ann Romney at Tampa Convention

Ann Romney on Friday said her husband’s personal - and at times emotional - speech to the Republican national convention showed voters “the deepest part of his soul.”

Appearing on several news networks the morning after the GOP candidate accepted his party’s presidential nomination, Ann Romney said she couldn’t be prouder of his performance. "This is how I see him, this is the emotional part of him that I know so well," she told NBC's "Today" show. 

Mitt Romney’s speech had been anticipated as a chance for him to tell his "story" and get personal about his religion and history. At one point in his speech, the Republican candidate choked up when he spoke about how his father – former Michigan Gov. George Romney – left a rose for his mother every morning at her bedside throughout their marriage. “That's how she found out what happened on the day my father died – she went looking for him because that morning, there was no rose,” Romney said. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Romney Accepts Declaring: What America Needs is Jobs--not Hope and Change

August 31st 2012

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney formally accepted the Republican presidential nomination Thursday in a speech aimed squarely at swing voters disillusioned with President Obama and a still-lagging economy. Arguing that “what America need is jobs,” the former Massachusetts governor asked voters to “forget about what might have been and to look ahead to what can be.”

“Hope and change had a powerful appeal,” Romney said. “But tonight I'd ask a simple question: If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama? You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.”

The speech electrified an eager crowd of delegates packed into the Tampa Forum, who rose repeatedly to their feet to cheer and applaud the GOP nominee while waving signs that exclaimed “Mitt!” and “Believe!” But Romney's address was clearly aimed at swing voters watching at home, who thus far have been reluctant to embrace a candidate who can seem stiff and private. Read more ..

Switching from Obama Because Romney Allows us to Change our Sense of Hope

August 31st 2012
After watching the Republican convention last night I am saying something I never thought I would say. I will switch from Obama. Why? Because Romney it seems allows us to change our sense of hope. Hope and Change from Obama did not work. So I will change my hope. I am voting for Romney. Not a Republican but voting for Romney. Who would have guessed it.

The Nano Edge

New 2-D Molecule Could Yield Ultra-miniature Devices

August 31st 2012

taiwanese semiconductor plant

Researchers from the MIT have succeeded in making a variety of electronic components from molybdenum disulfide (MoS2), a 2D molecule that could yield ultra-miniature devices. A report on the production of complex electronic circuits from the new material was published online this month in the journal Nano Letters; the paper is authored by Han Wang and Lili Yu, graduate students in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS); Tomás Palacios, the Emmanuel E. Landsman Associate Professor of EECS; and others at MIT and elsewhere.

Palacios says he thinks graphene and MoS2 are just the beginning of a new realm of research on two-dimensional materials. "It's the most exciting time for electronics in the last 20 or 30 years," he says. "It's opening up the door to a completely new domain of electronic materials and devices." Read more ..

Inside Gaza

How Many Millionaires Live in the "Impoverished" Gaza Strip?

August 31st 2012

Gaza city skyline

The world often thinks of the Gaza Strip, home to 1.4 million Palestinians, as one of the poorest places on earth, where people live in misery and squalor.

But according to an investigative report published in the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, there are at least 600 millionaires living in the Gaza Strip. The newspaper report also refutes the claim that the Gaza Strip has been facing a humanitarian crisis because of an Israeli blockade.

Mohammed Dahlan, the former Palestinian Authority security commander of the Gaza Strip, further said last week that Hamas was the only party that was laying siege to the Gaza Strip; that it is Hamas, and not Israel or Egypt, that is strangling and punishing the people there.

The Palestinian millionaires, according to the report, have made their wealth thanks to the hundreds of underground tunnels along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

Order for Beatings Came From Abbas's Office

August 31st 2012

Palestinian Authority police

A Palestinian commission of inquiry into the beating of Palestinian journalists and demonstrators in Ramallah has found that top officials in Mahmoud Abbas's office had ordered the assault.

The discovery did not come as a surprise to many Palestinians, who have long been accusing the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank of waging a campaign of intimidation and terror against journalists, bloggers and political opponents.

Western donors who are funding the Palestinian Authority are willing to turn a blind eye to human rights violations as long as Abbas and his aides remain "committed to the two-state solution" and do not believe in violence against Israel, as a Western diplomat based in Israel explained.

The commission of inquiry was established after Palestinian policemen and security personnel -- in civilian clothes -- attacked Palestinians who were demonstrating several weeks ago against a planned visit to Ramallah by then Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

UN Blames Only Israel for Gaza's Inviable Future

August 31st 2012

Gaza Qasam Rocket

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) held a conference on August 27th entitled “Will the Gaza Strip be Viable in 2020?” The conclusion, predictably, was that the Israeli government was fully responsible for the difficult human living conditions in the Gaza Strip and that the Gaza population will face a real disaster on all levels by 2020 if the Israeli “siege” were not immediately ended.

In attendance at the Israel-bashing conference were the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator, Maxwell Gaylard, Director of UNRWA operations in Gaza Robert Turner, and UNICEF Special Representative in the Palestinian Territory, Jean Gough.

Gaylard said that the Gaza population is expected to expand by a half million, reaching 2.1 million in 2020, while access to water and electricity, education and health resources will get worse over the same period, unless major remedial action is taken immediately. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

British Bank Accused of Doing Massive Illegal Iran Business: Settles with New York Authorities

August 30th 2012

On August 6, 2012, the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS), the state banking regulator, accused Standard Chartered Bank (SCB) of Britain of using its New York state branch as a clearinghouse for Iran transactions in a massive cover-up scheme involving at least $250 billion.  The DFS stated in an order that in review of 30,000 pages of bank documents and e-mail communications, it found that for nearly ten years, SCB officials “programmatically engaged in deceptive and fraudulent misconduct,” concealing transactions with Iranian financial institutions including its Central Bank/Bank Markazi, Bank Saderat, and Bank Melli, which are affiliated with Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.  The bank was also accused of transacting with other sanctioned countries. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Club for Growth's Clout

August 30th 2012

Bundles of Money

As Republicans have battled for the soul of their party in primaries across the country, the deep-pocketed, anti-tax Club for Growth has proved itself a force to be reckoned with.

If heavily favored Rep. Jeff Flake prevails Tuesday in Arizona over businessman Wil Cardon, the Club will mark four wins against two losses among its favored candidates in U.S. Senate GOP primary races.

Of about five-dozen organizations that spent a combined $32 million on independent expenditures in Republican Senate primaries this year, Club for Growth ranks No. 1, having spent $10.8 million, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission records.

The Club’s super PAC, which is allowed to accept unlimited contributions and spend the funds on ads attacking or backing candidates, is responsible for nearly all of this spending.

Flake has cultivated a reputation in Washington as an anti-earmark crusader, routinely earning a 100 percent favorable rating from the Club for his voting record. He was also one of the first senators to sign the Club’s pledge to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare reform law. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Arab-Israeli Solar Company Wins Big

August 30th 2012

the sun

Yafa Energy could be a bridge over which Arab-Israeli technology finds its way to industries in the Arab world seeking renewable energy solutions. Eureka! Yafa Energy has become the first Arab-Israeli company to win a prestigious European Union EUREKA (Exceptional, Unconventional Research Enabling Knowledge Acceleration) grant. Awarded through Israel’s Prime Minister’s office, Yafa was named as the best technological initiative from an Israeli minority community.

Created as an intergovernmental initiative in 1985, EUREKA aims to enhance industrial competitiveness by supporting businesses, research centers and universities that carry out pan-European projects to develop innovative products, processes and services.

Yafa Energy was founded by Salih Manasra, a mechanical engineer from the auto industry who decided to devote a new chapter of his life to doing something good for society and the planet. The two-year-old company was previously recognized by the World Bank for developing an essential solar thermal technology to heat steam for industrial processes that currently consume an enormous amount of polluting and unprocessed fuel. Read more ..

The Edge of Earth

Quake Map Prediction Methodology?

August 30th 2012

Port-au-Prince, Haiti earthquake damage

Some high profile researchers in the earth sciences are questioning several long-standing assumptions about predicting earthquakes. They contend it is time for a major reassessment on the methods used to forecast where and when killer earthquakes will strike.

Three recent major earthquakes: in Sichuan, China in 2008, in the Caribbean  nation of Haiti in 2010 and in northeastern Japan last year - have led to what some scientists acknowledge is an embarrassing failure. They did not foresee such intense tremors would cause widespread destruction and casualties in those specific locations.

Even in Japan, with state-of-the-art seismological and tsunami research and sophisticated hazard mapping, the size of the March 11 quake and the resulting tsunami were vastly underestimated. Earth sciences professor Seth Stein at Northwestern University in Chicago says that was a sobering day for his field. Read more ..

Destination Tibet

Tibet Theme Park

August 30th 2012

Potala Lhasa Tibet

Just outside Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, the Chinese government is building a $4.7 billion theme park that critics describe as a fairy tale universe that trivializes Tibetan culture and glosses over the nation’s troubles. The construction gets into high gear as Tibetans continue to demonstrate and set themselves on fire to protests Chinese policies in the nation Beijing invaded 63 years ago. The 50th such self-immolation took place this week.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington refuses to comment on the theme park project, or the self-immolations. But Beijing’s official news agency, Xinhua, quoted the deputy mayor of Lhasa, Ma Xingming, as saying the project “is designed to improve Tibet’s tourism credentials and be a landmark of the cultural industry.”

Xinhua said the park, scheduled for completion in three to five years, will be centered on the theme of a Chinese princess who marries a Tibetan king. It said the park will include displays of Tibetan handicrafts, medicine and folklore. Read more ..

Healthcare on Edge

Health Insurers: Mind your own business!

August 30th 2012

Obamacare Protest

You may have received a refund check in the past few months from your health insurer. This is not your individual reward for staying healthy; it is your insurer's punishment for making too much money because you did.

Obamacare includes what the health care technocracy calls the "MLR rule" - minimum requirements for medical-loss ratios - or the percentage of premiums collected by health insurers that must be spent on medical care or refunded. The inverse of the MLR is the percentage spent on administration and marketing, and earned as profit. Obamacare sets minimum MLRs of 80 percent for individual and small group plans, and 85 percent for large groups.

Aside from its obvious populist appeal, this profit regulation mechanism signifies a belief, now enshrined in legislation, that health insurance markets do not work. Without such a rule, the architects of Obamacare believe, insurers can name their prices, however inflated, and we all just pay. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

VP Ryan: Deficit Compromise?

August 30th 2012

Paul Ryan

A major reason that many conservative analysts endorsed Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan as the vice presidential candidate is that they believe that Ryan is the only man with a plan for attacking the federal deficit. They argue that Ryan is one of the few members of congress who truly understands the federal budget and that he has made innovative if controversial proposals to stem the tide of red ink. Further, they claim that Ryan has shown his skills in explaining and defending his budget both in sessions with other Republicans and in confrontations with Democrats, especially those who came to campaign events specifically to trash his budget.

The long-standing conservative critique of the federal government is that it is too big, but this critique has taken on increased urgency in recent years. Although Republicans led campaigns to cut federal spending under Reagan in the 1980s and under the Gingrich-led congress in the mid-1990s, neither set of reforms resulted in permanent reductions in the size or functions of the federal budget. Like kudzu, federal spending just keeps on growing. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran Struggles Unsuccessfully for Influence in Central Asia

August 30th 2012


On the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran, Iranian officials will consult with Central Asian republics in another failed attempt to strengthen the Islamic Republic's position and counter what they see as dangerous U.S. influence in the region.

In recent months, Tehran's diplomatic efforts in Central Asia have far surpassed their traditional level. Iranian officials have met with representatives of the region's ex-Soviet republics on numerous occasions, including on the sidelines of the June 6 Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, at several events organized by the Tehran-influenced Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), at bilateral trade commission meetings with Kazakhstan (June) and Turkmenistan (July 15), through exchanges of delegations, and in other multilateral and bilateral forums. Yet the actual impact of this flurry of activity is questionable.


A major reason for Tehran's intensified diplomacy in the region is Washington's planned military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Iran's ruling elites are practically unanimous in their belief that the announced departure is nothing but a cover for a strategic regrouping. According to this view, the United States may decide to not only remain in Afghanistan, but also increase its military presence in other Central Asian countries. Tehran's apprehensions became stronger in June-July, when Central Asian and Russian media sources began spreading rumors about U.S. assistance to the Tajikistan government in suppressing local insurgents, and about possible rapprochement between Washington and Uzbekistan.

The 2012 Vote

Republican Platform Outlines Tough China Stance

August 30th 2012

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Mitt Romney

The Republican party has adopted a platform that is strongly critical of China, even as Chinese state media slammed the party's presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, for having what it termed a "Cold War mentality."

The Republican platform, approved Tuesday at the party's national convention in Tampa, promises to get tough on China for the alleged undervaluing of its currency and theft of intellectual property. It also condemns what it calls China’s “destabilizing claims in the South China Sea” and vowed to continue U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, two issues that have riled China in the past.

The tougher rhetoric mirrors that of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who has promised to designate China as a currency manipulator on his first day in office, if elected. Beijing, which does not officially take sides in the election, this week lashed out at Romney’s China policies in a series of state media editorials. The official China Daily describes his policies as “pugnacious,” saying they will “poison” U.S.-China relations, if implemented. U.S. political strategists say criticizing the incumbent’s policies toward China is not only common, but can be politically beneficial, especially while the American economy is struggling to recover from a recession. This is something that Chinese officials have been quick to point out, accusing both Obama and Romney of pandering to what they call the “anti-China vote.” Read more ..

Destination London

Europe's 'Biggest Street Festival' Rocks London

August 30th 2012

London Carnival

During a summer dominated by the Olympics, Europe's largest street festival, the Notting Hill Carnival, gave London revelers another thing to smile about Sunday and Monday. The carnival is an important cultural event led by the West Indian community in London.

About 1 million people poured onto the streets of west London during the two days of the Notting Hill Carnival. Swamped on all sides by massive crowds, hundreds of groups took part in the parade, dancing to the beat of pounding music that pumped through loudspeakers. Their costumes ranged from the colorful and extravagant to the surprising and surreal.  The members of a group called "Chocolate Nation" arrived splattered head to foot in melted chocolate. I accompanied one band, called Jamboulay Carnival Arts, along the route. It is run by Francesca Bailey, who said getting ready for Carnival takes her the whole year.

She has to raise the money, around $10,000, to run workshops, build a float, and get the costumes ready.  But she says she does it to keep her culture alive. "We do it every year because for us it is a very cultural thing, and it is important that we continue with our culture. Carnival is something that began many years ago in Trinidad and Tobago, and it was based on the emancipation of slavery and it has over the years, it has progressed and evolved.  So, it is nice to see that it has come to Britain and really evolved over the years," Bailey said. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

European Banks and Iranian Sanctions

August 30th 2012

Iran Banknotes

Many policy­makers on both sides of the Atlantic view tough economic sanctions against Iran as perhaps the last peaceful means of curbing the Islamic Republic's appetite for nuclearization. While sanc­tions aren't a silver bullet, properly targeted, they might yet succeed in pressuring the regime to change course. Most banks worldwide have stopped providing Iran financial services, yet it has recently come to light that London-based HSBC and Standard Chartered have served Iran as a gateway to the international financial market. Both are under heavy fire from U.S. regulators, who have made it clear that banks doing business in the United States must cut their ties with illicit Iranian entities or risk losing access to the U.S. market.

The U.S. government has accused HSBC of facilitating illicit transactions worldwide for much of the last decade, becoming a "sinkhole of risk" that acted counter to the public interest, pursuing financial gain above all. U.S. lawmakers recently issued a 335-page report (and 530-page addendum of evidence) providing a vivid picture of the bank's shortcomings. Read more ..

Ghana on Edge

High Gold Prices Bring Chinese into Ghana's Mines

August 30th 2012

Ghana Gold Mines

A recent influx of Chinese nationals into Ghana’s gold mining sector is raising concerns among policy makers and the country's citizens.  This is because the Chinese are engaged in small-scale mining, an area that in theory, is solely preserved for Ghanaians.  Most of them are also apparently working without a permit and on occasion extend their operations into some restricted areas, devastating the land in the process.


Ghana was known as the Gold Coast before gaining independence in 1957.  Since then the mineral has been one of the backbones of the nation’s economy.  So why this sudden interest in Ghana by Chinese small-scale miners?  Ahmed Nantogma is director of public affairs at Ghana’s Chamber of Mines. He said the main reason is the rise in the price of gold on the world market. From $200 an ounce about 10 years ago, gold is now trading at more than $1,500 an ounce.  Therefore, the Chinese are assured of good returns on their investments. “You go where your product is," said Nantogma. "So that is why they are not going to say, Congo or Liberia, they come to Ghana.  And they know they can take advantage of the situation and hide somewhere in a bush and mine illegally without paying taxes.” Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syria's Government Facing 'Global Battle'

August 30th 2012


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Wednesday his government is fighting a "regional and global battle" and that more time is needed to win the conflict against rebels trying to overthrow him. His comments came as renewed fighting broke out between rebels and Syrian forces near the Taftanaz military airport, located between the northern cities of Aleppo and Idlib.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told VOA that 14 government troops were killed or injured in fierce fighting at Taftanaz, while three rebels died during the clashes. The group also says anti-government fighters damaged three to five helicopters at the airport. Taftanaz has been targeted several times by rebels entrenched in the two cities, which have suffered daily shelling by government troops.

​​Comments signal long fight

In excerpts from an interview with Syria's privately-owned Addounia television, Assad described the situation on the ground as "practically better" but "not yet decided - that takes time." It was Assad's first interview since the explosion that tore through a government compound about six weeks ago, killing and wounding a handful of top aides. The Syrian leader, who has vowed to defeat rebels he has characterized as Islamist terrorists, praised the army and security forces for their "heroic conduct." Assad boasted, "Despite several mistakes, there is a strong bond" between the government and the Syrian people, boasting the support of the majority of the population. "Everyone is worried about their country, that is normal. But [opposition rebels] will not be able to spread fear, they never will," he said. Read more ..

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