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Archive for April 2013

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The Edge of Space

VLA Gives Deep, Detailed Image of Distant Universe

April 30th 2013

Gravitational Arc from Distant Galaxy Cluster

Staring at a small patch of sky for more than 50 hours with the ultra-sensitive Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA), astronomers have for the first time identified discrete sources that account for nearly all the radio waves coming from distant galaxies. They found that about 63 percent of the background radio emission comes from galaxies with gorging black holes at their cores and the remaining 37 percent comes from galaxies that are rapidly forming stars.

"The sensitivity and resolution of the VLA, following its decade-long upgrade, made it possible to identify the specific objects responsible for nearly all of the radio background emission coming from beyond our own Milky Way Galaxy," said Jim Condon, of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). "Before we had this capability, we could not detect the numerous faint sources that produce much of the background emission," he added. Read more ..


Mali on Edge

Pentagon Sends Troops to Mali

April 30th 2013

3 Taureg Fighters

U.S. military leaders have deployed more than 20 American soldiers to the war-torn West African nation of Mali, calling into question the Pentagon's previous promise not to put troops on the ground there.

The majority of that small U.S. force are working with their State Department counterparts at the American Embassy in Bamako, Pentagon officials told The Washington Post. The remaining members of that U.S. force have been tasked to conduct "liaison support" as part of French-led counterterrorism operations in the country, The Post reported on Tuesday.

The American troops in direct contact with French forces are barred from carrying out combat operations as part of their liaison support mission. Recent reports claim U.S. special operations forces had been conducting clandestine missions inside Mali since the beginning of the French operation. Read more ..


The Race for Natural Gas

House to Probe Geopolitics of Natural Gas Exports

April 30th 2013

LNG Tanker

The impact of natural gas exports on everything from foreign relations to jobs will get a look in the House during a May 7 hearing. The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power will hold the 10 a.m. hearing, committee spokeswoman Charlotte Baker stated. Witnesses for the hearing have not yet been finalized, she said.

The hearing will sharpen the focus on the geopolitical effects of expanding natural gas exports. The Energy Department (DOE) is weighing a number of applications to export natural gas to nations that lack a free-trade agreement with the United States. Such deals receive more scrutiny than others, as federal law says they must be in the national interest.

Many of the nations that would benefit geopolitically from importing U.S. natural gas don't have a free trade arrangement. Backers of natural gas exports say sending the energy source to those countries — largely European or Asian ones — would weaken the hold Russia has on markets in the Eastern Hemisphere, among other things. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Why Did Eric Holder Drop the Ball on Miranda Reform?

April 30th 2013

Eric holder

Attorney General Eric Holder is defending the decision to read Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect, his Miranda warning, telling CNN that cutting off his questioning “was totally consistent with the laws that we have.”

That may be true. But three years ago, Holder admitted that “the laws we have” are insufficient for questioning suspected terrorists, and he promised to a major push to change them.

In May 2010, the Obama administration was under fire after delivering Miranda warnings to both the underwear bomber and the Times Square bomber. Initially, Holder defended the decision to Mirandize these suspects after 50 minutes and three hours respectively. But then, suddenly, the attorney general reversed course. In a series of coordinated Sunday show interviews, Holder announced a change in policy: The Obama administration would work with Congress to change the Miranda law to give interrogators greater flexibility in questioning suspected terrorists.

On ABC’s “This Week” Holder declared, “I think we have to give serious consideration to at least modifying that public safety exception,” which gives interrogators time to question suspects without a Miranda warning. “And that’s one of the things that I think we’re going to be reaching out to Congress to do, to come up with a proposal that is both constitutional, but that is also relevant to our time and the threat that we now face.”

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Holder called his proposed Miranda changes a “new priority” and “big news,” declaring, “We’re now dealing with international terrorists, and I think that we have to think about perhaps modifying the rules that interrogators have and somehow coming up with something that is flexible and is more consistent with the threat that we now face.” So what happened? Read more ..


Broken Economy

In the Longer Run, the Short Run Matters

April 30th 2013

Unemployment Line in California

The worst of the deadlock between the House and the White House has passed, and there are even signs that a compromise may now be reached addressing long-run budget issues. We are in a better place politically than we were late last year, but still in no position to get complacent about near term economic prospects. Chances of renewed recession are low, but so are prospects for vigorous expansion.

For the past two years, the need for fiscal and monetary stimulus has been debated both in Washington and Wall Street. One thing that has been missing from these debates is the potential for longer run damage if the sluggish economy persists. When a recession is brief and the economy returns promptly to high rates of employment, the long-run costs are minimal. But when recovery is weak and joblessness persists for many workers, the long-run costs become meaningful. And they include worsening the long-run fiscal problems that concern everyone. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

The Worst City in the World

April 30th 2013

Karachi-Bombing

While the United States media was enmeshed in the aftermath of the Boston bombing, on April 26, Karachi, Pakistan's former capital, suffered its own horrific bombing.  An explosion at a street meeting of the Awami National Party (ANP), Pakistan's oldest political movement, left ten people killed and more than forty injured.  A bomb using nearly ten pounds of explosives spewed ball bearings and nuts and bolts throughout a crowd massed to hear political speakers. 

It was just the latest atrocity in this massive city. Although a census has not been taken in years, an estimated 18 million inhabitants survive in a 1,362 square mile polity.  Since the recent arrival of a murderous Pashtun Taliban element from the north the city has grown more ungovernable.   Even before the recent arrivals, dozens of people were killed daily.  So many, in fact, that dependable statistics have not been kept.  Read more ..


India on Edge

Makeshift Schools Help Mumbai Slum Children Beat the Odds

April 30th 2013

India child labor

The Indian government in recent years has made free primary education a right for all children. But millions remain outside the educational system. To reach some of the neediest students, one group is now taking classrooms to the streets of Mumbai.

Behind the greenery at this Mumbai public park, a mother of two is spending her morning teaching the basics of English spelling. Aparna Kanda understands how crucial these few hours are for these young learners, many of whom often have to study by streetlamp.

“Here are a group of children who are on the verge of dropping out of school because they do not have that support at home, because both parents are working hard to meet ends [make ends meet]. And these guys just go home and feel very dejected usually because they are not doing too well in school,” said Kanda. Read more ..


South Africa on Edge

South Africa Surprised By UK Decision to End Aid

April 30th 2013

South African Miner Living Conditions

The United Kingdom’s announcement Tuesday that it would stop all direct aid to South Africa by 2015 has provoked consternation and confusion in Pretoria.  An official in the foreign ministry says South Africa was not told in advance of the decision, and that the move could “redefine” the two nations’ relationship. 

British International Development Secretary Justine Greening said Tuesday that the U.K. is ending direct aid to South Africa, worth about $29 million per year. Greening said she had consulted with South African officials ahead of the decision and that they had agreed that “South Africa is now in a position to fund its own development.” However, in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, officials said they were taken by surprise.  Read more ..


Ecology on Edge

Insect Pollinators Face Interlocking Threats

April 30th 2013

Honeybee

The global decline of honey bees and other pollinating insects is caused by multiple, largely human-induced effects, according to a new study. Over the past decade, scientists have been reporting steady and mysterious declines in the populations of so-called pollinator insects.

These include the honeybees, wasps, flies, beetles, butterflies and moths that help pollinate three-quarters of the world’s food crops, services worth $200 billion annually to the global economy. The new report is the first to pull together years of research on pollinator species decline. Forty scientists from six countries worked on the project organized by the Insect Pollinators Initiative of the United Kingdom (IPI).

While no single factor is responsible for the population decline, the analysis finds intensive land use, climate change and the spread of alien species and disease, are among the major threats to pollinating insects. Bumble bees are in decline around the world due to agricultural pesticide use, disease, and human encroachments on their habitats. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

The Cost of Inaction in Syria

April 30th 2013

Syria fighting injured baby

Pressure is mounting on the Obama Administration to respond more decisively to the situation in Syria after the White House conceded that it believes the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons against its people. After all, on Aug. 20, 2012, the president said, "a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus." He reiterated his warning on March 21, 2013: "I've made it clear to Bashar al-Assad and all who follow his orders: We will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people, or the transfer of those weapons to terrorists. The world is watching; we will hold you accountable."

The result of Washington spending more than two years on the sideline, watching as the death toll tops 80,000, is that the most effective options for dealing with the crisis have evaporated, leaving few good choices on the table. At the start of the uprising in March 2011, U.S. intelligence agencies could have been vetting potential partners in the Syrian opposition and providing them with lethal assistance. When in August 2011, President Obama called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to "step aside," he could have worked with NATO to create a "no-fly zone" or establish a safe zone for those fleeing Assad's forces. But the president decided against offering assistance to the non-Islamist opposition -- whose protests provided the spark that ignited the Syrian conflict. Read more ..


The Edge of Relativity

Bizarre Binary Star System Pushes Study of Relativity to New Limits

April 29th 2013

First stars form after Big Bang

An international team of astronomers and an exotic pair of binary stars have proved that Albert Einstein's theory of relativity is still right, even in the most extreme conditions tested yet. The results of their research are described in the April 26 issue of Science.

"The unusual pair of stars is quite interesting in its own right but we've learned it is also a unique laboratory for testing the limits of one of our most fundamental physical theories, general relativity" says University of Toronto astronomy professor Marten van Kerkwijk, a member of the research team.

What makes the pair of stars exceptional are the unique characteristics of each and their close proximity to each other. One is a tiny but unusually heavy neutron star – one of the most massive confirmed to date. Named PSR J0348+0432, it is the remnant of a supernova explosion, and is twice as heavy as the Sun yet is only 20 kilometres across. The neutron star is a pulsar that gives off radio waves that can be picked up on Earth by radio telescopes. The gravity at its surface is more than 300 billion times stronger than that on Earth and at its centre every sugarcube-sized volume has more than one billion tonnes of matter squeezed into it, roughly the mass of every human past and present. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Building Integrated Photovoltaics Slash Energy Costs in Abu Dhabi

April 29th 2013

solar power plant

Finally the Middle East is attuned to the numerous benefits of solar energy, and large scale Photovoltaic (PV) and Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plants are popping up all over the region. There’s Shams 1 outside of Abu Dhabi, the largest CSP plant in the world, Egypt’s hybrid CSP plant, Kuraymat, and most recently, Masdar inaugurated the largest PV plant in Africa, which is now generating a whopping 10 percent of Mauritania’s energy supply.

But small scale solar is catching on less quickly. In addition to being prohibitively expensive for most people, the government offers very little incentive for residents of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to coat their roofs with costly solar modules. It’s a shame, because a new study shows that affixing Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) to windows in Abu Dhabi could slash energy costs by as much as 33.5 percent. Read more ..


Broken Banking

After Multi-Million Inheritance, Playboy Sachs Goes Offshore

April 29th 2013

International Currency 2

He's known as Brigitte Bardot’s husband, photographer, director, art collector. Now another aspect has come to light:  a man who set up an intricate offshore scheme to manage his vast fortune, a scheme that remained inscrutable to the fiscal authorities until the end.

The hand that governs everything must remain invisible. It certainly must not sign anything. That is why Hanswerner Schwenk, a private secretary in his 50s, sets off for the Pacific island of Rarotonga.

Meanwhile, the man behind the scenes can relax: in London, Paris or St. Tropez, on one of his many estates. His name must not appear in any official document, for such is the nature of an anonymous enterprise. Otherwise one would not need to bother with all the hassle, after all: the South Seas, the lawyers and all that secretiveness.

It is a strenuous trip for Schwenk, who lives in Munich. Rarotonga is situated about halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii, and it takes him more than 40 hours to get there from Germany. At least his local partner, the International Trust Corporation Ltd., has arranged for a hotel and a rental car. Hanswerner Schwenk’s mission: confirm with his signature that the share issue of the recently founded company Triton Ltd. proceeded in a lawful way. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Russians, Americans Build Musical Bridges

April 29th 2013

Nashville Symphony

In the early 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, the Yale Russian Chorus came to Moscow to break the ice between the Soviet Union and the United States.

Fast forward 50 years and Americans and Russians are once again using music to defrost the chill between their two countries. The turn to culture comes as relations between the two nations have hit their low point since the end of the Soviet Union.

Mikhail Prokhorov is a leading Russian businessman and opposition politician. He owns the New York basketball team, the Brooklyn Nets. In late April, he brought the rap group IllStyle and Peace Productions from Philadelphia to Moscow.

“It is very difficult to maintain stable political relations,” Prokhorov said at a press conference. “That’s why I believe that culture, art and sport are the areas on which we should concentrate deeply, and do everything so that mutual trust and good relations between our people continue to develop.” Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Texting Becomes a Health Tool in Kenya

April 29th 2013

Smart phone running voice recogniton

Mobile phone use in Africa has spread far, wide and fast. By the end of last year, it was estimated that 70 percent of the population would have a mobile phone. Now, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says it’s using the technology to save lives.

In Kenya, the IFRC has developed the Rapid Mobile Phone-based survey, otherwise known as RAMP. It allows the medical aid group to learn a lot about the health of people in remote, rural communities in very little time. Jason Peat, the senior health officer for malaria, says the idea for the survey came from IFRC volunteers.

“There are volunteers using those mobile phones to communicate. They’re doing it two ways. They’re using them as a regular phone, but more often than not we see them use the phones to send text messages back and forth because they’re a very inexpensive way to communicate. Red Cross volunteers and other community health workers at a very local level were already figuring out a way to manage activities, to manage programs and not just health programs, but all programs using mobile phones,” he said. Read more ..


Kenya on Edge

Artist Uses Racy Subjects to Show 'Real' Kenya

April 29th 2013

Kenya Kids

As the art scene in Kenya has grown, Michael Soi's works have become searing depictions of society, including the underworld of strip clubs, prostitution, and police corruption, as well as everyday contradictions in politics and personal lives. The Nairobi artist said he aims to show life as it really is.

“It’s just because I choose to work on issues that a lot of Kenyan artists choose not to work with.  I use, I basically create, work that would be seen as work that disturbs people,” he explained. For example, Soi did a series of paintings on Nairobi strip clubs, in which he focused more on the men’s reactions than on the women themselves.

Soi admitted that he likes exposing hypocrisy in society. “It’s a community that basically loves to dig a hole and bury your head in the sand and pretend that these things don’t happen.  But unfortunately, they do,” the artist noted.

According to Danda Jaroljmek, the founder of the Circle Art Agency, Soi has never been afraid to push conventional limits. “I think up until recently, artists were very uncomfortable about being overtly political.  People were frightened to do that, and I’ve noticed over the last five, seven years that it has become open," she said. Read more ..


Broken Economy

The Upside of Economic Pessimism

April 29th 2013

Green Jobs

The disappointing first-quarter GDP report dashed hopes that 2013 might prove a breakout year for the U.S. economy. Even worse, the same-old-same-old anemic results provide another disturbing data point for gloomy New Normal theorists. Yes, economic statistics get revised. And last Friday’s output report was just government’s first pass. It wasn’t so long ago, however, that some Wall Street analysts were whispering about growth of nearly 4 percent. Instead the economy slogged again rather than surged, growing only 2.5 percent.

Caveat: Drilling down into the data reveals a tale of two economies. The public sector is in a depression. Government has subtracted from GDP for ten of the past eleven quarters, with spending falling at an annual pace of 5.6 percent over the past two periods. It’s better times for the bit of the economy that creates “actual consumer-relevant value,” as economist Tyler Cowen puts it. Private-sector GDP — excluding government consumption and investment — grew 4 percent in the first quarter and has averaged 3 percent growth over the past six months. Still, these should be the dragon years for the recovery. Even private-sector GDP is growing only at trend, its three-decade average. The anemic first quarter might be as good as it gets for 2013. If so, it will be another twelve months gone by without closing the massive shortfall between GDP’s pre-recession trajectory and where we are now. The growth gap continues. Read more ..


The Darkest Edge

Obama Should Blame Tea Party Not NRA, For Gun Control Defeat

April 29th 2013

Sandy Hook Shooting

President Obama, according to his own telling, would have passed a gun control bill supported by nearly every American, but the National Rifle Association drove in trucks full of money and lobbyists, buying off senators.

Obama's story isn't true. The NRA doesn't work like the lobbies Obama is coziest with. And the NRA also wasn't the tip of the spear in the gun-rights fight this month. Here is the way things really went down:

The gun-rights resistance on Capitol Hill began in late March with two first-term Tea Party senators declaring they would filibuster consideration of the gun-control bill. Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, wrote a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid explaining they would oppose invoking cloture on the "motion to proceed" to the bill. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., soon joined them.

That rump of three senators expanded to a platoon of 18 who eventually signed onto the letter. In the end, 29 Republicans and two Democrats opposed proceeding to the bill -- well short of the 41 needed for a filibuster. Many allies criticized this failed filibuster, but its leaders argue it was crucial to eventual victory. Read more ..


The New Libya

Libyan Police Headquarters Bombed in Benghazi

April 29th 2013

libya-consulate

An improvised explosive device was detonated on Saturday morning outside of the local police headquarters in the Libyan city of Benghazi, according to an Israeli police and intelligence source who monitors North Africa.

The bomb blast caused an enormous amount of property damage but only three officers sustained injuries and there were no reported deaths, according to Capt. Dennis Spielman.

The bomb attack took place at 7 a.m., Libyan time, adjacent to the Fadil Buamr battalion, which had been the last stronghold of loyalists to Libya's executed dictator Moamar Khadhafi, according to Reuters.

Police investigators told the media that there were no civilians at the police station when the blast occurred, and said the bomb was probably detonated by remote control. Read more ..


The Drug Wars

Major Colombian Narcotics Runner is Brought to New York to Stand Trial

April 29th 2013

War on Drugs

A Colombian drug-smuggling kingpin suspected of being one of the most significant narcotics traffickers in the world was arraigned in a Manhattan federal courtroom on Friday in front of U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan, according to Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials.

Jose Evaristo Linares Castillo, who had been extradited from Colombia on charges that he conspired to import ton-quantities of cocaine into the United States in order to provide material support to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (the “Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia,” or “FARC”), a Marxist revolutionary group, according to the indictment.

The FARC is designated by the U.S. as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Read more ..


Israel's Next Northern War

Israeli Aircraft Spotted Over Assad’s Palace

April 29th 2013

Jets vapor trail

A spokesman for the rebel military in Syria has said that Israeli Air Force jets were spotted flying over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s palace in Damascus as well as over security and military installations, according to Israel’s Channel 2. The planes were spotted Sunday morning, the spokesman said. He added that no anti-aircraft shots were fired at the jets. Last week several Western nations, as well as the rebel army, confirmed that evidence suggesting that chemical weapons had been used by Assad’s regime had been gathered. The use of chemical weapons by Assad, considered a “red line” by U.S. President Barack Obama and Israel, have ratcheted up tensions even further in the region.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported: "Lawmakers pressed the Obama administration to intervene in Syria's civil war, citing the regime's alleged chemical-weapons use, as the White House weighed its response against a sobering fact: Damascus has developed a world class air-defense system. That system, built, installed and maintained—largely in secret—by Russia's military complex, presents a formidable deterrent as the White House draws up options for responding to a U.S. intelligence report released last week concluding that Damascus likely used chemical weapons on the battlefield. Read more ..


Broken Government

Graham's Campaign Collects Bundle from Lobbyists

April 28th 2013

Sen Lindsey Graham

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham raised more money from lobbyists ahead of the 2012 election than any other member of Congress save one — an impressive feat considering he wasn’t on the ballot.

Roughly 10 percent of Graham’s $2.2 million haul, about $223,000, came from lobbyists acting as “bundlers,” a higher percentage than any other member. Bundlers raise money from friends and associates and deliver the checks in a “bundle.”

Only New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, who did face opposition in 2012, received more bundled campaign cash from lobbyists — about $227,100 — less than 2 percent of his total contributions, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission filings.

Graham’s bundlers include organizations and lobbyists whose positions Graham has supported. Among them are an energy giant, the film industry’s main trade association and a former U.S. ambassador who represents clients that would benefit from the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Tops on the list, however, were GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his “victory fund,” which accepted more than $17 million from lobbyist-bundlers. Six individuals raised at least $1 million apiece for Romney’s unsuccessful efforts, as the Center for Public Integrity previously reported. In all, a dozen candidates and political committees raised at least $100,000 from lobbyist-bundlers ahead of the 2012 election, including the leadership PAC of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

No Word Yet on the Fate of Two Syrian Christian Bishops Kidnapped by Jihadis

April 28th 2013

Bishop Boulos Yzigi and Bishop John Ibrahim

For the first time in their history, the patriarch of the Antiochian Orthodox Church has asked Christians to adorn their traditional Palm Sunday processions with black ribbons tied on candles rather than the usual white ribbons expressing their sadness over the fat of two abducted church leaders from Aleppo, Syria. Alluding to the wave of anti-Christian persecution in Muslim-dominated countries, the patriarch said that the date on which Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter comes “at a time when we are being surrounded by much pain and suffering”.

It was on April 22 that the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi of Aleppo and Alexandretta and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim of Aleppo were abducted while travelling en route to Aleppo by unknown assailants after returning from a humanitarian mission near the Turkish border region. Their driver, Fatha’ Allah Kabboud, a deacon in the Syriac Orthodox Church, was killed in the incident. Read more ..


Defense on Edge

Doing More with Zero

April 28th 2013

F-22s

Last month, in a show of force, President Obama sent America’s most advanced aircraft here to the Korean peninsula. The same week, U.S. Air Force officials began grounding one-third of America’s combat fleet, thanks to budget cuts imposed by the president and Congress. Air Combat Command, which controls the Air Force’s fighters and bombers, announced that it will stand down 17 combat squadrons, to absorb a loss of 44,000 hours of flying time and a reduction of funding for operations and maintenance. While some thought that cost-cutting and sequestration threats would have little effect on the U.S. military, with its $500 billion budget, the reality has turned out to be quite different. This is the new normal for the U.S. military: Keep fighting and working, but do it on the cheap.

Air Force officials say the grounding is necessary to allow other, “mission critical” squadrons to maintain their flying hours and full operational status. Those no longer flying include reconnaissance units and squadrons of F-22s, F-16s, F-15s, B-1s, and B-52s. Other units are being kept at what is known as “basic mission capable,” meaning they can do basic flying and maintenance but cannot perform combat missions. The commander of Air Combat Command, General Mike Hostage, said bluntly in announcing the groundings, “We’re accepting the risk that combat airpower may not be ready to respond immediately to new contingencies as they occur.” Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Indonesia Braces for Rising Fuel Costs

April 28th 2013

Gas prices

 Indonesian authorities are expected to slash fuel subsidies next month by 44 percent, sending fuel costs soaring. Economists say the subsidies are a costly expense that increases Indonesia’s reliance on foreign oil imports. But they remain politically popular and politicians are worried about a public backlash.

Rising gasoline costs are bemoaned across the globe and particularly in Indonesia - a nation heavily dependent on subsidized fuel.

For decades, fuel subsidies have been politically volatile. The government planned to cut the fuel subsidy last year, but balked in the face of national uproar. This year, the proposed cuts - the first in five years - no longer hinge on a parliament vote. On his official Twitter account, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono admits it will be the toughest decision of his presidency. Read more ..


The Economy on Edge

Atlanta Can Flourish in Global Economy

April 28th 2013

International Currency 2

"The economic foundation of cities is trade," proclaimed the great urbanist Jane Jacobs in her book, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities." Jacobs’ statement remains just as – if not more – relevant for cities and metropolitan areas as it was a half-century ago.

The Great Recession revealed the limitations of an inward-focused, debt-fueled U.S. economy. It coincided with a structural shift in the global economic order towards rapidly industrializing and urbanizing nations like Brazil, India and China. By 2012, a majority of the 50 top performing metropolitan economies worldwide were in developing Asia-Pacific countries. U.S. metros must take advantage of growing demand abroad by developing export and engagement strategies that build on their special assets in the global economy.

Atlanta is well positioned to thrive in a more export-oriented economy. Metro Atlanta – the 13th largest metro exporter in the United States – sent $20 billion worth of goods and services abroad in 2010, which supported nearly 152,000 jobs in the region. It houses many multi-national corporations such as Home Depot, Coca-Cola and UPS; innovative small and medium-sized firms; and several world-class research universities, and it maintains a strong international brand from its hosting of the 1996 Summer Olympics. Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and the Port of Savannah form an important U.S. logistics hub and a gateway to world markets. Read more ..


South Sudan on Edge

South Sudan Returnees Stuck in Limbo, Face Tough Choice

April 28th 2013

Sudanese refugee

About two million people have returned to South Sudan since a 2005 peace agreement ended decades of civil war that is estimated to have killed around the same number. But since South Sudan became a nation 18 months ago, tens of thousands of people who have wanted to enter South Sudan from the north are trapped in border towns, and face the tough choice of leaving behind their possessions as U.N. agencies struggle to get them home.

Surrounded by piles of furniture and blackboards in a makeshift home on the banks of the Nile, Mary Venerato Laki does her best to try to teach the children at a camp in the port town of Renk.

Some people have waited for up to two years for the government and aid agencies in South Sudan to take them downstream to new homes. Laki is among those waiting.  “They said there will be steamers [ships] coming to collect us. They used to tell us like that. That we will be going, we be going.  But until now we are waiting," she said. Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

Program Launched to Counter Drug-Resistant Malaria

April 28th 2013

mosquito biting

On World Malaria Day, the World Health Organization has launched an emergency program in Phnom Penh to tackle a worrying regional trend - a strain of malaria that is proving resistant to the most important anti-malarial drug.

Six years ago, health researchers were worried after a strain of malaria in western Cambodia began to show resistance to the world’s key malaria treatment - Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy, known as ACT.

In response, the Cambodian government and its health partners, including the World Health Organization, put in place a program to prevent the resistant strain (falciparum malaria) from spreading within Cambodia and beyond its borders. That program appears to have contained the resistant strain.  But Thailand, Burma and Vietnam have reported pockets of artemisinin-resistant malaria strains. The WHO malaria specialist in Phnom Penh, Stephen Bjorge, said it is likely the strains in those countries arose independently of Cambodia’s - which means the containment efforts have worked. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Jabs Media, Honors Boston

April 28th 2013

Obama: call me

President Obama spoke to the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) dinner Saturday night, poking fun at his administration and the press corps, while also paying tribute to the police officers, firefighters and volunteers who responded to the recent tragedies in Boston and West, Texas.

Obama took to the podium to "All I Do is Win," a rap song by DJ Khaled, saying “Rush Limbaugh warned you about this … second term, baby.” He said his advisers were “a little worried” about the entrance and instead suggested he tell some jokes at his own expense, to take himself down “a couple pegs.”

“After four and half years, how many pegs are left?” he asked. “I look in the mirror and say ‘I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist I used to be,’” Obama said. “Time passes, you get a little gray. And yet, I still make rookie mistakes.” As an example, he pointed to recent remarks at a fundraiser where he said California Attorney General Kamala Harris was the best looking attorney general in the country. “I got in trouble when I got back home. Who knew Eric Holder was so sensitive?” Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Lawmakers Fear of Losing Syrian Chemical Weapons Stockpiles Grow

April 28th 2013

Syria's chemicals

As the Obama administration weighs responding to a possible chemical attack by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, lawmakers say their chief concern is the weapons stockpiles falling into the wrong hands.

Lawmakers from both parties say they don’t support U.S. boots on the ground in Syria, but are warning that the weapons must be safeguarded from terror groups if Assad’s regime collapses.

There’s been a large outcry for the Obama administration to do more in Syria after the White House said that it believed Assad’s forces used chemical weapons. President Obama has taken a cautious approach, saying that the U.S. must first verify chemical weapons use before taking more aggressive steps. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Solar PV Demand Rises Sixfold in the Middle East and Africa

April 27th 2013

Solar Panels

Proponents of environmental reform (renewable energy, greener economy) are racing against the forces of environmental destruction (fossil fuel industry, global warming), while the rest of us wait to see which will reach the finish line first.

In the Middle East and Africa (MEA), fossil fuels are way ahead. Many countries, South Africa in particular, rely too much on coal, while others like Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi have played a crucial role in our oil addiction. But there may be hope. Leading analysts for the photovoltaic industry, NPD Solarbuzz recently reported that PV demand in the MEA has soared in the last year with an astounding 625 percent increase. 

Solarbuzz outlines how the PV industry is taking off in the Middle East and Africa in their annual Middle East and Africa PV Market Report. This year they have zeroed in on three countries that are taking the largest strides, all of which we found surprising. Whereas MEA only accounted for 0.5 percent of the world’s PV demand in 2012, according to PV Magazine, by 2017, the region’s share of global PV solar generation is expected to climb to six percent. Read more ..


Broken Government

RNC Needs Binders

April 27th 2013

romney buttons

Holding my nose, I engaged in RNC bean counting. It isn’t pretty. What prompted this? Yet another Republican National Committee  (RNC) cringe-worthy press release proudly patting itself on the back with the announcement of a mid-level job created to “reach out” to African-American media and the hiring of (presumably) an African-American to fill the post, who will report to another mid-level ethnic minority hire charged with reaching out to minorities. This comes on the heels of a press release announcing the addition of two men of Asian ethnicity whose mid-level job description is outreach to Asian ethnic voters and media. Women are also included in that part of the RNC’s website for “coalitions,” though we comprise more than half of all voters.

Where are the announcements of women and minorities being appointed to the top-level posts? If someone is good enough to be tasked with pulling in the most difficult and most important voters, isn’t he or she then good enough to run the entire department tasked with pulling in the hard-to-get voters and media, as well as the low-hanging fruit? Read more ..


America on Edge

The Danger of Repeating the Cycle of American Isolationism

April 27th 2013

Bunch of American flags

The case for American retrenchment has gained new traction in Washington. Much as in the past, economic problems and public war-weariness have spurred calls from Democrats and Republicans alike for neo-isolationist policies — demands for retreat from the world clothed in the language of fiscal prudence and disinterested realism. Although there may be short-term political benefits in calling for a diminished U.S. role in the world, history shows that retreat comes with substantial long-term costs for our country.

After World War I, disillusionment with war and then the Great Depression brought a widely popular U.S. retreat from internationalism, economic as well as political. But the attack on Pearl Harbor demonstrated that the United States could not avoid the responsibility of engagement with the world in the cause of freedom and democracy. Read more ..


South Africa on Edge

Strike Victory Backfires for S. African Farm Workers

April 27th 2013

South African town

After weeks of strikes and violent confrontations with authorities earlier this year, farmworkers in South Africa's Cape Town region won a partial victory. In February, the government agreed to increase their minimum wage by 52 percent. But this victory may be a curse in disguise as many farmers subsequently reduced the workers’ benefits and laid them off, saying they could not afford to pay the higher wage.

Pointing at a leaking roof and broken windows, Patrick Blu is eager to show the poor condition of his house.  He says he needs a higher living wage and he believes him and his fellow farm workers were justified in striking. But it has not turned out as planned.  The Labor Ministry did agree to increase the minimum wage from 69 rand to 105 rand - or about $4 more a day. It went in effect on March 1. Read more ..


The Music Edge

Remembering Richie Havens

April 27th 2013

Richie Havens

Folk-rocker Richie Havens, who died Monday of a heart attack, will be remembered for many things, among them a smooth singing voice, standing six-and-a-half-feet tall, and singing at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration. But the most famous of his many lauded concert appearances happened by accident.

Richie Havens’ performance at Woodstock in 1969 catapulted him into music history, but the lanky, soulful folk singer wasn’t supposed to open the festival - he was scheduled to play fifth that day. Plans changed when the opening band, Sweetwater, got caught in traffic. Havens and his band had traveled to the upstate New York festival site by helicopter, so they were ready to hit the stage when organizers asked Havens to go on instead. Read more ..


Destination Mumbai

India's Tourism Industry Thrives on Largest Slum

April 27th 2013

India Street Scene

One of the world's largest slums is also a center of industrial production. A tour company is highlighting life in Dharavi, a mini-city within India's financial hub, Mumbai. With a million people crammed into less than three square kilometers - Dharavi is one of the world’s most densely populated slums.

Life-long resident Niyamath Khan, 70, recalled the transformation of what was once a small fishing village. “Fifty years ago, this was an open space - now there are so many people here," Khan remarked.

One organization gives outsiders a glimpse of life inside this bustling Mumbai neighborhood, through walking tours aimed at dispelling negative stereotypes of slum life. Reality Tours and Travel CEO Stephanie Hays said visitors are surprised at what they see.

“That’s what people don’t understand, that there are hospitals, there are schools, and there are businesses. There is industry, there is everything in here, and I think people are shocked by that," she said. "They are shocked by major streets running through. I think for me, the industry is what sets Dharavi apart.” Read more ..


Broken Banking

French Banks Traded in Secrecy

April 27th 2013

International Currency 3

The “Offshore Leaks” files published around the world on April 4 show that, from the late 1990s until the end of the 2000s, two major French banks, BNP Paribas and Crédit Agricole, oversaw the creation of a large number of totally opaque offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands, Samoa and Singapore for clients in search of secrecy and lower tax rates.

These are the findings unearthed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which has been researching the story for over a year. According to these secret documents, BNP Paribas channels operations through its Singapore and Hong Kong subsidiaries, whereas Crédit Agricole relies on its Geneva-based Swiss subsidiary.

Both banks have set up companies through their Asian subsidiaries with the help of Portcullis TrustNet, a service provider that specializes in offshore business and turnkey companies (the famous “quick” companies that can be incorporated within 48 hours) for rich clients claiming to be domiciled in Asia and concealed by nominees. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Three Islamic Terrorists Jailed

April 27th 2013

Scotland Yard

Three radicalized Islamists were imprisoned on Thursday for a total of more than 20 years after an intense investigation by London's Metropolitan Police Service's Counter Terrorism Command uncovered secret conversations about carrying out terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom and overseas, according to officials with Scotland Yard.

Richard Dart, 30, from Ealing and Jahangir Alom, 26, from Stratford, planned to travel to Pakistan for terrorist training and expressed a desire to carry out acts of terrorism not only overseas but also in the UK, a British court heard. Imran Mahmood, 22, from Northolt had already received terrorist training in Pakistan and offered advice to Dart and Alom on how to make contact with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Pakistan, according to the police report.

Mahmood acts as an advisor close to al-Qaeda operatives, the leaders of the Pakistani Taliban and the terrorists who carried out a suicide attack on an American military base in Afghanistan in 2009 which killed seven members of the CIA, as depicted in the motion picture "Zero Dark Thirty." Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

How U.S. Responds to Syria’s Chemical Weapons Use Will Send Signal to Iran

April 27th 2013

Israeli Jets Parked

How the United States responds to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons will send a signal to Iran, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Zev Elkin said on 26 April. “If they don’t act on something they defined as a ‘red line,’ then the Iranians will learn that the red lines the West sets are very flexible, and will continue their nuclear program,” he told IDF Radio (Galei Tzahal).

“If the United States and the international community are able to take action and to take control of the chemical weapons reserves in Syria, the concerns over its use will not be relevant. It could be that as soon as the international community understands that red lines have been crossed, it will realize that there is no choice but to take action,” he continued. Israel is, at this point, unconcerned with who leads the Syria government, but rather with who controls Syria’s chemical weapons, Elkin added. “The world is beginning to internalize the fact that chemical weaponry endangers us all,” he said. Read more ..


Legal Proceedings Against Boston Bomber Outrageous

April 27th 2013

The Nation’s largest grassroots pro-troop organization Move America Forward has asked President Obama in an open letter to classify the terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a military combatant in order to allow interrogators more time to determine if he has links to Al-Qaeda or other organized terrorist groups. President Obama currently has the ability to interrupt the legal proceedings and allow investigators to interrogate Dzhokhar as an “Enemy Combatant”, which is now necessary because he has stopped cooperating with investigators immediately after being read his Miranda Rights. MAF spokesperson and Gold-Star Mother Debbie Lee, whose son was the first Navy SEAL to be killed in the war in Iraq, sent the letter to President Obama at the White House, stressing that the issue hits home for millions of American who have been affected by the War on Terror and atrocities committed by terrorists against American citizens. “My son Marc gave his life in Iraq to protect this country from men like Tsarnaev who wanted to kill Americans. President Obama, we must not pass up an opportunity to interrogate terrorist suspects in our custody to determine if they have links to Al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups. Tsarnaev could still have vital information that might save lives. If he has information, we must stop at nothing to get it. We owe that to every American who has lost a son or daughter in the War on Terror or a terrorist attack.” said Lee. 



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