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Archive for July 2013

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Broken Government

Appropriations Chief Lashes Out at GOP After Spending Bill is Pulled

July 31st 2013

Capitol Senate

Long-running Republican tensions over the Ryan budget’s deep spending cuts boiled over Wednesday as the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee accused his party of being unable to support them.

In a blistering statement, Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said he was “extremely disappointed” with his leadership’s decision to pull the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development spending bill from the floor.

Leadership said they simply ran out of time, but Rogers charged that wasn’t the real reason. He hinted that a vote on the measure was scrapped because leaders didn’t have the votes to support the deep cuts he was directed to write, and accused Republicans of effectively abandoning Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget. Rogers called for a bipartisan deal that would replace sequestration with something bridging the gap between the House budget and Senate spending measures he said were too costly to pass the lower chamber. Read more ..

Broken Economy

We Don't Need More Humanities Majors

July 31st 2013


This piece is in answer to the question: Do we need more humanities majors? You can read the "yes" answer to this questions here.

It’s no secret that innovation grows America’s economy. But that growth is constrained in two ways. It is constrained by the amount of properly trained talent, which is needed to produce innovation. And it is constrained by this talent’s willingness to take the entrepreneurial risks critical to commercializing innovation. Given those constraints, it is hard to believe humanities degree programs are the best way to train America’s most talented students.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. employment has grown roughly 45 percent since the early 1980s. Over the same period, Germany’s employment grew roughly 20 percent, while France’s employment grew less than 20 percent and Japan’s only 13 percent. U.S. employment growth put roughly 10 million immigrants to work since the BLS started keeping track in 1996 and it has employed tens of millions of people offshore. The share of people in the world living on less than $1.25-a-day has fallen from over 50 percent to nearly 20 percent today, according to The World Bank. Name another high-wage economy that has done more than the United States for the employment of the world’s poor and middle class during this time period. Read more ..

Broken Economy

Obama Offers Corporate Tax Cuts Linked to Jobs

July 31st 2013

PBObama contemplative

U.S. President Barack Obama is proposing a compromise to help break a deadlock with opposition Republicans over his economic plans.

On Tuesday the president went to a giant product distribution center for retailer Amazon.com in the southern city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, to announce his latest proposed “grand bargain” on the U.S. economy.

"So today, I came here to offer a framework that might help break through some of the political logjam in Washington, try to get Congress to start moving on some of these proven ideas," he said.

Obama offered to cut corporate tax rates in exchange for more spending on programs designed to create jobs for the middle class.

"If folks in Washington really want a grand bargain, how about a grand bargain for middle class jobs?" he asked. "How about a grand bargain for middle class jobs?" White House officials have said the president’s proposal will be the first of a series of new economic ideas he will advance in the next few months. He said "serious people" in both parties should accept this deal.

"I am willing to work with Republicans on reforming our corporate tax code, as long as we use the money from transitioning to a simpler tax system for a significant investment in creating middle class jobs," he said. "That's the deal." Read more ..

Ecology on Edge

Mozambique Poaching Has Regional Effects

July 31st 2013

Rampaging Bull Elephant 500px

Mozambique says it is committed to fighting wildlife crime, especially elephant and rhino poaching. Thousands of elephants were killed in the country between 2009 and 2012. Poachers also use Mozambique as a base for regional criminal activities.

Mozambique has been under growing pressure to take a much tougher stand against poaching. Neighboring South Africa and conservation groups want the government to adhere to CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. A CITES meeting earlier this year in Thailand singled-out Mozambique for its lack of action on poaching.

“Mozambique increasingly has become one of the major exit points for both rhino horn and elephant ivory. We’re facing a crisis for both species. And, in particular, the Vietnamese syndicates that are behind the rhino horn trade – it’s very clear with the improved law enforcement effort being made in South Africa that they’ve moved next door to Mozambique,” said Tom Milliken, elephant and rhino coordinator for TRAFFIC International, a wildlife trade monitoring network. He said that action taken by Mozambique will have a direct effect on South Africa.

“Mozambique nationals are heavily involved in the poaching of rhinos in Kruger National Park, which is the premier wildlife site in South Africa. Hundreds of rhinos are being killed in that park and mostly by Mozambican nationals, who are crossing over the border killing the animals -- bringing the horns back --selling them to the Vietnamese syndicates behind the trade. And then the horns are leaving for Asia out of airports and seaports from Mozambique.” Read more ..

Paraguay on Edge

The Reasons Why Paraguay Should not Join the Pacific Alliance

July 31st 2013

Horacio Cartes Paraguay
President-elect Horacio Cartes of Paraguay

On May 23, 2013, Paraguay was accepted as an observing member of the newly formed Pacific Alliance at a summit of regional leaders in Cali, Colombia. Paraguayan officials have expressed confidence that entrance into the regional bloc will strengthen economic ties to global partners in Asia and Latin America and further stimulate the economy. But Paraguay’s problems, most notably the continued high level of economic inequality, will not be quickly remedied by an increase in exports of soybeans and other goods. In fact, entrance into the Pacific Alliance could well serve to exacerbate economic inequality, possibly even generating a land grab by Brazilian soybean farmers and agribusinesses in Paraguay that could push small holders off their plots.

While there are certainly advantages to joining the Pacific Alliance, doing so cannot, in the end, offer a one-step solution to what ails Paraguay. Incoming president Horacio Cartes would be well advised to instead focus on pushing through land reform for small holders and amending Paraguay’s regressive taxation system rather than entering into trade arrangements that are mainly designed to profit the already prosperous landholders. Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

Ancient Halls of the Dead Found in Britain

July 31st 2013

Click to select Image

The remains of two large 6000-year-old halls, each buried within a prehistoric burial mound, have been discovered by archaeologists from The University of Manchester and Herefordshire Council -- in a UK first.

The sensational finds on Dorstone Hill, near Peterchurch in Herefordshire, were thought to be constructed between 4000 and 3600 BC.

Some of the burnt wood discovered at the site shows the character of the building's structure above ground level -- in another UK first. The buildings, probably used by entire communities, are of unknown size, but may have been of similar length to the Neolithic long barrows beneath which they were found – 70metres and 30m long. They were, say the team, deliberately burnt down after they were constructed and their remains incorporated into the two burial mounds. Read more ..

The Automotive Edge

Ladies and Gentlemen, Stop Your Engines: Americans are Driving Less

July 31st 2013

Traffic Jam

Miles driven by U.S. motorists in light-duty vehicles are down about 5 percent since its peak in 2006, says a University of Michigan researcher.

Following up his recent research that showed that the number of registered vehicles reached a maximum five years ago, Michael Sivak of the U-M Transportation Research Institute analyzed recent trends in distances driven by cars, pickup trucks, SUVs and vans in the U.S. from 1984 to 2011. He also examined rates per person, per licensed driver , per household and per registered vehicle.

Sivak found that Americans drove 2.647 trillion miles in 2011 (the latest year available), down from a high of 2.773 trillion miles in 2006. In 1984, the distance driven by light vehicles stood at 1.559 trillion miles.

His study also showed that the distance-driven rates per person, per licensed driver and per household have all dropped 9 percent since 2004, while the rate per registered vehicle is down 5 percent during that time. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Outdoor Activities Aid Healing Process for Traumatized Military Veterans

July 31st 2013

I wanna go home

Veterans participating in extended outdoor group recreation show signs of improved mental health, suggesting a link between the activities and long-term psychological well-being, according to results of a new University of Michigan study. Veterans were surveyed before and after a multi-day wilderness recreation experience, which involved camping and hiking in groups of between six and 12 participants. More than half of participants reported that they frequently experienced physical or mental health problems in everyday life.

One week after the experience, veterans reported a greater than 10 percent improvement in several measures of psychological well-being, a 9 percent increase in social functioning, and a nearly 8 percent gain in positive life outlook. In some cases, the results persisted over the next month. Read more ..

North Korea's Nukes

More Missile Launches Expected from Maverick North Korea

July 31st 2013

Launch with Un insert

Specialists following North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile development concur the reclusive state is nearly certain to continue launching long-range rockets which may be intended to improve its capability to fire weapons of mass destruction.

A North Korean official in Pyongyang last week told VOA News that another launch of the Unha series vehicle will occur “soon” as part of the country's “peaceful use of space.” He did not elaborate.

The latest in the series, the Unha-3, carried the apparently non-functioning Kwangmyongsong-3 (Shining Star) satellite into a low Earth orbit on December 12, 2012. A floral exhibition, which closed Tuesday in Pyongyang, included several small-scale models of larger “Unha-9” rockets among the flowers, reinforcing the message that North Korea wants its people and the outside world to believe there will be additional launches. Read more ..

America on Edge

Warrior Cops

July 31st 2013

NYPD and flag

In an excellent July 19, 2013, Wall Street Journal essay entitled "Rise of the Warrior Cop," author-journalist Radley Balko described the alarming militarization of police forces across America. He cited myriad cases of innocent citizens being killed by over-zealous police officers, particularly Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams serving warrants for alleged, often petty, offenses. 

The WSJ essay, which is based on Balko's newly released book, "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces," details several egregious cases, where gunned-up, overzealous SWAT forces executed citizens in the name of enforcing gambling laws and mere regulations. "In 2006," the author writes, "38-year-old optometrist Sal Culosi was shot and killed by a Fairfax County, VA, SWAT officer," after an undercover detective overheard Culosi betting on college football games. "The department sent a SWAT team after Mr. Culosi, who had no prior criminal record or any history of violence. As the SWAT team descended, one officer fired a single bullet that pierced Mr. Culosi's heart. The police say that the shot was an accident." Read more ..

Book Review

Portrait of a Small Group of Immigrants to Shores

July 30th 2013

Little Ethiopia of the Pacific Northwest

Little Ethiopia of the Pacific Norhwest. Joseph W. Scott and Solomon Getahun. Transaction Publishers. 2013. 170 pp.

Often a book will be idly described as “timely” on one thin ground or another. This book on Ethiopians who migrated from their home country in Northern Africa (via Sudan?) and settled in Seattle fits the needs of all who are focusing on immigration policy at this moment and wish they knew a whole lot more about those who came here voluntarily and involuntarily.

Little Ethiopia is a detailed analysis of how the elite of Ethiopia reacted to Communist control of their North African country after the 1974 Revolution; how they fled (chiefly) to Sudan; how they got selected there as immigrants to the United States; how they settled in Seattle and hated, endured, or succeeded in Life there; and how after soul searching, some returned to the homeland where maybe the old ways would again prevail.

The newcomers from Addis Ababa and vicinity are by no means “typical” in the sense of the 11 million immigrants who worry policymakers (and a lot of our public) at this moment. The Ethiopians who came to “the Pacific Northwest” were “sojourners” who expected to return home before too long. Borderline “middle class” and/or “elite” at home, they were full of illusions about the life that suddenly faced them during what seemed likely to be a temporary stay in our land of freedom and opportunity.

Soviet meddling with their home country had blocked money transfers, produced threats of bodily harm and more, produced jail and exile, and changed lifestyles born through the distant centuries. Stranded, these new and definitely involuntary long term visitors to the U.S. (some 175,000 in all) began a long process that illusions indicated would bring some form of relief and even happiness.

The bedrock of this innovative sociological study is extensive and very carefully framed interviews with 70 individuals on topics that center on “the trials and tribulations of transplanted Ethiopians who came from an ancient, agricultural, low-tech poor society....” They hoped to “adapt, survive, and thrive” in their new environment, one that might well turn out to be a “young, industrial, postmodern, high-tech, rich society....” The ages of the sample were 20 to 53. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Taliban Free Fellow Jailed Terrorists from Pakistani Prison

July 30th 2013

Kabul Car Bomb

Security forces have launched a massive manhunt in a city in the northwestern Pakistani province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where more than 200 prisoners have escaped following an overnight militant assault on a prison.

With Taliban-led violence on the rise, the leader of the province's ruling party has warned Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that Pakistan could lose its anti-terror war unless a national counter-terrorism policy is quickly devised.

Dozens of suspected Taliban fighters armed with bombs and grenades took part in the Monday night raid on the central prison of Dera Ismail Khan, a remote town in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.

Eyewitnesses and residents said the attack began with a powerful explosion, which was followed by smaller blasts that blew up electricity lines into the prison and rattled almost every house in the neighborhood. Twelve people, including four policemen, were killed during the attack, which lasted for several hours, according to officials. Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

UN Hails Drop in AIDS-Related Deaths in Africa

July 30th 2013

South African Aids Patient

The United Nations’ AIDS agency is hailing what officials describe as significant progress in the fight against the epidemic in eastern and southern Africa. The report says AIDS-related deaths have declined dramatically and that the number of new infections has decreased - a direct result of more available treatment. But, they warned, challenges remain. 

Top health and aid officials praised the gains in the fight against AIDS in southern and eastern Africa - among them, a nearly 40 percent drop in AIDS-related deaths since 2005, and a 50 percent drop in new infections among children since 2001.

The cause, they said was simple: The number of people receiving anti-retroviral treatment has increased tenfold, from 625,000 in 2005 to 6.3 million in 2012.

But this disease, said Ethiopia’s health minister, is not about numbers. Dr. Kesetebirhan Admasu said he is still haunted by some of the patients he met when he was in practice a decade ago. At the time, he said, Ethiopian hospitals were full of suffering AIDS patients. The disease was taboo, he said, and the media portrayed it “as a horror.” He was one of the first doctors to begin treating AIDS patients in Ethiopia. At the time, treatment was expensive and complicated. Read more ..

The Race for Geothermal

Kenya's Geothermal Industry Grows

July 30th 2013

Nesjavellr Geothermal Power plant

With Kenya's proximity to the Great Rift, once a hotbed of volcanic activity, the country is the biggest producer of geothermal energy on the continent. Currently 13 percent of the national grid is powered by this renewable energy, but untapped geothermal fields have the potential to cover all of Kenya's power needs, and then some.

Near the Kenyan town of Naivasha, Isaac Kirimi treks up a steaming hillside. Kirimi is a drilling superintendent with KenGen, Kenya’s leading power company.

“This is like a live volcano! You can easily convince someone you’re in hell,” he said. The rocks underfoot are still soft. He looks for a small bushy plant known as geothermal grass, which thrives in high ground temperatures.

“It is normally used by scientists to give them an indication of where there is potential for geothermal resources,” said Kirimi. "A scientist is like a wild person. You are imagining things and now trying to transfer that imagination. And try to convince someone to invest in that is not very easy." Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Reading Between The Red Lines Of U.S.-Afghan Security Talks

July 30th 2013

Afghanistan Fighters

A months-long effort by the United States and Afghanistan to hammer out a long-term security arrangement has so far achieved one obvious result -- each side has established clear red lines.

Read between those lines, however, and there appears to be enough common ground for each side to get what they want.

Going by the positions publicly taken by the two sides, they are at polar opposites on the terms of a continued U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan after 2014.

Afghan officials have said that if U.S. troops are to remain, they must answer to Afghan law. Upping the ante, officials as high up as the president have called for U.S. troops to pick up and leave entirely.

U.S. officials, eyeing the end of the current campaign in 2014, have made clear that they want a Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in place to protect U.S. troops from prosecution in Afghanistan. With no SOFA agreement, according to the message being sent from Washington, the "zero option" of leaving no troops behind is a very real possibility. Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

Implementing the Affordable Care Act: Why Is This So Complex?

July 30th 2013

No Obamacare

Last week, the Obama administration made a sensible, pragmatic decision to postpone until 2015 the implementation of the employer mandate under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The postponement allows the government to simplify the reporting requirements, which companies alleged were unnecessarily burdensome, and gives employers more time to figure out how they want to adjust their health insurance coverage to the ACA environment. No postponement is without cost, but delaying the employer mandate allows the Administration to concentrate its energies on implementing the most important part of the ACA—the on-line market-places or exchanges being set up in each state to facilitate purchase of health plans by the uninsured. Getting the exchanges running—along with a way to determine the subsidies that make those purchases affordable—is a daunting, complicated task and should be given highest priority. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Paying in Advance

July 30th 2013


Like the dog that finally caught the bus he chased, Secretary of State John Kerry now has to figure out what to do with what he's got. He induced, bribed, cajoled, and threatened Israelis and Palestinians to return to the "negotiating table." The Palestinians were promised up to $4 billion in "investment" and aid, and up to 104 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel from the pre-Oslo era; terrorists with blood on their hands and previously thought to be unreleasable.

What the Palestinians paid, if anything, is unclear, but they are trumpeting a victory -- that Israel will release prisoners and that the prisoners cannot be banished to Gaza; that Israel will not be able to seek an interim agreement, but must to go "final status" issues; and that Kerry agreed with them that the 1949 lines (the so-called 1967 border) are the starting point. Almost as a throwaway line, Mahmoud Abbas said he was committed to a "two state solution" and Kerry has referred vaguely to the promise that that Arab States might make peace with Israel if the Palestinians were satisfied (more on that later). So, Mr. Kerry has put his bribe on the table and Israel has paid in advance. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama Says Pay Gap is 'Morally Wrong'

July 30th 2013


President Barack Obama is changing gears on the economy, highlighting income inequality as a growing problem in advance of pitched fall battles with congressional Republicans over funding the government and raising the debt ceiling. The focus is intended to make it easier for Obama to argue that new taxes on the rich — and not cuts to social spending — should be imposed to lower the deficit.

It also dovetails with Obama’s call for Congress to raise the federal $7.25 minimum wage and to end the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration. “This growing inequality is not just morally wrong, it’s bad economics,” Obama said in remarks last week in Galesburg, Ill., where he began a new push on the economy. “The income of the top 1 percent nearly quadrupled from 1979-2007, but the typical family’s incomes barely budged,” he said. Read more ..

Healthy Edge

Ethical Dilemmas of Accepting Organ Donations from Criminals

July 30th 2013


Some people feel so "creeped out" they would decline an organ or blood that came from a murderer or thief, according to a new University of Michigan study.

In addition, study respondents express concern that their personality or behavior may change to become more like that of the donor, as a result of the donation.

Recipients prefer to get an organ or DNA transplant or blood transfusion from a donor whose personality or behavior matches theirs, says Meredith Meyer, the study's lead author and a research fellow in psychology. People tend to think one's behaviors and personalities are partly due to something hidden deep inside their blood or bodily organs, she says.

Meyer and her colleagues were most surprised to learn people felt as strongly about the source of blood transfusions as they did about heart transplants. Read more ..

China Rising

Identifying the Successors in China

July 30th 2013


China has become a metaphor. It represents a certain phase of economic development, which is driven by low wages, foreign appetite for investment and a chaotic and disorderly development, magnificent in scale but deeply flawed in many ways. Its magnificence spawned the flaws, and the flaws helped create the magnificence.

The arcs along which nations rise and fall vary in length and slope. China's has been long, as far as these things go, lasting for more than 30 years. The country will continue to exist and perhaps prosper, but this era of Chinese development -- pyramiding on low wages to conquer global markets -- is ending simply because there are now other nations with even lower wages and other advantages. China will have to behave differently from the way it does now, and thus other countries are poised to take its place. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Capturing Black Hole Spin Could Further Understanding of Galaxy Growth

July 29th 2013

Swift J1544+57 (black hole)

Astronomers have found a new way of measuring the spin in supermassive black holes, which could lead to better understanding about how they drive the growth of galaxies.

The scientists at Durham University, UK, observed a black hole - with mass 10 million times that of our Sun - at the centre of a spiral galaxy 500 million light years from Earth while it was feeding on the surrounding disc of material that fuels its growth and powers its activity.

By viewing optical, ultra-violet and soft x-rays generated by heat as the black hole fed, they were able to measure how far the disc was from the black hole.

This distance depends on black hole spin as a fast spinning black hole pulls the disc in closer to itself, the researchers said. Using the distance between the black hole and the disc, the scientists were able to estimate the spin of the black hole. The scientists said that understanding spin could lead to greater understanding of galaxy growth over billions of years. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Obama Rebuked for Keystone Claims

July 29th 2013

Keystone Pipeline

President Obama’s dismissal of the job benefits from the Keystone XL pipeline drew a furious rebuke on Monday from supporters of the project who accused him of ignoring his own State Department.

Republican lawmakers and industry groups said the president is making baseless claims about the proposed pipeline that have already been disproven by members of the administration.

“A president disparaging private-sector jobs while backstage at a jobs rally is beyond belief. The president’s own State Department reported that Keystone would support upwards of 40,000 jobs. In this economy, any source of private job creation should be welcomed with open arms,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said in a statement.

The pipeline’s boosters challenged Obama’s remark that Keystone would create only 2,000 construction jobs, pointing him to State’s finding in a draft review that the project would actually generate 42,100 direct and indirect jobs during the initial two-year assembly phase. Read more ..

Broken Economy

Fact-Free 'Middle Out Economics'

July 29th 2013


President Obama has finally stopped blaming George W. Bush for America’s current economic mess. Now it’s Ronald Reagan’s fault.

Obama didn’t use those exact words or make that explicit claim in his Knox College speech last week, but that’s the gist of it. The Great Recession and its slow-growth, high-unemployment aftermath are really just the culmination of three decades of pro-market economic policies that favored the rich at the expense of the middle class.

Here’s how Obama rewrites economic history: The shared national purpose of World War II was followed by a golden age of shared prosperity in the 1950s and 1960s. Unions were strong, taxes high, pension benefits guaranteed — thanks to a grand egalitarian bargain between Big Government, Big Business, and Big Labor. “But over time, that bargain began to fray,” Obama said. “Technology made some jobs obsolete. Global competition sent a lot of jobs overseas. It became harder for unions to fight for the middle class. Washington doled out bigger tax cuts to the very wealthy and smaller minimum-wage increases for the working poor.” And with the recession and financial crisis, Obama concluded, “the decades-long . . . erosion of middle-class security was suddenly laid bare for everybody to see.” Read more ..

Defense on Edge

There's a Storm Brewing in the Pentagon's Budget

July 29th 2013

B-2 Bomber

The House of Representatives debated and passed the 2014 defense spending bill this week. The White House has threatened to veto the bill for a variety of reasons, but one stands out: the unsustainable cost of military and retiree benefits.

The president's advisers are encouraging Congress to help them restrain internal cost growth on priorities like health care for troops. But Congress is moving in a different direction.
Reining in defense personnel benefits, pay and compensation is a small but important step to restoring fiscal health to the military's budget. While most are familiar with sequestration's cuts weighing on those in uniform, fewer – including those in Washington – are familiar with the budgetary storm brewing below the surface of the Pentagon topline. Internal cost growth on non-warfighting overhead like excess bases, the size and composition of the overall Pentagon workforce and excess or redundant headquarters and staff all threaten to crowd out other critical spending on military readiness, innovation and modernization. Read more ..

Nigeria on Edge

Soaring Ramadan Food Prices Take Toll in Northern Nigeria

July 29th 2013

Nigerian farmers

Food prices are soaring in Nigerian cities as Muslims stock up on traditional foods for the evening feasts that follow daily Ramadan fasts.

In a country where most live in abject poverty, many are paying as much as six times the normal price for many food items.

But in the country's predominantly Muslim and already impoverished north, where regional instabilities linked to the presence of the Islamist rebel group Boko Haram are ongoing, soaring costs have left many especially vulnerable.

Outside a market in Kaduna, one shopper says holiday season's increased prices have further impoverished many, as sellers know that customers are willing to pay higher prices in order to make particular preparations for Ramadan feasts. “They feel that people are in need of these products so they inflate the prices," one shopper said. "It is very, very obvious. ... For example, when you want to buy fruit like your pineapples or your oranges and your things for breaking the fast, you see people inflating the prices.” But some sellers say the increased prices reflect inflated costs that farmers charge during the holy month. Read more ..

Egypt's Second Revolution

Cairo Protesters Divided by Opposing Views

July 29th 2013

Egypt Protests

In polarized Egypt, protesters in Cairo occupy camps divided by fear and barriers made of brick and barbed wire. The military has threatened supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi with orders to disperse while leaders of his party, the Muslim Brotherhood, are calling for marches on security buildings.

In the hot afternoon, Cairo’s Tahrir Square is nearly empty. This was the epicenter of the 2011 demonstrations, which led to what Egyptians proudly refer to as “The Revolution,” that toppled Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year-reign.

On Friday night, the square was packed with supporters blowing plastic horns as fireworks shot up over the crowds. But now the demonstrators who occupy the square have set up checkpoints on the roads surrounding their camp and some are blocked with sandbags, tires and barbed wire. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Mideast Peace Talks to Resume in Washington

July 29th 2013

John Kerry

Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are set to resume late Monday in Washington after a long stalemate. But there are plenty of obstacles ahead.

The new Israeli-Palestinian talks follow nearly five years of paralysis, and skepticism on both sides runs deep. Twenty years of on-again, off-again negotiations have failed to achieve a final peace agreement with the creation of a Palestinian state.

Just hours before the negotiations were to begin,  US Secretary of State Kerry named former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk to be his point man for the talks. Indyk played a key role in the 2000 Camp David peace negotiations.

At a State Department briefing Monday with Indyk at his side, Kerry said "reasonable compromises must be the keystone for all efforts towards a negotiated settlement." Israeli and Palestinian chief negotiators will try to hammer out a framework for the talks which will tackle the thorniest issues of the conflict: the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, Jewish settlements and final borders. Gaps are wide, but the return to face-to-face talks signals that the parties are prepared to give peace a chance.   Read more ..

Muslims In Europe

Poland's Lipka Tatars: A Model For Muslims In Europe?

July 29th 2013

Muslims pray in Paris streets

The darkish tint in Bronislaw Talkowski's otherwise rosy cheeks provides just a slight hint that his ancestral roots may reach back further to the east. Talkowski is a Lipka Tatar. Unlike other minorities in this Central European, overwhelmingly Catholic country, that fact has never precluded him from being considered a Pole.

Members of this Muslim community, whose ancestors first arrived in Poland six centuries ago, say their experience here can provide a blueprint for newly arriving Muslim immigrants. But they warn that assimilation comes with its own inherent risks in a community that now numbers only in the thousands. As Talkowski tells it, the Tatars did "a service" to Poland and the state paid his community back.

The first Tatars arrived in northeastern Europe in the 14th century. The Turkic settlers, called "Lipka," after the Crimean word for Lithuania, had honed their military skills during Genghis Khan's Eurasian conquests and committed early on to serving the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In return, they were given noble status and allowed to flourish in the lands that today make up Lithuania, Poland, and Belarus. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

The JTA Gets it Wrong on Settlements

July 29th 2013


A recent Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) news brief quoted Christine Quinn’s campaign as saying she “believes the West Bank is a disputed territory and that the Israelis and Palestinians must sit down and negotiate a solution.”

According to the JTA, “Quinn’s position runs counter to that of the U.S. government, which considers the West Bank Israeli-occupied territory.” Actually, Quinn was restating a long-held U.S. position. If the status of territories weren’t legitimately disputed, there would be nothing to negotiate.

No Arab entity held clear title and exercised peaceful sovereignty over the territory prior to the 1967 Six-Day War. If one had, Israel’s conquest would have been an act of aggression and it would have been obligated to clear out decades ago. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

The U.S. Lost in the Mideast Swamp

July 29th 2013

Cairo Claashes Dec 2012

The Obama Administration's Middle East policies - it would be foolhardy to call them "strategy" - would be ludicrous were they not so threatening to American interests, regional and world stability.

The latest permutation is Washington's position against the Egyptian military and its satellite, hopefully provisional, civilian government. Washington's insistence that the discredited, ousted, and now imprisoned Mohamed Morsi be treated as a legitimate political figure, serving Egyptian or American interests, is highly questionable. Morsi was quintessential: a Third World Muslim dictator-apprentice, promising one man, one vote-one time. Read more ..

The Race for Alt Energy

Battle Brews Over Obama Renewable Energy Plan

July 28th 2013

Obama Electric Car

America’s deserts are stark, quiet places, where isolation and the elements have long kept development at bay. To outsiders, these arid expanses may not seem like prized land.

But they are poised to play a key role — and perhaps, to serve as a battleground — in President Obama's plan to double U.S. electricity from wind, solar, and geothermal sources by 2020. To help ramp up that amount of clean energy, the White House has urged approval of an additional 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy production on public lands.

Estimates vary on exactly how many households would be served by the expansion, but the Obama administration says the 25 utility-scale solar facilities, nine wind farms and 11 geothermal plants it has approved on federal lands so far will provide enough juice to power 4.4 million homes. Read more ..

Destination Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi Five-Star Leisure at Saadiyat Island Puts Ecology First

July 28th 2013

Caribe Crucero

A five star hotel will offer chefs, tennis and golf pros, hairdressers and masseuses, but the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi just upped the ante by adding a marine biologist to its permanent staff. The resort’s resident marine expert will be organizing workshops and eco-excursions to educate and entertain guests, but her primary mandate is to ensure that the hotel adheres to strict environmental standards laid down by the emirate.

Located on the natural island of Saadiyat, Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas sits adjacent to Saadiyat Beach, a nine kilometre stretch of environmentally-protected white sand beach on the edge of the turquoise Arabian Sea. The area is home to an abundance of wildlife including hawksbill turtles and bottlenose dolphins (like the ones found in an Egyptian private pool).

Marine biologist Arabella Willing joined the team from a sister hotel in the Maldives. Previously, she was a volunteer teacher on a remote island in the very north of the country, educating some of the most isolated communities about sustainability, marine life and the effects of coral bleaching. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Cyprus Oil Spill Threatens Pristine Coastline

July 28th 2013

Gulf oil spill

Better call out that airborne Mediterranean pollution surveillance crew Tafline just wrote about! Last Tuesday, an oil tanker delivering fuel to a power plant in the Turkish Cypriot-controlled north of Cyprus spilled approximately 40 tons of oil into the Mediterranean Sea.

In a separate report, officials estimated more than 100 tons of oil were spilled near pristine coastline, threatening wildlife and tourism facilities. There has been no explanation for the conflicting fuel estimates.

A spill barrier has been established but officials, anticipating additional leakage, are seeking to extend it, Turkish Cypriot Environment Minister Mehmet Harmanci told Reuters in a telephone interview.  He described the risk as “ongoing”. According to Harmanci, power plant owner Aksa Enerji pins the spill on a pressure problem or an improper connection in the pumping process. Human error has not been ruled out. Local authorities were struggling to contain the slick which extends for 4.5 miles along the Karpasia peninsula. Clean-up materials, including oil-absorbing solvents, were ordered from Turkey but, as of this writing, delivery has been delayed.  Read more ..

Book Review

The Rebirth of Union City's Schools

July 28th 2013

Improbable Scholars

David Kirp, professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and a longtime observer of American education, has written an invaluable book that is remarkable for its good sense and insight, and even more remarkable for appearing in the midst of an ongoing educational conversation that has long been marked by an almost willful air of unreality.  For at least thirty years, writing aimed at the general public and educators alike has embraced false dichotomies (skills v. content); false analogies (schools as businesses); dubious panaceas (vouchers, charters, high-stakes testing); and sloganeering disguised as curriculum reform (“21st century skills”).  A quick tour of the past three decades can remind us of how the atmosphere got polluted—and make clear why Kirp’s book is such a welcome addition.

In 1983, “A Nation at Risk” sounded its alarm about American public education, and popular narratives about what was wrong and how to fix it popped up like spring flowers.  Unfortunately, they were often simplistic and extreme.  Even the movies, which both influence and reflect what many people are thinking, got into the act.  Remember “Stand and Deliver” (1988), with Edward James Olmos’s uncanny impersonation of Jaime Escalante’s classroom heroics?  (Jay Mathews, the Washington Post’s excellent education writer, came out with a book shortly thereafter, showing that Escalante wasn’t exactly the Lone Ranger: he had help.  But Mathews’s book was dramatically subtitled, “The Best Teacher in America.”)  Hardliners were more taken with heroic principals.  Remember Joe Clark, his baseball bat and bullhorn, in “Stand By Me” (1986)?  He became a celebrity, even though, as Kirp notes, his school remained a mess and within a few years he was out of education and trundling around the “motivational speaking” circuit.

The penchant for the rhetorically grandiose seeped into policy with the standards movement of the 1990s (the standards were always to be “world class,” in schools that would “break the mold”) and then, most emphatically, with the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001.  Every child was to be taught by “highly qualified teachers” (often inflated by superintendents and commissioners into “great teachers”), and schools that failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress were subject to being “transformed”—after all, schools were supposed to be in a “race to the top.” Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Embarrassing Glitches Cause Push-Back Against US Navy Littoral Combat Ships

July 28th 2013

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USS Freedom

One of the Navy’s newest warships suddenly found itself immobilized in the South China Sea on July 20, as the failure of one of its four diesel generators caused a shutdown of all its engines during its first operational deployment. It was not the first major glitch since the USS Freedom began to sail in 2008.

The crew was able to restart all of the engines and get the 3,000-ton vessel into Singapore for repairs the following day. But the incident could not have occurred at a worse time for the sea-going service.

The Freedom is part of a planned fleet of 52 fast, agile, modern Navy warships known as Littoral Combat Ships and meant to operate in shallow coastal waters around the globe, combatting everything from pirates to terrorists to small submarines. But it is suddenly under intense scrutiny as Washington debates whether to fund the production of eight more sister ships over the next two years. Read more ..

Broken Government

Anthony Weiner's Campaign Manager Resigns

July 28th 2013

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Former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D-N.Y.) bid for New York City mayor faced another setback Saturday with reports his campaign manager quit the team.

The New York Times reported that Danny Kedem, the head of Weiner’s campaign, resigned following last week’s disclosures that the candidate had continued sending explicit sexual messages to young women on the internet long after the same revelations forced him to resign his House seat in 2011.

Two campaign aides said Kedem informed Weiner of his decision to leave the team in the last 24 hours. Reports said Kedem had previously worked on a New Haven, Conn. mayoral race and on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid.
The news is the latest blow to Weiner’s campaign, which once saw him leading in the polls.

Last week, Weiner publicly admitted that he had sent lewd messages to women as recently as last summer using the online alias “Carlos Danger.”

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed City Council Speaker Christine Quinn now leading the Democratic primary with 25 percent support to Weiner in second place with 16. Weiner has also faced harsh criticism from fellow Democrats, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) calling him “disrespectful of women” and his behavior “reprehensible.” Read more ..

Broken Banking

Mortgage Lender Owned by Dole Foods Magnate Accused by CFPB of Abusive Practices

July 28th 2013

Home Foreclosure

As the financial overhaul known as the Dodd-Frank Act turns three this week, the law’s most controversial creation, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is for the first time cracking down on mortgage lenders for encouraging loan officers to put borrowers in high-cost loans.

The agency filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Castle & Cooke Mortgage LLC and its president, an accomplished rodeo performer who professes to be “a big fan” of new rules aimed at helping consumers.

It’s the first time the new consumer cop — a creation of Dodd-Frank that drew sharp opposition from the financial industry — has taken action against the practice, which was pervasive in the years leading up to the housing meltdown and then banned under Dodd-Frank.

Castle & Cooke, based in Utah, is a privately held, non-bank lender of the sort that largely escaped the federal government’s scrutiny before the financial crisis focused attention on abusive lending. Its president, Matthew Pineda, founded it in 2005 for eccentric fruit billionaire David Murdock. (Murdock owns Castle & Cooke, Dole Food Company Inc. and collections of “animals, orchids, Chippendale mirrors and Czechoslovakian chandeliers.” He is the 190th-richest person in America on the latest Forbes list.) Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Agitating for an American War in Syria

July 28th 2013

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Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, wants to go to war in Syria -- not with Syria, necessarily, but in Syria.  And it's not really war, although it involves weapons and American troops (in the air -- Sen. Levin has been very explicit about "no boots on the ground," as if American bombs are less war-ish than American infantry).  He and Senators John McCain and Robert Menendez aren't looking for victory, and they don't want the military to remove Assad from power.  But they're pretty sure that weapons could be useful somehow, used by someone -- maybe by barefoot Americans (no boots).  All this appears in their letter to President Obama urging "American leadership" in Syria. It is a stunning mess. Read more ..

The Cyber Edge

Hacker Dies Days Before Scheduled Revelation on How to Remotely Kill Pacemaker Patients

July 28th 2013

Computers/Nerd Silhouette

Security researcher Barnaby Jack has passed away in San Francisco, only days before a scheduled appearance at a Las Vegas hacker conference where he intended to show how an ordinary pacemaker could be compromised in order to kill a man. Jack, who previously presented hacks involving ATMs and insulin pumps at the annual Black Hat conference in Vegas, was confirmed dead Friday morning by the San Francisco Medical Examiner’s office, Reuters reported. He passed away Thursday this week, but the office declined to offer any more details at this time.

Jack’s death came one week to the day before he was scheduled to detail one of his most recent exploits in a Black Hat talk called “Implantable Medical Devices: Hacking Humans.” Read more ..

Egypt's Second Revolution

Muslim Brotherhood Protesters Refuse to Disperse in Cairo

July 28th 2013

Muslim Brotherhood bus burning 10 2012

Supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi are continuing their protest in the Egyptian capital, despite orders from security forces to end their sit-in and disperse. The situation in Cairo's Nasr City was relatively quiet Sunday morning on July 28, after fighting between security forces and Morsi supporters killed at least 74 people in Cairo and Alexandria since Friday. Around a thousand people have been injured.

Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement said on July 27 that police fired into unarmed demonstrators in Nasr City, where members have been camped for weeks demanding his reinstatement. Egyptian officials deny the accusations, saying police only fired tear gas and that pro-Morsi marchers were responsible for the violence.

In Alexandria, Egyptian authorities said people inside a mosque fired shots into the surrounding neighborhood Saturday, while Morsi supporters say gunmen shot into the mosque. Read more ..

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