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Archive for June 2013

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The Edge of Medicine

Is That Bacteria Dead Yet?

June 30th 2013

TB Bacteria

Researchers at EPFL have built a matchbox-sized device that can test for the presence of bacteria in a couple of minutes, instead of up to several weeks. A nano-lever vibrates in the presence of bacterial activity, while a laser reads the vibration and translates it into an electrical signal that can be easily read—the absence of a signal signifies the absence of bacteria. Thanks to this method, it is quick and easy to determine if a bacteria has been effectively treated by an antibiotic, a crucial medical tool especially for resistant strains. Easily used in clinics, it could also prove useful for testing chemotherapy treatment. The research is published in the latest issue of Nature Nanotechnology. "This method is fast and accurate. And it can be a precious tool for both doctors looking for the right dosage of antibiotics and for researchers to determine which treatments are the most effective," explains Giovanni Dietler. Read more ..

Broken Education

Democrats Blow It on Student Loan Interest Rates

June 30th 2013

College expenses

A glimmer of hope in the debate over student loan interest rates briefly appeared this week with the release of the first bipartisan proposal to address the impending doubling of interest rates on subsidized student loans, only to be dashed by the Democratic leadership in the Senate.  The new proposal, from a group of senators including three Republicans, two Democrats, and one Independent, offers a permanent fix to the now-annual problem of Congressional meddling with interest rates by instead tying rates to the market.

The bipartisan compromise bill one-ups existing proposals by not only heading off the doubling of interest rates on subsidized loans, but also reducing rates on the unsubsidized loans taken out by millions of students from middle-class families each year.  By charging higher rates to graduate students and on the PLUS loan program for parents, the overall plan is close to budget-neutral according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Is this plan the ideal policy?  Plans aimed at achieving political compromise almost never are, and this one is no exception.  For example, it leaves in place subsidies to students that are better delivered through up-front grants that directly reduce the cost of college.  And estimates of the policy’s costs are still made using a methodology that does not adequately take into account the risk inherent in student lending. Read more ..

Healthcare on Edge

Doctors Will Have to Take a Pay Cut Under Obamacare

June 30th 2013


For Obamacare to succeed, American doctors need to earn less money. Last week, Washington took a step in that direction. One of Medicare’s influential advisory boards recommended that payment rates to providers be sanded down.

At present issue are the rates paid to doctors working as part of hospital-owned clinics versus physicians working in their own, independent offices. Right now, when a doctor works as part of hospital owned practice, and bills Medicare, she’s paid more money than what she’d receive for providing the same services in her own independent medical office. That’s because of an arbitrage between Medicare’s inpatient (Part A) and outpatient (Part B) billing schemes.

In part to take advantage of these differentials, hospitals have gone on a buying binge in recent years, purchasing doctor practices. One of their aims was to bring the physicians’ services (and the procedures that doctors perform) under the “Part A” reimbursement scheme, where they can bill at higher rates for the same services. In fact, for hospitals, outpatient services are among their highest profit centers (typically, along with neonatal intensive care units and spine surgery). Read more ..

The Way We Are

Thieving Lemurs Teach Us About Evolution of Intelligence

June 30th 2013


As animals go, humans are very smart. After all, we discovered calculus, general relativity, and fire. Out of all the brains in nature, there is clearly something special about ours. But how did we get this way? As Dr. Evan MacLean, a senior researcher a Duke University, says, “What were the problems that nature posed for us that we needed these brains to solve?”

Scientists like MacLean think that being very social - living in large groups and communicating, like humans do - might have led to the development of a bigger, more powerful brain. “When we’re in a social environment there are all kinds of dynamic things that we have to keep track of, like who’s friends with who, who’s enemies with who, and who knows what,” he said. “This kind of information processing is really hard for the brain to do.” Read more ..

The Mideast on Edge

Kerry: No Breakthrough but 'Real' Progress on Mideast Peace Talks

June 30th 2013

John Kerry

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has ended his fifth trip to the Middle East as secretary without an accord on resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. But he says considerable progress has been made.

Secretary Kerry concluded four days of shuttle diplomacy Sunday, saying some very wide gaps have been narrowed in the positions of Israel and the Palestinians.

“We have made real progress on this trip. And I believe that with a little more work the start of final status negotiations could be within reach,” he said.

He said some specific details remain to worked out but he had been impressed with the seriousness of the parties and remains confident that they are on the right track. Kerry met twice with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and three times with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu later told his Cabinet that he is willing to resume peace talks without preconditions. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Taliban Rejects Talks as Britain's Cameron Tours Region

June 30th 2013

Afghani Taliban

International-backed efforts to seek a negotiated end to the 12 years of grinding war in Afghanistan have suffered another blow after Taliban rebels apparently rejected conditions for proposed peace talks.  The development comes as British Prime Minister David Cameron concluded a trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan as part of efforts to revive the stalled peace process.

In its first formal reaction following the opening of the controversial Taliban political office nearly two weeks ago in Qatar, the Afghan insurgent group has harshly criticized the United States and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai for allegedly “wasting time” and making “false commitments” regarding proposed peace talks.

In a Pashto language statement emailed to VOA late Saturday, a Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, says “coercion, threats, provocation” and demands that Taliban fighters surrender have not worked in the past and will not work in the future to solve the Afghan problem.

The Islamist group also accused the United States of being in a “state of confusion” and lacking a “firm stance” on the peace talks.  It also snubbed the Afghan president for his opposition to a direct dialogue between the Taliban and the United States. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

PA Officials Refuse to Meet Jews and Israeli Journalists

June 30th 2013

Abbas UN

Palestinian Authority officials have adopted the questionable norm of refusing to meet with Israeli or Jewish journalists, according to veteran journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, in a recent article published by Gatestone Institute.

According to Toameh, Palestinian journalists who try to arrange meetings or interviews with Palestinian Authority representatives for Western colleagues frequently verify that there will be no Jews or Israelis present at the meetings before giving the go ahead.

Just last week, Toameh reports, a journalist who requested a meeting between Western journalists and a top Palestinian Authority official was told "to make sure there were no Jews or Israelis" among the visitors. The official's aide went on to explain: "We are sorry, but we do not meet with Jews or Israelis." Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

The Danger of Talking with the Taliban

June 29th 2013


The opening of a Taliban office in Qatar prompted fresh optimism over the prospect of a political settlement being reached that could end the 12-year conflict in Afghanistan. The U.S. and Afghan governments hoped that the insurgent group would agree to renounce violence, cut ties with al Qaeda and accept the Afghan constitution. The Taliban, however, clearly had a different agenda, using the occasion as a publicity stunt to present itself as an alternative government and gain international credibility. And its approach sent shockwaves across Afghanistan.

At the inauguration ceremony in Doha, Taliban representatives reportedly played their official anthem, hoisted their white flag and placed an “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” nameplate outside their embassy-like building. Feeling betrayed by the U.S. and Qatari governments, Afghan President Hamid Karzai almost immediately announced he was boycotting the talks and suspended planned negotiations with Washington over a bilateral security agreement that lays out the legal framework for post-2014 American military presence in Afghanistan. Since then, the peace talks have been placed on hold. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama Holds 'Town Hall,' Honors Mandela

June 29th 2013


U.S. President Barack Obama engaged young people from South Africa and three other African nations for more than an hour Saturday, taking questions on issues ranging from economic growth and job opportunity in Africa to countering extremism in a town-hall style meeting that followed talks earlier in the day with President Jacob Zuma.

The condition of former South African leader Nelson Mandela was a key topic, and Obama praised the ailing anti-apartheid icon in emotional terms at both events on Saturday, saying Mandela's personal courage and South Africa's historic transition are a personal inspiration to him and to the world. The president will visit Robben Island in South Africa Sunday, the prison where Mandela spent nearly 20 years for fighting to overturn the country's apartheid regime. The president appeared at ease and energized for his exchange with the young people in his audience at the University of Johannesburg in Soweto. Read more ..

Kazakhstan on Edge

Will Human Rights Be On Agenda During Cameron's Kazakhstan Visit?

June 29th 2013

David Cameron, PM

A fervid city cleanup is under way in the western Kazakh city of Atyrau, where British Prime Minister David Cameron is due to arrive on June 30 at the start of a two-day visit to Kazakhstan.

But critics are hoping freshly swept streets and manicured lawns will not distract Cameron from what they say is Kazakhstan's dirty record of imprisoning government critics and cracking down on the media.

Still, by making the bustling oil hub his first stop on a three-city tour, Cameron -- the first serving British prime minister to visit Central Asia -- may be giving some indication that his priorities in Kazakhstan have more to do with business than human rights.

Britain is one of the largest foreign investors in the massive Kazakh energy industry, with its BG Group jointly operating the giant Karachaganak field, with reserves of 1.2 trillion cubic meters of natural gas and 1 billion tons of crude oil. Then there is the fact that Kazakhstan is set to serve as a key transit state during the West's withdrawal from Afghanistan, an undertaking that includes 6,500 containers of U.K. military equipment and thousands of British troops. Bhavna Dave, a Central Asia expert at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, says energy and security are certain to dominate Cameron's landmark trip. Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

The Gezi Diaries: Can We Still Call Turkey Civilized?

June 29th 2013


Some see it as a modern democracy with an Islamic tint, an improving, reforming country. But if you were in Istanbul during the last month and a half, you’d have seen something completely different: a violent, authoritarian, increasingly suppressive and brutal regime. Tales from the Dark Side, Turkish style.

I’ve always been a critic of armchair reporting. But when your armchair is four blocks away from Taksim Square, it has one of the best views of the uproar in Istanbul any diligent reporter could ask for. I’m now able to calculate with great precision the time between the beginning of the screaming, the sound of the shot, and the entry of the gas through my window. It’s two and twelve seconds respectively. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Talk to Iran’s New President. Warily.

June 28th 2013

Hassan Rowhani

The election of Hassan Rowhani as Iran’s new president has created a sense that there are new possibilities of progress on the nuclear issue; we need to respond, but warily. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, allowed Mr. Rowhani to win the election, recognizing that he had run against current Iranian policies that have isolated the country and invited economically disastrous sanctions. But it isn’t clear why Mr. Khamenei allowed such an outcome, and here are some theories that have been proposed:

• He believes that Mr. Rowhani’s election could provide a safety valve for the great discontent within Iran.

• He believes that Mr. Rowhani, a president with a moderate face, might be able to seek an open-ended agreement on Iran’s nuclear program that would reduce tensions and ease sanctions now, while leaving Iran room for development of nuclear weapons at some point in the future. Read more ..

Russia After Putin

Russia After Putin: Inherent Leadership Struggles

June 28th 2013


Russia has undergone a series of fundamental changes over the past year, with more changes on the horizon. Russia's economic model based on energy is being tested, the country's social and demographic make-up is shifting, and its political elites are aging. All this has led the Kremlin to begin asking how the country should be led once its unifying leader, Vladimir Putin, is gone. Already, a restructuring of the political elite is taking place, and hints of succession plans have emerged. Historically, Russia has been plagued by the dilemma of trying to create a succession plan following a strong and autocratic leader. The question now is whether Putin can set a system in place for his own passing out of the Russian leadership (whenever the time may be) without destabilizing the system as a whole.

A Difficult Land to Rule

Without a heavy-handed leader, Russia struggles to maintain stability. Instability is inherent to Russia given its massive, inhospitable territory, indefensible borders, hostile neighboring powers and diverse population. Only when it has had an autocratic leader who set up a system where competing factions are balanced against each other has Russia enjoyed prosperity and stability.

A system of balances under one resolute figure existed during the rule of some of the country's most prominent leaders, such as Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Alexander II, Josef Stalin -- and now Vladimir Putin. Each Russian leader must create and tinker with this system to ensure the governing apparatus does not atrophy, fracture or rise in mutiny. For this reason, Russian leaders have continually had to rearrange the power circles beneath them. Significant adjustments have been necessary as Russia grows and stabilizes or declines and comes under threat. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

House Votes to Expand Offshore Oil-and-Gas Leases

June 28th 2013

Gulf oil spill

The House voted Friday to require the Obama administration to develop a new five-year plan allowing offshore oil-and-gas leases in coastal waters with the most promise for energy development.

Members passed the Offshore Energy and Jobs Act in a 235-186 vote that saw 16 Democrats join Republicans. The bill is similar to GOP legislation passed by the House last year, and responds to a five-year oil and gas lease sales plan that Republicans say shuts out potentially productive areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coastline. In Thursday debate, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said the president had a chance to expand lease sales, but instead put forward a restrictive plan that will hurt U.S. energy development. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

The Security Implications of Europe’s Economic Downturn

June 28th 2013

Euro Symbol

The European Union's unfolding crisis tends to be seen as purely economic in nature and consequence. The EU is a common market, with a common currency adopted by most of its members and with fiscal problems of one kind or another facing almost all of its capitals. Most analyses of the euro crisis focus, therefore, on the economic and financial impact of whatever "euro exit" may occur or of a European fiscal centralization. In the worst case, they project a full-fledged breakup of the common currency and perhaps even the EU itself. Not much can be added to this sea of analysis except a pinch of skepticism: nobody really knows the full economic impact, positive or negative, of such potential developments. In fact, not even European leaders seem to have a clear idea of how to mitigate the economic and political morass of the Continent. While it is certain that the EU of the future will be different, it isn't clear just how. Read more ..

Destination Byblos

Byblos, the best Arab Tourist City in Lebanon

June 28th 2013


Byblos, the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city in Lebanon has been named the Arab world’s best tourist city by the United Nations World Tourism Organization, and it offers a host of lessons in greening too. Called Jbeil or Byblos, this World Heritage site 37km north of Beirut has evolved from a 6th century BC fishing village into a thriving tourist destination that looks nothing at all like its concrete brother, Beirut.

Mayor Ziad al-Hawwat has received great accolades for making Jbeil a pleasure for both local and foreigners to visit. Whereas Beirut’s citizens are constantly fighting for every inch of green space as parking garages and shopping malls and other concrete monstrosities overwhelm the place, al-Hawwat has added an 18,000 square meter public park, planted trees and flowers, and even created a car-free zone from noon to midnight during the height of the tourist season. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Microscopy Technique Could Help Develop 3-D Components

June 28th 2013

computer chip

A technique developed several years ago at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for improving optical microscopes now has been applied to monitoring the next generation of computer chip circuit components, potentially providing the semiconductor industry with a crucial tool for improving chips for the next decade or more.

The technique, called Through-Focus Scanning Optical Microscopy (TSOM), has now been shown able to detect tiny differences in the three-dimensional shapes of circuit components, which until very recently have been essentially two-dimensional objects. TSOM is sensitive to features that are as small as 10 nanometers (nm) across, perhaps smaller—addressing some important industry measurement challenges for the near future for manufacturing process control and helping maintain the viability of optical microscopy in electronics manufacturing. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Breaking the Silence 2.0

June 28th 2013

Soldiers at ready

Once again the fallacies of the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence (BtS) are making headlines, this time directly from the IDF. Barak Raz, spokesman for the IDF's Judea and Samaria Division, correctly blasted the group and its actions, stating that "Breaking the Silence is an organization that engages in nothing – but nothing – other than a smear campaign targeting the IDF. This smear campaign has nothing to do with rooting out their observed problem. Furthermore, none of their work helps the IDF (or Israel, for that matter) provide a solution."

Notwithstanding such criticisms, BtS has become the poster child for groups like J Street and others on many North American campuses that want to engage in "honest debate" about the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. In reality these groups do nothing more than fuel a skewed view of Israel in order to pressure Israel to succumb to Palestinian demands, thereby only contributing to the isolation of the Jewish state. Further, it is also the pervasive tactic employed by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) in their political warfare against Israel. Read more ..

Book Review

Still More to Learn about Corporate Complicity with the Third Reich

June 28th 2013

The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact with Hitler

In 2000, while an editor at Crown Publishing, I acquired a book that later became an international sensation and a bestseller in the US. It was IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation by Edwin Black. I believed it was imperative that the book be published because it documented hitherto unknown revelations such as the fact that IBM’s punch card tabulation system was licensed to the Third Reich which then used the technology to catalog and keep track of Jews and others under its rule they deemed undesirables. Turned out that corporate complicity with Hitler was as American as cherry pie.

In the years since Black’s book was published, I’ve seen a lot of other histories of the Third Reich, but few have struck me as packing the same historical punch as the book on IBM. Until today, that is. Reading the NY Times on the web, I saw this headline, “Scholar Asserts That Hollywood Avidly Aided Nazis,” tipping an article about a forthcoming book, The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler, by Ben Urwand, a 35-year old historian from Australia.

The story by Jennifer Schuessler reports Urwand has found copious documentation showing how very willing Hollywood executives were to make their movies in ways that would please Nazi officials, including Hitler himself. Some of these execs were Jewish, but they cooperated anyway.

The Times reports that in Urwand’s book, “On page after page, he shows studio bosses, many of them Jewish immigrants, cutting films scene by scene to suit Nazi officials; producing material that could be seamlessly repurposed in Nazi propaganda films; and, according to one document, helping to finance the manufacture of German armaments.” Read more ..

The Way We Are

Restoring Sight to the Cataract-Blinded Poor

June 28th 2013


In China or Ethiopia, Rwanda or Nepal, the scenes are the same: crowds of patients waiting in the open air, bandages over their eyes. Each has been blind for months, years, decades, because of cataracts, the hardened, clouded lens tissue that causes most of the world’s blindness. Each underwent a ten-minute microsurgery barely 24 hours earlier, in temporary field hospitals where medical teams worked with assembly-line efficiency: making tiny slits in eyeballs, delicately removing cataracts, and inserting artificial lenses.

As the bandages come off, some people exclaim in joy, or do a little dance. Others have a wondering look, as they see the landscape, or the faces of family members again.

The two surgeons responsible for these scenes met in the Himalayas. Geoffrey Tabin, an American doctor educated at Yale and Harvard, was a passionate mountain climber when he met Sanduk Ruit, who had grown up in a poor Nepalese village, a ten-day walk from the nearest school. Ruit had studied medicine in India before returning to Nepal and embarking on a one-man effort to restore sight to Nepalese suffering from cataracts. In the developed world, cataracts are usually removed before they cause serious visual impairment. But in poorer nations, people often lose all sight, as the cataract hardens and covers the eyeball with a white veil. Even children may be afflicted, especially high in the Himalayas, where UV radiation from the sun damages the eye. Read more ..

The New Egypt

Protests Heat Up Across Egypt

June 28th 2013

Tahrir Square 22 nov 2011

Supporters and opponents of beleaguered Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi held demonstrations in different parts of Cairo, and elsewhere in Egypt, two days before an opposition rally is expected to draw an even larger turnout.

A few thousand Morsi supporters gathered in front of a mosque in the outlying Cairo district of Nasr City during Friday prayers. Many carried banners proclaiming support for the president and the crowd broke into periodic chants of “Islamic rule, Islamic rule.”

At the same time, anti-Morsi protesters chanted slogans calling for the president to resign, marching from at least three Cairo districts towards the city's iconic Tahrir Square.

In Egypt's second largest city of Alexandria, several thousand opponents of the president gathered in a seaside district, chanting slogans in favor of toppling the government.  Protesters also demanded that the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group stop meddling in politics. Reuters news agency reports that at least 36 people were wounded in clashes in Alexandria. Read more ..

The New Egypt

Egypt Will Erupt Again on June 30

June 28th 2013

Muslim Brotherhood bus burning 10 2012

Given the opposition's growing rage and the Brotherhood's increasingly confrontational stance, the upcoming nationwide protests are unlikely to end well.

The Middle Egypt governorate of Beni Suef, an agricultural province located 70 miles south of Cairo, is an Islamist stronghold. Islamists won 14 of Beni Suef's 18 seats during the first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections in December 2011, and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi won nearly two-thirds of Beni Suef's votes in the second round of the 2012 presidential elections en route to an otherwise narrow victory.

Yet Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, who teaches in the veterinary school of Beni Suef University, hasn't visited his home in the governorate since late March, when activists hoisted anti-Brotherhood banners and surrounded the mosque where he was scheduled to deliver a Friday sermon. "The people planned to attack him and hold him in the mosque," Waleed Abdel Monem, a former Muslim Brother who owns a socialist-themed cafe up the street from Badie's home, told me. The Supreme Guide's son now holds down the fort, and Brotherhood cadres are occasionally called upon to protect his home whenever demonstrations are announced on Facebook. Read more ..

China Rising

China's Space Program Tries to Catch Up

June 28th 2013

China Rocket

China's strategic focus on space is less about national pride than about the importance of space for both the military and economic progress of the country. The Chinese space program has developed rapidly over the past decade, illustrating the importance of the program to Beijing. Shenzhou 10, a 15-day mission that began June 11 and returned to Earth the morning of June 26 marked China's fifth manned mission to space. An increasing, ongoing presence in space is essential for civilian and military communications. Satellites' functions include navigation systems such as GPS, weather data and communications relays. But the significance of space goes beyond satellites. Technological advancement and development is required for countries such as China that want to participate in future resource development in space.

The Chinese space program officially began in 1958. Beijing launched its first earth-orbiting satellite in 1970, and while there were a series of launch failures in the 1990s, China carried out its first manned mission -- Shenzhou 5, which put a man in orbit -- in 2003. More manned missions would follow in 2005, 2008 and 2012. A major uptick in activity began in 2010, when China successfully completed 15 unmanned launches, including a lunar orbiting probe. Nineteen more launches would follow in 2011 and 2012. China is now one of only two countries -- Russia being the other -- actively putting people into space and plans to land an unmanned craft on the moon in late 2013. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Iran's Foreign Legion: The Role of Iraqi Shiite Militias in Syria

June 28th 2013

Syrian Fighters w/RPGs

As the war in Syria drags on, external actors may play an increasingly important role in tipping the balance through material support and sponsorship of individual armed units. One of the most significant international brigades currently fighting on the Assad regime's side is the Damascus-based Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas (LAFA), a collection of predominantly Iraqi Shiite fighters organized and supported by the Qods Force, an elite branch of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Though relatively small in size, LAFA could have a strategic impact on the war's course. More broadly, its expansion marks a potentially dangerous turn for the region, giving Tehran a transnational Shiite militant legion that it could use to bolster its allies outside Syria. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iranian Terrorism Under 'Moderate' Presidents

June 28th 2013


Hassan Rouhani's victory in Iran's presidential election has been widely heralded as a protest vote against the hardliners and a window of opportunity for diplomatic breakthrough with Western powers. But such assumptions beg the question: just how much moderation should be expected from a "moderate" Iranian president, particularly with regard to state sponsorship of terrorism? Past precedent suggests that expectations should be tempered.

Rouhani is not the first Iranian "moderate" to win the presidency. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, elected in 1989, was frequently described as a moderate as well. According to U.S. intelligence, however, he oversaw a long string of terrorist plots during his eight years in office.

The CIA linked Rafsanjani to terrorist plots as early as 1985, when he was serving as speaker of parliament. In a February 15, 1985, memo, the agency assessed that "Iranian-sponsored terrorism is the greatest threat to US personnel and facilities in the Middle East...Iranian-backed attacks increased by 30 percent in 1984, and the numbers killed in Iranian-sponsored attacks outpace fatalities in strikes by all other terrorist sponsors. Senior Iranian leaders such as Ayatollah Montazeri,...Prime Minister [Mir Hossein Mousavi], and Consultative Assembly speaker Rafsanjani are implicated in Iranian terrorism." Read more ..

Inside Qatar

Qatar's New Leader Replaces Long-Serving Prime Minister

June 28th 2013

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani

The new ruler of the strategically important Gulf state of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, has moved swiftly to replace the prime minister and foreign minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani (a.k.a. HBJ), a longtime interlocutor with Washington. The change, which follows yesterday's abdication by Emir Tamim's father, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, will be watched closely to see whether it affects Qatar's activist policy toward Syria, its backing of Hamas in Gaza, its financial support for the Morsi government in Egypt, and its high-profile international investments. Washington will also be concerned about retaining access to the giant al-Udeid Air Base outside the capital, which is extensively used by the U.S. Air Force.

Speaking on national television today, Tamim stated that he would follow in the path of his father, and that his country would not "take direction" in foreign affairs. He also noted that Qatar would respect "the sovereignty and integrity of all Arab lands" while remaining committed to the Palestinians in their struggle with Israel. He made no mention of the conflict in Syria. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Kenya Repurposing Satellite Dishes for Space Exploration

June 27th 2013


The construction of a huge radio telescope in South Africa is giving a boost to the science and space industries in Kenya.  The country’s top space physicist says telecommunication companies are leasing out their now-obsolete satellite dishes for use in the new project.

Several African countries are working to build a large radio telescope known as the Square Kilometer Array, or SKA.  The core station will be in South Africa, while other countries across the continent - Ghana, Mauritius, Botswana and Kenya - will host nodes that will operate together.

Professor Paul Baki, head of pure and applied science at the Technical University of Kenya, is looking for land to build on in the east African country.  Baki says Kenya's node of the SKA needs about one square kilometer of land that is free from electronic interference. Read more ..

The New Senegal

Obama Praises Democratic Progress in Senegal

June 27th 2013


President Barack Obama, visiting Senegal, praised the country's democratic progress, saying it sets an example for Africa.  Senegal was the first stop for Obama and his family on their weeklong trip to Africa that includes South Africa and Tanzania.

Thousands turned out to welcome America's first African-American president, on his first return to sub-Saharan Africa since 2009. At the presidential palace in Dakar, Obama and First Lady Michelle were welcomed by Senegalese President Macky Sall and his wife Mareme.

Bilateral talks covered a range of issues, from U.S. support for Senegal's democracy and infrastructure to joint security. President Obama's trip to Africa
President Obama praised Sall for his openness and anti-corruption efforts. He said Senegal is an example for Africa.

“It is moving in the right direction, with reforms to deepen democratic institutions and as more Africans across this continent stand up and demand governments that are accountable and serve the people, I believe Senegal can be a great example," said President Obama. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Nabucco Pipeline Suffers Setback As Rival Expected To Get Azeri Gas

June 27th 2013

Oil Pipes1

Ten years ago, hopes were high there would be a major pipeline connecting Europe directly to the gas fields of the Caspian Basin and the Middle East.

The pipeline, called Nabucco, was to run from Austria to Eastern Turkey, where it would receive gas via feeder pipelines from Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, and from Iran, Iraq, and Egypt.

But over the years, the grand ambitions of the Nabucco project have increasingly come to look more like a dream than any imminent reality.

The original scope of the project was cut back dramatically in May 2012 when the consortium backed away from plans to build the Turkey segment of the pipeline and to focus only on the European part. Similarly, the Nabucco consortium began to talk in terms of a pipeline with an initial capacity of just 10 billion cubic meters (bcm) per year rather than its originally planned 30 bcm. Read more ..

The Way We Are

We Ignore Joblessness Among the Elderly at Our Peril

June 27th 2013

Elderly man

The Great Recession's employment crisis is notable for two reasons. First, the number of long-term unemployed has been much higher than in prior recessions. The percent of unemployed who have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer has been above 40 percent since December 2009, far higher than the previous peak of 26 percent in 1983. Second, those over the age of 55 were particularly hard hit by unemployment.

The two stories are connected. According to our calculations with Bureau of Labor Statistics data, more than fifty percent of unemployed older workers were among the long-term unemployed in 2012. Prior to the recession, this number was 20 percent. Also, today this group accounts for more than 20 percent of all long-term unemployed workers. In other words, addressing the problem of long-term unemployment necessarily involves tackling the challenge of helping older workers find jobs.

To see how older workers respond to job loss, particularly a long spell of unemployment, we examined the Current Population Survey microdata from May 2012 to April 2013. We tracked individuals over the course of the year and noted changes in their situation between the beginning month of the sample and the last month. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Knesset Review Reveals: Israel Does Not Exist in PA Textbooks

June 27th 2013


The textbooks used in UNRWA-funded schools never acknowledge any Jewish rights in “Palestine”, nor any Jewish past in the Land of Israel, said Dr. Arnon Groiss, a respected expert in the promotion of Tolerance in Education at a briefing in the Knesset reviewing the Palestinian Authority Textbooks used in UNWRA schools.

Israel is almost never shown on any map and no city is ever identified as a Jewish city, he said, reiterating the extensive history of Anti-Israel propaganda in Arab textbooks.

The funding for the schools are provided by Western countries, led by the US, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Australia and others. "Israel is delegitimized, and demonized in these texts and no peaceful solution to Arab-Israel conflict is ever discussed', Groiss noted, adding, "The rights of 4.5 million Palestinians around the world is heavily promoted." The event was chaired by David Bedein, Director of the Near East Policy Research Center. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Israeli Doctors Save Syrian Lives

June 27th 2013


We treat patients regardless of religion, race, nationality and give the best care we can provide’ – Dr. Oscar Embon, Ziv Medical Center, Safed.

In critical condition with severe shrapnel injuries to their torso and limbs, bullet wounds from head to toe and open fractures — this is how Syrian patients arrive at Israeli hospitals in the north of the country. And they are all treated like any other patient.

“It’s our duty as a regional hospital, where we are located along the Lebanese border on one side and the Syrian border on the other side,” Dr. Amram Hadary, director of the trauma unit at Ziv Medical Center in Safed (Tsfat), stated. “We cannot ignore that the Syrian conflict is happening behind our door. We cannot close our eyes, ears and hearts to what is happening there. It’s a catastrophe.” Read more ..

Book Review

History is Only Inevitable in Retrospect

June 27th 2013


Hitlerland. Andrew Nagorski. Simon & Schuster. 2012. 400 pp.

Asking readers not to think about World War II in a book about the rise of Hitler is a tall order. But if you can read the public and private correspondence of American diplomats and journalists in Berlin between the wars as they were written—as contemporaneous commentary—Andrew Nagorski's Hitlerland is not only compelling, it is a warning.

Nagorski reminds us, "The unfolding of history only looks inevitable in retrospect," and "in retrospect" is how we learn. As the United States and its allies contemplate the war between radical Sunni expansionists and radical Shiite expansionists as it affects the Middle East and the West, Hitlerland has lessons.

The inter-war period of the 20th Century was a Golden Age for American journalists in Europe, and Berlin was the best seat in the house. Every major newspaper and radio station had a foreign correspondent. Dorothy Thompson, William Shirer, Bella Fromm, Howard K. Smith, Sigrid Schultz, S. Miles Bouton and others lived well and cultivated close social and working relations with American diplomats and German officials. Ernest Hemmingway, Sinclair Lewis and Thomas Wolfe dropped in. They began to arrive in the early 1920s, and they saw the privation of war, and the depression and chaos born of defeat. Ben Hecht, still a future star, wrote to his editor at The Chicago Daily News, "Germany is having a nervous breakdown. There is nothing sane to report."

Edgar Mowrer of The Chicago Daily News and his wife Lilian confessed to puzzlement over aspects of German behavior, such as the 150,000 organized German nudists about whom they wrote. Lilian Mowrer was troubled by the "loose emotional fervor" and "ardent yearning for something 'different'" among the nudists and concluded that their feelings "could be just as easily canalized and turned in any other direction by an unscrupulous leader interested in using it for his own ends." She asked Edgar, "Do you think Germans are madder than any other peoples? They seem so unbalanced…so hysterical." "They lack coherence," he replied. "They are so rich in intellect and poor in common sense. And there is almost nothing they can't persuade themselves to believe." Read more ..

The New Egypt

Egyptian Government Braces for New Protests

June 27th 2013

Jump at Cops

In a display of widespread public dissatisfaction with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, the nation's first elected leader, opposition groups plan to hold anti-government protests on June 30, the one-year anniversary of Morsi's inauguration. With increasing demands for his ouster following economic difficulties and executive overreach, government officials have been preparing extensive security measures in the weeks leading up to the potentially volatile demonstrations.

Egypt's Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim announced last week that tunnels and ferries on the Suez Canal would be shut down, blocking jihadists from capitalizing on the protests, effectively sealing off the Sinai Peninsula from the rest of Egypt. Furthermore, clan chiefs in Sinai have joined together to ensure the protection of public property. The dramatically increased security is intended to avert a repeat of the chaos during the 2011 protests that forced the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.  Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

Amid Islamization and Anti-Semitism, Is Turkey Fit for EU Membership?

June 27th 2013

Turk flags

It’s a familiar pattern. The citizens of a Middle Eastern state explode with frustration against their corrupt, repressive government. They gather for noisy, impassioned demonstrations in their capital city. The authorities react violently. Images of middle-aged women and wheelchair-bound individuals being tear-gassed, clubbed, and sprayed with water cannon race across social media platforms like wildfire. The protests then spread to other cities. The authorities step up their repression.

And then, inevitably, the country’s political leaders snarl that outside forces are stoking the discontent. Newspapers and websites are suddenly full of lists of American neoconservatives, illustrated with lurid graphics that superimpose the logos of organizations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) over pictures of demonstrations. No one needs to say the word “Jew” in order to know who’s being referred to here. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

White House Hosts Israel-Hating Radical Muslim

June 27th 2013

Obama pensive with flag

White House officials met this month with Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah, a deputy of radical Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who has been banned from entering the United States, reported the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT).

The June 13 meeting took place on the same day the Obama administration announced plans to arm Syria's rebel forces, the report noted. IPT noted that al-Qaradawi, the founder of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), endorses Palestinian Authority Arab suicide bombers and supports Hamas in its fight against Israel. The report also said that bin Bayyah, like al-Qaradawi, also "refuses to label the acts of groups such as Hamas, Hizbullah or the Islamic Jihad as terrorism." The White House reportedly sought the meeting with bin Bayyah, the IPT report declared. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Marriage on the Rocks: Economic and Social Consequences for Kids

June 26th 2013


It is usually assumed that marriage and family are the bedrock on which societies are built. Parents provide the necessities of life for their offspring; parents are children’s first teachers; parents provide an important part of the discipline children need to learn and thrive; parents teach values and appropriate behavior to their children; and the extended family is a source of traditions and values that provide a sense of belonging to something big. But after four decades of fundamental changes in the structure of American families, it is wise to consider the impacts of these changes on subsequent generations and the traditional way of American life.

First, the changes. Here is a succinct summary: between 1970 and 2010, marriage rates declined by nearly 75 percent for 20 to 24 year old women and more than 30 percent for 30 to 34 year old women; nonmarital births increased by over 280 percent; the percentage of women age 35 who are single with children increased by over 120 percent; and about 60 percent of men and women who marry cohabited prior to their first marriage. These are momentous changes in the American way of love, romance, and family formation. The fact that these trends have been going on for four decades, mostly at a fairly steady clip, leads to the conclusion that they are permanent and will be difficult to change. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Supreme Court Tips the Gay Marriage Scales

June 26th 2013

Gay Marriage

What will be the effects of the Supreme Court's twin rulings on gay marriage? My first-blush take is that the rulings will have a modest effect on legal doctrine but a major effect on cultural momentum.

The Supreme Court did two things today. First, it overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The federal government will now have to recognize states' same-sex marriages--mine among them--as valid for federal purposes. But, second, the court declined to make same-sex marriage a federal constitutional right. It punted on that issue. As a result, gay marriage will go back into effect in California (after a four-year hiatus), but nothing will change in other states.

California, however, is a big change all by itself. The state is so big that it takes the percentage of Americans living in gay-marriage states up to 30 percent, from 18 percent. Soon, when Illinois or a few other states come in, more than a third of the country, by population, will allow gay marriage. If that is not mainstream, nothing is. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Ms. Davis Goes to Austin

June 26th 2013

Texas state capitol

I have a dream. The date is Nov. 1, 2014. The place is Austin, Texas. The candidate is state Sen. Wendy Davis (D), nominated by Texas Democrats to run for governor after a grassroots groundswell that began with her courageous filibuster against an extremist anti-choice bill that was pushed by a Texas Republican governor — a governor who recently declared war against the University of Texas, against pay equity for women and against voting rights and fair representation for Hispanics, and now wages war against the right of choice even for women who are raped.

I have been singing the praises of Wendy Davis of Texas for some time now. If the Good Lord would grant me one political wish, it would be that every Democrat at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue would battle for principle with the spunk, heart, courage, tenacity and grit that the gentlewoman from Fort Worth has shown throughout her career. Read more ..

American Life

Even Non-Resident Fathers Can Keep Sons Out of Trouble

June 26th 2013

father and son

Fathers who don't live with their sons still can influence them away from risky behaviors, even if they reside in communities of high crime and poverty. New research from the University of Michigan School of Public Health measured the impact of a federally funded program called Fathers and Sons, which strives to improve the parenting confidence and skills of nonresident fathers and prevent youth violent behaviors.

The program involved African American fathers and their 8-12 year old sons.

"The Fathers and Sons program improved nonresident African American fathers' ability to talk with their sons about avoiding risky behaviors, such as early sexual initiation and violent behaviors during late childhood and preadolescence," said Cleopatra Howard Caldwell, associate professor of health behavior and health education, who led the study that is featured in the July/August issue of Child Development. Read more ..

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