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Archive for March 2013

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The Edge of Terrorism

Latin America’s Narco-Terrorism Nexus and The Obama Administration

March 31st 2013

Mexican Drug Violence

"Terrorists use drug profits to fund their cells to commit acts of murder,” said President George W. Bush, on December 14, 2001. “It’s so important for Americans to know that the traffic in drugs finances the work of terror, sustaining terrorists.”

On March 19, 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft went on to say: “Terrorism and drugs go together like rats and the bubonic plague…. They thrive in the same conditions, support each other, and feed off each other.” Alas, the water flowing through the Potomac seems to have swept this  acknowledgement down to Chesapeake Bay, off to the Atlantic Ocean. Incredibly, twenty-one years later, on March 20, 2013, Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, gave a press conference at the Pentagon to voice his concern about "A potential connection between crime syndicates and terrorists in Latin America.” Read more ..


The Earth on Edge

Evidence Ancient Asteroid Caused Global Firestorm

March 31st 2013

Phoebe from Cassini

A new look at conditions after a Manhattan-sized asteroid slammed into a region of Mexico in the dinosaur days indicates the event could have triggered a global firestorm that would have burned every twig, bush and tree on Earth and led to the extinction of 80 percent of all Earth's species, says a new University of Colorado Boulder study.

Led by Douglas Robertson of  CIRES, the team used models that show the collision would have vaporized huge amounts of rock that were then blown high above Earth's atmosphere. The re-entering ejected material would have heated the upper atmosphere enough to glow red for several hours at roughly 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit -- about the temperature of an oven broiler element -- killing every living thing not sheltered underground or underwater.

The CU-led team developed an alternate explanation for the fact that there is little charcoal found at the Cretaceous-Paleogene, or K-Pg, boundary some 66 million years ago when the asteroid struck Earth and the cataclysmic fires are believed to have occurred. The CU researchers found that similar studies had corrected their data for changing sedimentation rates. When the charcoal data were corrected for the same changing sedimentation rates they show an excess of charcoal, not a deficiency, Robertson said. Read more ..


North Korea on Edge

North Korea Declares 'State of War'

March 31st 2013

N Korean Missiles

North Korea said Saturday that it was entering a “state of war” against the South, escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula. “From this time on, the North-South relations will be entering the state of war and all issues raised between the North and the South will be handled accordingly,” said a statement from Pyongyang’s official news agency KCNA.

The statement threatened “all-out war and nuclear war” against the United States. “We will first target and dissolve mainland United States, Hawaii and Guam, and United States military based in South Korea,” said North Korea.

The declaration from the North is the latest salvo as Pyongyang ratchets up its rhetoric in anger at heightened UN sanctions implemented after the regime conducted its third nuclear test, and amid military exercises between South Korea and the U.S. Read more ..


Broken Government

Easter Has Friends on K Street

March 31st 2013

Lobbyist

The Easter Bunny — that cotton-tailed purveyor of egg-shaped confections — will deliver his annual baskets of goodies this Sunday. But not without some help from K Street lobbyists.

Organizations linked to the Easter holiday and its furry mascot have ramped up their efforts to influence lawmakers, according to federal lobbying data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Consider the National Confectioners Association, the trade group for all things cream-filled and candy-coated, which spent a record $420,000 on federal lobbying in 2012.

The association hired 20 lobbyists last year to push Congress for sweet deals on bills such as the Free Market Sugar Act and the Free Sugar Act of 2011. Nine of those lobbyists have previously worked for the federal government in some capacity.  Among them is William J. Morley, of the D.C.-based Altrius Group, who also lobbied on behalf of the Central American Sugar Association and the American Chamber of Commerce in Columbia. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

EPA's Low-Sulfur Gasoline Rules Fuel Fight with GOP Over Prices

March 31st 2013

Gas

The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday unveiled draft rules on auto emissions and low-sulfur gasoline designed to curb smog-forming, soot and toxic pollution, drawing attacks from Republicans who allege the mandate will increase consumer costs.

The agency estimates that by 2030 the rules will annually avoid up to 2,400 premature deaths, 23,000 cases of respiratory ailments in children and other gains, totaling between $8 billion and $23 billion in yearly health-related benefits.

Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe cast the rules, which have faced considerable delays, as a boost to the auto industry and public health that won't hurt consumers. The agency estimates the rule will increase pump prices by less than a penny per gallon.

“The Obama Administration has taken a series of steps to reinvigorate the auto industry and ensure that the cars of tomorrow are cleaner, more efficient and saving drivers money at the pump and these common-sense cleaner fuels and cars standards are another example of how we can protect the environment and public health in an affordable and practical way,” he said in a statement. Read more ..


Destination Kenya

Ali Barbour Cave Restaurant in Kenya Offers Flintstone Fine Dining

March 31st 2013

El Castillo cave art Spain

Eating at unique restaurants around the world is just one of the perks of a traveler’s life, but these experiences are always more fun when shared with our readers – especially when it involves subterranean spaces, that brought to mind these 700 year old cave homes in Iran.

Thought to be up to 180,000 years old, Ali Barbour Cave Restaurant is a multi-chamber coral cave in Kenya’s Diani Beach. Converted upon the property owner’s surprise discovery three decades ago, the fine dining establishment is now world renowned not only for its remarkable ambience, but for dishing up some of the best food we have eaten in the country to date.

Owned by a family that emigrated here from the UK in the mid 1950s, the Ali Barbour Cave Restaurant is located just a few hundred meters from the Indian Ocean and beautiful white sandy beaches. There tourists, Italian expatriates, “beach boys” and even a man who walks around with three camels while away the hours soaking up the sun. Read more ..


Broken Economy

Is a New Housing Crisis In the Offing?

March 31st 2013

Home Foreclosure

Jim Carr's response to my Senate testimony contains a major misconception about the 2008 financial crisis that is at the bottom of the left's mistaken view of the crisis. Unfortunately, that mistake has also shaped the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's definition of the Qualified Mortgage (QM), so that-unless QM is changed--we will again bring about a collapsed housing market at some time in the future.

The left's fundamental mistake is to believe that the low quality mortgages that became delinquent and failed in 2007 and 2008 were the result of predatory lending. We don't have a very good definition of predatory lending--some think it is defined as a high cost loan--but we can pretty well characterize what is not predatory lending.

A loan to someone who has a 580 FICO score is not predatory; a loan to someone who makes a 3 percent downpayment is not predatory; and a loan to someone who has a 50 percent debt-to-income ratio is not predatory. Yet loans like this--which are currently insured by FHA--have claim rates through the normal credit cycle of 8-10 years of 27 percent. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Will Russia Take ‘Yes’ for an Answer?

March 31st 2013

THAAD Missile Intercept

When Secretary of State Chuck Hagel announced this month that the Pentagon would increase the number of missile interceptors in Alaska, he noted that the U.S. missile defense program in Europe would be restructured. This means cancellation of Phase 4 of the plan, which called for the deployment of upgraded interceptors in Eastern Europe.

The decision could open the way for resolving U.S.-Russian differences over missile defense, one of the thorniest problems on the bilateral agenda, and remove an obstacle to further nuclear arms reductions — if Moscow can say something other than “nyet.”

The initial Russian reaction gave little ground for optimism. But Russian officials often react slowly to new ideas, so we may not yet have the final word.

The Obama administration unveiled its “European Phased Adaptive Approach” in 2009 with the goal of deploying increasingly capable SM-3 missile interceptors in anticipation that Iran would develop missiles with increasingly longer ranges. Moscow initially appeared to welcome the approach.

In November 2010, NATO and Russia agreed to explore a cooperative missile defense for Europe. Talks between U.S. and Russian officials in early 2011 yielded significant convergence on questions such as transparency, joint exercises and jointly manned NATO-Russia centers to share early warning data and plan how NATO and Russia missile defense systems would work together. Read more ..


The Edge of Education

Teacher Finds Artful Way to Inspire Students

March 31st 2013

Hagen i Åsgårdstrand by Edvard Munch

Teacher Ryan Martinez knows how to encourage his students. "If there is silence, there is an opportunity for music," he says. "If there is a white surface, then there is an opportunity for color."

Martinez teaches French at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland, outside Washington, where his classroom is decorated with colorful ceiling tiles. "As a teacher, you want to make your classroom space one that reflects your own approach to teaching," he says. "And when you make that an inviting, stimulating type of atmosphere, it makes it a more pleasurable learning experience."

It all started with one tile a year ago. "I brought it home. I just had some blue paint and sort of just covered it, and I installed it," Martinez says. "The students noticed that. I mean, immediately, it jumped out because, in an otherwise white ceiling, all of a sudden you have some color." French teacher Ryan Martinez has decorated his high school classroom with colorfully painted ceiling tiles. Read more ..


Islam on Edge

Saudi Religious Police Work to Polish Image

March 31st 2013

Muslim-Prayers

In January 2012, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia dismissed the head of the powerful religious police and replaced him with a reported moderate — a move designed to appease growing complaints about abuses of power by a much-feared group known as the mutaween.

Since then, the new leader, Sheikh Abdul Latif Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, has restricted the mutaween’s powers. Even so, many Saudis, especially women, say the changes are not enough.

Hardly a week seems to go by that Saudi Arabia’s religious police don’t make the headlines — breaking up drug rings, arresting bootleggers, admonishing women for what they consider immodest dress. Sometimes the mutaween themselves become objects of ridicule — such as when they shut down a dinosaur exhibit in a shopping mall or banned cats and dogs as pets. Read more ..


Inside Christianity

Christians Around the World Celebrate Easter

March 31st 2013

Pope Francis1 March 2013

Pope Francis celebrated his first Easter Mass in Saint Peter’s Square attended by a huge crowd. In his Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the world) message and blessing, he called for peace in the world. Tens of thousands turned out for the first Easter Mass celebrated by Pope Francis, in a square beautifully adorned by multi-colored flowers and shrubs.

A procession of cardinals and priests filed out of Saint Peter's basilica at the start of the service. Pope Francis was among them dressed in simple white vestments. The icon of the resurrected Jesus was unveiled and the pope bowed his head as the Gospel was sung in Latin.

At the end of the Mass, the pope greeted the cardinals one by one. Then he toured Saint Peter's Square in his white open-air jeep as the thousands present cheered and waved flags. Pope Francis stopped to kiss babies. In particular, he hugged a disabled child for a few moments. In his Easter message from the central balcony of the basilica, Pope Francis called for peace for the Middle East, and particularly between Israelis and Palestinians, who he hoped might willingly and courageously resume negotiations to end a conflict that has lasted all too long. Read more ..


Film Review

Stoker: A Film Where More is Less

March 31st 2013

Stoker

Stoker. Director: Chan-wook Park. Starring: Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode. Length: 90 mins.

In real life, as we’re often reminded, anything can happen. It’s one of the things that makes it so real. In the movies, however, that is not the case. In the movies, what happens determines, and is determined by, what kind of movie it is. What happens in Chan-wook Park’s Stoker for its first 90 minutes makes it into one kind of movie; what happens in its last ten minutes makes it into quite another. To be specific, it is, first, a Hitchcock-style thriller — and there are allusions to the great man’s Shadow of a Doubt of 1943, particularly in the central presence of a mysteriously sinister Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten there, Matthew Goode here) with an unhealthy interest in a young girl (Teresa Wright there, Mia Wasikowska there) — but without Hitchcock’s skill in plotting and suspense. Still, the movie manages to hold our interest for so long as the director is able to keep a tight grip on his materials, which he finally allows to get away from him in the end.

These materials include the erotic awakening of Miss Wasikowska’s character, the 18-year-old India, and her rivalry with her mother (Nicole Kidman) — both over her recently-dead father (Dermot Mulroney in flashbacks) and the recently-arrived Uncle Charlie — as well as a terrible but only gradually-revealed family secret. But in the last ten minutes it all falls apart and becomes just another boring fantasy, like (nearly) every other movie out of Hollywood these days. Psychopathology, once it has been revealed in all its horror, appears to become contagious and, therefore, not such a big scary deal as we might otherwise have supposed — and as Hitchcock would have portrayed it. Like zombies or vampires, these human beings are transformed by the bite of their predator into predators themselves, and the murders with which the movie is replete will presumably go on indefinitely, since this is a movie and movies love murder. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Smoking Immediately Upon Waking: Increase Risk of Lung and Oral Cancer?

March 30th 2013

The sooner a person smokes a cigarette upon waking in the morning, the more likely he or she is to acquire lung or oral cancer, according to Penn State researchers.

"We found that smokers who consume cigarettes immediately after waking have higher levels of NNAL -- a metabolite of the tobacco-specific carcinogen NNK -- in their blood than smokers who refrain from smoking a half hour or more after waking, regardless of how many cigarettes they smoke per day," said Steven Branstetter, assistant professor of biobehavioral health.

According to Branstetter, other research has shown that NNK (4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-[3-pyridyl]-1-butanone) induces lung tumors in several rodent species. Levels of NNAL (4-(methylnitrosamnino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanol) in the blood can therefore predict lung cancer risk in rodents as well as in humans. In addition, NNAL levels are stable in smokers over time, and a single measurement can accurately reflect an individual's exposure.

Branstetter and his colleague Joshua Muscat, professor of public health sciences, examined data on 1,945 smoking adult participants from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey who had provided urine samples for analysis of NNAL. These participants also had provided information about their smoking behavior, including how soon they typically smoked after waking. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

A Low-Power 60 GHz Radio Frequency Chip for Mobile Devices

March 30th 2013

Computer chips

As the capacity of handheld devices increases to accommodate a greater number of functions, these devices have more memory, larger display screens, and the ability to play higher definition video files. If the users of mobile devices, including smartphones, tablet PCs, and notebooks, want to share or transfer data on one device with that of another device, a great deal of time and effort are needed.

As a possible method for the speedy transmission of large data, researchers are studying the adoption of gigabits per second (Gbps) wireless communications operating over the 60 gigahertz (GHz) frequency band. Some commercial approaches have been introduced for full-HD video streaming from a fixed source to a display by using the 60 GHz band. But mobile applications have not been developed yet because the 60 GHz radio frequency (RF) circuit consumes hundreds of milliwatts (mW) of DC power. Read more ..


GOP What Next

Post–Iraq War Lessons for the GOP

March 30th 2013

US troops in Iraq

Is the Iraq War to blame for the mess we are in? Now, I should qualify that question by explaining “mess” and “we.” By “mess,” I mean the dawn of Barack Obama’s second term, the predictably catastrophic rollout of Obamacare, the exploding debt and deficit, the stimulus boondoggles, etc. By “we,” I mean conservatives (particularly those, like me, who supported the war), but also anyone else who doesn’t think Obama has done a bang-up job.

There seems to be a growing consensus that the answer to that question is “yes.” In a recent column, the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein writes, “It’s hard to see how Obamacare would have become law if Bush had never invaded Iraq.” New York Times columnist Ross Douthat says the war is “responsible for liberalism’s current political and cultural ascendance.” In the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan laments that the war “muddied up the meaning of conservatism and bloodied up its reputation.” She even goes so far as to assert that the war “ended the Republican political ascendance that had begun in 1980.” Read more ..


Cuba on Edge

Preserving Stability in Cuba

March 30th 2013

Cuba Street Scene

Cuba under Raúl Castro has entered a new period of economic, social, and political transformation. Reforms instituted within the past few years have brought the expansion of private sector entrepreneurial activity, including lifting restrictions on the sales of residential real estate, automobiles, and electronic goods. Additional reforms included, more than a million hectares of idle land has been leased to private farmers, where citizens have been granted permission to stay in hotels previously reserved for tourists, and freedom being granted for most Cubans to travel abroad. Stating that it was time for the “gradual transfer” of “key roles to new generations,” President Raúl Castro announced that he will retire by 2018, and named as his possible successor a man who was not even born at the time of the Cuban Revolution.

The twilight of the Castro era presents challenges and opportunities for U.S. policy makers. Normalization of relations is inevitable, regardless of timing, yet external and internal factors may accelerate or retard the process. The death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is likely to undermine the already dysfunctional Cuban economy, if it leads to reductions in oil imports and other forms of aid. This could bring social chaos, especially among the island’s disaffected youth. Such an outcome would generate adverse consequences for U.S. national and regional security. To maintain Cuba’s social and economic stability while reforms are maturing, the United States must throw itself open to unrestricted bilateral trade with all Cuban enterprises, both private and state-owned. Read more ..


Book Review

Why So Many Predictions Fail - But Some Don't

March 30th 2013

The Signal and the Noise

The Signal and the Noise. Nate Silver. Penguin Press. 2012. 544 pp.

This one almost got away. Though I was a faithful reader of Nate Silver's 538 blog in The New York Times in the months running up to the presidential election -- like a lot of Democrats it gave me a serenity I otherwise would not have had -- the release of his first book fell through the cracks. I kept meaning to get around to it, partially put off by its length and my numbers phobia, though I bought a copy for my University of Chicago economics-majoring son (Silver is an alumnus of UC). When my son left it behind for me after a recent trip home, I finally got around to it. The Signal and the Noise was published and marketed as a book for the political season, which I'm sure made sense from a publicity standpoint. But it has a vitality and durability far beyond that. The paperback edition appears to be months away; when that moment arrives, I believe it will become a perennial.

As much as anything else the book is a study of epistemology, and a brief for the necessity and reality of uncertainty in everyday life. That's not because humans are flawed (though of course they are), or because Big Data has limits (it certainly does, as the book is at some pains to explain), but because our world is one of probabilities rather than fixed laws awaiting discovery and decoding. And yet for all the mistakes of recent years -- the failures to predict the financial crisis and 9/11 principal among them -- Silver argues it is possible to think about, and calculate, predictions that have utility in everyday life (poker, weather, athletic events) as well as in broader realms (financial markets, earthquakes, climate change). One can get better at predicting the way that one can get better at playing baseball: great hitters only make it to base a minority of the time, and yet compile a productive of record of consistency that's difficult for others to duplicate. The comparison is not incidental: Silver started his professional career by developing a system of forecasting player performance. Read more ..


The North Korean Threat

North Korea Threatens to Close Factories It Runs With South

March 30th 2013

Kim Jong-Un

Bellicose North Korea has found a way to wratchet up its bellicosity by threatening to close a factory jointly operated with South Korea. The New Yorek Times reports: "The industrial park, the eight-year-old Kaesong complex in the North Korean border town of the same name, is a crucial source of badly needed cash for the heavily sanctioned North. It funnels more than $92 million a year in wages for 53,400 North Koreans employed there, and its operation has survived despite years of military tensions. The latest threat to close down Kaesong came amid a torrent of bellicose statements by the North in recent days, widely seen as a strategy to increase pressure on South Korea and the United States to soften their policies on the North. Although South Korean officials reasserted that they were ready to retaliate if the North committed any military provocations, they said they saw no imminent sign of any such attacks. On Saturday, cross-border traffic operated as normal, allowing hundreds of South Koreans to travel to and from Kaesong.

"Over 300 South Koreans remained in the complex, where 123 South Korean textile and other labor-intensive factories employ the North Korean workers, at an average monthly wage of $144. The fate of Kaesong is seen as a crucial test of how far North Korea is willing to take its recent threats against the South. Its continued operation was often seen as a sign that Pyongyang’s verbal militancy was not necessarily matched by its actions.“The South Korean puppet forces are left with no face to make complaint even though we ban the South side’s personnel’s entry into the zone and close it,” North Korea said Saturday in a statement carried by its official Korean Central News Agency. It said its dignity was insulted by South Korean news media reports that suggested the North kept the complex open to obtain hard currency." Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Shell to Shut Down Major Pipeline in Nigeria

March 30th 2013

Oil Pipes2

Shell Nigeria, one of the largest oil companies in the Niger Delta, is planning to shut down one of the most important pipelines in the country because of 'unprecedented' levels of oil theft this year.  Observers say repairing the damaged pipeline will not fix the problem.

Shutting down a 150,000 barrel a day oil pipeline is a big deal but Shell Petroleum Development Company in Nigeria says it has no choice. It says it has to shut down the Nembe Creek Trunkline, a major oil export pipe, to repair holes drilled by oil thieves.  Shell declined to say when it expects the pipeline to re-open.

Security forces say they are successfully combating oil thieves but Shell says sabotage has increased dramatically this year. Joseph Adheke, an oil worker, says people are buying, selling and transporting illegal oil in plain sight on the Niger Delta creeks. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Seeks $21 Billion in New Public Works Projects

March 30th 2013

Obama Crowd

President Barack Obama called Friday for $21 billion in public and private investment in roads, bridges and other public projects.  The president is aiming to reassure Americans that he remains focused on the economic recovery. President Obama said rebuilding infrastructure, with the help of private investment, is one of the best ways to put more Americans to work.

The president made his appeal at the port of Miami, Florida, where public and private money are paying for $2 billion in upgrades.

“There are few more important things we can do to create jobs right now and strengthen our economy over the long haul than rebuilding the infrastructure that powers our businesses and our economy - our roads, our bridges, our schools, and our ports, just like this one," said President Obama. The president wanted to show that the White House is still concentrating on the economy, despite prominent campaigns for gun control and immigration reform. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Climate Change, Dams Threaten Mekong Livelihoods

March 30th 2013

Thailand flooding portside

Scientists meeting in the Thai capital have warned extreme weather caused by climate change will reduce fish stocks and major crops in the Mekong River Basin if countries in Southeast Asia fail to adapt. However, they also warn dam building, much of it for hydropower, is the largest single threat to fisheries that sustain millions of people.

An estimated 60 million fishermen and farmers depend on the Mekong River for its rich nutrients and abundant fish. A new study by a group of scientists said by 2050 climate change could raise temperatures in parts of the Mekong basin twice as fast as the global average.

That would intensify extreme weather events, such as flooding, and reduce fish and crop production says study leader Jeremy Carew-Reid. He said, "In Laos alone there are some 700 species that are used by families to sustain their livelihoods. We know so little about them." While some species will benefit from hotter climates, important crops such as coffee in Vietnam and rice in Thailand could be forced to move. Read more ..


Cyprus on Edge

Picking Up the Cyprus Geopolitical Pieces

March 30th 2013

Putin

It's early on but some new disturbing geopolitical trends are emerging or being emphasized from the Cyprus Financial Crisis that go far beyond continuing the very real threat to the Euro and the whole economic structure of the European Union. Offstage, it has exposed the growing deterioration of the Russian regime of Vladimir Putin, dramatizing the question of how the world is to cope with a rapidly diminishing former superpower but one still armed with nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic delivery systems.

The foolishness of the Main-Stream Media blather about Moscow using the crisis to reinstall itself as a Mediterranean power, or indeed a major force beyond the confines of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, became quickly self-evident. The fact is that the once vaunted Soviet Black Sea fleet is now a pile of rusting junk, still anchored in Sevastopol by permission of Ukraine. Moscow and Kyiv, where there is now a more Russian-friendly regime, talk of swapping the Kremlin's gas for Ukraine's refurbishing this fleet from Ukraine plants is wishful-thinking on both sides.  

Moscow, increasingly feeling the heat of competitive lower cost gas producers for its northern monopoly European markets, is being left even further high and dry by the shale revolution's dynamiting of long-term energy prices. And Stalin did his work well: the dispersal of the Soviet military industrial complex for internal security reasons left a decapitated post-Soviet Moscow vulnerable with its various military manufacturing and test units in a half dozen independent countries now disorganized, disconnected and not always cooperative. Furthermore, the brief Yeltsin Boom detoured young workers out of the former all-powerful Soviet weapons complex and even the Indians are complaining of the quality of Russian exports as the Soviet overinvestment in military technology winds down. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Americans Support Legalizing Undocumented Immigrants

March 29th 2013

Latino immigration rally

A new survey finds the majority of Americans say there should be a way for foreigners living illegally in the United States to stay in the country if they meet certain conditions.

The study published Thursday by the Pew Research Center shows 71 percent of Americans favor granting legal status to the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. What kind of legal status, though, is a more divisive issue. Forty-three percent of the public supports a path to citizenship, while 27 percent prefers just legal residency.

 The United States is struggling with a 7.7 percent unemployment rate, a condition that in the past has motivated many native-born Americans to accuse foreigners of stealing jobs and using up social resources. Despite the sluggish economy, Pew’s national survey of 1,501 adults conducted earlier this month found that “overall attitudes about immigrants in the United States are more positive than negative.” Read more ..


The North Korea Threat

North Korea Readies Rockets After US Military Drills

March 29th 2013

North Korean rocket Apr 2012

North Korea put its missile units on standby on Friday, and the country's leader, Kim Jong Un, threatened to "settle accounts" after the United States flew nuclear-capable stealth bombers over the Korean peninsula as part of South Korean military drills.

Tensions in the region have been on the rise since Pyongyang's nuclear test in February, which led to additional sanctions and penalties from the United Nations.

According to the official North Korean news agency, Jong Un signed a rocket preparation plan at midnight and ordered troops on standby for a potential strike against South Korea or the United States.

The Korean leader "judged the time has come to settle accounts with the U.S. imperialists in view of the prevailing situation."  Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Thursday that the provocations were "very dangerous." "We must make clear that these provocations by the North are taken by us very seriously and we'll respond to that," he told reporters at the Pentagon. Read more ..


Edge of the Universe

Does the Higgs Boson Spell Doom for the Universe

March 29th 2013

protoplanetary disk

An article in the Scientific American speculates that what we now know about the so-called "God Particle" may spell doom for the universe as we know it.

The article states: "Physicists recently confirmed that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, the particle physics laboratory in Geneva, had indeed found a Higgs boson last July, marking a culmination of one of the longest and most expensive searches in science. The finding also means that our universe could be doomed to fall apart. "If you use all the physics that we know now and you do what you think is a straightforward calculation, it is bad news," says Joseph Lykken, a theorist who works at the Fermilab National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois. "It may be that the universe we live in is inherently unstable."

The Higgs boson helps explain why particles have the mass they do. The Higgs particle that the LHC has found possesses a mass of approximately 126 giga-electron volts (GeV)—roughly the combined mass of 126 protons (hydrogen nuclei). (One GeV equals a billion electron volts.)" Read more ..


India on Edge

Brahmanism in Manipur: A Perspective on Social Stigma

March 29th 2013

Dalit Woman in native dress

The Indian concept of racism cannot be understood without understanding caste and caste that includes the Manu Smriti, a sacred handbook for Brahmins. Racism is known as apartheid or xenophobia in western societies. This form of racism is based on one’s class, race, and color, whereas in India, caste is based on Brahmanical philosophy and is religiously sanctioned. The changes in the economic, educational, and political condition in western societies led them to help eliminate apartheid in South Africa and similarly in America these conditions led to a beginning of social justice for the African Americans. Whereas, the changes of the economic, educational, and political opportunities in India have not made any difference for India’s marginalised people.

In the western concept of apartheid and racism, no person is defiled or polluted by touching or being touched by a black, but in India even the shadow of an untouchable upon a person of the upper caste defiles. They need to go through a ceremonial cleansing ritual. No white home or church is polluted when a black person enters, but among Indian societies, if a Dalit enters the home of Brahmans then the upper caste is polluted. Caste runs and controls every aspect of Indian society from birth to death, and no one has been able to expunge its pervasive influence. Read more ..


The Media on Edge

A Little Village in The Hills, and The Monsters It Spawns

March 29th 2013

Israeli Flag being burned

If you want to affect how people think about an issue, putting your case onto the cover of the New York Times Magazine must be one of the most effective things to do. And, given the intense competition, one of the hardest.

So if the editors of the NYT (108 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other news organization; 30 million unique visitors per month to its website; the largest local metropolitan newspaper in the United States – according to Wikipedia) give you the cover of the prestigious Magazine, it’s a massive vote of confidence, a huge privilege, a platform of the most effective kind that (probably) can't be bought for money. Friends have pointed us to this week’s NYT Magazine cover story, published today. It’s devoted to a Palestinian Arab village set in the hills a few kilometers north of where we live in Jerusalem. Read more ..


Democracy on Edge

The Organization of American States Preserves Democratic Charter–For Now!

March 29th 2013

Chavez and Ahmadinejad

A high wire act played out over a 12-hour session of the General Assembly last week at the Organization of American States (OAS): Ecuador and Venezuela threatened to walk out unless their demands were met. Considerable tensions existed within the Hall of the Americas as the foreign ministers witnessed another threat to the organization’s integrity. This time, the contest was over the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Since 1959, the IACHR has taken up and defended the rights of children, of women, of indigenous communities, of sexual minorities, persons deprived of liberty, afro-descendents, people with disabilities, migrants, defenders of human rights: in short, people in vulnerable situations. The IAHCR and its judicial arm, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have continued to denounce and sanction violations of human rights. Throughout the Chilean, Argentinean and Brazilian military dictatorships of the 1970s and early 1980s, the commission and the court played key roles in making visible the victims of abuse. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Afghans Failing Security Test In Badakhshan

March 29th 2013

Afgan Troops

For years, Badakhshan Province enjoyed life away from the action, an island of stability as war engulfed the rest of Afghanistan. But as the broader conflict winds down, the northeastern province is offering a bleak view of the future.

That's because NATO last year handed over security duties in Badakhshan exclusively to the Afghan National Army (ANA) and National Police (ANP), but the transition has coincided with a spike in violence and increased militant activity.

The region is an ideal testing ground of Afghanistan's ability to secure remote areas on its own. It boasts the types of mountainous valleys and rugged terrain used as safe haven by militants throughout the country. It shares borders with three neighboring states -- China, Tajikistan, and Pakistan. And it is an important transit route for the booming opium trade. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Solar-Powered Plane to Soar Over US

March 29th 2013

airport crowd

Solar Impulse - a solar-powered Swiss plane - will take to the skies over the United States later this year, flying from the west coast to the east coast, without a drop of fuel.

The mission's two pilots, who are also the co-founders of Solar Impulse, told reporters at Moffett Air Field in California that the plan is to fly to New York in five legs, landing in major airports in each of the destinations along the way.  The solar-powered trip will last from May until July, with stops of a week or so in each location.

Pilot Bertrand Piccard says one of the goals is to demonstrate the power of innovation. "Showing that with solar power, with clean technologies, with energy efficiency, with ultra-light materials, we can bring a lot of solutions to the problems of sustainability," said Piccard. He added that the aim is to protect the environment, "but also to create jobs, to make profit for corporations, to sustain growth, thanks to this technological innovation."  Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Iron Horse Gaining Traction In Afghanistan

March 29th 2013

Nigeria train

More than 200 years after the arrival of steam locomotives changed the world of transport forever, the "iron horse" has finally made it to Afghanistan. Afghanistan is in the early stages of constructing a cross-country rail network intended to spur economic development and boost trade.

The idea is to turn Afghanistan into a land bridge linking the energy-rich Middle East and Central Asia with the booming economies of China and South Asia, according to Deputy Public Works Minister Ahmad Shah Wahid. "If we were linked with our neighbors through railway networks it would be a great development for our future prosperity,” he says. “It would improve trade and improve the lives of ordinary people." Read more ..


Mauritania on Edge

Arab Apartheid and Enslavement Continues in Mauritania

March 29th 2013

Slaving

Israel Apartheid Week has come and gone this year on many American campuses. It was, of course, a hoax: However much Arabs in Israel suffer, and whoever is to blame for it, there is no apartheid in Israel. Meanwhile, however, in Sudan and Mauritania, racist Arab societies enslave blacks. Today. Most of the slaves are African Muslims. Yet there is no Arab Apartheid Week on American campuses. Why not?

One might think American student activists would be upset about Mauritania, the West African country with the largest population of black slaves in the world – estimates range from 100,000 to more than a half-million. In Mauritania, slaves are used for labor, sex and breeding. The wholly owned property of their masters, they are passed down through generations, given as wedding gifts or exchanged for camels, trucks, guns or money.  Read more ..


The North Korean Threat

North Korea Promises Missile Strikes Against America

March 29th 2013

Kim Jong Un

North Korea's leader has responded to America's use of nuclear-capable B-2 bombers in joint South Korean military drills with more angry rhetoric, saying his rocket forces are ready to attack US positions.

The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) news agency said on Friday that Kim signed off on the orders at a midnight meeting of top generals and "judged the time has come to settle accounts with the US imperialists in view of the prevailing situation". In the event of any "reckless" US provocation, North Korean forces should "mercilessly strike the US mainland ... military bases in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in South Korea", he was quoted as saying. Yonhap news agency said on Friday that increased activities involving vehicles and troops at North Korea's mid- and long-range missile units were detected by South Korea's military. Kim said "the time has come to settle accounts with the US imperialists in view of the prevailing situation", according to KCNA. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Where Energy and Security Collide

March 29th 2013

Iranian oil port

America is facing an energy-security paradox. Our domestic oil production is on the rise; the cars that roll onto our roads are more efficient than ever, and net oil imports are at their lowest level since the days when President George Herbert Walker Bush lived in the White House. Yet none of this has reined in the price of gasoline. This runs counter to U.S. conventional wisdom over the past forty years, touted by every president since Richard Nixon. The conventional wisdom had it that, if we just lessened our oil imports by drilling more domestic oil and by learning how to use less, we would pay less at the pump. We have done both and we are paying more. Something is wrong with our method.

 

The reason both domestic drilling and increased fuel efficiency have not reduced the global price of oil, and hence gasoline prices (the cost of crude accounts for about two-thirds the price of gasoline) is that global conventional-oil reserves are dominated by a cartel, OPEC, which comprises nations that are heavily dependent on oil revenues for their economic well being. When the price of oil goes below a certain level those countries cannot meet their budgetary requirements and are forced to accumulate debt or cut entitlement spending at the risk of social discontent. Following the so-called Arab Spring, those budgetary needs have risen sharply as rulers of the Gulf monarchies effectively bought stability from their citizens with salary raises, subsidies and other perks – all paid for by oil revenues. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Obama Goes His Own Way in Syria

March 29th 2013

Corpses in Homs

President Obama is at odds with Vice President Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and others on his national security team on whether to provide body armor and other non-lethal military equipment to vetted rebels battling Bashar Assad's regime in Syria, Foreign Policy reported Thursday.

The president's National Security Council principals all agreed to the aid last month, according to the report, but Obama has not acted on it. The Washington Post first reported last month that the administration was considering sending the aid, but Thursday's report is the first to claim that the council has sent the president an interagency recommendation urging the shift in policy. Read more ..


Film Review

Beyond the Hills: This too Shall Pass

March 29th 2013

Beyond the hills

Beyond the Hills. Director: Cristian Mungiu. Starring Valeriu Andriuta, Cristina Flutur, Cosmina Stratan. Length: 90 mins.

One of the things I liked best among the many things I liked about Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2007, was that, while looking to liberals like the sort of liberal propaganda they have grown accustomed to from Hollywood, it was actually deeply subversive of the whole liberal project, at least so far as one of its central premisses, that of legalized abortion, is concerned. With his new film, Beyond the Hills (Dupa dealuri), he has repeated the trick, this time with religion.

And not with just any old religion, or the kind of anodyne God-bothering that now passes for religion in most Western countries but that succeeds chiefly in bothering the romantic New Atheist crusaders of the media. No, this is a much more obvious target: a genuinely medieval form of Christianity that can survive in few places in the world, or even within the generally pretty backward Romanian Orthodox Church - the nominal authority under which a nameless priest/monk (Valeriu Andriuta) and "Papa" to a covey of nuns runs his unconsecrated monastery a long way from anywhere.

Both the monastery's remoteness in the Romanian countryside and its failure to attract any higher ecclesiastical official to consecrate it - ostensibly because it remains unpainted, owing to lack of funds - are significant. One of the youngest sisters, the gentle, bovine novice Voichita (Cosmina Stratan), is visited by her best friend from the orphanage where they both grew up. Alina (Cristina Flutur) is a much more mercurial character who has emigrated to Germany to work as a waitress and now returned in the hope of persuading Voichita to join her in the West. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

'Waste Heat May Economize CO2 Capture

March 28th 2013

coal fired power plant

In some of the first results from a federally funded initiative to find new ways of capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from coal-fired power plants, Rice University scientists have found that CO2 can be removed more economically using "waste" heat -- low-grade steam that cannot be used to produce electricity. The find is significant because capturing CO2 with conventional technology is an energy-intensive process that can consume as much as one-quarter of the high-pressure steam that plants use to produce electricity.

"This is just the first step in our effort to better engineer a process for capturing CO2 from flue gas at power plants," said George Hirasaki, the lead researcher of Rice's CO2-capture research team. The researchers hope to reduce the costs of CO2 capture by creating an integrated reaction column that uses waste heat, engineered materials and optimized components. Hirasaki's team was one of 16 chosen by the Department of Energy (DOE) in 2011 to develop innovative techniques for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Read more ..


The Edge of Justice

Corporations, Pro-business Nonprofits Foot Bill for Judicial Seminars

March 28th 2013

judge's gavel

Conservative foundations, multinational oil companies and a prescription drug maker were the most frequent sponsors of more than 100 expense-paid educational seminars attended by federal judges over a 4 1/2-year period, according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation. Among the seminar titles were “The Moral Foundations of Capitalism,” “Corporations and the Limits of Criminal Law” and “Terrorism, Climate & Central Planning: Challenges to Liberty & the Rule of Law.”

Leading the list of sponsors of the 109 seminars identified by the Center were the conservative Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, The Searle Freedom Trust, also a supporter of conservative causes, ExxonMobil Corp., Shell Oil Co., pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. and State Farm Insurance Cos. Each were sponsors of 54 seminars. Other top sponsors included the conservative Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation (51), Dow Chemical Co. (47), AT&T Inc. (45) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (46), according to the Center’s analysis. Sponsors pick up the cost of judges’ expenses, which often include air fare, hotel stays and meals. The seminars in the Center’s investigation took place from July 2008 through 2012. Read more ..


Africa on Edge

How Morocco Is Transforming Africa

March 28th 2013

Berber women

Moroccan King Mohammed VI visited three African countries south of the Sahara last week -- Senegal, Ivory Coast, and Gabon -- and convened a series of meetings the outcomes of which are poised to affect the region's development and security, as well as America's relations with much of Africa.

The north African monarch is no stranger to his southern neighbors. Since February 2005, the King has visited more than ten countries below the Sahara, including such strategically vital nations as Gambia, Congo Brazzaville, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Niger. The visits have been part of a strategy to enhance Morocco's role as a supporter of political, economic, and cultural development on the continent, as well as its role in enhancing regional security. Read more ..


Islam's War Against Christianity

Muslim Persecution of Christians: January, 2013

March 28th 2013

Coptic woman weeping at funeral

The year 2013 began with reports indicating that wherever Christians live side by side with large numbers of Muslims, the Christians are under attack. As one report said, "Africa, where Christianity spread fastest during the past century, now is the region where oppression of Christians is spreading fastest." Whether in Kenya, Nigeria, Mali, Somalia, Sudan, or Tanzania—attacks on Christians are as frequent as they are graphic.

As for the Middle East, the cradle of Christianity, a new study by the Pew Forum finds that "just 0.6 percent of the world's 2.2 billion Christians now live in the Middle East and North Africa. Christians make up only 4 percent of the region's inhabitants, drastically down from 20 percent a century ago, and marking the smallest regional Christian minority in the world. Fully 93 percent of the region is Muslim and 1.6 percent is Jewish." Read more ..



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