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Archive for April 2014

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Financing the Flames

Presidents Conference Overwhelmingly Rejects J Street

April 30th 2014

Edwin Black

J Street, the controversial lobby group focusing on Israel, has been overwhelmingly rejected for admission to America’s most prestigious and mainstream Jewish body, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The secret ballots, once counted, yielded only 17 votes in favor of admitting J Street to the Conference of Presidents and 22 against, with three abstentions, according to an informed source not authorized to speak for her organization. Hence, J Street did not even achieve a simple majority. Admission to the umbrella group of 50 leading Jewish organizations would have required 33 of 50 voting member groups—more than twice the number J Street garnered.

The acrimonious vote came as American Jewish groups increasingly begin to define their mainstream. Criticism and defense of J Street’s application has been intense, with challenges to its non-Jewish funding and positions on the peace process competing with the communal impulse to include a spectrum of dissent in a so-called “open tent.”

There is more tolerance for dissent in Israel than in the Jewish community,” Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League told the JTA’s Ron Kampeas at the ADL’s annual Washington conference. Foxman added, “We will support the admission of J Street not because we agree with them, not because we support their views, but in order to ensure the integrity and credibility of American Jewish advocacy and of the Conference of Presidents.” Conversely, late on the night before the vote, Zionist Organization of America president Mort Klein told a reporter that he was working tirelessly to convince fellow organizations that J Street should be rejected because of its extreme views.

During a one-hour debate, each organization was allowed only 90 seconds to speak. The time limits were rigidly enforced. One east coast organizational source stated that despite the acrimony of prior days, the debate before the vote was orderly and respectful. Read more ..


Financing the Flames

Key Lawmakers are Ready to Defund Palestinians Over Terrorist Salaries and Hamas Unity

April 30th 2014

Click to select Image

A growing number of lawmakers in the United States, Great Britain, and the European Union are openly suggesting the billions of dollars, pounds, and euros that they and others have collectively bestowed upon the Palestinian Authority to promote peace and reconciliation with Israel have done the exact opposite. The evidence is now too great to ignore, a growing number of lawmakers confess.

Key legislators say abundant funding has only been financing the flames of confrontation, intransigence, and openly-advertised institutional terrorism. The United States alone contributes between $400 million and $500 million annually to the PA. That sum is now threatened. For many, as Al-Monitor reported in a headline, reunion with Hamas seems to be “the last straw.” Reunification will create what one lawmaker called “the single best financed terror structure in the world.”

The concerns are manifold. Hamas and its Gazan partners wage daily war against the Jewish State—10,000 rockets in recent years. Gaza can become a direct pipeline to Iranian, Syrian, and Hezbollah weaponry, creating a formidable terror nexus just a 20-minute drive from Tel Aviv. But the threat goes beyond just Israel. Read more ..


The Coal Problem

DOL Cuts Miner's Coal-Dust Exposure

April 30th 2014

Coal miner

The Labor Department announced Wednesday that it is finalizing a long-delayed rule to cut the amount of coal dust to which miners can be exposed.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) rule will reduce coal-dust exposure limits by a quarter for underground mines and improve requirements for air sampling and monitoring in an attempt to reduce respiratory disease. It will take advantage of new technology to provide real-time monitoring of dust levels, which would allow miners and supervisors to avoid periods of high coal dust.

“Today we advance a very basic principle: you shouldn't have to sacrifice your life for your livelihood,” Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in a statement. “But that's been the fate of more than 76,000 miners who have died at least in part because of black lung since 1968.”

In a notice scheduled to be published May 1 in the Federal Register, MSHA said chronic coal-dust exposure causes lung diseases such as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, emphysema, silicosis and chronic bronchitis, together known as black lung. “These diseases are debilitating and can result in disability and premature death,” the safety group said. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

GOP Stymies Democrats' Minimum Wage Hike

April 30th 2014

Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked legislation from Democrats that would increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour.

The Senate voted 54-42 to end debate on a motion to proceed to the Minimum Wage Fairness Act, short of the 60 votes that were needed. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) was the only Republican to vote "yes."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) voted against the measure in order to have the chance to bring it up again. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), an opponent of increasing the wage to $10.10, missed the vote due to a tornado in his home state.
Democrats have made the minimum-wage issue central to their midterm election campaign on income equality, which aims to portray Republicans as beholden to the rich. Read more ..


Books and Authors

The Magical Realist Contributions of Gabriel García Márquez to Latin America

April 30th 2014

The death of Gabriel García Márquez, on April 17, 2014, of pneumonia, probably the consequence of his long struggle with lymphatic cancer, brought a period of Latin American and, perhaps, world literature to an end. García Márquez was best known for One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), the work that popularized magical realism—a style characterized by the presentation of fantastic events as if they were ordinary.

This novel told the story of the jungle backwater town of Macondo, ‘a village of twenty adobe houses’ and of several generations of the Buendia family, and was redolent of the bizarre, stagnating world in which the writer grew up, one which he loved despite all but which he saw desperately needed to change. He was also the author of other widely admired novels, like Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981), a story of honor killing told with such intensity that we read on even though the outcome of the story is revealed at the beginning, and Love at the Time of Cholera (1985), a moving and dignified story of love regained in old age. Autumn of the Patriarch, (1975) was the ultimate ‘dictator novel’ which is both riveting and strangely horrifying, an elegy for a despicable state of political being. Read more ..


Edge of Molecular Biology

Resiliency of Cells in DNA Management is a Surprise

April 30th 2014

Click to select Image

New research shows that cells are more resilient in taking care of their DNA than scientists originally thought. Even when missing critical components, cells can adapt and make copies of their DNA in an alternative way.

In a study published in this week’s Cell Reports, a team of researchers at Michigan State University showed that cells can grow normally without a crucial component needed to duplicate their DNA.

“Our genetic information is stored in DNA, which has to be continuously monitored for damage and copied for growth,” said Kefei Yu, MSU Professor. “If the cell is unable to make copies of its DNA or if it overlooks mistakes in its structure, it can lead to cell death or the production of cancerous cells.”

But the study shows that cells are much more flexible in managing their DNA than we thought. When they lack the gadgets required to replicate DNA, they adapt and use other tools instead. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Girls Get Better Grades than Boys, Even in Math and Science

April 30th 2014

Science students

Think boys get better grades in math and science than their female counterparts? Think again.

A new study of academic performance in more than 30 countries and spanning nearly a century shows girls do better than boys in math and science as well as other subjects.

“Although gender differences follow essentially stereotypical patterns on achievement tests in which boys typically score higher on math and science, females have the advantage on school grades regardless of the material,” said lead study author Daniel Voyer, PhD, of the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, Canada in a statement.

“School marks reflect learning in the larger social context of the classroom and require effort and persistence over long periods of time, whereas standardized tests assess basic or specialized academic abilities and aptitudes at one point in time without social influences,” he added. Read more ..


After the Cold War

U.S. Still Hunting KGB, Decades After Cold War

April 30th 2014

Russian tank Red Square

Attention former KGB officers: If you were involved in rights abuses during Soviet times and find yourself in the United States, U.S. authorities may be looking for you.

For decades, the U.S. government has been ferreting out alleged Nazi war criminals and other purported rights violators leading quiet lives in the United States, deporting hundreds of individuals suspected of such abuses.

But U.S. immigration officials are also quietly pursuing potential cases against former KGB employees and collaborators who may have engaged in persecutions as part of the notorious Soviet secret police.

A spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would not specify how many of these investigations are pending, saying only that the number is “less than 10.” The agency’s officers, however, “continue to monitor cases and information” on former KGB officials “who may have committed or assisted in human rights violations,” the spokesperson said. Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

Donetsk Dispatch: City Looks To Victory Day With Trepidation

April 30th 2014

Protest in Ukraine

Nearly two weeks after the Geneva agreement intended to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine was signed, no de-escalation has been seen in the industrial and mining region of Donetsk.

In fact, on April 28, several dozen pro-Russian militants attacked a Ukrainian unity demonstration, brutally beating many marchers with bats and batons. A few protesters were kidnapped and beaten in an effort to force them to confess that they belong to the Right Sector nationalist group.

It was an unprecedented escalation of violence in the city that has left nerves frayed and tensions high. The previous day, pro-Russian activists seized the city's television broadcast center. Some Donetsk residents have seen their television cut off since then, while others have seen local channels replaced with Rossia-24, the Russian government's round-the-clock information channel. Read more ..


Lamenting Racist Remarks By Los Angeles Clippers Owner Donald Sterling

April 30th 2014

It has been amply stated and often proven that pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before stumbling.  Donald Sterling’s jealous rage, and  pride in his skin color has left him in disgrace. All of his money and all of his minions cannot undo the destruction he has brought upon himself and his reputation. All is not lost for Mr. Sterling, though.  There is hope for him just as there is for all of us who have stumbled in one way or another.  Hope begins with humility, a humility that causes us to see just how fallen and broken we are and how much we need God. Jealousy blinds our senses and distorts our reason.  Pride causes us to believe we are better than others, sometimes that we are above God.  It’s what led Adam and Eve to sin.

Jealousy and pride have led Donald Sterling to allow his mistress to bait him hook line and sinker. How many men have found themselves slammed to destruction over a pretty face and a racist heart? In the gone but not forgotten days of slavery, we found fatal triangles such as the beleaguered Clippers owner is entangled  in today. A scorned wife, a tricky mistress, money and racism! Wow!

Yes, like  countless others, Mr. Sterling has discovered that his money is not God; his passion is marred with lust; and the world who seemed to love and revere him is fickle. Pride deceived Mr. Stirling into puffing himself  up by looking down his nose at those he considers to be beneath him. Never mind the tawny, beautiful,  honey colored mistress who was found in that same position only to rise up and bury a dagger in his back.  All too often, jealousy, greed and pride allow our society to discriminate against an entire class of people – in this case, skin color is the issue. I wouldn't be true to my calling though, if I didn't remember that the unborn – because they’re small, dependent, and helpless - are also a part of the looming presence of The Elephant - Discrimination - in the bedrooms and boardrooms across America and the world.

We don’t want to be reminded that we’re small, dependent, and helpless – it offends our pride.  So we pretend that some "classes" of people like Blacks, or the unborn for example, are… well… different. My Uncle M.L. spoke of building a loving community.  As a man of God, he understood that love has to be the foundation for any meaningful transformation of society or individuals.  He knew that love changes the heart from prideful to humble so that we see our own brokenness.  He knew that a loving community has compassion for all of its members, not just those who are like “us.” Donald Sterling has presented us with a teachable moment; a time when we may consider Uncle M.L.’s words and his life and work for a more loving community.

It’s also a prayerful moment.

My Uncle ML and his brother AD King, my father died for raising the alarm over racial discrimination and inequity in America. The force of racism remains alive today, in bedrooms, boardrooms and in the wombs of mothers. It is time to face the truth and slay the beast.

Donald Sterling is rich enough and famous enough to catch the eye of the media. Yet, he is just the tip of the iceberg, the festering proof of a splintered society.

Let's pray for Donald Sterling; and indeed all who are victims of the deceptions of racism and classism.

Let's continue to pray that God will open all eyes blinded by pride, lust, greed, jealousy and every human failing. Oh that God will  change our hearts and free our souls.  There is no evil, be it discrimination against darker-skinned people or discrimination against smaller people in the womb, too great for God to overcome. 

Alevda King is daughter of the late slain civil rights activist Rev. A. D. King and Niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Founder of King  for America, Inc. Mother of six and doting grandmother.


Obama's Second Term

Imagining a World Without America

April 30th 2014

"You’ve been given a great gift, George. A chance to see what the world would be like without you.”

So said George Bailey’s guardian angel, Clarence, in the 1946 classic Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life. Bailey, contemplating suicide, wishes he’d never been born. To demonstrate the value of the life he would so quickly trade away, the angel lets him see what the world would be like if he’d never existed.

Of course, without the influence of one good and virtuous man, George Bailey’s flawed but lovely little town full of oddballs turns into a nightmarish Babylon called “Pottersville,” run by a sadistic miser and populated by drunks, hookers, and toughs. At the end (spoiler alert, as if you’ve never seen it), George realizes that his problems are trivial and his life is indeed wonderful. He returns to face his responsibilities, come what may.

It’s not a “great gift,” but we’re now getting a chance to see what the world would be like without America. Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

Keeping Up Appearances: Obama's Ineffective Sanctions on Russia

April 29th 2014

Click to select Image

The United States announced new sanctions on seven Russian government officials April 28. A long-used tactic, sanctions can yield unpredictable effects or have no effect at all, depending upon how they are crafted. It is commonly assumed that sanctions are applied when a target country's actions are deemed unacceptable. The sanctioning nation presumably chooses sanctions to avoid war when war would be too costly or could result in defeat.

Sanctions' stated purpose is to induce behavioral changes in a target state by causing economic pain. To work, sanctions must therefore cause pain. But they must not be so severe that they convince the target state that war is more desirable than capitulating to the demands of the sanctioning nation. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Dark Clouds Approaching for Democrats as Obama's Approval Rating Plummets

April 29th 2014

Click to select Image

Democrats may be at risk in this November’s midterm elections as President Obama’s approval rating drops, a new poll suggests.

A Washington Post-ABC News survey released Tuesday found 41 percent approve of Obama’s job as president. That's down from 46 percent through the first three months of this year and the lowest the polling series has recorded during his presidency.

Forty-two percent approve of Obama’s job on the economy, while just over a third approve of Obama’s job handling the crisis between Ukraine and Russia. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Kerry Apologizes for Israel Apartheid Remarks

April 29th 2014

John Kerry

The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry backtracked Monday from remarks that Israel risks becoming an apartheid state.

Kerry made the remarks in a closed-door session at an international council last week. After they were revealed, they were quickly condemned by Jewish groups and U.S. lawmakers.

Kerry issued a statement Monday recalling his longtime support of Israel and said that he should have phrased his opinions differently.

According to the New York Times:

“For more than 30 years in the United States Senate, I didn’t just speak words in support of Israel,” Mr. Kerry said in his statement. “I walked the walk when it came time to vote and when it came time to fight. Mr. Kerry added that he did not believe that Israel was an “apartheid state” or intended to become one. Mr. Kerry did not dispute he had used the phrase but said it had led to a “misimpression” about his views." Read more ..


Financing the Flames

Witnesses Back Israel Activist in Dispute With J-Street Leader at Brandeis

April 29th 2014

Witnesses came forward on Monday to confirm reports that a J Street U student board member insulted a pro-Israel student on the Brandeis campus at the weekend, contradicting a formal statement denying the incident made by J Street.

According to The Washington Free Beacon, Talia Lepson called Daniel Mael a “s*** bag” and angrily told the Brandeis junior that “Jews hate you” at 12:45 AM on Friday night.

Moshe Yaghoubian, via Facebook on Sunday, confirmed Mael’s version of events: “I was with Daniel Mael on the Friday night when the incident occurred and I can verify that his account is 100% accurate.”

Student Elad Ohayon said, ”In all honestly, I’ve never heard a lie come out of either Moshe Yaghoubian or Daniel Mael mouths, not even as a joke. I could never imagine either one of them lying about something as serious as the incident that took place.” Read more ..


Keep Boycotters out of Celebrate Israel Parade

April 29th 2014
As coalition chairman at the Knesset in Jerusalem, I am deeply  moved by the tireless supporters and marchers in the Celebrate Israel Parade and by the courageous stance of so many friends of Israel involved in the parade, calling to delegitimize those who delegitimize Israel. It is not logical or reasonable for Israel supporters to condone or overlook or indirectly cooperate with BDS groups which represent the antithesis of support for Israel. Refusing to recognize the State of Israel's sovereign right to develop and maintain an independent legal position on any issue of national importance is not legitimate. The State of Israel came into being by virtue of our people's unassailable rights having historical, legal and religious foundations. I am certain that by mutual effort our just path will surmount any attempt to strike down Jewish survival and the Jewish way of life in the land of our forefathers.

The Edge of Health

MRSA Now Spreading among New York Households

April 29th 2014

Emergency Medical

Genome sequencing has revealed how a strain of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) spread through parts of New York City. Although MRSA is often associated with public spaces such as hospital and gyms, researchers say that private homes helped to fuel its travels in the New York neighborhoods of Manhattan and the Bronx.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests a framework for other investigations into how pathogens colonize and infect communities.

Researchers examined the prevalence of the USA300 strain in northern Manhattan and the Bronx, where it has caused an epidemic of skin and soft-tissue infections in recent years. In 2009, it was responsible for around 75% of community-acquired MRSA infections in northern Manhattan. Read more ..


The Edge of Intolerance

Rancher Bundy is No Patriot

April 28th 2014

Tea Party demonstator at Supreme Court

Nothing demonstrates the ignorance and danger of the Tea Party movement more than its leaders’ immediate, knee-jerk embrace of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.

No sooner had armed vigilantes around the country rushed to Bundy’s side than Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) defended him. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) called him and his armed thugs “patriots.” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) praised his resistance to federal authority. Sean Hannity and other Fox News hosts extolled him as a “folk hero” and the poster boy of standing up to a “government gone wild.” At which point, all this praise having obviously gone to his head, Bundy compared himself to Rosa Parks. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

The Obamacare Opportunity

April 28th 2014

Obamacare

Obamacare’s defenders are doing their best to sustain a triumphant mood these days. In the wake of the late-March surge in exchange enrollment, many proponents of the law have insisted it can no longer be rolled back. As the president put it in his April 1 Mission Accomplished speech announcing the enrollment figures, “The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.”

But just as conservative assertions that the law would collapse of its own weight were premature, so too are today’s liberal proclamations that the debate is over.

Clear-eyed opponents of Obamacare have long understood that once the Supreme Court upheld the law’s individual mandate and President Obama secured reelection in 2012, it was going to be extremely difficult to unwind Obamacare before 2017. The replacement of Obamacare is going to require a sustained political effort. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama's Lawless Ed-Reform Push

April 28th 2014

Science students

The Obama administration has been remarkable in its casual disregard for statutes and the niceties of federalism. But even those quick to note this in terms of health care, immigration, or criminal justice have often regarded education as something of an administration bright spot. Last week provided another illustration of just how misguided such assessments are.

On Thursday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan informed Washington State that he was revoking the waiver that had freed it from impossible-to-meet requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), including the quixotic mandate that 100 percent of students be proficient in reading and math. In return for the waiver, Washington had been required to implement a number of the administration’s preferred education initiatives — and, as Duncan noted in the letter yanking the waiver, the state’s legislature failed to pass one of the required laws, a measure tying teacher evaluations to student performance. Thus, Washington became the first state to lose its waiver. This is a stunning misuse of executive discretion. Read more ..


Architecture as Art

Frank Lloyd Wright's Architecture Continues to Inspire in Arizona

April 28th 2014

smart exterior building panels

 Frank Lloyd Wright is known as the father of modern American architecture.

Two historic properties in the state of Arizona show the grand expanse of his designs. One is Taliesin West - Wright’s rustic winter home and architecture school. Half-an-hour away is a Wright-influenced hotel that’s filled with eye-popping luxury. 

The splash of fountains is a refreshing counterpoint to the dry sagebrush foothills that surround Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece, Taliesin West. Wright broke ground on this 200 hectare property in 1939. The buildings include an airy theatre for live performances, an underground “kiva” for movie shows, and the residence where Wright lived until his death in 1959.  Read more ..


The Way We Are

New York Sherpas Grieve for Everest Victims

April 28th 2014

Continental Crust

New York is home to the largest number of Sherpas anywhere outside Nepal, and that community has been plunged into mourning for 16 mountain guides killed by an avalanche on Mount Everest.

The Sherpas had been moving across an icefield, preparing a route for a group of Western climbers who were to ascend the world's tallest peak in the days and weeks to come.
Ang Geljen Sherpa, president of the United Sherpa Association (USA), says education and opportunity can provide a surer and a safer path for Sherpa livelihood than guiding Westerners up Mount Everest.

Late Friday afternoon, many of the estimated 3,500 Sherpa residents of Elmhurst, Queens, were still at work. In the colorful Buddhist temple at the United Sherpa Association headquarters, a monk was busy washing ritual brass lamps to prepare for a community-wide memorial service on Sunday. Read more ..


Afghanistan After Karzai

Surprises In Preliminary Afghan Election Results

April 28th 2014

Karzai

The preliminary results of Afghanistan's presidential election are in, and reveal several surprises.

When presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani named General Abdul Dostum as a running mate, it was seen as a shrewd political move. With the former Uzbek militia leader on his ticket as first vice president, the prevailing view was that Afghanistan's large Uzbek voting bloc would give Ghani a significant boost. Afghans traditionally vote along ethnic lines, and there was no reason to believe it would be any different this time around.

But while Ghani finished second in the preliminary results released on April 26, enough to go to a second round if the results survive the lengthy complaints period, the tactic appears to have backfired.

Ethnic Uzbeks, who make up about 9 percent of Afghanistan's population, helped Ghani secure big victories in the province of Jowzjan (where he took 69 percent of the vote) and the neighboring Faryab (65 percent) -- each of which have large Uzbek populations.

Ghani did not fare nearly as well, however, in three other provinces with significant Uzbek populations. Ghani failed to garner 40 percent of the vote in Sar-e-Pul (39 percent), Samangan (27 percent) and Kunduz (38 percent). Instead, Abdullah Abdullah won a plurality in all three provinces, helping propel him to a first-place finish countrywide, with 44.9 percent of the vote. Read more ..


Putin's Insiders

From 'Darth Vader' To 'The Wolf:' A Who's Who Of Putin's Sanctioned 'Insiders'

April 28th 2014

Vladimir Putin sunglasses

When the United States last month imposed visa and financial sanctions on wealthy businessmen seen as close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader laughed it off, saying: "I think I need to stay away from them." 

Putin might have a harder time staying away from the group of senior officials sanctioned by the Obama administration on April 28 over the ongoing unrest in Ukraine. Some of the seven officials have been close to the Russian president ever since he began his political career in St. Petersburg more than two decades ago.

Igor Sechin
With his stern visage and reputation for secretive machinations, Sechin has been likened to Darth Vader and is believed by many to be Putin's closest confidant. A former deputy prime minister who oversaw Russia's vast energy wealth, he currently serves as president of state-owned oil giant Rosneft and is widely seen as one of the country's most powerful men. In announcing the sanctions, the U.S. Treasury Department cited Sechin's "utter loyalty" to Putin as a "key component to his current standing." Read more ..


Asking for for Sunlight on Progressive Partners for Peace

April 28th 2014
Let me second the motion. Edwin Black's reporting in NIF Parade Fracas Pushes Outraged Jewish Groups to Define Mainstream on a recent Page One of the Edge was more than revealing. To the letter writer who suggested Mr. Black take a good look at Progressive Partners for Peace, may I second the motion. I read Black's book on eugenics and the funding there--Carnegie and Rockefeller. He follows the money with undeniable precision. We need more sunlight on this issue as well.

Broken Government

Fannie, Freddie Overhaul Must Eliminate Conflicts of Interest

April 27th 2014

Home Foreclosure

There is a glaring problem with proposals to dismantle Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and “bring private capital back” to the mortgage market: Investors got mugged once and are not likely to walk down the same alley again.

From 2002 to 2006, Wall Street banks overtook Fannie and Freddie and issued the majority of mortgage-backed securities. The market for “private-label” mortgage-backed securities, the securities issued by Wall Street banks, collapsed in 2007 and remains comatose. In 2013, Fannie and Freddie issued 99 percent of new mortgage-backed securities.

The unchallenged assumption in Washington is that the overhaul of the housing finance system should drastically reduce the role of government and revive the private-label mortgage-backed securities market. Investors are not likely to buy new mortgage-backed securities from Wall Street banks if the new securities are like the old ones. Read more ..


The Edge of Disaster

S. Korea President Accepts PM's Resignation

April 27th 2014

SI Ferry wreck

South Korean President Geun-hye's office says she will accept her prime minister's resignation, but not until the Sewol ferry disaster has been brought under control.

Prime Minister Chung Hong-won offered his resignation earlier Sunday, following a public uproar over his government's response to the April 16 ferry disaster that left more than 300 people dead or missing.

A somber-looking Chung announced his resignation in a brief televised address Sunday morning, saying "keeping my post is too great a burden on the administration."  The prime minister's position in South Korea is largely ceremonial, with the president wielding most of the power. A relative of a passenger aboard the sunken ferry Sewol is consoled by a Buddhist nun, as she waits for news on her missing loved one at a port in Jindo, South Korea. Read more ..


After the Holocaust

Palestinian Leader Calls Holocaust ‘Heinous Crime’

April 27th 2014

Holocaust cattle cars

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has described the Holocaust as "the most heinous crime ... against humanity in the modern era." 

Abbas issued the written statement on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, an annual Israeli observance in memory of the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II.

It was an unusual comment for an Arab leader and appeared to be an about-face for Abbas. Israeli officials have accused him of playing down the scope of the Holocaust in a doctoral dissertation in the 1970s.

Abbas, who heads the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, appeared to be reaching out to the Israeli public following the collapse of nine months of peace talks last week. Israel suspended the negotiations after the Palestinian leader agreed to form a unity government with the Islamic group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Exercise Could Stem Alzheimer's Onset

April 27th 2014

Holding Hands

Researchers have discovered yet another reason to hit the gym.

A new study of older adults who were at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease claims that moderate physical activity can prevent shrinkage of the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory and spatial orientation. It is also the first part of the brain that comes under attack from the devastating disease.

"The good news is that being physically active may offer protection from the neurodegeneration associated with genetic risk for Alzheimer's disease," said Dr. J. Carson Smith, a kinesiology researcher at the University of Maryland School of Public Health who conducted the study in a statement.

"We found that physical activity has the potential to preserve the volume of the hippocampus in those with increased risk for Alzheimer's disease, which means we can possibly delay cognitive decline and the onset of dementia symptoms in these individuals,” he said. “Physical activity interventions may be especially potent and important for this group," Smith added. For the study, Smith and his colleagues monitored four groups of “healthy older adults ages 65-89." Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Want Energy Independence? Wave the Jones Act

April 27th 2014

LNG Tanker

Just how effective America’s economic sanctions against Russia become will depend in some measure on what the United States does to remove an obsolete law that threatens to stall domestic oil production at the very time when we need to strengthen our energy position in the world.

A continuing reluctance to repeal the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 – commonly referred to as the Jones Act – will weaken our response to Russia’s aggression. In the energy industry, the Jones Act is making it increasingly difficult to ship crude oil from Great Lakes and Gulf ports to refineries on the East Coast.

Because there isn’t enough pipeline or rail capacity to handle the enormous quantities of unconventional oil being produced in North America -- much of it oil-sands crude from Alberta and “tight oil” from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota – the oil must be transported by a fleet of tankers and barges to mid-Atlantic refineries that can process it. But there aren’t enough vessels to ship the oil due to the Jones Act – which requires that all cargoes transported between U.S. ports be carried on U.S.-owned ships, built and registered in the U.S., and manned by U.S. crews. Read more ..


Broken Economy

Piketty and Krugman Admit the Laffer Curve is Real

April 27th 2014

Financial reform now protest

Liberal and conservative economists disagree sharply over the extent to which a lower marginal tax rate motivates talented workers to take the risks and suffer the consequences necessary to earn more money. The strongly held belief that higher tax rates do not create significant disincentive for risk-taking is central to the liberal argument. Imagine the shock, then, when two pillars of liberal economics—Paul Krugman and Paris School of Economics professor Thomas Piketty—conceded that a lower U.S. marginal tax rates had a profound effect on the economy precisely through its motivational effects on the most productive workers.

In his review of Piketty's new book, "Capital in the 21st Century," Krugman admits that he is "more or less persuaded by Piketty's explanation of the surge in wage inequality," which Krugman summarizes as the following: Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Almost Half of Homeless Men Had Traumatic Brain Injury in their Life

April 26th 2014

American poverty

Almost half of all homeless men who took part in a study by St. Michael's Hospital had suffered at least one traumatic brain injury in their life and 87 per cent of those injuries occurred before the men lost their homes.

While assaults were a major cause of those traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs, (60 per cent) many were caused by potentially non-violent mechanisms such as sports and recreation (44 per cent) and motor vehicle collisions and falls (42 per cent).

The study, led by Dr. Jane Topolovec-Vranic, a clinical researcher in the hospital's Neuroscience Research Program, was published today in the journal CMAJ Open. Dr. Topolovec-Vranic said it's important for health care providers and others who work with homeless people to be aware of any history of TBI because of the links between such injuries and mental health issues, substance abuse, seizures and general poorer physical health. Read more ..


The Urban Edge

Getting Smarter About Smart Cities

April 26th 2014

Minneapolis skyline

Over the last five years, the concept of the technology-driven “smart city” has captured the imagination of public, private, and nonprofit leaders alike. Yet for the rapid rise in interest, smart city deployments have failed to meet both private sector firms’ adoption ambitions and the public sector's expectations for impact. Against this backdrop, the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program and Barcelona’s ESADE Business School brought together officials from cities throughout Europe, Canada, and the United States to better understand the promise and practice for smart cities around the world today.

The discussion is timely as cities are responding to myriad pressures (e.g. population growth, climate change, fiscal stress) by seeking new more efficient ways of operating through the use of information and communications technologies. These investments in digital infrastructure are designed to improve the way we manage the built environment and confront the challenges of urbanization. From mandating the construction of energy efficient buildings to creating intelligent transport networks, cities are seeking to become “smarter.” Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

Russia Wants to Start WWIII--Says Ukrainian Leader

April 26th 2014

Russian Tanks Invade Georgia

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Russia on Friday of wanting to start a third world war.

“The world has not yet forgotten World War II, but Russia already wants to start World War III," Yatsenyuk told his interim cabinet, according to The Guardian.

He warned Russia’s interference in Ukraine could spread to wider conflict. "Attempts at military conflict in Ukraine will lead to a military conflict in Europe,” he added.

The United States has already deployed troops to Baltic nations for military exercises, and Russia announced new exercises along Ukraine's border on Thursday. The prime minister’s remarks were some of his strongest since the crisis escalated last month. Read more ..


Broken Borders

Boehner Walks Tough Tightrope Walk on Immigration Reform

April 26th 2014

Immigration Protest

Speaker John Boehner has become increasingly isolated on immigration reform. He wants to pass a bill, but can't get his House Republican Conference to get behind the effort.

The Ohio Republican recently told a group of GOP donors that he his “hell-bent” on getting legislation passed this year, according to The Wall Street Journal. He went further this past week when he declared that he is ready to act and complained that many of his GOP colleagues don’t want to follow.

“I think we should but the appetite, the appetite amongst my colleagues for doing this is not real good,” Boehner told constituents in Madison Township. “Here’s the attitude, ‘Ohhh, don’t make me do this. Ohhh, this is too hard.’” The comments, which were videotaped, went viral. Conservatives on and off Capitol Hill quickly expressed their displeasure. Read more ..


The Battle for Venezuela

Standing Up for Human Rights and Democracy in Venezuela

April 26th 2014

Venezuela protests

Many events have occurred since protests broke out in Venezuela several weeks ago, including the killing of 25 people by the government’s paramilitary. In addition, more than 1,000 people were arrested and others simply disappeared.

Contrary to the Venezuelan president’s pronouncements, this protest movement is composed mostly of  young people, not of  fascists or the old “oligarchy”. They are not rich and they are not spoiled. These are young people who see no future in a Venezuela that is turning more totalitarian and more repressive as time goes by. 

These street mobilizations represent a social movement that could not find in the political system any expression. They are not demanding more food, salary increases, or personal advantage. They are fighting for their freedom and for their dignity. The slogan “Give me liberty or give me death” becomes very much a reality as these protestors find the status –quo in Venezuela increasingly unbearable. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Scientists Decode Tsetse Fly Genome

April 26th 2014

Research and Development Chemistry

Scientists have mapped the genetic code of the tsetse fly, the insect responsible for African sleeping sickness.  They said the findings could lead to better repellents and control efforts and boost vaccine research.

The World Health Organization reports African sleeping sickness occurs in 36 sub-Saharan countries. The bite of a tsetse fly transmits parasites that could eventually reach the central nervous system causing confusion, sensory problems and poor coordination. It also disrupts the sleep cycle giving the disease its name.

The WHO said drug treatment is “complex,” but without it the disease is usually fatal. Efforts to control tsetse populations brought the number of new cases below 10,000 for the first time in 2009. In 2012, just over 7,200 new cases were reported.

Serap Aksoy is a professor of epidemiology of microbial diseases at the Yale School of Public Health. She and her colleagues in the U.S., Africa and elsewhere began searching the tsetse fly’s DNA for its genetic code 10 years ago. The WHO provided initial funding. In all, the project cost $10 million. Read more ..


The Oceans on Edge

Summit Pledges to Save the Oceans

April 26th 2014

Stormy Seas

The summit on protecting the world’s oceans ended Friday, with a call to tackle the major threats of climate change, overfishing, habitat loss and pollution. The Global Oceans Action Summit for Blue Growth and Food Security was held in The Hague.

A joint initiative on ocean health was announced by the Netherlands -- the summit host country -- the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Bank and summit organizers. Valerie Hickey of the World Bank said the summit was a success.

“I think this was the first time that over 600 people came together to align agendas across the conservation and growth fields to discuss how can we actually commit to action to support broad-based blue growth, food security. This was about making sure that we can invest in the oceans in a way that alleviates poverty, that shares broad prosperity, while turning down the heat.” Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

Kerry Accuses Russia of Ignoring Geneva Agreement On Ukraine

April 26th 2014

John Kerry

The United States has accused Russia of orchestrating armed resistance in eastern Ukraine. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday warned Moscow of crippling economic sanctions if it fails to adhere to commitments it made earlier this month in Geneva. Russia has begun military exercises close to its border with Ukraine and says it is ready to step in to defend pro-Russian separatists.

Kerry said Thursday there is no doubt that Russia has sent armed men who have occupied government buildings in several eastern Ukrainian towns.

"The world knows that peaceful protesters don't come armed with grenade launchers and automatic weapons, the latest issue from the Russian arsenal, hiding the insignias on their brand new matching military uniforms and speaking in dialects that every local knows come from thousands of miles away. The world knows that the Russian intelligence operatives arrested in Ukraine didn't just take a wrong turn on the highway. In fact, we have seen soldiers wearing uniforms identical to the ones Russian soldiers wore in Crimea last month," said Kerry.  Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Iranians Go Online To Vent Anger After Cut In Gasoline Subsidies

April 26th 2014

Gas Station line

Iranians have gone online to vent their frustration at the government after it slashed state subsidies on gasoline, a move that has seen the price at the pump skyrocket by up to 75 percent.

The dramatic price hikes, which took effect at midnight on April 25, are expected to test President Hassan Rohani’s support among a population fed up with stubborn inflation, rising costs, and high unemployment.

Observers see it as a risky move. There were riots at some gas stations in 2007 when fuel rationing was imposed for the first time. While there have been reports of no violence or protests after the latest price hikes, police have been put on alert. Iranians on social networking sites have criticized the government’s move, part of a second phase of government plans to remove energy subsidies and revive the country’s flatlining, sanctions-hit economy. Read more ..



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