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Archive for March 2014

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Obama's Second Term

Congressional Democrat Accuses Obama Administration of Dishonesty

March 31st 2014

A Democratic lawmaker is accusing the Obama administration of being "dishonest" in the handling of two controversial judicial nominations.

Georgia Rep. David Scott (D) ratcheted up his rare attack on the White House for striking a deal with the Peach State's two GOP senators. The agreement is aimed at moving a slate of six judicial nominees out of the Senate.

Asked if the administration had been honest in its handling of the process, Scott told The Hill, "I think they've been very dishonest in how they've been handling this. I represent Georgia and we have been disrespected in this." Read more ..


Obamacare Website Falters When Slammed by Last-Minute Applicants

Click to select Image

HealthCare.gov, for a second time on Monday, experienced technical difficulties that left some visitors unable to access the site.

While the administration said the problem was resolved quickly on Monday afternoon, it shows how the website is having trouble keeping up with the last-minute rush of people seeking coverage before the March 31 deadline.

The website was down briefly earlier on Monday, and early in the afternoon, users trying to create accounts for the first time were unable to access application and enrollment tools, the administration said. “The tech team is working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible,” an official said as the problem persisted. “The Data Services Hub is still fully operational. Users already in system remain able to complete enrollment.” Read more ..


Edge of Astronomy

Plugging Stephen Hawkings' Black Hole Theory

March 31st 2014

Click to select Image

Recently physicists have been poking holes again in Stephen Hawking’s black hole theory – including Hawking himself. For decades physicists across the globe have been trying to figure out the mysteries of black holes – those fascinating monstrous entities that have such intense gravitational pull that nothing – not even light – can escape from them. Now Professor Chris Adami, Michigan State University, has jumped into the fray.

The debate about the behavior of black holes, which has been ongoing since 1975, was reignited when Hawking posted a blog on Jan. 22, 2014, stating that event horizons – the invisible boundaries of black holes – do not exist. Hawking, considered to be the foremost expert on black holes, has over the years revised his theory and continues to work on understanding these cosmic puzzles. Read more ..


Israel and the Palestinians

Where did the Peace Process Go in the Mideast?

March 31st 2014

Click to select Image

Check your newspaper, Twitter feed, or CNN. You will find the Malaysian airplane, Ukraine, the mudslide in Washington State, and in Washington, D.C. the terrible story of a missing 8-year-old girl. There is the occasional story about the Syrian civil war, the Central African Republic, or the declining U.S. defense budget. You are unlikely to learn much about the meeting between Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and President Barack Obama, or about the current state of Secretary of State John Kerry's "American Framework" for Israel-Palestinian peace.

The reason is that Secretary Kerry and the president have managed to alienate both sides at the same time, so they don't want to talk about it. This takes some doing, so it is worth considering how they managed. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

The Failure of Religious Diplomacy in the Birth of Modern Israel

March 31st 2014

Before the UN launched it seemingly permanent relief effort for Palestinian refugees in 1950, UNRWA, it oversaw another, smaller program called United Nations Relief for Palestinian Refugees (UNRPR). In 1948 and 1949 aid was administered for the UN by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the League of Red Cross Societies.

AFSC and its leaders represented their participation in UNRPR as an outgrowth of relief work they had done in Europe and elsewhere during and after World War II. This work had, with some lobbying, earned a Nobel Peace Prize for the AFSC and its British counterpart in 1947. Read more ..


Book Review

The Story of Eva Tanguay

March 31st 2014

Queen of Vaudeville

Queen of Vaudeville. Andrew L. Erdman. Cornell University Press. 2012. 320 pp.

In 1910, the most famous and highest paid woman in the most popular entertainment medium in the United States, vaudeville, was a leggy but not particularly attractive singer-dancer-comedienne who had no special talent for singing, dancing, or comedy. Appearing in an unkempt mop of blonde, curly hair and wackily flamboyant costumes, Eva Tanguay raced, pranced, skipped, and whirled across the stage, dancing hyperactively, telling jokes, and singing songs, often about herself, in a high-pitched, almost screechy voice that seemed always on the verge of breaking into her cackling laugh. Preceded and followed by wild publicity wherever she performed across America, she billed herself modestly as “The Girl Who Made Vaudeville Famous.” And today she is all but forgotten.

It is surprising that Andrew Erdman’s book is Tanguay’s first biography, popular or academic. Even the mid-twentieth century nostalgia industry, bent on making a profit from memories of “the good old days” all but overlooked Tanguay. Erdman discusses the biopic of 1952, “The I Don’t Care Girl,” starring the immortal Mitzi Gaynor but, as he rightly notes, the film not only makes a hash of her life, it was much more about Hollywood than it was about Tanguay. This book, in contrast, goes to great and admirable lengths to get the story right. In the end, however, like Eva Tanguay’s signature song and her act in general, The Queen of Vaudeville leaves us wondering why we should care.

Tanguay was born in Quebec in 1878, but grew up in the mill town of Holyoke, Massachusetts, a place that saw its share of late 19th century theatrical troupes, circuses, medicine shows, and variety performers. She took up performing as a child at amateur nights and local stage presentations, and began touring professionally at age 10 as the title character in a theater troupe’s version of Little Lord Fauntleroy. Tanguay’s activities in her teen years remain difficult to discern: she seems to have worked in various performing groups, and Erdman argues convincingly, if from circumstantial evidence, that she had an illegitimate daughter, born when Tanguay was around 18, who was then raised by her brother. Tanguay rose into public notice in the frothy popular musical stage shows when she was in her early to mid-twenties, playing flighty, bubbly characters. In these shows, according to Erdman, Tanguay discovered “the powerful appeal of freakish, kinesthetic energy mixed with a useful show of leg and curve.” (p. 55) In 1904 a producer decided to build a show around Tanguay called The Sambo Girl. The show was successful, and Tanguay scored a great hit with the song, “I Don’t Care,” that defined her stage persona for the rest of her life:

I don’t care, I don’t care,
What they may think of me,
I’m happy go lucky,
Men say I am plucky,
So jolly and care free . . . Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Meeting Climate Targets May Require Reducing Meat and Dairy Consumption

March 31st 2014

Cows

Greenhouse gas emissions from food production may threaten the UN climate target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, according to research at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden.

On Monday 31 March the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presents their report on the impacts of climate change.

Carbon dioxide emissions from the energy and transportation sectors currently account for the largest share of climate pollution. However, a study from Chalmers now shows that eliminating these emissions would not guarantee staying below the UN limit. Emissions from agriculture threaten to keep increasing as global meat and dairy consumption increases. If agricultural emissions are not addressed, nitrous oxide from fields and methane from livestock may double by 2070. This alone would make meeting the climate target essentially impossible. Read more ..


The Race for Batteries

Cheap, Better-Performing Lithium-Ion Batteries

March 31st 2014

batteries

USC Viterbi School of Engineering professor Chongwu Zhou and his research team have developed a silicon anode and a sulfur-based cathode with low fabrication cost and high electrode performance for rechargeable lithium-ion batteries

Researchers at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering have improved the performance and capacity of lithium batteries by developing better-performing, cheaper materials for use in anodes and cathodes (negative and positive electrodes, respectively).

Lithium-ion batteries are a popular type of rechargeable battery commonly found in portable electronics and electric or hybrid cars. Traditionally, lithium-ion batteries contain a graphite anode, but silicon has recently emerged as a promising anode substitute because it is the second most abundant element on earth and has a theoretical capacity of 3600 milliamp hours per gram (mAh/g), almost 10 times the capacity of graphite. The capacity of a lithium-ion battery is determined by how many lithium ions can be stored in the cathode and anode. Using silicon in the anode increases the battery's capacity dramatically because one silicon atom can bond up to 3.75 lithium ions, whereas with a graphite anode six carbon atoms are needed for every lithium atom. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

1,500 Nigerians Killed in Boko Haram Violence in 2014

March 31st 2014

Boko Haram

Amnesty International says 1,500 people have been killed this year in an escalating armed conflict between Boko Haram insurgents and Nigerian security forces.  Amnesty says more than half the victims were civilians.

Amnesty International calls the rising number of Boko Haram attacks “truly shocking” and the reaction of Nigerian security forces, “brutality.”

The rights group says both sides may have committed acts that “may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity."  It calls for an investigation by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group based in northeastern Nigeria, has been attacking government forces, churches, schools, markets and mosques since it began violent operations in 2009. Three northeastern states have been under emergency rule for nearly 11 months but Elizabeth Donnelly of the Africa Program at the London-based policy institute Chatham House says the attacks continue to get worse. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Jimmy Carter Calls for Stop in Abuse Against Women

March 31st 2014

Jimmy Carter

The World Health Organization reports one in three women around the world will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter calls abuse of women the most serious human rights issue facing the world today. In an interview with VOA, and in his new book A Call to Action, he outlines the seriousness of the abuse — both globally and in the United States. Human rights organizations and activists hope his attention to the issue will give them a boost in fighting the problem.

Former President Carter learned about these abuses through the global work of the Atlanta-based Carter Center, where abuse of women was the focus of a 2013 human rights conference.

"The most serious problem is murder of baby girls by their parents. And the abortion of the girl fetus if the parents find out she's going to be female," Carter said.

"We've been dealing with 79 different countries, and as I've been in those foreign countries, and also throughout the United States, I've seen the tangible examples of how horribly women and girls are treated, much worse than anyone knows," he added. His research into the scope and seriousness of abuse against women culminated in his 28th book, A Call to Action, which explores the culture and causes of the abuse. He says the United States is not immune to the problem. Read more ..


The Ukraine on Edge

In Ukraine, Diplomatic Assurances Do Little To Calm Fears Of Russian Military Incursion

March 31st 2014

Russian Tanks Invade Georgia

With fears of war filling the streets above, officials in the Ukrainian capital headed underground, winding through bleak, dirty-green corridors to inspect the city's aging bomb shelters.

Kyiv Mayor Volodymyr Bondarenko said nearly all of the city's 526 shelters were in need of repairs. In the absence of budget funds, he has turned to local workers and vendors to volunteer their time and supplies. If all goes well, he said the city would be ready to provide underground shelter to all of its 2.8 million residents by October 1.

Some Ukrainians, however, may feel they can't wait that long. With Russia's continuing military buildup along Ukraine's eastern border, officials and residents alike are looking at the possibility of war with Russia as potentially days, not months, away. Moscow's pledges to avoid conflict -- most recently by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said on March 29 Russia had "no intention" of crossing the border -- has done little to allay concerns. Read more ..


Financing the Flames

Terrorist Salaries not Spotlighted by New York Times

March 31st 2014

The Dome of the Rock from Atop

The New York Times did a valuable public service today by profiling the life of Muqdad Salah. But the story, which demonstrated how unlikely peace between Israelis and the Palestinians is, wasn’t intended as an indictment of Palestinian society. Salah, 47, is, as the Times reported, doing his best to make up for lost time. You see, he lost 20 years of his life to a prison sentence in an Israeli jail from which he was liberated last year. To help ease his transition back to society, the resident of Burqa in the West Bank got a generous settlement from the Palestinian Authority, an honorary rank of brigadier general in the PA military, and praise from his neighbors and fellow Palestinians. In the seven months since he got out, he has married a much younger woman, remodeled a family home, and bought a business. He’s now the picture of a successful Palestinian, but he’s got a couple of problems. One is that the no-show salary of $1,800 a month he’s collecting from the PA (which gave him $100,000 at his release) isn’t enough to live the life of ease he craves. The other is that his travel is restricted. And oh, yes: some Israelis are really mad about the fact that a terrorist with blood on his hands like Salah is walking around free and enjoying life. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

One Man's J'Accuse to the State Department

March 31st 2014

Suicide Bombing--Sbarro

The son-in-law of Osama bin Laden has been found guilty of conspiracy to kill American citizens.

Suleiman Abu Ghaith was arrested in Jordan last year, sent to the US and tried in New York. While the US introduced one witness who admitted that he did not know if the accused was aware of planned “shoe bombing” airplane attacks, the majority of US evidence was based on videos of Abu Ghaith exhorting Muslims to attack America and that “the storm of planes” would not stop.

The issue of Abu Ghaith’s arrest, prosecution, and conviction based primarily on video evidence is extremely important. As I wrote previously, the woman who thought up, planned, organized, and executed (even walking with the bomber and his guitar case bomb to the restaurant) the attack at the Sbarro Pizzeria in Jerusalem in August, 2001 seems to be the mirror image of Abu Ghaith, with one significant caveat. Abu Ghaith was found guilty of conspiracy to kill Americans. Ahlam Tamimi, on the other hand, actually did kill American citizens—two of them, with three more badly wounded. Yet Abu Ghaith is in jail and Tamimi has a talk-show in Amman. The question is why? Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

On Talks and Peace

March 30th 2014

Taliban

Two baffling months have passed since Mr Sharif began his push for peace talks with the Taliban. Nothing — no number of terror attacks, no list of unreasonable demands from the other side — seems to be big enough or bad enough to derail the government’s singular commitment to these talks. It is safe to say now that Mr Sharif is not just engaging in the spectre of talks just to win over public support for a military operation. If that were indeed his motivation, talks would have remained suspended after the Taliban brutally killed 23 FC personnel.

But despite the government’s dogged insistence on peace through talks, we are no clearer on the terms of engagement with the Taliban: the major issues on the negotiating table, the common ground for negotiation, and so on. The million-dollar question is: do even Mr Sharif and his government have clarity on these issues? Since Mr Sharif is, to put it mildly, relatively uncommunicative in terms of substantive policy decisions with the populace that elected him, we are left guessing about his thinking and reasoning. There are four explanations, in my mind, of the reasons Mr Sharif is going down this path, with no end in sight and no counter-narrative to offer. Read more ..


Broken Government

Treasury to Comerica: Take Our Money, Please!

March 30th 2014

One Million Dollars

The Treasury Department paid Comerica Inc. tens of millions of dollars for a government payment card that left poor and disabled Americans vulnerable to fraud and shoddy customer service, a new inspector general report says.

Trying to save money, Treasury officials pressured vulnerable citizens to use the Direct Express cards. Comerica issued the cards under a contract that was supposed to be cost-free for the government and relatively cheap for consumers. Officials spent years promoting the card at road shows around the country.

Yet the department did not properly oversee the program, Treasury’s inspector general concluded in the report to be released today. Officials ignored available data about fees charged to customers and call center wait times, and based many decisions on unverified information from Comerica, according to a report due out Friday by Treasury’s inspector general. Read more ..


America on Edge

Inside the Koch Brother's Campus Crusade

March 30th 2014

Koch Think Tanks

The campus of Koch Brothers Academy spans a nation.

Learn about the “role of government institutions in a capitalistic society” at South Carolina’s College of Charleston.

Dive into the “integrated study of philosophy, politics and economics” at Duke University and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

And philosophize about the “moral imperatives of free markets and individual liberty” at the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University in Alabama.

Billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch may rank among the nation’s biggest bankrollers of conservative causes and Republican campaign vehicles. But Koch proselytizing of government deregulation and pro-business civics is increasingly targeted not just at creatures of Capitol Hill, or couch sitters in swing states, but at the hearts and minds of American college students, as well. Read more ..


Defense on Edge

The Growing Problem of a Shrinking Military

March 30th 2014

Navy Seal Team 6

The military’s most recent budget request provides even more detail about the consequences of continued automatic spending cuts. Yet the U.S. military’s challenges did not start with the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration; they have been underway for years, as the Armed Forces struggle to meet ever-increasing global demands and challenges with fewer forces and resources.

This growing strain prompted Navy Admiral Samuel Locklear, U.S. Pacific Command chief, to tell Congress that the Navy’s attack submarine requirements are going unmet in the Pacific right now. With the Navy’s attack submarine fleet on a path to drop from 55 today to 42 by 2029 — under the most optimistic scenario — outcomes only promise to get worse.

This was not the first time the Navy has confessed it lacks the capacity necessary to carry out all of its missions. As Rear Admiral Thomas Moore argued last year, “We’re an 11-carrier Navy in a 15-carrier world.” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed a similar concern in his assessment of recent Pentagon strategy, warning that “the smaller and less capable military outlined in the [Quadrennial Defense Review] makes meeting [strategic] obligations more difficult.” Read more ..


The 2016 Election

Adelson All In for 2016

March 30th 2014

sheldon adelson

It’s great news for Jeb Bush, the entire Republican Party and even embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, but it stinks for Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, and Hillary Clinton as well. Casino mogul and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, a decisive factor in the last Republican presidential primary, has given up on “crazy.” After backing former Speaker Newt Gingrich in the 2012 nominating battle, Adelson is going mainstream, and plans to back a pragmatic, less ideological candidate with broad appeal who can win a general election.

Prospects seeking the support of Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who are currently hosting 2016 presidential hopefuls at the spring meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition at the Venetian in Las Vegas, must be conservative and strong on Israel, but purists need not apply. Attendees at this week’s event include Christie and Bush, the former Florida governor, along with Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio — just a few of the players campaigning in what is now known as the “Sheldon primary.” Read more ..


The Race for Renewables

Dem Senator Expects Renewable Credits to be Extended

March 30th 2014

Smoky hill wind farm

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told a meeting of renewable energy officials Friday that the tax credits that incentivize renewable energy production and investment, which expired at the end of last year, are likely to be renewed.

“I think that there’s highly likely to be an extension,” Whitehouse said at an event hosted by the American Council on Renewable Energy, referring to the production tax credit and the investment tax credit. He added that long-term extensions of the credits are not likely unless they’re part of a large tax reform measure.

“There’s very strong bipartisan support for it,” he told industry representatives. “I’m relatively optimistic. It doesn’t mean that you guys shouldn’t be all in to make sure it happens.” Whitehouse is a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Scientists Build Artificial Chromosome

March 30th 2014

Chromosomes magnified

In what is being called a major step forward in genetic engineering, scientists have built a customized copy of an entire yeast chromosome.  Experts say it may lead to a better understanding of how the thousands of genes contained in these packages of genetic material work together in everything from yeast to humans.  And it may make it easier to make designer yeast, creating living factories that churn out everything from antibiotics to biofuels. 

Geneticist Jef Boeke says it started with a coffee shop conversation with a colleague.

“I mentioned casually to him that, of course we could make the yeast chromosome if we wanted to, but why on Earth would we want to do that? And he practically literally started jumping up and down with excitement when I told him that,” he said. So Boeke, the colleague, Srinivasan Chandrasegaran and a third partner, Joel Bader, spent the next year discussing how they could engineer the chromosome to make it worth the enormous investment of time and money it would take. Read more ..


The Bear is Back

Putin and Crimea: A New World Order?

March 30th 2014

Putin Gesticulates

With the stroke of his pen, Russian President Vladimir Putin deepened the divide between East and West by signing a document that officially made Ukraine’s Black Sea region of Crimea part of the Russian Federation.

Some Russia experts see that act as a marking of the end of the post-Cold War era in Europe that the world has known since the days of Reagan and Gorbachev. It is no less than a tectonic shift – “one defined by ideological clashes, nationalistic resurgence and territorial occupation," wrote Michael McFaul, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, in an opinion piece for the New York Times newspaper this week.

Speculation over whether or not Putin has nursed a desire to grab Crimea - a region with deep Russian roots – has sparked debate among Kremlin observers. “This is not something that one could have predicted,” said Russian expert Thomas Graham, Senior Director at Kissinger Associates, Inc. “I think if you look at the record of the past few weeks – a month ago – Putin didn’t believe or know that he going to annex Crimea,” he said. “You know, a lot of this was a response to events that unfolded very rapidly.” Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syria Tops List Of Asylum Seekers in Industrialized Countries

March 30th 2014

Syrian Refugees

A new report finds that Syria is churning out the largest number of people seeking asylum in industrialized countries. The U.N. refugee agency's just-released report on asylum trends in 2013 shows a sharp rise in asylum claims in 44 industrialized countries last year.

The report says nearly 613,000 people lodged claims for asylum in North America, Europe, East Asia and the Pacific last year. This is the highest total for any year since 2001. The UNHCR said this sharp rise in asylum seekers is being driven primarily by the crisis in Syria.

That country now tops the list as the world's main origin for asylum-seekers, bumping Afghanistan into second position, with Russia in third place. The director of UNHCR's Division of International Protection, Volker Turk, called Syria an international game changer. He said the number of Syrian asylum seekers shows how that country is affecting other regions and countries in the industrialized world, although they are far removed from the crisis in the Middle East. Read more ..


Russia and Ukraine

Russia's Armed Forces Depend On Ukraine's Military Industry

March 30th 2014

Russian M17 Helos

It is an ironic fact that much of the equipment used by the Russian troops in Crimea, and those maneuvering on Ukraine's border, is produced by Kyiv's military industry. 

The equipment includes the motors that keep all of Russia's combat helicopters flying and many of the engines that power Russian naval ships. It also includes about half of the air-to-air missiles carried by Russian fighter planes.

But the sight of Ukrainian-produced hardware now pointed belligerently at Kyiv is not simply incongruous. It also underlines how much Russia's military risks shooting itself in the foot if rising tensions cause the two countries to break ties. Conversely, it could also lead Russia to seek to control Ukraine regardless of the costs.

In a recent article, RFE/RL Russian Service's military correspondent Vladimir Voronov argues that severing ties with Ukraine would have a far more dramatic impact on Russia's defense program than any Western sanctions restricting sales of Western military hardware. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Are Statins Good for Your Love Life?

March 29th 2014

Active Seniors

Statins are associated with a significant improvement in erectile function, a fact researchers hope will encourage men who need statins to reduce their risk of heart attack to take them, according to research to be presented at the American College of Cardiology's 63rd Annual Scientific Session.

Erectile dysfunction is common in older men, especially among those with cardiovascular risk factors where cholesterol-lowering statins are frequently prescribed. Previous research has suggested a negative association between statin therapy and testosterone levels, leading to questions about the effects of these widely used medications on the quality of erection.

In the first meta-analysis of previous studies on erectile dysfunction and statins, researchers identified 11 randomized, controlled trials that measured erectile function using the International Inventory of Erectile Function – a self-administered survey with five questions, each scored on a five-point scale and totaled, with lower values representing poorer sexual function. Analysis of all 11 studies combined found a statistically significant effect of statins on erectile function in men who had both high cholesterol and erectile dysfunction. Overall, erectile function scores increased by 3.4 points in men who took statins (from 14.0 to 17.4, a 24.3 percent increase). Read more ..


The US and Russia

Kerry's Change of Course Signals Ukraine Talks

March 29th 2014

John Kerry

Possible negotiations between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov over the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea appeared more likely after the nation’s top diplomat abruptly scrapped his plans Saturday to return to the United States.

Kerry, who has been in Saudi Arabia with President Obama, opted instead to fly to Paris, signaling that a meeting with Lavrov could come as early as Monday. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said the meeting with Lavrov had not yet been scheduled, but that it would occur “early next week.”

According to a senior administration official, Kerry and Lavrov have been attempting to negotiate a solution that would de-escalate the situation in Ukraine. Russian military forces moved into the ethnically Russian Crimean peninsula late last month, in a move they described as a bid to protect Russian nationals from the new, pro-Europe interim government in Kiev. After a referendum vote within Crimea that heavily favored secession, Russia moved to formally annex the territory. Read more ..


Broken Government

Bipartisan Tax-Relief Effort for Struggling Homeowers

March 29th 2014

Home Foreclosure

Imagine two families.
  One family has paid off their mortgage and owns their home outright. They sell their home for a $75,000 gain. The tax code – as it should – exempts this gain from income tax.

The other family is struggling to make ends meet and is at risk of losing their home. Due to the historic downturn in the housing market a few years ago, they are still “underwater” on their mortgage and owe $75,000 more to the bank than their house is worth. They do the right thing and work with the bank to get part of their mortgage forgiven.

Things are looking up for our family. It looks like they will be able to keep their home. Then April 15 rolls around, and they get a huge tax bill from the IRS because that $75,000 in forgiven debt has been classified as “income.” Then they lose their home. That just isn’t right. Read more ..


America's Darkest Edge

Leland Yee, the Kochs, and the Press

March 29th 2014

Guns for sale

Leland Yee, a Democratic state senator and candidate for secretary of state in California, has been a longtime champion of gun control. This week he was arrested on numerous charges, including conspiracy to deal firearms without a license and conspiracy to illegally transport firearms. Yee, a prominent foe of assault weapons, allegedly took bribes to set up a meeting between an undercover agent and an international arms dealer to broker the sale of automatic weapons and shoulder-fired missiles. A lengthy FBI affidavit also describes Yee’s ties to a Chinese triad and his desire to help out Islamist militants. In short, the story makes for what journalists call “good copy.”

And yet, so far no reporter has raised the possibility that Yee supported tighter restrictions on guns in order to keep gun prices high and his own services in demand. Economist Bruce Yandle popularized the idea of the “Bootleggers and Baptists” coalition. The apocryphal Baptists want to ban alcohol. Bootleggers don’t make much money when liquor can be bought legally at a grocery store or bar. So the bootleggers bankroll the Baptists’ effort to ban booze. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

How Much Does Obamacare Rip Off Young Adults?

March 29th 2014

Obamacare

Obamacare is still struggling to sign up young people. In order to offset the high cost of the older, and probably less healthy people who are joining Obamacare plans, the White House must coerce a sufficient number of thirty-somethings to also join. Problem is, the health plans are too pricey to make economic sense for many young adults.

Just how costly are the Obamacare plans for young beneficiaries? We ran the numbers. Here are our results:
Overall, the Federal government reports that 32% of on-exchange enrollees as of March 1st are under the age of 34. And many of these are teenagers who are part of family policies, not the young yuppies that Obamacare is fervently targeting. Earlier estimates showed only 20 percent of enrollees were between the ages 18 and 34.

The final number of young enrollees is well below the required cohort. Premiums will rise next year as a result of the adverse selection of older, and probably less healthy consumers. Why are young adults staying away? In one word, economics. Read more ..


The Bear is Back

In UN Vote, Russia's 'Sphere of Influence' Hedges Its Bets

March 29th 2014

Human Rights Council Meeting

The Kremlin may be wondering where some of its neighbors were during a UN vote rebuking Russia's annexation of Crimea. 

The 11 states that voted against the resolution are recognizable as traditional Russian allies. The list includes South American states that are hostile to Washington, such as Venezuela. It also includes Syria, which has relied on Moscow's vote on the UN Security Council to shelter the regime of Bashar al-Assad. 

What must have been disappointing for Russia, however, is the fact that only two members of the Moscow-backed Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) -- Armenia and Belarus -- voted against the resolution.

Azerbaijan and Moldova voted in favor of the proposal recognizing Ukraine's territorial integrity. All other CIS members either abstained or refrained from voting. Russia has labored to show that opposition to its actions in Ukraine is a Western phenomenon rather than a worldwide consensus.  Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Vietnamese Consumers Shop for 'Safe' Vegetables on Internet

March 29th 2014

onions peppers parsley radish

In Vietnam, there are rising concerns about the excessive use of pesticides on crops. To ensure their vegetables are safe, some consumers are now shopping for produce online.

Billboards carry the message “don’t abuse pesticides, think of the consumer,” but a lack of government regulation has done little to combat the overuse of pesticides, and consumers are taking note.  As a result, many are turning to the Internet to be better informed.

Out shopping in Hanoi’s city center, 30-year-old mother Tran Thuy Nhat expressed concerns many people can identify with.

She said she only buys vegetables from people she knows in her village on the outskirts of the city. She is worried about chemicals in vegetables and fruit and said if she buys these from someone she does not know, they could be harmful to her baby. Not everyone is lucky enough to have access to farmers they know well. But a website dedicated to providing information about shops which sell “safe vegetables” in Hanoi aims to address this lack of trust. Read more ..


The Race for Nuclear

Africa Looks to Nuclear Power to Light Up Continent

March 29th 2014

Nuclear Reactors

At least three African nations are looking to add nuclear power to their grid. Kenya and Nigeria want to establish nuclear energy, and South Africa, the only sub-Saharan nation with nuclear facilities, is looking to expand its capabilities. Until now, African nations have relied on age-old forms of energy generation: Hydropower and coal among them. But those sources have taken a social and environmental toll, displacing communities. But does Africa have the means to turn on nuclear power?

A NASA space flight over a darkened continent illuminated a fact that many Africans already know. The World Bank says fewer than 10 percent of African households have access to electricity. That, in turn, hampers industry and development on the world's poorest continent. This dire need for power has pushed many African nations to consider nuclear energy - increasingly popular in developing and developed nations such as  the U.S., India and China. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

US Essential for Global Health

March 29th 2014

West Africa Domestic Violence

A new report says while big budget battles in Washington may be over for now, adequate funding to fight HIV, TB, malaria and other diseases may still be at risk. The Global Health Technologies Coalition has released its annual report, which focuses on U.S. leadership in research and development.

Coalition Director Kaitlin Christenson praises the improved atmosphere between Democrats and Republicans. She called the ceasefire in budget debates on Capitol Hill “good news.”

“We’re pleased to see that for the first time in several years Congress is able to move forward with a budget that went through the relatively normal process. And we’re pleased to see that in many areas numbers for global health specifically were held strong,” she said.

The federal budget had gone though – what’s called – sequestration.  It required mandatory across-the-board cuts for all agencies if Congress failed to make its own spending cuts. In recent years, the legislative body could not reach agreement, so all agencies took a big hit in spending. Christenson said while the climate has improved, there are no guarantees of agreement for the next fiscal year beginning in October.

“Going into negotiations for FY-15 we do have some concerns and are hoping that Congress will – as it takes the president’s budget request – bring numbers back up for agencies like the NIH [National Institutes of Health], like global health programs at the State Department and at USAID.” Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Taliban Uses Violence to Intimidate Before Elections

March 29th 2014

Taliban

Taliban gunmen attacked a luxury hotel in Kabul Sunday, killing nine civilians including children. The Serena Hotel, previously one of the most secure spots in the Afghan capital, frequently hosts high ranking diplomats and other foreign officials. Sunday's shooting not only targeted Westerners inside the capital, but also seeks to delegitimize upcoming elections before a NATO withdrawal.

Taliban forces have increased their attacks in order to disrupt elections scheduled for April 5th. Following the shooting, election observers who were staying at the hotel from the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), have left the country. The European Union's monitoring mission maintains the only sizeable presence left inside Afghanistan. But the EU's mission during the polls will be limited, as it is too dangerous for most Western observers to leave urban areas. Early Thursday the Taliban claimed a series of strikes in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, that left a Radio Television Afghanistan facility badly damaged. Read more ..


Iraq on Edge

Iraq's Election Commission Resigns on Eve of Elections

March 28th 2014

Click to select Image

Board members of Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) resigned on March 25, just one month before nationwide parliamentary elections scheduled for April 30th. The IHEC is caught between the judicial and legislative branches over the exclusion of certain candidates running in the election. The dispute leaves the integrity of upcoming elections in doubt.

According to Iraqi electoral law, candidates with an "ill" reputation are barred from contesting parliamentary seats. But the courts and parliament have voiced contradictory interpretations of this vague clause, compromising the Election Commission's ability to act independently. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Putin is Hoisted by His Own Petard in Crimea Crisis

March 28th 2014

Ukraine protest

Western leaders increased pressure on Russia on March 24, suspending the country's membership at the G8 in response to Moscow's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats also canceled an upcoming June summit in Sochi, relocating the G7 meeting to Brussels. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the diplomatic restriction was not a big deal and another senior Kremlin advisor voiced similarly dismissive views over newly enacted economic sanctions.

Despite the tone from Russian officials, anecdotal evidence indicates the restrictions are impacting the behavior of Russian elites. Oil tycoon, Gennady Timchenko, had to sell his 43% ownership in Gunvor Group, a Geneva energy trading firm, hours after Washington decided to blacklist him from engaging in dollar transactions. Additionally, the German defense firm Rheinmetall, has suspended a $140 million dollar contract to build a training camp for Russian military forces. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Rising Wealth Not Enough to Raise Child Health

March 28th 2014

Childhood Obesity

Getting wealthier does not automatically make a nation healthier, according to new research.

The study questions whether promoting economic growth is the best way to improve child nutrition in low- and middle-income countries.

The conventional wisdom, according to Harvard School of Public Health professor Subu Subramanian, is “‘Let’s just go after economic growth and then everything else will just follow.’”

But Subramanian notes that a booming economy has done little to reduce child undernutrition in India.

The country’s gross domestic product (GDP), the most common measure of the economy, has been growing by more than five percent per year for much of the last two decades. That’s faster than most Western countries. But more than two-fifths of India’s children are underweight and nearly half are stunted. And that has not changed much since the early 1990s. Read more ..


The Edge of Film

Breaking Through Barriers in Hollywood

March 28th 2014

Hollywood

Achieving success in Hollywood is difficult. For actors with disabilities such as hearing loss, it is even tougher, since roles for the deaf are limited.  A civil rights organization is celebrating the accomplishments of deaf artists in Hollywood who have paved the way for others.Natasha Ofili has read lips her entire life.

"I was born hearing. Then I had a high fever at 18 months and I lost my hearing at 18 months," said Ofili. Ofili is an accomplished fashion designer and an aspiring actress. She's having her picture taken hoping her photos will get noticed by casting directors. Her photographer, who's also deaf, tells her how she's doing.

"You know how you look and your stuff," said the photographer. "Awesome!" Ofili recently landed a lead role in a short film called "Words Not Spoken". She hopes it is the beginning of more work to come. "For me it's like art. Like fashion is art. And when I got into acting it was very emotional - the story connecting to the character. Like it drew me into it," she said. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Russian Economy Weaker after Crimea

March 28th 2014

Russian orphans

Western leaders increased pressure on Russia Monday, suspending the country's membership at the G8 in response to Moscow's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats also canceled an upcoming June summit in Sochi, relocating the G7 meeting to Brussels. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the diplomatic restriction was not a big deal and another senior Kremlin advisor voiced similarly dismissive views over newly enacted economic sanctions.

Despite the tone from Russian officials, anecdotal evidence indicates the restrictions are impacting the behavior of Russian elites. Oil tycoon, Gennady Timchenko, had to sell his 43% ownership in Gunvor Group, a Geneva energy trading firm, hours after Washington decided to blacklist him from engaging in dollar transactions. Additionally, the German defense firm Rheinmetall, has suspended a $140 million dollar contract to build a training camp for Russian military forces.  Read more ..


Financing the Flames

Palestinian Terrorist Hatches Terror Plan to Get Palestinian Authority Terrorist Salary

March 28th 2014

Click to select Image

Imprisoned Palestinian terrorist Husni Najjar explained to Israeli Police that he planned a second terror attack in order to be captured and imprisoned by Israel a second time, so that he would receive the salaries the Palestinian Authority pays to prisoners while in jail and following their release.

In his signed statement given to the police following his second arrest, a copy of which is in the possession of Palestinian Media Watch, he explains that the money he received from the PA as salary during his first prison term amounted to only 45,000 shekels.

However, the salary he would receive following his second prison term and subsequent release would leave him with "135,000 shekels." "And thus I would cover my debts," the terrorist explained his motive for planning the attack. Read more ..


The Bear is Back

America's 'Provocative Weakness'

March 28th 2014

Putin

As it continues its spiraling, across-the-board decline, the Russian Federation is becoming more relevant as a world power.

This development became most visible when President Barack Obama effectively placed Vladimir Putin in the driver's seat to resolve the crisis in Syria. The Russian strongman quickly used the opportunity to diminish the U.S. role even further. Somehow, before anyone seemed to realize it, the United States was opening the door to Putin's protectorate, the Islamic Republic of Iran, in a Cold War redux of economic incentives in exchange for talking about Teheran's Russian-supplied nuclear weapons program.

Meanwhile, Putin poised Russia to take advantage of the mess in Libya, with the Obama administration struggling to divert attention from the scandal surrounding the 2012 murder of the American ambassador and others in Benghazi.

The Russian leader continues to upstage the American president on the world diplomatic scene. His handlers portray him as virile and physically powerful; a man among men. Young people around the world share laughs at popular social media memes of a buff, shirtless, armed Putin versus a rather effeminate Obama posing cross-legged on "The View."

"Provocative Weakness"
"Russia's running out of about everything they need," former CIA director Michael Hayden tells inFOCUS. "Running out of oil, running out of gas, running out of entrepreneurship, running out of democracy, and most importantly, they're running out of Russians." Yet Putin has managed to place the United States on the defensive across several fronts.

The U.S. leadership's inept handling of the defection of NSA contractor Edward Snowden further empowered Moscow by showing it can act with impunity. The Putin regime moved carefully to permit Snowden's request for temporary asylum at a Moscow airport to become a full-fledged defection to Russian intelligence. At that point, the former KGB used Snowden's stolen classified materials to drive wedges between NATO allies and Washington.  Read more ..



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