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Archive for May 2015

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The Edge of Intolerance

When Baghdad Burned - the June 1941 Farhud Massacre

May 28th 2015

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“Violent dispossession.” In an Arabic dialect, the word is Farhud. For decades after it occurred, many thought the nightmare was a sudden and unexpected convulsion that afflicted the Iraqi Jewish community, one that lived in that land for some 2,600 years. But in truth, the wild rape and killing spree of June 1–2, 1941 was not unexpected. For years, the Jew hatred, anti-British rage, and Nazi agitation seethed just below the surface, like a smoking volcano waiting to erupt.

Soon after Hitler took power in 1933, Germany’s chargé d’affaires in Baghdad, German Arab specialist Fritz Grobba, acquired the Christian Iraqi newspaper, Al-Alem Al Arabi, converting it into a Nazi organ that published an Arabic translation of Hitler’s Mein Kampf in installments. Then, Radio Berlin began beaming Arabic programs across the Middle East. The Nazi ideology of Jewish conspiracy and international manipulation was widely adopted in Iraqi society, especially within the framework of the Palestine problem that dominated Iraqi politics.

As Arab Nationalism and Hitlerism fused, numerous Nazi-style youth clubs began springing up in Iraq. One pivotal group known as Futuwwa was nothing less than a clone of the Hitler Youth. In 1938, Futuwwa members were required to attend a candlelight Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg. When the delegation came back from Germany, a common chant in Arabic was, “Long live Hitler, the killer of insects and Jews.” Read more ..


Air Travel

Congress to Grant the Mother of All Subsidies to American, Delta and United Airlines

May 26th 2015

The American people would be saddened and sickened to learn that some Members of Congress not only put their own personal interests before their constituents but also can go much further and inflict financial harm on the traveling public, mid-size communities and those seeking employment in the travel and tourism industry.

Members are allowed to double and triple book flights home from Washington and pay nothing week in and week out for multiple changes while, in contrast, ordinary citizens can pay hundreds of dollars to make just a single flight change.

Airlines cultivate a cozy relationship with Members through that practice as well as special reservations desks that begin the very exceptional treatment Members receive throughout the entire travel experience. Airlines are repaid handsomely when they receive generous legislative support and when Members sign letters that airline lobbyists put before them.  

While this convenient relationship substantially undermines credibility, specifically of a recent letter that 262 Members of the House of Representatives signed on behalf of the BIG 3 U.S. airlines - American, Delta and United - it nevertheless underscores what is so very wrong with Washingtons unyielding focus on its own interests and those of Special Interests at the expense of everyday consumers.

The BIG 3 claim that the Gulf airlines -- Emirates, Qatar and Etihad - receive government support that is harming the U.S. carriers. The Congressional letter supports the BIG 3s call for a freeze in new air services by the Gulf airlines -- all without having allowed those carriers an opportunity to respond to the allegations, not to mention the glaring hypocrisy that the U.S. airline industry, by the BIG 3s very own math, has been the most heavily taxpayer subsidized and structurally advantaged in history of commercial aviation.

Now that U.S. airlines have secured antitrust immunity for their global alliances and achieved radical consolidation of the U.S. airline industry, they want to block new competition. Members are all too willing to lend a hand in this building of Fortress America first by supporting U.S. airlines continuing quest to prevent Norwegian Air International from introducing new competitive flights to the U.S. and second by endorsing the airlines overarching strategy to increase profits by foreclosing on new competition from the Gulf carriers.

If successful in frustrating foreign carrier new entry and robust competition, then Members of Congress will have inflicted financial injury on virtually all Americans through the Mother of all Subsidies -- artificially higher airfares and fees. Whats more, Members will be responsible for lost travel and tourism jobs and reduced economic development for mid-sized communities due to lost connectivity to the worlds important business centers and emerging markets. 

When it comes commercial aviation, antitrust and competition policy, the consumer represents the North Star; policy needs to be in alignment with consumers interests. Moreover, in the U.S. free enterprise system, consumers have sovereignty -- the power or freedom to have final say. In the end, consumers determine whether any business succeeds or fails. Government protectionist policies rob consumers of this power and distort markets. No market in the world is fair; to succeed market participants must play to their unique strengths and advantages. Members of Congress need to understand this and act accordingly and in the best interests of consumers.

For more information, see: BusinessTravelCoalition.com


Europe on Edge

The Two Inter-Connected Crises in Troubled Europe

May 26th 2015

Last week I began this series with a Net Assessment of the World, in which I focused on the growing destabilization of the Eurasian land mass. This week I continue the series, which will ultimately analyze each region in detail, with an analysis of Europe. I start here, rather than in the Middle East, because while the increasing successes of the Islamic State are significant, the region itself is secondary to Europe in the broader perspective. The Middle East matters, but Europe is as economically productive as the United States and, for the past 500 years, has been the force that has reshaped the world. The Middle East matters a great deal; European crises can destabilize the world. What happens between Greece and Germany, for example, can have consequences in multiple directions. Therefore, since we have to start somewhere, let me start with Europe. Read more ..


The Healthy Edge

Cancer Drugs May Prevent Down Syndrome and Fragile X

May 26th 2015

A class of FDA-approved cancer drugs may be able to prevent problems with brain cell development associated with disorders including Down syndrome and Fragile X syndrome, researchers at the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute have found.

The researchers' proof-of-concept study using fruit fly models of brain dysfunction was published today in the journal eLife. They show that giving the leukemia drugs nilotinib or bafetinib to fly larvae with the equivalent of Fragile X prevented the wild overgrowth of neuron endings associated with the disorder. Meanwhile, the drugs—both tyrosine-kinase inhibitors—did not adversely affect the development or neuronal growth in healthy flies. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Abused Women Also Suffer Loss of a Sense of Belonging

May 26th 2015

Women in abusive relationships feel depressed not only from the violence but from the loss of their sense of belonging, a new University of Michigan study finds.

In a new study published in Violence Against Women, researchers examined the relationship between domestic abuse, belongingness and depression of 71 female patients in a Southeast primary care clinic.

Domestic abuse led to women having greater depressive symptoms, but losing a connection with the spouse, family or home also factored into the depression, said Edward Chang, U-M psychology professor and study's lead author.

The study's respondents ranged in age from 46 to 64. When asked about the frequency of being abused by a partner, 32 percent reported some form of abuse. The women rated if they felt a sense of belonging, as well assessed their levels of depression.

The findings not only build on earlier research, but they go further to support the contention that one compelling manner in which domestic abuse may lead to the development of depressive symptoms in women is through a loss in belongingness, Chang said. Read more ..


Broken Government

Sen. Paul Says NSA Bulk Data Collections Leads to 'Systemic Bias'

May 26th 2015

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Presidential hopeful and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Monday defended his role in scuttling Senate compromise on government surveillance reauthorizations, a move that could lead to the controversial intelligence programs expiring outright at the end of the month.

“I’m right in line with what the founders would have fought for and I am proud of the fight,” Paul said on CBS’s “This Morning.”

“The Constitution is inconvenient, but the thing is, we obey the Constitution because it protects the rights of all individuals.”

The Senate adjourned last weekend without a compromise on extending expiring portions of the Patriot Act. Paul led an effort to block a compromise bill, called the USA Freedom Act, as well as a number of short-term extensions of the program meant to carry the policies through a congressional recess.

Paul bucked criticism from other lawmakers that his efforts are just for show or to help shore up fundraising for his presidential campaign. He noted that a recent Justice Department Inspector General report found that “the bulk collection of data hasn’t cracked one case."

While that report said that the controversial Section 215 of the Patriot Act “did not identify any major case developments,” intelligence officials said it served other important purposes. Read more ..


Book Review

The End of Greatness: Why America Can't Have (and Doesn't Want) Another Great President.

May 26th 2015

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Aaron David Miller. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 288 pp.

"Whether one agrees with his conclusions or not..."

"I doubt many readers will agree with all of his arguments – I don't..."

"You may disagree with him at times, as I did..."

That's three out of the four book jacket blurbs on Aaron David Miller's new book, The End of Greatness: Why America Can't Have (and Doesn't Want) Another Great President. And it is the first clue that this book is an invitation (challenge) for you to go where Miller goes and envision American history as he envisions it — or not. In a political era that demands followers — left or right — it is refreshing to read a book that doesn't worry about what you think, but provides a clear and compelling picture of what the author thinks.

Best known as a Middle East policy adviser to both Democratic and Republican Secretaries of State, Miller takes on American political history, ranking Presidents as Indispensable, Near Great, Politically Astute, and the Rest of The Guys. Along the way, he wonders if the U.S. is ungovernable.

There are only three Indispensables: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Non-controversial. Most Americans would, and in fact do, say the same when asked. But why? According to Miller, these presidents fundamentally changed the country through a confluence of crisis, character, and capacity to shape events. "We assume inevitability for the American enterprise because of where we now sit, a kind of inexorability that everything was destined somehow to turn out the way it did. We should not." Read more ..


Book Review

Religion, Politics, and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief: the Arsenal Opposed to Israel's Survival

May 26th 2015

Religion, Politics, and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief. Asaf Romirowsky and Alexander H. Joffe. New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2013. 254 pp.

Romirowsky and Joffe trace the involvement of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)—a Quaker organization founded long before 1948 to assist civilians caught up in the maelstrom of war—in its pivotal role as relief provider to Arab refugees in Gaza under the auspices of the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees (UNRPR). Painstakingly combing through personal memoirs, cables, and diplomatic communiqués, the authors construct a rich history of the immediate post-1948 period. The AFSC was determined that its relief mission be short-lived to thwart any "moral degeneration" that might occur from a continuing refugee status.

Its preferred solution was "repatriation" (return to homes in the territory that became Israel) but quickly changed to resettlement in adjacent Arab states, such as Jordan, Egypt, and Syria, as a more judicious option. This approach was also seriously considered by the U.S. government—then and now the principal source of monetary aid to the refugee operation—along with a program of political and economic development in the Middle East directly connected to larger Cold War policies.

But the idea of refugee resettlement in Arab states soon fizzled out. As the authors illustrate, both field personnel and those at the policy-making level within AFSC understood that the refugees were being used as pawns by the Arab governments in their propaganda war against Israel.

Once UNRPR's mandate expired in 1950, the United Nations established the U.N. Relief and Work's Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) as its replacement, and from then on, the fix was in. For reasons ranging from bureaucratic inertia to self-interest, but most importantly Arab governments' clear desire to maintain the refugee problem, UNRWA has, for the last sixty-five years, provided "relief" to a population that has increased nearly ten-fold and whose questionable refugee status is handed down to each successive generation as their prized—and lucrative—legacy. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Bin Laden's Bookshelf: In the Shadow of Anders Breivik

May 23rd 2015

Osama bin Laden in mufti

On July 22, 2011, the Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik killed seventy-seven people in and near Oslo. Not long before he attacked, he emailed a 1,500-page document titled "2083: A European Declaration of Independence," which included conservative critics of radical Islam among his sources. Immediately, some in the media, academic, and think tank worlds declared these persons guilty by association and charged them with shaping Breivik's thought, even though the manifesto cited about the same number of liberals and conservatives.

Yesterday we were given a look inside the mind of another mass killer when the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released Bin Ladin's Bookshelf, a "sizable tranche of documents recovered during the raid on the compound used to hide Usama bin Ladin." The 409 items range from publicly available U.S. government documents to personal letters from bin Laden to family and fellow terrorists. Read more ..


Preeminent Scholar and Historical Guardian Robert Wistrich Passes

May 21st 2015

It is with great sadness that SPME mourns the loss of our friend and colleague Robert Wistrich who died suddenly on Tuesday in Rome. Robert was the Neuburger Professor of European and Jewish history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the head of the University’s Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism. The world has lost one of its leading experts on antisemitism but, SPME lost a dear friend who has been a guide and supporter of our work from the very start and he will be sorely missed.

Robert was a preeminent scholar on the study of antisemitism. A true intellectual - who mastered the history of antisemitism and became a leading scholar on the contemporary manifestations of this longest hatred - a term Wistrich made popular. He was intimately involved with the subject of antisemitism. Wistrich was born in Lenger, in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, on April 7, 1945. His family fled antisemitism in Poland a few years early but, were met with similar animosity in the Soviet Union, where his father was twice arrested by the secret police. After World War II, the family returned to Poland but encountered more Jewish hatred and relocated to France and from there to England. At the age of 17 Wistrich won an open scholarship in history to Queens’ College, Cambridge, eventually earning his masters degree in 1969, followed by a doctorate at the University of London in 1974. Robert's scholarly achievements are unparalleled. Among his dozens of books and essays, Socialism and the Jews received the American Jewish Committee Award; The Jews of Vienna in the Age of Franz Joseph won the Austrian State Prize for Danubian History and Anti-Semitism; The Longest Hatred was awarded the United Kingdom's H.H. Wingate Prize for Non-Fiction and became the basis of a PBS documentary on antisemitism, which Robert created. With the global rise of antisemitism today – it was Robert who became a guardian of the Jewish People and the gold standard for all of us.

May his Memory be a Blessing to all of Us.


The Race for Biogas

Backyard Unit Eats Trash to make Biofuel

May 21st 2015

Arab Vendor

When UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited the sukkah of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin during the Jewish harvest holiday last October, he was treated to a demo of a machine the government has given to Bedouin families to convert organic waste into clean biogas for cooking, heating and lighting, as well as organic liquid crop fertilizer.

"He got very excited and told us, 'Millions of women and children die each year due to indoor smoke from open fires. This is just the thing they need. The UN should be purchasing these units!' recalls Ami Amir of HomeBioGas, which develops and manufactures a new class of anaerobic biodigesters to convert organic waste to clean renewable energy. He asked us to be in touch with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization to see where and when our systems could be deployed.” Read more ..


The Syrian Threat

The Lessons of the Syrian Chemical Weapons Discovery

May 19th 2015

Syria's chemicals

In early May, inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reported that they had located traces of sarin-type chemical weapons and ricin-type biological weapons in at least three sites in Syria which the Assad regime had not reported. This came following verification of the regime’s extensive use of chlorine in barrel bombs dropped on heavily populated areas controlled by the opposition.

While these reports prompted discussion in the West, and bearing in mind the embarrassing retreat from “red lines” regarding Syria’s use of chemical-weapons in the past, any thought of the West imposing further sanctions on the Assad regime in response to this new breach of his commitments, let alone use of force, is highly unlikely. Read more ..


The World on Edge

A Net Assessment of the World

May 19th 2015

Police and inverted US Flag

A pretentious title requires a modest beginning. The world has increasingly destabilized and it is necessary to try to state, as clearly as possible, what has happened and why. This is not because the world is uniquely disorderly; it is that disorder takes a different form each time, though it is always complex.

To put it simply, a vast swath of the Eurasian landmass (understood to be Europe and Asia together) is in political, military and economic disarray. Europe and China are struggling with the consequences of the 2008 crisis, which left not only economic but institutional challenges. Russia is undergoing a geopolitical crisis in Ukraine and an economic problem at home. The Arab world, from the Levant to Iran, from the Turkish border through the Arabian Peninsula, is embroiled in politically destabilizing warfare. The Western Hemisphere is relatively stable, as is the Asian Archipelago. But Eurasia is destabilizing in multiple dimensions. Read more ..


Palestinians on Edge

Abbas to Syria's Palestinian Refugees: Go to Israel or 'Die in Syria'

May 18th 2015

Syrian refugees

Faced with the suffering of their own people, the Palestinians' leadership recently decided not to help. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas rejected a deal with Israel brokered by the United Nations that would allow Palestinian refugees living in Syria to resettle in the West Bank and Gaza. Abbas stated unequivocally that "we rejected that and said it's better they die in Syria than give up their right of return." The Palestine Liberation Organization has also ruled out any military action to help the 18,000 or more refugees who are trapped in the Yarmouk camp near Damascus. Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

Erdogan's Dream: The Sultan Rules

May 17th 2015

Erdogan

It is election time in Turkey. On June 7, the Turks will go to the ballot box to elect a government and a prime minister who will rule the country for four years.

In reality, they will go to the ballot box to decide whether they want an elected Sultan or not.

Turkey's President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, wants more than just to win a parliamentary majority for his Justice and Development Party (AKP). He wants a two-thirds majority, so that the constitution can be amended to introduce an executive presidential system and the Sultan can once again officially rule.

In 2013, Burhan Kuzu, the AKP's chairman of the parliament's Constitution Commission, compared the U.S. presidency to the broad powers of Turkey's prime minister (who at the time was Erdogan), saying, "Obama is a poor man, the Prime Minister is powerful." Read more ..


After the Holocaust

Israel’s Ambassador ‘Disappointed’ over Thai Royal’s Holocaust Denial

May 17th 2015

Holocaust Tattoo

Israel’s Ambassador to Thailand expressed extreme disappointment Thursday over 
statements made by a minor Thai royal denying the holocaust of WWII.
Ambassador Simon Roded expressed “disappointment and Extreme Regret” over the 
comment by ML Rungguna Kitiyakara, a descendent of 19th-century King Rama V of 
Thailand, the Bangkok Post reported. 
On his Facebook, ML Rungguna praised Nazi leader Adolf Hitler as a genius and 
patriot, and said the holocaust was “Propaganda”.
Mr Roded’s statement, written in Thai, said it was “a shame that someone with 
such opportunity, and education… would perpetuate a myth that history has 
proven false.”

Around 6 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis during the Third Reich.

ML Rungguna wrote of his appreciation to Hitler on April 20, he Nazi leader’s 
birthday, He said he beleived Hitler made some mistakes but he was a genius and 
a patriot, so his life was worth studying. ML Rungguna viewed that Hitler was a statesman who had been destroyed by Jewish 
bankers and Zionists and been imputed as the bad guy for the holocaust which ML 
Rungguna claimed did not actually occur. It was propaganda to establish 
sympathy to expel and kill Palestinians from their homeland so the Jews would 
have their own state, he wrote.
Read more ..

Destination California

Navigating Napa Wine Country

May 16th 2015

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The Napa Valley, about an hour's drive north of San Francisco, is well known as one of the world's foremost wine producing regions. Less known, however, are its many unexpected attractions which include an authentic 13th. century Tuscan castle-winery, a vintage train, thermal springs, Michelin-rated restaurants, museums and art galleries galore as well as biking trails, golf courses and even bocce ball. All this plus more than 400, mostly family-owned, wineries can be found in a narrow, 30-mile valley with a welcoming climate year-‘round.

On our recent visit, we made downtown Napa our headquarters. We had a wide choice of hotels and settled into the elegant Napa River Inn, located in the 1884 Historic Napa Mill complex right on the bank of the Napa River on Main Street. This allowed us to explore this charming and pristine town on foot, to "window shop" some of its stylish stores and to admire nearby residential areas with their neat Victorian-era homes and flower-filled gardens. Read more ..


Technology and Health

Saving Babies' Lives with 3-D Printing Technology

May 15th 2015

Kaiba was just a newborn when he turned blue because his little lungs weren’t getting the oxygen they needed. Garrett spent the first year of his life in hospital beds tethered to a ventilator, being fed through his veins because his body was too sick to absorb food. Baby Ian’s heart stopped before he was even six months old.

Three babies all had the same life-threatening condition: a terminal form of tracheobronchomalacia, which causes the windpipe to periodically collapse and prevents normal breathing. There was no cure and life-expectancies were grim.

The three boys became the first in the world to benefit from groundbreaking 3D printed devices that helped keep their airways open, restored their breathing and saved their lives at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Researchers have closely followed their cases to see how well the bioresorable splints implanted in all three patients have worked, publishing the promising results in today’s issue of Science Translational Medicine. Read more ..


Travel Safe

Fatal Train Wreck Renews Calls for Automated Trains

May 15th 2015

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This week’s deadly Amtrak is sparking fresh calls for automated trains on the nation’s rails, even as industry groups press for an extension of this year’s deadline to implement the technology.

Railroads have until December to install “positive train control” under a law passed in the aftermath of 2008 commuter rail crash in California. But just six weeks before Tuesday’s wreck, which killed eight people, a GOP-backed measure pushing the deadline to the end of 2020 cleared a key Senate panel.

After Tuesday’s crash, Democrats wasted little time criticizing Republicans for the effort to delay the automated train mandate. "The Amtrak disaster shows why we must install Positive Train Control technology as soon as possible,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif), who sponsored the original legislation containing the 2015 mandate, along with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). Read more ..


Book Review

The Fall of the Ottomans: No Paradigm Shift in Thinking about the Mideast

May 15th 2015

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The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East. Eugene Rogan. Basic Books. 512 pp. 2015

A century after the catastrophic blunder that led to the destruction of the then longest-surviving empire on earth, culpability is still ascribed to the European powers. Rather than view the Ottoman entry into the First World War on the losing side for what it was – a failed imperialist bid for territorial aggrandizement and reassertion of lost glory – the Muslim empire has been portrayed as the hapless victim of European machinations, driven into the world conflict by overbearing powers eager to expedite its demise and gobble up its lands.

Emblematic of the wider tendency to view Middle Easterners as mere objects, whose history is but a function of their unhappy interaction with the West, this conventional wisdom has proved remarkably resistant to the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and Eugene Rogan's The Fall of the Ottomans (2015) is no exception to this rule.

To begin with, in an attempt to underscore the Ottoman Empire's untenable position on the eve of the war, Rogan reproduces the standard depiction of the protracted period preceding the empire's collapse, or the Eastern Question as it is commonly known, as the steady European encroachment on Ottoman territory. "The looming prospect of a European general war", he writes, "raised the imminent threat of a Russian annexation of Istanbul, the straits, and eastern Anatolia – and the ultimate dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire among the Entente Powers. France was known to covet Syria, Britain had interests in Mesopotamia, and Greece wished to expand its grip over the Aegean."

Far from setting their sights on Ottoman lands, European powers had consistently shored up the ailing empire. Read more ..


America on Edge

Falling Short of Greatness

May 14th 2015

Armstrong_Williams

When African-Americans marched on Washington to hear the historic ‘I have a dream’ speech by Martin Luther King, they were pressing for a society that looked very much like that in which they already lived – a society built on freedom; a society that protected life, liberty and the pursuits of happiness among its citizens.  Many of those freedoms and protections had not been extended to African Americans of course.  And so they came to Washington to ‘cash a check’ (to paraphrase King) that would cover the remainder of their birthright as American citizens.

What blacks got when they cashed that check was not their birthright. Of course the right to vote was formally recognized and began to be slowly enforced.  But Washington’s main thrust was to try and paper over the decades of pain and oppression suffered by blacks with a shiny new toy – the Great Society program.  The program offered to cure all the ills of black America with government entitlements – Food Aid, housing assistance, Medicare, a variety of educational enrichment programs, and the like – it promised a glorious path for Americans (black Americans especially) out of poverty and into the middle class.  Those were the glory days of America.  With a large industrial base and a growing economy, it seemed as if authorizing major new spending programs designed to deal with intractable social problems just might be the key to maintaining racial harmony and achieving the goals of social justice set forth by King and others. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Why Shiite Expansion Will Be Short-Lived

May 14th 2015

Iranian Revolutionary Guard

The sectarian conflict in the Middle East can neatly be divided into two sides: Sunnis and Shiites. Or so it would seem. The reality, it turns out, is more complicated. Sunni unity is a myth – the countries that constitute the Sunni camp are divided over a variety of issues. And the Shiites, whose power has grown since the early 1990s, nonetheless suffer from the inescapable constraints of being a minority population. Indeed, the single most defining characteristic of the Shiite camp is that it comprises only a fraction of the Muslim population. More than three-fourths of all Muslims practice Sunni Islam.

According to a 2011 study by the Pew Research Center, only four countries have a Shiite majority: Iran, Azerbaijan, Bahrain and Iraq. But other countries have notable Shiite minority populations as well, including Yemen, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman. Shiites also form the largest confessional group in Lebanon and account for as much as 20 percent of the 180 million or so Muslims in India. Read more ..


The water's Edge

Israeli Water-tech Flows to Thirsty California

May 13th 2015

mexico drought

Parched California is already working with Israeli industrialists, government experts and academics on advanced water technologies and long-term strategies to lessen the effects of its severe drought.

One example is the $1 billion ocean-water desalination plant  Israel’s IDE Technologies is building to provide 50 million gallons of water daily in the San Diego area starting in November.

But that’s just a trickle compared to the flood of joint projects that could get flowing in the coming dry years.

Israel’s population is 8.3 million, while California’s is 38.8 million. Yet California can implement many aspects of Israel’s holistic approach combining education, technology and water management, says Yossi Yaacoby, director of the WaTech innovation center for Mekorot, Israel’s national water-management consortium. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Administration Apologizes to UN for Baltimore Incidents

May 13th 2015

Obama speechifying

In the wake of a United Nations report that condemned the United States for its allegedly poor human rights record, James Cadogan, a senior counselor to the U.S. assistant attorney general, apologized to the international delegates conferring in Geneva.  "The tragic deaths of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Michael Brown in Missouri, Eric Garner in New York, Tamir Rice in Ohio and Walter Scott in South Carolina have renewed a long-standing and critical national debate about the even-handed administration of justice. These events challenge us to do better and to work harder for progress — through both dialogue and action." Speaking on May 11 in Switzerland, Cadogan also said that the Department of Justice has opened more than 20 investigations since 2009. This includes its investigation into the Baltimore Police Department, and the report by the Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Policing that was released in March. The latter provided more than 60 recommendations.
Read more ..

The Digital Edge

How about Password-Protected Paper Mail?

May 13th 2015

Paper Stack

In this age of encrypted messaging and secure email services, researchers from the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT) have demonstrated password-protected paper envelopes that could inform the sender in real-time if the mail has been received by its intended recipient or if it has been opened by a third party. This password-protected envelope is one of three demonstrators developed during the four-year ROPAS (ROll-to-roll PAper Sensors) European project involving 11 partners from research and industry.

Other demonstrators included a security tag to be used for sending physical goods through traditional mail and enabling recipients to check that the box was not opened during transport and that the good is in its genuine package, and a smart label able to measure and record environmental parameters such as humidity and temperature during transport to display them on a display at the push of a button. Read more ..


Islam on Edge

Islamists Hack Another Secular Writer to Death in Bangladesh

May 13th 2015

Bengali Islamists

For the third time this year, Islamist radicals in Bangladesh hacked a secular writer to death in public. Four masked men chased down Ananta Bijoy Das Tuesday morning as Das left his home in Sylhet. They hacked him with machetes after running him down. "Ananta died on the spot," Metropolitan Police Commissioner Kamrul Hasan told the Daily Star. "Ananta was an organiser of local progressive publication outlet Jukti (logic) and a relentless writer on science."

Das was 31.

On March 30, Oyasiqur Rahman Babu, 27, was murdered on his way to work. Like Das, Babu's writings criticized religious fundamentalism. On Feb. 26, American citizen Avijit Roy was killed, and his wife severely injured, when attackers jumped them at a book fair. Roy had been threatened for his writings against religion, including his statement that religious extremism is like a virus: "if allowed to spread [it] will wreak havoc on society in epidemic proportions." Read more ..


World War II

World War II and the Origins of American Unease

May 12th 2015

Hitler

We are at the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. That victory did not usher in an era of universal peace. Rather, it introduced a new constellation of powers and a complex balance among them. Europe's great powers and empires declined, and the United States and the Soviet Union replaced them, performing an old dance to new musical instruments. Technology, geopolitics' companion, evolved dramatically as nuclear weapons, satellites and the microchip — among myriad wonders and horrors — changed not only the rules of war but also the circumstances under which war was possible. But one thing remained constant: Geopolitics, technology and war remained inseparable comrades.

It is easy to say what World War II did not change, but what it did change is also important. The first thing that leaps to mind is the manner in which World War II began for the three great powers: the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Drivers Not Ready To Let Cars Take Over, Reveals Poll

May 12th 2015

Highways

Do car owners have confidence in algorithms and control units that eventually could take over the command over their vehicles? A recent study reveals deep-seated concerns.

The German subsidiary of IT consulting company CSC recently conducted a poll among a representative cross section of the population in Germany, Austria and Switzerland showed that though car drivers acknowledge that the digitization of the car offers some benefits, their confidence into this technology is not really unlimited.
Almost 70 percent of the respondents said they were afraid of malicious hackers taking over the car. Almost the same percentage said they simply don’t trust enough into the technology to leave the responsibility for driving to the machine. Two thirds expressed doubts that in the case of an accident the liability issues could be settled to their disadvantage.

Nevertheless, there was also a strong majority expecting that automated driving would improve traffic safety. Four out of five respondents found it essential that after an accident automatics systems such the eCall would speed first aid after an accident, and the same percentage said they expect that Connected Car schemes would spread information on accidents and other hazards quickly to other traffic participants.

“The Connected Car is one of the most crucial subjects for the automotive industry”, said Claus Schünemann, general manager of CSC Germany.  “Almost 70 percent of the consumers are in favour of this technology and regard it as a relief in long-distance highway travel or in dense commuter traffic. Read more ..


BDS Jihad

Canada Mover to Make BDS a Hate Crime

May 12th 2015

Boycott Israel

The pro-Israel Canadian government may be planning to include boycotts of Israel as a hate crime, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported Monday.

It said that such a move would target organizations such as the United Church of Canada, Canadian Quakers, campus protest groups and labor unions. It also would raise legal questions under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Canadian Prime Stephen Harper is unarguably the most pro-Israel head of any government in the world. He sounded like an echo of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during his visit to Israel last year.

Recently-retired Foreign Minister John Baird in January signed an agreement with Israel to fight the Boycott Israel movement, and government ministers have said they will show “zero tolerable” towards groups that are part of Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS). He described the Boycott Israel movement as “the new face of anti-Semitism.” Read more ..


Financing the Flames

Israeli Ex-Soldiers Angered over NIF-funded 'Breaking the Silence' Claims Against IDF

May 11th 2015

Exhausted Israeli Soldier

A group of former IDF soldiers, incensed over an Israeli NGO's claims that they abused Palestinians during last summer’s fighting in Gaza, have taken to social media to fight the allegations.

Under the hashtag #my_truth in Hebrew, the soldiers, many of whom faced heavy fire from Hamas and other terrorist groups during the 50-day Operation Protective Edge, have begun posting stories of cases showing how they went to great lengths to avoid harming Palestinians. They also mentioned cases in which civilians took part in terrorist activity.

The goal of this initiative is to counter damning anonymous testimonies by other troops published by the NGO Breaking the Silence, which frequently publicizes claims that the IDF mistreats Palestinians. Read more ..


Election 2016

A No-Win Situation for Hillary Clinton on Trade Issues

May 9th 2015

Hillary Clinton clearly isn’t bothered by the exhortations of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), but President Obama is — and the longer Obama indulges Clinton’s silence on trade, the more the presumed Democratic nominee for 2016 exacerbates her party’s food fight over the issue and, in Boehner’s view, embarrasses the president she served.

Perhaps the apocalypse is imminent, because Obama is working with Republican leaders on a major legacy push: passage of trade promotion authority, also known as fast-track, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

As crunch time nears, Boehner says the president “needs her [Clinton’s] help” to grow a weak Democratic vote, now estimated at fewer than 20 members. Obama has shown an uncharacteristic interest in trying to sway hesitant Democrats in Congress to vote in favor of the trade deal, with promises to protect them against any political backlash. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Growing Confidence among Same-Sex Marriage Advocates

May 9th 2015

Gay rights activists are trying to harness their momentum on same-sex marriage to push for anti-discrimination laws.

Advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBTs) people say they have a lot to celebrate, with the Supreme Court expected to issue a major ruling on gay marriage in June, President Obama calling for an end to gay conversion therapy, former Olympian and “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” dad Bruce Jenner announcing he’s transgender, and support for gay marriage hitting a record high.

But advocates say the headway they have made on winning acceptance for LBGT people is not yet reflected in the nation’s laws — and that's something they intend to change. Read more ..


Energy and Security

Diminished U.S. Influence in Latin America and the Future of Petrocaribe

May 9th 2015

In 2014, the Atlantic Council, a Washington D.C. based think-tank, hosted a panel discussion, “Petrocaribe, Central America, and the Caribbean: Who Will Subsidize the Future?” regarding the Venezuelan-backed energy initiative and the corresponding potential for the United States to regain some of its reduced influence in the region. The event was in conjunction with the Atlantic Council’s recent report, “Uncertain Energy: The Caribbean’s Gamble with Venezuela.” Speakers included David Goldwyn, who co-authored the report; Jorge Piñón, Director of the Center of International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas at Austin; and Jed Bailey, who authored a pre-feasibility study that considered transitioning the region to liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Petrocaribe provides Venezuelan oil and oil products at preferential financing terms to 17 member states across the Caribbean and Central America. While the program has not experienced major problems since it was first created in 2005, its future is uncertain as Venezuela grapples with its own economic challenges, including high inflation and commodity shortages. The discussion centered largely on possible scenarios for the future and Washington’s potential role should Petrocaribe weaken. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Mother's Day Comes Again, and We're Still at War

May 9th 2015

After the carnage of the Second World War the members of the now defunct Victory Chapter of the American Gold Star Mothers in St. Petersburg, Florida, knew better than most what it was to lose their sons, daughters, husbands and other near relatives in war. “We’d rather not talk about it,” one mother, whose son was killed in WWII, told the St. Petersburg Times fifteen years after the war ended. “It’s a terrible scar that never heals. We hope there will never be another war so no other mothers will have to go through this ordeal.” But thanks to our wars in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan –not to mention our proxy wars around the globe-- too many Moms (and Dads too) now have to mourn family members badly scarred or lost to wars dreamed up by the demagogic, ideological and myopic.

But every year brings our wonderful Mother’s Day. Few Americans know that Mother’s Day was initially suggested by two peace-minded mothers, Julia Ward Howe, a nineteenth century anti-slavery activist and suffragette who wrote the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and Anna Reeves Jarvis, mother of eleven, who influenced Howe and once asked her fellow Appalachian townspeople, badly polarized by the Civil War, to remain neutral and help nurse the wounded on both sides. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

European War Games: Responses to Russian Military Drills

May 7th 2015

Greek boarding party

Several events have coincided to demonstrate the dynamic, if not guarded, relationship between Russia and the Nordic and Baltic states. Ten NATO countries and Sweden launched a two-week planned exercise in the North Sea on May 4 to improve their anti-submarine warfare capabilities. On the same day, Finland — not a NATO member — began mailing letters to about 900,000 reservists informing them of their roles in a potential crisis situation. Meanwhile, Sweden's Foreign Ministry formally complained to Russian authorities that Russian navy ships were disrupting cable-laying work in waters between Sweden and Lithuania, the latest in a series of formal complaints over Russia's activity in the area. Concurrently, the Swedish and Lithuanian foreign ministers met with Moldova's pro-West leaders in Chisinau.

All of these events confirm that the Nordic and Baltic states are working to boost security cooperation in response to Russia's military activity in the region. Consequently, the security buildup will continue — on both sides. Read more ..


Financing the Flames

Former AP Journalist Blasts ‘Breaking the Silence’ Report on Israeli Conduct in Gaza

May 6th 2015

Israeli tank IDF photo

Former Associated Press reporter Matti Friedman on Tuesday wrote a scathing criticism of the recently issued report from NGO Breaking the Silence on the conduct of Israeli soldiers during last summer’s Gaza war.

In an extended Facebook post, Friedman blasted the report, and simultaneously tried to put it in context.

Friedman began by addressing testimony presented by Israeli soldiers in the report, to the effect that their compliance with the laws of war was much more lax than it should have been. He noted that “War is awful” and “people come back feeling upset about things they’ve seen and done. Some observers are reliable, and others aren’t.” He said that “Some of the things described in the report no doubt happened as they were described. Others didn’t. Infantrymen at the bottom of the hierarchy often don’t understand what they’re seeing, or the reasons for what they’re doing, and I’m speaking from experience.” Read more ..


Financing the Flames

Breaking the Silence - Questions the Media is not Asking

May 6th 2015

Israeli soldier emerges from Hamas tunnel

I’ve been asked a few times about the “Breaking the Silence” report that is currently being played up by the international press, as is any report that fits the narrative of Israelis as war criminals. (Contradictory reports, like the recent one I posted here from two US military experts, are not considered news.) I hope that most intelligent people have stopped taking international press coverage of Israel too seriously. But there are a few things that are important to understand.

1. War is awful and people come back feeling upset about things they’ve seen and done. Some observers are reliable, and others aren’t. Some of the things described in the report no doubt happened as they were described. Others didn’t. Infantrymen at the bottom of the hierarchy often don’t understand what they’re seeing, or the reasons for what they’re doing, and I’m speaking from experience.

Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Single Material Battery Safer, Simpler and More Efficient

May 6th 2015

Battery-single-use

Engineers at the University of Maryland have created a battery that is made entirely out of one material and claims to be capable of both moving electricity and storing it.

“To my knowledge, there has never been any similar work reported,” explained Dr. Kang Xu of the Army Research Laboratory, a researcher only peripherally related to the study. “It could lead to revolutionary progress in area of solid state batteries.”

Most batteries have at either end a layer of material for the electrodes which can help move ions through the electrolyte. Chunsheng Wang, a professor in the University of Maryland’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and his team have made a single material that incorporates the properties of both the electrodes and electrolyte.

“Our battery is 600 microns thick, about the size of a dime, whereas conventional solid state batteries are thin films - forty times thinner. This means that more energy can be stored in our battery,” said Fudong Han, the first author of the paper and a graduate student in Wang’s group. Read more ..


Vote 2016

Ben Carson and Baltimore

May 6th 2015

Ben Carson-scrubs

Regardless of how Dr. Ben Carson chooses to try to convince Republican voters that he should be their candidate for president, Carson's personal story is particularly worthy of the attention of all Americans during these troubled times.

His story defies much of the conventional wisdom we get from both the left and the right to "explain" the grave social problems in our poor minority communities and the seemingly insurmountable obstacles to success facing poor black children.

From the left, we hear that black life in America would have no hope but for government programs to ease the burdens of an unfair hand dealt by the past and an unwelcoming and racist present.

But Carson is a poster child for the American dream. Born poor in a black ghetto in Detroit and raised by a divorced, uneducated mother, he rose to the pinnacle of the medical profession, becoming director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The fuel for his success was not government programs, but a stern and caring mother who refused to accept excuses for failure, Christian values of right and wrong and personal responsibility, and an ethic for work, learning and achievement.

From the right, we hear that the rampant problems with young black men today stem from the collapse of the black family and the absence of fathers.

But Carson was raised without a father at home.

So what can we learn from Carson's experience that could point to what is wrong in America today?

One thing wrong is that it has become politically incorrect to talk about the importance of religion.

It is impossible to explain Carson's remarkable life and achievements without the Christian faith and values that guided his mother and have served him throughout his life. Read more ..


Islam on Edge

Why Can't Muslims Laugh at Mohammed?

May 5th 2015

Jacob blesses Manasseh and Ephraim

In Mel Brooks' comedy History of the World Part I, Moses is shown descending from Mount Sinai with three stone tablets in hand. As he declares, "I give you the Fifteen Commandments," one falls and breaks, and Moses corrects himself, "er, Ten Commandments."

Jews, including the observant, find this funny rather than offensive. As we learned once again in Garland, Texas, Muslims do not laugh at jokes about Mohammed, the purported author of the Koran (as Moses is the author of the Torah). Two wannabe Jihadists with assault rifles and body armor were no match for an off-duty Texas traffic cop with a sidearm, but the incident might have turned into a massacre worse than the murder of the Charlie Hebdo staff in January.

Why do Jews as well as Christians–but not Muslims–laugh at jokes about the founders of their faiths? Read more ..



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