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The 2012 Vote

Republican Candidates Turn their Fire on Ron Paul’s Foreign Policy

December 23rd 2011

Congressional issues - Ron Paul
Rep. Ron Paul

The Republican presidential candidates turned their fire on Rep. Ron Paul at Thursday’s debate, showcasing what’s become the Texas Republican’s Achilles’ heel in the Republican primary: his foreign policy views.

Paul’s positions on national security remain his biggest obstacle to a realistic chance at the GOP nomination, even as he’s shot up in the polls in Iowa on his steadfast libertarian economic views. Paul called the war in Iraq “useless” Thursday and said Iran shouldn’t be bombed to stop it from getting nuclear weapons—positions loathed by many Republicans. Pundits give Paul a legitimate shot at winning the wide-open Iowa caucuses on his economic message, but say he’s unlikely to go much further.

In Paul’s 1988 and 2008 presidential campaigns, he was mostly viewed as a fringe candidate trying to publicize his views. But the libertarian’s economic message has been tailored to this year’s anti-government sentiment among GOP voters, and he’s slowly risen in the Iowa polls behind a fervent base. The disparity between Paul and the rest of the Republican field was on full display at Thursday’s Fox News debate, where the candidates who trail Paul escalated their attacks on him. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) called his positions on Iran “dangerous” as she and Paul had a terse exchange over whether the country is getting close to obtaining nuclear weapons. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Tea Party ‘Super PAC’ Going After Sen. Orrin Hatch

December 21st 2011

Congressional issues - Orrin Hatch

An outside spending group affiliated with the conservative Tea Party movement is targeting long-time Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch in 2012 for not being conservative enough.

FreedomWorks for America is a so-called “super PAC,” meaning it can accept unlimited donations from corporations, individuals and labor unions and spend the funds on advertising and other expenditures aimed at electing or defeating a candidate. The group recently reported to the Federal Election Commission that it spent more than $43,000 on expenditures to oppose Hatch, including payments to a Utah communications firm for research, a D.C.-based polling firm, an Oregon-based yard sign manufacturer and a North Carolina online services company. The group is affiliated with the conservative FreedomWorks 501(c4) nonprofit group, which also spends money on campaign advertising, but is not required to reveal its donors. Read more ..

The Koreas on Edge

South Korea Calls for Calm Following Kim Jong Il’s Death

December 20th 2011

Korea Topics - Lee Myung Bak (prez SK)
South Korean President Lee Myung Bak,

The South Korean government is calling for calm following the death of North Korean ruler Kim Jong-il. The December 19 announcement by the North Korea’s official broadcasting service caught most South Koreans by surprise and now casts uncertainty over future engagement with Pyongyang.

The South Korean government called an emergency cabinet meeting immediately following the announcement. Even though Kim Jong Il was rumored to be ill for some years, almost everyone here was caught off guard.

During a briefing, Choi Bo-sun, media secretary of the South Korean Ministry Unification, said the government is following protocol. He says the way the government needs to cope with this type of crisis is already laid out in the ministry’s manual. A monitoring team will watch all developments related to North Korea.

In a separate statement, President Lee Myung Bak urges citizens to be calm and carry on their normal lives. In Seoul, most South Koreans appeared to be heeding the president’s words.

Despite the uncertainty Kim Jong Il’s death casts on the future of North-South engagement as well as ongoing efforts to end Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions, many people here are unconcerned about developments up north.

Yu Mi Hyun, 25, who first heard about the news today at the office, says she didn’t think it was a big deal at first. But after talking with friends in the military, she now thinks the situation is serious and needs to be watched. Read more ..

North Korea After Kim

North Korea's Sudden Power Shift Raises Uncertainty

December 20th 2011

Asia Topics - Kim Jong Un

The death of longtime North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and promotion of his untested son Kim Jong Un as his successor is fueling uncertainty about the secretive and impoverished state. Our reporter looks at how North Korea's leadership transition may unfold and how that process may affect Pyongyang's domestic reforms and relations with regional powers. Kim Jong Un may be North Korea's next leader, but his influence within the North Korean leadership is not clear. His late father Kim Jong Il appointed him to several top posts, including four-star general, only last year. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

AT&T Abandons T-Mobile Merger

December 20th 2011

Technology - AT&T Logo

AT&T abandoned its $39 billion bid to buy T-Mobile on Monday, acknowledging that it couldn't overcome opposition from the Obama administration.

Both the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had moved to block the deal, arguing the merger of the second and fourth largest wireless carriers would stifle competition.

AT&T has agreed to pay T-Mobile's parent company, Deutsche Telekom, a $4 billion breakup fee.

 "The actions by the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice to block this transaction do not change the realities of the U.S. wireless industry," AT&T said in a statement. "It is one of the most fiercely competitive industries in the world, with a mounting need for more spectrum that has not diminished and must be addressed immediately. The AT&T and T-Mobile USA combination would have offered an interim solution to this spectrum shortage. In the absence of such steps, customers will be harmed and needed investment will be stifled." Read more ..

North Korea on Edge

Kim Jong Il Dead at Age 69

December 19th 2011

Korea Topics - kim-jong-il waves
Kim Jong-il

The secretive leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-il, is dead at the age of 69.

A tearful announcer dressed in black appeared on North Korean state television Monday morning and announced Kim Jong Il's death. She says Kim passed away on Saturday, from what she described as a “great mental and physical strain.” The official report says the North Korean leader had a heart attack while on a train during what it called a “field inspection.” It says every possible measure was taken to save his life, but that an autopsy on Sunday confirmed the cause of death. Kim is believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008 and has appeared visibly frail in the  limited number of photos recently released.

North Korea is a Communist country and has so far maintained a system of hereditary succession. Kim inherited North Korea's leadership from his father Kim Il Sung, who died in 1994. In September 2010, Kim Jong Il named his youngest son Kim Jong Un as his successor.

Peking University international relations professor Zhu Feng calls Kim's death “surprising.” “North Korea is not just some sort of failed state, but North Korea is also a dangerous state because it has the nuclear weapon," said Zhu. "So, then the sudden passing away of their top leader will certainly produce great worry, uncertainty and even instability.

Shortly after the announcement of Kim’s death, South Korea put its military on “high alert” and President Lee Myung-bak convened his national security council. The White House said President Barack Obama had been notified and U.S. officials are in touch with their South Korean and Japanese counterparts. Read more ..

Significant Lives

Václav Havel, Playwright and Former Czech President, Dead at 75

December 19th 2011

Czech Topics - vaclav havel

Dissident playwright and freedom fighter Václav Havel, a leader of Czechoslovakia’s anti-communist revolution in 1989, has died at his weekend house in the northern Czech Republic at the age of 75. He was a modest writer whose powerful words catapulted him from political prisoner to president.

Born in Prague three years before the outbreak of World War II, Václav Havel was persecuted by the communists who seized power in 1948 because his parents were wealthy. They would not allow Havel to receive a university education.

The plays Havel wrote in the early 1960s gained an international following. When he loudly protested the Warsaw Pact invasion of his homeland in 1968, his passport was confiscated. Read more ..

The Toxic Edge

Paper Mill Air Pollution Standards 25 Years Out of Date, Environmental Groups Sue EPA

December 18th 2011

Environment Topics - Smokestacks

Three advocacy groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency last week over concerns that regulations for paper mills emissions are 25 years out of date. Greenpeace, the Center for Biological Diversity and Port Townsend AirWatchers filed suit on Dec. 6 under a clause of the Clean Air Act that allows citizens to hold the EPA accountable for carrying out the provisions of the act.

The EPA last reviewed the New Source Performance Standards for kraft pulp mills in 1986. The mills use a chemical process to turn wood chips into pulp to make paper. The standards, by law, are supposed to be reviewed every eight years. “This is about how much pollution that people living near paper mills have to breathe,” said Helen Kang, the lawyer representing Greenpeace and Port Townsend AirWatchers. “Why does it take a lawsuit from the citizens to do a job that the agency has neglected for 25 years, when the duty is so clear?” Read more ..

The Arab Fall in Egypt

Egyptian Protesters, Military Police Clash in Cairo

December 16th 2011

Egypt - Egyptian
Egyptian police clear Tahrir Square

In Cairo, violent clashes between protesters and Egyptian military police began early Friday morning and grew larger throughout the afternoon.

A few hundred pro-democracy protesters staged a sit-in in front of Egypt's cabinet building since late November. Protesters said the pitched battle began when one activist, Abboudi Ibrahim, was detained by military police and badly beaten.

The clashes were confined to a broad avenue leading from Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo and several  smaller side streets. Throughout the afternoon, a handful of men in plainclothes pitched rocks from the roof of a government building onto jeering protesters in the streets below.

Other protesters said they were beaten by military police. The protesters armed themselves with stones, pitching them at Egyptian troops. Read more ..

Broken Banking

SEC Sues former Fannie & Freddie Execs for Misleading Investors and the Public

December 16th 2011

Economy - Foreclosure

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has sued six former executives at housing giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, alleging they misled the public and investors about the amount of risky mortgages in their portfolio.

The regulator filed two separate suits against the former heads of the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The former heads of Fannie and Freddie — Daniel Mudd and Richard Syron, respectively — were among those named in the suits.

In the claims, the SEC contends that as the housing bubble began to burst, the executives suggested to investors that the GSEs were not substantially exposed to sub-prime mortgages that were defaulting across the country. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Hundreds of North Korea Nuclear Experts Collaborate with Iran

December 15th 2011

Korea Topics - Kim Jong-IL

A diplomatic source has told the Korean Times that hundreds of North Korean nuclear and missile experts have been colluding with experts in Iran. The source claims that operations are taking place in no fewer than ten locations across the Islamic state.

The collaboration poses a new threat to the international community and adds weight to suspicions that North Korea is assisting Iran in its nuclear and missile programs. The communist state is also thought to be responsible for nuclear and missile proliferation in Syria, Myanmar and Pakistan. World leaders are keen to restrain the nuclear aspirations of Tehran and obstruct the trade of nuclear and weapons technology.

Speaking anonymously to The Korean Times, the source abstained from revealing a definitive number of North Koreans involved, for reasons of security, but claimed "Hundreds of North Korean nuclear and missile engineers and scientists have been working at more than 10 sites (in Iran), including Natanz and Qom." The Korean Times’ endeavored to contact the Iranian embassy in Seoul by telephone but was unsuccessful

Nuclear tests were carried out by North Korea in 2006 and 2009 and last year officials disclosed that a uranium enrichment facility is in operation. Highly enriched uranium is a component of nuclear weapons; coupled with Pyongyang’s plutonium program, North Korea has doubled its capacity to assemble nuclear bombs.

In November, Iran faced condemnation when a United Nations report said that the state appeared to have been working on nuclear weapons. The U.N intensified economic sanctions, hoping to increase the pressure on Tehran to halt its nuclear program. An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report states that it believes Iran "has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device" under a "structured program" until 2003, and "some activities may still be ongoing." Read more ..

The Obama Edge

House GOP Proposes ‘Lost Confidence’ Resolution on Attorney General Holder

December 15th 2011

Politics - Eric Holder
Attorney General Eric Holder

Nearly two-dozen Republicans are backing legislation stating that Congress “has lost confidence” in Eric Holder to continue as attorney general. The resolution, introduced by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and supported by 21 GOP co-sponsors, resolves “that it is the sense of the House of Representatives that Congress has lost confidence in the Attorney General of the United States.”
Gosar pointed to Holder’s role, as the head of the Justice Department, in overseeing a botched gun-tracking operation called Fast and Furious as the main reason for the diminished level of confidence. He said he hopes the resolution would bring an added level of public awareness to the debate over whether Holder is fit to serve as the country’s top law enforcement officer.“By filing this resolution, we are anticipating a debate on the House floor and a floor vote,” Gosar said in a news release. “This will bring needed inquiry, exposure and transparency to the issue itself.”

An aide on the House Judiciary Committee, where the resolution was referred to be marked up, said the panel did not have plans to consider the measure before the end of the year. It has not finalized its legislative schedule for next year, the aide said. Republicans have been investigating and heavily scrutinizing Holder and the Obama administration over the operation for the majority of the year. Both Holder and Obama have said they did not authorize Fast and Furious and that they will hold those who did responsible.

Republicans said the operation — which oversaw the sale of about 2,000 weapons to known and suspected straw buyers for Mexican drug cartels — is indicative of an incompetent agency and that Holder must take responsibility for it because it occured under his watch. “It is imperative that the citizens of our nation have confidence in our Attorney General,” Gosar said in the release. “After months of evasive answers, silence and outright lies, it is time that Congress speak up on behalf of the many people who have or will fall victims to the firearms in the flawed gunrunning operation Fast & Furious.” Read more ..

The Electrical Edge

Philips Calls for Worldwide Switch to LED Lighting

December 14th 2011

Energy Topics - LED bulb

Philips has called for a worldwide switch to LED lighting at the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban. The company is stating that a tipping point has been reached in the development of LED lighting that can now be used for general high-quality lighting in almost all applications. A switch to LED lighting will help combat climate change, save energy and improve people's lives through increased well-being, safety and productivity where they live and work.

At the Climate World Summit, a high-level side event convening representatives from the public and private sector which ended past Sunday, Harry Verhaar, Senior Director for energy and climate change at Philips Lighting, challenged the world's governments and businesses to make a rapid switch to highly energy-efficient LED lighting. Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

SEC May Sue LightSquared Investor

December 11th 2011

Business People - Sanjiv Ahuja
Sanjiv Ahuja, Chairman and CEO of LightSquared

Federal regulators notified Harbinger Capital, the primary investor in wireless firm LightSquared, that they are considering suing the hedge fund over potential violations of securities laws.

Philip Falcone, the head of Harbinger Capital, and other employees received "Wells Notices" from the Securities and Exchange Commission informing them of the possible action, the firm acknowledged on Friday.

Harbinger says any enforcement action is unwarranted. The company has invested billions of dollars in LightSquared, which plans to launch a nationwide cellphone network, but tests earlier this year revealed its signals interfere with Global Positioning System (GPS) devices. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russians Out In Force Against 'Election Fraud,' More Rallies Threatened

December 11th 2011

Russian Topics - putin
credit: www.kremlin.ru

The Russian opposition has called on the authorities to annul election results marred by alleged violations and threatened more anti-Kremlin rallies as tens of thousands demonstrated across the country. 

Officially, police estimates put the crowd on Moscow's Bolotnaya Square on December 10 at 20,000, although organizers cited much higher figures of up to 100,000. The event went off without significant incident and police say no one was detained. Many media outlets said it marked the largest protest since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In a resolution laid before demonstrators in Moscow, the opposition also demanded the release of opposition leaders Aleksei Navalny and Ilya Yashin and others who were jailed in protests this week. "The first [demand] is the release of political prisoners who were jailed after the so-called elections and the second is new elections," Yevgenia Chirikova, an environmentalist and key opposition leader, told RFE/RL after the Moscow demonstration. "Of course, having new elections is one of our definite demands, but there are rather a lot of conditions." Read more ..

The Digital Edge

AT&T Attempt to Take T-Mobile Faces Restart

December 10th 2011

Technology - Mobile phone foto app

The Justice Department told a federal judge on Friday that AT&T needs to re-apply with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) before it can move forward with its bid to buy T-Mobile.

Justice Department lawyer Joseph Wayland said the government will file a motion next week to put its lawsuit against the merger on hold until AT&T refiles with the FCC.

AT&T withdrew its application last week after the agency took a step toward blocking the $39 billion deal. AT&T said it wanted to focus on the Justice Department's lawsuit, which challenges the deal on antitrust grounds.

But the Justice Department argued on Friday that without an application at the FCC, there is no longer an active deal to challenge. On Tuesday, the Justice Department will file a motion to either delay the case or withdraw it entirely until AT&T re-applies with the FCC. AT&T will respond to the motion by Wednesday, and the court has scheduled a hearing for Thursday at which Judge Ellen Huvelle is expected to issue a ruling. Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Government Fails to Keep Eye on Night-Vision Goggles in Mideast

December 10th 2011

Military - night vision goggles

When U.S. special operations forces killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani hideout in May, they relied on night-vision goggles, devices that the Pentagon describes as valuable and sensitive national resources.

Such goggles give U.S. forces a built-in advantage that other nations - including those in the Middle East - lack the ability to replicate. As a result, when the U.S. sells such equipment to friendly allies in the region, it generally requires strict precautions against theft or diversion, including a requirement that they be stored in protected depots with their serial numbers recorded and frequently checked.

But these precautions ordered in Washington are frequently ignored or poorly enforced by Defense and State Department officials in the field, and as a result, some of the night-vision goggles sent to the region have gone missing, according to a report by the General Accountability Office last month. Read more ..

Defense on Edge

Undaunted, Senator Still Trying to Close Decrepit Schools on Military Bases

December 10th 2011

America Themes - Tom-Coburn

The Senate has decided not to take up a proposal that would close rather than repair decrepit Defense Department-run schools on military bases, creating a flood of thousands of students to nearby public school systems.

But the plan’s chief architect, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), is vowing to try again. He estimates potential savings to the Pentagon from closing “unnecessary” schools at more than $1 billion over four years.

Coburn spokeswoman Becky Bernhardt said the senator was “disappointed and frustrated that the Senate, yet again, chose to ignore the chance to achieve real savings in refusing to vote on a common-sense amendment.” Read more ..

The Edge of Weather

Weather Service Adopts a New Chilling Effect

December 9th 2011

Weather - Rain

Rumors have been spreading that the National Weather Service (NWS) is getting rid of wind chill values, which describe how cold it feels with wind factored in. The truth is NWS offices in the Dakotas and Minnesota are not eliminating wind chills; they are changing the way they warn the public about extreme, dangerous cold.

In the past, the NWS issued Wind Chill Watches and Warnings when wind chill values were expected to fall below a certain level. The problem the NWS encountered was when extreme cold was predicted in the absence of wind, it did not have a warning product that could be issued.

"On clear nights when the wind goes calm and we have deep snow cover, that is when we get our coldest temperatures in North Dakota. It can get down to minus 30 or minus 40," said John Paul Martin, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Bismarck, N.D. Read more ..

Multinationals on Edge

Veolia Exits 37 Countries As Part of Massive Restructuring

December 9th 2011

Transportation Topics - Veolia Transport Prague

Veolia Environment has announced its departure from the transport sector in a move to reduce debt. The French water and waste management multinational aims to sell off assets to the value of EUR5 billion. The group’s restructuring is part of a plan to reduce its net debt of EUR15 billion to EUR12 billion by 2013.

Chairman and Chief Executive Antoine Frerot, aims to win back the confidence of investors following a profit warning in July and some divisions experiencing operational difficulties which saw Frerot announce a withdrawal from 37 of the 77 countries in which it is operational. 

Veolia shares have dropped 56 percent this year, making them the worst-performing CAC-VO stock. At 0953 GMT, the shares were up 1.1 percent at EUR9.63. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Android ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’ Tablet Yields More Power Using Less Power

December 7th 2011

Computer Topics - Android

The new Android 4.0 tablet is available in China and online through Ainol Electronics. It will be available in the United States and other geographies within the next several months under brands from companies including Leader International Inc. and OMG Electronics Ltd. The new tablet is available with a 7” capacitive multi-touch screen. 8” and 9” form factors will be available soon.

All versions include support for WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, USB 2.0, HDMI 1.3 and microSD, as well as 3D graphics with the Vivante GC860 GPU, 1080p video decoding and dual front/rear cameras. The XBurst processor’s power-efficient architecture provides extended battery life—the 7” tablet draws less than 400mA during active web browsing.

“We are pleased to join with MIPS to announce these breakthrough high-performance, low-power, low-cost Android 4.0 tablets. Combining the elegance of the MIPS architecture and Ingenic’s innovation in processor design, we are bringing a new level of processor technology to mobile devices. As we continue to collaborate with MIPS to broaden the mobile ecosystem around the legendary MIPS architecture, we anticipate even broader proliferation of our devices worldwide. We believe the mobile world will be more versatile and colorful with another processor joining in,” said Qiang Liu, chairman and CEO, Ingenic Semiconductor. Read more ..

Edge on Anti-Semitism

Vandalized Historical Marker of First Michigan Jewish Cemetery Replaced

December 6th 2011

Jewish Topics - Jewish historical marker Michigan
Credit: UM photo services/Scott Soderberg

Jewish community leaders and University of Michigan officials at the Ann Arbor-based institution say they're pleased following the successful replacement of a damaged historic marker that commemorates the site of the state's first Jewish cemetery. In the photograph at left, Tilly Shames, associate director of Jewish campus organization Hillel, left, joins Helen Aminoff, a member of Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor, and Hillel leader Miriam Goldberg, a Syracuse, N.Y., junior in the School of Education, at the new historic marker replacing a plaque found damaged in July. The marker commemorates the site of the first Jewish cemetery in Michigan.

The metal plaque at the corner of East Huron and Fletcher streets on the U-M campus was found broken in two pieces shortly after 2 a.m. on July 10, 2011. A replacement marker was placed at the end of October. University Planner Susan Gott says that soon after the university was informed of the damaged marker, the Michigan Historical Center was contacted to determine the proper procedure to replace it. University departments that managed the effort included the University Planner's Office, Plant Operations and the Risk Management Office.

A new base was created to increase the angle of the marker, to better withstand weather; it was paid for through contributions. The marker's inscription was unchanged. The original plaque was lifted off its base and broken in two. Community members expressed uncertainty whether the vandalism was an act of anti-Semitism or of uncontrolled revelry. Hard times in Michigan have see a rise in the theft of metals such as bronze and copper, which is often stripped from abandoned homes and business. Copper plumbing is especially hard hit, as well as iron manhole covers and sewer grates. It is not known what metal, which is a silvery alloy, was used for the broken plaque. The new plaque is displayed prominently on the campus of the university. Read more ..

War Against the Weak

Investigative Author Edwin Black Testifies Before Congress on the Pseudo-Science of Eugenics

December 5th 2011

Contributors / Staff - Edwin Black

The Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives is holding hearings on December 6 on pending legislation, the Pre-natal Non-Discrimination Act (PRENDA), which addresses infanticide and gendercide. Millions of babies are aborted or murdered in their first moments of life because of their gender or racial make-up. The problem is acute among ethnic communities that value male children over females for cultural reasons, experts say. This practice is sometimes called "son preference."

Renowned investigate journalist and author Edwin Black has been called to testify at the hearing to provide background on the history of eugenics—the pseudo-science that provided the basis for laws that called for the sterilization of so-called “unfit” classes of Americans. Black’s book War Against the Weak details the collusion of government, scientists, and nonprofit institutions such as the Carnegie Foundation, in propagating master-race theory in America. The connections between American racial theorists, and the ultimate practice of genocidal and henious social enginerring conducted by Nazi Germany, is docuemented with crystal clarity in the award-winning book.

Known as PRENDA, the measure is intended to protect the unborn from discriminatory race and sex-selective abortions. It was re-introduced in the House on November 28. PRENDA would restrict “sex-selection abortion and race-selection abortion, and the coercion of a woman to obtain either. The woman seeking an abortion is exempted from prosecution, while abortion providers are held to account,” according to Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), leading sponsor of the bill. Women are frequently the targets of pressure or violence from family members to coerce the abortion of an unwanted daughter.

“Sex-selection abortion is happening in the United States,” wrote Franks in a letter to colleagues. He cited a 2008 scientific study based on U.S. Census data that showed that certain segments of the U.S. population—particularly those coming from countries that practice sex-selection abortion—have unnaturally skewed sex-ratios at birth caused by sex-selection ‘most likely at the prenatal stages.’” Read more ..

J Street on Edge

Dovish Jewish students at Berkeley Reject J Street U

December 3rd 2011

Israel Topics - J Street Convention

U.C. Berkeley’s Jewish Student Union includes groups such as Challah for Hunger, Bears for Israel and the Jewish Business Association.

J Street U will not be joining them.

At a Nov. 16 general meeting, the union voted to deny membership to the Berkeley chapter of J Street U, the college division of the left-leaning and often controversial Israel lobby. The final tally: nine for, 10 against, two abstentions.

It takes a two-thirds majority to approve membership. Representatives from each JSU member organization, as well as select individual members, have a vote. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Al Qaeda: We've Kidnapped a Jew

December 3rd 2011

Terrorism - Warren Weinstein
Jewish Contractor Warren Weinstein

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri claims that his terror network has kidnapped a Jewish American aid worker in Pakistan.

According to an audio recording released on Islamist websites, terrorists captured Warren Weinstein, a 70-year-old development expert, from his Lahore home in August.

"I tell the captive soldiers of Al Qaeda and the Taliban and our female prisoners held in the prisons of the crusaders and their collaborators, we have not forgotten you and in order to free you we have taken hostage the Jewish American Warren Weinstein," al-Zawahiri said in the 30-minute tape, demanding the release of high-profile terrorists as ransom.

"Your problem is not with us but with [President Barack] Obama. We have raised fair demands... So continue to pressure [him], if you want your relative to be handed back," he added, addressing Weinstein's family.

The State Department acknowledged that it's aware of the crisis and is in contact with Weinstein's family in the U.S. Read more ..

War Against the Weak

Eugenics Justice Champion Larry Womble in the Fight of His Life

December 3rd 2011

North Carolina  - Larry Womble
North Carolina Rep. Larry Womble

The most important man in America for the cause of justice for victims of eugenics is fighting for his life. North Carolina State Rep. Larry Womble, in critical condition, has entered an hours- long surgery to save him following a mangling head-on car crash in Winston-Salem, the district he represents. The passionate 70-year-old nine-term Democrat was driving home Friday night at about 11 PM when his car collided with a vehicle driven by David Allen Carmichael, 54, of Winston-Salem. Carmichael died at the scene, according to authorities.

Womble was rushed to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center with massive injuries to his head and hip. He had lost a lot of blood. Once stable, a team of surgeons moved in to begin the long task of bring Womble back from the brink.

Womble achieved national and international recognition for his efforts to bring state compensation to victims of North Carolina’s decades-long campaign of eugenics. The fake science financed by the nation’s leading philanthropic organizations, and buttressed by fraudulent academic validation, ignited a campaign of forced surgical sterilization of the so-called “unfit.” After World War II, when the Hitler regime emulated America’s practices, eugenics receded from the American scene.

But in North Carolina, as a tool of racism and population control, the practice thrived. Womble has tirelessly led a decade of efforts to achieve recognition and compensation for the survivors. He was on the verge of a breakthrough with state legislators when he was stopped by a highway accident. Read more ..

The Solyndra Scandal

Judicial Watch Sues Administration for Solyndra Documents

December 2nd 2011

Obama Admin Topics - Steven Chu
Energy Sec. Steven Chu

A conservative watchdog group is suing the Obama administration for documents related to the $535 million loan guarantee to failed California solar company Solyndra.

Judicial Watch said Thursday that it filed separate lawsuits with the Energy Department and the White House Office of Management and Budget after the agencies did not fully comply with a request for records related to the loan guarantee. The group said it filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in September for “any and all records regarding, concerning or related to” the Solyndra loan guarantee.

The Energy Department released digital copies of documents in October and noted that “[a]dditional responsive documents exist and are being reviewed in preparation for public release,” according to Judicial Watch. But the group said the department has not provided additional documents. "While we cannot comment on pending litigation, the Department has consistently demonstrated our commitment to being fully open and transparent since the beginning of this investigation," Energy Department spokesman Damien LaVera said in a statement. Read more ..

America on Edge

Michigan Legislator foresees 'Uprisings' if Welfare Cuts Continue

November 29th 2011

America Themes - Panic in Detroit
Collapsing Detroit home

Michigan legislator Coleman A. Young II (D), who represents central Detroit, predicted “uprisings” should the embattled Midwestern state continue with its policy of limiting recipients’ lifetime welfare cash assistance to 48 months. Speaking in a November 28 interview to Michigan public radio, Young criticized the policy which was passed by a Republican-dominated legislature. Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, is also Republican.

Raucous protests and confusion emerged at an office of the Department of Human Services in Detroit on November 28. Michiganders who had been advised of the termination of their benefits were told to arrive by 8 am that day to participate in a teleconference hearing on their eligibility. The United Auto Workers union, which represent DHS workers, had picketers on the scene who protested that cutting benefits is unfair to recipients. Concern was also expressed for the safety of DHS workers who are confronted by angry and frustrated welfare recipients. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Iran Promises to Strike NATO should Israel or US attack

November 28th 2011

Iran - Iran holy missiles

General Amir Ali Hajizadeh of Iran, who leads the aerospace division of the Revolutionary Guards, warned on November 26 that should the US or Israel strike the Islamic Republic, his country will respond by attacking NATO's missile defense shield in neighboring Turkey. According to Iran’s Mehr news agency, the senior military officials says that this is a new defense posture in response to Iran views as a heightened threat from the US and Israel. "Should we be threatened, we will target NATO's missile defense shield in Turkey and then hit the next targets," Mehr quoted Hajizadeh as saying.

Following the release of a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency on November 8, tensions have been rising between Iran and the West. The supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khameini warned Washington and Jerusalem that any aggression on their part will be met with “iron fists.” Iran’s state-controlled TV network quoted him as saying, “Our enemies, particularly the Zionist regime (Israel), America and its allies, should know that any kind of threat and attack or even thinking about any (military) action will be firmly responded to," in response to the IAEA report. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Gingrich: Not for Amnesty, but for Humane Enforcement of the Law

November 27th 2011

Politics - Newt Gingrich

GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich defended his immigration stance Friday, claiming that he was "not for amnesty."

“I am not for amnesty for anyone. I am not for a path to citizenship for anybody who got here illegally,” Gingrich said at a town hall event in Naples, Florida according to media reports.

“But I am for a path to legality for those people whose ties run so deeply in America that it would truly be a tragedy to try and rip their family apart," said the former House Speaker.

Gingrich has been under fire from some anti-illegal immigration groups since last Tuesday's GOP debate where he spoke out against deporting many illegal immigrant families.

During Friday’s town hall, Gingrich said that if elected he would make securing the border a priority and would support efforts to make English the country's official language.

He said he would also establish a guest-worker program to allow migrants to work in the U.S. But under such a program, businesses which hired undocumented workers would be hit with fines.

"I would have very, very stiff economic penalties for anyone who hires somebody who is not legally inside the system," Gingrich vowed. Read more ..

Edge on Politics

Supreme Court hearing on Obama Healthcare Law kicks up a Storm on K Street

November 27th 2011

America Themes - K Street

Next year's Supreme Court decision on the healthcare reform law could be the most heavily lobbied ever.

Corporations, unions, trade groups, and advocates are expected to spend millions of dollars over the next few months trying to shape the court's thinking on whether the law's individual mandate is constitutional. Their efforts will include ideological appeals, popularity contests and recusal campaigns—none of which are likely to have much effect on the outcome of the case.

"More effort will go into pushing this boulder up this Sisyphean hill in the next three months than in any court case in history," predicted Tom Goldstein, co-founder of the legal affairs SCOTUSblog and a lawyer for AARP in defense of the law. "However many op-eds or TV ads or whatever you want to place, you're just lighting money on fire when it comes to trying to change any Justice's opinions on these questions."

Still, the pressure for any group with a stake in healthcare to get involved could prove irresistible after the high court agreed this month to take up the case right in the middle of the 2012 election campaign. The real target, experts say, is the court of public opinion.

“I'm not so sure that all of these special interest groups are entirely about influencing the judicial process itself (as much as trying) to justify their own existence,” said Michael Wissot, a senior strategist with Republican messaging guru Frank Luntz's firm. “I see it as being more about taking one last opportunity to intensify the public outcry.” Read more ..

Religious Tolerance

Ahmadi Community of Pakistan Fearful following Agitation by Banned Islamist Group

November 27th 2011

PakistanTopics - Ahmadi funeral Pakistan
Pakistani Ahmadis bury victims of massacre by Muslims

Rabia Saleem, a female student of the Ahmadi religious sect in the final year of studies at the COMSATS Institute of Information Technology in Lahore, Pakistan, has been expelled on allegations of blasphemy. Saleem was accused of blasphemy by the student wing of the banned Islamist organization known as Tahaffuz-e-Khatam-e-Nabuwwat (TKN).

Saleem lived at a student hostel in Lahore, and allegedly removed a banner displayed by TKN condemning the Ahmadi community. A guard observed her removing the poster. He then accused her of committing blasphemy by dishonoring the verses of the Koran. Ahmadis are considered by many Muslims to be heretics and are treated to the same persecution as are Christians and Hindus in Pakistan. The controversy has been extensively covered by the Pakistani media. Read more ..

Edge of Justice

Justice Accused of Withholding Records on Kagan's Role in Healthcare Defense

November 24th 2011

Supreme Court - SCOTUS
Justice Elena Kagan

The Justice Department withheld records about Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s role in healthcare reform, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has said.

Smith pressed Attorney General Eric Holder to provide documents and witnesses about Kagan’s time as solicitor general and her role in preparing to defend President Obama’s healthcare reform law in court. Republicans have clamored for Kagan to recuse herself when the Supreme Court takes up a case challenging the law.

Smith said in a letter to Holder that the Justice Department has refused to comply with his requests for documents and interviews about Kagan’s involvement. But the department later publicly released emails that his inquiry covered, Smith said.

“The public has a right to know both the full extent of Justice Kagan’s involvement with this legislation while she was Solicitor General, as well as her previously stated views and opinions about the legislation while she was serving as Solicitor General,” Smith wrote.

Emails show that Kagan’s office mounted an early and aggressive effort to prepare for legal challenges to the individual insurance mandate, but the records released so far do not contradict Kagan’s statement that she was not directly involved in the planning.

Although Kagan had not been formally approached about a position on the Supreme Court when her department began working on its healthcare defense, she had been on the short list for an earlier appointment. Read more ..

The Edge of Food

Fish Tales Causing the Demise of the Bluefin Tuna

November 21st 2011

Food - Bluefin Tuna on sales floor
A routine catch of Bluefin Tuna on a sales floor in Japan

Nearly 50 countries that trade in high-priced Eastern Atlantic Bluefin Tuna agreed earlier this month to transform an archaic paper-based method for tracking fish into a digitalized system that officials say will make it harder for fleets to smuggle plundered bluefin into market.

Member countries of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the body charged with protecting the bluefin stocks threatened by overfishing, will implement the new electronic system by the time ships set out in the spring of 2013.

Last year, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) exposed the paper-based Bluefin Catch Document scheme as so full of holes as to render it virtually useless. The system was riddled with inaccuracies and inconsistencies and did little to stop the thriving black market in bluefin. Before the ICIJ report, officials had lauded the system as a successful deterrent to illegal trade — a way to track every fish from hook, through fattening farms and to the final buyer. Read more ..


Riots in Egypt Claim Twenty Lives

November 21st 2011

Egypt - Wary Egyptian Cops

Hundreds of protesters are facing off with security forces in Cairo's central Tahrir Square as part of a fresh wave of protests challenging the country's ruling military authorities.

Protesters clashed with security forces over the weekend in violence that officials now say left at least 20 people dead and some 1,750 people wounded.

The resurgence of protests in Egypt reflects growing public anger over the slow pace of reforms following the February ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak and concerns that the country's provisional military rulers will try to retain power.

The violence also comes little more than a week before Egyptians are scheduled to start voting in key parliamentary elections on November 28. Read more ..

The Solyndra Scandal

Chu Declares Final Solyndra Decisions "Were Mine"

November 19th 2011

Obama Admin Topics - Steven Chu

Energy Secretary Steven Chu will take full responsibility for approving a $535 million loan guarantee to the now-bankrupt solar firm Solyndra during a House hearing Thursday, insisting that politics did not influence the decision.

“As the Secretary of Energy, the final decisions on Solyndra were mine, and I made them with the best interest of the taxpayer in mind. I want to be clear: over the course of Solyndra’s loan guarantee, I did not make any decision based on political considerations,” Chu will say, according to written testimony made public by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday evening.

“My decision to guarantee a loan to Solyndra was based on the analysis of experienced professionals and on the strength of the information they had available to them at the time.” Read more ..

Edge on Environment

Zimbabwe Needs Water for Elephants

November 19th 2011

Africa Topics - elephants in zimbabwe

According to official reports in Zimbabwe, up to one hundred elephants have died of thirst since October of this year in the Hwange Natural Park in the west of the country. Watering holes and other sources of water that depend on pumping have dried up and have “caused an alarming rate of mortality” among the behemoths, reported the state-run Herald newspaper. Each adult elephant requires approximately 100 gallons of water each day.

The east African region has experienced unprecedented high temperatures and a drought over the last few months, which have caused crop failures and migration of people and animals. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Intel Capital Launches $100 Million Apps Investment Fund

November 17th 2011

Technology - galaxy tablet

Intel Capital, the venture capital arm of the world's biggest chip maker, said it has launched a $100 million fund to invest in invest in software tools and services companies developing applications and digital content for mobile devices and PCs.

Intel (Santa Clara, CA) said the fund would back companies that supply apps via the company's AppUp center, an online store selling apps for netbooks, consumer laptops and ultrabooks.

Intel announced two initial investments from the fund in Urban Airship, a mobile platform-as-a-service company and 4tiitoo, a German OSV and tablet device developer. Intel did not disclose the amount of investment in each firm. Read more ..

The Race for Rail

Rail Supporters Get Back On Track With Amtrak Victory

November 14th 2011

Transportation Topics - transit

Rail supporters won a rare victory this week after a year spent mostly in retreat when the House backed off a push to privatize a major component of Amtrak service.

Republicans have worked to dismantle President Obama’s vision for a nationwide network of railways since they swept into power last November.

This week, however, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), said he would no longer push to privatize Amtrak service in its most profitable region, the northeast.

Transportation advocates, many of whom are in the labor movement, staunchly opposed the proposal. They argued it would effectively end the longtime national passenger rail service.

Ed Wytkind, president of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, told The Hill that the victory on Amtrak privatization was sweet, but the fight over rail in Congress was far from over. Read more ..

American Economy on Edge

Bankrupt Alabama County is Generous to Political Campaigns

November 14th 2011

Economy - Bankruptcy

Despite the move last week by Jefferson County, Alabama, to file for bankruptcy, the residents of the region have continually been among the most generous Alabamians in terms of their campaign contributions.

During the last presidential election four years ago, residents of Jefferson County donated more than $6.4 million, according to research by the Center for Responsive Politics. That's more than any other county in Alabama.

Notably, of that $6.4 million, about 61 percent benefit federal Republican candidates and committees.

Jefferson County residents also led the state in contributions during the 2010 election cycle, donating about $4.2 million. And so far this year, Jefferson County residents have contributed about $1.3 million, with 65 percent of that sum benefiting Republicans.

Overall, residents of Alabama have donated about $4.4 million so far this year, according to the Center's research, with about 72 percent of that money aiding Republicans. Read more ..

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