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Edge on Terror

Threat of Food Contamination by Al-Qaeda Terrorists Takes Some of the Cheer out of Christmas

December 22nd 2010

Food - Chinese buffet

Top security personnel of major hotel and restaurant chains were briefed this year by Homeland Security officials about an Al-Qaeda terrorist plot to poison food over a single weekend in the United States. The hospitality industry in the US is reportedly taking steps to counter the threat to its customers. Homeland Security is claiming that intelligence on this alleged threat is outdated, but remains a possibility. Media reports about proposed food contamination piqued concerns in the days preceding the observance of Christmas.

Homeland Security had determined earlier, however, that there was “credible” evidence for concern for a terrorist threat coming out of Al-Qaeda based in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Uncovered earlier this year, the plotters were said to plan the use of two poisons—ricin and cyanide—that would be slipped into the food of unwitting diners at buffets and salad bars. On December 6, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said of her department, “We operate under the premise that individuals prepared to carry out terrorist acts are in this country.” The group that is said to be planning the food poisoning is the very same that attempted to detonate bombs secreted in computer components mailed from the Arabian Peninsula on board cargo planes destined for the United States. In one case, a synagogue in Chicago was the intended recipient of a mail bomb. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Iran to Cut Diplomatic Ties with the United Kingdom

December 21st 2010

Iran - Ahmadinejad The Man

Iranian lawmakers are moving forward with plans to sever diplomatic ties with the United Kingdom. Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said on December 21 that lawmakers of the Islamic Republic need to send London a serious message, and that a bill aiming to cut ties with Britain would be discussed very soon.

Iran's government-controlled Fars new agency quoted Speaker Larijani as saying Iran needed to respond to what he called "the British government's positions" over the past year. The Iranian parliament's national security and foreign policy committee backed the legislation Sunday, but the motion requires the approval of the full parliament and of a constitutional watchdog to take effect. Read more ..

The Koreas on Edge

South Korea Remains on High Alert

December 21st 2010

Korea Topics - N Korean troops

South Korea’s government remains on high alert, watching for a North Korean response to the South’s military exercises. South Korean fighter jets and warships are patrolling for a second straight day, ready to react should North Korea launch a military strike.

The patrols continue even though Pyongyang said it did not intend to retaliate against South Korea’s artillery training in disputed waters on Monday. Read more ..

Border War

Mexican Mother who Sought Justice for Murdered Daughter is Herself Assassinated

December 21st 2010

Mexican Topics - Marisela Escobedo Ortiz
Marisela Ortiz protests her daughter's murder

A chilling video, taken by CCTV camera, captured the assassination of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, a Mexican human rights activist who - for more than two years - has demanded justice for her murdered 16-year-old daughter, Rubí Marisol Frayre. Rubi was shot to death, allegedly by a lover, and her body later burned and left at a garbage dump.

Marisela was arranging on the evening of December 16 her protest signs in front of the government house in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, preparing for yet another demonstration, when a man emerged from a car and shot her in the head. Falling to the ground, she was soon taken by local police to hospital while she still showed signs of life. However, she was finally pronounced dead despite medical attention. Read more ..

Islma on the Edge

Muslim Family in Spain Sues over a Lesson in Ham

December 21st 2010

Islamic Topics - Peaceful Muslims at Prayer

According to media reports in Spain, a Muslim student accused his teacher of Islamophobia during a geography class at a school in Cadiz. The city is located near the southernmost tip of the Iberian Peninsula, in Andalucia. The teacher was giving a course on variations in climate and spoke of the famous hams of Trevelez, which are cured to perfection in the region's cold and dry climate.

According to a local newspaper, a Muslim student demanded that the teacher refrain from speaking of ham since the salty viand offended his Muslim identity. Pork is proscribed under Islamic religious law, known as sharia. Even so, Spaniards—not otherwise encumbered by such proscriptions—are avid consumers and producers of pork. Ham is one of the signature products of Spain, especially the beloved 'serrano' and 'jabugo' hams produced by Spain's black 'pata negra' pigs. Read more ..

Inside Washington

Former Clinton Aide Hired by Honduran Government

December 14th 2010

Politics - Lanny Davis and Josh Block
Lanny Davis (left); Josh Block (right)

The Embassy of Honduras has hired Lanny Davis to help its relations with the United States.

The Central American nation has contracted with law firm Lanny J. Davis & Associates, according to a press release obtained by The Hill. Davis-Block, Davis’s new strategic consulting firm founded with former American Israel Public Affairs Committee spokesman Josh Block, will also help out, assisting with communications and media strategy on behalf of Honduras.

“I hope to help the Government of Honduras and President Porfirio Lobo strengthen U.S.-Honduran relations by emphasizing that Honduras remains a loyal ally of the United States and a stable constitutional democracy governed by the rule of law,” Davis said. “We hope and expect to work closely with both sides of the aisle and the administration in this effort.” Read more ..

Edge on Terror

Sweden Reels Following Nearly Disastrous Terror Bombing in Stockholm

December 13th 2010

Terrorism - taymour abdel wahab
Taymour Abdel Wahab

On December 13, Swedish intelligence officials say they are “98 percent” certain about the identity of the man who detonated a bomb in central Stockholm on December 11. Prior to the weekend blast, the suspected suicide bomber was unknown to Sweden’s national security apparatus. While authorities are now saying that the terrorist was acting on his own, they averred that in such cases conspiracy is usually involved. Authorities are continuing their investigation and are looking into possible ties to known terrorist groups. An Islamist website has identified Taymour Abdel Wahab as the 29-year-old man who killed himself while attempting to kill possibly hundreds of others with a bomb that utilized nails as shrapnel to maximize lethality. Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt declared the attack “unacceptable.”

Taymour Abdel Wahab was born in 1981, according to intelligence sources, and became a naturalized citizen of Sweden in 1992. Swedish intelligence would only identify his birthplace as “in the Middle East.” The bomb he had in his car detonated before his intended target, it is theorized, which may have been Stockholm’s central rail station or the Åhléns department store, full of holiday shoppers. At either site, hundreds of innocent people may have been killed or injured. As it was, only two people were injured by the blast that killed the suicide bomber. A prosecutor described him as “well equipped” with explosives, including a bomb belt and a backpack nail bomb. “Where he was going, we don’t know,” said Lindstrand, but added it was plausible to speculate he was heading “someplace with lots of people.” Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

Pakistani Muslim Leaders call for the Murder of Christian Already Condemned to Death for Blasphemy

December 13th 2010

Islamic Topics - Yousef Qureshi of Pakistan
Pakistani Imam Yousef Qureshi flanked by supporters

Concerns are growing in Pakistan over the increasingly bloodcurdling and strident calls by Muslim clerics for the death of Christians and other minorities accused of blasphemy, according to Islam’s sharia religious laws.

Pakistani imam Yousef Qureshi of Peshawar issued an offer on December 3 of $6,000 for anyone who can manage to murder Aasia Bibi—a Christian woman who has already been condemned to death in an Islamic court for alleged blasphemy. Bibi, who is married and has children, is currently being held in prison. Read more ..

Edge on Law

Parents of US Citizen Demanding Compliance with US Law from State Department

December 13th 2010

Travel - Passport

Lewin & Lewin, LLP—a Washington D.C.-based law firm—has filed a request with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the parents of an American-citizen child born in Israel to review a decision by the Department of State to refuse compliance with a law passed by Congress. The law in question directed the Secretary of State to list “Israel” as the child’s birthplace on his U.S. passport. The government’s response to the petition is due on December 29 of this year, and a decision by the high court is expected in February 2011.

Litigation of the issue began in Washington, D.C. in September 2003, before Menachem Zivotofsky had reached age of one year. His parents were born in the U.S. but now reside in Israel. Menachem was born in West Jerusalem. The law enacted by Congress in September 2002 had directed the Department of State to “record the place of birth as Israel” for any American citizen born in Jerusalem who requested such a designation. The children of U.S. citizens born outside of the U.S. have a right to American citizenship. Menachem’s parents asked the American embassy in Tel Aviv to list their child’s birthplace as “Israel,” but following long-standing instructions, the embassy refused to do so and recorded the place of birth as “Jerusalem.” Read more ..

Edge of Climate Change

Fire in Israel a Symptom of Climate Change

December 13th 2010

Environment Topics - Carmel Fire Winter 2010

The fire disaster in the Carmel Mountains near Haifa is a typical example of climate change effect and a taste of the future, says Dr. Guy Pe’er, one of the authors of Israel’s first report to the UN on climate change. Ten years ago, Dr. Pe’er and other Israeli scientists collated knowledge about the effects of climate change for Israel. They warned already in the year 2000 of expected climatic fluctuations, heat events, decreased rainfall and delayed late winter rainfall, all of which would lead to increased risk of intense forest fires. Climate forecasts for the region predict an advance of the desert about 300 kilometers to the north.

According to “Israel’s National Report on Climate Change”, prepared by Pe’er and other members of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev on behalf of the Israeli Ministry of the Environmental Protection, the frequency, intensity and extent of the fires would increase due to the prolongation of droughts, increase in water evaporation and an increased frequency of intense heat waves. At a warming of 1.5°C by the year 2100, which is by now considered a conservative scenario, models predict the desert to expand northward by 300 to 500 kilometers to the north. Read more ..

Edge on Asia

South Korea is Poised to Respond in Kind if Attacked Again by the North

December 6th 2010

Asia Topics - South Korean marines

A top South Korean presidential security advisor - who could be the country's next defense minister - says Seoul is prepared to bomb North Korea if Pyongyang again hits the South with artillery. 

Kim Kwan-jin, the presidential security advisor hoping to be the next defense minister, is talking tough. Speaking at his confirmation hearing in the national assembly Friday, he firmly stated that if attacked again, South Korea will not hesitate to protect itself. Kim says South Korea will definitely conduct an air raid on North Korea, as a just manner of self-preservation and completely eliminate, with all of its forces, the root cause of the threat. According to the U.S. military, Seoul has the authority to unilaterally order such retaliation, unless South Korean forces are placed under the command of American forces. Read more ..

Religious Tolerance

Government of New Zealand Overruled in Preventing Kosher Slaughter

December 6th 2010

Jewish Topics - Kosher slaughter

On November 26, three days before trial in a case over New Zealand’s ban on kosher slaughter, New Zealand’s Jews won a partial victory when the Minister of Agriculture agreed to allow kosher slaughter of chicken. The settlement came just hours after an intervention brief was submitted by the Washington D.C.-based non-profit advocacy firm the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The intervention argued that by allowing hunters to kill animals without first stunning them but forbidding kosher slaughterers to do the same, New Zealand was discriminating against its Jewish citizens in violation of international law.

The settlement was in a lawsuit brought by the Jewish community against the Minister of Agriculture in the High Court of New Zealand. As a result of the law, New Zealand’s Jews faced the prospect of going without kosher meat, which they are required by religious law to consume on the Sabbath and certain holidays. New Zealand’s biosecurity laws make it impossible to import kosher chicken. Still at issue in the lawsuit is a ban on kosher slaughter of lamb, a very important part of the Jewish diet, especially on holidays, which is exorbitantly expensive to import. Kosher slaughter is specifically recognized as humane under U.S. law and the laws of most other countries in the world. Read more ..

Sudan on Edge

Growing Calls for Arrest of Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir for Genocide

December 6th 2010

Africa Topics - Omar Bashir of Sudan
Omar al-Bashir

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir did not appear at independence day celebrations in the Central African Republic, where he faced the possibility of arrest and transfer to the International Criminal Court. Amnesty International says it is only a matter of time before he is brought to justice. 

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for his role in the conflict in Darfur. Central African Republic invited the Sudanese president to attend a ceremony Wednesday in its capital, Bangui, to commemorate its 50th anniversary of independence. Read more ..

Continuing Economic Crisis

Michigan's Local Governments Ponder Regionalization to Address Cost-Cutting

December 6th 2010

Travel - Michigan Welcome

Government leaders in struggling communities across the state of Michigan tend to be open to combining services with other towns, a new University of Michigan study finds.

However, government officials who favor expanding regional planning are less supportive of working through existing regional institutions—they want to create new entities to pursue cooperation, said Elisabeth Gerber, a professor at the university's Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

"Regional planning offers local governments an opportunity to combine resources and make land use and development decisions that take into account the impacts on the region as a whole," said Gerber, who co-authored the study with Carolyn Loh, a graduate of Michigan's urban planning doctoral program and now an assistant professor in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at Wayne State University. "With shrinking city budgets, local leaders are eager to find more efficient and effective ways of providing vital government services." Read more ..

Ivory Coast on Edge

Mood Grows Increasingly Tense in Ivory Coast following Ambiguous Election Results

December 6th 2010

Africa Topics - Jubilant Ivoirian

Alassane Ouattara, who according to the Independent Electoral Commission of the western African country of Ivory Coast and the international community, won the presidential ballot on November 28, was sworn in as President on December 4, according to a letter sent to the Constitutional Council, the competent body to declare the winner of the elections.

Due to alleged fraud the same Council revoked the victory originally assigned to Ouattara by the Independent Electoral Commission, attributing it instead to the former President Laurent Gbagbo. The latter was sworn in a few hours before at the presidential palace in Abidjan. Ouattara appointed a new Government led by outgoing Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, who had placed his office in the hands of Ouattara, only to be confirmed anew. Gbagbo, on the evening of December 5, appointed Gilbert Marie N'gbo Aké, Prime Minister of the other Government. The African Union has sent former South African President Thabo Mbeki to mediate between the two parties. Read more ..

Korean Peninsula on Edge

South Korea Gives Cool Response to China’s Call for Emergency Talks

November 29th 2010

Korea Topics - Kim and NK Officers

Diplomatic efforts are underway in Asia to defuse tension on the Korean peninsula. But South Korea is effectively rejecting China’s call to quickly convene multi-national talks to discuss North Korea. This comes as the United States and South Korea begin four days of naval drills seen as a show of strength to dissuade Pyongyang after last Tuesday’s attack on Yeonpyeong island.

South Korea is effectively rejecting immediate resumption of multi-party dialog involving North Korea. The Foreign Ministry is saying, diplomatically, only that China’s proposal deserves to be “very closely examined.” Read more ..

America on Edge

A Billion Dollar Settlement Marks Tumultuous Year for USDA Secretary Vilsack

November 29th 2010

Social Topics - Black farmers bill

The US Senate’s approval of a $1.15 billion settlement for black farmers meant to deal with decades of past discrimination capped a roller-coaster year on the issue for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Vilsack was in the legislative trenches for much of this year pushing for the settlement’s passage, which still must be approved by the House. With a vote expected to come up next week, passage by the lower chamber seems likely since the House has approved the settlement already this year.

In an interview, the former Iowa governor said each and every question by senators had to be answered before the settlement funds could be passed. Read more ..

North Korea on Edge

Joint US-South Korean War Drills Begin Amid Threats from the North

November 27th 2010

Korea Topics - Kim Jong-IL

The United States and South Korea have begun four days of joint military exercises in the waters off the Korean coast, in an effort to deter North Korea from launching further attacks across its border with the South.

An American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington, is leading the drill, which comes just days after North Korean forces shelled the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, killing two marines and two civilians.

North Korea's state-run media has criticized the drills, warning the two Koreas are on "the brink of war."

Earlier Saturday, China launched a flurry of diplomatic activity to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula after North Korea's shelling of the island.

China has warned it opposes any "unilateral military act" in the area without its permission, referring to the U.S.-South Korean drills.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN (in an interview due to air Sunday) that, as North Korea's closest ally, China has as much at stake as anyone if the region is destabilized. North Korea leveled new accusations at South Korea Saturday, charging Seoul was using the civilians on the island of Yeonpyeong as a human shields. Read more ..

North Korea on the Edge

North Korean Artillery Attacks a Southern Island

November 23rd 2010

Korea Topics - N Korean Missiles

North Korea and South Korea have reportedly traded artillery fire Nov. 23 across the disputed Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the Yellow Sea to the west of the peninsula. Though details are still sketchy, South Korean news reports indicate that around 2:30 p.m. local time, North Korean artillery shells began landing in the waters around Yeonpyeongdo, one of the South Korean-controlled islands just south of the NLL. North Korea has reportedly fired as many as 200 rounds, some of which struck the island, injuring at least 10 South Korean soldiers, damaging buildings and setting fire to a mountainside. South Korea responded by firing some 80 shells of its own toward North Korea, dispatching F-16 fighter jets to the area and raising the military alert to its highest level. Read more ..

Border War

Mexico's Drug Cartels Hire Child Assassins to Do Their Dirty Work

November 22nd 2010

Social Topics - Kid behind bars

Mexican drug cartels are allegedly hiring hitmen as young as 12 years old to kill rivals and, failing that, random people — "maybe a construction worker or a taxi driver" — claims a boy on a video distributed by a Mexican drug cartel. Known as "El Punchis", a 12 year-old boy says on the video that he receives $3000 for each person he murders by order of the Beltran Leyva drug cartel. Authorities in Mexico are searching for the boy after detaining another such assassin who works for the cartel outside of Mexico City. In the video, the curly-haired El Punchis speaks about his exploits and is followed up by a gruesome photomontage of children posing with weapons and victims of Mexico's current carnage. Read more ..

Edge of Crime

Murder Sprees and Loss of Police Protection Plague Central Michigan

November 22nd 2010

Crime Topics - Crime scene tape

Mocked by radio personality Rush Limbaugh, regularly visited by Democratic presidents and presidents-to-be, and once a haven for America’s working class, Flint, Mich. and surrounding Genesee County have been rocked by senseless murders of late. On the heels of the murder of a two-year-old boy, the area where the once mighty General Motors Corporation was founded one hundred years ago saw 6 violent deaths between the morning of November 13 and the evening of November 15. The butcher’s bill for the year now stands at 59 for the city of Flint.

Police found two people dead in outlying Genesee Township in the early afternoon of November 15, an apparent murder-suicide of a man and a woman in their 30s. On Saturday, November 13, a 20 year-old man was shot to death in Flint Township, a suburb of the city of the same name. Darvades Dequin Monte Atkins was found ventilated by several bullet wounds in a pool of blood in the parking lot of an apartment complex in a township just outside the west side of the city of Flint. Read more ..

Iran on the Edge

Seizure of Iranian Arms by Nigeria raises More Questions Than Answers

November 15th 2010

Iran - Iranian arms seized by Nigeria
Iranian arms seized by Nigeria

Nigeria’s seizure of an Iranian weapons shipment at the port of Lagos in late October has given rise to more questions than answers. Nigerian authorities announced their interception of the shipment on October 26, and on November 12 Abuja threatened to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council if Tehran is found to have violated U.N. arms embargo sanctions. The intended recipient of the arms is unknown, but the type and scale of weapons involved would indicate they were not going to a private militia — such as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), whose own small arms supply chain network and ambitions are limited relative to what these weapons would achieve — but rather a state actor in the West African sub-region. Read more ..

Edge on Environment

Indonesia's Merapi Volcano Eruption Could Change World Weather Patterns

November 15th 2010

Environment Topics - Merapi eruption Indonesia

Scientists have long known that large volcanic explosions can affect the weather by spewing particles that block solar energy and cool the air. Some suspect that extended "volcanic winters" from gigantic blowups helped kill off dinosaurs and Neanderthals. In the summer following Indonesia's 1815 Tambora eruption, frost wrecked crops as far off as New England, and the 1991 blowout of the Philippines' Mount Pinatubo lowered average global temperatures by 0.7 degrees F—enough to mask the effects of manmade greenhouse gases for a year or so. That such eruption may affect travel became evident upon President Barack Obama's visit to Indonesia when his trip was cut short over concerns about the volcanic ash spewed by the eruption of Mount Merapi in the archipelago. Read more ..

BDS and Economic Jihad

38 Nobel Laureates Call for Rejection of Anti-Israel Boycott and Divestment Initiatives

November 8th 2010

Europe Topics - Nobel Prize
Nobel Prize ceremony

A group of 38 Nobel laureates signed a letter opposing the push by the art, research and academic boycott movement Boycott, Divestment Sanctions (BDS). 

Their statement, organized by Nobel Laureates, Roger Kornberg, Stanford University, and Steven Weinberg, University of Texas at Austin, was signed on October 28, 2010. In an initiative supported by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) the Nobel winners are encouraging students and faculty of institutions across the world to “promote and provide opportunities for civil academic discourse where parties can engage in the search for resolution to conflicts and problems.”

The 38 Nobel laureates include: Phillip A. Sharp, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1993 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine; Tony Leggett University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, 2003 Nobel Prize in Physics; Mario Capecchi, University of Utah, 2007 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine; and Elie Wiesel, 1986 Nobel Peace Prize. Read more ..

Congress on the Edge

Fellow Members of Congress Question Impartiality in judging Ethics Violations by Maxine Waters

November 8th 2010

Congressional issues - Maxine Waters

A jury of her peers will decide whether Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) violated House ethics rules, but some are questioning the ability of at least one of the members to remain impartial.

Rep. Ben Chandler (D-Ky.), who sits on the adjudicatory panel that will weigh the allegations against Waters late this month, won re-election by just 600 votes, according to the Associated Press. His opponent, Andy Barr, is refusing to concede and has asked for a recanvass.

If Chandler wins, it would be by a razor-thin margin in an increasingly red district, and if he loses, watchdogs argue, he likely would be focused on looking for his next job, scenarios fraught with conflicts of interest and political implications.

After such a hard-fought election in a majority Republican state, some Democrats privately worry that Chandler may want to prove that he is capable of taking a hard stance against a member of his own party and judge Waters more severely than he would in the middle of a term when political influences are less powerful. Read more ..

Christians Under Attack

The Ongoing Violent Dispossession of the Christians of the Mideast

November 8th 2010

Christian Topics - Iraq: blood spattered church

Members of the exile community of Iraqi Christians living in the Detroit area are planning to commemorate those killed in an Islamist terrorist attack on October 31 in Baghdad. “The March Against the Ethnic Cleansing of Iraq’s Indigenous Christians” is being organized on Facebook to show solidarity with those murdered during the Sunday Mass at Baghdad’s Church of Our Lady of Salvation by a suicide squad of Islamist terrorists who occupied the worship space and took the congregation hostage. Read more ..

Edge of Economic Recovery

Obama Defends Fed $600 Billion Decision

November 8th 2010

Federal Reserve

President Obama has defended the Federal Reserve’s decision to pump another $600 billion into world markets.

Asked at a Monday press conference in India about the decision, which has been criticized abroad and by Republicans in Congress, Obama said the Fed’s intention was to promote growth in the U.S. economy, which would be good for the global economy.

“The worst thing that could happen to the world economy, not ours, not just ours, but the entire world’s economy, is if we end up being stuck with no growth or very limited growth,” Obama said. “And I think that’s the Fed’s concern, and that’s my concern as well.” Read more ..

Medicare on the Edge

Louisiana Attorney General Sues 18 Drug Companies Alleging "Egregious" Overbilling of Up to 6000 Percent

November 1st 2010

Health/Medicine - StethoscopeAndKeyboard

Eighteen drug companies have been hauled into court by Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell alleging they unlawfully inflated drug costs paid by Louisiana taxpayers through the Medicaid program. Caldwell alleged that the pharmaceutical companies deliberately misreported drug price information in order to increase reimbursements made by Louisiana’s Medicaid program. These reimbursements by the Louisiana Medicaid program are based on what is called Average Wholesale Prices (AWPs). Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Brennan: Bomb Threat Still Concern; U.S. Will “Destroy” Culprits

November 1st 2010

Islamic Topics - UPS office, Sanaa, Yemen

After a late-week terror threat that wiped campaign news off the radar Friday, President Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser made the rounds on all five major morning shows Sunday. The plot to send explosives on airliners bound for Chicago “had all the hallmarks of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan said on Fox News Sunday.“It certainly bears all of the hallmarks of AQAP,” Brennan said on CNN’s State of the Union. “AQAP as an organization as a whole is something that we need to maintain pressure on, working very closely with Yemeni officials. And we will destroy that organization as we’re going to destroy the rest of al-Qaeda.” Read more ..

Argentina on Edge

Argentina Shaken by the Sudden Death of Former President Néstor Kirchner

November 1st 2010

Latin American Topics - Nestor Kirchner

Former Argentine President Néstor Kirchner died Wednesday, October 27 at his home in El Calafate, Argentina after suffering from congestive heart failure. Néstor and his wife, current President Cristina Kirchner, had gone to the Patagonian town of El Calafate in order to be counted for the national census. At 60 years, his death came as a surprise to the nation even though his cardiac issues began much earlier in the year.

After his election in 2003, Néstor came to see his chief responsibility as president to repair a country left demoralized and in disarray after the failed presidency of Fernando de la Rúa. Unhinged just days after his election, de la Rúa represented an alliance of left-leaning and liberal groups which were challenging various factions of the Peronist party. In the midst of the country’s deepening economic crisis, the de la Rúa administration was expected to reinvigorate the economy after its steep decline under the corruption-ridden government of Carlos Menem. But following the economy’s utter collapse in 2001 and corruption within the de la Rúa administration, a series of violent protests ultimately led to resignation. Read more ..

Travel Safe

Fear of Flying and The Question: Has Your Pilot Had Enough Sleep?

November 1st 2010

Transportation Topics - Mesa Airlines plane

In 2008, two Mesa Airlines pilots flew 25 nautical miles past their Hilo, Hawaii, destination while the control tower tried to get their attention.

It turned out they were asleep.

The captain of the Feb.13, 2008, Mesa Airlines Go! flight told the National Transportation Safety Board that while this particular nap wasn’t intentional, he often napped in the cockpit for 20 minutes at a time.

The idea of pilots napping at 30,000 feet may sound horrifying, but pilots across the world are taking naps in the sky every day. And it might actually make air travel safer. Read more ..

Edge of Justice

Rubashkin Judge Rules on Her Own Conflict of Interest—Draws Rebuke as “Arrogant”

October 28th 2010

Jewish Topics - Sholom Rubashkin

U.S. District Judge Linda Reade issued a ruling on October 27, 2010 denying a motion for new trial for Rabbi Sholom Rubashkin – a former meatpacking executive who was convicted in 2009 of financial fraud following an immigration raid on his family’s Postville, Iowa company, known then as Agriprocessors.

Rubashkin’s attorneys, led by Nathan Lewin of Washington, D.C., have called the judge’s conduct “arrogant.”

Reade, in essence, self-ruled on charges of her own misconduct. She found that there was not sufficient new evidence presented to the court to warrant a new trial based on her judicial misconduct. The 50-year-old rabbi is currently being held in a federal prison in Otisville, NY.  Rubashkin, who belongs to the Chabad-Lubavitch movement of Judaism, was found guilty of 86 financial fraud charges in 2009. He was sentenced to 27 years in prison and was ordered to pay $27 million in restitution. Numerous legal and judicial experts, among them six former U.S. Attorneys General, have questioned the severity of the sentence. Read more ..

Midterm Elections

Fifty Democrats or More to be Unseated Midstream in a Republican Torrent

October 27th 2010

Obama Admin Topics - Obama serious

Republicans are headed for a blowout election win that seems certain to seize more than enough seats to knock out the Democrats and take control of the House.The Hill 2010 Midterm Election poll, surveying nearly 17,000 likely voters in 42 toss-up districts over four weeks, points to a massive Republican wave that, barring an extraordinary turnaround, will deliver crushing nationwide defeats for President Obama’s party. Read more ..

Inside Islam

Muslims Accuse Fearful Egyptian Christians of Complicity with Israel

October 27th 2010

Arab Topics - Egyptian burned out

Fears for the safety of Egyptian Christians are growing after a series of false allegations, violent threats and mass demonstrations against Christians in Egypt, according to the Barnabas Fund - an advocacy and charitable organization based in the United Kingdom.

According to a news release, Muslim anger was ignited in September 2010 last month when entirely unfounded accusations were made on Al-Jazeera TV that Egyptian Christians were aligned with Israel and stockpiling weapons in preparation for waging war against Muslims. Tensions were also fueled by baseless rumors circulated by Islamist leaders that Christians were kidnapping and torturing women who had converted to Islam.

In a separate controversy, a senior church leader was compelled to apologize publicly “if our Muslim brothers’ feelings were hurt” after another church leader questioned at an internal meeting a verse in the Qur’an that accuses Christians of being “infidels”. Egyptian Christians’ rights were subsequently threatened by the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, a government body, which confirmed Egypt to be an Islamic state where “the citizenship rights of non-Muslims were conditional to their abiding by the Islamic identity of the State.”

At least ten mass demonstrations involving thousands of Muslims have since taken place against Christians, with the previously unknown group “Front of Islamic Egypt” promising them a “bloodbath." Read more ..

The Toxic Edge

Federal Convicts Exposed to Toxic Waste and Heavy Metals

October 26th 2010

Technology - Computer Chips

Federal inmates have been processing computers, televisions and other discarded gadgets known as e-waste for a poorly administered and potentially dangerous prison jobs program, according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Old electronics equipment often contains cadmium and lead, heavy metals that are toxic to humans. The inspector general at the Justice Department found exposure to the metals at prison e-waste factories exceeded limits set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Eating and drinking in work areas with heavy metal emissions was also allowed.

A government corporation within the prison system known as UNICOR runs the recycling program. In 1997, UNICOR began to accepting e-waste for prisoners to refurbish or break down and sell for processing elsewhere. The inspector general found several instances of unsafe working conditions for prisoners. Read more ..

Labor on the Edge

Activists Accuse Family Dollar Stores of Anti-Labor Practices

October 22nd 2010

Social Topics - El Paso Protest

For more than an hour, business slowed to a trickle at the Family Dollar store in downtown El Paso. Chanting slogans and hoisting signs, a few dozen picketers marched in disciplined, circular formation on the sidewalk in front of the popular discount store on Stanton Street.

Organized by El Paso's new Retail Workers Rights Committee (RWRC), the protesters demanded that Family Dollar respect workers rights, stop mistreating managers in order to avoid paying overtime and limit managers' schedules to 52 hours per week. Staging its demonstration during peak Saturday business hours, the RWRC passed out leaflets that read: "Family Dollar Is Not Family Friendly."

"What makes me do this protest is people don't know their rights," said Abel Lopez, former El Paso Family Dollar manager and RWRC member. "(Managers) don't know the law. They're inside the stores for 80 hours a week. They don't have the time to investigate." Read more ..

Midterm Elections

Organized Labor Increases Spending on Political Ads just Before November elections

October 18th 2010

Politics - SEIU supporters

Unions are joining the air war of radio and television ads surrounding this year's mid-term election.

Over the last week, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) spent at least $200,000 on billboard signs, direct mail and radio ads, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) records. Those funds were for attacks against Republican opponents of several vulnerable House Democrats as well as against Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who is running for retiring Sen. Kit Bond's (R-Mo.) seat.

That is about a fifth of SEIU’s spending on campaign ads so far for the general election — now totaling at least $1.3 million since mid-September — according to FEC records filed by October 14. Read more ..

Inside Mexico

China Eyes Mexican Investments despite Ongoing Narco War

October 18th 2010

Asia Topics - Mexico-China meeting

Investors from Pacific Rim nations are also showing greater interest in Tijuana, the Mexican border town that is adjacent to San Diego CA. A government delegation from the People's Republic of China visited Tijuana in recent days, greasing the wheels for a tour of Chinese businessmen who are expected to arrive in the border city this week.

Chinese attention towards Tijuana is another example of the Asian giant's growing business in Mexico and Latin America. China's bilateral trade with Latin America exploded from $200 million in 1975 to $47 billion by 2005.

Given the high level of criminal violence and subsequent negative publicity which have swirled around Tijuana in the past few years, the enthusiasm of foreign investors in expanding their business dealings in the city is noteworthy. Read more ..

Haiti on the Edge

K Street Lobbyists Assist Construction and Disaster Relief Agencies Win Aid Contracts in Haiti

October 11th 2010

Caribbean - Port-au-Prince, Haiti earthquake damage

A number of construction and disaster-response firms have hired Washington lobbyists to help navigate the contracting process for rebuilding Haiti.

In January 2010, Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake that left thousands dead and millions homeless. Since then, the U.S. government and its international allies have pledged billions of dollars in aid to get the impoverished island nation back on its feet.

By July, Congress had passed a supplemental appropriations bill that included $2.8 billion in relief aid for Haiti. But $1.15 billion of the funds designated for reconstruction projects have yet to be delivered, leaving many Haitians homeless more than nine months after the earthquake, according to a recent Associated Press report. Read more ..

Safety in the Workplace

Congress to Consider Legislation to Toughen Toothless OSHA

October 4th 2010

Politics - Capitol Building at night

For an agency so widely feared and demonized by American business, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is a relative pushover.

True, OSHA occasionally hits employers with big fines, like the $50 million BP recently agreed to pay for failing to fix the sorts of problems that led to a refinery explosion and the deaths of 15 workers in Texas City, Texas, five years ago.

But the 40-year-old law under which the agency operates limits its ability to threaten miscreants with stiff prison sentences – even in cases of gross misconduct that kill workers – and to hold company executives personally accountable for dangerous conditions that go uncorrected.

Compared to the Environmental Protection Agency, which has tough statutes such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act at its disposal, OSHA is a paper tiger. Read more ..

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