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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 ..


Mendoza Eugenics

Schwarzenegger Vetoes Controversial Mendoza Eugenics Bill in California as Biased

September 30th 2010

Deaf issues - Gov Schwarzenegger of CA
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California vetoed the controversial state legislation, AB2072, known to its critics as “the Mendoza deaf eugenics bill.” In a September 29 letter to the California State Assembly, the governor wrote that while children experiencing hearing loss and their parents need information, he recognized the “the strong feelings from advocates on both sides of this issue.”

However, said Schwarzenegger, while the so-called “Mendoza bill” attempts to provide comprehensive information, “Unfortunately, the mechanism is through an advisory committee that is anything but unbiased. It’s also an advisory committee that will not only duplicate efforts by other state programs and materials by nationally recognized and respected organizations, but it represents a significant workload that will require fiscal resources that cannot be spared.” A fiscal conservative posed with the greatest fiscal deficit in the nation, Governor Schwarzenegger wrote that California’s Newborn Hearing Program and other agencies already provide programs for children while the legislation would have represented “significant workload that will require fiscal resources that cannot be spared.” Read more ..


Mexico's Drug War

Mexicans Take Justice into Their Own Hands in Violence Reminiscent of the 1910 Revolution

September 27th 2010

Mexican Topics - Mexico lynching

An attempted kidnapping September 21 in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua touched off a burst of mass outrage that left two suspected young kidnappers dead and a small town in open rebellion. While the details are still sketchy, the events began with the abduction of a 17-year-old female worker of a seafood restaurant in the town of Ascensión by a group of young men. Read more ..


The Political Edge

Key Dem Senators Not Ruling Out Yes Votes on DREAM Act

September 20th 2010

Politics - Capitol Building at night

Senate Democrats who blocked an immigration bill in 2007 say they are undecided on how to vote on the measure this week.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to attach the controversial DREAM Act to the defense authorization bill. But it’s unclear if it can attract 60 votes.

The DREAM Act, introduced by Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), would grant U.S. citizenship to certain children of illegal immigrants who came to the country before the age of 16. Democrats helped block the bill three years ago when it fell eight votes short on a procedural motion. While some Republicans supported that motion, eight Democrats voted no, including the late Sen. Robert Byrd (W.Va.) and Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Byron Dorgan (N.D.). Read more ..


The Edge of Hope

Oil Drilling Equipment has been Enlisted to Free 33 Trapped Miners in Chile

September 13th 2010

Latin American Topics - Chilean miners

A convoy of dozens of trucks transporting a massive oil drilling machine arrived on September 10 at the site of the San Jose gold and copper mine in Chile, where 33 miners are trapped. The drill is the third one being employed to try to rescue the miners, who have now been underground for 36 days.

It has been labeled "Plan C" and it is hoped that it will speed the rescue effort. However, freedom for the trapped miners is likely to still be months away. The 33 men were trapped by a mine cave-in on August 5. But it was not until August 22 that they were discovered alive.

Rescuers have been sending food, medicine and relatives' letters through a chute to where the miners are located, 700 meters below the surface. Chile's government is sparing neither money nor trouble in supporting the 33 miners trapped by a cave-in on August 5.  As part of that effort, they asked the United States' National Aeronautic and Space Administration, or NASA, to send specialists to advise local medical officers on the trauma of prolonged isolation. The NASA team traveled to Chile's Atacama Desert last week and briefed reporters afterward. Read more ..


Islam on the Edge

Libyan Dictator Suggests Conversion to Islam while Demanding 5 Billion Euros in Annual Tribute from the European Community

September 6th 2010

Africa Topics - Muammar Gaddafi and Silvio Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi greets Muammar Gaddafi

Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi's visit to Rome was to mark the second anniversary of his country’s renewed bilateral relationship with Italy, which had once occupied the North African nation. However, at an August 30 lecture in the Eternal City, he appeared to offer Libyan husbands to the hundreds of women assembled to hear him while also calling upon Europe to convert to Islam.

Approximately 500 young women were hired and paid by an agency to attend Gaddafi’s lecture. Mostly students who hire themselves out to advertising and publicity firms, the women were paid approximately $100 each, while women who gave their names to the press were not paid. The women were instructed to dress modestly for the Muslim ruler of Libya, even while they were not required to wear scarves or hijab. Another 200 women attended a second lecture held at the Libyan embassy. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Secretary Clinton Hosts Ramadan Dinner for Young Muslims

September 6th 2010

Obama Admin Topics - Clinton and Obama

The administration's marking of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan continues on September 7 when the State Department hosts an event geared toward young Muslims and an Iftar dinner with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

President Obama hosted an Iftar meal breaking the day's Ramadan fast on August 13. In his speech, he supported the right of the Muslim community to build the planned controversial mosque two blocks from Ground Zero, comments that touched off a firestorm including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) breaking with the president and saying the Islamic center should be built elsewhere. Read more ..


Economic Recovery on the Edge

Obama to Offer New Stimulus Measures as U.S. Jobless Rate Soars

September 6th 2010

Obama Admin Topics - Obama pensive

President Barack Obama spoke on September 3 after a new Labor Department report showed private businesses added 67,000 jobs in August, more than forecast. Overall, the nation lost 54,000 jobs in August and the unemployment rate ticked up to 9.6 percent.

The increase in hiring by businesses is modest and not enough to lower the unemployment rate. Still, private forecasts had predicted even less growth from payrolls in August, and stocks rose after the report was released. New figures for June and July also suggested job losses in those months were not as bad as once thought.

Obama offered no details about the new proposals, but said he was “confident Democrats and Republicans can come together to agree on steps to move the economy forward.”

“The key point I’m making right now is the economy is moving in a positive direction, it’s just not moving as quickly as we’d like it,” Obama said. Read more ..


China on the Edge

Rumored Defection of Key Bank Player Shakes Up China's Financial System

September 2nd 2010

Asia Topics - Zhou Xiaochuan
Zhou Xiaochuan

Rumors have circulated in China that People's Bank of China (PBC) Gov. Zhou Xiaochuan may have left the country. The rumors appear to have started following reports on Aug. 28 which cited Ming Pao, a Hong Kong-based news agency, saying that because of an approximately $430 billion loss on U.S. Treasury bonds, the Chinese government may punish some individuals within PBC, including Zhou. Although Ming Pao on August 30 published a report on its website indicating that the prior report was fabricated by a mainland news site that had attributed the false information to Ming Pao, rumors of Zhou's defection have spread around China intensively, and Zhou's name has been blocked from Internet search engines in China. Read more ..


Mexico's Drug Wars

Mexico's War on Narcoterrorists Yields a Big Fish

September 1st 2010

Latin American Topics - Edgar Valdez Villarreal
Edgar Valdez Villarreal

The Mexican Federal Attorney General's Office (PGR) confirmed that members of the Federal Police detained former Beltran Leyva Organization top enforcer, Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez Villarreal. Several Mexican media outlets have reported that the operation that netted Valdez Villarreal took place outside of Toluca, Mexico state, while others have reported that the operation actually took place near the Morelos and Guerrero state borders. Read more ..


Edge on the Immigration Crisis

Mexico Faces a Moment of Truth over its Deadly Treatment of Latin American Immigrants

August 30th 2010

Latin American Topics - Tamaulipas Mexico massacre

If Arizona's SB 1070 law, underlined by the continuing deaths of migrants in the inhospitable, blazing desert of the Southwestern state, dramatizes the crisis of US immigration policy, then the mass murder of 72 Central and South American migrants in the northern Mexican border state of Tamaulipas last week showcases a similar and widening crisis in Mexico.

The San Fernando Massacre, which occurred August 22 in a rural area about 90 miles south of the US border, was widely condemned by human rights advocates as the horrific culmination of years of corruption and neglect on the part of Mexican immigration and law enforcement officials who are often accused of collaborating with human traffickers for extortion and other purposes. Read more ..


The Political Edge

Democratic Lawmaker Gives Congressional Black Caucus Scholarships to Her Grandchildren

August 30th 2010

Politics - Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) admitted to awarding thousands of dollars in scholarships to four relatives and a top aide's two children in violation of rules set by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, which provided the funds.

The Dallas Morning News reported on August 29 that the recipients were ineligible for the scholarships due to the CBC Foundation's anti-nepotism rules as well as a requirement they live in the district of the member that awarded them the scholarships.

Each member of the Congressional Black Caucus is given $10,000 annually to award in scholarships; members are given a large amount of leeway in how they choose the winners and disburse the funds.

Johnson initially denied any favoritism when she was contacted by the Morning News last week, but later admitted to having unknowingly violated the rules. She said she would work with the foundation to "rectify the financial situation." She said she has awarded scholarships to hundreds of students since joining Congress in 1993 and the most any student usually receives is between $1,000 and $1,200. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Iran Issues New Threats and Unveils New Unmanned Bomber

August 23rd 2010

Iran - Karrar UAV
The Karrar UAV

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of the Islamic Republic of Iran spoke on August 22 at the inauguration of what the country’s Defense Ministry says is Iran’s first domestically-built, long-range, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capable of dropping a bomb. Known as the Karrar—striker in Farsi, the unmanned aircraft was unveiled at the Malek-e-Ashtar University and is the latest of Iran’s military and technological developments. State-controlled media of Iran affirm that the Karrar can undertake long-range attacks up to 620 miles carrying a 200-kilogram bomb. Ahmadinejad said Iran may be able to offer a defense mechanism for other countries against what he called “world aggressors.”

Even while the Iranian leader referred to the Karrar as an “ambassador of death” to Tehran’s enemies, the smiling Ahmadinejad gave assurances that it conveys a “a main message of peace and friendship” but was intended to deter aggression “and keep the enemy paralyzed in his bases.” Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders frequently rail against the United States and Israel, the latter of which is referred to as the “Zionist entity.” Read more ..


Economic Recovery on the Edge

Republican Senator Judd Gregg Predicts Fiscal Calamity Threatening Generations to Come

August 23rd 2010

Economy - Depression Jobs

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) this past weekend slammed the Democrats for fighting the recession with additional spending, arguing that the nation's enormous debt represents a “fiscal calamity” threatening the livelihoods of generations to come.

“Our children are going to have to pay that off, and that means their style of life, their standard of living is going to go down because they're going to have to bear such a burden in order to pay off the debts which we're running up on them today,” Gregg said on August 20.

“The bills are being passed on to our and it's a calamity.”

It's hardly the first time Gregg has called for fiscal restraint. The New Hampshire lawmaker, who's the senior Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, had recently blasted a $26 billion Democratic bill providing states with extra Medicaid and education funding. Although the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said the costs were paid for, Gregg argued that those offsets come later, forcing $22 billion in deficit spending in the near term.

“Those are numbers that compound, unfortunately, and they compound fairly quickly,” he said. Read more ..


The Lockerbie Release

State Department Says Release of Lockerbie Bomber an "Affront" and "Grave Error"

August 23rd 2010

Terrorism - Megrahi waves
Abdelbaset al-Megrahi

U.S. officials expressed concern on August 20 as they noted the one-year anniversary of the release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi from a Scottish prison.

Al-Megrahi was imprisoned in 2001 for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 270 people when it exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. A Libyan citizen, he was repatriated by Scottish authorities in August 2009 on medical grounds, which aroused suspicion when he was reported alive nine months after Scottish authorities had said he was near death. The issue has since been pressed by U.S. officials who question the circumstances surrounding his release.

On August 20, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley used Twitter to weigh in. "Everything that we have learned over the past year reaffirms our view that Megrahi's release from prison was a grave error of judgment," he said. "Megrahi's release from a Scottish prison was an affront to the victims of Pan Am 103." He clarifyied that he was referring to the country in the second comment.

The tweets slightly preceded a statement released by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "The United States continues to categorically disagree with the decision made by the Scottish Executive to release al-Megrahi and return him to Libya last year," she said. "We have and will continue to reiterate this position to the Scottish and Libyan authorities." Read more ..


The Armenian Genocide

Armenian Genocide by Turks Denial Effort Deterred

August 16th 2010

History-Genocide - Armenian Victims

On August 12, 2010, the United States Court of Appeals First Circuit affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of the Griswold vs. Driscoll case. The case involved an attempt to include a listing of websites arguing against the Turkish genocide of Armenians in a listing of websites documenting the genocide.

In a unanimous opinion written by retired Associate Supreme Court Justice David Souter, sitting on a three-judge panel including Michael Boudin and Jeffery R. Howard of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Massachusetts, affirmed an August 11, 2010 decision of a lower court dismissing the case, in which plaintiffs argued for the inclusion of genocide denial literature in the Massachusetts human rights curriculum. Read more ..


Edge on Economic Recovery

Banks to Benefit the Most from New Obama Plan on Foreclosures

August 16th 2010

Economy - Foreclosure

Banks will get the biggest benefit from an Obama administration housing program designed to help unemployed homeowners escape foreclosure.

Housing experts expressed concern that banks, not homeowners, will be helped by the White House's $3 billion funding infusion -- $2 billion from the Treasury Department and another $1 billion from the Housing and Urban Development Department -- going to those states hit hardest by the housing market crash and unemployment. Read more ..


The Criminal Edge

Israeli Arab in Custody for Serial Killing Spree across the Midwest

August 16th 2010

Palestine Topics - Elias Abuelazzam
Elias Abuelazam

When Elias Abuelazam was questioned by Michigan police in July for a traffic violation and for allegedly providing alcohol to minor, there was no indication then that they had a possible serial killer in their hands. As authorities were investigating 18 stabbings that resulted in five deaths in three states since May, Abuelazam, who resides in Flint, Michigan, became the prime suspect following an anonymous tip referring to the suspect as "Elijah."

 

Abuelazam, a 33-year-old Israeli Arab, living legally in the United States, was arrested at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on August 11 while trying to board a flight back to Israel. He is suspected of 14 attacks in and around his home in Flint, three attacks in Virginia and one in Ohio. The victims were men aged 15 to 67.

 

The Michigan police were not the only ones to have had their hands on Abuelazam. Northern Virginia authorities revealed that they too had the suspect in custody after pulling him over for a routine traffic stop on August 5, 2010. Read more ..


Islam on the Edge

UK Survey Reports 94 Percent of British Believe Islam a Negative Force in Society--Oppresses Women

August 16th 2010

Islamic Topics - Muslims London

Three-quarters of non-Muslims polled in the United Kingdom believe Islam has provided a negative contribution to British society, according to a survey released by the Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA). The poll also found that  63 percent of those interviewed did not disagree with the statement “Muslims are terrorists,” while 94 percent agreed that “Islam oppresses women.”  Both qualitative and quantitative response were record by the survey. One person said, “If I had my way I’d kick all (Muslims) out of here.”

Another poll, released by YourGov of the UK in June 2010, noted that 58 percent of those polled tend to link Islam with extremism while 69 percent encouraged the repression of women. Despite this negative image of Islam, iERA asserts that most non-Muslim opinion is actually based on an ignorance of Islam. Four-fifths of those polled said they have less than very little knowledge about Islam, while 40 percent did not know who "Allah" is to and 36 percent did not know who Muhammad – the founder of Islam - was. Read more ..


Mendoza against the Deaf

Mendoza Eugenics Bill Suddenly Speeds to California Senate for Vote

August 13th 2010

Eugenics - Twins-Height-Verschuer

AB 2072 was voted out of the suspense file in the California Appropriations Committee on August 12 and will go to the California Senate floor for a vote on August 16-17. Assembly Member Tony Mendoza introduced sixteen amendments which drastically changes the bill compared to the one voted out of the California Senate Health Committee. The California Deaf community believes that if this bill is passed in the Senate and eventually becomes law it will steer California toward eugenics again.

Because costs associated with this bill were estimated to be about $400,000, it was originally placed on the suspense file. After the amendments were made by Mendoza, the Appropriations Committee voted today that it will leave the suspense file for a vote on the Senate floor. Although the hearing today was open to the public, there was not an opportunity for comments on the sixteen amendments introduced by Mendoza, which were not disclosed to the opposition until after it was voted out of the Appropriations Committee.

The amendments introduced by Mendoza include language to add audiologists and physicians to the advisory panel in AB 2072. Mendoza struck out a section of the bill which would provide restrictions on special interests and those who have a conflict of interest from contributing to the trust fund to pay for the expenses related to developing the brochure. Furthermore, Mendoza wants to eliminate travel and other expenses necessary to ensure the advisory panel is able to perform its duties. Read more ..


The Edge of the Mortage Mess

Whistleblower Charges Fannie Mae Bungled HAMP Anti-Foreclosure Program

August 9th 2010

Economy - Fannie Mae HQ

Fannie Mae executives bungled their stewardship of the federal government’s massive foreclosure-prevention campaign, creating a bureaucratic muddle characterized by “mismanagement and gross waste of public funds,” according to a whistleblower lawsuit by a former Fannie Mae executive and consultant.

Caroline Herron, a former Fannie vice president who returned to the mortgage giant in 2009 as a high-level consultant, claims that the homeowner-relief effort was marred by delays, missteps and executives preoccupied with their institution’s short-term financial interests. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Browner on Energy Bill and Gulf Cleanup

August 9th 2010

Obama Admin Topics - Carol Browner

White House Energy Adviser Carol Browner said Sunday that while the Obama administration is “deeply disappointed” that an energy bill was unable to make its way through Congress, the president has not given up hope that it can get done this year. In an exclusive interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Browner was asked whether the president has conceded defeat on energy legislation.

“Not yet,” Browner said. “The Congress is coming back and we will continue to see if we can get legislation. We passed it in the House and we will continue to work in the Senate.”

Asked if Democrats could potentially get it done in a lame-duck session, Browner responded, “Potentially.”

As for the ongoing clean-up effort in the Gulf, Browner wouldn’t comment on whether the government will pursue criminal negligence charges against BP, but she did say she expects the company will be held accountable to the full extent of the law. “BP will be held absolutely accountable,” she said. “There will be a large financial penalty.” Read more ..


After the Holocaust

Chabad Wins Historic Ruling Against Russia In Archival Collection Claim

August 9th 2010

Jewish Topics - Chabad Archival Document
Chabad Archival Document

A federal judge in Washington, D.C. has ruled against the Russian government for its refusal to return a library of historic books and documents to the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Centuries of Chabad documents were seized by the Nazis, and then transferred by the capturing Soviet army who subsequently delivered them to the Russian State Military Archive. For years, the Chabad movement has attempted to reclaim control of its historic collections. Months ago, attorneys for Chabad successfully won permission to seek a default judgment to reclaim the collection when Russia boycotted the U.S. courts.

On July 30, 2010, District Court Judge Royce Lamberth issued the default judgment. The Russian government has been directed to surrender to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, or to representatives of Chabad, the complete collection of religious books, manuscripts, documents and all things that comprise the collection. The Court further ordered the defendants to assist in the authorized transfer of the collection, to further provide whatever security and authorization is needed to insure prompt, safe transportation of the collection to a destination of the plaintiff’s choosing. Judge Lamberth asked plaintiff attorneys to report their progress within 30 days. Read more ..


The Edge of Health Care

Health Insurers Mull New Group to Influence November Races

August 2nd 2010

Health/Medicine - StethoscopeAndKeyboard

Five of the nation’s largest health insurers are in serious discussions about creating a new nonprofit group and bankrolling it to the tune of about $20 million to influence tight congressional races and boost the image of their industry.

Aetna Inc., Cigna Corp., Humana Inc., United HealthCare Inc. and WellPoint Inc. are weighing the new drive in part to shape the government regulations that will implement this year’s sweeping new health care legislation. Two lobbying sources familiar with talks underway by high-level insurance executives say that a decision to go forward with such an effort is likely to be made by at least four of the insurers—and possibly Cigna—in coming weeks. Read more ..


Media on the Edge

Congress Unites to Pass Bill Protecting American Authors and Publishers

August 2nd 2010

Politics - Constution wFreedom of Speech

Lightning struck at Congress for a second time last week, when the House of Representatives unanimously passed HR 2765, the Securing and Protecting our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act (SPEECH Act). The Act, which had been approved unanimously by the Senate the week before, is now a presidential pen stroke away from enactment.

The Act is designed to ameliorate the speech-suppressive effects of libel tourism, a practice in which wealthy plaintiffs obtain judgments against American authors and publishers abroad by bringing libel suits in jurisdictions with plaintiff-friendly defamation laws. Such libel tourists sometimes attempt enforcement of the foreign judgment in the United States, in the hopes of having an American court execute a judgment that it could not have legally rendered in the first place.

 “Libel tourism threatens to undermine the principles of free speech because foreign courts often don’t place as difficult a burden on plaintiffs in libel cases,” said Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN), the original sponsor of the bill in the House. “I believe our First Amendment rights to be among the most sacred principles laid out in the Constitution. It is vital we ensure that these rights are never undermined by foreign judgments.”

For publications which have not been purposefully distributed abroad, the SPEECH Act prevents the automatic enforcement of foreign defamation judgments against American authors and publishers. The foreign plaintiff seeking to enforce the judgment bears the burden of proving that the judgment accords with American due process and First Amendment protections for freedom of speech. Read more ..


UN on the Edge

The United Nations Self-Report: “A Process of Decline and Reduced Relevance”

July 26th 2010

UN Topics - UN Bldg NYC

At the conclusion to her outgoing “End of Assignment Report” as the head the Office of Internal Oversight Services of the United Nations, Swedish auditor Inga-Britt Ahlenius wrote a fifty-page memo detailing her concerns and conclusions from her five-year term ending on July 14, 2010. Her conclusions were scathing, pointing to a culture of secrecy and a severe lack of leadership by Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Ahlenius concluded her long report: “There is no transparency, there is lack of accountability. Rather than supporting the internal oversight which is the sign of strong leadership and good governance, you have strived to undermine its position and to control it. I do not see any signs of reform in the Organization.” Read more ..

Inside the Housing Crisis

A Bellwether Election for Michigan--and the United States

July 26th 2010

Architecture - Flint Michigan

Genesee County, Michigan, is the homeland of not only General Motors and its most severe critic, film-maker Michael Moore, but it is now the host of one of the largest stocks of unoccupied dwellings in the Great Lake State, if not the United States. Last year, the county became the subject of derision directed by the entertainer and radio-show host Rush Limbaugh who made light of former Genesee County Treasurer Dan Kildee and his much-heralded effort to “shrink” the city of Flint and areas in Genesee County by bulldozing abandoned housing. Kildee is also the innovator who came up with a plan for the county government to take possession of tax-foreclosure property. The foreclosed homes become part of the inventory of the Genesee County Land Bank, which rehabiliatates some for sale or rent; others are simply demolished.

Genesee County and Flint are well past the political arguments of whether or not to actually shrink the community. The county as a whole, and not just Flint, is clearly shrinking already from the standpoint of population. Therefore, there are too few households to fill too many available housing units. Property values have plummeted at least 30 percent since 2005, leaving most communities and Genesee County as a whole, with significantly less realistic revenue potential than is required by their budgetary obligations. Furthermore, property values will not stabilize, let alone recover, so long as the surplus of housing units remains. Read more ..


Media on the Edge

Senate Moves Unanimously to Protect Free Speech

July 26th 2010

Politics - Constution wFreedom of Speech

In a rare show of unanimity, the United States Senate approved legislation last week that would prevent the domestic enforcement of foreign libel judgments that do not meet American standards of due process and free speech protection.

The Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act, or SPEECH Act (S. 3518 ) was introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and co-sponsored by Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT), and Arlen Specter (D-PA).
 
The SPEECH Act targets the growing phenomenon of libel tourism, in which wealthy foreign plaintiffs exploit claimant-friendly libel laws abroad to sue and silence American researchers, journalists, bloggers, and others for statements published in the United States. After obtaining a favorable verdict, “libel tourists” sometimes seek enforcement of the judgment in the United States in order to collect damages.

The pro-plaintiff tilt in foreign libel laws is substantial, standing in stark contrast to First Amendment protections for freedom of expression. In the United Kingdom—known as the “libel tourism capital of the world”—a defamation defendant bears the burden of proving that the statement sued upon is true, and truth is not an absolute defense to liability. In states such as Brazil and Germany, plaintiffs may sue criminally. Read more ..


Inside Islam

Pakistani Christians Fear for their Lives as Muslim Extremists Demand Death for ‘Blasphemers’

July 19th 2010

Asia Topics - Pakistani Christians mourning

Recently, more Christians are facing charges under the controversial Muslim Sharia blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Christian families in Lahore were forced to flee for their safety as thousands of Muslim protesters demanded death for Christians in Faisalabad who are alleged to have defamed Islam and its holy book.

Muslim mobs marched July 10–11 in Faisalabad City, in the province of Punjab, demanding the death penalty for two Christians: brothers Rashid Emmanuel, 32, an Evangelical pastor, and Sajid Emmanuel, a graduate business student of Daud Nagar, Faisalabad. They were arrested on July 2 on the charges of writing a pamphlet with blasphemous remarks about Mohammad. They were detained at the Civil Lines Police Station Faisalabad.

According to a report by Minorities Concern of Pakistan, Christian social worker Atif Jamil Pagaan said, “The protests were held in Waris Pura locality where more than 100,000 Christians are living. They wanted to attack and burn the area where Emmanuel brothers’ house was located. The protesters chanted slogans, raised weapons and announced to teach the lesson to the Christian community.” Read more ..


Inside Africa

Al-Qaeda Terror Strikes in the Heart of Africa

July 19th 2010

Africa Topics - Uganda bombing victim

The balmy Kampala night; the stage was set for fun. Bars, restaurants and social halls were packed with soccer fans. Most popular of all among the younger generation of Uganda was the Kyadondo Rugby Ground, not far from the city centre, where a huge screen was ready to show the first soccer World Cup on African soil. Local artists performed to warm up the atmosphere; vuvuzelas blared, the game began. Half time, no score, and Bebe Cool, a local singer and dancer, thrilled the audience.

A few minutes into the second half, around 11:00 pm local time, a huge explosion shattered everyone’s attention, confusing spectators; some thought it was a short circuit, others already lay dead in their plastic chairs. Lights went out; followed one minute later by another blast. No short circuit; this was an attack.

Across the city, a few minutes earlier another blast had killed a dozen people, mainly Eritreans and Ethiopians, at the Ethiopian Village: a restaurant in the popular night-life suburb of Kabalagala.

Twenty-four hours later, the death toll had already reached 74, and Al-Shabaab, the Somali Islamist group had confirmed they were responsible—they were actually reported as saying they “were happy” with the outcome, and thanked the mujihadeens who carried out the attack—and threatened further violence if Uganda continued to keep its troops in Somalia. An Al-Shabaab militant was still more specific: “we have killed many Christians in the enemy capital, (Kampala).” Read more ..


Inside Iran

Former Iranian Revolutionary Guard Turned CIA Agent Predicts Iran Will Attack Israel, Europe and USA

July 12th 2010

Iran - Reza Kahlili

Formerly a member of Iran’s feared Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) who turned CIA double-agent, a man identified as "Reza Kahlili" spoke at a conference on July 9 organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Kahlili issued the dire prediction that Iran will eventually attack not only Israel, but also Europe and the Persian Gulf states. Using a pseudonym for his own protection, the former Iranian revolutionary called for a preemptive strike on the Islamic Republic’s regime in Tehran but not on the Iranian people or the country’s infrastructure. The audio of his remarks can be heard here.

Moreover, Kahlili accused the Obama Administration of naiveté, in its relations with Iran. According to Kahlili, Obama’s diplomatic overtures are seen as a sign of weakness, while the Iranian people consider the efforts to engage the regime an act of betrayal against their struggle for freedom.

"This is a messianic regime. There should be no doubt – they are going to commit the most horrendous suicide bombing in human history. They will attack Israel, European capitals, and (the) Persian Gulf region at the same time," said Kahlili in one of his first public appearances to promote his new book A Time To Betray: The Astonishing Double Life of a CIA Agent inside the Revolutionary Guards of Iran.

Kahlili said he joined the Revolutionary Guard following the Islamic revolution of 1979, but volunteered to work for the Central Intelligence Agency when he became disillusioned with the Khomeini regime after witnessing acts of rape, torture and murder. Read more ..


The Immigration Edge

Holder Leaves Open Possibility of Racial Profiling Lawsuit Against Arizona

July 12th 2010

Obama Admin Topics - Eric Holder, Atty Gen

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder left open the possibility of filing an additional lawsuit against the state of Arizona's controversial immigration law.

In an interview with CBS News host Bob Schieffer, the nation’s top law enforcement official explained that the U.S. may still challenge the Arizona law based on racial profiling.

The Justice Department challenged the Arizona law on July 6 on the basis that it preempts the federal Constitution, not that it would result in racial profiling. “It doesn’t mean that if the law, for whatever reason, happened to go into effect that six months from now, a year from now, we might not look at the impact the law has had in whether or not to see to whether or not there has been that racial profiling impact,” Holder said. “And if that was the case, we would have the tools and we would bring suit on that basis.”

But he said that federal law preemption stood the best chance of overturning Arizona’s new law set to take effect on July 29, which requires police to check the immigration status of individuals stopped.

“We have an immigration policy that takes into account a whole variety of things, international relations, national security concerns,” Holder said. “And it is the responsibility of the federal government, as opposed to states doing it on a patchwork basis, to decide exactly what it is our policy should be with regard to immigration. And it was on that basis that we filed the lawsuit.” Read more ..


Inside Islam

Christians Prosecuted for Interfering with Muslim Event in Dearborn Michigan

July 12th 2010

Islamic Topics - Nabeel Qureshi
Nabeel Qureshi, MD

Four Christian missionaries will be arraigned on criminal charges on July 12 in the 19th Judicial District Court in Dearborn, Michigan. This is the next step in what has been described by the Thomas More Law Center in a press release as police enforcement of Sharia law in a city dominated by a large Muslim population.

To the jeers and shouts of “Allah Akbar”—Allah is Great—by the Muslim crowd, the four Christian missionaries were arrested and thrown in jail on June 18, 2010 by Dearborn Police officers at the Annual Arab International Festival held in Dearborn. One of the arrested missionaries was Nabeel Qureshi, MD, who was speaking to several Muslim youths.

The other three missionaries, who were videotaping the conversation, had their cameras and other equipment seized before police arrested them as well.

According to the Thomas More Law Center, Dearborn Police refused requests by the missionaries to view the video at the scene of their arrest, which the missionaries claimed would completely exonerate them of any wrongdoing. Read more ..


The Deaf Edge

Settled Case of Predatory Cochlear Implant Marketing Raises Fears on AB2072 Agenda

July 5th 2010

Eugenics - Twins-Height-Verschuer
Eugenics circa 1939. Courtesy: Edwin Black

The United States Department of Justice has announced the settlement of a case that will come as no surprise to many who have been following the story behind the Colorado based manufacturer, Cochlear Americas. The whistleblower case, brought forth by the company's Former Chief Financial Officer Brenda March in 2004, raised allegations of kickbacks and schemes to promote itself over its competitors. Under the set of rules known as the False Claims Act, Cochlear Americas was charged with paying physicians to prescribe the use of Cochlear's devices which would ultimately be reimbursed by taxpayers through Medicare and Medicaid benefits. In the settlement, Cochlear Americas agreed to pay $880,000 to resolve the issue.

In its announcement, Assistant Attorney General Tony West, who heads the Department of Justice's Civil Division said that the, “[settlement] demonstrate that the United States will not tolerate the payment of kickbacks by any entity involved in providing medical goods and services to beneficiaries of federal health care programs.” Yet, the settlement is the tip of the iceberg for what some see as a broader issue within medical and associated fields, and particularly dealing with implements designed to help provide relief for hearing loss. Read more ..


The Edge of Energy Reform

U.S. Energy, Mining Companies Must Disclose Government Payments

July 5th 2010

Politics - Capitol Building at night

Tucked near the end of the more than 2,000-page final version of the financial reform bill is language requiring energy companies to submit the payment information annually to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The provision was added by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a long-time supporter of the voluntary Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, and by Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, also a Democrat. That global initiative is backed by the World Bank, United Nations, and other groups, and aims to combat government corruption in resource-rich countries by monitoring and verifying payments received from energy and mining companies.

The new U.S. requirement is good for investors, said Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “When oil, gas and mining companies do business overseas—whether in Angola, Kazakhstan, Burma, Venezuela, or any other country—they pay those governments for concessions, royalties and other fees,” he said in a statement. “The American people and investors need this transparency to know if they are investing in companies that are operating in dangerous or unstable parts of the world.” Read more ..


Korea's Nukes

Obama Administration Warns North Korea Against Further Provocation

June 28th 2010

Korea Topics - Kim Jong-IL

On June 25, the United States warned North Korea against aggravating regional tensions after Pyongyang declared a no-sail warning for waters off its western coast. Similar warnings in the past have preceded North Korean missile tests.

The State Department is cautioning North Korea against provocative actions after its no-sail warning to international shipping, which coincided with observances on June 25 of the 60th anniversary of the Korean War.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said he could not comment on whether U.S. intelligence had detected missile-launch preparations or other military activity related to the shipping advisory.

But he said the notice is of concern to South Korea and Japan, among others, and that North Korea should refrain from actions that aggravate tensions.

In a prepared statement on the war anniversary, Crowley said the partnership between the United States and South Korea forged in the 1950s conflict is stronger than ever. He said while there is no difference between the capabilities of the people on either side of the 38th parallel dividing North and South Korea, the differences in governance and economic growth are compelling, with the South Korean economy now six times the size of its neighbor. Read more ..


Edge on Islam

Democrat in Michigan's Gubernatorial Race Finds Muslim Support Growing

June 28th 2010

Islamic Topics - Dearborn MI mosque
Mosque in Dearborn, Michigan

In an email, distributed on June 24, Farhan Bhatti, the Deputy Campaign Manger for Democrat Virg Bernero’s gubernatorial run in Michigan, called upon fellow Muslims to support his candidate. Bhatti noted that Bernero, currently the mayor Michigan’s capital city—Lansing—has the support of the UAW, AFSCME, the Michigan Educators’ Association, and two popular Michigan politicians who he identified as “dear friends to the Muslim community”—Congressman Dale Kildee (D) and former Congressman David Bonior (D).

Presenting Bernero as a moderate, Bhatti greets readers with the traditional Muslim blessing “As salaam alaikum” and notes that his candidate also has the support of the Lansing Chamber of Commerce, and heralding “His energy, vision, and enthusiasm can help get our state out of the mess we find ourselves in, due to years of failed leadership in the state legislature, beginning with our opponent, Andy Dillon (Ed. fellow Democrat), Speaker of the Michigan House.” Read more ..


Edge on Justice

Is A Life Sentence for an Iowa Kosher Butcher Disproportionate Justice?

June 22nd 2010

Jewish Topics - Sholom Rubashkin

This article is an updated version of one published in April 19, 2010 when the sentence for convicted kosher slaughterhouse operator Sholom Rubashkin was expected to be the equivalent of life. Now that the judge has handed down a 27 year sentence--the equivalent of life--the story has been re-reported, augmented with new interviews and updated.

 

Originally, some people said they wouldn’t mind if kosher butcher Sholom Rubashkin got life in prison and rot behind bars until he dies. Yesterday, June 22, 2010, their wish was fulfilled by U.S. District Chief Judge Linda Reade in a northern Iowa courtroom. Under the stiff sentence, Rubashkin rots in jail essentially until he dies, a 27-year sentence supplemented by five years of probation to the 50-year man—and then he pays $27 million in restitution. Judge Reade’s sentence exceeded even the government’s request of 25 years. Now many people are outraged at the harsh treatment being meted out to Rubashkin and ask in disbelief, “What's going on?”

Within hours of the sentencing memorandum, issued a day in advance by Judge Reade, legal scholars expressed shock thousands of Chassidim gathered in vituperative video-streamed protests in New York and Los Angeles, and a cadre of agitated appellate attorneys vowed to overrule the judge’s decision.

Who is Sholom Rubashkin and what really happened? Read more ..


The Hamas Flotilla

New Footage Aboard Gaza Flotilla Show Preparations to Throw Israeli “Into the Sea”

June 21st 2010

Gaza Topics - Gaza flotilla 2

To the cry “Takbīr,” the crowd shouts “Allahu Akbar” in harmony, as the leader of the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), Bulent Yildirim addresses a gathering of men aboard the ship Mavi Marmara on May 30, in a new video released by Israel’s Foreign Ministry last week. The images and dialogue, in Arabic with English subtitles, depict four men standing in front of the crowd; Yildirim, one man labeled as member of Egypt’s Parliament, and two others preparing the group for a planned confrontation with Israel.

“Allah has given us great resources… and a great blessing,” Yildirim said, speaking of the ship they were gathered on. “Not everyone has the opportunity to travel on this ship,” he said. “Allah has given (the opportunity) to those who wanted it the most.”

“In two days, we may encounter some negative matters,” Yildirim said. “They are telling us: We will launch a military fleet, and the soldiers will board the ship!”  “If they board our ship, we will throw them into the sea, Allah willing!” Read more ..



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