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The Obama Edge

Hezbollah’s Coalition Partner Meets President Obama

May 24th 2010

Arab Topics - Saad Hariri
Saad Hariri

Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri was in Washington for a meeting with President Obama. In announcing the meeting, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs called it "a symbol of the close and historic relationship between Lebanon and the United States." Indeed, between 2005 and 2009, bilateral ties were never closer or more consequential, with the Cedar Revolution ending nearly three decades of Syrian suzerainty in the country.

Over the past year, however, Hariri has had to govern in coalition with Hezbollah. The Iranian-Syrian backed Shiite militia was undoubtedly the elephant in the Oval Office meeting.

Prior to becoming prime minister, Hariri was a frequent visitor to the Bush White House as head of Lebanon's ruling March 14 coalition. This will be his first visit as premier, his first meeting with Obama, and his first trip to the White House since last year's seeming reversal of the Cedar Revolution. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Brown Defends Right to Seek Return of Artworks Stolen by Nazis

May 24th 2010

Politics - Jerry Brown
California Attorney general Jerry Brown

California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court on May 17 in support of a Connecticut woman who seeks the return of a pair of nearly 500-year-old paintings looted by the Nazis during World War II, kept for a time in the estate of Nazi leader Hermann Göring, and purchased almost 40 years ago by the Norton Simon Museum of Art.

Brown's “friend of the court” brief backs Marei Von Saher, who sued the Pasadena museum in 2007 over "Adam and Eve." The two panels painted by the 16th century German artist Lucas Cranach the Elder are evocative of original sin, according to the museum's website.

The works were confiscated by Nazi soldiers from an Amsterdam gallery owned by Von Saher's father-in-law, Jacques Goudstikker, during the war. From there, the panels were moved to Göring's country estate near Berlin until May 1945, when they were discovered by American troops. The following year, they were returned to Amsterdam. From there, the artwork's trail grows murkier, leading through Russia and to a sale in 1971 to the Norton Simon Museum, where the panels are on display on the main floor. Read more ..

Thailand on the Edge

Attack on Thailand’s Red Shirts Puts Down Insurrection

May 24th 2010

Asia Topics - Thai Red Shirt--400w

On May 19th, the Thai armed forces stormed the barricades of Limpini Park, the Red Shirt holdout and gathering place for protest in the business district of Bangkok. Charging through bamboo pikes and pillars of gasoline-filled tires lit aflame, Thai armored personnel carriers struck at the heart of the nearly three-month protest whose leaders were demanding Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva call new elections.

The Army’s attack scattered protesters, arrested scores, and killed five protesters, including an Italian free-lance photographer. In the last few days of fighting, some 53 people were killed and 400 wounded. Since the protests began in March, some 80 people have died, including the Red Shirts’ self-proclaimed military leader, General Khattiya Sawasdipol, known as Seh Daeng (Commander Red), who was shot in the head last week as he spoke to a New York Times journalist. Read more ..

The BP Spill

Congress Probes Federal Role in a Devastating Oil Spill

May 17th 2010

Energy Topics - Gulf oil spill

Congress turns its focus to the federal role in the ongoing Gulf oil leak this week after an initial round of hearings probed the culpability of oil companies tied to the ongoing spill. Three Senate committees will hold hearings on the Gulf spill on May 18, to be followed by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on May 19.

Oil industry executives testified before three congressional panels on May 11-12, largely blaming each other for the accident that may pose more of an environmental threat than originally believed. Friday reports said the rate of the spill could be three or four times higher than the 5,000 barrels a day estimate that had been thought to be pouring into the Gulf.

Although the congressional investigation has just begun, a House panel has uncovered a number of potential equipment problems on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that could have contributed to the spill. Read more ..

Inside Islam

New Muslim Center in New York Said to Promote Moderate Islam

May 17th 2010

Islamic Topics - Praying on Madison Avenue
Muslims Pray on Madison Avenue

In a building that was grazed by one of the jet liners that crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, a 13-story Islamic cultural center and mosque is to be established. Two Muslim organizations have cooperated in purchasing a property that promises to be a place of worship and education in lower Manhattan within sight of the place where Twin Towers once stood.

Despite some voices of opposition, Daisy Khan—the executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA) and board member of the Cordoba Initiative, the two organizations sponsoring the project — explains that a growing population of Muslims in the area require more space for worship.

Said Khan, a vocal proponent of what ASMA says is ‘moderate’ Islam, “We want to create a platform by which the voices of the mainstream and silent majority of Muslims will be amplified. A center of this scale and magnitude will do that. We feel it’s an obligation as Muslims and Americans to be part of the rebuilding of downtown Manhattan.”

The Muslim cultural center and mosque will be known as Cordoba House, in honor of the Spanish city that was once a beacon of Islamic culture in Spain in a near-mythical time of peace among Christians and Muslims. The two Islamic organizations mentioned above are sponsoring the project in the amount of $100 million that was announced on May 5. The building was sold in July 2009 for $4.85 million. Read more ..

Inside Latin America

Bribery Scandal Dampens South American Summit Meeting

May 10th 2010

Latin American Topics - Chavez and Fernandez
Hugo Chavez and Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

During the May 4 summit conference of the Union of South American Countries (UNASUR) held in the city of Campana—near Buenos Aires, Argentina—President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela affirmed that accusations laid against him over alleged bribery is part of a “political operation” to harm relations between his country and Argentina. A frequent critic of the United States, Chavez blamed the US and local media saying “The Yankee empire does not want us to be united. The equation is very easy and time-worn: Divide and conquer.”

Nonetheless, Chavez did not address any further the accusations coming out of Argentina. He said that he would not “intervene,” considering them to be “internal political struggles in Argentina.” He did own up to knowing Claudio Uberti, who is currently facing charges in Buenos Aires. Read more ..

Edge of Obesity

Health and Life Insurers Found with $1.8 Billion in Fast-Food Stocks

May 3rd 2010

Food - Fast Food Burger

Harvard researchers say insurers put profits over health.

Just weeks after the passage of a health bill that will dramatically increase the number of Americans covered by private health insurers, Harvard researchers have detailed the extent to which life and health insurance companies are major investors in the fast-food industry – to the tune of nearly $2 billion.

Although fast food can be consumed responsibly, research has shown that fast-food consumption is linked to obesity and cardiovascular disease, two leading causes of death, and contributes to the poor health of children. The evidence is so compelling that as part of the new health law more than 200,000 fast-food and other chain restaurants will be required to include calorie counts on their menus, including their drive-through menus.
According to an independent report, U.S., Canadian and European-based insurance firms hold at least $1.88 billion of investments in fast-food companies.

"These data raise questions about the opening of vast new markets for private insurers at public expense, as is poised to happen throughout the United States as a result of the recent health care overhaul," says Dr. Arun Mohan. Read more ..

Inside Latin America

Amnesty International Condemns Mexico for Violating Rights of Central American Immigrants

May 3rd 2010

Latin American Topics - Guatemalan migrants

A report by Amnesty International says that the abuse of mostly Central American migrants passing through Mexico is a major crisis for human rights. Released on April 28, the report accused Mexican officials of complicity or participation in abuses including extortion, murder, torture, and rape. AI called the situation “a chilling panorama.”

According to AI, “The persistent lack of attention on the part of the authorities in confronting these abuses against irregular migrants has made their trip through Mexico one of the most dangerous in the world. “ Entitled “Invisible Victims: Migrants on the move through Mexico,” the report noted that in 2009 some 64, 061 migrants were arrested by Mexico’s immigration agency of whom 94.2 percent were from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Of those arrested, 93.8 percent were deported or returned voluntarily to their countries of origin while only 4.4 percent had a chance at normalizing their entry into Mexico. The AI report noted that one of every 12 migrants is a minor and that 6 out of every 10 women are subjected to sexual violence including rape.

The Mexican Interior Ministry acknowledged that abuses occur but blamed criminal gangs who extort and otherwise abuse migrants, many of whom hitch rides on railcars headed north towards the United States. An official with Amnesty International said that the trip is one of the most dangerous in the world that that the odyessy leaves them with “virtually no access to justice, fearing reprisals and deportation if they complain of abuses.” Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

Gamut of Legal Experts Question Recommended Sentence in Rubashkin case

April 26th 2010

Jewish Topics - Rubashkin in cuffs

Several former U.S. attorneys general, a former deputy attorney general, more than half-a-dozen former U.S. attorneys and a former federal judge have authored and signed letters to the judge in the Sholom Rubashkin case, criticizing the prosecutors’ recommendation that Rubashkin receive life in prison for his bank fraud conviction under Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The authors of the letters include former U.S. attorneys general Janet Reno, Dick Thornburgh, Nicholas Katzenbach, and Edwin Meese III, as well as former deputy attorney general Larry D. Thompson, and former federal Judge Paul G. Cassell. The jurists represent the gamut of sentencing philosophies and includ officials nominated by both Democratic and Republican administrations. Law professor Alan Dershowitz also sent a letter asserting the same conclusion. At press time, more distinguished former U.S. attorneys are adding their names to the widening list of distiguished legal experts challenging the proposed life sentence.

The letters express concerns about how the sentencing guidelines are being utilized in Rubashkin’s case, arguing that they provide “problematic guidance” in determining Rubashkin’s sentence. Read more ..

Wikipedia on the Edge

Wikipedia Struggles with Holocaust Disinformation; Ravensfire Deletes Jewish Content

April 26th 2010

Computer Topics - Shadowy Computer User

Wikipedia posters continued to struggle with the campaign to delete information about IBM’s involvement in the Holocaust as contributors posted and reposted conflicting theories of what should and should not be allowed to appear in the Internet encyclopedia. Wikipedia is the massive online project anyone can edit at any time, generally using fictitious names. Key among the issues in contention was whether the word “Holocaust” was permissible in descriptions of IBM’s pivotal participation in Hitler’s destruction of six million Jews.

The information about IBM’s role in the Holocaust was originally brought to light in 2001 by author Edwin Black in his bestselling book IBM and the Holocaust. Despite numerous calls for an answer, the company has never denied the information. Various groups, from Gypsies to Jewish survivors, have sued IBM for its involvement, but all the cases have been dismissed. Read more ..

Edge of Recovery

Goldman Sachs E-mails Suggest Firm Profited from Mortgage Crisis

April 26th 2010

Economy - Lloyd Blankfien-Goldman Sachs CEO
Goldman Sachs Chairman and CEO Lloyd Blankfein

A Senate panel has released e-mails from Goldman Sachs executives that suggest the investment bank profited from the mortgage crisis.

The e-mails released Saturday by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations show Goldman Sachs Chairman and CEO Lloyd Blankfein saying the bank initially lost money on the investments but then more than made those losses back. “Of course we didn’t dodge the mortgage mess. We lost money, then made more than we lost because of shorts,” Blankfein wrote in the e-mail, dated Nov. 18. Blankfein and other Goldman Sachs executives are scheduled to testify next week before the investigations subcommittee, which is examining the Wall Street crisis. Read more ..

Wikipedia on the Edge

Wikipedia Blocks Fred the Oyster and Challenges Blaxthos on Holocaust Entries

April 19th 2010

Computer Topics - Shadowy Computer User

Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia created by anonymous editors, has reacted to disclosures in The Cutting Edge News that three of its editors were jointly seeking to water down or delete the history of IBM’s involvement in the Holocaust. One editor has been banned and a second has been openly challenged for being “annoying” and revising an entry on IBM despite the open appearance of pushing a personal “point of view.”

A group of mainly anonymous administrators has “indefinitely blocked” the combative contributor operating under the moniker “Fred the Oyster” from further contributions after an investigation concluded that he was the same individual as one previously banned for uncivil and threatening activity. “Fred the Oyster” was one of three Wikipedians, openly bolstered by an IBM archival official who offered to be “helpful,” that took the lead in revising IBM’s history page as well as the article devoted to the book IBM and the Holocaust authored by Edwin Black.

The word “Holocaust” was completely erased from the IBM entry as was the name of the book. Numerous attempts were made to insert IBM’s 2001 press release as the sole statement on the subject.

“Fred the Oyster” was “indefinitely blocked” by the adminstrators, which means his IP address is refused admission to Wikipedia edit pages. The block occured after Black openly objected to the Wikipedia article devoted to his biography being marked with two prominent labels: “American Jew” and “Weasel.” To that, “Fred the Oyster” responded on a public Discussion Page, “I wonder what colour an American Jewish weasel is, and are they similar to a circumcised ferret?” Read more ..

Inside Islam

Iranian Cleric Links Earthquakes, Hijab, and Adultery

April 19th 2010

Islamic Topics - Burqa-o-rama

The temporary Friday prayer leader of Tehran, Kazem Sadighi, said today that “women who don’t have a suitable appearance” (meaning women who do not fully observe the obligatory Islamic hijab) attract young men and lead to the spreading of adultery in the Iranian society which—according to the cleric—increases the risk of earthquakes. Hojatoleslam Sadighi, who was speaking about the probability of an earthquake in Tehran, said that sinning less reduces the likelihood of earthquakes.

“Even if there is an earthquake in Tehran, no one but God can deal with these calamities. We have to abstain from committing sin,” said Sadighi.

The Iranian capital lies on a major seismological fault and some experts have warned that a strong earthquake in Tehran could lead to the death of many of its inhabitants. Read more ..

The Edge of Law

Universal Jurisdiction is Abused and Leads to International Friction, say Legal Scholars

April 12th 2010

Israel Topics - Tzipi Livini
Former Israeli Foreign Minuster Tzipi Livni

The Legal Task Force of the Scholars for Peace in the Middle East released its first major statement condemning the misuse of universal jurisdiction in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, while and insisting upon reform. In light of recent harassment of Israeli officials, the international panel of legal scholars admonished world leaders that “selective enforcement, under-enforcement and over-enforcement all exacerbate the risks of legal uncertainty, unpredictability, confusion, disparity and inequity.”

Critics have challenged both the exercise of jurisdiction in legal cases where it appears unwarranted. Examples cited include arrest warrants issued for Israeli Knesset-member Tzipi Livni, and threatened prosecutions of President George W. Bush and and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice) and the failure to exercise it where it appears appropriate (as in the cases of Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il. Read more ..

Israel and Hamas

Rumors of War as Tensions Mount along the Gaza Border

April 5th 2010

Terrorism - Gaza Militants

The March 26 clash between elements of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Golani Brigade and Palestinian operatives near the Gaza border was the most serious since the end of Operation Cast Lead in January 2009. The incident has exacerbated tensions—already on the rise due to increased rocket attacks on southern Israel—and added to concerns that another Gaza war is looming. Neither Hamas nor Israel has a clear interest in renewing large-scale hostilities, but the dynamics of the border conflict point toward escalation. The two sides did not necessarily want a war in December 2008 either, but it came anyway.

The Incident. The clash began as a routine IDF response to Palestinian activity near the border security fence. IDF personnel observed what appear to have been Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives planting explosives near the fence (also a routine activity). A force from the Golani Brigade's 12th Battalion responded by crossing the fence and penetrating some distance into Gaza near Khan Yunis to investigate the activity. A firefight ensued, resulting in the deaths of two IDF soldiers (including the battalion's deputy commander) and the wounding of two other Israeli personnel. Two Palestinian operatives were killed as well. Several other incidents reportedly followed, with other Palestinian operatives attempting to plant explosives along the fence. Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Israeli Tank Shield Could be a Game-changer

April 5th 2010

Israeli Military - Trophy antimissile system
Trophy Tank missile shield

The Israeli “Trophy” tank defense system could prove to be a game-changing device should the U.S. acquire it for armoured vehicles it now has deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The final touches are being applied to a miniature anti-missile system designed and built by Israel-based RAFAEL in cooperation with IAI/Elta defense industries, which would further bolster Israel’s response to aggression on the part of Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip and in Lebanon. John Pike of Global Security, a military information website, has said that the future of the U.S. Army may ride on whether the system can be made to work. RAFAEL has entered into an agreement with U.S.-based General Dynamics to market the system to the U.S. military. It is not effective for naval vessels, however, nor in soft vehicles such as the U.S. Army’s Humvee four-wheel drive vehicle. Russia is also working on a similar weapons system. Read more ..

Burma on Edge

UN Secretary General Unhappy with UN Progress on Burma

March 29th 2010

Burma - Burmese Generals

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has expressed frustration and disappointment in UN diplomatic efforts to achieve progress of any kind in Burma.

Following a meeting of the Myanmar Group of Friends, Ban said that national elections scheduled for later this year must be “inclusive, participatory and transparent.” 

Such polls would help to “advance the prospects of stability, democracy and development for all the people of Myanmar,” Ban told reporters following a meeting of the so-called Group of Friends, which brings together more than one dozen nations and one regional bloc in support of greater dialogue in the Asian nation.

According to the Secretary General, the junta must create the conditions to allow for free participation in the elections. “This includes the release of all political prisoners – including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi – and respect for fundamental freedoms,” he added. Read more ..

The Metal's Edge

Australia Over-Reliant on Exports to China and Could Crash, Economist Warns

March 22nd 2010

Australia Topics - Australia Mines

A respected economist warns that Australia's dependence on mineral exports to China has made its economy highly vulnerable to a crash. Frank Gelber, who is the chief economist at research firm, BIS Shrapnel, says the mining boom has the potential to expose the country to fluctuations in commodity prices and Chinese demand.

China's demand for iron ore, coal and liquefied natural gas has made it Australia's biggest trading partner. With China trade worth about $76 billion a year, Australia was able to avoid the worst effects of the global economic slowdown, prompting hopes that rising commodity exports could fuel growth for years to come.

However, some economists and business experts think Australia relies too heavily on selling resources to China, and is neglecting other parts of the economy. Frank Gelber, a senior economist at Australian company BIS Shrapnel, expects to see strong growth in Australia over the next five years. But he worries about the risks of structural economic imbalances in the longer term. Read more ..

Hell of Haiti

Environmental Degradation in Haiti Worsened by Earthquake

March 15th 2010

Caribbean - Port-au-Prince, Haiti earthquake damage

The United Nations Environment Program warns that Haiti’s recovery process will be greatly constrained if the environmental degradation suffered during the catastrophic earthquake is not adequately taken care of. UNEP says cleaning up Haiti's environmental mess will be long, difficult, and expensive.

The program says Haiti was the poorest and most environmentally degraded country in the Caribbean before the earthquake struck in mid-January. It says Haiti's rural environment was largely destroyed, making it difficult to fully feed its population. It says that damaged water collecting devices made the country vulnerable to flooding and other natural disasters. It says there is extensive soil erosion in Haiti and only 3 percent of the country’s original forest cover is left. Read more ..

The Armenian Genocide

Turkey Protests House Lawmakers’ Move to Recognize Armenian Genocide

March 8th 2010

Genocides - Armenian death march
Armenian Death March in Ottoman Turkey

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has lambasted U.S. lawmakers for pursuing a resolution that would label his country’s treatment of Armenians after World War I as a “genocide.” That declaration, approved Thursday by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, could only serve to damage U.S.-Turkish relations, the prime minister said. Erdogan later decried the effort as a “parody,” and he stressed his country would in no way be “deterred” by U.S. lawmakers’ forthcoming proclamation. “Let me say quite clearly that this resolution will not harm us,” he told a business group. “But it will damage bilateral relations between countries, their interests and their visions for the future. We will not be the losers.” Despite the issue’s high profile, there been little movement in the United States to recognize the killing of almost 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1917 as a genocide. Read more ..

Turkey on the Edge

What's Really Behind Turkey's Coup Arrests?

March 1st 2010

Islamic Topics - Turkish Flags

For the last several decades, the Turkish military was untouchable; no one dared to criticize the military or its top generals, lest they risk getting burned. The Turkish Armed Forces were the ultimate protectors of founding father Kemal Ataturk's secular legacy, and no other force in the country could seriously threaten its supremacy. Not anymore.

On Feb. 22, 49 officers -- including active-duty generals, admirals, and former commanders of the Turkish navy and air force -- were arrested on allegations of plotting a coup against the government. Specifically, the officers were charged with authoring a 5,000-page memo that was later published in Taraf, a paper whose editorial policy is singularly dedicated to bashing the military.

Among other things, the memo stated that the Turkish military was planning to bomb Istanbul's historic mosques and shoot down its own planes to justify a coup. When I asked a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey for his views on the news, he thought the scenario was ridiculous. "If the Turkish military was going to do a coup, they would not be writing a 5,000-page memo about it," he stated.

Edge of Terrorism

Muslim Group Wants Government To Call Plane Attack Terrorism

February 22nd 2010

Terrorism - Austin TX plane crash

A leading Muslim advocacy group is pushing government officials to call the suicide plane crash in Texas “an act of terror,” saying that if a Muslim had been flying the plane there would be no hesitancy to call it terrorism.

On Thursday, Andrew Joseph Stack III flew a small plane into the IRS's four-story office building in Austin, killing himself and at least one federal employee. Before the incident, Stack allegedly left a series of messages on a website expressing his disgust with the IRS, saying at one point that “violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.”

“Whenever an individual or group attacks civilians in order to make a political statement, that is an act of terror,” said Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

“Terrorism is terrorism, regardless of the faith, race or ethnicity of the perpetrator or the victims,” said Awad, adding in a statement that “if a Muslim had carried out the IRS attack, it would have surely been labeled an act of terrorism.” Read more ..

China on the Edge

Chinese Schools Accused in Google Cyberattack Deny Involvement

February 22nd 2010

Computer Topics - Shadowy Computer User

A Chinese university thought to be at the center of last month's cyberattack on Google is denying any involvement in the scheme.

Representatives from Shanghai Jiaotong University this weekend described those reports to Xinhua, China's state-run news agency, as "baseless allegations which may harm the university's reputation." While the school did admit its computers could have been involved in the plot, which targeted Google, other U.S. businesses and human rights activists in China, the university's spokesperson dismissed any possibility the attack started there. Read more ..

Inside Washington

New FEC Rules Could Impact Court's Controversial Campaign-Finance Decision

February 15th 2010

Politics - Supreme Court-SOTU

A long-awaited Federal Election Commission ruling could dramatically impact how the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision affects the power of candidates to control campaign messages.

The FEC will set new rules this year to govern the coordination of communication between outside entities and candidates and parties. The proposed rulemaking was already in the works before the Citizens United decision, but this week the agency set a public hearing for March 2 and 3 and extended its public comment period on the issue to elicit comments addressing the impact of the high court’s decision.

Watchdog groups have long argued that the FEC’s coordination rules are too weak and ineffective but the Citizens United decision, which allows unfettered corporate and union money in elections as long as the spending is independent, is shining a new light on the importance of restrictions on coordination between candidates and outside entities. Read more ..

Religious Freedom

Imam with Mission of Understanding Becomes the Target of Hate

February 8th 2010

Islamic Topics - Imam Hassen Chalghoumi
Imam Hassen Chalghoumi pictured at center

Imam Hassen Chalghoumi has spent his life preaching inter-faith harmony from his mosque in Paris's poor and fractious northeastern suburbs. Chalghoumi works with Jewish leaders, inviting them to his home and urging young people of all religions to embrace harmony in place of hatred.

Now, he finds himself the target of the same hatred and intolerance that he has dedicated his life to combating. His car had fuel poured on it; he has received anonymous death threats on his cell phone; people have stopped him in the street warning him that he has “gone too far”; his house is under police watch and he is shadowed by a bodyguard.

Tunisian-born Chalghoumi, 35, has become the focal point in the rising tension between Jews and Muslims in France caused by disturbances in the Middle East. Read more ..

Edge of Financial Recovery

TARP Benefits Fall Short of Goals

February 1st 2010

Obama Admin Topics - Neil Barofsky
Neil Barofsky

The $700 billion bailout program for the financial industry has so far done little to boost bank lending, aid small businesses or reduce home foreclosures, a top government watchdog said in a report.

Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general over the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), said in a report that while the bailout has helped stabilize the financial system, many of the program's original goals have not been met.

"Lending continues to decrease, month after month, and the TARP program designed specifically to address small-business lending — announced in March 2009 — has still not been implemented by Treasury," Barofsky wrote in the report. "The TARP foreclosure prevention program has only permanently modified a small fraction of eligible mortgages, and unemployment is the highest it has been in a generation." Read more ..

Religious Freedom

Greece is Jarred by Anti-Semitic Terror and Apparent Indifference

January 25th 2010

Jewish Topics - Greek Synagogue Fire
Burnt Jewish Books in Greek Arson

On January 22, police apprehended three men accused of setting alight an historic synagogue on the Greek island of Crete earlier in the month. Two Britons and a Greek national were arrested, while a US citizen is also sought in connection to the January 16 attack that caused extensive damage to the roof of the 16th century synagogue, its computers, and thousands of precious books. Police have identified the culprits of two assaults on the synagogue as nightclub employees. The two Britons are in their early 20s while the Greek is 33-years-old. They will appear before a prosecutor next week.

Alarmed by the arson, Moses Constantinis of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, said "I can't say I'm happy now; they should have arrested them earlier, after the first attack and not leave the synagogue unprotected." Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Homeland Security Panel Launches Attack Probe in Europe

January 18th 2010

Transportation Topics - Schiphol

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee dispatched staffers to Europe to investigate the attempted terror attack on a Christmas Day flight. Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) announced that he's sending a delegation of staff to England and the Netherlands to investigate the security breakdowns that led a Nigerian man, Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, to successfully smuggle explosives on board a flight from Amsterdam in Detroit in December and almost successfully blow up the plane.


“I have directed Committee on Homeland Security staff to get a first hand look at the security systems that failed on December 25," Thompson said in a statement. "I am confident that this in-person examination will inform the Committee’s January 27th hearing on Flight 253 and provide insights on information sharing infrastructure, the watchlisting process, and passenger screen technologies." Read more ..

The Political Edge

Lawmakers Visiting Detroit Auto Show Drive Tea Party Protests

January 11th 2010

Energy Topics - Detroit Auto Show 2010

Detroit has become a political battleground as lawmakers and activists descend on the city for its international auto show.

A delegation of Democratic lawmakers, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), will travel to Motown on Monday for the opening day of closed-door previews for the media, industry officials and other VIPs. They will be met, though, by conservative “Tea Party” activists, who plan to rally against the show.

The scene will represent one of the most high-profile demonstrations of the political battle over the bailouts for Chrysler and General Motors, nearly a year after the U.S. government provided tens of billions of dollars to prop up the companies.

Pelosi will travel to Detroit along with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and a bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers with an interest in the auto industry. The group comes at the invitation of Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), a longtime advocate for the auto industry. Read more ..

Inside Washington

U.S. Antisemitism Envoy Rosenthal Gets No Defenders

January 4th 2010

Jewish Topics - Hannan Rosenthal
Hannah Rosenthal

A breach of protocol by the administration’s new envoy on antisemitism came with a heavy price: an implicit rebuke from her superiors at the State Department and a sharp retort from her former colleagues in the organized Jewish community.

In a step widely seen as off limits for government officials, Hannah Rosenthal, the newly appointed envoy, criticized in a newspaper interview the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, for his characterization of J Street as a “unique problem.”
The affair, which stirred emotions within the Jewish community, also highlighted the rift between the Israeli diplomatic mission in the United States and the up-and-coming dovish lobby. More broadly, it underscored Oren’s difficulty in fulfilling his promise, upon assuming his post last May, to reach out to the progressive wing of the Jewish community.

The Legal Edge

Jewish Groups Differ on Legal Immunity for Foreign Leaders

December 28th 2009

Jewish Topics - Nathan Lewin, Attorney
Attorney Nathan Lewin

Stephen Greenwald is well aware that when defending the rule of law, "you're not always on the side of the angels."

The adage comes to mind as Greenwald, president of the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, fights to overturn a federal court ruling concerning a former Somali prime minister who stands accused of war crimes.

The litigation that led to the ruling was filed against former Somali Prime Minister Muhamed Ali Samantar. It argues that diplomatic immunity should be waived so that Samantar can be tried for abetting a host of war crimes, among them torture and murder. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Historic Auschwitz Sign Recovered--Motives Still Unclear

December 21st 2009

History-Genocide - Arbeit Macht Frei

Thieves who made off with the infamous sign at the Auschwitz death camp in Poland were but ordinary criminals, say Polish authorities following the arrest of five men after an intensive search and a state of emergency in the region. “Arbeit macht Frei” reads the metal lettering (Work makes you free) over the gate to the death camp where more than 1 million Jews, Poles, Soviet prisoners of war and other enemies of Germany’s National Socialist state were murdered during the Second World War.

One survivor called the theft an attempt to deny the historicity of the Holocaust, or Shoah. Polish police said on December 21 that the suspects are but “ordinary criminals” rather than Nazi sympathizers.

The police are still attempting to determine how the large metal sign could have been removed from the Auschwitz gate, despite security guards and closed-circuit video cameras. The police were examining video tape over the December 19–20 weekend, and were also relying on hounds to sniff out the perpetrators of the outrage. Read more ..

Turkey on the Edge

Turkey Pulls Further Away from The West

December 14th 2009

Turkish Topics - Turkish Anger

On December 7, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet with US President Barack Obama in Washington. The meeting follows Obama's April visit to Turkey, when he reached out to the Turks to realign Ankara with the US after the tumultuous years of the Bush administration.

Despite Obama's efforts, Turkish foreign policy is drifting further away from the US. The cause of this is that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government in Ankara sees the world very differently from the US administration. The AKP's foreign policy is shaped by "econo-Islamism," a doctrine blending business deals with a religio-political view of the world.

Since coming to power in 2002, the AKP has pursued rapprochement with Russia, Sudan, and Iran, and has even gone so far as establishing ties with Hamas. In the West, this orientation of Turkish foreign policy had until recently been interpreted as neo-Ottomanist, i.e. a "secular" attempt to reassert itself in the Ottoman realm, to the benefit of the Euro-Atlantic community. Read more ..

Inside Islam

Swiss Ban on Muslim Minarets stirs European debate

December 7th 2009

Islamic Topics - Swiss Minaret and Church

In a November 29 referendum, a surprising 57.5 percent of Swiss voters passed a measure that would ban the building of further minarets at mosques in the country. There are currently four minarets in Switzerland; however, these will not be affected by the vote. The measure had been supported by two populist parties: the Swiss People’s Party and the Federal Democratic Union. Currently, there are 400,000 Muslims living in the mountainous bastion of bank accounts, in a total population of 7.7 million. The Swiss government issued regrets over the poll but says it will respect the result.

The Swiss justice minister also said the European Court of Human Rights could strike down the Sunday vote, which incurred swift condemnation at home and abroad for banning the towers used to put out the Islamic call to prayer. The 47-nation Council of Europe said that banning "new minarets in Switzerland raises concerns as to whether fundamental rights of individuals, protected by international treaties, should be subject to popular votes." Switzerland presides over the council, which is associated with the European Court of Human Rights. The court rules on breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said the ban would come into force immediately, but indicated that it could be overturned. "The ban contradicts the European Convention on Human Rights," Widmer-Schlumpf is cited as saying. The minister added, that this was not "a referendum against Islam ... but a vote directed against fundamentalist developments." She defended the referendum as being "about minarets and not, of course, about the Islamic community," she said. "We are interested in a multi-religious society in Switzerland."

France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he was "a bit scandalized" by the vote, which amounts to "oppressing a religion." "I hope that the Swiss will go back on this decision rather quickly," Kouchner said. "It is an expression of intolerance, and I detest intolerance." Read more ..

The Flu’s Edge

Swine Flu Mutates Into New Diseases and into Political Issues

November 30th 2009

Europe Topics - Yuliya Timoshenko
Yuliya Timoshenko

Reports in Europe and elsewhere are rife of a mutation of the H1N1 “swine flu" virus that apparently first appeared in Ukraine and has now popped up in numerous other countries. As of November 28, two fatal cases of the mutated virus emerged in France, following two deaths caused by the virus identified in Norway on November 20. According to the World Health Organization, the same virus has been identified in patients in other countries including Brazil, China, Japan, Mexico, and the United States.

So far, in France, 76 deaths have been recorded for H1N1. Worldwide, deaths blamed on the epidemic rose by 1,000 during the week of November 21-28. But in the Ukraine, the total figure surpassed 300 in early November 2009, with as many as 16 deaths caused in one day.

The mutated virus appears to be able to penetrate further into the passages of victim’s lungs, thus making it more dangerous. However, there is yet no evidence to show that it can be spread between people. As long as there is no proven “person-to-person” contagion, the relative risk posed by the mutation is low, experts insist. Read more ..

Inside Iran

Iran Ups the Nuclear Confrontation Announcing Ten New Sites

November 30th 2009

Iran - Ahmadinejad Nuke
Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inspects nuclear equipment

The Iranian government stunned the world community by announcing a plan to build 10 new uranium enrichment facilities—this just after being rebuked for duplicity and non-cooperation by a resolution of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The plan to expand was decided upon in a Cabinet meeting headed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad told those at the Cabinet meeting that, “We should be able to produce 250–300 tons of fuel per hour and to attain the goal we need more new modern centrifuges with higher speed.” The Iranian President claimed the Islamic Republic needs the new facilities to produce 500,000 nuclear centrifuges and 20,000 megawatts of electricity within the next 20 years. Iran will commence construction of five uranium enrichment sites within two months and seeks to develop five additional locations to begin shortly thereafter. Read more ..

Inside Islam

Spanish Crewmembers Recount Horror of Captivity and Rape by Somali Pirates

November 30th 2009

Piracy - Somali Pirate

In the Basque city of Guernica, northern Spain, crewmembers of the fishing vessel Alakrana, which was captured by Somali Muslim pirates in October 2009, testified before a judge investigating the incident. The Spanish Basque fishermen spent 47 days as the prisoners of the pirates after being waylaid near the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean. On November 24, eight of the 36 crewmembers of the Alakrana tuna-boat appeared in a Guernica court where they recounted the horror of their abduction by pirates. In a press conference, machinist Victor Bilbao said “We were frightened because at any moment they might have shot us.” Bilbao also criticized Spanish President Jose Rodriguez Zapatero for mishandling the management of the crisis.

The Alakrana and crew were freed on November 17 following the payment of a $4 million ransom. They were captured in early October, and had repelled a similar attack in September. Since the Alakrana incicent, Spain has given permission to its fishing fleets to utilize military armaments by onboard security. President Rodriguez Zapatero defended his government's handling of the incident saying that Spain did what it had to do. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Missing Iranian General May Have Been Kidnapped, Held by Mossad

November 23rd 2009

Iran - Asgari
Ali Reza Asgari

Approximately three years ago, a retired Iranian general and former deputy defense minister disappeared in Turkey amidst claims of defection. Ali Reza Asgari worked in the Iranian reformist government headed by President Muhammad Khatami. There are conflicting reports regarding when Asgari was last seen. Some state December 2006; others claim early 2007.

The Iranian media is now reporting that Asgari was abducted by Mossad and Western intelligence agencies. Furthermore, Iranian media reports claim that Asgari is currently being held in an Israeli prison. These reports were picked up by Israeli Army Radio last week.

Although no sources have been named, Iranian media reports, “Two years of investigations by relevant institutions show that Ali Reza Asgari is kept in the Zionist regime's prison... [Ali Reza Asgari] was kidnapped by Mossad, German and British intelligence agencies and taken to Israel.”

The Israeli government refuted any association with Asgari's disappearance when reports of his defection began circulating in 2007. There is now speculation that Asgari was abducted by Israeli Mossad and Western intelligence agencies in an effort to obtain information regarding missing Israeli Air Force navigator Ron Arad and the Iranian nuclear program. Read more ..

The Edge of Terror

A Marine Batters a Greek Orthodox Priest he Thought was an "Arab Terrorist"

November 16th 2009

Crime Topics - Jasen Bruce

A Greek Orthodox priest was severely beaten by a U.S. Marine Reservist in Tampa Florida in an apparent if not bizarre case of mistaken identity. Lance Cpl. Jasen D. Bruce, 28, was arrested on a charge of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon after chasing and beating a man he thought was a terrorist.

On the evening of October 9, Father Alexios Marakis, 29, was visiting the Greek community and an ailing fellow priest in Tampa. Father Alexios ot lost while driving northbound on Interstate 275 and wandered into downtown Tampa. Exiting his car at the Seaport Channelside Apartment complex, he asked Bruce for directions. Instead of providing assistance, Bruce allegedly beat the Orthodox priest in the head with a tire iron.

The Greek Orthodox priest then fled on foot with Bruce in pursuit while the Marine phoned 911 emergency services to report that he was going to "take an Arab" into custody. When police finally arrived, Bruce allegedly declared that the priest was actually a terrorist. According to Tampa police, Bruce claimed that the priest had shouted “God is great!” in Arabic. The bearded priest speaks Greek and was wearing a black cassock at the time of the incident.

Father Alexios was taken to hospital and there a translator helped to unravel his story for police. When police went to Bruce's apartment, he was already lawyered up and would not speak to them. The priest was treated and released from Tampa General Hospital. Alleged assailant Bruce was arrested on the evening of November 9 and released from the Hillsborough County jail at 8 AM on November 10 on a $7500 bond. Read more ..

Ukraine on the Edge

Ukraine in Panic over Plague Fears in Advance of Crucial Presidential Election

November 9th 2009

Europe Topics - Yuliya Timoshenko
Prime Minister Yuliya Timoshenko of Ukraine

Ukraine continues to be in a panic about a deadly outbreak of influenza still not confirmed as H1N1 swine flu.

The disease contagion may be showing signs of diminishing. But accounts of young and otherwise healthy victims succumbing continue to circulate, contributing to heightened political tensions in a country that will face a general election on January 17, 2010. The virus has become a pivotal issue. Sentiment within the Central European nation increasingly holds that the country’s medical systems and political leaders were slow to react or inadequate in their response to the outbreak. More than 95 victims have died this year.

Signaling the importance given to a show of concern, in the middle of the night on November 3, Prime Minister Yuliya Timoshenko, the Ukrainian foreign minister and the president’s chief of staff gathered at Kiev’s airport to share solemn words about the arrival of a shipment of Tamiflu, a drug effective against swine flu. Read more ..

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