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Economic Recovery on Edge

Car Buyers Beware of a Sub-Prime Crisis

April 18th 2011

Economy - car keys and cash

After the financial crisis exposed the devastation caused by predatory lending, state and federal authorities vowed to protect consumers from practices that lured them into debt they couldn’t afford.

But Congress kept most auto loans—the second largest source of debt for Americans—out of the reach of the fledgling U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And now many of the same tactics that led to the mortgage meltdown—like fudging facts on the loan application or charging consumers hidden fees—continue to plague auto loans, an investigation found.

The politically powerful industry has also mastered a few high-pressure tactics of its own. Chief among them is the “yo-yo,” where dealers let buyers drive a new car home in hopes of locking them into a deal and later tell them their financing fell through. The tactic can lure buyers to accept a higher interest rate. Read more ..


The Military Edge

JIEDDO: The Manhattan Project that Bombed

March 28th 2011

Military - US Military Explosives-detecting Dog
U.S. Military Working Dog (credit: PO2 Brian L. Short)

As the invasion of Iraq turned into an occupation, a new and deadly threat to U.S. troops emerged, one for which the U.S. was ill prepared: the roadside bomb.

So in February 2006, with casualties mounting, the Pentagon responded by creating a new agency designed to attack the problem by harnessing the full might of America’s technology community. The new organization was dubbed the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, or JIEDDO, and a retired four-star general was tasked to run it.

The launch of JIEDDO eventually turned what had been a 12-person Army anti-homemade bomb task force into a 1,900 person behemoth with nearly $21 billion to spend.  Read more ..


DHS on Edge

DHS Officials to Testify on “Freedom of Information” Process

March 28th 2011

Politics - Giant Paper Stack

The Republican chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will get his first crack this week at publicly grilling Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials about the agency’s FOIA process.

Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.) has doggedly sought to find out whether DHS allows political appointees to play a role in prioritizing or censoring information it is required to release under the agency’s Freedom of information Act (FOIA) guidelines.

When Issa took over control of the committee in January, his first major request for documents was for DHS to turn over thousands of copies of records and emails between agency officials. But Issa was not satisfied with DHS’s response, and last month he subpoenaed two of the department’s career employees, forcing them to give transcribed interviews before the committee.

DHS officials have repeatedly stated their willingness to cooperate with his requests and point to the thousands of documents the department has turned over to the committee so far and the more than 20 staff members—15 lawyers and at least six others—who are dedicated to fulfilling his requests. But Issa’s office has said that a whistleblower from within the agency has come forward with information that contradicts what DHS officials and documents are telling him. Read more ..


Edge on Health Care

Death Panels—Fact and Fiction

March 21st 2011

Health/Medicine - nurse w/stethoscope

“Death panels” are back in the news and Congress is turning its attention to them once again. The problem is, lawmakers are looking in all the wrong places.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, now headed by Republicans, sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last week demanding to know how a controversial provision that was excised from last year’s health reform bill wound up—briefly—in a government “rule” on physician reimbursement.

The proposed provision would have allowed Medicare to pay doctors to counsel patients about their end-of-life medical wishes. That idea originally had bipartisan support, but when the provision was brought to Sarah Palin’s attention, she accused Democrats of wanting to create “death panels” that would decide when to pull the plug on granny and grandpa. Read more ..


Japan’s Nuclear Crisis

Reactor Design at Heart of Japanese Nuclear Crisis Raised Concerns as Early as 1972

March 21st 2011

Energy / Environment - BW Reactor Diagram
Boiling Water Reactor diagram

Long before Japan’s nuclear crisis or even the 1979 Three Mile Island accident, U.S. regulators had strong reservations about the design of boiling water reactors and considered banning such units over fears about their vulnerability to radioactive leaks, documents show. An industry study also noted that the reactors had less ability to withstand earthquakes than other models.

In the early 1970s, just as a number of reactors were about to be licensed, Stephen Hanauer, a senior member of the Atomic Energy Commission staff, suggested banning “pressure suppression” methods to contain radiation in the event of a meltdown—methods built into General Electric’s Mark I and Mark II containment designs as well as Westinghouse’s ice condenser design. The advice was considered and disregarded.

“Steve’s idea to ban pressure suppression containment schemes is an attractive one in some ways,” Joseph Hendrie, then a deputy director with the AEC, wrote in a Sept. 25, 1972, memo. Hendrie acknowledged that alternative, “dry” containments—featuring the towers or domes commonly associated with nuclear plants—had the “notable advantage of brute simplicity in dealing with a primary blowdown, and are thereby free of the perils of bypass leakage.” Read more ..


Oil on Edge

Regulatory Flaws, Repeated Violations Put Oil Refinery Workers at Risk

February 28th 2011

Energy / Environment - tesoro refinery
Tesoro Refinery. Credit: Emma Schwartz/The Center for Public Integrity

One evening last April at the Tesoro Corp.’s refinery in Anacortes, Washington, Matt Gumbel and six co-workers cautiously returned to service a stack of giant, radiator-like tubes filled with volatile hydrocarbons. The tubes, known as heat exchangers, tended to leak, especially during start-up, and workers sometimes armed themselves with long, steam-spewing lances to keep any escaping vapors from igniting.

Nearby, another stack of exchangers droned at full temperature and pressure.

Away from work, Gumbel, 34, enjoyed off-trail snowboarding and driving his turbocharged sports compact. On the job, he had a reputation as a meticulous worker. One has to be. Gasoline and other fuels are made from hot, sometimes barely contained brews of combustible substances. Gumbel knew the hazards intimately; he’d followed his father’s footsteps into a job at the refinery. Read more ..


The Toxic Edge

Use of Toxic Acid Puts Millions at Risk

February 28th 2011

Energy / Environment - BP Refinery Explosion

It was a disturbingly close call, closer than it appeared at the time. On July 19, 2009, an explosion rocked an oil refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas, critically injuring a worker and spawning a fire that burned for more than two days. The blast at the Citgo East refinery unleashed a chemical unknown to many Americans, though it is capable of sweeping into dozens of communities, sickening or even killing as it moves.

Hydrofluoric acid, known for its ability to quickly travel long distances in a cloud, is extremely toxic. It causes lung congestion, inflammation and severe burns of the skin and digestive tract. It attacks the eyes and bones. Experiments in 1986 detected the acid at potentially deadly levels almost two miles from the point of release. Read more ..


Edge on Health Care

Medicare Can’t Identify Top Prescribers of Addictive Drugs

February 21st 2011

Health/Medicine - StethoscopeAndKeyboard

In early 2010, Medicare paid $135,000 to a discount pharmacy in Hialeah, Fla. for drug prescriptions written by four doctors.

There were only a few problems. First, two of the doctors were dead. A third doctor was alive, living in Portland, Ore., but he never wrote the prescriptions. The fourth doctor was a few months into a three-year prison sentence, according to federal court records, for conspiracy to commit Medicare fraud.

In October, Renier Vicente Rodriguez Fleitas, 60, owner of Pirifer Phamacy and Discount and a former lieutenant colonel in the Cuban military, pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit health care fraud. He is currently serving a 37-month sentence. Read more ..


Oceans on the Edge

NOAA Moves to Police Seas

January 30th 2011

Environment Topics - NOAA HQ

As part of their continuing effort to take a lead in managing global fisheries, officials with the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration told Congress earlier this month that they’ll work with six countries – singled-out for their lack of enforcement—to cut down on illegal fishing around the globe.

A NOAA taskforce identified vessels in Colombia, Ecuador, Italy, Panama, Portugal, and Venezuela for illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, or IUU. Most infractions were for fishing out of season or without proper registration, but in one instance driftnets were used illegally by an Italian vessel to catch 24 eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna—20 of them under the legal catch size—in the summer of 2009. Read more ..


China Rising

Chinese Industrial Espionage Makes Inroads in the US and Europe

January 24th 2011

Automotive - Renault lurker

Paris prosecutor Jean-Claude Marin on Jan. 14 began an inquiry into allegations of commercial espionage carried out against French carmaker Renault. The allegations first became public when Renault suspended three of its employees on January 3 after an internal investigation that began in August 2010. Within days, citing an anonymous French government source, it was reported that French intelligence services were looking into the possibility that China played a role in the Renault espionage case. While the French government refused to officially confirm this accusation, speculation has run wild that Chinese state-sponsored spies were stealing electric-vehicle technology from Renault. Read more ..


The Judicial Edge

Judges Invested in Health Care

January 3rd 2011

Health/Medicine - nurse w/stethoscope

Three U.S. District judges presiding over legal challenges to the landmark federal health care law have held financial investments in the health care industry, which has a lot riding on the outcome of the cases, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of their latest available financial disclosure forms. The investments include individual stocks and mutual funds with holdings in private health insurance companies, companies selling health-care products, or pharmaceutical firms, according to the forms the judges filed in 2009 and 2010. Read more ..


The Roadway's Edge

“Black Boxes” Could Solve Crash Mysteries

December 27th 2010

Transportation Topics - Munfordville KY crash

Munfordville, Kentucky: Joel Gingerich hadn’t planned to join his fiancée and her family on a road trip to Iowa for a wedding. But at the last minute, before the sun rose on the morning of March 26, 2010, he hopped into the 15-passenger Dodge van. It was a decision that would cost him his life.

Gingerich, fiancée Rachel Esh and her family, all members of a close-knit Mennonite community, were just minutes into the journey when an 80-foot-long, 38-ton Freightliner tractor-trailer lost control on the other side of a wide, grassy median. The truck trampled over two sets of steel barrier cables, hit the Mennonites’ van, ricocheted off a rock wall and burst into flames. Eleven died in the crash on Interstate 65 south of Louisville in southern Kentucky, including Gingerich, Esh and seven members of her family. The truck driver from Alabama was burned so badly that state troopers couldn’t make out his flesh from the metal of his rig. Read more ..


The Water's Edge

Restricting Boaters a Hard Sell in Many States

December 21st 2010

Transportation Topics - boats in marina

Lake Pleasant, Arizona. Seventeen years ago, federal officials urged all states to require boater education courses and life jackets for children.

Today, 13 states still don’t require boaters to learn how to drive a boat before they hit the water. And two states—Virginia and Wisconsin—don’t require children to wear life jackets on boats, despite more than a decade of pressure from the nation’s top transportation safety agency.

In 2008, there were more than 4,700 recreational boating accidents leading to 709 fatalities in the U.S., according to U.S. Coast Guard statistics. Only highways claimed more lives than the nation’s waterways. “It’s a very serious issue, and it’s one we can impact,” said Bill Gossard, safety advocate specialist for the NTSB. “We have a better shot saving lives here than other places.” Read more ..


The Roadway's Edge

Companies Skirt Safety Rules—and Keep Driving

December 21st 2010

Transportation Topics - Multi-vehicle highway crash

In just two years, more than 1,000 trucking companies and 20 bus companies that had been shut down for safety violations reopened under new names, according to a recent Government Accounting Office report.

The practice, referred to as “reincarnating,” is one of the ways bus and truck companies skirt rules designed to keep roadways safe.

Reincarnation is relatively simple to do but hard to detect, government officials say. Motor carriers that have been ordered out of business or face fines go online, fill out a form and pay a small fee. The U.S. Department of Transportation issues them a new registration number as if they are a new business.

“All they have to do is click on a name, put in a credit card, and you pop up with a new number,” said Nancy O’Liddy, a lobbyist for Transportation Intermediaries Association, a trucking industry group. Read more ..


Looting the Seas

The Bluefin's Corporate Food Chain

December 21st 2010

Economy - Bluefin tuna in a Tokyo Market
A slab of bluefin at Tsukiji market, Tokyo.

Mount Fuji rises across the bay from the 16th century port of Shimizu—a sight fit for a post card.

The town has seen better days—its businesses shuttered, fishing boats driven into bankruptcy, and the only department store closed. But the city’s core business—marine and overland trade—has assured its survival. Shimizu is the primary port of landing for tuna in Japan. Hundreds of tons of tuna arrive here daily from all over the world, but none has the allure of the giant Eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna, a fish that once caught is nurtured for months at sea ranches in the Mediterranean to increase its fat content—and its yen value. Once considered a low-class dish, today the Atlantic bluefin is favored by sushi eaters across Japan. A single large fish can fetch more than $100,000 at market. Read more ..


The Rocky Recovery

Wall Street Quietly Creates a New Way to Profit from Homeowner Distress

December 13th 2010

Economy - Tax Auction

When Florida retiree Gladys Walker fell behind in paying taxes on her modest Pompano Beach home, she had no idea one of America’s biggest banks and a major Wall Street hedge fund engaged in frenzied bidding for the right to collect her debt—all $768.25 of it.

“I just couldn’t come up with the money,” said Walker, 67, a former hotel worker who makes do on a monthly Social Security check.

Barely more than a year after a taxpayer bailout of major financial institutions, Bank of America and the hedge fund, Fortress Investment Group, spotted a fresh money-making opportunity—collecting the tax debts of tens of thousands of people like Walker. The bank and hedge fund can add interest charges and fees, and they bundled the debts as securities for investors. Read more ..


Looting the Seas

Diving into the Tuna Ranching Industry

December 13th 2010

Economy - Bluefin tuna
Bluefin Tuna “Ranch” Enclosure

In the final days of 1996, the air was cold and seas rough around the southern Spanish port of Cartagena. A boat belonging to the Tuna Graso sea “ranch”—a joint venture between Japan’s Mitsui & Co. and Spain’s Ricardo Fuentes & Sons—had just pulled aboard a huge 300-kilo bluefin tuna from one of its underwater pens. That single fish was worth $17,000 to the company, and would fetch far more at auction in Tokyo.

The days of supplying fresh bluefin tuna just a few months a year were over. The introduction of fattening ranches, or farms, meant the Japanese could have high-quality bluefin for their sashimi year-round. Tuna captured at sea could now be transferred into cages and fattened for months in underwater coastal cages until Japanese buyers were ready to deal. Read more ..


The Water's Edge

Boating Industry Resists Safety Systems

December 13th 2010

Transportation Topics - SI Ferry wreck
NTSB photo of Staten Island Ferry

Like most accidents, it wasn’t just one thing that went wrong when a barge rammed into a tour boat on the Delaware River in July, killing two.

First, the engine malfunctioned on the duck boat, an amphibious craft popular with tourists visiting Philadelphia. The boat’s master turned off the engine, dropped anchor and waited for help. Then a towboat guiding a 250-foot barge down the river failed to change course, even as it bore down on the duck boat anchored in the channel.

The master of the duck boat radioed the towboat to change course, but there was no response. He told accident investigators he picked up an air horn in a last-minute attempt to get attention but the horn didn’t work. Read more ..


The Roadway's Edge

States Resist Highway Safety Measures

December 6th 2010

Transportation Topics - Church bus after crash

When an airplane crashes, people notice and want to know what went wrong. But when people die on American highways—as nearly 100 do on average every day—less attention is paid, even by the nation’s top safety investigators.

Fewer than one-fourth of all investigations undertaken by the National Transportation Safety Board target highways, even though more people die on the roads than in any other kind of transportation accidents, according to an analysis. When the NTSB does recommend ways to reduce the carnage on American roadways, it can take years before anything is done. Read more ..


Iran in Latin America

The Growing Influence of Iran on Latin America's 'New Left' Governments

December 6th 2010

Latin American Topics - Ahmadinejad and Chavez
Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

As concern grows in Washington over the potential threat that Iran poses to the United States and its allies, scant attention has been given to the Islamic Republic’s expanding influence in Latin America. In the past year, a number of events revealed Iran’s increasing links to the region, most of which have been economic in nature, although political gambits have also proved important. While Iran’s increased involvement in Latin America may have the potential to present a threat to U.S. security, such threats may be overstated and not a justified concern.

Despite what those seeking to demonize the Latin American left would have the U.S. public believe, the security implications of an Iranian presence in the region may well be minimal. Rather, the relationship is more likely to challenge Washington’s ability to exert itself abroad. Read more ..


The Coal Hazard

Government and Utilities Conspire in Coal-Ash Poison

November 29th 2010

Energy / Environment - Kingston Plant Spill

Stand before the pond known here in southwestern Pennsylvania as Little Blue Run, and you’ll see nothing that resembles its bucolic-sounding name.

The one-time stream is now an industrial pond, filled with arsenic-laced waste from a coal-fired power plant. The pond spans nearly 1,000 acres of rolling, rural landscape in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, along the Ohio River. Millions of tons of coal ash have landed in the 35-year-old dump, looming over some 50,000 people in southeastern Ohio, held back by a 400-foot-tall dam, that federal regulators have deemed a “high hazard” to human life if it ever let loose.

Here in tiny Greene Township, where the pond consumes more than 10 percent of the total land, Little Blue Run seems a wasteland. Read more ..


The Edge of Litigation

Banks, Investors, and Hedge Funds Seek Lucrative Opportunities in Lawsuit Lending

November 29th 2010

Investigation - Lawyer Jared Woodfill
Attorney Jared Woodfill

Large banks, hedge funds and private investors hungry for new and lucrative opportunities are bankrolling other people’s lawsuits, pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into medical malpractice claims, divorce battles and class actions against corporations — all in the hope of sharing in the potential winnings.

The loans are propelling large and prominent cases. Lenders including Counsel Financial, a Buffalo company financed by Citigroup, provided $35 million for the lawsuits brought by ground zero workers that were settled tentatively in June for $712.5 million. The lenders earned about $11 million. Read more ..


The Lobbying Edge

The Tobacco Lobby Goes Global

November 29th 2010

Economy - Child Smoking
A young girl, the daughter of farmers, smoking in Cambodia.
Credit: Jim Holmes/WHO

Multinational tobacco companies for years have been battered by politicians and lawyers in the United States and other developed nations like Australia and France. The global reputation of tobacco executives ranks near the bottom in public standing surveys. Market growth in the developed world has flattened out or declined. In the United States, the number of men who smoke dropped from 52 percent in 1965 to half that today. It appears to be so bad for the industry that one consulting group said selling tobacco represents “the worst operating environment in the world.”

No wonder. The industry’s product is the world’s single-largest preventable cause of death. Between 2005 and 2030, tobacco-related illnesses will claim as many as 176 million lives worldwide, according to the World Health Organization Read more ..


Corruption in the Americas

Drug Trafficking and Money Laundering Depend on Latin America’s Tax Havens

November 22nd 2010

Economy - Tax Haven Protesters

Benjamin Franklin once stated, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” However, with battalions of highly paid “tax professionals” searching for ways around tax legislation for multi-national corporations (MNCs) and wealthy individuals, taxes are not as inevitable as Franklin envisaged. In Latin America, taxation-related problems are rampant, especially in the Caribbean, where many islands are considered offshore financial centers (OFCs) by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Along with facilitating tax evasion and money laundering, the use of tax havens for legal tax avoidance is contributing to poverty in much of Latin America. Read more ..


Looting the Seas

A Mediterranean Feeding Frenzy on Blue Fin

November 22nd 2010

Environment Topics - Tuna at Market

Cobblestone walkways line the quiet canals of Sète, a French community of 40,000 nestled along the Mediterranean about 85 miles west of Marseille. It is a picturesque place, bounded on one side by Mount Saint Clair and the other by the clear turquoise water of the sea. But there is more to this seemingly sleepy tourist town.

Anchored in the harbor are dozens of multimillion-euro fishing boats—vessels that comprise the world’s most productive tuna fishing fleet, with 36 vessels targeting the prized, and increasingly at risk, Eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna. Fed by ravenous demand in Japan, Mediterranean fishing fleets—led by those in Sète—have fished out as much as 75 percent of the Eastern Atlantic bluefin. Half of the stock, say scientists, has disappeared during the past decade. Read more ..


Confronting the Farhud

When Arabs Massacred Jews Because they Sat While Praying

November 15th 2010

Book Covers - Farhud book

Edwin Black is the author of IBM and the Holocaust. This article is drawn from his just released book, The Farhud, Roots of the Arab-Nazi Alliance During the Holocaust (Dialog 2010). Buy it here

As Israelis and Palestinians struggle with a twenty-first century peace process, the world must face the forgotten history that was so pivotal in determining the present crisis. In many ways, a turning point was the day Arabs massacred Jews because they dared to sit at the Wailing Wall while praying. This simple act of prayer was so unacceptable to Arabs that it helped launch a worldwide crisis of hate that provoked a global Islamic jihad, forged an Arab-Nazi alliance during the Holocaust, and still echoes today.

The year was 1929. Jewish Palestine was still being settled by torrents of eastern European refugees. The League of Nations Mandate for Palestine included the provision for a Jewish Homeland. The Balfour Declaration, widely endorsed by many nations, was a matter of international law. But the Arabs in Palestine refused to co-exist with Jews in any way except as second-class dhimmis.

Islam had been at war with the Jewish people since its defining inception in 627 when Mohammad exterminated the Jews of Mecca and launched the Islamic Conquest that swept north and subsumed Syria-Palestina. For centuries, Jews and Christians in Arab lands were allowed to exist as dhimmis, second-class citizens with limited religious rights. These restrictions were enforced by the Turks who, until World War I, ruled the geographically undetermined region known as Palestine, which included Jerusalem.

When the Ottoman Empire fell, after World War I ended in 1918, the British were obligated by the Mandate to maintain the Turkish status quo at the Wailing Wall. Read more ..


The Rail’s Edge

Local Transit Systems Plagued by Accidents, Weak Oversight

November 15th 2010

Transportation Topics - DC metro wreck #2
DC Metro Red Line Collision, 2009

If you’re boarding a plane, cruise ship, ferry or Amtrak train, a federal government agency is watching out for your safety.

But if you’re a passenger on one of the nation’s 48 subways and light-rail train systems, there is no single authority with the power to set and enforce safety measures.

Rail systems like the Metro in Washington, D.C., New York City’s subways and the “L” in Chicago are governed by a patchwork of state agencies and committees, some more watchful than others.

In some states, the groups set up to oversee light rail have so little power as to be almost completely ineffective, according to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). They include the Tri-State Oversight Committee in Washington, D.C., and the Regional Transportation Authority in Chicago as well as the Texas, Utah and Wisconsin departments of transportation. Read more ..


Looting the Seas

The Black Market in Bluefin

November 8th 2010

Energy / Environment - nets for catching bluefin

Along the Mediterranean coast of France, in the city of Montpellier, prosecutors are quietly putting on trial an ancient French tradition—the fishing and trading of the majestic Eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna, a sushi delicacy sold in restaurants from New York to Tokyo. The still-secret proceedings accuse some of France’s most prominent fishing masters of illegally catching several hundred tons of the prized bluefin, a fish so severely plundered in the Mediterranean that this year it was proposed for listing as an endangered species alongside pandas.

Bluefin tuna is one of the sea’s most valuable species, a highly migratory fish that can weigh more than 500 kilograms and live 40 years. One large fish can fetch more than $100,000 in Japan, which consumes around 80 percent of the global bluefin catch. The widely hunted bluefin has also become a bellwether, the latest threatened species in a feeding frenzy that has seen the disappearance of as much as 90 percent of the ocean’s large fish. Read more ..


Medicare on Edge

Powerful Medical Insiders Make Determinations on Medicare

November 8th 2010

Science - Physician and stethoscope

Early this month, a group of 29 doctors gathered in a modern conference room at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, a few blocks from Lake Shore Drive. Over the course of four days, the little-known group composed mostly of specialists made a series of decisions crucial to the massive government entitlement program known as Medicare—issuing recommendations for precisely how Medicare should value more than 200 different medical procedures. Read more ..


The Electoral Edge

Americans for Job Security: How a Shadow Group Hustles for Funds

November 1st 2010

Economy - Dollar Bills

Long-time GOP operative David Carney is hardly a household name like Karl Rove. But among Republican strategists and fundraisers in Washington D.C., Texas, and other states, Carney is well-known as an aggressive and controversial figure who periodically operates under the radar. Those qualities are also hallmarks of Americans for Job Security (AJS)—a shadowy advocacy group that Carney, who is in his early 50s, founded in 1997. The group has poured almost $9 million dollars into negative ads this year to help Congressional candidates, putting it in the top tier of GOP-allied groups attracting big donors who want to remain secret. Read more ..


Edge on Politics

How Political In-Action Committees Spend Your Money

October 26th 2010

Economy - Money Money Money

Jay Peters is a psychology instructor at a Durham, North Carolina, community college who has donated tens of thousands of dollars to conservative, Republican, and Libertarian causes over the past two decades. One repeated recipient of his generosity has been a political action committee (or PAC) founded and chaired by former presidential candidate Alan Keyes: Black America’s PAC (BAMPAC, for short). Peters made three contributions to the Washington-based group, expecting that his donations would be used to help elect conservatives to federal office.

BAMPAC had other ideas. Out of more than $2 million spent since the beginning of 2007, just $13,500 of money controlled by BAMPAC has gone to federal candidate contributions, with another $9,325 for state and local candidate donations. Combined, that amounts to a mere 1.14 percent of overall spending. Over the same period, the PAC’s president received almost $200,000 in salary payments—about 10 percent of the group’s spending. And almost all of the rest went to fundraising expenses and other overhead. Read more ..


The Edge of Safety

Sleep and Fatigue Endanger All Travel

October 18th 2010

Health/Medicine - airplanes shadows

Accidents happen in a matter of seconds.

An airplane pilot takes a moment too long to react in an emergency. A trucker who has been on the road all day wanders across the median. A train engineer is lulled to sleep by the isolation and monotony of the job and misses a signal.

It’s impossible to say how many accidents are caused by operators who are just too tired to do their jobs, in part because fatigue can’t be measured like the level of alcohol in a person’s system. But fatigue is frequently cited by investigators as a factor in accidents in the air, on the water and on railways and highways. Read more ..


Edge on Financial Crisis

Foreclosure Mills: The Story of America's Foreclosure Shenanigans

October 11th 2010

Economy - Foreclosure

The news about the nation’s foreclosure scandal has been coming fast and furious, driven by tales of backdated documents, false affidavits and “rocket dockets” that push families into the street.

A former employee with one of the nation’s largest lenders testifies that he signed off on 400 foreclosure documents a day without reading them or verifying the information in them was correct.

Ex-employees of a law firm that serves as a “foreclosure mill” for major lenders describe a workplace where speed—not accuracy or justice—trumps all. “Somebody would get a 76-day foreclosure,” one recalled, “and then someone else would say, ‘Oh, I can beat that!’”

Shocking stuff. But surprising? Not for anyone who’s been tracking the recent history of the mortgage machine. Just about every corner of the America’s mortgage industry has been blemished by significant levels of fraud over the past decade. Read more ..


Travel on the Edge

Travel Safety Recommendations Ignored for Years

October 4th 2010

Disaster - USAir ditch in Hudson

Americans are exposed every day to risks in highway, air, rail and water travel that could be reduced if federal regulatory agencies and states moved faster to carry out recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates accidents and proposes ways to prevent them.

More than 710 people have died over the past 30 years in plane crashes in which ice built up on the wings of aircraft while the Federal Aviation Administration considered NTSB recommendations to reduce icing dangers. Read more ..


Lehman on the Edge

Lehman Brothers and Government Regulation: It Was the Least they Could Do

September 27th 2010

Crime Topics - Richard Fuld
Former Lehman CEO Richard Fuld

On September 1, former Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld Jr. testified about the failure of his Wall Street firm, painting himself and his company as victims of “uncontrollable market forces” and unsympathetic government banking officials.

Afterward, The New York Times said the seemingly “tragic and solitary figure” had gained a “fairly sympathetic hearing” from the federal Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission as he gave his version of the chaotic days before Lehman’s massive bankruptcy filing on Sept. 15, 2008 — two years ago. Read more ..


Edge on Terror

Electromagnetic Pulse Attack Debated--But Looms as Real Threat

September 13th 2010

Military - EMP

Over the past decade there has been an ongoing debate over the threat posed by electromagnetic pulse (EMP) to modern civilization. This debate has been the most heated perhaps in the United States, where the commission appointed by Congress to assess the threat to the United States warned of the dangers posed by EMP in reports released in 2004 and 2008. The commission also called for a national commitment to address the EMP threat by hardening the national infrastructure.

There is little doubt that efforts by the United States to harden infrastructure against EMP — and its ability to manage critical infrastructure manually in the event of an EMP attack — have been eroded in recent decades as the Cold War ended and the threat of nuclear conflict with Russia lessened. This is also true of the U.S. military, which has spent little time contemplating such scenarios in the years since the fall of the Soviet Union. Read more ..


The Bear is Back

Back in the USSR

September 13th 2010

Russian Topics - Heads on Pikes in Russian Youth Camp

Credit: Anti-Fascist Committee of Finland/Dr. Johan Backman

A row of wooden stakes with puppet heads stood planted in a forest camp attended by 20,000 young Russians this summer. Mounted above the heads was a large red slogan in Russian, declaring “We are not glad to see you here.”

On the puppets: photographs of Western political figures, including Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, and five judges of the European Court for Human Rights, as well as members of the Estonian Parliament and an assortment of Russian opposition leaders. Sitting atop each head was a cap bearing a Nazi swastika.

This rather odd form of installation art appeared at the Kremlin-backed All Russia Youth Innovative Forum, staged from July 1 to 28 along Seliger Lake in central Russia, about 235 miles from Moscow. Read more ..


The War in Afghanistan

The Struggle to Monitor Iraqi and Afghani Subcontractors

September 6th 2010

Afghan Topics - Brit with Afghani Soldier

To win hearts and minds in Afghanistan and Iraq, military experts want U.S. companies to contract with local firms for a variety of tasks like trucking, feeding troops, and providing security. The U.S. government’s “Afghan First” and “Iraqi First” initiatives increasingly seek to rely on local contractors, often through subcontracts, in part to stimulate their local economies. But a host of investigations underscore the perils in the murky world of subcontracting with foreign firms, and the difficulties in making sure taxpayer dollars are well spent. 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 ..


Toxic Edge

Government and Capitalist Alliance Makes Russia an Asbestos Behemoth

August 30th 2010

Health/Medicine - asbestos hazard

In the aptly named city of Asbest, in the Ural Mountains 900 miles (1500 km) northeast of Moscow, the dominance of Russia’s asbestos industry — the world’s largest — is on clear display. Just east of the city is the massive open-pit Uralasbest mine. At seven miles (11 km) long and 1-½ miles (2.5 km) wide, it is nearly half the size of Manhattan — and more than a thousand feet (300 meters) deep. Nearly half a million metric tons of asbestos are gouged from the mine each year.

Seventy thousand people live in Asbest, once known as “the dying city” for its extraordinary rates of lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases. But Uralasbest does not appear to have suffered any loss of status. It and other Russian asbestos producers operate with the swagger that comes from unwavering government support. Controversy bypasses them, perhaps in no small measure because Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is their ally. Nothing, it seems, is allowed to interfere with an industry that employs 400,000 people and, along with its counterpart in neighboring Kazakhstan, generates at least $800 million a year. Read more ..



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