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Turkey on Edge

Turkey's Realignment and What it Means for the World

June 14th 2011

Turkish Topics - Turkish Flags

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) won Parliamentary elections June 12, which means it will remain in power for a third term. The popular vote, divided among a number of parties, made the AKP the most popular party by far, although nearly half of the electorate voted for other parties, mainly the opposition and largely secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP). More important, the AKP failed to win a super-majority, which would have given it the power to unilaterally alter Turkey’s constitution. This was one of the major issues in the election, with the AKP hoping for the super-majority and others trying to block it. The failure of the AKP to achieve the super-majority leaves the status quo largely intact. While the AKP remains the most powerful party in Turkey, able to form governments without coalition partners, it cannot rewrite the constitution without accommodating its rivals. Read more ..


National Security on the Edge

From the bin Laden Decision to the Iran Confrontation

June 9th 2011

Terrorism - Thomas Donilon national sec advisor
National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon

Just over two years ago—on May 26, 2009—President Obama called Director Panetta and me into the Oval Office. Bin Laden’s trail had gone cold. The President told us in no uncertain terms to expand and redouble the effort to find him, and to make it the intelligence community’s top priority.

Dedicated professionals painstakingly scrutinized thousands of pieces of information until we found a man we believed was bin Laden’s trusted courier and began to track his movements. In the months leading up to the raid, we combed the intelligence, worked over the options, and met regularly with the President on the way ahead. As that process culminated, I was struck by how quintessentially presidential this decision was—and I’ve served served three presidents.

On Thursday night, the 28th of May at around 7:00, the President left the Situation Room, where he had received his final briefing on the various courses of action. In that room, the President had received divided counsel from his team, and told us that he would make a decision soon.

The President stood up, walked out of the Situation Room, and walked across the colonnade, past the Rose Garden, into the residence. This decision was his—and his alone—to make. And then the next morning at about 20 minutes after 8:00, he asked a few of us to come to the Diplomatic Room and told us “It’s a go.” That’s what strikes me now: that we ask our presidents alone to make these exceedingly difficult decisions. And at the end of the day, 300 million Americans were looking to him to make the right decision. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Remembering Six Days in 1967

June 8th 2011

Israeli Military - Troops enter Gaza 1967
Israeli Troops Entering Gaza, 1967 (credit: Israel GPO)

“We shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants,” declared Palestine Liberation Organization leader Ahmad al-Shuqayri. “As for the survivors—if there are any—the boats are ready to deport them.” A half-million Arab soldiers and more than 5,000 tanks converged on Israel from every direction, including the West Bank, then part of Jordan. Their plans called for obliterating Israel’s army, conquering the country, and killing large numbers of civilians. Iraqi President Abdul Rahman Arif said the Arab goal was to wipe Israel off the map: “We shall, God willing, meet in Tel Aviv and Haifa.” Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

DNC to Return Lobbyist Donations Accepted in Violation of Internal Policy

June 5th 2011

Politics - Obama campaign bus

The Democratic National Committee will reimburse at least 10 registered federal lobbyists who donated to the committee—a violation of the organization’s stated policies—after OpenSecrets brought the donations to the DNC’s attention.

Research findicates the party accepted a number of contributions from federally registered lobbyists during the 2010 election cycle.

“We’re in the process of reimbursing the money,” DNC spokeswoman Caroline Ciccone said. “For whatever reason, be it human error, they gave donations that were out of line with our policy.” Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

Turkish Officials File Complaint against Scientist over Health Report

June 5th 2011

Turkish Topics - Onur Hamzaoglu - Turkish professor & whistleblower
Professor Onur Hamzaoğlu, Kocaeli University

The head of a Turkish university’s public health department has been accused of “threatening to incite fear and panic” after he published a study showing high amounts of heavy metals in the local population.

After he found high levels of mercury and arsenic in mother’s milk and babies’ excrement from Dilovası, an industrial town in the northwestern Turkish province of Kocaeli, Professor Onur Hamzaoğlu published his preliminary findings in early January. At the end of last week, the town and regional mayors filed complaints against Hamzaoğlu with his university’s rector’s office, accusing him of willfully scaring the town’s residents with misinformation.

Hamzaoğlu, of Kocaeli University, could face two to four years in prison if the district court agrees with his accusers. Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

The Problem with Pakistan's Military

June 5th 2011

PakistanTopics - Pakistani military brass

Saturday, May 28, was the thirteenth anniversary of Pakistan's first nuclear test in 1998. The day is known as Yaum-e-Takbeer, the Day of Revival. This year it revived a long-running and vicious campaign between the controversial Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan and the former military dictator Pervez Musharraf, who in 2004 put Khan under house arrest, accusing him of proliferating nuclear secrets to Libya, Iran, and North Korea.

Over the weekend, a Pakistani newspaper reported that when Khan had invited Musharraf to watch the test launch of the North Korean-designed Ghauri missile in April 1998, Musharraf had been worse for wear. Since drinking alcohol is against the law in Pakistan, journalists don't have the repertoire of phrases that their American counterparts might use to cover such circumstances but the newspaper reported: "General Musharraf ... was not in his senses." And Khan told him: "We are reciting Quranic verses, Haj is being performed in Mecca and in which state you have come here." Read more ..


Egypt After the Revolt

Egypt and the Arab Fall

June 5th 2011

Egypt - Wary Egyptian Cops

The chairman of Egypt's stock exchange undertook an urgent mission last month to the Persian Gulf, where he implored rich Arabs to invest in Egypt's bourse. Low share prices and limited political risk, Mohamed Abdel Salam claimed, had made the Egyptian market "more attractive than ever."

Abdel Salam was right, at least about the low share prices. In the aftermath of the Papyrus Revolution, the drop in Egypt's EXG30 stock index was comparable to that of the Dow following 9/11. The Dow recovered by January 2002, but in the four months since the revolution, the EGX30 has plunged an astounding 22 percent.

No doubt, there are a lot of bargains to be had in Egypt these days. The question is whether investors will be able to stomach the risk. Read more ..


Economic Recovery on Edge

Credit Unions Remake Themselves in Image of Payday Lenders

May 31st 2011

Economy - Payday Loan Sign

To millions of member-customers, credit unions are the financial equivalent of a trusted uncle, dispensing prudent loans for cars, homes, and education without the profit motive of traditional banks.

The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), which supervises and insures about 4,600 federally-chartered credit unions, says they operate with a “not for profit but for service” philosophy, providing “an alternative to the oppressive loan rates charged by predatory lenders.”

But encouraged by federal regulators, an increasing number of credit unions are competing directly with traditional payday lenders, selling small loans at prices far higher than they are permitted to charge for any other product. Read more ..


Edge of the Universe

Australian Student Astronomer Finds Universe's Missing Mass

May 29th 2011

Science - Blue sphere in space

An Australian student at Monash University has made a breakthrough in the field of astrophysics, discovering what has until now been described as the Universe’s ‘missing mass.’ Amelia Fraser-McKelvie, working as a member of a team at the Monash School of Physics, conducted a targeted X-ray search for the matter and within just three months found it – or at least some of it.

What makes the discovery all the more noteworthy is the fact that Fraser-McKelvie is not a career researcher, or even studying at a postgraduate level. She is a 22-year-old undergraduate Aerospace Engineering/Science student who pinpointed the missing mass during a summer scholarship, working with two astrophysicists at the School of Physics, Dr. Kevin Pimbblet and Dr. Jasmina Lazendic-Galloway. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Israeli-Arab Scientist Develops Artificial Nose for Detecting Cancer and Kidney Disease

May 29th 2011

Science - Artificial nose cancer detector

One of the most exciting advances in non-invasive diagnostic tools for cancer and kidney disease is the invention of Israeli-Arab chemical engineer Hossam Haick. A professor at the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haick's unique specialty is using breath analysis to detect disease. Born and raised in the Christian Arab enclave of Nazareth, Haick is hardly the only non-Jew to have graduated from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (1998) and the Technion in Haifa (2002). However, few people of any ethnicity have achieved on par with this 35-year-old former Fulbright Fellow.

In 2007, Haick appeared on the Yedioth Aharonot lists of 50 leading Israelis and four saluted Israeli scientists; and in 2008, on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Technology Review list of 35 leading young scientists. Last year, he was named one of the 10 Most Promising Young Israeli Scientists by Calcalist and one of the Jerusalem Post's Young Israelis of the Year. "Throughout my educational career, many good people encouraged me to proceed beyond my personal limits and capabilities," Haick stated, "and every time I found such supportive people I took them as a role model." Read more ..


Edge of Space

Virgin’s Galactic Space Travel—From LA to Abu Dhabi in Two Hours

May 25th 2011

Last week, in the historic large lecture theatre at the Royal Institution in London, the oldest independent research body in the world, Stephen Attenborough—the Commercial Director for Virgin Galactic—spent two uninterrupted hours mesmerizing a private audience on the future of commercial space travel. By the end of the session, even skeptics like myself, who came in thinking this was another wasted venture for the rich, were converted, captivated by the advancement of human ingenuity and the potential that space travel holds for the future of scientific research and sustainable travel.

It’s been just over a century since the Wright Bothers made their inaugural flight in North Carolina and fifty years since Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. When Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the surface of the moon in 1969, space travel seemed poised to enter a golden era. However, space programs proved prohibitively expensive—and dangerous.

As Virgin’s Attenborough reminded us, in the last fifty years only 550 people have been to space, far fewer than what one would have expected at the time when human spaceflight first began. Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

Whither U.S.-Pakistan Relations after the Death of Osama bin Laden?

May 18th 2011

PakistanTopics - Pakistan anti us protest

The past two weeks have been filled with announcements and speculations on how Osama bin Laden was killed and on Washington’s source of intelligence. After any operation of this sort, the world is filled with speculation on sources and methods by people who don’t know, and silence or dissembling by those who do.

Obfuscating on how intelligence was developed and on the specifics of how an operation was carried out is an essential part of covert operations. The precise process must be distorted to confuse opponents regarding how things actually played out; otherwise, the enemy learns lessons and adjusts. Read more ..


Edge of Cybersecurity

Serious Security Flaws with RFID-equipped Credit and Debit Cards Revealed

May 18th 2011

Technology - RFID Credit Card
RFID Credit Card

Researchers have been able to create a “magic wand” that reads cards at a distance shows that more work needs to be done on wireless encryption.

“The report from the Portland, Oregon-based TV channel Katu, in which researchers found that $20 worth of electronics could read the card details of payment cards in peoples’ wallets and purses, at a range of four inches, is very worrying,” said Andy Kemshall, technical director of the 2 factor authentication company.

“Here at SecurEnvoy, we spend our time advising clients on their best options to better defend their data assets, yet here we apparently have a number of card associations issuing payment cards that can have their details lifted by waving a fraudulent reader at users’ wallets, purses and pockets, as they walk past,” he added. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Eli Lilly, with Mitch Daniels at the Helm, Paid Billions in Fines and Settled Thousands of Suits

May 18th 2011

Politics - Mitch Daniels
Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-IN)

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a potential Republican presidential candidate respected for his fiscal prudence, credits his success in government to the business skills he learned as a pharmaceutical executive.

But when Daniels worked as a top executive at Eli Lilly & Co., one of the world’s largest drug firms, the pharmaceutical giant’s reputation was tarred by some of the nation’s ugliest drug scandals.

In the decade that Daniels climbed the corporate ladder at Eli Lilly, the company was illegally marketing its leading osteoporosis drug Evista, as well as its blockbuster antipsychotic, Zyprexa, putting tens of thousands of patients in harm’s way. Lilly pleaded guilty to two criminal misdemeanors, paid more than $2.7 billion in fines and damages, settled more than 32,000 personal injury claims—and copped to one of the largest state consumer protection cases involving a drug company in U.S. history, a review shows. Read more ..


After bin Laden

Checkbook Jihad--Financier Beware

May 18th 2011

Terrorism - Osama bin Laden

Terrorist financiers must be under tremendous stress since news broke that U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden and seized hard drives and other electronic media from his safe house. Intelligence analysts and document exploitation ("Doc X") specialists are reportedly already sifting through this intelligence treasure trove and have found evidence of notional al Qaeda plots, including aspirational plans to attack the U.S. train system, and more. In all likelihood, the files will include clues pointing to bin Laden's money trail as well.

This puts people like Abd al-Hamid al-Mujil in an uncomfortable position. Described by fellow jihadists as the "million-dollar man" for his successful fundraising on behalf of al Qaeda and other jihadi groups, Mujil directed the office of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), a charity in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. Both he and the IIRO office he headed were designated as terrorist entities by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2006. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Herman Cain Touts Outside Status Despite Numerous Financial Ties to Politicians

May 9th 2011

Politics - Herman Cain
Herman Cain

Businessman and conservative radio host Herman Cain argued his outsider status was one of his strongest assets during the first Republican presidential debate of the 2012 election cycle Thursday night in South Carolina.

But while Cain has never occupied elected office, he is no stranger to Washington's world of money in politics.

A former chairman of Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and senior adviser to the 1996 presidential campaign of Republicans Bob Dole and Jack Kemp, Cain has regularly opened his wallet for political allies, and he even operates his own political action committee, called the Hermanator PAC.

Since the 1990 election cycle, Cain, along with his wife, Gloria, has donated $134,100 to federal candidates, parties, and committees, including $25,600 during the 2010 election cycle. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Welcome to Abbottabad, Pakistan

May 8th 2011

PakistanTopics - Abbottabad (bin Laden's 'burb)
Abbottabad, a suburb of Islamabad

So, Osama bin Laden has not been hiding in Karachi or somewhere in the mountains of Waziristan; rather, he’s been in Abbottabad. Oh dear. There might be a place more embarrassing for Pakistan, but it is hard to think of one. It is yet further evidence that Pakistan, supposedly a key ally of the United States, has gone rogue.

Abbottabad is like West Point, New York. Each is home to a nation’s top military academy. Each is close to a major city. In the case of Abbottabad, that is the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. It takes about an hour and half to drive—the same time that West Point’s website says it takes to drive to the U.S. military academy from New York City. Read more ..


After Osama bin Laden

Mourning for the Death of Al Qaida's Leader Emerges Among Arabs in Gaza and Israel

May 8th 2011

Terrorism - Osama bin Laden

Dozens of Arab residents of the Silwan neighborhood of east Jerusalem held an evening rally on May 2 to express sadness over the death of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, who was assassinated by U.S. special forces in the pre-dawn hours on May 1 in Pakistan. There were denunciations on the part of Muslim religious leaders in Palestine and elsewhere in the Muslim world about the manner of Bin Laden’s burial at sea that, according to U.S. official sources, was carried out strictly according to Muslim tradition. In east Jerusalem, mourners clashed with Israeli police and threw stones. No reports of injuries or detainees were received following the rally. Read more ..


Edge on Terrorism

Death of Osama bin Laden Greeted by Silence from Pakistani Military and Intelligence

May 2nd 2011

Terrorism - Osama bin-Laden preaching

In the eary morning hours of May 2 in Pakistan there was news of low-flying U.S. helicopters over the city of Abbotabad, in the Khyber Pukhtun Khawa region. Three loud blasts were heard near the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) at Kakul. There were reports that these helicopters were carrying out an operation on a compound in Abbotabad City.

The Central Intelligence Agency initiated an operation that succeeded in killing Osama bin Laden, the chief of al Qaeda. The Americans have reportedly taken the body into custody. President Barack Obama confirmed the killing in a televised message. According to U.S. media, the operation was completed in 40 minutes at a compound rented by 2 Afghani nationals. Reportedly, the Pakistani intelligence services played a vital role in the operation, monitoring the compound for the past several months. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Corporate Donors Dole Out Hefty Sums to Governors Associations

May 2nd 2011

Economy - One Million Dollars

During federal elections, contributions to moneyed political party organizations such as the Democratic National Committee or National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee receive considerable attention. Less scrutinized are governors associations, which in recent years have attracted significantly more special interest cash than ever before. Unlike political committees or candidates for federal office, the Democratic Governors Association and Republican Governors Association both may receive unlimited amounts of money in their bids to support gubernatorial candidates across the nation, including money directly from corporate and union treasuries. And raise cash they did. Read more ..


Book Excerpt

Imam Says America and Israel Behind the 9/11 Attacks

May 2nd 2011

Book Covers - Terrorist next door

Next Door: How the Government is Deceiving You About the Islamist Threat. Erick Stakelbeck. Regnery Publishing. 2011. 256 pages.

(The following is an exclusive excerpt from Erick Stakelbeck's new book, available here

Speaking of incitement, it doesn’t get much more blatant than what went down in Washington, D.C., over Labor Day weekend 2010. That was when an annual Islamo/leftist freak show known as the “al-Quds Day” rally came to town, featuring a rogue’s gallery of Jew-hating conspiracy theorists protesting Israel’s claim to the city of Jerusalem. Leading the pack was Abolfazl Bahram Nahidian, imam of the Manassas mosque in northern Virginia, which is located near the site of the legendary Battle of Bull Run.

That may sound like an odd fit on the surface, but Nahidian quickly showed at the al-Quds event that when it came to “bull,” he had few peers. At the rally, Nahidian claimed the 9/11 attacks were “not done by Muslims. It is done by the plot of the Zionists in order to justify, to occupy, the land of the Muslims such as Afghanistan, such as Iraq, such as Pakistan, now moving on to the rest of the areas. [The Zionists] plot and they scheme and no doubt God is plotting and scheming against them too!” Read more ..


Edge of Health

Researchers Create Artificial Brain Synapse With Carbon Nanotubes

May 2nd 2011

Science - Mind

Devices might be used in brain prostheses—or combined into massive network of synthetic neurons to create a synthetic brain

Engineering researchers at USC Viterbi have made a significant breakthrough in the use of nanotechnologies for the construction of a synthetic brain. They have built a carbon nanotube synapse circuit whose behavior in tests reproduces the function of a neuron input, the synapse, the a building block of the brain.

The team, which was led by Professor Alice Parker and Professor Chongwu Zhou in the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering, used an interdisciplinary approach combining circuit design with nanotechnology to address the complex problem of capturing brain function.

In a paper published in the proceedings of the Life Science Systems and Applications Workshop in April 2011, the Viterbi team detailed how they were able to use carbon nanotubes to create a synapse. Carbon nanotubes are molecular carbon structures that are extremely small, with a diameter a million times smaller than a pencil point. These nanotubes can be used in electronic circuits, acting as metallic conductors or semiconductors. Read more ..


The Battle for Libya

The Port of Misurata is the Key to Regime Change in Libya

April 25th 2011

Libya - Libyan rebels

The Libyan city of Misurata is the last remaining major rebel outpost in western Libya. Misurata’s access to the sea has enabled regular shipments of food, weapons, medicine and ammunition to sustain the resistance in the face of daily attacks by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Gadhafi’s forces are intent on retaking the port at Misurata, while the Libyan rebels based in Benghazi hope the looming humanitarian crisis in Misurata will persuade the European coalition leading the mission in Libya to deploy ground troops to assist the rebels. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Iran Power Struggles Pits Clerics Against Ahmadinejad

April 25th 2011

Iran - Iranian clerics

The power struggle between Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues. Signs of deep fissures in the conservative camp are emerging just as the Islamic Republic prepares for parliamentary elections next year, the first countrywide polls since the disputed June 2009 presidential election. These divisions, rather than the struggling economy or the nuclear issue, are the top concern for Iranian leaders.

Moslehi Is Out, Then Back In

On April 16, Ahmadinejad announced he was accepting the resignation of Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi, who reportedly tendered it under pressure. The move followed Moslehi's decision to replace his deputy on legal and parliamentary affairs. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Newt Gingrich Faces Questions about Consulting Job and Support for Biofuels

April 25th 2011

Politics - Newt Gingrich 4_2011
Newt Gingrich

“I am not a lobbyist for ethanol,” Newt Gingrich declared in a mid-winter spat with the editors of The Wall Street Journal over his support for government subsidies for alternative fuel.

But Gingrich was a hired consultant to a major ethanol lobbying group—at more than $300,000 a year.

According to IRS records, the ethanol group Growth Energy paid Gingrich’s consulting firm $312,500 in 2009.The former House Speaker was the organization’s top-paid consultant, according to the records. His pay was one of the group’s largest single expenditures, as it took in and spent about $11 million to promote ethanol and to lobby for federal incentives for its use.

In a Growth Energy publication, Gingrich was listed as a consultant who offered advice on “strategy and communication issues” and who “will speak positively on ethanol related topics to media.” Read more ..


The Transportation Edge

DOT Criticized for Vagueness on $9.5 Billion in Project Funding

April 18th 2011

Transportation Topics - Acela

Billions of dollars handed out to massive transportation projects under the stimulus bill were not vetted with clearly documented rationales, according to the government’s watchdog.

The results of two General Accountability Office studies mirror concerns from a story published last year.

The first report from GAO focuses on how the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) gave out $8 billion in funds for high speed rail, which was highly touted by the Obama administration at the time the stimulus was passed. Read more ..


Hawaii on Edge

Sustained Drop in Japanese Visitors Has Befuddled Hawaiian Tourism Officials At a Loss

April 18th 2011

Travel - Hawaii bay

Emerging markets in Asia and elsewhere, as well as more Mainland U.S. visitors will be needed if Hawaii expects to recover from the tectonic drop in tourism from Japan. But befuddled tourism officials in Hawaii, unaccustomed to fast turnarounds and sharp rebounds, seem to be at a loss. 

Following the devastating March 11 tremor, tsunami and nuclear power plant meltdown in Japan, Hawaii saw a drop of nearly 25 percent in the number of Japanese visitors, compared to a year ago. The drop followed a 28 percent increase in Japanese tourists from January 1 through late February from a year ago, says the state agency. With hotels reporting cancellations of future bookings as high as 45 percent, the Aloha State is braced for a significant economic impact. Hawaii’s state government predicts that the decline in Japanese visitors could reduce the state's projected 3.2 percent rise in gross domestic product by as much as a percentage point. The state estimates that Hawaii’s tsunami damage totaled $30.6 million. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

White House Visitor Logs Riddled with Holes

April 18th 2011

Presidential - White House gate
Credit: Emma Schwartz

A foot of snow couldn’t keep Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Jennifer Hudson and other celebrities away from a star-studded celebration of civil rights era music hosted by President Barack Obama and the First Lady at the White House on Feb. 9, 2010.

Dylan’s haunting rendition of “The Times They are A-Changin” was a highlight of the dazzling evening. The digitally friendly White House even posted the video of his performance on its website.

But you won’t find Dylan (or Robert Zimmerman, his birth name) listed in the White House visitor logs—the official record of who comes to call at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, maintained by the Secret Service. Ditto Joan Baez. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Koch’s Web of Influence

April 18th 2011

Politics - Koch Industries building

At an EPA hearing last summer, representatives from Koch Industries argued that moderate levels of the toxic chemical dioxin should not be designated as a cancer risk for humans.

When members of Congress sought higher security at chemical plants to guard against terrorist attacks, Koch Industries lobbyists prowled Capitol Hill to voice their opposition.

And when Congress moved to strengthen regulation of the financial markets after recent collapses, Koch Industries—a major commodities and derivatives trader—deployed a phalanx of lobbyists to resist proposed changes. Read more ..


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 Arab Awakening

The Arab Risings, Israel and Hamas

April 13th 2011

Gaza Topics - Hamas+Guns

There was one striking thing missing from the events in the Middle East in past months: Israel. While certainly mentioned and condemned, none of the demonstrations centered on the issue of Israel. Israel was a side issue for the demonstrators, with the focus being on replacing unpopular rulers.

This is odd. Since even before the creation of the state of Israel, anti-Zionism has been a driving force among the Arab public, perhaps more than it has been with Arab governments. While a few have been willing to develop open diplomatic relations with Israel, many more have maintained informal relations: Numerous Arab governments have been willing to maintain covert relations with Israel, with extensive cooperation on intelligence and related matters. They have been unwilling to incur the displeasure of the Arab masses through open cooperation, however. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

A White House Divided on Syria

April 11th 2011

Syrian Issues - Syrian Protests March 2011

More so than the conflicts in Tunisia, Libya, and Bahrain, and perhaps even more than the fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, the recent violence in Syria has posed a challenge to the Obama administration’s strategy in the Middle East. The conflicting impulses within the administration can be seen in recent statements made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; days ago, she described Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a “reformer”; in London on March 29, she issued a “strong condemnation of the Syrian government’s brutal repression of demonstrators.” Which view of Assad prevails, and how the United States responds to events in Syria, will go a long way toward determining how deeply U.S. policy in the Middle East is altered by the recent turmoil there. Read more ..


Palestinian Terror

The Fogel Murders: A Call to Combat Incitement

April 11th 2011

Israel Topics - Fogel Family
Murdered Fogel Family

Incitement to violence, long a secondary issue in Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, has returned to the front burner. About a year ago, the Israeli government began publishing an “incitement index” that tracked Palestinian Authority (PA) statements and publications. Then, on March 11 of this year, the Fogel family was massacred in the West Bank settlement of Itamar, prompting large numbers of U.S. senators and congressmen to press senior U.S. officials to take steps to end incitement. Contentious as this issue may be, recent developments suggest the possibility of a modest path forward—and one that could provide a bridge to broader bilateral negotiations.

The PA and Israeli Positions

Palestinian officials do not deny that incitement is real and problematic. They do, however, argue that the Israeli side engages in its own incitement. For example, the Palestine News and Information Agency (WAFA), in an apparent response to concerns sparked by the Itamar murders, published its own list of Israeli acts of “incitement and racism against the Palestinians and Arabs published by the Israeli media between March 11 and 17.” Featured on the list are calls by a rabbi and several journalists for a response to or revenge for the Itamar murders. But the list lacks examples of any Israeli leader, government official, or government-sponsored publication advocating or condoning violence against Palestinians. Such a distinction reveals an attempt to widen the definition of “incitement” to include opinions and expressions by any individual, rather than limiting it to declarations by officials and state-run media. Read more ..


Energy vs Environment

Defiant Ethiopia To Proceed With Massive Dam On The Nile River

April 11th 2011

Africa Topics - Blue Nile in Ethiopia
Blue Nile in Ethopia (Credit: Giustino)

Defiant of Egypt’s historic monopoly over its flow, Ethiopia is pushing ahead with a controversial plan to build a massive dam on the Nile river. Egypt and Sudan have maintained control of the Nile through a series of laws originally brokered by colonial powers in 1929.

But last May, six upstream countries signed a legally binding document that dispossessed Egypt of its right to veto decisions regarding the Nile’s distribution. Buoyed by President Hosni Mubarak’s recent ouster, and undaunted by criticism, Ethiopia insists that it will proceed with its plan even without international support. Read more ..


Arab World Unrest

Qatar's Quest to Become the Leading Arab State

April 4th 2011

Qatar Topics - Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani

The small Persian Gulf state of Qatar is emerging as a significant international player in the Libyan crisis and a crucial supporter of U.S. policy. But its relationship with the United States has often been difficult, and its standing in the rest of the Arab world is questionable. For Washington, the challenge is to achieve balance between U.S. expectations, Qatar's own regional ambitions, and the need to minimize any adverse impact on U.S. ties with other Arab allies.

The Qatari peninsula is about the size of Connecticut, but most of its population -- around 200,000 citizens and 600,000 expatriate workers -- lives in and around the capital, Doha. A member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the emirate produces relatively little oil. Instead, its growing wealth is the result of having the third-largest natural gas reserves in the world (after Russia and Iran). Qatar is now the world's top exporter of liquefied natural gas, with Asia particularly reliant on its supplies. Revenue from these sales has given Qataris the highest per capita gross domestic product ($88,000) in the world, almost twice the figure for Americans. Read more ..


Japan after the Quake

Manufacturers Worldwide Brace for Semiconductor Shortage

April 4th 2011

Technology - Computer Chips

Technology prices are set to rise after a chemical plant damaged by the Tsunami has been highlighted as a core producer of a unique resin used by nearly half of the world's semiconductor manufacturers

Semiconductors are used to manufacture a broad variety of complex technology based components used in everything from cars to LCDs. And the resulting global shortage of this unique resin will drive semi-conductor manufacturing delays and costs up, which will be passed through the supply chain to end user prices. Read more ..


The Race for Batteries

Global Revenues for Power Back-up Spike as World Uneasy About Electricity

April 4th 2011

Energy Topics - Battery

Global revenues for UPS sales pass $7 billion Data from market analyst, IMS Research, shows the global market for Uninterruptable Power Supplies (UPS) grew twice as fast in the second half of 2010 compared with the first half of that year. The growth helped to push the total annual value past $7 billion. IMS Research predicts demand for UPS to return to pre-recessionary levels by 2012. 

The global UPS market continues to recover swiftly from the economic downturn with revenues in Q4 2010 being 10.8% higher than the same period in 2009.

Jason dePreaux, a Senior Analyst with IMS Research, is cautiously optimistic that a sustained recovery has taken hold. “Spending on critical power upgrades such as UPS has come back, notably in the small and medium business segment where power requirements are lower and projects are less capital intensive,” said dePreaux. “Big data-center jobs also appear to be coming back; though this sector is highly dependent on the availability of credit to move forward with major upgrades or new construction.” Read more ..


Hotel Review

A Paramount Hotel in Manhattan

April 1st 2011

Hotels - Paramount lobby

For decades, the Paramount Hotel, just steps from Times Square, has been a major address for travelers to New York. Certainly, the hotel has always been known for its avant-garde, architectonic lobby, which creates its own energy; where chairs crafted from logs are stationed beneath the hubbub of busy mezzanine corridors. Of course, the Paramount has also been known as the small wonder of New York since the rooms have been traditionally considered “not even large enough to change your mind.” The theory was always that no one came to New York to spend time in their room—which is good, because there is virtually no room in the room—and that everyone came to New York to explore the city.

Exploration from the Paramount is supremely enabled from the hotel's prime location inches from Broadway, around the corner from Hell's Kitchen, a short walk from the best shopping, an easy stroll from a dozen great restaurants, and more or less in the middle of everything. Read more ..


Internet Hate

Facebook and Zuckerberg Do an About-Face and Delete Palestinian Page Calling for a Third Intifada and Mass Killing of Jews and Israelis

March 29th 2011

Arab Topics - Facebook intifada 2

Following widespread criticism, a Facebook page calling for a third Palestinian intifada against Israel was removed on March 29. On the Facebook page, Palestinians were urged  to launch street protests following Friday May 15 and begin an uprising as modelled by similar uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, and Jordan. Killing Jews en masse was emphasized.

According to the Facebook page, "Judgment Day will be brought upon us only once the Muslims have killed all of the Jews." The page had more than 340,000 fans. However, even while the page was removed, a new page now exists in its place with the same name,  "Third Palestinian Intifada."

"As recently demonstrated, social networks can be used to overthrow governments, for good or bad, and even destabilize entire regions. Prominent social networks like Facebook can no longer afford to remain neutral as it relates to Israel's right to exist. Therefore I appreciate their stand against violent and growing anti-Semitism," Dave McQuade, founder of MediaReallyMatters.com, said. 

Abraham Foxman, National Director for the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement, "Facebook’s decision to remove the cause page calling for a “Third Palestinian Intifada” is a welcome development. We applaud Facebook’s willingness to continue to engage and consider this important question and we deeply appreciate their responsiveness. 

By taking this action, Facebook has now recognized an important standard to be applied when evaluating issues of non-compliance with its terms of service involving distinctions between incitement to violence and legitimate calls for collective expressions of opinion and action. As it continues to monitor its pages, Facebook should be able to apply this standard in response to complaints about other pages with similar content. We hope that they will continue to vigilantly monitor their pages for other groups that call for violence or terrorism against Jews and Israel." 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 ..



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