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Israel and Palestine

Obama Administration Vetoes Controversial Israel Resolution Only after Congressional Pressure

February 18th 2011

Israel Topics - Obama Netanyahu Abbas1

The U.S. vetoed a controversial Palestinian Authority resolution at the United Nations Security Council as pressure on the administration mounted in the House of Representatives. A letter urging Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to stand up against the resolution condemning Israel quickly racked up signatures in the House on February 19.

Reps. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) and Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) circulated the letter, which had been signed by at least 110 members, making the rounds beginning on the afternoon of February 18 and again later on February 19. The members responded to reports that a presidential statement condemning Israeli settlements could be issued in response to a resolution that would declare any post-1967 Israeli settlements, including East Jerusalem, illegal. Read more ..


The Battle for Bahrain

Enraged Shiite Protesters Vow to Return despite Violent Crackdown in Bahrain

February 17th 2011

Arab Topics - Bahrain dead protester

The government of Bahrain declared a state of emergency on February 17 for the entire country in an attempt to quell violent demonstrations by the Shiite Muslim community that, over the last four days, has taken to the streets demanding democratic reforms. The oil emirate’s national security council held an emergency meeting this morning, just hours after the army and police resorted to firing live rounds at protesters. According to reports, more than 60 persons are now reported missing, while the number of the dead continues to rise.

Wounded protesters were being brought to hospitals in Manama throughout the night, while some appeared to have died just before reaching emergency medical help. There are at least 300 wounded, following the affray between demonstrators and security forces. There are at least four persons known to have died, added to two other victims earlier in the week. Read more ..


Obama's War

American 'Ghost Soldiers' Fighting For Their Lives and Respect in Iraq and Afghanistan

February 14th 2011

Military - Army in Afghanistan

Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Lawrence Morrison would have celebrated his 51st birthday next month if he hadn't been sent to Iraq.

Instead the Postal Service dock worker was mobilized in 2005 despite a bad knee, a bum shoulder, and high blood pressure, and sent to be a Civil Affairs officer based at Taji, north of Baghdad. He died five months later during the Iraqi insurgency, a victim of an IED that tore apart his Humvee. “This was not the way I wanted my life with him to end,” said his widow, Becky, of Yakima, Wash. Read more ..


Kenya on Edge

Human Rights Indictments Roil Kenyan Politics and Threaten Peace

February 14th 2011

Latin American Topics - Luis Moreno Ocampo
ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo

International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo on December 15, 2010 accused six high-profile Kenyans of committing crimes against humanity during post-election violence in 2007 and 2008. The six on the list read at The Hague are: Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, cabinet secretary Francis Kirimi Muthaura, former police Chief Mohammed Hussein Ali,  who are thought to be allies of President Kwai Kibaki; as well as minister for industrialization Henry Kosgey,  suspended education minister William Ruto, and radio personality Joshua Arap Sang, who are thought to be allies of Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

In particular, Uhuru Kenyatta – the son of Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first president -  is accused of murder, rape, deportation and persecution, together with Muthaura and former police Chief Hussein Ali.  They are also alleged to have instructed the police to allow a Kikuyu criminal gang to carry out reprisal attacks against ethnic groups perceived to support the opposition. Read more ..


Campus Disruption

Charges in UC Irvine Speech Disruption Case Takes a Critical Look at What Some Say are Inalienable Rights

February 14th 2011

Palestine Topics - Irvine California arrest

Conventional wisdom and law, too, has dictated for so long that you cannot yell ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater where there is no fire, and even when a fire sparks, there is an appropriate way to alert and manage the crowd.  What we rarely have seen in routine United States society and particularly with the judiciary is the move that occurred in California late last week when the Orange County district attorney's office charged 11 students with conspiring to disrupt a meeting and speech at UC Irvine last year by the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.  The defendants are charged with misdemeanors alleging a conspiracy to disturb a meeting and at least one was charged with the act of disturbing a meeting. If convicted, they each face a sentence ranging from probation with community service and fines up to six months in jail. Juda Engelmayer Read more ..


Egypt in Revolt

Mubarak Steps Out But Does the Muslim Brotherhood Step In?

February 11th 2011

Arab Topics - Hosni Mubarak headache

Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman delivered the following statement February 11: “In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate, citizens, during these very difficult circumstances Egypt is going through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down from the office of president of the republic and has charged the high council of the armed forces to administer the affairs of the country. May God help everybody.”

Suleiman’s statement is the clearest indication thus far that the military has carried out a coup led by Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. It is not clear whether Suleiman will remain as the civilian head of the army-led government. Egypt is returning to the 1952 model of ruling the state via a council of army officers. The question now is to what extent the military elite will share power with its civilian counterparts.

At a certain point, the opposition’s euphoria will subside and demands for elections will be voiced. The United States, while supportive of the military containing the unrest, also has a strategic need to see Egypt move toward a more pluralistic system. Read more ..


Oil Without a Plan

Egypt's Crisis Exacerbates Dire US Military Warning of Declining Oil Production

February 6th 2011

Energy / Environment - Saudi Oil

A dire US military warning last year about declining oil production has proven well-founded in Egypt, a country that produced 935,000 barrels daily in 1996 but is now on the brink of relying on imports to meet its own demand.

The report last April by the US Joint Forces Command said vanishing oil surpluses will cause global demand to exceed supply within five years. In fact, Egypt's oil production has declined 27 percent since 1996.  In Mexico, production slipped by more than 800,000 barrels a day between 2004 and 2010. In the North Sea, production decreased 25 percent – more than one million barrels a day – between 2008 and 2010.

The revolution in Egypt could disrupt already dwindling global oil supplies at a time when worldwide demand is increasing and output continues to slide, a U.S. Senate energy panel was told during an oversight hearing on February 3. Read more ..


Egypt in Revolt

Mohamed ElBaradei—In his Own Words

February 6th 2011

Egypt - Mohamed el-Baradei headshot
Mohamed ElBaradei

Mohamed ElBaradei served as the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency from 1997 to 2009, through which he won the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize for his diplomatic role in the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq following the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime. He continues to play a pivotal role in the ongoing Egyptian political crisis that began in January 2011 and is supported by multiple groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, as leader of the opposition to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s government. The following is a sampling of his comments on Egypt, the United States, Israel, Iran, and Nuclear Proliferation.

On The Muslim Brotherhood

“The Muslim Brotherhood, again, it’s one of these bogus fictions that have been created that they are after establishing an Iran-type religious state, that they are extremists, Al Qaeda. The Muslim Brotherhood, you see them in the streets, they are religiously conservative but they are ready to work in a civil state context under a constitution which ensures equal rights and obligations.” – Wall Street Journal, February 2011

“The Muslim Brotherhood are religiously conservative, they are in no way extremists they are in no way using violence … You have to include them in the government like evangelical groups in the US, like orthodox Jews in Jerusalem.” – ABC, January 2011

“The Muslim Brotherhood has nothing to do with extremism… I have been reaching out to them. We need to include them.” – CNN, January 2011

Read more ..

Egypt in Revolt

The Drama Unfolding in Egypt and Its Deeper Implications for Israel

February 3rd 2011

Israel Topics - Bibi at Podium

Yesterday was a dramatic day in our region. Millions of people poured into the streets of Egypt. President Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for 30 years, announced that he will not run in the next Presidential elections, and will work to introduce governmental reforms in Egypt.

In Washington, London, Paris, and throughout the democratic world, leaders, analysts and researchers spoke about the opportunities that change in Egypt could bring. They spoke about the promise of a new day. These hopes are understandable. All those who cherish human liberty, including the people of Israel, are inspired by genuine calls for reform and by the possibility that it will take place. Read more ..


Egypt in Revolt

The Egypt Crisis in a Global Context

January 30th 2011

Arab Topics - Egypt Riots #1

It is not at all clear what will happen in the Egyptian revolution. It is not a surprise that this is happening. Hosni Mubarak has been president for more than a quarter of a century, ever since the assassination of Anwar Sadat. He is old and has been ill. No one expected him to live much longer, and his apparent plan, which was that he would be replaced by his son, Gamal, was not going to happen even though it was a possibility a year ago. There was no one, save his closest business associates, who wanted to see Mubarak’s succession plans happen. As his father weakened, Gamal’s succession became even less likely. Mubarak’s failure to design a credible succession plan guaranteed instability on his death. Since everyone knew that there would be instability on his death, there were obviously those who saw little advantage to acting before he died. Who these people were and what they wanted is the issue. Read more ..


Financial Recovery on Edge

Government Sleeps as Banks Profit from Federal Loan Modification Program

January 30th 2011

Economy - Foreclosure

With millions of homeowners still struggling to stay in their homes, the Obama administration’s $75 billion foreclosure prevention program has been weakened, perhaps fatally, by lax oversight and a posture of cooperation—rather than enforcement—with the nation’s biggest banks. Those banks, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, and Citibank, service the majority of mortgages.

Despite a dismal showing for the program, rising complaints from homeowners, and repeated threats from officials, the government has levied no penalties against even the most error-prone banks and mortgage servicers. In fact, despite issuing public warnings for more than a year about imposing penalties, the Treasury Department said this week they don’t even have the power to punish servicers for wrongfully denying help to homeowners. Instead of toughening the program, Treasury has actually loosened it in the face of industry lobbying. Read more ..


Confronting the Farhud

The Most Heinous Killers of the Holocaust: the Muslim-Catholic Ustasha

January 24th 2011

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

In the hierarchy of Hell that created the Holocaust, one group of killers stands out as more vicious, murderous, and bloodcurdling than all others. Who were they? Where did they plow their killing fields? How and why did they come together to sear a chronicle of atrocities a magnitude worse than Auschwitz?

The answer: None were more savage than the Ustasha of Yugoslavia, a Muslim-Catholic alliance of Nazi killers so gruesome and beastly that even Berlin shrank in horror at the slaughter. This berserk army of ghastly murderers, the Ustasha, and three related crack divisions of Arab-Nazi Waffen SS comprised of tens of thousands of Muslim volunteers, terrorized people of all faiths in Yugoslavia. In large measure, these murder machines emerged through the efforts of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini. The Grand Mufti was on a mission to accelerate the extermination of all Jews everywhere. His partner was Adolf Hitler—personally. The epic story of this alliance of horror and hate is one that begins in Jerusalem, travels to Baghdad, culminates in the killing fields of the Balkans, and ultimately spread across all Europe.

In many ways, the scene was set centuries ago by the Medina Extermination of 627. Medina was a largely Jewish city. When its 600 or so Jews refused to convert to the new Muslim religion, the Prophet Muhammad mass-murdered them in a protracted ceremony, beheading the Jewish faithful one by one. This massacre became a glorious iconic event in Islamic history, as memorable to Muslims as the Sermon on the Mount is to Christians or the parting of the Red Sea is to Jews. 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 ..


China Rising

China’s Military Comes Into Its Own

January 18th 2011

China Topics - Chinese J-20 fighter

Chinese President Hu Jintao is visiting the United States, perhaps his last state visit as president before China begins its generational leadership transition in 2012. Hu’s visit is being shaped by the ongoing China-U.S. economic dialogue, by concerns surrounding stability on the Korean Peninsula and by rising attention to Chinese defense activity in recent months. For example, China carried out the first reported test flight of its fifth-generation combat fighter prototype, dubbed the J-20, during U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s visit to China the previous week.

The development and test flight of China’s J-20 is not insignificant, but it is also by no means a game changer in the U.S.-China defense balance. More intriguingly, the test highlights how China’s military increasingly is making its interests heard. Read more ..


America and Lebanon

The Challenge President Obama Faces in Lebanon's Power Shift

January 18th 2011

Lebanon Topics - Obama and Saad Hariri

On January 12, as Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri prepared to meet with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, the Hizballah-led opposition withdrew its support from the Beirut government, forcing its collapse.

In the next few days, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is widely expected to announce between two and six indictments of Lebanese Shiites affiliated with Hizballah regarding its investigation into the February 2005 assassination of Saad's father, former prime minister Rafiq Hariri. Forcing the political crisis was Hizballah's latest card in its campaign to curb Lebanese government support for the UN-mandated investigation and prosecution. How this political drama plays out will have crucial implications for Washington's standing in the Middle East, as well as for Hizballah's allies, Syria and Iran. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

The Mohammed Cartoon Dust Has Not Settled

January 10th 2011

Jyllands-Posten building

When one considers all of the people and places in the West targeted by transnational jihadists over the past few years, iconic targets such as New York’s Times Square, the London Metro and the Eiffel Tower come to mind. There are also certain target sets such as airlines and subways that jihadists focus on more than others. Upon careful reflection, however, it is hard to find any target set that has been more of a magnet for transnational jihadist ire over the past year than the small group of cartoonists and newspapers involved in the Mohammad cartoon controversy. One is struck by the number of plots in 2010 that involved the cartoon controversy—and by the number of those plots that had transnational dimensions, rather than plots that involved only local grassroots operatives. 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 ..


Iran on Edge

Clash of the Titans in Iran

December 27th 2010

Iran - Ali Khameini2

Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has never been happy about the status of the Iranian presidency -- neither during his own tenure, from 1981-1989, nor during the terms of his three successors.
Tension between the president and the Supreme Leader is built into the Islamic Republic's core. The Supreme Leader has absolute authority and can veto decisions made by the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. At the same time, the president emerges from an electoral process with an agenda and ambitions of his own. During a president's second term -- which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has now begun -- the tensions inevitably emerge into public view.

Khamenei has never been willing to tolerate a president with a large independent power base. In the past, he clipped the wings of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who had strong ties to the merchant class, and of Mohammad Khatami, a reformer whose support came from Westernized middle-class professionals. Though Ahmadinejad received the Supreme Leader's support in the face of large-scale protests against his re-election last year, Khamenei does not appear hesitant about limiting the president's power. Read more ..


Border War

Mexico at a Crosroads in Hyper-Violent Drug Wars

December 21st 2010

Mexican Topics - Mexico Drug War Casualty

In 2010, the cartel wars in Mexico have produced unprecedented levels of violence throughout the country.

No longer concentrated in just a few states, the violence has spread all across the northern tier of border states and along much of both the east and west coasts of Mexico. This year’s drug-related homicides have surpassed 11,000, an increase of more than 4,400 deaths from 2009 and more than double the death toll in 2008.

Cartel Dynamics

The high levels of violence seen in 2010 have been caused not only by long-term struggles such as the fight between the Sinaloa Federation and the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes Organization (also known as the Juarez cartel) for control of the Juarez smuggling corridor but also from the outbreak of new conflicts among various players in the cartel landscape. For example, simmering tensions between Los Zetas and their former partners in the Gulf cartel finally boiled over and quickly escalated into a bloody turf war along the U.S.-Tamaulipas state border. The conflict has even spread to states like Nuevo Leon, Hidalgo, and Tabasco and has given birth to an alliance between the Sinaloa Federation, the Gulf cartel and La Familia Michoacana (LFM) called the New Federation. 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 ..


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 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 ..


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 ..


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 ..


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 ..


Mideast Peace

Hamas and the Peace Process--Internal Palestinian Tensions Roil

September 20th 2010

Palestine Topics - Hamas at Press Conference
Hamas leader Khaled Mashal

Unsurprisingly, the Hamas leadership—both in Gaza and Damascus, and less so in the West Bank—has greeted the resumption of direct Israeli–Palestinian talks with a flood of contrarian rhetoric. Characterizing the process as a “sellout” of the Palestinian “cause,” the movement argues that President Mahmoud Abbas lacks the necessary “mandate” to represent his people. Hamas leader Khaled Mashal went so far as to call Abbas “a zero,” amid accusations of “treason” and “betrayal.” The group has also issued fiery denunciations of the growing cooperation between Palestinian Authority (PA) security agencies and their Israeli counterparts. 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 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 ..


Persian Gulf on the Edge

Iran Casts Dark and Threatening Shadows over Bahrain

August 30th 2010

Arab Topics - Bahrain riot

For nearly two weeks, the Persian Gulf island state of Bahrain has experienced near-daily disturbances following government arrests of opposition activists from the majority Shiite community. The timing of the arrests seemed geared toward preempting trouble in advance of the scheduled October 23 parliamentary and municipal elections, which minority Sunni parties and candidates are currently projected to win. The street violence and other incidents are of particular concern to the United States because Bahrain hosts the headquarters of the U.S. Fifth Fleet and Naval Forces Central Command, whose mission is to "deter and counter disruptive countries" -- a wording likely aimed at Iran, which claimed the island as its territory prior to 1970.

Recent Violence

The most serious incident reported so far was an August 20 attack on an electric power installation. According to an official statement, the resultant outage "affected large areas," although power was reportedly restored within two hours. Other incidents have involved individuals setting tires alight, throwing Molotov cocktails, and attacking a pro-government newspaper editor. Read more ..


The Mortgage Meltdown

Some Foreclosure Rescue Scams Involve Lawyers, Mortgage Pros

August 23rd 2010

Economy - Foreclosure

Desperate U.S. homeowners facing foreclosure are being duped by con artists. The scammers employ a variety of schemes such as a “forensic mortgage loan audit” that promises to find errors in loan origination terms that will help the homeowner negotiate a loan modification or even cancel the loan, according to the Government Accountability Office. Many of the rescue schemes use telemarketing techniques and operate across state lines, making it difficult for local or state officials to prosecute. Some schemes were organized by former mortgage industry professionals or use the names of attorneys to add credibility or help them skirt state laws. California, for example, prohibits companies from charging advance fees but exempts licensed attorneys.

Other mortgage rescue schemes highlighted by the GAO:

  • Offers to negotiate new mortgage terms on behalf of a distressed homeowner for an up-front fee averaging around $3,000, then providing little or no help.
  • Convincing homeowners to transfer the deed of their home to save it from foreclosure. The scam artist, who promises to sell it back to the homeowner in the future, then has control of the property and can make money by either taking out a second loan on the home or selling it to someone else.
Read more ..

The Nuclear Edge

What Would Happen in an All-Out Nuclear War?

August 16th 2010

Military - Atomic Mushroom Cloud

On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and on August 9, 1945, dropped another on Nagasaki. Since then, neither the United States nor any other nation has ever used nuclear weapons in anger. The threat of nuclear war, however, has been omnipresent, and many scholars, government officials, and civilians discussed and thought about scenarios for a possible nuclear war during the Cold War.

The U.S. Congress’s Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) published The Effects of War in 1979, which predicted the horrendous effects of a nuclear strike between the Soviet Union and the United States. Of course, the Soviet Union no longer exists, but the threat of a “limited” nuclear war breaking out somewhere in the world remains, between India and Pakistan for example. Read more ..


The New Iraq

How to Form a New Iraqi Government while U.S. Combat Forces Withdraw

August 9th 2010

Iraq - Iraqi Forces
Iraqi forces may soon be only forces on the ground

In an August 2 speech, President Obama confirmed that regardless of the status of government formation in Iraq, the U.S. military remained committed to the withdrawal of all combat forces by the month's end. Meanwhile, Iraq is still struggling to form a government in the long wake of the March elections, and the Muslim fasting period of Ramadan -- when much political and business life slows almost to a standstill -- begins next week. If an Iraqi government does not form fairly quickly after Ramadan ends in mid-September, Iraq's political scene may worsen, including an increased risk for violence. Ramadan has always existed in Iraqi and U.S. minds as a break point, when a new government may finally come together. Failure to make progress during the month is thus likely to elicit at least mild panic amongst politicians and the public. So how might the deadlock be broken?

Government Formation and Ramadan

The process of Iraqi government formation is stuck at its earliest stage. The first session of the new parliament opened on June 14 but failed to yield the election of a permanent speaker and deputies. In addition, a new president was not elected within one month of the parliament's first meeting (i.e., by July 14), amounting to a breach of a constitutional requirement. Once the president is finally elected by the parliament, he will be required, within the next fifteen days, to call upon the leader of the largest Iraqi political bloc (probably the largest postelectoral conglomeration of lists) to form and ratify a Council of Ministers by parliamentary majority in thirty days or fewer. Read more ..


The Edge of Justice

Rubashkin Judge Accused of Massive Conflict of Interest—Acted as Both Judge and Involved with Prosecutors, Attorneys Say

August 5th 2010

Jewish Topics - Sholom Rubashkin
Sholom Rubashkin

Chief District Judge Linda Reade both coordinated with prosecutors and acted as judge in the contentious conviction of Agriprocessors kosher slaughterhouse operator Sholom Rubashkin, according to internal federal documents and court filings obtained by this reporter. According to the documents, Judge Reade personally participated in many aspects of the raid and prosecution “game plan” nearly from its planning inception in October, 2007 some six months before the raid and long before the ultimate trial of Rubashkin before her. Her continuous week-to-week involvement in the organization of the raid and ultimate prosecution was not disclosed to defense counsel or a House Judiciary Sub-Committee during hearings on the matter. Ultimately, Judge Reade sentenced Rubashkin to 27 years imprisonment for financial crimes related to the original immigration case. That sentence was two years longer than requested by prosecutors and startled many legal experts as inexplicably harsh.

The revelations have caused Rubashkin’s attorneys, Nathan Lewin and Alyza Lewin of Washington D.C. and Guy Cook of Des Moines, to file emergency court papers this morning demanding a new trial and the immediate recusal of Judge Reade. While the motions have been filed in Judge Reade’s court, they ask her not even to rule on the motion and instead “to transfer this motion to another judge for determination” in order “to preserve public confidence in the impartiality of the judicial system.” Read more ..



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