Israel and Palestine
|Martin Barillas||December 4th 2013|
Cutting Edge Contributor
French forensic scientists said on December 3 that Yasser Arafat, who once led the Fatah terrorist organization, the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian National Authority, did not succumb to alleged radioactive polonium poisoning that had been suggested in a recent Swiss report.
Even though the official cause of Arafat’s death in 2004 was a stroke, Swiss forensic experts claimed in November that samples they took from Arafat's mortal remains did indicate polonium poisoning, albeit not definitively.
Suha Arafat, Arafat's widow, said in a statement from Paris, “You can imagine how much I am shaken by the contradictions between the findings of the best experts in Europe in this domain.” Read more ..
Israel and the Vatican
|Martin Barillas||December 3rd 2013|
Cutting Edge Contributor
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on December 2 with Pope Francis in at the Vatican. There the premier told the Christian leader, “Iran aspires to attain a nuclear bomb. It would thus threaten not only Israel but also Italy, Europe, and the entire world.” Besides the threat of a weaponized Iran, Pope Francis and the premier also discussed the plight of Christians in the Mideast.
Sara Netanyahu, who accompanied the prime minister to Rome, also met the Pope. They told the pontiff that their son, Avner, had won Israel’s National Bible Quiz, while they also discussed with him the essential connections Christianity and its roots to Judaism.
Prime Minister Netanyahu asked Pope Francis, who is expected to visit Israel in May 2014, to remain as a guest for at least five days so as to visit the Holy Places of Christianity. According to Israel Hayom, Netanyahu invited the Pope, "Come to the synagogue in Chorazin, Jesus visited there.” Read more ..
Mexico on Edge
|Kent Paterson||December 1st 2013|
If the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) were to have its own holiday, it might very well be Black Friday Week.
Mimicking their counterparts in the U.S., Mexican merchants this month rolled out a version of the U.S. shopping frenzy for the third year in a row, while more and more Canadians planned to turn out for their country’s Black Friday edition, according to the Bank of Montreal. Almost 20 years into NAFTA, many of the same retailers, food processors, bankers, advertisers, and media moguls have a preeminent presence in all three member nations of the trade and investment pact.
U.S.-Mexico border residents had the opportunity to participate in two Black Fridays: the original one in El Norte and Mexico’s El Buen Fin sales event held November 15-18. Until now, however, the flow of customers is mostly one way north. Not surprisingly, lines of vehicles and pedestrians stretching up to three or four hours were reported waiting to cross November 28 and 29 in places such as Tijuana/San Diego and Ciudad Juarez/El Paso. Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Deborah Black||December 1st 2013|
Imagine putting gas in your car and sitting down to a delicious meal - all in the same place. You can do that in Washington, D.C., where a combination gas station and convenience store is also serving food that’s getting rave reviews from customers. Fast Gourmet is doing a booming business.
Fast Gourmet is the one stop shop for Christina Wilkie, who fills her car with gas, buys candy, and then orders a sandwich. She lives nearby and considers Fast Gourmet a hidden gem.
“The food here is amazing. This place gets voted the best sandwich in Washington year after year. There are sandwiches that you wouldn’t expect like the chivito, which is steak, ham, eggs, cheese and olives. There are wonderful high quality ingredients,” said Wilkie.
Co-owners Lina Chovil, from Colombia, and her Argentine husband, Fernando Almiron, opened their gourmet gas station three years ago. Chovil said they drew upon their experiences back home where it's common to get good food from street vendors and at gas stations. Read more ..
America's Darkest Edge
|Ben Goad||November 30th 2013|
Guns that cannot be detected by X-ray machines will no longer be banned if Congress does not renew the decades-old prohibition by Dec. 9.
The 1998 Undetectable Firearms Act will sunset that day, ending the prohibition at a time when new technology has made it easier than ever before to manufacture plastic guns with 3-D printers. Gun control activists warn that a lapse would allow anyone with a few thousand dollars to build a homemade gun that would be undetectable at airports, government buildings or schools.
That threat was little more than “science fiction,” when Congress overwhelmingly backed the ban 25 years ago,” said Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who is pressing legislation to renew the law. “We didn’t think it would be a good idea to let the bad guys get a gun through metal detectors,” Israel said. Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Yuan Ye||November 28th 2013|
At ice rinks across America, parents taking their children to hockey practice are a common sight. Many think it not only helps their children stay fit, but also teaches important life lessons, like the value of teamwork. In Rockville, Maryland, near Washington, D.C., a special group of young players has an inspiring story to tell.
On a recent Saturday morning in a quiet neighborhood in Rockville, the Blaisdell family got up before dawn. David Blaisdell was preparing for his son Christopher's weekly hockey practice.
Christopher is 14 years old and plays on a team called the Montgomery Cheetahs. The Cheetahs look no different than young hockey players across the U.S., but their path to the game has been very different. All the players on the team have varying degrees of developmental challenges, including autism. The team was founded in 2006 with only 10 players and two coaches, but now has more than 80 players and a larger coaching staff. Head Coach David Lucia helped start the team. Read more ..
Fashion on Edge
|Tom Balmforth||November 27th 2013|
Alfia Karimova's path to animal-rights activism started when she was shopping online -- for a fur coat.
The 34-year-old woman from the industrial city of Magnitogorsk was already the proud owner of an elegant silver-fox-fur coat. And with winter coming, she was in the market for another, this time mink.
But as she surfed the web for the perfect mink "shuba," she happened across an article describing how some coat makers use animals that have been skinned alive, electrocuted, gassed, confined in small cages, or ensnared in cruel traps. And she was horrified.
"Of course it's a cause of constant shame. How was it possible to live for so many years, never pausing to wonder and understand that what you're consuming is in actual fact perpetuating cruelty and barbarism?" Karimova says. "It's a mystery to me and a shame. It's a reason I want somehow to make up for this guilt and at least do something." Read more ..
The Phillipines on Edge
|Simone Orendain||November 24th 2013|
In the Philippines, the exodus from the worst-hit area of Tacloban continues, more than two weeks after a powerful typhoon laid waste to the country's central provinces. The typhoon left more than 5,200 dead and about 1,500 missing. Some of the evacuees have gone to Manila where they are welcomed with a host of social services and a little entertainment.
With the ending bell, the crowd in the grandstand inside Villamor Air Force Base in Manila roared to its feet as Philippine boxing mega-star Manny Pacquiao finisheed off Brandon Rios to snag another division title.
The audience was made up mostly of social workers, volunteers and service personnel who watched the live bout on a big screen. But a few evacuees from the typhoon-stricken central Philippines were able to join in. Maria Nenita Tolibas and her family from Tacloban survived Super Typhoon Haiyan’s powerful winds and massive storm surge that left thousands dead in her city. Read more ..
Egypt on Edge
|Hannah Schaeffer||November 23rd 2013|
Jewish Policy Center
Egypt's foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, said in remarks in late October that relations between Egypt and U.S. are now in "turmoil" following Washington's decision to suspend military aid. The U.S. State Department announced the decision to curtail military aid and some economic support aid to Cairo last week, although the Obama administration stressed it was not trying to sever ties with its long standing ally.
In announcing the decision, U.S. reiterated its displeasure at the Egyptian military's violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood after the July 3 ouster of former president Mohammed Morsi. The cut will specifically withhold the delivery of helicopters, missiles, tank parts, and airplanes, as well as $260 million for the general Egyptian budget. Some assistance will remain untouched, including aid for counterterrorism programs, health care, education and businesses in Egypt. The announcement emphasized that cuts are meant to be temporary in the hopes that Egyptian military will take steps toward restoring democracy. Read more ..
|Greta Guest||November 22nd 2013|
While marijuana is an illegal substance under federal law, the U.S. Justice Department is ignoring smoke signals coming from Washington and Colorado, says a University of Michigan professor. Both states passed ballot initiatives that legalize the possession of certain amounts of marijuana by adults.
Melvyn Levitsky, a professor at the University of Michigan's Ford School of Public Policy, argues that in refusing to challenge legalization laws, federal government authorities are ignoring their duties under the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Controlled Substances Act and U.S. treaty obligations. "I'm concerned about the federal government cherry-picking federal law, deciding which federal laws it's going to enforce," he said.
Levitsky cited the example of Arizona's attempt to pass laws on illegal immigrants. The federal government took the state to the Supreme Court, challenged the state law based on the fact that federal law trumps state law, and won the case. However, it has chosen not to challenge state law on marijuana in Colorado and Washington. Read more ..
|Deborah Block||November 21st 2013|
One hundred and fifty years ago this month (November 19), at the height of the U.S. Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln delivered a short address at a battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The bloody battle that had taken place there several months earlier is now considered the turning point of the war. While dedicating a cemetery, Lincoln paid tribute to the soldiers who had fought at Gettysburg. He also laid stress on freedom and equality.
In his two-minute speech, President Lincoln recalled the fighting in Gettysburg, which took the lives of tens of thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers. He honored “the brave men, living and dead who struggled here.” From 1861 to 1865, the Northern states - the Union, fought the South - the Confederacy, which had seceded from the nation over several issues, including slavery.
Martin Johnson, history professor at Miami University in Ohio, has written a new book called Writing the Gettysburg Address. He says the president sought continuing support for the Union as the civil war dragged on.
He said, “He knew he had to impress the nation with the importance of the cause, why this war was so important and so crucial."
Shortly before he went to Gettysburg, the president was at this cottage in Washington, where he would go to escape distractions at the White House. Callie Hawkins, program director at the renovated cottage, says this was no retreat, since a military cemetery was next door. “It gave him an opportunity to think and reflect, and think through his ideas of the civil war and emancipation. Lincoln saw burials every day," she said. Read more ..
Financing the Flames
|Martin Barillas||November 20th 2013|
New York Times bestselling author Edwin Black will be the featured speaker at the IBC-TV Special Event being hosted in the Beverly Hills City Council Chambers by the Beverly Hills Forum November 25, 2013. He will reveal new information from his latest investigative book, Financing the Flames: How Tax-Exempt and Public Money Fuel a Culture of Confrontation and Terror in Israel. The IBC-TV Special Event accompanies a special 10-part broadcast series on Financing the Flames produced as part of the Edwin Black Show on the IBC-TV network.
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Financing the Flames pulls the cover off the robust use of US tax-exempt, tax-subsidized, and public monies to foment agitation, systematically destabilize the Israel Defense Forces, and finance terrorists in Israel. In a far-flung investigation in the United States, Israel, and the West Bank, human-rights investigative reporter Edwin Black documents that it is actually the highly politicized human rights organizations and NGOs themselves—all American taxpayer supported—which are financing the flames that make peace in Israel difficult if not impossible.
Black spotlights key charitable organizations such as the Ford Foundation, George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, the New Israel Fund, and many others, as well as American taxpayers as a group. Instead of promoting peace and reconciliation between Arabs and Israelis, he writes, a variety of taxpayer-subsidized organizations have funded a culture where peace does not pay, but warfare and confrontation do.
Financing the Flames has received a cascade of accolades since it was unleashed upon the public last month. Rick Halperin director of Southern Methodist University Embrey Human Rights Program and former chairman of the board of Amnesty International USA called the book “a jolt.” Halperin wrote, “Most people should and will be appalled to read the revelations in Financing the Flames. It is a jolt!” Read more ..
The Arab Winter
|Matthew Levitt||November 20th 2013|
Fifteen years ago this month, al Qaeda operatives executed two devastating, simultaneous car bomb attacks targeting the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The attacks in East Africa killed 223 people, injured more than 4,000, and brought international infamy to al Qaeda -- among other repercussions, they earned Osama bin Laden a place on the FBI's Most Wanted list.
U.S. embassies are still targets for violent extremists today -- as shown by the recent closure of 19 U.S. diplomatic outposts across the Middle East in response to intercepted communications from al Qaeda leaders -- but the nature of the terrorist threat has evolved over time. The relationship between al Qaeda Central and its regional franchises has changed dramatically, and the relationship between Sunni and Shiite terrorists is changing as well. These radicals have historically put aside their rivalries to focus on common enemies when their interests aligned -- witness Iran and Hezbollah's relationship with the Sunni Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist organization active in the Gaza Strip. But such partnerships have become more complicated as the two groups find themselves in open battle for control of Syria. Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Anita Powell||November 18th 2013|
Officials in South Africa have opened the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in Johannesburg, just 11 days before the South Africa premiere of a Hollywood film based on the life of the anti-apartheid icon. Mandela is now 95 and homebound because of health problems, but officials say he has much to teach his nation, and the world.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation unveiled the new exhibit of Mandela’s life to a veritable who’s who of South Africa.
Current President Jacob Zuma lauded the man who overturned South Africa’s apartheid government and became the first black president in 1994. Top politicians and diplomats praised him; singers belted out tunes in his honor; and members of Mandela’s family said they were touched by the attention.
The airy, modern new space presents a variety of artifacts, from the impressive to the banal, the official to the personal. Photos show Mandela at most stages of his life - from a uniformed schoolboy to a confident young lawyer, from longtime prisoner to president. Visitors may also learn a few intimate details about the man who has been so extensively written about.
For example, after his release from prison, where he spent 27 years for his opposition to apartheid, he not only spoke optimistically, he literally doused himself in optimism. One of the pieces on exhibit is a half-used bottle of CK One cologne - a fitting choice, considering the fresh, citrusy scent was revolutionary, in that it was one of the most successful unisex scents ever. Read more ..
The Edge of Piracy
|Jim Kouri||November 17th 2013|
Read more ..
Three Somali pirates, who were convicted of murdering four American citizens -- who were on board the ill-fated SV Quest -- were told by a federal judge on Thursday that they will spend the rest of their lives behind bars in a federal prison, according to a report from a U.S. Attorney and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS).
A jury previously convicted Somali nationals Ahmed Muse Salad, a/k/a “Afmagalo,” 27, Abukar Osman Beyle, 33, and Shani Nurani Shiekh Abrar, 31, of multiple charges including piracy, murder within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, violence against maritime navigation, conspiracy to commit violence against maritime navigation resulting in death, kidnapping resulting in death, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, hostage taking resulting in death, conspiracy to commit hostage taking resulting in death, and multiple firearms offenses.
The three pirates were sentenced by Chief United States District Court Judge Rebecca Beach Smith to 21 life sentences, 19 consecutive life sentences, two concurrent life sentences, and 30 years consecutive, for their roles in the Feb. 22, 2011, murders of four Americans aboard the sailing vessel Quest.
|Sasha Chavkin||November 16th 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
Read more ..
As members of the U.S. House and Senate meet this week to hammer out a farm bill, they are likely to consider changes to the way the United States delivers food aid to hungry and impoverished nations. The debate will reprise an intense legislative battle that flared in June when food aid reforms were proposed in the House.
That struggle had a startling and little-noticed result: a plan to reshape the way in which the U.S. delivers half of the world’s food aid was dealt a decisive blow by a small but determined group of maritime unions.
Unlike other developed nations, which purchase most food aid in the regions that receive it, the U.S. buys food from American farms, ships it on American vessels, and gives away much of the goods free of cost for humanitarian groups to distribute. Although the Government Accountability Office has concluded that this system is “inherently inefficient” and can be harmful to farmers in recipient nations, for decades the setup has been politically untouchable. A powerful coalition including agriculture companies, the military, the shipping industry and humanitarian aid groups ensured that any changes were dead on arrival in Congress.
|George Friedman||November 14th 2013|
In light of China's imminent demographic imbalance, the changes to family planning were expected. The country's massive pool of cheap labor previously underpinned its economic and social transformation, but as China prepares to transition toward a consumer-based economy, its aging population is a problem.
No details have been given on the structure of the National Security Committee. The goal was to merge different institutions in charge of diplomacy, security, military and intelligence into a coordinated agency under the authority of the president. However, the decision -- which is far more than an institutional change -- came after a re-evaluation of China's internal and external security environment and of the country's emerging role in the international community. Beijing recognizes the need for a more delicate and coherent team to handle the country's strategic issues and pursue its national interests. Read more ..
Russia on Edge
|Tom Balmforth||November 13th 2013|
Under the cover of darkness in the early hours, Russian jailors unexpectedly transferred 30 Greenpeace activists from their Murmansk cells onto a special prison train carriage that rolled out of the far northern city.
Lawyers and relatives were given no advance warning. It was unclear where the prisoners were being taken. And it was unclear when they would arrive.
There was nothing unusual about the prison transfer, which took place on November 11. The only thing about it that stood out was that investigators subsequently clarified that the group was being transferred to a pretrial detention center in St. Petersburg -- an exception to standard procedure.
In Russia, prison transfers can take days, weeks, or even months. And, as the case of jailed Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova illustrates, the authorities are not legally obliged to provide information as to the detainee's whereabouts or condition during this period. Read more ..
The Defense Edge
|Shoshana Bryen||November 11th 2013|
Jewish Policy Center
A few years ago, when I was writing with a different hat, the Band of Brothers USMC Motorcycle Riding Club provided me with a list of companies providing free and discounted services to American military veterans in honor of Veteran's Day. I wrote at the time:
"Veterans Day is about remembering the sacrifices of our soldiers in today's wars and in wars past. There are military parades and somber reflections, speeches and flags. And for those who commemorate 11-11 as Armistice Day, there is an even more somber twinge as "the war to end all wars" turned out to be only a precursor of bigger and more horrible wars. But in an interesting twist on the very American habit of using Federal holidays for shopping, businesses have taken to offering discounts and gifts to service personnel as a Veterans Day "thank you." A single instance may sound a little silly - a free donut from Krispy Kreme - but in the aggregate, they form a uniquely American picture of a country that appreciates the service of our troops." Read more ..
Wildlife on Edge
|Hillary Heuler||November 9th 2013|
A recent report found that Uganda's lion population is down by 30 percent in the past decade. But in the country's Murchison Falls National Park, the figure is closer to 60 percent, mainly because of snares meant to catch bush meat.
On a blistering hot day in Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park, and Tom Okello, the park’s area manager, rummaged through a shed filled with wires.
“This is a store for recovered poaching implements and equipment,” he said. “So with us here we have the snares. We have wires which are got from electric lines, we have wires which are got from telephone lines, then we have wires which are even got from tires. These snares I would estimate to be about three tons, and these are recoveries in the last five months.” Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Ben Cohen||November 7th 2013|
During the 1990s, a previously little-known concept rapidly became the hottest term in international relations. "Humanitarian intervention"—at its simplest, the use of military force to protect human rights—established itself in the political lexicon following a series of brutal conflicts in Africa and the Balkans.
As with most political concepts, humanitarian intervention became voguish, thanks to circumstances. The Soviet Union had collapsed. We hadn't fully grasped the threat posed by Islamist terrorism. With the expulsion of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait and the relative success of the Israel-Palestinian peace process, even the Middle East seemed uncommonly stable.
Most important, there was an acute awareness in Western countries that our impressive military strength hadn't deterred some of the worst slaughters of the 20th century. For around 14 weeks in 1994, Rwanda was the site of the most rapacious extermination since the Shoah, with more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus murdered by machete-wielding Hutu extremists. Between 1992 and 1995, the war in Bosnia spawned countless atrocities, such as the massacre of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Serb forces in the town of Srebrenica. To many—especially American Jews—it seemed that these failures showed the hollowness of oft-repeated promises of "Never again." Read more ..
The Edge of Healthcare
|Henry Ridgwell||November 6th 2013|
A scientist from Burkina Faso has won an award from Britain’s Royal Society for his research on new ways to target mosquito swarms responsible for the spread of malaria. Scientists say it’s vital to develop new tools to tackle the disease as both the malarial parasite, and the mosquitoes that carry it, are developing resistance to existing drugs and insecticides.
The research by Dr. Abdoulaye Diabate focused on the reproductive patterns of male mosquitoes - and his findings have caught the attention of scientists around the world.
“The important thing about this mating system is that whenever you go into a field site, you will find mosquito swarms at the same place every single day. This kind of makes it really very easy to target, to tackle these mosquitoes and see how you can just reduce mosquito density,” said Diabate.
Burkina Faso has one of the highest rates of malaria in the world. Diabate found that during the rainy season in Burkina Faso, some houses contained 900 mosquitoes. He said the discovery that the insects swarm together to mate in the same place year in, year out presents an opportunity to disrupt breeding patterns. Read more ..
The Edge of Nature
|Barbara Ferreira||November 5th 2013|
Homing pigeons, like other birds, are extraordinary navigators, but how they manage to find their way back to their lofts is still debated. To navigate, birds require a ‘map’ (to tell them home is south, for example) and a ‘compass’ (to tell them where south is), with the sun and the Earth’s magnetic field being the preferred compass systems. A new paper provides evidence that the information pigeons use as a map is in fact available in the atmosphere: odours and winds allow them to find their way home. The results are now published in Biogeosciences, an open access journal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU).
Experiments over the past 40 years have shown that homing pigeons get disoriented when their sense of smell is impaired or when they don’t have access to natural winds at their home site. But many researchers were not convinced that wind-borne odours could provide the map pigeons need to navigate. Now, Hans Wallraff of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany, has shown that the atmosphere does contain the necessary information to help pigeons find their way home. Read more ..
|Rachael Baye||November 4th 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli has raked in millions from out-of-state donors while at the same time hammering Democratic opponent Terry McAuliffe for doing the same, campaign finance records show.
Cuccinelli has received $8.1 million — more than 40 percent of funds raised by his campaign since Jan. 1 — from the Republican Governors Association (RGA), a Washington, D.C.-based group that funnels big contributions from corporations and billionaires into races for governor across the country, according to state data collected by the Virginia Public Access Project.
Tomorrow’s contest pits tea party favorite Cuccinelli against McAuliffe, former Democratic National Committee chairman and friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Heading into Election Day, Cuccinelli trails in the money race, having received nearly $20 million compared with McAuliffe’s nearly $32.9 million, according to VPAP. A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday shows McAuliffe with a 6 point lead. Read more ..
Financing the Flames
|Edwin Black||November 4th 2013|
Times of Israel
A regular feature of West Bank confrontation between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians seems to be a corps of intrepid young women that villagers call “internationals.” They specialize in upfront and personal, in-your-face, and often nose-to-nose verbal taunting hoping to provoke a reaction that video cameras can record. If and when soldiers finally do react, these incidents are then uploaded to the Internet to prove “the brutality of the IDF.” These “internationals” often seem to appear out of nowhere at a village flashpoint. Just as suddenly, they melt into the background.
Using false names and seemingly untrackable movements, the skilled and stealthy internationals have managed to inspire and encourage videographed confrontation far beyond their numbers. Who are they? What is the font of their financial wherewithal? Who is financing these flames?
Searching for answers, one night in early May 2013, I traveled to the tiny West Bank town of Deir Itsiya where the internationals quietly maintain a base of operations. The women are known to many in that local Arab community, where they are provided logistical assistance and deferential hospitality. They receive many European guests. When I asked my taxi driver, "Do you know where the house is?" he answered, "Yes, Sheik Haider (neighborhood)." He took me there.
At an elbow in a dusty road, I found their compound behind long, ornate iron fencing. I knocked on all the doors, the ones with knockers and the ones without. No answer. I called out for anyone who was home. A neighbor strolled by to remark. The driver translated: "He said the European girls are not sleeping in town tonight. But he knows how to reach them. I will take you where he said." Read more ..
Intelligence on Edge
|Al Pessin||November 3rd 2013|
While European nations are objecting to the American spying programs that reportedly targeted their populations and their leaders, U.S. officials say the program is misunderstood and that some European intelligence agencies have actually cooperated closely with Washington.
A delegation of indignant European Parliament members hit the sidewalks and halls of power in Washington this week to express concern about the National Security Agency’s surveillance operations.
German member Elmar Brok summarized their concerns. “We have not a free feeling to go forward together if you are feeling that your neighbor and friend is monitoring you."
But top U.S. intelligence officials told Congress that’s not exactly what they were doing. Rather, the NSA director, General Keith Alexander, said the information about phone calls and emails was gathered legally, and reporters mischaracterized what it was. “Both they and the person who stole the classified data did not understand what they were looking at,” said Alexander. Read more ..
A Legacy of War
|Sebastian Mhofu||November 2nd 2013|
International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC] and the government of Zimbabwe have embarked on a landmine removal campaign in a village on the border with Mozambique. Zimbabwe's government is struggling to raise funds for demining, and some people are being maimed or killed by old mines still in the ground.
A loud sound that can be heard is a mock landmine explosion set off by Zimbabwe's army in Gonarezhou National Park, near the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border. But explosions like this still happen 33 years after the country won its independence. People get maimed. Some even killed.
Thirty-year-old Philemon Sibanda lost a limb after he stepped on a landmine in 1998 while herding cattle in his village. “They have not even cleared the area of landmines. As for me, I have no life. I am just seated. If I had not been injured I would be tilling the land as others are doing. Those who are able-bodied are crossing into South Africa to look for employment,” he said.
Sibanda can’t walk, as the prosthetic limb that was donated to him by the charity World Vision now causes pain if he uses it. He needs a new one, but cannot afford it.
Hundreds of thousands of mines laid in the 1970s during Zimbabwe's independence war still litter the ground at sites across the country. According to Halo Trust, a British-based demining organization, Zimbabwe is one of the densest minefields in the world, with approximately 5,500 unexploded landmines per kilometer. Read more ..
|Michael Barone||November 1st 2013|
Almost every American of a certain age remembers where he was when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963.
The nation stopped and mourned. In their grief, few Americans wondered how the tragedy would affect domestic politics, and in the short run relatively little changed. “Let us continue,” President Lyndon Johnson said when he addressed Congress after the funeral.
In the longer run, the effect on partisan politics, on the people and press and parties, was profound. And those effects continue to reverberate today.
Unlike Lincoln and Roosevelt, who were taken from the stage just as they completed historic undertakings -- the Civil War, World War II -- Kennedy was murdered when he and his administration were in the middle of things. The tax cuts he had proposed in February 1963 and the civil rights bill he had endorsed that year had been long delayed in Congress. But, contrary to the conventional wisdom of the time, they were well on their way to passage when he died.
Relations with the Soviet Union were stable after resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. The United States was already sending more troops to Vietnam, and Kennedy’s approval of the Nov. 1 coup against the Diem government committed the United States to continuing responsibility there.
Politically, Kennedy’s job approval had declined significantly from about 70 percent, but only because of the defection of Southern whites on civil rights. In the rest of the nation he was highly popular and running ahead of any Republican by margins larger than those enjoyed by Franklin Roosevelt. That suggests that he would have nearly matched the 61 percent of the vote Lyndon Johnson got in November 1964, with some slippage in Johnson’s Texas and the border South. Read more ..
Iran on Edge
|Charles Recknagel||October 31st 2013|
Soft on the outside, hard on the inside. That may be the best way to describe the often startling contrast between Iran's current foreign and domestic policies.
Since taking office in August, President Hassan Rohani has won widespread praise for showing greater flexibility in nuclear talks with the international community.
The praise has come even from countries usually highly skeptical of Iran's readiness to solve the nuclear crisis through negotiations.
As U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said following this month's talks in Geneva between Tehran and the six world powers, "We are at a different point in this with a new government in place, and we are having a level of conversation that is different from what we had in the past." Read more ..
The Edge of Nature
|Nan Broadbent||October 30th 2013|
Seimsmological Socity of America
Earthquake early warning systems may provide the public with crucial seconds to prepare for severe shaking. For California, a new study suggests upgrading current technology and relocating some seismic stations would improve the warning time, particularly in areas poorly served by the existing network – south of San Francisco Bay Area to north Los Angeles and north of the San Francisco Bay Area.
A separate case study focuses on the utility of low cost sensors to create a high-density, effective network that can be used for issuing early warnings in Taiwan. Both studies appear in the November issue of the journal Seismological Research Letters (SRL).
"We know where most active faults are in California, and we can smartly place seismic stations to optimize the network," said Serdar Kuyuk. Richard Allen, director of the Seismological Laboratory at UC Berkeley, is the co-author of this study. Read more ..
Iran on Edge
|Golnaz Esfandiari||October 29th 2013|
Iran's reformist "Bahar" daily has become the first publication to be banned since President Hassan Rohani came to office in August.
The closure was imposed by Iran's state press watchdog over publication of an article that critics say undermined Islamic principles.
The controversial article was an opinion piece that questioned the Shi'ite belief that the Prophet Muhammad had appointed his son-in-law, Imam Ali, as his successor.
Culture Minister Ali Jannati claimed the article distorted the history of Islam and created religious divisions. "Unfortunately, 'Bahar' has committed several [press] violations in the past year-and-a-half. It has received written warnings, but the daily has not paid attention," Jannati was quoted as saying by the semiofficial Mehr news agency. The hard-line daily "Kayhan" reacted to the piece by accusing reformists of attacking the rule of religious figures. Read more ..
China on Edge
|William Ide||October 28th 2013|
Chinese authorities say five people are dead and at least 38 injured after a sports utility vehicle crashed into a crowd in Tiananmen Square, burst into flames.
Beijing police say the incident occurred shortly after noon Monday when a jeep rammed a section of a bridge leading into the Forbidden City.
Police say that all three individuals in the car, the driver and two others, were killed in the crash. A notice on the police social media account reported several bystanders and police were injured. Some foreigners were reported among those hurt.
Images of the incident were quickly removed from China’s social media sites, but could be seen on websites beyond the reach of Chinese authorities. In the photos, flames could be seen rising high above the jeep, not far from a large portrait of Mao Zedong. Shortly after the incident, authorities locked down the area and erected a fence around the vehicle. Some reporters who photographed the incident were detained by police and forced to delete their footage. Read more ..
|Michael Bowman||October 27th 2013|
A select group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers meets this week in search of a bipartisan blueprint for America’s fiscal future. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the conference brings together top lawmakers from the House and Senate budget committees that, for years, have been deadlocked on federal spending and taxation.
The conference is tasked with bridging major budget differences between the Republican-led House of Representatives and the Democratic-controlled Senate. It also has a larger purpose, according to Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray.
“Showing the American people that, as a Congress, we can work and make sure that our economy is growing and that people are back to work,” said Murray. That sentiment was echoed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a Republican. Read more ..
Thailand on Edge
|Steve Herman||October 26th 2013|
Thailand is gaining a reputation as the “Detroit of the East” for its booming automobile industry. It is now the world's third largest maker of commercial vehicles, behind only the United States and China and ranked ninth in total vehicle production. Many foreign-branded auto makers are producing vehicles in Rayong for Southeast Asia’s growing middle class.
This is one of the estimated two-and-half million vehicles rolling off Thailand's assembly lines this year. Ford's regional president, Matt Bradley, praised the country as a highly successful model for manufacturing.
"Thailand, I think, has made a concerted effort from government policy in the last 15 years to plan to support the automotive industry. Ford has been in Thailand about 17 years and just since 2007 we've invested over a billion dollars in our manufacturing and product cycle plant footprint in Thailand," he said. Read more ..
Saudi Arabia on Edge
|Barbara Slavin||October 25th 2013|
Once again, Saudi officials are on a rhetorical rampage against the United States.
Bandar bin Sultan, the former ambassador to the United States and current Saudi intelligence chief, has warned that the kingdom will make a “major shift” away from its 80-year alliance with Washington.
Turki al-Faisal, another former ambassador to the United State, said in an interview this week that “there is definitely, from a public opinion point of view in the Kingdom, a high level of disappointment in the U.S. government’s dealings, not just with Palestine, but equally with Syria.”
But while Saudi frustration with the policies of the Barack Obama administration is real, the latest complaints and threats are more about trying to influence U.S. policy than about changing the fundamental foreign policy orientation of the world’s biggest oil producer. As Gregory Gause, an expert on Saudi Arabia at the University of Vermont, said in an interview, “They’re mad but they have no other place to go.” Read more ..
Iran on Edge
|Golnaz Esfandiari||October 24th 2013|
In the past few days, new banners have popped up around Iran’s capital. They show an Iranian government negotiator sitting across a table from an American government negotiator wearing a suit with army pants and boots with a shotgun in his lap under the table.
"American Honesty," declares the billboard, a not-so-subtle suggestion that despite an emphasis on diplomacy, America's real intention is to take military action against Iran.
The banners appear to be the work of hard-liners in the Islamic republic who are upset by President Hassan Rohani’s recent efforts to decrease tensions with the West and engage with the United States.
The election this past June of Rohani, who has been pushing for moderation and trying to move Iran away from past confrontational policies, has sidelined hard-liners, who now fear further marginalization as a result of potential warming relations with the West. Read more ..
The Toxic Edge
|Jim Morris||October 23rd 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
In the spring of 2005, Georgia-Pacific Corp. found itself facing nearly $1 billion in liability from a product it hadn’t made in nearly three decades: a putty-like building material, known as joint compound, containing the cancer-causing mineral asbestos.
Named in more than 60,000 legal claims, Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific sought salvation in a secret research program it launched in hopes of exonerating its product as a carcinogen, court records obtained by the Center for Public Integrity show. It hired consultants known for their defense work to conduct studies and publish the results, with input from the company’s legal department — and is attempting to keep key information hidden from plaintiffs.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission had banned all asbestos-containing joint compound as of 1978, and Georgia-Pacific, maker of a widely used version called Ready-Mix, had raised no objection. But in 2005, as asbestos-related diseases with long latency periods mounted, the company revisited the issue with one aim: to defend lawsuits filed by people like Daniel Stupino, a part-time renovation worker who died last year of mesothelioma, a form of cancer virtually always caused by asbestos exposure. Read more ..
China on Edge
|Lisa Schein||October 22nd 2013|
China has made a spirited defense of its human rights record, which is under review at the U.N. Human Rights Council. While admitting some shortcomings Tuesday, the Chinese delegation told the 47-member U.N. body that Beijing has made many improvements in promoting and protecting the rights of its citizens.
China’s human rights record is under review for the second time under the United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Under this procedure, the U.N. Human Rights Council examines each nation’s record once every four years.
The last time China came under the human rights spotlight in 2009, Beijing accepted 42 recommendations made by other countries in attendance. In his statement to the council Tuesday, the head of the Chinese delegation acknowledged that not all of these recommendations have been implemented. However, he said his country has made great strides. Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Joe DeCapua||October 21st 2013|
A new study says as chimpanzees grow, they increase their ability for empathy – the ability to recognize emotions in others. Researchers say they learned this by watching chimps yawn when they see people yawn.
Elaine Masden and her colleagues at Lund University in Sweden base their conclusions on studying the primates in a sanctuary. But you have to ask – why study contagious yawning?
Laughing, she said, “I don’t know. It’s a really peculiar effect. It’s such a small thing, but that nonetheless most of us experience. Most of us when we see or hear others yawn or just think about yawning or read about yawning then we ourselves begin to yawn. So it’s something that most people are familiar with.” Dr. Madsen -- an evolutionary psychologist -- says not everyone reacts the same way. About half of people tested do not respond to contagious yawning. Read more ..
Palestine on Edge
|Khaled Abu Toameh||October 20th 2013|
The Gatestone Institute
Over the past few months, a succession battle has been quietly raging in the Palestinian Authority [PA]. This behind-the-scenes battle is continuing even as the PA leadership conducts secret peace talks with Israel. In fact, the U.S.-sponsored peace negotiations have served as a catalyst for increased calls by senior PLO and Fatah officials to start planning for the day after Mahmoud Abbas's departure from the scene.
Like his predecessor Yasser Arafat, the 78-year-old Abbas has been running the PA in an autocratic fashion since his election as president in January 2005. And like Arafat, Abbas has since managed to keep many of his critics silent by providing them with funds, luxurious offices and vehicles, secretaries, bodyguards and assistants. Many senior members of the PLO and Fatah, for example, each receive from Abbas tens of thousands of dollars every month to enable them to cover the costs of office rentals and vehicles, as well as salaries for their secretaries and henchmen. Still, the funds have not been able to buy Abbas 100% quiet. Read more ..
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