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Inside Washington

Donald Ritchie--The Senate's Expert on the Senate

March 12th 2013

capitol building night #2

Shortly after the Watergate scandal that shook the nation between 1972 and 1974, a letter was written that reminded majority and minority leaders in Congress of the importance of preserving the records of the legislative branch.

The power behind Arthur M. Schlesinger’s words inspired the creation of a new office. Working together, Democratic and Republican leaders established the Senate Historical Office in 1975.  The Historical Office is currently headed by Dr. Donald Ritchie.

Ritchie, a native of Queens, N.Y., was educated at the City College of New York and the University of Maryland. While working towards his graduate degree at Maryland, the U.S. government dropped graduate education as a deferment to serve in Vietnam.  As a result, he was drafted and inducted into the Marine Corps in June 1969 and was stationed at Pearl Harbor. While at Hawaii, Ritchie continued his education, taking courses at the University of Hawaii.  Two years later he was able to return to Maryland and finish his graduate studies.  He received his doctorate in 1975. Read more ..


Iraq on Edge

Iraq's Budget Threat Against the Kurds

March 12th 2013

Iraqi Forces

On March 7, the Iraqi parliament passed its annual budget law by a wafer-thin majority of 168 votes, just five seats over the threshold needed to pass legislation in the 325-seat Council of Representatives. After months of delay, the budget was finally rammed through the ratification process by a fleeting alignment of the main Shiite political blocs and defectors from the predominantly Sunni Arab and secular Iraqiyah list. Kurdish parties were sidelined, resulting in the passage of post-Saddam Iraq's most anti-Kurdish budget. The episode has shown that majority rule in today's fragile Iraq has the potential to be ugly and dangerous.

Since 2003, successive Iraqi governments have (with U.S. backing) paid at least lip service to the idea of a unity government and national consensus. Although the country's political system allows for clear winners and losers, conventional wisdom holds that Iraq is too fragile to risk excluding any sizeable sectarian, ethnic, or political faction from government. Initially, such exclusions were exceptional and generally voluntary, such as cabinet boycotts and resignations by ministers from Iraqiyah and Muqtada al-Sadr's blocs. Since 2010, Baghdad has gradually inched toward a government within a government, with all key institutions controlled by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But there was still one area where the government generally needed to foster a modicum of national consensus: the annual budget ratification vote in parliament. Read more ..


Inside Washington

Matthew Wasniewski's Front Row Seat to History

March 11th 2013

Congress-senate

Most historians, if asked to describe their dream job, would list among its main perks plenty of time for research, the ability to work closely with other historians in the field, and, depending on their level of extroversion, the chance to interact directly with the public. Fortunately for any historians with an interest in American political history, that job does exist, under the title of Historian for the United States House of Representatives. Unfortunately, it has already been filled by Dr. Matthew Wasniewski, and he has no plans of leaving it any time soon.

Wasniewski was appointed to the position in 2010, in a rare show of cooperation between then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Republican Leader John Boehner. Previously, he had served as the historian for the Office of History and Preservation, which fell under the domain of the House Clerk, and these two positions were combined upon his appointment to House Historian. Read more ..


Arab Spring Brewing

Jordanians Demand Reform

March 11th 2013

Jordanian Protestor

Around a thousand Islamists demonstrated in Jordan's capital on Friday marking the first protest since the January 23 elections. Protesters at the Muslim Brotherhood-organized rally, recited anti-government slogans and called for the government to step down.

"Reform is what is required. Justice and freedom and not these sham elections and deputies," chanted the demonstrators as they walked from the Husseini mosque to downtown Amman. With many angered by corruption, most called for reforms and limits on the king's power, not for the U.S.-backed monarch to be overthrown. The Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, demanded changes to the electoral law saying it results in unfair parliamentary representation. Although two-thirds of Jordanians live in cities where the Muslim Brotherhood has a strong presence, the urban areas are allocated less than a third of the seats in Parliament. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Secretary Kerry Brings His Own Style to the State Department

March 11th 2013

John Kerry

John Kerry has now wrapped up his first trip abroad as Secretary of State. Already, his diplomatic style and approach seem to differ from those of his predecessor, Hillary Clinton. From the start, John Kerry said he knew he had "big heels to fill" replacing Hillary Clinton. She said his service on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made him the right choice.
"He has a view of the world that he has acted on, first as that young returning veteran from Vietnam who appeared before this committee, through the time that he served with such distinction as its chairman."

On his first trip as secretary of state, this son of a foreign service family made clear his commitment to the men and women who carry out U.S. policy abroad. "I have to tell you that the job you are engaged in is one of the greatest jobs in the world, and I am now privileged to share that journey with you."

So how will John Kerry's time as Washington's top diplomat differ from Hillary Clinton's? Read more ..


Ancient Days

Ancient Egyptian Royal Officials Died Young

March 10th 2013

Click to select Image

The ancient Egyptians did not live in such good conditions and were not surrounded by such opulence as was thought up to now, but, rather, suffered from hunger and malnutrition, a whole range of infectious diseases and an extremely high infant mortality rate. Furthermore, the governors of Aswan, on the border with Sudan, as well as their families, interbred with the black peoples of the neighbouring country.

These are some of the conclusions drawn from the Qubbet el-Hawa research project, carried out by the University of Jaen, in which anthropologists from the University of Granada have participated, as well as the Supreme Council of Antiquities of the Arab Republic of Egypt.

It involves excavating tomb no. 33 of the Qubbet el-Hawa necropolis, right opposite the modern-day city of Aswan, about 1000 km. south of Cairo. The tomb was constructed during the 12th Dynasty (1939-1760 BC), to house the corpse of one of the region of Aswan’s leading dignitaries, whose identity is still unknown. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Earth's Northern Hemisphere Shows Temperature Drop and Change in Seasonality

March 10th 2013

Glaciers

An international team of 21 authors from 17 institutions in seven countries has just published a study in the journal Natural Climate Change showing that, as the cover of snow and ice in the northern latitudes has diminished in recent years, the temperature over the northern land mass has increased at different rates during the four seasons, causing a reduction in temperature and vegetation seasonality in this area.

In other words, the temperature and vegetation at northern latitudes increasingly resembles those found several degrees of latitude farther south as recently as 30 years ago. The study, titled "Temperature and vegetation seasonality diminishment over northern lands" (DOI: 10.1038/NCLIMATE1836), can be downloaded here: http://dx.doi.org/.

The NASA-funded study, based on newly improved ground and satellite data sets, examines critically the relationship between changes in temperature and vegetation productivity in northern latitudes. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Iran Looks To Car Exports To Power It Through Sanctions

March 10th 2013

Ahmadinejad with car

Western sanctions may be sapping Iran's economic strength, but Tehran believes it still has an ace to play: its automotive industry, the country's second-biggest export earner after oil and gas. As Iran starts its new fiscal year this month, it views automotive and other industrial exports as its best hope for making up some of the billions of dollars Tehran loses from sanctions that target its international oil sales.

Edward Bell, an Iran expert at the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, says finding alternative income is a priority for Tehran. "This year's budget shows that even the Iranian authorities themselves are realizing the impact that U.S. and EU sanctions have had on the oil and gas sector, so the Iranian economy can't rely on that as its bread and butter in terms of export capacity," Bell says. "So the government would be interested in prioritizing the export capacity of a lot of the other sectors in Iran." Read more ..


America on Edge

Partner Abuse Counseling for Women Insufficient

March 9th 2013

Abused woman

Only about one in five central Pennsylvania women who have experienced intimate partner violence is asked or counseled by a health care provider about abuse, according to Penn State medicine and public health science researchers. Overall, approximately only one in nine women has received preventive counseling about violence and safety.

"Our research shows that we (as a healthcare community) haven't been doing a good job of identifying and counseling about intimate partner violence," said Jennifer S. McCall-Hosenfeld, primary care physician. Of those women who participated in the Central Pennsylvania Women's Health Study, she said, "Only 20 percent who had been exposed to intimate partner violence received safety and violence counseling in the two years following the abuse, and only 11 percent of all women had discussed violence and safety at home with a health care provider." Read more ..


The Edge of Sports

Texas Rodeo Seeks to Minimize Injuries in Dangerous Sport

March 8th 2013

Rodeo

Rodeo, which features bull riding, steer wrestling and bucking bronco rides, is considered one of the world's most dangerous sports. The bigger, better organized events, though,  tend to have fewer casualties among humans and animals.

At the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the biggest event of its kind in the world, safety is a chief concern. During the three-week rodeo, both riders and animals can count on expert medical teams. The humans find care at this clinic inside the stadium. The medical team includes several doctors as well as licensed medical therapists, massage therapists, athletic trainers and radiology technicians - all under the direction of Dr. Kelly Larkin. Read more ..


Mideast on Edge

Invasion of the Locusts

March 7th 2013

Locusts

A locust swarm of biblical proportions has descended on southern Israel just weeks before the Passover holiday.

Israeli officials used pesticide in the early morning hours Wednesday in an attempt to kill millions of locusts that had landed in southern Israel Tuesday night.

Ministry of Agriculture planes sprayed a four-mile area in the hopes of killing the flying insects before the morning sun warmed their bodies enough to fly once again.

“It’s like an insect cemetery down here,” Omri Eytana, a farmer from Moshav Kmehin the Nitzana area, told Army Radio a little after 10. “There are [only] hundreds of locusts in the air, and they’re still spraying.” He said his tomato crops were unharmed, because they are protected under nylons covers. Potato crops in the area were badly damaged, however, he said. Read more ..


After the Holocaust

Congress Hears Testimony on Growing Threat of Anti-Semitism

March 6th 2013

Congressman christopher Smith

“When we fight anti-Semitism it is not only a matter of justice for Jewish fellow-citizens, but also of standing up for Christianity, and for Islam, and for the possibility of decent living itself,” said U.S. Representative Chris Smith (R-N.J.) at a recent hearing he convened in Washington D.C. in which witnesses warned about resurgent anti-Semitism across the world and the dangers it poses for all democratic societies and people of faith.

Congressman Smith, who has co-chaired the House Bi-Partisan Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism for a number of years, has previously authored legislation to create a State Department office to fight anti-Semitism specifically. At the February 27 meeting, Congressman Smith and colleagues heard testimony from rabbis and human rights experts from various parts of the globe. Read more ..


Animals on Edge

Widespread Trafficking of Great Apes

March 6th 2013

Orangutan

It’s estimated at least three-thousand great apes are illegally seized and sold every year. For every ape that is captured alive, many others are slaughtered. A new report Tuesday says law enforcement is undermanned and too poorly equipped to stop it

The report – Stolen Apes – was released in Thailand at the 16th meeting of CITES -- formally known as the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Doug Cress, coordinator of the Great Apes Survival Partnership, or GRASP, said the report is, what’s called, a rapid response assessment.

“We were aware that there were a great number of chimpanzees, for instance, going out of Guinea into China --that there were a great number of orangutans moving out of Indonesia into Thailand. And yet we had no baseline data to really tell us how bad this problem was. And everybody who works in conservation of great apes had this sense of something terrible was happening, but we didn’t have any numbers to tell the story.” Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Afghan Region Makes Name For Drug Mules, Tragedy

March 5th 2013

Afgan Drug Seizure

Residents of this remote district of northeast Afghanistan are finding that desperate times call for desperate measures.

With few options to make an honest living, many locals in the Kalafgan district of Takhar Province are taking jobs as drug mules for local drug cartels. As couriers, locals smuggle packages of illicit narcotics to neighboring Tajikistan and Iran. The work is high-risk and often rewarded with prison or even death.

Those dangers hit home recently as locals buried the bodies of 10 men from Kalafgan who were hanged in Iran, reportedly for drug smuggling. Residents say that in the past six months they have buried 80 villagers who were executed in Iran. As many as 400 other residents, locals say, are serving lengthy jail sentences in the Islamic republic. Read more ..


A Legacy of Warfare

Cluster Munitions Have Prolonged Impact

March 4th 2013

Cluster Bomb

Cluster munitions have been a part of warfare since their invention more than 60 years ago. Activists blame them for the deaths of thousands of civilians in nearly 40 countries or territories.

Mohamed is 13 years old.  Two years ago, he played with a shiny metal object he found outside his home in Benghazi, Libya.  He didn't know it was a cluster munition until it exploded.

Cluster munitions release smaller explosives across a wide area. The bomblets can linger, causing death or injury long after a conflict ends. "Children are really, really often affected," said Antony Duttine. He is a rehabilitation adviser with Handicap International, an independent organization aiding the disabled in more than 60 countries. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Hearing Loss For Millions Can Be Prevented

March 3rd 2013

Hearing Test

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports about half of all cases of hearing loss can be prevented.  To mark International Ear Care Day, which falls on March 3, WHO says there is hope of improvement for many of the hundreds of millions of people worldwide who suffer from hearing loss.

New global WHO estimates indicate more than 360 million people, or more than five percent of the world's population have disabling hearing loss. The report says more people face losing their hearing as they age. It notes one in three people over the age of 65 years - a total of 165 million people worldwide - is hard of hearing. But this disability is not restricted to the old. Dr. Shelly Chadha of WHO’s Department of Prevention of Blindness and Deafness, says around 32 million children under age 15 are affected by hearing loss. Read more ..


The Edge of Archaeology

New Dinosaur Species Was Crocodile Snack

March 2nd 2013

Nyasasaurus Parringtoni

Scientists in Utah have uncovered evidence of a new species of plant-eating dinosaur that used to be a popular snack for prehistoric crocodiles.

Clint Boyd, of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, discovered evidence of the new species in a collection of small bits of fossil bones found in the western state.

While examining the tiny bones for skull fragments with teeth in them, he found a bone with what looked like enamel in it, only it wasn't a piece of a skull; it was the end of a femur. “A thigh bone, which actually has a crocodile tooth stuck in it and broken off," Boyd says. "And then, as we started looking on the other bones, we started finding marks that are known to be diagnostic for crocodilian feeding traits.” Read more ..


Kenya on Edge

Crowd Sourcing Project Aims to Keep Kenyan Polls Credible

March 1st 2013

Computer-User Kenya

Ushahidi is a crowd sourcing company that originated during Kenya’s 2007 and 2008 post-election violence. Its platform allows users to submit information to a central processing point in crisis situations.  It could also help citizens protect their votes in Kenya’s elections on Monday.  Ushahidi has launched the Uchaguzi elections project. 

In 2008, as post-election violence was raging in Kenya, a group of volunteers came up with an idea to map incidents of violence across the country.  Citizen journalists could use any mobile device to send information to a volunteer technical team responsible for mapping those data.  Ushahidi was born.

Ushahidi’s program director Daudi Were explains. “At that time, we noticed a lot of the things we were seeing around us were either under-reported or completely unreported by mainstream media and other official reporting agencies.  So we thought that we’d build a tool that would allow anybody with whatever technology they had available to them to get that information to us," he said. "And we would curate it and visualize it on a map so we could see what was happening and where it was happening.” Read more ..


The New Egypt

Cairo Court Rejects Request to Nullify Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty

February 28th 2013

Egypt-Israel Border

The Cairo Administrative Court ruled Tuesday that it has no jurisdiction over a lawsuit demanding the cancellation of the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. According to the Egypt Independent, the court said the issue involves state sovereignty, which is under the president’s purview.

The plaintiffs had argued that Egypt should void its peace deal over alleged ongoing destruction of Islamic holy sites and the country’s refusal to stop settlement building in disputed territories, which they said is a violation of United Nations conventions and the treaty itself. The court handed out the same ruling in a similar case last October.

The peace treaty between Egypt and Israel was signed in 1979 between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. It was maintained during President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, but since the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood it has been repeatedly called into question. Read more ..


Inside Catholicism

Pope Gives Final Audience

February 27th 2013

Pope Benedict

Pope Benedict XVI bid his public farewell in front of tens of thousands of people on St. Peter's Square in the Vatican, the day before his resignation takes effect. The first pope to resign in nearly 600 years said goodbye.

The faithful and the curious pressed forward for a look and a wave, as the 85-year-old pope rode through the square in his open vehicle for the final time. Later, he told the crowd, and a worldwide television audience, he has been through some “not easy” moments.

Apparently referring to his decision to resign, Pope Benedict said “to love the Church also means having the courage to take difficult decisions.” He urged all Catholics to always put the good of the Church before their own desires. The pope has struggled to deal with the scandal of sexual abuse by priests, the leak of thousands of embarrassing documents and a decline of the faith in Europe - all issues his successor will have to address.

​​One person at the audience with a particular interest in the Church's future was Rev. Thomas Rosica, the director of a Catholic television network in Canada. "Pope John Paul II taught us the profound lesson of his papacy, especially in the final years, about suffering and dying. Pope Benedict has taught us another lesson. He's taught us about surrender. We don't cling to power and authority and office and privilege, when our energies are no longer there," said Rosica.

Other Catholics in the large crowd also were sympathetic to the pope's decision, and were joining the speculation about whether his successor might for the first time come from outside Europe. Rosica said the cardinals who will elect the next pope are aware of all that, but are not as focused on the headlines as many observers are. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Russian Meteor Fireball Largest Ever Detected

February 27th 2013

Meteor Russia

Infrasonic waves from the meteor that broke up over Russia’s Ural mountains last week were the largest ever recorded by the CTBTO’s International Monitoring System. Infrasound is low frequency sound with a range of less than 10 Hz. The blast was detected by 17 infrasound stations in the CTBTO’s network, which tracks atomic blasts across the planet.  The furthest station to record the sub-audible sound was 15,000km away in Antarctica.

The origin of the low frequency sound waves from the blast was estimated at 03:22 GMT on 15 February 2013.  People cannot hear the low frequency waves that were emitted but they were recorded by the CTBTO’s network of sensors as they travelled across continents. “We saw straight away that the event would be huge, in the same order as the Sulawesi event from 2009. The observations are some of the largest that CTBTO’s infrasound stations have detected,” CTBTO acoustic scientist, Pierrick Mialle said. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Hizbullah and the Assassination of the Iranian General in Syria

February 26th 2013

Hezbollah rally

Amid growing distress in both its domestic and foreign spheres, in mid-February 2003, Hizbullah marked the fifth anniversary of the death of its former military commander, Imad Mughniyeh, as part of “Martyrs Day,” which is devoted to memory of the movement’s fighters who were killed in battle with Israel. This year the event was crowned with the slogan: “On the way to Palestine.” The emphasis was on Hizbullah’s, and particularly Mughniyeh’s, contribution to boosting the military capabilities of the Palestinian resistance, and on Palestinian achievements in the struggle against Israel. This year, too, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah delivered the main address from his hiding place, which was broadcast on television. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Majority of Missouri Tan Salons Allow Pre-Teens

February 25th 2013

Tanning

A survey of tanning salon operators in Missouri shows that 65 percent would allow children as young as 10 to 12 years old to use tanning beds. That's despite evidence that any tanning bed use increases the risk of all skin cancers, including melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, later in life.

The survey, part of a study led by dermatologists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, also found that many tanning salon employees across the state said indoor tanning had no associated risks or would prevent future sunburns – both false claims, according to the study's authors.

Missouri is one of 17 states that has no minimum age restrictions on tanning bed use and does not require parental consent.

"This should serve as a wake-up call for parents in Missouri and other states that don't regulate tanning beds," says study co-author Lynn Cornelius, MD, chief of the Division of Dermatology and the Winfred A. and Emma R. Showman Professor in Dermatology at Washington University. "With the absence of logical age restrictions, we are failing to protect our children, who are at an increased risk of developing skin cancer when exposed to the high-intensity levels of ultraviolet light that can be received in a tanning bed." The findings appear online Feb. 25 in Pediatrics. Read more ..


The Coal Problem

As EPA Delays New Coal Ash Rules, Residents Turn to the Courts

February 25th 2013

Coal ash

Sabrina Mislevy is tired of the odors, the way they “hit” her as she drives by the blue-tinted lake, the way they burn her nose. Like many of her neighbors, Mislevy has grown weary of living near the nation’s largest coal ash pond, Little Blue Run, which straddles the Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio state lines.

In Little Blue Run and beyond, coal ash, waste from the production of electricity, has fouled water supplies and endangered public health. “We want action,” said Mislevy, of Georgetown, Pa., explaining why she has joined some 200 other area residents in launching legal challenges against FirstEnergy Corp., the owner of Little Blue Run.

Her community is just one across the country pursuing legal challenges against coal-ash ponds, landfills and pits — a grassroots onslaught stoked, in part, by slow regulatory action by the Environmental Protection Agency. Read more ..


The Congo on Edge

African Leaders Sign DRC Peace Deal

February 24th 2013

Congo M23 Rebels

Eleven African countries have signed a peace deal aimed at ending decades of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The agreement was signed on Sunday at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa. The 11 signing countries are from the Great Lakes region and Southern Africa.

The Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the Region will likely lead to deploying an intervention brigade in the DRC. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon says the agreement is composed of two mechanisms:

“First of all, commitment by the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo to implement all what we expect the DRC government and people would do, including security sector reform as well as capacity building and closely working with the leaders of the neighboring countries," said Ban. "And another responsibility is to be ensured by the signing parties of the neighboring countries together with the regional organization.” Read more ..


Broken Government

Obama Falters in Public Relations Push on Budget Sequester

February 23rd 2013

Obama serious

Congressional Republicans are struggling to overcome President Obama’s bully pulpit advantage in the public relations battle over the sequester. Some Republicans say the party was in a weak position as Obama repeatedly blamed the GOP this week for the spending cuts while their members were scattered around the country.

“It is very clear that the president is winning the message war on the sequester,” said Ron Bonjean, a onetime spokesman for former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). “When House Republicans return from recess they will have a chance to counteract the message.” Obama, feeling he has the upper hand, is looking to press his case further before the $85 billion in automatic cuts take effect on Friday. He is scheduled to head on Tuesday to Hampton Roads, an area of Virginia filled with defense installations, to rail against the cuts and the 800,000 civilian furloughs that they would bring to the Pentagon. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Social Media for Social Good: Emily Giffin's Pay It Forward Program

February 22nd 2013

Facebook page

It all started with one simple post. Last August, New York Times bestselling author Emily Giffin offered to give away two copies of her new book, Where We Belong, on Facebook to people who could not afford the $15 cost. "I've been there!" she said, recalling her "$5 ATM withdrawals during law school." So she asked fans to share their stories so she could decide who deserved to get a copy.

But before Giffin could pick the winners, a Facebook fan messaged her saying that she would also like to buy a book for someone. "Blown away by the message," Emily shared it with her Facebook community and nearly thirty more fans instantly emailed her, offering to buy books for someone who couldn't afford a copy.

Fast-forward just a few short hours and the Pay It Forward (PIF) program was born. "Sad to have dollars come between you and a good read!" said Emily. Read more ..


Inside Politics

Bloomberg Super PAC Targets Jackson's Former Seat

February 20th 2013

Jesse jackson jr

Nearly $3 million and counting. That's how much money outside interest groups have spent ahead of the Feb. 26 party primary for Illinois' 2nd District special congressional election.

The bulk of the funding — more than $2.5 million through Tuesday — has been spent by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's anti-gun super PAC Independence USA PAC, according to Federal Election Commission records.

The organization is joined by four other political committees that have also bought ads that advocate for or against one of the three main Democratic candidates battling to fill the seat, vacated by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., who is facing federal felony charges. Only about one in 10 House races attracted as much or more outside attention during the entire two-year 2012 election cycle. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Grow 7 Healing Herbs at Home

February 19th 2013

Healing Herbs

The old song says, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Let’s add echinacea, garlic and basil. Most are culinary herbs with poetic histories. All are green medicines that you can harvest at will.

The herbs don’t take up much space, if not much space is what you have. I myself grow about 15 kinds of herbs on my little apartment balcony, in containers. A culinary/medicinal herb I love to have there is chickweed, a wild herb that’s easy to grow at home.

You can get creative and recycle an old sink or worn-out buckets as containers, but herbs thrive in ordinary plant pots. Weeding and adding organic plant food to the water every 2-3 weeks guarantee thriving, healthy plants. Seed packets provide information on how deeply to sow, the right months of the year for sowing, and the best sun/shade conditions. If buying little starters, consult the plant nursery. Or start your herb garden with upcycled supermarket herbs. You’ll love picking fresh, green medicine that you grew yourself. Read more ..


The Genetic Edge

Animal Model of Human Evolution Indicates Thick Hair Mutation Emerged 30,000 years ago

February 18th 2013

Thick Hair Man

The first animal model of recent human evolution reveals that a single mutation produced several traits common in East Asian peoples, from thicker hair to denser sweat glands, an international team of researchers report.

The team, led by researchers from Harvard Medical School, Harvard University, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital, Fudan University and University College London, also modeled the spread of the gene mutation across Asia and North America, concluding that it most likely arose about 30,000 years ago in what is today central China.

"There are three parts to this study" said Professor Mark Thomas, UCL Research Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, and an author on the paper. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Extreme Winters Impact Fish Negatively

February 18th 2013

Blizzard

Ecologists from Umeå University and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim have studied fish communities and fish habitat and reviewed the importance of winter conditions for fish in streams and rivers in cold regions. The findings are now being published in the journal BioScience.

It is well known that winter can be a stressful season for plants and animals in streams and rivers. It is reasonable to assume that more extreme weather conditions are the most taxing, but the ecological significance of this is poorly understood.

The research team, headed by Professor Christer Nilsson at Umeå University, describes how extreme conditions – especially those associated with ice formation and ice break-up – vary over time and affect both the non-living river environment and its fish. For example, streams can fill up with ice and kill all the fish that do not manage to flee to backwaters or stretches with deep, quiet water that is not filled with ice. Young fish are especially vulnerable. Read more ..


Inside Islam

Islamic Finance is a Supply-Driven Market

February 18th 2013

Click to select Image

Despite the claims by proponents of Islamic finance that there is a "pent-up demand" for Islamic financial products, in reality there seems to be a growing disinterest in such products. Regardless, the proponents continue to argue for adjusting the conventional secular financial system to sharia, regardless the market's dwindling interest.

The decision by HSBC late in 2012 to significantly downsize its worldwide Islamic banking operations serves to illustrate the point. According to Reuters , HSBC made the decision despite being one of the pioneers in developing Islamic finance within the international banking sector. In 2012, HSBC was the first Western bank to issue an Islamic bond, when Its Middle East unit sold a US $500 million sukuk. Read more ..


The Edge of Immigation

Rep. Gutierrez Meets With Families Torn Apart by 1996 Immigation Law

February 17th 2013

Stop the Raids immigration protest

Americans whose spouses have been exiled for years as a result of strict immigration penalties took their plight to Congress Thursday, begging legislators to help them as lawmakers discuss overhauling immigration laws.

Some of the affected families met with a key figure in the immigration fight, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., who told them that he believes there is a new bipartisan spirit in Congress, and a readiness to eliminate at least some of the mandatory penalties Congress approved in 1996. Members who approved the punitive laws in 1996 said they wanted to try to deter illegal immigration by punishing offenders more harshly. The penalties have split up families for years at a time.

The punishments, mandatory terms of exile known as “bars,” must be imposed on an undocumented spouse when he or she tries to go through the process of becoming a legal resident. Americans have a right to sponsor foreign spouses for legal residency, but their citizenship does not trump the penalties Congress currently requires be handed down.  Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Can Hospital Readmission Rates be Trusted?

February 16th 2013

emergency room

When hospital patients have to be readmitted soon after discharge, hospitals look bad. A high readmission rate also can result in reduced Medicare reimbursements. But a study of spine surgery patients has found that the standard method used to calculate readmission rates is a misleading indicator of hospital quality. Loyola University Medical Center neurosurgeon Beejal Amin, MD, and his colleagues found that 25 percent of the readmissions of spine surgery patients were not due to true quality-of-care issues.

Results are reported in a featured article in the February 2013 issue of the Journal of Neurosurgery. "We have identified potential pitfalls in the current calculation of readmission rates," Amin said. "We are working on modifying the algorithm to make it more clinically relevant."

Medicare is trying to improve patient care by penalizing hospitals with poor outcomes. One key outcome measure is the readmission rate. Medicare may begin to withhold reimbursements to hospitals with excessively high readmission rates. Read more ..


Broken Labor

House Bill Targets Deadly Dust Explosions

February 16th 2013

WV Pesticide Plant Explosion

A group of House Democrats introduced legislation this week that aims to protect workers from combustible dust – a fire and explosion threat that has killed or injured hundreds in recent decades. Workers across a range of industries face dust dangers from materials as varied as sugar, coal, wood and plastic. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration began the process of issuing a rule to address the hazard in 2009, but its progress has stalled. The new bill, announced Thursday, would compel the agency to issue interim protections within a year and set deadlines for finalizing a permanent rule.

“While OSHA has taken some limited steps to protect workers and property from combustible dust explosions, the widely recommended protections necessary to prevent these explosions are caught up in red tape and special interest objections,” Rep. George Miller, the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said in a statement announcing the bill’s introduction. Read more ..


Armenia on Edge

Armenian Citizens Abroad Clamor For The Right To Vote

February 15th 2013

Armenian Voting

No one knows for sure how many Armenian citizens are living abroad. But almost none of them will be able to vote in the country's February 18 presidential election.

Under the revised Electoral Code, only Armenians working in embassies and other government representations or those working for a few large companies, as well as members of their families, will be able to cast their ballots from outside the country.

The rest of the enormous amount of expatriated Armenian citizens will either have to return to Armenia to vote or sit out the poll entirely.

Of course, the far larger diaspora of ethnic Armenians -- many of whose families emigrated in the early 20th century or during the Soviet period and who are not now Armenian citizens -- has never been eligible to vote. Armen Zakarian is a 63-year-old realtor living in the Los Angeles area. He is a U.S. citizen of Armenian origin, but has been active on social media, calling attention to the disenfranchisement of Armenian citizens living outside the country. Read more ..


Inside Washington

Lobbyist PACs Hurting for Cash Following Election

February 14th 2013

One Million Dollars

The 2012 election, the most expensive on record, left the political action committees of many top lobbying firms hurting for cash. The PAC sponsored by Patton Boggs, for example, the nation's biggest lobbying firm, ended the 2012 presidential election cycle with 20 percent less cash than it did after the 2008 presidential election cycle — nearly $146,000, versus $183,000 records show. It also ended the 2010 midterm election cycle with slightly more available cash. Patton Boggs has no comment on its PAC activity, said Kevin O'Neill, deputy chairman of the firm's public policy department.

The firm's dozens of recent clients include AT&T, Citigroup, Delta Airlines, Facebook, FedEx, General Electric, Goldman Sachs, the Lance Armstrong Foundation, National Association of Broadcasters, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Visa and Wal-Mart, according to filings with the U.S. Senate. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Libyans Look to West to Defend from al-Qaeda

February 14th 2013

Libyan rebels

The struggling Libyan government on Tuesday requested assistance from Western nations and Arab leaders in setting up a border security strategy in order to prevent defeated Islamic terrorists from retreating from Mali and entering Libya, according to Middle East news reports.

One of Libya's attractive locations for Islamists is the city of Benghazi which was already a hotbed of terrorist activity, according to an Israeli police and counterterrorism source, David Nachman.

Libya's federal government in Tripoli continues its struggle to provide security and public safety for its people after deposing and killing its brutal dictator, Muammar Khadhafi in 2011. Libyan leaders fear that al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists will retreat from a powerful offensive by the French Foreign Legion and other French fighters who are working with Nigerian troops to help Mali's leaders in crushing radical Islam in that fledgling nation. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Why Bulgaria? Why Now?

February 13th 2013

Bus bombing, Bulgaria, 18 Jul 2012 out

The announcement by Bulgaria that the airport bus bombing there last July was likely the handiwork of Hezbollah operatives now has European officials scrambling to decide what, if anything, to do about the fact that the group has now resumed executing attacks on European soil.

In the 1980s, Hezbollah carried out attacks across the continent, and since then it has used Europe as a near-abroad where it could conveniently raise money, procure weapons and provide logistical support for attacks to be carried out elsewhere. But the Bulgarian investigation raises as many questions as it answers. In particular, why would Hezbollah specifically choose to carry out an attack there? And why now?

While it kept up its relentless campaign of military and terrorist activities targeting Israel, and despite unabated tensions with the West, Hezbollah had not carried out a successful spectacular attack targeting Western interests beyond Israel since the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

No Spending Cuts Expected in Obama's SOTU Address Tonight

February 12th 2013

Obama testifyin' 2012

President Obama will use his State of the Union speech Tuesday to turn public opinion against automatic spending cuts and argue that some of the money to replace the cuts should instead come from higher taxes. He will use the prime-time TV address to argue the economy would be damaged if $85 billion in automatic spending cuts were to go ahead on schedule on March 1, and will seek to set up Republicans to take the blame if they do.

Obama will spend a significant portion of his address talking about jobs and the economy, according to White House aides, who say the president will strike a similar tone as he has in recent days in calling for a “balanced” package of spending cuts and tax hikes to replace the sequester. Senate Democrats aim to introduce a sequester replacement bill by Thursday that will include tax hikes and spending cuts. Republicans in Congress say they are willing to replace the sequester, but only with new spending cuts. Read more ..



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