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Psychological Edge

People See Bright Future despite Gathering Storm Clouds

April 16th 2013

Baby Boomer

People feel happy about their future even after imagining the many bad events that might occur, a new University of Michigan study found. People tend to "explain away" the presence of bad possibilities in their own lives, thinking that they won't actually happen to them, said U-M researcher Ed O'Brien. "But we have a harder time explaining the absence of good possibilities. The absence of good events in our future feels much worse than the presence of bad ones," he said.

O'Brien explored whether fluency—how easy or difficult it feels to think about different events—might play a role in how people think about well-being.

He conducted five studies, asking participants to complete surveys with questions that addressed past and possible future experiences and perceptions of well-being. Fluency amplified the effects of past events on participants' reports of well-being: The easier it was for them to generate positive experiences, the happier they said they were in those times. Likewise, the easier it was to come up with negative experiences, the more unhappy people said they were. Read more ..

Broken Banking

Secret Files Reveal Rothschild’s Offshore Domain

April 16th 2013

EU flag

Baron Elie de Rothschild, the guardian of the French branch of the famed Rothschild banking dynasty, built an offshore empire in the palm-fringed Cook Islands between 1996 and 2003. Rothschild, a businessman and arts patron who died in 2007 at the age of 90, constructed a complex network of offshore trusts and front companies, according to secret documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and reviewed by Le Monde. The complex nature of the financial arrangements in the Pacific islands and their near-total secrecy made it difficult to identify his hand in the offshore entities. The internal documents reveal at least 20 trusts and 10 holding companies were set up for Rothschild in the Cook Islands, an independent territory in the South Pacific with close ties to New Zealand. The trusts have typically opaque names, Anon Trust, followed by the Benon Trust (apparently set up by Rothschild’s daughter Nelly) and Denon Trust, being notable examples. Read more ..

Broken Banking

The Swiss Lawyers Who Help Europe’s Richest Families Park Their Wealth Offshore

April 16th 2013

Swiss Banks' Lawyers

Little did Zurich-based lawyer Peter Hafter imagine how things would turn out when he ordered a $2,700 offshore kit to create a front company in the Cook Islands on September 13, 1993. Twenty years on from that day, the fax he sent, the ensuing emails and all his business correspondence with Portcullis TrustNet in Rarotonga, the largest island in the archipelago, have been copied and passed on to journalists around the world. Nor did the lawyer imagine that the internal revenue service would then reopen the case of one of his clients, and yet that is precisely what the spokesperson for the tax authorities in Berne, Yvonne von Kauffungen, announced on Thursday. This announcement was triggered by the publication of a preview based on our investigations into two decades of correspondence between Portcullis TrustNet and Peter Hafter. Matin Dimanche and SonntagsZeitung have reviewed hundreds of pages of confidential documents that are part of a cache of 2.5 million files obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists – probably the largest set of confidential financial data ever disclosed to the media.  Read more ..

Inside Iran

Iran's Election Roils On

April 16th 2013

Quds Force

As the political arena is gearing up for Iran's presidential elections slated for June 14, the president's supporters are intensifying their activity and preparing to hold their first significant show of strength. Next week (most likely on Wednesday, April 17) the government is planning to hold a mass event that will be attended by about 100,000 people at Tehran's Azadi Stadium. Officially, the event, which is going to be presided over by Ahmadinejad, is being held as a show of appreciation for government committee members who helped organize the president's trips to Iran's various provinces for the past several years. The government's critics, on the other hand, are saying that the event is "the first election rally of the deviant faction" (a term used to refer to the president's supporters and his controversial ally Rahim Masha'i), arguing that the president intends to take advantage of it to advance Masha'i's possible candidacy ahead of the elections. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Michael Oren Interviewed on Israeli-U.S. Partnership

April 15th 2013

Recently, inFOCUS editor Matthew RJ Brodsky interviewed Ambassador Michael Oren. Born and raised in New Jersey before attending Princeton and Columbia universities, Dr. Oren became an officer in the IDF serving multiple tours, and was a liaison to the U.S. Sixth Fleet during the Gulf War. The Ambassador is also the author of two New York Times best-sellers, Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East from 1776 to the Present and Six Days of War. The Jerusalem Post named Dr. Oren as one of the world's ten most influential Jews.

iF: The relationship between Israel and Greece and Cyprus has been elevated tremendously over the past three or four years, generally because of a common interest in energy exploration and extraction. In what other ways have Israel and Greece strengthened their political and military relations?

MO: Jews and Greeks share a 3,000-year history. Anywhere you go in the State of Israel you'll find evidence of how Jews and Greeks lived and flourished together in antiquity. For the last 20 years, Greece and Israel have enjoyed excellent relations. Now, that relationship has truly blossomed into the fields of energy, agriculture, trade, military cooperation, and tourism. This year alone, some 400,000 Israelis visited Greece, and we expect even more next year. Read more ..

The Edge of Immigration

Religious, Nonreligious Organizations: Impact on Ability of Immigrants to Adapt to US

April 14th 2013

Praying to a purple sky

Religious and nonreligious organizations may have a similar impact on the ability of immigrants to acclimate to life in the U.S., despite the organizations’ different motivations for providing charitable services, according to new research from Rice University.

“There’s been a lot of discussion as to whether religious organizations offer some special or unique benefit to immigrant groups that will help them better adapt to American society,” said  Elaine Howard Ecklund, director of Rice’s Religion and Public Life Program. “We wanted to see at the organizational level whether there was any practical difference between these two groups.”

The study examined the behavior of two Mexican-American organizations, one religious and one nonreligious. The two groups identified different motivations for providing job placement, language and financial services to immigrants: The religious organization said  its religious convictions necessitated service to the local community, whereas the nonreligious organization cited its commitment to at-risk groups. However, the study showed that there was was little difference in the impact of the two organizations – both sought to provide outreach and services to their respective communities. Read more ..

Latin America on Edge

The Free Market Experiment in Latin America

April 13th 2013

Bolivian Miner

Poverty in Latin America has been reduced substantially in the last three decades. In the late 1980s, nearly half of Latin America’s population lived in poverty. Today the fraction is about a third. This marks important progress, and it has continued in some area nations. However, it is worth noting that between 2002 and 2008, poverty contracted most in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Argentina, countries which had largely abandoned neoliberalism; in Brazil, which had at least partially rejected neoliberalism; and in only two other states, Honduras and Perú, which still remained, at least partially, committed to free market polices.

It was mostly factors beyond economic policy that helps to account for recent declines in the rate of Latin American poverty.  One factor was increasing remittances from Latin Americans laboring in the developed world, especially in the United States.  Total remittances from Latin American workers rose from $12 billion USD in 1995, to $45 billion in 2004, and $68 billion in 2006.  However, “by far the main contributor to the reduction in the poverty rate,” as Jaime Ros has noted, was “the fall in the dependency ratio.”  The indicator measures the number of non-working age people—children and the elderly—who are supported by the working age population. The higher the dependency number, the greater the economic burden.

Latin America’s past demographic history underlies this shift in the dependency ratio.  The late 1940s in Latin America witnessed lower overall death rates (the number of people who died a year divided by the total population), especially due to lower infant and childhood mortality rates.  Initially, birth rates stayed high even as death rates fell, but after a generation passed Latin America’s birth rates began to drift downward to match the lower death rates. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Laser Scanner Authenticates Goods Through 'Topographical Fingerprinting'

April 12th 2013

Hacker keyboard

Ingenia Technology has released the first product in its K-series of high-speed laser scanners to help manufacturers combat counterfeiting and diversion practices. Designed to be integrated into the fastest production lines, the new scanner is capable of scanning at 10m/s or up to 50 items a second.

Operating at these high speeds the data captured and processed every second by the highly sensitive laser scanner is equivalent to playing 140 CDs simultaneously. The new K-series scanner represents the next generation implementation of Ingenia's novel Laser Surface Authentication (LSA™) technology. LSA uses a laser to scan the surface of products to generate an intrinsic 'fingerprint' of each item. Using a secure database and field scanners, each individual product or document can be authenticated anywhere in the world and traced through the entire supply chain. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Japanese Man, 80, Seeks Third Mt. Everest Ascent

April 10th 2013

Continental Crust

Yuichiro Miura lives by the motto that nothing is impossible. For him, that includes climbing Mount Everest at age 80. The 80-year-old Japanese adventurer plans to ascend Everest, the world's tallest peak, for the third time next month.

He reached the summit of the Himalayan mountain at age 70 and at 75. If successful this time, he will set the record for the oldest person to climb the 8,848-meter peak. The record, however, is not what motivates Miura, who is instead curious about coping at his age in the frigid temperatures, thin air and low oxygen levels in the Himalayas. Those conditions, he believes, will add 70 years to his physical body age once he reaches the summit.

His daughter, Emili Miura, says he will thus feel like he is 150 years old. "No mankind ever lived that long, that old, and he’s so curious to know how it would be like," she said. "He would like to know what is the limit, what is the possibility, potential of humankind.” Emili Miura also says her father believes that every goal one sets is within reach. Read more ..

Anthropological Edge

Lip-Smacking Gelada Monkeys Show Similarities with Humans

April 9th 2013

Gelada monkeys Ethiopia

The rhythmic vocal sounds made by lip smacking in wild gelada monkeys have similarities to human speech, a new University of Michigan study shows. Lip smacking, a common primate facial gesture used in friendly interactions, involves rapid opening and closing of mouth parts in a speech-like fashion. However, geladas are unique because they simultaneously vocalize while lip smacking to produce a sound that has been called a "wobble."

The gelada wobbles have a rhythm that closely matches the pacing of syllables spoken by humans, says Thore Bergman, U-M assistant professor in the departments of Psychology and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Researchers tracked geladas in the Simien Mountains National Park in Ethiopia where they recorded the unusual sounds of this species. Bergman describes geladas as sociable creatures with a large vocal repertoire. The wobble is used primarily by males and always in a friendly context. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

Low Life Expectancy Continues To Plague Former Soviet Countries

April 8th 2013


More than two decades after the fall of communism, most former Soviet countries still have mortality rates significantly higher than those in Western Europe.

Cardiovascular disease, high infant-mortality rates, infectious diseases, and a decrease in the quality and financing of public health-care systems were the main factors driving the trend, according to an article that appeared last week in "The Lancet," a British medical journal.

The combined effect of a steep increase in alcohol and tobacco consumption, both among working-age people and the younger generation, is the main trigger of cardiovascular disease, the article, "Health and Health Systems in the Commonwealth of Independent States," concluded. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

The Cell Phone Turns 40

April 7th 2013

Smart phone

Forty years ago today the cell phone era began on the streets of New York City. The historic first cell phone call was made by Martin Cooper, director of systems operations for the communications division of the Motorola company, to his main rival at Bell Labs. Martin described his call to Bell’s Dr. Joel S. Engel on April 3, 1973 in an article called The History of the Cell Phone by Gareth Marples.

“As I walked down the street while talking on the phone, sophisticated New Yorkers gaped at the sight of someone actually moving around while making a phone call,” Martin wrote. “Remember that in 1973, there weren't cordless telephones or cellular phones. I made numerous calls, including one where I crossed the street while talking to a New York radio reporter - probably one of the more dangerous things I have ever done in my life.”

A 1973 press release, Motorola touted its new Dyna-Tac “portable radio telephone,” saying it would operate over radio frequencies and “talk” to any conventional (landline) telephone in the world. “What this means, said John F. Mitchell, manager of Motorola’s communications division, is that in a city where the Dyna-Tac system is installed, it will be possible to make telephone calls while riding in a taxi, walking down the city’s streets, sitting in a restaurant or anywhere else a radio signal can reach.” Read more ..

The Human Edge

Nelson Mandela Released from Hospital

April 6th 2013


Former South African president Nelson Mandela has been discharged from a Pretoria hospital after being treated for pneumonia. An official from the president’s office says the anti-apartheid icon will get constant medical supervision. Nelson Mandela spent nine nights in the hospital for this last episode, before being discharged Saturday.

Officials said he was admitted suddenly after suffering a recurrence of a lung infection. He was treated for pneumonia, and President Jacob Zuma visited him earlier this week and said he had made steady improvement. Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said Mandela will now get round-the-clock care at home. Like many South Africans, he referred to Mandela by his clan name, Madiba.

"We are delighted to inform you that the former president, Nelson Mandela, has been discharged from hospital today, the 6th of April, following sustained and gradual improvement in his general condition," he said. "The former president will now receive home-based high care. President Zuma thanks the hard-working medical team and the hospital staff for looking after Madiba so efficiently. He also extends his gratitude to all South Africans and friends of the republic in Africa and around the world, for all of their support." Read more ..

Mali on Edge

Refugees from CAR and Mali Flee Instability

April 5th 2013

Mali Refugees

The United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, said they are continuing to see influxes of refugees from the Central African Republic pouring into the neighboring countries of Chad, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo, due to instability from fighting in CAR

In addition, the agency is also working to provide assistance to Mali refugees who are fleeing violence, either by foot or donkey and going into areas of Niger. The UNHCR says the CAR refugees are in a dire situation, leaving their homes in such a hurry that they left behind all of their personal belongings. Most of them are living out in the open.

“Refugees from the Central African Republic are coming in a poor state. For some of them, we’ve had cases of malnutrition; we have separated children.  Most of the families left in a hurry so they were not able to take their personal belongings with them, which means that they depend on humanitarian assistance.  [Some are] in areas where some host families have accommodated them despite the fact that they themselves live in extreme poverty,” explained Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, spokesperson for the UNHCR. Read more ..

The Coffee Edge

Despite Slow Start, Starbucks Expands in India

April 4th 2013


Despite a slow start in India, the world's largest coffee chain, Starbucks, says it will continue to expand in the South Asian country. That is good news for the Indian government, which is counting on continued foreign investment to help the country boost economic growth.

The Starbucks outlet in New Delhi’s Connaught Place has been open for more than a month and still draws long lines and interest from young people like Vikram Maour, who until now had only seen the coffee chain on television. “I think it’s great to have Starbucks in India," said Maour. "We just heard about Starbucks in foreign countries, but to have Starbucks in India, it’s a really good thing.”

Starbucks opened its first store in India in October of 2012, through a joint venture with India’s Tata Global Beverages. The U.S.-based coffee chain had planned to open 50 outlets in the country by the end of last year, but so far has a total of nine stores in the cities of Mumbai and New Delhi. Read more ..

The Race for Ethanol

Corn for Ethanol May be Killing the Great Lakes with Algae

April 2nd 2013

Iowa corn field

The largest harmful algae bloom in Lake Erie's recorded history likely was caused by the confluence of changing farming practices and weather conditions that are expected to become more common in the future due to climate change.

Rather than an isolated, one-time occurrence, Lake Erie's monumental 2011 algae bloom was more likely a harbinger of things to come, according to University of Michigan researchers and colleagues from eight other institutions.

The interdisciplinary team explored factors that may have contributed to the event and analyzed the likelihood of future massive blooms in the lake.

"Intense spring rainstorms were a major contributing factor, and such storms are part of a long-term trend for this region that is projected to get worse in the future due to climate change," said aquatic ecologist Donald Scavia, director of the Graham Sustainability Institute, and professor of natural resources and environment, and civil and environmental engineering. "On top of that we have agricultural practices that provide the key nutrients that fuel large-scale blooms." Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

A Greener Arctic is Upon Us

April 2nd 2013


New research predicts that rising temperatures will lead to a massive “greening,” or increase in plant cover, in the Arctic. In a paper published on March 31 in Nature Climate Change, scientists reveal new models projecting that wooded areas in the Arctic could increase by as much as 50 percent over the next few decades. The researchers also show that this dramatic greening will accelerate climate warming at a rate greater than previously expected.

“Such widespread redistribution of Arctic vegetation would have impacts that reverberate through the global ecosystem,” said Richard Pearson, lead author on the paper and a research scientist at the American Museum of Natural History’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation.

Plant growth in arctic ecosystems has increased over the past few decades, a trend that is coincident with increases in temperatures, which are rising at about twice the global rate. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Swiss Company Loses Drug Patent Case in India

April 1st 2013

Lots of Pills

In a landmark judgment, India’s Supreme Court on Monday rejected a patent for a cancer drug produced by a Swiss pharmaceutical company. The ruling is seen as a huge boost for availability of affordable drugs to treat deadly diseases, but a big blow to Western pharmaceutical companies fighting for more stringent patent protection in India, a hub for generic drugs.

The seven-year legal battle between Novartis and Indian authorities drew to a close Monday when the court said that the cancer-fighting drug Glivec did not satisfy the test of “novelty or inventiveness" required by Indian law to justify a patent.

Novartis sought a patent calling the updated version of Glivec a huge advance on the earlier drug. India, however, says Glivec is not a new drug but an amended version of a known medicine. Glivec is used to treat leukemia and is patented by many countries.   Read more ..

Islam on Edge

Saudi Religious Police Work to Polish Image

March 31st 2013


In January 2012, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia dismissed the head of the powerful religious police and replaced him with a reported moderate — a move designed to appease growing complaints about abuses of power by a much-feared group known as the mutaween.

Since then, the new leader, Sheikh Abdul Latif Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, has restricted the mutaween’s powers. Even so, many Saudis, especially women, say the changes are not enough.

Hardly a week seems to go by that Saudi Arabia’s religious police don’t make the headlines — breaking up drug rings, arresting bootleggers, admonishing women for what they consider immodest dress. Sometimes the mutaween themselves become objects of ridicule — such as when they shut down a dinosaur exhibit in a shopping mall or banned cats and dogs as pets. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Climate Change, Dams Threaten Mekong Livelihoods

March 30th 2013

Thailand flooding portside

Scientists meeting in the Thai capital have warned extreme weather caused by climate change will reduce fish stocks and major crops in the Mekong River Basin if countries in Southeast Asia fail to adapt. However, they also warn dam building, much of it for hydropower, is the largest single threat to fisheries that sustain millions of people.

An estimated 60 million fishermen and farmers depend on the Mekong River for its rich nutrients and abundant fish. A new study by a group of scientists said by 2050 climate change could raise temperatures in parts of the Mekong basin twice as fast as the global average.

That would intensify extreme weather events, such as flooding, and reduce fish and crop production says study leader Jeremy Carew-Reid. He said, "In Laos alone there are some 700 species that are used by families to sustain their livelihoods. We know so little about them." While some species will benefit from hotter climates, important crops such as coffee in Vietnam and rice in Thailand could be forced to move. Read more ..

Democracy on Edge

The Organization of American States Preserves Democratic Charter–For Now!

March 29th 2013

Chavez and Ahmadinejad

A high wire act played out over a 12-hour session of the General Assembly last week at the Organization of American States (OAS): Ecuador and Venezuela threatened to walk out unless their demands were met. Considerable tensions existed within the Hall of the Americas as the foreign ministers witnessed another threat to the organization’s integrity. This time, the contest was over the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Since 1959, the IACHR has taken up and defended the rights of children, of women, of indigenous communities, of sexual minorities, persons deprived of liberty, afro-descendents, people with disabilities, migrants, defenders of human rights: in short, people in vulnerable situations. The IAHCR and its judicial arm, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have continued to denounce and sanction violations of human rights. Throughout the Chilean, Argentinean and Brazilian military dictatorships of the 1970s and early 1980s, the commission and the court played key roles in making visible the victims of abuse. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Iron Horse Gaining Traction In Afghanistan

March 29th 2013

Nigeria train

More than 200 years after the arrival of steam locomotives changed the world of transport forever, the "iron horse" has finally made it to Afghanistan. Afghanistan is in the early stages of constructing a cross-country rail network intended to spur economic development and boost trade.

The idea is to turn Afghanistan into a land bridge linking the energy-rich Middle East and Central Asia with the booming economies of China and South Asia, according to Deputy Public Works Minister Ahmad Shah Wahid. "If we were linked with our neighbors through railway networks it would be a great development for our future prosperity,” he says. “It would improve trade and improve the lives of ordinary people." Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

Corporations, Pro-business Nonprofits Foot Bill for Judicial Seminars

March 28th 2013

judge's gavel

Conservative foundations, multinational oil companies and a prescription drug maker were the most frequent sponsors of more than 100 expense-paid educational seminars attended by federal judges over a 4 1/2-year period, according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation. Among the seminar titles were “The Moral Foundations of Capitalism,” “Corporations and the Limits of Criminal Law” and “Terrorism, Climate & Central Planning: Challenges to Liberty & the Rule of Law.”

Leading the list of sponsors of the 109 seminars identified by the Center were the conservative Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, The Searle Freedom Trust, also a supporter of conservative causes, ExxonMobil Corp., Shell Oil Co., pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. and State Farm Insurance Cos. Each were sponsors of 54 seminars. Other top sponsors included the conservative Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation (51), Dow Chemical Co. (47), AT&T Inc. (45) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (46), according to the Center’s analysis. Sponsors pick up the cost of judges’ expenses, which often include air fare, hotel stays and meals. The seminars in the Center’s investigation took place from July 2008 through 2012. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Noise-Cancelling Company Aims to Prove Silence is Golden

March 27th 2013

Man cupping his ear

If you’ve ever run the vent on your kitchen range or tried to catch 40 winks in an airplane, you probably wished someone would invent a way to block the noise without the need for headphones. Israel’s Silentium has done that. The company’s active noise control (ANC) chip produces “anti-noise” — opposing sound waves of the same amplitude as the disturbing noise, which shuts out the din (sans the discomfort of earplugs).

The newest use of this technology is Silentium’s trademarked Quiet Bubble, which captures and cancels out ambient environmental noise, creating a “zone of quiet” around airplane and car passengers. The applications are nearly infinite, as Silentium executives demonstrated recently at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, where NBC News chose the Israeli tech among the Best of CES 2013. Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

Cyrus Cylinder Makes U.S. Debut

March 27th 2013

Cyrus Cylinder

For 2,600 years, the weighty praise of world leaders has been heaped upon the fragile clay of the Cyrus Cylinder. The diminutive object, now cracked and missing one-third of its original form, has withstood the test of time as a symbol of tolerance. 

This month the Persian artifact adds another chapter to its history, making a long-awaited U.S. debut. At the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, exhibit-organizers say the cylinder is right on time. Amid today's political tensions between the United States and Iran and in the Middle East, they say the moment is ripe for museum-goers to find new relevance in an ancient treasure.

Iranian-American Massumeh Farhad, the chief curator at the Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler Galleries, where the cylinder is on display, said that she thinks "the Cyrus Cylinder, and Cyrus, himself, in many ways, has represented this ideal [of overcoming differences]." "Governments come and go, but I think it's really important to have these ideals to know [that] 'this is what we should aspire to.' One of the reasons the Cyrus Cylinder is so important is because, I think, it's a reminder that yes, we can do more," Farhad said. Read more ..

The Way We Are

US Issues 1 Million Green Cards, Naturalizes 757,000 in 2012

March 26th 2013

Sailors and Marine in citizenship ceremony

Nearly a million people became U.S. citizens last year, and just over a million became legal permanent residents, according to new data released by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The data shows the numbers of new “green card” holders and naturalizations, the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, have been fairly steady over the past few years, with a modest bump in naturalizations last year. Claire Bergeron, a researcher with the Migration Policy Institute, attributes that increase to the 2012 presidential election.

“There were a lot of outreach efforts leading up to the presidential election to get people to naturalize. A lot of the big ones we saw this year were Latino organizations,” she said. Latino voters, including many new citizens, helped secure President Barack Obama’s re-election and increased the power of his Democratic Party in Congress.

A total of 757,434 people naturalized in 2012, up from 694,193 the year before. The majority of new citizens were born in Mexico, the Philippines, India, the Dominican Republic and China, according to the data released Friday. Naturalizations increased the most among people born in the Dominican Republic and Cuba between 2011 and 2012. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Children of Israel Flee Egyptians as Crisis Creates a New People

March 25th 2013

Rub al Khali Saudi Empty Quarter

Approximately two million Children of Israel are now encamped in the Sinai following their extraordinary exodus from Egypt yesterday. Just days ago, they were slaves to Pharaoh. Today, they are free men and women, destined for self-determination in a land of their own. Only now are the details of their fantastic experience coming to light.


The dramatic sequence of events began some weeks ago with the unexpected return of exiled prince Moses, who previously fled Pharaoh's wrath after slaying a taskmaster. In his daring appearance at the Palace, the inarticulate Moses, speaking through his brother Aaron, declared himself to be the personal emissary of a powerful new “God,” previously unknown to the Royal Court. Moreover, Moses asserted that his God was the protector of the Children of Israel, who have been in bondage for more than four centuries in Egypt.


The Sudan on Edge

The Further Selling of Sudan

March 25th 2013

Omar Bashir of Sudan

A recent article noted that in April 2012 Saleh Abdullah Kamel, head of the very powerful and privately-owned Dallah al Baraka Group of Saudi Arabia and an investor with a notorious past, announced that the Government of the Sudan had agreed to "give" Saudi Arabia two million acres of land in its eastern region in an area "close to Port Sudan." (Khartoum, Sudan news reports, 9 April 2012.) 

The Kamel investment is part of a continuing effort to lease or purchase Sudanese land, a phenomenon reviewed in Summer 2012 by a tripartite UN Food and Agriculture Organization/International Institute for Environment and Development/International Fund for Agricultural Development task force. The African News Agency headlined that the study highlighted the five African nations hardest hit by the land grab," (Pana, Paris, 31 August 2012). It named Ghana, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mali and Sudan as the most affected, and noted that nearly 2.5 million hectares of land in the five countries had recently been "sold" to foreign investors. With regard to Sudan, it had already leased long-term "nearly 1.5 million hectares of agricultural land to the Arab states of the Gulf, Egypt and Korea Republic." Read more ..

The Geologic Edge

Huge and Widespread Volcanic Eruptions Triggered the End-Triassic Extinction

March 24th 2013

Palisades on Hudson, Alpine NJ

More than 200 million years ago, a massive extinction decimated 76 percent of marine and terrestrial species, marking the end of the Triassic period and the onset of the Jurassic. This devastating event cleared the way for dinosaurs to dominate Earth for the next 135 million years, taking over ecological niches formerly occupied by other marine and terrestrial species.

It’s not entirely clear what caused the end-Triassic extinction, although most scientists agree on a likely scenario: Over a relatively short period of time, massive volcanic eruptions from a large region known as the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP) spewed forth huge amounts of lava and gas, including carbon dioxide, sulfur and methane. This sudden release of gases into the atmosphere may have created intense global warming and acidification of the oceans that ultimately killed off thousands of plant and animal species. Read more ..

Broken Lobbying

Oil Industry Trade Group Takes to D.C. Airwaves

March 23rd 2013

Oil well

A recently released advertisement from the American Petroleum Institute says "new energy taxes" are "not a good idea," "short-sighted" and "definitely going to kill some jobs."

The trade group has spent $76,700 touting this message on the Washington, D.C., Fox affiliate during the past two weeks, according to records filed by the station with the Federal Communications Commission.

That sum has purchased 61 television spots, the documents indicate — all during morning, evening or late-night news programs.

The two advertisements on Fox News Sunday alone set the American Petroleum Institute back $10,000 a piece. The ads hit as lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been debating fiscal measures, including the tax incentives given to the oil and gas industry. This week, the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives both passed a short-term budget deal, but budgetary fights remain in Congress' future. Read more ..

The Environmental Edge

Will There be Enough Water for Everyone?

March 22nd 2013


As the global population grows, so does the need for water. The Worldwatch Institute says increased demands for food, energy and industry, along with climate change, could lead to water scarcity in some places. The warning comes on World Water Day, March 22.

Worldwatch says billions of people are already facing some kind of water scarcity or shortage. Spokesperson Supriya Kumar said that it’s only expected to get worse as the population increases.

“Over 1.2 billion are basically living in areas of physical water scarcity. And almost 1.6 billion face economic water shortage. And these are really extreme numbers. And as our population continues to grow there’s just going to be more problems. And we’re going to really have to face drastic measures in order to make sure the people have access to water.”

There are several types of water scarcity. The first is called “physical.” “Physical water scarcity really just means that there’s not enough actual water to meet all demands. Water is not distributed evenly. Areas in the Middle East, in northern China, in northwestern India – very arid regions – where there’s just not enough water. And so there’s just not physical availability,” said Kumar. Read more ..

The Drug Wars

U.S. and Mexican Media Fearful of Covering Border Violence

March 22nd 2013

Mexico militia

Southwest border violence has reached such a dangerous boiling point that both Mexican and American journalists forsaken their reporting about the heinous crimes due to their legitimate fear that the drug cartels will retaliate against them and their families, according to a public-interest, watchdog group on Wednesday.

This fear of retaliation by reporters is leading to a situation in which Americans will be kept in the dark about the crisis along the porous and increasingly dangerous Mexican border since the Obama administration is telling Americans the border with Mexico is becoming more peaceful, according to narco-terrorism expert and drug enforcement official Donald Kubisty.

Upon receiving the latest homicide statistics that revealed over 70,000 Mexicans were killed since 2006, Mexico's new leader, President Enrique Pena Nieto, announced on Mexican television that a brand new national police agency will be fully deployed by December 2013 and will be comprised of at least 10,000 officers when they kickoff law enforcement operations. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Women Soldiers Pay Price on Front Lines

March 21st 2013

Afghanistan us army dustoff

The Pentagon's recent decision to eliminate rules that exclude women from direct combat roles was merely symbolic for many women  soldiers - who have already been in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When it comes to fighting on the front lines, Army Staff Sergeant Cassandra Partee has been there and done that.  Her first deployment was to Iraq as part of an artillery unit eight years ago.

"We would go out on patrols and just conduct raids and things of that nature," she said. On her second deployment to Iraq, she was wounded in action.

"I [in] one incident was hit by improvised explosive device that was attached to a guard rail," she explained. Partee suffered shrapnel wounds to her face and back. Since her last deployment, she has survived cancer and given birth to two babies. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Surgery Without Scars or Scalpels

March 20th 2013

Baby Boomer

Surgery without scalpels and scars? It’s not science fiction. Israel’s InSightec is in the midst of transforming the operating room with its ExAblate MRI-guided high-intensity ultrasound---a new ultrasound technology that enables surgeons to destroy tumors and cysts without incisions.

The ExAblate O.R. system uses interchangeable “cradles” set on a regular MRI treatment table. The tool allows doctors to destroy targets, such as tumors and uterine fibroid cysts, deep inside the body without incisions. The alert patient is monitored in real time, and changes in treatment parameters can be made instantly. While the ExAblate system garners kudos – The Wall Street Journal’s Technology Innovation Award, the European Union’s Information Society Technologies grand prize, TIME magazine’s list of 50 best inventions of 2011 – InSightec has been gaining regulatory approvals, moving ahead with clinical trials and closing a $30.9 million financing round. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Jerusalem Passport Issued Debated in Court as Obama Arrives in Israel

March 20th 2013

Western Wall - Wailing Wall Jerusalem

On Tuesday the law firm of Lewin & Lewin presented oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on behalf of its 10-year-old client, Menachem Zivotofsky, in the high profile case of Menachem Zivotofsky v. Secretary of State (No. 07-5347). At issue in the case is the right of a Jerusalem-born American citizen to self-identify as born in “Israel” on his or her U.S. passport and birth certificate. 


In 2002, Congress passed a law that directed the Secretary of State to record the birthplace of American citizens born in Jerusalem as “Israel” on the U.S. passport and birth certificate of those who so request. Since the bill’s enactment, the Executive Branch has refused to enforce the law, claiming that to do so would infringe on the President’s authority to “recognize foreign sovereigns.” Zivotofsky was born in October 2002 in Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem. His parents requested that, pursuant to the statute, his place of birth be listed as “Israel.” The State Department refused and listed his place of birth as “Jerusalem.”  Zivotofsky sued in September 2003 to compel the State Department to comply with the law.


Tuesday marked the third time in the case’s 10-year history that Lewin presented arguments in the case before the Court of Appeals.  Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the D.C. Circuit was obliged to review the case on the merits, rejecting the government’s argument that the case raised a “political question” that the courts were not authorized to address. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

A New Reality in U.S.-Israeli Relations

March 19th 2013

Obama pointing finger at Netanyahu

U.S. President Barack Obama is making his first visit to Israel as president. The visit comes in the wake of his re-election and inauguration to a second term and the formation of a new Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Normally, summits between Israel and the United States are filled with foreign policy issues on both sides, and there will be many discussed at this meeting, including Iran, Syria and Egypt. But this summit takes place in an interesting climate, because both the Americans and Israelis are less interested in foreign and security matters than they are in their respective domestic issues.

In the United States, the political crisis over the federal budget and the struggle to grow the economy and reduce unemployment has dominated the president's and the country's attention. The Israeli elections turned on domestic issues, ranging from whether the ultra-Orthodox would be required to serve in Israel Defense Forces, as other citizens are, to a growing controversy over economic inequality in Israel. Read more ..

The Musical Edge

Women Kept Guitars Strumming During WWII

March 19th 2013

Itamar Erez

 As American men went off to war during World War II, women stepped in to fill the jobs they left behind, keeping the factories and shipyards running, and the economy humming.

While most were praised for their patriotism, one unheralded group of women worked in the shadows building Gibson guitars. The maker of the famous instrument never confirmed that women crafted its guitars during the war, and in an official company history, even reported it stopped producing instruments for those years.

Almost 70 years later, author and guitar aficionado John Thomas is finally telling their story. He was intrigued by a wartime photo taken at the Gibson guitar factory in Michigan.  The 75 people in the black-and-white staff portrait are nearly all women. Irene Stearns, now age 90, spent several of the war years working at the factory.
Women Kept Gibson Guitar Playing During WWII

The Edge of Sport

Elite Atheletes Also Excel at Some Cognitive Tasks

March 18th 2013

female sprinter

New research suggests that elite athletes – Olympic medalists in volleyball, for example – perform better than the rest of us in yet another way. These athletes excel not only in their sport of choice but also in how fast their brains take in and respond to new information – cognitive abilities that are important on and off the court.

The study, of 87 top-ranked Brazilian volleyball players (some of them medalists in the Beijing and London Olympics) and 67 of their nonathletic contemporaries, also found that being an athlete minimizes the performance differences that normally occur between women and men. Female athletes, the researchers found, were more like their male peers in the speed of their mental calculations and reaction times, while nonathletic females performed the same tasks more slowly than their male counterparts.

“I think we have learned that athletes are different from us in some ways,” said University of Illinois psychology professor and Beckman Institute director Arthur Kramer, who led the study with graduate student Heloisa Alves.

“We found that athletes were generally able to inhibit behavior, to stop quickly when they had to, which is very important in sport and in daily life, “ Kramer said. “They were also able to activate, to pick up information from a glance and to switch between tasks more quickly than nonathletes. I would say these were modest differences, but they were interesting differences nonetheless.” Read more ..

The Toxic Edge

Red Tide Blooms Threaten Gulf of Oman, Shut Down Kalba Desalinization Plants

March 17th 2013

Red Tide-Dead-Fish

The United Arab Emirates Ministry of Environment and Water indicates that red tide may be present in the waters of the Gulf  of Oman. As a precautionary measure, Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA) shut down some desalinization plants in Kalba.

Red tide is caused by a population explosion in certain species of plankton. The poison these microorganisms produce is usually reddish or brown in color and is toxic to the nervous system of fish and many other vertebrates. Red tide outbreaks can cause large fish die-offs and impact other animals. A red tide in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico recently killed at least 174 endangered Florida Manatees by weakening their muscles so they could no longer lift their heads to breath. Red tide does not necessarily kill shrimp and other shellfish, but its toxin is concentrated in these animals and can be passed on to humans who consume them. Read more ..

China Rising

Chinese Charisma to the Rescue?

March 15th 2013

Xi Jinping

In a troubled world, the obstacles to continued growth and stability in Communist China are staggering compared to the crises of the Euro and Sequestration. Most foreign observers are either willfully blind to the growing evidence or facing a possible period of worldwide economic decline, they still hope growth in China (and perhaps India) will be the salvation. It won't.
Meanwhile, in Beijing, Hong Kong -- and Taiwan -- there is a theory the new Fifth Generation of leadership just formally taking the helm will steer China toward reform and continued spectacular growth. It revolves around what many view as the charismatic personality of Pres. Xi Jinping, the new No. 1 in Beijing.
Xi went on something close to the baby-kissing tour of an American politician leading up to the November meeting of the National People's Congress and his formal installation March 5. It's tapered off a bit now. But the media are still full of stories about how he has a jocular, down-to-earth style that fascinates, and there are official photographs to prove it with adoring, smiling faces surrounding him.

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