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The Urban Edge

Sustainable Cities Must Look Beyond City Limits

October 31st 2012

Minneapolis skyline

Cities leaders aspiring to transform their cities into models of sustainability must look beyond city limits and include in their calculation the global flow of goods and materials into their realm, argue researchers in the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences journal Ambio.

Many cities are now developing sustainable strategies to reduce pollution and congestion, improve the quality of life of their citizens, and respond to growing concern about human impact on climate and the environment. But sustainable city initiatives often ignore the environmental footprint from imported goods and services such as food, water, and energy to cities: sustainability, it seems, stops at the city limits. Ultimately, this will not add up to a planet able to support over nine billion people. Read more ..

Myanmar on Edge

UN: Opium Production in Burma Grows for Sixth Straight Year

October 31st 2012

Burmese Generals

The United Nations says opium production in Burma has gone up for the sixth consecutive year, despite increased government efforts to curtail output of the crop used to make heroin.

An annual report by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said Wednesday that state eradication efforts destroyed poppies on nearly 24,000 hectares of land in 2012, more than triple that of last year. Nonetheless, farmland used for opium cultivation rose by 17 percent to 51,000 hectares.

Burma, the world's second largest producer of opium after Afghanistan, has promised to eradicate the drug completely by 2014. But the likelihood of achieving that goal is now in question, since U.N. data says production of the crop has risen every year since 2006.

The U.N. report said rising prices and increased demand in China and the rest of Asia continues to attract poor farmers to the opium business. It said farmers can receive 19 times as much for opium as for rice, and will not likely turn away from growing the crop unless alternate livelihoods are available. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Chevron Oil Sweetens the Pot with $2.5 Million to Conservative Super PAC

October 31st 2012


The dearth of large contributions being made by big corporations to super PACs so far this election has ended.

Chevron Corp., ranked No. 3 on the Fortune 500 list of largest U.S. companies, made a $2.5 million contribution on Oct. 7 to the conservative Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC dedicated to electing Republicans to the House and Senate.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, which allowed corporate money to be spent on elections, there were predictions that companies would tap their treasuries and flood races with unlimited cash.

Instead, the bulk of the giving has come from individuals — like casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Adelson and wife Miriam gave at least $14.5 million in the first 17 days of October, boosting his total giving to the controversial political organizations to a remarkable $53 million. It would take 10,600 contributions of $5,000, the maxiumum allowed to candidates, for Adleson to reach that amount were he giving directly to campaigns. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Mayor Bloomberg to President Obama: Don't Come to the Big Apple

October 31st 2012

Click to select Image

Mayor said he didn’t want to “diss” Obama, but told him everyone has “lots of things to do” in storm's aftermath.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) said President Obama offered to visit the city in the wake of Hurricane Sandy but Bloomberg told him that everyone has “lots of things to do” instead.

Bloomberg said he didn’t want to “diss” Obama and was flattered by the offer. Obama is scheduled to visit New Jersey on Wednesday, where the hurricane made landfall. The mayor said that trip would represent the whole region.

“What I pointed out to them is we would love to have him, but we have lots of things to do,” Bloomberg said at a press conference. “I’m not trying to diss him. But I know he had planned a trip to New Jersey, and I said that is fine. It represents the whole region. ... He has got a lot of things to do, and I was flattered that he offered to come.” Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Plastic Could Fuel US Move Away from Foreign Oil

October 30th 2012


The next big thing in fuel could come from repurposed plastic. However, only seven percent of plastic waste in the United States is recycled each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. A company in Niagara Falls, New York, is working to increase that percentage, with an eye toward reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil.

It's a machine known as the “plastic-eating monster.” Every hour, thousands of kilograms of shredded milk jugs, water bottles, and grocery bags tumble into its large combustion chamber. The waste plastic comes from landfills and dumps across the United States.

John Bordyniuk, who runs his namesake company, JBI, Inc., invented the new process for converting plastic into a range of fuels. A load of shredded plastic gas tanks, removed from junkyard automobiles, awaits its turn with the plastic-eating monster. First, many different kinds of unwashed plastics are melted together. Read more ..

China on Edge

Chinese State Newspaper Blasts NY Times Over Wen Story

October 30th 2012

The East is Red

A state-controlled Chinese newspaper is lashing out at the New York Times, just days after the U.S. paper published a story reportedly exposing the hidden wealth of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's family. The People's Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, said Monday in a combative article in its Chinese-language edition that the Times could not be trusted because of its history of "faking" and "distorting" news.

The lengthy article did not respond directly to the Friday story about Wen's finances. Instead, it focused on what it described as "an explosion in plagiarism and fabrication" by the Times, mentioning the past cases of journalists Jayson Blair and Zachery Kouwe. The Chinese government quickly blocked the Times' website Friday after it published the results of a months-long investigation that found Wen's family controlled $2.7 billion in assets. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Hurricane Sandy Throws Presidential Race a Curveball

October 30th 2012

Obama and Romney road show

Hurricane Sandy is hitting the presidential race and the East Coast at the same time, throwing both candidates off their schedules and threatening to alter the voter-turnout calculus.

The powerful storm made landfall late Monday, lashing towns along the eastern seaboard with strong winds and rain, knocking out power for more the five million and claiming at least seven lives.

The storm comes at a tough time for both President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney, with the election only seven days away, and polls showing a tight race. Both candidates looked for an appropriate response to the recovery efforts, with their campaigns cancelling events scheduled for Tuesday. Read more ..

Nigeria on Edge

Nigeria Tackles Maternal Mortality

October 29th 2012


For many women in Nigeria, a country with one of the highest maternal death rates in the world, the prospect of giving birth can be scary. According to the U.N. children’s organization, UNICEF, more than 150 women die every day in pregnancy-related cases in Nigeria, an average of one death every 10 minutes.

It’s no wonder many pregnant women worry about coming out of the hospital or clinic alive. “I asked my family members to embark on prayers for me,” says Eldina Istifanus, a mother of two. “I am sure that is why I am alive today.

“I almost died of childbirth complications during my first delivery,” she says. “I was afraid during my second delivery. I remembered my first experience and the experience of my friends who died in the process.” Despite her fears, Istifanus counts herself lucky because she was in a private clinic. Read more ..

America on Edge

Eastern US Braces for Monster Storm

October 29th 2012


Forecasters say conditions along the east coast of the United States will deteriorate Monday as one of the biggest storms ever to hit the mainland brings heavy rain and wind to a large section of the nation's most populated region. Hurricane Sandy has been moving up the coast and is expected to join with two winter storm systems, creating a hybrid "superstorm" that could affect up to 60 million residents.  It is expected to make landfall late Monday.

Forecasters expect the storm to bring hurricane-force winds to portions of the coast from Virginia to Massachusetts.  The National Weather Service is predicting a "life-threatening" storm surge that could reach more than 3 meters in New York Harbor. The storm has forced major cities including Washington, Philadelphia and New York to close schools and shut down their public transit systems.  U.S. stock markets are closed Monday, and the United Nations has canceled meetings and closed its offices. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Anesthesia Drugs Really Do Put Us to Sleep

October 28th 2012


When patients are put under anesthesia, they are often told they will be "put to sleep," and now it appears that in some ways that's exactly what the drugs do to the brain. New evidence in mice reported online on October 25 in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, shows that the drugs don't just turn wakefulness "off," they also force important sleep circuits in the brain "on."

"Despite more than 160 years of continuous use in humans, we still do not understand how anesthetic drugs work to produce the state of general anesthesia," said Max Kelz of the University of Pennsylvania. "We show that a commonly used inhaled anesthetic drug directly causes sleep-promoting neurons to fire. We believe that this result is not simply a coincidence. Rather, our view is that many general anesthetics work to cause unconsciousness in part by recruiting the brain's natural sleep circuitry, which initiates our nightly journey into unconsciousness." Read more ..

China on Edge

New Wave of Tibetan Self-Immolations Hits China

October 28th 2012

Tibetan Self Immolations

Anger and despair appear to be consuming Tibetan areas of China, where at least four more Tibetans have set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule. The most recent self-immolation took place Friday night in Sankok township in Sangchu county, in China's northwestern Gansu province.  A photo obtained by VOA Tibetan shows 23-year-old Tsepak Kyap engulfed in flames near a bus stop. Witnesses say Kyap suffered severe burns.  It is not known if he survived.  Sources say he was married to an 18-year-old wife, Dorje Dolma.

Earlier Friday, 24-year-old Lhamo Tseten died after walking out of a restaurant and setting himself on fire in Amchok township in Sangchu county. Following Tseten's self-immolation, the London-based rights group Free Tibet said there were reports of Chinese security forces quickly moving into the area.

​​With Friday's two, new self-immolations, there have now been five such protests in Gansu province in just the past week. VOA Tibetan has also learned of two more self-immolations Thursday in Nagchu, in what China has designated as the Tibet Autonomous Region. Read more ..

The Drug Wars

The Importance of 'Pocket Litter' in Tracking Narcotraffickers

October 27th 2012

Border Patrol shakedown

On Oct. 12, a pregnant medical doctor from Guadalajara, Mexico, attempted to enter the United States through the San Ysidro border crossing. The woman reportedly wanted to give birth in the United States so that her child would be a U.S. citizen. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers arrested the woman, who has since been charged with visa fraud in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.

Ordinarily, the arrest of a Mexican national for document fraud at a border crossing would hardly be newsworthy. However, this case may be anything but ordinary: Authorities have identified the woman as Alejandrina Gisselle Guzman Salazar, who reportedly is the daughter of Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera, one of the world's most wanted men.

If Guzman is indeed the daughter of El Chapo, the arrest could provide much-needed intelligence to those pursuing the fugitive drug lord. Aside from the intelligence gathered during her interrogation, investigators could also learn much from the information she may have been inadvertently carrying on her person. Read more ..

Islam on Edge

Father of Wounded Pakistani Girl Says She Will `Rise Again'

October 27th 2012

Malala Yousafzai

The father of the 15-year-old Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban says her setback was temporary, and that she will "rise again." Ziauddin Yousafzai spoke to reporters about his daughter, Malala Yousafzai, while visiting her Friday in the British hospital where she is being treated for serious injuries.

He said the gunmen who attacked Malala wanted to kill her, but that she is recovering at "encouraging speed and we are very happy." Yousafzai added that his daughter asked about the health of her family members and requested to see school books. "Last night when we met, there were tears in our eyes because of happiness.  Out of happiness.  For some time we all cried a little bit and then she asked her mother, 'How are the two other girls?'  Shazia and Kainat.  She inquired about their health.  And she told me on the phone, 'Please bring me my books of Class Nine and I will attend my examination in Swat.'  The board examination.'' Read more ..

The Future Edge

Robots in the Home: Will Older Adults Roll Out the Welcome Mat?

October 27th 2012

Metal Mickey

Robots have the potential to help older adults with daily activities that can become more challenging with age. But are people willing to use and accept the new technology? A study by the Georgia Institute of Technology indicates the answer is yes, unless the tasks involve personal care or social activities.

After showing adults (ages 65 to 93 years) a video of a robot’s capabilities, researchers interviewed them about their willingness for assistance with 48 common household tasks. Participants generally preferred robotic help over human help for chores such as cleaning the kitchen, doing laundry and taking out the trash. But when it came to help getting dressed, eating and bathing, the adults tended to say they would prefer human assistance over robot assistance. They also preferred human help for social activities, such as calling family and friends or entertaining guests.

Georgia Tech’s Cory-Ann Smarr will present the results this week at the Human Factors Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting in Boston.

“There are many misconceptions about older adults having negative attitudes toward robots,” said Smarr, a School of Psychology graduate teaching assistant.  “The people we interviewed were very enthusiastic and optimistic about robots in their daily lives. They were also very particular in their preferences, something that can assist researchers as they determine what to design and introduce in the home.” Read more ..

The Health Edge

Mother Was Right: Make the Right Choice and Eat a Good Breakfast

October 27th 2012

Breakfast scrambled eggs

Eating breakfast may help keep you from getting fat and making poor food choices, and skipping breakfast sets the brain up to make poor food choices later in the day, according to a new study. Scientists from the MRC Clinical Science Centre at London’s Imperial College, compared the brain scans and eating patterns of people both after eating breakfast and when they were fasting. They found that those who avoid breakfast may overeat throughout the rest of the day, often choosing high-calorie or junk food over healthier selections.

The researchers studied the magnetic resonance images of 21 volunteer test subjects who didn’t eat anything before coming in for their tests. On one those visits, the volunteers were first given a 750-calorie breakfast before the researchers ran the MRI scans. On another visit to the research center, the test subjects weren’t fed any breakfast, but were always served lunch after each scanning session. “Through both the participants’ MRI results and observations of how much they ate at lunch, we found ample evidence that fasting made people hungrier, and increased the appeal of high-calorie foods and the amount people ate,” said Dr. Tony Goldstone, who led the study. Read more ..

Inside America

Jewish Escape Artist Houdini Lives on Each Halloween

October 26th 2012


If anyone can escape from the afterlife, it is Harry Houdini.

Born Erik Weisz to Austro-Hungarian Jews, Houdini was arguably the greatest escape artist ever. Magic enthusiasts from around the globe gather annually in a predetermined city to celebrate Houdini. Since Houdini died on October 31, 1926, the gathering takes place on Halloween.

This year enthusiasts picked Fort Worth, Texas for a celebration that includes an effort to contact Houdini during a séance.

Houdini scholar John Cox’s fascination with the magician began when he saw the film “Houdini,” starring Tony Curtis, at age 10. Cox—whose website, wildabouthoudini.com, is a popular destination for Houdini fans—will give a talk on Houdini before the Fort Worth séance and will be at the séance table itself.

“From my childhood my quest to learn the truth about Houdini has just never stopped. It’s amazing to me that I’m still discovering new things every day,” Cox told JNS.org.

Some facts about Houdini are clear. His father was a rabbi, and while this did not necessarily impact his professional life, it did shape his personal life. Houdini had a strict sense of morality and a strong attachment to family. His mother called him “little father” as a boy. No matter where he was in the world, he always said the Kaddish prayer on the anniversary of his father’s death, and he dedicated his first book to his father, who instilled in young Erik a love of study and patience in research.

Houdini first attracted attention as “Harry Handcuff Houdini” on a tour of Europe, where he challenged different police forces to keep him locked up. This revealed his talent for gimmickry and affinity for audience involvement. Soon Houdini extended his repertoire to include chains, ropes slung from skyscrapers, straitjackets under water, and holding his breath inside a sealed milk can. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

In-car Wi-Fi Eight fold Increase Before Decade's End

October 26th 2012


IMS Research forecasts the market for Wi-Fi in original equipment manufacturer (OEM) automotive applications will increase eight fold over the next seven years in North America and Western Europe. While the Wi-Fi attach rates in North America and Western Europe are still relatively low with only a small number of manufacturers announcing the inclusion of Wi-Fi as a standard or as an optional extra, it is likely that Wi-Fi will follow a similar trend to Bluetooth, meaning over the next seven years attach rates in new cars will ramp up quickly. Historically, Wi-Fi was not considered for in-car applications, however, several factors have come into play which are creating a significant opportunity for Wi-Fi automotive applications.

First, Wi-Fi has transitioned from being primarily a PC networking technology to a more ubiquitous connectivity solution with a strong presence in a broad range of consumer electronics. While smartphones are the obvious example, eReaders, tablets, portable games consoles and portable media players are among the many consumer electronic devices to incorporate Wi-Fi. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran and the Next U.S. President

October 25th 2012

Iranian Women

Regardless of who is elected on November 6th, Iran's nuclear program is going to be one of the most important challenges the next president is going to have to confront. Unless Iran's leaders shift course and suddenly decide to suspend their ongoing enrichment of uranium, the continuing progress of the Iranian nuclear program will require additional moves by the United States and the international community. From an American standpoint, it is important to remember that both President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney have committed themselves to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and not containing it after it has done so. At the current pace of Iran's nuclear efforts, the Iranian nuclear program will reach a point some time before the end of 2013 where the accumulation of low and medium enriched uranium will make it difficult for the United States to know with confidence that it could prevent Iran's leaders from presenting the world with a fait accompli -- meaning the Iranians might well be able to produce a nuclear weapon so quickly that we would not have time to prevent it. Read more ..

India and the Middle East

India's Economic Relations with Israel and the Arabs

October 24th 2012

Indian Currency

January 29, 1992 marked the beginning of a new age in India’s relations with the State of Israel. After more than four decades of distant and often hostile relations between the two countries, India's foreign minister announced that full diplomatic ties had been made official. The door was now open to the development of economic, military and political cooperation between the Republic of India and Israel.

India was not a newcomer to the Middle East. For decades India enjoyed very close political and economic relations with Israel's Arab neighbors as well as with the Islamic Republic of Iran. These relationships reflected India's economic and political interests in the region as well as India's internal political and social culture.

At a time when Israel was still in the twilight between war and peace with the Arab world, normalizing relations with the Jewish state signaled as much of a shift in India's internal policies as it did in international relations. While Israel enthusiastically welcomed the new political reality and the economic opportunities that came with it, Indian national interest demanded maintenance of strong relations with the Arab world, which was still imposing an economic embargo on Israel and any country or company that traded with it. For India, it would have been inconceivable to jeopardize its relations with the Arabs in favor of Israel. However, three major events of 1991 made this shift possible. Read more ..

Inside Cuba

From Persecution To Acceptance? The History Of LGBT Rights In Cuba

October 24th 2012


Since the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the island nation has received low scores in many human rights indices for reported assaults on freedom of speech, expression, religion, and basic due process. Outside of these violations, historians regard the 1960s as an even more repressive decade for one Cuban community in particular: the country’s homosexual population. Indeed this group has only recently witnessed an opening of civil liberties for them. While the record of their treatment today is certainly not perfect, there are clear signs of a gradual but serious shift from Cuba’s previously anti-LGBT policies to a modern tendency of equal treatment and respect for all sexual orientations.

Even in pre-Revolutionary Cuba, the island’s society relegated the homosexual community to the few LGBT-friendly bars in Cuban cities. Moreover, strict laws criminalized homosexuality and targeted gay men in particular for harassment. In the 1930s, Cuba enacted the Public Ostentation Law, which encouraged the harassment of LGBTs who refused to hide their orientation. At this time, Cuba’s legislation toward the LGBT community was essentially no different from what was being done in the rest of Latin America, nor the continent’s colonial ancestors, Spain and Portugal.

Homosexuality in Cuba Under Castro
The Cuban Revolution seemed to present hope for improved living conditions for the many afflicted members of the community, and hope for a new outlook on old social mores quickly spread across the island. Many gay men were in favor of the Revolution and even supported longtime Cuban President Fidel Castro. However, despite professed egalitarianism, Castro’s government in reality was no kinder to the LGBT community than the pre-revolutionary governments. Castro and the other leading revolutionaries considered homosexuality a devious product of capitalism, which had to be rooted out entirely from society. For example, Che Guevara’s definition of the socialist “New Man” in part necessitated a strong and unambiguously heterosexual male. This view was not unique to the Castro regime, and could be found in the ideologies of many leaders from other communist countries. For example, the USSR and China routinely persecuted the LGBT community. As ironic as it may seem, communist thinking at the time consistently ignored the LGBT community. Read more ..

The Edge of Earth

The Connection Between Hawaii's Dueling Volcanoes

October 24th 2012

Volcano erupting

A new Rice University-led study finds that a deep connection about 50 miles underground can explain the enigmatic behavior of two of Earth's most notable volcanoes, Hawaii's Mauna Loa and Kilauea. The study, the first to model paired volcano interactions, explains how a link in Earth's upper mantle could account for Kilauea and Mauna Loa's competition for the same deep magma supply and their simultaneous "inflation," or bulging upward, during the past decade.

The research offers the first plausible model that can explain both the opposing long-term eruptive patterns at Mauna Loa and Kilauea -- when one is active the other is quiet -- as well as the episode in 2003-2007 when GPS records showed that each bulged notably due to the pressure of rising magma. The study was conducted by scientists at Rice University, the University of Hawaii, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

South Dakota Campaign Funds Can Move Sideways

October 24th 2012

Money Stack

In South Dakota, the ease with which campaign cash moves around has mostly put power in the hands of those who already had it — the wealthy and the state's top elected officials. Because of lax regulations regarding how money can flow into and out of political action committees, political party funds and individual candidate funds, the state's top officeholders are able to legally skirt existing fundraising limits and get relatively large sums into campaign coffers with little effort.

The lack of oversight was, in part, responsible for the Rushmore State’s "F" grade for regulation of political finances from the State Integrity Investigation, released earlier this year.

South Dakota is one of 19 states with a system of campaign finance regulation that allows money to effectively move "sideways," says Ed Bender, executive director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics. South Dakota and 12 other states place no limits on what state parties or political action committees can give individual candidates, according to research done by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Another six states limit PAC contributions but not party contributions. Read more ..

Inside Pakistan

Pakistani Designer Clothing on Sale in India

October 23rd 2012

Pakistani Clothes

The Pakistan Fashion Design Council has entered the Indian market to sell clothes by Pakistani designers to Indian customers. The initiative to open its first store in India comes amid recent efforts by the two rivals to improve trade ties. The festival and wedding season is approaching in India and thousands of women are scouring the market for new outfits.    

This year, they have a new stop - a flagship store of the Pakistan Fashion Design Council opened in an upscale neighborhood in the Indian capital. On display is a collection of intricately embroidered bridal wear, as well as garments by 18 Pakistani designers. They come in a mix of bright oranges, reds and yellows that appeal to Indians, as well as pastel colors that are more popular in Pakistan.Well-known Pakistani fashion designer Khadijah Shah is in New Delhi to showcase her 2013 bridal collection. She says India presents massive potential. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Dispute Between Ahmadinejad, Judiciary Festers Over Evin Prison Visit

October 23rd 2012

Ahmadinejad The Man

A day after Iran’s judiciary turned down a request by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to visit Tehran’s Evin prison, the combative president has accused the judiciary of unconstitutional behavior. Ahmadinejad had asked to visit the notorious prison following the imprisonment of his press adviser, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, who was detained in September while the Iranian president was attending the UN General Assembly in New York.

The judiciary -- one of the country’s three top political branches, along with the presidency and the parliament -- publicly reacted to the demand by calling the visit inappropriate at a time when the country is facing mounting economic problems exacerbated by Ahmadinejad’s economic mismanagement and Western sanctions.

The Edge of Space

The Sounds of Saturn

October 22nd 2012


Dusty plasmas can be found in many places both in space and in the laboratory. Due to their special properties, dust acoustic waves can propagate inside these plasmas like sound waves in air, and can be studied with the naked eye or with standard video cameras. The RUB physicists Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Padma Kant Shukla and Dr. Bengt Eliasson from the Faculty of Physics and Astronomy have published a model with which they describe how large amplitude dust acoustic waves in dusty plasmas behave. The researchers report their new findings in the journal Physical Review E.

Dusty plasmas are composed of electrons, positive ions, neutral atoms, and dust grains that are negatively or positively charged. Only in plasmas containing electrically charged dust grains, dust sound waves emerge – the so called dust acoustic waves. These waves are supported by the inertia of the massive charged dust particles. The restoring force – causing the particles to oscillate and the wave to propagate – comes from the pressure of the hot electrons and ions. Recently, several laboratory experiments revealed nonlinear dust acoustic waves with extremely large amplitudes in the form of dust acoustic solitary pulses and shock waves, propagating in the plasma with speeds of a few centimeters per second. Padma Shukla and Bengt Elisasson have developed a unified theory explaining under which circumstances nonlinear dust acoustic shocks as well as dust acoustic solitary pulses occur in dusty plasmas. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Obscure Nonprofit Threatens Campaign Finance Limits Beyond Montana

October 22nd 2012

Click to select Image

Jacob "Jake" Jabs is not quite a national figure, but he is a celebrity in Colorado — so much so that he was featured in the animated comedy series “South Park,” which is set in the state. Voters haven’t had a clue who is behind American Tradition Partnership — the Colorado-based group pushing to rewrite Montana’s campaign finance laws — and that’s just the way the secretive nonprofit wants it.

A 2010 fundraising pitch to its donors promised that “no politician, no bureaucrat, and no radical environmentalist will ever know you helped,” and “the only thing we plan on reporting is our success to contributors like you.”

“Montana has very strict limits on contributions to candidates,” according to documents, “but there is no limit to how much you give to this program.” As for the state’s ban on corporate money in elections, “Corporate contributions are completely legal,” the pitch assures potential funders. “This is one of the rare programs you will find where that’s the case.” Read more ..

The Edge of Crime

Does Three-strikes Law as Actually Deter Crime?

October 22nd 2012

jail door closeup

Contrary to what police, politicians and the public believe about the effectiveness of California’s three-strikes law, research by a University of California, Riverside criminologist has found that the get-tough-on-criminals policy voters approved in 1994 has done nothing to reduce the crime rate.

In a rigorous analysis of crime in California and the nation, sociology professor Robert Nash Parker determined that crime has been decreasing at about the same rate in every state for 20 years, regardless of whether three-strikes policies are in place or not.

Parker’s findings appear in the paper “Why California’s ‘Three Strikes’ Fails as Crime and Economic Policy, and What to Do,” published recently in the California Journal of Politics and Policy. The online journal publishes cutting-edge research on national, state and local government, electoral politics, and public policy formation and implementation. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russian Booklet for Migrant Workers Stirs Controversy

October 21st 2012

Russian employment poster

A new manual designed to help migrants from Central Asia has caused a storm in Russia's second city because of its apparent racist content. The local prosecutor's office in St. Petersburg has launched preliminary investigations into "Instructions for Labor Migrants," which was recently published in Kyrgyz, Tajik, and Uzbek. The booklet has been printed by the Look Into The Future publishing house and is seemingly intended as an aid for thousands of migrants from Central Asia, many of whom are employed as construction workers in Russia’s major cities.

Along with legal information concerning Russian rules and regulations, the booklet also provides some social advice. Among other things, it warns labor migrants not to spit in the street, not to squat, not to litter, and not to wear bathrobes or tracksuits in public places. Read more ..

Inside India

Starbucks Opens First Store in India

October 21st 2012


The world's largest coffee chain, U.S.-based Starbucks Corporation has opened its first store in India. The move comes at a time when coffee is winning new fans in India, traditionally a tea-drinking country.

From a 370 square-meter outlet spread over two levels in an upscale Mumbai neighborhood, Starbucks began serving its first cappuccinos and lattes in the Indian market. Both in its décor and products, the Starbucks flagship store has an Indian touch. There are vintage trunks, hand carved-wooden screens and tables of Indian teak.

The coffee it serves is prepared with coffee beans grown in India. Some food items such as chicken tikka Panini, cardamom croissants, and tandoori cottage cheese rolls have a local flavor. And to suit the pockets of a cost-conscious market, Starbucks has priced some products lower than in other countries - it will sell a "short" espresso for a little more than $1.50. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Stealth Spending On The Rise As 2012 Election Approaches

October 21st 2012

Bundles of Cash

If there was a silver lining for open-government advocates in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling that unleashed corporate and union spending on elections, it was that the identity of those who pay for all those annoying ads would be made public on a regular basis. It hasn’t quite worked out that way. Since Labor Day, spending by outside groups taking advantage of the high court’s Citizens United decision totaled a little more than $229 million, including unions. Forty-four percent of the total — $100 million — has come from non-disclosing, nonprofit corporations. The clearest example comes from the top two spenders, two organizations that share the same post office box in Washington, D.C.

American Crossroads, the so-called super PAC co-founded by Republican strategist Karl Rove, has spent $33.1 million since Labor Day, according to Federal Election Commission records. Its top donor is Texas billionaire and businessman Harold Simmons, who along with his company, Contran Corp., has given $13 million to the group so far this election, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of Federal Election Commission records. Second is Crossroads GPS, the nonprofit sister organization of American Crossroads, also co-founded by Karl Rove, which has spent $30.3 million. Its top donor is — unknown. Crossroads GPS was organized as a nonprofit, “social welfare” organization. The Internal Revenue Service does not require it to disclose its donors to the public, nor does the FEC. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Turkey's Challenge and the Syrian Negotiation

October 20th 2012

Fire big

Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zubi harshly criticized the Turkish government early last week over Ankara's proposal that an interim government succeed the al Assad regime, saying that "Turkey isn't the Ottoman Sultanate; the Turkish Foreign Ministry doesn't name custodians in Damascus, Mecca, Cairo and Jerusalem." Being the spokesman for a pariah regime requires a mastery of propaganda. Al-Zubi has not disappointed in this regard, mounting a strong rhetorical offensive against Syria's powerful northern neighbor.

While his latest rebuke of Turkey will not save the al Assad regime (much less his own career), he is tapping into a powerful narrative in the region, one that will have stronger and stronger resonance in the Arab world as Turkey is forced to play a more assertive role in the region. Read more ..

Argentina on Edge

No Liberty For Libertad: Argentina's Battle With Hedge Fund Billionaire For Navy Vessel Continues

October 20th 2012


The incredible story of the Argentine vessel detained in Ghana at the request of a hedge fund tied to billionaire Paul Singer continues.  On Thursday, a court in Ghana rejected the Argentine state’s request to grant the Fragata Libertad diplomatic immunity, despite it being a military ship.  NML Capital, the hedge fund, is looking to extract payment from the Argentine state on sovereign bonds that were part of the largest sovereign debt default in 2001 and 2002.  The Administration of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner called Singer’s Elliott Capital a “vulture fund” and accused it of using immoral and “usurious practices,” while claiming the vessel is protected by immunity granted by the Vienna Convention.

The story seems more suited for a novel than business journalism.  When the 103-meter ARA Libertad docked at the Ghanaian port of Temma, they never expected to stay for so long.  At the request of NML Capital, a Cayman Islands-based hedge fund tied to Paul Singer’s Elliott Capital, a court in the capital city of Accra granted an injunction that forced the vessel to remain at port until a commercial dispute was settled. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Afghan Woman's Beheading Latest In Alarming Trend

October 20th 2012

Afgan Women in Burka

A disturbing spate of violent attacks against women has gripped western Afghanistan, where over a dozen women have been killed this year. In the latest incident, an 18-year-old identified only as Najibullah was arrested on October 13 in connection with the gruesome torture and beheading two days earlier of a woman in the western city of Herat, near the border with Iran.

Mahgul, a 25-year-old newlywed, was found dead outside her home by her family, who then carried her mutilated body to the local Department for Women's Affairs to raise awareness of her killing. Najibullah, who gave a confession in front of journalists and television cameras on October 15, said he was forced to carry out the act by his aunt, Mahgul's mother-in-law, Parigul. He said Parigul restrained Mahgul, while he took a sharp knife and beheaded her. Read more ..

America on Edge

Dallas Suburbs Lead in Attempts to Deny Public Information Requests

October 19th 2012

Paper Stack

Among the state’s biggest cities, several sprawling Dallas-area suburbs tallied the highest rate of requests to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott last year to keep government information secret, according to a recent examination by the Center for Public Integrity.

The probe examined the number of attempts by the 20 largest Texas cities to block public requests for information in 2011, then looked at how those numbers stacked up for each city, according to the rate of requests per 100,000 population. The “winners” were not the state’s biggest cities. McKinney had the highest rate of requests asking that Abbott allow the withholding of documents sought by citizens under the Texas Public Information Act. Next up were McAllen, Garland, Mesquite, Plano and Arlington. Fort Worth was ranked eighth and Dallas ninth, giving the Fort Worth/Dallas metroplex seven of the top 10 in the rankings.

The investigation also looked at the cities’ batting averages in getting their requests approved by Abbott’s office. McKinney won full or partial approval to withhold information in 95 percent of its cases; most of those requests were partially approved, meaning some information did have to be released. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Planet Found in Nearest Star System to Earth

October 19th 2012

Exoplanet candidate UCF-1.01

European astronomers have discovered a planet with about the mass of the Earth orbiting a star in the Alpha Centauri system — the nearest to Earth. It is also the lightest exoplanet ever discovered around a star like the Sun. The planet was detected using the HARPS instrument on the 3.6-metre telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile.

Alpha Centauri is one of the brightest stars in the southern skies and is the nearest stellar system to our Solar System -- only 4.3 light-years away. It is actually a triple star -- a system consisting of two stars similar to the Sun orbiting close to each other, designated Alpha Centauri A and B, and a more distant and faint red component known as Proxima Centauri. Since the nineteenth century astronomers have speculated about planets orbiting these bodies, the closest possible abodes for life beyond the Solar System, but searches of increasing precision had revealed nothing. Until now. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Iran's Warns of 'Global Battles' Should it Be Attacked

October 19th 2012

Iranian Revolutionary Guard

General Hossein Salami of Iran's Revolutionary Guards said that any strike against Iran will trigger regional conflict. Israel will "definitely" face fierce retaliation if it attacks Iranian nuclear sites, vowed the acting commander of Iran's powerful military organization Guards on October 18.

The remarks by Gen. Salami appear to be part of Iranian efforts to portray any strike against it as the trigger for a regional conflict that could draw in Iranian proxies, such as Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group, on Israel's borders. Iran's suspect nuclear program has topped the international agenda and pressure on Tehran is mounting.

Israel has threatened to strike Iran's nuclear facilities if Tehran doesn't stop uranium enrichment — a process that can be a pathway to nuclear arms. The West and its allies fear Iran's ambitions mask a pursuit of atomic weapons, a charge Tehran denies, saying its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes such as power generation and cancer treatment. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Pennsylvania Governor Benefited from Untraceable $1.5 Million Donation

October 18th 2012

Bundles of Money

At a campaign stop near Philadelphia early in his 2010 bid for governor, Republican Tom Corbett announced “we’ve got to raise money,” that it was the “number-one” priority. In an answer to his prayers, that same July day, a $1.5 million contribution arrived from — Wisconsin?

Officially, the donation was from the Wisconsin affiliate of a D.C.-based political organization called the Republican Governors Association. The $1.5 million could not travel directly from the RGA to Corbett. Pennsylvania law bans candidates from accepting corporate money and the RGA accepts millions of dollars from some of the nation’s largest businesses. 

Also, state law requires all non-individuals to establish PACs in Pennsylvania. In a single day, the $1.5 million gift traveled from the D.C.-based parent organization to the RGA Wisconsin PAC, to the RGA Pennsylvania PAC and finally to Corbett’s campaign account.

By the time the donation reached Corbett, it was impossible to identify the original source of the cash or whether the donation was permissible under state law. The well-traveled donation is a prime example of “an elaborate money-laundering scheme, which is legal,” used by the RGA with success in a number of races for governor in 2010, according to Pennsylvania Common Cause Executive Director Barry Kauffman. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Debating Presidential Candidates try to Make Hay before Election Night

October 18th 2012

Obama and Romney road show

President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, were back on the campaign trail Wednesday, after Tuesday night's contentious debate. Both candidates tried to build on the points they made during the debate.

President Obama, Governor Romney, and their running mates fanned out across political swing states on Wednesday, with each man trying to convince voters that his side had won the debate.

Obama paid yet another visit to the crucial states of Iowa and Ohio. In Mount Vernon, Iowa, the Democratic candidate repeated his contention that Romney’s economic agenda differs from the successful plans of previous presidents. ​​“His tax plan does not add up. His jobs plan does not create jobs. His deficit reduction plan adds to the deficit. So, Iowa, everybody here has heard of the New Deal. You have heard of the Fair Deal. You have heard of the Square Deal. Mitt Romney is trying to sell you a sketchy deal," he said. Read more ..

Serbia on Edge

Accused Mass-Murderer Karadzic Disavows Any Responsibility

October 16th 2012

Mass Grave, Srebrenica
Mass grave at Srebenica.

Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic has begun his defense at the UN war crimes tribunal by denying all allegations against him. Karadzic is facing 10 charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed during the 1992-95 Bosnian War.

One charge relates to a massacre by Bosnian Serb troops at Srebrenica in July 1995 in which some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed. "I never, ever allowed even the possibility for the smallest atrocity to take place, let alone any atrocities on a mass scale, or for any of these people to be permanently removed from Serbian territory," Karadzic said. "I did not, nor did anyone else that I know of."

Russia on Edge

Opposition Sees Fraud In Russia Voting

October 15th 2012


Russia’s opposition is alleging that nationwide local elections have been marred by widespread violations, including multiple voting and stuffing of ballot boxes. Early partial results of the October 14 vote for offices in 77 of Russia's 83 regions have indicated victories for the ruling United Russia party of President Vladimir Putin. Like last December’s parliamentary elections and the March presidential poll, opposition activists have accused authorities of an organized campaign to skew votes in favor of candidates who support the government. The partially Western-funded Golos monitoring group said it had recorded more than 1,000 electoral violations nationwide.

Putin said the election results confirm popular nationwide support of the current government. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has dismissed claims of violations, saying he knew of no “serious irregularities.” Medvedev added that it appeared United Russia candidates had done well in the voting and that the party was on track to perform better than in the December State Duma parliament vote, in which it lost dozens of seats. Most local and regional governments are already dominated by United Russia. In some cases, fewer than 15 percent of registered voters cast ballots.

The October 14 vote marked the first nationwide elections since Putin returned to office in the Kremlin in May to start an unprecedented third term as president. October 14 also featured the first voting for regional governors since Putin abolished such votes in 2004. Putin said at the time that getting rid of gubernatorial votes was needed to protect Russia from separatism and crime. Early results suggested that United Russia incumbents had won or were heading to victory in all five governorship races -- in the Amur, Bryansk, Novgorod, Belgorod, and Ryazan regions. Read more ..

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