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America on Edge

The Emerging Doctrine of the United States

October 9th 2012

Soldiers In Afghanistan

Over the past weekend, rumors began to emerge that the Syrian opposition would allow elements of the al Assad regime to remain in Syria and participate in the new government. Rumors have become Syria's prime export, and as such they should not be taken too seriously. Nevertheless, what is happening in Syria is significant for a new foreign doctrine emerging in the United States -- a doctrine in which the United States does not take primary responsibility for events, but which allows regional crises to play out until a new regional balance is reached. Whether a good or bad policy -- and that is partly what the U.S. presidential race is about -- it is real, and it flows from lessons learned. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Romney Scores the Obama Doctrine: 'Hope is not a Strategy'

October 8th 2012

Mitt Romney

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said the risk of conflict in the Middle East has grown under President Barack Obama's leadership. In a speech at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington on October 8, Romney called for a "change of course" in the region. The Republican candidate pledged to "roll back" Obama's defense cuts, which he called "arbitrary." Speaking to the assembled cadets, Romney said "Hope is not a strategy," in an allusion to a well-worn Obama campaign phrase.

"I believe that if America does not lead, others will; others who do not share our interests and our values, and the world will grow darker, for our friends and for us," Romney said at VMI. He asserted that Obama's failure to project strength abroad has left the US at the mercy of terrorists in the Mideast, such as the attack on the American consulate in Libya which killed the American ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Britain Unveils Major Effort to Fight Global Online Crime

October 8th 2012

Shadowy Computer User

Britain has launched a multi-million-dollar global initiative to help fight organized criminals and terrorists using the Internet. The plan was rolled out at an international gathering in Budapest aimed at making the Internet more secure.

Speaking at the international "Budapest Conference on Cyberspace," British Foreign Minister William Hague said Britain wants to lead a worldwide effort to stem the rapidly growing number of cyberspace attacks threatening companies and governments.

"It has never been easier to become a cybercriminal than it is today," said Hague. "It is now possible to buy off-the-shelf malicious software designed to steal bank details for as little as 3,000 [British] pounds, including access to a 24-hour technical support line. As foreign secretary, I see frequent evidence of deliberate and organized attacks against intellectual and government networks in the United Kingdom."

Edge of Immigration

Immigration Advocates Hail New Mexico Court Action on Driver's Licenses

October 8th 2012

Border sign

Immigrant advocates in New Mexico praised a court settlement announced last week that effectively laid to rest a controversial driver’s license certification program implemented by the state Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) last year.

In a mutually-agreed upon resolution to a legal challenge filed against the program, New Mexico First Judicial District Judge Sarah M. Singleton issued a permanent injunction against Demesia Padilla, secretary of the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department, ordering the state official from further carrying out the Foreign National Residency Certification Program, which was officially launched to weed out undocumented, non-residents who claimed New Mexico residency in order to obtain a state driver’s license. Certification opponents charged that the program had a different purpose.

“This discriminatory program was clearly intended to fuel an anti-immigrant political agenda in New Mexico, and we are relieved that it did not prevail,” said Maria Cristina Lopez, board member of the statewide immigrant and labor advocacy group Somos un Pueblo Unido. “We’re all for fighting fraud and abuse, but the state should not be wasting tax payer money by targeting people based on their race and national origin. It’s simply unacceptable in New Mexico,” Lopez said in a statement. Read more ..

The Desert Edge

Roll-up ‘Shade and Shelter’ Cardboard Protects Desert Dwellers

October 7th 2012

Desert Shade

Israeli designer Ohad Lustgarten designed Shade and Shelter as part of his final project at Shenkar College of Design, the same center that spawned living lace made from bacteria. The six foot tall prototype constructed out of cardboard looks like a giant centipede when it is unwound but then coils up to provide a lightweight shelter against sand, sun and wind.

A lightweight modular design that can be easily transported, Shade and Shelter stands at six feet and has enough space inside to fit few people lying down. When it is unravelled on a flexible central fiberglass pole, the shelter creates a barrier on one side, and wrapped completely it functions as a complete shelter.

The upper slats are slightly narrower and have grooves that direct rainwater into collecting pools. Although the part of the shelter that is open is bound to allow some water to pass inside, remaining water can be purified and then used for cooking, drinking and whatever other needs the inhabitants might have. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

Syrian Christians Seek Peaceful Solutions to Raging Civil War

October 7th 2012

Sisi Street Armenian Quarter Aleppo

Syria's conflict is sometimes cast as a religious one, between the Sunni majority and the leadership of an Alawite minority. Yet the secular government has its defenders, who look to it as a protector of all minority rights, especially for Christians.

At the Greek-Melchite Catholic Church in the historic Christian quarter of Old Damascus, Father Rafi Halawe said Syria's dozens of minority religious groups are searching for a peaceful resolution. Syria's Christians make up one of the earliest groups woven into the nation's multireligious fabric. But some see a threat to centuries of coexistence in the current conflict.

Halawe said there are religious sects that exist only in Syria, and that they are trying to find an end to the violence through dialogue and reconciliation. He said it is religious extremists who stand in the way, and he blames the arrival of armed elements who seek to label others as non-believers. Read more ..

Africa on Edge

Billions of Dollars Lost Each Year to Illegal Logging

October 6th 2012

Congo Forest

The joint report, called Green Carbon / Black Trade, says between 30 and 100 billion dollars are lost each year to the illegal timber trade.  Much of the loss is centered in key logging countries in Central Africa, the Amazon Basin and South East Asia.  

​Besides the diversion of revenues away from development, the trade also harms efforts to mitigate climate change and also leads to political instability. UNEP says deforestation, much of it from logging in tropical rainforests, is responsible for nearly 20 percent of all carbon emissions, 50 percent more than the amount from shipping, aviation and land transport combined. The UN says deforestation is responsible for nearly 20 percent of global carbon emissions.

Revenues from illegal logging have been used by various rebels and terrorist groups, from the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia to the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. Some groups, like militias in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, engage in a number of illegal activities with international ramifications.  They include the poaching of rhino, elephants, and other wildlife, as well as illegal logging. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Why we Need Insects--Even Pesky Ones

October 6th 2012

Bee and pollen

At first blush, many people would probably love to get rid of insects, such as pesky mosquitoes, ants and roaches. But a new study indicates that getting rid of insects could trigger some unwelcome ecological consequences, such as the rapid loss of desired traits in plants, including their good taste and high yields.

Specifically, the study--described in the Oct. 5, 2012 issue of Science and funded by the National Science Foundation showed that evening primroses grown in insecticide-treated plots quickly lost, through evolution, defensive traits that helped protect them from plant-eating moths. The protective traits lost included the production of insect-deterring chemicals and later blooms that gave evening primroses temporal distance from plant-eating larvae that peak early in the growing season. These results indicate that once the plants no longer needed their anti-insect defenses, they lost those defenses. What's more, they did so quickly--in only three or four generations. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Is Iran’s Currency Crisis Evidence That Sanctions Are Working?

October 5th 2012

A fistful of rials

Both the Obama administration and Iran’s President Ahmadinejad have blamed the recent dramatic fall in value of Iran’s currency on international sanctions. It is a convenient explanation for both—for the White House, it suggests that U.S. strategy towards Iran is working; for Ahmadinejad, it deflects responsibility away from his own policy decisions and toward an external scapegoat.

But as my colleague Patrick Clawson explains, sanctions are only partly to blame for Iran’s economic travails. The currency crisis and associated inflationary spiral has its origins in the Ahmadinejad government’s mismanaged subsidy reform initiative. Sanctions have indeed exacerbated the problem, both by raising the cost to foreign firms of doing business with Iran and reducing the regime’s foreign exchange earnings. The increasing threat of war has also played a role, deepening Iranians’ worries about economic stability and increasing their inflationary expectations, and thus leading them to dump rials and seek safe haven in dollars and other hard currency to protect their savings. Read more ..

Brazil on Edge

Role of the Private Sector in Brazil's Chaotic Transport Sector

October 5th 2012

Brazilian airport train

On July 27, a violent truck drivers’ strike occurred in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, which eventually encompassed Brazil’s entire trucking industry. Among other issues, they were protesting the National Agency of Terrestrial Transports’ (ANTT) new highway safety regulations. On the same day, the agency issued measures concerning a significant 2.87 percent price increase in highway tolls. Both controversial decisions reflect not only a strained road infrastructure, but also an urgent need for profound structural improvement in the country’s highway system. The lack of coherence in the region’s trucking industry derives from deep-rooted inadequacies and a lack of government investment. Since 1980, Brazil has witnessed a steady decrease in its public transportation investment, now at only 0.7% of its 2010 GDP. The dearth of appropriate planning and a complex regulatory environment have only amplified this problem.

The operational failures of the Brazilian transportation system have had a detrimental effect on the country’s broader economy. Combined with other concerns including excessive taxes and bureaucracy, the obviously inadequate infrastructure is largely responsible for the colossal lack of competitiveness known as the “custo Brasil” (in English, the “Brazil cost”) that afflicts the country. Brazil’s freight haulage productivity especially suffers from the excessively complex logistics involved in disbursement. In 2007, transport costs represented a gargantuan 13 percent of Brazilian GDP, compared to the United States’ relatively efficient 7 percent. Thus, it costs an average of $1,240 USD to export a container of freight while the same task requires only $990 USD in the United States. This particularly damages the pre-eminent agrifood sector’s performance, therefore multiplying both external and internal prices. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

Egyptian Christian Boys, Ages 9 and 10, to Face Islamic Blasphemy Charges

October 5th 2012

Coptic women at church

Egyptian prosecutors released two children belonging to the Coptic Orthodox Church who had been arrested this week on accusations of blasphemy according to Islamic shariah law. The prosecutor for the town of Beni Suef released the two boys, ages 9 and 10, on October 3 due to their youth even while they have yet to be absolved. Similar cases have emerged in other Muslim-majority countries such as Pakistan, where a 14-year-old mentally-disabled Christian girl remains in custody for alleged blasphemy, but this is the first time in recent memory that such as charge has been laid in Egypt.

A Salafist imam in the boys’ Nile Delta settlement accused the pair of defacing sheets of paper on which they had supposedly written verses from the Koran, Islam’s holy book. They also allegedly urinated on the papers. They were arrested and then held in a juvenile lock-up. In exchange for their release, the parents of Mina Farag and Nabil Rizk have signed affidavits promising that they will appear in court when summoned. Read more ..

Mexico on Edge

Mexico Remembers the Massacre of Tlatelolco

October 4th 2012

Tlatelolco Massacre of 1968

For the first time, the Mexican flag at the Chamber of Deputies building in Mexico City flew at half mast October 2 in commemoration of the students gunned down by Mexican security forces in the Tlatelolco Massacre of 1968.

In an example of how October 2 is increasingly recognized in the political and social calendar of Mexico, the new legislators took time to consider the significance of the day when the soldiers and police of President Diaz Ordaz crushed a pro-democracy movement in Mexico City just as the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)-led government was welcoming the world to the Olympics. In honor of the murdered students, who could have numbered in the hundreds according to different accounts, the lawmakers devoted a minute of silence.

A similar ceremony was held by the capital city’s local elected representatives. In a speech, Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard credited the 1968 student movement for laying the groundwork for democratic advances in the ensuing years. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Expanding the Parameters of Economic Warfare

October 4th 2012

iran bank notes

The President of Iran in recent statements has accused the United States of conducting "Economic Warfare" against his country because after years of crippling sanctions, Iran's currency is now in "freefall" within international currency markets. This statement in my mind begs the question, has the United States been conducting an "Economic War" against Iran, or, is the United States simply conducting "foreign policy using other means." This may simply be a matter of semantics, however, historians would argue that there are established and well recognized "parameters" for the conduct of "Economic Warfare."

During the Civil War, Union troops destroyed southern cotton fields, railroad lines, and blockaded southern ports to prevent the export of cotton that would support the southern war effort by generating revenue from those cotton exports. During the First World War, the allies employed tactics beyond the use of military force that included "Blacklisting" nation's that supported our adversaries through embargo of trade in goods and services, "Preemptive Buying," or - the purchasing of essential materials from world markets, thereby denying critical materials such as metals, fuel, food and other essential items necessary to the war effort of our adversaries. Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

Tomb of Ancient Mayan Queen Discovered in Guatemala

October 3rd 2012

Mayan conch effigy carving

Archaeologists in Guatemala have discovered the tomb of Lady K’abel, a seventh-century Maya Holy Snake Lord considered one of the great queens of Classic Maya civilization.

The tomb was discovered during excavations of the royal Maya city of El Perú-Waka’ in northwestern Petén, Guatemala, by a team of archaeologists led by Washington University in St. Louis’ David Freidel, co-director of the expedition. A small, carved alabaster jar found in the burial chamber caused the archaeologists to conclude the tomb was that of Lady K’abel. The white jar is carved as a conch shell, with a head and arm of an aged woman emerging from the opening. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Deforestation in Snowy Regions Causes More Floods

October 3rd 2012

Continental Crust
(Credit: Kimberly Green, AGU)

New research suggests that cutting down swaths of forest in snowy regions at least doubles—and potentially quadruples —the number of large floods that occur along the rivers and streams passing through those forests. For decades, the common perception in hydrology has been that deforestation in such areas made seasonal floods bigger on average, but had little effect on the number of large floods over time, said geoscientist Kim Green of the University of British Columbia. But a new study by Green and her co-author Younes Alila published today in Water Resources Research, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, suggests that deforestation consistently causes more floods—both big and small.

In the interior regions of North America, many creeks and rivers get most of their flow from melting snow accumulated during winter storms in mountainous areas. How much water flows down these streams depends not only on how much snow falls upstream, but how fast the snow melts. But deforestation shines a new—and glaring—light on this water source. While ordinarily the trees keep the melting under control by shielding snow from the sunlight, “as soon as you get rid of the trees, the snow melts faster,” said Green. “It’s that simple.” Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

The Syrian Crisis and the Saudi-Iranian Rivalry

October 3rd 2012

Assad and Ahmadinejad

The ongoing internal conflict between the Assad-led government and the political and military opposition forces within Syria has increasingly become a regional conflict. This is the case not only because the violence within Syria has regional implications, but also because all the main regional powers have been directly involved in the conflict, mostly by supporting one of the warring sides. This is particularly true in the case of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has been one of the stronger regional supporters of the anti-Assad opposition.

Historically, Saudi Arabia's relationship with Syria, while never particularly warm, had shied away from being directly confrontational. This changed only in 2005, following the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister and Saudi protégé Rafic Hariri. The Saudis largely blamed Syria for the political assassination and thus reacted by taking an openly anti-Syrian stance, putting pressure on the Syrian president to withdraw from Lebanon while attempting to contain and even isolate him. This strategy was not successful and it lasted only until the May 2008 Hezbollah temporary takeover of West Beirut, which culminated in the Doha Agreement. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Amazon River Provides a Nature Climate Archive

October 2nd 2012

Amazon rainforest

Oxygen isotopes in tree rings are an excellent archive of precipitation dynamics in the tropical Amazon region. The precise determination of the ratios of stable oxygen isotopes (18O/16O) proves to be a new parameter for detecting the dynamics of the water cycle in tropical rain forest areas. It can therefore replace the classic climate observables such as tree ring width or wood density, which are unsuitable for high-quality reconstructions of climate conditions in tropical areas. These are the findings of a group of researchers from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, the Universities of Leeds (United Kingdom) and Utrecht (Netherlands), and the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD, Peru), published in the new online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The researchers studied tree rings of the tropical tree species Cedrela odorata from Bolivia and found that they preserve the isotopic composition of rainwater in the Amazon. As the variation in oxygen isotopes is strongly determined by the amount of rainfall over the Amazon basin, it provides a valuable historical archive of rainfall in the past. This now paves the way for a better understanding of long term hydrological patterns. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Tensions Rising Between Moscow's Muslims And Police

October 1st 2012

Eid el Fitr Moscow 2012

Shermamat Suyarov says he will think twice before returning to pray at Moscow's largest mosque. Suyarov, a 52-year-old Russian citizen of Kyrgyz origin, says he was sitting in a parked car waiting to attend prayers on September 17 when police ordered him out and detained him.

He was hauled into a police bus with scores of other would-be worshippers. Later at a police station he claims he was beaten so severely after he complained about the rough treatment that he had to be hospitalized: "They beat me with their fists, batons and feet," he says. "There were five or six of them beating me and there were some others there too. I wasn't counting. I lost consciousness. I was in shock and broke a rib."

Others who were detained that that day includeAli Muratov, a 39-year-old migrant worker from Kyrgyzstan. He becomes visibly emotional when he describes how Suyarov "cried out for help" during the beating. "They beat up an old man for no reason," he says. "There were about 30 of us. A boy, also from Kyrgyzstan, ended up next to him and they beat him as well. This is the kind of violence we have to endure." Read more ..

The Earth on Edge

Indo-Australian Splate Splitting

October 1st 2012

Fuego volcano Guatemala

Perched atop the notorious ‘Ring of Fire,’ an arc of fault lines and volcanoes in the Pacific Basin, earthquakes are an almost weekly occurrence in Indonesia. After close analysis of a mammoth earthquake that struck the island of Sumatra this April, scientists in the U.S. say the quake indicates the Indo-Australian tectonic plate is now splitting in two.

The 8.7-magnitude quake that struck the Indonesian island of Sumatra this April sent shockwaves, literally, around the globe. After extensively studying the quake and its aftermath, scientists say the rupture is unprecedented. It was the biggest ‘slip-strike,’ or horizontal rather than vertical quake, ever recorded. Seismologists say the April 11 quake caused four fault lines to rupture almost simultaneously.

Jamie McCaughey is a geologist from the Earth Observatory in Singapore, an institute that studies earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis. He says the recent study in the scientific journal Nature confirms that the Indian-Australian tectonic plate is splitting in two. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Songs in the Key of Sea

October 1st 2012

Straight of Dover (English Channel)
English Channel from STS (credit: NASA)

Soft horns and a tinkling piano form the backbone of “Fifty Degrees North, Four Degrees West,” a jazz number with two interesting twists: it has no composer and no actual musicians. Unless you count bacteria and other tiny microbes, that is. The song is the brainchild of Peter Larsen, a biologist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory. Larsen, it turns out, has no musical training at all; his interests run less towards the blues and more towards blue-green algae.

When faced with an avalanche of microbial data collected from samples taken from the western English Channel, Larsen recognized he needed a way to make sense of it all. “Thinking of interesting ways to highlight interactions within data is part of my daily job,” he said. “I am always trying to find new ways to visualize those relationships in ways so that someone can make relevant biological conclusions.”

In the case of the western English Channel data, however, Larsen decided that a visual representation of the data would not be as effective as one he could hear. “There are certain parameters like sunlight, temperature, or the concentration of phosphorus in the water that give a kind of structure to the data and determine the microbial populations,” he said. “This structure provides us with an intuitive way to use music to describe a wide range of natural phenomena.” Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Foreign Policy Differences Debated by Presidential Campaigns

September 30th 2012

Paul Ryan
Republican vice-preisdential candidate Paul Ryan

The U.S. presidential race has had an all-consuming focus on the economy, at least until now. While economic matters continue to dominate, international affairs have forced their way into the nation’s political discourse less than six weeks before the election.

The campaigns of President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, are exchanging sharp words on recent events in Libya and other foreign policy challenges, as the candidates themselves prepare for their first debate later this week. On September 30, former Governor Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick, Congressman Paul Ryan, slammed the Obama administration’s handling of a deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Read more ..

Israel's Looming Attack

Decoding Netanyahu’s “Red Line”

September 30th 2012


When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew a bright red line across a drawing of a bomb representing Iran’s nuclear program at the U.N. General Assembly, he used a phrase that has bled into the vernacular: Red line. “I believe that faced with a clear red line, Iran will back down and this will give more time for sanctions and diplomacy to convince Iran to dismantle its nuclear weapons program all together,” he told world leaders gathered in New York on Thursday.

He didn’t invent the phrase, which has been related to military conflicts for at least a century, but he has given it a new spin.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “red line” as the center of an ice hockey rink or a mark on a gauge indicating a safety limit or critical point. It also lists it as a reference to British soldiers’ iconic red uniforms. One of the expression’s earliest appearances came in the 1850s, when the “thin red line” was used to describe the British army at the battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War, according to Ben Zimmer, a language columnist for The Boston Globe newspaper. Read more ..

Inside Islam

Know Your Ansar al-Sharia

September 29th 2012

Muslim Street Prayer NYC

There is a new trend sweeping the world of jihadism. Instead of adopting unique names, groups increasingly prefer to call themselves ansar, Arabic for “supporters.” In many cases, they style themselves Ansar al-Sharia—supporters of Islamic law—emphasizing their desire to establish Islamic states. Yet despite the fact that these groups share a name and an ideology, they lack a unified command structure or even a bandleader like the central al Qaeda command (or what’s left of it), thought to be based in Pakistan. They are fighting in different lands using different means, but all for the same end, an approach better suited for the vagaries born of the Arab uprisings.

The name Ansar al-Sharia shot into the news last week in the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, when the local organization Katibat Ansar al-Sharia was accused of perpetrating it—charges the group denied. Many reports seem to have confused Benghazi’s Ansar al-Sharia with another Libyan group, based in Derna. Read more ..

Broken Government

Constitutional Scholar Slams new NYC Subway Rules for Advertising

September 28th 2012

Alan Dershowitz

In an interview, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz slammed new approved advertising guidelines announced by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, calling them “Plain Dumb” and “Unconstitutional.” “A. it’s clearly unconstitutional” he said, and “b. it incentivizes people to engage in violence. What it says to people, is that if they don’t like ads, just engage in violence and then we’ll take the ads down.”

“It’s very bad policy,” he continued, “and it’s just plain dumb, because it is going to encourage violence.” Responding to the charge in an interview with The Algemeiner, M.T.A. spokesperson Aaron Donovan declined to comment. The new M.T.A. rules, announced yesterday, came after pro-Israel ads, which were initially rejected by the M.T.A., ran in ten New York City subway stations, after the group running the ads sued the M.T.A on first amendment grounds. Protesters objecting to the ads set about defacing them, including in one widely reported incident where Egyptian-American activist Mona Eltahawy was charged with criminal mischief misdemeanor for spraying one with pink paint. Referencing the incident, Dershowitz said, “what the transit authority is doing, is giving people like Mona, the power to censor.”

The new rules allow the M.T.A. to ban ads that it “reasonably foresees would imminently incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace.” Referring to the recent uptick in violence in the Middle East, Dershowitz added, “It is the worst possible approach to dealing with radical Islam.” “In the age of radical imams whipping up reactions, it just gives them more encouragement to do it. So if somebody wants to put up a picture of Mohammed in the subway, all people have to do is threaten violence and its censorship comes into effect,” he said. Read more ..

The American Edge

Invention that 'Won World War II' Showcased

September 28th 2012

Higgins Boat

You may have heard the name “Higgins.” Chances are, it was Henry Higgins, the famous, if fictional, professor who teaches proper diction to a working-class English lass, Eliza Doolittle, in the musical “My Fair Lady.”

It is much less likely that you’ve heard of the Higgins that Allied commander Dwight Eisenhower once credited with winning World War II. You can learn why at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana, which opened in 2000 as the National D-Day Museum.

D-Day was June 6, 1944, when 150,000 U.S. and British troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, France, to gain the first Allied foothold in Nazi-controlled territory. The National World War II Museum, established in an old brewery in New Orleans’s arts district, is full of vintage uniforms, boots, helmets, berets, firearms and flags from that invasion. Jeeps and Spitfire airplanes, plus scale models of the Normandy coastline, are on exhibit. There's also a boat made by this fellow Higgins. Read more ..

Inside Russia

Russia to Turn Vladivostok Into Hot Pacific Rim City

September 27th 2012


The world spotlight shone on Vladivostok in early September when 20 Asia-Pacific heads of government gathered for a business conference in Russia’s main Pacific port. Looking ahead, regional officials and investors are working to turn Vladivostok into Russia’s first hot Pacific Rim city.

The region’s new governor, Vladimir Miklushevsky, says a key will be to attract investment from China - and to cut red tape. He is lining up investors for 19 development projects totaling $95 billion over the next decade. “We are going to reduce the administrative barriers for business projects,” he said.

Near the new $200 million airport, construction starts next year on a “Northern Macao” - Russia’s largest casino and resort complex “We are planning to develop it has an integrated resort, with gambling used as an anchor,  and we’re planning to receive 10-12 million tourists a year,”  said Miklushvesky, Governor of Russia’s Primorye region. “Why is tourism possible in Vladivostok?  First, it’s the unique location of Primorye.  There is a population from 200 to 300 million people within 1-2 flight from us.  Of course, I mean citizens of China, Korea, and Japan.  And we are waiting for, and anticipating, their arrival.” Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

New Blood Test Accurately Detects Early Lung, Breast Cancer in Humans

September 27th 2012


Researchers at Kansas State University have developed a simple blood test that can accurately detect the beginning stages of cancer. In less than an hour, the test can detect breast cancer and non-small cell lung cancer—the most common type of lung cancer—before symptoms like coughing and weight loss start. The researchers anticipate testing for the early stages of pancreatic cancer shortly. The test was developed by Stefan Bossmann, professor of chemistry, and Deryl Troyer, professor of anatomy and physiology. Both are also researchers affiliated with Kansas State University’s Johnson Cancer Research Center and the University of Kansas Cancer Center. Gary Gadbury, professor of statistics at Kansas State University, helped analyze the data from tests with lung and breast cancer patients. The results, data, and analysis were recently submitted to the Kansas Bio Authority for accelerated testing.

“We see this as the first step into a new arena of investigation that could eventually lead to improved early detection of human cancers,” Troyer said. “Right now the people who could benefit the most are those classified as at-risk for cancer, such as heavy smokers and people who have a family history of cancer. The idea is these at-risk groups could go to their physician’s office quarterly or once a year, take an easy-to-do, noninvasive test, and be told early on whether cancer has possibly developed.” Read more ..

Broken Medicine

Four in Ten Americans believe in Obamacare 'Death Panels'

September 26th 2012

Medical bag

About four in 10 U.S. adults believe that President Obama's healthcare reform law will create "death panels" to decide patients' fitness for care, according to a new Associated Press-GfK survey.

Support for the widely challenged claim has remained steady since 2010, when 39 percent believed "death panels" would result from the healthcare law. Today, 41 percent say the same is true.

Overall, most people believe the law will go into effect in spite of Republican pledges to repeal it. About seven in 10 adults said the law will be implemented with some changes, while 11 percent believe it will be implemented as passed. Only 12 percent say the law will be repealed — an article of faith for Republicans and the GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, who says repeal would be his first move once elected.

Wednesday's poll revealed a growing sense that the healthcare law will persist in some form, but almost no change in division over the law's merits. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

House Republicans Demand New Briefing from Obama on Libya

September 26th 2012

Capitol Senate

Eight House GOP committee chairmen on Wednesday demanded a new briefing "as soon as possible" from the Obama administration on the Libyan consulate attack in Benghazi that left U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens dead. The eight lawmakers scolded the administration for its account of the attack, saying in a letter to President Obama that they were "disturbed" by statements indicating the attack evolved out of a protest of an anti-Islamic video.

The letter said statements by administration officials "would lead the American public to believe this attack was a protest gone wrong, rather than what it truly was — a terrorist attack on the United States on the anniversary of 9/11."

"Decades after al Qaeda attacked our embassies in East Africa, which catalyzed a series of events that led to the attacks on 9/11, it appears they executed a highly coordinated and well-planned attacked against us again," the letter said. "Clearly, the threat from al Qaeda and affiliated groups has metastasized; yet we do not appear to be learning from the past."

The letter criticized the administration for having a “pre-9/11 mindset” responding to the attacks. Read more ..

Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries

The Jewish Exodus from Arab Lands--Toward Redressing Injustices on All Sides

September 26th 2012

Click to select Image
Jewish refugees ejected from Iraq.

For over 2,500 years Jewish communities have existed in the lands now known as the Middle East and North Africa, in Aden, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen, as well as in Iran. All of these Jewish communities, however, were severely endangered by the events of the mid-twentieth century. The spread of Nazi propaganda and extreme Arab nationalism in the 1930s and 1940s threatened the status of Jews throughout the Middle East, and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 spurred almost all of these Arab countries to declare war, or support the war, against Israel.

This anti-Zionist sentiment in the Middle East was not directed solely at the State of Israel. Jews living in Arab countries were uprooted from their homes or became subjugated political hostages. In virtually all cases in which Jews fled, their individual and communal properties were seized, expropriated, or confiscated without just compensation from the relevant Arab governments. Furthermore, these Jews were the fortunate ones; many Jews did not get to leave these Arab countries but rather were imprisoned, tortured, raped, or murdered. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

The Economics of the Protests in Cairo

September 25th 2012

Cairo embassy protest Sep 2012

Egypt’s President Morsi is discovering just how expensive was his decidedly mixed response to last week’s assault on the U.S. embassy in Cairo–it took the new leader more than 48 hours to condemn the attacks. Yesterday, U.S. officials announced that talks underway to forgive approximately $1 billion in debt and to facilitate other economic aid to Egypt have been suspended–and will likely not resume until after the U.S. election in November.

After initially encouraging through Twitter and other social media an inflammatory “Friday of rage” to demonstrate against the anti-Islamic video, leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party took a more conciliatory tone. President Obama’s late-night phone call to President Morsi last Wednesday, demanding that the Egyptian government lower the tensions, no doubt had some effect. Obama’s earlier statement in an interview that Egypt was not necessarily an “ally” of the United States perhaps also concentrated some minds in Cairo. The State Department jumped into the fray too–chastising the Brotherhood’s doublespeak after it served up a sympathetic message of support on its English-language Twitter feed. “Thanks,” replied the U.S. embassy in Cairo via Twitter, “By the way, have you checked out your own Arabic feeds? I hope you know we read those too.” Read more ..

Mexico on Edge

Young Political Activist Disappears in Mexico

September 25th 2012

Aleph Jimenez
Aleph Jimenez Dominguez

Friends and supporters of Baja California resident Aleph Jimenez Dominguez are demanding the young man’s safe return. The 32-year-old spokesperson for the Ensenada branch of the Mexican youth activist group #YoSoy 132 ( I am Number 132) was reported last seen at a local bank on Thursday, September 20.

An oceanographer who collaborated with a research project involving the Mexican national oil company Pemex, Jimenez has also been a very visible and vocal activist with the 132 Movement, which arose last May as a protest against the ultimately successful presidential candidacy of Enrique Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

According to Raul Ramirez Baena, director of the independent, Baja-based Northwest Citizen Human Rights Commission, Jimenez was among 20 people detained for protesting at the annual Independence Day ceremony in Ensenada on September 15, an event in which journalists also suffered aggressions. Ramirez said Jimenez had also criticized the mayor of Ensenada, the PRI’s Enrique Pelayo, for the politician’s aspirations to become the governor of Baja California. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

Protests Fuel Muslim Critique of Obama's Foreign Policy

September 24th 2012

Libya protesters

In 2009, just five months into his presidency, Barack Obama gave a speech in Cairo to signal what he hoped would be a fresh start with the Muslim world.

"I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world -- one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition," Obama said. "Instead, they overlap and share common principles – principles of justice, and progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings.” After almost a decade of U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Obama was seeking to turn the page on years of mutual distrust and suspicion. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Iran's Strategy for the American Presidential Election

September 24th 2012

Iranian Women

Negotiations over Iran's nuclear program have again hit a wall, but the country's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appears unconcerned. Indeed, Khamenei seems convinced that neither the United States nor Israel will attack its nuclear facilities -- at least not before the US presidential election in November. Ironically, while Khamenei is no fan of democracy, he relies on the fact that his principal enemies are bound by democratic constraints. Khamenei controls Iran's nuclear program and its foreign policy, but the US and Israel must work to reach consensus not only within their respective political systems, but also with each other.

Iran's leaders, who closely follow Israeli political debates, believe that Israel would not launch an assault on their nuclear facilities without America's full cooperation, because unilateral action would jeopardize Israel's relations with its most important strategic ally. Given that an Israeli offensive would need to be coordinated with the US, while an American assault would not require Israeli military support, Iran would consider both to be American attacks. Read more ..

Campus Hate

California Students Respond to Anti-Israel Resolution

September 23rd 2012

Anti-Israel Protest at UC Irvine

After being caught off guard by a resolution condemning a measure intended to defend their state’s campus communities against anti-Semitism, pro-Israel students at the University of California-Berkeley have responded by highlighting what they call the resolution’s undemocratic nature.

The 12-member University of California Student Association (UCSA) on Sept. 15 registered two abstentions and 10 votes in condemnation of HR35—a unanimously passed State Assembly resolution urging California schools to squelch nascent anti-Semitism and crack down on anti-Israel demonstrations. HR35 also said Israel should not be called a “racist” state.

The UCSA, however, said HR 35 “is written to unfairly and falsely smear as ‘anti-Semites’ those who do human rights advocacy focusing on Israel’s illegal occupation, alleging that the UC faculty and staff involved in such work are motivated by anti-Semitism rather than by the political ideals of equality and respect for universal human rights they affirm, ideals UCSA and most California students share.” UCSA also called for the University of California Board of Regents to divest from companies doing business with Israel due to their alleged human rights violations. Ariel Fridman, vice president of UC Berkeley’s Tikvah Students for Israel and an Emerson Fellow for pro-Israel advocacy and education group StandWithUs, told JNS.org that Jewish students learned of the UCSA resolution a mere half-hour before Rosh Hashanah and were “completely blindsided” by it. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

Senate Republicans Demand Obama's Answer to Disaster in Libya

September 23rd 2012

Ambassador J Christopher Stevens
U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, deceased.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said Sunday that President Obama needs to set the record straight on what happened in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said the attack on the consulate was a pre-planned, terrorist action. Rogers said Obama can’t worry about any political damage from the attack, which killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

“The president needs to go on TV and set this right. It can’t be about the election. It has to be about an American ambassador who was killed,” Rogers said. “He needs to be out front and leading on this issue. He shouldn’t wait until after November.” Read more ..

The Archaeological Edge

Crews Uncover Massive Roman Mosaic in Southern Turkey

September 23rd 2012

Roman mosaic in Turkey
Credit: UNL

A University of Nebraska-Lincoln archeological team has uncovered a massive Roman mosaic in southern Turkey—a meticulously crafted, 1,600-square-foot work of decorative handiwork built during the region’s imperial zenith. It’s believed to be the largest mosaic of its type in the region and demonstrates the surprising reach and cultural influence of the Roman Empire in the area during the third and fourth centuries A.D., said Michael Hoff, Hixson-Lied professor of art history at UNL and the director of the excavation.

“Its size signals, in no small part, that the outward signs of the empire were very strong in this far-flung area,” Hoff said. “We were surprised to have found a mosaic of such size and of such caliber in this region—it’s an area that had usually been off the radar screens of most ancient historians and archeologists, and suddenly this mosaic comes into view and causes us to change our focus about what we think (the region) was like in antiquity.”

Since 2005, Hoff’s team has been excavating the remains of the ancient city of Antiochia ad Cragum on the southern Turkish coast. Antiochus of Commagene, a client-king of Rome, founded the city in the middle of the first century.

“This region is not well understood in terms of history and archeology,” Hoff said. “It’s not a place in which archaeologists have spent a lot of time, so everything we find adds more evidence to our understanding of this area of the Roman Empire.” He continued, “We’re beginning to understand now that it was more Romanized, more in line than the rest of the Roman world than was suspected before. (The nature of the mosaic) hammers home how Roman this city truly is.” Read more ..

Broken Labor

Michigan’s Leg Up for Long-term Unemployed

September 23rd 2012

Emplyment Application

One of the more serious and lasting consequences of the Great Recession and its aftermath has been the sharp rise in the number of long-term unemployed.  Nearly 45  percent of the unemployed –or more than five million people — have now been out of work for six months or more.  That is up from less than 20 percent in 2007. Persistent joblessness atrophies skills and discourages risk adverse employers who are unlikely to take a chance on someone out of work for so long.  Few federal programs provide help for the long-term unemployed, though the recent growth in social security disability insurance may be a response to persistent joblessness.

Some interesting initiatives are under way at state and local levels, however. In March 2012, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced Community Ventures (CV), a program aimed at encouraging employers to hire and retain the long term unemployed.  The program is administered by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), which also markets the state to expanding companies, talented workers, and tourists. Read more ..

Islam on Edge

Actress Shattered by Appearance in 'The Innocence of Muslims'

September 22nd 2012

Anna Gurji
Georgian actress Anna Gurji

Aspiring actress Anna Giorgobiani finally made the giant leap to Hollywood from her native Tbilisi. Now, with her excitement over landing a role in an "indie feature film" turned to disgust, the 21-year-old Georgian finds herself at the center of fundamentalist Muslim outrage that has sparked protests around the world and left more than a dozen people dead.

Cast members say the amateurish "Innocence of Muslims" was heavily dubbed and edited without their knowledge to mock Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.

It also appears to feature Anna Gurji (as Anna Giorgobiani is known in the business) chasing a man -- who is either "George" or "Muhammad," depending on your perspective -- around a tent with a shoe (at the 13-minute mark in the film's trailer on YouTube).

On September 17, English writer and comic-book artist Neil Gaiman published "A Letter from a Scared Actress," which Gurji is said to have sent him a few days ago. Read more ..

The Urban Edge

Counteracting Sewer Stink

September 22nd 2012

Water Supply

The rotten egg gas leaking from sewer pipes and costing billions of dollars worldwide in odour control may soon be far less of a problem thanks to new research discussed at the 2012 International Water Association (IWA) conference this week. Trials with a magic mix of chemicals, called Cloevis, on sewers in the Gold Coast region in Australia stopped 99 per cent of the rotten egg gas or hydrogen sulphide emitted from these pipes.

Lead researcher, Professor Zhiguo Yuan from the University of Queensland, told IWA delegates that one week after dosing for a few hours, in most cases the gas level increased to less than one fifth of its emissions prior to the treatment, and this has been repeatedly observed over a period of five months. "We are currently looking to commercialise Cloevis and are doing a further four trials of the mix in the US and Canada," Professor Yuan says. "Our partners over there are very excited by Cloevis' potential". Read more ..

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