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Election 2012

Right-Wing Republicans Come to the Aid of Capitalist Candidate Romney

January 11th 2012

Politics - Mitt Romney expansive

Conservatives are savaging Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry for their attacks on Mitt Romney’s years at the private-equity firm Bain Capital. The attacks from Gingrich and Perry, whose presidential campaigns are on life support, are meant to resonate in South Carolina, the next state on the GOP calendar and a place hit hard by the economic downturn. Yet in slamming Romney as a corporate raider, the two candidates fighting for their party’s right-wing might have done what Romney never seemed capable of: rallying conservatives around the former Massachusetts governor’s campaign.

The influential Wall Street Journal editorial page denounced the criticism as “crude and damaging caricatures of modern business and capitalism” on January 10, saying that “desperate” GOP candidates “sound like Michael Moore,” the left-wing filmmaker and provocateur. Other prominent conservatives similarly bemoaned what they viewed as liberal attack tactics that will be copied by President Obama’s campaign in November. Conservative talk radio stalwart Rush Limbaugh said on January 9 of Gingrich’s criticism that “you could have read this in an Occupy Wall Street flier.” “You could, after all these bites, say, ‘I’m Barack Obama, and I approve this message,’” Limbaugh said. Former GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin on January 10 warned on Fox News that candidates should shift the debate from “anti-capitalist mantra to what it is that the GOP really represents in free markets.” Read more ..


Broken Banking

Borrower Battles GE over Loan

January 7th 2012

Economy - Sheila Timmons
Sheila Timmons (credit: F. Brian Ferguson, iWatch)

Sheila Timmons, a single mother of two from a West Virginia coal town, is fighting a legal battle against General Electric Co., one of America’s most powerful corporations.

How this happened is a story about the dream of home ownership and, Timmons claims in a lawsuit, corporate fraud.

It began one day in 1998 when she had a talk with her youngest son, Travis. He was 7 at the time.

“My baby says, ‘Mom, I want a house with a triangle roof,’” Timmons recalls. “We lived in a trailer park at the time.”

She took out a loan and paid $28,000 for a small home in Gallagher, a former coal camp where she grew up. The simple, coal company-built house—known in West Virginia’s coalfields as a “Jenny Lind” home—didn’t have much insulation. The bathroom ceiling was falling in and windows needed replacing. But it was home for Timmons and her boys and she was willing to get her hands dirty and fix up the place, doing the rehab work herself. Read more ..


Broken Banking

Fraud and Folly at General Electric as Mortgage Bankers 'Lived it Up'

January 6th 2012

Business People - immelt
Jeffrey Immelt

For General Electric Co., hawking subprime mortgages was a long way from making light bulbs and jet engines. That didn't stop the industrial giant from jumping into the subprime business in 2004, lending blue-chip respectability to the market for risky home loans by paying roughly half a billion dollars to buy California-based WMC Mortgage Corp.

What GE got in the bargain, former WMC employees say, was a place where erstwhile shoe salesmen, ex-strippers and even a former porn actress could sign on as sales reps and make big money pushing home loans. WMC's top salespeople earned a million dollars a year or more and lived fast, swigging $1,000 bottles of Cristal and wheeling around in $100,000 Ferraris and Bentleys. In pursuit of these riches and perks, several ex-employees claim, many WMC sales staffers embraced fraud as a tool for pushing through loans that borrowers couldn’t afford.

Dave Riedel, a former compliance manager at WMC, says sales reps intent on putting up big numbers used falsified paperwork, bogus income documentation and other tricks to get loans approved and sold off to Wall Street investors. One WMC official, Riedel claims, went so far as to declare: “Fraud pays.” Read more ..


Personal Edge

Ambitious 'Athivist' Jonathon Prince wants to Run a Mile on the Moon

January 5th 2012

Social Topics - johnathon prince

Athlete and activist Jonathon Prince is used to setting high goals for himself, however, his resolution for 2012 is perhaps his most ambitious. Prince dreams of not just walking, but running, a mile on the moon. Prince, who has run more than 16,000 kilometers to raise awareness and money for a variety of social causes, hopes his moon run will ignite the imagination of a new generation. When astronaut Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface in 1969, he called it “one small step for a man.” Eleven other people have followed in his footsteps. Prince, who calls himself an athlivist, hopes to do so in 2016.

Lunar run

“One Mile on The Moon was actually a project I dreamed of two years ago, while I was running across the country and staring up at the sky at night,” says Prince, 31, who believes in the power of dreaming. “I honestly believe that when people start dreaming again they will be awaken to the magic that exists within the world. But in order to witness it, you have to believe in the unseen, and you truly have to trust the vision you have been given. It’s not easy because sometimes you have to step away from the workforce or the comforts of stability, but if you hold on, it will come full circle.” Read more ..


The Medical Edge

An Inside Look at Face Transplantation

January 5th 2012

Health/Medicine - Face Transplant Surgery

In a new research article, Brigham and Women's surgeons describe 3 successful full face transplants
    
A surgical team at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) performed the first full face transplantation (FFT) in the United States and went on to complete a total of three FFTs this year. Now, in the first research publication to evaluate FFT in the US, and largest series worldwide, the researchers describe details of patient preparation, novel design and execution of the operation as well as unique immunosuppression protocol allowing for lowest long-term maintenance drug regimen. They also share details of the early functional outcomes and demonstrate FFT as a viable option in the treatment of severe facial deformities and injuries. This research is published in the New England Journal of Medicine in the December 27, 2011 issue. Read more ..

Edge on Nature

Yellowstone Transformed, Fifteen Years after the Return of Wolves

January 4th 2012

Animals - yellowstone wolf

On the 15th anniversary of the return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, a quiet but profound rebirth of life and ecosystem health is emerging, scientists conclude in a new report.

For the first time in 70 years, the over-browsing of young aspen and willow trees has diminished as elk populations in northern Yellowstone declined and their fear of wolf predation increased. Trees and shrubs have begun recovering along some streams, providing improved habitat for beaver and fish. Birds and bears also have more food.

“Yellowstone increasingly looks like a different place,” said William Ripple, a professor in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University, and lead author of the study. Read more ..


A Broken Workplace

OSHA Acknowledges Database of Fatal Accidents Incomplete

January 3rd 2012

Social Topics - Construction Site Workers

At an Ohio chemical plant, an explosion launched pieces of metal that struck and killed a worker. At a Pennsylvania steel mill, equipment crushed a worker to death. At an Oklahoma oil refinery, a flash fire fatally burned a worker. Each death occurred at a plant deemed a “model workplace” by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but none of them appeared in the database the agency uses to monitor its Voluntary Protection Programs, known as VPP.

They aren’t the only ones. At least 15 deaths since 2000 that weren’t included in OSHA’s database, which the agency provided after an open records request. OSHA confirmed that the deaths should have been included but couldn’t explain why they weren’t. “The inclusion of fatalities in the database didn’t always occur as it should have,” OSHA said in a statement. “We are continuing to strengthen the procedures for the reporting and tracking of fatalities at VPP sites.” Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Sea Snails Help Scientists Explore a Possible Way to Enhance Memory

January 2nd 2012

Social Topics - Baby Boomer

Efforts to help people with learning impairments are being aided by a species of sea snail known as Aplysia californica. The mollusk, which is used by researchers to study the brain, has much in common with other species including humans. Research involving the snail has contributed to the understanding of learning and memory.

At The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), neuroscientists used this animal model to test an innovative learning strategy designed to help improve the brain's memory and the results were encouraging. It could ultimately benefit people who have impairments resulting from aging, stroke, traumatic brain injury or congenital cognitive impairments. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Empowering Patients as Key Decision Makers in the Face of Rising Health Care Costs

December 31st 2011

Health/Medicine - nurse w/stethoscope

Health care costs are consuming ever larger portions of the gross domestic product (GDP). There is broad bipartisan agreement on the need to control these rising costs and to control federal entitlement spending in general, including spending on the giant health care entitlements Medicare and Medicaid. However, the standard approach to limiting federal health care spending is to limit federal payments for medical goods and services. This limitation, in itself, is a form of health care rationing. In fact, rationing of one form or another is already a routine feature of public and private health insurance arrangements, although it is often covert, opaque, or subtle in its implementation.

For policymakers and the public, the basic question is not whether there should be rationing in health care: It already exists. Economics itself is an exercise in rationing among goods and services because limited resources cannot purchase unlimited goods. The crucial question is: Who should make the rationing decisions? Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

High-Tech Advances Reveal Mummy Secrets

December 30th 2011

Egypt - Mummy

Mummies seem to be all the rage in the United States these days. Not only are Americans flocking to see treasures from King Tut’s tomb, they are also finding mummies in other museums. In 1932, movie audiences were introduced to “The Mummy” for the first time. Mummies have been a part of popular culture ever since, but Egyptologist Salima Ikram says the ancient culture has mesmerized people for thousands of years. “Even the Greeks and Romans were coming there as tourists.”

Ikram, who teaches at the American University in Cairo, helped curate the new “Eternal Life in Ancient Egypt” exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History here in Washington. “I’m hoping that people will engage with ancient Egypt, not just as a bunch of dead people, but a bunch of people who were living just like you and I are.” Mummies had been on display at the museum for decades, but for the past year, they were in storage. Curator Melinda Zeder says the public demanded their return.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond is the only US venue for an exhibit of artifacts from the British Museum that includes four mummies. “We had a real outpouring from our fans from across not only Washington, but the country, wanting to know when we were going to bring the mummies back.” Now there are more mummies on display, and more information about how they lived and who they were in life, discovered in part from CT scans. The images reveal a wealth of information, says anthropologist Bruno Frohlich, who conducts scans in his lab. “We can determine the age of death. We can determine the sex. And we can determine the strength and composition of bone tissue," he says. "That can help scientiests determine what the person was doing while alive.” Read more ..


The Gender Edge

Study Finds Most Paramedics are Victims of Abuse in the Workplace

December 29th 2011

Health/Medicine - Paramedics

More than two-thirds of paramedics surveyed have experienced verbal, physical or sexual abuse on the job, new research has found. Verbal abuse by patients and their friends or relatives, Emergency Medical Service (EMS) co-workers or bystanders, was the most commonly reported, followed by intimidation and physical abuse, the study found. "EMS providers can experience violence in the workplace as they perform their jobs in unpredictable environments and near people in crisis," said Blair Bigham, the lead investigator. "Anecdotal reports and workplace safety records have highlighted cases of verbal, physical and sexual abuse, yet until now, there has been little scientific research. More research is needed to understand the impact of this workplace violence."

Bigham is an advanced care flight paramedic for York Region EMS and Ornge, and an associate scientist at Rescu, based at S. Michael's Hospital. Rescu is part of the Resuscitations Outcomes Consortium, a large, multinational research collaboration of 10 sites across the United States and Canada, studying how promising new tools and treatments can improve survival rates among people who suffer cardiac arrest or life-threatening traumatic injury outside of hospitals. Read more ..


Broken Banking

Ex-WaMu Worker Claims he was Shunned for Refusing to Push Toxic Loans on Borrowers

December 29th 2011

Corporate Logos - Washington Mutual

In the case of the salesman who wouldn’t sell, the two sides have starkly different tales to tell. Greg Saffer says conscience and common sense prevented him from pushing the product his bosses wanted him to sell – “Option ARM” home loans that, he says, put homeowners at risk. “I’m not going to steer people into a loan program that might not be good for them just because it’s more profitable for the company,” he says.

JP Morgan Chase Bank counters that Saffer didn’t sell because he didn’t have the chops to close deals. “Rather than a paragon of virtue, Saffer was simply a guy who could not sell loans in an increasingly tough market,” the bank’s lawyers say in legal papers. JP Morgan is matched against Saffer because it bought Saffer’s ex-employer, Seattle-based Washington Mutual Bank, in September 2008, after regulators seized WaMu in what was the largest bank failure in U.S. history. Saffer charged in a lawsuit filed in 2009 in Los Angeles Superior Court that he was forced out of his job for refusing to take part in “fraudulent schemes.” In testimony in the lawsuit and in documents in  arbitration proceedings, he claims WaMu retaliated against him because he refused to push “toxic” Option ARMs and mislead borrowers about how the loans worked and how much they would cost. Read more ..


Edge on the Environment

A Fish so Ugly that Only Mother Nature can Love it

December 28th 2011

Animals - pancake fish

The Tortilla fish, also known as the Louisiana pancake batfish, Halieutichthys intermedius, belongs to the Ogcocephalidae family of batfish. A native of the Gulf of Mexico, it was discovered in 2010. The range of this hideous creature is  covered by the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, courtesy of BP.
 
Originally thought to be a single species, these fish were determined in 2010 to be divided into three distinct species, the others being Halieutichthys aculeatus and Halieutichthys bispinosus. While the other batfish are found along the Atlantic coast from Louisiana to North Carolina, the Tortilla fish (a.k.a. Louisiana pancake batfish) is only found in the Gulf of Mexico at depths of up to 1,300 ft (400 metres) The population of these fish is not known: in an initial trawl (that is to say, steel nets that scraped the bottom of the sea, catching fish willy-nilly and indiscriminately) of 100,000 fish, only three were Tortilla fish (a.k.a. pancake batfish). Read more ..


The Edge of Food

Beer Gets a Seasonal Taste Twist

December 27th 2011

Food / Wine - winter beers

It’s weird beer time in America.

Beer and ale are readily available, any time of year, in familiar varieties: lager, pilsner, stout, India pale ale. But, perhaps inspired by candymakers and coffee bars, U.S. brewers by the hundreds produce flavored seasonal varieties for the winter holidays.

Brews flavored with chocolate, pumpkin, cinnamon, clove—even oatmeal and gingerbread—are said to spice up holiday parties, so to speak. The large Samuel Adams craft brand, for instance, ships out a Cranberry Lambic beer this time of year, not to mention holiday porters, black lagers, and a brew called “Old Fezziwig Ale.” One reviewer, sounding very much like a snooty wine critic, described Old Fezziwig as possessing “a nose full of roasted malt.” Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Fear No Supernova

December 21st 2011

Science - supernova

Given the incredible amounts of energy in a supernova explosion – as much as the sun creates during its entire lifetime – another erroneous doomsday theory is that such an explosion could happen in 2012 and harm life on Earth. However, given the vastness of space and the long times between supernovae, astronomers can say with certainty that there is no threatening star close enough to hurt Earth.

Astronomers estimate that, on average, about one or two supernovae explode each century in our galaxy. But for Earth's ozone layer to experience damage from a supernova, the blast must occur less than 50 light-years away. All of the nearby stars capable of going supernova are much farther than this. Read more ..


Broken Banking

Courts Debate Validity of Indian-Owned Payday Lenders

December 21st 2011

Corporate Logos - Miami Nation Ent

A six-year legal struggle by Colorado authorities to shutter a business making questionable payday loans over the Internet may soon come to an end.

The battle, highlighted in a recent investigation by iWatch News and CBS News, is over whether a deal cut to sell the payday-loan business to an Indian tribe was merely a sham to give “sovereign immunity” to the business while it was being investigated in several states. New evidence shows that the Miami tribe of Oklahoma reaps as much as $200,000 per month from payday loans it makes over the Internet, even in states where such loans are illegal. Yet that’s a pittance compared to the $2 million the tribe’s payday-lending business shells out in some months to the auto-racing team of Scott Tucker, a Kansas millionaire and a minor celebrity in the sport of endurance racing. Tucker competes in races such as the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Climate Change Blamed for Dying African Trees

December 20th 2011

Africa - African savanna and elephants

A lot of trees are dying in Africa’s Sahel region and new study says climate change caused by humans is to blame. What’s more, many tree species are also disappearing.

The study appears in the Journal of Arid Environments. Climate change scientist Patrick Gonzalez led the research on six countries. At the time of the study, Gonzalez was a visiting scholar at the Center for Forestry at the University of California at Berkeley. “We conducted our research in the African Sahel, an arid region on the edge of the Sahara where people depend on trees for survival. And the Sahel has experienced the most severe drought in the world in the modern rainfall measurement record,” he said. The research shows that during the 20th Century rainfall in the Sahel dropped between 20 and 30 percent. “One in six trees died in the last half of the 20th Century and, second, one in five tree species disappeared locally. And then third, together these changes shifted vegetation zones southward toward areas of more rainfall,” he said. Read more ..


The Toxic Edge

EPA Allowed Unsafe Handling of Asbestos, IG Says

December 17th 2011

Construction - Demonlition

The Environmental Protection Agency has allowed the use of unapproved methods to demolish buildings containing asbestos, threatening public health and possibly violating worker safety rules, the EPA’s inspector general has concluded.

In an “early warning report” to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson that speaks to the urgency of the matter, Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins Jr. noted that asbestos is a human carcinogen “with no safe level of exposure.” Nonetheless, Elkins found, the agency allowed its own employees and contract workers to be exposed to the toxic, fire-resistant mineral — widely used in buildings after World War II — during tests in Texas and Arkansas in 2006 and 2007.

Elkins said his office’s preliminary research showed that the unsafe demolition methods — designed to save time and money — have been used more recently at the Hanford Superfund Site near Richland, Wash., a former Department of Energy nuclear weapons production site, and are under consideration at a DOE-owned uranium enrichment facility in Paducah, Ky. Read more ..


Broken Banking

Management Gurus Claim They Were Blindsided by Toxic Culture at Countrywide

December 14th 2011

Corporate Logos - countrywide
Cynder Niemela

On her first day at Countrywide Financial Corp., Cynder Niemela gave a talk to a gathering of her new colleagues. Every company, she said, has its own culture. Each is a tribe with its own rituals and myths.

Niemela, a management guru who’d worked for Boeing and other big employers, told the group of executives that research showed it took 16 months for a worker to become fully part of a corporate “tribe.” That time would allow her, she added, to offer a fresh perspective on how things were done at Countrywide. Afterwards, she recalls, one of her new colleagues introduced himself and, with a knowing smile, said, “I can’t wait to see if you’re here 16 months from now.” She lasted 16 months, but not much longer.

Countrywide fired her, Niemela claimed, after she raised questions about fraud against customers and employee discontent with top management. The last straw, she alleged in an arbitration claim, came after she complained that higher-ups had revised and distorted one of her PowerPoint presentations in an effort to obscure the company’s problems with employee dissatisfaction and turnover. Read more ..


The Bear is Back

Russian Plans to Disrupt US and European Relations Over Missile Defense

December 13th 2011

Russian Topics - putin

Tensions between the United States and Russia have risen in the past month over several long-standing problems, including ballistic missile defense (BMD) and supply lines into Afghanistan. Moscow and Washington also appear to be nearing another crisis involving Russian accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The crises come as Washington struggles over its many commitments in the world and over whether to focus on present events in Afghanistan or future events in Central Europe. Russia has exploited the U.S. dilemma, using its leverage in both arenas. However, if Moscow takes its aggressive moves too far, it could spark a backlash from the United States and Central Europe.

The Persisting Disagreement over BMD

The U.S. BMD scheme for Europe has long been a source of U.S.-Russian tensions. Washington argues that its European BMD program aims to counter threats emerging from the Middle East, namely Iran, but its missile defense installations in Romania and Poland are not slated to become operational until 2015 and 2018, respectively, by which time Russia believes the United States will have resolved its issues with Iran. Moscow thus sees U.S. missile defense strategy as more about the United States seeking to contain Russia than about Iran. Moscow does not fear that the United States is seeking to neutralize or erode Russia’s nuclear deterrent, however; the issue is the establishment of a physical U.S. military footprint in those two states — which in turn means a U.S. commitment there. Romania and Poland border the former Soviet Union, a region where Russia is regaining influence. Read more ..


Campus Misconduct

Binge Drinking by Freshman Women Tied to Sexual Assault Risk

December 12th 2011

Social Topics - victim

Many young women who steer clear of alcohol while they're in high school may change their ways once they go off to college. And those who take up binge drinking may be at relatively high risk of sexual assault, according to a University at Buffalo-led study in the January issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. The college years are famously associated with drinking. But little has been known about how young women change their high school drinking habits once they start college.

So for the new study, the research team followed 437 young women from high school graduation through freshman year of college. They found that of women who had never drank heavily in high school (if at all), nearly half admitted to heavy episodic drinking -- commonly called binge drinking -- at least once by the end of their first college semester. Young women who were already engaging in binge drinking in high school continued drinking at similar levels in college.

What's more, binge drinking was linked to students' risk of sexual victimization - regardless of what their drinking habits had been in high school. Read more ..


Mideast on Edge

Mideast Water Shortages Threaten Millions

December 12th 2011

Environment Topics - Arid Desert

At Cairo's posh Gazeera Club, workers leave the showers running as they sit nearby drinking tea and chatting. Large quantities of water pour down the drain as water pipes around the city and its suburbs run dry.

For inhabitants of Cairo’s poor neighborhoods, water only infrequently arrives via government pipes. In order to cook and stay hydrated, says resident Hossam Abdel Razaq, housewives trek to a local water dealer and buy the precious liquid for 25 cents. When water does briefly flow, he adds, kids run to the faucets to drink.

A regional problem

Due to increasing populations, climate change, poor infrastructure and inefficient use of resources, serious water shortages are threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions of people across the Middle East.

In Egypt, government statistics indicate the country uses 55 billion cubic meters of water per year, 87 percent of which comes from the River Nile. But conflict with neighboring states upriver, however, is creating tension and could exacerbate the crisis. Governments in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Southern Sudan argue that they should get a larger share of the Nile's waters, but Egypt and Sudan insist that a British colonial agreement gives them the right to use most of the Nile's waters.

Omar Ashour, who teaches political science at the University of Exeter in Britain, says Egypt is paying a price for years of benign neglect of southern neighbors. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

2010 Spike in Greenland Ice Loss Lifted Bedrock, GPS Reveals

December 11th 2011

Environment Topics - Siberian Glacier

An unusually hot melting season in 2010 accelerated ice loss in southern Greenland by 100 billion tons – and large portions of the island’s bedrock rose an additional quarter of an inch in response.

That’s the finding from a network of nearly 50 GPS stations planted along the Greenland coast to measure the bedrock’s natural response to the ever-diminishing weight of ice above it.

Every year as the Greenland Ice Sheet melts, the rocky coast rises, explained Michael Bevis, Ohio Eminent Scholar in Geodynamics and professor in the School of Earth Sciences at Ohio State University. Some GPS stations around Greenland routinely detect uplift of 15 mm (0.59 inches) or more, year after year. But a temperature spike in 2010 lifted the bedrock a detectably higher amount over a short five-month period – as high as 20 mm (0.79 inches) in some locations. Read more ..


American History

The Road to War between the U.S. and Japan was Paved by Irreconcilable Worldviews

December 11th 2011

America Themes - Pearl Harbor Bombing

Anniversaries are not easy for the historian. Defining moments in history are typically commemorated in solemnity or regaled in celebration, both of which rely principally on emotional investment. For the historian, however, anniversaries are moments to reflect more critically on complex questions such as causation, consequence, and context. The seventy-year anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack on the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor—a watershed event that precipitated a slow-moving slaughter across the Pacific, culminating in the hell-fires of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—reminds us of these humbling challenges.

A central question surrounding Pearl Harbor is whether the U.S.-Japan collision was preventable. In particular, did the eleventh-hour diplomatic negotiations that occurred in 1941 offer a viable chance to reconcile differences? In the years since the end of the war, a number of historians have maintained that a window of opportunity did in fact exist as late as the summer and fall of 1941 and that war therefore was avoidable. In this narrative, war ultimately came because the Roosevelt administration was too uncompromising and wrongly assumed that Japan posed a threat to American national security. Read more ..


Poisoned Places

GOP Advances Legislation to Hinder Environmental, Health and Safety Protections

December 8th 2011

Pollution - Smokestack pollution

In the latest challenge to regulatory Washington, Republicans are expected today to gain passage in the House of the “Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act.” The legislation, also known as the REINS Act, would allow Congress to block the costliest regulations and add new hurdles for some of the more expansive environmental, health and workplace safety protections for citizens.

The REINS Act would send to Congress for a vote any “major rule” expected to have more than a $100 million annual economic effect, significantly increase costs or stifle productivity or innovation. The category could include proposed rules to strengthen protections from toxic air pollution that still plagues hundreds of communities across the country.

Though the bill is unlikely to pass the Senate, it provides heightened visibility for an issue that repeatedly has surfaced on the campaign trail and in television advertising in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election. Read more ..


The Arab Fall in Egypt

Egypt and the Idealist-Realist Debate in U.S. Foreign Policy.

December 6th 2011

Egypt - Tahrir Square protest

The first round of Egyptian parliamentary elections has taken place, and the winners were two Islamist parties. The Islamists themselves are split between more extreme and more moderate factions, but it is clear that the secularists who dominated the demonstrations and who were the focus of the Arab Spring narrative made a poor showing. Of the three broad power blocs in Egypt — the military, the Islamists and the secular democrats — the last proved the weakest.

It is far from clear what will happen in Egypt now. The military remains unified and powerful, and it is unclear how much actual power it is prepared to cede or whether it will be forced to cede it. What is clear is that the faction championed by Western governments and the media will now have to accept the Islamist agenda, back the military or fade into irrelevance. Read more ..


The Edge of Earth

Scientists Make Key Discovery about Early Earth Atmosphere and Beginning of Life Itself

December 4th 2011

Environment Topics - Southern California Coastal

Scientists in the New York Center for Astrobiology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have used the oldest minerals on Earth to reconstruct the atmospheric conditions present on Earth very soon after its birth. The findings, which appear in the Dec. 1 edition of the journal Nature, are the first direct evidence of what the ancient atmosphere of the planet was like soon after its formation and directly challenge years of research on the type of atmosphere out of which life arose on the planet.

The scientists show that the atmosphere of Earth just 500 million years after its creation was not a methane-filled wasteland as previously proposed, but instead was much closer to the conditions of our current atmosphere. The findings, in a paper titled "The oxidation state of Hadean magmas and implications for early Earth's atmosphere," have implications for our understanding of how and when life began on this planet and could begin elsewhere in the universe. The research was funded by NASA. Read more ..


Wall Street on Edge

The History of Wall Street

November 30th 2011

Economy - Wall Street Bull

In the seventeenth century the Dutch built a wall in New Amsterdam in order to protect its borders from incursions from natives and the occasional pirates.  This same location soon became known as Wall Street; merchants began to reside there, and since the renamed New York was the first U.S. capital, the city and street garnered quite a prominent financial concentration which eventually spread to its legacy.  Because of the assembly of merchants and stockholders on the street, it became more prominently financially linked over the years, until it came to signify the prosperity of America in relation to the rest of the world.

But this bastion of capitalism was built on slave labor:

Slavery began in the city soon after the Dutch landing in 1609, and enslaved Africans became vital to the colony's economy. Africans built the first homes, brought in the first crops, turned an Indian path into Broadway, and built the wall at Wall Street. When it became the British colony of New York its bankers and merchants so successfully invested in the international African trade they made it the slave-traders' leading port. Read more ..


Ethiopians on Edge

Remembering the Airlift of Ethiopians

November 30th 2011

Edwin Black

On the twentieth anniversary of Operation Solomon, we are reminded that Israel is the type of nation that has reached across the racial barrier to rescue Jews from Africa … in this case Ethiopia. As a young journalist, I covered both major Ethiopian airlifts as they were happened. The first was Operation Moses in 1984 which smuggled some 8,100 famine-starved Jews out of Ethiopia via Sudan and then Brussels. About three dozen flights over a seven-week period airlifted the dispossessed Ethiopians into Israel. Thousands more undertook a perilous escape trek across the desert – a journey that claimed many — perhaps an estimated 4,000 — who could to endure the heart and distance.

Operation Moses was a joint venture between the IDF and America’s CIA, using many intermediaries — paid and unpaid. During a 50-day effort, dozens of flights smuggled a few hundred Ethiopian Jews at a time creating an almost unprecedented airlift. Journalists such as myself who learned of the process were constantly implored by the authorities to not release the information. If we did, we would told, we would bring the rescue to a screeching halt as cooperating airlines and men on the ground would be exposed. There were leaks, but most of the leading journalists observed a type of Normandy Invasion type of operational secrecy.

The airlift of Ethiopians was repeated in 1991, when Operation Solomon mass transferred more than 14,000 in a high-speed two-day secret rescue. A combination of Israeli Air Force C-130s and El Al Boeing 747s, stripped down to allow maximum crowding, shuttled back and forth. The flights continued as long as the media held, and the operation remained viable. Once again, journalists familiar with the mass rescue were called upon to keep mum. Breach of security was a matter of life and death. A conveyor belt of muster points operated in darkness and stealth to bring these Jews home. A news leak would have compromised the in-gathering and brought certain death to thousands seeking to escape. Read more ..


The Edge of Trafficking

The Trafficking in Persons Report: Who is the United States to Judge?

November 29th 2011

Crime Topics - Sex Slave Motif2

Responding to a congressional mandate, the U.S. State Department annually produces the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which rates countries on their quality of participation in combating global human trafficking.

Several countries and organizations believe that the evaluation system used in the report to rank a country’s participation in fighting human trafficking is flawed. Numerous countries have complained that the criteria and requirements for each tier of placement are difficult to quantify and identify.

Cultural differences are not taken into account when analyzing a country’s human trafficking situation, and often present a distorted image. Research methods need further refinement if they are to portray a more accurate picture of countries’ participation levels in the TIP report. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Sludge Transformed into Electricity using Solar Power, Robots

November 29th 2011

Energy Topics - Sludge

Israeli startup Global Recycling Projects Ltd., is working on a system to treat sludge waste and transform it into energy and raw materials by harnessing solar energy to thermo-chemically transform the waste.

Toxic sludge, a byproduct of wastewater, is both bad for the environment and expensive to get rid of, requiring dewatering, conditioning, storage, hauling and disposal, either through dumping it in landfills, or incinerating it – neither option a particularly green one.

GRPL, however, has come up with a novel way of dealing with sludge, which not only disposes of the waste greenly, but also provides gas to power electricity-generating turbines in the process.

Using solar power to concentrate solar radiation using a field of tracking mirrors (called heliostats), GRPL directs the collected radiation to a solar tower where a solar biomass reactor has been placed. This then powers the reactor, which acts as a gasifier, capable of transforming the sludge into a gaseous state, which can be used to power electrical utility plants. Read more ..


The Arab Fall in Egypt

Egypt's Revolution Continues

November 28th 2011

Egypt - Tahrir Square protest

New clashes between "youth protestors" and Ministry of Interior riot police in Egypt's Tahrir Square have resulted in thirty-five dead and several hundred wounded over the past three days, jeopardizing the country's November 28 parliamentary elections. Even before this weekend's mayhem, the voting promised to be chaotic and, in all likelihood, marred by violence. But now, with growing public anger aimed at the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) for its undemocratic mismanagement of the transition, several secular political parties may boycott the polls. Should the elections proceed, the new crisis will benefit the Islamists, possibly widening their projected margin of victory. 

During the February uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, a popular Egyptian saying was "the army and the people are one hand." Nine months on, the military's public approval rating has dropped from an impressive 90 percent to the mid-60s. Initially, the facade of national unity was stripped away in large part because of the military's continuance of the hated Mubarak-era emergency law and ongoing heavy-handed reliance on military courts to try civilians. Read more ..


Poisoned Places

EPA Posts “Watch List” that Includes Chronic Polluters

November 28th 2011

Pollution - China Urban Pollution

The Clean Air Act “watch list” is secret no more.

Just days after a report that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maintains an internal list that includes serious or chronic violators of air pollution laws that have not been subject to timely enforcement, the EPA has posted the September and October watch list on its website.

The agency also has begun to publish watch lists that include serious or chronic violators of the Clean Water Act, governing the release of pollutants in waterways, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, involving hazardous waste disposal.

The EPA cited a FOIA request for the Clean Air Act watch list, later published for the first time as part of a series on air pollution afflicting hundreds of communities, and said the agency would publish the lists as a demonstration of its commitment to transparency. However, important details on why each polluter is on the list will continue to be kept confidential, the agency said. Read more ..


Chile on Edge

The Inequality Behind Chile’s Prosperity

November 27th 2011

Chile - Poverty in Columbia

Foreigners on business trips usually travel from Chile’s Santiago International Airport to the city’s financial center in the El Golf neighborhood via the Costanera Norte or Vespucio Norte highways. But hidden underneath these highways are the majority of Chileans from lower-class neighborhoods who are living a harsh reality far from the prosperity that the El Golf and its high-rise buildings exude. Although Chile boasts one of Latin America’s most stable economies, the economic inequality amidst Chile’s growing affluence has been a significant challenge for the well-reputed Andean nation.

Last year when Chile held its bicentennial celebration, President Sebastián Piñera introduced his plan to implement approximately fifty initiatives that would transform Chile into a “developed” country by 2018. Piñera referred to the plan as, “Chile: A Developed Country: More Opportunities and Better Jobs.” Piñera stated. Read more ..


Poisoned Places

Town Divided over Major Employer’s Permission to Pollute

November 20th 2011

Environment Topics - Ash Grove Plant, KS

“This person right here has cancer. His granddaughter has cancer.”

Jeff Galemore pointed to house after house as he steered his white pickup through a tree-lined neighborhood in Chanute, Kansas, a town of 9,000 on the state’s southeastern prairie.

“This gal has cancer,” the 53-year-old oilfield worker continued. “The one across the street from where I live has cancer. Two houses south of me has cancer. But they repeatedly tell us there’s not a problem.”

Three miles north and east, part-time Lutheran minister and pecan grower Ken Lott wondered why it had been so quiet on his rural Chanute farm. “I used to have bullfrogs out here all the time,” explains Lott, 71. It’s been at least seven years since he’s heard the melodic croaking.

At the opposite end of town, retired railroad worker Dale Stout, 80, lamented the deaths of seven hedge trees that were almost as old as him. “They planted it after the dust bowl,” Stout said of the sturdy row of trees used as windbreaks and natural fences. “You don’t just up and kill a hedge tree.” Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Secret Service Braces for Intense Year

November 19th 2011

Presidential - Barack Obama headshot
President Obama on the Campaign Trail

Authorities on Wednesday arrested a man who might have been involved in a shooting that broke a White House window.

The arrest comes as the Secret Service gears up for what it expects to be an intense year, providing both President Obama and as many as eight Republican presidential candidates with protection.

There are 16 declared contenders running for the GOP nomination. Of those, about eight have the polling numbers to indicate they are popular enough to have a chance at waging a successful campaign.

A spokesman for the Secret Service declined to say how many GOP candidates the agency was protecting or who among them had requested protection. Read more ..


China and Africa

The Incomplete Promise of China's Investments in Africa

November 19th 2011

Africa - Moussa Dadis Camara
Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara

For centuries, wave after wave of colonists and foreign investors have swept through Africa, looking for profits from the continent’s abundant reserves of oil and prized minerals.

Many instead left records of corruption and broken promises of shared wealth with Africans.

It is against this backdrop that an eager conglomerate has recently been drawing attention and generating headlines throughout Africa. China-Sonangol is part of a global network of companies extracting oil in Angola, buying gold in Zimbabwe, building luxury condominiums in Singapore and developing property in Manhattan. Its executives have met with African heads of state and challenged the global oil and mining giants who’ve been operating on the continent. And China Sonangol ventures have attracted strategic curiosity — some of its deals are the subjects of U.S. State Department cables made public by Wikileaks. Read more ..


Poisoned Places

Community Coated in Black—Until Citizens Fought Back

November 18th 2011

Environment Topics - Continental Carbon Plant, OK

Here in Ponca City, Oklahoma, the land of big skies and broad terrain, the air pollution flowing from local industry was so palpable residents could touch it. On their hands, on their shoes, on their pets, their clothes, their cars, their windows, their grass, their doors, their children’s toys.

For more than a decade, residents of this city of 25,000 filled the local Department of Environmental Quality office with so many complaints they required 20 binders to hold. Those complaints, some coming from members of the Ponca Tribe of Indians living nearest the plant, blamed Continental Carbon Co., manufacturer of carbon black, a product used in tires, rubber and plastic goods. The plant manufactures carbon black from petroleum refinery residual oil, and the finished substance is a form of almost pure carbon, classified as a possible carcinogen.

Homeowners said a black dust cascaded from the plant and blanketed their lives. One mother insisted her child ride her bike, with training wheels, inside the house to avoid the carbon black. A teenager kept his prized Dallas Cowboys jersey wrapped in a plastic bag inside the house to avoid black smudges. Others complained their dogs’ feet turned black walking through town; when they cleaned the dogs, the tub developed a ring of black. White tennis shoes changed color. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Ultrathin Flexible Electrode Array Enables Unprecedented Look at Brain Activity

November 17th 2011

Science - Brain Light

Researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health have developed a flexible brain implant that could one day be used to treat epileptic seizures. In animal studies, the researchers used the device – a type of electrode array that conforms to the brain's surface – to take an unprecedented look at the brain activity underlying seizures.

"Someday, these flexible arrays could be used to pinpoint where seizures start in the brain and perhaps to shut them down," said Brian Litt, M.D., the principal investigator and an associate professor of neurology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia. The findings appear in this month's Nature Neuroscience.

"These flexible electrode arrays could significantly expand surgical options for patients with drug-resistant epilepsy" said Story Landis, Ph.D., director of NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), which helped fund the work. Read more ..


The Edge of Pollution

Plastics in Oceans are More Damaging Than Climate Change

November 14th 2011

Energy / Environment - Ocean scene

Once upon a time, the oceans of our planet were beautifully clean.  Not any more.  Captain Charles Moore calls this 'the age of plastic.'

“Between 250 and 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year," said Capt. Moore. "To get that into terms you can understand, every two years we make enough plastic to be the equivalent of the weight of the 7 billion people on earth.” In his new book, Plastic Ocean, Moore says less than five percent of all plastic is recycled and nearly three percent of world production is dumped into the ocean. That debris kills millions of sea creatures every year.

“We know over 100,000 albatross chicks are dying every year with their stomachs full of plastic; we have evidence that about 100,000 marine mammals die every year being tangled in plastic," he said. Read more ..



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