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Economic Recovery on Edge

Bailed-Out Banks made Riskier Loans than Others

September 19th 2011

Economy - credit report request form

Banks that received federal bailout money ended up approving riskier loans and shifting capital toward risky investments after getting government help, say University of Michigan researchers.

In a new study on risk-taking by banks that received funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, finance professors Ran Duchin and Denis Sosyura of Michigan's Ross School of Business found that the overall risk level of TARP banks increased 10 percent. Further, these banks were no more likely to issue loans, overall, than non-TARP banks, in contrast to the declared objective of the federal program to increase lending.

The U.S. government established TARP in late 2008—the largest federal investment program in American history—to increase financial stability and stimulate lending to U.S. consumers and businesses. The Capital Purchase Program, the first and largest TARP initiative, invested $205 billion in more than 700 financial institutions in 2008-09. Read more ..

Economic Recovery on Edge

Obama’s New Plan for Underwater Mortgages May Be Too Little, Too Late

September 11th 2011

Economy - Foreclosure

It was almost a blink-and-you-miss-it moment in President Barack Obama’s jobs speech, but for about 20 seconds—after he urged Congress to pass his $447 billion economic stimulus bill—he offered a quick sketch of a plan to aid struggling homeowners.

“To help responsible homeowners we are gonna work with federal housing agencies to help more people refinance their mortgages at interest rates that are now near 4 percent,” the president said Thursday evening. “I know you guys must be for this, because that’s a step that can put more than $2,000 a year in a family’s pocket and give a lift to an economy still burdened by the drop in housing prices.”

For many housing activists, Obama’s declaration sounded like more of the same: a tepid response to a continuing foreclosure crisis that has put millions of homeowners at risk. Read more ..

Washington on Edge

IRS Whistleblower Program Needs More Resources, Says Grassley

September 11th 2011

Politics - Sen Chuck Grassley (R Iowa)
Sen Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)

The Internal Revenue Service needs to boost resources for investigating tips about tax cheats, the architect of the agency’s whistleblower reward program said September 9th.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who wrote a 2006 expansion of the whistleblower program, said a new Government Accountability Office report says the agency needs to do more to make sure that delays don’t discourage whistleblowers from reporting companies and fat cats who cheat on their taxes.

He said the IRS also needs to circumvent internal agency politics by giving the IRS Whistleblower Office more clout within the bureaucracy. Read more ..

Human Trafficking

Snakes in the Grass

September 11th 2011

China Topics - Golden Venture survivors
Chinese immigrants rescued from the Golden Venture (credit: Paul DeMaria)

Human smuggling is a lucrative business. Despite the best efforts of customs officials around the globe, smugglers remain in business, in part because of their access to capital and law enforcement’s reluctance to use some of the most advanced tools on the market.

Smuggled Chinese arrive in the United States by land, sea, and air. Some travel directly, while others transit through Mexico or Canada and then cross overland illegally. Although exact figures are unavailable regarding how many Chinese are smuggled into the United States every year, credible estimates put the number at 50,000.

The number of Chinese smuggling groups worldwide is not known; estimates range from seven to 50. The Chinese use the term “snakehead” for smugglers and “human snake” to describe those being smuggled. These terms stem from the idea of slithering from point to point along clandestine routes. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Solyndra Investigation Expands, with Agents Visiting Executives’ Homes

September 11th 2011

Energy Topics - solyndra HQ

Federal agents have expanded their examination of the now-bankrupt California solar power company Solyndra, visiting the homes of the company’s chief executive, a founder, and a former executive, examining computer files and documents.

Agents visited the homes of CEO Brian Harrison and company founder Chris Gronet. Agents also visited the home of a third executive involved in the company from the start, according to a source who agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity because of the legal sensitivity of the situation.

Gronet, reached at his home Friday morning, did not dispute that his home was visited by federal agents a day earlier.

“I’m sorry,” Gronet said in an interview. “You probably understand full well that I cannot comment.” Read more ..

Economic Recovery on Edge

Judge Rules in Favor of Military Retirees who Traded Pensions for Lump Sum Payments

August 29th 2011

Economy - Kathie and Louis Kroot
Kathie and Louis Kroot (credit: Lee P. Thomas/iWatch News)

A new development follows the previously published the story of Structured Investments , a California company that gives lump-sum payments to military retirees in exchange for their pension payments. These agreements are often equivalent to a loan at an annual rate of 30 percent or more. This week, a judge in Orange County, Calif., delivered a blow to the company, issuing a preliminary ruling that Structured violates federal laws prohibiting the “assignment” of military pay to someone else.

“The defendant’s practice is unscrupulous and substantially injurious” to retirees, Judge David Velasquez wrote. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

527 Group Wanes after Newt's Summer Implosion

August 28th 2011

Presidential - Newt Gingrich

The Newt Gingrich money machine that raised $52 million in just four years to promote his ideas and image, American Solutions for Winning the Future, has quietly gone belly up.

Gingrich set up the 527 group in 2007, but it began to lose fundraising steam almost as soon as the former House Speaker launched his presidential bid in May, according to Joe Gaylord, the group’s chairman. It closed its doors early last month, an apparent casualty of Gingrich’s beleaguered presidential drive.

To make his bid for the GOP nomination, Gingrich had to sever his ties with the 527, as federal election law requires for candidates, and that proved to be a big blow to its growth and ongoing operations, Gaylord said.

According to a filing with the IRS on August 18, the 527 spent $2.9 million in the first six months of the year, but only raised $2.4 million in the same period. Read more ..

Africa on Edge

Resolving Hunger in the Horn of Africa Requires Long-Term Commitment

August 23rd 2011

Africa Topics - Somalis in food queue

As the food crisis across the Horn of Africa is intensifying, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) will help thousands of Somali refugees in northeast Kenya by providing critical services in the soon-to-be opened Kambioos extension to the Dadaab refugee camp. CRS is making a five-year commitment to work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide 25,000 people with water and sanitation infrastructure in Kambioos, while also aiding the surrounding communities affected by the influx of refugees.

“The vast majority of refugees are suffering from malnutrition, poor sanitation facilities, and live in crowded conditions with a lack of appropriate shelter,” said P.M. Jose, CRS’ Kenya country representative. “Getting life-saving assistance to the new arrivals is critical, but as we help refugees, we must not forget the impact that these arrivals will have on the host communities surrounding the camps.” Read more ..

Destination Edge

Behind the Truck Stop at New Mexico's Vado-Del Cerro

August 23rd 2011

Travel - El Vado, New Mexico
El Vado Lake

Rambling along Interstate 10 between Las Cruces and El Paso, Texas, travelers might see the Vado exit sign and notice a truck stop that’s seen better days. They might catch a glimpse-and a whiff-of the numerous dairies that line the southern Mesilla Valley.

Few, however, will probably ever hear about the rich history this border region community of several thousand people offers to visitor and resident alike. Scratch the history of Vado and a prism of windows opens up into the past, present and future of New Mexico, Mexico and the United States.

Dora Dorado has lived a good part of this history. Guiding her vehicle through a jumble of paved and unpaved roads, Dorado takes the visitor on a tour of the site-built houses, stone walls and mobile homes that make up Vado and its neighboring community of Del Cerro. In recent decades growth has practically merged the two communities together, making it more proper to speak of Vado-Del Cerro, as opposed to just Vado. Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

New Whistleblower Rules at SEC Pave the Way for Exposing Corporate Fraud

August 15th 2011

Social Topics - whistleblower

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s new whistleblower rules went into effect on August 12, paving the way for tipsters who expose corporate fraud to collect rewards that could total millions of dollars.

To highlight the official start of its new whistleblower bounty program, the SEC launched a Web page, www.sec.gov/whistleblower, that includes information on eligibility and directions on how to submit a tip.

Under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, whistleblowers who provide useful and original information could be eligible to receive between 10 percent and 30 percent of penalties of $1 million or more that the SEC collects in criminal or civil cases.

In May, the SEC spelled out in detail how whistleblowers seeking the bounties should file complaints and when they may qualify for the awards. The commission approved the new rules after a contentious rulemaking process that pitted whistleblower advocates against corporate representatives who claimed that the bounty program could undermine companies’ internal compliance programs. Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

Millions of Federal Court Records Being Destroyed—to Save Money

August 11th 2011

History American - NARA file folders

The federal courts are destroying millions of judicial case records that have been stored in the Federal Records Centers of the National Archives (NARA) for decades, all in an effort to save money.

The plan is to destroy all records on cases that did not go to trial that were filed between 1970 and 1995. For other records, the federal judiciary has reduced the current record retention time from 25 to 15 years in an effort to cut costs. All cases that went to trial or were filed before 1970 will be kept. Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

European Neanderthals Overwhelmed by Sheer Numbers of Invading Homo Sapiens

August 10th 2011

Archaeology Topics - Neanderthal child mannequin
Replica of a Neanderthal child

New research sheds light on why, after 300,000 years of domination, European Neanderthals abruptly disappeared. Researchers from the University of Cambridge have discovered that modern humans coming from Africa swarmed the region, arriving with over ten times the population as the Neanderthal inhabitants.

The reasons for the relatively sudden disappearance of the European Neanderthal populations across the continent around 40,000 years ago has for long remained one of the great mysteries of human evolution. After 300 millennia of living, and evidently flourishing, in the cold, sub–glacial environments of central and western Europe, they were rapidly replaced over all areas of the continent by new, anatomically and genetically 'modern' (i.e. Homo sapiens) populations who had originated and evolved in the vastly different tropical environments of Africa.

The most plausible answer to this long-debated question has now been published today, 29 July, in the journal Science by two researchers from the Department of Archaeology at Cambridge – Professor Sir Paul Mellars, Professor Emeritus of Prehistory and Human Evolution, and Jennifer French, a second-year PhD student. Read more ..

Travel Green

Greensboro's Proximity Hotel Excels in Comfort and Green Innovation

August 8th 2011

Travel - Proximity Hotel

Proximity Hotel in beautiful Greensboro, North Carolina, is uncommon in that it not only offers luxury, but it sits on the cutting edge of a trend towards environmentally-friendly and energy efficient accommodation. Opened in 2008, Proximity Hotel is in the heart of Greensboro’s business and shopping district where travellers can not only make their appointments, but also enjoy natural surroundings in this quiet retreat. While it less than 300 feet away from one of the area’s busiest thoroughfares, at Proximity Hotel you will be soothed and energized by a restored natural stream that wends its way through tall grass where a colony of turtles and other wildlife can be seen. Read more ..

Myanmar on Edge

More Oversight Needed for Myanmar Cyclone Relief Funds, GAO Says

August 2nd 2011

Disaster - Myanmar cyclone Nargis destruction
credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Federal aid officials have not shown adequate monitoring of cyclone relief efforts in Myanmar, according to a recent audit ordered by Congress—oversight deemed necessary to ensure aid monies are not touched by the repressive Myanmar government and military.

On May 2, 2008, Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar’s Irrawaddy Delta, leaving 140,000 people dead or missing. Millions of others in the island nation, were displaced or adversely affected. Initially, international relief efforts were restricted by the Myanmar government, which said the disaster could be handled internally. Later, however, restrictions were loosened and the U.S., mainly through USAID, dedicated $84.5 million to the emergency response. Read more ..

The Water’s Edge

Turning Gray Water Green

August 1st 2011

Israel Topics - sea of galilee sat photo
The Sea of Galilee (credit: NASA)

The facts on the ground are stark: Israel is in a serious water deficit. The Sea of Galilee is shrinking every year, as are its underground aquifers. Yet water needs are increasing along with energy costs.

One answer to this crisis may be found in the water we send down the sink and bathtub drains. Much of this “gray water” can be lightly treated and reused to flush toilets and water gardens.

Putting that ideal into action on a large scale is the target for Gil Ben-Meir, inventor of the Evergreen gray water solution developed by his company, Green Solutions. Some 150 family Israeli homes have already installed Evergreen. This business owner, working since 2009 on the project, is intent on making a dent in the foreign market with Israel’s already well-known water solutions that work.

Speaking at the 15th annual Cleantech Exhibition in Tel Aviv in July, Ben-Meir says that the Evergreen system is a small, affordable and easy-to-maintain gray-water processing device that can treat up to 600 liters of household water a day, or about 150 gallons. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Linking Mind to Artificial Limbs Shows Promise for Victims of Paraplegia

July 28th 2011

Science - artificial limbs

Four universities won a $1.2 million grant to develop prosthetics that deliver sensory information to patients and can be controlled by their thoughts. Rice University, the University of Michigan, Drexel University and the University of Maryland will work on the four-year project with funds from the National Science Foundation's Human-Centered Computing program.

Researchers at Rice will build a prosthetic arm that can be controlled by a cap of electrodes that read electrical activity on the scalp using electroencephalography. The EEG information will be combined with real-time data about blood-oxygen levels in the user's frontal lobe using functional near-infrared technology developed by Drexel's brain imaging lab. Read more ..

Economy on Edge

CFPB Wish Lists Urge Action on Mortgages, Payday Loans, Prepaid Cards

July 25th 2011

Economy - richard cordray, cfpb-designate
Richard Cordray, Obama’s Nominee for CFPB

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has opened for business. Its mailbox is already piled high with wish-lists from consumer advocacy groups about what the new agency should tackle first.

While consumer groups cheer the arrival of the CFPB, the banking industry and other financial services providers such as payday lenders, debt collectors, consumer credit bureaus, and credit card issuers are less enthusiastic and worry that any new regulations could be costly and burdensome. Many Republican lawmakers share those concerns and have threatened to block the Senate nomination of Richard Cordray to head the agency.

Until the CFPB has a confirmed director in place, the bureau is limited to enforcing existing consumer protection regulations and generally cannot propose new rules.

Here is a closer look at some of the most common requests from consumer groups to the CFPB. Read more ..

Financial Jihad

Selling Land to Jews Punishable by Death, says PA Law

July 25th 2011

Israel Topics - jerusalem from mt of olives
View of Jerusalem from Mount of Olives

Israel supporters are sounding the alarm on a controversial law in the Palestinian Authority that forbids Arabs from selling land to Jews.

On the Mount of Olives, a large Israeli flag flies over a house where one man was possibly killed over the PA decree.

“Who killed him nobody knows, but it was because of the house,” said resident Abraham.

Abraham’s brother Mohammed was accused of selling the house to Jewish settlers. Just days after the new residents moved in, Mohammed’s dead body was found on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem. Read more ..

The Financial Edge

Money Laundering and Financial Crime: The Cayman Islands in a Global Perspective

July 25th 2011

Economy - money laundering

It does not take long for a visitor to the Caymans to realise that the 1993 film “The Firm” still arouses the ire of those in the Cayman financial sector. Even today in certain circles Cayman is synonymous with money laundering and other financial misdeeds. Others however recognise that Cayman is far from the world’s money laundering haven and is in fact exploited by fraudsters because of its record of political and financial stability.

Cayman is certainly a financial success. A February 2010 International Monetary Fund paper titled “Cross- Border Investment in Small International Centers” reported that Bank for International Settlements statistics “indicate that banks resident in the Cayman Islands held over $1.7 trillion in assets at the end of 2008 (more than Italy, Portugal, and Spain combined).” And the March 2010 Global Financial Centres Index ranked Cayman as 28th in the world, tied with Edinburgh and Seoul and right ahead of Dublin, Hamilton and Munich.

Despite its negative image in certain circles, it is telling to review material where Cayman is found to be unremarkable or is not found at all. A simple check of indexes of relevant books shows that the Cayman Islands is not listed in The Money Launderers: Lessons From The Drug Wars: How Billions of Illegal Dollars Are Washed Through Banks & Businesses (1992), Washed in Gold: The Story Behind the Biggest Money Laundering Investigation in US History (1994), nor in Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel (2009). Other significant books make little reference to Cayman. Read more ..

Edge on Terrorism

Iran's Double-Talk on the Anniversary of Deadly Bombing in Argentina

July 24th 2011

Argentina Topics - AMIA bombing 1994 and cop

Seventeen years ago this week, Hezbollah operatives working closely with Iranian intelligence blew up the Israeli-Argentine Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people and wounding 300 more. Now, after years of obstructing investigation into the attack, Iran claims it is ready to "engage in constructive dialogue" with Argentina about the case, but insists that talk of an Iranian link is nothing more than "plots and political games."

In fact, it is Iran that is playing games.

Argentinean authorities conducted an extensive investigation into the AMIA attack, with significant international cooperation, and concluded that "the decision to carry out the AMIA attack was made, and the attack was orchestrated, by the highest officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran at the time, and that these officials instructed Lebanese Hezbollah -- a group that has historically been subordinated to the economic and political interests of the Tehran regime -- to carry out the attack." Read more ..

Inside Cuba

Jailed for Counter-Revolutionary Activities in Cuba, American citizen seeks Clemency

July 22nd 2011

Jewish Topics - Alan Gross and Judy Gross
Alan Gross and Judy Gross

The Supreme Court of Cuba held a hearing on July 22 in the case of Alan Gross, a US citizen who was tried and convicted to 15 years imprisonment for allegedly seeking to subvert the island republic’s communist government. The 61 year-old Marylander had been employed by the US Agency for International Development and contracted to update Internet access for the Jewish community of Cuba. He was sentenced in a Cuban court in March 2011 despite strong condemnation by the US government and denials that he was engaged in illegal activity. Read more ..

Edge on Food

The World's Tardy Response to Unfolding Famine Crisis in the Horn of Africa

July 19th 2011

Africa - Kenya dying child
Malnourished refugees at Kenyan camp

Representatives of the United Nations and the UK admitted at Nairobi conference on July 17 that the international community was slow to act in confronting the drought crisis that has flailed the Horn of Africa region.

Unicef executive director Anthony Lake said at a press briefing that relief assistance should have started arriving much earlier to save the thousands dead and dying of hunger. The UK has now offered to host a private conference of donors and aid agencies to urge them to step up their efforts to avert the crisis. “Do we blame the international community? Do we blame any particular individuals or groups? No. A combination of many different factors led to this (crisis),” Lake said. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Lawrence of Judea

July 17th 2011

Arab Topics - Lawrence, Churchill, and Abdullah
Churchill, Lawrence, and Abdullah at Cairo (credit: Clio)

T.E. Lawrence—better known in Britain and throughout the Middle East as Lawrence of Arabia—was a lifelong friend of Arab national aspirations. In 1917 and 1918 he participated as a British officer in the Arab revolt against the Turks, a revolt led by Sharif Hussein, later King of the Hedjaz. He was also an adviser to Hussein’s son Feisal, whom he hoped to see on the throne of Syria. For generations of British Arabists, Lawrence was and remains a symbol of British understanding of and support for the Arab cause. Virtually unknown, however, is his understanding of and support for Jewish national aspirations in the same era.

In mid-December 1918, a month after the end of World War I, Lawrence was instrumental in securing an agreement between Emir Feisal and the Zionist leader Dr. Chaim Weizmann. The meeting was held at the Carlton Hotel in London (a building subsequently destroyed in the London Blitz). Read more ..

Inside Russia

Buddhism Rebounds in Russia Despite Opposition

July 12th 2011

Russian Topics - Ivolga Buddhist Monastery
Ivolga Buddhist monastery

For four generations, the Soviets waged war on Buddhists, sometimes branding them “Japanese spies.” Now, 20 years after the collapse of communism, Buddhism is experiencing a massive revival in its historic areas. Yes, there are Russian Buddhists.

The drums, the bells and the chants are redolent of Asia. But the language spoken between the monks here near the shores of Lake Baikal is Russian.

Ulzutuev Yondon, who teaches philosophy at Ivolginsky datsan, Russia’s main Buddhist monastery, says that when he was studying Buddhism in India, people did not believe he was Russian. Read more ..

Edge of Neuroscience

False Memories--How Easy Are They?

July 5th 2011

Social Topics - Praying to a purple sky

How easy is it to falsify memory? New research from the Weizmann Institute of Science shows that a bit of social pressure may be all that is needed. The study, which appears in the July 1, 2011 issue of Science, reveals a unique pattern of brain activity when false memories are formed—one that hints at a surprising connection between our social selves and memory.

The experiment, conducted by Prof. Yadin Dudai and research student Micah Edelson of the Institute’s Department of Neurobiology, along with Prof. Raymond Dolan and Dr. Tali Sharot of University College London, took place in four stages. In the first, volunteers watched a documentary film in small groups. Three days later, they returned to the lab individually to take a memory test, answering questions about the film. They were also asked how confident they were in their answers. Read more ..

Mexico's Wars

Mass Movement Gives a Face and a Name to 40,000 Killed in the War on Drugs

July 4th 2011

Mexican Topics - Javier Sicilia, Caravana de la paz
Writer/Activist Javier Sicilia

Javier Sicilia, the renowned Mexican poet and journalist, is not staying quiet. He is one of many recent victims of President Felipe Calderón’s ‘War on Drugs’, as his son was found murdered last March. In stark contrast to the recent plague of violence infecting the nation, Sicilia has now become a modern-day paladin for peace in Mexico, leading the National Movement for Peace and Justice, a social force of relatives of victims fighting to be heard. They have developed the Pact for Peace and Justice, a proposal that emphasizes civil unity over violence. This concept was embodied in the March for Peace and Justice, which triggered the Caravan for Peace that crisscrossed the country. Read more ..

The Gun Trade

Badly Flawed Background Check System Fails to Contain Firearms Sales

June 29th 2011

Crime Topics - Guns for sale
(credit: Emma Schwartz, iWatch)

Like many states, Maine depends on the FBI to conduct background checks of people who want to acquire firearms from the state’s federally licensed gun dealers.

And like many states, Maine is a slacker in supplying the records that the FBI depends on to run those checks.

That’s how Raymond Geisel got his guns, including a Glock Model 17 pistol and a semi-automatic version of the AK-47 assault rifle. Geisel had previously been committed to a psychiatric hospital in Bangor, which made him ineligible under federal law to buy or possess a gun. But because state officials had not supplied records of his commitment to the FBI, Geisel passed background checks without being flagged.

Eventually, the law caught up with Geisel. He was arrested in Miami in August 2008 for making threats against Barack Obama, who was campaigning in south Florida around the same time. Another gun that Geisel had acquired in Maine was subsequently recovered by federal agents in his hotel room, along with a combat-style hatchet, armor-piercing ammo and canisters of tear gas. Read more ..

The 2012 Campaign

Dialing for Dollars Gets a Boost from Hollywood and Wall Street

June 29th 2011

Obama Admin Topics - Obama: call me

Two Democratic groups seeking big bucks to boost President Obama’s re-election have tapped several high-powered fundraisers to help rope in $4 million to $5 million in the first two months. They’ve also snagged pledges for two to three times those sums towards their joint goal of raising at least $100 million.

The two groups, Priorities USA Action and Priorities USA, are benefiting from the help of leading Democratic fundraisers and donors such as Hollywood producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, Wall Street hedge fund executive Orin Kramer and Washington lobbyist and strategist Harold Ickes.

Priorities USA Action is a 527 Super PAC which must disclose its donors and file quarterly reports, but Priorities USA, is a 501(c)(4) group that doesn’t have to reveal its donors or file regular reports. Both groups can accept unlimited checks and under law must operate separately from the Obama campaign. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Israeli Ambassador to Vatican Praises Pope Pius XII for Saving Thousands from the Holocaust

June 25th 2011

Christian Topics - Pius XII sede gestatore
Pope Pius XII

Israel’s ambassador to the Vatican has recognized that Pope Pius XII, who reigned over the Catholic Church during the Second World War, did actually save thousands of Jews during the years of Nazi-inspired terror.

Ambassador Mordechai Lewy affirmed on June 23 that “as of the raid of 16 October 1943 and the days following in the ghetto of Rome, the monasteries and orphanages of the religious orders opened their doors to Jews, and we have reason to believe that this occurred under the supervision of the highest authorities of the Vatican, who were aware of these measures.” The diplomat spoke at a ceremony on June 23 in which a Catholic priest, Don Gaetano Piccinini of the order founded by Don Luigi Orione, was post-humously awarded the Yad Vashem medal honoring him as a Righteous Gentile for saving Jews from Nazis. Numerous survivors of the Holocaust and members of Rome’s Jewish community were on hand to speak of their salvation. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Obama Rewards Big Bundlers with Jobs, Contracts, Stimulus Money, More

June 22nd 2011

Obama Admin Topics - Obama and Flag

Telecom executive Donald H. Gips raised a big bundle of cash to help finance his friend Barack Obama’s run for the presidency.

Gips, a vice president of Colorado-based Level 3 Communications LLC, delivered more than $500,000 in contributions for the Obama war chest, while two fellow senior company executives collected at least $150,000 more.

After the election, Gips was put in charge of hiring in the Obama White House, helping to place loyalists and fundraisers in many key positions. Then in mid-2009, the new president named him ambassador to South Africa. Level 3 Communications, in which Gips retained stock, meanwhile received millions of dollars of government stimulus contracts for broadband projects in six states—though Gips said he was "completely unaware" of the stimulus money.

More than two years after President Obama took office vowing to banish “special interests” from his administration, nearly 200 of his biggest donors have landed plum government jobs and advisory posts, won federal contracts worth millions of dollars for their business interests or attended numerous elite White House meetings and social events, according to an investigation. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Some Super PACs Reveal Barest of Details About Funders

June 22nd 2011

Economy - Dollar Bills

Super PACs, a new breed of political action committee that may raise unlimited sums of money to fuel political advertisements known as independent expenditures, are subject to one major condition: they must disclose their donors.

Or are they?

Federal Election Commission rules allow super PACs to legally avoid disclosing individual donors by attributing donations to nonprofit organizations, which are not required by law to reveal their donors.

During the 2010 election cycle, five super PACs utilized this little-used route, attributing all or nearly all of their contributions to nonprofit organizations organized with the Internal Revenue Service under section 501(c)(4) or section 501(c)(6) of the U.S. tax code.Most of these non-profit groups are directly affiliated with the super PACs to which they donated money. Read more ..

Inside South America

South American Human Rights Icon Besmirched by Argentine Corruption Scandal

June 20th 2011

Argentina Topics - Hebe Bonafini and Sergio Schoklender
Hebe de Bonafini and Sergio Schoklender

Known as the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, the ‘Mothers’ and their foundation comprise a group of women who have protested nearly daily for decades in the central square of Buenos Aires. Acclaimed by human rights advocates worldwide, the group has become recently embroiled in controversy that threatens to taint its otherwise sterling reputation with a corruption scandal. Sergio Schoklender, a former manager of the organization, has been brought up on charges by the Argentine government which has accused him of illicit enrichment and misappropriation of public funds received from the Secretariat of Public Works. These funds had been earmarked for homes for the poor built by the Mothers of the Plaza. Read more ..

Mexico's Wars

El Grito de El Paso (The Cry of El Paso)

June 16th 2011

Mexican Topics - Javier Sicilia, Caravana de la paz
Organizer Javier Sicilia of Caravans for Peace

On Memorial Day, Albuquerque, New Mexico, resident Michael Brown embarked on a run of more than 260-miles to the US-Mexico border.

The long-distance runner began his marathon at the spot where the bodies of 11 murdered women were found on Albuquerque’s West Mesa back in February 2009. Headed south, the US Navy veteran stopped at a grave site to honor his fallen military brethren and then visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park in Truth or Consequences NM, a popular weekend getaway located about half-way between Albuquerque and El Paso.

In an interview, Brown said that a big purpose of his nearly two-week long trip was to raise awareness of youth violence as well as the failure of the juvenile justice system to deliver “real healing” and successfully reintegrate offenders back into the community. Brown’s concerns transcended national boundaries. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Tragic Murder Mystery Resolved 65 Years Later

June 16th 2011

History-Genocide - Gulje

In 1946, architect Felix Gulje was managing a construction company in Leiden, some 20 miles from Amsterdam. However, much to his disgust, rumors and misinformation were circulating among his fellow Dutchmen who had served in the Netherlands’ WW2 resistance that he had been a collaborator during the recently dismantled Nazi occupation.

It is now, 65 years after his death, that the identity of his killer has been revealed. The 96-year-old Atie Visser, a former WW2 resistance fighter and a member of the Politieke Opsporingsdienst – an organization that hunted down Nazis and their sympathizers – has come forth with a confession in a letter to Dutch authorities. Read more ..

America's Nazi Nexus

Infamous Auschwitz Tattoo Began as an IBM Number

June 16th 2011

Investigation - IBM in Auschwitz Phone Book Cropped

Auschwitz Phone Book Shows IBM Hollerith Buro Phone # 4496

In August 1943, a timber merchant from Bendzin, Poland, arrived at Auschwitz. He was among a group of 400 inmates, mostly Jews. First, a doctor examined him briefly to determine his fitness for work. His physical information was noted on a medical record. Second, his full prisoner registration was completed with all personal details. Third, his name was checked against the indices of the Political Section to see if he would be subjected to special punishment. Finally, he was registered in the Labor Assignment Office and assigned a characteristic five-digit IBM Hollerith number, 44673. The five-digit Hollerith number was part of a custom punch card system devised by IBM to track prisoners in Nazi concentration camps, including the slave labor at Auschwitz.

The Polish timber merchant's punch card number would follow him from labor assignment to labor assignment as Hollerith systems tracked him and his availability for work, and reported the data to the central inmate file eventually kept at Department DII. Department DII of the SS Economics Administration in Oranienburg oversaw all camp slave labor assignments, utilizing elaborate IBM systems. Read more ..

The Violent Roads of Mexico

Caravan for Love, Struggle and Memory on the U.S.-Mexico Border

June 15th 2011

Mexican Topics - Caravana de la Paz

Completing an epic journey across Mexico, the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity arrived late last week to a tumultuous welcome in Ciudad Juarez, the beleaguered border city poet and caravan organizer Javier Sicilia calls Mexico’'s “epicenter of pain.” Over the course of two hectic and memorable days, perhaps thousands of Juarenses turned out to different events to remember the dead of the so-called narco-war and other forms of violence, to demand justice for victims and, in a sweeping response to social, economic and political decay, to begin drafting the blueprint of a new nation.

Leobardo Alvarado, organizer for the Juarez Assembly for Peace with Justice and Dignity, told Frontera NorteSur that more than 100 local groups coalesced to support the caravan and its message. “I think the most important thing is that we are together,” Alvarado said. “We have never seen this before.” Read more ..

Edge on Computing

Wireless Charging Will Experience an Uptick in 2011

June 14th 2011

Computer Topics - I-phone

The expected revenue from shipments of wireless charging devices in 2011 is expected to surge by an astonishing 616 percent, according to market research firm IHS iSuppli. The firm attributes the growth to consumers who are weary of portable electronics devices with tangled cords and cumbersome adapters and are turning to wireless charging devices, making the wireless charging market set to soar this year to $885.8 million, up more than sevenfold from $123.9 million in 2010.

"Wireless charging offers consumers a viable alternative to recharge consumer electronic devices without the need for dedicated power adapters," said Tina Teng, senior analyst for wireless communications at HIS, in a statement. "With the appeal of such solutions, companies are lining up to offer wireless charging despite various technological and standardization issues slowing mass-market adoption." Read more ..

Media Freedom

Death is One Pakistani Reporter’s Constant Companion

June 13th 2011

PakistanTopics - Syed Saleem Shahzad, journalist
Syed Saleem Shahzad

On May 29, Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan bureau chief for the Asia Times, headed to a television studio to be interviewed. He had just written a story linking the Pakistani military with terrorists believed to have orchestrated a recent raid on a Navy base.

He never arrived.

Two days later, his battered body was discovered about 150 miles south of Islamabad.

Of the growing list of Pakistani journalists killed for doing their job, Shahzad’s death has focused international attention on the country’s horrific reputation as one of the most dangerous places on the planet to be an independent, inquisitive reporter.

Pakistan’s enraged journalist community directly blames the nation’s secret service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, for killing one of the country’s most respected investigative journalists. On June 1st, the ISI denied any connection to it. Shazad’s death is a cold reminder for me of the danger that underscores my own work. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Campaign Fundraising on Parade

June 11th 2011

Economy - One Million Dollars

The frontrunners for the GOP presidential nomination have begun seeking out and locking in the donors with the biggest wallets.

Operatives for former governors Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty have been talking to uncommitted donors across the country to secure commitments from disappointed supporters of Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-Ind.), The Washington Post reported.

Daniels, who had been considered by many Republicans a top-tier candidate, announced last month he would not be seeking the nomination.

The push for securing commitments is also an attempt at keeping others who are still debating a presidential run from jumping in the race. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who garnered attention from every major media outlet last week for her national bus tour, has indicated she may jump in at the last second. Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) has also shown signs of a potential presidential run despite denying it in public. He recently met with important donors in Iowa, New Jersey's Star-Ledger reported. Read more ..

Madagascar on Edge

Madagascar Moves to Protect Precious Forests

June 9th 2011

Environment Topics - Madagascar ring-tailed lemur
(credit: Hannah McNeish, VOA)

Madagascar’s Ministry of Environment is heralding the success of a crackdown on illegal logging, notably in the country’s northeast where vast protected areas have been the focus of huge trafficking scandals. The ministry says more than 1,000 precious rosewood logs have been seized in the last two weeks of policing, and that members of a so-called “logging mafia” will face trial. Conservationists welcome the move, but worry it may be temporary after recent warnings to the World Bank about the unchecked plunder of protected areas.

The head of forests at the ministry of environment, Julien Rakotoarisoa, says the 30-day mission to crack down on illegal logging in northeast Madagascar is aimed at weakening a large trafficking network. Read more ..

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