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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 ..

Edge of Nature

A Rescued Loggerhead Turtle Offers Clues to the Secret of Migration

June 4th 2011

Animals - Loggerhead turtle

A Loggerhead turtle being rehabilitated at Taronga Wildlife Hospital in Australia may help unlock the secret migration habits of marine turtles.

Subject to final medical clearance, a young turtle which has been in care for the past year will be released with a satellite tracker attached to its shell, providing researchers with valuable data about turtle migration habits.

Taronga Wildlife Hospital Manager, Libby Hall, said “Very little is known about the journey of Loggerhead Turtles once they leave Australian shores. They hatch on beaches in Queensland and are at sea for up to 30 years, before returning to the same beach to lay their eggs. Where they go and what they do in those years is pretty much a mystery.” Read more ..

Edge on Computing

Intel Ultrabooks Attack on Laptop Markets

June 1st 2011

Computer Topics - Intel ultrabook

Still lacking a design win in a top tier tablet, Intel is taking another approach—pushing down the power and size of notebook computers. Meet the Ultrabook, a slim, low power laptop Intel will describe this week at the Computex trade show in Taiwan.

The Ultrabook is a work in progress. Early versions will arrive in cases just 20mm thick and price points under $1,000 using versions of Intel 32nm Sandy Bridge processor later this year. AsusTek will be among the companies to ship the systems with its UX21 debuting before the end of the year.

"We are very much aligned with Intel’s vision of the Ultrabook,” Jonney Shih, chairman of Asus will say in scripted comments at an Intel keynote at Computex. "Transforming the PC into an ultra thin, ultra responsive device will change the way people interact with their PC," Shih said.

Edge of the Universe

Australian Student Astronomer Finds Universe's Missing Mass

May 29th 2011

Science - Blue sphere in space

An Australian student at Monash University has made a breakthrough in the field of astrophysics, discovering what has until now been described as the Universe’s ‘missing mass.’ Amelia Fraser-McKelvie, working as a member of a team at the Monash School of Physics, conducted a targeted X-ray search for the matter and within just three months found it – or at least some of it.

What makes the discovery all the more noteworthy is the fact that Fraser-McKelvie is not a career researcher, or even studying at a postgraduate level. She is a 22-year-old undergraduate Aerospace Engineering/Science student who pinpointed the missing mass during a summer scholarship, working with two astrophysicists at the School of Physics, Dr. Kevin Pimbblet and Dr. Jasmina Lazendic-Galloway. Read more ..

Edge of Space

When Galaxies Collide ... Five Billion Years from Now

May 29th 2011

Science - Cloud D2 Cygnus region, Spitzer

Five billion years from now, our Milky Way galaxy will collide with the Andromeda galaxy. This will mark a moment of both destruction and creation. The galaxies will lose their separate identities as they merge into one. At the same time, cosmic clouds of gas and dust will smash together, triggering the birth of new stars.

To understand our past and imagine our future, we must understand what happens when galaxies collide. But since galaxy collisions take place over millions to billions of years, we can't watch a single collision from start to finish. Instead, we must study a variety of colliding galaxies at different stages. By combining recent data from two space telescopes, astronomers are gaining fresh insights into the collision process."We've assembled an atlas of galactic 'train wrecks' from start to finish. This atlas is the first step in reading the story of how galaxies form, grow, and evolve," said lead author Lauranne Lanz of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). Read more ..

Edge of Computing

Future of Mobile 3-D is a Two-way Street

May 29th 2011

Technology - Mobile phone foto app

From Avatar to Nintendo's 3DS, 3-D entertainment has been popular with consumers for some time now, but it's always been a one way street. Audiences have been able to consume media in 3-D, with the aid of glasses and parallax filters, but they have not been able to communicate back with their devices in the third dimension. XBox Kinect was the first consumer device to introduce depth to its input, and its record-setting sales are a certain indicator of the market's appetite for technology that interfaces in 3-D.

FaceTime may be the utility that grabs the most attention, but iPad and iPhone’s forward-facing camera can do more than just video calling. These cameras act like a little eye that can be programmed to track our heads as we look left and right to produce some of the same movement effects seen with Kinect. Read more ..

Edge of Space

Virgin’s Galactic Space Travel—From LA to Abu Dhabi in Two Hours

May 25th 2011

Last week, in the historic large lecture theatre at the Royal Institution in London, the oldest independent research body in the world, Stephen Attenborough—the Commercial Director for Virgin Galactic—spent two uninterrupted hours mesmerizing a private audience on the future of commercial space travel. By the end of the session, even skeptics like myself, who came in thinking this was another wasted venture for the rich, were converted, captivated by the advancement of human ingenuity and the potential that space travel holds for the future of scientific research and sustainable travel.

It’s been just over a century since the Wright Bothers made their inaugural flight in North Carolina and fifty years since Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. When Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the surface of the moon in 1969, space travel seemed poised to enter a golden era. However, space programs proved prohibitively expensive—and dangerous.

As Virgin’s Attenborough reminded us, in the last fifty years only 550 people have been to space, far fewer than what one would have expected at the time when human spaceflight first began. Read more ..

Edge on Africa

What Really Happened in the Ugly, Bloody Chaos of Rwanda?

May 18th 2011

Africa - Rwandan skulls

If University of Michigan Professor Allan Stam hadn’t realized how much hot water he was in just for asking some simple questions, it became clear as he and an assistant sat in a windowless room in an abandoned warehouse in a suddenly unfriendly Rwanda. They were surrounded by guys with machine guns and an interrogator who intoned pronouncements such as, “The last people who asked questions like this are dead.”

It didn’t help that the assistant, to remain unnamed, poor thing, was beginning to scream as the interrogator piled on poisonous innuendos, at which point Stam—who remained cool, for reasons later explained here—finally had to shout to said assistant, “Shut the f--k up! You’re not helping!” Read more ..

Washington on Edge

SEC “Revolving Door” Spinning at Dizzying Speed

May 18th 2011

Politics - SEC Chair Mary Schapiro
SEC Chair Mary Schapiro

When the Securities and Exchange Commission accused Eric Sieracki of securities fraud in 2009, the former Countrywide Financial executive did what many others in trouble with Wall Street’s top cop have done: He hired a former SEC lawyer to defend him.

Between 2006 and 2010, at least 219 former SEC staff appeared before their former agency on behalf of private-sector clients in 800 different matters, according to a new database created by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO). POGO obtained copies of the ex-SEC employees’ disclosure forms through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Senior SEC officials—particularly those from the enforcement division—have long been able to count on finding a home at a private law firm with a hefty raise after a few years of government service. The new POGO data gives the clearest picture yet of just how much corporate America relies on former SEC staff to handle its legal work before the agency. Read more ..

After bin Laden

Pakistani Intelligence Links to Islamic Extremists Run Deep

May 18th 2011

PakistanTopics - Pakistani military brass

The U.S. decision to withhold any advance knowledge from Pakistan about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden was no surprise to those who know the torturous history of Pakistan’s intelligence services.

A powerful segment of Pakistan’s intelligence apparatus is made up of anti-U.S., anti-India conservative Islamic officers. In the past, they have recruited teenagers as fighters from extremist religious schools to fight in Afghanistan. And they have cut deals with “good Taliban,” to the fury of Americans.

For Islamabad, these Islamic alliances are strategic assets to keep at bay Indian influence over Kabul. And it is against a backdrop during which Pakistan and India have fought three wars since 1947. Read more ..

Edge on Archaeology

The Rights and Wrongs of Egypt's New and Bombastic Master of Antiquities

May 18th 2011

Egypt - Hawass
Zahi Hawass

On Sunday, January 16, I interviewed Zahi Hawass in his office in Zamalek, the elegant Cairene island in the Nile and home of the Gezira Sports Club, from which Hawass commanded an army of 32,000 employees as secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. The following Thursday, I left Egypt. And five days later the mass protests erupted that would topple the government of Hosni Mubarak. As part of an effort to save his thoroughly despised regime, Mubarak appointed Hawass Minister for Antiquities. One blogger described Hawass’s appointment this way: “Zahi Hawass, the bombastic, clownish pseudo-archaeologist who has tyrannized, bullied, and manipulated Egyptologists and Egyptian Villagers alike for years now, today officially accepted President Hosni Mubarak’s appointment as Minister of State for Antiquities.” On March 3, Hawass resigned but was reappointed in March.

But my interview with Hawass was before all this. True, Hawass was widely vilified—but also widely admired. The New Yorker called him the “international star of Egyptology … at the intersection of archaeology, show business and national politics.” Read more ..

Israel on Edge

The Geopolitics of Israel: Biblical and Modern

May 18th 2011

Israel Topics - Israel 1200BCE
Israel in 1200BCE. (Credit: STRATFOR)

The founding principle of geopolitics is that place—geography—plays a significant role in determining how nations will behave. If that theory is true, then there ought to be a deep continuity in a nation’s foreign policy. Israel is a laboratory for this theory, since it has existed in three different manifestations in roughly the same place, twice in antiquity and once in modernity. If geopolitics is correct, then Israeli foreign policy, independent of policymakers, technology or the identity of neighbors, ought to have important common features. This is, therefore, a discussion of common principles in Israeli foreign policy over nearly 3,000 years.

For convenience, we will use the term “Israel” to connote all of the Hebrew and Jewish entities that have existed in the Levant since the invasion of the region as chronicled in the Book of Joshua. As always, geopolitics requires a consideration of three dimensions: the internal geopolitics of Israel, the interaction of Israel and the immediate neighbors who share borders with it, and Israel’s interaction with what we will call great powers, beyond Israel’s borderlands. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Donald Trump’s Propensity for Lawsuits Could Alienate GOP Tort Reformers

May 9th 2011

Politics - the donald

As billionaire Donald Trump flirts with a run for the White House, his lengthy history of filing lawsuits—often to protect his image or gain a financial edge—is making conservatives wary of excessive litigation wince.

The real estate tycoon has been a party (as defendant or plaintiff) in about 100 federal lawsuits, according to a review of a legal database. Moreover, five of Trump’s major companies have been embroiled in over 200 civil suits in federal courts, according to court records.

A few examples: Trump has filed lawsuits against Palm Beach County, Fla., where he owns a palatial home and private club, called Mar-a-Lago, seeking to block a new runway at a local airport because it could increase the noise levels near his property. He has sued his former New York law firm, Morrison Cohen, for citing him as an ex-client on its website and treating him like a “cash cow.” He sued former New York Times journalist Tim O’Brien and his publisher seeking $5 billion in damages because he was depicted in the journalist’s book as worth much less than what Trump claimed was correct. Read more ..

Edge on Computing

PaperPhone prototype Opens the Way to Flexible, Interactive Computing

May 9th 2011

Science - Flexible paper phone

An advanced "thin-film" flexible paper computer has been developed through collaborative efforts of researchers at Queen's University in Ontario, Canada, and Arizona State University. Called PaperPhone, it's described as a "flexible iPhone" by its inventor, Roel Vertegaal, the director of the Human Media Lab at Queen's University.

"This computer looks, feels and operates like a small sheet of interactive paper," Vertegaal says. "You interact with it by bending it into a cell phone, flipping the corner to turn pages, or writing on it with a pen." The paper computer is to be unveiled May 10 in Vancouver, Canada, at the Association of Computing Machinery's CHI 2011 (Computer- Human Interaction) conference - the premier international meeting in the field of human-computer Interaction. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The Truth Left Behind: Waking Sleeping Dogs; Key Findings

May 8th 2011

Terrorism - Daniel Pearl

Though Daniel Pearl’s remains have long been recovered and laid to rest on a hilltop in Los Angeles, many loose ends to this story persist. And there are many casualties in this sad story.

Omar Sheikh and his three associates were convicted in the summer of 2002 for Pearl’s kidnapping and murder and sit in jail to this day; despite their conviction for Pearl’s murder in Pakistani court, the evidence of their direct role remains unconvincing.

Attorneys for Sheikh and his three co-defendants have filed numerous appeals that have been postponed repeatedly, and people familiar with the case told the Pearl Project that Sheikh, at least, will be freed at some point.

Rai Bashir Ahmad, defense attorney for the four men, told the Pearl Project, “I believe the case will be reversed on appeal, as soon as the appeal shall be heard, because there is absolutely no concrete evidence against the accused.”

Al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who said he killed Pearl with his own hands, and one of his two nephews who may have assisted him are incarcerated in Guantánamo Bay; they await trial for their role in 9/11, but not for Pearl’s murder. The second nephew who may have been KSM’s other accomplice is thought to be in custody somewhere, but his whereabouts cannot be confirmed. Another suspect, Faisal Bhatti, an alleged logistical operator in Karachi, is in jail in Pakistan for other charges, but not the Pearl case. Read more ..

Economy on Edge

Credit Rating Agencies Still Counting on Big Banks for Support

May 2nd 2011

Federal Reserve
The Federal Reserve

Credit rating agencies took a reputational hit after the financial crisis for giving good grades to garbage financial products—bad advice that many investors complain lost them billions of dollars. But the agencies still have a powerful ally in Washington: big banks, important clients with whom they have long had a symbiotic relationship.

Now, big banks are pushing back on financial reform meant to protect investors by ending the government-backed system that enshrines the symbiotic relationship into law, correspondence shows. Banks would have to evaluate the risks of financial products themselves—a responsibility that would prevent them from shifting blame for giving poor financial advice to someone else. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Winners—and Losers—Since 9/11

May 2nd 2011

Terrorism - WTC on Fire (credit: Macten)
World Trade Center, NYC, on September 11, 2001 (Credit: Macten)

Almost 10 years have passed since Osama bin Laden orchestrated the worst terror attack on American soil. A pursuit that began under President George W. Bush was finally wrapped up under his successor, Barack Obama, who told the world Sunday night that bin Laden was killed.

The relief of Americans was palpable as hundreds descended on the White House to chant "USA! USA!" as Obama spoke. To the thousands of extremist bin Laden followers overseas, chants in the coming days will likely carry a different tone. America’s war against the al-Qaida terror network is not over, even if its head has been stricken. Read more ..

Sudan on Edge

American Rabbi Celebrates Seder with Emancipated Slaves of Sudan

April 28th 2011

Africa Topics - Rabbi Joseph Polak
Rabbi Joseph Polak in Sudan

Rabbi Joseph Polak, a chaplain for Hillel House at Boston University, traveled to southern Sudan to speak to recently-released slave who managed to escape their bondage to Arab Muslim masters. Recalling the manumission of the children of Israel from their bondage in Pharaoh's Egypt, the rabbi told a gathering of Sudanese on March 23 that they "must be a very special people, because God has listened to your cries," - a reference to their liberation.

The rabbi also led the freed slaves in a chorus of 'Dayenu,' - a song which in Hebrew means 'It would have been enough' that God had freed the Israelites from bondage.

In addition to sharing with his listeners, who were gathered beneath the spreading branches of a huge tree, the story of Passover, Rabbi Polak invited them to a traditional Seder meal of matzah, hard-boiled eggs, and wine that commemorates the hasty preparations of the children of Israel as they left behind their shackles in Egypt. His listeners appeared to appreciate the story, since 175 of them had only recently been released from bondage themselves. One of the women who was interviewed said that Arab marauders had attacked her village and beheaded men and boys, while she was raped and her genitals mutilated. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Chernobyl 25 Years Later

April 25th 2011

Russian Topics - Chernobyl Today

April 26, marks the 25th anniversary of the worst nuclear accident on record, the explosion of the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine. The fate of 4,500 square kilometer exclusion zone around the old Soviet plant may give a glimpse into future of the area now banned for human habitation around Fukushima.

One quarter century ago a flotilla of trucks and buses evacuated the 330,000 human inhabitants from Chernobyl’s exclusion zone, a massive area almost twice the size of Luxemburg. Today, some biologists have a different name for that zone: Europe’s largest wildlife refuge.

The human story is well told. Centuries old villages vanished from maps, disappearing into the undergrowth. Less has been said about resurgence of wildlife caused by the withdrawal of the hand of man.

Wolves, wild boar, elk, moose, roe deer, foxes, lynx, beavers, badgers,  white-tailed eagles, nesting swans, cranes, black stork and great white egrets now abound, checked only by their natural predators. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The Truth Left Behind: Letting Sleeping Dogs Lie

April 25th 2011

Terrorism - Daniel Pearl

On Thursday, October 16, 2003, a warm and slightly overcast day in Washington, D.C., White House National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice called Daniel Pearl’s widow, Mariane, with some startling information. It was their first conversation ever, and Mariane was caught off guard.

In a cool voice, Rice delivered blockbuster news that would tie the Pearl abduction-murder to the horrors of the 9/11 attacks that preceded it. “We have now established enough links and credible evidence to think that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was involved in your husband’s murder,” Rice said. KSM, as he was called, was the alleged mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks.

“What do you mean ‘involved?’” Mariane Pearl asked. Since the earliest days of discovering that her husband had been murdered, she had suspected Al Qaeda’s involvement. She had never been satisfied with the July 2002 convictions of Omar Sheikh and three co-defendants as closing the case.

“We think he committed the actual murder,” Rice responded.

Rice doled out her information selectively. She didn’t tell Mariane Pearl how officials had reached that conclusion or what evidence they had to back it up. She did not offer any proof that KSM was the killer, nor identify his accomplices in the murder. Most significantly, Rice didn’t let on to what was then one of the Bush administration’s most closely-held secrets—that KSM was being held in a secret CIA prison and had been subjected to waterboarding and other hard-core interrogation techniques. Those facts would turn out to have major consequences. They both raised questions about the reliability of KSM’s confession and created a major obstacle to ever trying him in a U.S. criminal court for Pearl’s murder. Read more ..

China on Edge

Anxiety Grows in China as the Deng Model of Development Enters End Game

April 20th 2011

China Topics - Dent Tsao Peng
Deng Xiaoping

Beijing has become noticeably more anxious than usual in recent months, launching one of the more high-profile security campaigns to suppress political dissent since the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. Journalists, bloggers, artists, Christians and others have been arrested or have disappeared in a crackdown prompted by fears that foreign forces and domestic dissidents have hatched any number of “Jasmine” gatherings inspired by recent events in the Middle East. More remarkable than the small, foreign-coordinated protests, however, has been the state’s aggressive and erratic reaction to them.

Meanwhile, the Chinese economy has maintained a furious pace of credit-fueled growth despite authorities’ repeated claims of working to slow growth down to prevent excessive inflation and systemic financial risks. The government’s cautious approach to fighting inflation has emboldened local governments and state companies, which benefit from rapid growth. Read more ..

Architectural Edge

A Love Affair with a House that Preserved Relic of American Architecture

April 20th 2011

Architecture - S W Green mansion by Paula Burch-Celantano
S.W. Green mansion. Photo: Paula Burch-Celantano

My love affair with the S.W. Green house is, perhaps, my fondest memory of New Orleans. Discovering this architectural gem was the crowning achievement of my college years. I discovered – or I should say – stumbled upon the Green mansion while skateboarding one hot, sunny afternoon in 1996, my junior year. I’d been living, to my Mom’s dismay, off-campus in the French Quarter. (This was early in the movement to locate and preserve African American historic sites.)

Sporting a tie-dyed t-shirt, Bass Pro Shops cap, Ralph Lauren shorts and well-worn New Balance sneakers, I skateboarded past whitewashed shotgun houses lining the avenues of Lower Mid-City New Orleans. Blazing through the intersection of Cleveland and South Miro, whose only landmarks were a rusty car-repair shop and an unkempt parking lot, I noticed a curious anomaly: a large green, Mediterranean-tiled roof peeking high above its humdrum neighbors. I decided to backtrack and have a look.

Walking towards the mysterious structure, an image of my great aunt Rowena’s estate in Virginia flashed into mind. I’d grown up there in what folks referred to as a mansion, but my family simply called it “Brooks Cottage.” It was built in 1920 by my late uncle Mac’s first wife and her first husband, “Uncle J.C.” Although they were well-to-do, racial covenants prohibited them from building in a more exclusive part of town. Read more ..

Breaking News!

Exclusive Coverage of Exodus: Children of Israel Flee Egyptian Bondage

April 18th 2011

Contributors / Staff - Edwin Black
Edwin Black

EDITORS NOTE: All details of Edwin Black’s Passover coverage are taken faithfully from Exodus chapters 5-15, plus Rashi’s Commentary.

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

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

The entire Royal Court was aghast as Moses demanded that the Children of Israel be permitted to travel three days into the desert for an unprecedented “feast and sacrifice” to their God. Making clear that he was not asking a Court indulgence, Moses looked straight at Pharaoh, stamped his roughhewn staff and issued the ultimatum that would be his rallying call during the coming days: “Let my people go.”

Laughter echoed throughout the hall as Pharaoh sneered, “Who is your 'God?' I know him not. Nor will I let Israel go!” Showing little patience, Pharaoh cited reports that Moses had been “disturbing the people from their works” in various building projects wholly dependent upon slave labor. As a punitive measure, Pharaoh proclaimed that henceforth slaves would be compelled to gather their own straw, even as their daily brick quota was maintained. Read more ..

Edge of Rehab

Bionic Arm Can Move, Feel

April 18th 2011

Health/Medicine - Vet w/Bionic Arm
Iraq War Vet with New Artificial Arm (credit: VOA)

American soldiers who have lost limbs in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq often end up at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., for rehabilitation and to get fitted with prosthetics. Dr. Todd Kuiken, of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, works with these patients who provide him with feedback on a bionic arm he developed. Kuiken’s work has focused on creating an artificial arm which can respond to the wearer’s mind. “What we do is use the nerves that are still left. Although the arm is lost,” he says.

Nerves from the amputated arm are attached to the remaining muscle, either in the chest or in the bicep. Nerves that control flexing the hand or closing it are attached in different locations. Electrodes placed on the muscles act as antennas and when the brain sends an electrical nerve impulse to these antennas, the electrode activates the prosthetic arm or hand to move accordingly. Read more ..

Border War

Mexico Struggles to Shake Off the Perception of Danger in its Vital Tourism Sector

April 18th 2011

Mexican Topics - Mexico City mounted police
Mexico City mounted police

As Mexico gears up for its annual Holy Week and Easter Week holiday beach bash, polemics continue to fly over the state of the country’s tourism sector. At the heart of the debate is how violence and the media’s coverage of it may or may not be discouraging tourism.

Immediately challenging the declarations of an important industry official, the federal Secretariat of Tourism (Sectur) repeated earlier contentions this week that foreign visitation is on the upswing. The federal agency reported that Mexico received last year 5.9 million US tourists, a number which represented a 5.9 percent jump from 2009 and a 1.5 percent increase from 2008. Read more ..

Politics and Money

Congressional Freshmen Saddled With Debt Turn to PACs

April 18th 2011

Politics - 2011 Freshman Repubs
Republican Caucus, U.S. House of Representatives, 2011

Republican Blake Farenthold, a small time radio show personality and Tea Party favorite in southern Texas, scored a major upset last November when he defeated 14-term Democratic House member Solomon Ortiz Sr. by a mere 799 votes. His victory in the marginally Democratic 27th District near the Gulf Coast was even more remarkable because he weathered the embarrassment of a widely disseminated photo of him in yellow duck pattern pajamas with a scantily dressed woman.

Farenthold arrived in Washington from Corpus Christi two weeks later with a hefty campaign debt and a seat that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee declared a “must win” for Democrats in 2012. But not to worry. Read more ..

Edge of Terror

How to Tell if Your Neighbor is a Bomb Maker

April 11th 2011

Terrorism - Bomb Maker

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released the fifth edition of its English-language jihadist magazine “Inspire” on March 30. AQAP publishes this magazine with the stated intent of radicalizing English-speaking Muslims and encouraging them to engage in jihadist militant activity. Since its inception, Inspire magazine has also advocated the concept that jihadists living in the West should conduct attacks there, rather than traveling to places like Pakistan or Yemen, since such travel can bring them to the attention of the authorities before they can conduct attacks, and AQAP views attacking in the West as “striking at the heart of the unbelievers.” Read more ..

America on Edge

Closing America’s Playground: Los Angeles and the History of Our Parks and Recreation Crisis

April 11th 2011

Travel - Disneyland Closed

On a Tuesday morning in late December 2010, for the first time ever, the gates closed at Disneyland. The reason was simple enough—holiday crowds had overwhelmed the magic kingdom. Yet shutting down Disneyland could be a metaphor for a far broader and more troubling phenomenon occurring in Los Angeles and Southern California. A place that gained international renown as “America’s Playground” has become a region where recreation and recreational space are increasingly scarce, and similar threats now face parks and recreational funding across the nation. Read more ..

Safety on Edge

Lax School Construction Oversight Raises Doubts about Earthquake Safety

April 11th 2011

Disaster - Muir HS Long Beach 1933
Muir HS, Long Beach after 1963 Quake (credit: USGS)

State regulators have routinely failed to enforce California’s landmark earthquake safety law for public schools, allowing children and teachers to occupy buildings with structural flaws and potential safety hazards reported during construction.

Top management with the Division of the State Architect—the chief regulator of school construction—for years did nothing about nearly 1,100 building projects that its own supervisors had red-flagged. Safety defects were logged and then filed away without follow-up from the state. Read more ..

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