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The Edge of Justice

Post-Katrina Shootings by Police: Where Things Stand

January 10th 2011

Social Topics - NOLA PD cars

In November 2010, a parade of New Orleans police officers took the stand in the trial of five current or former police officers charged with killing Henry Glover, burning his body, and covering up the crime.

Glover was one of 11 civilians shot by police in the days after Hurricane Katrina struck, and the trial was the first in a series that is expected to continue in 2011. One former and two current officers were convicted of Glover’s death or participating in the cover-up. Eleven others, who admitted during testimony that they either lied to federal officials or withheld knowledge of the crime, have been reassigned to desk duty or suspended pending further investigation. Beyond uncovering the details behind Glover’s gruesome death, the trial also exposed that problems within the department go beyond a few bad apples and are of a systemic nature. Read more ..


Islam Against Copts

Egyptian Parliamentarian asks Why Al-Qaeda Hasn't Struck Israel in Wake of Islamist Terror against Christians

January 3rd 2011

Christian Topics - Coptic bomb

Egypt’s legislative body, consisting of the People's Assembly and Shura Council expressed deep sorrow over the deadly attack that hit members of the Coptic Ortodox Church as they attended worship services during the early hours of New Years Day in Alexandria at the Al-Qiddisin Two Saints Church. In meetings on January 2, fact-finding committees agreed that the attack was aimed at sparking a civil war between Muslims and Christians in Egypt. Fathi Sorour, speaker of the People's Assembly, said “the attack against the Alexandria church of Al-Qiddisin is a cowardly act, and is by no means aimed to strike at Copts only, but all Egyptians, Copts and Muslims, in order to spark a civil war.” Sorour urged Copts to exercise restraint and wait until the investigation into the attack reached conclusive results. Currently, seven persons are being held for questioning by Egyptian authorities. Pope Benedict XVI referred to the the bombing as a "vile" attack on Christians, while President Barack Obama likewise denounced the terror. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in an unprecedented televised address, also denounced the blast as a "foreign" plot. Read more ..


The Roadway's Edge

One Bus Company’s Reincarnations

January 3rd 2011

Transportation Topics - Jerezano bus line (illegal)

Cayetano Martinez started Tierra Santa Tours in 2006 with a few buses to take passengers back and forth from Los Angeles to Zacatecas in central Mexico.

In the first year of operation, Martinez’s company racked up at least 11 safety violations from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). They included failure to test employees for drug use; failure to keep records of drivers’ hours and qualifications; and failure to keep records of vehicle inspections, among other items. In 2007, the FMCSA ordered the company’s buses off the road until the problems were fixed. When Martinez still hadn’t done that nine months later, the agency pulled his federal authorization. His company was out of business and facing fines of $7,620. But that didn’t stop Martinez. He simply re-registered his business under a new name and kept his buses on the road, records show. Read more ..


Wikileaks on Edge

WikiLeaks’ Century-old Antecedents in the Mideast

January 3rd 2011

Palestine Topics - Sykes-Picot agreement

In December 1917, British imperial troops occupied Jerusalem, ending four centuries of Ottoman rule. Earlier that year, the British Empire also took control of Baghdad, and was advancing across the middle east. In Asia and the West, the British government spread the message that they were bringing a new age of national freedom to the Arabs. Unfortunately for Whitehall, however, the newly installed Bolsheviks in Russia had their own message to tell the world. A couple of weeks before General Allenby, the chief of British forces in Palestine, made his official entrance on foot through the Jaffa Gate of the old city of Jerusalem, the Bolsheviks published the secret agreements that they had just discovered in the Russian archives.

This was the first major leak of international diplomatic documents, the scale of which has never been surpassed. If Julian Assange and his associates had access to the inner sanctum of the White House and the Pentagon, they might get close to documentation that was of similar significance. Pride of place amongst the material published by the Russians was a plan by the British and French governments in 1916 to carve up the middle east between themselves after the war. The Sykes-Picot Agreement, as it was known, divided west Asia into British and French spheres of influence. Thrust into the public domain, this document showed without any doubt that the British had been up to their old imperialist tricks. Their championing of Arab nationalism appeared to have been nothing but Machiavellian posturing. Read more ..


Edge on Terror

Palestinian Authority Touts “Jihad Jesus” in a Ploy for Worldwide Support

December 27th 2010

Palestine Topics - Abbas at Christmas Mass

In a December 3 interview with Palestinian Authority TV, author Samih Ghanadreh was asked about his new book Christianity and its Connection to Islam. He told the interviewer that he remembers fondly how PLO leader and terrorist Yasir Arafat referred to Jesus Christ as “the first Palestinian Shahid (martyr).” The interviewer averred Ghanadreh’s comment, saying “Jesus was a Palestinian; no one denies that.” Islamist terrorists who detonate explosive suicide vests to kill themselves and Jewish or Christian victims are also denoted as “martyrs’ by supporters of the Islamist jihad against Israel and the West.

A native of Nazareth, Ghanadreh’s comment underscores similar declarations made by terrorist organizations and religious leaders in the region about Jesus, giving a modern militant aspect to Jesus, who for Christians bears the title (among others) of “Prince of Peace,” “Sun of Justice,” and “Son of God.” On the official website of the the Communications and Education Authority of the ruling Palestinian faction Fatah, for example, the following statement is found: “If we are proud of the holiness of our land, then we are proud and pride ourselves that the first and most important holy woman among the nations and peoples is from the holy land: The Virgin Mary—the woman of love and peace—is of the nation of Palestine…” Read more ..


The Roadway's Edge

“Black Boxes” Could Solve Crash Mysteries

December 27th 2010

Transportation Topics - Munfordville KY crash

Munfordville, Kentucky: Joel Gingerich hadn’t planned to join his fiancée and her family on a road trip to Iowa for a wedding. But at the last minute, before the sun rose on the morning of March 26, 2010, he hopped into the 15-passenger Dodge van. It was a decision that would cost him his life.

Gingerich, fiancée Rachel Esh and her family, all members of a close-knit Mennonite community, were just minutes into the journey when an 80-foot-long, 38-ton Freightliner tractor-trailer lost control on the other side of a wide, grassy median. The truck trampled over two sets of steel barrier cables, hit the Mennonites’ van, ricocheted off a rock wall and burst into flames. Eleven died in the crash on Interstate 65 south of Louisville in southern Kentucky, including Gingerich, Esh and seven members of her family. The truck driver from Alabama was burned so badly that state troopers couldn’t make out his flesh from the metal of his rig. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Russia’s Rule of Law Appears Before the World’s Court

December 27th 2010

Russian Topics - Khodorkovsky
Mikhail Khodorkovsky

A guilty verdict that was reached in Yukos oil case will decide whether Russia will become a country of freedom and law or become stuck in Soviet-like repression, says one of the accused. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia’s richest man who dared to challenge Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, founder of the Menapet bank, the major shareholder of the Yukos oil company, was arrested in October 2003 along with co-principal Platon Lebedev.

Both were found guilty in May 2005 of tax evasion and sentenced to nine years in prison. The sentence was later reduced to 8 years. Their second trial on fraud charges began on March 31, 2009. Last week, presiding Judge Viktor Danilkin was due to deliver a verdict in Moscow but it was put off until this week. The guilty verdict was read in a Moscow courtroom on December 27, and Khodorkovsky was soon spirited away by police. Some supporters, who stood outside chanting "Freedom!" and "Russia without Putin," were also whisked away by the heavily armed security. Read more ..


The Roadway's Edge

Despite More Distracted-Driving Deaths, Road Fatalities are Down

December 21st 2010

Transportation Topics - texting while driving

Over the past five years, road fatalities in the United States have fallen 22 percent, thanks primarily to the poor economy and the increased prevalence of air bags, according to University of Michigan researchers.

“A reduction of such magnitude over such a short time has not occurred since road safety statistics were first kept starting in 1913, except for the reductions during World War II,” said Michael Sivak, a research professor at the U-M Transportation Research Institute.

While more drivers have slowed down and limited their long-distance leisure travel to save gas and money—and, ultimately, lives—an increase in vehicles equipped with both side and front air bags also has been a contributing factor. On the other hand, fatal crashes that involved distracted driving (using cell phones, talking to passengers, eating, etc.) have increased 42 percent. Read more ..


History on Edge

The Reality of the Mythic Christmas Truces of World War I

December 21st 2010

Military - WWI Christmas Truce

Opposing troops putting aside their differences in 1914 to share Christmas carols and exchange gifts is one of the most enduring images of World War One. In that first festive season on the Western Front British and German soldiers put down their weapons and met in no man’s land but as the brutality of war deepened, so did divisions and such scenes of unity were never repeated.

Now a University of Aberdeen historian is challenging our long-held belief in this one-off phenomenon, arguing that Christmas truces continued throughout the war.

Dr. Thomas Weber has unearthed new evidence, including a letter written by a soldier of Scottish descent serving with a Canadian regiment, which suggests that festive ceasefires continued to take place throughout the war but were often downplayed in official war records. However, he argues that heavy artillery, machine gun, and sniper fire that had been ordered in anticipation of new Christmas truces, meant that these were small-scale and localized to a greater extent than the events of 1914 and as such are generally overlooked by the history books. Read more ..


The Water's Edge

Restricting Boaters a Hard Sell in Many States

December 21st 2010

Transportation Topics - boats in marina

Lake Pleasant, Arizona. Seventeen years ago, federal officials urged all states to require boater education courses and life jackets for children.

Today, 13 states still don’t require boaters to learn how to drive a boat before they hit the water. And two states—Virginia and Wisconsin—don’t require children to wear life jackets on boats, despite more than a decade of pressure from the nation’s top transportation safety agency.

In 2008, there were more than 4,700 recreational boating accidents leading to 709 fatalities in the U.S., according to U.S. Coast Guard statistics. Only highways claimed more lives than the nation’s waterways. “It’s a very serious issue, and it’s one we can impact,” said Bill Gossard, safety advocate specialist for the NTSB. “We have a better shot saving lives here than other places.” Read more ..


The Roadway's Edge

Companies Skirt Safety Rules—and Keep Driving

December 21st 2010

Transportation Topics - Multi-vehicle highway crash

In just two years, more than 1,000 trucking companies and 20 bus companies that had been shut down for safety violations reopened under new names, according to a recent Government Accounting Office report.

The practice, referred to as “reincarnating,” is one of the ways bus and truck companies skirt rules designed to keep roadways safe.

Reincarnation is relatively simple to do but hard to detect, government officials say. Motor carriers that have been ordered out of business or face fines go online, fill out a form and pay a small fee. The U.S. Department of Transportation issues them a new registration number as if they are a new business.

“All they have to do is click on a name, put in a credit card, and you pop up with a new number,” said Nancy O’Liddy, a lobbyist for Transportation Intermediaries Association, a trucking industry group. Read more ..


Looting the Seas

The Bluefin's Corporate Food Chain

December 21st 2010

Economy - Bluefin tuna in a Tokyo Market
A slab of bluefin at Tsukiji market, Tokyo.

Mount Fuji rises across the bay from the 16th century port of Shimizu—a sight fit for a post card.

The town has seen better days—its businesses shuttered, fishing boats driven into bankruptcy, and the only department store closed. But the city’s core business—marine and overland trade—has assured its survival. Shimizu is the primary port of landing for tuna in Japan. Hundreds of tons of tuna arrive here daily from all over the world, but none has the allure of the giant Eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna, a fish that once caught is nurtured for months at sea ranches in the Mediterranean to increase its fat content—and its yen value. Once considered a low-class dish, today the Atlantic bluefin is favored by sushi eaters across Japan. A single large fish can fetch more than $100,000 at market. Read more ..


Looting the Seas

Diving into the Tuna Ranching Industry

December 13th 2010

Economy - Bluefin tuna
Bluefin Tuna “Ranch” Enclosure

In the final days of 1996, the air was cold and seas rough around the southern Spanish port of Cartagena. A boat belonging to the Tuna Graso sea “ranch”—a joint venture between Japan’s Mitsui & Co. and Spain’s Ricardo Fuentes & Sons—had just pulled aboard a huge 300-kilo bluefin tuna from one of its underwater pens. That single fish was worth $17,000 to the company, and would fetch far more at auction in Tokyo.

The days of supplying fresh bluefin tuna just a few months a year were over. The introduction of fattening ranches, or farms, meant the Japanese could have high-quality bluefin for their sashimi year-round. Tuna captured at sea could now be transferred into cages and fattened for months in underwater coastal cages until Japanese buyers were ready to deal. Read more ..


The Water's Edge

Boating Industry Resists Safety Systems

December 13th 2010

Transportation Topics - SI Ferry wreck
NTSB photo of Staten Island Ferry

Like most accidents, it wasn’t just one thing that went wrong when a barge rammed into a tour boat on the Delaware River in July, killing two.

First, the engine malfunctioned on the duck boat, an amphibious craft popular with tourists visiting Philadelphia. The boat’s master turned off the engine, dropped anchor and waited for help. Then a towboat guiding a 250-foot barge down the river failed to change course, even as it bore down on the duck boat anchored in the channel.

The master of the duck boat radioed the towboat to change course, but there was no response. He told accident investigators he picked up an air horn in a last-minute attempt to get attention but the horn didn’t work. Read more ..


The Roadway's Edge

States Resist Highway Safety Measures

December 6th 2010

Transportation Topics - Church bus after crash

When an airplane crashes, people notice and want to know what went wrong. But when people die on American highways—as nearly 100 do on average every day—less attention is paid, even by the nation’s top safety investigators.

Fewer than one-fourth of all investigations undertaken by the National Transportation Safety Board target highways, even though more people die on the roads than in any other kind of transportation accidents, according to an analysis. When the NTSB does recommend ways to reduce the carnage on American roadways, it can take years before anything is done. Read more ..


The Edge of Litigation

Banks, Investors, and Hedge Funds Seek Lucrative Opportunities in Lawsuit Lending

November 29th 2010

Investigation - Lawyer Jared Woodfill
Attorney Jared Woodfill

Large banks, hedge funds and private investors hungry for new and lucrative opportunities are bankrolling other people’s lawsuits, pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into medical malpractice claims, divorce battles and class actions against corporations — all in the hope of sharing in the potential winnings.

The loans are propelling large and prominent cases. Lenders including Counsel Financial, a Buffalo company financed by Citigroup, provided $35 million for the lawsuits brought by ground zero workers that were settled tentatively in June for $712.5 million. The lenders earned about $11 million. Read more ..


Corruption in the Americas

Drug Trafficking and Money Laundering Depend on Latin America’s Tax Havens

November 22nd 2010

Economy - Tax Haven Protesters

Benjamin Franklin once stated, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” However, with battalions of highly paid “tax professionals” searching for ways around tax legislation for multi-national corporations (MNCs) and wealthy individuals, taxes are not as inevitable as Franklin envisaged. In Latin America, taxation-related problems are rampant, especially in the Caribbean, where many islands are considered offshore financial centers (OFCs) by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Along with facilitating tax evasion and money laundering, the use of tax havens for legal tax avoidance is contributing to poverty in much of Latin America. Read more ..


Looting the Seas

A Mediterranean Feeding Frenzy on Blue Fin

November 22nd 2010

Environment Topics - Tuna at Market

Cobblestone walkways line the quiet canals of Sète, a French community of 40,000 nestled along the Mediterranean about 85 miles west of Marseille. It is a picturesque place, bounded on one side by Mount Saint Clair and the other by the clear turquoise water of the sea. But there is more to this seemingly sleepy tourist town.

Anchored in the harbor are dozens of multimillion-euro fishing boats—vessels that comprise the world’s most productive tuna fishing fleet, with 36 vessels targeting the prized, and increasingly at risk, Eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna. Fed by ravenous demand in Japan, Mediterranean fishing fleets—led by those in Sète—have fished out as much as 75 percent of the Eastern Atlantic bluefin. Half of the stock, say scientists, has disappeared during the past decade. Read more ..


Confronting the Farhud

When Arabs Massacred Jews Because they Sat While Praying

November 15th 2010

Book Covers - Farhud book

Edwin Black is the author of IBM and the Holocaust. This article is drawn from his just released book, The Farhud, Roots of the Arab-Nazi Alliance During the Holocaust (Dialog 2010). Buy it here

As Israelis and Palestinians struggle with a twenty-first century peace process, the world must face the forgotten history that was so pivotal in determining the present crisis. In many ways, a turning point was the day Arabs massacred Jews because they dared to sit at the Wailing Wall while praying. This simple act of prayer was so unacceptable to Arabs that it helped launch a worldwide crisis of hate that provoked a global Islamic jihad, forged an Arab-Nazi alliance during the Holocaust, and still echoes today.

The year was 1929. Jewish Palestine was still being settled by torrents of eastern European refugees. The League of Nations Mandate for Palestine included the provision for a Jewish Homeland. The Balfour Declaration, widely endorsed by many nations, was a matter of international law. But the Arabs in Palestine refused to co-exist with Jews in any way except as second-class dhimmis.

Islam had been at war with the Jewish people since its defining inception in 627 when Mohammad exterminated the Jews of Mecca and launched the Islamic Conquest that swept north and subsumed Syria-Palestina. For centuries, Jews and Christians in Arab lands were allowed to exist as dhimmis, second-class citizens with limited religious rights. These restrictions were enforced by the Turks who, until World War I, ruled the geographically undetermined region known as Palestine, which included Jerusalem.

When the Ottoman Empire fell, after World War I ended in 1918, the British were obligated by the Mandate to maintain the Turkish status quo at the Wailing Wall. Read more ..


The Rail’s Edge

Local Transit Systems Plagued by Accidents, Weak Oversight

November 15th 2010

Transportation Topics - DC metro wreck #2
DC Metro Red Line Collision, 2009

If you’re boarding a plane, cruise ship, ferry or Amtrak train, a federal government agency is watching out for your safety.

But if you’re a passenger on one of the nation’s 48 subways and light-rail train systems, there is no single authority with the power to set and enforce safety measures.

Rail systems like the Metro in Washington, D.C., New York City’s subways and the “L” in Chicago are governed by a patchwork of state agencies and committees, some more watchful than others.

In some states, the groups set up to oversee light rail have so little power as to be almost completely ineffective, according to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). They include the Tri-State Oversight Committee in Washington, D.C., and the Regional Transportation Authority in Chicago as well as the Texas, Utah and Wisconsin departments of transportation. Read more ..


Medicare on Edge

Powerful Medical Insiders Make Determinations on Medicare

November 8th 2010

Science - Physician and stethoscope

Early this month, a group of 29 doctors gathered in a modern conference room at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, a few blocks from Lake Shore Drive. Over the course of four days, the little-known group composed mostly of specialists made a series of decisions crucial to the massive government entitlement program known as Medicare—issuing recommendations for precisely how Medicare should value more than 200 different medical procedures. Read more ..


Ghana on Edge

Sentenced to Witch Camp

November 1st 2010

Africa Topics - Ghanaian Woman sentenced to Witch Camp

The Halloween season abounds with witches and goblins and ghosts. While many children and adults put on costumes and pretend to be witches, a new book reminds readers that there are still people living in a world haunted by witchcraft. In Spellbound: Inside West Africa’s Witch Camps, Karen Palmer explores the destiny of women accused of committing supernatural crimes. She also examines the paradox of why people there rely on witchcraft, even as they fear it. Read more ..


Reasons of State

Top U.S. Diplomats Give Themselves a Pass Regarding Political Filtering of FOIA Requests

October 27th 2010

Afghan Topics - Redacted Document

The U.S. State Department uses retired Foreign Service officers to help determine what internal documents and memos can be released in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, according to a new internal report by its own Office of the Inspector General. This report gives a peek into how the department handles FOIA issues.

The State Department is notorious among journalists for its slow responses to FOIA requests. For instance, in one case it took ten years for the department to respond to a FOIA request.

State had 138 full-time employees devoted to FOIA in 2009, the department inspector general said in the report. After initial reviewers of a FOIA request locate information to be released, retired Foreign Service officers carry out a “two-tiered, often line-by-line review” to spot sensitive information that should be reconsidered, the report said. “The reviewers consult regularly with bureaus and offices on current sensitivities that may affect redaction decisions, but elements requesting redactions bear the burden of showing the necessity of those redactions while reviewers assume final authority over the outcome of their reviews,” it added. Prepared during September 2010, the report was signed by Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel and prepared by senior inspector Tom Carmichael. Read more ..


Stimulus on the Edge

The Stimulating Hypocrisy of Conservative Opponents of the Recovery Act

October 18th 2010

Economy - stimulus protest poster

Rep. Pete Sessions, the firebrand conservative from Dallas, Texas, has relentlessly assailed the Democratic-passed stimulus law as a wasteful “trillion dollar spending spree” that was “more about stimulating the government and rewarding political allies than growing the economy and creating jobs.”

But that didn’t stop the Republican lawmaker from reaching his hand out behind the scenes to seek stimulus money for the suburb of Carrollton after the camera lights went dark and the GOP campaign against the 2009 stimulus law quieted down.

The affluent city’s rail project is “shovel-ready,” Sessions wrote Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in February, urging his cabinet agency to give “full and fair consideration” to the city’s request for $81 million in stimulus money, according to the letter. Ironically, his letter suggested the project would create jobs, undercutting the very public argument he has made against the stimulus. Read more ..


Travel Safety

U.S. Pilots and Unions Nix Cockpit Video Recorders

October 11th 2010

Transportation Topics - United Airlines jet liner

Eight federal water-management officials climbed into a Cessna 208B aircraft in Montrose, Colorado, just after dawn on Oct. 8, 1997.

They were headed to the Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona, but the chartered plane disappeared from radar shortly after takeoff. Two days later, searchers found the plane flattened among 60-foot-tall pine trees. Everyone on board died.

It was clear from the wreckage that the Cessna dropped from the sky at about a 65 degree angle, according to an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. There was no fire. The plane had passed all inspections, and there was no evidence of a mechanical malfunction. There was some fog reported in the area, but no weather advisories had been issued. The pilot, in his early 60s, had no serious medical conditions or drugs in his system and didn’t issue a distress call. Read more ..


Mexico and Violence Against Women

A Woman of Steel Seeks Justice for Unrelenting Feminicides

October 4th 2010

Mexican Topics - Mexican memorial

Evangelina Arce is a woman of steel. A first glance at the diminutive and low-key woman might give a different impression, but don’t be fooled. For more than 12 long years, Doña  Eva has searched for her missing daughter, Silvia Arce, who vanished in the urban jungle of Ciudad Juarez one night back in March of 1998. A friend of Silvia’s, dancer Griselda Mares, also fell from the face of the earth the same evening.

Since the disappearance of the 29-year-old mother of three, Doña  Eva has suffered the violent loss of a grandson and the murder of a son-in-law. She has been physically assaulted and threatened. Death threats even forced Doña  Eva to abandon Ciudad Juarez for a spell. Yet like other mothers of missing young women, Doña  Eva perseveres in her search for the truth about the fate of a loved one.

"It wasn't a toy, it was a daughter we lost," Doña  Eva told a crowd gathered at New Mexico State University this month. "We are going to continue in the struggle." 

Doña Eva's story begins in the late winter, the time of year in the borderland when the wind howls dust and the days alternate between the last bitter lashes of winter and the first warm hugs of spring. With three children to support, Silvia Arce was earning an income selling jewelry and cosmetics to the dancers working the old Pachangas nightclub. Read more ..


Toxic Edge

Plastics Ingredient Vinyl Chloride is Focus of Lawsuit Against Chemical Giant Rohm and Haas

September 27th 2010

Corporate Logos - Dow Chemical

Bryan Freund compares his fragile condition to having “a time bomb in your head. You just don’t know when it’s going to go off.”

Freund, 49, has brain cancer, which he blames on careless practices at a chemical plant just north of his home. He’s among 17 current or former residents of the village of McCullom Lake, Illinois, who have developed the disease since 1993; 10 have died. The plant, operated by Rohm and Haas, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Co., is at the root of a potentially groundbreaking lawsuit scheduled for trial Sept. 20 in Philadelphia. “This is the biggest brain cancer cluster case I’m aware of,” said Aaron Freiwald, a lawyer for the plaintiffs who has worked on the case for nearly five years.

The seeming excess of brain cancer in McCullom Lake — a municipality of barely 1,000 people in McHenry County, about 50 miles northwest of Chicago — is striking in itself, given that malignant brain tumors occur in the general U.S. population at the rate of 6.4 per 100,000, according to the National Cancer Institute. But the town has recorded 13 benign brain tumors in addition to the 17 malignancies, as well as one case of liver disease severe enough to require a transplant. Read more ..


Cuba on Edge

Cuba in The U.S. Congress

September 27th 2010

Cuba Topics - Los Hermanos Castro y Cia.
Fidel Castro and Raul Castro

Holding true to its historic ability to garner international press attention seemingly disproportionate to its geographic size, Cuba has once again claimed the spotlight. From a now disputed statement from Fidel Castro that the ”Cuban model” no longer functions to the glimmering possibility that the U.S. government will remove Cold War-era travel bans, it is clear that change is in the Caribbean winds.

As a recent TIME Magazine article reports, the bill in the House of Representatives, H.R. 4645: Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act appears to be stalled after clearing the initial hurdle of the House Committee on Agriculture by a vote of 25-20-1. Read more ..


The Edge on Terrorism

The Anniversary of 9/11 and What Didn’t Happen That Day

September 20th 2010

Terrorism - Ayman al-Zawahiri
Ayman al-Zawahiri

September 11, 2010, the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, was a day of solemn ceremony, remembrance, and reflection. It was also a time to consider the U.S. reaction to the attack nine years ago, including the national effort to destroy al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in order to prevent a repeat of the 9/11 attacks. Of course, part of the U.S. reaction to 9/11 was the decision to invade Afghanistan, and the 9/11 anniversary also provided a time to consider how the United States is now trying to end its Afghanistan campaign so that it can concentrate on more pressing matters elsewhere. Read more ..


The Bear is Back

Back in the USSR

September 13th 2010

Russian Topics - Heads on Pikes in Russian Youth Camp

Credit: Anti-Fascist Committee of Finland/Dr. Johan Backman

A row of wooden stakes with puppet heads stood planted in a forest camp attended by 20,000 young Russians this summer. Mounted above the heads was a large red slogan in Russian, declaring “We are not glad to see you here.”

On the puppets: photographs of Western political figures, including Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, and five judges of the European Court for Human Rights, as well as members of the Estonian Parliament and an assortment of Russian opposition leaders. Sitting atop each head was a cap bearing a Nazi swastika.

This rather odd form of installation art appeared at the Kremlin-backed All Russia Youth Innovative Forum, staged from July 1 to 28 along Seliger Lake in central Russia, about 235 miles from Moscow. Read more ..


Inside the Mideast

Sick Man on the Nile

September 6th 2010

Arab Topics - Hosni Mubarak
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

Last week, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak brought his son Gamal to Washington to attend the kick-off of renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Back in Cairo, the unprecedented family visit will no doubt reinforce the widespread belief that Mubarak is planning a hereditary succession in the Arab republic. It will also confirm, for many, the rampant speculation that Egypt's president of nearly 30 years is gravely ill.

Since March, when Mubarak paid a lengthy visit to a European hospital specializing in oncology, reports have been circulating that the president is suffering from pancreatic cancer. Recent photos showing the once robust man cutting an uncharacteristically gaunt figure do little to dispel the rumors. Regardless of his diagnosis, the octogenarian's tenure in office would appear to be nearing an end. Read more ..


Toxic Edge

Government and Capitalist Alliance Makes Russia an Asbestos Behemoth

August 30th 2010

Health/Medicine - asbestos hazard

In the aptly named city of Asbest, in the Ural Mountains 900 miles (1500 km) northeast of Moscow, the dominance of Russia’s asbestos industry — the world’s largest — is on clear display. Just east of the city is the massive open-pit Uralasbest mine. At seven miles (11 km) long and 1-½ miles (2.5 km) wide, it is nearly half the size of Manhattan — and more than a thousand feet (300 meters) deep. Nearly half a million metric tons of asbestos are gouged from the mine each year.

Seventy thousand people live in Asbest, once known as “the dying city” for its extraordinary rates of lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases. But Uralasbest does not appear to have suffered any loss of status. It and other Russian asbestos producers operate with the swagger that comes from unwavering government support. Controversy bypasses them, perhaps in no small measure because Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is their ally. Nothing, it seems, is allowed to interfere with an industry that employs 400,000 people and, along with its counterpart in neighboring Kazakhstan, generates at least $800 million a year. Read more ..


Edge on Terrorism

U.S. Military Assistance to Lebanese Army is Questioned over Ties to Hezbollah

August 23rd 2010

Terrorism - Hezbollah Lebanon
Hezbollah troops

The August 3 fatal shooting of an Israel Defense Forces officer by a Lebanese Armed Forces soldier has sparked debate regarding the utility and wisdom of the U.S. military assistance program to Lebanon. Although such assistance is not new, the program's scope dramatically increased after the 2005 Cedar Revolution ended Syria's thirty-year occupation and swept the Arab world's only pro-Western, democratically elected government to power. In recent months, however, Syrian influence has returned, while Hezbollah has secured enough political power to effectively reverse many of the revolution's gains. Even before the August 3 incident, these changes on the ground prompted Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, to place a hold on the 2011 assistance package. Read more ..


Edge of Climate Change

Drought, Fire, and Grain in Russia

August 16th 2010

Russian Topics - Russian Fires

Three interlocking crises are striking Russia simultaneously: the highest recorded temperatures Russia has seen in 130 years of recordkeeping; the most widespread drought in more than three decades; and massive wildfires that have stretched across seven regions, including Moscow.

The crises threaten the wheat harvest in Russia, which is one of the world’s largest wheat exporters. Russia is no stranger to having drought affect its wheat crop, a commodity of critical importance to Moscow’s domestic tranquility and foreign policy. Despite the severity of the heat, drought, and wildfires, Moscow’s wheat output will cover Russia’s domestic needs. Russia will also use the situation to merge its neighbors into a grain cartel.

A History of Drought and Wildfire

Flooding peat bogs appears to be bringing the fires under control. Smoke from the fires has kept Moscow nearly shut down for a week. The larger concern is the effect of the fires — and the continued heat and drought, which has created a state of emergency across 27 regions — on Russia’s ordinarily massive grain harvest and exports.
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The Toxic Edge

Brazil's Lone Heroine Fights for Rights of Asbestos Workers

August 9th 2010

Health/Medicine - asbestos hazard

Inching along at rush hour in her battered black Chevrolet Corsa, Fernanda Giannasi joked about the pariah status she’s attained with the Brazilian asbestos industry. “I have no name,” she said. “I’m just ‘That woman.’”

No wonder. Giannasi, an inspector with the federal Ministry of Labor and Employment, has been trying to shut down the industry for the past quarter-century. She says that white asbestos — mined in the central Brazilian state of Goiás, turned into cement and other domestic products and increasingly sent abroad — has taken countless lives and will take countless more unless it is banned nationwide. The idea that it can be used safely, she says, is “a fiction.” Read more ..


The Labor Edge

Peeling Back the Truth on Guatemalan Bananas

August 2nd 2010

Food - Bananas

The banana outsells apples and oranges combined. Ubiquitous in homes and supermarket shelves throughout the United States, the cultivation and distribution of bananas entails a grim reality of cartels, unions, and governments entangled in human rights abuses, price wars, and trade disputes. This is a familiar setting where the strong international buyer rules over the weak provincial seller. In Guatemala, for example, deeply entrenched multinational companies (MNCs) have continuously dominated trade while disadvantaged banana campesinos since the early 1800s have labored under miserable conditions and for wretched pay. This has prevented a truly free market in which farmers and workers would be allowed to bargain in good faith or with the same freedom and privileges as the MNCs. Read more ..

The Archaeological Edge

Oldest Known Writing Discovered in Jerusalem

August 2nd 2010

Archaeology Topics - akkadian cuneiform sample
A Sample of Akkadian Cuneiform

On July 12 the Hebrew University announced that a little clay fragment with the oldest known writing in Jerusalem had been discovered. From the late Bronze Age, it is considered a major discovery in Israel’s archeological community. The soil in which the fragment was found was taken from the fill excavated from beneath a 10th century B.C.E. tower dating from the period of King Solomon, at the Ophel area, located between the southern wall of the Old City of Jerusalem and the City of David.

The discovery was made by the team working under Dr. Eilat Mazar. The granddaughter of the late Professor of Archeology Binyamin Mazar, she is referred to as a “biblical archeologist,” as she uses the Bible as her blueprint. In 2008 Mazar told the Jerusalem Post, which had chosen her as one of their People of the Year, “I work with the Bible in one hand and the tools of excavation in the other. The Bible is the most important historical source.” Read more ..


Edge of Terrorism

Fanning the Flames of Jihad

July 26th 2010

Terrorism - Zawahiri
Ayman al-Zawahiri

On July 11, 2010, al-Malahim Media, the media arm of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), published the first edition of its new English-language online magazine “Inspire.” The group had tried to release the magazine in late June, but for some reason — whether a technical glitch, virus (as rumored on some of the jihadist message boards) or cyberattack — most of the initial file released was unreadable.

The magazine was produced by someone who has a moderate amount of technological savvy, who speaks English well and who uses a lot of American idioms and phraseology. We did not note any hint of British or South Asian influence in the writing.

A government source has suggested that Inspire was produced by a U.S citizen who was born in Saudi Arabia named Samir Khan. Khan is a well-known cyber-jihadist — indeed, The New York Times did an excellent story on Khan in October 2007. Given Khan’s background, history of publishing English-language jihadist material and the fact that he reportedly left the United States for Yemen in 2009 and has not returned, it does seem plausible that he is the driving force behind Inspire. Read more ..


The Spiritual Edge

The Interpretation of Dreams by Ancient Rabbinical Authorities

July 26th 2010

Jewish Topics - Rabbi at schul

Dreams have always held significance for human beings through the ages, and dreaming has been associated with a multitude of different notions. The idea of dreams functioning as a link between humans and the divine has been particularly common. According to a thesis in religious studies from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, this notion is also found within Judaism from the period of Late Antiquity.

"The rabbis interpreted dreams using the same methods that they used to interpret the Bible. Texts and dreams were interwoven, for example stories in the religious documents tell of rabbis dreaming that they are reading verses from the Bible. Jewish prayers and dream rituals also recommend recitation of Scriptural verses as a way of dealing with bad dreams; the good text functioning as a kind of weapon against the evil dream," explained the author of the thesis, Professor Erik Alvstad, in a press statement.

The belief that gods and other divine forces convey knowledge and insights to humans through dreams is highlighted in many of the accounts of dreams that readers come across in ancient literary works, such as the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, the Bible, the works of Homer and the Icelandic sagas. Dream interpretation, prayers and rituals to ward off evil dreams, as well as methods that could be employed in order to encourage good dreams through the power of suggestion, also occurred in ancient cultures. Read more ..


The Urban Poor

Legal Aid Societies under Investigation as they Help the Poor and Help Themselves

July 19th 2010

Social Topics - baltimore povery art
Baltimore blight

U.S. Assistant Attorney General Tony West hailed Maryland’s Legal Aid Bureau with a rousing speech a few weeks ago that equated the nonprofit group with great American poverty fighters like Adlai Stevenson, Thurgood Marshall, and Clarence Darrow.

The Maryland group is “an institution where the overriding charge is to do not what is popular, or partisan, or political, but to do what is right,” the Justice Department’s top civil attorney boasted May 20 at an annual awards celebration in which the group rented out a red-bricked banquet hall inside Baltimore’s Camden Yard’s baseball stadium.

Unbeknownst to West at that moment, though, prosecutors inside his own department were preparing a criminal case exposing how Maryland’s Legal Aid Bureau failed for more than a decade to catch one of its top executives, who is accused of systematically defrauding the federally funded program.

Six days after West’s speech, Legal Aid Bureau’s former chief financial officer was charged in U.S. District Court in Baltimore with stealing, along with an accomplice, more than $1 million in federal, state and private monies that were supposed to help the poor get legal help but were instead spent on such things as personal junkets to Atlantic City for gambling and prostitutes, officials said. Read more ..



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