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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 ..

The 2012 Vote

Newt Gingrich Straddles Fine Line Between Saints and Sinners

April 4th 2011

Politics - Newt Gingrich 4_2011
Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich is straddling a fine line: Even as he courts evangelicals wary of his two divorces, a Gingrich political committee has taken millions from a casino titan whose industry is often anathema to the Christian right.

Confronted with repeated questions about his personal life, Gingrich has created a pair of religious-oriented nonprofit groups that since 2009 have raised over $5 million to boost his standing among evangelical conservatives.

Meanwhile, Gingrich’s key political group, American Solutions for Winning the Future, has hauled in $7 million from one big financial backer — Sheldon Adelson, the multi- billionaire chairman of the Las Vegas Sands casino, who is expected to help raise funds for Gingrich if he opts to run for president. The Sands recently disclosed it is under Justice Department investigation for possible bribery in the Chinese gambling hub of Macau where it has a major casino operation. And last December while Adelson was visiting Macau, the police anti-vice squad raided his Venetian Hotel and arrested more than 100 alleged prostitutes and pimps on charges of running a sex ring out of the resort. Read more ..

Border War

ATF: Weak Laws and Paltry Resources Hinder Gun Trafficking Probes

April 4th 2011

Mexican Topics - ATF Agent w/AK-47
ATF Agent with AK-47

Since March, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has endured sharp criticism for a decision to risk letting hundreds of assault weapons slip into the hands of brutal Mexican drug cartels as part of a controversial sting operation last year.

A lot has happened in the month since the controversy over the so-called Fast and Furious probe by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) came to light. As part of the Fast and Furious investigation, ATF officials decided to let hundreds of suspicious guns “walk” over the border to Mexico in hopes of nailing higher-ups in the drug cartels south of the border. The strategy was met by strong opposition among some of the agency’s front-line agents, one of whom took his misgivings to the Senate Judiciary Committee as a whistleblower. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The Truth Left Behind: Rushing to Judgment

April 4th 2011

Terrorism - Pearl Perps

Clockwise from top left: Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib, Sheikh
Mohammed Adil, and Omar Sheikh—all convicted of the Pearl murder.
Credit: Pakistani police

Two months after Omar Sheikh and his cohorts were apprehended, the Pakistani judicial system was putting into place all the pieces necessary to try the four men in a court of law. But what followed turned out to be less about meting out justice and more about putting a quick end to this embarrassing incident.

The trial was closed to the public. Through interviews with those in attendance as well as a close examination of the voluminous 2,400 pages of court records chronicling the case, the Pearl Project has stitched together much of what unfolded in the three-month trial, offering a rare window into the Pakistani judicial system and its tenuous relationship with the ideal of the rule of law. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

From Chernobyl to Fukushima: Nuclear Safety is Still in Doubt

April 4th 2011

Japan - fukushima reactor smoke
Fukushima nuclear plant

Soldiers long ago shot the dogs and cats. Today, the only sound on Lenin Avenue is a chill wind blowing dead leaves. In the summer, thick vegetation obscures six-story apartment blocks, once homes for the city’s 50,000 residents. Once a model Soviet community built for Chernobyl’s nuclear power station, Pripyat now looks like a post apocalypse film set.

Tourists, some wearing face masks, pick their way carefully through dimly lit corridors, boots crunching on broken glass. They walk down debris strewn sidewalks, keeping an eye out for missing manhole covers. Side streets have narrowed into tunnels as bushes and trees have grown unchecked for a quarter century. Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

First US-lead Archaeological Survey of Iraq in 20 Years yields Origins of Mesopotamian cities

April 4th 2011

Archaeology Topics - Mesopotamia archaeology

Three National Science Foundation-supported researchers recently undertook the first non-Iraqi archaeological investigation of the Tigris-Euphrates delta in nearly 20 years. Archeologists Jennifer Pournelle and Carrie Hritz, with geologist Jennifer Smith, carried out the study late last year to look for links between wetland resources and the emergence of Mesopotamian cities.

"Mesopotamia"--Greek for "the land between the rivers"--is an area about 300 miles long and 150 miles wide straddling the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which now run through Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran. It is broadly considered a cradle of civilization, because urban societies first developed there, about six thousand years ago. Read more ..

Edge of Computing

NASA Mission Computers Vulnerable to Hackers

March 30th 2011

Technology - NASA mission control

The computer networks responsible for NASA spacecraft missions like the International Space Station and the Hubble Telescope are vulnerable to computer hackers and cyber attacks, according to an audit by the NASA inspector general.

The inspector general found vulnerabilities on six computers with IT capabilities that control spacecraft were so severe that remote attackers could take control of them through the Internet. Once attackers gain access to the network, they can use a compromised computer to exploit other weaknesses and cripple NASA operations. The audit found six network servers that revealed encryption keys, passwords, and account information. Sensitive data, all accessible through the Internet, which could then lead to further access on other NASA networks. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The Truth Left Behind: Catching the Mastermind

March 30th 2011

Terrorism - Daniel Pearl

Kidnapping plotter Omar Sheikh had scurried out of town after turning over Daniel Pearl to local militant leaders in Karachi. Sheikh later told police that Asif Ramzi, an operational leader, called him and told him that Pearl had been killed. Sheikh recalled that he immediately phoned Amjad Farooqi, his contact to the local militant leaders, and asked him to get the details. Farooqi met Sheikh in Lahore and confirmed that Pearl was dead. This account has Pearl dead before Sheikh was arrested. It isn’t clear how Sheikh responded, but when he was arrested he claimed to police that Pearl was still alive.

Sheikh had experience as a kidnapper, nabbing tourists in New Delhi in 1994, but, as far as is known, wasn’t a killer. Was his intention to carry through on the Pearl death threat, or was he playing to see what he could get? After all, he was sprung from jail in India by militants who had demanded and won his freedom in return for passengers aboard a hijacked Indian passenger flight. By his account, he was going to free the American he kidnapped in India, Bela Nuss. Police investigators familiar with Sheikh see him as a man who approached his crime as a tactical strategist, like the chess champion that he was as a British schoolboy, rather than as a cold-blooded killer. Even before the Pearl kidnapping, he had evaded U.S. efforts to extradite him for the Delhi kidnapping. Read more ..

The Battle for Libya

France leads Europe’s Libya Intervention

March 28th 2011

Military - French fighter planes

Distinct interests sparked the European involvement in Libya. The United Kingdom and France have issued vociferous calls for intervention in Libya for the past month, ultimately managing to convince the rest of Europe—with some notable exceptions—to join in military action, the Arab League to offer its initial support, and global powers China and Russia to abstain from voting at the U.N. Security Council.

U.S. President Barack Obama said March 21 that the leadership of the U.S.-European coalition against Libya would be transitioned to the European allies “in a matter of days.” Read more ..

Border Wars

Border Agents Unwittingly Freed Suspects Found with Weapons from Federal Sting

March 28th 2011

Mexican Topics - Seized weapons in Mexico

On Jan. 14, 2010, federal border patrol agents stopped two men driving a car through the border-crossing town of Columbus, New Mexico. Inside the vehicle was a cache of assault weapons, including AK-47s, Ruger .45-caliber handguns and pistols called “cop killers” because their ammunition can penetrate armor.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers ran the guns’ serial numbers in a nationwide database and waited. None of the eight came back flagged as stolen or suspect, so the agents let the men go — just a few short miles from the Mexican border, where gun trafficking is fueling a violent and deadly drug war.

At the time, the border guards were unaware that six of the weapons had been purchased by alleged straw buyers in a federal sting and were supposed to be monitored by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents trying to bust a major Mexican gun running ring. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Iranian Video Says Mahdi is 'Near'

March 28th 2011

Iran - The 12th Imam

New evidence has emerged that the Iranian government sees the current unrest in the Middle East as a signal that the Mahdi--or Islamic messiah--is about to appear.

This reporter has obtained a never-before-seen video produced by the Iranian regime that says all the signs are moving into place -- and that Iran will soon help usher in the end times.

While the revolutionary movements gripping the Middle East have created uncertainty throughout the region, the video shows that the Iranian regime believes the chaos is divine proof that their ultimate victory is at hand. Read more ..

Presidential Edge

George H.W. Bush—Revisited

March 21st 2011

Presidential - George HW Bush

He’s 86 now, his eyebrows silver and his legs weakened by Parkinson’s-like symptoms. But as George Herbert Walker Bush approaches his twilight years, the untold tales of his life of public service are beginning to spill out.

Americans grown weary of political spin and attack-dog politics are coming to embrace the 41st president in ways they didn’t when he actually occupied the Oval Office, or before that, when he served as Ronald Reagan’s loyal right-hand man.

Democrats who once mocked the Bush political dynasty are leading the charge. President Barack Obama has saluted the elder Bush several times, mostly recently bestowing on the Bush family patriarch America’s highest civilian honor last month at the White House. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The Truth Left Behind: Losing the Race Against Time

March 21st 2011

Terrorism - Daniel Pearl
Daniel Pearl

From the start, everyone knew that the hunt to find Daniel Pearl was a frantic race against time. They knew that it might not have a happy ending.

The kidnappers had quickly gone from an initial ransom note to a death threat. Their first note called him a CIA spy but then, learning he was Jewish, they declared he was not CIA but was working for the Israeli intelligence service Mossad. “Therefore,” they vowed, “we will execute him within 24 hours unless amreeka fulfils our demands.”

That was on January 30. Little did the FBI and Pakistani police know their efforts were futile. Three men had suddenly arrived just days after he was kidnapped and killed him, recording Pearl’s last words, “I am a Jew,” on a video.

There was an adrenaline rush when Pakistani police and FBI agents caught a break just a few days later. That kicked off a succession of dramatic raids across Karachi that would lead to the kidnapping mastermind and the men who sent out the ransom notes, but not to Pearl and the men who by then were in charge of his fate.

The ransom notes were the tipoff. In sending those notes by e-mail, the kidnappers unintentionally gave investigators an electronic trail they could trace back to the sender’s computer. On February 4, 2002, police traced the e-mails and photos of Pearl’s kidnapping to a cyber café, Speedy Internet. The owner produced records showing that a young man, an unemployed computer programmer named Fahad Naseem, had sent the e-mails. The tipoff led police to him, and they grabbed his laptop. Read more ..

Confronting the Farhud

The Struggle for Memory of the Farhud

March 21st 2011

Islamic Topics - al-Husayni and Hitler

Since the vicious massacre in Iraq known as the Farhud—the Pogrom of 1941 in Baghdad following the Sack of Basra on 7–8 May, 1941, many scholars among the Jews who left Iraq had been trying, largely in vain, to keep it alive in the Jewish collective memory. The Jewish Holocaust is widely believed to be confined to European Jewry only, and it overshadows all other calamities of WWII outside Europe.

In the Arab World, most of all in Iraq, a conspiracy of silence was carefully maintained against the successive massacres committed against Jews since the Farhud of 1941 and the Arab defeat in 1948 War. In Iraq the conspiracy started immediately before the blood of the innocent victims dried, when army and police officers roved the streets of Baghdad, warning the Jews not to testify against the murderers and looters. Even the official report on the massacre was not published until 1958.Later, a few articles were published in Hebrew and English by well-known historians such as Dr. Haim Cohen of the Hebrew University in 1966 and Prof. Elie Kedourie of London University in 1970. These researches drew the attention of very few scholars. Read more ..

Health Care on Edge

Insurers Lobbying on the Fine Print may Erase Consumer Protections

March 14th 2011

Economy - Insurance policy fine print

One of the provisions of the health reform law that insurers hate most requires that they spend at least 80 percent of what we pay them in premiums for actual medical care. That provision alone is a major reason why insurance companies and their allies invested so heavily in Republican candidates last year.

The insurers knew that if their candidates won—and most of them did—they would have a better than even chance of getting Congress to weaken that provision to the point of being almost meaningless. And they are well on their way to getting what they want.

As recently as 1993, insurance firms on average spent 95 percent of premiums they collected to pay medical claims. Since then, as more and more insurers have converted to for-profit status, that percentage has dropped—like a rock. Read more ..

Health Care on Edge

Deficit Cutters Eye Health IT Stimulus Funds as Obama’s Point Man Leaves

March 14th 2011

Politics - Dr David Blumnthal
Dr. David Blumenthal Credit: Emma Schwartz/Center for Public Integrity

Billions of unspent stimulus dollars intended to jump-start health care providers’ transition from paper to electronic records have suddenly become a target for lawmakers looking in every corner of the federal budget for cuts.

But backers of health information technology will have to make their case for preserving the money without help from the Obama administration’s point man, Dr. David Blumenthal, who departs this spring.

The funds are rooted in the HITECH Act, part of the 2009 federal stimulus law, which allotted $27 billion in Medicaid and Medicare incentive payments to doctors, hospitals and other health care providers who adopt electronic health records and show they’re being used to improve patient care.  Read more ..

Edge on the Ocean

Oldest known wild bird in US returns to Midway to raise chick

March 14th 2011

Animals - Albatross

The oldest known U.S. wild bird – a coyly conservative 60 -- is a new mother.

The bird, a Laysan albatross named Wisdom, was spotted a few weeks ago with a chick by John Klavitter, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist and the deputy manager of the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

The bird has sported and worn out 5 bird bands since she was first banded by U.S. Geological Survey scientist Chandler Robbins in 1956 as she incubated an egg. Chandler rediscovered Wisdom in 2001. In 1956, he estimated Wisdom to be at least 5 years old then since this is the earliest age at which these birds breed, though they more typically breed at 8 or 9 after an involved courtship lasting several years. This means, of course, that Wisdom is likely to be in her early sixties. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The Truth Left Behind: Killing the Journalist

March 14th 2011

Terrorism - Daniel Pearl w/a Gun to his Head

Editor’s Note: Some of the passages in this chapter may be disturbing because of their violent and graphic nature.

In the bright sun of Pakistan’s winter, three men walked through the gate of a compound on the outskirts of Karachi, the fate of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in their hands. One was a tall, beefy man, clean shaven except for a big black mustache. He called himself “Mukhtar,” an Arabic word denoting leader. His two allies carried bags containing video gear and the implements for Pearl’s death and dismemberment—two knives, and a meat cleaver.

Some of the handful of local thugs guarding Pearl called them “the Arabs.” It isn’t clear if this was an ethnic reference or shorthand for Al Qaeda. And the guards’ boss, Attaur Rehman, the local leader of a militant group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, told them to do whatever these new men asked. If the kidnapping had been something of an ad hoc operation, this changed everything. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Allen West: Resurrecting the American Spirit to Fight Terror

March 7th 2011

Politics - Allen West #2
Allen West

He’s moved from Iraq and Afghanistan to a new type of battlefield: Washington, D.C.

Retired Army Lt. Col Allen West is taking the Capitol by storm with his “take-no-prisoners” approach. Fresh off a rousing star turn at the annual CPAC convention in Washington, D.C., the freshman congressman from Florida recently spoke with CBN and outlined his vision for America.

“Stand firm,” West told the CPAC audience to thunderous applause. “For this is the dawn of a new America.” Conservatives are smitten with West. A 22-year Army veteran, he’s a straight shooter with no love for political correctness.

“One of the things that I’ve noticed is that when you cross the Potomac, truth becomes subjective,” West told CBN News. “And I will not subscribe to that.”

Fighting Radical Islam

That includes his view on defeating radical Islam. “Can we really defeat this enemy if we don’t acknowledge the role that Islamic ideology plays in terrorism?” CBN News asked West.

“When you look at the national security strategy, it does not talk about jihadism, does not talk about Islamic terrorism, does not talk about Muslim extremism—as a matter of fact, it talks more about global warming and climate change,” he answered. Read more ..

Unions on Edge

Immigration and the Dilemma of American Unions

March 7th 2011

History American - Ellis Island Immigrants

Over its long and often turbulent evolution, the American labor movement has confronted few issues as persistently and as difficult has those related to subject of immigration. By definition, immigration affects the size of the labor force at any given time as well as its geographical distribution and skill composition. These vital influences, in turn, affect national, regional and local labor market conditions. Most immigrants directly join the labor force upon entering the country, as do eventually most of their family members. Hence, organized labor never has ignored immigration trends. As Samuel Gompers, one of the founders of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and its long-time president, wrote in his autobiography: “Immigration is, in its most fundamental aspects, a labor problem.” Read more ..

The Cold War

Gorbachev’s Foreign Policy Changed the Map of Europe

March 7th 2011

Russian Topics - Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev was elected General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on March 11, 1985. At 54, he was the youngest member of the ruling Politburo, which voted him into power. For the next six years, he instituted policies that would alter the course of history and ultimately lead to the demise of the Soviet Union.

On the domestic front, those policies were known as “glasnost”—openness—and “perestroika”—restructuring. In foreign affairs, Mr. Gorbachev’s reforms were known as “new thinking.”

Robert Legvold, with Columbia University, says it was not simply that Mr. Gorbachev changed Moscow’s behavior.

“It was this new political thinking as the representation of a fundamental, new conceptual notion of what the Soviet Union was or could be in international politics, how it should play its role, what the fundamental mistakes had been in the past," said Levgold. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Murdered Sephardic Jewish Community Remains Without a Voice

February 28th 2011

Jewish Topics - Bulgarian Jews
Jews Being Processed for Trains by Bulgarian Officials

Annually, it is repeated in the contemporary media how ‘Bulgaria became the only Nazi-allied country in World War II to protect its entire Jewish population’ or that ‘Bulgaria saved all of its Jews from the death camps.’ While ultimately, members of the Bulgarian government, the Bulgarian public, and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, did in fact take laudable actions which halted the deportation of 50,000 Jews from ‘Old’ Bulgaria to German death camps in Poland, there is no reason why the Bulgarian government should not discuss the 13,000 Jews they dispossessed, imprisoned, and deported from their own land of ‘United’ or ‘New’ Bulgaria. (See Video of Jewish deportations)

Here are the facts. On March 1, 1941, Bulgaria entered into a pact with the Axis powers and participated in the German-led attack on Yugoslavia and Greece. As a reward from Adolf Hitler, Bulgaria received most of the Balkan area known as Thrace and Macedonia. Stating that Thrace and Macedonia were their ancient Bulgarian lands, they proudly declared the territory ‘United’ or ‘New Bulgaria’ and, within one month, initiated a national campaign of Bulgarization which ended with Bulgaria deporting all of the areas 13,000 Jews, who were subsequently exterminated at the Treblinka death camp in German-occupied Poland. Read more ..

Edge on Corruption

A Corrupt Politician's Worst Nightmare is the Swiss 'Lex Duvalier'

February 28th 2011

Economy - International Currency 3

On February 1, 2011, the Swiss Restitution of Illicit Assets Act (RIAA), commonly referred to as “Lex Duvalier,” came into effect. This law provides for the freezing, forfeiture, and restitution of assets of politically exposed persons or their close associates. It applies in cases where a request for mutual assistance in criminal law matters cannot produce an outcome owing to the failure of state structures in the requesting state (the politically exposed person’s country of origin). The former leader of Haiti, Jean-Claude Duvalier, whose USD 6.2 million has been frozen in a Swiss bank account since 1986, will now have to return the money to its rightful owners—namely, the Haitian people. In a recent interview, Swiss attorney Enrico Monfrini, who represents the Haitian government in the legal battle, noted that, “Duvalier’s 6.2 million in Swiss banks is not a large amount compared with the hundreds of millions the former leader allegedly stole, but morally, repatriation of the money would be a huge victory.” Read more ..

The Edge of Terror

The Truth Left Behind: Holding the Hostage

February 28th 2011

Terrorism - Daniel Pearl w/a Gun to his Head

By the morning of Thursday, January 24, 2002, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl’s family, friends and colleagues had alerted everyone from the U.S. State Department to Pakistani police that the reporter had been missing since 7 p.m. the night before. Pakistani cops were scouring Pearl’s laptop at the home where Pearl was staying, searching for clues to his whereabouts.

In an urgent call about 2:10 a.m. to the U.S. Consulate in Karachi, Asra Nomani, co-director of the Pearl Project and then a Wall Street Journal reporter on book leave, said she and Pearl’s wife, Mariane, hadn’t heard from him for almost eight hours since he had called to say he was off to an interview with a cleric, Sheik Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani. A Marine guard told her to call back in the morning to talk with Randall Bennett, the U.S. regional security officer. Meanwhile, she alerted The Wall Street Journal, which called the State Department in Washington. Mariane called Pearl’s parents. Read more ..

Edge on Environment

Environmental Benefits are Silver Lining in Australian Flood Clouds

February 28th 2011

Australia Topics - Aussie in her Flooded Home

Heavy seasonal rains that began late last year in Australia caused floods that devastated parts of the country. But experts say the downpours also reinvigorated parched rivers and wildlife sanctuaries, including one of Australia's most valued wetlands.  The Macquarie Marshes in New South Wales, an internationally recognized breeding ground for thousands of birds, are teeming with life for the first time in years following a protracted drought.

It has been a decade since New South Wales's Macquarie Marshes were so vibrant.  A long-standing drought had turned the internationally renowned wetlands, about 650 kilometers northwest of Sydney, into a dusty wilderness.  However, months of heavy rain have brought a gradual revival. The region has a rich diversity of flora and fauna, from giant river red gum trees, rare frogs and reptiles to the pink Cockatoo and the turquoise parrot. Read more ..

Islam on Edge

Scientists Date the Famed Bamiyan Buddhas as part of Restoration Attempt

February 28th 2011

Art Topics - Bamiyan Buddha diagram

The world watched in horror as Taliban fanatics ten years ago blew up the two gigantic Buddha statues that had since the 6th century looked out over the Bamiyan Valley in what is now Afghanistan. Located on the Silk Road, until the 10th century the 55 and 38 meter tall works of art formed the centerpiece of one of the world's largest Buddhist monastic complexes. Thousands of monks tended countless shrines in the niches and caves that pierced a kilometer-long cliff face.

Since the suppression of the Taliban regime, European and Japanese experts, working on behalf of UNESCO and coordinated by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), have been endeavoring to secure the remains and restore access to the statues. The fragments are being very carefully examined, as prior to the explosion the Buddha statues had barely been researched. For a year and a half now, scientists from the Chair of Restoration, Art Technology and Conservation Science have been studying several hundred fragments at Germany's Technical University of Munich (TUM). Their findings not only contribute to our understanding of this world cultural heritage site, they may also enable the parts recovered to be reassembled. Read more ..

Edge on Islands

Resurrection of Nativism Stuns Chile at Remote Easter Island

February 21st 2011

Latin American Topics - Easter Island Moai

Hidden away in the Pacific Ocean, more than 2,000 miles from the Chilean coastline, the non-violent protests staged by Easter Island’s Hito family reached a critical climax on Sunday February 6, 2011. Fifty armed members of the Chilean national police force (los Carabineros) mounted an illegal raid on the hotel and forcefully evicted the family that has occupied the grounds since August 2010. This action was in direct violation of Chile’s Supreme Court order denouncing their violent dislodgement.

Easter Island’s indigenous people, the Rapa Nui, boast a rich culture and mythology, which continues to occupy a central place among the island’s 36 clans. The greatest modern-day remnants of the island’s history are the enormous, monolithic Moai statues that litter the coastline, which have today become the island’s top drawcard for tourists. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The Truth Left Behind: Kidnapping the Journalist

February 21st 2011

Terrorism - Daniel Pearl
Daniel Pearl

As dusk fell on the evening of Wednesday, January 23, the Karachi streets swelled with people bustling to get home. Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl stood in front of the Village Restaurant, waiting for a 7 p.m. meeting.

Pearl thought he was about to have an interview like so many he had had in the past with dodgy characters in Pakistan. Even in the early days after 9/11, it was common for reporters to go in the vehicles of suspicious strangers to interview known extremists. It was a calculated risk. At the time, most journalists felt they had certain immunity with even the most hardened criminals or radicals because they gave voice to the disenfranchised and dispossessed. Yet, Pearl was certainly no cowboy. After war broke out in Afghanistan, he had written to a friend: “I’m dying to go to Afghanistan, but not really anxious to die.”

What was to happen to Pearl shows how the rules of the game have changed in this age of terrorism, how reporters can no longer assume they possess a special immunity to the violence. To the contrary, reporters can seem like easy targets—vulnerable and offering a way to snare global headlines. The case demonstrates the challenges that law enforcement and intelligence officials continue to encounter in attempting to pursue terrorists and prevent acts of violence.

Pearl’s abduction was characterized by low-tech, personalized communications that relied on pre-established ties of friendship and family. The episode underscores how critical it is to understand what is known in defense and intelligence circles as “the human terrain,” if authorities want to uncover and prevent terrorist activities. Read more ..

Border War

Mexican Human Rights Advocates and Critics Pay with their Lives

February 21st 2011

Mexican Topics - Mexican women protesters

The sister of a murdered woman from Ciudad Juarez is the latest activist in the border city to suffer an agression against her person or property.

On the evening of February 16, armed men set fire to the house of Malu Garcia Andrade, while she was attending a hunger strike/protest encampment in support of other human rights activists under siege. No one was injured in the fire, but Garcia's home sustained serious damages.

"I fear for the lives of my children, my mother and my own," Garcia told the Mexican press after the arson attack. "The government has ignored the recommendations of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that ordered protective measures for my family. That's why I hold the state government responsible for what happens to me." Read more ..

Election Edge 2012

Haley Barbour’s 2012 Money Juggernaut

February 21st 2011

Politics - Haley Barbour

In a few weeks, Julie Finley—one of Washington’s political grande dames—will host a fundraiser for Haley Barbour, who boasts a Midas-like rolodex of his own.

On March 2, the two-term Mississippi governor and prospective presidential candidate expects to raise big bucks for Haley’s PAC with lots of help from former K Street colleagues who have signed up to haul in $10,000 each. “Haley has a terrific capacity to raise a lot of money, probably the broadest base of any Republican in the running,” Finley, a former ambassador, told the Center. The fundraiser will be held at Finley’s home in northwest Washington. Read more ..

Egypt After the Revolt

Egypt: The Distance Between Enthusiasm and Reality

February 21st 2011

Egypt - Bye bye Mubarak

On February 11, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned. A military council was named to govern in his place. On February 11-12, the crowds that had gathered in Tahrir Square celebrated Mubarak’s fall and the triumph of democracy in Egypt. On February 13, the military council abolished the constitution and dissolved parliament, promising a new constitution to be ratified by a referendum and stating that the military would rule for six months, or until the military decides it’s ready to hold parliamentary and presidential elections.

What we see is that while Mubarak is gone, the military regime in which he served has dramatically increased its power. Read more ..

Edge of Climate Change

Media Shows no Linkage Between Climate Change and Mexico's Pummeling Winter Storms

February 14th 2011

Environment Topics - Puebla Mexico frost on crops

The February 2011 freeze has left a path of crumpled crops, pummeled harvests and dashed dreams in the countryside of northern Mexico. Hardest hit was the northwestern state of Sinaloa, known as the "Bread Basket of Mexico," where about 750,000 acres of corn crops were reported destroyed after unusually cold temperatures blanketed the north of the country in January and early February.

Sinaloa is among Mexico's major producers of white corn, the variety of maize used to make staple tortillas. Heriberto Felix Guerra, secretary of the federal Secretariat for Social Development (SEDESOL), called the weather-related losses "the worst disaster" in the history of Sinaloa. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The Truth Left Behind: Finding a Safe House

February 14th 2011

Terrorism - Daniel Pearl

As they had done together so many times before, Daniel Pearl and his wife, Mariane, headed out to an airport. They first met in Paris, when Pearl was based in London, and had been married for less than a year when he was sent by The Wall Street Journal to cover South Asia in 2000. Since then, they often traveled together, avoiding the frequent separations that can be a strain on married life for a foreign correspondent. And now, expecting their first child, their time together was more important than ever.

On this morning, Tuesday, January 22, 2002, the Pearls flew from Islamabad to Karachi. He was excited about an interview set for 7 p.m. the next evening with Sheik Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani, a Pakistani religious leader who reportedly was tied to “shoe bomber” Richard Reid.

In Karachi, there were a lot of preparations being made for the meeting, but not of a kind Pearl anticipated.

Omar Sheikh, a Pakistani-British man arrested for kidnappings in India years earlier, was heading to a meeting under a busy overpass, the Baloch Colony Bridge, to find just the right English-speaking Pakistani to draw Pearl into his trap.

The day before, Sheikh had burrowed into the dark network of criminals and thugs who acted as leaders in the Karachi militancy, according to Pakistani police files. In just a day’s time, with the right introductions, he was wired. But in the business of jihad, leaders alone can’t pull off an operation. It takes low-level hired guns, some of them influenced by ideology, but others just trying to make some money. Read more ..

Border War

Facts Dispel Myths about Mexico's Narco-Wars and Supply of Weapons

February 14th 2011

Mexican Topics - Seized weapons in Mexico

For several years now, we been closely watching developments in Mexico that relate to what we consider the three wars being waged there. Those three wars are the war between the various drug cartels, the war between the government and the cartels and the war being waged against citizens and businesses by criminals.

In addition to watching tactical developments of the cartel wars on the ground and studying the dynamics of the conflict among the various warring factions, we have also been paying close attention to the ways that both the Mexican and U.S. governments have reacted to these developments. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects to watch has been the way in which the Mexican government has tried to deflect responsibility for the cartel wars away from itself and onto the United States.

According to the Mexican government, the cartel wars are not a result of corruption in Mexico or of economic and societal dynamics that leave many Mexicans marginalized and desperate to find a way to make a living. Instead, the cartel wars are due to the insatiable American appetite for narcotics and the endless stream of guns that flows from the United States into Mexico and that results in Mexican violence. Read more ..

The Toxic Edge

Multiple Safety Failures Identified in Pesticide Plant Explosion

February 6th 2011

Environment Topics - WV Pesticide Plant Explosion

A new report on a 2008 explosion at a West Virginia pesticide factory offers a chilling account of a near-catastrophe involving a chemical that killed thousands in Bhopal, India, in 1984—and raises questions about safeguards at the plant.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board report details how a “runaway chemical reaction” caused a large pressure vessel to explode at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute, W. Va., on August 28, 2008. The blast killed two workers, injured eight others, and sent shards of metal into a large tank containing methyl isocyanate (MIC). Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The Truth Left Behind: Trapping the Journalist

February 6th 2011

Terrorism - Daniel Pearl

On Monday, January 21, 2002, Daniel Pearl, South Asia bureau chief at The Wall Street Journal, walked out into the afternoon sun, following a visit to a sonogram clinic in Islamabad, Pakistan, with his pregnant wife, Mariane. Beaming, he sent a text message to a friend: “It’s a boy!!!” He even had a name for his son: Adam.

That same day, 700 miles to the south, a plot was taking shape that would rob Pearl of the chance to ever see his son. A young man by the name of Omar Sheikh flew into Karachi, Pakistan’s chaotic commercial hub, that morning to assemble a kidnapping team. He began with a series of clandestine meetings at innocuous locations, including at a McDonald’s restaurant, tapping a local network of militants who would provide the muscle for his scheme.

It was Sheikh’s latest venture into the ruthless business of kidnapping. He had been jailed in India in 1994 for allegedly kidnapping Western tourists, including an American, on behalf of a militant Pakistani group. He had been freed in 1999 in exchange for passengers on a hijacked Indian Airlines plane. The United States was pressing Pakistan for Sheikh’s extradition, even as he slipped coolly through the streets of Karachi putting his next conspiracy into place. Read more ..

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