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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 ..

Egypt in Revolt

Egypt Seeks a Third Way between Military Dictatorship and Theocracy in the Lotus Revolution

February 6th 2011

Africa Topics - Egyptian cop and lady

Egyptians have taken to the streets in full force to demand the departure of President Hosni Mubarak in days of mass mobilization for regime change. At the same time, the American policy establishment is hyperventilating about the possibility of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood (MB) coming to power when all is said and done.

As an Egyptian Christian woman, I have deep concerns that Egypt could be ruled by illiberal forces that do not abide by democratic principles or govern with respect for fundamental human rights including religious freedom, protection of minorities, and equal rights for women. However, there are many reasons why I do not believe Egypt is headed in this direction, and why I support Egypt's Lotus Revolution. Read more ..

Economic Recovery on Edge

Democrats Complain that Obama Broke Pledge to Force Banks to Help Homeowners

February 6th 2011

Economy - Foreclosure
Obama's Backward Pledge

Before he took office, President Obama repeatedly promised voters and Democrats in Congress that he’d fight for changes to bankruptcy laws to help homeowners—a tough approach that would force banks to modify mortgages.

“I will change our bankruptcy laws to make it easier for families to stay in their homes,” Obama told supporters at a Colorado rally on September 16, 2008, the same day as the bailout of AIG.

Bankruptcy judges have long been barred from lowering mortgage payments on primary residences, though they could do it with nearly all other types of debt, even mortgages on vacation homes. Obama promised to change that, describing it as exactly “the kind of out-of-touch Washington loophole that makes no sense.” Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The Truth Left Behind: Baiting the Trap

January 30th 2011

Terrorism - Daniel Pearl
Richard Reid

On September 11, 2001, as hijacked jetliners slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Daniel Pearl was 7,500 miles away in Bihar, India. Pearl, South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, was horrified as he watched replays of the attacks flash on his hotel television.

The next day, he flew to Karachi, the chaotic port city that is Pakistan’s commercial center, because he suspected the trail of responsibility might lead to Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and his associates in neighboring Afghanistan.

Pearl recognized the dangers of being an American journalist in a city plagued by criminal gangs, growing Islamic extremism, and violence. On September 17, 2001, he wrote lightheartedly to a friend: “Hi from Karachi, which would be a great city if we weren't scared to go out of the hotel.”

From there, Pearl flew north to a quieter Islamabad, the capital, where he hoped officials and other sources could give him their take on who organized the terrorist attacks in America. One of those sources was Khalid Khawaja, a former officer with Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, known as the ISI. He was also a self-proclaimed companion of bin Laden during the days when both Pakistan and the U.S. were providing semi-covert military aid to Afghan militants fighting Soviet occupation. Read more ..

Economic Recovery on Edge

Customers Close Accounts to Protest Wall Street and Abusive Lending Practices

January 30th 2011

Economy - I am not your ATM

The death blow for Michael Dalrymple’s Phoenix eco-friendly building supply company was the credit freeze that paralyzed the banking system and the nation in the fall of 2008.

“Once the economy melted down, 70 percent of my business evaporated overnight,” Dalrymple said. “Customers who would use a home equity line of credit to retrofit their homes were told by their banks that they didn’t have that credit anymore.”

His business, called a.k.a Green, held on a little longer, but closed its doors for good in 2009.

Dalyrmple said he blames the big banks and their political enablers for credit freeze that killed his business. “It was extremely frustrating as an entrepreneur looking to be in charge of my success or failure to come to the realization that the fate of my business was determined by greed, corruption and illegal behavior on Wall Street and in Washington,” he said.

It took more than two years, but Dalrymple will soon extract his own very small measure of revenge. Read more ..

Latin America on the Edge

Nicaragua Dredges Up Old Issues with Costa Rica on the San Juan River

January 30th 2011

Latin American Topics - Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua

As mounting tensions continue to smolder on the Korean Peninsula, another border dispute has been heating up in Central America, pitting Nicaragua against Costa Rica. Though it lacks the geopolitical gravitas and explosive nature of the conflict between North and South Korea, the standoff over a small area along the San Juan River has been the recurrent basis of a bitter and protracted affair. This deep-rooted dispute over an area of uninhabitable marshland is becoming increasingly nasty and convoluted. The historical resentment between the two neighbors blends with current political objectives that pose no small danger of bringing conflict to the region. In the January 11 – 13 opening arguments before the International Court of Justice, representatives from Costa Rica and Nicaragua pulled out all of the stops in an effort to convince the Court of the merits of their respective cases. Indeed, according to Pablo Gamez, reporting from The Hague, “the hurling of accusations” that took place during the preliminary hearings served to further strain bilateral relations between the two Central American neighbors. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The Truth Left Behind: Finishing Daniel Pearl’s Work

January 24th 2011

Terrorism - Daniel Pearl

On the morning of May 17, 2002, Pakistani police investigator Fayyaz Khan ordered officers to dig inside a compound in the Gulzar-e-Hijri neighborhood, a poor area on Karachi’s outskirts. It was not a pleasant task. At the scene, Randall Bennett, the U.S. State Department’s regional security officer in Karachi, lit a cigarette to mask the stench of death.

This was the stomach-turning culmination of the search for kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. He had been abducted nearly four months earlier on January 23 while trying to chase down possible Pakistani connections to “shoe bomber” Richard Reid, the British Muslim man who attempted to blow up an American Airlines jetliner over the Atlantic.

Gently, under the watchful eye of a colonel in Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, police officers lifted their find. First: a skull four doctors on the scene said had been “decapitated,” the U.S. consul general, John Bauman, later wrote in a State Department cable. Then the upper torso, still wearing the light blue track suit that Pearl’s kidnappers had him wear. Pearl’s body, cut into about 12 pieces, was removed. This outcome, sadly, came as little surprise. A gruesome videotape had circulated earlier, drawing worldwide attention, showing Pearl’s beheading by a man whose face the camera never revealed.

Locating the remains, however, was a breakthrough. Pakistani police and U.S. officials for the first time had established a link to Pearl’s actual murderers. The man who led police to the site, a young militant named Fazal Karim, sat in jail across town. Read more ..

The Edge on Terror

Hezbollah’s War on International Justice

January 18th 2011

Contributors / Staff - Walid Phares new

On January 12, Hezbollah brought down Lebanon’s democratic government. The group withdrew its ministers from the cabinet, crumbling the unity government in an impeccably-timed constitutional coup only a few hours before prime minister Saad Hariri was to meet President Obama in Washington.

The message came directly from Hassan Nasrallah, the head of the Iran-backed militia, to Hariri, son of slain prime minister Rafiq Hariri: We won’t allow you to request international support for the United Nations tribunal investigating your father’s assassination.

Hezbollah’s political preemptive strike stymies the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s ability to arrest the alleged perpetrators of the killing, who—all signs suggest—are members of the organization.

But the play sends another more ominous message, as well: It’s Tehran’s way of telling Washington that Lebanon is now a satellite of the Islamic Republic of Iran, not an ally of the United States.

After 15 years of civil war between a camp backed by Syria and Hezbollah and its moderate, pro-American opponents, most of Lebanon fell under Ba’athist occupation in 1990. The Israelis maintained a security zone south of the Litani river, but the rest of the country was beholden to Syria and Iran.

Ten years later, Israel withdrew, and dismantled its local proxy force on the Lebanese side of the border after Beirut’s Syrian-controlled government pledged to send in the regular Lebanese army and allow the U.N. monitoring forces to protect the demarcation lines. But Syrian intelligence ruled the country with an iron fist, and Hezbollah advanced south to Israel’s border anyway. Read more ..

Guns in America

Tucson Shooter Was Troubled, but Could Still Buy A Gun

January 18th 2011

Crime Topics - Jared Loughner
Jared Lee Loughner

The months-long pattern of bizarre behavior by alleged Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner has once again raised questions about what sort of mental health problems should bar the purchase of a firearm, and how such issues should be flagged for law enforcement or treatment officials.

Loughner is accused of a shooting spree on January 8 in Tucson that killed six people and wounded 14, including Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was hosting a public meeting with constituents. Loughner, 22, was suspended last year from Pima Community College following a series of widely reported outbursts in a mathematics class. College officials told him he could not return until he obtained a mental health clearance that demonstrated he was not a danger to himself or to others. Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

In Guantánamo Opinion, Two Versions of Reality

January 10th 2011

Terrorism - gitmo camp sign

When Judge Henry Kennedy, Jr. ordered the release of a Guantánamo Bay detainee last spring, the case appeared to be a routine setback for an Obama administration that has lost a string of such cases.

But there turns out to be nothing ordinary about the habeas case brought by Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman, a Yemeni held without charges for nearly eight years. Uthman, accused by two U.S. administrations of being an al-Qaida fighter and bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, is among 48 detainees the Obama administration has deemed too dangerous to release but “not feasible for prosecution.” Read more ..

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 ..

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