The BP Spill
|Aaron Mehta and John Solomon||June 14th 2010|
Center for Public Integrity
In the wee-morning hours after the Deepwater Horizon exploded, a Coast Guard rescue helicopter being dispatched to pluck oil rig survivors floating in the fire-engulfed waters could not launch because its hoist was broken.
The crew of the 25-year-old chopper was forced to switch to another aircraft, costing it 38 minutes at a time when the Coast Guard was trying to evacuate the wounded and search for missing workers who leapt into the Gulf Mexico to escape the fiery oil platform on the night of April 20.
Mechanical problems, like those detailed in the Coast Guard's official incident logs for the BP accident, have been experienced repeatedly during the last two major crises that summoned the service's famed search and rescue teams, investigation shows.
At least three Coast Guard aircraft and one cutter suffered serious mechanical problems that delayed, cut short, or aborted rescue missions during the Gulf incident, the logs reveal. The Coast Guard averaged one problem for every seven rescue sorties it operated during the first three days of the oil spill crisis in April, according to logs obtained. Read more ..
Edge on Narco-trafficking
|Dan Boscov-Ellen||June 7th 2010|
Two prevailing narratives have emerged in the American discourse over Mexico’s plague of drug violence. On the one hand, there are those who laud President Calderón’s hard-line anti-drug crusade while blaming Mexico’s plight entirely on Mexicans – on their “record of corrupt, weak and incompetent governance,” or on their “ineffective criminal justice system.” Then there is the more enlightened version of the tale, which similarly infantilizes Mexicans while at least conceding that the demand for drugs in the United States, along with private weapons sales in border states, are at least partly responsible for the country’s elevated level of drug violence.
Unfortunately, both of these archetypal accounts may miss the point. Commentators in the United States are almost uniformly unable or unwilling to discern the true underlying cause of Mexico’s drug-related violence, and instead settle for highlighting secondary symptoms. For example, the demand for drugs is not the issue; humankind’s desire to alter its consciousness has been a constant for virtually the totality of recorded history. The problem, rather, is their relegation to an underground market, which facilitates the growth of incredibly powerful criminal nexus – one of the lessons that alcohol prohibition should have taught us.
Read more ..
Inside Latin America
Council on Hemispheric Affairs
After 35 years of Alfredo Stroessner’s brutal dictatorship (1954-1989) and six decades of wasted opportunity under the authoritarian Colorado Party rule, Fernando Lugo’s presidential victory in 2008 marked a historic breakthrough for Paraguay. While campaigning, then-Bishop Lugo characterized himself as the “bishop for the poor,” and was successful in giving hope to Paraguay’s indigenous and disadvantaged communities. However, after two years in office, comparatively little has been done to address the promised redistribution of land to landless farmers as well as the rising tensions between campesinos and large monocrop (primarily soy) producers. Read more ..
Edge on International Finance
|Evgenij Haperskij ||May 24th 2010|
Council on Hemispheric Affairs
Since the mid-90s, the so-called vulture funds have been suing poor countries so that they would fully pay back their debts which they had purchased for pennies on the dollar. In this way, the vulture funds frequently manage to exacerbate the economic situation in the poor countries, most of which are located in Latin America and Africa. Since the beginning of this year, Britain has worked to end these extortionist actions of the vulture funds. However, Christopher Chope, a Conservative member of the British House of Commons saw to it that the government’s “Debt Relief Bill for developing countries,” which had impressive cross-party support, would be terminated.
The purpose of the bill was to limit the amount that can be recovered by any commercial creditor from defaulting on countries designated as possessing unsustainable external debts. If passed, it would have limited successful claims to an internationally agreed level and would apply equally to all commercial creditors. The bill would cover the 40 countries qualifying for the IMF/World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. The only chance of passing the bill before the British general elections this June was if there was unanimity in the House of Commons. Chope has single-handedly prevented the Debt Relief Bill applying to developing countries from passing in its third reading by shouting the word “object!” Read more ..
Inside the Financial Crisis
|George Friedman||May 17th 2010|
Financial panics are an integral part of capitalism. So are economic recessions. The system generates them and it becomes stronger because of them. Like forest fires, they are painful when they occur, yet without them, the forest could not survive. They impose discipline, punishing the reckless, rewarding the cautious. They do so imperfectly, of course, as at times the reckless are rewarded and the cautious penalized. Political crises — as opposed to normal financial panics — emerge when the reckless appear to be the beneficiaries of the crisis they have caused, while the rest of society bears the burdens of their recklessness. At that point, the crisis ceases to be financial or economic. It becomes political.
The financial and economic systems are subsystems of the broader political system. More precisely, think of nations as consisting of three basic systems: political, economic and military. Each of these systems has elites that manage it. The three systems are constantly interacting — and in a healthy polity, balancing each other, compensating for failures in one as well as taking advantage of success. Read more ..
Inside Latin America
Council on Hemispheric Affairs
After the April 4th start of the 2010 Major League Baseball (MLB) season, fans once again have been filling ballparks and clinging to the often passionate hope that this season will end with their favorite team ending up as World Series champions. However, beyond batting averages and home-run statistics of America’s favorite sluggers and fastball pitchers, often lie the startling facts of life and alarming tales that undergird the economic fundamentals of baseball and explain the evolution of the MLB’s demographics.
When looking at the demographics of professional baseball, one might wonder how many woeful tales lie behind the increasing number of success stories for players who hail from the Dominican Republic. For every successful player, how many personal tragedies occur as only a small percentage of the potential players make it onto even the minor league rosters? Major League Baseball invests upwards of $76 million in the Dominican Republic, of which $15 million is used in the operation of local, official MLB baseball academies, which frequently can be million-dollar “training facilities” that mirror the lavish resorts found on the island.
Twenty-eight of the thirty major league baseball teams own academies in the Dominican Republic, where new talent can legally qualify for admission to an academy as early as age 14. Here, the long road begins where the anointed are groomed to become the next Sammy Sosa or Vladimir Guerrero. Nevertheless, beyond the spotlight that falls on the one or two select players who make it are the hundreds of other prospects who will find themselves rejected. Most of the latter are likely to be returned to a life of poverty, with only the increasingly distant memories of chasing a dream that will never be captured. Read more ..
Thailand on the Edge
|Gregg J. Rickman||May 3rd 2010|
Cutting Edge Human Rights Analyst
On the night of April 22, 2010, while in Bangkok on a business trip, I was walking the streets of the business district where a colleague and I walked into a mass of people, thousands participating in pro-government demonstrations to counter the nearly two-month long campaign of protests by the opposing anti-government demonstrators known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, or the “Red Shirts.” The pro-government demonstrators, the People’s Alliance for Democracy, or the “Yellow Shirts,” or “Multi-Color Shirts,” were jovial, dancing about and were left untouched by the police and army units who calmly lined the streets separating the opposing forces.
The military units themselves were wearing different ribbons on their left sleeves, some wearing pink denoting support for the much honored and beloved Thai monarch, H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Read more ..
The Border's Edge
|David Danelo||April 26th 2010|
Foreign Policy Research Institute
On March 3, masked gunmen surrounded the United States consulate in Monterrey, Mexico, departing the exterior perimeter after a fifteen minute standoff. Ten days later, in Ciudad Juárez, three U.S. consulate employees were assassinated. Days later, Robert Krentz, an Arizona rancher who routinely gave water to illegal immigrants, was gunned down by a man who fled into Mexico. On April 2, after insurgents ordered civilians to leave the border town of El Porvenir, terrified locals sought asylum in Texas. One week later, a hand grenade exploded inside the U.S. consulate in Nuevo Laredo. On April 21, armed men seized two hotels in downtown Monterrey, emptied all rooms, and whisked away four guests and two receptionists. Mexico may not be a failed state, but the north is in chaos. Read more ..
The Edge of Justice
|Edwin Black||April 19th 2010|
Some people don't mind if Sholom Rubashkin gets life in prison and rots behind bars until he dies. Others are outraged at the harsh treatment being meted out to Rubashkin and ask in disbelief, “What's going on?”
Rubashkin is at the center of the torrid scandal swirling around the massively-investigated Agriprocessors kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa. Last November, a federal jury in South Dakota found Rubashkin guilty of 86 federal charges including bank, mail and wire fraud, and money laundering, as well as failing to pay livestock providers in the time required by law. Rubashkin, now 50 years old, is facing a tough Department of Justice sentencing request demanding that he be given the prison sentence that the Probation Department calculates, under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, as life in prison. His sentencing by U.S. District Chief Judge Linda Reade is scheduled for April 28–29, 2010.
Those who want Rubashkin locked away for the rest of his days list his crimes as numerous and odious. Charges by bloggers, Jewish media reporters, and prosecutors include a heinous track record of mistreating illegal alien workers; tolerating drug dealing and gun smuggling in the plant; money laundering; obstruction of justice; perjury; and the painful ritual slaughter of cattle, all in the process of creating arguably the most successful kosher meat business in America. Read more ..
Archaeology on the Edge
|Diana Lutz||April 12th 2010|
Jennifer Smith, PhD, associate professor of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, was belly crawling her way to the end of a long, narrow tunnel carved in the rock at a desert oasis by Egyptians who lived in the time of the pharaohs.
"I was crawling along when suddenly I felt stabbed in the chest," she says. "I looked down and saw that I was pressing against the broken end of a long bone. That freaked me out because at first I thought I was crawling over bodies, but I looked up and saw a sheep skull not too far away, so I calmed down. At least the bones weren't human."
What was she doing in the tunnel?
The answer: seeking an uncontaminated sample of a mineral that might have been the key ingredient in the blue used to decorate "blue painted pottery" popular among the Egyptian elite during the New Kingdom (1550 to 1079 BCE). Read more ..
Africa on the Edge
|Martyn Drakard||April 5th 2010|
Cutting Edge Africa Correspondent
The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebellion started in 1987, one year after Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni came to power, to end twenty years of civil strife. Under its “charismatic” leader Joseph Kony, who is apparently alive and well and almost a recluse, it brought about the internal displacement of almost two million people in camps. It is estimated that 66,000 children and young adults were abducted during their twenty-plus years of terror in northern Uganda—the boys were forced to become porters, then soldiers, and the girls porters and wives to the rebel officers. In 2006, a cease-fire was agreed upon, and the rebels re-located to the forests of north-east Congo (DRC).
The rebels are notoriously brutal. They force their young captives to kill or be killed on the slightest excuse, such as a complaint or slowness in obeying. Some captives are forced to kill close relatives or friends. The weapons they make them use are machetes or wooden stakes. This is part of their strategy: make the children and young adults lose all terms of reference they have grown up with, such as manners, respect, and sympathy for others, and ties of friendship and family. Their aim is to sow such fear that when they attack, people are too petrified to react, and if they do they are hacked or bludgeoned to death. Read more ..
Africa on the Edge
|Martyn Drakard||March 29th 2010|
Cutting Edge Africa Correspondent
This June 11th is the kick-off of the 2010 World Cup, in South Africa; the first time a global event like this, with anticipated billions of TV spectators, will take place on the continent. Many critical eyes will be focused not only on the matches, but also on the security measures and the overall organization for the 350,000 soccer fans expected.
The South African Emergency Management Services divisional chief, Sean Knoetze, told Associated Press they were prepared for everything: biological and chemical incidents, stadium collapses, aircraft crashes and flooding. “We never know what to expect,” he said. South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, addressing the Ugandan parliament in a state visit on March 25th, said the country intends to “disprove skeptics out to “de-campaign” Africa.” Leave for all military personnel will be cancelled during the one-month long tournament to forestall any civil demonstrations, and patrol the country’s borders to prevent trafficking in drugs and humans.
Read more ..
|Edwin Black||March 22nd 2010|
EDITORS NOTE: All details of Edwin Black’s Passover coverage are taken faithfully from Exodus chapters 5-15, plus Rashi’s Commentary.
Approximately two million Children of Israel are now encamped in the Sinai following their extraordinary exodus from Egypt yesterday. Just days ago, they were slaves to Pharaoh. Today, they are free men and women, destined for self-determination in a land of their own. Only now are the details of their fantastic experience coming to light.
The dramatic sequence of events began some weeks ago with the unexpected return of exiled prince Moses, who previously fled Pharaoh's wrath after slaying a taskmaster. In his daring appearance at the Palace, the inarticulate Moses, speaking through his brother Aaron, declared himself to be the personal emissary of a powerful new “God,” previously unknown to the Royal Court. Moreover, Moses asserted that his God was the protector of the Children of Israel, who have been in bondage for more than four centuries in Egypt.
The entire Royal Court was aghast as Moses demanded that the Children of Israel be permitted to travel three days into the desert for an unprecedented “feast and sacrifice” to their God. Making clear that he was not asking a Court indulgence, Moses looked straight at Pharaoh, stamped his roughhewn staff and issued the ultimatum that would be his rallying call during the coming days: “Let my people go.”
Laughter echoed throughout the hall as Pharaoh sneered, “Who is your 'God?' I know him not. Nor will I let Israel go!” Showing little patience, Pharaoh cited reports that Moses had been “disturbing the people from their works” in various building projects wholly dependent upon slave labor. As a punitive measure, Pharaoh proclaimed that henceforth slaves would be compelled to gather their own straw, even as their daily brick quota was maintained. Read more ..
Nigeria on the Edge
|Martyn Drakard||March 15th 2010|
Cutting Edge Africa correspondent
In the Jos region of Nigeria, in January of this year, hundreds of Muslims were massacred. And in what appears to be direct retaliation, on March 7, three largely Christian villages were attacked and several hundred Christians killed. The governor of Plateau state, Jonah Jang, had warned the national army about reports of suspicious people with weapons in the area hours before the attack, but the military failed to take action.
When he tried to locate the commanders by telephone, he couldn’t get any of them. Connivance or incompetence on their part, or a bit of both? The head of the northern area of Nigeria’s Christian Association told the BBC he believed mercenaries from neighboring Chad and Niger were involved. He said they had alerted the central government about training grounds in the northern state, but nothing had been done about it. Many people cross into Nigeria under the pretext of being pastoralists, but are in fact mercenaries. Read more ..
The Edge of Genocide
The Genocide Education Project
What happened to the Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, and who are the Armenians? The Armenians are an ancient people who have existed since before the first century C.E. Armenia has gained and lost a tremendous amount of territory throughout its long and turbulent history. Boundaries of the past have extended from that of the present-day Republic of Armenia and through most of modern day Turkey. The name “Armenia” was actually given to the country by its neighbors; inhabitants of Armenia refer to it as “Hayastan” derived from the name Haik, a descendent of Noah (from the Bible), and “stan” which means “land” in Persian. The Armenian language is unique from other Indo-European languages, with its own distinct letters and grammar. Read more ..
Edge on Archaeology
|Jerry Barach||March 1st 2010|
A section of an ancient city wall of Jerusalem from the tenth century B.C.E.—possibly built by King Solomon—has been revealed in archaeological excavations directed by Dr. Eilat Mazar and conducted under the auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The section of the city wall revealed, 70 meters long and six meters high, is located in the area known as the Ophel, between the City of David and the southern wall of the Temple Mount. Uncovered in the city wall complex are: an inner gatehouse for access into the royal quarter of the city, a royal structure adjacent to the gatehouse, and a corner tower that overlooks a substantial section of the adjacent Kidron valley. Read more ..
The Obama Edge
|Martin Barillas||February 22nd 2010|
Cutting Edge Contributor
|Dalai Lama Exits White House Among Garbage Bags|
The unceremonious departure of the Dalai Lama from the White House on February 19 gained almost as much currency as the actual meeting between the Tibetan Buddhist leader and President Barack Obama. While leaving the Executive Mansion, the Dalai Lama was captured on film exiting through a door usually used by household staff where the West Wing meets the main presidential residence. The saffron-robed monk, a recipient of the Nobel Prize and revered icon for Buddhists and lovers of liberty was seen walking around trash bags in his sandals in chilly Washington DC.
The photo promptly went all over the world, sparking criticism and bewilderment. For its part, the White House released only one photo of the actual meeting between the two leaders, showing them in conversation.
China, which has occupied the mountainous nation of Tibet since the 1950s, duly registered its diplomatic pique over the visit. The American ambassador in Beijing was summoned for a consultation with the Chinese foreign ministry in protest. A Chinese spokesman averred that the Tibetan spiritual leader’s visit with Obama had “seriously harmed” Sino-American relations. The Chinese registered its “solemn representation” to the U.S. diplomat that international relations had been damaged because of Obama’s refusal to heed Chinese warnings. “We believe the actions of the U.S. side have seriously interfered in Chinese internal affairs, seriously hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, and seriously undermined China-U.S. relations,” said the Chinese spokesman. Read more ..
Edge of Narco-Terrorism
|Leah Chavla||February 15th 2010|
Council on Hemispheric Affairs
Over the past several months, a number of reports have circulated that address the subject of drug trafficking ties between South American narcotics trafficking interests and terrorist organizations, principally Al Qaeda and its smaller affiliates now known to be based in Northern Africa. These assessments have cited evidence pointing to a disturbing ring, an “unholy alliance,” which reflects alarming links between FARC exporters and Al Qaeda distributors according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)’s Jay Bergman.
This expanding nexus involves transporting drugs from South America to Africa and, once there, smuggling them over established land routes to EU countries. The stakes are too high to ignore, especially if the charges turn out to be true, and the consequences of this operation could further destabilize impoverished and relatively lawless regions of Africa. However, upon closer examination, much of the evidence cited in these articles turns out to be circumstantial at best.
On January 11, 2010 the German magazine Der Spiegel published an article titled, “Lebanese drug rings active in Germany said to have funded terrorism,” in which it accused Hezbollah (which is classified as a terrorist organization by United States authorities) of using immigrant rings based in Speyer, Germany as a money-laundering conduit for the illegal sale and distribution of cocaine. Der Spiegel speculates that these same rings may have channeled at least some of their profits to support Hezbollah terrorist activities in Lebanon.
Previously, on January 4, 2010, Reuters reported that the DEA had established that a drug-trafficking alliance existed between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and Al Qaeda. Details in the article were rapidly disseminated by various media channels, inspiring both shock and disbelief.
Read more ..
The Edge of Archaeology
|Diego DiGhero||February 8th 2010|
Scientists have discovered the earliest known Hebrew writing - an inscription dating from the 10th century B.C., during the period of King David's reign. The breakthrough could mean that portions of the Bible were written centuries earlier than previously thought. (The Bible's Old Testament is thought to have been first written down in an ancient form of Hebrew.) Until now, many scholars have held that the Hebrew Bible originated in the 6th century B.C., because Hebrew writing was thought to stretch back no further. But the newly deciphered Hebrew text is about four centuries older, scientists announced this month. Read more ..
Turkey on the Edge
|Soner Cagaptay and Rueya Perincek||February 1st 2010|
The first president of the European Union, Herman Van Rompuy, is a known opponent of Turkey's EU membership. Mr. Van Rompuy may find it easy to stick to his position: seven years after the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, rose to power in Ankara, Turkey is sliding away from European liberal democratic norms, including gender equality. Under the AKP, Turkish women are barred from power and are nonexistent in the executive levels of the bureaucracy.
The AKP is rooted in Turkey's Islamist opposition; specifically the Welfare Party, or RP, which was shut down in 1998 by the country's Constitutional Court for violating the secular and democratic principles in the Turkish Constitution. The AKP was born out of the RP's ashes, with RP cadres bringing that party's organizational and financial network to the AKP.
The AKP rejects the Islamist epithet, though, describing itself as a conservative and democratic movement. Conservative as it might be, the AKP does not appear to be a democratic movement. Negative trends in women's empowerment in Turkey since 2002 demonstrate, as noted by Caroline Glick, that the AKP does not practice democracy as a “system of laws and practices that engender liberal egalitarianism.” Read more ..
|Martin Barillas||January 25th 2010|
Cutting Edge Senior Contributor
An Egyptian in Australia lives in fear of a backlash against his family because of his conversion from Islam to Christianity. "Mina," 36, is afraid for the safety of his family in Australia and in Egypt, for defying the police and fleeing the country after he converted to the Coptic Orthodox Church. He had been arrested and beaten numerous times, according to media reports.
His lawyer Jimmy Morcos said that after one arrest, "Mina" was thrown in a room with Islamic radical prisoners who were encouraged to beat him.
Mina is one of 70,000 Coptic Orthodox Christians who have fled persecution in Egypt and resettled in Australia since 1971, according to Coptic Orthodox Bishop Suriel. He is also one of 12,000 who marched on the Egyptian consulate in Melbourne to protest over the killing of six Coptic Orthodox Christians in a drive-by shooting in Egypt on December 6 during the Coptic observance of the birth of Jesus. Read more ..
Edge of Economic Recovery
|John Chapin||January 18th 2010|
A series of powerfully written articles by Charles Eisenstein at Reality Sandwich has renewed my interest in money alternatives, in particular a money-type which by design does a poor job of storing value. This money contains a built-in “rotting speed” in the form of negative interest, or demurrage. Demurrage would mean a money that acted as a very poor store of value, as compared with, say, income-generating entities such as farms or property or corporations. Not storing money to secure against future want would speed up its movement through the economy, thereby improving employment and, hopefully, community bonds. It would help turn money into a medium of exchange pure and simple, not something to stuff under the mattress. A money suffering negative interest was conceived to reflect the fact that value decays over time, like grain and meat for example. So the theory.
At first I was attracted by the idea of demurrage, but more thinking on it has led me to doubt its potential efficacy long-term. Any money, no matter its design, is based on the presumption of insoluble scarcity. If everyone just knows scarcity is insoluble, they will hoard to protect against want. With a money that decays, all that would change would be that which is hoarded. Read more ..
The Ancient Edge
|Shelomo Alfassa||January 11th 2010|
Cutting Edge contributor
The Iraqi news agency Ur news has revived fears that under pressure from Islamic political parties, the original Hebrew inscriptions and ornamentation on the walls around the tomb of Ezekiel are being (or have been) removed, this under the pretext of restoring the site. According to sources, the Antiquities and Heritage Authority in Iraq has been pressured by Islamists to historically cleanse all evidence of a Jewish connection to Iraq—a land where Jews had lived for over a thousand years before the advent of Islam.
Four months ago a German-based Iraqi journalist tipped off the Association of Jewish Academics from Iraq in Israel that plans were afoot to build a mosque on the site of the shrine of the Jewish prophet Ezekiel at al-Kifl, this was first reported on the “Point of No Return” news blog. Read more ..
|Martin Barillas||January 4th 2010|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
|Copenhagen's Little Mermaid in a burka|
The assailant who was shot on January 1 by Danish police after battering the door of a celebrated cartoonist has been identified as a native of Somalia. Armed with an axe and a knife and accompanied by two other assailants, the 28-year-old Somalian male entered the home of Kurt Westergaard in the town of Viby.
According to a press statement, the man is accused of entering Westergaard’s home to kill him. Westergaard was at home at the time with his 5-year-old grandchild and managed to elude his attacker by locking himself in his lavatory – bolstered as a safe room.
Westergaard was denounced by Muslims worldwide for his 2005 cartoon that appeared in the Jyllands Posten newspaper that depicted the Prophet Mohammed wearing a turban in the shape of a smoldering bomb. Outrage ensued in the Muslim world. Danish consulates and embassies were attacked and Danish products boycotted by Muslims worldwide. Read more ..
Edge of Archaeology
|Rachel Feldman||December 28th 2009|
Tel Kabri is the only site in Israel where wall paintings similar in style to those found in the Aegean 3,600 years ago have been found; researchers say this was a conscious decision made by the city rulers to lean toward Mediterranean culture.
The remains of a Minoan-style wall painting, recognizable by a blue background, the first of its kind to be found in Israel, was discovered in the course of the recent excavation season at Tel Kabri. This fresco joins others of Aegean style that have been uncovered during earlier seasons at the Canaanite palace in Kabri. "It was, without doubt, a conscious decision made by the city's rulers who wished to associate with Mediterranean culture and not adopt Syrian and Mesopotamian styles of art like other cities in Canaan did. The Canaanites were living in the Levant and wanted to feel European," explains Dr. Assaf Yasur-Landau of the University of Haifa, who directed the excavations. Read more ..
|Martin Barillas||December 21st 2009|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
More than 5,000 Mexicans have died over the last 15 years while crossing deserts, mountains, and rivers in order to reach the United States, according to a report by the National Committee on Human Rights of Mexico (CNDH). “During 2007 and 2008, the average number of Mexicans who died on that border was three for each two days,” declared the report which was released in observance of the International Migrants Day – December 18.
The CNDH is a government agency that operates in cooperation with the Mexican Office of the Public Defender. It asked that the report not serve only to remember the plight of migrants but to also cause the Mexican government to promote economic development and sustainable growth so as to allow Mexicans to remain at home rather than seek employment in the U.S. Read more ..
The Ancient Edge
|Edwin Black||December 14th 2009|
This article is based on the Banking on Baghdad--Inside Iraq's 7,000-Year History of War, Profit, and Conflict (Dialog Press). Buy it here
Mesopotamia—now known as Iraq--enjoyed a 2,000-year head start on Western civilization. What happened?
Part of the answer lays millennia before our current turbulent times. Understanding this pivotal land and its peoples is necessary.
A single ancient people did not monopolize the historic territory between the Tigris and the Euphrates to create one cohesive, shining civilization as a beacon to others. Mesopotamia was in fact a diverse, often contentious, network of competing city-states. At different times, in different centuries BCE, cities such as Uruk, Lagash, and Eridu in the south, and Kish, Nippur, and Sippar in the midsection, as well as Assur, Nineveh, and Nimrud in the north, each flourished and made their mark. These city-states were ruled by their own kings, developed their own gods and cults, spoke their own languages and dialects, and manifested their own distinctive cultures.
A succession of disparate groups came from near and far to conquer the developing prize of Mesopotamia, and each conqueror was in turn conquered. The Semitic Akkadians arose among the original Sumerians, for whom Sumer was named. In the third millennium BCE, the Akkadian king Sargon created history’s first “empire,” extending his political reign, military dominance, and commercial primacy from western Persia, through Syria, to what is now eastern Turkey. But Sargon’s almost 150-year dynasty was overrun by the Guti mountain people. The Guti ruled until the Sumerians regained supremacy, only to be succeeded by Amorites from the west, and then the Elamites from the Zagros Mountains. Other invaders included the Indo-European Hittites from Anatolia and the obscure Hurrians and Kassites.
These invading and pervading groups destroyed and built up the city-states between the two rivers, as well as those in surrounding lands. During Mesopotamia’s golden millennia, each of these dynasties and empires, no matter how transient, purloined or planted something valuable, advancing the ever more complex culture growing atop the ancient Sumerian foundation. Over 3,000 years—perhaps 120 generations—the region became not a cradle but a veritable engine of civilization, energizing the entire Fertile Crescent, that is, the lands from the Nile Valley up through Palestine and Syria into the Tigris-Euphrates valley and beyond. Read more ..
Africa on the Edge
|Martyn Drakard||December 14th 2009|
Cutting Edge Africa Correspondent
Large tracts of Nigeria’s fertile land has been abandoned since the oil boom attracted millions into the cities over the past five decades, leaving Africa’s most populous country dependant on food imports.
In her book, “Dinner with Mugabe,” Heidi Holland records events leading up to the “land reform” carried out by the Zimbabwean president, starting in the late 1990s. She reports an interview with a former Agriculture minister, appointed by Mugabe, a White farmer called Denis Norman.
According to Norman, in 1997 the war veterans who helped Mugabe come to power in 1980 complained bitterly that they had won the country’s freedom but had been overlooked, and demanded a large monthly payment, for life. Initially they were 27,000, but the number jumped to almost double.
The British government at this point was not ready to buy the farmers out, as Mugabe had been led to believe. There was not enough money in the Treasury. Mugabe, instead of saying he would introduce legislation for an equitable distribution of land, eventually told the war veterans that they had indeed been promised land, so perhaps they should just take it. Of course they did. Read more ..
History on the Edge
|James Bradley||December 7th 2009|
This article is based on the New York Times bestselling The Imperial Cruise (Little Brown Dialog Press). Buy it here
Sixty-eight years ago, Japan attacked America’s naval base at Pearl Harbor. Millions of soldiers and civilians were killed in the brutal Pacific war that would follow. My father — one of the famous flag raisers on Iwo Jima — was among the brave, young men who went off to the Pacific to fight for his country. So naturally, the war fascinated me. But I always wondered: why did we fight in the Pacific? Yes, there was Pearl Harbor, but why did the Japanese attack us in the first place?
In search of an answer, I read deeply into the diplomatic history of the 1930s, about President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s policy on Asia, and his preparation — or lack thereof — for a major conflict there. But I discovered that I was studying the wrong President Roosevelt. The one who had the greater effect on Japan’s behavior was Theodore Roosevelt — whose efforts to end the war between Japan and Russia earned him the Nobel Peace Prize.
When Theodore Roosevelt was president, three decades before World War II, the world was focused on the bloody Russo-Japanese War, a contest for control of North Asia. President Roosevelt was no fan of the Russians: “No human beings, black, yellow or white, could be quite as untruthful, as insincere, as arrogant — in short, as untrustworthy in every way — as the Russians,” he wrote in August 1905, near the end of the Russo-Japanese War. The Japanese, on the other hand, were “a wonderful and civilized people,” Roosevelt wrote, “entitled to stand on an absolute equality with all the other peoples of the civilized world.”
Roosevelt knew that Japan coveted the Korean Peninsula as a springboard to its Asian expansion. Back in 1900, when he was still vice president, Roosevelt had written, “I should like to see Japan have Korea.” When, in February 1904, Japan broke off relations with Russia, President Roosevelt said publicly that he would “maintain the strictest neutrality,” but privately he wrote, “The sympathies of the United States are entirely on Japan’s side.”
Read more ..
Arab World Elections
|Ahmed Ali||November 30th 2009|
On November 18, Iraqi vice president Tariq al-Hashimi vetoed an elections law passed by parliament just ten days earlier, likely delaying elections that had previously been slated for January 2010. Such elections are a factor in the planned U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, with U.S. military officials stating that they will gauge the pace of the troop withdrawal after the national polls.
When the elections take place, they will test the durability of several political trends manifested by the January 2009 provincial elections, including the modest shift toward cross-sectarian political coalitions and the emergence of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as the nation's dominant politician.
The Vetoed Elections Law
In creating new elections legislation, the Iraqi parliament amended law number 16 of 2005, which compelled Iraqis to vote for lists—rather than individuals—chosen by party leaders in a non-transparent process. Under the new provisions, the election would be based on a modified open-list system, in which voters would have the choice of voting for an individual or for a list, creating greater accountability on the part of elected officials and lessening the influence of unelected party functionaries. Read more ..
Coke and Confiscation
|Edwin Black||November 23rd 2009|
In a downtown Manhattan courtroom, where the lawyers and clients up front outnumbered the observers seated in the back, where a forgotten Jewish Egyptian victim challenged an omnipresent multibillion dollar multinational, in a case where history itself was both on trial and being made, the Coca-Cola Company was publicly accused of being criminally enriched following the Nasser regime’s Nazi-style expropriation of Jewish property. More than that, Coca-Cola was accused of obstructing, belittling and stonewalling a decades-long effort to obtain justice, and indeed trying to create a new revisionism that questions whether anti-Jewish persecution actually took place in Egypt in 1950s and 1960s.
On November 10, 2009, Refael Bigio, exiled from Egypt, drove down from Montreal, his attorneys Nathan Lewin and Sherrie Savett trained in from Washington D.C. and Philadelphia, Coca-Cola’s chief of litigation John Lewis flew up from Atlanta and the company’s defense counsel, Richard Cirillo, only needed to make a short trip from midtown to argue whether the Coca-Cola Company quietly but consciously benefitted when the Nasser regime nationalized Jewish property. The Bigios’s property had long been leased by Coca-Cola and their bottle cap factory made the caps for Coke’s products. This factory, the property, and related business ultimately became a multimillion dollar asset in the giant Atlanta beverage conglomerate’s overseas portfolio.
The Egyptian government takeover of the Bigio family bottle cap and tin plating factory occurred in 1962 during the openly anti-Jewish regime of President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Egypt’s government subsequently ruled its Nasser-era seizure of the Bigio property was indeed illegal. Later, however, over the Bigio’s objections, Coca-Cola entered into a joint venture to operate what is now the Coca Cola Bottling Company of Egypt on the Bigios’s seized property, without compensating the Bigios, according to court papers. The Bigios claim that Coke is and has been trespassing on stolen property. Read more ..
Argentina on the Edge
|Larry Birns and Nicholas Maliska||November 16th 2009|
Council on Hemispheric Affairs
The Argentine government recently announced a plan to offer a debt swap to investors still holding $20 billion (plus interest) in unpaid bonds from the country’s 2001 debt default. Economy Minister Amado Boudou stated on November 7 that a proposal would be made within 30 days, which, once accepted, will likely enable the Argentine government to begin to access vital international capital markets of which it has been excluded since that year.
While three banks, Barclays, Citigroup, and Deutsche Bank, representing roughly $10 billion of the remaining defaulted bondholders, appear ready to accept this deal, a group of “vulture funds” continues to render negotiations difficult by pushing to receive the full face value of the bonds that they bought on secondary markets for pennies on the dollar. These organizations, the majority of which are based offshore of the U.S. beyond effective regulation and taxation, have been using U.S. courts and unremitting Congressional pressure to compel the Argentine government to pay the full face value of these bonds. Read more ..
Inside Saudi Succession
|Simon Henderson||November 9th 2009|
Who are the candidates for succession to Saudi throne once King Abdullah passes? Many of the grandsons of Ibn Saud are already grandfathers; some have years of government experience. But which line should be favored in this next generation is among the most contentious aspects of the Saudi succession.
In discussing the younger generation, it is worth noting that sons of past kings are usually not considered worthy of mention. The respect accorded them and the extent to which they have a leadership claim seem to diminish upon the death of their fathers. Crucially, without their fathers' backing, most seem to fall out of contention. The largest single group of second-generation princes are the sons of Saud, numbered at more than fifty (and a similar number of daughters), only a few of whom have any public role.
The sons of King Faisal—Saud, Khalid, and Turki—are recognized as being able, certainly by foreign ambassadors, but they are said to be regarded unfavorably within the al-Saud because of their perceived airs of intellectual superiority. (A 1985 British Ministry of Defense briefing paper referred to Saud as "[v]ery bright but perhaps not so bright as he thinks.") As long-serving foreign minister, Saud is well known abroad and generally respected. But he suffers from both a bad back and Parkinson's disease, and so he would probably rule himself out on health grounds. He also displays little interest in the role, having never been noted for holding a majlis, the forum where he can listen to ordinary people's complaints and also be judged as a good and generous host. Read more ..
|Gregg Rickman||November 2nd 2009|
Cutting Edge contributor
In November 2007, Ninwe Al Naeti, a young Yemenite Jewish woman was allegedly kidnapped and converted to Islam against her will in Yemen, home to the oldest Jewish community in the world. As the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, it was my obligation to discover more about this incident and whether it was isolated or part of a larger pattern of harassment and anti-Semitism in Yemen.
After initial investigation and fact finding, I traveled to Saana, Yemen’s capital, in December to examine the situation first hand. What I discovered there was a country beset with strife. A fundamentalist rebellion in the north has been launched by the Al-Houti Shiite. They had nailed a note on the door of a Jewish family in Saada in February 2007, threatening them if they did not leave within days. I also found a government, steeped in ancient tribal structure and boundaries, not fully in control of its own territory.
When I asked to visit the main Jewish community in the northern town of Raida, I was told that the government could not guarantee our safety and therefore, even with government troops, we could not venture up that far into the country. We lacked any tribal permission to enter certain areas. We eventually did travel to the provincial capital of Amran province, accompanied by troops driving a gun-mounted jeep. Read more ..
|Kenneth Weisbrode||October 26th 2009|
News leaked recently that President Obama had called a group of historians to the White House a few months ago to educate him on the thinking of President Lyndon Johnson in late 1964 as Johnson weighed the possibility of ordering a major military escalation in Vietnam.
As we know, that fateful escalation came in 1965. Are we to conclude that Obama has Vietnam in mind as he considers sending more troops to Afghanistan? Most likely.
Experts will argue forever about whether the Vietnam War was a lost cause. But there was little doubt at the time that Johnson and his advisers would opt for escalation. Less clear cut was the question of his ability to keep the public on board.
Johnson failed to do this and was demonized for that failure. Obama surely must keep the public message front and center. Unfortunately, Johnson's legacy provides him with mixed guidance. Read more ..
The Genetic Edge
|Elizabeth Reis||October 19th 2009|
Caster Semenya, the South African runner who won the women's 800-meter race at the World Track Championships in Berlin last month, has been unofficially declared intersexed. If she is, it means that she was born with some discrepancy between her external genitals, internal sex anatomy (ovaries or testes and her hormones and chromosomes.
The International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) will not make its official ruling as to whether it considers Semenya a woman until November, but an increasing number of news outlets around the world have reported that she's "a hermaphrodite." What does this mean, exactly? The media's terminology itself reflects the ignorance and confusion surrounding intersex. Doctors and informed lay people no longer use the word hermaphrodite because it is vague, demeaning and sensationalistic. "Hermaphrodite" continues to conjure images of mythical creatures, perhaps even monsters and freaks. It's thus not surprising that most have rejected the label. Read more ..
The Ancient Edge
|Edwin Black||October 12th 2009|
This article is based on the Banking on Baghdad--Inside Iraq's 7,000-Year History of War, Profit, and Conflict (Dialog Press). Buy it here
When the last Ice Age receded, some 10,000 years ago, some peoples migrated to the marshy plain between the Tigris and the Euphrates. This land, later known as Mesopotamia—or “the land between the two rivers”—is now modern Iraq. It became precious to the world as “the cradle of civilization.”
Of course, the very term cradle of civilization is imbued with the values of an advanced society determined to categorize primitive and ancient people in its own image. But what qualifies ancient Iraq as the cradle of civilization may speak volumes about its enduring relationship to the larger world and how our society still views that nation.
Disagreeing archaeologists incessantly push back their dates, resculpt their assessments and guesswork, and acrimoniously debate the facts depending on the latest dig and carbon dating. But this much seems settled: other groups and societies, predating ancient Mesopotamia by thousands of years, have displayed the ingredients of civilization.
Cave dwellers in South Africa, 70,000 years ago, recorded symbolic concepts with geometric designs engraved on ochre stones, revealing organized expression and abstract thinking.
The sensitive artisans of Lascaux, France, who 15,000 years ago painted some 600 sacred animal sketches on grotto walls and engraved nearly 1,500 more, are classed as “prehistoric.” Traveling deep into remote chambers of their grotto, the people of Lascaux carried inventive contrivances for illumination. By the flicker of torches and Stone Age lamps, these people created enduring works of exquisite cave art. Their complex works feature background hues of red, yellow, black, and brown, probably mouth-sprayed or blown through a hollowed bone. Delicately brushed and painted atop the backgrounds, animals are depicted in kinetic perspective and are anatomically correct. The artistry of the Lascaux people has become a gift for all time.
Their message, although undecipherable, has survived as long as any that followed. Similar cave art groups in the region date back 30,000 years. Little is known about the culture of French cave dwellers. But these societies do not qualify as civilizations, as the world sees it.
Read more ..
Edge of Archaeology
|Jerry Barach||October 5th 2009|
The largest cache of rare coins ever found in a scientific excavation from the period of the Bar-Kokhba revolt of the Jews against the Romans has been discovered in a cave by researchers from the Hebrew University and Bar-Ilan University.
The coins were discovered in three batches in a deep cavern located in a nature reserve in the Judean hills. The treasure includes gold, silver and bronze coins, as well as some pottery and weapons. See video here.
The discovery was made in the framework of a comprehensive cave research and mapping project being carried out by Boaz Langford and Prof. Amos Frumkin of the Cave Research Unit in the Department of Geography at the Hebrew University, along with Dr. Boaz Zissu and Prof. Hanan Eshel of the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at Bar-Ilan University, and with the support of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
The some 120 coins were discovered within a cave that has a "hidden wing," the slippery and dangerous approach to which is possible only via a narrow opening discovered many years ago by Dr. Gideon Mann, a physician who is one of the early cave explorers in modern Israel. The opening led to a small chamber which in turn opens into a hall that served as a hiding place for the Jewish fighters of Bar-Kokhba. Read more ..
Confronting the Transfer Agreement
|Edwin Black||September 28th 2009|
from the Jerusalem Post
On the afternoon of August 7, 1933, at 76 Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin, on a day when well-dressed Jews in Germany could not step into the street without fear, when laboring kibbutzniks in Palestine proudly swept the midday perspiration from their foreheads, when anxious German businessmen worried the next telegram would cancel yet another order for increasingly unsellable Reich goods, when Nazi organizers throughout Europe gleefully reviewed statistics on Jewish populations and Jewish assets within their midst, when Polish blackshirts viciously beat Jews in town squares, when ordinary jobless Germans wondered where they could find enough money for the next meal, when young Jewish boys in German schools were forced to stand painfully before their classmates as examples of detestable vermin, when defiant Jews across America and England raised their fists in anger proliferating their punishing anti-German boycott, when Jewish Palestinian exporters wondered nervously whether their biggest customer Germany would retaliate, when thousands of homeless German Jews existed as refugees and some in concentration camps, when the prospects for Jewry in Europe seemed over, on this fateful day in the first summer of the Hitler regime, an official delegation of four German and Palestinian Zionists and one independent Palestinian business man were ushered into an Economics Ministry conference room. The Jews had been authorized by a combine of Jewish and Zionist bodies to negotiate with the Third Reich.
After hours of wrangled debate, Hans Hartenstein, Director of the Reich Office of Currency Control, was about to call the meeting to an inconclusive close when a messenger from Deutsche Reichpost delivered a telegram from the German Consul in Tel Aviv. The telegram advised Hartenstein that a coalition of official and commercial Zionist interests in Palestine was the best way to break the growing Jewish-led worldwide anti-Nazi boycott that was crippling the Hitler regime in its first months. A deal with the Zionists would be necessary.
And so it was done. The Transfer Agreement was created. Read more ..
The Caribbean Edge
|Alex Sanchez||September 28th 2009|
|Joint Task Force Bravo in Action|
Washington’s initiative to have access to at least seven Colombian military facilities has been criticized as an extension of the controversial Plan Colombia and as a breach of fealty to its sister republics. Suspicion also has surfaced that the base deal was fundamentally a move against Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, and would prove a recurring obstacle to fulfillment of U.S. policy goals in the region. Two of the facilities soon to be available to the U.S. are located in the Caribbean region – the military port in Cartagena and the air base in Malambo – and will serve the needs of the U.S. Navy.
The new Caribbean coast facilities will join an array of existing U.S. military establishments in the region dating back to 1903. Until now, the official raison d’etre for a U.S. presence in the Caribbean was to combat drug trafficking.
However, the proliferation of security threats, in particular developments possibly against the interests of Chávez’s Venezuela, has led some to argue that no matter how much Washington’s officials deny it, an unspoken reason for the U.S. deployment to Colombia is to keep Chavez under check. With the Washington-Bogotá decision, it is necessary to discuss the relationship between masking anti-narcotics efforts as a cover for a variety of U.S. security concerns and aspirations throughout Latin America, especially in the coming trade war over commodities. Read more ..
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