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Looting the Seas

A Mediterranean Feeding Frenzy on Blue Fin

November 22nd 2010

Environment Topics - Tuna at Market

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

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

Confronting the Farhud

When Arabs Massacred Jews Because they Sat While Praying

November 15th 2010

Book Covers - Farhud book

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

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

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

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

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

The Rail’s Edge

Local Transit Systems Plagued by Accidents, Weak Oversight

November 15th 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Medicare on Edge

Powerful Medical Insiders Make Determinations on Medicare

November 8th 2010

Science - Physician and stethoscope

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

Ghana on Edge

Sentenced to Witch Camp

November 1st 2010

Africa Topics - Ghanaian Woman sentenced to Witch Camp

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

Reasons of State

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

October 27th 2010

Afghan Topics - Redacted Document

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

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

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

Stimulus on the Edge

The Stimulating Hypocrisy of Conservative Opponents of the Recovery Act

October 18th 2010

Economy - stimulus protest poster

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

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

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

Travel Safety

U.S. Pilots and Unions Nix Cockpit Video Recorders

October 11th 2010

Transportation Topics - United Airlines jet liner

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

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

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

Mexico and Violence Against Women

A Woman of Steel Seeks Justice for Unrelenting Feminicides

October 4th 2010

Mexican Topics - Mexican memorial

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

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

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

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

Toxic Edge

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

September 27th 2010

Corporate Logos - Dow Chemical

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

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

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

Cuba on Edge

Cuba in The U.S. Congress

September 27th 2010

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

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

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

The Edge on Terrorism

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

September 20th 2010

Terrorism - Ayman al-Zawahiri
Ayman al-Zawahiri

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

The Bear is Back

Back in the USSR

September 13th 2010

Russian Topics - Heads on Pikes in Russian Youth Camp

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

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

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

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

Inside the Mideast

Sick Man on the Nile

September 6th 2010

Arab Topics - Hosni Mubarak
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

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

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

Toxic Edge

Government and Capitalist Alliance Makes Russia an Asbestos Behemoth

August 30th 2010

Health/Medicine - asbestos hazard

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

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

Edge on Terrorism

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

August 23rd 2010

Terrorism - Hezbollah Lebanon
Hezbollah troops

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

Edge of Climate Change

Drought, Fire, and Grain in Russia

August 16th 2010

Russian Topics - Russian Fires

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

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

A History of Drought and Wildfire

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

The Toxic Edge

Brazil's Lone Heroine Fights for Rights of Asbestos Workers

August 9th 2010

Health/Medicine - asbestos hazard

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

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

The Labor Edge

Peeling Back the Truth on Guatemalan Bananas

August 2nd 2010

Food - Bananas

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

The Archaeological Edge

Oldest Known Writing Discovered in Jerusalem

August 2nd 2010

Archaeology Topics - akkadian cuneiform sample
A Sample of Akkadian Cuneiform

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

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

Edge of Terrorism

Fanning the Flames of Jihad

July 26th 2010

Terrorism - Zawahiri
Ayman al-Zawahiri

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

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

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

The Spiritual Edge

The Interpretation of Dreams by Ancient Rabbinical Authorities

July 26th 2010

Jewish Topics - Rabbi at schul

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

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

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

The Urban Poor

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

July 19th 2010

Social Topics - baltimore povery art
Baltimore blight

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

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

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

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

Lebanon on the Edge

Resistance Land--Hezbollah's Disneyland

July 12th 2010

Gaza Topics - Mleeta

On a hilltop overlooking Israel's former occupation zone in south Lebanon, Hezbollah has built what the international press has dubbed the Shiite militia's "Disneyland." Mleeta, Hezbollah's new "Tourist Landmark of the Resistance," is designed to celebrate the party's long war against Israel. As it pulls in the masses, Mleeta also provides another sign that Israeli deterrence in Lebanon is disintegrating.

A former Hezbollah command center, Mleeta is located 27 miles (44 km) southeast of Beirut. Built at a reported cost of $4 million, Mleeta attracted over 130,000 visitors in the first ten days following its opening on May 25 -- the 10th anniversary of Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon.

Abu Hadi, our Hezbollah guide, who employs the same nom de guerre as Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, aimed to give visitors a glimpse into the high-risk life of killing Israeli soldiers. He began our tour in "The Abyss" -- a pit filled with Israeli helmets, boots, cluster bombs, and overturned military vehicles. At the center of the display is an Israeli Merkava-4 tank, with its gun turret tied in a knot. As we ascended a spiral walkway overlooking the display, I caught sight of a tombstone embossed with the Israel Defense Forces symbol, and the word "Abyss" written in big, concrete Hebrew letters. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

The 30-Year War in Afghanistan

July 5th 2010

Afghan Topics - Afghani Taliban

The Afghan War is the longest war in U.S. history. It began in 1980 and continues to rage. It began under Democrats but has been fought under both Republican and Democratic administrations, making it truly a bipartisan war. The conflict is an odd obsession of U.S. foreign policy, one that never goes away and never seems to end. As the resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal reminds us, the Afghan War is now in its fourth phase.

The Afghan War’s First Three Phases

The first phase of the Afghan War began with the Soviet invasion in December 1979, when the United States, along with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, organized and sustained Afghan resistance to the Soviets. This resistance was built around mujahideen, fighters motivated by Islam. Washington’s purpose had little to do with Afghanistan and everything to do with U.S.-Soviet competition. The United States wanted to block the Soviets from using Afghanistan as a base for further expansion and wanted to bog the Soviets down in a debilitating guerrilla war. The United States did not so much fight the war as facilitate it. The strategy worked. The Soviets were blocked and bogged down. This phase lasted until 1989, when Soviet troops were withdrawn. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Washington Strikes out on Honduras

July 5th 2010

Latin American Topics - Honduras coup d'etat

When President Obama took office in January 2009, his administration espoused a new style of broad, multilateral and direct diplomacy. Within the context of the Western hemisphere, a primary channel for inter-American diplomacy is the Organization of American States (OAS), which was founded in its present form in 1948 to “promote and consolidate representative democracy.” Although the U.S government has nominally endorsed principles of multilateralism and non-intervention, which have been somewhat institutionalized by the OAS, the organization has traditionally been used by Washington to advance a specific agenda under the guise of hemispheric solidarity. After the end of the Cold War, the OAS made some efforts to develop a legal paradigm for collective, rather than unilateral democracy promotion. The bottom line is that the United States has never given up trying to use the OAS to promote its own policy priorities with the expectation that fellow member states will deferentially toe the line. Read more ..

The Automotive Edge

Car Dealers Try to Wheedle Their Way out of Financial Reforms

June 28th 2010

Automotive - Used Car lot

In Arizona, Hector Maldonado says he ran into trouble with his bosses because he objected to what he claims was his employer’s habit of faking financial information to qualify customers for loans they couldn’t afford. One manager, Maldonado alleged in a lawsuit, cursed and threatened him after he came forward with information documenting dishonest lending practices.

Main Street or Wall Street? Auto Dealer Loans Tied to Wall Street Financing

In Michigan, Matthew Manley claims his coworkers saddled customers with bigger loans by slipping unapproved charges into the deals. One manager, Manley alleges in his own lawsuit, urged him to target vulnerable customers — referring to the elderly as “people with oxygen tanks” and African Americans as “the dumb blacks.”

In the wake of the nation’s mortgage meltdown, Maldonado and Manley’s allegations sound familiar. But the pair weren’t employed in the subprime mortgage business. They worked for car dealers. They are among 20 former auto dealership insiders from Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, Illinois and Hawaii who describe a culture in which forged documents, hidden fees and other questionable practices were tools of the trade. These accounts, provided in court records and in interviews, paint an unflattering portrait of the on-the-ground realities of auto financing. Read more ..

Argentina on the Edge

Indigenous Peoples had Little to Celebrate during Argentina's Bicentennial

June 28th 2010

Latin American Topics - Argentina Indians

"Los pueblos originarios están acá; están presente,” (the native peoples are here; they are present) an indigenous woman shouted to the camera of Argentina’s Canal 7 news program on May 18th. She was surrounded by fellow protesters from across Argentina. In a period of eight days this group had marched to Buenos Aires in an event called the “Marcha de los pueblos originarios; Camino por la verdad, hacia un estado plurinacional” (March of Native Peoples; Walk for truth towards a plurinational state).

Argentina’s indigenous have used the nation’s bicentennial celebration to raise their visibility and address issues facing their community. On May 24th and 25th, indigenous nations as well as non-indigenous supporters from around the country held an event outside the Congressional Palace called El Otro Bicentenario (The Other Bicentennial). This consisted of speeches, panels, and music promoting indigenous rights and demands. The bicentennial, native peoples say, is not a time “to celebrate [Argentina’s freedom from colonialism], but to reflect on past and present colonial policies.” Read more ..

Mendoza Against the Deaf

Mendoza Eugenics Stalled as California Legislator Considers Deaf to be Defective Americans

June 21st 2010

History-Genocide - Verschuer-Twins-Height

California Assemblyman Tony Mendoza has been stalled in his effort to pass legislation the deaf community feels will launch a eugenic campaign against them. Although originally scheduled for brief testimony and a vote last Wednesday, June 16, 2010, an informal survey of Health Committee members by Mendoza's office determined he did not have the votes. Other Health Committee members, stung by accusations of a slide back to California's dark history of Nazi-style eugenics, have declared their unwillingness to vote for the measure in its present form.

California eugenics was a system of eliminating unwanted bloodlines of those who were deemed "social misfits" in the twisted pseudoscience. Those targeted included such groups as the poor, prostitutes, Asians, whites with brown hair, those needing glasses, the deaf and many others. The radical early twentieth century social engineering plan became entrenched decades before Hitler came to power. Hitler emulated the California state statutes in his own Nazi eugenic crusade. Ultimately, some 66,000 Americans under 27 state laws were forcibly sterilized for a variety of eugenic reasons, with about a third to a half of the victims in California. That state's legislature has already issued a formal apology for targeting groups for extinction.

Mendoza's eugenic bill, known as AB2072, admittedly seems innocuous enough at first blush, critics argue. AB2072 calls for all newborns to be screened for hearing problems; and if found to be deaf, their parents are to be given an "informative brochure" describing the options. The problem, complain large numbers of deaf people, is that the brochure is under the control of the well-financed cochlear implant industry, the audiology profession and various Alexander Graham Bell foundations--all of which are determined to see deaf culture, and its distinctive American Sign Language, disappear. Alexander Graham Bell was a pioneer of American eugenics. Cochlear implants are controversial medical devices that augment hearing and, in many ways, tend to do away with the need to communicate using American Sign Language.

For their part, the generation-to-generation deaf are passionately determined to keep their special identity which depends upon visual communication, including sign language. They have fought back with mass protests and letter writing campaigns, as well as STOP AB2072 Internet sites and t-shirts. The deaf community also brought in the historical expertise of Edwin Black, author of the award-winning eugenics book War Against the Weak, which chronicled the deep relationship between California eugenicists and the Third Reich. Read more ..

The BP Spill

Coast Guard Fleet Slowed by Mechanical Woes During BP, Haiti Rescues

June 14th 2010

Energy Topics - Thad Allen

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

Drug Policy and Violence in Mexico--Two Narratives

June 7th 2010

Crime Topics - Agent in Drug War

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.


Inside Latin America

South America's Soy Bean Wars

May 31st 2010

Farming - Soybeans

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

The Fabulous Life of the Ravenous Vulture Funds

May 24th 2010

Africa Topics - Vultures eating zebra treat

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

Legitimacy of Political Systems Puts European and Asian Economies in Doubt

May 17th 2010

Europe Topics - Greek riots

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

Latin America's Poor Provide Fodder for Major League Baseball

May 10th 2010

Caribbean - Dominican Baseballer

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

A Visit with Thailand’s Red Shirts

May 3rd 2010

Asia Topics - Thai Red Shirt

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

How Mexico and the US Can Secure their Shared Border

April 26th 2010

Latin American Topics - US-Mexico Border

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

Is A Life Sentence for Iowa Kosher Butcher Disproportionate Justice?

April 19th 2010

Jewish Topics - Sholom Rubashkin

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

Archaeologists Find Source of Blue Pigment of the Pharoahs

April 12th 2010

Archaeology Topics - Egyptian blue pottery

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

Lord’s Resistance Army Still Kidnapping and Murdering

April 5th 2010

Africa Topics - Kids with Guns

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 ..

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