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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 ..

Africa on the Edge

South Africa Greets World Cup with 40,000 Victims of Human Trafficking and Child Prostitution

March 29th 2010

Social Topics - Prostitute

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.

Breaking News!

Exclusive Coverage of Exodus: Children of Israel Flee Egyptian Bondage

March 22nd 2010

Contributors / Staff - Edwin Black

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

Christian-Muslim Clashes in Nigeria: Seeing the Truth Behind the Headlines

March 15th 2010

Africa Topics - Jos Nigeria violence

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

Remembering the Armenian Genocide

March 8th 2010

History-Genocide - Armenian Victims

In 1918, U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau wrote, “I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this. The great massacres and persecutions of the past seem almost insignificant when compared with the sufferings of the Armenian race in 1915."

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

Jerusalem City Wall Discovered from 1000 B.C.E.

March 1st 2010

Israel Topics - Solomons Temple

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

US Downplays Obama's Meeting with Dalai Lama as Part of Chess Game with the Chinese

February 22nd 2010

Obama Admin Topics - Dalai Lama at White House
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

FARQaeda—A Real Threat or a Matter of Circumstantial Evidence?

February 15th 2010

Latin American Topics - FARC

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.

The Evidence

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.

The Edge of Archaeology

Earliest Known Hebrew Script found at Excavations in Israel at Khirbet Qeiyafa

February 8th 2010

Archaeology Topics - Bible pottery sherd

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

No Women, No Europe

February 1st 2010

Islamic Topics - Muslim Woman

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 ..

Religious Freedom

Coptic Christians Demand Australian Government Intervention to End Persecution in Egypt

January 25th 2010

Christian Topics - Coptic Girl

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

Should Money Store Value?

January 18th 2010

Economy - Money Money Money

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

Islamists Erase Jewish Identity from Ezekiel’s Tomb in Iraq

January 11th 2010

Jewish Topics - Ezkiel
Ezekiel´s Tomb

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 ..

Inside Islam

Al-Qaida Connection to Attempted Murder in Denmark

January 4th 2010

Islamic Topics - Little Burka Mermaid
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

Minoan-style paintings in Ancient Canaanite Palace Link to Aegean Civilizations

December 28th 2009

Archaeology Topics - Tel Kabri
Tel Kabri

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 ..

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