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Edge of the Mexican Crisis

Mexico Opens a Public Relations Front in the Narcotics War

March 9th 2009

Mexican Topics - Mexican Drug Police2
Mexican police

The Mexican government’s battle against drug cartels has opened yet another front attempting to repel the onslaught of bad publicity that the bloodshed has cast onto the country’s international image. Mexico’s instinctual reputation is being eroded into one that invokes chaos and violence rather than stability and order, making many uneasy and concerned over the country’s future political and economic future. Some of these are friends of Mexico; others are not.

The murmurs from Washington come in the ominous shape of travel advisories and insecurity threats from the State Dept. and the dire analysis by the U.S. Joint Forces Command, which dares to think the unthinkable:

Mexico’s possible implosion into a failed state

Mexico City has duly responded to the criticism in full force this week by mobilizing a coordinated response to placate the wave of negative press. In an interview with the AP, President Calderon attempted to diffuse the idea of a failed Mexico by claiming, “To say that Mexico is a failed state is absolutely false, I have not lost any part — any single part — of the Mexican territory.” Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Kathleen Moves to Washington, While Kansas Coal Fight Remains

March 3rd 2009

Obama Admin Topics - Kathleen Sebelius
Kathleen Sebelius

Many Kansans woke up Sunday morning with heavy hearts. Last night, the news that their governor had been tapped by President Obama for the health and human services cabinet post spread like wildfire at church potlucks, restaurants, bars and wherever else people gathered on a Saturday night. (Yes, Kansas has bars. It’s no longer a dry state.)

But shouldn’t they be happy, proud, that their very own beloved governor, Kathleen Sebelius, is going to Washington for a high profile job? Certainly, she is qualified. Raised on politics, she is the daughter of the former governor of Ohio, John Gilligan. A trial lawyer by training—and former director of the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association, she spent eight years in the Kansas House of Representatives, then another eight years as state insurance commissioner. First elected governor in 2002, she is now in her second term—a Democrat elected twice in an overwhelmingly Republican state.

Her special strength has been her ability to bring parties together to accomplish things, which included balancing the budget in her first year in office, increasing spending for education and tirelessly bringing new business and industry to Kansas with special emphasis on renewable energy. Read more ..

Inside Islam

Afghanistan's Constitution Creates Death Penalties for Religious Freedom

February 23rd 2009

Islamic Topics - Afghan Koran Translator
Protests Over Afghan Quran Translator

When Ahmad Ghawas Zalmi worked with a cleric from a Kabul mosque to produce 1,000 pocket-sized copies of the Quran in the Afghan language known as Dari, he probably was not expecting to end up facing execution for his efforts. But that's exactly what happened to the former Afghan government official: when Islamic clerics saw his version of the Quran in 2007—which had been translated from the original Arabic--they accused Zalmai of modifying the holy book, a crime punishable by death.

On February 15, Zalmai and his cleric friend were due to hear their fate in an appeals court. Though they barely escaped the death penalty, the three-judge panel upheld a lower court sentence of 20 years in prison for each man. When reading out the sentence, the chief judge reiterated that under Islamic Shariah law, "He who commits such an act is an infidel and should be killed." Read more ..

America's Economic Collapse

Boomers--Your Crisis Has Arrived

February 16th 2009

Social Topics - Baby Boomer Housing

Franklin Roosevelt, in the midst of the Great Depression, spoke these immortal words, "There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations, much is given. Of other generations, much is expected. This Generation has a rendezvous with destiny."

President Roosevelt was correct. The generation he was speaking to was already dealing with the worst financial crisis in the history of the United States, the Great Depression. By 1945, over 400,000 of this generation had lost their lives. Another 600,000 men were wounded. Much was expected and much was sacrificed. Every generation has a rendezvous with destiny. The generation that won World War II passed the ultimate test and proceeded to produce the next generation, the Baby Boom Generation. Their rendezvous with destiny is underway. Will it be a rendezvous with history that results in World War III, the collapse of the Great American Republic,  dictatorship, or a return to the original Constitutional principles upon which this country was founded?

It is comforting to think that history has recurring patterns and a natural rhythm. Trying to figure out why the major events in history occurred is complex, challenging and fascinating. An individual can learn from the past. Poet George Santayana’s quote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it", is profound and worth studying. The crucial issue is whether societies as a whole are capable of learning from the past or are they condemned to the inevitable cycle of history. Can an individual change the course of history? Was World War II inevitable, even if Adolf Hitler had been killed during World War I? Is there anything that can be done to avert the cyclical crisis that seems to arrive on a consistent basis throughout history? Is our destiny already preordained? Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Charismatic Jewish Group Wages International Legal Fight for Its Spiritual Soul

February 10th 2009

Jewish Topics - Chabad Archival Document
Historic Recovered Chabad Document

A charismatic religious Jewish group is in an international legal battle against the Russian Federation, literally fighting for its spiritual soul. At stake is the right to possess the precious archive and library of the orthodox Jewish group known as Chabad.

The books and papers were plundered and fell from the movement’s control in Europe during the war-torn decades of the last century. The story of how Russia came to control the historic collections is nothing less than a chronicle of the mystical Lubavitch Jews of Poland and Russia during the tempestuous events of Czarist repression, the Bolshevik Revolution, World Wars I and II, the Cold War period, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the rise of the modern Russian Federation. The story of Chabad’s efforts to reclaim their papers is a bitter saga spanning all those periods.

Remarkably, Chabad has achieved a stunning legal victory—for now, thanks to the persistent efforts of a legal team headed by the Washington law firm of Lewin and Lewin, LLP. Known for championing Jewish causes— Nathan Lewin and Alyza Lewin -- sometimes called “attorneys for the Tribe,” worked together with attorneys from Howrey LLP and Bingham McCutchen LLP to obtained a rare federal court decision commanding Russia to preserve the books and documents and instructing Russia to provide the Court with a written description of the steps it is taking to preserve the books and manuscripts.  Read more ..

Civil Liberties

Blacklist--A Sad Lesson from American History

February 2nd 2009

Social Topics - Document Stacks

In his 1952 book The Loyalty of Free Men, Alan Barth, a Washington Post editorial writer, described the so-called “Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations” (AGLOSO), which the Truman administration began publishing in late 1947 as part of its wide sweeping federal employee loyalty screening program, as “perhaps the most arbitrary and far-reaching power ever exercised by a single public official” in American history, allowing the Attorney General to “stigmatize” and “proscribe any organization of which he disapproves.” 

AGLOSO played a critical and central part of the post-World War II “Red Scare,” far more important, in my view, than the role of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who arrived on the anti-communist scene only in early 1950 well after the Red Scare was underway.  It was a ubiquitous part of the early Cold War/Red Scare atmosphere, so much so that the November, 1956 Elks Magazine began an article entitled, “What the Attorney General’s List Means” by accurately noting that “there are few Americans who have not heard of 'the Attorney General’s subversive list' ” and concluded by summarizing AGLOSO’s clear message:  “There is no excuse for any American citizen becoming affiliated with a group on the Attorney General’s list today.”  Read more ..

Iran and Latin America

Probing the Chavez–Iranian Connection

January 26th 2009

Iran - Chavez and Ahmanijad

Last December 21st, the Italian daily La Stampa published a story putlining the real meaning of the Chavez-Iranian alliance.

Regular flights between Caracas, Damascus and Tehran constitute a device for Venezuela to help Iran send Syria material for the manufacturing of missiles, according to La Stampa. The flights are actually part of a 2006 military cooperation agreement signed between Syria and Iran. The materiel is destined for the "Revolutionary Guards," the main force protecting the Iranian regime, according to the newspaper. In exchange for this materiel, Iran has provided Venezuela with members of its revolutionary guards as well as its elite "Al Quds" unit to strengthen Venezuela's secret services and police.

La Stampa's report is not surprising to those monitoring Hugo Chavez's activities for the past several years. In testimony before Congress on March 5, 2008, it was again pointed out that Iran Air has weekly direct flights between Caracas, Damascus and Tehran. There are no large numbers of passengers that justify weekly travels between theses countries. Therefore, it is reasonable to speculate that these flights transport material which could be highly problematic. Read more ..

Surge Against Hamas

Israeli Navy Hunts Hamas During Gaza Siege

January 19th 2009

Israel Topics - Israeli naval vessel

"Fire. Fire. Fire," shouts Capt. Yoni into his two-way radio, before a typhoon cannon on the deck of the Shaldag ship lets off a burst of gunfire toward the Gaza coast.

"There was an indication that rockets were being fired from that location at Ashdod and Ashkelon," explains Yoni, the commander of the naval vessel.

Earlier, Yoni and his troops had scouted the coastline with an advanced thermal camera to ensure no IDF troops were in the area. Suddenly, as the camera zooms in on a hotel under construction on the Gaza coast, one of the soldiers says, "Wait. There's someone there."
The camera zooms in on the location and spots nothing more than a pack of dogs.

It's the 13th night of Operation Cast Lead and we're sailing on Yoni's ship some 2.5 kilometers off the Gaza coast. It is the first time a reporter has joined naval forces since the start of the operation. From the ship, capable of up to 45 kilometers an hour, we see a Tarshish naval vessel, Sa'ar 4.5, which is also part of operations against Hamas. Read more ..

Underground Business

Polish Cigarette Smugglers Upset at Tough New Rules at EU’s Frontier

January 5th 2009

Europe Topics - PolishCigs

It’s still frozen in eastern Poland. But Pawel Mlynarski is still steamed at the government for taking away his livelihood: contraband cigarettes.

Until recently, Mlynarski, a 25-year-old unemployed builder, would cross the border into Ukraine as many as four times a night. Each time, he would return with at least one carton of 200 cigarettes, or 10 packs, to sell in the bars of his hometown of Przemysl, 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the European Union’s eastern frontier.

Then, on Dec. 1, Poland cut the import allowance to 40 smokes, or two packs. "This is an absolute tragedy," says Mlynarski, who used to make as much as 20 zloty ($6.80) per carton selling packs of Prima. "Most people around here did the border. It was our only way of earning decent cash."

The new limits are a result of the EU’s expansion a year ago of its passport-free movement of people, the so-called Schengen area, to include Poland. That forced the nation to bolster its -- and the EU’s -- eastern border. Now locals complain they are left with an unemployment rate above 17 percent, the highest in Poland, and the specter of more job losses as trade at the bars and cafes at border crossings collapses. Demonstrators threw stones and eggs at police to protest the new rules earlier this month.

"A gap has now opened up, and we have to fill it," says Robert Choma, the mayor of Przemysl. "There are all these rules that come along to tighten the border, but nothing that balances out the work that’s lost."


The Surge Against Hamas

As Israeli Ground Assault Prepares, Planners Know Hamas Has Graduated from Terrorist Group to Terrorist Army

December 29th 2008

Terrorism - Hamas Terrorists

Hamas, once known for its suicide attacks inside Israeli cities, is no longer a small-time terrorist group but today is a large guerilla army which has well-trained forces deployed throughout the entire Gaza Strip.

Since Israel's unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005, Hamas has created a military with a clear hierarchy, led by the Hamas "chief of staff" - Ahmed Ja'abri.

Ja'abri is in his late forties and has been in Israel's sights for a number of years. In 2004, Israeli Air Force jets fired several missiles at Ja'abri's home in the Sajiya neighborhood of Gaza City. Ja'abri escaped the assassination attempt with moderate wounds. Five others were killed.

Since then, he has slowly climbed the Hamas ranks and today is believed to be the terror group's so-called "chief of staff," replacing arch-terrorist Mohammed Deff who was seriously wounded in an Israeli air strike in July 2006. Read more .. Read more ..

America Without a Plan for Oil Interruption

What If The Oil Stops?—Edwin Black Interviewed On The Plan

December 22nd 2008

Contributors / Staff - Edwin Black
Edwin Black

Investigative journalist Edwin Black is the bestselling author of the award-winning IBM and the Holocaust, which documented for the first time IBM’s indispensable 12-year relationship with the Hitler regime, and Internal Combustion which chronicled how governments and corrupt corporations needlessly addicted the world to oil. His new book is The Plan--How to Rescue Society the Day the Oil Stops--or the Day Before. He was interviewed by Jamie Glanov, managing editor of Frontpage.com.

Edwin Black, you have previously written about genocide. Now you are writing about our addiction to oil. What inspired the switch?

I have been inspired to write about our addiction to oil based on the same values, fears and concern that I felt while working on my other books. In those books, I spotlighted a terrible past hoping for a precious future. Now I am chronicling a precious past and trying to avoid a terrible future. Oil today is the feedstock of radical Islam’s war against the west. We are financing it and doing so on a per-mile program. What’s more, Iran is using this money to accelerate its nuclear program which is aimed at destroying Israel. Indeed, Iran wants to achieve in 12 minutes with nuclear missiles what Hitler could not achieve in 12 years with tanks, trucks and gas chambers. If I was concerned about the first Holocaust, why would I not be concerned about a threatened second Holocaust? And remember in Hitler’s war against humanity, the Jews were the first victims but not the last. It will be the same if radical Islam triumphs—Israel will be the first victim but they will try to finish the job in Europe and North America.


Edge on Economic Crisis

General Motors Betrayed Its Founding Genius

December 15th 2008

Automotive - Durant Antique

As GM staggers towards either bailout or bankruptcy,  I am reminded that the big financial meltdown of 2008 began just around September 16th, the 100th anniversary of its founding. 

The giant corporation's present misery has a personal resonance for me as thirty years ago I completed a biography of its founder, William C. Durant, the very antithesis of the GM leadership of recent years—unimaginative, stodgy, wedded to old ways of doing things, and fiercely resistant for the last 20 years to all efforts to nudge it in the direction of smaller, fuel-efficient, pollution-reducing cars instead of heavyweight gas-guzzlers. Read more ..

America With No Plan for an Oil Interruption

The Confrontation Requires Adopting “The Plan”

December 8th 2008

Contributors / Staff - Walid Phares new

Storm petrels are birds renowned for warning of forthcoming cataclysmic tornadoes, hurricanes, and typhoons. Those who tried to warn the West in general and the United States in particular of threats lying ahead are identified as "human storm petrels" of our times.

In the late 1940s, a diplomat assigned to the U.S. embassy in Moscow saw the rise of a Soviet menace. He warned Washington about it. He was ignored.

In the 1990s, along with a number of experts on Jihadism, I tried to warn America about the gathering clouds of Salafism and Khomeinism. The strikes of September 11 vindicated those whom I called the "messengers" in my latest book, Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad.

Today, new storm petrels are warning us about another type of storm—a sudden vast crisis in oil supply. One of these leading commentators is Edwin Black. In his recently published book, The Plan, the author informs the nation that an abrupt cessation of oil flow to the United States is more than possible—and America is not ready. It has no plan.

Black states it clearly: If events in the Middle East stop oil supplies, the United States and its economic underpinnings as we know them will be transformed. Our way of life will be radically affected. Back in 1973, OPEC waged a boycott on Western consumers in the wake of the October war between Israel and the Arab countries. Europeans remember the dramatic consequences during their cold months. Americans remember the long lines at the pumps. Today Westerners can project the magnitude of a repeated crisis on industries, social structures, and daily lives. The meltdown is only a reminder of the precariousness of capitalist societies when deprived of their needed energy. Read more ..

Ethnic Edge

A Family Affair as Ethiopians, Israelis, Jewish-Americans Celebrate a Shared History

December 1st 2008

Israel Topics - Isaac and JCC

The scene might have been a bar mitzvah: smiling guests circling the dance floor in a frenzied hora to the sounds of Hava Nagila. But there were clues—both big and small—that suggested otherwise. A dreadlocked keyboard player singing alternatively in Hebrew, English and Amharic. The smell of Ethiopian food wafting through the room. Yet, this was no bar mitzvah, but a recent event held at the Embassy of Ethiopia to celebrate the sub-Saharan country’s ties to Israel and the Jewish people.

“Ours is a shared history that goes back an extraordinary number of years—all the way back to Biblical times,” said Ethiopian Ambassador Samuel Assefa to the assembled guests. “From those ancient days until today, the branches of our family tree continue to weave themselves together.”  

In wide-ranging remarks, the Ethiopian representative retraced that unique heritage shared by Ethiopia and the people of Israel. According to legend, the founder of the Ethiopian Empire, King Menelik, was a product of the union of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Centuries later, Ethiopia was ruled by Emperor Haile Selassie, who traced his lineage directly back to Menelik and was known as the “Lion of Judah.” Read more ..

Inside Islam

Bangladesh's Secular Democracy Struggles with Violent Radical Islam

November 24th 2008

Islamic Topics - Bengali Islamists

Bangladesh is a country associated more with floods, cyclones and poverty than terrorism or radical Islamism. Indeed, it is a country founded on secular, democratic values and widely regarded as a moderate Muslim state. In recent years, however, militant Islamism has quietly been taking ground – and Bangladesh’s survival as a progressive state is on a knife-edge.

The warning signs have been there for some years, and some commentators have been sounding the alarm. In 2002, Ruth Baldwin wrote a piece in The Nation headlined: “The ‘Talibanisation’ of Bangladesh.” Hiranmay Karlekar wrote Bangladesh: The Next Afghanistan? While Maneeza Hossain’s Broken Pendulum: Bangladesh’s Swing to Radicalism and Ali Riaz’s God Willing: The Politics of Islamism in Bangladesh are all important contributions. 

Perhaps the most visible and dramatic sign of the growth of extremism came three years ago. On 17 August 2005, between 11 and 11.30 am, 527 bombs were exploded in a massive attack on all but one of the country’s 64 districts. Such a carefully co-ordinated campaign of terror shocked the nation – but in many respects it was just the tip of the terror iceberg. Other terrorist incidents, including an attack on the Bangladeshi-born British High Commissioner, members of the judiciary and sporadic attacks on religious and ethnic minorities are further indicators of the presence of well-organised terrorist networks. Read more ..

The Obama Transition

World Reacts Favorably to Obama Age--A Round-Up

November 10th 2008

Africa Topics - Obama in Africa

Newspapers across the world appeared to greet the election of Barack Obama with praise.


For example, in Kenya - the birthplace of the President-elect's father - the Daily Nation wrote on the day after the November 4 election, “Barack Obama’s victory over his Republican rival John McCain to become the 44th president of the US sparked off wild celebrations among Kenyans in the US. Like other Africans living in the US, Kenyans took to the streets with blaring car horns and loud music by Kenyan artists in their cars.” The paper added, “As Kenyans, we believe that with this win by our son, (America) will implement Africa-friendly policies that could lift not just the continent, but our nation from poverty.” Read more ..

Edge on Africa

Zambia's Election An Important Bellwether For Africa

November 3rd 2008

Africa Topics - banda
Zambia President Rupiah Banda

While desperate refugees flee eastern Congo in droves, and Zimbabwe buckles further under collapse, little attention has been paid to a crucial presidential election in the land in between, Zambia.

Following the August death of beloved President Levy Mwanawasa, considered by many observers as a rare good steward in Africa, the country had to hold a quick election to select a new leader. 

On Oct. 30, Zambians elected to continue the late president's sound policies by voting in his deputy, Rupiah Banda, who will now serve out the rest of Mwanawasa's term which expires in 2011. The relatively smooth transition of October's election, branded free and fair by independent election monitors, has helped to prove Zambia's young democracy. After all, Africa's largest copper producer has seen only three presidents since independence and has never lost one in office. With a wispy 2 percent margin of victory, Banda was sworn in November 2, only two hours after election officials announced the final results. Read more ..

Coping with Fear

The Truth About Hell

October 27th 2008

Israel Topics - Hell

Below the Old City walls in Jerusalem there is a ravine that begins as a gentle, grassy separation between hills, but then quickly descends south into the rocky earth. Eventually, the ravine becomes a steep, craggy depth, scarred on the far side by shallow caves and pits that vaunt hollowed-out chambers and narrow crypts.

Until recent years, everywhere one could see the scorches and smolder from trash fires. Rivulets of urine trickled down from open sewers at the cliffs above, watering thorn bushes, weeds and unexpected clumps of grass among the outcroppings. One could smell the stench of decaying offal, the congealed stink of putrefied garbage, and the absorbed reek of incinerated substances seared into the rock face. Crows circled low. Worms and maggots slithered throughout.

Listen. Imagine. Some cannot help but hear the tormented screams of babies being burned alive, the macabre incantations of the idolatrous in gruesome celebration, the agonized cries of helpless victims, and every other echo of death and disconsolation that dwells here so pervasively that not even the centuries can silence them.

Welcome to Hell. The real Hell. This is Jerusalem's Gei Ben Hinnom, the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom. The Valley was named for an alien non-Semitic family, the Hinnom clan that predated the First Temple period and immediately established the locale as a place of abomination. Gei Ben Hinnom became Ge Hinnom (Valley of Hinnom, and eventually Gehenna in English or Gehennem in Arabic and Hebrew. Read more ..

The Global Economic Collapse

UK and Europe Seek to Retard Global Economy

October 20th 2008

Economy - Corporate Cube

Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the United Kingdom asserted earlier this week that the financial crisis revealed the need to "rebuild our fractured financial system." The European Union echoed this sentiment in a call for "a genuine and complete reform" of the world's financial architecture. The heart of Brown's proposal is to enhance the power and authority of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (known collectively as the Bretton Woods organizations) to create an unprecedented level of global governance to supervise financial institutions, impose universal standards for accounting and regulation, and serve as an early warning system for future crises.

The financial crisis certainly is serious, but Mr. Brown's suggested solutions would, for the most part, do little to prevent future crises; on the contrary, they could do great harm.

Brown's proposal coincides with ongoing meetings between the Bush Administration and European officials, and the announcement of a special G-8 summit as early as November to focus on the global financial crisis. The Bush Administration should not make the creation of a powerful new international regulatory authority a part of its legacy. Read more ..

Kicking our Oil Addiction

Breaking the Oil Cartel--Gal Luft Interview

October 13th 2008

Contributors / Staff - Gal Luft 1
Gal Luft

Cutting Edge News energy analyst Gal Luft is one of America's most influential energy independence advocates. He is executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS) a Washington based energy policy think tank and co-founder of the Set America Free Coalition, an alliance of groups promoting ways to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil. Luft specializes in strategy, geopolitics, terrorism, energy security and economic warfare. He was interviewed by Jamie Glanov, managing editor of Frontpage.com.

Your thoughts on the oil cartel and what it is doing to the world?

The oil cartel is looting the world economy and is by far the main culprit behind the current oil crisis. This is a cartel that owns 78 percent of world oil reserves but produces only 33 percent of the world's supply. Stunningly, OPEC's production is less than what it used to be 35 years ago, just before the Arab Oil Embargo. Then they produced 30 million barrels per day. Today their quota is just under 29 million barrels per day. So in 35 years the world economy essentially doubled, non-OPEC production nearly doubled, but the oil cartel, despite the fact that last year it brought in two new members, Angola and Ecuador, with combined daily production capacity equivalent to that of Norway, hasn't ramped up production. In fact, only this month OPEC decided to reduce its production by more than half a million barrels per day.

The consequences of this daylight robbery are dire, particularly to the poor people of the world. Developing economies are hemorrhaging and this will increasingly become a destabilizing factor. Even more troubling is the fact that the two main engines of radical Islam-Saudi Arabia and Iran-as well as the top two obstructionists of U.S. foreign policy-Russia and Venezuela-are now on the receiving end of hundreds of billions of dollars in oil and gas revenues. As long as we continue to enrich those countries while depleting our own coffers we will not be able to prevail in the long war of the 21-Century. Read more ..

Burma After the Flood

Burma's Muslim Rohingya Minority Dwell at the "Brink of Extermination"

October 6th 2008

Burma - Rohingya Village
Rohingya refugee camp

It is not often you meet someone who tells you that he is from “a people at the brink of extermination.” But the testimonies from refugees in a remote corner of southern Bangladesh, on the border with Burma, justify that assessment. For the Rohingya people, a Muslim minority in northern Arakan State, western Burma, are a stateless people whose very identity is denied.

All the people of Burma are suffering at the hands of one of the world’s most brutal, and illegitimate, military regimes. From time to time Burma’s crisis hits the headlines, as it did with protests led by Buddhist monks last September, and Cyclone Nargis in May this year. In between such events, however, Burma fades from the world’s attention.

If Burma as a whole is under-reported, the people on its western borders are almost unknown to the world. Journalists, activists and aid agencies who visit the region tend to head for the Thailand-Burma border, where access to refugees, displaced people and democracy groups is greatest. Read more ..

Is the U.S. Economy Safe?

Green Ashes and Black Swans—The Alan Greenspan Legacy, Part II

September 29th 2008

Economy - Wall Street Bull

Warren Buffett’s view of derivatives in his 2002 Annual Letter to Shareholders states, “Derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction, carrying dangers that, while now latent, are potentially lethal.”

Warren didn’t know what would happen, or when it would happen, but being the smartest financial mind on the planet enabled him to foresee a bleak outcome. A reasonable person could conclude that this credit derivative bubble would not end well. Another Black Swan was coming, but again the Harvard educated CEOs on Wall Street making $15 million per year did not see it, or chose to ignore the risks, because they knew that the Federal Reserve and the Government would come to the rescue if they went too far. The Greenspan “put” was well known on Wall Street. Whenever someone did something stupid and risked worldwide financial collapse, the Fed would ride in on their white horse to save the day. Read more ..

Is the U.S. Economy Safe?

Green Ashes and Black Swans--The Alan Greenspan Legacy - PART I

September 22nd 2008

Economy - Lehman Brothers

It has been a momentous year for our country. Absolutely no one on the face of the planet could have predicted on January 1, 2008 the events that would unfold in the next nine months. We are in the midst of an extreme “Black Swan.”

No one saw it coming and no one knows what will happen next. When plans to save the financial world are slapped together every other weekend, the law of unintended consequences is likely to rear its ugly head. It is too early to step back and try to understand what is going on at this point in history. What we do know is that whatever is happening is not good.

“Globalization creates interlocking fragility, while reducing volatility and giving the appearance of stability. In other words it creates devastating Black Swans. We have never lived before under the threat of a global collapse. Financial Institutions have been merging into a smaller number of very large banks. Almost all banks are interrelated. So the financial ecology is swelling into gigantic, incestuous, bureaucratic banks – when one fails, they all fall. Read more ..

Religious Freedom

France Disallows Muslim Woman's Citizenship for the Veil--a Question Balancing Citizenship and Assimilation

September 15th 2008

Islamic Topics - 2 women in burqa
Steve Evans via flickr.com

On June 27, 2008, the Council of State (Conseil d’Etat), the French Supreme Administrative Court, upheld a Prime Minister’s decree refusing citizenship to a Moroccan woman who was married to a French national and had two French children. The Council’s decision was based on the grounds that the woman lacked assimilation to French society because of her radical practice of religion, deemed incompatible with the essential values of the French community, in particular equality of the genders. These findings were supported by elements in the court file that the Moroccan woman was a Salafist Muslim and wore the Burqa.

Citizenship is not a guaranteed right for foreign spouses under French law and the authorities can deny it under the control of administrative courts for reasons of lack of assimilation. However, this does not mean that the State can discriminate and deny citizenship because of the practice of a religion. In this case, the Council of State did not base its decision on motives of public order, such as membership in extremist groups like it has done in the past, or because of problems of identification because the Burqa covered the woman’s whole face, but has ruled for the first time on the basis of the domestic practice of a religion, thereby entering the sphere of private life and beliefs. Such a decision contravenes international human rights standards.

This is a potentially dangerous trend which could lead to further discriminatory evaluations in the area of private religious practice. However, the case law of the Council of State has not followed such a trend in the past. On the contrary, for years it has played a neutral role concerning the wearing of the Muslim veil. Read more ..

Edge on Energy Policy

The Drive To Drill in Alaska And Offshore Overlooks Long-term Need For Petroleum

September 8th 2008

Energy / Environment - Petroleum

No energy policy proposal has caused more acrimony or political gridlock preventing major progress toward energy security than domestic oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Outer Continental Shelf.

Liberals and environmentalists who oppose tapping into America's oil reserves in Alaska and offshore invoke the need to protect America's pristine lands and coasts.

Republicans—led by Sen. John McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin—see nature conservation as a lower priority in the face of high gasoline prices and a dangerous dependence on oil coming from some of the world's worst regimes. Their battle over drilling recently took center stage in Washington's political theater when House Republicans launched a floor protest against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's decision to adjourn for the August recess without voting on opening new areas to drilling. It continued last week at the Republican National Convention. Read more ..

Inside Islam

Women Entombed Alive in Pakistan to Satisfy Offended Honor

September 1st 2008

Islamic Topics - Pakistani honor victims
Pakistani Honor Victim

Honor killings and tortures against women and girls who stray from accepted norma are common in Pakistan. But the latest cases have echoed throughout the national Pakistani media and indeed through the halls of the local legislature.

On September 1, Pakistani police ordered the bodies of two women to be exhumed in the village of Babakot, in the province of Balochistan. They have ordered an autopsy to clarify the circumstances leading to the women's death who are believed to have been "shot and then buried alive together with three other girls" for what seems to have been a "crime of honor" following "tribal" law, according to a report by Asia News.

The police of the district also arrested seven suspects who are accused of ordering or carrying out the brutal multiple murder, including the father, brother, and a cousin of the slain girls.

The incident apparently occurred July 13, when three girls were killed for marrying without the consent of family members and village elders; the other two women met the same fate for "associating" with young men. The incident has provoked reaction from human rights activists, who have organized protest demonstrations in Lahore and Islamabad, calling for an end to "tribal practices that in the name of the code of honor" perpetrate violence and abuse toward women.

The case of the women buried alive came to the attention of the media in Pakistan on August 29, following statements by Sardar Israrullah Zehri, a senator from Balochistan, who defended the practice because it belongs to "our tribal customs". Human rights associations reacted strongly, condemning the senator's words and calling for his immediate resignation. Read more ..

Inside Islam

Egypt Seeks to Ban Christian-Muslim Organ Transplants

August 25th 2008

Islamic Topics - Muslim doctor
Muslim medic

The Egyptian Medical Association, through its spokesman on August 18, denied that a bill in the Egyptian parliament would discriminate between Christians and Muslims by prohibiting organ transplants between members of the two faiths. The Association supports the controversial measure. “This is all to protect poor Muslims from rich Christians who buy their organs and vice versa,” explained Hamdi Al Sayed – the director of the Medical Association. Under the bill, physicians who violate the proposed law would face retribution.

Al Sayed denied any sectarianism in the proposed law saying that “if some Copts are angered by the law then why is it that Muslims are not.” Even so, Al Sayed said that under the draft law, it’s not possible for a Coptic Christian to donate organs to a Muslim and vice versa simply because donations have been restricted to family members up to the fourth degree. Al Sayed continued “…it is degrading for both religions if lets say, a poor Christian has to sell his kidney to a rich Muslim, or a poor Muslim has to sell his kidney to a rich Christian. It is not right for either religion and that is why we made this law so we can stop organ trafficking.” Finally, Al Sayed continued, “It is not about trying to promote differences between religions but it’s just to minimize the trade of organs as much as we can.”

Speaking for Coptic Christians, Bishop Marcos said “We all have the same Egyptian blood, but if the reason for the measure is to end organ trafficking, we reject it because it may also occur between believers of the same religion.” For Bishop Marcos, the Association’s decision is “very grave” since it can lead to prohibiting blood donation between Christians and Muslims or prevent physicians from examining patients of religions other than their own. “We are afraid that in the future there will be hospitals for Christians and hospitals for Muslims,” said the bishop. Egyptian Christians currently make up approximately 10% of the nation as a whole, which has a population of more than 76 million. Read more ..

China’s Troubled Olympics

Playing Politics: Olympic Controversies Past and Present

August 11th 2008

Olympics - SF Olympic Protest

The hot topic of this year’s Olympics seems to be “boycott.” Protesters argue that China’s human rights policies, especially in Tibet, make Beijing an unworthy host for the celebration of human athletic prowess in the Games of the XXIX Olympiad. Olympic officials, on the other hand, speak piously of keeping politics out of sports competition.

I am frequently asked “Must politics be a part of the Olympic Games?” My answer is “yes.” Why are world leaders planning to meet over gold medals rather than a “cloth of gold”? My answer is that the Games in many ways have always been a major international political playground, and the events of 2008 simply follow in that tradition.

Arguments that the Olympics have a sacred character fuel all sides in the dispute over the Beijing Games. Defenders say that politics should not sully this “sacred” event and its “sacred” attributes such as The Flame. Attackers argue that the decision to give China the Games was itself obviously political, and that China does not deserve to host this special and mystical celebration. Defenders invoke the Games’ mystique and conjure up visions of “Olympic truce” in ancient Greece. “Sport – you are peace!” “Keep politics out of sport!” Read more ..

Religious Freedom

Kidnapped Pakistani Christian Girls Forced to Convert to Islam

August 4th 2008

Islamic Topics - Muslim Woman

Justice Saghir Ahmed, a judge of the Multan bench of Lahore High Court, Pakistan, sent on July 29, 2008 two under-aged Christian girls to a "darul aman" in Multan, Punjab, for their safety. Darul aman is the name of the institutions set up by government for the shelter of women needing temporary sanctuary or protection.

According to Aftab Alexander Mughal, of Minorities Concern of Pakistan, Saba Younis, 13 years old, and Anila, 10 years old, sisters and Christians, were kidnapped on June 26 by a Muslim man Muhammad Arif Bajwa and then forcibly converted to Islam. When the matter came before the court, Main Naeem Sardar, District and Sessions Judge Muzaffargarh, on July 12, ordered that the girls are not to be remanded to their Christian parents because the girls are Muslim now.

The father of the girls, Younis Masih, filed an appeal to the high court where Muslim lawyer Rashid Rehman pleaded his case. The court did not believe that the girls accepted Islam by their own free will; therefore, the girls were sent to a 'darul aman' in order to be relieved of pressure on the part of Muslims. The girls will again appear in court on Aug. 4 and the case will then be decided according to the girls' statement. Read more ..

Election Edge

Obama Sets Out His Israel Vision In Exclusive Horovitz Interview

July 28th 2008

Israel Topics - Obama in Horovitz Interview
David Horovitz Interviews Barack Obama

Two months ago in the Oval Office, President George W. Bush, coming to the end of a two-term presidency and presumably as expert on Israeli-Palestinian policy as he is ever going to be, was accompanied by a team of no fewer than five advisers and spokespeople during a 40-minute interview with this writer and three other Israeli journalists.

In March, on his whirlwind visit to Israel, Republican presidential nominee John McCain—one of whose primary strengths is said to be his intimate grasp of foreign affairs—chose to bring along Sen. Joe Lieberman to the interview Post diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon and I conducted with him. He looked to Lieberman several times for reassurance on his answers, and seemed a little flummoxed by a question relating to the nuances of settlement construction.

Last Wednesday, toward the end of his packed one-day visit here, Barack Obama, the Democratic senator who is leading the race for the White House and who lacks long years of foreign policy involvement, spoke to this editor with only a single aide in his King David Hotel room, and that aide's sole contribution to the conversation was to suggest that the candidate and I switch seats so that our photographer would get better lighting for his pictures.

Several of Obama's Middle East advisers—including former Clinton special envoy Dennis Ross and ex-ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer—were hovering in the vicinity. But Obama, who was making only his second visit to Israel, knew precisely what he wanted to say about the most intricate issues confronting and concerning Israel, and expressed himself clearly, even stridently on key subjects. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

A Pariah in Exile

July 14th 2008

Jewish Topics - Norman Finkelstein
Norman Finkelstein
PHOTO: Michael Datikash

It has come to this for Norman Finkelstein: Back home in the Brooklyn of his youth, living alone in his deceased father’s rent-stabilized apartment on Ocean Parkway, just a few blocks from where the white-hot controversial professor grew up.

No more loyal students, no more lectures to prepare, no more radio debates with his arch-enemy Alan Dershowitz, no more national spotlight; Finkelstein is the man no one wants, and perhaps for good reason.

A year ago, DePaul University, where he taught political science for six years, denied Finkelstein tenure in one of the most bruising tenure battles in recent memory. The story made national headlines, fueled by Dershowitz’s crusade against Finkelstein’s scholarship.

Finkelstein’s supporters painted the Harvard law professor as an outside agitator encroaching on an internal tenure process; some of his students went on a hunger strike in his support. No major university will touch him now.

“Who wants to go through what DePaul went through with a national hysteria,” Finkelstein says, shrugging. “To be told I was a Holocaust denier and a terrorist supporter—would you want me on your faculty?” Read more ..

After the Holocaust

A Last Chance to Catch Nazi Dr. Death

July 7th 2008

Jewish Topics - Nazi Hunter Zuroff
Nazi Hunter Zuroff Seeking Aribert Heim

The chief Nazi hunter of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center headed to South America on Sunday in a final public campaign to locate the most wanted Nazi in the world and bring him to justice.

The search for Dr. Aribert Heim, 94, the former Austrian doctor also known as "Dr. Death" who tops the Wiesenthal Center's list of "most wanted Nazis," has spanned nearly half a century since his 1962 disappearance in Germany ahead of a planned prosecution for his war crimes.

Heim was indicted in Germany on charges that he murdered hundreds of inmates by lethal injection at the notorious Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, where he was the camp's doctor during the Holocaust.

"Our working assumption is that Heim is hiding somewhere in Chile or Argentina," said Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the Wiesenthal Center's chief Nazi-hunter and Israel director in a telephone interview ahead of his departure.

Zuroff conceded that this would likely be the "final push" to uncover the nonagenarian, despite his status as the world's number one Nazi suspect.

"We feel we are approaching the end of the line," he said.

The Nazi hunter noted that Heim's daughter lives in the southern Chilean city of Puerto Montt, and that she is the most likely to be in contact with her father, or at least have information about his whereabouts.

His daughter had previously said that her father died in 1993 in Argentina, but she never provided acertificate of death or accepted his inheritance. A one million Euro bank account in his name is active in Berlin, which Heim's children could have received if they had proved he was dead.

During his trip, Zuroff will be holding a press conference in Puerto Montt in a "final attempt" to reach anyone who has information about his current whereabouts. "We are going into her backyard," he said. Read more ..

Grinds and Grounds

Birthplace of Coffee, Ethiopia Grows Into the World of Competitive Branding

June 30th 2008

Food / Wine - Ethiopian coffee

Every day, 15 million Ethiopian farmers awaken in traditional grass huts called gojos and head off to work on coffee farms. They toil hard for the entire day before returning home, having earned about one dollar.

For the roughly one in five Ethiopians who rely on coffee for their livelihood, more money and a higher standard of living could be on the horizon thanks to Ethiopia’s latest effort to secure higher prices for the farmers who cultivate the country’s “black gold.”
In addition to being the origin of all humanity, Ethiopia is also the birthplace of coffee. The word coffee is derived from Kaffa—one of many regions within Ethiopia where coffee is grown. Just as Ethiopia is the first country to grow coffee, it is also the first nation to produce and export it.

Though Ethiopia has diversified into other areas such as floriculture and leather processing, coffee exports remain the country’s leading source of foreign exchange. Those exports have helped Ethiopia maintain a 10 percent annual growth rate since 2003, among the fastest in the world—double the average of Africa as a whole. Read more ..

Inside Islam

Religious Minorities--Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists, Unregistered Muslims and Others-- Harassed in Azerbaijan

June 23rd 2008

Contributors / Staff - Joe Griebowski headshot
Joseph Grieboski

Police have raided two Jehovah’s Witness communities in Azerbaijan this month in the capital of Baku.  The first came June 3, during which police reportedly detained nine men for 6-1/2 hours. The men were reportedly beaten and threatened with sexual assault, including rape, unless they changed their religious beliefs.

Local police chief Colonel Sahib Babaev claimed that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were meeting illegally and reading religious literature and providing religious education at the private home of Bahaddin Ismaylov. Babaev told reporters, “They collect people together and teach them.” He continued, “They shouldn’t meet in a private house- there are special places for this, like mosques and madrassas.”

The men were taken into a police station where they were repeatedly hit in the face and body, pressured to renounce their religious beliefs, and were told that their meeting was illegal. The police threatened the men with prison and that they would be raped if they continued to meet.

The second raid on Jehohavah’s Witnesses came on June 11, during which 15 police officers detained a whole congregation and beat three detainees, according to Forum 18 News. Jehovah’s Witness communities have been raided by police on several occasions, including incidents of harassment by police in December 2007 and January 2008.

Tragically, these incidents are not the only abuse religious minorities have faced at the hands of authorities in Azerbaijan in recent months. Read more ..

Significant Lives

Washington Just Won’t be the Same Without Him—A Buffalo Colleague Remembers a Personal Moment with Tim Russert

June 16th 2008

Media - Tim Russert
Tim Russert

Tim Russert was the most familiar and trusted political face in America. Known to millions as the moderator of “Meet the Press,” the nation’s most respected Sunday morning issues show, he also regularly appeared on a palette other NBC programs, from the Today Show, NBC’s Nightly News, to an interview program named for him on MSNBC. He was a giant.

But back in 1996, Tim Russert was just a face on the television to me, when I gave my elderly mother the thrill of her life by bringing her to the White House for a Christmas party. It was there that I met Russert personally, and it was there that I came to know him.

A few minutes after arriving, I told my mother to wait for a moment while I went to get us some wine. That left this daughter of a coal miner and widow of a tannery worker standing awkwardly alone in the middle of an ornate White House parlor … and that was obviously too much for Tim Russert to take. Read more ..

Edge on Disaster

Cyclonic Orwellian Drama Still Plays Out in Ravaged Burma

June 9th 2008

Unknown - Burma Cyclone Victims
Photo: Delta Tears

Burma’s military regime has officially declared the relief phase over, a month after Cyclone Nargis hit the country. Displaced people sheltering in churches, monasteries, schools and other public buildings are being forcibly evicted, and ordered to return to their homes or to military-controlled camps. Yet the death toll is estimated to be at least 130,000, and continues to rise. Over 2.5 million people are homeless. Aid is still only trickling in, and while there are some reports that more international aid workers have been allowed into the country, the regime is continuing to obstruct, restrict and delay access for most aid workers.

Meanwhile, the military continues its policies of repression. The offensive against the Karen ethnic people in eastern Burma goes on. Since 1996, over 3,200 villages in eastern Burma have been destroyed by military offensives, and a million people displaced. On 27 May, 500 villagers in eastern Mon township, Karen State, were driven into the jungle. According to the Free Burma Rangers, a relief organisation working in the conflict zones, the Burma Army is still “attacking, burning villages and displacing people”, raping, looting, laying landmines and using people for forced labor.

Even in the cyclone-affected areas, Burma Army soldiers have killed survivors for no reason. On 25 May, in Laputta, two people were shot dead. The following day, a villager in Yaytwinchaung was killed. Read more ..

Election Edge

Obama's Long-term Relationship with ACORN and Alinskyism Show Church Membership a Political Means to an End

June 2nd 2008

World Citizens - Barack Obama headshot
Barack Obama

Senator Barack Obama’s political ambitions stirred Jackie Kendall, executive director of the Midwest Academy, a Chicago-based training center for community organizers, to crow, “He’s given community organizing a good name.”

This remark was sparked by the fact that Obama entered politics through community organizing. In 1995, one analyst wrote, “He says he is drawn to politics, despite its superficialities, as a means to advance his real passion and calling: community organization... What if a politician were to see his job as that of an organizer, as part teacher and part advocate, one who does not sell voters short but who educates them about the real choices before them? As an elected public official, for instance, I could bring church and community leaders together easier than I could as a community organizer or lawyer.”

Obama has had extensive experience as a community organizer. In the 1980s, he was the lead organizer of the Developing Communities Project, a campaign funded by Chicago’s south-side Catholic churches and formed on the organizing principles of Saul Alinsky. He spent another four years building an organization in Roseland and the nearby Altgeld Gardens public housing complex. Read more ..

Tracking “Project Better Place” Electric Cars

Shai Agassi's Electric Car Plan Good Enough to “Wipe out Gasoline Cars” says Deutsche Bank

May 26th 2008

Energy - E-Tank
Better Place E-Tank

Imagine your cell phone transforming into an electric car. Sound far-fetched?  

Not if you're Shai Agassi, the founder of Project Better Place (PBP), and you believe you have finally created the concept that could transform the notion of car ownership and make the vehicle you own an electric one. The underlying premise of his paradigm-changing business plan is to sell clean, green transportation services on the cellular telephone model.

Israeli-born Agassi's idea, for which he's received some $200 million in venture funding, led by The Israel Corporation is to create the electric car equivalent of a cellular phone network. Where forests of cellular phone towers and repeaters are the most visible manifestation of the networks that make cell phone service possible, in PBP's case, the network will consist of hundreds of thousands of battery charging stanchions and scores of battery swapping centers. Just as it isn't the cell phone that generates revenue for the likes of Sprint, Verizon and ATT&T, it won't be the electric cars in Agassi's model. Instead, it will be the convenient, affordable and environmentally-sustainable transportation services that he hopes to offer.  

A recent study of Project Better Place's plan by Deutsche Bank concluded that not only can it be financially successful, but that it has the potential to "wipe out gasoline cars." Read more ..

Inside the Middle East

President Bush Addresses Members of the Knesset

May 19th 2008

Headshots Leaders - President Bush
President George W. Bush

President George W. Bush addressed the Knesset on May 15, 2008. on the occasion of Israel's 60th anniversary. An edited transcript follows. VIEW VIDEO

President Peres and Mr. Prime Minister, Madam Speaker, thank you very much for hosting this special session. President Beinish, Leader of the Opposition Netanyahu, Ministers, members of the Knesset, distinguished guests: Shalom. Laura and I are thrilled to be back in Israel. We have been deeply moved by the celebrations of the past two days. And this afternoon, I am honored to stand before one of the world's great democratic assemblies and convey the wishes of the American people with these words: Yom Ha'atzmaut Sameach. (Applause.)

It is a rare privilege for the American President to speak to the Knesset. (Laughter.) Although the Prime Minister told me there is something even rarer -- to have just one person in this chamber speaking at a time. (Laughter.) My only regret is that one of Israel's greatest leaders is not here to share this moment. He is a warrior for the ages, a man of peace, a friend. The prayers of the American people are with Ariel Sharon. (Applause.)

We gather to mark a momentous occasion. Sixty years ago in Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel's independence, founded on the "natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate." What followed was more than the establishment of a new country. It was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David -- a homeland for the chosen people Eretz Yisrael.

Eleven minutes later, on the orders of President Harry Truman, the United States was proud to be the first nation to recognize Israel's independence. And on this landmark anniversary, America is proud to be Israel's closest ally and best friend in the world.


UNRWA—Refuge for Rejection

UNRWA: A Refuge for Rejectionism—How the UN Perpetuated a Refugee Crisis

May 12th 2008

Islamic - Palestinian Refugee Camp

There is no other body in the UN system like the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Millions of refugees worldwide—more than 130 million since the end of World War Two—have fallen under the responsibility of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which aims to resettle and rehabilitate the refugees. But UNRWA was created as a separate body and its jurisdiction is solely the Palestinians. UNRWA has defined the term “refugee” in the broadest terms by including not only those Arabs who fled from territories held by Israel, but also those who stayed in their homes and lost their source of livelihood as a result of war. Today, this would include all third and fourth generation refugees, even those children of just one Palestinian refugee parent.

Not a single Palestinian has ever lost his refugee status. There are hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees -- or their descendants -- who are citizens of Jordan. Yet, as far as UNRWA is concerned, they are still refugees. Read more ..

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