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Pakistan on Edge

Pakistani Villagers Vow 'No Electricity, No Polio Vaccinations'

June 10th 2013

Polio Vaccination Clinc

Tribal elders in a a northwestern Pakistani region are taking extreme measures in an effort to bring electricity to their area, saying that as long as they have no electricity they won't vaccinate their children against polio.

Several hundred residents from villages in Lakki Marwat district staged a protest demonstration on June 10 and turned away polio-eradication teams.

Village elder Zaitullah Betanai stated that polio teams will not be allowed to go about their work until the central government accepts the villagers' demands. "There is an electricity supply line but no electricity, and there is no electricity transformer in the area," Zaitullah said. "We have no mosquito kits and no spray against mosquitoes is arranged so far. Also, there is no ambulance in the area. We want the government to address the four demands immediately." Read more ..


The Urban Edge

Doubling a City Population Increases Economic Productivity by 130 Percent

June 9th 2013

New York skyline dusk

In 2010, in the journal Nature, a pair of physicists at the Santa Fe Institute showed that when the population of a city doubles, economic productivity goes up by an average of 130 percent. Not only does total productivity increase with increased population, but so does per-capita productivity.

In the latest issue of Nature Communications, researchers from the MIT Media Laboratory’s Human Dynamics Lab propose a new explanation for that “superlinear scaling”: Increases in urban population density give residents greater opportunity for face-to-face interaction.

The new paper builds on previous work by the same group, which showed that increasing employees’ opportunities for face-to-face interaction could boost corporations’ productivity. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Secret Court Judge Attended Expenses-Paid Terrorism Seminar

June 8th 2013

File Folders

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson, who signed an order requiring Verizon to give the National Security Agency telephone records for tens of millions of American customers, attended an expense-paid judicial seminar sponsored by a libertarian think tank that featured lectures from a vocal proponent of executive branch powers.

Vinson, whose term on the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court began in 2006 and expired last month, was the only member of the special court to attend the August 2008 conference sponsored by the Foundation for Research on Economics & the Environment, according to disclosure records filed by the federal judge.

Disclosure records were collected as part of an investigative report that revealed how large corporations and conservative foundations routinely sponsor ideologically driven educational conferences for state and federal judges.

It’s unclear which lectures Vinson attended during the “Terrorism, Civil Liberty, & National Security” seminar. FREE’s website only provides a general agenda for the program and no lecture transcripts. Read more ..


Africa on Edge

Leaders Call for Investing in Girls

June 7th 2013

NGO-girl power

Leaders of some of the world’s top foundations say much more needs to be done to encourage the hopes, dreams and ambitions of young girls. The issue was discussed at the Women Deliver conference in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.

United Nations Foundation President and CEO Kathy Calvin said investing in girls has long term benefits.

“If we don’t put a girl first, if we don’t start with a girl, we may never have the opportunity to help her as a woman. If you address a girl’s issues across the board, you have a really good chance of ensuring that she will have an opportunity to live a long and healthier life – changing both her life and her family’s.” Maria Eitel, President and CEO of the Nike Foundation, said that often there’s a small window of opportunity to intervene on behalf of girls. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Britain Apologizes, Pays Compensation for Colonial Abuses in Kenya

June 6th 2013

Mau Mau Vet

Britain has apologized and agreed to pay compensation to thousands of veterans of the Mau Mau nationalist uprising in Kenya, which was brutally suppressed by the British colonial government in the 1950s.  It could pave the way for further claims against Britain for its actions in its former colonies.

The uprising by Mau Mau nationalists in 1950s Kenya was brutally suppressed by the British colonial government.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission estimates that 90,000 Kenyans were killed or maimed and 160,000 detained.  Torture and rape were common. More than 50 years later, British Foreign Secretary William Hague has apologized and agreed to pay compensation. Read more ..


Palestine on Edge

Palestinian Catholic Schools May Be Forced to Close

June 6th 2013

Catholic nun in Gaza with child

Five Christian schools in Gaza face closure if the Hamas-controlled government insists on an order forbidding such co-educational institutions, in accordance with the terrorist group’s interpretation of Islamic law. Rev. Faysal Hijazin, the director of schools for the Latin Catholic Patriarchate in Israel and Palestine said of the controversy, “This will be a big problem. We hope they will not go through with it, but if they do, we will be in big trouble. We don’t have the space and we don’t have the money to divide our schools.”

Fr. Hijazin said on June 3 that although the order did not single out the Christian schools, the five are the only schools with mixed enrolment in Gaza. “We hope they will not go through with it, but if they do, we will be in big trouble. We don’t have the space and we don’t have the money to divide our schools,” he said. Read more ..


Azerbaijan on Edge

Sex, Drugs, And Dissent: The Return Of A 'Classic Technology'

June 5th 2013

jail door blue

If you didn’t know any better, you’d think that dissidents in much of the former Soviet Union were a bunch of foul-mouthed junkie pornographers.

In March, police in Azerbaijan arrested Mahammad Azizov on drugs charges. A few weeks later, they picked up Dashgin Malikov. Days later, Taleh Bagirov was nabbed. On May 9, it was Rashad Ramazonov's turn.

What all these young men have in common, besides denying the charges, is their outspoken criticism of the government of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. Azizov and Malikov belong to opposition groups. Bagirov is an imam who gave a sermon criticizing Aliyev days before his arrest. Ramazanov is an opposition blogger.

Rounding up opposition activists on odd and often spurious charges, drug-related or otherwise, is not unique to Azerbaijan. From Russia to Ukraine to Belarus, activists have been charged with crimes ranging from distributing pornography to smuggling caviar to cursing in public.

Heather McGill is a researcher for the London-based rights group Amnesty International. She maintains that the prosecution of activists under various nonpolitical charges complicates the work of organizations such as hers as they try to identify and defend political prisoners. The tactic also provides political cover for authoritarian regimes, she says, as "governments are very keen to claim that they don’t have political prisoners."

"If you claim somebody has committed a criminal offense, then it makes it harder for people to defend that person," she says. "It just makes the case more complex for us and we need to be very, very careful in researching whether that person has in fact done what the authorities claim they have." Read more ..


The Edge of Labor

Labor Union Decline, Main Cause of Rising Corporate Profits

June 5th 2013

Bundles of Cash

A new study suggests that the decline of labor unions, partly as an outcome of computerization, is the main reason why U.S. corporate profits have surged as a share of national income while workers' wages and other compensation have declined.

The study, "The Capitalist Machine: Computerization, Workers' Power, and the Decline in Labor's Share within U.S. Industries," explores an important dimension of economic inequality that has been largely overlooked in research and the national discourse.

"Most of the research on growing economic inequality focuses on rising earnings inequality among workers, including the growing income share of the top 1 or 10 percent," said study author Tali Kristal. "But this is only part of the overall picture on rising economic inequality, or as Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman writes, this 'may be yesterday's story.' The other part is the distribution of national income, the total economic pie, between workers' compensation ('labor's share') and corporate profits. It's a zero sum game: whatever is not going to the workers goes to the corporations." Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Eyelid Lifts Skyrocket Among Medicare Patients, Costing Millions

June 4th 2013

Eyelid-Surgery

Aging Americans worried about their droopy upper eyelids often rely on the plastic surgeon’s scalpel to turn back the hands of time. Increasingly, Medicare is footing the bill.

Yes, Medicare. The public health insurance program for people over 65 typically does not cover cosmetic surgery, but for cases in which a patient’s sagging eyelids significantly hinder their vision, it does pay to have them lifted. In recent years, though, a rapid rise in the number of so-called functional eyelid lifts, or blepharoplasty, has led some to question whether Medicare is letting procedures that are really cosmetic slip through the cracks — at a cost of millions of dollars. 

As the Obama administration and Congress wrestle over how to restrain Medicare’s growing pricetag, critics say program administrators should be more closely inspecting rapidly proliferating procedures like blepharoplasty to make sure taxpayers are not getting ripped off.

From 2001 to 2011, eyelid lifts charged to Medicare more than tripled to 136,000 annually, according to a review of physician billing data by the Center for Public Integrity. In 2001, physicians billed taxpayers a total of $20 million for the procedure. By 2011, the price tag had quadrupled to $80 million. The number of physicians billing the surgery more than doubled. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iran's Alleged Part In 1994 Bombing Of Buenos Aires Jewish Center

June 3rd 2013

Bombing Buenos Aires Jewish Center

A top Argentinian prosecutor has said new evidence strengthens the case against high-ranking Iranian officials accused of involvement in the decades-old bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires in which 85 people were killed and around 300 more wounded.

Alberto Nisman, who presented a 500-page indictment to a federal judge in Buenos Aires on May 29, said intelligence reports from South America, Europe, and the United States underscores the role Iranian officials and diplomats had in sponsoring the 1994 attack on the Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) center.

Argentinian courts in 2006 charged eight current and former senior Iranian officials, along with a Lebanese national, with involvement in the attack. The Argentinian government has secured from Interpol international arrest warrants against the eight men. Tehran, which has vehemently denied the allegations, has refused to extradite the suspects to face trial in Argentina. Read more ..


The Cyber Edge

Minimizing Risks from Cybercrime

June 2nd 2013

Computers/Nerd Silhouette

Cybercrime strikes an estimated 1.5 million people every day. That’s about 18 victims every second, 556 million people around the world, every year. While experts say the people who commit these crimes are becoming more sophisticated, you don’t have to be another statistic. There are effective ways businesses and individuals can minimize their risks.

Protecting organizations and individuals from data thieves is a multibillion-dollar industry. There's a good reason. Alan Edwards, the president of WhiteHorse Technology Solutions says anyone with access to the Internet should be worried - because cybercrime is no longer limited to your home, your office or your bank. Read more ..


The Natural Edge

Crocodiles Have Aussies on Edge Following Fatal Attacks

June 2nd 2013

Australian crocodile

As the crocodile population reaches levels not seen since hunting was banned in Australia’s Northern Territory in the early 1970s, wildlife authorities are reinforcing efforts to protect residents and tourists. School children are taking part in a new “Crocwise” campaign following several fatal attacks in recent years and other near-misses. It is estimated there are 130,000 saltwater crocodiles in northern Australia.

The message to schoolchildren in Darwin is simple: that one of nature’s most efficient killers lives among them.

Rachel Pearce, from the Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory, tod schoolchildren in Darwin of the dangers posed by the world’s largest reptile. She showed them a crocodile’s skull, where rows of sharp teeth are embedded. Read more ..


Broken Government

Tobacco Giant Funded Conservative Nonprofits

June 2nd 2013

cigarette in ashtray

Tobacco giant Reynolds American Inc. last year helped fund several of the nation’s most politically active — and secretive — nonprofit organizations, according to a company document.

Reynolds American’s contributions include $175,000 to Americans for Tax Reform, a nonprofit led by anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, and $50,000 to Americans for Prosperity, a free-market advocacy outfit heavily backed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

The tobacco company’s donations are just a fraction of the nearly $50 million that those two groups reported spending on political advocacy ads during the 2012 election cycle, almost exclusively on negative advertising. Federal records show that Americans for Prosperity alone sponsored more than $33 million in attack ads that directly targeted President Barack Obama. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Five Important Facts about Russian S-300 Missiles in Syria

June 1st 2013

Click to select Image

Russia's S-300 missile system could dramatically change the stakes in the Syrian conflict if it is sent to Damascus, which Russia has signed a contract to do. Here are laid out five things to know about the air-defense system.

What are the capabilities of the S-300 system?

The S-300 missile system is designed to shoot down aircraft and missiles at a range of 5-to-150 kilometers. That gives it the ability to destroy not only attackers in Syrian airspace but also any attackers inside Israel.

It can track and strike multiple targets simultaneously at altitudes ranging from 10 meters to 27,000 meters.

"The S-300 is Russia's top-of-the-range air-defense system," says Robert Hewson, the London-based editor of "IHS Jane's Air-Launched Weapons." Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

WHO Urges Ban on Tobacco Advertising

May 31st 2013

cigarette burning

May 31 is World No Tobacco Day. The message from the World Health Organization to governments around the globe is to ban  tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. That's to try and prevent children from taking up smoking and to encourage smokers to quit. Tobacco kills nearly six million people every year, and the numbers are only expected to rise.

Terrie Hall is a former smoker. Her grandchildren will never know what she sounded like before she got cancer. She appears in a public service announcement: "If you're a smoker, I have a tip for you. Make a video of yourself before all this happens. Read a children's story book, or sing a lullaby.  I wish I had."

Hall is part of a new campaign from The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that features stories from former smokers. Bill Busse is another former smoker. "Last year they amputated my left leg because of poor circulation.  After surgery, I reached down and found that my foot wasn’t there anymore.  That was the day I quit," he recalled. The campaign has renewed interest in quitting, according to Dr. Thomas Frieden of the CDC. "Quitting smoking is the single most effective thing you can do to improve your health," he said. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

More Storms Likely During 2013 Hurricane Season

May 30th 2013

Staten Island community

The 2013 Atlantic Hurricane season could be busier and deadlier than average, according to predictions released Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA.

The six-month seasonal outlook for Atlantic storms will be above average says Jerry Bell, lead Atlantic hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.  

“The outlook is calling for 13 to 20 named storms, of which we expect 7 to 11 to become hurricanes and three to six to become major hurricanes. So this is a lot of activity that we are predicting for this year,” Bell said. These ranges are well above the typical season of 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes. Bell says it is due to a confluence of climatic factors.  Read more ..


Edge of Immigration

Mexican Deportees Cause Economic Crisis South of the Border

May 30th 2013

Stop the Raids immigration protest

A high-ranking official from the Mexican state of Guerrero told the press that U.S. deportations of his compatriots are having economic consequences. Netzahualcoyotl Bustamante Santin, Guerrero state migrant secretary, said stepped-up deportations mean a significant reduction in the migrant remittances which have emerged as a mainstay of the Mexican economy in recent decades, especially in Guerrero and other impoverished regions of the nation.

According to Bustamante, more than 28,000 migrants from Guerrero were deported from the U.S. in 2012, putting the southern state in the third place ranking for Mexican deportees’ place of origin. On a break from a tour of communities in the northern part of the state, Bustamante said the economic effects of deportation could be gauged by comparing the amount of remittances received in Guerrero between January and March of this year, when $279 million entered the state, with the same months for 2012, when $309 million flowed into the entity. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Iranian Presidential Candidates Accuse State TV of Censorship, Unethical Behavior

May 29th 2013

Iran Election Protest

Iranian presidential candidate and former top nuclear negotiator Hassan Rohani has accused the country’s state-controlled broadcaster of unethical behavior and lies.

He voiced the criticism on May 27 during his first television interview as a candidate with Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), during which he defended his past performance as nuclear negotiator and rejected accusations that he had been too soft in dealings with the West.

Rohani, who was Iran’s nuclear envoy from 2003 to 2005 and is considered a moderate, suggested that the interviewer, or people at the station behind the scenes, were "illiterate."

He made the comment in response to a question by the interviewer, who said Rohani had presided over a suspension of Iran’s nuclear program. "What you said is a lie, you know it yourself it’s a lie," said a smiling Rohani. He continued, "We suspended the program? We completed the technology. When I say ‘we,’ I don’t mean me, I mean our nuclear scientists." Read more ..


Broken Banking

Meet the Queen of Nevis

May 28th 2013

Caribe Crucero

British woman living on goat-tramped Caribbean outcropping listed as director for more than 1,200 companies.

At the age of 38, Bradford-born Sarah Petre-Mears is running one of the biggest business empires on earth. Or so it would appear.

Official records show her controlling more than 1,200 companies across the Caribbean, the Republic of Ireland, New Zealand and the UK itself. Her business partner, Edward Petre-Mears, is listed as a director of at least another 1,100 international firms.

But the true location of this major businesswoman is mysterious.

The UK companies register lists 12 different addresses for her, several in London. But none are real homes: several are Post Office boxes, collecting mail for hundreds of different locations, while others merely house the offices of incorporation agencies. Read more ..


The Water's Edge

A Majority on Earth Face Severe Self-inflicted Water Woes Within 2 Generations

May 28th 2013

Stormy Seas

A conference of 500 leading water scientists from around the world today issued a stark warning that, without major reforms, "in the short span of one or two generations, the majority of the 9 billion people on Earth will be living under the handicap of severe pressure on fresh water, an absolutely essential natural resource for which there is no substitute. This handicap will be self-inflicted and is, we believe, entirely avoidable."

The scientists bluntly pointed to chronic underlying problems led by mismanagement and sent a prescription to policy makers in a 1,000-word declaration issued at the end of a four-day meeting in Bonn, Germany, "Water in the Anthropocene," organized by the Global Water System Project and detailed in a pre-conference release.

The full text of the Bonn Declaration: reads:

In the short span of one or two generations, the majority of the 9 billion people on Earth will be living under the handicap of severe pressure on fresh water, an absolutely essential natural resource for which there is no substitute. This handicap will be self-inflicted and is, we believe, entirely avoidable. Read more ..


Libya after Gadhafi

Human Rights groups Call for Gender Equity in Libya

May 28th 2013

Libya hijab breast cancer awareness

The end of Moammar Gadhafi's 40-year rule in 2011 was a watershed moment for women, said a new report from Human Rights Watch. Women's rights are at contention as the country begins to draft a new constitution following four decades of dictatorship. The Libyan revolution was an "earthquake" to the cultural status of women in Libya, according to Human Rights Watch.

Liesl Gerntholtz, the group's women’s rights director, said, "Women particularly feel that their participation in the revolution needs to be valued and that they need to be able to continue to be fully part of public life in Libya. But at the same time they want the tools to challenge the discrimination they feel in their private lives as well." Read more ..


The Edge of Space

A Hidden Population of Exotic Neutron Stars

May 27th 2013

30 doradus stellar nursery

Magnetars – the dense remains of dead stars that erupt sporadically with bursts of high-energy radiation - are some of the most extreme objects known in the Universe.A major campaign using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and several other satellites shows magnetars may be more diverse - and common - than previously thought.

When a massive star runs out of fuel, its core collapses to form a neutron star, an ultradense object about 10 to 15 miles wide. The gravitational energy released in this process blows the outer layers away in a supernova explosion and leaves the neutron star behind.

Most neutron stars are spinning rapidly - a few times a second - but a small fraction have a relatively low spin rate of once every few seconds, while generating occasional large blasts of X-rays. Because the only plausible source for the energy emitted in these outbursts is the magnetic energy stored in the star, these objects are called "magnetars." Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Olmert: 'I am Still Wating for Abbas to Call'

May 26th 2013

Abbas UN statehood vote

“I am still waiting for a phone call from him,” former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert tells TheTower.org in an exclusive interview.

Revealing never before heard details of talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Olmert was referring to the proposal for a peace agreement that he presented to Abbas in the afternoon hours of a Tuesday, September 16, 2008 meeting in the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem.

“At the end of the meeting” Olmert recalled this week, “we called Saeb Erekat [chief negotiator for PLO] and Shalom [Shalom Turjeman, Olmert's diplomatic adviser]. We asked them to meet the following day, Wednesday, together with map experts, in order to arrive at a final formula for the border between Palestine and Israel.” Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Iraqi Volunteers Join Both Sides Of War In Syria

May 25th 2013

Rebel fighters

No one knows precisely how many Iraqi volunteers are crossing the border to fight in Syria, but it is clear there are enough to keep a steady stream of corpses returning home for burial.

The funeral this month of Dhia Mutashar Gatie al-Issawi in Basra is one of many. The young bricklayer, 26, died earlier this month in Damascus while fighting for the Syrian government.

How he got to Syria remains a closely guarded secret. But there was nothing secretive about the funeral, which brought out scores of proud mourners. His brother, Mustafa Mutashar, says he died defending Shi'ite tombs in Syria from desecration.

"At the time, he said that he was going to seek martyrdom defending [the shrine of] Saida Zainab, and our pride increased when we learned of his martyrdom, since we are Shi'ite," Mutashar states. "The funeral procession stretched from Shalamcha to here. It was attended by a representative of the Said's office [of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr]." Families Fear Kyrgyz Sons Are Making Way To Syrian Battlefield Read more ..


Broken Banking

'Crony' of African Strongman Among Thai Names in Secret Offshore Files

May 24th 2013

International Currency 3

Nearly 600 Thais have owned offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands and other havens.

Politicians and billionaire business magnates are among the prominent Thais listed in secret documents as owners of offshore holdings in tropical tax havens.

The list includes the former wife of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a sitting senator, a former high-ranking defense ministry official, Forbes-listed tycoons, and a former government minister whose assets in the United States are frozen because of her alleged links to Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe.

Documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and examined by Bangkok-based news portal Isra show nearly 600 Thais owning offshore companies in overseas havens such as the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and the Cook Islands. Some of the entities owned by politicians have been previously self-declared under tough local anti-graft laws, but at least one may have escaped scrutiny from authorities. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Winners and Losers in Iran’s Presidential Election

May 24th 2013

Iranian clerics

Although Iran will not hold its presidential election until June 14, the winners and losers are already clear. The biggest losers are Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; the biggest winner is former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Rafsanjani Winning before the Vote

In mid-May, the Guardian Council—with Khamenei’s consent, and perhaps even at his request—disqualified Rafsanjani from running in the election. However difficult the decision may have been, it was also essential for Khamenei’s plans. Since 2009, Rafsanjani has become known as a vocal critic of the Supreme Leader and Ahmadinejad. In recent months, reformists began to support his candidacy because they knew that the Guardian Council would prevent their own prominent candidates from running. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Woolwich’s Jihadi Butchers: Their Non-spontaneous Words Matter

May 23rd 2013

David Cameron, PM

The savage slaughtering of a British soldier on the streets of Woolwich, England is not a common random crime; it is an act of terror, an expression of relentless war that is inspired by a jihadist ideology and sponsored by an international network of Salafist indoctrination. The this assertion comes just hours after the killing is to simply repeat points made in reports on similarly-inspired bloody attacks in the West in recent years. Rather, it is to prevent disorienting a shocked public by propaganda being diffused by apologists spreading intellectual chaos, covering up for the real culprit, and confusing audiences in Great Britain and around the world with irrelevant arguments. We will hear some pushing the argument of root causes being the Western presence in Muslim lands.

The two assassins made sure to shout their “political motives” and the cri de guerre, “Allahu Akbar,” in a determined way. They said their actions were in response to Western occupation of Muslim lands. That is the same excuse that was repeatedly given by Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda jihadists in the 1990s, and increasingly since 2001. The two perpetrators are British citizens, but they act as citizens of the “umma” in defense of an emerging Caliphate. They do not speak on behalf of a community; they speak on behalf of a movement that claims to speak on behalf of a community. In short, they are jihadists, regardless of whether they are rank and file al Qaeda or not. They are part of a movement solidly anchored in a doctrine whether they act as individuals, a pair, or two commandos dispatched by a larger group. Read more ..


Broken Banking

Canadian Senator's Husband Shifted Money Into Offshore Tax Havens

May 22nd 2013

Caribbean Sea Shore

Lawyer Tony Merchant, Canada’s “class action king,” sought secrecy for Cook Islands trust.  A prominent Canadian lawyer, husband to a Liberal senator, moved CA$1.7 million (US$1.1 million) to secretive financial havens while he was locked in battle with the Canada Revenue Agency over his taxes, according to documents in a massive leak of offshore financial data.

Tony Merchant of Saskatchewan, dubbed Canada's class-action king because of the large settlements he has won for his clients, transferred the money to a tax haven in the South Pacific and then onward to an account in the Caribbean, according to the files. His wife, Canadian Senator Pana Merchant, and their three sons were named in the documents as beneficiaries of the funds.

The transactions are detailed in a leak of offshore financial information obtained by the Washington, D.C.-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The data covered more than 120,000 offshore companies and private trusts in the Cook Islands and other offshore havens. The Merchants are among the more than 400 Canadians whose names are included in the secret records. Tony Merchant didn’t reply to several requests from CBC News to discuss the matter. Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

Pakistan's Ahmadis Face Rising Persecution, Violence

May 21st 2013

Ahmadi funeral Pakistan

One of the many religious minorities whose plight is documented in the latest U.S. State Department report on religious freedom is the Ahmadiyya community, or the Ahmadis.

The Ahmadis consider themselves Muslim, but that is a view rejected by mainstream Islamic sects. And in Pakistan,  Ahmadis have come under assault not only from extremist religious groups but also from the government.

Pakistan’s minority Ahmadi sect has become the target of rising sectarian violence, with its burial grounds, mosques, and homes coming under assault. Authorities have done little to stem the attacks, with the government still refusing to grant the community equal status. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Poor Countries Lack Modern Contraception

May 20th 2013

Nigerian baby with cap

A new study says little is being done to meet the growing demand for modern contraception methods in poor countries. The Guttmacher Institute says there’s an increasing desire for smaller families.

Guttmacher says between 2003 and 2012 the number of women wanting to avoid pregnancy – and in need of modern contraception – rose from 716 million to 867 million. The sharpest increase was seen, it says, in the 69 poorest countries “where modern method use was already very low.”

Senior fellow Jacqueline Darroch co-authored the study with Susheela Singh and published their findings in a special edition of The Lancet medical journal. Darroch said that the figures are based on household surveys.

“The Guttmacher Institute for a long time has focused on issues of reproductive health and especially the high rates of unplanned child bearing and unplanned pregnancies across the world – the United States, as well as other countries. And part of the answer to both why we have such high rates of unintended pregnancy – and part of the solution – has to do with contraceptive use.” Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Airing Of Dirty Laundry Raises Afghan Hopes That Corruption Will Be Tackled

May 19th 2013

Afgan Drug Seizure

he very public trading of graft accusations in Afghanistan's parliament this week has all of Kabul talking. It has turned the country's finance minister into an instant hero but also kindled hopes that the issue of corruption will finally be addressed in a more serious manner.

Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal became an overnight sensation, when, facing potential impeachment, he turned the tables on lawmakers by publicly naming and shaming deputies allegedly involved in corrupt practices. Zakhilwal's detailed accusations shed a spotlight on the world of graft and influence peddling that has come to be associated with men of power in Afghanistan but is rarely discussed in public. Read more ..


The Human Edge

Students Aim for Aviation History with Human-Powered Helicopter

May 18th 2013

Helicopter-human-power

Students at the University of Maryland want to make aviation history by building the world's first human-powered helicopter. In 1980, the American Helicopter Society announced an award for the first person to accomplish such a feat.

The $250,000 Sikorsky Prize would go to a vehicle that could hover for 60 seconds, not stray beyond a three-meter-square area, and at some point in the flight reach an altitude of three meters.

The prize has gone unclaimed for 33 years, but the student engineers are confident they can bring it home.

What seemed impossible when William Staruk began his PhD studies at the University of Maryland three years ago, is now within reach. He's part of a 50-member team developing a flyer called the Gamera II. “It has flown for 60 seconds and on a different flight gone to an altitude of nine feet [2.7 meters]." Staruk said. "We’re hoping now to combine both of those into a single flight, get that little bit of extra altitude we need and keep the helicopter controlled and stable so that we can take home the $250,000 Prize.” Read more ..


Broken Elections

Judicial Candidate Blames Mystery Nonprofit's Attacks for Defeat

May 17th 2013

One Million Dollars

When Ed Sheehy looked at his mail one day last fall, he was startled to see his face staring back at him, posed alongside the notorious “Christmas Day Killer.” Sheehy, as a public defender, had represented the man a year earlier. Now Sheehy was running for a seat on the Montana Supreme Court and someone was using the double-murder to accuse him of being soft on crime.

“I was furious,” the 60-year-old Sheehy, who was born in Butte, Mont., and now resides in Missoula, told the Center for Public Integrity. “It was misrepresenting what I did and what I do as a lawyer.” So who was behind the attack?

The mailer showed only that it was paid for by the “Montana Growth Network,” a “social welfare” nonprofit, registered under Section 501(c)(4) of the U.S. tax code. Montana election records revealed next to nothing about the organization, which, because of its tax status, is not required to disclose its donors. The nonprofit’s website says its goal is to make Montana “more business friendly.” Read more ..


Economic Jihad

Success and Failures of the BDS Campaign

May 16th 2013

DomeOfTheRock

The most recent victim of the Arab boycott of Israel is the Lebanese-born film director Ziad Doueiri. His crime? Filming in Israel. The Arab League instructed its member states to ban his film, "The Attack," about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, he was forced to cancel a private screening in Beirut because of a threat to arrest his wife.

The Arab League Council established the boycott against Israel on December 2, 1945 (more than two years before creation of the Jewish state). The boycott prohibits all Arab states, companies, and individuals from any financial or trade relations with Israel. Companies worldwide are blacklisted for doing business with Israel, as are companies doing business with boycotted firms. The OIC high commissioner for the boycott of Israel coordinates the efforts of its 57 member states from the Central Boycott Office in Damascus.

In response, the United States made it illegal for individuals or companies to cooperate with the Arab boycott. The law mandates reporting of boycott requests and imposes civil and criminal penalties against boycott participants. Arab boycott requests have risen sharply in tandem with the U.S. financial crisis and the rapid growth of Islamic banking. The Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security reported a 20 percent increase in Arab boycott requests overall from 2005 to 2006, and the Congressional Research Service reported 24 boycott requests to U.S. companies in fiscal 2007 from little Bahrain alone.

On April 5, 2006, Congress unanimously condemned Saudi Arabia for its continued enforcement of the boycott--which violated commitments the Saudis made to the World Trade Organization in 2005. Nonetheless, last August Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states threatened to boycott Nissan, which aired a commercial on Israeli television promoting a fuel-efficient car, and demanded the Japanese car-maker's apology. Not a word from Washington. Read more ..


Broken Banking

Ponzi Scheme Used Offshore Hideaways To Shuffle Investors’ Money

May 15th 2013

Venezuelan Ponzi scheme

Francisco Illarramendi often called on Moris Beracha when he needed an infusion of cash.

The Venezuelan-born Illarramendi was a manager of a Connecticut-based investment advisory firm. Beracha was a Venezuelan financier close to the Hugo Chavez government who, a lawsuit against him claims, could produce multi-million-dollar advances of cash with relative ease — for the right price. On Nov. 2, 2007, Beracha emailed Illarramendi instructions to deposit more than $10 million — Beracha’s share of profits from a transaction — into three HSBC bank accounts in Switzerland, via an HSBC account in New York. “Dude, I am your biggest producer hahahahaha,” Beracha wrote in Spanish before he sent the message off to Illarramendi. Read more ..


The Farhud

Remembering for the Future's Sake

May 14th 2013

Farhud book

On Shavuot, the holiday which Jews around the globe begin celebrating this Tuesday night, Iraqi Jews mark 72 years since the Farhud -- the 1941 riots in which 137 people were slaughtered and hundreds more injured. The Babylonian (Iraqi) Jewry Heritage Center in Or Yehuda has inscribed the victims' names, and Iraqi Jews worldwide recall the horrible disgrace of those events, which were so reminiscent of Kristallnacht in Germany. The Farhud riots were carried out by a mob that had been incited to violence, and resulted in the Iraqi Jewish community losing faith in the country they had called home for millennium; the community of some 140,000 Jewish people dwindled to just a sparse few today.

Iraqi Jews were harassed for no apparent reason. The Jews, who had lived in Iraq for 2,600 years, weren't subverting the country from within, like the Palestinian Arabs who fought against the Jewish settlements, and eventually the State of Israel. Actually, Jews were the targets of hostility in every Arab country in which they lived, not just in Iraq. One-hundred-and-thirty-three Jews were killed in Libya as anti-Jewish violence reached its peak in the North African country in November 1945; in Aden, Yemen, some 100 Jews were murdered in November 1947; in Egypt, the Jews were ejected from their homes and expelled from the state. And, despite all the international attention paid to the "Palestinian Nakba," little has been said about the great injustice that the Jews of Arabia suffered. It's true that history is not a competition of tragedies, but it's important to note the ethnic cleansing that spread throughout the Arab nations. The scope of this tragedy was quite extensive -- some 856,000 Jews were forced to flee their homes in Arab countries, compared to the 650,000 Palestinian refugees. And yet, for unknown reasons, the government in Israel still hasn't placed the catastrophe that befell Arab Jews high on its domestic, or international, agenda.

Jews were being harassed before Israel was declared a state. Historian Edwin Black, Prof. Shmuel Moreh and Dr. Zvi Yehuda have published research that uncovers the links between then-Iraqi Prime Minister Rashid Ali al-Gaylani's pro-Nazi government and the Third Reich in Germany. Iraq implemented discriminatory regulations against Jews that affected all aspects of their daily life, and afterward incited mobs to violence against the Jews. The Farhud riots of 1941 were the culmination of these efforts. Read more ..


Broken Banking

Tax Havens Cost Africa $38 Billion a Year

May 13th 2013

International Currency 3

Campaigners are calling for the world's richest countries to bring an end to so-called tax havens, which allow companies to transfer profits between jurisdictions and reduce their bills.  An investigation headed by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has concluded that the practice costs Africa $38 billion a year in lost revenue. 

Activists claim multinational corporations are costing developing countries billions of dollars in lost revenue by transferring their profits to tax havens. Melanie Ward is spokesperson for the 'Enough For Everyone If' campaign.

"I think a lot of people here in the U.K. and around the world are fed up with tax dodging," said Ward. "They are fed up with a system where the rich and powerful play by a different set of rules to everybody else."

Tax havens and low tax jurisdictions - like Ireland - provide a level of secrecy and enable companies or wealthy individuals to cut their expenses, says Professor Ronen Palan of City University London. "These countries offer very low taxation, either to corporations or to individuals.  And specifically they target non-residents," said Palan. Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

Pakistan's 'Third Gender' Contests First Elections

May 12th 2013

Transgender-Pakistan

Pakistan's parliamentary elections will announce the arrival of a new voting bloc when the country's much-maligned transgender community heads to the polls for the first time.

Following their official "third gender" classification handed down by the Supreme Court in 2011, members of the community composed of transsexuals, transvestites, eunuchs, and hermaphrodites were granted the rights to vote and run for office.

In past polls, the minority group was barred from voting because its members were not willing to classify themselves as men or women to receive official documentation. Pakistan's minority community of transgender men are known in the Urdu language as "hijras" and estimated to number around 500,000. Many Pakistanis refer to the members generally as "eunuchs." Read more ..


American Justice

New York Times continues to Ignore Black Farmers' Plight

May 11th 2013

sharecroppers Depression

The New York Times recently published a report that focused on fraud in disbursing settlements for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) discrimination among African American, Indian, Hispanic, and women farmers. Reporter Sharon LaFraniere wrote of “career lawyers and agency officials who had argued that there was no credible evidence of widespread discrimination.” But there is a long train of evidence of discrimination, much of it from the USDA records at the National Archives, as well as from records of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, National Sharecroppers Fund, NAACP, SNCC, and land grant universities, among other sources. Since the mid-1960s, USDA officials have continually denied discrimination, but the record indicates otherwise.

In February 1997, Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman’s Civil Rights Action Team, after twelve listening sessions, issued a damning report on USDA discrimination, citing “bias, hostility, greed, ruthlessness, rudeness, and indifference” aimed at women and minority farmers. At the time there were 495 pending discrimination complaints at USDA, half of them two years old or older. Read more ..


Georgia on Edge

Georgians Wrestle With Abortion Issue As Gender Imbalance Grows

May 10th 2013

Pregnant

Georgia faces a serious and growing demographic problem. According to the United Nations, the ratio of newborn boys to girls in 1991 was 105 to 100. By 2000, it was nearly 110 to 100. And in 2011, it was almost 114 to 100. Together with its neighbors in the South Caucasus -- Armenia and Azerbaijan -- Georgia is on a trajectory to develop a gender imbalance on par with what has been observed in India and China.

That kind of imbalance brings myriad social problems, from trafficking of women, to increased levels of violence and instability, to outbreaks of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The lopsided numbers are the result of sex-selective abortions -- couples using ultrasound and other technologies to determine the sex of their fetus and to abort it if it is not the gender they desire. And, around the world, most couples desire boys. Read more ..



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