|Bennett Muraskin||December 28th 2013|
Ashkenazic Jews were among the last Europeans to take family names. Some German-speaking Jews took last names as early as the 17th century, but the overwhelming majority of Jews lived in Eastern Europe and did not take last names until compelled to do so. The process began in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1787 and ended in Czarist Russia in 1844.
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In attempting to build modern nation-states, the authorities insisted that Jews take last names so that they could be taxed, drafted, and educated (in that order of importance). For centuries, Jewish communal leaders were responsible for collecting taxes from the Jewish population on behalf of the government, and in some cases were responsible for filling draft quotas. Education was traditionally an internal Jewish affair.
Until this period, Jewish names generally changed with every generation. For example, if Moses son of Mendel (Moyshe ben Mendel) married Sarah daughter of Rebecca (Sora bas Rifke), had a boy and named it Samuel (Shmuel), the child would be called Shmuel ben Moyshe. If they had a girl and named her Feygele, she would be called Feygele bas Sora.
|Rick Manning||December 28th 2013|
No politician had a greater impact on the past year than freshman U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Cruz came from the Lone Star State not owing the D.C. political establishment anything, after he beat the chosen replacement for Kay Bailey Hutchison in an underfunded, grassroots driven Republican primary election.
Using his historic first speech on the Senate floor to support Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s quest to force the Obama administration to agree not to use drones to kill Americans on American soil, Cruz showed he would sacrifice personal glory for the cause of liberty. By helping shine a constitutional light on the Justice Department’s unwillingness to unequivocally declare that the federal government cannot just send a missile through the windshield of American citizens driving down I-95, Cruz chose to take his first stand on a seemingly esoteric, but important, constitutional issue.
Of course, Cruz made his biggest mark when he and fellow freshman Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) led a last-ditch national grassroots effort to defund ObamaCare before the law went into effect fully. Imagine how many Senate Democrats wish right now that they had heeded Cruz's entreaties and agreed to delaying or defunding it for one year. Now, they are stuck with the law and all its consequences.
Since the short federal government shutdown, Americans are coming to the conclusion that ObamaCare was sold through a series of lies, and they are not happy. Fear of losing coverage, fear of significantly increased healthcare costs and fear of losing the doctor/patient relationship have become the table topic in households. These households know that Republicans, because of Cruz and Lee, did everything possible to protect America from the impact of ObamaCare. Read more ..
Singapore on Edge
|Lien Hoang||December 27th 2013|
In a place that restricts everything from chewing gum to pungent durian fruit. Singaporean authorities pride themselves in having a high bar for strict laws and a low crime rate to match. So they’ve been none too pleased by reports that tax dodgers, corrupt officials, and money launderers might be closing their Swiss bank accounts and moving funds to Singapore.
In response, the government is ramping up measures to battle this reputation as a tax haven. It is now negotiating a deal with the United States that requires banks in Singapore to share details of Americans’ offshore assets with the Internal Revenue Service. The United States just signed the so-called FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) with six other governments this month. “There is no basis for the allegation that wealthy individuals can hide money and avoid taxes in Singapore,” a Ministry of Finance spokesperson told said. Read more ..
|Pete Kasperowicz ||December 26th 2013|
The year started with a deal on the fiscal cliff and ended with a deal on a two-year budget accord. In between, there were fights over the Benghazi, Libya terrorist attack, National Security Agency surveillance programs, immigration reform, the war in Syria and the implementation of ObamaCare.
Here are the most memorable quotes of the year:
1) “What difference, at this point, does it make?”
Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, January 23
Republicans pounced on this remark, in which Clinton seemed to downplay the importance of figuring out the circumstances surrounding the death of four U.S. officials in Benghazi, Libya.
Clinton quickly said it's the job of the State Department to assess what happened, but the GOP said her remarks were in line with earlier administration comments saying that the U.S. consulate was attacked as part of a spontaneous protest against a movie.
Republicans are almost sure to resurrect the quote — and Clinton's role in failing to keep the officials safe — if and when she runs for president in 2016. Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Collin O'Connor||December 25th 2013|
Mikhail Kalashnikov, who has died aged 94 in Izhevsk, will forever be associated with one of the world's most iconic -- and controversial -- weapons.
When his AK-47, or "Kalashnikov," assault rifle first went into production more than six decades ago, it is unlikely that he envisaged it would not only become the standard-issue firearm for Soviet forces but also become the weapon of choice for countless guerrilla fighters, terrorists, and even criminals around the globe.
Kalashnikov was one of 19 children born to a poor peasant family in Russia's southern Altai region, in 1919, just a couple of years after the Bolshevik Revolution. In his youth he dreamed of becoming a poet. He actually wrote poetry his entire life and also published six books, but it was his talent as a self-taught designer that was to make his name. "There are many bad poets out there without me," he told reporters in 2009. "I went along a different path." Read more ..
The Weapon's Edge
|Jeffrey Smith||December 24th 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
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The Obama administration's plan for maintaining and upgrading the U.S. nuclear arsenal will likely cost around 66 percent more over the next decade than senior Pentagon officials have predicted, according to a new assessment by the independent Congressional Budget Office.
Under the administration’s plan, operating, maintaining and upgrading the nuclear stockpile will cost a total of $355 billion from 2014 through 2023, said the CBO report, published just before the holidays and shortly after Congress finished action on a 2014 budget bill that restored some planned Pentagon spending cuts.
James Miller, the Pentagon’s outgoing policy chief, had said in 2011 congressional testimony that the 10-year tab would be around $214 billion, or an average of $21 billion a year, an amount he pegged at around 3 percent of the Pentagon’s likely overall budget for that period.
The Race for Batteries
|Paul Buckley||December 24th 2013|
A research team at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology has developed a technology for textile-based foldable batteries that are which are rechargeable using energy recharged via integration with lightweight solar cells.
Key to the researchers' approach was a polyester yarn coated with nickel and polyurethane to form the battery's current collector, binder and separators. The performance of the batteries is said to be comparable with that of conventional foil-based cells, even under severe folding/unfolding conditions.
The research group which developed the technology is now looking to make the batteries softer and more wearable. Trial versions of flexible and wearable electronics are being developed and introduced in the market such as Galaxy Gear, Apple’s i-Watch, and Google Glass. Research Read more ..
Iran on Edge
|Charles Recknagel||December 23rd 2013|
For years, it seemed Iran was going deeper into isolation in its standoff with world powers over its controversial nuclear program. In 2013, that suddenly changed.
In June, Iran elected a new president who campaigned on promises to take a more moderate approach, including in foreign policy.
And in November, his new government cut a six-month deal with world powers to halt some nuclear activities in exchange for some sanctions relief, a first step toward seeking a comprehensive solution to the nuclear crisis.
But if the two events suggest President Hassan Rohani -- a cleric and establishment insider -- is taking Iran in a new direction after decades of confrontation with the West, the question still remains how far things can go. Michael Adler, a regional scholar at the Washington-based Wilson Center, says that for now, at least, Rohani's team is off to a strong start. Read more ..
The Edge of Climate Change
|Joe DeCapua||December 22nd 2013|
Scientists say climate change will not affect all regions of the world equally – especially when it comes to fresh water. The latest computer models indicate some places will get a lot less, while others get a lot more.
Dr. Jacob Schewe and his colleagues say that “water scarcity is a major threat for human development” if greenhouse gas emissions remain unchecked. They’ve published their findings in a special issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“The reason we’re concerned is that it’s a very important issue for a lot of people. We all depend on water for so many different purposes," he said. "And water scarcity, where it exists, really impairs many things that people do and that people live on.”
Schewe works at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. He said the “steepest increase of global water scarcity” could happen if global warming rises two to three degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. That could happen, he said, in the next few decades. Read more ..
The Protest Edge
|Daisey Sindelar||December 21st 2013|
Ukraine's Euromaidan protesters have pledged to stay the course until their political demands are met. So what are their chances? RFE/RL looks at the outcomes of two protests that achieved their aims in Georgia and Serbia -- and two, in Russia and Belarus, that didn't.
When it comes to public protests, Georgia is best known for its 2003 Rose Revolution, which unseated President Eduard Shevardnadze and led to the election of Mikheil Saakashvili, a pro-democracy upstart.
But six years later, Georgia witnessed protests of a different kind. The euphoria of the Rose Revolution was over. Discontent with Saakashvili was rife. Critics accused the president of concentrating power in the hands of his allies and dragging Georgia into the disastrous 2008 war with Russia, a five-day conflict that ended with Georgia losing nearly 20 percent of its territory as breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia declared independence. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Graham Prophet||December 20th 2013|
Aiming to “significantly reduce e-waste”, the IEC international standards and conformity assessment body for all fields of electrotechnology, has announced what it terms the “first globally relevant Technical Specification” for a single external charger for a wide range of notebook computers and laptops. The detailed IEC Technical Specification 62700: DC Power supply for notebook computer, will be available in early 2014.
Each year billions of external chargers are shipped globally. Power supplies for notebooks weigh typically around 300 but sometimes up to 600 grams. They are generally not usable from one computer to the next. Sometimes they get lost or break, leading to the discarding of computers that may still work perfectly well. It is estimated that the total e-waste related to all kinds of chargers of ICT devices (Information and Communication) exceeds half a million tons each year; basically the equivalent of 500 000 cars. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Brian Padden||December 19th 2013|
Nearly half of all U.S. states are rejecting a key component of the new U.S. health care reform law popularly known as "Obamacare." These states - almost all with strong Republican majorities - are citing unsustainable costs as the reason for opting out. But, by not participating, states like South Carolina could lose billions of dollars in federal funds.
At the Anderson Free Clinic in South Carolina, people line up early in the morning to see a doctor. The clinic treats more than 2,000 people a year. Most of the patients - like Ronnie Green, who is 60-years-old and living on a small pension - are either unable to work or have limited incomes. “My nerves are real bad. I cry all the time. I shake. Can’t hold nothing. My nerves [are] just gone," said Green. Read more ..
Health on Edge
|Joe DcCapua||December 18th 2013|
About 70 percent of the new diseases that have infected humans in recent decades have come from animals. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization warns it’s getting easier for diseases to make that jump as the population and food-supply chains grow.
The FAO has released a new reported called "World Livestock 2013: Changing Disease Landscapes." It says those landscapes have become “vastly more complicated” by human activity.
“I think that if we continue the state of play, we’ll only see more diseases emerge – more natural resources disappear – and more threats to the human health into the food chain,” said Juan Lubroth, the agency’s chief veterinary officer. He described conditions as the “perfect microbial storm.” Read more ..
China on Edge
|Shannon Van Sant||December 17th 2013|
Earlier this year, China announced it would close the country’s labor camps, overturning a law that had been in place for more than 50 years. However rights group Amnesty International alleges that the labor camp system has merely been replaced by other detention centers that continue to wrongfully imprison political and religious dissidents.
Since the announcement, Amnesty International reports that authorities are silencing increasing numbers of petitioners, political dissidents and members of the Falun Gong through black jails and drug rehabilitation centers.
“The individuals who were sent to those camps are being increasingly sent to black jails for instance, undocumented and unofficial detention facilities,” said Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director for Amnesty International. China’s Foreign Ministry denies this is happening and questions the veracity of Amnesty International’s reports. Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Arthur C. Brooks||December 16th 2013|
Happiness has traditionally been considered an elusive and evanescent thing. To some, even trying to achieve it is an exercise in futility. It has been said that “happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”
Social scientists have caught the butterfly. After 40 years of research, they attribute happiness to three major sources: genes, events and values. Armed with this knowledge and a few simple rules, we can improve our lives and the lives of those around us. We can even construct a system that fulfills our founders’ promises and empowers all Americans to pursue happiness. Psychologists and economists have studied happiness for decades. They begin simply enough — by asking people how happy they are.
The richest data available to social scientists is the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey, a survey of Americans conducted since 1972. This widely used resource is considered the scholarly gold standard for understanding social phenomena. The numbers on happiness from the survey are surprisingly consistent. Every other year for four decades, roughly a third of Americans have said they’re “very happy,” and about half report being “pretty happy.” Only about 10 to 15 percent typically say they’re “not too happy.” Psychologists have used sophisticated techniques to verify these responses, and such survey results have proved accurate. Read more ..
|Susan Ferriss||December 15th 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
One of America's most liberal bastions — San Francisco — has cut student suspensions by nearly a third in three years but continues to struggle with grossly disproportionate suspensions of black students.
District data obtained by Public Counsel, the country's largest pro bono legal group, and community organizers in San Francisco show that African-American students represented only 8 percent of the city's public high school kids last school year. Yet 50 percent of high school students suspended for misbehavior labeled "willful defiance” were black.
Willful defiance is a vague, catchall category for disruptive student behavior that can range from arriving late to using foul language to refusing to obey instructions.
The district’s black and Latino students are 10 percent and 23 percent, respectively, of the student population.Together, however, students of these ethnic backgrounds comprised 77 percent of all student suspensions and 81 percent of all suspensions for willful defiance. Read more ..
Our Darkest Hour
|Nicholas Kusenetz||December 14th 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
It wasn’t quite cold enough to need a vest on a mid-November Texas morning, but Matt Dossey was wearing one anyway. Made of heavy-weight beige canvas, the vest just might have been concealing a pistol. There was no way to tell. Perhaps that was the point.
Dossey is the superintendent at Jonesboro Independent School District, a compound of three low, pale-brick buildings sandwiched between broad oak trees in the back and a horse pasture across the road up front. Jonesboro is a tiny community nestled in the rolling Texas scrubland 110 miles north of Austin, but aside from the schools, a post office and two churches, there’s little to suggest a town.
In January, the district adopted a policy of arming a select group of staff members with concealed weapons as a deterrent and defense against a potential school shooter. Jonesboro straddles the border between Coryell and Hamilton counties, and it’s more than 15 miles to the nearest sheriff’s department. The town is unincorporated, so it has no government and no police. If someone were to attack the school, Dossey said, no one’s coming to protect the kids — not quickly, anyway. Read more ..
Spain on Edge
|Martin Barillas||December 13th 2013|
The Ciudad Real airport, sometimes called the 'ghost airport', is being auctioned for a fraction of its cost, at the expense of taxpayers.
Despite having one of the longest runways in Europe, and as yet hardly ever used, Spain’s so-called ‘ghost airport’ at Ciudad Real – a telecommuter suburb of Madrid – went on the auction block on December 9 with an opening price of just a tenth of the cost of its construction. The receivers of the company that owned the airport, which went into bankruptcy for three and a half years ago, offered the airport at a minimum starting price of 100 million euros despite an initial investment of over 1.1 billion euros. The first deadline for the sale is at 3 PM local time in Madrid on December 27.
Bidders are expected to offer only serious bids of at least 100 million euros. They must submit a financial guarantee of 5 percent of the total offered , either in cash or through a bank or insurer. If the airport has not sold during the first phase of the sale, a second round of bidding will open in a public auction where the price of the airport will be set at between 80 and 100 million euros. A deposit will also be required. Read more ..
|Ben Cohen||December 12th 2013|
In the coming days, there will be much reflection on the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, following the former South African president's passing on Dec. 5. And in the coming weeks, we can anticipate a febrile exchange over his true views on Israel and the Middle East.
We shouldn't underestimate the significance of such a debate. Mandela has entered the pantheon of 20th-century figures that exercised the most extraordinary influence over global events, touching the lives of ordinary mortals in the process.
In the 1940s, many Britons could tell you exactly where they were when Churchill delivered his famous "Blood, Sweat and Tears" speech to the House of Commons; in the 1960s, it was hard to find an American who couldn't remember his or her precise location when the news of Kennedy's assassination came through; and in the 1990s, it seemed, at least to me, that absolutely everyone could recall what they were doing at the moment the world learned that Mandela had been released after serving 27 years in a South African jail. Read more ..
The Bear is Back
|George Friedman||December 12th 2013|
Recent challenges in exporting energy to Europe have made an orientation toward Asia more desirable for Moscow. Russia's economy depends on hydrocarbon exports, and while Western Europe is attempting to become less dependent on Russia by seeking new energy sources, Asian markets have large and indiscriminate appetites for energy.
Although Russia's focus in Asia traditionally has been on China, Japan and South Korea, it also has ties to Southeast Asia, which remains a strategically significant -- though not absolutely essential -- area for Moscow's efforts to extend its influence and energy exports eastward. Notably, Moscow recently struck a spate of energy and defense deals with Hanoi in an effort to strengthen their relationship, open up new markets for Russian energy and balance against China's moves in Central Asia. Moscow's moves into Asia through Vietnam are proceeding piecemeal, paralleling Russian moves elsewhere in the region.
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More than 70 percent of Russi
Armenia on Edge
|Hovannes Shoghikian and Naira Bulghadarian||December 11th 2013|
Armenia's judiciary is reeling from a new report detailing unbridled corruption in the courts.
According to findings published on December 9 by the country's human rights ombudsman, Karen Andreasian, bribe-taking is so rampant in Armenian courts that judges even use an unofficial price list for kickbacks. The amounts paid as bribes can allegedly go up to $50,000.
"The data obtained through our interviews shows that the bribe amounts to 10 percent of the cost of the lawsuit," Andreasian's deputy, Genya Petrosian, told a news conference on December 9. "The majority of our interviewees said bribe rates fluctuate within the following range -- from $500 to $10,000 at courts of first instance, from $200 to $15,000 at the Court of Appeals, and from $10,000 to $50,000 at the Court of Cassation."
Andreasian's team reached its conclusions after conducting interviews with some 120 lawyers, judges, and prosecutors, and analyzing all the rulings handed down over the past seven years by the Court of Cassation and the Council of Justice -- an oversight body headed by the president, the prosecutor-general, and the justice minister. The report has sparked angry reactions from judicial authorities. Read more ..
|Sam Orez||December 11th 2013|
Rice from fields in the Fukushima prefecture, evacuated after the worst nuclear disaster in Japan, will be served to government officials for 9 days in a bid to demonstrate the safety of the country’s most-beloved crop, a local broadcaster reported.
The rice cultivated in several decontaminated fields in the Yamakiya District in Kawamata Town and Iitate Village, two areas designated as evacuation zones after the March 2011 nuclear catastrophe, will be served in a government office in Tokyo from Monday.
Over half a ton (540 kilograms) of rice will be part of a test to prove the effectiveness of the decontamination process. Officials from the Fukushima prefecture have given assurances that the rice contains no radioactive substances. The rice balls tasted especially good after the great effort put into cultivating the crop, said Senior Vice Environment Minister Shinji Inoue on Monday. Parliamentary Vice Environment Minister Tomoko Ukishima also joined the tasting. Read more ..
Kurdistan on Edge
|Reva Bhalla||December 10th 2013|
At the edge of empires lies Kurdistan, the land of the Kurds. The jagged landscape has long been the scene of imperial aggression. For centuries, Turks, Persians, Arabs, Russians and Europeans looked to the mountains to buffer their territorial prizes farther afield, depriving the local mountain dwellers a say in whose throne they would ultimately bow to.
The hot temperament of this borderland was evident in an exchange of letters between Ottoman Sultan Selim I and Safavid Shah Ismail I shortly before the rival Turkic and Persian empires came to blows at the 1514 Battle of Chaldiran in northern Kurdistan. The Ottoman sultan, brimming with confidence that his artillery-equipped janissaries would hold the technological advantage on the battlefield, elegantly denigrated his Persian foes: Read more ..
|Brent Budowsky||December 9th 2013|
As American and world leaders offer high praise to the magnificent and courageous man known as Nelson Mandela, I propose we mourn his passing not merely with words of praise for the greatness of Mandela but with challenges for bold action in the spirit of Mandela.
Mandela was a giant whose greatness words cannot fully express. Mandela gave up almost three decades of his freedom for his country and his ideals after being called a communist, terrorist and criminal because of his support for freedom, justice and equality.
Mandela emerged from political prisons with a generosity of spirit and a passionate dream for democracy that changed his nation and moved the world. Mandela not only sacrificed his freedom for his cause, he risked his life, for most of his lifetime, for his cause, which should be our cause. Read more ..
North Korea on Edge
|Henry Ridgwell||December 8th 2013|
Human rights group Amnesty International says torture and executions are widespread in political prisons in North Korea that can be the size of large cities. Amnesty used new satellite photos and testimony from former guards and inmates to compile its report.
Amnesty International said North Korea’s biggest camp for political prisoners, known as Kwanliso Prison Camp 16, stretches across 560 square kilometers, three times the size of Washington D.C. It is thought to house 20,000 prisoners.
A former prison guard, identified only as Lee, told Amnesty about conditions in the camp. Lee said the purpose of prison camps is to oppress, degrade, and violate the inmates for as long as they are alive. The prisoners are only humans insofar as they can speak. However, in reality they are worse off than animals, he said. Read more ..
|Martin Barillas||December 7th 2013|
Cutting Edge Contributor
President Barack Obama said at a Saban Forum event at the Brookings Institution on December 7 that the chances of a permanent nuclear deal with Iran are at best no more than even odds. Averring his trust in the diplomatic route with the Islamic Republic, Obama said “I wouldn't say that it is more than 50-50 but we have to try.” He sought to explain his rationale for inking a temporary deal with Iran in November that eases some sanctions with the expectation that Iran will take certain steps towards reducing its nuclear weaponization program.
“What we do have to test is the possibility that we can resolve this diplomatically,” Obama said, adding that if diplomacy fails, military air strikes remain on the table as an option to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Read more ..
Ukraine on Edge
|Tom Balmforth||December 7th 2013|
It's been more than two decades since Nikolai Zakharov took to the streets to protest Soviet rule.
And this week, the 60-year-old mechanic, clad in a flat leather cap and clutching a European Union flag, was among dozens of demonstrators singing the Ukrainian national anthem in the freezing December wind on Donetsk's Taras Shevchenko Square.
Zakharov said that he is fed up with the corruption that he claims has become more pervasive since Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a native of the region, came to power in 2010
"I never thought that [over] twenty years later I would be here again with a flag saying that I don’t see a future for you, us, for our children and for anyone else," he said. "The [authorities] are clocking up more and more debt and there is no end in sight. I decided I had to do something.”
But little demonstrations like this are an anomaly. In the weeks since throngs of protesters poured onto the streets in the capital, Kyiv, to protest Yanukovych's scuttling of a landmark Association Agreement and free trade pact with the EU in favor of closer ties with Moscow, the silence in eastern industrial cities like Donetsk has been deafening. Read more ..
|Russell Berman ||December 6th 2013|
Speaker John Boehner’s decision to hire a well-known advocate of immigration reform is raising concerns among the House’s most ardent opponents of legislation.
Boehner this week announced he was bringing on Rebecca Tallent, a former chief of staff to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) who has worked on multiple comprehensive proposals that would provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. The move drew strong praise from immigration reform advocates, who viewed it as a clear signal Boehner intends to bring a bill to the House floor in 2014.
But for some opponents of an immigration overhaul, the hire is seen as cause for alarm.
“It’s a very big concern for me,” Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) said, “because I don’t want to see any new bills come forward and I don’t want to see any new laws on the books until we secure the border and start enforcing the laws that we have today. Why do anything else?” Read more ..
|Elise Vliebeck||December 6th 2013|
Mounting opposition to ObamaCare among young adults is creating a new crisis for the White House.
While the federal enrollment website HealthCare.gov appears to be improving by the day, polls show the “young invincibles” key to making the law work are becoming less likely to enroll.
Younger people were skeptical of the healthcare reform law even before its troubled rollout, despite their support for President Obama.
But polling indicates the problems facing HealthCare.gov — a site the administration initially touted as a hip, tech-friendly experience — have reinforced their doubts about the need to have health insurance at all.
“The trend is daunting for the White House but not necessarily surprising,” said Pew Research Center Director Michael Dimock. Read more ..
Israel and Palestine
|Martin Barillas||December 4th 2013|
Cutting Edge Contributor
French forensic scientists said on December 3 that Yasser Arafat, who once led the Fatah terrorist organization, the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian National Authority, did not succumb to alleged radioactive polonium poisoning that had been suggested in a recent Swiss report.
Even though the official cause of Arafat’s death in 2004 was a stroke, Swiss forensic experts claimed in November that samples they took from Arafat's mortal remains did indicate polonium poisoning, albeit not definitively.
Suha Arafat, Arafat's widow, said in a statement from Paris, “You can imagine how much I am shaken by the contradictions between the findings of the best experts in Europe in this domain.” Read more ..
Israel and the Vatican
|Martin Barillas||December 3rd 2013|
Cutting Edge Contributor
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on December 2 with Pope Francis in at the Vatican. There the premier told the Christian leader, “Iran aspires to attain a nuclear bomb. It would thus threaten not only Israel but also Italy, Europe, and the entire world.” Besides the threat of a weaponized Iran, Pope Francis and the premier also discussed the plight of Christians in the Mideast.
Sara Netanyahu, who accompanied the prime minister to Rome, also met the Pope. They told the pontiff that their son, Avner, had won Israel’s National Bible Quiz, while they also discussed with him the essential connections Christianity and its roots to Judaism.
Prime Minister Netanyahu asked Pope Francis, who is expected to visit Israel in May 2014, to remain as a guest for at least five days so as to visit the Holy Places of Christianity. According to Israel Hayom, Netanyahu invited the Pope, "Come to the synagogue in Chorazin, Jesus visited there.” Read more ..
Mexico on Edge
|Kent Paterson||December 1st 2013|
If the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) were to have its own holiday, it might very well be Black Friday Week.
Mimicking their counterparts in the U.S., Mexican merchants this month rolled out a version of the U.S. shopping frenzy for the third year in a row, while more and more Canadians planned to turn out for their country’s Black Friday edition, according to the Bank of Montreal. Almost 20 years into NAFTA, many of the same retailers, food processors, bankers, advertisers, and media moguls have a preeminent presence in all three member nations of the trade and investment pact.
U.S.-Mexico border residents had the opportunity to participate in two Black Fridays: the original one in El Norte and Mexico’s El Buen Fin sales event held November 15-18. Until now, however, the flow of customers is mostly one way north. Not surprisingly, lines of vehicles and pedestrians stretching up to three or four hours were reported waiting to cross November 28 and 29 in places such as Tijuana/San Diego and Ciudad Juarez/El Paso. Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Deborah Black||December 1st 2013|
Imagine putting gas in your car and sitting down to a delicious meal - all in the same place. You can do that in Washington, D.C., where a combination gas station and convenience store is also serving food that’s getting rave reviews from customers. Fast Gourmet is doing a booming business.
Fast Gourmet is the one stop shop for Christina Wilkie, who fills her car with gas, buys candy, and then orders a sandwich. She lives nearby and considers Fast Gourmet a hidden gem.
“The food here is amazing. This place gets voted the best sandwich in Washington year after year. There are sandwiches that you wouldn’t expect like the chivito, which is steak, ham, eggs, cheese and olives. There are wonderful high quality ingredients,” said Wilkie.
Co-owners Lina Chovil, from Colombia, and her Argentine husband, Fernando Almiron, opened their gourmet gas station three years ago. Chovil said they drew upon their experiences back home where it's common to get good food from street vendors and at gas stations. Read more ..
America's Darkest Edge
|Ben Goad||November 30th 2013|
Guns that cannot be detected by X-ray machines will no longer be banned if Congress does not renew the decades-old prohibition by Dec. 9.
The 1998 Undetectable Firearms Act will sunset that day, ending the prohibition at a time when new technology has made it easier than ever before to manufacture plastic guns with 3-D printers. Gun control activists warn that a lapse would allow anyone with a few thousand dollars to build a homemade gun that would be undetectable at airports, government buildings or schools.
That threat was little more than “science fiction,” when Congress overwhelmingly backed the ban 25 years ago,” said Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who is pressing legislation to renew the law. “We didn’t think it would be a good idea to let the bad guys get a gun through metal detectors,” Israel said. Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Yuan Ye||November 28th 2013|
At ice rinks across America, parents taking their children to hockey practice are a common sight. Many think it not only helps their children stay fit, but also teaches important life lessons, like the value of teamwork. In Rockville, Maryland, near Washington, D.C., a special group of young players has an inspiring story to tell.
On a recent Saturday morning in a quiet neighborhood in Rockville, the Blaisdell family got up before dawn. David Blaisdell was preparing for his son Christopher's weekly hockey practice.
Christopher is 14 years old and plays on a team called the Montgomery Cheetahs. The Cheetahs look no different than young hockey players across the U.S., but their path to the game has been very different. All the players on the team have varying degrees of developmental challenges, including autism. The team was founded in 2006 with only 10 players and two coaches, but now has more than 80 players and a larger coaching staff. Head Coach David Lucia helped start the team. Read more ..
Fashion on Edge
|Tom Balmforth||November 27th 2013|
Alfia Karimova's path to animal-rights activism started when she was shopping online -- for a fur coat.
The 34-year-old woman from the industrial city of Magnitogorsk was already the proud owner of an elegant silver-fox-fur coat. And with winter coming, she was in the market for another, this time mink.
But as she surfed the web for the perfect mink "shuba," she happened across an article describing how some coat makers use animals that have been skinned alive, electrocuted, gassed, confined in small cages, or ensnared in cruel traps. And she was horrified.
"Of course it's a cause of constant shame. How was it possible to live for so many years, never pausing to wonder and understand that what you're consuming is in actual fact perpetuating cruelty and barbarism?" Karimova says. "It's a mystery to me and a shame. It's a reason I want somehow to make up for this guilt and at least do something." Read more ..
The Phillipines on Edge
|Simone Orendain||November 24th 2013|
In the Philippines, the exodus from the worst-hit area of Tacloban continues, more than two weeks after a powerful typhoon laid waste to the country's central provinces. The typhoon left more than 5,200 dead and about 1,500 missing. Some of the evacuees have gone to Manila where they are welcomed with a host of social services and a little entertainment.
With the ending bell, the crowd in the grandstand inside Villamor Air Force Base in Manila roared to its feet as Philippine boxing mega-star Manny Pacquiao finisheed off Brandon Rios to snag another division title.
The audience was made up mostly of social workers, volunteers and service personnel who watched the live bout on a big screen. But a few evacuees from the typhoon-stricken central Philippines were able to join in. Maria Nenita Tolibas and her family from Tacloban survived Super Typhoon Haiyan’s powerful winds and massive storm surge that left thousands dead in her city. Read more ..
Egypt on Edge
|Hannah Schaeffer||November 23rd 2013|
Jewish Policy Center
Egypt's foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, said in remarks in late October that relations between Egypt and U.S. are now in "turmoil" following Washington's decision to suspend military aid. The U.S. State Department announced the decision to curtail military aid and some economic support aid to Cairo last week, although the Obama administration stressed it was not trying to sever ties with its long standing ally.
In announcing the decision, U.S. reiterated its displeasure at the Egyptian military's violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood after the July 3 ouster of former president Mohammed Morsi. The cut will specifically withhold the delivery of helicopters, missiles, tank parts, and airplanes, as well as $260 million for the general Egyptian budget. Some assistance will remain untouched, including aid for counterterrorism programs, health care, education and businesses in Egypt. The announcement emphasized that cuts are meant to be temporary in the hopes that Egyptian military will take steps toward restoring democracy. Read more ..
|Greta Guest||November 22nd 2013|
While marijuana is an illegal substance under federal law, the U.S. Justice Department is ignoring smoke signals coming from Washington and Colorado, says a University of Michigan professor. Both states passed ballot initiatives that legalize the possession of certain amounts of marijuana by adults.
Melvyn Levitsky, a professor at the University of Michigan's Ford School of Public Policy, argues that in refusing to challenge legalization laws, federal government authorities are ignoring their duties under the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Controlled Substances Act and U.S. treaty obligations. "I'm concerned about the federal government cherry-picking federal law, deciding which federal laws it's going to enforce," he said.
Levitsky cited the example of Arizona's attempt to pass laws on illegal immigrants. The federal government took the state to the Supreme Court, challenged the state law based on the fact that federal law trumps state law, and won the case. However, it has chosen not to challenge state law on marijuana in Colorado and Washington. Read more ..
|Deborah Block||November 21st 2013|
One hundred and fifty years ago this month (November 19), at the height of the U.S. Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln delivered a short address at a battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The bloody battle that had taken place there several months earlier is now considered the turning point of the war. While dedicating a cemetery, Lincoln paid tribute to the soldiers who had fought at Gettysburg. He also laid stress on freedom and equality.
In his two-minute speech, President Lincoln recalled the fighting in Gettysburg, which took the lives of tens of thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers. He honored “the brave men, living and dead who struggled here.” From 1861 to 1865, the Northern states - the Union, fought the South - the Confederacy, which had seceded from the nation over several issues, including slavery.
Martin Johnson, history professor at Miami University in Ohio, has written a new book called Writing the Gettysburg Address. He says the president sought continuing support for the Union as the civil war dragged on.
He said, “He knew he had to impress the nation with the importance of the cause, why this war was so important and so crucial."
Shortly before he went to Gettysburg, the president was at this cottage in Washington, where he would go to escape distractions at the White House. Callie Hawkins, program director at the renovated cottage, says this was no retreat, since a military cemetery was next door. “It gave him an opportunity to think and reflect, and think through his ideas of the civil war and emancipation. Lincoln saw burials every day," she said. Read more ..
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