Thursday, May 23, 2013

Top Australian brain surgeon makes appeal to Congress

A leading Australian brain surgeon has travelled to Washington to lobby Congress to help fund his plan for a brain cancer cure within 10 years.

Dr Charlie Teo told Congressional representatives and advisers that the devastating disease costs the economies of Australia and the United States billions of dollars every year.

Money is tight in Washington as mandatory cuts to government spending are starting to bite.

But the Australian surgeon says he had a receptive audience, as Brendan Trembath reports from Washington.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Last month the US president Barack Obama announced a $100 million plan to map the brain.

The Australian neurosurgeon Charlie Teo hopes it will help advance the treatment of brain cancer.

He's gone to Washington to speak to the Congressional Neuroscience Caucus.

CHARLIE TEO: Well I was invited to present a White Paper to the US Congress on the importance of funding brain cancer research.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: How hopeful are you that there might be some money about? It's a tough time for the US economy and the Congress is deadlocked.

CHARLIE TEO: They were very honest about that, actually, they did mention that it's tough times. But I don't know if they're just talking the talk, but they did say all the things that I wanted them to say, and that is that they felt that mapping the human brain and understanding the human brain was a frontier that really should have been explored centuries ago.

They have of course, as you know, sent people to the moon, they've explored the deepest oceans of the planet, and yet they haven't even explored probably our most powerful resource, the human brain.

So they said all the right things. And they also mentioned that in studying the human brain, one must study the diseases of the brain, and that's exactly what I want to try and impress upon them. It's useless just studying the brain without understanding the things that make it work and the things that make it don't work. And one of those things that's very important to me - and I think should be important to the world - is the study of brain cancer.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: How prevalent is brain cancer in the world?

CHARLIE TEO: Again, I tried to make that clear to them, that it's not a disease of developing nations, it's not a disease that's unique to one continent. It is unfortunately a very universal problem; it's a public health problem because it's increasing in frequency.

It's also a public health problem because it costs all nations so much money.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Associate professor Teo came to Capitol Hill with a leading researcher.

Kuldip Sidhu is professor of stem cell research at the University of New South Wales and the newly-elected president of America's Society for Brain Mapping and Therapeutics.

KULDIP SIDHU: This particular topic is quite commonly discussed here, and we found that our audience in the US Congress was quite educated in terms of what we were talking about.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: What's the timeline for mapping the brain?

KULDIP SIDHU: That's a good question. I think this is like asking "can you count the number of stars in the sky?" As I said in my talk, there are 100 billion neurones in the human brain. Think about the complexity of talking going on between the cells within the brain. It's a very, very complex system.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Next year Australia hosts the World Congress for Brain Mapping. Hundreds of specialists in the field will meet in Sydney.

This is Brendan Trembath in Washington for Saturday AM. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

SEO news: Penguin 2.0 still weeks away, Cutts says

Whether Google releases a new Penguin algorithm update in the coming weeks or not, marketers still need to go through the same optimization steps to build stronger websites and create quality user experiences. A lot of chatter has flooded the web over the past week about potential updates to Penguin, Panda or any of Google’s 500 ranking signals, but the search engine company’s Matt Cutts took to Twitter to derail any Penguin talk that might take place.

Cutts tweeted that no new Penguin algorithm rolled out yet, but in the next few weeks, version 2.0 will hit the streets. Now, for those self-proclaimed SEO gurus who say, “Penguin 2.0? What about the previous two updates?” Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan is on your side, and he’s got the scoop. According to an exchange between Sullivan and Cutts on Twitter, Google refers to the minor Penguins tweaks last year as minimal refreshes, calling them Penguin 1.1 and Penguin 1.2. Cutts emphasizes that the internal Google team refers to the upcoming update as the true Penguin 2.0 because it will bring major changes to the search space.

Back in March 2013 at SMX West, Cutts told the audience that Penguin 2.0 would be the most talked about algorithmic change this year, which alarmed many marketers. The problem: SEOs get up in arms when any new ranking fluctuation influences their sites’ PageRanks. Understandably, dropping from Page 1 of Google SERPs to Page 2 can greatly affect organic traffic, and it’s easy to point fingers toward algorithms. However, marketers should once again stick to the basics of content creation to absorb and outmaneuver any Google update.

Last week when a subtle change to search rankings had people wondering if either Panda or Penguin hit again, Brafton advised SEOs and marketers to remember how content marketing can help deflect any updates. Creating unique, custom content for the web builds an informational hub for users, and positions brands as true thought leaders in their fields. More, content writing can lead to guest blogging opportunities, generating natural links to improve PageRank. These tactics all help businesses optimize their sites for search in honest ways, and these practices also cooperate with Google’s guidelines, so any update shouldn’t be a threat.

Of course, beware of the next Penguin coming out in a few weeks – it will be influential to search and discovery. But remember that content can be the much-needed ally, and it’s never too late to put an editorial strategy in place.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Obama administration begins bullying campaign against Israel

It appears more and more each day that Barack Obama is deluding himself that he’s not only the President of the United States, but also the Israeli prime minister.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel delivered a stern warning to Israel: Do not attack Iran without the approval of the United States. This came fast on the heels of a demand from Secretary of State John Kerry delivered to the Israeli Knesset Wednesday to release Islamic terrorists in their custody as a gesture of “good will.”

On Sunday,’s Aaron Klein reported that “Hagel informed the Israeli government the Obama administration will not accept any unilateral Israeli attack against Iran” and “that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cannot decide alone whether Iran has crossed the nuclear threshold.”

That “nuclear threshold” is the so-called “red line” Netanyahu referred to in his September speech in the United Nations. The prime minister indicated that should Iran cross that nuclear threshold, Israel would have the duty and responsibility to proceed against Iran in order to protect herself.

Speaking Tuesday at a security conference in Tel Aviv, former head of IDF Military Intelligence Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin said that “for all intents and purposes, Iran has crossed Israel’s red line… in the summer, Iran will be a month or two away from deciding about a bomb,” according to the Times of Israel.

Last week The Jerusalem Post reported that defense secretary Hagel demanded that Israel release jihadists imprisoned by Israel as a “gesture of good faith,”

Knesset member Orit Struk reported, “the demand is shocking, not just because the peace talks must begin without preconditions, and not just because of the danger that these terrorists will return to terrorist activity once they are released, but because the release of terrorists is an energizing shot of encouragement to terror and terrorists.”

She continued, “Every release like this causes potential terrorists to make the decision to become one, because they see that they will be given support.”

During his 2009 European “apology tour,” President Obama claimed the Bush administration had “shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive” to its allies according to The Telegraph.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Obama raises campaign money in California as protesters call for blocking Keystone XL pipeline

President Barack Obama is raising money for the Democratic Party in California, eager to weaken his Republican opposition in Congress even as he confronts protests from his liberal flank over a contested oil pipeline project that is awaiting approval from his administration.

Obama was attending four fundraisers for Democrats in the San Francisco area Wednesday and Thursday, urging donors to help wrest the House away from Republicans and to reinstate House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi as House speaker.

Environmental activists protested the pipeline, knows as the Keystone XL project, outside one of the events, and his host at another one is a vocal opponent of the project. The pipeline would transport oil from Canada’s tar sands to Texas Gulf Coast refineries.

“No pipeline for the 1 percent,” demonstrators chanted about a block and a half from the Pacific Heights home of composer and philanthropist Gordon Getty, who was hosting a dinner fundraising event.

At a cocktail reception earlier, Obama did not address the pipeline, but discussed the environment broadly. The reception, for 100 donors who contributed between $5,000 and $32,400 each, was held at the home of Tom Steyer, owner of a capital management firm and who with his wife, Kat Taylor, finance environmental causes. Steyer opposes the pipeline.

The president said he needed Pelosi as a “fully empowered partner” to tackle issues such as climate change and to boost the economy.

But he cautioned that in pressing environmental issues, he also needed to keep in mind the economic needs of struggling Americans.

“The politics of this are tough,” he said. “If you haven’t seen a raise in a decade, if your house is still $25,000-$30,000 underwater, if you’re just happy that you still have that factory job that is powered by cheap energy ... you may be concerned about the temperature of the planet but it’s probably not rising to your No. 1 concern.”

He added: “Part of what we’re going to have to do is to marry a genuine, passionate concern about middle class families and everybody who’s trying to get to the middle class to show that we’re working just as hard for them as we are for our environmental agenda.”

Obama made his remarks just hours after pressing for legislation to tighten gun laws to an audience in Denver. Wednesday evening’s events were to benefit the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which assists candidates for the House. Thursday’s events will be to raise money for the Democratic National Committee.

Keystone opponents did not demonstrate at Steyer’s home given his opposition to the project.

“No doubt Tom Steyer, who is deeply committed, is going to be delivering a strong message to the president when he talks to him in person,” said Becky Bond, the political director of CREDO, a liberal activist group that organized the protest outside Getty’s home.

Getty and his wife, Ann, were hosting Obama at a fundraising dinner for an expected 75 donors who contributed $32,400 per person.

“We don’t come with $32,000 checks, so we have to be really loud,” Bond said.

The State Department, which has final say on the Keystone pipeline because it crosses an international border, issued an environmental report on the pipeline last month that found no evidence to block the project, raising worries among opponents that the administration was on track to give its OK. A public hearing on the report is scheduled for this month.

Obama has been under pressure from environmentalists to scuttle the project, whereas labor unions and Republicans have been pushing for its approval because of its potential to create jobs.

The project has received renewed attention in recent days because of an Exxon Mobil pipeline rupture in Arkansas on Friday that prompted the evacuation of nearly two dozen homes in the town of Mayflower in the central part of the state.

White House spokesman Jay Carney deflected questions about the Keystone project Wednesday, saying the decision rested with the State Department.

“When an incident like what has happened in Arkansas occurs, there are procedures in place. The EPA takes the lead; the responsible party is held responsible, as is the case in this situation,” Carney said.

As for Keystone, he said: “We’ve seen over time that there are strongly held views on this issue, on both sides. And the president is following a process that has been in place for quite some time, through multiple administrations of both parties, and that is the way it should be.”

Monday, March 18, 2013

Obama in Israel: Peace Process Is Surprisingly Resilient

President Obama is coming to Israel next week. Among other things, I hope that he is coming to restart the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. Most pundits remain pessimistic, but I remain hopeful. The following anecdote will explain why.

Last Sunday I gave a talk at St Bart's Church on Park Ave. and 51 St., in the heart of the prestigious East Side of New York. The talk was in the format of a public interview and took place at the "Rector's Forum" in the informal atmosphere of their famous "St. Bart's Cafe." When I arrived a few minutes early, I was warmly greeted by the new rector of St. Bart's, Rev. Buddy Stallings, to whom I had been introduced by a Jewish friend in New York last fall.

Rev. Stallings was greeting many of his congregants at the end of their worship services in their magnificent historic church when I walked in, and he immediately introduced me to a congregant by the name of George Mitchell. Yes, the very same Senator George Mitchell who was instrumental in bringing about the "Good Friday" agreement between the Protestant majority and the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland (in 1998 as the special envoy of President Clinton) which ended the decades old bloody conflict in that part of the world. I was, of course, greatly honored to meet him.

And when I began my talk on "The Other Peace Process -- Interreligious Dialogue in Israel in the Service of Peace," Senator Mitchell came into the room to be part of the audience. So I was even more honored. Moreover, since I knew that he had served as the U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace (2009-2011) under President Obama, I knew that I had to be careful to be historically accurate in what I said.

During the public interview, I was asked many difficult questions by the moderator, Rev. Stallings, but also by the attentive and perceptive audience. Undoubtedly, the most difficult question was: "What is the most difficult challenge that you encounter in your work in peace-building through dialogue in your country and your region?" I replied that my most difficult challenge is attempting to engage in dialogue among Jews and Palestinians (Christians and Muslims) in an atmosphere of ongoing political stalemate and the resulting individual and communal despair which leads many people to believe that our conflict will never be resolved.

I explained that it has been almost 15 years since the last peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, which was the Wye River agreement in 1998 (signed by Prime Minister Netanyahu, which only proves that he can make a peace agreement with the Palestinians if he really wants to). Moreover, the decade that began in the year 2000 -- which was characterized by the failure of the Camp David talks in August of that year, and which was followed a month later by the outbreak of the Second Intifada (Palestinian Uprising) -- was a decade in which separation replaced normalization and despair replaced hope.

This has led most people on both sides -- Israelis and Palestinians -- to be despondent and to believe that this conflict could go on forever. Even though polls on both sides show that both peoples still strongly desire a two state solution, most people do not see it coming in the near future. This has led to a dangerous psychological and conceptual situation in which individuals see no way out of the current impasse.

Toward the end of the conversation, Senator Mitchell rose to make a comment. He told us that five days before the Good Friday Agreement was signed in Northern Ireland, a public opinion poll revealed that 84 percent of the people on both sides of the conflict felt that the conflict would never end. And yet it ended with an agreement that has led to the cessation of the cycle of violence and the beginning of power-sharing and reconciliation among the parties to the conflict there.

So conflicts can and do end. And ours will end in the Middle East, hopefully sooner, rather than later.

And then we can get on with the real work of peace-building, i.e., of training Palestinians and Israelis to learn to live together in mutual respect and peaceful coexistence. This will be a long-term project, which will involve many sectors of civil society on both sides, including rabbis, imams and priests, educators, youth, students, young adults and women. It will be a decades long educational, religious, spiritual and psychological process in order to secure safety and wellbeing for all people in our region. We in Israel have already begun to do this through our work in interreligious dialogue and education for peace. But when the peace agreement is actually completed, we will have a lot more work to do!