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Israel on Edge

IDF Captain Breaks the Silence on Smear Campaign

June 25th 2013

Cap Barak Raz2

An Israeli IDF spokesperson recently blasted Breaking the Silence, an Israeli NGO that claims to expose alleged wrong-doings of the IDF, in a Facebook post this past Friday, June 21.

IDF Captain Barak Raz, the spokesman for the Judea and Samaria Division, wrote that Breaking the Silence, which receives significant funding from several European government agencies and foundations such as the Norwegian embassy and Christian Aid, "engages in nothing, but NOTHING, other than a smear campaign targeting the IDF."

In an exclusive interview Raz explained that he had had "enough with the nonsense that this organization [Breaking the Silence] represents." "Breaking the Silence is an immature and unprofessional organization," he stated. "At the IDF we deal with many organizations that hold counter views, but they communicate with us - there is an open e-mail and phone exchange, and verification of issues that come up. Breaking the Silence does not engage in any of that and prevents the IDF from properly addressing any of their claims.”

Founded in 2004, Breaking the Silence collects and publishes testimonies by former Israeli soldiers who served in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem while also conducting monthly tours of Hebron and the South Hebron Hills. Many of the participants who join the tours are university students visiting from abroad including a number of Europeans.

On their website, Breaking the Silence states that the soldiers’ testimonies are intended to show a "much more grimmer picture in which deterioration of moral standards finds expression in the character of orders and rules of engagement, and are justified in the name of Israel's security." These testimonies and reports are directed to and often carried by international media. Read more ..

Italy on Edge

Silvio Berlusconi Sentenced to 7 years in Prison in Sex-for-Hire

June 24th 2013

Silvio Berlusconi

Silvio Berlusconi was handed a seven-year jail sentence on Monday for abuse of office and paying for sex with a minor, adding to the complications facing Italy’s fragile left-right government.

The former Italian prime minister will not have to serve any jail time before he has exhausted an appeals process that could take years, but the conviction angered members of his centre-right party who questioned whether he should continue to support the coalition.

The 76-year-old media tycoon expressed outrage at the verdict, which he said was politically motivated. “An incredible sentence has been issued of a violence never seen or heard of before, to try to eliminate me from the political life of this country,” Berlusconi said in a statement. “Yet again I intend to resist against this persecution because I am absolutely innocent and I don’t want in any way to abandon my battle to make Italy a country that is truly free and just.” Read more ..

El Salvador on Edge

Catholicism’s Heavy Hand: “Beatriz” and Abortion in El Salvador

June 23rd 2013


On May 29, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of El Salvador ruled to deny a 22-year old pregnant woman afflicted with lupus and kidney disease and known by the pseudonym “Beatriz,” a potentially life-saving abortion. This ruling came in spite of medical assessments determining that it was highly unlikely that either she or her unborn child would survive the pregnancy.  Yielding to public and international pressures, most notably an order from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and immense outrage from international advocacy groups, the Salvadoran court agreed the next day to “privilege the mother” and allow Beatriz to undergo an early C-section, or “induced pregnancy” procedure. On this rare occasion, El Salvador, one of seven Latin American countries with an absolute ban on abortion, showed a willingness to respect the life of a woman, allowing Beatriz to undergo a procedure that medical experts say was, for all intents and purposes, an abortion. Yet Salvadoran officials insisted that the procedure was in no way a form of abortion, revealing that there had been a need to use a term that would be politically acceptable according to norms set by the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, the case of Beatriz is one more instance of the Catholic Church-dictated political apparatus that continues to limit the exercise of women’s rights in El Salvador. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Muslim IDF Recruits Hold Koran for Allegiance Oath

June 22nd 2013


Religion can often take a backseat in Israel when it comes to security, as brothers Muhammad and Milad Atrash, two Muslim member’s of the Israel Defense Force’s Golani Brigade, can attest to.

“While still in high school I asked my family, ‘Why don’t we, the Muslims, enlist?’” Milad, 19, told the IDF blog. “‘Why do the Jews, the Druze and the Bedouins enlist, while we don’t?’ They explained to me that Jews serve because it’s their country, that the Druze [community] had signed agreements with the IDF and that we have a lot of Islamic movements that oppose military service in the IDF.”

Milad’s response? “I told them I don’t care about that. I want to join the army to protect my village, my country.”

Five months later, Milad started his military service and arrived at basic training. “Because I didn’t know anything about the army, I packed a bag for 4 months!” he says with a smile. “After four days my commander told me I was going back home for the weekend.”

When Muhammad graduated high school a year later, he considered immediately pursuing his academic studies – until his older brother convinced him that the army was the best solution for him. “After a few conversations with Milad, I understood that this was what I wanted: to enlist, to contribute to my country,” he explained to the IDF blog. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

'Windshield Tours' of America's Most Violent City Opens Physicians' Eyes

June 21st 2013

Flint Michigan human sacrifices house

An improvement in the African-American infant mortality rate in Genesee County, Michigan, can be attributed in part to a program that opened the eyes of many in the community to the challenges faced by African-American mothers, according the University of Michigan. It cited research led by a faculty member of the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

African-American infant mortality declined to a historic level in 2005 and has remained lower, following a series of tours designed to increase understanding of obstacles for expectant mothers in some of the most impoverished areas of Flint, Michigan, which was recently named one of the most violent cities in the United States.

The Genesee County Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) program's "windshield" tours exposed some 1,000 physicians, hospital administrators and staff, faculty members, medical center residents, community partners and residents to the conditions that have contributed to poor maternal care. Read more ..

The Way We Are

New York Speaks Your Language, No Matter What It Is

June 20th 2013

Times Square-Crowd

In the Big Apple, home to more than 8 million people, you can find nearly every kind of food, music, art and people. And nearly every kind of language - some linguistic experts say it may be the most diverse city in the world, with as many as 800 spoken languages.

With hundreds of languages and dialects spoken from around the world, few cities are as diverse as New York. "New York is the capital of the world, where we live together in peace," said Ernesto Arias.

Ernesto Arias, from Bolivia, says this is all possible without loss of tradition or the mother language. He speaks in his native Spanish. “There are people from every background, so you’ll hear a variety of languages and dialects.  For example, in my country, they speak Aymara and Quechua.  Of course, here we’re starting to lose that.  But we are making an effort to maintain our community in some form so that we don’t lose it," he said. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Inmates Fight Fires, Gain Skills for Life After Prison

June 19th 2013


The western state of California is known for wildfires that can quickly burn out of control, and this year the fire season has been extremely busy. Because of the fire risk, the state has some of the most experienced firefighters in the industry. It also enlists the help of prisoners to stop the fires.

Every morning, a select group of inmates in orange jumpsuits heads to work as firefighters. If there is no fire to fight, they painstakingly clean all the tools necessary to create the fire breaks that can stop a blaze from spreading.  

In California, physically fit inmates with no history of violent crimes have the option of training and working as firefighters while serving their time. Many get their sentences reduced in return. But that was not the program's only appeal for convicted robber Louie Orozco.

“It’s pretty exciting. It’s an adrenaline rush, it’s fun at the same time. You’re expected to go out there and fight fires. Climb thousands of feet up hills, rocky terrain, sometimes sandy terrain, with tools you got anywhere between 30 and 50 pounds [13 and 22 kilograms] of gear on your back,” said Orozco. Read more ..

Healthcare on Edge

Sexual Minority Youth Need Specialized Treatment from Therapists

June 18th 2013

Gay Pride

President Obama officially declared June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month. However, despite advances in civil rights, sexual minority youth are still at greater risk for suicide than their heterosexual peers, according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

“Psychologists sometimes face a particular dilemma when treating sexual minority youth, many of whom are still in the process of developing their sexual identity,” said Alex Dopp. “Serious mental strain can result if a core piece of a young person’s emerging identity is unacceptable to his or her family. Parents may observe this anguish and want to know what is troubling their children. However, when therapists share that information with parents, they may reveal a youth’s sexual identity, which may exacerbate the problem.”

For example, parents may bring a depressed and suicidal adolescent in for therapy, Dopp explained. The youth may then confide in the psychologist that they are suicidal because they fear their family won’t accept their identity as a sexual minority. The therapist faces an ethical dilemma: on the one hand, bringing the youth and parents closer together is critical to the youth’s adjustment, but on the other hand, opening up to the parents  could exacerbate the youth’s suffering and suicide risk (if revealing their sexual minority status leads to increased conflict in the home, parental rejection, etc.). Read more ..

Jewry on Edge

After Firebombing Montreal Jewish Business, Answers Demanded from Police

June 17th 2013

Montreal skyline

Following the latest in a string of firebombing attacks on Jewish targets in Montreal, Canada, a Jewish community group is demanding answers from the police.

The B’nai Brith Canada is “calling on the Montreal Police to get to the bottom of the attacks before people are seriously injured,” wrote the group in an email to reporters. “The Police must explore every avenue of investigation and put an end to these attacks,” said Steven Slimovitch, the organization’s National Legal Council.

The B’nai Brith expressed concern on behalf of Montreal’s Jewish community over the frequency of the attacks and how they have been able to continue unabated. “This is the 3rd Jewish-owned business that has been fire-bombed in less than 2 weeks and our concern for the safety and welfare of the community is high. The Police must take concrete steps to reassure the community that their safety is not in jeopardy,” Slimovitch demanded. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Small Illinois Town Gets Boost From New Superman Movie

June 16th 2013


Since 1938, a red-caped superhero impervious to most earthly pitfalls has captivated the imagination of comic book, television, and movie fans around the world.  Superman has become a cultural icon of the United States, and the merchandising and promotion of the character is a multi-billion-dollar industry worldwide. The release of the newest Superman movie, Man of Steel, is helping one small Illinois town cash in on its connection to one of the most beloved comic book heroes of all time.

Plano, Illinois, has a population just under 11,000, and is as American as the flags flying throughout the downtown streets. Plano Mayor Bob Hausler said, “I would say a great Midwestern small town, and we epitomize that.”

Hausler was in charge of the city's government in 2011 when a Hollywood production company came to town. “There was a lot of secrecy about what the storyline, and even who the main character was.”

But in a town as small as this, it’s hard to keep a secret. Once the trucks, lights, and movie cameras moved onto Main Street, news quickly spread it was not just any Hollywood movie, but the big budget Man of Steel, a new version of the beloved and iconic comic book hero Superman. “It was very exciting that our town would be picked for a major motion picture. I used to watch him on a black-and-white TV, and it was one of my favorite shows growing up,” said Hausler. Read more ..

The Water's Edge

Students Invent Water Purification Disc

June 15th 2013

Children gather water

Students at the University of Virginia have developed a new way of purifying water that they say could bring improved water quality for millions in the developing world.  It's called a Madi Drop. Field testing begins this month in South Africa.

The lab operates like a kitchen. They add several ingredients. Then they mix, weigh, press and bake them. What's created is called a MadiDrop - a ceramic disc infused with silver. When dropped in water, silver ions, which are atoms that have an electrical charge,, are released to purify the water.  And, testing here at the University of Virginia shows clean, safe water.

“It's not just about making a really great technology that effectively removes or kills bacteria and pathogens.  It's about making a low cost, simple to use one, tailored to people in developing countries who don't have many resources,” said Beeta Ehdaie, a doctoral candidate at UVA. Read more ..

Sweden and the Jews

Twilight for the Jews of Sweden?

June 14th 2013

Rabbi Namdar-Chabad-Sweden

On Sunday June, 2, 2013 several pro-Israel rallies, parades and other events took place around the world. But the celebration in Stockholm, Sweden organized by the Zionist Federation of Sweden (ZF), The World Zionist Organization of Israel (WZO), and local activists took a different turn with a specific message: “Enough is enough.” Not only did this demonstration show support for Israel, it also was a stand against anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism which are rampant in modern day Sweden.

We have seen an increase in reported anti-Semitic attacks but no charges, arrests or convictions. Nor have any leading politicians shown any concern. Angry anti-Israel demonstrators can shout their message of hate freely, while peaceful pro-Israel rallies are surrounded by police. Jews routinely hide their Magen David necklace’s under their shirts and remove kippahs as soon as they exit shul. This is the reality of Sweden in 2013.  Exlemplary of the dangers posed to Jews, one report said that  “the Jewish communities spend at least 25 per cent of their funds on security  measures.” Read more ..

Broken Education

Civil Rights Groups Seek Justice Department Intervention in Dallas-Area School Discipline

June 13th 2013

Kid behind bars

Dallas-area students who are tardy or accused of unexcused absences are allegedly being handcuffed at school, forced into court and saddled with fines of up to $500 – in violation of their constitutional and civil rights, according to a complaint three civil rights groups filed Wednesday with the U.S. Justice Department. The complaint was filed against four Texas school districts in the Dallas region and against Dallas County truancy courts, where children accused of excessive absences must appear before judges.

The complaint, which asks federal officials to intervene, alleges that students’ rights are violated because they appear in court for prosecution on misdemeanor charges with no appointed counsel; are inappropriately restrained; and are not adequately advised of their rights. The rights of children and parents who speak limited English and of disabled children have also been violated, the rights groups allege. Read more ..

Internet Edge

You're So Vain: How Social Media Amplify Narcissism

June 12th 2013

Facebook is a mirror and Twitter is a megaphone, according to a new University of Michigan study exploring how social media reflect and amplify the culture's growing levels of narcissism.

The study, published online in Computers in Human Behavior, was conducted by U-M researchers Elliot Panek, Yioryos Nardis and Sara Konrath.

"Among young adult college students, we found that those who scored higher in certain types of narcissism posted more often on Twitter," said Panek, who recently received his doctorate in communication studies from U-M and will join Drexel University this fall as a visiting fellow.

"But among middle-aged adults from the general population, narcissists posted more frequent status updates on Facebook." According to Panek, Facebook serves narcissistic adults as a mirror. Read more ..

The Healthy Edge

Maternal Obesity Increases Risk of Early Childbirth

June 12th 2013


Being overweight or obese during pregnancy increases the chance of an early delivery—and the more extra weight mom is carrying, the greater the chance for an extremely preterm delivery, according to a study co-authored by a University of Michigan School of Public Health researcher.

The research is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and looked at data from 1.6 million deliveries in Sweden from 1992 to 2010.

Preterm delivery increases infant mortality, neonatal morbidity and long-term disability, and the earlier the delivery, the more the risk to infants increases, said Eduardo Villamor, U-M associate professor of epidemiology. Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence Not Getting Adequate Mental Health Services

June 10th 2013

Abused woman

Although many abused women suffer from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and/or depression, they are not receiving needed mental health services, a University of Missouri researcher found.

“More than half of the women participating in our study suffered from depression, PTSD or both illnesses,” said Mansoo Yu, an assistant professor of social work in the College of Human Environmental Sciences. “However, most of the survivors had not used mental health services in the past year, even though they reported having access to the services. Social stigmas, shame, privacy concerns, health care costs and lack of information may prevent survivors from getting the help they need.”

Yu studied the rates of PTSD, depression and substance abuse among 50 female intimate partner violence (IPV) survivors and the types of services the women used. The majority of IPV survivors had not used any mental health services, but they reported regularly seeing their primary care physicians. Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

Marxist Muslims of Turkey Take to the Streets

June 9th 2013

Turkish protester

A bagpipe squeals over Taksim Square as a ring of demonstrators dances merrily around. The circle largely represents the grab-bag of disparate groups that has come together in their anger at Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They say he is becoming increasingly authoritarian and many claim that he has tried to force Islamism -- through laws like restrictions on alcohol sales -- on a segment of the population that cherishes its secularism.

It is a cause that Zeynep Agbayir, a devout Muslim who proudly dons her head scarf as she joins her husband in the ring, says she strongly supports. People like Agbayir, 27, and a member of the "Muslim Anticapitalists" movement, are a rarity in this square. Read more ..

Broken Borders

US Evangelicals Call on Congress to Pass Immigration Reform

June 8th 2013


A broad range of religious groups is calling on Congress to pass immigration reform - among them conservatives who in the past have opposed reform plans. Many evangelical Christians see it as an opportunity to expand their congregations.

Among the groups supportive of immigration reform are “Nuns on the Bus,” currently on a nation-wide tour. They drew a lot of attention last year campaigning against a Republican budget plan. Sister Simone Campbell says now they want millions of undocumented immigrants in America to be allowed to stay.

“We must step back from fear. A democracy cannot work on fear. What we have to do is look with clear eyes at what our past is. Our past is beautiful because of immigration.” Campbell says many of the people her Catholic sisters minister to are undocumented foreigners who work in America’s service sector. Read more ..

Ethiopia on Edge

Political Opposition Has New Energy in Ethiopia

June 7th 2013


Ethiopian opposition supporters carried out their first peaceful protest against the government in eight years last week.  The demonstration has raised hopes the ruling coalition will give political opponents more room to operate.  Three opposition leaders from the past said that no matter what happens, the opposition faces major challenges. 

Thousands of Ethiopians took to the streets last week in the capital, Addis Ababa, in a demonstration against Ethiopia’s government.  It was the first time authorities had allowed such a protest since the disputed 2005 elections and was organized by the Blue Party, a relatively new party with many young active members. Read more ..

The New Egypt

Egyptian Court Sentences Employees of Western NGOs

June 6th 2013


A Cairo court convicted 43 non-governmental organization (NGO) employees of inciting unrest in Egypt. Government prosecutors brought charges against sixteen Americans, along with a number of Europeans and Egyptians, with 27 of the activists being charged in absentia. Ten months after the toppling of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the Egyptian police raided several NGOs as part of an investigation into their finances. Authorities accused the pro-democracy groups of working unlawfully within Egypt and receiving illegal funding from abroad. Well respected Freedom House, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), were forced to close in what is being called "a war against Egypt's growing civil society." The court sentenced 27 of the defendants to five years in prison with another five defendants receiving two-year terms. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

A Guide to the Perplexed in an Age of Data Overload

June 4th 2013

Click to select Image

In the 1840s, in his Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing, Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wrote:

A man .... steps out into the world’s multiplicity, like one that comes from the country into the great noisy city, into the multiplicity where men engrossed in affairs hurry past one another, where each looks out for what belongs to him in the vast "back and forth," where everything is in passing ... For here one can experience everything possible, or that everything is possible. ... So this man stands there. He has in himself a susceptibility for the disease of double-mindedness. ... Swiftly, alas, swiftly he is infected -- one more victim. This is nothing new, but an old story. As it has happened to him, so it has happened with the double-minded ones who have gone before him.

Reading these sentences led me to reflect on our current double-mindedness, for example among women who want to rise to the top of their professions and still be great mothers (see here and here for more on this). More broadly, Kierkegaard’s words (and more to follow) seem pertinent to the whole problem of making choices in today’s world, a world in which more of them than ever are available. Read more ..

The Population Edge

Women Bear Brunt of Population Growth

June 3rd 2013

Hungry African Widow/Children

The global population is expected to rise to nine billion by 2050. Most of that growth will be in developing countries. However, many are asking whether such growth is sustainable, considering the amount of resources that would be consumed. The issues of population growth and sustainability were addressed on the closing day of the Women Deliver conference in Kuala Lumpur.

The economies of many developing countries are growing fast. And consumers there are acting more and more like consumers in developed nations. For example, diets are changing, with higher fat, salt and sugar content and there’s a rising demand for cars and bigger homes.

But participants at the Women Deliver conference are asking whether those should be among the aspirations of the developing world? And if so, at what cost to the planet? And what cost to women, who may lack health care and reproductive rights? Read more ..

The Edge of Sport

Israeli Wrestler Attacked by Egyptian Rival

June 2nd 2013

Israeli Wrestler

Israeli wrestler Ilana Kartysh won a gold medal Saturday in the Golden Grand Prix tournament in Italy, but her historical achievement was marred by a very unpleasant incident, when she was attacked by her Egyptian rival during the semi-final. Kartysh, 22, who competed in the 67-kilogram weight category, made it to the semi-final after beating opponents from Hungary and Kazakhstan. There, she experienced a violent incident she won't be able forget for quite a long time.
In the semi-final, Kartysh met the African champion, Anas Mostafa of Egypt. At the beginning of the match, Mostafa refused to shake hands with her. During the fight, she broke two of the Israeli's fingers and bit her in the back – causing her to bleed. At the end of the match, unsurprisingly, she refused to shake hands with her again. " I can't remember such dirty behavior in sports," Kartysh told Ynet after the fight. Read more ..

The Healthy Edge

Children of Long-Lived Parents are Less Likley to Contract Cancer

June 1st 2013

The offspring of parents who live to a ripe old age are more likely to live longer and are less prone to cancer and other common diseases associated with aging, a study that involved a University of Michigan researcher has revealed.

Experts at the University of Exeter Medical School, supported by the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care in the South West Peninsula, led an international collaboration that discovered that people who had a long-lived mother or father were 24 percent less likely to get cancer. The scientists compared the children of long-lived parents to children whose parents survived to average ages for their generation.

University of Michigan researcher and co-author Dr. Kenneth Langa is associate director for the U-M-based Health and Retirement Study, which provided the data used for the study. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Goats Keep South Sudan Kids Off Street

May 31st 2013


It's not the usual way to reintegrate kids who have been on the streets into the group dynamic of family life, but in South Sudan they're giving kids goats for just that reason. And it's working, officials say.

This week, the Social Welfare Ministry and NGO Veterinarians Without Borders, which goes by the French acronym VSF, gave 200 goats to 85 kids as part of a VSF goats-to-kids program.

Since it was launched last year, the program has helped to halve the number of street children in Northern Bahr el Ghazal from around 300 to 150. The youngsters seem to quickly get used to rearing and handling their caprine charges and use the goats to help ease their family’s financial burdens by selling the kids and products made from or produced from the goats. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Volunteers Help Revive LA's Concrete River

May 30th 2013

LA River

The Los Angeles River is a concrete drainage channel through much of its 80-kilometer length.  It channels waste-water from storm drains and has become a receptacle for much of the city's trash.  But, the river is slowly being restored to its natural state with the help of volunteers, who take part in an annual clean-up.

Thousands of volunteers turned out on a recent weekend to remove the trash that has been deposited by winter rain storms.  The Los Angeles River was lined with concrete in the late 1930s and 1940s, after years of periodic flooding.  Today, it looks like a river again, at least in some places, says clean-up volunteer Carol Henning. “It is beginning to look a little better.  My memory of the river was people having drag races in the LA River, on the cement bottom," said Henning. Read more ..

Eugenic America

Latino Americans Disproportionately Sterilized for Decades in California

May 30th 2013

Pacific Colony Spadra CA eugenics facility

Patients with Spanish surnames in California psychiatric institutions and homes for the developmentally disabled were disproportionately sterilized at rates ranging between 20 to 30 percent in the last century, according to a new University of Michigan study. Alexandra Minna Stern, U-M professor of obstetrics and gynecology and American culture, and graduate student Natalie Lira analyzed the paper trail left by the bureaucratization of this discriminatory and irreversible procedure.

They examined thousands of sterilization requests processed by California superintendents of state institutions and found ethnic and racial bias in sterilization procedures in California. These sterilizations accounted for a third of the approximately 60,000 sterilizations performed in 32 states based on similar discriminatory state laws in effect between 1907 and 1980. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Puting the Brakes on Distracted Driving

May 29th 2013

Distracted Driver

If you're still using your mobile phone behind the wheel, University of Alberta sociology researcher Abu Nurullah likely has your number.

More specifically, he can tell what statistical category you fall under. Using survey data from mid-2011—just months before Alberta's distracted-driving law went into effect—Nurullah and his colleagues determined several characteristics of people who appear to top the risk scale by using cellphones while driving. The data are useful for police who have to deal with unlawful drive-and-dialers, and for policy-makers seeking to change offenders' habits with ad campaigns.

Nurullah says that although campaigns are an important piece of curbing the behaviour, social pressure from family and friends is also important. "I think the social influence is the key one. Friends, family, employers—they should be influencing others to reduce the use of cellphones while driving," he said. "Effective enforcement of the laws should include not only fines for such offences, but also mandatory lessons on the dangers of cellphone use while operating a vehicle." Read more ..

The Way We Are

Oklahomans Have Long Tradition of Resilience, Perseverance

May 28th 2013


The people of the plains state of Oklahoma have shown determination in facing disasters, both natural and human.  One week ago, a powerful tornado tore through Moore, an Oklahoma City suburb, killing more than 20 people. But as area residents are living up to what has come to be known as the Oklahoma Standard.

In a rural area of Oklahoma, Todd Mauldin lost his house and truck. "I have had three close calls, and this was the third one, and it got me!" he said.

This kind of pluck and good-humored determination is what people admire about Oklahomans. In this devastated neighborhood in the suburb called Moore, most people plan to rebuild and remain. This is not the first time this state has faced tragedy. It has suffered more disasters per capita than any other state and not all were natural.

On April 19, 1995 a bomb blew up in front of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people. Timothy McVeigh was later tried, convicted and executed for the crime. Read more ..

Broken Banking

‘Fatal Blow’ Against Sham Corporate Directors Not So Fatal After All

May 27th 2013

Island of Sark

UK’s crackdown on Channel island ‘Sark Lark’ simply scattered key players to other tax havens.

Many Britons who make a living from ‘the signing’ as they call it, originate from the tiny Channel island of Sark, a notorious British tax haven.  Following scandals a decade ago about the “Sark Lark,” the group scattered, often setting up residence in far-flung jurisdictions such as Cyprus, Dubai, Vanuatu, Mauritius, or Nevis in the Caribbean. Many still keep in touch on Facebook.

They make up teams of sham company directors, according to documents we have seen, taking money to disguise the real ownership of thousands of international companies. This is not illegal, and they generally say they are helping owners preserve legitimate privacy. Sarah and Edward Petre-Mears, who moved residence to Nevis, worked through an agency in Northamptonshire. Some of their companies have been registered in the UK, at Companies House in Cardiff. Read more ..

Broken Banking

Post-Soviet Billionaires Invade UK ... Via British Virgin Islands

May 26th 2013

Big Ben

Questions arise as mega-rich from Russia and former Soviet republics descend on London.

Britain’s friendly regime of offshore secrecy has tempted an extraordinary array of post-Soviet billionaires to descend on London, sometimes to the sound of gunfire.

Vladimir Antonov fled permanently to Britain after his father, Alexander, was gunned down in a Moscow street in 2009. Another associate, German Gorbuntsov, narrowly survived a volley of shots in London last March.

When Antonov bought a luxury yacht in Antibes, the Sea D, he was careful to register its ownership to an anonymous British Virgin Islands (BVI) entity, Danforth Ventures Inc. He also got his hands on enough cash to try to take over the ailing Swedish car manufacturer Saab, though he did not take control. He did succeed for a while in owning Portsmouth FC, the even more ailing British football club. Antonov is currently on bail in Britain. Lithuanian authorities are trying to extradite him for allegedly looting their collapsed bank Snoras, which he denies. Read more ..

The Way We Are

US Soldiers Place Flags at Arlington Cemetery for Memorial Day

May 25th 2013

Bunch of American flags

On Memorial Day - Monday, May 27 this year - Americans remember those in the military who died while serving their country. Ahead of that day, soldiers place American flags in front of the more than 360,000 gravestones in Arlington National Cemetery, outside Washington.

Army Colonel James Markert placed a flag at the tombstone of Christopher Henderson, who was killed in Iraq almost six years ago.  Henderson’s widow, Jennifer, and their daughter came to the cemetery as they have every year since he died.

“Being here with him, it’s a closer connection and it’s a way to honor what he did,” explained Jennifer Henderson. The 3rd US infantry, known as the Old Guard, is a ceremonial unit. It has been placing flags at the graves for about 60 years. Colonel Markert is the commander. “It's a way of sustaining that promise to our service members that if something should happen to them, we’ll make sure their families in there are taken care of and remembered,” said Markert. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Golan Druze Preparing for War

May 24th 2013

Druze assembly

The mounting tension between Israel and Syria in the past number of days has prompted the Druze residents of the Golan Heights out of their complacency. While the Jewish residents of the Golan have continued to show restraint and relative calm in light of statements made by senior Israeli and Syrian officials, which have served to fan the flames of tension, the level of anxiety among Druze families on the Golan-which up until now had been mainly worried about their relatives who live in Syria-has spiked. Druze families on the Golan have begun to stockpile food in anticipation that war might erupt between Israel and Syria. In addition to the security preparations, which are to reach a peak level tomorrow in a large-scale exercise that is to be held tomorrow in Majdal Shams and the emergency storerooms that were recently established there, it has become evident that an increasing number of Druze families in the area have begun to stockpile rice, sugar, flour, oil, breadcrumbs, labane and canned goods, and have amassed enough food to last for two months and even longer. Read more ..

Ukraine on Edge

Svoboda Fuels Ukraine's Growing Anti-Semitism

May 24th 2013


The rise of anti-Semitism in Ukraine is barely noticed in State Department's recent International Religious Freedom Report for 2012. This is especially alarming, because even in the best of times, anti-Semitism is as prevalent in Ukraine as coal in Newcastle.The collapse of the Soviet Union gave rise to nationalist far-right organizations as well radical Muslim groups with anti-Semitism as their common denominator. Europe's current financial woes have also led to the rise of new neo-fascist groups such as Hungary's Jobbik party, known for its vile anti-Semitic propaganda, and the far right extremist Greece's Golden Dawn, with its swastika-like flag and symbols, and aspiration "to become...like Hezbollah in Lebanon."

In Ukraine, the noisiest anti-Semitic group is the Svoboda ("Freedom") party. Established in 1991 as the "Social-National Party of Ukraine" under the SS-era symbol of the Wolfsangel. In 2004, with new leader Oleh Tyahnybok, the party renamed itself and adopted innocuous symbols. Read more ..

Ageing America

Retirement Years are No Picnic for Older Americans

May 23rd 2013

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For growing numbers of Americans, the new retirement may really mean no retirement. That's the conclusion of an article in the current issue of the ISR Sampler, the annual magazine of the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

"For most of the 20th century we saw retirement ages fall while life expectancy rose," said David Weir, an ISR research professor and director of the ISR Health and Retirement Study. "About 20 years ago, the trend in retirement age reversed and it has been inching up slowly ever since."

People are retiring later for a lot of reasons, but a key one is economic. Employer health insurance benefits for retirees are eroding, spurring many employees to hold out until they qualify for Medicare at age 65. Changes to Social Security, such as the increase in the age at which people can receive full benefits from 65 to 67, also may be playing a role. And people are living longer, requiring additional savings to support those extra years.

Some 40 percent of older Americans delayed retirement in the years after the Great Recession, according to an analysis of data from ISR's Health and Retirement Study and its Cognitive Economics Study.

"The typical household lost about 5 percent of its total wealth between the summers of 2008 and 2009," said ISR economist Brooke Helppie McFall. Read more ..

Edge of Health

More Spending Doesn't Necessarily Mean Better Healthcare

May 23rd 2013

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Healthcare spending for older Americans than for younger adults and children, on average, and analysts have said that increasing spending leads to longer life expectancy.

But new research from the University of Michigan indicates that aging populations could view things differently.

Conducted by Dr. Matthew Davis, associate professor at U-M's Ford School of Public Policy and Medical School, and Adam Swinburn, who earned his master's degree from the Ford School in 2011, the study is the first in the U.S. to estimate health status-adjusted life expectancy—that is, to measure the remaining years of life for different age groups in terms of quality as well as quantity.

The researchers found that, overall, older Americans have markedly worse health compared with younger adults and children. Additional years of life for older people are perceived as less valuable by the individuals living them, compared to years of life experienced by younger people. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Israeli College Students Fortify Troubled Towns by Moving In

May 22nd 2013


In return for free tuition and low rent, members of Ayalim student villages volunteer their time to transform Negev and Galilee communities. “There was lots of crime here, and lots of children with no after-school activities,” says Ziv Shalev, as he parks on a gritty street in the Old City of Acre (Acco), a Muslim neighborhood on Israel’s northern Mediterranean shore.

Shalev is taking us to see the newest student village started by the Ayalim Association, a grassroots movement to build up the Negev and the Galilee by establishing communities of university student volunteers. He is the organization’s vice president for partnership development. Read more ..

Broken Government

The Origins of the IRS' Investigatory Powers

May 21st 2013

Mobster Frank Costello at Kevaufer Commission

The IRS "scandal" involving the “targeting” of conservative Tea Party groups is metastasizing. Congressional Republicans are seeking to open a broader investigation into the agency, with which, according to the New York Times, they "hope to ensare the White House."

But an understanding of the true history of IRS scandals -- as documented in the mid-1970s Church Committee reports -- might better inform our understanding of this contemporary story.

An early foreshadowing of problems to come came in 1942. Morris Ernst -- a lawyer, co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, and political ally of FDR -- suggested that the attorney general conduct “aggressive action” in the form of tax return audits to go after anti-interventionist groups. To his consternation, no one in the Roosevelt administration was interested in the idea. Even J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, an organization heavily involved in monitoring and attempting to discredit President Roosevelt’s foreign policy critics, avoided it because using tax records was too public and, hence, too risky. Read more ..

Mongolia on Edge

Disclosure of Secret Offshore Documents May Force Top Mongolian Lawmaker to Resign

May 21st 2013


Deputy speaker of Mongolia’s Parliament admits he had $1 million Swiss account. One of Mongolia’s most senior politicians says he is considering resigning from office after being confronted with evidence that he has an offshore company and a secret Swiss bank account.

“I shouldn’t have opened that account,” Bayartsogt Sangajav, Mongolia’s deputy speaker of Parliament, told the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

“I don’t worry about my reputation. I worry about my family,” he said after ICIJ asked him about records revealing his offshore holdings. “I probably should consider resigning from my position.” Bayartsogt, who says his Swiss account at one point contained more than $1 million, became his country’s finance minister in September 2008, a position he held until a cabinet reshuffle in August 2012. Read more ..

Broken Borders

Has The U.S. Green Card Lottery Run Out Of Luck?

May 19th 2013

Statue of Liberty

Each year around this time, millions of would-be immigrants to the United States from around the world hold their breath. Early May is when the U.S. State Department releases its shortlist of applicants to the annual green-card lottery. About half of them -- 55,000 people -- will receive permanent-residence visas, the tickets to eventual citizenship.

This year, like any other, Internet forums on U.S. immigration, such as the Russian-language "Govorim Pro Ameriku" (Talking About America), are abuzz with posts from lottery hopefuls. The program has received well over 10 million applicants from the former Soviet Union since its inception. Some express joy at making the first cut, while others consider trying their luck next year. This time, however, there may not be a next year. The forums are abuzz about that possibility, too. Read more ..

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