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The Evironmental Edge

Unhappy Ending for 'Erin Brockovich' Town

May 7th 2013

Toxic Waste barrels

The first and second graders at the Hinkley School gather in pairs to practice their vocabulary words. It seems business as usual for now, but with so many families leaving town, the school is scheduled to close forever in June.

“We’re learning every day different areas the kids are moving to now and we’ve had many, many tears," said Sonja Pellerin, a teacher at the school. "Some people have lived here for generations, and it is turning families upside down.”

Hinkley is the California town made famous by the movie, Erin Brockovich. Twenty years ago, the California-based energy company Pacific Gas & Electric paid hundreds of millions of dollars to settle legal claims by residents that PG&E had poisoned their well water by improperly dumping industrial waste into the ground. But that landmark legal victory, which was recounted in the Julia Roberts movie, was not the end of the story. Read more ..


Mental Health Edge

The Risk of Depression and the Quality of Human Relationships

May 6th 2013

The mantra that quality is more important than quantity is true when considering how social relationships influence depression, say University of Michigan researchers in a new study. After analyzing data from nearly 5,000 American adults, the researchers found that the quality of a person’s relationships with a spouse, family and friends predicted the likelihood of major depression disorder in the future, regardless of how frequently their social interactions took place.

Individuals with strained and unsupportive spouses were significantly more likely to develop depression, whereas those without a spouse were at no increased risk. And those with the lowest quality relationships had more than double the risk of depression than those with the best relationships.

The study, which was published in PLOS ONE, assessed the quality of social relationships on depression over a 10-year period, and is one of the first to examine the issue in a large, broad population over such a long time period.

Nearly 16 percent of Americans experience major depression disorder at some point in their lives, and the condition can increase the risk for and worsen conditions like coronary artery disease, stroke and cancer. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Survey On Afghan Suicide Attacks Hits Raw Nerve

May 5th 2013

Bomb Victims

Most Afghans say suicide attacks can never be justified. But a new public opinion poll reports more support in Afghanistan for suicide bombers than ever before.

Conducted by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life, the survey says four out of 10 Afghans believe suicide bombing is justified "in order to defend Islam against its enemies." Out of 39 countries in the study, only Palestinians showed the same level of support for the idea that suicide attacks are sometimes justified.

The findings have touched a raw nerve in a country where suicide bombings were once rare but are now commonplace. With Afghan civilians increasingly caught up as victims of suicide attacks, activists and religious scholars in Kabul question whether the Pew survey reflects a real trend. Read more ..


The Healthy Edge

American Farmers Respond Positively to Local Food Enthusiasts

May 4th 2013

Fruit

Many institutions are eager to put more local food on their menus, and area farmers are interested in supplying it, say surveys by the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems. A recent CRFS survey revealed interest in the expansion of such purchasing by Michigan’s producers as well as buyers at local schools, early childcare programs and hospitals. This continues a trend shown from prior farm-to-institution surveys.

“We have seen steady growth in local purchasing by food service directors across institutions since 2004,” said Michael Hamm, CRFS director. “This points to increasing potential for farmers to generate new business in these markets and for institutions to provide the fresher local foods valued by their customers.”

Local food purchasing by K-12 schools has been the most extensively studied. Results show that the number of schools and districts purchasing local food has been growing, and more than half of schools now purchase local food. Of these, about 90 percent of schools and districts are interested in purchasing local food in the future, whether currently doing so or not. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Baltimore's Empty Lots Bloom With Healthy Greens

May 4th 2013

onions peppers parsley radish

On a patch of asphalt on the edge of Baltimore, a row of greenhouses lay like giant white caterpillars across the blacktop.

This one stretch of land is blooming in the midst of a post-industrial wasteland that has lost about one-third of its population since its post-World War II peak, leaving hollowed-out neighborhoods of boarded-up buildings and abandoned lots.

“It was a high-crime area. This vacant lot was a haven for drug activity. But not anymore,” says William Long, a farm manager who works for Big City Farms.

The company was the first to sign a lease to grow food on abandoned land owned by the city. “We can really create jobs in the city, in an industry that doesn’t exist," said Alex Persful, president of Big City Farms. "That’s the whole meaning behind here. One, having good food. Two, having good jobs. And, all these lots that are just trash heaps right now.” Turning trash heaps into fresh-food treasure troves makes a lot of sense for a city with 17,000 empty lots and 10 percent unemployment. Baltimore hopes to lease about eight hectares of vacant land to urban farmers in the next five years. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Health Services for Syrian Refugees Overstretched

May 3rd 2013

Syrian Refugees

A new report by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says health services for hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees are increasingly overstretched. The UNHCR says limited funds are limiting the health care refugees are receiving.

The report is the first assessment of the health situation of Syrian refugees in neighboring Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.  The report says the Syria refugee crisis is putting an enormous strain on the health systems and refugees are having difficulty getting the care they need.

The report, which covers the first three months of this year, shows refugees need treatment for injuries, psychological illnesses and communicable diseases, as well as chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. The U.N. refugee agency estimates more than one million refugees are in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Egyptian Newspaper Features Two Blood Libel Articles in a Single Day

May 2nd 2013

Jewish Blood Ritual

An Egyptian newspaper featured two articles on Tuesday that promote the libel that Jews drink Christian – and Muslim – blood on Passover. Anonymous blogger Elder of Ziyon spotted the articles in Egypt’s Misrelgdida (“New Egypt”) newspaper.

The first is an article by a Palestinian Arab, Mennat al-Sayed, in which he gives a “history” of Passover blood rituals that, he claims, continues, at least in some form, to this day against Arabs.

According to Elder of Ziyon, “In the past, al-Sayed says says (sic), Christian neighbors of Jews were  scared of the holiday because they were worried if they would travel they would be abducted and ritually slaughtered for their blood…Today, the writer goes on, the Jews are keeping this tradition by killing every single Palestinian in cold blood.”

The second article is written by Amr Abdel Rahman, the managing editor of the paper, and it is entitled “When the Jews drank the blood of Egyptians on Passover.”

Rahman writes: “For our part, we can not overlook the fact that the famous ritual for Jews, especially in their holiday of “Purim,” which is followed by “Passover,” they would gather to celebrate and they required human blood in order to do their rituals.” Read more ..


Society on Edge

The World's Changing Views towards Domestic Violence

May 1st 2013

Global attitudes about domestic violence have changed dramatically since 2000, according to a new University of Michigan study that analyzes data from 26 low- and middle-income countries. Nigeria had the largest change, with 65 percent of men and 52 percent of women rejecting domestic violence in 2008, compared with 48 percent and 33 percent, respectively, in 2003.

In the study published in the current issue of the American Sociological Review, U-M researcher Rachael Pierotti examined data on hundreds of thousands of people collected in Demographic and Health Surveys funded by USAID. Half of the countries surveyed are in sub-Saharan Africa. "In many countries, men were even more likely to reject violence than women were," said Pierotti, a graduate student in sociology.

Data on male attitudes was available in 15 of the countries Pierotti studied. Men were more likely than women to reject domestic violence in Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Read more ..


Edge of the Workplace

Reining in Bad Behavior Takes More than Guts

May 1st 2013

Our work environments play a bigger role than previously thought when it comes to reporting unethical behavior, according to a University of Michigan researcher. "Our findings contradict conventional wisdom that the personal characteristics of an employee drive his or her decision to speak up," said David Mayer, assistant professor of management and organizations at U-M's Ross School of Business.

The research found that the social environment—namely, one's supervisor and co-workers—plays a critical role in an employee's decision to speak up about wrongdoing. In the past decade, we have witnessed many ethical failures from leaders of companies such as Enron, Qualcomm and Fannie Mae. The harsh reality is that those who speak up about unethical conduct are often ignored, or worse, retaliated against, Mayer said.

Given the risks associated with blowing the whistle, when an employee witnesses unethical behavior will he or she report it? Read more ..


India on Edge

Makeshift Schools Help Mumbai Slum Children Beat the Odds

April 30th 2013

India child labor

The Indian government in recent years has made free primary education a right for all children. But millions remain outside the educational system. To reach some of the neediest students, one group is now taking classrooms to the streets of Mumbai.

Behind the greenery at this Mumbai public park, a mother of two is spending her morning teaching the basics of English spelling. Aparna Kanda understands how crucial these few hours are for these young learners, many of whom often have to study by streetlamp.

“Here are a group of children who are on the verge of dropping out of school because they do not have that support at home, because both parents are working hard to meet ends [make ends meet]. And these guys just go home and feel very dejected usually because they are not doing too well in school,” said Kanda. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Russians, Americans Build Musical Bridges

April 29th 2013

Nashville Symphony

In the early 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, the Yale Russian Chorus came to Moscow to break the ice between the Soviet Union and the United States.

Fast forward 50 years and Americans and Russians are once again using music to defrost the chill between their two countries. The turn to culture comes as relations between the two nations have hit their low point since the end of the Soviet Union.

Mikhail Prokhorov is a leading Russian businessman and opposition politician. He owns the New York basketball team, the Brooklyn Nets. In late April, he brought the rap group IllStyle and Peace Productions from Philadelphia to Moscow.

“It is very difficult to maintain stable political relations,” Prokhorov said at a press conference. “That’s why I believe that culture, art and sport are the areas on which we should concentrate deeply, and do everything so that mutual trust and good relations between our people continue to develop.” Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

Program Launched to Counter Drug-Resistant Malaria

April 28th 2013

mosquito biting

On World Malaria Day, the World Health Organization has launched an emergency program in Phnom Penh to tackle a worrying regional trend - a strain of malaria that is proving resistant to the most important anti-malarial drug.

Six years ago, health researchers were worried after a strain of malaria in western Cambodia began to show resistance to the world’s key malaria treatment - Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy, known as ACT.

In response, the Cambodian government and its health partners, including the World Health Organization, put in place a program to prevent the resistant strain (falciparum malaria) from spreading within Cambodia and beyond its borders. That program appears to have contained the resistant strain.  But Thailand, Burma and Vietnam have reported pockets of artemisinin-resistant malaria strains. The WHO malaria specialist in Phnom Penh, Stephen Bjorge, said it is likely the strains in those countries arose independently of Cambodia’s - which means the containment efforts have worked. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Spurred by Google Glass, IHS Forecasts Millions of Smart Glasses

April 26th 2013

Google Glass

Initiated by the arrival of Google Glass and magnified by Google's efforts to promote application development for the product, the global market for smart glasses could amount to almost 10 million units from 2012 through 2016, according to IMS Research.

Shipments of smart glasses may rise to as high 6.6 million units in 2016, up from just 50,000 in 2012, for a total of 9.4 million units for the five-year period, according to an upside forecast from the market research firm. Growth this year will climb 150 percent to 124,000 shipments, mostly driven by sales to developers, as presented in the high-end outlook in the attached figure. Expansion will really begin to accelerate in 2014 with the initial public availability of Google Glass, as shipment growth powers up to 250 percent, based on the optimistic forecast. Read more ..


The Edge of Mental Health

Cook County Sparks National Changes in Mental Health Care for Delinquent Youth

April 24th 2013

Kid behind bars

In the late 1990s, Northwestern University scholar Linda Teplin launched a groundbreaking study to examine the mental health status of young people in Cook County’s juvenile lock up. The study began a century after the county became the first jurisdiction in the world to create a separate court system for juveniles accused of delinquency.

The results, however, were not those expected of a mature juvenile justice system, they were not full of positive outcomes and they did not suggest the Cook County system as a model for others.

They were, instead, alarming. Among a random sample of 1,829 young people taken into custody in Cook County from 1995 to 1998, 66 percent of boys and 74 percent of girls were diagnosed with at least one mental health disorder, and most of these youth had two or more disorders. Half had a clinically significant substance abuse problem. Depression, anxiety, and attention deficit disorder were all widespread. Read more ..


Venezuela on Edge

South America Embraces Chavez Successor, Nicolas Maduro

April 23rd 2013

Nicolas Maduro was sworn in as president of Venezuela on April 19 in the presence of a number of Latin American presidents including, Rouseff of Brazil, Kirchner of Argentina, Ortega of Nicaragua, Morales of Bolivia, and even Santos of Colombia. A place of honor was given to the Cuban dictator, Raul Castro along with the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who as a regular visitor to Venezuela was also present for the ceremony.

The irony is that even as Maduro was sworn in as president, the Electoral National Council (CNE), the body in charge of supervising elections, approved a recount of a portion of the votes (not all the votes as the opposition demanded). Due to the closeness of the vote and amid claims that there were about 3,000 irregularities on Election Day, the CNE agreed to recount 12,000 ballot boxes. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Einstein's Newly Re-Discovered Israel Independence Day Speech

April 22nd 2013

A newly published document from the Israel State Archive and the Albert Einstein Archive at Hebrew University offers insight into famed physicist Albert Einstein ‘s view of Israel and the Middle East.

The document is of a speech Einstein was to give on Israel’s Independence Day, 1955. Written in conjunction with the Israeli consulate and Ambassador Abba Eban, its contents never reached the ears of Einstein’s intended audience: the American people. He died only days before it was to be delivered on ABC, NBC and CBS.

“This is the seventh anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel,” Einstein opened. “The establishment of this State was internationally approved and recognised largely for the purpose of rescuing the remnant of the Jewish people from unspeakable horrors of persecution and oppression.”

“Thus, the establishment of Israel is an event which actively engages the conscience of this generation,” he continued. “It is, therefore, a bitter paradox to find that a State which was destined to be a shelter for a martyred people is itself threatened by grave dangers to its own security. The universal conscience cannot be indifferent to such peril.”

Einstein was critical, too, of those who would place a disproportionate amount of blame on Israel for tensions in the region. And he didn’t mince words when he said, “It is anomalous that world opinion should only criticize Israel’s response to hostility and should not actively seek to bring an end to the Arab hostility which is the root cause of the tension.” Read more ..


Tibet on Edge

First Tibetan Women’s Soccer Team Blazes a Trail

April 21st 2013

Potala Lhasa Tibet

Last year, an American teacher and 27 high school students from across the Tibetan Diaspora formed the first Tibetan national women’s football (soccer) team. Since then, they have overcome local critics who opposed the formation of the all-female team and become an inspiration for others.

News that a team of Tibetan women would enter a men’s soccer tournament last May sent ripples of excitement through this sleepy hill station at the foot of the Himalayas. There was also some disapproval.

Even Tibetans who have long lived in exile retain some conservative cultural views, says José Cabezón, Dalai Lama chair professor of Tibetan Buddhism and cultural studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “Tibetan women have always had a considerable and powerful role within the family, but less so in society," said Cabezón. "The patterns that existed tend to be preserved and change is not easily won in society.” Read more ..


India on Edge

Renewed Anger in India After Reported Rape of 5-year-old

April 20th 2013

India Gang Rape Protest Placard

Protesters have taken to the streets in the Indian capital following the reported brutal rape of a five-year-old girl, who remains hospitalized with severe internal injuries. India's prime minister and president have expressed shock and anguish at the crime, which comes just four months after a similar incident rocked the country.

Indian police on Saturday say they have arrested 22-year-old Manoj Kumar who had fled to the neighboring state of Bihar after allegedly kidnapping, raping and torturing the young girl.

The five-year-old was reported missing from her New Delhi home on April 15 and found three days later. The accused is reportedly her neighbor. The deputy commissioner of police for the city’s East District, Prabhakar, told reporters police are still getting information and are not sure if anyone else was involved. Read more ..


The New Nigeria

Train Connects North, South of ‘Africa’s Giant’ Nigeria

April 19th 2013

Nigeria train

For the first time in a decade, Nigeria is operating a train line that links the north and south of the country, which is Africa’s most populous nation. The 1,100-kilometer trip from Lagos in the south to the northern city of Kano is an adventure that provides a window into the nation.

The train departs from Lagos - Nigeria’s largest city - every Friday at noon, or thereabouts. When we arrive at the station at 9 a.m., the ticket lines already are thick. When the journey begins, passengers sitting everywhere from the economy class to the private cabins appear eager about seeing Nigeria by train. Tickets cost between $12 and $30, and passenger Aisha Muhammad Shuaib said it’s cheaper than the bus and much safer than the roads. Read more ..


Broken Banking

Top Malaysian Politicians Use Offshore Secrecy

April 18th 2013

Malaysia city

Key members of the Malaysian government, their families, and well-heeled associates are among those owning secretive offshore companies in Singapore and the British Virgin Islands, according to a cache of leaked documents.

They include former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad's son Mirzan, Federal Territories and Urban Well-Being Minister Raja Nong Chik Zainal Abidin and Michael Chia, the alleged ‘bagman' for Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman.

The files, which were obtained by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and examined by Malaysiakini, show more than 1,500 Malaysians owning offshore companies in Singapore – dubbed as the new Switzerland  – as well as the British Virgin Islands (BVI), an international tax haven. The ICIJ list comprises a curious mix of Forbes-listed tycoons, parliamentarians, retired politicians, civil servants and their spouses, members of royal families, famous and infamous businesspeople, underworld kingpins and even former beauty queens. Read more ..


Islam on Edge

Jordanian Woman's Throat Slit in 'Honor' Killing

April 17th 2013

Burka cellphone

Saudi Gazette reports: "Jordanian police said on Sunday they found the burned body of a pregnant woman whose throat had been slit and belly cut open showing her four-month-old fetus, in an apparent "honor killing."

"We found the body of the woman at dawn in Ruseifeh (east of Amman). Her throat was slit in a hideous way. The body was burned after the murder," a police spokesman said. We believe it was an honor crime. The belly of the woman, who was in her twenties, was cut open and we could see her four-month-old unborn child, who was dead too. Investigations are still under way." Between 15 and 20 women die in so-called "honor" murders each year in the Arab kingdom, despite government efforts to curb such crimes. Murder is punishable by death in Jordan, but in "honor killings" courts can commute or reduce sentences, particularly if the victim's family asks for leniency. Read more ..


Psychological Edge

People See Bright Future despite Gathering Storm Clouds

April 16th 2013

Baby Boomer

People feel happy about their future even after imagining the many bad events that might occur, a new University of Michigan study found. People tend to "explain away" the presence of bad possibilities in their own lives, thinking that they won't actually happen to them, said U-M researcher Ed O'Brien. "But we have a harder time explaining the absence of good possibilities. The absence of good events in our future feels much worse than the presence of bad ones," he said.

O'Brien explored whether fluency—how easy or difficult it feels to think about different events—might play a role in how people think about well-being.

He conducted five studies, asking participants to complete surveys with questions that addressed past and possible future experiences and perceptions of well-being. Fluency amplified the effects of past events on participants' reports of well-being: The easier it was for them to generate positive experiences, the happier they said they were in those times. Likewise, the easier it was to come up with negative experiences, the more unhappy people said they were. Read more ..


Digital Edge

Social Media and Internet Cause Societal Fragmentation and Isolation

April 16th 2013

Click to select Image

The larger the group, the smaller the chance of forming interracial friendships, a new University of Michigan study shows. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study examines how the size of a community affects the realization of people's preferences for friends. U-M researchers Siwei Cheng and Yu Xie tested their theoretical model using both simulated and real data on actual friendships among 4,745 U.S. high school students.

"We found that total school size had a major effect on the likelihood that students would form interracial friendships. Large schools promote racial segregation and discourage interracial friendships," said Xie, a sociologist with the U-M College of Literature, Science and the Arts, Institute for Social Research and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. Read more ..


Addiction Edge

Putting an End toTobacco Use

April 16th 2013

What would it take to end tobacco use once and for all?

This is the question several scholars, scientists and policy experts address in a provocative series of articles on various strategies for eliminating tobacco use, if not entirely, at least enough to significantly slow the global death toll estimated at 1 billion people by the end of this century, with the status quo.

It's called the tobacco endgame—unique and radical strategies to end tobacco dependence.

From dramatically reducing nicotine to total abolition of cigarette sales, the series of articles includes six endgame strategies and a number of essays written to encourage public debate, said Kenneth Warner, the Avedis Donabedian Distinguished University Professor of Public Health and professor of health management and policy at the University of Michigan. Read more ..


Islam on Edge

Turkish composer and pianist convicted of blasphemy on Twitter

April 16th 2013

Turkish Flags

Composer Say Fazil was accused of denigrating Islam in a series of tweets including a retweet of a verse by the 11th-century Persian poet Omar Khayyám. Photograph: AP

A Turkish court has convicted pianist and composer Fazil Say of blasphemy and inciting hatred over a series of comments he made on Twitter last year.

The musician was given a suspended 10-month jail term. His lawyer, Meltem Akyol, said his client would have to serve the term if he committed a similar offence within the next five years. Say, who was not present at the hearing, issued a statement calling the verdict "a sad one for Turkey". He denied the charges, saying they were politically motivated.

The 43-year-old went on trial in October accused of denigrating Islam in a series of tweets earlier last year. In one message he retweeted a verse from a poem by Omar Khayyám in which the 11th-century Persian poet attacks pious hypocrisy: "You say rivers of wine flow in heaven, is heaven a tavern to you? You say two huris [companions] await each believer there, is heaven a brothel to you?" In other tweets, he made fun of a muezzin (a caller to prayer) and certain religious practices.

Read more ..

Broken Banking

Billionaires Among Thousands of Indonesians Found in Secret Offshore Documents

April 15th 2013

Indonesian-Beaches

Nine of Indonesia’s 11 richest families have found shelter in tropical tax havens, holding ownership of more than 190 offshore trusts and companies, secret records obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists show.

The nine families, worth an estimated $36 billion among them, are at the top of a wealthy class that dominates Indonesia’s politics and economy. Six were closely tied to the late dictator Suharto, who helped a special circle of Indonesians grow rich during his 31-year rule by granting economic fiefdoms to family and friends. The billionaires are among nearly 2,500 Indonesians found in the files of Singapore-headquartered offshore services provider Portcullis TrustNet, which ICIJ has been analyzing and began reporting on last week. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Texting, Social Networking and Other Media Use Linked to Poor Academic Performance

April 14th 2013

Teenager texting

The widespread use of media among college students – from texting to chatting on cell phones to posting status updates on Facebook – may be taking an academic toll, say researchers with The Miriam Hospital's Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine.

According to a new study, freshmen women spend nearly half their day – 12 hours – engaged in some form of media use, particularly texting, music, the Internet and social networking. Researchers found media use, in general, was associated with lower grade point averages (GPAs) and other negative academic outcomes. However, there were two exceptions: newspaper reading and listening to music were actually linked to a positive academic performance. The findings offer some new insight into media use in early adulthood, a time when many young people are living independently for the first time and have significant freedom from parental monitoring. Read more ..


America and Columbia

The U.S. War on Communism, Drugs, and Terrorism in Colombia

April 13th 2013

FARC Terrorists

On Thursday, September 6, 2012, the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, rejected a proposed bilateral ceasefire by FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rebels aimed at bringing an end to Colombia’s decades of armed conflict. In fact, he declared that he had asked operations to be intensified and stated, “There will be no ceasefire of any kind.”  These comments reflected Colombia’s half-century dirty war, the actors involved, and some of the motives behind U.S. policies that have only served to worsen the conflict.

Today, more than 150 days of negotiating have passed since the start of the peace process between the FARC and the Colombian government. Undeniably, President Santos took the risk of agreeing to peace talks that have thus far failed to make significant inroads; an inability to reconcile the main source of friction, agrarian reform, is derailing positive advancement on other critical points in the process (i.e. political inclusion). Read more ..


Latin America on Edge

The Free Market Experiment in Latin America

April 13th 2013

Bolivian Miner

Poverty in Latin America has been reduced substantially in the last three decades. In the late 1980s, nearly half of Latin America’s population lived in poverty. Today the fraction is about a third. This marks important progress, and it has continued in some area nations. However, it is worth noting that between 2002 and 2008, poverty contracted most in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Argentina, countries which had largely abandoned neoliberalism; in Brazil, which had at least partially rejected neoliberalism; and in only two other states, Honduras and Perú, which still remained, at least partially, committed to free market polices.

It was mostly factors beyond economic policy that helps to account for recent declines in the rate of Latin American poverty.  One factor was increasing remittances from Latin Americans laboring in the developed world, especially in the United States.  Total remittances from Latin American workers rose from $12 billion USD in 1995, to $45 billion in 2004, and $68 billion in 2006.  However, “by far the main contributor to the reduction in the poverty rate,” as Jaime Ros has noted, was “the fall in the dependency ratio.”  The indicator measures the number of non-working age people—children and the elderly—who are supported by the working age population. The higher the dependency number, the greater the economic burden.

Latin America’s past demographic history underlies this shift in the dependency ratio.  The late 1940s in Latin America witnessed lower overall death rates (the number of people who died a year divided by the total population), especially due to lower infant and childhood mortality rates.  Initially, birth rates stayed high even as death rates fell, but after a generation passed Latin America’s birth rates began to drift downward to match the lower death rates. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Afghan Guys And Gals Meet Facebook To Facebook

April 12th 2013

Sahar Gul

High-school student Muhammad Akbar has never dated a girl in real life, but he's got plenty of girlfriends on Facebook. With social and religious taboos restricting face-to-face contact between unrelated members of the opposite sex, Facebook's popularity has skyrocketed as a virtual meeting place in Afghanistan.

Akbar spends nearly an hour every evening in a packed Internet cafe near his home in Kabul's Shah Shahid area to chat with his female "friends." To pay for his online habit, which costs about 100 afghanis ($2) an hour, he has taken a part-time job as a garage assistant.

"In Afghanistan, we don't have disco clubs to meet with girls. It's not allowed here to go on a date with girls, to meet and talk with them face to face," Akbar says. "Marriage is the only way to have a relationship with a woman, but many people can't easily afford to get married. Facebook has solved that problem for many." Read more ..


Broken Economy

Budgets Slash English Classes for Immigrants

April 10th 2013

Congress-senate

When the Adult School in Fontana, California, opens its enrollment office each day, there’s always a long line, and not enough classes to accommodate everyone who wants to sign up.

Until recently, California law set aside funds specifically for adult education. But to help schools meet funding shortages during the recent recession, state legislators let them use that money for other programs. That’s meant a 90 percent cut for Fontana’s adult school

And no room for Maria Flores in an advanced beginner English course. “They put me in the basic course. And that’s ‘Hello, Good Morning, How are you?’ I already know that. I need to practice, but often, there’s no room.” Principal Cindy Gleason said many students have to settle for English classes that don’t match their abilities. And, with funds so short, she’s not sure how long her school can maintain even this level of service. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Vietnamese Businesses Embrace Gay Customers

April 9th 2013

Gay art

Right in the heart of the city, next to the Opera House and the old stomping grounds of war correspondents, a rare kind of party raged on a recent Friday: It was a drag show. A hip young crowd descended on Centro bar around midnight to mingle with drag queens, men who donned green eyelashes, lace tops normally worn by women, and even traditional Vietnamese silk.

That this happened so openly, in a square heavily trafficked by tourists, expats, and well-heeled Vietnamese, speaks volumes about the country’s LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) people. Their movement is gaining momentum. “They no longer hide themselves,” said Tran Quoc Vu, who pitches in at his sister’s Papa cafe, perhaps one of the oldest LGBT-friendly joints in the city. After the coffee shop opened in the late 1990s at the Turtle Lake roundabout, the gay clientele started to grow, in part because LGBT singers and actors frequent the place. Read more ..


Egypt on Edge

Egyptian Women Reject Blame for Upsurge in Sexual Harrassment

April 8th 2013

Egyptian women protesting

In Egypt, women's rights groups are pushing back against some Islamists' attempts to blame women for an upsurge in sexual harassment. Post-revolution, the number of women reporting sexual harassment and violence has skyrocketed.  So, too, it appears, has the tendency to blame women for the assaults against them.

Psychologist Farah Shash, of the Nadim Center for Victims of Violence, says Egyptian society is becoming increasingly conservative and patriarchal.

“The society always blames the victim.  She is the one to be blamed because she is dressed 'inappropriately' or she walks 'inappropriately' or she laughs loudly, or just because she is on the street when she got harassed,” Shash explained. Prominent Egyptian religious and political leaders, like Salafist sheikh Gamal Saber, a founder of the al-Ansar Party, have expressed just those sentiments. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Finding Genes for Childhood Obesity

April 7th 2013

Childhood Obesity

Researchers have identified four genes newly associated with severe childhood obesity. They also found an increased burden of rare structural variations in severely obese children.

The team found that structural variations can delete sections of DNA that help to maintain protein receptors known to be involved in the regulation of weight. These receptors are promising targets for the development of new drugs against obesity.

As one of the major health issues affecting modern societies, obesity has increasingly received public attention. Genes, behavior and environment, all contribute to the development of obesity. Children with severe obesity are more likely to have a strong genetic contribution. This study has enhanced understanding of how both common and rare variants around specific genes and genetic regions are involved in severe childhood obesity. Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

Dietary Changes Help Lower Blood Pressure

April 5th 2013

heart patient hospital doctor health

Sunday, April 7, is World Health Day, and this year’s theme is high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. The World Health Organization has recommended reducing salt or sodium intake to lower the risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease and kidney failure. But researchers say the benefits would be greater if dietary potassium intake was increased at the same time.

The WHO says high blood pressure affects one billion people worldwide. It leads to many deaths or permanent disabilities. Hypertension is called the silent killer because there are few obvious symptoms. The good news is it’s often preventable. There are many studies indicating that reducing salt or sodium intake can lower the risk of stroke and related illnesses. Read more ..


Paraguay on Edge

The Children of Paraguay's 'Landfill Harmonic Orchestra' Give the World Hope

April 3rd 2013

The Landfill Harmonic Orchestra consists of children who live in a slum erected over a garbage dump approximately 35 miles northwest from Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay.

With direction from a professional musician and friends, they make beautiful music with classical instruments made from scraps of lumber, tin cans, and refuse they find in a garbage dump. A real violin would cost as much as a real house for the inhabitants of Cateura, the village where people make do in shanties facing open sewers.

The children of Cateura need help to not only make music, but to break the cycle of poverty in which they find themselves. Watch the video. I hope you will be inspired to give them the help they need.

While the founder of Landfill Harmonic (a.k.a. Recycled Orchestra), Favio Chávez, provides a pithy quote, "The world send us garbage. We give back music," what the child musicians also give back is an example of resilience and optimism. Read more ..


Education Edge

Mean Girls Await High School Grads at College Too

April 3rd 2013

You're not done with high school when you go to college, according to a new study of student culture.

An in-depth look at the lives of young women who started college on the same floor of a large dorm at a middle-tier public university shows that the high school peer culture that divides students into homecoming queens, wannabes and nerds thrives in college, to the disadvantage of many.

"Parents and college administrators are naively optimistic about the atmosphere for freshman women in large party dorms," said Elizabeth Armstrong, a sociologist at the University of Michigan who conducted the study with colleague Laura Hamilton of the University of California at Merced.

"The pressures these young women encounter make it very difficult for them to focus on academics. For many, the experience is not a good one, and we found that it can affect the trajectories of their lives for many years to come." Read more ..


Catholic Church on Edge

A New Pope Confronts American Catholic Nuns

April 2nd 2013

Iraqi Christians praying

As soon as it was determined that the smoke was indeed white, thousands of Facebook posts, tweets, and texts began to document reactions to the election of Pope Francis. Initial cryptic comments included: “This is a surprise”; “Jesuit pope”; “Love him already”; and some cautious remarks about his aversion to liberation theology, especially as practiced by Latin American priests and nuns.

Since that day, the election and recent installation of Pope Francis to the throne of Peter has continued to generate articles, commentaries, and conversations on social media sites expressing opinions about the first Latin American pontiff, and suggesting an agenda that would, in their opinion, revitalize an ancient church that is struggling to remain vibrant in the twenty-first century. Read more ..


Jewry on Edge

Warring Over Modesty: Hasidim and Women in Brooklyn

April 2nd 2013

Hasidim girls

Until recently, you could have lived your entire life in the United States and never have bumped into any Jewish Orthodox Hasidim, who live in scattered communities, mostly in the New York’s borough of Brooklyn.

In the last few years, however, the media have publicized the Hasidim’s cultural clashes with their non-fundamentalist neighbours. In each instance, the conflict has pitted the Hasidic view of women’s modest traditional dress and their appropriate role in the family, on the streets, and in their community against the sexualized dress and behaviour of their neighbours.

The first widely-publicized controversy over women’s modesty occurred in the neighbourhood known as Crown Heights. On a warm, summer evening in the summer of 2010, Clara Santos Perez’s new and trendy kosher café, Basil Pizza and Wine Bar, was filled with Orthodox Jews from the Lubavitcher sect of Hasidim, West Indians, and the local young professionals who have gradually moved into the neighbourhood. Read more ..


Gulf States on Edge

Youth Activism in the Small Gulf States

April 1st 2013

Bahraini tanks

Youths have been key drivers of revolutions across the Middle East since the beginning of the Arab uprisings in early 2011. For example, one recent study indicates that more than half of the protestors in the Egyptian revolution were between the ages of 18 and 30. Although young activists have not sparked similarly dramatic change in the small states along the Persian Gulf's western littoral -- Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman -- they will likely play an important role in structural reform and therefore merit more attention from both Washington and their own governments.

Increasingly muscular youth movements carry important implications regarding the extent of potential change in the Gulf, as already seen in fits and starts in Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman. Like their counterparts in other Arab states, young Gulf activists tend to pursue political agendas that are more far-reaching than those of traditional opposition elements and older generations. Yet they generally call for legislative, judicial, and other structural reforms rather than all-out revolution. Read more ..



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