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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


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 ..

The Edge of Education

Teacher Finds Artful Way to Inspire Students

March 31st 2013

Hagen i Åsgårdstrand by Edvard Munch

Teacher Ryan Martinez knows how to encourage his students. "If there is silence, there is an opportunity for music," he says. "If there is a white surface, then there is an opportunity for color."

Martinez teaches French at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland, outside Washington, where his classroom is decorated with colorful ceiling tiles. "As a teacher, you want to make your classroom space one that reflects your own approach to teaching," he says. "And when you make that an inviting, stimulating type of atmosphere, it makes it a more pleasurable learning experience."

It all started with one tile a year ago. "I brought it home. I just had some blue paint and sort of just covered it, and I installed it," Martinez says. "The students noticed that. I mean, immediately, it jumped out because, in an otherwise white ceiling, all of a sudden you have some color." French teacher Ryan Martinez has decorated his high school classroom with colorfully painted ceiling tiles. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Smoking Immediately Upon Waking: Increase Risk of Lung and Oral Cancer?

March 30th 2013

The sooner a person smokes a cigarette upon waking in the morning, the more likely he or she is to acquire lung or oral cancer, according to Penn State researchers.

"We found that smokers who consume cigarettes immediately after waking have higher levels of NNAL -- a metabolite of the tobacco-specific carcinogen NNK -- in their blood than smokers who refrain from smoking a half hour or more after waking, regardless of how many cigarettes they smoke per day," said Steven Branstetter, assistant professor of biobehavioral health.

According to Branstetter, other research has shown that NNK (4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-[3-pyridyl]-1-butanone) induces lung tumors in several rodent species. Levels of NNAL (4-(methylnitrosamnino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanol) in the blood can therefore predict lung cancer risk in rodents as well as in humans. In addition, NNAL levels are stable in smokers over time, and a single measurement can accurately reflect an individual's exposure.

Branstetter and his colleague Joshua Muscat, professor of public health sciences, examined data on 1,945 smoking adult participants from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey who had provided urine samples for analysis of NNAL. These participants also had provided information about their smoking behavior, including how soon they typically smoked after waking. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Americans Support Legalizing Undocumented Immigrants

March 29th 2013

Latino immigration rally

A new survey finds the majority of Americans say there should be a way for foreigners living illegally in the United States to stay in the country if they meet certain conditions.

The study published Thursday by the Pew Research Center shows 71 percent of Americans favor granting legal status to the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. What kind of legal status, though, is a more divisive issue. Forty-three percent of the public supports a path to citizenship, while 27 percent prefers just legal residency.

 The United States is struggling with a 7.7 percent unemployment rate, a condition that in the past has motivated many native-born Americans to accuse foreigners of stealing jobs and using up social resources. Despite the sluggish economy, Pew’s national survey of 1,501 adults conducted earlier this month found that “overall attitudes about immigrants in the United States are more positive than negative.” Read more ..

Islam's War Against Christianity

Muslim Persecution of Christians: January, 2013

March 28th 2013

Coptic woman weeping at funeral

The year 2013 began with reports indicating that wherever Christians live side by side with large numbers of Muslims, the Christians are under attack. As one report said, "Africa, where Christianity spread fastest during the past century, now is the region where oppression of Christians is spreading fastest." Whether in Kenya, Nigeria, Mali, Somalia, Sudan, or Tanzania—attacks on Christians are as frequent as they are graphic.

As for the Middle East, the cradle of Christianity, a new study by the Pew Forum finds that "just 0.6 percent of the world's 2.2 billion Christians now live in the Middle East and North Africa. Christians make up only 4 percent of the region's inhabitants, drastically down from 20 percent a century ago, and marking the smallest regional Christian minority in the world. Fully 93 percent of the region is Muslim and 1.6 percent is Jewish." Read more ..

America on Edge

Supreme Court Weighs Challenge to DOMA in Second Same-Sex Marriage Review

March 27th 2013

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear a second day of oral arguments in its landmark cases on same-sex marriage.

Wednesday’s case is a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal law that prohibits same-sex couples from receiving certain federal benefits. DOMA is widely seen as an easier case than the broader challenge the court considered on Tuesday — especially for Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose vote will likely determine how the court ultimately rules in both cases.

Kennedy signaled during Tuesday’s arguments that he is not ready to prohibit states from enacting their own bans on same-sex marriage. Read more ..

Travel Safe

How Air Travelers Can Minimize Reactions to Peanut/Tree Nut Allergies

March 26th 2013

airplanes shadows

Few situations can provoke more anxiety for people with peanut or tree-nut allergies than having an allergic reaction while flying on an airplane and being unable to get help.

But in a new study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology-In Practice, researchers found passengers who engaged in eight mitigating factors were less likely to report an allergic reaction.

This is the first study to show that in-flight peanut and tree nut allergy is an international problem, says lead author and pediatrician Matthew Greenhawt, M.D., M.B.A., M.Sc., of the University of Michigan’s Food Allergy Center and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Past research has focused on the U.S. and only on those who had reactions, instead of including those who did not. Read more ..

The Way We Are

How Sharers Become Hoarders

March 26th 2013

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Children as young as 3 years old understand they should share with others, but they fail to follow this rule until age 7 or 8, according to a new University of Michigan study.

"There is abundant evidence that children are aware of fairness standards at a young age, yet young children often allocate resources unfairly when they stand to benefit," said Craig Smith, a U-M postdoctoral psychology researcher and the study's lead author.

Smith and colleagues Peter Blake of Boston University and Paul Harris of Harvard University wanted to learn more about the gap between children's judgment and their behavior. The study also shed light on the youngsters' will power when faced with the actual decision of sharing. Read more ..

Broken Labor

Worker Suffocations Persist, Grain Storage Soars, Employers Flout Safety

March 25th 2013

Emergency Medical

Will Piper and Alex Pacas were being buried alive. It was July 28, 2010, just before 10 a.m., and the young men strained to breathe as wet corn piled up around them in Bin No. 9 at the Haasbach LLC grain storage facility. A co-worker, Wyatt Whitebread, had already been pulled under.

The ordeal in Bin No. 9 played out over 13 hours as hundreds of townspeople maintained a vigil outside. In the end, Whitebread, 14, and Pacas, 19, were dead. Piper, 20, avoided suffocation by inches.

Whitebread, compact and athletic, was happy to have summer work. Pacas, slight and musical, was an aspiring electrical engineer just days away from returning to classes at Hamilton Technical College in Davenport, Iowa. He’d started at Haasbach the day before. “He prayed for his life,” survivor Piper said of Pacas’s last moments. “He said all he wanted to do is see his brothers graduate high school. And then he spouted off the Lord’s Prayer very quickly, and shortly after that one last chunk of corn came flowing down and went around his face.” Read more ..

Our Darkest Edge

School Shootings May Provide New Uses for Weapons-Detecting Radar

March 25th 2013

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In the weeks after the Connecticut school shooting, as the nation puzzled over how it happened and what might prevent it from happening again, Kamal Sarabandi was listening to the news. Talk turned to giving teachers guns, and he paused.

"I said, there must be a better way," Sarabandi recalled.

Then he had an epiphany. Sarabandi is an electrical engineering professor at the University of Michigan. His specialty is remote sensing—detecting objects and gathering information from a distance. And for several years ending in mid-2012, he was funded by the Department of Defense to tweak a type of radar not too different from the kind police use to nab speeders and use it to find weapons and bombs concealed on a person's body.

The funders envisioned it for military uses. But after Newtown, Sarabandi wondered if his research had homefront applications. Maybe his millimeter-wave radar system could flag weapons on their way in to busy places where they're not allowed. "Schools, airports, stadiums or shopping malls—wherever there is a large number of people that you want to protect," Sarabandi said. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Gay Marriage Battle Reverberates at US Capitol

March 24th 2013

Gay Marriage

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear two landmark cases on same-sex marriage.  While justices ponder the constitutionality of laws restricting gay-marriage rights, across the street from the court - at the U.S. Capitol - the politics of homosexuality in general, and same-sex marriage in particular, are shifting.  

Earlier this month, Senator Rob Portman became the first Republican in the chamber to endorse same-sex marriage. “The joy and the stability of marriage that I have had for 26 years - I want all three of my kids to have it, including our son, who is gay," he said. 

The announcement, on CNN, did nothing to change the opinions of fellow-Republican senators like Orrin Hatch. “We are friends [Portman and I].  But where we differ is I do not believe we should change the traditional definition of marriage," he said. The cases before the Supreme Court include a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of same-sex unions.  The law, known as DOMA, received strong bipartisan support when it was enacted in 1996, including from then-Senator Robert Byrd, a Democrat. Read more ..

The Edge of Security

Feds Mulling Mergers of Police and Fire Protection

March 23rd 2013

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Plagued by budget cuts and layoffs, police and fire departments from California to Michigan are exploring controversial options such as hiring civilians, contracting out and merging services.

Yet there remains a lack of reliable information on public safety consolidation, leaving many local officials unsure of which route to take.

A new program at Michigan State University will fill that gap. Funded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, the Program on Police Consolidation and Shared Services is the first in the nation to provide local officials a roadmap to maintaining effective levels of public safety amid dwindling resources.

“Communities are looking for solutions, but there are very few resources out there to guide them through the different options,” said Jeremy Wilson, program director and associate professor of criminal justice. “This program is exciting because if offers a whole series of projects aimed specifically at developing those resources.” Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

A Lollipop That Helps You Lose Weight

March 21st 2013

Chocolate Dessert

Say goodbye to pills and hello to fortified confectionery. An Israeli company has developed candies with health benefits. Colorful and sweet but also healthful. Willy Wonka may have the secret recipe for the Everlasting Gobstopper, but it’s an Israeli candy company that is taking the confectionery and health food world by storm with its new fortified sweets.

Carmit Candy Industries recently unveiled its original line of fortified confectionery products at the Natural Products Expo West industry event in the United States. The innovative lollipops, wafers and toffees are formulated to help shed pounds, boost the immune system and promote bone health. “Healthier food, and the importance that diet has on health, is a major consumer trend for many years,” says CEO Steve Grun.

“Food manufacturers have been answering this trend with many new products, ranging from reduced fat/sugar/sodium products to products fortified with vitamins/minerals/fiber. We are taking this a step further by combining really tasty candy products with the most up-to-date nutrition ingredients to create products that taste great and deliver a specific health benefit.” Read more ..

The Dating Edge

Dating in Middle School Leads to Higher Dropout, Drug Use Rates

March 19th 2013

Talking girls

Students who date in middle school have significantly worse study skills, are four times more likely to drop out of school and report twice as much alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use than their single classmates, according to new research from the University of Georgia.

"Romantic relationships are a hallmark of adolescence, but very few studies have examined how adolescents differ in the development of these relationships," said Pamela Orpinas, study author.

Orpinas followed a group of 624 students over a seven-year period from sixth to 12th grade. Each year, the group completed a survey indicating whether they had dated and reported the frequency of different behaviors, including the use of drugs and alcohol. Their teachers completed questionnaires about the students' academic efforts. The Healthy Teens Longitudinal Study included schools from six school districts in northeast Georgia. Investigators used two indicators of students' school success: high school dropout rates and yearly teacher-rated study skills. The results of the study were recently published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence. Read more ..

Morocco on Edge

Is Morocco a Model or a Mirage?

March 18th 2013

Morocco election

Morocco is the one country where mass protests during the initial Arab Spring of early 2011 produced fundamental yet peaceful reform, but without regime change. In June of that year, a popular referendum approved a new constitution in which the king is no longer called "sacred" and must appoint his prime minister from the party with the most parliamentary seats. In November, a competitive election brought an opposition, avowedly Islamist political party to lead the government for the first time: the Party of Justice and Development (PJD) and its current prime minister, Abdelilah Benkirane.

Since then, the country has been largely calm. Occasional small-scale protests persist in various cities and provincial towns. Yet a few weeks ago, on the second anniversary of the "Feb. 20 Movement" that brought hundreds of thousands of demonstrators out into the streets of Morocco's major cities in 2011, barely a thousand turned out for protests in the capital of Rabat. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

She's Making Graffitit at the Most Dangerous Place on Earth

March 17th 2013

Malina Suliman

Sometimes graffiti can be seen from space. In Tunisia it graces the country’s tallest minaret. In Lebanon, they are making green graffiti for the city streets. In another inspiring way, Afghan artist Malina Suliman finds inspiration in southern Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban and one of the most dangerous places in the world. She aims to change the cultural environment through sculpture and painting that depicts the challenges of her war-weary generation.

Born and raised in Kabul, Suliman moved to Pakistan in 2007 to study with Art Council Karachi. She returned to Kabul and its nascent art scene, joining local art association Berang.  The group works to promote the arts in her deeply conservative hometown.“Many people had never seen an art installation. Some were offended and others were hurt because they’d experienced [he pain of the subject matter] before,” Suliman said to Al Arabiya, speaking of  her painting “War and Chaos” which depicts the aftermath of a suicide bombing. Read more ..

Inside Uzbekistan

Uzbeks Toil To Keep Silk Industry's Traditions Alive

March 16th 2013


In the heart of the Ferghana Valley, the melting of the winter snows heralds more than the coming of spring -- it's the beginning of "cocoon season." From the end of April to late May, local farmers tend to one of Uzbekistan's proudest industries the old-fashioned way: one silkworm at a time, in the warmth of their own homes.

The spawn of the silk moth are carefully nurtured throughout the difficult larval stage in preparation for the day they will spin themselves their protective and highly valuable cocoons. Then, as they snuggle in to make the transformation from caterpillar to moth, they are boiled alive and their life's labor unraveled to make silk thread. Uzbekistan's silk-production tradition dates back to ancient times, and is a point of national pride. Today, the sector is strictly controlled by the government, but delivering the annual harvest has a family feel. Read more ..

UK and Israel

New Numbers Show UK-Israel Trade is Booming

March 16th 2013


Trade between Britain and Israel is booming. Last year’s two-way trade reached more than £3.81 billion ($5.77 billion), as compared with the £3.7 billion ($5.66 billion) recorded the previous year and on track for UK Trade and Investment’s target of topping £4 billion (roughly $6 billion) by the middle of the decade. Israel remains the UK’s largest individual trading partner in the near East and North Africa.

According to figures from that British body, trade from the UK to Israel fell slightly. However, imports in the reverse direction grew by 6.6 per cent from 2011 to 2012, representing a total of more than £2.3 billion (roughly $3.5 billion).

Israel is one of the top 20 countries investing in the UK, with its investments exceeding those of Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, South Korea and Saudi Arabia. Israeli goods popular with Britons included fruit and vegetables, which accounted for £82 million ($124 million) worth of trade, and coffee, tea and spices.

On the flipside Israelis love their British cars, with £130 million ($197 million) worth of automotive goods exported from the UK to Israel, along with £70 million ($106 million) worth of industrial machinery and nearly £20 million ($30 million) worth of iron and steel — an 85 per cent increase on 2011. Israel also helps keep Britons healthy. Around £1.1 billion ($1.6 billion) worth of Israeli-produced pharmaceuticals arrived in the UK last year. Read more ..

America on Edge

A Majority-Minority U.S. is Closer than We Think

March 15th 2013

Latino kids in school

A major cultural and geographic divide is emerging between Americans under age 35 and over 50, according to University of Michigan demographer William Frey. "More than 70 percent of today's baby boomers and seniors are white, and they grew up during a time when the nation's minority population was relatively small and consisted mainly of African Americans," said Frey, a researcher at the U-M Institute for Social Research and at the Brookings Institution. "By contrast, 40 percent of those under age 35 belong to minority groups. They have grown up during a period when racial mingling is the norm at school, work, social occasions and houses of worship."

The resulting differences in social and political attitudes will increase economic and cultural tensions in communities across the nation, Frey says, with some areas affected much sooner and more strongly than others. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Global Politics Shaken By Social Media

March 14th 2013

Facebook page

Italian comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo drew the largest vote for a single party in Italy's election last month - despite shunning traditional campaign platforms such as TV, in favor of using social media like Facebook to spread his message. Analysts say it's the latest example of how new media and social media are changing politics - building on recent phenomena like the Arab Spring.

By his own admission, Beppe Grillo tries hard not to look like a politician. But his '5-star Movement' took 25 percent of the vote at the Italian elections last month - the highest share for a single party. Addressing his supporters, he said: "We have entered another phase; I don't know what it will lead to. It is incredible," he said. "We have changed. We are not only a movement but we are a community." Analysts say it is a community built in cyberspace. Grillo shunned traditional campaign platforms such as television and newspapers - instead relying on social media like Facebook and Twitter, where he has over a million followers. Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

Physicians Who Use Electronic Records May lose Money

March 13th 2013

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Physician offices that move to electronic health record systems, but don't make additional changes in the practice to enhance revenue and cut costs for services no longer needed, stand to lose money, a University of Michigan researcher says. And a $44,000 federal incentive to encourage conversion to EHRs may not be enough to prevent losses, particularly for small practices.

In an article published in the March issue of Health Affairs, Julia Adler-Milstein, assistant professor at the U-M School of Information and School of Public Health, and colleagues report on a study of 49 community practices in a large EHR pilot program. They found that the average physician lost $43,743 over five years, and only 27 percent of practices showed a positive return on investment.

Doctors have expressed reluctance to adopt electronic systems out of concern about the impact on their bottom line, the researchers say. "What our research shows is that a substantial fraction of physicians who adopt these systems don't make the additional changes in the practice that they need to recoup the cost of adoption," Adler-Milstein said.

The largest difference between those that lost money and those with a positive return on investment was whether or not they used the new system to increase revenue, she says. Offices that experienced a positive return saw more patients or improved billing to achieve fewer rejected claims and higher reimbursement from insurance companies.

Adler-Milstein and colleagues from the University of Rochester and Brigham and Women's Hospital collected survey data from practices participating in the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative in order to project five-year returns on investment from EHRs. Read more ..

Military Justice on Edge

Graham See Problems Changing How Military Handles Court Martials

March 13th 2013

Pentagon aerial shot

Removing the ability for military commanders to alter verdicts in military court-martial cases is “very problematic,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told The Hill on Wednesday. A recent Air Force case in which a convening authority tossed out a guilty sexual assault verdict has riled many lawmakers and prompted new legislation to remove the ability of commanders to dismiss verdicts.

“Immediate steps must be taken to prevent senior commanders from having the ability to unilaterally overturn the decision or a sentence by a military court,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said in testimony before a Senate Armed Services subcommittee Wednesday.

But Graham said that changing the nature of the convening authority, a commander who sets up a court martial and has the ability to reduce verdicts, would change a system that’s been a bedrock of the military's Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). “We’re talking about a universal concept in our military that the commander who has the power to order you in battle also has the power to discipline and make individual decisions for what’s best in the unit,” Graham said. “And the convening authority in the general court martial is several steps removed from the unit itself." Read more ..

The Edge of Farming

Farmers Who Sell Locally Can Make a Profit

March 12th 2013


Farmers can make a profit selling their produce directly to local businesses, but they must not let possible new costs weaken their commitment to the new venture, according to an international team of researchers.

"We found that the farmers who really made a conscious decision to sell local and who made more of a commitment tended to do better than those who are just testing the waters with local direct selling," said Amit Sharma, associate professor of hospitality management, Penn State.

Sharma added that farmers who were only testing the idea of selling to local restaurants tend to either never try to reach the local market, or quickly opt out of local selling. The researchers, said that farmers face a number of higher costs when they sell to local restaurants and shops, especially locally owned businesses that are not associated with national chains. The added costs include money for additional marketing and transportation and delivery costs. Read more ..

The New Egypt

Egyptian Security Apparatus in a Crisis Struggle for Change

March 11th 2013

Jump at Cops

The fall-out of last year's death of 72 soccer fans in a politically-loaded stadium brawl has brought the need for reform of Egypt's Mubarak-era law enforcement and judiciary to a head with football supporters in Egyptian cities protesting the verdict in the trial of those accused of responsibility for the incident and security officials striking against being made a scapegoat in the country's political crisis.

Protests sparked by this weekend's confirmation of the death sentences of 21 Port Said soccer supporters, conviction of only two out of nine police officers accused of responsibility for the worst incident in Egyptian sport history, and acquittal of 28 of the in total 73 defendants reflect intensified public anger rooted in widespread distrust of the security forces as well as the judiciary's failure to hold accountable officers and officials responsible for the death of more than 900 protesters since former president Hosni Mubarak was toppled two years ago. Read more ..

Islam's War Against Christianity

Police Arrest Dozens in Pakistan Christian Attack

March 10th 2013

Pakistani Fire Sept 2012

Police in central Pakistan have arrested dozens of men a day after a mob burned a Christian area in Punjab province over alleged blasphemy. The incident has outraged Christians and civil society activists, who took to the streets on Sunday to demand effective protection of minorities and reforms in the controversial blasphemy laws of majority-Muslim Pakistan. 

Pakistani authorities say that Saturday’s mob attack in the provincial capital, Lahore, was prompted by allegations that a resident of the Christian colony made offensive comments about Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. Under pressure from local Muslim clerics, police registered a case and took the alleged blasphemer into custody on Friday for investigation. But those actions did not forestall the attack on the Christian area the next day. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

The Decline of Iran in Muslim Eyes

March 9th 2013

Tarjish bazar Teheran

Iran, once admired by many many in the Middle East for resisting U.S. influence in the region, is rapidly losing support among the Arab and Muslim public, according to a new public poll.

The survey was conducted by the Zogby Research Service of Washington D.C., for the Arab American Institute. It measured public attitudes about Iran and its nuclear program in 20 Arab and Muslim countries.

According to the data, there was a collapse of support for Iran in most Arab countries in 2012 compared to 2006. In previous polls, Iran was admired by the “Arab street” for its opposition to the United States and Israel. In only six countries — Yemen, Kuwait, Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria and Libya — did a majority view Iran favorably.

The most negative views of Iran were held in Saudi Arabia (84 percent), Qatar (79 percent), Turkey (77 percent), Azerbaijan (75 percent), Jordan (74 percent) and Pakistan (71percent) as well as Palestinians (70 percent), according to the poll. Read more ..

China on Edge

China’s South a Window on Economy, Reform

March 9th 2013

Shinkansen bullet train

China recently began service on the world's longest high-speed rail line, which stretches from its political nerve center in the north to Guangzhou - one of country’s key economic centers in the south. Both the high-speed rail and Guangdong’s massive city of Guangzhou are windows into the tremendous economic challenges China’s new leadership is facing.

A trip on China’s high-speed rail is a front row seat to the many faces of the Chinese economy: the country’s heavy reliance on construction to fuel growth, the disparity between regions, environmental challenges and overcapacity.

Xu Xianxiang, an economics professor at Guangzhou’s Sun Yat-Sen University, says there are many inequalities in China and that, although people in richer places are in good shape, there are also poorer places where people cannot even afford to go to school or to the hospital.  He says that, if you look at Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, it is all very good.  But if you drive two hours away from cities it is all very different. Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

Turkey Rising?

March 8th 2013

Turk flags

If Turkey can avoid the authoritarianism of single-party dominance or the chaos of coalition governments, it will have a chance to rise as a regional or even global power.

Turkey has come a long way in the past decade, but it still has a long way to go. Over the short term, the country's destiny will be contingent on two interrelated dynamics: the Syrian conflict, and Turkey's economic momentum.

Phenomenal economic growth has elevated Turkey to the ranks of the G-20, and the country has set its sights on becoming one of the ten largest global economies by the time the republic celebrates its centennial in 2023. Turkey is now the largest and wealthiest Muslim country in the world, and for the first time since the decline of the Ottoman Empire, the Turks have incomes on a par with European incomes. In addition, Turkey has amassed significant soft power in the past decade in its Muslim neighborhood. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

With Sequester, Social Services Brace for Cuts

March 8th 2013

American poverty

No one in New York City knows exactly how much local social services will be cut back due to the federal budget sequester which went into effect March 1. However, as the federal cuts take effect over the coming months, budgets for many state, city and private social service agencies that help vulnerable populations will be impacted.     

The sequester was designed by Congress to cut spending across nearly every area of the federal budget. When it began to take effect last Friday, it sent state and city governments, which depend in part on federal funding, and private sector social service agencies that receive federal grants, scrambling for ways to make up a projected shortfall.

“It ain’t going to be good. That we know for sure,” says David Rivel of the Jewish Board of Family and Children Services, which serves 30,000 New Yorkers every year with addiction counseling, homeless services, transportation for the developmentally disabled, mental health care and violence prevention education. Read more ..

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