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Mexico on Edge

OAS Demands Protection for Mexican Human Rights Activists

November 13th 2012

Mexico memorial

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has requested that the Mexican government protect seven Chihuahua rural activists who are spearheading movements against water over-exploitation and mining. The request was issued in favor of leaders of El Barzon, an organization of small farmers founded in the 1990s, and followed the murder of El Barzon activist Ismael Solorio Urrutia and his wife Manuela Martha Solis Contreras in the Chihuahua countryside on October 22.

An El Barzon leader in the north-central region of Chihuahua, Solorio was physically assaulted along with a son last October 13 by men allegedly connected to a Mexican division of the Canadian-owned MAG Silver Corporation, which operates a controversial mine on land belonging to the Benito Juarez Ejido in the municipality of Buenaventura. Read more ..

America on Edge

New Ethnic and Religious Groups in Contention for Next Presidential Election

November 13th 2012

Muslim vote

The elections are over, and the finger-pointing is in. Most factors that contributed to Obama’s advantage and conversely Romney’s weakness have been thoroughly rehashed in the media.

Obama’s more “human” personality, natural appeal for African-Americans, Asian-Americans (the Hawaii connection) and Latinos (immigration), stronger than expected national security and foreign policy record (except the Benghazi embassy tragedy, Bin Laden was killed on his watch – and that’s all that matters to most voters), record-breaking fundraising (being able to out raise businessman Romney is no small thing) and superior “ground-game” operations. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Rocket-Ravaged Israelis Want to Retire to Normal Life

November 12th 2012

Bullet holes and rose

It was a daunting, dismal weekend for Israel’s south, particularly for Israelis living in communities bordering the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Along with the rain, over 100 Gaza rockets struck the south, wounding four Israelis and sending countless others into shock and trauma, while damaging homes, businesses and vehicles.” Beginning Saturday night and continuing onto Monday morning, Gaza rockets have been pounding Israel's south with the Iron Dome system intercepting those headed towards Ashdod, Ashkelon and Beer Sheva. On Monday morning, three Netivot houses hit by a Gaza rocket explosion, which left 10 people in shock and heavy damage.

“I stood in my family’s bomb shelter on our kibbutz today during a siren warning and watched these two people try to run to shelter just as a rocket landed nearby,” said Shir Hermesh, of Sunday's rocket attacks. “They didn't take cover in time and were wounded by rocket shrapnel.” Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Video Shows How Arab Extremists Use Kids to Provoke Israeli Military

November 11th 2012

Click to select Image
IDF soldier observes Palestinian girl. Photo credit: Ehud Amiton (Tazpit)

In a movie clip uploaded recently to YouTube, blond-haired young girls scream at IDF soldiers, try to engage them in some way and attempt to provoke them into a violent reaction.

This incident is part of ongoing and systematic anti-IDF provocation by Arabs, specifically those living in Nabi Tsalach. Riots are scheduled and organized at Nabi Tsalach every Friday, and soldiers are deployed there to prevent the spread of violence.

Tazpit News Agency has documented several of these incidents over the past months, exposing the fact that these are not "spontaneous reactions" to an IDF assault, but rather an orchestrated campaign to slander the IDF. Read more ..

Education on Edge

Preschooler's Counting Abilities Relates to Future Math Performance

November 10th 2012

boy and math

Along with reciting the days of the week and the alphabet, adults often practice reciting numbers with young children. Now, new research from the University of Missouri suggests reciting numbers is not enough to prepare children for math success in elementary school. The research indicates that counting, which requires assigning numerical values to objects in chronological order, is more important for helping preschoolers acquire math skills.

“Reciting means saying the numbers from memory in chronological order, whereas counting involves understanding that each item in the set is counted once and that the last number stated is the amount for the entire set,” said Louis Manfra, an assistant professor in MU’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies. “When children are just reciting, they’re basically repeating what seems like a memorized sentence. When they’re counting, they’re performing a more cognitive activity in which they’re associating a one-to-one correspondence with the object and the number to represent a quantity.”

Manfra analyzed data from more than 3,000 children from low-income households in order to determine if the children’s reciting and counting abilities in preschool affected their first-grade math scores. He found that students who could recite and count to 20 in preschool had the highest math scores in first grade; however, less than 10 percent of the children in the study could count and recite to 20. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Link Found Between Child Prodigies and Autism

November 9th 2012


A new study of eight child prodigies suggests a possible link between these children’s special skills and autism.

Of the eight prodigies studied, three had a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders. As a group, the prodigies also tended to have slightly elevated scores on a test of autistic traits, when compared to a control group.

In addition, half of the prodigies had a family member or a first- or second-degree relative with an autism diagnosis. The fact that half of the families and three of the prodigies themselves were affected by autism is surprising because autism occurs in only one of 120 individuals, said Joanne Ruthsatz, lead author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University’s Mansfield campus.

“The link between child prodigies and autism is strong in our study,” Ruthsatz said. “Our findings suggest child prodigies have traits in common with autistic children, but something is preventing them from displaying the deficits we associate with the disorder.” Read more ..

China on Edge

Tibetan Protests Erupt in Western China

November 9th 2012

Tibetan Protest

Reports from China's western Qinghai Province say hundreds or even thousands of Tibetans marched on government offices Friday.  The protests come amid attempts by China's government to maintain social stability during a political transition.

Tibetans marched on government offices in Rebkong, a region of eastern Tibet, after a series of self-immolations that drew international attention.  Estimates ranged from hundreds to thousands of protesters who began gathering on the streets at 5:00 a.m.  Many said they were speaking out against China's education system.

"Our sources have confirmed that many of the students have been calling for freedom of language and for the return of his Holiness," said Stephanie Brigden, executive director of rights group Free Tibet. Mass protests in Rebkong also occurred in 2010, when demonstrators spoke out against China's plans to replace Tibetan with Chinese as the language of instruction in local schools.

The Edge of Health

Team Finds New Way to Inhibit Blood Clotting and Inflammation

November 8th 2012

Premature Baby

Scientists have identified a group of small molecules that interfere with the activity of a compound that initiates multiple steps in blood clotting, including those that lead to the obstruction of veins or arteries, a condition called thrombosis. Blocking the activity of this compound, polyphosphate, could treat thrombosis with fewer bleeding side effects than the drugs that are currently on the market. Their findings appear in the journal Blood.

Blood clots are formed at the site of an injured blood vessel to prevent blood loss. Sometimes, however, blood clots completely clog an artery or vein and the surrounding tissues are damaged. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that annually, 300,000 to 600,000 Americans are afflicted with deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism, a blocked lung artery that often results from thrombosis, and 60,000 to 100,000 people die each year as a result of these conditions. Read more ..

The New Africa

West Africans Push Traditional Crafts as Economic Engine

November 7th 2012

African Arts

 More than 3,000 artisans from throughout West Africa showcased their creations in wood, bronze, fabric and other mediums at the 13th International Artisan Crafts Festival in the Burkina Faso capital, Ouagadougou. The 10-day fair wrapped up Sunday.

One of the objectives of the biennial crafts festival is to help West Africans thrive where they live - avoiding an exodus to urban capitals or abroad in search of work. Making traditional crafts a viable livelihood depends largely on stability in the region. Assemien Yapo is among the Ivoirians who came to Ouagadougou for the festival - a significantly larger group this year than was able to come in 2010, when Côte d’Ivoire was gripped by political unrest.

The Ivoirian government and artisans’ associations are working on revitalizing the sector as part of overall recovery and development efforts. Yapo said Ivoirians are working toward giving artisanship its rightful place in the country's economy. He said this kind of work not only can be a livelihood for individuals, but also a veritable job creator in Côte d’Ivoire. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Climate Change Could Alter Eating Habits

November 7th 2012

Arid Desert

Climate change might force changes in diets around the world as certain staple foods become harder to produce, according to international agriculture researchers.

However, future shortfalls could be offset by switching to crops which can thrive in those altered climates, according to new reports by the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research. Important crops like maize and wheat produce less grain at temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius. “Those kinds of temperatures are being reached on a regular basis and more frequently in many countries now,” says Sonja Vermeulen, head of CGIAR climate change research.

Widespread changes
Vermeulen says growing-season temperatures are not the only factors affected by climate change. Rainfall patterns are shifting, too. Water supplies will be strained in some areas, while others will see more floods. Freshly threshed rice near Sangrur, India. Salt water encroachment, flooding and droughts are more likely as the climate changes, which could impact crops such as rice.

Climate change is also altering habitats for pests and diseases, she says. "And for some crops, particularly crops we really value, such as potatoes, we think those are really likely to increase and change in their patterns in the future.” Rice will not be spared, either. Higher temperatures, salt water encroachment, more flooding and more droughts are likely as the climate changes.

Maize vs. millet
Some crops in some regions will be able to adapt, “But for others, we’re really going to have to think about switching out of growing some crops entirely,” Vermeulen says. For example, by later this century large parts of Africa will no longer be suitable for growing maize. Sorghum, millet and cassava are becoming better options. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

America Goes to the Polls

November 6th 2012

us voters

Polling stations have opened on the east coast of the United States, kicking off local, state, and national elections that include a presidential race that polls suggest will come right down to the wire. Voters are deciding whether to give Democratic President Barack Obama another term or put his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, in the White House. On the last day of campaigning on November 5, Obama called on voters in Des Moines, Iowa, to keep the country moving forward.
"When we decide to make a difference, when Americans come together, determined to bring about change, nobody can stop us. We cannot be stopped," Obama said.

"And after all that we've been through together, after all that we've fought through together, we cannot give up on change now." At a rally in Columbus, Ohio, Romney urged people to vote for change. "The door to a brighter future is there. It's open. It's waiting for us," Romney said.


Inside America

Church-Going Teens Go Further with School

November 5th 2012


For many American teens, the road to college goes through the chapel. Sociologists from Brigham Young University and Rice University found religiously-affiliated youth are 40 percent more likely to graduate high school than their unaffiliated peers and 70 percent more likely to enroll in college. The researchers note that teens’ fellow church-goers are an important factor, serving as mentors who help teens set their sights high.

"Youth have a unique chance to form relationships with peers and mentors outside of their classroom at school or their neighborhood at home," said Lance Erickson, the lead study author and a sociologist at BYU. "Mentors especially care for, counsel with and encourage youth throughout their growing years in a way that teachers and parents might not be able to." Read more ..

South Sudan on Edge

Rights Groups: No Justice on South Sudan's Death Row

November 5th 2012

South Sudan Death Row Inmates

Rights groups are calling for a moratorium on the death penalty in South Sudan, the world’s newest nation where the legal system may be sending people to the gallows who have not been granted basic rights and may well be innocent.

The clinking of shackles has followed 45-year old Mary Sezerina for seven years, reminding her of a crime she says she committed when not of sound mind.

Speaking through a translator, Widow Sezerina says that she killed her sister-in-law in the heat of the moment, on one of her trips to steal things from the family home as Sezerina was struggling to feed five young children.

“She says that that time she killed was the devil’s intention and it was stronger than me," said the translator. "Now that she is in prison, her heart is free and she has nothing against this person and the other relatives, but this is the life," she said. Read more ..

Mexico on Edge

Mexicans Outraged by Crime Take Security Matters into Their Own Hands

November 5th 2012

Protester Michoacan Mexico

In the final days of the Calderon presidency, anti-crime uprisings are spreading in parts of rural Mexico. Similar to the “citizen uprisings” in the Michoacan indigenous communities of Cheran and Urapicho, residents in a section of neighboring Guerrero state have now taken security matters into their own hands.

The most recent flashpoint is an indigenous zone known as La Cañada, where hundreds of armed residents responded to the ringing of a church bell, women disarmed the local police and locals set up barricades at the entrances to the town of Olinala on October 27. Classes were suspended, and an evening curfew ordered. Infuriated residents also set fire to a home and vehicles belonging to suspected criminals.

Only days later, on October 30, residents of the town of Cualac reportedly took similar action, while inhabitants of Temalacatzingo were also assuming security duties. Read more ..

Kenya on Edge

Kenyan Minibus Driver Seeks to Unionize to Stop Road Rage

November 4th 2012


Known for their erratic driving and frequent flouting of traffic laws, Kenyan public minibus drivers are either loved or hated. One driver wants to form a union in order to improve the quality of life for his colleagues, while helping to contribute to safer roads.

Called “matatus,” Kenya’s 14-seat minibuses account for roughly 11 percent of the more than one-million registered vehicles in the country, according to the World Health Organization. Trying to pick up as many passengers as possible during the day, matatu drivers are known for cutting off other motorists, overlapping long lines of waiting vehicles, driving at unsafe speeds, and showing general disregard for traffic laws.

Having worked as a matatu driver for 10 years, James Kariuki argues life is not easy for himself and his colleagues. He said he must pay the matatu owner about $53 per day for the use of the vehicle; he also needs to make enough money for fuel, police bribes, gang protection, and incidentals like tire-puncture repairs. Additionally, he hires a “conductor” who solicits passengers from the side door. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Kazakh Women Describe Slavery Ordeal In Moscow

November 3rd 2012

Abused woman

Two Kazakh women have said they were lured into slavery in Moscow on the promise of a job and held in captivity in a supermarket for 10 years where they were beaten and forced to work. Leila Ashirova, 26, and Bakiya Kasymova said they were among 14 migrants from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, including three children, rescued from slavery by a pair of Russian civic activists in the capital on October 29. 

"I personally worked there 10 years and I never left the shop once. I tried a couple of times and they beat me," Kasymova said. The
alleged captives were freed by civic activists Oleg Melnikov and Danil Medvedev who went to the shop accompanied by several local Russian TV crews after they received a tip-off from Leila’s mother Tazhinar Ashirova. 

Pakistan on Edge

Malala's Schoolmate Says Taliban Bullet Has Only Strengthened Her Resolve

November 3rd 2012

Kainat Ahmad
Kainat Ahmad

Recovered after being struck by a Taliban bullet, 16-year-old Kainat Ahmad is now focused on two things -- continuing her education and seeing her best friend again. Ahmad was wounded during the attempted murder last month of teen peace activist Malala Yousafzai, targeted by the Pakistani Taliban for her criticism of the hard-line group's influence in the restive Swat Valley.

On November 1, Ahmad returned to the girls' school she and Malala attend in Mingora, the capital of the Swat district. Ahmad spent nearly a week in a hospital in Mingora after being struck by a bullet in her right arm when Taliban gunman fired on the vehicle she and Malala were riding in. Malala is slowly recovering in a British hospital from a serious bullet wound to her head. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russia's Internet 'Blacklist' Law Sparks Free-Speech Fears

November 2nd 2012

Russian computer user

Russian authorities have been given the green light to shut down websites carrying information deemed harmful to children. A controversial new law came into effect on November 1 under which authorities can now close down sites promoting child pornography, suicide, or substance abuse, without the need for a court decision. The law also targets sites that a court has ruled extremist.

The legislation, formally intended to protect children from offensive Internet content, has prompted fears it could be co-opted to stifle the lively political debate taking place on the Russian Internet.

"This law can be seen as one of the elements that can, if the need arises, curb freedom of speech," information rights expert Ilya Rassolov says. The law is the latest in a raft of restrictive bills pushed through parliament in recent months, including legislation that dramatically hiked fines on protesters, made libel a criminal offense, and forced foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations to register as "foreign agents." Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

The Latest Word On The Afghan Street

November 1st 2012

Afghan street

In the latest twist in the controversy over naming Afghan streets after national heroes, the governor of Afghanistan's western Herat Province, Daud Shah Saba, has said that Afghan law stipulates that streets can only be named after people who died at least 50 years ago.

But municipal officials in Herat say the city is unlikely to change the names of two major thoroughfares in the city, which are named after mujahedin commander Ahmad Shah Masud and Mirwais Sadiq, a former civil aviation minister and son of Herati strongman Ismail Khan. Masud was killed in 2001, Sadiq in 2004.

Afghan officials, as well as the public, are sharply divided over the issue of naming streets and institutions after former anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban leaders or their allies. Supporters see such steps as honoring the service and sacrifice of these figures. Opponents consider the bestowing of such honors as inciting further hatred and division among Afghans, some of whom see these jihadi figures as symbols of the suffering that Afghans endured during the civil war in the 1990s. Read more ..

China on Edge

China Prepares for Leadership Transition

November 1st 2012

Chinese swearing in

Senior Chinese Communist leaders have gathered amid heavy security for a closed-door meeting in Beijing, where they will put the finishing touches on a once-a-decade leadership handover that officially begins next week.

China's state-run Xinhua news agency said the final gathering of the Communist Party's 17th Central Committee opened Thursday. The short memo said that changes to the party's constitution and other proposals are being discussed.

Expected to last for about a week, the meeting will likely result in the formal expulsion of disgraced politician and former Politburo member Bo Xilai, who is expected to stand trial soon for corruption and other charges. It also represents one of the last chances for Communist leaders to haggle over party leadership positions to be unveiled at the 18th Party Congress beginning next Thursday. Read more ..

American History

Fifty Years after the Port Huron Statement: a Radical Transformation?

November 1st 2012

SDS at University of Michigan 1968


This year, as The Port Huron Statement turns 50, we look back at what changed when this manifesto was written, calling for a nation of activists to rise up and revolutionize society. Sixty-thousand copies of the statement were distributed in the 1960s. Today, scholars and alumni weigh in on whether the writing had an impact—or whether it was dust in the wind.

In June 1962, 59 activists, mostly students, were holed up in a United Auto Workers (UAW) camp in Port Huron, Michigan. They were debating the contents of a manifesto that, they hoped, would be a clarion call to build a movement of college students to challenge the state of American society: the hypocrisy of racial segregation, the overblown rhetoric of the Cold War, the pervasiveness of poverty in the world’s richest nation, and the apathy of its citizenry. Read more ..

America on Edge

Woman Moves Into Commonly Male Domain

October 31st 2012

Volvo truck

Almost one-third of small businesses in the United States is owned by women. That number is on the rise, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, especially in fields which were once dominated by men.

Chances are, a few decades ago, a moving company, with all of its trucks and heavy duty equipment, would have been owned by a man. But Apple Transfer, a company located in Fredericksburg, Virginia, belongs to Barbara Ayers.

She is president and CEO of the company, which helps move households and businesses all across the U.S., and overseas. Ayers started the company with her brother Joe Garlick, in 1988. When they started out, it was just the two of them.

“We actually had one small truck, on trade," she says. "He did the moving and I took care of the office." Today, she oversees a fleet of trucks and a large storage facility, employing up to 100 people during peak moving season. Read more ..

Islam's War Against Christianity

Muslim Persecution of Christians Continues

October 31st 2012

Coptic Girl

The aftermath of collective punishment for Pakistan's Christians—the inevitable byproduct of the notorious Rimsha Masih blasphemy case, concerning a possibly mentally challenged, 14-year-old Christian girl falsely accused of desecrating a Quran—was more dramatic than the blasphemy case itself. Indeed, knowing what was in store for them, some Christians even held a symbolic funeral procession, carrying a Christian leader in a coffin and digging a grave for the "deceased."

Their apprehension proved too true—especially after another pretext for Muslims to riot emerged: the YouTube Muhammad video. After Friday prayers, Muslims attacked, killed, and robbed the Christians in their midst, who account for a miniscule 1.5% of Pakistan's population. St. Paul's Church in Mardan was attacked by hundreds of Muslims armed with clubs and sticks. After looting and desecrating the church, they set it on fire (see picture here). Next, Muslims raided a nearby church-run school; they looted and torched it, as well, and burned down a library containing more than 3,000 Christian books. Although the library also contained thousands of books on Islam—making the Muslim mobs' actions blasphemous under Pakistan's law—"the attack continued for more than three hours, with minimal efforts by the authorities to stop it." Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

Turkish Government Allows Kurdish Language Classes

October 30th 2012

Kurdish Newspaper

Years of Turkish state policies of assimilation have put the Kurdish language under threat. But now the government is allowing Kurdish classes as part of the government's policy to ease restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language.

Halil Cecem is giving an elementary lesson in Kurdish to university medical students at Diyarbakir's Dicle University. Until the late 1980s, the Kurdish language did not officially exist and speaking it was a serious offense. But Kurdish classes are part of the government's policy to ease restrictions on its use. Cecem welcomes the move. He says it is a beautiful feeling because the people had so many expectations, and the government responded. He says unfortunately it has taken many years - 50 to 60 - and it is only just being implemented. Read more ..

South Africa on Edge

South Africa’s Census Reflects Progress

October 30th 2012

Jacob Zuma

South Africa’s census shows the nation is fifth in African population, with 51.7 million people. President Jacob Zuma said the census shows progress in the African economic powerhouse.  President Jacob Zuma said the 2011 census shows South Africa is young, and on the rise.

The 2011 census, released Tuesday, shows the nation has 51.7 million people, an increase from 44.8 million in 2001. That puts South Africa well behind Nigeria, the African population leader with 166 million people, according to U.N. estimates.  Ethiopia, Egypt and Congo come next.

Two South African provinces led in growth: Gauteng province, home of the Johannesburg-Pretroia metroplex was up 33 percent. And the Western Cape, home of Cape Town, saw its population increase 28.7 percent.

The census lists 79.2 percent of the population as black, a small increase from the last census, and 8.9 percent of the counted population is listed as white, a slight decrease. In a speech to ministers, Mr. Zuma said nine out of 10 households have access to water, and 73 percent use electricity as a main source of cooking.  But he said almost 13 percent of the population lives in shack settlements. Read more ..

Inside America

Greater Effort Needed to Move Local and Fresh Foods beyond 'Privileged' Consumers

October 29th 2012

Delucas Market boston ma by electric porcupine

An Indiana University study that looked at consumers who buy locally grown and produced foods through farmer's markets and community-supported agriculture programs found the venues largely attract a "privileged" class of shoppers. "Our findings present a need for broadening local food opportunities beyond the privileged, higher-income consumer, through alternative payment plans and strategic efforts that make fresh foods accessible to a diversity of people," said James Farmer, assistant professor in the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Studies in the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington.

The study focused on farmer's markets and CSAs in Indiana, which has more than 130 farmer's markets and more than 50 CSAs. In a CSA, individuals pay an upfront fee, usually $250 to $700, in exchange for a routine allotment of a farm's bounty. This can include fruits and vegetables, along with eggs, meat, dairy products and other goods. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Mammoth Storm Impacts US Political Campaigning

October 29th 2012

Mitt Romney


Israel on Edge

Israel's Reality: Government Approves Construction of Bomb-Proof Homes

October 28th 2012

Samage in Ashkelon

srael's government Sunday approved a plan to spend NIS 270 million to fortify homes within rocket range of the Gaza Strip.

The plan will include building "safe" rooms for 26 Israeli towns within 4 to 7 kilometers of the Gaza Strip. Some 1,700 homes in those areas will be provided with "safe" rooms that withstand rocket attacks. Schools within 15 kilometers of the strip will also be fortified. Since the pullout of Israeli troops and communities from the Gaza Strip in 2005, terrorists in the Hamas-governed territory have fired thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians.

The government authorized Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to find a funding source for the plan within 30 days. “We are doing this because attacks by rockets and missiles at shorter distances are much greater in the area around the Gaza Strip than at other distances,” the prime minister said. “I think that this is what residents of the south have been hoping for; they have been calling for it for a long time.” Read more ..

Russia on Edge

It's All About Image: Russia's New National Pride Agency

October 27th 2012

Russian girl

The Kremlin is hoping to restore national pride in Russia with the creation of a new agency in charge of promoting patriotism. The agency will be part of the presidential administration and, according to the Kremlin's website, will be tasked with strengthening "the spiritual and moral foundations of Russian society" and improving "government policies in the field of patriotic upbringing." President Vladimir Putin formally ordered the creation of the new structure, the Directorate for Social Projects, on October 20. The initiative has drawn mixed reactions, with critics dismissing it as a Soviet-style scheme aimed at consolidating the Kremlin's power base and curbing an unprecedented youth-driven protest movement against Putin's 12-year rule. Read more ..

Ecuador on Edge

Limits to Information Access and Press Freedom in Ecuador

October 26th 2012

Human Rights press

Access to information and the freedom of the press are internationally recognized human rights.  These rights are essential for the public’s participation in government decision-making, the maintenance of government accountability, and the defense of basic guarantees. These two rights have roots in the world’s first freedom of information act adopted by the Swedish parliament in 1766, better known as the Swedish Freedom of Press Act. In a testament to the linguistic implications behind the act, the rights of press freedom and information access were officially identified as “civil liberties” in 1982, when some of the first Freedom of Information (FOI) laws were enacted. The right of access to information and the freedom of the press became interdependent because one’s access to information depends on another’s ability to exercise their freedom of expression. Read more ..

Afganistan on Edge

British Ministers: Women's Rights Key to Stable Afghanistan

October 26th 2012

Afgan Women in Burka

British ministers say the development program in Afghanistan is failing to protect the rights of Afghan women. A new government report says Britain should reconsider its ambition of building Afghan government institutions and instead focus on more traditional aid targets, especially women's rights.

British parliamentarian Malcolm Bruce chaired a new study advising Britain's Department for International Development on its program in Afghanistan. Bruce says Britain is not doing enough to make sure women's rights are protected.

"They have benefited a lot from the end of the Taliban and from the period if you like of international engagement," said Bruce.  "Many of them are really concerned that the gains could be lost and there is certainly evidence that it is being pushed back."

Of nearly 100 projects funded by Britain in Afghanistan, Bruce says only two of those are directly or explicitly focused on women. In some regions of Afghanistan women's rights have improved since the Taliban fell over a decade ago. 3.2 million girls are now studying, that's a concrete improvement following the ban on female education under Taliban rule in the 1990s. Read more ..

Cambodia on Edge

Illegal Fishing Threatens Tonle Sap Lake Villagers' Livelihood

October 25th 2012

Tonie Sap Lake

Villagers on Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia, who depend on fishing for subsistence, say their livelihoods are threatened by illegal commercial fishing, which continues after a government ban.  And they say authorities in charge of enforcing the ban are being bribed to look the other way.

Despite a government ban on commercial fishing across Tonle Sap Lake - the largest lake in Southeast Asia -- fishing communities say bribery of corrupt local officials has meant the illegal practice is actually increasing. The ban was meant to decrease the rapid overfishing of the lake, a major source of food for much of the country.

Mao Penh, the head of one local fishing community, says law enforcement officials are “colluding” with illegal fishing operations. “One side took the money and closed their eyes while the other went for the illegal fishing.  The law enforcement officials are colluding with offenders; that's 50-50. This is what's happening in my village these days,” he said. Read more ..

Inside Ethiopia

Ethiopia to Introduce Mobile Banking

October 25th 2012

Mobile Banking

Ethiopia is one of the few remaining African countries to introduce mobile banking. With the booming economy and a population of 80 million this country could be the next gold mine for mobile banking companies.

Mobile banking has proved to be a lucrative venture in the developing world, where large parts of the population belong to the so-called "unbanked."  In Africa, only Ethiopia and Zimbabwe do not provide mobile money services.  That will change soon for Ethiopia.

BelCash and M-Birr are mobile banking technology providers that have been in Ethiopia for the last three years to set up mobile banking and mobile money services. Dutch company BelCash is focused on mobile banking, working in partnership with banks to provide easier access to finance through bank accounts. Ireland-based M-Birr is a mobile money service that works with micro finance institutions where no registration at a bank is needed. Read more ..

Inside Cuba

From Persecution To Acceptance? The History Of LGBT Rights In Cuba

October 24th 2012


Since the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the island nation has received low scores in many human rights indices for reported assaults on freedom of speech, expression, religion, and basic due process. Outside of these violations, historians regard the 1960s as an even more repressive decade for one Cuban community in particular: the country’s homosexual population. Indeed this group has only recently witnessed an opening of civil liberties for them. While the record of their treatment today is certainly not perfect, there are clear signs of a gradual but serious shift from Cuba’s previously anti-LGBT policies to a modern tendency of equal treatment and respect for all sexual orientations.

Even in pre-Revolutionary Cuba, the island’s society relegated the homosexual community to the few LGBT-friendly bars in Cuban cities. Moreover, strict laws criminalized homosexuality and targeted gay men in particular for harassment. In the 1930s, Cuba enacted the Public Ostentation Law, which encouraged the harassment of LGBTs who refused to hide their orientation. At this time, Cuba’s legislation toward the LGBT community was essentially no different from what was being done in the rest of Latin America, nor the continent’s colonial ancestors, Spain and Portugal.

Homosexuality in Cuba Under Castro
The Cuban Revolution seemed to present hope for improved living conditions for the many afflicted members of the community, and hope for a new outlook on old social mores quickly spread across the island. Many gay men were in favor of the Revolution and even supported longtime Cuban President Fidel Castro. However, despite professed egalitarianism, Castro’s government in reality was no kinder to the LGBT community than the pre-revolutionary governments. Castro and the other leading revolutionaries considered homosexuality a devious product of capitalism, which had to be rooted out entirely from society. For example, Che Guevara’s definition of the socialist “New Man” in part necessitated a strong and unambiguously heterosexual male. This view was not unique to the Castro regime, and could be found in the ideologies of many leaders from other communist countries. For example, the USSR and China routinely persecuted the LGBT community. As ironic as it may seem, communist thinking at the time consistently ignored the LGBT community. Read more ..

The Human Edge

Grandmas Made Humans Live Longer

October 24th 2012

Mother child Ethiopa

Computer simulations provide new mathematical support for the "grandmother hypothesis" – a famous theory that humans evolved longer adult lifespans than apes because grandmothers helped feed their grandchildren.

"Grandmothering was the initial step toward making us who we are," says Kristen Hawkes, a distinguished professor of anthropology at the University of Utah and senior author of the new study published Oct. 24 by the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The simulations indicate that with only a little bit of grandmothering – and without any assumptions about human brain size – animals with chimpanzee lifespans evolve in less than 60,000 years so they have a human lifespan. Female chimps rarely live past child-bearing years, usually into their 30s and sometimes their 40s. Human females often live decades past their child-bearing years.

The findings showed that from the time adulthood is reached, the simulated creatures lived another 25 years like chimps, yet after 24,000 to 60,000 years of grandmothers caring for grandchildren, the creatures who reached adulthood lived another 49 years – as do human hunter-gatherers. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Putin Creates Agency To Restore Russia's National Pride

October 24th 2012


The Kremlin is hoping to restore national pride in Russia with the creation of a new agency in charge of promoting patriotism. The agency will be part of the presidential administration and, according to the Kremlin's website, will be tasked with strengthening "the spiritual and moral foundations of Russian society" and improving "government policies in the field of patriotic upbringing."

President Vladimir Putin formally ordered the creation of the new structure, the Directorate for Social Projects, on October 20.

The initiative has drawn mixed reactions, with critics dismissing it as a Soviet-style scheme aimed at consolidating the Kremlin's power base and curbing an unprecedented youth-driven protest movement against Putin's 12-year rule.

Nikolai Petrov is a political analyst at the Carnegie Center in Moscow: "As an antidote to political protests, the Kremlin is using ideology and counting on the quiet, archaic masses who don't want change," says Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst at the Carnegie Center in Moscow. "This is why this newly created body will deal primarily with ideological issues."'

'Spiritual And Moral Values'
The idea behind the Directorate for Social Projects was first formulated by Putin last month during his visit to the southern Russian city of Krasnodar, where he toured a presidential cadet school and held a roundtable discussion on patriotism with top government officials and cultural luminaries.

Indonesia on Edge

Sunni Sectarianism and the Re-emergence of Jihadism in Indonesia

October 24th 2012

Indonesian Sunnis
Indonesian Sunnis

Events in Indonesia during September 2012 raised concerns that the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation may be taking a turn toward hardline Islamism. A major government official openly called for the elimination of Shiite Islam from Indonesia, and the Buddhist minority was the target of a foiled bombing. These developments may cause the future of Indonesia’s tolerant Islam to be reassessed.

Indonesia experienced two events in September 2012 which may signal a turning point in the campaign run by Indonesia’s Sunni Islamists to install Sharia as the law of the state. The first is the religious affairs minister’s inflammatory statements against Shiite Islam, which may indicate that Sunni Islamists have accelerated their plans to damage the diversity within Indonesian Islam. The second is the discovery of a suicide bombing plot against Indonesia’s Buddhist minority, which could signal that dormant jihadists may be newly emboldened. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russia Marks Tenth Anniversary of the Siege of the Moscow Theatre

October 23rd 2012

Russian memorial to Moscow victims

Time has not eased Dmitry Milovidov's grief over the death of his 14-year old daughter, Nina, in the Moscow theater siege. Milovidov stills struggles to contain his anger as he recounts Nina's 57-hour ordeal at the hands of Chechen rebels and the botched rescue operation that took her life 10 years ago.

Like most of the 130 hostages who died in the siege, Nina was killed by the knockout gas pumped into the Dubrovka theater to subdue the militants. "The chemical affected her respiratory system and halted her breathing," Milovidov says. "How long can a person live without breathing? Then her heart stopped beating. That's what was done to our children." Read more ..

Mexico on Edge

The Tragedy of Human Bondage and Trafficking South of the Border

October 23rd 2012

Mexican women protesters
Mexican women protesting against feminicide.

“Each year, thousands of people are trafficked within and across our borders to serve as sex slaves or un-free labor in U.S. homes, fields and factories. Many enter via our southern border with Mexico, after having been trafficked within or across Mexico from other parts of the Americas and beyond…enslaved migrant laborers are often seen simply as undocumented workers who are in the country illegally, while sex trafficking victims are merely prostitutes plying an illegal trade..”

The above passages were from a program backgrounder to a timely conference held this past week at the University of New Mexico (UNM) in Albuquerque: “Borderline Slavery: Contemporary Issues in Border Security and the Human Trade.”

Sponsored by UNM’s Latin American and Iberian Institute and in cooperation with colleagues from New Mexico State, the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and other academic institutions, the event drew borderlands scholars, journalists, legal professionals and students. Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

The Exact Spot of Julius Caesar's Murder Discovered

October 23rd 2012

Torre Argentina Rome

Archaeologists from Spain's National Science Council (CSIC) have found the exact spot where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by Brutus and conspirators in Rome, approximately 45 years before the birth of Christ. They have found a structure that Caesar's adoptive son built in honor of the fallen conqueror of Gaul.

Located in what is known as the Curia of Pompey, the concrete structure measures three meters wide and over two meters high, and was erected by order of Augustus (adoptive son and successor of Julius Caesar) to condemn the assassination of his father. The location of the structure provided the key the researchers needed to find the spot of the murder immortalized by Classical chroniclers and William Shakespeare. Read more ..

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