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Chile on the Edge

Chile Dusts Itself Off and Shines following Devastating Earthquake

March 15th 2010

Disaster - Chile earthquake

In Latin American terms, it couldn't have happened to a better country. Chile is struggling with the aftermath of the February 27 early morning earthquake. It was estimated to be the fifth strongest in the last 100 years, with a magnitude of 8.8 on the Richter scale. So far the death toll in Chile has reached 800. The devastation affected the whole country, but especially the central and southern regions.

Half of the victims died in a tsunami that swept across 500 kilometres of the coast shortly after the earthquake. More than 350 died in the coastal town of Constitución. Between the tremors and the tsunami, more than 500,000 houses collapsed. Two million people have been affected, bridges have collapsed, roads have cracked, hospitals have been destroyed. According to Eqecat, an American company specialising in risk estimates, the cost of the damage could be between US$15 and 30 billion, which represents about 10–15 percent of Chile’s GDP.

But this was a calamity with which the most developed Latin American country, with a strong democracy and with solid institutions, can cope with. Despite some looting and violence in cities like Concepción—which was worst hit—Chile will survive. Read more ..

Significant Lives

Arnold Forster Fought for Decades Against Anti-Semitism and Extremism

March 15th 2010

Jewish Organizations - Arnold Forster

The Jewish teaching of Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Ba-Zeh (“All Jews are responsible for one another”) comes to mind when one considers the remarkable life and incredible achievements of Arnold Forster.

In a career spanning nearly 60 years with the Anti-Defamation League, Forster was perhaps the very embodiment of this quintessential rabbinic teaching. An attorney who fought against anti-Semitism and extremism and who advocated for civil rights and the State of Israel, Forster, 97, who passed away in March, has left us a towering legacy.

In his many years at ADL, he created an impressive body of writings on anti-Semitism, and an equally impressive record in the courts defending the civil rights of All Americans. He did so with tireless devotion, both in his personal and professional life, to the fight against religious prejudice and discrimination.

Arnold was a force of nature. He was a powerful and mesmerizing public speaker and any time one was in a meeting with him, his was a presence that could not be ignored.

He had a remarkable instinct for finding the right instrument to publicize matters of concern to the Jewish community. Through press conferences and the revelation of documented information, he, together with his longtime colleague then-ADL National Director Benjamin R. Epstein, exposed those American companies that observed the Arab boycott and refused to do business with Israel.

This was a time when there was no anti-boycott legislation, and Arnold understood that public exposure of these companies was the only weapon at our disposal. And he played it to a fare-thee-well. Read more ..

Cambodia on the Edge

Cambodia Urged to Act Against Culture of Rape and Sex Crimes

March 8th 2010

Asia Topics - Cambodian Family of Rape Victim
Family of Cambodian Child Rape Victim

Amnesty International says rape and sexual crimes committed mainly against women and children has become a growing problem in Cambodia. To mark the 100th International Women's Day, the human-rights group Amnesty International is releasing a report on the scourge of rape and sexual violence in Cambodia. Amnesty's report, called Breaking the Silence, criticizes what it says is a culture of impunity, corruption, and indifference to victims of sexual violence. The result is justice denied for Cambodian women, and increasingly for Cambodian girls.

During its research, Amnesty interviewed 30 victims of rape, as well as 50 non-government aid workers, police and government officials, and even a number of perpetrators. Brittis Edman, who wrote the report, explains its focus, “What we specifically looked at is the aftermath of rape, what are the obstacles that victims face when they seek justice and when they seek access to services.” Read more ..

Latin America on the Edge

Will Climate Change Drive Migration in Latin America and Beyond?

March 1st 2010

Mexican Topics - Mexico Flood

Typhoon Morakot, the unusually strong tropical storm that hit South East Asia in mid-August 2009, displacing more than 1.5 million people in China alone, is only one of the most recent natural disasters that raise questions about environmental change and its link to migration. This link has increasingly attracted attention over the past few years, in particular since 2007, when the 4th Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report confirmed that human migration would be one of the most important consequences of anthropogenic climate change. The manifestations of environmental change derived from human activities notably include sea level rise (SLR), intensified drought or rainfall, and the increasing attracted recurrence and strength of natural hazards such as hurricanes. Read more ..

Edge on Mental Health

Wounded Warriors Have a New Weapon to Fight Depression

February 22nd 2010

Military - Soldier Crying

The University of Michigan Depression Center is partnering with the Real Warriors Campaign, a successful United States Department of Defense public education initiative designed to combat the stigma associated with seeking care for PTSD, depression, sleep disturbances, and traumatic brain injury. Originally geared toward servicemen and women, the partnership seeks to encourage athletes to also get the care they need, and to use their powerful voices to convey that getting help is a sign of strength.

Players on the football field have expressed similar concerns to real warriors on the battlefield, and have been rapidly learning that real strength comes from seeking help and returning to their team.

“The stigma around seeking care for PTSD, depression, TBI and related issues can be overcome,” says John Greden, M.D., executive director of the U-M Depression Center. “Players and veterans in sports, and soldiers and veterans in the military are learning that they are not alone, that treatment works, that buddies and teammates can help, and that getting help is a sign of real strength. As a center that has developed special programs specifically to help members of the military and athletes overcome these barriers, we are proud to be partnering with the Real Warriors Campaign.” Read more ..

Campus Distress

A Week of Uncivil Discourse on Campus

February 15th 2010

Palestine Topics - Irvine California arrest

Anti-Israel individuals and groups on college campuses are beginning to show a pattern underlying a shift in the form of their anti-Israel activities which attack the very core of what many consider the most important aspect of the university experience, the free flow of information and opinion. Just in the last week we have seen the following events take place at UC Irvine, UCLA, and York University in Canada, Cambridge and Oxford Universities in Great Britain.

On February 1, at York University in Toronto, 20 Jewish students who had gathered to raise awareness of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and terrorist acts committed by Hamas were surrounded by about 50 protestors chanting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic slurs. Two of the Jewish students were slapped, one on the arm and one across the face (http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/JewishNews/Article.aspx?id=168116).

On February 3, during his lecture at Oxford University, Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon was heckled by a Muslim student who shouted, among other things, "Itbah Al-Yahud" - "kill the Jews" (http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?id=168320).

On February 7, the Israel Society at Cambridge University canceled a talk by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev historian Benny Morris after protesters accused him of "Islamophobia" and "racism" (http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/JewishNews/Article.aspx?id=167972).

Edge of Health

Eating Dinner as a Family Reduces Childhood Obesity

February 8th 2010

Social Topics - Childhood Obesity

A new national study suggests that preschool-aged children are likely to have a lower risk for obesity if they regularly engage in one or more of three specific household routines: eating dinner as a family, getting adequate sleep and limiting their weekday television viewing time.

In a large sample of the U.S. population, the study showed that 4-year-olds living in homes with all three routines had an almost 40 percent lower prevalence of obesity than did children living in homes that practiced none of these routines.

Other studies have linked obesity to the individual behaviors of excessive TV viewing, a lack of sleep and, to a lesser extent, a low frequency of family meals. But this is the first study to assess the combination of all three routines with obesity prevalence in a national sample of preschoolers.

The researchers suggested that adopting these three household routines could be an attractive obesity-prevention strategy for all families with young children, especially because these routines may benefit children's overall development. However, they also cautioned that this study alone does not confirm whether the routines themselves, or some other factor, protect children from obesity. Read more ..

Inside Saudi Arabia

Saudi Public Opinion: A Rare Look

February 1st 2010

Arab Topics - Saudi princes

What issues are of concern to ordinary Saudis? How does the average citizen view the state of the domestic economy? What are the prevailing public attitudes toward religious extremism? As in most countries, long-term stability in Saudi Arabia is ultimately dependent -- to one degree or another -- on popular acceptance of the current system. Even in the short term, the Saudi government, while far from democratic, is no doubt sensitive to social crosscurrents and diverse reactions to its initiatives. As a result, understanding Saudi public opinion is an important part of gauging the country's likely future direction. Opinion polls, however, are almost unknown in the kingdom, and anecdotal or indirect measures of these very delicate subjects are notoriously unreliable.

To help remedy this analytical deficiency, the following paragraphs present a rare data-based perspective on current political and social issues in Saudi Arabia, as viewed by that kingdom's own citizens. This survey reveals a moderately satisfied public—but one that is also concerned about economic conditions. More surprising, it shows clearly that many Saudis are willing to express concerns about corruption and religious extremism. Most also want new political steps such as local elections—but, again contrary to some Western misconceptions, this dimension of public life is not nearly as high on their agenda as other issues. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Fifty Years of The Pill... and Counting

January 25th 2010

Social Topics - The Pill

On May 9, 1960, the FDA took the momentous step of approving the contraceptive pill for birth control.

The acceptance of the hormonal contraceptive pill has been cited as one of the most important historical events of the 20th century because of its effects on marriage and family life. In this paper, I would like to discuss the medical history of the development of the pill, presenting historical events primarily from the perspective of science and scientists, but also – and necessarily – from the perspective of other personalities outside of science whose contributions to the cause were just as important.

I will focus on the 50 year period from 1910 – the year of the birth of reproductive endocrinology as a scientific discipline – to 1960 – the year in which the first orally active hormonal contraceptive was first approved for sale to the general public in the US.

At the turn of the 20th century, there was growing confidence in the power of the medical sciences to finally understand human physiology and the patho-physiology of diseases. The source of this confidence was due in no small part to advances in the field of endocrinology: the study of hormones and the glands that produce them.

The term "hormone" was coined in 1905 by the British physiologist Ernest Starling, after the Greek word meaning "to incite to activity". In the early 20th century, a variety of chemicals were found to have "hormonal" effects in humans: they were produced in one tissue, entered the bloodstream and incited a specific effect on another distant and unrelated tissue. Insulin, thyroxine,testosterone and cortisone were discovered at this time and were found to have remarkable restorative properties when given to patients with a number of common diseases. Read more ..

Religious Freedom

Renewed Violence Against Egypt's Coptic Christians

January 18th 2010

Christian Topics - Coptic Girl

On January 6—Christmas Eve according to the Eastern Orthodox calendar—six Coptic Christians and a policeman were killed in a drive-by shooting while exiting church in Naga Hammadi, Upper Egypt. The attack, which came in retaliation to an alleged rape of a twelve-year-old Muslim girl by a Christian man, was the largest assault on Copts in Egypt since a January 2000 massacre left twenty dead in Sohag. The days since the shooting have been marked by violent clashes and the burning of Christian and Muslim property.

These developments have unfolded against the background of increased political pressure on Islamists—evoking the 1990s, when the killing of Copts by Islamist militants was a routine occurrence and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) was banned from political participation. Thus, while Naga Hammadi might be an isolated incident, it could also presage the return of Egypt's Islamists to the bloody sectarian attacks of the 1990s.

Coptic Christians constitute nearly 10 percent of Egypt's population at 8 million strong. Long integrated into Egyptian society, the community was politically marginalized after Gamal Abdul Nasser's 1952 coup. Although Copts have since served in prominent positions such as minister of finance and foreign affairs, they have not held the premiership—which they did twice prior to 1952—or served as minister of defense or interior. And with only six members in the 444-seat parliament (only one of whom was actually elected), they are vastly underrepresented on legislative matters. Read more ..

Inside Africa

Life for Africa's Albinos is Nasty, Brutal--and Short

January 11th 2010

Africa Topics - African Albino

White people no longer stand out, literally, in sub-Saharan Africa, not even in the villages and urban slums where a NGO Land-cruiser, with its White crew, is now a familiar sight. For Albino Africans it’s a different story.

The Whites are visitors, who are there usually for a specific purpose, but they won’t stay forever. An Albino may not find it easy to move out. He or she was born there and from an early age is likely to have encountered discrimination and taunts: at school, at sports and leisure, and later when looking for work.

An Albino child will very likely be rejected by his father. He will accuse the child’s mother of “infidelity”, or tell her that he, the father, is normal; there must be something wrong with the mother, and so will leave her because he doesn’t want “more children like that one”. But Albinos were left to follow their own way, a grim one in a place where the sun is bright and hot, and shines every day of the year. Despite popular misconceptions, they are not mentally-handicapped. They are intelligent and smart. They have to be; they are survivors.

That was until three years ago, when a “trade” in Albino body parts started, especially in the south-west of Lake Victoria, where Albinos are about 1 in 4,000 of the population, as opposed to the 1 in 20,000 of Europe and North America, where they are also less noticeable from their complexion. Read more ..

Moving On

Name That Decade: the '00s, or the “Whatever Decade”

January 4th 2010

Social Topics - Sand Clock at Sunset

As we enter the last few weeks of the first decade of the twenty-first century, if we had a better name for this period, we might have a firmer fix on its identity. Modern Americans are decade-focused, packaging our historical memories in easily-labeled ten-year chunks: the Sixties, the Seventies, the Eighties, the Nineties. Yet neither the “oh-ohs” nor the “oughts” has stuck as a label, making this decade’s character elusive. With 2010 fast approaching, branding our trying times can help us understand them better.

Yes, as historians we know that we should not fall into this decade-labeling trap. We know that it leads to oversimplification. But we also know that periodization is a valuable weapon in our historians’ arsenal, helping us make some sense out of the passage of time. And we also know that just because we don’t plunge in and offer our judgments it won’t stop others. Let’s face it. Journalists – and more superficial popularizers -- rush in where historians fear to tread.

At first blush, this period has been marked by catastrophes. The Al Gore-George W. Bush electoral deadlock of 2000 exposed major fault lines in American democracy. In 2001, the dot-com bubble burst and the most lethal attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor murdered nearly 3000 Americans on 9/11. Two years later, in 2003, President Bush led us to war in Iraq. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Finally, the financial meltdown of 2008 triggered America’s worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.   Read more ..

Mexico on the Edge

Modern Day Slavery in Mexico and the United States

December 28th 2009

Latin American Topics - Mexico Prostitution Trafficking

On December 3, Mexico City police freed 107 human trafficking victims who were forced to manufacture shopping bags and clothespins under “slave-like” circumstances. Officials reported that the victims exhibited signs of physical and sexual abuse, and were also malnourished, as they had been given only chicken feet and rotten vegetables. Twenty-three individuals were arrested and charged with human trafficking after one of the workers escaped and informed the authorities about the dire situation. Despite that fact that Mexican states have enacted some forms of anti-trafficking legislation, there have been no criminal convictions of traffickers to date. In the coming months, it awaits to be seen if those captured on December 3rd will be convicted. While the discovery of this trafficking ring has made for lurid headlines, doubt regarding whether or not these criminals will be brought to justice illuminates the fact that Mexico still has a long road ahead in eradicating the destructive industry of human trafficking.

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is the fastest growing illegal industry in the world and, by 2010, it is predicted to surpass the illicit drug trade, which will make it the world’s largest criminal activity. The United Nations defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, […] for the purpose of exploitation.” A common misconception is that an individual must cross international borders to be considered a victim of human trafficking; however, as evidenced by the United Nations’ definition, this is not always the case. Read more ..

Inside Africa

Pedophile Tourism Grows in Africa

December 21st 2009

Africa Topics - Kenya Strollers

A little-reported phenomenon is spreading in holiday resort areas of the developing countries, largely unreported by international or local press, and which goes under the benign name of “child sex tourism” (CST). This euphemistic term for a different brand of pedophilia has moved its focus, in the eastern hemisphere, from the tsunami-prone areas of Sri Lanka and points east to the coast of Kenya and Africa.

Pedophiles seek out and travel to those places where they are sure of finding children and young people ready for sexual relationships. Many “child sex tourists” –men and women- are “situational abusers” at home, but they also seek out children as partners with a trip to a foreign country. There they are known by no-one, will never meet the partner again, and the victims are easy prey, with little notion of their rights. Pedophile tourism is fueled by poverty, the Internet, ease of travel and weak law enforcement.

The laws of most developing countries in Africa are unprepared for this. Gambia has recently set up a hotline to inform on cases of sex tourism, and Senegal has a special anti-CST unit within the police force in two of its popular tourist destinations. But in Kenya’s present constitution, which goes back to 1963 independence, prostitution is not illegal even if living on the earnings of prostitution is termed a “misdemeanor.” Read more ..

Sexual Assault on Campus

Barriers Curb Reporting of Campus Rape and Discourage Victims

December 14th 2009

Social Topics - Sullen Woman

Buried in the pages of the 2006 student handbook for Dominican College, a small Catholic institution in the northern suburbs of New York City, were five dense paragraphs about what would happen if a student reported a rape.

The college would investigate. That much is required by law. Evidence would be collected and preserved. And if the alleged rapist were another student, campus disciplinary proceedings would ensue, allowing both sides to speak before a hearing board.

The policy was tested in May 2006, with Megan Wright, 19, a freshman from New Jersey. After drinking heavily with others in a friend’s dorm room, she woke up in pain on a Sunday morning, with blood in her underwear. On Monday, she elbowed through a lunchtime rush of students to the glass office of director of residence life Carlyle Hicks to report that she had been raped by a man — or men — she could not identify.

But Wright found cold comfort in Hicks’ response.

“He didn’t seem to have a clue,” says Wright’s mother Cynthia McGrath, who attended the meeting. Hicks didn’t mention a word about a campus disciplinary process, says McGrath, or even ask if the shy redhead was okay. “Just a lack of concern, like he couldn’t be bothered.” Read more ..

Hispanics in the USA

Mexican Politicians Register their Compatriots in USA for Mexico's Conservative Party

December 7th 2009

Latin American Topics - Cesar Nava

Mexican congressman César Nava Vásquez was in Los Angeles CA on December 2 to recruit for Mexico’s ruling National Action Party (PAN). Mexico’s presidential elections will not occur until 2012, but Los Angeles is important for President Felipe Calderón and his party since it has long been the home of millions of Mexican nationals, even some U.S. citizens who are allowed to vote in Mexican elections.

California, and other Southwestern states, could be crucial in an election which will decide on the next president Mexico and its congress. Nava is the president of PAN and represents a district in Mexico City. He was accompanied by other party representatives who visited 10 other U.S. cities where they set up booths where Mexican nationals could register their party preference. Read more ..

Inside Africa

Is the End Near for The Lord's Resistance Army?

November 30th 2009

Africa Topics - Kids with Guns

The hounds seem to be closing in on Joseph Kony and his horde of dreadlocked young rebels, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which has created havoc in Central Africa for over twenty years. Will the dreaded captor soon become a helpless captive?

On November 17, the UN Security Council condemned the increasing attacks of the LRA in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Sudan. The Austrian ambassador, Thomas Mayr-Harting, who this month holds the council’s presidency, said, “The attacks have resulted in the death, abduction and displacement of thousands of civilians.” Read more ..

Family Life

Childhood Abuse Can Accelerate Aging

November 23rd 2009

Social Topics - Child Abuse

Children who suffer physical or emotional abuse may be faced with accelerated cellular aging as adults, according to new research from Butler Hospital and Brown University.

The new findings draw a direct connection between childhood psychological trauma and accelerated reduction in the size of telomeres, the “caps” on the end of chromosomes that promote cellular stability. Telomeres typically shorten with age.

After measuring DNA extracted from blood samples of 31 adults, researchers found accelerated shortening of telomeres in those who reported suffering maltreatment as children, compared to study participants who did not.

“It tells us something. It gives us a hint that early developmental experiences may have profound effects on biology that can influence cellular mechanisms at a very basic level, said Dr. Audrey Tyrka, the study’s lead author. Tyrka is assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and associate chief of the mood disorders program at Butler Hospital in Providence, R.I.

The work of Tyrka and the other authors builds on previous research that established psychological stress and trauma as risk factors for a number of medical and psychiatric illnesses. Other work has linked some of these psychiatric and medical problems with shortened telomere length. This study now establishes a link between early psychosocial stress and shorter telomere length.

Researchers have also found that telomeres shorten at a higher rate when exposed to toxins, such as radiation or cigarette smoke. Other studies have looked at adult female caregivers who are responsible for children with developmental delays, determining a link between accelerated telomere shortening and the higher stress levels the caregivers faced. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Thoughtful Words Help Couples Stay Fit When Arguing

November 16th 2009

Social Topics - Couple

Couples who bring thoughtful words to a fight release lower amounts of stress-related proteins, suggesting that rational communication between partners can ease the impact of marital conflict on the immune system.
"Previous research has shown that couples who are hostile to each other show health impairments and are at greater risk of disease," said Jennifer Graham, assistant professor of biobehavioral health, Penn State. "We wanted to know if couples who use thoughtfulness and reasoning in the midst of a fight incur potential health benefits."

Individuals in a stressful situation -- as in a troubled relationship -- typically have elevated levels of chemicals known as cytokines. These proteins are produced by cells in the immune system and help the body mount an immune response during infection. However, abnormally high levels of these proteins are linked to illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, arthritis and some cancers.

"Typically, if you bring people to a lab and put them under stress, either by engaging them in a conflict or giving them a public speaking task, you can see an increase in proinflammatory cytokines such as Interleukin-6 (Il-6) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha)," explained Graham. Read more ..

Society on the Edge

Why Did One Nevada County Suffer a Cluster of Birth Defects?

November 9th 2009

Science - Newborn baby

The results of an investigation conducted by University of Nevada, Reno researchers, public health officials and area physicians indicate that Washoe County in Nevada experienced a cluster of a particular birth defect, gastroschisis, during the period April 2007 – April 2008. Subsequent review of medical records since the study's conclusion indicates that while the rate is still elevated, the cluster appears to have subsided.

Gastroschisis is a birth defect that occurs early in pregnancy, characterized by incomplete closure of the baby's abdominal wall. It is most common in births by young women, age 21 or younger. Babies with this birth defect are born with part of their intestines outside their bodies, which necessitates repair of the abdominal wall in the first week of life. Read more ..

Inside Africa

Mass Rape Orgy and Bloodbath by Presidential Guard in Guinea

November 2nd 2009

Africa Topics - Guinea Rapes - Red Berets

See French video report.

September 28, 2009 was Bloody Monday in the West African state of Guinea. A peaceful festival-style demonstration staged by 50,000 opposition members in a Conakry soccer stadium ended in a bloodbath and an orgy of rape. The opposition was protesting—illegally according to government officials—the rule of the military regime of Capt. Moussa "Dadis" Camara, and Camara's proposed candidacy in the forthcoming elections. He had originally said he would not stand for president. Camara came to power on December 23, 2008, in a military take-over, one day after President Lansana Conte died. Conte had ruled for 24 years.

At first, Camara was warmly welcomed by the public when he took over power, but relations soon turned sour. He dissolved the constitution and imposed a military junta, and then authorized raids on the homes of Conte's inner circle "to recoup money and property stolen from the state."

According to official government figures, 934 were wounded and 56 were killed in the stadium massacre—four by live bullets and the rest as they stampeded to escape. But human rights groups have said that 157 were killed and over one thousand injured. Camara actually admitted on Radio France that "the violence had been beyond his control. The perpetrators were uncontrollable elements in the military." Read more ..

Inside Africa

Corruption and Bribery as a Way of Life in Africa

October 26th 2009

Africa Topics - Kenya Poverty

In his book Africa--Altered States, Ordinary Miracles, Richard Dowden quotes John Robertson, a Zimbabwean economist, on corruption. Robertson says: “We imagine corruption to be like a tick on a dog. There are some places in Africa where the tick is bigger than the dog.”

Transparency International’s 2009 Global Corruption Report (GCR) bears out Robertson’s insight. Yet, corruption in Africa does have its explanation. In her book Dead Aid, the Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo, writes: “Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century and up until the 1990s, the Cold War had provided richer countries with the political imperative to give aid monies even to the most corrupt and venal despots in Africa. One of the features of the Cold War was the West’s ability and eagerness to support, bankroll and prop up a swathe of pathological and downright dangerous dictators from Idi Amin… to Mobutu Sese Seko… to Samuel Doe. Bokassa’s coronation as Emperor of the Central African Republic in 1977 alone cost $22 million.” This view is augmented by a World Bank study which found that as much as 85 percent of aid flows were used for purposes other than that for which they were initially intended, often diverted to unproductive, if not grotesque ventures.

According to Transparency International, Mobutu is estimated to have looted Zaire of $5 billion. Roughly the same amount was stolen from Nigeria by President Sani Abacha and placed in Swiss private banks. In Africa, natural resources such as oil, minerals and high-quality wood provide unlimited opportunities for personal wealth accumulation. Read more ..

Inside Islam

Somalia's Islamic Enforcers Punish Women for Wearing Bras

October 19th 2009

Islamic Topics - Somali Women

In lawless Somalia, the Al Shabaab—“the Youngsters”—Muslim terrorist group has sent its gunmen into the streets of Mogadishu to gather up women who appear to violate Islamic law for wearing bras that they claim are “deceptive.” According to locals, Al Shabaabi round up women who appear to have firm bosoms and then inspects them to determine whether that firmness is natural or not. If the firmness is the result of wearing a bra, they are ordered to remove it and shake their breasts in the presence of the Al Shabaab men.

Al Shabaab—many of whose members appeared masked when in public—have forced Somali women to wear full veils. They whipped two girls on October 15, as other women have also been whipped, for wearing bras. Al Shabaab believes that women’s breasts should be firm naturally, or lie flat. Read more ..

Great Gatherings

Scholars Assemble to Debate Iran Issues

October 12th 2009

Iran - Iran Protestor with Cell Phone

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, an international organization of university academicians, is convening an international conference in Cleveland November 8-19 to analyze and debate some of the salient issues of Iran now in the news. Entitled, "The Islamic Republic of Iran: Multidisciplinary Analyses Of  Its Theocracy, Nationalism, And Assertion Of Power," the conference brings together scholars, diplomats and experts from several countries. This Conference is being held in conjunction with the Program in Judaic Studies at Case Western Reserve University.

Keynote speakers include Ambassador Jackie Wolcott, Special U.S. Envoy for Nuclear Nonproliferation, Israeli Parliamentarian Effie Eitam, and Former Canadian Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler of McGill University. Among the featured speakers and panelists are: Andrew Apostolu who sits on the Iran Desk of Freedom House, Edwin Black, award-winning author and investigative journalist, and Patrick Clawson, Washington Institute for Near East Policy executive director. Other speakers include Amir A. Fakhravar of the Iranian Enterprise Institute, Barry Rubin of the GLORIA Center in Israel, and Samuel Edelman, California State University-Chico and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

Panels will focus on Iranian anti-Semitism, Iran in the media, the concept of “pride and humiliation” in Iran, Shi'ism and Holy War, nuclear proliferation, human rights and “the rhetoric of genocide.”

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East has emerged in just a matter of months to become a preeminent voice on the key issues involving Israel and her neighbors. Read more ..

The Edge of Economic Recovery

Household Food Insecurity May Be Underlying Contributor For The Overweight

October 5th 2009

Health/Medicine - Waistlines

Both household food insecurity and childhood obesity are significant problems in the United States. Paradoxically, being food-insecure may be an underlying contributor to being overweight. A study of almost 8,500 low-income children ages 1 month to 5 years, published in the October 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, suggests an association between household food insecurity and overweight prevalence in this low-income population. However, sex and age appear to modify both the magnitude and direction of the association.


Food insecurity is defined as the lack of access to enough food for an active, healthy life, which results from limited or uncertain access to nutritionally adequate and safe foods in socially acceptable ways. In 2004, 11 percent of households in the United States reported household food insecurity, and households with children younger than 6 years old and black and Hispanic households experienced higher rates of household food insecurity and hunger. Read more ..

The Edge of Financial Recovery

Values from the Great Depression

September 28th 2009

Contributors / Staff - Armstrong Williams Headshot
Armstrong Williams

When I was growing up during the post war prosperity of 1960s, my parents continually reminded us about how fortunate we were to mature in the relative prosperity of an upper middle class farming family community in Marion, SC. They often shared with us the impact of the Great Depression on their lives and values. Mom--then and now--continues to impress upon us the value of hard work, education, thrift, God, and charity.

Like most young people of our generation, we often tuned out my mother’s stories but subconsciously absorbed the values. It is only with the advent of the Great Recession of 2007-2009, that I began to reflect on my parent’s recollections of the extreme hardships they endured in the late 1930s.

My maternal grandparents ran a seamstress and beauty shop which provided their family of several children with a modest, working-class lifestyle. They were better off than the men in business suits selling tobacco on the street downtown. All the children helped with chores around the house. When the children were old enough, they looked for part-time jobs or worked in the seamstress /beauty shop or the tobacco fields. At mealtime, everybody ate all the food on their plates without complaining. If an unemployed friend dropped by at dinner time, everybody ate a little less and the friend was fed. The younger children only wore hand-me-down clothes. At Christmas time, the children each got one present. Often it was a hand-made toy or winter clothing, and when the business was profitable for that year, they could find a fire truck under the tree.

When many of my older cousins graduated from high school, college was not an option. They pursued vocational training, went to work and sent money home to help support their younger siblings. It was not until after WWII that many of my relatives went to college under the GI bill. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Negative Public Opinion and Terrorism

September 21st 2009

Islamic Topics - Islamic Terrorist

An analysis of public opinion polls and terrorist activity in 143 pairs of countries has shown for the first time that when people in one country hold negative views toward the leadership and policies of another, terrorist acts are more likely to be carried out.

Princeton University economist Alan Krueger and co-author Jitka Malečková of Charles University in the Czech Republic have found that there is a strong relationship between attitudes expressed toward a foreign country—indicated in surveys on foreign leaders' performance—and the occurrence of terrorism against that country.

"Public opinion appears to be a useful predictor of terrorist activity," said Krueger, the Bendheim Professor in Economics and Public Policy. He has held a joint appointment since 1987 in Princeton's Department of Economics and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. "This is the first study to relate public opinion across countries to concrete actions such as terrorism," he added.


America and the Flu

Confronting the Facts About Swine Flu

September 14th 2009

Latin American Topics - Mexico Plague Kisses

In June, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared swine flu--officially known as the H1N1 virus--the first influenza pandemic since 1968. The following month, the WHO told countries to stop reporting individual swine flu infections because the number of victims had rapidly exceeded 1 million people and the virus had spread to almost every nation in the world. The flu continues to spread. A WHO scientist estimates that H1N1 could infect 2 billion people in two years. Since emerging in April, it has become one of the fastest spreading contagious diseases on record.

H1N1 will return to the U.S. this fall with the flu season. This year's flu season may be more severe than normal, but the U.S. has the capacity to respond to the extra strains. Federal, state, and local governments should continue to improve their pandemic response and risk communication programs. They still need to do much to improve cross-state planning, continuity of operations, situational awareness and information sharing, and community resiliency.

However, an effective public response will likely be the most important factor in mitigating the effects of the flu season. The public should follow the guidelines of a responsible national vaccination strategy and adopt behaviors, such as washing hands properly, to limit the spread of the disease and minimize its societal impacts. Read more ..

Future Edge

Big Brother Is Watching in Public Service Advertising

September 7th 2009

Computer Topics - Shadowy Computer User

Mornings on radio in the United States are filled with advertising. From the time we wake up until the time we fall asleep, it seems the advertising never ends. The jingles, catchy and appealing, sometimes want you to adopt a child or to pony up for National Parks. Sometimes they pressure you to wear a seat belt or to use a booster seat (4.9 is the magic age for using a booster seat -- according to the ad brought to us by the Department of Transportation). For its part, the Department of Health and Human Services wants us to adopt a teen. And so on, and so on…

Of course, they are all good ads with clever jingles and cute lines. At least they seem that way the first few times you hear them. And, obviously, listening to such ads is the price we pay for hearing the news or the music, or whatever the radio is offering. What is surprising, though, is the reversal that has taken place in radio sponsorship. Once the domain of private enterprise, it is now increasingly becoming the voice of government. Our own tax money is put to work to convince us of something politicians and bureaucrats think we ought to do. Read more ..

Turkey on the Edge

What's Behind Behind Persistent Anti-Americanism in Turkey?

August 31st 2009

Islamic Topics - Turkish Anger

Over the past years, some analysts have suggested that George W. Bush's unpopular administration spawned the high levels of anti-Americanism in Turkey. Referring to this phenomenon as "anti-Bushism," however, discounted the rise of anti-Americanism in Turkey and implied that the country's adverse view of the United States would change with a new administration. Unfortunately, two recent polls suggest otherwise. Despite the new faces in Washington -- policymakers who have gone out of their way to embrace Turkey and its citizens -- anti-Americanism persists across Turkish society.

A poll by the Pew Global Attitudes Project reveals that President Barack Obama's election has led to significant improvement in America's standing in the world, including in European and Muslim-majority countries; France and Indonesia, for instance, witnessed increases in U.S. popularity from 42 percent to 75 percent and 37 percent to 63 percent, respectively, between 2008 and 2009. Turkey, however, is a rare exception to this trend. According to Pew, the U.S. favorability rating in Turkey in 1999-2000 was 52 percent, but then sharply dived to 30 percent in 2002, 15 percent in 2003, and 12 percent in 2008. In 2009, with the advent of the Obama administration, there has been only a minimal increase of 2 percent in U.S. favorability in Turkey, from 12 to 14 percent. Read more ..

Eugenics in America

Government Death Panels and Mass Murder was Always an Option in 20th Century America's War Against the Weak

August 24th 2009

Book Covers - War Against the Weak

This article is based on the award-winning bestseller War Against the Weak--Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race  (Dialog Press). Buy it here

The summer of 2009 has been rife with misplaced fears about government death panels arising from proposed insurance reform. These fears are not based on anything in the proposed legislation. But government death panels and mass euthanasia were always a public option during the first decades of the twentieth century. This campaign to exterminate all those deemed socially or medically unworthy was not conducted by the worst segments of our society but by the elite of the American establishment. They saw themselves as liberals, progressive, do-gooders—and even utopians— trying to create a more perfect society.

The mission: eliminate the existence of the poor, immigrants, those of mixed parentage, and indeed anyone who did not approximate the blond-haired blue-eyed ideal they idealized. This racial type was termed Nordic, and it was socially deified by a broad movement of esteemed university professors, doctors, legislators, judges and writers. They called themselves eugenicists. This widely accepted extremist movement was virtually created and funded by millions in corporate philanthropy from the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harriman railroad fortune through a complex of pseudoscientific institutions and population tracking offices at Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island. From there, leading academics supported by big money lead a termite-like proliferation of eugenics into the laws, social policies and curricula of the nation. During these turbulent decades, eugenics enjoyed the active support of the government, especially the U.S. Department of Agriculture which wanted to breed men the way they bred cattle, and many state and county offices.

Indeed, Eugenics was enacted into law in some 27 states during the first decades of the twentieth century, and then exalted as the law of the land by the U. S. Supreme Court. In a famous 1927 opinion, revered jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes compared social undesirables to bacteria to be wiped out. The sanctioned methods to be used were nothing less than a combination of pseudoscientific raceology, social engineering, ethnic cleansing and abject race law, designed to eliminate millions in an organized fashion. More specifically, the American eugenics movement sought to continually subtract the so-called “bottom tenth” of America. These were to include Blacks, Native Americans, Southern Italians, East Europeans, Jews, Hispanics, the poor, criminals, the intellectually unaccepted, the so-called “shiftless,” and many others. The drive for perfection even included excising the existence of Appalachians with brown hair, frequently rounded up by county officials for confinement. When this effort began in the early twentieth century, some fourteen million Americans were targeted for elimination. Read more ..

Iran on the Edge

Iran Faces Its own Demographic Consequences

August 24th 2009

Iran - Iran Election

Despite its fundamentalist Islamic reputation, Iran has experimented with birth control with some unexpected and unwelcome, consequences.

If demography is destiny, the family of Farzaneh Roudi is a snapshot of Iran’s past, present and future. A program director at the Population Reference Bureau in Washington DC, Ms Roudi was born in Iran. Her grandmother had 11 children, her father had 6 and she has 2.

Her profile is not unusual in Iran, where women give birth to fewer than 2 children, on average. This is one of the most remarkable demographic shifts in world history. Its fertility rate has declined from 7 children per woman in 1980 to 1.9 today – a decline of 70 percent in the space of a single generation. And about 80 percent of married women in Iran use contraception -- the highest rate among all the countries in the Middle East.

These staggering statistics confound stereotypes about Iran. Even though the Western media depicts this nation of 70 million as a teeming cauldron of Islamic fundamentalism and social and moral conservatism, the trend to lower birthrates began long ago. In 1967 Mohammad Reza Shah signed the Tehran Declaration. This acknowledged family planning as a human right and programs were quickly established. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution which booted out the Shah, they were dismantled for being pro-Western. But contraceptive use was not totally banned and Imam Khomeini and other Ayatollahs did grant fatwas allowing it as a health measure. Read more ..

Inside Islam

Secular France Piqued by Muslim Bathing Attire

August 17th 2009

Islamic Topics - Burkini a la francaise
"Carole" in her Burkini

A woman in France, a convert to Islam, was turned away from a public pool for wearing a burkini: the Muslim answer to the more liberal bikini.

The debate over Muslim attitudes regarding clothing, especially for women, took another turn in France when on August 1 a woman was refused admission to a public swimming pool in a Parisian suburb. The citizen identified as “Carole” had previously frequented the pool but was this time turned back by administrators who decided that her bathing costume, which some call "a burkini," was not acceptable.

In a country famed for its topless beaches and sun-loving bathers, Carole was turned away for wearing a garment that revealed nothing but her face, hands, and feet, much in the tradition of Muslim countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia that impose strict dress codes on women.

Having been previously allowed to bathe at the pool in her aquatic hijab, Carole went to the nearest police station to file a complaint that she had been subjected to illegal “segregation.” Said the convert to Islam, “I understand that it is something that may come as a surprise, but what bothers me the most is that they would have me believe that it is a political problem.” Carole is planning to file suit against the the town of Emerainville, which operates the pool.

One of the pool administrators gave assurances that “under no circumstances” should the affair be understood as a “political or religious matter” but instead a matter of “hygiene.” As for using other services provided by the community, such as the public library, the same administrator said that Carole is welcome to wear a veil there. He also admitted that there had been an error in previously allowing the Muslim woman to swim in her burkini.

André Gerin, a Communist member of the French legislature and of a committee that is studying the widening use of Muslim clothing, referred to the burkini incident as another “provocation by militants.” He added in response to the Muslim woman's complaint to the police and threatened lawsuit “We cannot accept that”, while asserting that this is a militantly political act. Gerin said that burkinis are “ridiculous” and put him in mind of wetsuits used by undersea divers. Read more ..

Inside Islam

Europe is Changing--to be 20 Percent Islamic by 2050, Experts Say

August 10th 2009

Islamic Topics - Muslim Woman

The makeup of European populations has been changing since the 1950’s, unnoticed except to a tiny minority of statistical and census experts. That is until the last decade, when an almost exponential change in the demographic makeup of European populations became apparent to even the average citizen. The change in question is the unprecedented growth of Europe’s Islamic population.

When the statistics on immigration and birth rates are examined, the projections point to this conclusion; that if all other things remain equal, Europe will have a 20 percent Muslim population by 2050, with some nations arriving at that point even sooner. Debate at the highest levels has ensued about what the future holds for the Old Continent.

To many European government officials, the statistics are startling and alarming. For example, the EU’s Muslim population has doubled in the last 30 years, and is projected to double again by 2015. In France, Muslims make up 9 percent of the overall population, but in certain major urban areas, for example Marseille, the figure approaches 25 percent. In the UK, the second most popular name registered at birth is Mohammad. Likewise in Brussels where the top seven boys names are Mohammed, Adam, Rayan, Ayoub, Mehdi, Amin and Hamza.
In Britain, research by the Times newspaper into official figures published by the British government’s Office of National Statistics has also revealed that the UK’s Muslim population is growing ten times faster than that of indigenous Britons. Read more ..

Edge on Terrorism

Understanding the North Carolina Jihadis

August 3rd 2009

Terrorism - DanielPatrickBoyd

With shock and malaise, Americans are discovering that their country is penetrated by jihadi terrorists, particularly those labeled "homegrown." Over the past few months, several alarming cases have been revealed by law enforcement. Not only the frequency of these revelations but also the type of jihadi cells are teaching the public that something very troubling is happening within the homeland: the surge of a threat deserving a greater attention than the current attitude dispensed by the administration.

The arrest of Daniel Patrick Boyd, a married 39-year-old, his two sons, and four other "jihadis" in a rural area south of Raleigh, N.C., is not a little matter in our global analysis of the movement within the United States. "Saifullah," the jihadi name of Boyd; his two sons, Zakariya, 20, and Dylan, 22; Mohammed Omar Aly Hassan, 22; and Ziad Yaghi, 21, are all U.S. citizens. Hysen Sherifi, 24, a Kosovo national, is a legal resident.

According to published government documents, this was a group based in the U.S. training and preparing to perform "jihad" overseas, like a Virginia predecessor group arrested some eight years ago and charged with using paintball training camps to "strike at targets in the Indian subcontinent." Based on this data alone, the North Carolina cell is a combatant group committed to "terror war." Based on reviewing this data and comparing it with the multiple cells dismantled over several years, particularly over the past few months, the matter is more serious.

Furthermore, even though the courts will struggle with defense attorneys' expected tactics to portray the jihadists as enamored with a "foreign cause," many in the counterterrorism community would not buy this version. All the hallmarks indicate (based on the published information) that the case is more ominous than average citizens think. The legal proceedings will take their course and justice will be served in court, but the bigger picture—the troubling questions related to this country's national security—must be addressed seriously and quickly.


The Cuban Edge

Remnant Jewish Cuban Community Holds Identity Despite Dwindling Numbers

July 27th 2009

 - Cuban Jewish Woman

In 1995, when I first visited Cuba, it was after years working in support of Soviet Jewry. My mission was discovering what had happened to the Cuban Jewish community, after the Cuban Revolution and years of Soviet influence. The question I asked myself was could I help the community not only survive, but thrive after decades during which practicing religion was discouraged and daily life was challenged by dire economic conditions.

In many ways, my effort began after I met Abraham Berezniak in 1996. Abraham had a lively smile and a powerful voice and was the President of the Orthodox Synagogue in Havana. The synagogue had managed to survive because of his leadership and the force of his personality, notwithstanding pressures from the Soviets and Cuban government.

Although cancer forced him to spend most of his time in hospital, his congregation would place a bed next to the Ark that housed the Torah so that he could spend every Friday night service with them. Abraham knew that his congregation needed to see him there.

Years later, his son, Yacob, now a Vice-President of the congregation and a true leader like his father, became the first child to be bar mitzvahed in Cuba after the Soviets left. I attended that bar mitzvah and later returned to Cuba with the video I had made which I gave Yacob so that he could see on film how proud his father was of him. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Brain Emotion Circuit Sparks as Teen Girls Size Up Peers

July 20th 2009

Social Topics - Brain Waves

What is going on in teenagers' brains as their drive for peer approval begins to eclipse their family affiliations? Brain scans of teens sizing each other up reveal an emotion circuit activating more in girls as they grow older, but not in boys. The study by Daniel Pine, M.D., of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the National Institutes of Health, and colleagues, shows how emotion circuitry diverges in the male and female brain during a developmental stage in which girls are at increased risk for developing mood and anxiety disorders.

"During this time of heightened sensitivity to interpersonal stress and peers' perceptions, girls are becoming increasingly preoccupied with how individual peers view them, while boys tend to become more focused on their status within group pecking orders," explained Pine. "However, in the study, the prospect of interacting with peers activated brain circuitry involved in approaching others, rather than circuitry responsible for withdrawal and fear, which is associated with anxiety and depression." Read more ..

Significant Lives

Michael Jackson's Legacy Soars Above His Troubles

July 13th 2009

Music - Michael Jackson 1990

Many of us grew up as huge fans and were consistently affected by his music and persona for much of our lives. Hearing the news of his shocking death has quickly reminded us of our own mortality and imminent death. The world was absolutely crushed when the reality set in that he was gone too soon and would never return. This will deeply resonate within the now seemingly hollow spot Michael Jackson left in the hearts of cult global followers that grew up with the pop star turned tragic figure---one that even the masterful craftsmanship of Shakespeare couldn’t create.

Many of us are well versed in his trials and tribulations, but, maintained empathy and downright pity for him as we continued to see him slide into depression and plain weirdness. Many can tell the story of befriending his posters in our rooms, eating breakfast with him on our cereal boxes, driving with him on our radios to work, even masterminding genius plans to find ways into his concerts. Everywhere you looked, Michael Jackson made cultural imprints as he easily crossed genres. It is without question that there was deep love and affection for him from sea to shining sea.

Through the years, Michael endured the curse of being the world’s most famous person, and, at times bore the weight of being one of the most infamous people. His relationships with others were dissected and called weird or fake. He was swarmed by fans spontaneously anytime he left his home, and tracked by helicopters and paparazzi on the way to court to defend himself before the world. Having communicated with Mr. Jackson during the furnace of his trials, I really began to see that that this superstar was only a man. What came across? A man who reached great heights and had his childhood stolen from him. He was skeptical of people because he was oftentimes exploited. He was clearly twisted and warped. I had to wonder who was responsible for this mess. Yet through his emotional underdevelopment, he remained sincere, humbled by stardom, and a man you wouldn’t be afraid to call brother and friend.


Significant Lives

A Saintly Main Returns Home

July 6th 2009

Christian Topics - Thomas Mulvihill King

The term "saint" is used quite often these days, referring to a good person or a kind person or someone who pulled us out of a jam.

We think that saints are very rare and especially hard to find, especially in this day and age. In fact, there are many unrecognized men and women of holiness around us each day. 

In his book, Saint of the Day, Father Leonard Foley, OFM, defines saints as those who “surrender to God's love was so generous an approach to the total surrender of Jesus that the Church recognizes them as heroes and heroines worthy to be held up for our inspiration. They remind us that the Church is holy, can never stop being holy and is called to show the holiness of God by living the life of Christ.”

In recent days, we laid one such man to rest. A man who exemplified holiness, demonstrated an intimate love of God, and was a model for each of us to follow to salvation.

Born May 9, 1929 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Father Thomas Mulvihill King, SJ, returned home after a sudden heart attack in his campus residence at Georgetown University on June 23. He was 80. Read more ..

Inside Africa

Kenya's Grim Squalor Seethes Beside Opulence and Corruption

June 29th 2009

Kenya Topics - Kenya Poverty

From where I write at the Kenyan Coast, where I am working for a few days, I am within walking distance of what when it is finished will be a show-piece golf resort, unmatched elsewhere in Africa, with supermarket, airport, luxury homes with swimming pools, 36-hole course and a long etcetera of facilities which might be the envy of the Gulf sheikhs. In shaming contrast, a few miles towards the interior lies the poorest political constituency of the whole of Kenya, Ganze. Here peasants literally scrape out a living with their primitive hoes under a blistering sun and famine is a frequent visitor. Here too, it is rare for a child to complete even primary education, healthcare is at its most basic, and people sleep on a wooden frame covered with skins which passes for a bed.

The golf resort targets the international elite, and when construction was first started the local people, squatters on what they consider their ancestral land, broke down the wall. As a sop they have been offered jobs on this enormous construction site, at a rate of around two dollars a day to cover all the expenses of their often very large families. They may protest at the working conditions, only to find their job offered to someone else in the long line of local unemployed.

This is the crisis Kenya and most sub-Saharan African states are undergoing: the seemingly unbridgeable gap between very rich and very poor. Nearly forty years ago, a famous political activist, J.M. Kariuki, whose murder in strange circumstances has never been explained called Kenya a country of ten millionaires and ten million beggars. Read more ..

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