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The Way We Are

Election Surprises Tend to Erode Trust in Goverment

July 24th 2014

us voters

When asked who is going to win an election, people tend to predict their own candidate will come out on top. When that doesn't happen, according to a new study from the University of Georgia, these "surprised losers" often have less trust in government and democracy.

And the news media may be partly to blame, according to Barry Hollander, author of the study and UGA professor in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

"You need the trust of those in a democracy for democracy to be successful," said Hollander. "We have become more fragmented in our media diet and that leads to hearing what we want to hear and believing what we want to believe despite all evidence to the contrary, such as polls. Our surprise in the election outcome makes us angry, disappointed and erodes our trust in the basic concept of democracy-the election. And that can threaten our trust in government." Read more ..

The Way We Are

Brain's Dynamic Duel Underlies Win-Win Choices

July 24th 2014

MRI Brain Scans

People choosing between two or more equally positive outcomes experience paradoxical feelings of pleasure and anxiety, feelings associated with activity in different regions of the brain, according to research led by Amitai Shenhav, an associate research scholar at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute at Princeton University.

In one experiment, 42 people rated the desirability of more than 300 products using an auction-like procedure. Then they looked at images of paired products with different or similar values and were asked to choose between them. Their brain activity was scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). After the scan, participants reported their feelings before and during each choice. They received one of their choices at the end of the study. Read more ..

Operation Protective Edge

Israel Sets up Field Hospital for Wounded Gazans

July 23rd 2014

Israeli Rescue team in Haiti

Israel Defense Forces Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz confirmed reports Sunday afternoon that the IDF is going to set up a field hospital near the Erez Crossing at 8 p.m. Sunday evening to treat wounded Palestinians.

Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Major Yoav Mordechai said that the field hospital will treat mainly women, children and the elderly hurt during the current war in Gaza. In addition, he said in a statement, those whose injuries require additional care can be transferred to Israeli hospitals.

The IDF field hospital in Haiti in 2010.

The announcement coincided with Israel’s allowing the entry into Gaza of a truckload of medical supplies which, according to Palestinian Authority Health Minister Jawad Awwad, had been delayed for two days. It preceded a request from Hamas for a two-hour “humanitarian ceasefire” – a request Israel has granted. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Extra Exercise Helps Depressed Smokers Kick the Habit Faster

July 22nd 2014

cigarette in ashtray

 People diagnosed with depression need to step out for a cigarette twice as often as smokers who are not dealing with a mood disorder. And those who have the hardest time shaking off the habit may have more mental health issues than they are actually aware of.

Those insights were among the collective findings recently published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research by a team of researchers based in part at Concordia University.

While nearly one in five North American adults are regular smokers, a figure that continues to steadily decline, about 40 per cent of depressed people are in need of a regular drag. The statistic motivated the researchers to investigate what was behind that higher percentage.

The findings revealed that those who struggle with mental illness simply have a tougher time quitting, no matter how much they want to. The anxiety, cravings or lack of sleep that accompany typical attempts to quit cold turkey will have them scrambling for the smokes they might have sworn off earlier that evening. A person without clinical depression is better equipped to ride things out. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Mindfulness Movement a ‘Revolution’ for Stressed Americans

July 21st 2014

woman headache head bowed

It used to be done mainly at spiritual retreats and in yoga centers, but now mindfulness meditation is practiced in offices, schools, prisons and even the U.S. military.

Although it’s been around for decades, the mindfulness movement is being called a revolution. Advocates say it reduces anxiety, and it can have spiritual benefits.

A visit to the dentist’s office can cause nervousness and anxiety. But being a dentist is no picnic either, said Dr. Alona Bauer.

“There’s definitely stress. You work in a small environment and it’s very exact. It’s very precise. Plus you’re managing the patient. So there’s great stress right there,” said Bauer.

So Bauer practices mindfulness meditation at a Yoga center in downtown Washington. Hugh Byrne has been teaching mindfulness since 2000. He said it’s about focusing on the present. “Some forms of meditation are about clearing the mind of thoughts. Mindfulness isn’t about clearing away thoughts. It’s just about being aware of them,” said Byrne. Read more ..

The Edge of Ecology

Fog Collector Transforms Maasai Water-Harvesting in Kenya

July 19th 2014

Kenya Kids

The Maasai people of Kenya are known for their cattle-herding, nomadic lifestyle.  But it's an existence that depends on access to adequate water for their herds and flocks.  In the village of Kiserian, the Maasai community is embracing a new piece of water-harvesting technology with marked results.

In the early morning in Kiserian, a town 30 kilometers from Nairobi, the Lotuno family go about their daily chores - with their matriarch, Hannah, checking on the health of her flock.

"I wake up as early as 5 a.m. to tend to the cattle before they are taken out to pasture," she said." I then check on the sheep's health and I tend to the sickly ones.  For them to be productive they need lots of water."

Kiserian is dominated by Maasai cattle herders.  During dry spells, they must go far to find enough water and pasture for their animals. Anthony Purkei is a community organizer who said lack of water is a major issue. "We experience a lot of problems because we depend on livestock in our livelihood.  So when there's drought, our cattle die as a result of there's no water and this area where we live is Kajiado County," he said. "We experience a lot of drought during the year as a result of climate change."  Read more ..

Operation Protective Edge

Egypt's Gaza Truce Move Highlights Bid To Break Islamists

July 18th 2014

General Al-Sisi

Egypt's attempts to pressure Hamas into accepting a truce plan offering few concessions for the group to end the latest fighting with Israel show Cairo's determination to finish the job it began at home - crushing Islamists it sees as a threat.

Egypt has always regarded itself as the most effective mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This time Cairo was slow to react to warfare in Gaza and when it did its ceasefire proposal appeared designed to isolate Hamas - an offshoot of Egypt's outlawed Muslim Brotherhood - rather than secure an immediate end to the bloodshed.

Hamas leaders complained that they were frozen out of talks and not consulted on the Egyptian initiative, and that it did not address their demands, such as an end to an economically crippling blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt. Egypt's army toppled President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood - a close Hamas ally - a year ago and then mounted one of the fiercest crackdowns on Islamists seen in decades. Read more ..

The Automotive Edge

Car Cockpit of the Future

July 17th 2014

new cars close up

Automotive engineering services and technology company Audio Mobil has for the first time lifted the veil on its research vehicle Car-ICT3 - a technology platform to develop and test innovative connectivity and HMI approaches. With this platform, the company demonstrates an HMI concept centred on the user requirements of the connected car. Another innovation is the partitioning of the vehicle into separate infotainment user zones.

Audio Mobile's HMI model is not a vague futuristic study: The company claims that the concept is a near-series implementation. The research vehicle is based on 25 years of experience in developing communication technologies for cars. Despite being an almost invisible low-profile company, Audio Mobil is involved in HMI and ergonomics research for several major OEMs and lists Audi, BMW and Daimler as reference customers. Read more ..

Operation Protective Edge

Despite the Missiles, It's Business as Usual in Israel

July 15th 2014


This morning my husband and I woke up early. After the volley of missiles last night we were in two minds about whether to send our eight-year-old to summer camp in Ramat Ha’Kovesh, and whether our 16-year-old really should be teaching surfing on a Tel Aviv beach while missiles rain down across the country.

Yesterday evening, he was on the beach with all the children from his surf camp when the siren went off. They ran for cover to a nearby building, and my son, stepping out for a second, saw the missile high above the sky in Tel Aviv shot down by Israel’s anti-missile system Iron Dome.

Last night we also experienced our first siren in the village where we live near the Green Line. We’d never expected to have a siren here – we are surrounded by Israeli-Arab villages, and the West Bank is just over the hill. Nevertheless it sounded and by the time we’d finished debating whether or not it was necessary to go to our secure room, the alarm was over.

You can’t live in a country as small as Israel and not be directly affected by what is happening here. This is a sustained and coordinated attack on a huge swath of the country. I may feel far from the action in my home and office, but my husband works in Tel Aviv, the staff of ISRAEL21c is dotted all over – from near Jerusalem to Jaffa, I have relatives and friends all over the country, and meetings are scheduled in all sorts of places. Read more ..

Operation Protective Edge

Hamas Blows Out its Own Power

July 14th 2014

Hamas rocket in Gaza

In what seems to have become a routine, the Hamas continues to fire rockets at civilian targets all across Israel throughout the day and night, as the IDF continues to attack terror targets throughout the Gaza Strip. More than 130 rockets were fired from Gaza towards Israel yesterday. At least 102 rockets struck Israel. 22 rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

A rocket fired from Gaza hit electricity infrastructure in Israel that supplies power to Gaza, cutting power to about 70,000 people in Khan Yunis and Deir al-Balah. The Israel Electric Company (IEC) decided for the time being not to fix the power line, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister for Regional Development Silvan Shalom have instructed the company not to put the lives of IEC workers at risk. Hamas is known to snipe at Israelis working on the fence near to Gaza. The power line will be fixed when the security situation allows it, the company said. Read more ..

Broken Borders

MS-13 recruiting youngsters at U.S. shelters

July 13th 2014

MS-13 Tat

The most dangerous street gangs in the United States -- including MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha) with more than 70,000 members -- have discovered a human treasure-trove of potential members and they've begun their own recruitment drive at some of the less protected shelters housing illegal alien minors who have entered the United States, according to a top "Inside the Beltway" watchdog group on Thursday.

While U.S. political leaders are scrambling to cope with the crisis created by this mass migration of tens of thousands of mostly illegal alien minors who have swarmed into the U.S. via the Mexican border in recent weeks, it's believed that among the "children" are members of Latino gangs emanating from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, according to officials at Judicial Watch, the organization that successfully got a federal judge to act on the IRS scandal this week. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Muslim-run Charity Thrives in Washington Suburb

July 10th 2014

Homeless in Cheap Motels

In a sleepy suburb of Washington, D.C., a Muslim-run charity is thriving as it serves a diverse community and helps those in need.

In downtown Herndon, Virginia, a mother and two children are receiving help from this food pantry run by an organization called “FAITH,”  short for “the Foundation for Appropriate and Immediate Temporary Help.” About 800 to 1,000 people come to the food pantry for help every month.

FAITH was officially founded in 1999 and has grown to become a viable part of the Herndon community, supported by staff and volunteers. It says its programs are aimed at empowering people to get out of poverty.

"We have an intake process where we evaluate the situation of the client. And then from that evaluation and research, then we make our plan with the client: how are they going to change their situation?  We are actually trying to help the client change their situation.  We are not maintaining them in the same place.  We want them to be proactive," said Amreen Ahmed, the director of FAITH. Read more ..

Kurdistan on Edge

Fractured States

July 9th 2014

PKK (Kurdish Worker's Party) Fighter

In the latest evidence of ongoing fragmentation in what was once Iraq and Syria, Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq, this week announced his intention to hold a referendum in the coming months to decide the question of Kurdish independence.

“I have said many times that independence is the natural right of the people of Kurdistan,” Barzani told the BBC in an interview. “All these developments [in Iraq] reaffirm that, and from now on we will not hide that the goal of Kurdistan is independence… I cannot fix a date now, but it’s a question of months.”

Barzani’s words reflect the increased self-confidence of the Kurds, following their recent acquisition of the oil-rich Kirkuk area and the effective performance of their armed forces against the jihadis of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – in sharp contrast to the army of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Regardless of Income, Americans Concerned about Energy Impacts

July 7th 2014

Rich, poor or in-between, American consumers express an equal degree of personal worry about the impact of energy use on the environment, according to the newest findings of the University of Michigan Energy Survey.

A joint effort of the U-M Energy Institute and Institute for Social Research, the quarterly survey of a nationally representative sample of 500 households gauges consumer perceptions and beliefs about key energy-related concerns including affordability, reliability and impact on the environment.

Respondents were asked how much they personally worry about three factors: energy reliability, affordability and environmental impact. Researchers found that respondents in the lowest of three income brackets worried about reliability and affordability of energy more than those in the top and middle-income thirds. However, the percentage of respondents who reported worrying a "great deal" or a "fair amount" about energy's environmental impact held steady across all three income brackets, averaging close to 60 percent. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Will Migrant Kids Lose Access to Child Welfare in Rush to Deport?

July 6th 2014

Click to select Image

Child legal advocates are worried some Central American kids turning themselves in at the border could be returned to peril if Congress amends laws to speed up their repatriation to home countries.

Changes that President Obama may seek in anti-trafficking laws — which were developed in recent years with bipartisan support — could give U.S. Border Patrol agents authority to “screen” these children to assess if they have a legitimate “credible fear” of being sent back to countries with high murder rates and rampant gang violence.

Border Patrol agents’ ability to interview children and fairly assess if they face danger if returned to home countries has been criticized, as the Center for Public Integrity reported in July 2011. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Network, Son Of Nashi: New Youth Group Seeks To Woo Russia's Middle Class

July 5th 2014

Vladimir Putin sunglasses

They're fanatical about Vladimir Putin. They've painted murals in Russian cities and created patriotic textbooks for kids. And one local newspaper even called them Jehovah's Witnesses-style believers dedicated to spreading Putin's word.

Meet Network, the latest pro-Kremlin youth group to hit the political scene. The group is a spiritual heir to Nashi, the prototypical and now defunct pro-Putin youth outfit that was founded in 2005 in the aftermath of Ukraine's Orange Revolution as part of a Kremlin effort to inoculate Russia against a similar uprising.

But unlike Nashi, which was formed to appeal to working-class provincial youth, Network, or "Set" in Russian, is aiming to attract the urban middle class. The group appears to be part of a Kremlin campaign to co-opt the educated young professionals who rose up against Putin in late 2011-12, the so-called "Bolotnaya generation," a reference to the Moscow square that was the scene of massive anti-Kremlin demonstrations. Read more ..

America on Edge

"Boys Will Be Boys" Seems to be America's Campus Rape Policy

July 4th 2014


Before one even begins to discuss the root causes of rape-- the personal motivations, the sociocultural beliefs and practices that may attribute to the act; one has to realize and acknowledge that rape is a brutal act of violence. Rape, which can be defined as, penetration no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without consent of the victim (Per the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program), can affect victims for many years after initial contact, and after any physical wounds have healed. Many rape victims subsequently have to cope with a form of post-traumatic stress disorder referred to as post traumatic rape syndrome; and the hallmark of this disorder is that it is psychological reaction to being exposed to an event (a brutal act of sexual violence) which is outside the range of normal human experience. The assault and trauma impacts the brain in such a way that it often leave victim's with impaired verbal skills, short term memory loss, memory fragmentation, and delayed recall, which exemplifies why rape victims have a great difficulty functioning and responding to a line of questioning in a courtroom setting. The following symptoms are often present in Rape Trauma Syndrome: Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Facebook 'Messed with People's Minds,' FTC Sanctions Sought

July 2nd 2014

Eye biometrics

Facebook "purposefully messed with people's minds" in a "secretive and non-consensual" study on nearly 700,000 users whose emotions were intentionally manipulated when the company altered their news feeds for research purposes, a digital privacy rights group charges in a complaint filed with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed the complaint Thursday, asking the FTC to impose sanctions on Facebook. The study violated terms of a 20-year consent decree that requires the social-networking company must protect its users' privacy, EPIC said. EPIC also wants Facebook to be forced to disclose the algorithms it uses to determine what appears in users' news feeds. Read more ..

Healthcare on Edge

Newborns Face Severe Infections

July 1st 2014

Newborn baby

A new study estimates that nearly 7-million newborns a year suffer life-threatening infections. Most go untreated. The infections include sepsis, meningitis and pneumonia.

The study, which appears in The Lancet, said most of the newborn infections – about three-and-a-half-million – occur in South Asia. Sub-Saharan Africa follows with more than two-and-a-half-million and then Latin America with 800,000.

Professor Joy Lawn, who oversaw the research, said, “These estimates aren’t just numbers. They’re guiding us to how many babies have these life threatening infections. And where are they and what should we be doing about it?”

Lawn is with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Save the Children. She said, “We know that almost three-million newborns die every year – so babies in the first month of life. And in trying to address those we need top focus on the biggest causes. And neonatal infection – or sepsis – is one of those main causes.” Read more ..

Education on Edge

A Creative Solution to Student Loan Crisis

June 30th 2014

As America's student debt crisis continues to worsen, researchers at the University of Michigan and Elon University believe they have a solution—let the federal government, rather than private banks, handle student loans.

"Evidence suggests that student borrowers have not been well-served by the current system," said Roland Zullo, assistant research scientist with the U-M Institute for Research on Labor, Employment and the Economy. "Sources have identified persistent problems with the performance of servicers, the extent and nature of which indicate serious structural shortcomings and conflicts of interests in the present contractual arrangement." Read more ..

The Brazilian Edge

Flash Mobs Dance in Rio for Locals

June 28th 2014

Brazilian football fans and flag

Not everything about the World Cup revolves around football. Sometimes an event like this can bring an extra bit of excitement to a host nation, and in Rio de Janeiro flash mobs are erupting spontaneously, to the delight of locals.

Parque Madureira is a quiet park about an hour away from Rio's touristy beach spots. And Praça XV, in the center of Rio, is a place where locals arrive by ferry from Niteroi, across the bay, to start the work day.

The Brazilian Ministry of Culture has organized five-to-ten-minute long flash mobs in each location. They are performed mostly for local citizens, not the tourists that have overtaken their city during the World Cup.

“Big Dance Brazil” flash mobs will take place in all twelve cities hosting World Cup matches. According to choreographer Carlinhos de Jesus, dance is the best way to unite Brazilians.  Read more ..

Nature on Edge

Liberians Flee Caterpillar Invasion

June 27th 2014

Hungry African Widow/Children

Thousands of people have fled their homes in northern Liberia following an invasion of caterpillars - which have overtaken houses and schools, destroyed crops and contaminated water sources. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says these attacks are becoming more frequent in Liberia and the government needs to put in place an early warning system to stop the invasions from reaching such catastrophic levels.

Residents of at least 25 villages and towns in the forested areas of Lofa and Gbarpolu counties have been fleeing en masse since early June to escape the trail of excrement that the caterpillars leave behind.

“We are afraid. You see here, the caterpillars are all over and there is nowhere to sleep. I am leaving with my children to a different community," explained Mary Tolbert who lives in Gbarpolu County. Jeremiah Toe, a nurse in one of the affected villages, says the caterpillars pose a serious public health problem. Read more ..

The Edge of Women's Rights

Men's Sports, Shorts Not For Women In Iran

June 26th 2014

Women's Rights Activists

Iranian women are free to love sports, as long as they do it in the safety of their own homes.

Female fans got a harsh reminder of this when they attempted to cheer for their men's soccer and volleyball teams this week.

Women attempting to attend World League volleyball matches being held this month in Tehran learned from the national police chief that their presence "was not in the public interest," while a female lawmaker argued that women at sporting events was a source of "disrespect and rape in society."

In an added slight, it was made clear that women and televised World Cup soccer matches were not a good match either -- at least not in public. The authorities made that clear by preventing public screenings of the game, which could result in mixed crowds, and putting pressure on cafes and restaurants to not show the games. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Starbucks Offers Wireless Recharging for Smartphones

June 25th 2014

“Wireless” will come to signify much more than the untethering of handsets from phone and Ethernet cables in the near future. Wireless charging spots for mobile gadgets are popping up at coffee and tea shops in select locations. Similar efforts to eliminate the cables that connect computers and monitors are not far behind, bringing with them the promise of virtually tangle-free living rooms and desktops.
Starbucks is putting wireless charging on the map through a pilot program to roll out wireless charging stations in its coffee and Teavana shops. Customers can recharge smartphones and tablets on tables and counters designated as Powermat Spots by placing their devices on a Duracell Powermat, developed by Procter & Gamble’s Duracell brand and Powermat Technologies, Ltd.  Some newer phones—including the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Asus PadFone X—have built-in receivers that enable them to draw power directly from these mats. Other devices must be placed in a special case or require a plugin receiver to take advantage of wireless recharging.


The Healthy Edge

Promising Treatment for Alzheimer's Found in Cocoa Extract

June 23rd 2014

A specific preparation of cocoa-extract called Lavado may reduce damage to nerve pathways seen in Alzheimer’s disease patients’ brains long before they develop symptoms, according to a study conducted at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and published June 20 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (JAD).
Specifically, the study results, using mice genetically engineered to mimic Alzheimer’s disease, suggest that Lavado cocoa extract prevents the protein β-amyloid- (Aβ) from gradually forming sticky clumps in the brain, which are known to damage nerve cells as Alzheimer’s disease progresses.

Lavado cocoa is primarily composed of polyphenols, antioxidants also found in fruits and vegetables, with past studies suggesting that they prevent degenerative diseases of the brain.
The Mount Sinai study results revolve around synapses, the gaps between nerve cells. Within healthy nerve pathways, each nerve cell sends an electric pulse down itself until it reaches a synapse where it triggers the release of chemicals called neurotransmitters that float across the gap and cause the downstream nerve cell to “fire” and pass on the message. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Why We Don’t Trust Technology Companies

June 22nd 2014

Oak Ridge Super Computer

Last October, T-Mobile made an astonishing announcement: from now on, when you travel internationally with a T-Mobile phone, you get free unlimited text messages and Internet use. Phone calls to any country are 20 cents a minute.

T-Mobile's plan changes everything. It ends the age of putting your phone in airplane mode overseas, terrified by tales of $6,000 overage charges. I figured my readers would be jubilant. But a surprising number had a very different reaction. “Why should I believe them?” they wrote. “Cell carriers have lied to us for years.”

That's not the first time that promises from a tech company have been greeted not with joy but with skepticism. When Apple introduced a fingerprint scanner into the Home button of the iPhone 5S, you might have expected the public's reaction to be, “Wow, that's much faster than having to type in a password 50 times a day!” But instead a common reaction was: “Oh, great. So now Apple can give my fingerprints to the NSA.” Read more ..

Crimea on Edge

Crimea's Methadone Ban Hitting Rehab Patients Hard

June 22nd 2014

Cocaine intercepted in Europe in rice sacks from Africa

As many as 20 people who were being treated for heroin addiction in the Ukrainian region of Crimea have died since the Black Sea peninsula was annexed by Russia in March.

Dozens more have left the region for other parts of Ukraine in a bid to continue methodone treatment. The heroin-replacement therapy, which is widely used in the West, is considered ineffective by Russian health specialists and is banned in that country.

Crimea's de facto authorities claim heroin addicts have been taken care of since Moscow took over."Nearly 700 people have been taken off replacement therapy and about 60 are being treated in health-care facilities," says Sergei Donich, a former regional health minister and currently deputy prime minister in the region's de facto government, says. Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

Ukraine's Refugee Crisis

June 19th 2014

Ukraine homeless

Lyudmila Denisenko endured weeks of deadly shootouts between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian insurgents in her home city of Slovyansk, the epicenter of the separatist conflict ravaging eastern Ukraine. But when a children's hospital was shelled two weeks ago, her patience finally snapped.

She and her family fled for the relative safety of Izyum, a small town 50 kilometers northwest of Slovyansk. "We came here with nothing," she recently said in Izyum's City Hall, where she was applying for temporary accommodation and basic supplies. "We could no longer stay. The children's hospital was bombed, the train station was bombed, the bus station was bombed. We hitchhiked all the way here."

Like Denisenko, thousands of people have fled eastern Ukraine in recent weeks. Amid the chaos, however, the scope of the refugee crisis remains unclear. UNHCR, the United Nations' refugee agency, estimates that there are currently more than 17,500 internally displaced people (IDPs) in Ukraine. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Will New Afghan Government Roll Back Women's Rights?

June 17th 2014

Afghanistan tortured girl

As Afghan women await the results of the second round of presidential elections which took place over the weekend, they are watching to see that the rights they have won and the advances they have made in the last decade are not compromised.

In the political landscape of Afghanistan today—and in stark contrast to its strongly conservative culture—women vote. They are members of Parliament. They serve in the Cabinet.  They hold positions in provincial councils.

Although the 2006 Afghan Constitution guaranteed women certain rights—including the right to vote, to be educated, and to hold public office—the women of Afghanistan have suffered some setbacks in the last seven years. The administration of President Hamid Karzai has paved the way for millions of girls to go to school and for women to work and has enshrined equal rights for the citizens. Read more ..

Crimes against Humanity

Guatemala, Genocide, and the Politics of Forgetfulness

June 16th 2014

When Judge Yasminn Barrios announced a guilty verdict that condemned the man who played a vital role in the state-led violence in Guatemala that torched over 400 villages, murdered more than 100 thousand people, and displaced an excess of 1 million citizens, indigenous communities present at judicial proceedings erupted into jubilee. The once untouchable General José Enfraín Ríos Montt had been sentenced to face the rest of his life in jail.

One week later, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Guatemala annulled the lower court’s guilty verdict. Shortly thereafter, Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, who had successfully prosecuted General Ríos Montt, was fired. Read more ..

Broken Borders

National Political Developments Delay Immigration Reform

June 14th 2014

Click to select Image

In new signs that prospects for immigration reform legislation are all but dead for now, developments in both state and national arenas have pushed a solution to the issue farther down the political tracks.

For starters, Texas Republicans readopted a tough stance at the party’s convention in Fort Worth last weekend. Drawing more than 7,000 delegates, the Lone Star GOP convention voted to remove a 2012 position statement known as the “Texas Solution” which backed a guest worker system for undocumented persons.

The party delegates came out against a guest worker program but held out the possibility of granting visas to workers in industries facing labor shortages, as long as “really secure borders” and a universal E-Verify employee eligibility system were in place. The new state party platform includes opposition to in-state college tuition for undocumented students, and supports prohibiting municipalities from taking measures against enforcing federal immigration law. Read more ..

Jewry on Edge

Jews of Marseille ‘Bunkerize’ after Brussels Museum Shootings

June 12th 2014

Place Charles de Gaulle

French police are guarding ninety synagogues and Jewish schools in Marseille after the shooting attack at the Jewish Museum in Brussels killed four people last month, the UK Guardian reported on Wednesday.

Michèle Teboul, the leader of a regional Jewish organisation, was quoted as saying that Marseilles’s 80,000-member Jewish community had no alternative other than to “bunkerize.” The city has 850,000 people, a quarter of whom are Muslim.

The lead suspect in the Brussels attack, Mehdi Nemmouche, was arrested on May 30 at the Marseille bus station, but fear pervades the city, with the adjacent Saint-Charles train station evacuated during rush-hour last Friday after the discovery of a suspicious package. Read more ..

The Way We Are

How to Give Advice as Well as We Receive Advice

June 10th 2014

Click to select Image

Most of us find it easier to be wise about other people's problems than our own. But a new study identifies a simple way to close this gap.

The research, conducted by social psychologists Igor Grossmann at the University of Waterloo in Ontario and Ethan Kross at U-M, shows the solution is self-distancing — considering your problems from the perspective of an observer. The study appears in the current issue of Psychological Science.

Grossmann and Kross, an associate professor of psychology and a faculty associate at the Institute for Social Research, asked participants to reflect on a relationship conflict of their own or someone else's, such as a spouse's infidelity with a close friend. Participants were asked to think about this problem in the first-person and in the third-person, and offer advice on how to address the problem. According to Grossmann, the results clearly show that when people think about problems in the first-person, people are wiser when reasoning about others' problems than their own, a bias that the researchers term "Solomon's Paradox," after the Old Testament king who was known for his wisdom but who still failed at making personal decisions Read more ..

Hamas-PA Unity

Hamas Violence over Receipt of US-Funded Salaries

June 5th 2014

Hamas Terrorists

On Thursday, violent clashes broke out between Hamas and Palestinian Authority employees at ATM machines in Gaza. Unlike their PA colleagues, disappointed Hamas employees had discovered that they were not paid salaries from the new unity administration, which was officially inaugurated on Monday, according to a Reuters report.

Hamas public employees, who have not been paid in weeks, were hoping that the unity government under the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation pact would reinstate their incomes. A spokesman for the unity government stated that a committee had yet to vet the Hamas employees before they could be added to the payroll of the new leadership.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority has been paying some 70,000 public employees in the Gaza Strip since the Hamas terror organization violently overtook the coastal enclave in 2007, forcing Fatah out. Hamas has 40,000 civil servants and security personnel on its payroll. Read more ..

The Edge of Murder

Why Is It So Hard To Stop 'Honor Killings'?

May 30th 2014

Pakistani honor victims

In some societies, it is common for men to think of wives and daughters as both assets and liabilities. So long as they are obedient to their fathers and husbands, they are a source of pride. But if they disobey and show independence, they become a source of shame and may even be murdered to protect the family's "honor."

Here are five things to know about "honor killings" and why they are so hard to stop.

How frequent are honor crimes?
According to UN statistics available, some 5,000 honor killings a year are reported worldwide. But many experts believe the real number is much higher because many honor crimes are often hidden from the police.

The hiding of honor crimes is possible because they often take place within a family. Leading members, including females, decide that the woman or girl who has compromised the family's honor must be put to death. The crime is kept secret through a code of silence.

Jacqueline Thibault, whose Swiss-based association Surgir protects potential victims of honor killings in the Middle East, says murders are often reported as suicides. In some cases, there is no "need" for a murder because the family pressure is so great that the victim commits suicide herself.

Are honor crimes unique to the Muslim world?
No, honor crimes are found in many parts of the globe and are not tied to any single religion. Countries where they take place are as diverse as Brazil and India, Pakistan and Albania.  However, they occur with the greatest frequency in the Middle East and South Asia and only sparingly in South America and Central Asia, as well as among some immigrant populations in Europe. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Pakistani Beats Wife to Death for Cooking the Wrong Meal

May 29th 2014

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A judge in Brooklyn NY found an elderly Pakistani immigrant guilty for the murder of his wife. Brooklyn Supreme Court judge Matthew D’Emic said he had considered a verdict of manslaughter in the gruesome case, but found that Noor Hussain, 75, had intended his wife’s death.

Hussain killed his wife, Nazar Hussain, 66, on April 2, 2001, by beating her to death because she cooked lentils even though he had “demanded that she make goat for dinner.” Defense attorney Julie Clark said in her closing argument on May 29, “He demanded that she make goat for dinner. She said, ‘No, I made gram,’ a traditional savoury dish. She continued, “He had told her he wanted a particular type of meat for dinner, goat meat, and she refused. So he took up a stick to discipline her for not making the meal he wanted.” Read more ..

The Hamas-PLO Union

The Devil in the Details of Palestinian Reconciliation

May 29th 2014

How -- and if -- Hamas and Fatah overcome formidable security, institutional, and political roadblocks should dictate the international response to their unity deal and joint government.

As rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah prepare to announce the names of ministers for a joint technocratic government as soon as this week, it remains unclear how the various provisions of last month's tentative reconciliation deal will be implemented in practice. On a wide array of issues -- security, public employees in the Gaza Strip, the dormant legislature, future elections, and the composition of the Palestine Liberation Organization -- uncertainty still reigns. How these issues are resolved -- assuming they are resolved at all -- should dictate U.S. and international policy toward Palestinian reconciliation efforts. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Teenagers Live Extraordinary Lives to Make a Difference

May 28th 2014

family with teenagers

While most teenagers in the United States spend their time juggling school, home and friends, there are a few who are choosing a different life. They are charting their own path to make a difference in the world. They recently gathered in Los Angeles to discuss their work and what makes each of them unique.

Fifteen-year-old Winter Vinecki has accomplished more than most people have in a lifetime. “I recently completed a marathon on all seven continents and became the youngest person in the world to do so. I really was doing this for my dad,” she said.

Vinecki’s father was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of prostate cancer when she was nine. He died 10 months later. ”When he was first diagnosed, I immediately knew I had to do something to help him. That’s when I formed Team Winter for prostate cancer research and awareness," said Vinecki. Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

Refugees in Jordan, Syria Denied Cancer Treatment for Lack of Funds

May 27th 2014

Syrian refugees

The U.N. refugee agency says hundreds of refugees in Jordan and Syria are being denied cancer treatment because of lack of funds.

UNHCR’s top medical expert, Paul Spiegel, told VOA that decisions on who gets treatment and who does not are made on the basis of cost. He said helping the largest number of people with the limited amount of money on hand is usually the determining factor.  

“For the colleagues themselves that have to deal with this, it is extremely difficult and we sometimes try to help them, to give them counseling," said Spiegel. "We have a standard operating procedure that can be shared with both the doctors and the refugees to say this is what happens, and we do this in order to help the most amount of people. But no matter which way you look at it, it is a horrible experience.”   Read more ..

Islam on Edge

The Fatwa: From the Middle East to South Asia

May 26th 2014

Koran and prayer beads

In early February 2014 Egypt's shadowy Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (the ABM, or Partisans of Jerusalem) were continuing their attack on government forces and institutions.  The Sinai-based Islamist intransigents, whose leadership appears tied to Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, first emerged in 2011.  In its opposition to Israel it has carried out attacks on the Sinai gas pipeline, and a series of explosions have in effect put an end to the sale of natural gas to Israel (and given a constant interruption in service to Jordan).  More recently, its assaults on Egypt's military forces have created widespread insecurity the length of the Sinai Peninsula.  Finally, in the last few weeks the ABM has begun to attack targets in the heart of Egypt. 

Egyptian experts claim the ABM is a mix of Sinai bedouin, former members of the terrorist Egypt Islamic Jihad and Gamaat al-Islamiya, and rebels who broke out of prison or were released following the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.  They support a Morsy presidency and are determined to oust the de facto government of army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.  Given that unlikely scenario, they plan to destabilize the Egyptian polity and make it as difficult as possible for Sisi to rule, should he win the upcoming election to the presidency. Read more ..

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