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Vote 2015

Unions Open Their Coffers As Senate Hangs In The Balance

September 1st 2014

Money Stack

Organized labor is pouring millions of dollars into congressional campaign coffers, as unions press to stave off a Senate flip this fall that could spell disaster for their policy agenda during the final years of the Obama administration.On issues ranging from collective bargaining to immigration to worker protections, union officials, advocates and experts say GOP control of the upper chamber could jeopardize what has become a period of significant progress for the labor movement.

“There’s a lot of room for mischief in a Senate that’s under Republican leadership,” said William Spriggs, chief economist for the AFL-CIO.

After an often-rocky relationship with Washington’s Democrats in President Obama’s first term, unions have reason to celebrate this Labor Day. President Obama has in recent months sought to counter congressional gridlock on labor issues with aggressive use of executive power, ordering up regulations to extend overtime pay to some workers and increase the minimum wage for others.

Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

In Beslan, Struggle For A ‘New Life’ Decade After Tragedy

August 31st 2014

Iraqi church bombed

Nadezhda Guriyeva huddled with her children on the floor of the sweltering school gymnasium. An explosive device rested ominously just a few feet away. The two older children, Boris and Vera, were dressed for a folk dance performance to celebrate the first day of school. The festivities never began.

Boris and Vera were among the 334 people, including 186 children, killed amid explosions and a hail of bullets after being held captive for two days in a terrorist attack on School No. 1 in Beslan. Guriyeva’s youngest daughter, Irina, survived. The girl’s escape allowed Guriyeva to survive the aftermath of the horror. "I had no choice," Guriyeva says. “I had my little daughter. She was always watching me to see if I cried. I couldn't even cry."

Ten years have passed since armed militants stormed the school on September 1, 2004, and took 1,100 children, mothers and teachers hostage in the gymnasium. The ordeal came to an end 52 hours later. But for the survivors and their loved ones, it changed everything forever. Read more ..


The Ebola Outbreak

Patient Zero Believed to Be Sole Source of Ebola Outbreak

August 30th 2014

West Africa Domestic Violence

One glaring fact from the latest report on the Ebola outbreak is that five of the many study authors are dead, killed by the disease that is roiling west Africa. The new analysis, published in the August 29 issue of Science, reveals that the current Ebola outbreak stemmed from an earlier initial leap from the wild into humans, rather than the virus repeatedly jumping from a natural reservoir—perhaps infected animals—to humans. By essentially sketching out a high-tech molecular family tree, researchers concluded that the virus spreading in Sierra Leone and nearby countries is the descendent of an original Ebola viral jump, and not new versions of the pathogen that are being repeatedly introduced into the human population. That means the public health response to this outbreak—which focuses on tracking and treating those who have been exposed to people with Ebola, rather than attempting to keep people away from potential animal carriers—has been the right strategy.
 
That conclusion comes from a sweeping analysis of 99 Ebola virus genome sequences that comprise some 70 percent of the Ebola patients diagnosed in Sierra Leone in late May to mid-June. The virus samples were extracted from the blood of 78 patients early in Sierra Leone’s outbreak. And the work indicates that the first case of the disease in that country stemmed from the burial of a traditional healer who had previously treated Ebola patients in Guinea. Subsequently, 13 additional women who attended the burial developed Ebola viral disease. Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

In Russia, Ukraine Conflict Hits Home With Secret Funerals, Missing Men

August 29th 2014

Russian Cross

In early spring, Vladimir Putin deployed soldiers without insignia into the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea to ensure a quick annexation of the territory.

After a month of denying their very existence, the Russian president nonchalantly acknowledged that the thousands of well-armed fighters, who had previously been cheekily referred to as "little green men," were in fact Russian troops.

Decried in the West, Russians gave the move near unanimous support. A territory was won through military might -- and an overwhelming referendum vote that has not been recognized in the West -- but without a fight.

But now, as Moscow reinvigorates a flailing pro-Russian separatist insurgency with a barely concealed incursion into southeastern Ukraine, indications are that Russian military men are dying. And as captured Russian paratroopers are paraded on Ukrainian television and servicemen are buried in secrecy, some Russians are asking a seemingly simple question: "Are we at war?"

The answer to the question, originally posed in an editorial in the "Vedomosti" business daily, is one that is becoming increasingly obvious for military families. It is the details that they say are not forthcoming. In Kostroma, 1,300 kilometers from Russia's border with eastern Ukraine, family members of a group of 10 Russian paratroopers captured in Ukraine say all their information has come from secondhand, online sources.

One mother, Olga Pochtoyeva, says when she originally approached officials with photos on her son's Vkontakte page that appeared to show he had been taken prisoner in Ukraine, her claims were dismissed as "provocations." "We showed them [these pictures] and they didn't believe it," she says. "It's Photoshop, they told us. I'm sorry, I'd never mistake my son's eyebrows for photoshop." Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

UNRWA and Gaza Terrorism

August 28th 2014

Hamas protester

The United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) has come under increasing fire in recent weeks for aiding Hamas in the terror group's war against Israel, with one advocacy group lodging a formal complaint against the organization. As evidence seems to continue to emerge of the use of the agency's schools and clinics as Hamas storehouses, rocket launching sites and tunnel entrances, protest has grown in Israel and abroad that the organization, established to aid the Palestinian Arab refugee population, has far exceeded its mandate by aiding and sustaining the psychological and physical assault on Israeli civilians and infrastructure.

At the same time that evidence was mounting that the UN agency was allowing Hamas to use its facilities to launch attacks on Israel, a number of statements were issued by UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon criticizing Israel for use of disproportionate force. In response, the Legal Forum for Israel drafted a letter to Moon decrying his accusations and denouncing the lack of accountability by the international body for its role in the violence.

Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Amid Election Uncertainty, Karzai Prepares For Inauguration Ceremony

August 27th 2014

Karzai

The long-running deadlock over the disputed presidential election in Afghanistan is still far from over.

That, however, has not stopped outgoing President Hamid Karzai from fixing September 2 as the date for the delayed inauguration of his successor. What's more, Karzai has formed a special government commission that has begun making last-minute preparations for the historic event.

But there's an elephant in the room -- the mammoth task of auditing all eight million votes cast in the June 14 election has still not been completed and rival candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani have still not hashed out the details of a crucial power-sharing agreement brokered earlier this month. 

Neither candidate appears willing to back down, and regular disputes have broken out. The audit was temporarily suspended on August 27 after first Abdullah and then Ghani pulled out of the process, casting the election deeper into disarray and clouding the chances for a swift resolution.

Preliminary results put Ghani, a former finance minister, in the lead. But Abdullah, a former foreign minister, has rejected the results and claimed "systematic fraud." It seems optimistic to expect that in less than one week the audit and a complaints adjudication process will have been completed and that both candidates will have accepted the final results and hashed out a political settlement. Nevertheless, the commission Karzai has charged with organizing the inauguration is going full steam ahead with preparations for what it promises will be a "glorious" event. Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

Russian Soldiers Are In Ukraine

August 26th 2014

Russian S300 launchers

It was an "accident."

That was Moscow's official response to how a group of Russian paratroopers ended up in Ukraine. The soldiers --  apparently from a division based in Kostroma, a city on the Volga River north of Moscow -- were captured by Ukrainian forces, who posted videos of some of their interrogations online.

In what appear to be forced confessions in front of Ukrainian military personnel, they say they were misled by their superiors, who told them they were going on a "training exercise."

The videos appeared to confirm what Kyiv authorities had been claiming for months amid denials from the Kremlin -- that Moscow is supplying pro-Russian separatists with military hardware and personnel. The claims had largely been based on circumstantial evidence. But since mid-August, as Russia has attempted to staunch Ukrainian gains against the militants, that evidence has mounted steadily. Read more ..


The Edge of Hate

Temple University -- Latest Antisemitic Hotspot Protested Amid Record Donation Drive

August 25th 2014

Edwin Black

Temple University has become the latest focal point for groups concerned about the spreading wave of campus antisemitism and academic-based Holocaust minimizing.

Temple student Daniel Vessal, a fellow with CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), was drawn into a verbal exchange with anti-Israel activists at the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) table during an official college event on August 20, 2014. Vessal, in his junior year at the Temple University Fox School of Business, studying Management Information Systems and Entrepreneurship, was allegedly called a "kike," "Zionist pig," and "baby killer." He was slapped so hard at the SJP table that he was sent to the hospital. A police investigation and legal action are underway. The assaultive SJP supporter has purportedly apologized, according to a published SJP statement, which states: "I’m sorry for what I did. I admit I lost my temper."

With lightning speed, fourteen Jewish organizations reacted to the assault, releasing a joint public letter of protest to Temple University. The letter complained: "A university campus should be the setting for thoughtful discussion and intellectual debate. Such an atmosphere should be encouraged by all responsible student groups. Unfortunately, Students for Justice in Palestine is not such a group. It has a proven track record of intimidation, harassment, and incitement merging into anti-Semitism against Israel and its supporters on campus."

The swift-response joint letter was spearheaded by StandWithUs, which has become the nation’s pre-eminent campus pro-Israel advocacy group. Additional signatories included Americans for Peace and Tolerance, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), David Horowitz Freedom Center, Hasbara Fellowships, Proclaiming Justice to The Nations, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, Simon Wiesenthal Center Campus Outreach, The Lawfare Project, The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). Read more ..


The Edge of Terror

Kicked Off Twitter And Facebook, Islamic State Finds New Tools

August 23rd 2014

ISIL execution victims

Thousands of social-media users were unwittingly exposed to horrifying images of James Foley's execution in the hours after Islamic State (IS) militants posted video of his beheading online.

It was exhibit A in the extremist group's two-pronged propaganda campaign: inflict fear in the West while using the same imagery to inspire and recruit radicals from around the world.

But since the video first appeared on August 19, major companies like Twitter and YouTube have increased their efforts to take down offensive material and remove accounts linked to terrorist groups. IS, though, appears to be adapting to the shutdowns by moving to open-source and more decentralized social networks that are difficult to regulate and also experimenting with other tools that are less popular in the West. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

New York Times Reporter James Risen Says Obama Biggest Threat to Press Freedom

August 18th 2014

Obama is leaving the building

The New York Times reporter James Risen, who faces jail over his refusal to reveal a source and testify against a former CIA agent accused of leaking secrets, has called President Barack Obama “the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation”.

Speaking to his colleague Maureen Dowd, Risen accused the president of aggressively pursuing journalists, including himself, who report sensitive stories that reflect poorly on the US government.

Risen faces jail over his reporting of a botched intelligence operation that ended up spilling nuclear secrets to Iran. The Justice Department has long been seeking to force him to testify and name the confidential source of the account, which is contained in his 2006 book State of War.

Read more ..

The Balkans on Edge

Mercenaries, Extremists Become Major Balkans Export

August 16th 2014

Guns for sale

During the Cold War, Yugoslavia sent thousands of teachers, doctors, engineers, and other professionals to work in all corners of the globe.

Now some of the countries of the former Yugoslavia are becoming notorious for a different human export -- jihadists and mercenaries. And the numbers seem to be on the rise, despite measures in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Serbia to stop the traffic.

On August 8, a Bosnian citizen named Emrah Fojnica, 23, blew himself up in a suicide bombing in Iraq during an attack by the Islamic State (IS), formerly known as ISIL.

Just days later, police in Kosovo arrested 40 suspected Islamist radicals during a raid of about 60 locations around the country. The men are accused of fighting with extremist militants in Syria and Iraq. And officials in Serbia estimate that dozens of Serbs are fighting on both sides in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

"It is hard to say what their numbers are at this point," says Milorad Mijatovic, a parliament deputy from the Social Democratic Party. "They are not small. We are certainly talking about tens of people going into those war zones."  Read more ..


The Race for Batteries

Tattoo Biobatteries Produce Power from Sweat

August 15th 2014

Researchers University of California San Diego have designed a sensor in the form of a temporary tattoo that can both monitor a person’s progress during exercise and the tattoo biobatteries can also produce power from the perspiration. The research team described their work at the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). The device works by detecting and responding to lactate, which is naturally present in sweat. Lactate is a very important indicator of how you are doing during exercise, explained Wenzhao Jia, Ph.D.

In general, the more intense the exercise, the more lactate the body produces. During strenuous physical activity, the body needs to generate more energy, so it activates a process called glycolysis. Glycolysis produces energy and lactate, the latter of which scientists can detect in the blood. Professional athletes monitor their lactate levels during performance testing as a way to evaluate their fitness and training program. Read more ..


China Rising

China's Credit Slowdown Raises Concerns About Overall Economic Health

August 14th 2014

Chinese currency

New economic data released by China's National Bureau of Statistics on Aug. 13 shows the supply of credit to the Chinese economy expanded by only $44.3 billion in July, the slowest pace in almost six years. To be precise, credit expanded at the slowest pace since October 2008, the month after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and the month before the Chinese government launched an economic stimulus program that sheltered China's economy from the worst effects of the global financial crisis. That program also locked China into a growth model grounded in the intimate bond between government-led credit expansion and housing and infrastructure construction -- one that the Chinese government is now struggling, against time and at the risk of crisis, to escape.

The dramatic and widely unexpected drop in Chinese credit supply in July has raised concerns that the economic "recovery" China seemed poised to make starting in June -- when aggregate financing in China hit a whopping $320 billion, which was more than seven times greater than July's figure -- has been nipped in the bud. There are also concerns that the coming months will bring even worse news from the world's second-largest economy. These concerns are aggravated by anecdotal reports repeated in mainstream news media saying July's decline is the result of the policy-driven credit tightening by the government and also reflects a drop in Chinese enterprises' demand for new loans. If the latter is the case, it raises important questions about the underlying health and trajectory of China's economy.

Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Depression Alone Rarely Causes Suicide

August 13th 2014

woman headache head bowed

In his stand-up and best-loved comedies, including Aladdin and Mrs. Doubtfire, Robin Williams was known for his rapid-fire impersonations and intensely playful energy. His most critically acclaimed work, however, including his Oscar-winning turn in Good Will Hunting, married humor with sharp introspection and appreciation for melancholy.
 
Reports of his death from apparent suicide on August 11 at the age of 63 prompted much speculation about the actor’s personality and mental health. Williams had been seeking treatment for severe depression, and many commenters have labeled that as the reason for his death. Whereas the majority of people who commit suicide have depression, less than four percent of people with depression eventually take their lives. Clearly, more factors are at work as causes of suicide than depression alone. The severity of mood disorders, past suicide attempts and substance abuse are all thought to increase the risk. Recent evidence also suggests that the mixed depressive state of bipolar disorder can be a particularly dangerous time that can often go undetected or masquerade as depression and irritability. Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

New Sanctions Bill Raises Free Press Fears In Ukraine

August 13th 2014

Ukraine protest

Ukraine, once celebrated for its progressive media reforms, is currently considering legislation that could set the country back to Soviet-era levels of censorship.

Lawmakers in the Verkhovna Rada are set to meet on August 14 to review a sweeping draft law imposing sanctions on Russian companies and individuals. The legislation, meant to hamstring Russia amid intensifying violence in eastern Ukraine, also includes provisions to block media deemed a threat to Ukrainian security.

Supporters say the bill will give the Kyiv government essential tools to fight the onslaught of anti-Ukrainian propaganda and disinformation spread by Kremlin-friendly Russian media.

But critics worry the draft law -- which proposes to skirt standard checks and balances by handing fast-track powers of implementation to President Petro Poroshenko and the National Security and Defense Council -- could also be used to silence dissenting voices within Ukraine itself. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Do Trolls Matter?

August 12th 2014

Hacker keyboard

Like many people with access to the Internet and a holster full of gadgets, Vladimir Nesterenko is living a double existence.

In real life, the 49-year-old Kyiv native is a published author and darling of the Ukrainian counterculture.

Online, he's "Adolfych" -- a Russian-speaking mischief-maker who uses his Twitter, Facebook, and Live Journal accounts to comment, sometimes thoughtfully and often profanely, on the deepening conflict with Russia.

"I know a lot of Muscovites have little dachas in Abkhazia," he wrote in a recent post. "But could these Muscovites have afforded their little dachas if they hadn't gotten rid of the Georgians and turned a flourishing region into cheap f**king sh*t, like they're doing now in Crimea?" Read more ..


The Ecology on Edge

'Rock Star' Botanist Rappels Down Cliffs to Save Hawaii's Rarest Plants

August 11th 2014

European honeybee and flower

After the heavy rains and high winds of two rare, large storms, Hawaiian botanists are hoping the islands’ rarest plants have come through unscathed.

Thanks to its geographic isolation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the Aloha state is home to an incredible bounty of unique native plants, some 1,200 species, 90 percent of which are not found anywhere else in the world.

However, Hawaii has also become the endangered species capital of the United States, home to nearly 40 percent of the plants on that list.

Its natural heritage has been disappearing because of invasive plants and animals, habitat loss due to agriculture and development, and unpredictable natural events, such as hurricanes and droughts.  

Field botanist Steve Perlman has been at the forefront of protecting Hawaii’s endangered species for more than 40 years. He is one of the state's original 'rock star' botanists - literally. In the 1970s, he pioneered rappelling down high cliffs to save the Brighamia insignis - a rare Hawaiian plant commonly known as the Alula.  Read more ..


Israelis and Palestinians

Palestinian Chief Negotiator, Saeb Erekat, on Israel's Legal Obligations

August 11th 2014

Meshaal and Abbas

On November 10, 1975, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 3376 creating the “UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People,” and on May 20, 2013 it held its 352nd meeting, for which Saeb Erekat, Palestine’s chief negotiator with Israel, delivered the keynote address. Erekat explained that the Palestinians will not resume negotiations with Israel, not because it has preconditions, but because Israel has to first satisfy its legal obligations.

“We have no conditions to resume negotiations. When we say Israel must stop settlement activity, this is not a condition, this is an Israeli obligation, emanating Article 31 the final clauses of the Interim Agreement 1995 and the Roadmap which specified stopping settlement activities including natural growth as an obligation on Israel. When we speak about releasing prisoners, especially those who were arrested before the end of May 1994, we also stipulate Article 3 to the Sharm el Sheik Agreement of 1999; that’s an agreement signed with Israel. And when we say two-state solution of 1967 the Roadmap specified that the objective of the peace process is to end the occupation that began in 1967. So Israel in its blame-game and finger pointing that we put conditions. Ladies and gentlemen, these are not conditions, these are Israeli obligations.” Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Kasparov Battles Kremlin Moves In Bitter Chess Election

August 10th 2014

Gary Kasparov

For nearly a decade, chess legend Garry Kasparov has tried to mobilize domestic and global opposition against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Now, as the former world champion seeks election to the international chess world’s highest office, the Kremlin is striking back. The Russian government has flexed its diplomatic muscle to lobby against Kasparov’s campaign for the presidency of the World Chess Federation, known by its French acronym FIDE, ahead of the August 11 election to be held in Tromso, Norway.

Russian embassies throughout the world have contacted national chess federations to drum up support for Kasparov's opponent in the race, incumbent Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, a former Russian regional boss who has presided over FIDE for the past 19 years. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Obamacare Typo Costs Vegas Family $1.2 Million

August 9th 2014

File folders

Mixups on a health plan bought through the state’s insurance exchange have left a Las Vegas family facing more than $1 million in medical bills.

For Kynell and Amber Smith and their five children, the Nevada Health Link has been a six-month nightmare with no end in sight.

“I have spent countless hours on the phone trying to get this resolved,” said Kynell Smith, an aircraft parts salesman. “I have contacted and pleaded with elected officials to help and was told I may have to sue to get this resolved. What kind of answer is that?”

The family’s troubles began in February, when Amber Smith delivered daughter Kinsley five weeks prematurely. Kinsley spent 10 days in Summerlin Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, and Amber’s 40-day hospital stay included two surgeries. Read more ..


Iraq on Edge

Contemplating a U.S. Humanitarian Intervention in Iraq

August 8th 2014

Yazidi refugees bury their children

The United States is currently considering whether to intervene unilaterally to protect and succor roughly 40,000 Iraqi refugees trapped on Sinjar Mountain. According to various accounts, most of the refugees are Yazidis — ethnic Kurds whose religion is an offshoot of Zoroastrianism, the religion of pre-Islamic Persia (Iran) and one of the world's first monotheistic faiths. There are also said to be many other ethnic and sectarian minorities, including Iraqi Christians, all of whom have fled recent advances by the group known as ISIS or the Islamic State, which considers all of them to be apostates, infidels and even heretics.

Elsewhere in Iraq, ISIS has reportedly slaughtered men, women and even children whom they branded with those names. Moreover, U.S. government officials and various Iraqi sources believe that the refugees are in danger of dying from thirst, starvation, disease and/or exposure as they have too little food, water, medical supplies and shelter. According to the press accounts, the White House is weighing air drops of food and other humanitarian supplies, and even direct air strikes against ISIS fighters, convoys and staging bases threatening these refugees. Rather than ask why the United States should conduct such an intervention, I find myself asking why on earth shouldn't we? Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Russian Foodies React To Import Ban With Patriotism, Some Gloom

August 7th 2014

Food cooperative fruit

Moscow's upmarket food shoppers are reacting variously with patriotic approval and gloomy resignation at the prospect of going without some of their favorite foreign foods for a year.

The Russian government on August 7 approved a lengthy shopping list of foods and produce that cannot be imported from countries that have imposed sanctions on Russia for its interference in Ukraine.

The one-year embargo, decreed by President Vladimir Putin, affects produce, meat, and dairy imports from the United States, the European Union, Australia, and Norway.

Despite assurances from Putin that the tit-for-tat sanctions would be designed to have minimum impact on Russian citizens, his move was immediately assailed online by gourmet sophisticates of Russia's urban middle class who have grown fond of food imports. But the reaction from shoppers at luxury supermarkets such as Moscow's "Azbuka Vkusa" were mixed.  Read more ..


Destination Tunisia

Mysterious Lake Pops Up Overnight In Tunisia

August 6th 2014

Tunisia Mystery Lake

Tunisia offers other-worldly landscapes, fantastical and mysterious. Did you know that four of the Star Wars movies were partially filmed in the southern part of the country? (Tunisia had a starring role as the planet Tatooine). Now, adding to the Atlas mountains and Sahara desert, the tiny republic has another tourist attraction – a newborn lake.

Discovered by shepherds just last month in the middle of Tunisian desert,  there has been no official explanation for its sudden appearance. Some geologists have proposed that seismic activity may have disrupted the natural water table, pushing water from underground aquifers to the surface.  Others disagree.

- See more at: http://www.greenprophet.com/2014/08/mysterious-possibly-radioactive-lake-appears-out-of-the-blue-in-tunisia/#sthash.MNG6Wwdg.dpuf

Tunisia offers other-worldly landscapes, fantastical and mysterious. Did you know that four of the Star Wars movies were partially filmed in the southern part of the country? (Tunisia had a starring role as the planet Tatooine). Now, adding to the Atlas mountains and Sahara desert, the tiny republic has another tourist attraction – a newborn lake.

Discovered by shepherds just last month in the middle of Tunisian desert,  there has been no official explanation for its sudden appearance. Some geologists have proposed that seismic activity may have disrupted the natural water table, pushing water from underground aquifers to the surface.  Others disagree.

- See more at: http://www.greenprophet.com/2014/08/mysterious-possibly-radioactive-lake-appears-out-of-the-blue-in-tunisia/#sthash.MNG6Wwdg.dpuf

Tunisia offers other-worldly landscapes, fantastical and mysterious. Did you know that four of the Star Wars movies were partially filmed in the southern part of the country? (Tunisia had a starring role as the planet Tatooine). Now, adding to the Atlas mountains and Sahara desert, the tiny republic has another tourist attraction – a newborn lake. Discovered by shepherds just last month in the middle of Tunisian desert,  there has been no official explanation for its sudden appearance. Some geologists have proposed that seismic activity may have disrupted the natural water table, pushing water from underground aquifers to the surface.  Others disagree.

Authorities have calculated that the lake area exceeds one hectare, with depths ranging from 10 to 18 meters; that indicates a total water volume of one million cubic meters – liquid gold for the drought-ridden country.

Locally dubbed “Lac de Gafsa”, so far more than 600 people have traveled to the pool and a makeshift beach has grown along its shoreline.  Authorities have warned that the water, which began as a transparent turquoise until rapidly blooming algae turned it murky green, could be radioactive. That hasn’t deterred visitors who buck the 40°C  heat by swimming, diving, and floating atop inflatable rafts.

- See more at: http://www.greenprophet.com/2014/08/mysterious-possibly-radioactive-lake-appears-out-of-the-blue-in-tunisia/#sthash.MNG6Wwdg.dpuf

Authorities have calculated that the lake area exceeds one hectare, with depths ranging from 10 to 18 meters; that indicates a total water volume of one million cubic meters – liquid gold for the drought-ridden country. Locally dubbed “Lac de Gafsa”, so far more than 600 people have traveled to the pool and a makeshift beach has grown along its shoreline. Read more ..


Islam on Edge

'Anti-Sunni' Satellite Channels Under Fire In Iran

August 5th 2014

Koran and prayer beads

Shi'ite satellite television networks in Iran have come under fire for alleged anti-Sunni programming.

Iran's Intelligence Ministry said in an August 4 statement that a number of people working for local and foreign-based Shi'ite satellite channels were arrested during recent raids on "illegal offices" in the provinces of Qom, Tehran, Isfahan, and Khorasan.

The arrest warrants were issued by the country's judiciary, according to Iranian media reports. The offices of an unspecified number of satellite channels were closed, according to the ministry, on the basis that they were involved in "clandestine and illegal" activities, "creating sectarian rifts," and "intensifying division in the Islamic world to damage the image of Shi'ism."

It was unclear where the foreign-based channels had been broadcasting from and what content they had been airing. In May, Iran's Culture Ministry said the activities of such satellite channels were illegal and warned they could be prosecuted. Several of the channels are known to have the support of hard-line Shi'ite clerics in the holy city of Qom. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Astronomers Get a Clearer Look at Supermassive Black Holes at Galactic Centers

August 4th 2014

Gamma Ray Burst

Many of the astronomers and physicists invited to the meeting feared for their safety. Others felt that the event should be cancelled outright. To hold a conference in Dallas, Texas, only weeks after US President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated there — it just seemed disrespectful.

In the end, the first Texas Symposium on Relativistic Astrophysics went ahead as scheduled, starting on 16 December 1963, and most of the invited scientists did go — after the mayor of Dallas sent them a telegram urging their attendance. But the shadow cast by Kennedy’s death added to the already surreal mood as they grappled with a phenomenon that seemed unfathomable. That year, observers had discovered that a collection of mysterious ‘quasi-stellar’ objects, dubbed quasars, were not just oddball versions of ordinary stars. They were cosmically distant, glowing with radiation that had travelled for billions of years to reach Earth. Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

Supplying The Front Lines In Eastern Ukraine

August 3rd 2014

Pro-Russian demonstrators in eastern Ukraine

As the deadly fighting continues to rage in eastern Ukraine, activists on both sides of the conflict are stepping up efforts to funnel equipment, basic necessities, and even fighters to the front lines.

In Ukraine, dozens of groups have sprung up to support the country's cash-strapped army in its bid to stamp out pro-Russian separatist from the eastern regions.

Activists have been raising money for the army and the National Guard, a force composed of reservists and volunteers, and delivering supplies to troops, often risking their own lives in the process. With the rebels appearing to wield increasingly advanced military technology, the needs of the Ukrainian Army are rapidly evolving.

"The nature of the fighting has changed," says Yuriy Kasyanov, a coordinator for the volunteer group Army SOS. "At the beginning we needed the most basic supplies, such as bulletproof vest, helmets, or drinking water, but we are overcoming these shortages. What we need now is high-tech equipment: night-vision devices, drones, secure radio systems, radio transmitters, all-terrain vehicles, and stuff like that." Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

Ukraine Struggles To Find Strategy For Getting Back Crimea

August 2nd 2014

Protest in Ukraine

Although the raging fighting and heated rhetoric in eastern Ukraine still command the headlines, the dispute between Kyiv and Moscow over Crimea simmers on and seems as intractable as ever.

Russia annexed the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula in March, a move that Ukraine and most of the rest of the world have refused to acknowledge.

Speaking on Ukrainian television on August 1, President Petro Poroshenko said his country "will not give up Crimea."

"Ukraine will use all methods that are at its disposal to defend its national interests," he said, announcing his order that the Justice Ministry pursue all legal avenues.

Poroshenko's deputy chief of staff, Valeriy Chaliy, repeated the position the same day, saying there is "no chance" Kyiv will ever recognize the "occupation of Crimea." "Crimea was, is, and always will be part of Ukraine," he said.  Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Ebola Outbreak “Worsening” in West Africa

August 1st 2014

child being vaccinated

The Ebola outbreak continues to roil West Africa, with the World Health Organization announcing Thursday that the death toll has climbed to 729 in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. More than 1,300 people are infected.
 
To help limit the spread of the disease the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the agency is now “surging” its response. Thursday afternoon the agency issued a new level 3 travel warning for the affected countries—asking Americans to halt nonessential travel to those locations and unveiling plans to send 50 additional CDC staff to the affected areas. Once there, CDC workers will help to ramp up airport screenings to ensure that sick people do not leave the country, augment laboratory testing for Ebola and help local health personnel to track individuals who may have been exposed to sick persons. (There is little risk of transmitting Ebola before a person becomes symptomatic, and even then transmission occurs through exposure to bodily liquids, not via the air or water). “The bottom line is that Ebola is worsening in western Africa,” CDC director Tom Frieden told reporters on Thursday. When it comes to controlling this outbreak, “It’s not going to be quick. It’s not going to be easy, but we know what to do,” he says.

Yet containing this outbreak remains a complex undertaking that requires following every potentially exposed individual and isolating them if they become symptomatic—a significant challenge in any location but more so when there are limited health personnel and health infrastructure systems in place. Read more ..


China Rising

What Can China Learn from World War I

July 31st 2014

Soldiers

The centennial of World War I is being commemorated this month, however this was not a major event in China’s history. In fact, other than a little known battle in which a combined Japanese-British force conquered a German garrison in Qingdao in Shandong Province, the war was fought far away, and most Chinese were barely aware of it. But one hundred years later some lessons of the 51-month war, one of the longest and deadliest in human history, carry great importance for China’s future as it becomes a global power.

First, the war taught us that contrary to common belief globalization and economic interdependency are not guarantors of peace and stability. During the pre-war years the world experienced the biggest wave of globalization with an unprecedented flow of goods, capital, information and workers, enabled by secure sea lanes, telegraphs and free trade policies. Just like today, economic integration was viewed as a cementing force in world politics and an antidote to international conflict. Read more ..


Operation Protective Edge

MK to European Envoys: "The Day Islamic Terror Will Reach Your Homes is Near"

July 29th 2014

Western/Wailing Wall

The Danish, Swedish and Dutch ambassadors to Israel, as well as officials from the embassies of Britain, Belgium, Italy, Hungary, Austria and Germany took part on Monday (Jul. 28) in an urgent meeting of the Knesset Immigration,
Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee on the situation of Jewish
communities in Europe.

MK Yisrael Hasson (Kadima), a former deputy director of the Shin Bet internalsecurity service, told the ambassadors: "NATO bombed 5,000 civilians in Kosovo just because it was insulted; 27,000 Iraqi civilians were bombedduring the American invasion because they posed a danger to the US; there isnot a country in the world that can talk to us about morality."

MK Hasson told the foreign envoys that "if the European countries fail to protect the Jews within their territory, the State of Israel will. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

U.S.-Provided Weapons To Afghans Have Gone Missing, Sparking Insurgent Fears

July 28th 2014

US Attack Helicopters

Weapons bought and paid for by the United States for Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) have gone missing, according to a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction released on July 28.

The Department of Defense has provided the ANSF with 747,000 weapons since 2004 for approximately $626 million, and cannot account for all of their whereabouts due to poor recordkeeping.

The United States also provided Afghan forces with more than 112,000 excess weapons, and the Department of Defense has no authority to recapture or remove them, according to the report.

The Inspector General concluded that due to the Afghan government's inability to account for or dispose of the weapons, that there is "real potential for these weapons to fall into the hands of insurgents, which will pose additional risks to U.S. personnel, the ANSF, and Afghan civilians."

The report comes at a perilous moment in Afghanistan. "The New York Times" reported on July 26 that Taliban fighters are making key advances near Kabul, beyond their strongholds. Read more ..


Operation Protective Edge

Assessing Secretary Kerry's Latest Proposal and His Track record

July 27th 2014

Assad

The value of Secretary John Kerry's proposals are consistent with Kerry's track record.

Kerry's Syrian Track Record

Until the eruption of the civil war in Syria, Kerry was a member of a tiny group of US Senators – along with Chuck Hagel and Hillary Clinton – who believed that Bashar Assad was a generous, constructive leader, a reformer and a man of his word. Kerry was a frequent flyer to Damascus, dining with Assad and his wife at the Naranj restaurant in central Damascus.  Following a motorcycle ride with Bashar al-Assad, he returned to Washington referring to Bashar as "my dear friend.”

In September 2009, Kerry opined that "Syria is an essential player in bringing peace and stability to the region,” while Assad was conducting hate-education, repressing his opposition, hosting and arming terrorist outfits like Hezbollah, cozying up to Iran, and facilitating the infiltration of Jihadists into Iraq to kill US soldiers. WikiLeaks disclosed that on February, 2010, Kerry told Qatari leaders that the Golan Heights should be returned to Syria and that a Palestinian capital should be established in East Jerusalem.  "We know that for the Palestinians the control of Al-Aqsa mosque and the establishment of their capital in East Jerusalem are not negotiable.” Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

Absent International Investigators, Western Journalists Build Case That Separatists Shot Down MH17

July 27th 2014

Russian tourist in Ukraine

Russian officials and state-run media have widely panned a U.S. intelligence assessment of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash that relied heavily on "social media reports."

But 10 days after MH17 was blown out of the sky, killing all 298 passengers and crew members on board -- and with international investigators still struggling to gain access to the disaster site in eastern Ukraine -- the combined reporting of foreign correspondents appears to corroborate social media and intelligence accounts that link the crash to a Buk missile launcher fired by pro-Russian separatists.

Here is the evidence gathered by reporters in eastern Ukraine: Associated Press journalists saw a Buk missile launcher near the scene of the crash three hours before the plane went down

"It was hard to miss the bulky missile system, also known as a Buk M-1. It left deep tread marks in the asphalt as it rumbled by in a small convoy. The vehicles stopped in front of journalists from The Associated Press. A man wearing unfamiliar fatigues, speaking with a distinctive Russian accent, checked to make sure they weren't filming. The convoy then moved on, destination unknown in the heart of eastern Ukraine's pro-Russia rebellion. Three hours later, people six miles (10 kilometers) west of Snizhne heard loud noises." Read more ..


Africa on Edge

Africa Genetically Modified Crops Held Back by Scaremongering

July 26th 2014

African subsistence farming

A new report states that genetically-modified crops -- also known as GM crops -- would dramatically improve agriculture in Africa. The report,  published by the policy group Chatham House, argues the technology is being held back by scaremongering from opponents.

Inside a temperature-regulated laboratory, scientists in Uganda are developing what they call a "golden banana" -- more hardy, and with higher levels of vitamins and minerals. Priva Namanya, one of the researchers, said, “We have been able to show that we can in crease our vitamin A levels six times.”

GM crops offer the best hope of increasing productivity and coping with climate change in Africa, according to the co-author of the Chatham House report, Rob Bailey. “There is a whole host of GM crops in development in Africa specifically designed to address the needs of poor farmers and poor food consumers. Crops like cassava, sorghum, bananas, sweet potato, drought-tolerant maize. And it’s precisely these crops that are stuck at the field trial stage,” he said. Read more ..


The Race for Natural Gas

Families Turn to Scientists in Fracking Cases

July 26th 2014

Marcellus gas well

Like people in other regions transformed by the shale energy boom, residents of Washington County, Pennsylvania, have complained of headaches, nosebleeds and skin rashes. But because there are no comprehensive studies about the health impacts of natural gas drilling, it's hard to determine if their problems are linked to the gas wells and other production facilities that have sprung up around them.

A group of scientists from Pennsylvania and neighboring states has stepped in to fill this gap by forming a nonprofit — apparently the first of its kind in the United States — that provides free health consultations to local families near drilling sites. Instead of waiting years or even decades for long-term studies to emerge, the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (SWPA-EHP) is using the best available science to help people deal with their ailments.

Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

As Attention Focuses On Dead, Ukraine Crash Site Remains Gray Zone

July 25th 2014

Malaysia airlines

The contrast could not be more stark.

In the Netherlands, some 1,000 relatives of those who died aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 gathered on July 23 in Eindhoven to receive the first bodies returned from the crash site in eastern Ukraine.

The sad occasion, attended by Dutch leaders and representatives of all the other countries who lost citizens in the tragedy, was marked by tears and renewed vows to determine the cause of the crash. More bodies arrived on July 24 and still more are expected in the coming days.

But at the crash site in eastern Ukraine, there is almost no activity currently that could help prove what killed all 298 people aboard. Western officials believe the plane was downed on July 17 by a sophisticated surface-to-air missile fired by pro-Russian separatists, but the separatists blame Ukrainian forces instead. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Leading Russian NGOs Muzzled By 'Foreign Agents' Label

July 24th 2014

Russian soldiers Red Square

Russia's Justice Ministry has included five more Russian nongovernmental organizations on the so-called black list of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) acting as "foreign agents."

A statement by the respected rights group Memorial -- the most prominent of the 11 NGOs now included on the list -- said the "forced inclusion" of the NGOs on the list was a blatant attempt to restrict their activity.

"We are certain that all the organizations, including those that were previously placed on the list against their will, are acting exclusively in the interests of Russia since they effectively help defend the rights of citizens from abuses by state officials," the Memorial statement said.

The Justice Ministry added the five NGOs -- Memorial, Agora, Public Verdict, Yuriks, and Ekozashchita -- to the list on July 21 in accordance with a controversial 2013 law that requires NGOs that receive funding from abroad to register as "foreign agents." Read more ..


The Caliphate

Terrified Christians Driven out of Mosul

July 24th 2014

ISIS Takes Homes in Mosul

Rawan Jinan, a 25-year-old Iraqi Christian, says when she received an order on June 18 to leave Mosul within 24 hours, she could not believe her eyes.

The order came in the form of a letter delivered to every Christian home by the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which rules Iraq's second-largest city. The letter offered the recipients just three choices: to convert to Islam, to begin paying a monthly tax for practicing a religion other than Islam, or to be executed if they remained in Mosul.

Jinan, now in a refugee camp near Irbil, in the Kurdish autonomous region, says she and her husband stared at the paper in amazement. "We were prepared for anything, but we were not expecting to be banished from our city in this manner," she says. "When we first heard Christians should leave the city, we thought this meant that Mosul was about to be targeted by heavy shelling. We did not know they were going to rob us and throw us out."

The couple initially thought the letter was an evacuation, not expulsion, order because they and their two young sons -- one 4 years old, the other 18 months -- had already fled fighting in Mosul once. That was when ISIL captured the city in three days of combat that ended with the rout of the Iraqi Army on June 9.

The Honeymoon's Over

But after that fighting ended, the family returned amid reports that the Islamic State promised to guarantee the safety of all religious minorities in the city, so long as they respected Islamic law.

At first, she says, the militants seemed almost protective. "They welcomed us, and asked us what we needed, asking us to contact them if anyone bothered us."

In return, the city's Christians saw no reason why they would offend the city's fundamentalist new rulers. Christian women had already long been wearing the "abaya," the figure-shrouding outer garment Muslim women wear for modesty outdoors, and both Christian men and women mostly stayed within their own neighborhoods to avoid trouble.

But the honeymoon period, which contrasted starkly with the Islamic State's reputation for cruelty toward religious minorities in areas it occupies in Syria, did not last long. As soon as the militia was firmly in control of Mosul, the mood began to change.

Then, Jinan says, the militants began to enter Christian churches, intimidating priests and making people afraid to go to their places of worship. "They did not only enter the churches," she says. "They also went into the shrine of Prophet Younis [the Old Testament prophet Jonas], which they demolished. They also demolished monasteries."

The reported destruction of the tomb of Jonas was shocking for Mosul's Christians and many mainstream Muslims alike, because he is revered by both faiths. The tomb itself is housed in a mosque built on a site where a church once stood, and the interlayering of faiths around the site had long been a symbol of Mosul's tradition of religious tolerance.

Things soon got worse.

On July 16 and 17, Jinan says, a black painted symbol began appearing on Christian homes. "They began marking Christians' homes with the letter 'N' within a circle and the phrase 'property of the Islamic State.' When we asked why, they said that 'this would ward off anyone coming to loot [your home] because looters will fear that this house belongs to us. You need not be afraid; there's nothing wrong,'" she recalls.

But the Christians were feeling terrorized. The letter N stood for "Nasrani," a term used for Christians in the Koran that refers to Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus Christ. By this time, the Islamic State was also replacing the crosses atop some churches with their own black jihadist flags, as if they had been seized in a holy war. "I saw the flags on the Orthodox Mar [St.] Ephraim Cathedral and the Chaldean Bishop's Seat," Jinan notes.

Driven From Their Homes

When the order with three choices came, Jinan says she and the other several thousand Christians in the city had no trust left in the Islamic State. She personally did not even inquire about the amount of the "jizya," or religious tax, the militants promised would grant Christians immunity. The amount has been variously reported by other refugees as being around $100 monthly.

Instead, Jinan and her husband rushed to get their sons and fled by car to one of the Christian towns to the east of Mosul on the Nineveh plain. From there, they proceeded on to the greater safety of Ayn Kawa, a town just inside the Kurdish autonomous region where they remain today.

The Kurdish autonomous region, which is religiously tolerant and is guarded by its own powerful security forces, puts her beyond the reach of the Islamic State. But Jinan says she and most other refugees lost many of their possessions to the Islamic State's fighters, who shook them down as they fled from Mosul.

The fighters took the money her husband was carrying and searched their luggage thoroughly, stealing clothes and even baby diapers. They also treated their victims with open contempt. "They opened the can of baby milk and poured its contents into the street," she says. "We begged them to give us a bottle of water for the children, to quiet them, but they opened the water bottles and poured out the water in front us."

Now, with Mosul less about 80 kilometers to the west but her former life closed to her, Jinan says she doesn't know what to expect next.

Her options range from waiting for the Iraqi government to retake Mosul -- something she calls unlikely when the Islamic State is at the gates of Baghdad -- to emigrating, something she says she never had to consider before.

Her only certainty is that her family now would not want to return to Mosul even if it could. "No Christian, and I for one, will return to the place where I lived, where I was persecuted, and from which I have been expelled," she says.

Reported from Irbil by RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq correspondent Abdelhamid Zebari. Written by Charles Recknagel in Prague. Translation from Arabic by Ayad al-Gailani. Copyright (c) 2014. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

- See more at: http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/terrified_christians_driven_out_of_mosul#sthash.UGEhb8sl.dpuf

Rawan Jinan, a 25-year-old Iraqi Christian, says when she received an order on June 18 to leave Mosul within 24 hours, she could not believe her eyes.

The order came in the form of a letter delivered to every Christian home by the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which rules Iraq's second-largest city. The letter offered the recipients just three choices: to convert to Islam, to begin paying a monthly tax for practicing a religion other than Islam, or to be executed if they remained in Mosul.

Jinan, now in a refugee camp near Irbil, in the Kurdish autonomous region, says she and her husband stared at the paper in amazement. "We were prepared for anything, but we were not expecting to be banished from our city in this manner," she says. "When we first heard Christians should leave the city, we thought this meant that Mosul was about to be targeted by heavy shelling. We did not know they were going to rob us and throw us out."

The couple initially thought the letter was an evacuation, not expulsion, order because they and their two young sons -- one 4 years old, the other 18 months -- had already fled fighting in Mosul once. That was when ISIL captured the city in three days of combat that ended with the rout of the Iraqi Army on June 9.

The Honeymoon's Over

But after that fighting ended, the family returned amid reports that the Islamic State promised to guarantee the safety of all religious minorities in the city, so long as they respected Islamic law.

At first, she says, the militants seemed almost protective. "They welcomed us, and asked us what we needed, asking us to contact them if anyone bothered us."

In return, the city's Christians saw no reason why they would offend the city's fundamentalist new rulers. Christian women had already long been wearing the "abaya," the figure-shrouding outer garment Muslim women wear for modesty outdoors, and both Christian men and women mostly stayed within their own neighborhoods to avoid trouble.

But the honeymoon period, which contrasted starkly with the Islamic State's reputation for cruelty toward religious minorities in areas it occupies in Syria, did not last long. As soon as the militia was firmly in control of Mosul, the mood began to change.

Then, Jinan says, the militants began to enter Christian churches, intimidating priests and making people afraid to go to their places of worship. "They did not only enter the churches," she says. "They also went into the shrine of Prophet Younis [the Old Testament prophet Jonas], which they demolished. They also demolished monasteries."

The reported destruction of the tomb of Jonas was shocking for Mosul's Christians and many mainstream Muslims alike, because he is revered by both faiths. The tomb itself is housed in a mosque built on a site where a church once stood, and the interlayering of faiths around the site had long been a symbol of Mosul's tradition of religious tolerance.

Things soon got worse.

On July 16 and 17, Jinan says, a black painted symbol began appearing on Christian homes. "They began marking Christians' homes with the letter 'N' within a circle and the phrase 'property of the Islamic State.' When we asked why, they said that 'this would ward off anyone coming to loot [your home] because looters will fear that this house belongs to us. You need not be afraid; there's nothing wrong,'" she recalls.

But the Christians were feeling terrorized. The letter N stood for "Nasrani," a term used for Christians in the Koran that refers to Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus Christ. By this time, the Islamic State was also replacing the crosses atop some churches with their own black jihadist flags, as if they had been seized in a holy war. "I saw the flags on the Orthodox Mar [St.] Ephraim Cathedral and the Chaldean Bishop's Seat," Jinan notes.

Driven From Their Homes

When the order with three choices came, Jinan says she and the other several thousand Christians in the city had no trust left in the Islamic State. She personally did not even inquire about the amount of the "jizya," or religious tax, the militants promised would grant Christians immunity. The amount has been variously reported by other refugees as being around $100 monthly.

Instead, Jinan and her husband rushed to get their sons and fled by car to one of the Christian towns to the east of Mosul on the Nineveh plain. From there, they proceeded on to the greater safety of Ayn Kawa, a town just inside the Kurdish autonomous region where they remain today.

The Kurdish autonomous region, which is religiously tolerant and is guarded by its own powerful security forces, puts her beyond the reach of the Islamic State. But Jinan says she and most other refugees lost many of their possessions to the Islamic State's fighters, who shook them down as they fled from Mosul.

The fighters took the money her husband was carrying and searched their luggage thoroughly, stealing clothes and even baby diapers. They also treated their victims with open contempt. "They opened the can of baby milk and poured its contents into the street," she says. "We begged them to give us a bottle of water for the children, to quiet them, but they opened the water bottles and poured out the water in front us."

Now, with Mosul less about 80 kilometers to the west but her former life closed to her, Jinan says she doesn't know what to expect next.

Her options range from waiting for the Iraqi government to retake Mosul -- something she calls unlikely when the Islamic State is at the gates of Baghdad -- to emigrating, something she says she never had to consider before.

Her only certainty is that her family now would not want to return to Mosul even if it could. "No Christian, and I for one, will return to the place where I lived, where I was persecuted, and from which I have been expelled," she says.

Reported from Irbil by RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq correspondent Abdelhamid Zebari. Written by Charles Recknagel in Prague. Translation from Arabic by Ayad al-Gailani. Copyright (c) 2014. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

- See more at: http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/terrified_christians_driven_out_of_mosul#sthash.UGEhb8sl.dpuf

Rawan Jinan, a 25-year-old Iraqi Christian, says when she received an order on June 18 to leave Mosul within 24 hours, she could not believe her eyes.

The order came in the form of a letter delivered to every Christian home by the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which rules Iraq's second-largest city. The letter offered the recipients just three choices: to convert to Islam, to begin paying a monthly tax for practicing a religion other than Islam, or to be executed if they remained in Mosul.

Jinan, now in a refugee camp near Irbil, in the Kurdish autonomous region, says she and her husband stared at the paper in amazement. "We were prepared for anything, but we were not expecting to be banished from our city in this manner," she says. "When we first heard Christians should leave the city, we thought this meant that Mosul was about to be targeted by heavy shelling. We did not know they were going to rob us and throw us out."

The couple initially thought the letter was an evacuation, not expulsion, order because they and their two young sons -- one 4 years old, the other 18 months -- had already fled fighting in Mosul once. That was when ISIL captured the city in three days of combat that ended with the rout of the Iraqi Army on June 9. Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

War Crime Question Hovers Over Malaysian Airliner Tragedy

July 23rd 2014

Malaysia airlines

Countries seeking to prosecute those responsible for downing a Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine last week face a complex legal question: Is the tragedy a war crime?

The answer, legal experts say, rests largely on whether governments can establish that those behind the attack intentionally shot down the plane on July 17, killing all 298 people onboard. And even if that determination is made, prosecuting the perpetrators as war criminals will be difficult.

"The problem is, it's not a war crime to shoot down a civilian airliner by mistake, as egregious as that sounds," David Glazier, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, says. "It's a war crime to shoot one down deliberately." The United States and Western governments accuse pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine of striking the airliner with a surface-to-air missile, while the rebels have accused the Ukrainian government of carrying out the attack. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Democrat Donors Miffed by Lack of Progress in Ambassadorial Postings

July 22nd 2014

Partisan gridlock blocking President Obama’s nominees for prestigious ambassadorships has created vacancies in a slew of top diplomatic posts at a time of growing international instability.

It has also prevented Democrats from rewarding some of their biggest donors and bundlers in the midst of an intense campaign year, when they are eager to raise more money than Republicans.

Ambassadorial nominees used to sail through the Senate. But as Obama has tapped an increasing number of them with strong political ties to the Democratic Party, the confirmation process has been bogged down, leaving gaps in important posts around the world. Secretary of State John Kerry warned earlier this month that the United States “continues to operate without a complete diplomatic toolbox” as the Senate backlog has left the nation without ambassadors in 40 countries. Read more ..



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