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Russia on Edge

Russian Economy Weaker after Crimea

March 28th 2014

Russian orphans

Western leaders increased pressure on Russia Monday, suspending the country's membership at the G8 in response to Moscow's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats also canceled an upcoming June summit in Sochi, relocating the G7 meeting to Brussels. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the diplomatic restriction was not a big deal and another senior Kremlin advisor voiced similarly dismissive views over newly enacted economic sanctions.

Despite the tone from Russian officials, anecdotal evidence indicates the restrictions are impacting the behavior of Russian elites. Oil tycoon, Gennady Timchenko, had to sell his 43% ownership in Gunvor Group, a Geneva energy trading firm, hours after Washington decided to blacklist him from engaging in dollar transactions. Additionally, the German defense firm Rheinmetall, has suspended a $140 million dollar contract to build a training camp for Russian military forces.  Read more ..

Ukraine on Edge

Ukrainian Troops In Crimea Face 'Stay Or Go' Dilemma

March 27th 2014


Olha's husband was a Ukrainian military specialist at the Belbek base near Sevastopol, Ukraine's main air base in Crimea, until it was stormed by Russian troops on March 22. Now Crimea's crisis is forcing the couple to choose the least bad option for their future.

They, like the families of thousands of other Ukrainian military personnel who've lived their entire lives in Crimea, are trapped in a no-man's land.

Ukraine's acting President Oleksandr Turchnyov on March 24 ordered Kyiv's Defense Ministry to withdraw all Ukrainian troops from Crimea.

But many soldiers and their families have no place to go on the mainland unless Kyiv provides support. But if they stay, they face pressure to swear loyalty to Moscow and, according to new legislation, will automatically be made Russian nationals unless they declare their desire to retain Ukrainian citizenship -- which they fear could lead to reprisals.

Meanwhile, defense officials in Kyiv are still wrestling with how to transport other loyal Ukrainian soldiers -- like Olha's husband -- out of a territory annexed by Russia and overrun with Russian troops. Kyiv wants them to travel in their military vehicles. But there is no agreement with Russia allowing the overland withdrawal of Ukrainian military convoys. Read more ..

France on Edge

How Toxic is Paris? European Project Tackles the Issue

March 25th 2014

Eiffel Tower Paris France

Greyish photos of Paris under a thick blanket of contaminated air, the Eiffel tower barely visible in the skyline, gave us a spectacular demonstration of bad environmental practices contrasting very much with the French capital’s ideal touristic representations that normally circulate on the web.

Around mid-March, the foggy atmosphere was reported to contain over 180 micrograms of PM10 particles per cubic metre (particulate matter smaller than 10 micrometers in diameter such as soot emitted by vehicles, heating systems and heavy industry).

Of course, these particles are only the visible part of the chemical soup that city dwellers have to endure and the list of exhaust gases, solvents and other hazardous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) known to have adverse effects on our health or recognized as plain carcinogens spans hundreds of molecules.

Now, indoor air quality (IAQ) is reportedly worse than that of external air due to the concentration of organic VOCs often emanating from the buildings’ construction materials and office furniture, all confined into tight spaces. This is aggravated by inadequate ventilation and the fact that most people spend 90 percent of their time indoor, leading to the so called Sick Building Syndrome (the occupants experiencing discomfort, irritations or generic illness). Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Battle for the Airwaves

March 23rd 2014

Smart phone

The setting was ornate, the subject esoteric, but the implications huge.

The crowd that filed last month into the wood-paneled room 226 in the Dirksen Senate Office Building included lawmakers, lobbyists, company executives, and a few mystery guests — a roster that reflected the enormity of the issue at hand: nothing less than control of the growing wireless market and the hundreds of billions of dollars that go with it.

Verizon Communications Inc. and T-Mobile USA Inc. were out in force, as were some of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington, D.C.  Along with those household names was the little-known but  quietly influential Jonathan Spalter.

The chairman of Mobile Future, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group, sat at the witness table along with the big wireless carriers and well-known consumer advocates to tell senators how the government should auction valuable airwaves that the telecommunications companies say they need to keep up with the exploding use of smartphones and tablet computers.


Ukraine on Edge

Russia's Crimea Take-Over Re-Animates Tatars' Fears of Ethnic Cleansing

March 22nd 2014

Click to select Image

Khatidzhe, an elderly Tatar woman living in a small, shabby house in the suburbs of the Crimean capital, admits she suffers from the occasional memory lapse in her old age.

But there are some things she'll never forget. The German soldiers who locked her family in a room and used their house as lodging during World War II. The chilly suspicion of locals when she and fellow Tatars were later deported to Uzbekistan by Soviet authorities as purported Nazi collaborators. And her anguish when she returned to Crimea in 1991 only to realize her childhood home in the coastal town of Alushta had been seized and long since given away to Russian occupants. Read more ..

The Ukraine on Edge

Dictator's Handbook: Six Regrettable Lessons To Take Away From Crimea Crisis

March 20th 2014


The speed and ease with which Russia reclaimed its hold on the Crimean Peninsula have left much of the world reeling. But the factors that went into it were years in the making. Here are six life lessons for acquisitive future dictators and countries trying to break free of them.

1. Don't Give Up Your Nukes
Twenty years ago, Ukraine was the third-largest nuclear power in the world, with 1,900 long-range and 2,400 short-range strategic warheads that had once been part of the U.S.S.R.'s Cold War arsenal. But Kyiv voluntarily handed them back to Russia in 1994, when it signed the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurance, trading in its nuclear weapons in exchange for sovereignty and the promise that Russia would "refrain from the threat or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine."

It seemed like a good deal at the time. But many Ukrainian lawmakers are now lamenting the decision, admitting something that Pakistan and India have known for decades -- that missiles beat memoranda when it comes to keeping interlopers off your land. Or, as Verkhovna Rada lawmaker Pavlo Ryzanenko told "USA Today," "If you have nuclear weapons, people don't invade you." Fellow Budapest signatories Belarus and Kazakhstan may suddenly be ruing the day they gave up their nukes. Iran and North Korea, meanwhile, are less likely than ever to respond to global pressure to give up theirs. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

14 Ways to Avoid the Obamacare Tax

March 19th 2014


There are 14 ways, in all, to avoid paying the Obamacare tax penalty — the new fine for not carrying health insurance that conforms to the government regulations.

You can take advantage of these off ramps all the way till 2016, at the very least. And one of them (#14) is so broad that it could capture just about any reason you can think of for not wanting to pay the tax.

Here are the 14 “circumstances” that make you eligible for skirting the tax, and the documentation you’ll need to prove that you qualify for the waivers.

1. You were homeless. Documentation Required: None

2. You were evicted in the past 6 months or were facing eviction or foreclosure. Documentation Required: Copy of eviction or foreclosure notice

3. You received a shut-off notice from a utility company. Documentation Required: Copy of shut-off notice from a utility company Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Shapeshifting Shelters for Refugees in Hot and Cold Climates

March 18th 2014


With roughly 600 Syrian refugees crossing into Jordan every day, it’s no surprise that local architects are designing various housing solutions for the devastating influx. Abeer Seikaly’s collapsible woven shelter is lightweight and mobile, while Yahya Ibraheem’s shapeshifting shelters can be customized to fit a suite of climate conditions.

Ibraheem wrote her Master’s thesis for the University of Salford, Manchester about the many ways in which parametric modeling can enhance architectural design solutions of temporary shelters in disaster areas.

Using Grasshopper, Ibraheem takes the ancient method of constructing teepee-like temporary shelters out of branches or trees, cuts off the empty pyramid point, and then models a shelter with diagonal lines that are proven to be the most resilient in rough winds. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

The End of the “Wrong Side of History”

March 17th 2014


President Barack Obama, in criticizing Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s conquest of the Crimean Peninsula, described Putin as standing on the “wrong side of history.”  This curious and arresting phrase has become a common usage among western liberals.

It is testimony to their self-confidence, and to their belief that they have accurately read the deeper currents and inevitable direction of human affairs.  These, in the view of the president and his supporters, point inexorably toward greater cooperation between peoples, a decline in attachment to particularist ethnic, national or religious histories, and a decline in the use of force to settle disputes between states.

The unspoken assumption behind all this, of course, is that being on the right side of history also means accepting the unmatched dominance of the US in global affairs, and in turn the unchallengeable domination of the US by people supporting the particular progressive world view of the president and his supporters. That is, Obama and his supporters use the word “history” to refer to themselves. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russia Blocks Websites Critical Of Kremlin

March 16th 2014

Starbucks Wireless

"Dear users! We apologize, but access to the requested site is restricted."

This is the message some readers were dismayed to find on the evening of March 13 when they tried to access Grani.ru, a popular opposition news portal.

Grani.ru is one of three websites banned by Russian authorities under a new law that critics say aims to silence independent media and particularly the Internet, one of the last platforms for free speech in Russia.

In addition to blocking Grani.ru, the government communications regulator, Roskomnadzor, has ordered Russian providers to block access to ej.ru, the site of the online magazine "Yezhednevny zhurnal,"  and Kasparov.ru, a website run by opposition figure and former chess champion Garry Kasparov.

All three sites carried scathing criticism of the Kremlin's policies, including the occupation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula by Russian troops. The blog of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny was also briefly blocked -- on the grounds that he had violated his house arrest -- but later unblocked. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syrian Rebels Release Abducted Nuns

March 15th 2014

Rebel fighters

Syrian rebels released about a dozen Orthodox nuns from captivity on Sunday. The nuns were transferred into the Lebanese town of Arsal and expected to return to Damascus soon after. Their freedom concludes a three-month ordeal that included being moved from their home village of Maaloula, north of Damascus, to the rebel stronghold of Yabroud.

According to sources in the rebel camp, the nuns were freed in a prisoner exchange between the al-Nusra rebel group and the government of Bashar al-Asad, which agreed to release 150 female prisoners of their own. Qatar along with Lebanon helped mediate the deal, which has been one of the few international efforts to successfully ease tensions in the Syrian conflict. The Syrian army has recently launched an offensive targeting Yabroud, where the nuns were being held and Syrian state television did not mention any sort of swap. State news sources are portraying the event as a victory for Asad who has personally checked on the health of the nuns numerous times. Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

New Protests Erupt in Turkey

March 14th 2014

Taksim Gezi Park protests

Thousands of protesters filled the streets of Turkish cities Wednesday, after a fourteen year old Turkish boy died Tuesday morning from injuries sustained during an anti-government rally in 2013. Berkin Elvan went to buy bread last June, but found himself in the middle of the protest where a police tear gas canister struck him in the head. His injuries left him in a coma that ultimately lasted nine months.

More than 100,000 people attended Elvan's funeral procession Wednesday morning. While the march itself was peaceful, after the ceremony protesters clashed with police as they tried to cut off traffic and reach the central square. Following these skirmishes, a new wave of protests has commenced in over 30 cities. The police responded brutally using tear gas and water cannons to control the crowds, with media reporting two deaths. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Russia Mulls Fast-Track Citizenship, Sparking Brain-Drain Concerns Elsewhere

March 13th 2014

Research and Development Chemistry

Proposed legislation that would give native Russian speakers abroad a fast track to Russian citizenship appears designed to lure highly qualified specialists and successful entrepreneurs.

The draft legislation, in the form of new amendments to its existing citizenship law, would pave the way for eligible, Russian-speaking applicants to get Russian passports within three months, skipping an otherwise lengthy and complicated procedure.

In introducing the legislation on March 6, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that it would allow Russian speakers who had lived on territories that were subject of the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union to obtain Russian citizenship without getting permanent residence permits.

Medvedev's announcement raised eyebrows, coming as a separate draft bill was being mulled by the State Duma that would make it easier for Moscow to incorporate territories in foreign states into the Russian Federation. Read more ..

The Violent Roads of Mexico

A Yellow Dragon and Harvest of Limes and Violence in Mexico

March 12th 2014

Click to select Image

The tangy lime is essential to Mexican cuisine. An ingredient of flavored water, the fruit is also squeezed into soups, dabbed on fish, sprinkled on tacos al pastor and utilized in countless other recipes. A cold Corona or Tecate, or a shot of tequila, without a dash of lime is almost like a root beer float minus its foamy head. Lime is the juicy salt of the Mexican diet.

It’s no small wonder, then, that Mexicans are gasping in disbelief at the astronomical cost of limes. In recent weeks, the retail cost of the product has gone through the roof, jumping by 800 percent or more in some regions of the country. An item that once sold for 7 or 8 pesos per kilo now fetches a record 64 pesos a kilo in the state of Tabasco and even as much as 80 pesos in parts of Mexico City. Read more ..

The Battle for the Ukraine

Russia Tries To Win Over Crimean Tatars

March 12th 2014

Koran and prayer beads

As pro-Moscow authorities consolidate their hold over Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, the region's Tatars have found themselves on the receiving end of a Kremlin-backed charm offensive to win their support. But it appears to be falling flat.

The charm offensive comes ahead of a controversial referendum scheduled for March 16 in which voters will decide whether the Black Sea peninsula should leave Ukraine and become part of Russia. Kyiv says the vote is illegal.

A series of delegations from Russia has descended on Crimea in recent weeks and pro-Moscow authorities in the region are promising Tatars expanded rights.

And most recently, a veteran leader of the Crimean Tatars, Mustafa Jemilev, was in Moscow this week at the invitation of Russian authorities for talks about the crisis in Ukraine. He was expected to meet the former president of Russia’s Tatarstan Republic, Mintimer Shaimiyev. Jemilev also said that his delegation would continue to insist that Russia respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Read more ..

The Balkans on Edge

The Balkans Watch Ukraine, But See Themselves

March 11th 2014

Protest in Ukraine

International news rarely makes an impact in the Balkans, which has spent the past two decades immersed in its own roiling headlines of war, recovery, poverty, and resentment.

But that has changed with the unfolding crisis in Ukraine, whose complicated struggle for multiethnic balance and postimperial autonomy from Russia strikes all too close to home.

In every corner of the Balkans, from newly independent Kosovo to politically torpid Bosnia-Herzegovina, people are watching events in Ukraine from their personal vantage point as survivors, or victims, of the Yugoslav collapse. Some applaud Euromaidan for taking down a corrupt regime, others lament the potential economic fallout. But no one's opinion seems indivisible from their own experience. Read more ..

The Battle for the Ukraine

As Crimea Tensions Escalates, Ukrainian Women, Too, Ready To Take Up Arms

March 10th 2014

Ukraine protest

As millions of women across the world looked forward to celebrating International Women's Day on March 8, Tetiana Turchina was in no mood for flowers, chocolate, and festivities.

The young Ukrainian woman watched with dismay as Russian troops took control of Crimea, the picturesque and strategic peninsula in southern Ukraine, one week ago. With her country now facing the prospect of war, Turchina is raring for battle.

"Given what's going on in our country, I cannot just stand aside," she tells RFE/RL in her home city of Lviv, in western Ukraine. "Am I ready to defend my country and my people? Yes, I'm ready to shoot at the enemy." Read more ..

The Battle for the Ukraine

Turkey Torn Over 'Brothers' In Crimea, Good Ties With Russia

March 9th 2014

Taksim Gezi Park protests

Serkan Sava's ancestors left Crimea in a mass exodus some 150 years ago, after the Ottoman Empire staved off Russian pressure in the Crimean War but could not reverse the slow tumble that would lead to its dissolution after World War I.

A century later, the 35-year-old IT consultant's grandparents, by then rooted in the post-Ottoman Turkish Republic, would hear of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's deportation of hundreds of thousands of Crimean Tatars to Central Asia, in 1944, that cost the lives of more than 100,000 people.

This week, Sava stood under a steady rain at a protest of about 250 people -- mostly Turkish Crimean Tatars -- outside the Russian consulate in Istanbul. Noting that Crimean Tatars "have bad memories" of life under Moscow's thumb, Sava argued that Turkey should use its influence to ensure that the Black Sea peninsula remains a part of Ukraine and is not annexed by Russia. Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

In Istanbul, Derision And Defiance At Erdogan's Threat To Ban Facebook, YouTube

March 8th 2014


On Istiklal Street, a bustling pedestrian thoroughfare in central Istanbul, it's common for people to walk with their heads down as they tap away at their smartphones.

So strong is the social media addiction that at Crab Pub one night here in early March, a local musician continued tweeting during breaks in the vocals as he performed his set.

So it's not surprising that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's admission that he will consider banning Facebook and YouTube following March 30 municipal elections has been met with dismay from young Istanbul residents.

"I'm not happy, but there's nothing we can do about it," says Adam, a 21-year-old university student who asked not to provide his last name. "The young people are going to say it's wrong, we're going to take it back, but everything will be the same." Read more ..

Russia and History

Russia's Actions In Crimea Stir Bad Memories In Former East Bloc

March 7th 2014

Russian Tanks Invade Georgia

ussia's intervention in Crimea has brought back bad memories among its former satellites.

In much of the former Soviet Union, and among Moscow's former Warsaw Pact allies in Eastern Europe, there are renewed concerns about Russia flexing its military might on Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula.

Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia -- all former Soviet republics -- have been among the most vocal European Union and NATO member states criticizing Russia.

They, together with Poland, a former Warsaw Pact country, have invoked Article 4 of the NATO treaty -- which allows any member state to convene emergency consultations "whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence, or security of any of the parties is threatened." Read more ..

Russia and the Ukraine

Russia Wags The Dog With Ukraine Disinformation Campaign

March 6th 2014


Getting the real story of what is going on in Ukraine is hard enough. And the Russian media seems intent on making it even harder.

With Russian forces controlling Crimea and with Moscow contemplating further military action in Ukraine, Russian media and leading political figures have been shrill in their denunciations of "fascists" in Kyiv and their claims of anti-Semitic incidents, of attacks on ethnic Russians in the eastern reaches of Ukraine, and of floods of beleaguered refugees streaming across the border into Russia.

But much of this information is demonstrably false, emerging from unsourced media reports, then making its way into the statements of Russian politicians, and even into Western media reports. Events are echoing the 1997 U.S. film "Wag the Dog," in which spin-doctors use the media to whip up support for a nonexistent war.

"This is how wars get started. As they say, 'truth is the first casualty of war' and we are really seeing that with the way Russia is handling this," says Catherine Fitzpatrick, a writer and translator who has been live-blogging events in Ukraine for Interpretermag.com. "I think they are really irresponsible. They are inciting a lot of hatred and whipping up a lot of panic. People in places like Kharkiv are watching Russian TV. They may be watching also local TV, but they are dependent on Russian TV and a lot it is not checking out."

Fitzpatrick adds that everything from reasons cited by Russian lawmakers in authorizing President Vladimir Putin to use force to the justifications for it offered to the United Nations Security Council this week by UN envoy Vitaly Churkin, have been based on falsehoods. Read more ..

Russia And the Ukraine

Russian Forces In Crimea: Who Are They And Where Did They Come From?

March 5th 2014

Ukraine protest

There has been much speculation about Russian forces deployed in Crimea since February 28. The West says they're Russian combat troops. Russian President Vladimir Putin says they're just local defense folks. So just who are they?

How many Russian troops are now thought to be in Crimea?
Ukrainian authorities have said there are about 16,000 Russian troops in the Crimean Peninsula – with more pouring into the country every day by air and by naval ships. Independent military analysts agree that there are at least this many troops in Crimea.

Tim Ripley, from "Jane’s Defence Weekly," says most reports suggest about 6,000 to 7,000 Russian troops have freshly deployed to Crimea since February 28 when the intervention began. Ripley says the normal Russian troop level at Black Sea Fleet facilities in Crimea historically has been about 11,000. But most are seamen or support personnel -- not the kind of ground combat forces that have fanned out on the Crimean Peninsula.  Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Full Transcript: Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Speech at AIPAC Policy Conference, 2014

March 4th 2014


Below is the full transcript of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks at the March 4th, 2014, AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington D.C.

    Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you.

    I — I bring you greetings from Jerusalem — (cheers, applause) — the eternal, undivided capital of Israel and the Jewish people. (Cheers, applause.)

    I want to thank all of you for working so tirelessly to strengthen the alliance between Israel and America. American — American support for Israel and for that alliance is at an all-time high. And I can tell you that there is no country on earth that is more pro-American than Israel. (Applause.) Read more ..

Gaza on Edge

Egyptian Court Bans Hamas Activities in the Country

March 4th 2014

Hamas demo

After putting members of the Muslim Brotherhood on trial, an Egyptian court ruled to ban the activities of the Palestinian organization in the country. The ruling constitutes another harsh blow to the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, whose economy is based largely on the goods passed through the smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza.

Egypt has banned Hamas activities in the country: the court in Cairo ruled that all Hamas activities in Egypt are officially illegal. Communications media in Egypt report that the decision was made as part of efforts to control the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’s sister movement and greatest supporter, whose activities in the country were also banned, with Former President Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader who was ousted last year, currently facing trial. Read more ..

The Ukraine on Edge

Ukraine Bristles at Lingering Presence of Black Sea Fleet

March 3rd 2014

Black Sea fleet

Russia's Black Sea Fleet was founded in 1783, and almost immediately proved its strategic importance, defeating Ottoman naval forces and cementing Russia's hold over the Crimean peninsula.

More than two centuries later, many see the fleet as playing the same role, defending its right to a territory that others -- this time Ukrainians -- claim as their own.

Many Ukrainians are angry, noting that under the terms of a post-Soviet accord, the fleet was due to withdraw from Crimea by 2017, removing Russia's toehold in the region once and for all. But that agreement was controversially extended by Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian Ukrainian leader ousted from power last week amid mounting Euromaidan protests. Read more ..

The IRS on Edge

Next Up: 'Citizens United v. IRS'?

March 2nd 2014

IRS building

Four years ago, the Supreme Court's Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision remade the rules for how political campaigns are waged. Could a Citizens United v. Internal Revenue Service case be next?

Yes, says David Bossie, the outspoken president of Citizens United — if the IRS enacts plans to restrict how certain tax-exempt nonprofit groups spend their money on politicking, as the agency says it may do.

"I can commit with certitude that Citizens United will not sit by while any government agency tries to violate our 1st Amendment rights," Bossie told the Center for Public Integrity today. "We have a proven track record of winning, and we're not afraid to take the fight to them. You'll see a Citizens United v. IRS."

Bossie added that while it's "too early" to discuss specific legal strategy, Citizens United is willing to "pull out all the stops" to fight any Obama administration effort to pinch nonprofit groups' ability to engage in politics. Read more ..

The Ukraine on Edge

Reading Ukraine In Iran

March 1st 2014

Iranian clerics

Kyiv's historic day" or "Dem-wreck-cracy!" The way Iranian media have portrayed Ukraine's turmoil depends on which side of Iran's political divide they stand.

Hard-line media have given readers the impression that the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych following months of antigovernment protests is a cause for mourning. Those skimming through the reformist press were likely to become excited about the developments in the eastern European country.

The differences highlighted the stances and world views of the two sides: on the one hand hard-liners' wariness of the West and popular protests, and on the other, a hunger for change among reformists who have been increasingly pushing for the release of Iranian opposition leaders.

In one example, the reformist daily "Etemad" carried the following headline about the February 22 freeing of Yulia Tymoshenko, a jailed leader of Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution: "The release of the Orange Lady on Kyiv's historic day." And next to the story, the daily published comments by Iran's parliament speaker regarding Iranian opposition figures who are under house arrest.] Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

Erdogan Clamps Down on Turkey as Corruption Scandal Widens

February 28th 2014

Tayyip Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen

For months, the corruption scandal rocking Turkey has centered on people around Recep Tayyip Erdogan while stopping just short of the prime minister himself. But the release on February 24 of an alleged recording of a phone conversation between him and his adult son Bilal is now making the scandal very personal for Erdogan indeed.

In the recording, released anonymously on the Internet, Erdogan purportedly tells his son to get tens of millions of dollars out of the house because an investigation is closing in. The prime minister has called the tape a gross fabrication but the country's leading opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP), says it has confirmed the recording's authenticity. Read more ..

Significant Lives

Barry Rubin: An Appreciation

February 27th 2014

Barry Rubin-Jonathan Spyer

Barry Rubin was one of the leading Middle East scholars and analysts of his generation.
He was also a patriot of two countries – Israel and the United States – a dissenter, and a moral and intellectual beacon for thousands of people in many lands.

Barry brought to his work a tremendous, searing energy, which made him famously prolific. This energy stayed with him throughout the illness which has now prematurely ended his life. He was still composing articles in the very last days, when his hands could no longer work the keyboard. He stayed with his chosen mission to the end.

What was the source of this extraordinary energy and commitment? It is vital to note that Barry’s work was characterized not only by its analytical depth, but also by a profound sense of moral urgency. This set him apart from the scholarly and academic mainstream. There was always a sense behind his words of some urgent wrong to be righted, or some piece of information which must be revealed and understood, with no time to waste. Read more ..

Nigeria on Edge

For Many Nigerians, Corruption Invincible Woe

February 26th 2014

Nigerian Pres Goodluck Jonathan

From the volatile oil-producing Niger Delta to northern forests where insurgents terrorize villagers, some Nigerians blame corruption for many of their woes, but no one knows how to stop it.

About half of all Nigerians are without electricity. Without a generator, no one, not even the richest Nigerians, has electricity all day.

At the University of Abuja, where the power is off, political scientist Abubakar Umar Kari blames corruption for the outage, along with a host of other problems.

“As far as we are concerned, corruption is the biggest industry in Nigeria," Kari said. "The Nigerian elite have perfected the act at not only perpetrating corruption but ensuring that they use the instrumentality of corruption as statecraft.” Early this month, Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi was suspended and placed under investigation after saying Nigeria’s national oil company had not accounted for $20 billion. Read more ..

Inside Politics

Tea Party Turns Five: Looks a Lot Like Conservative Base

February 25th 2014

Tea Party demonstator at Supreme Court

Tea Party supporters plan to rally at the Capitol on February 27 to celebrate the fifth anniversary of their movement. How are they faring in terms of national popularity? Is the public in tune with the Tea Party?

It is hardly surprising that pollsters have tracked the Tea Party closely. Not only did the movement emerge spontaneously in 2009 with new affiliates springing up around the country almost overnight, but its organizational structure was also something entirely new in American politics.  Radically decentralized, with no lead organization early on, the Tea Party was rewriting the rules of political organization. The Tea Party’s activity in many 2010 election contests only increased interest. But since that time, many have argued that the Tea party has lost significant ground. The highly regarded Pew Research Center released an October 2013 poll report just after the government shutdown, entitled “Tea Party’s Image Turns More Negative.”  What’s the story? Just how strong is the movement? Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Terrorism and Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICNs): A Growing Menace

February 24th 2014

International Currency 3

The fake currency trade has been haunting Indian security establishments as well as economic intelligence agencies for quite a long time. Most recently in February 2014, the finance minster of India informed the Upper House of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) that counterfeit Indian currency notes worth INR 107.33 crores (approximately US $ 17 million) have been seized between January 2010 and June 2013.  If the intelligence agencies are to be believed, the FICNs are printed in Pakistan and brought to India through couriers via Bangkok, Kathmandu and Dhaka airports. There are also reports that the FICN cartels are pushing counterfeits through China, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Denmark, Netherlands, Singapore and Sri Lanka.

To deal with this growing menace, the government has constituted a special FICN coordination (FCORD) group within the Union Ministry of Home Affairs to share intelligence and information amongst different central and state government agencies. The Central government has asked Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) to conduct a security audit of the international firms supplying ink and paper for printing currency. Sources indicated that 'groups based in Pakistan have managed to source similar paper and security ink from some foreign countries.' Read more ..

Ukraine on Edge

As Heads Roll In Kyiv, Few Tears Shed For Divisive Education Minister

February 23rd 2014

Protest in Ukraine

As opposition lawmakers in Ukraine continue their purge of government officials, one ouster causing particular glee is that of the minister of education and science, Dmytro Tabachnyk.

Tabachnyk's sacking, announced February 23 as part of a rapid-fire government reshuffle, sparked hundreds of virtual cheers across Ukrainian social media in what could best be summarized as a collective "good riddance."

Education ministers aren't always the first to inflame political passions. But in Ukraine, where issues of language, culture, and history are never far from the surface, Tabachnyk was seen by many as a front-line enemy of Ukrainian national identity.

Since his appointment in 2010, Tabachnyk had sought to steadily erode the role of the Ukrainian language in academic curricula, removing Ukrainian proficiency requirements for university applicants and cutting back on the hours middle-school pupils spent studying Ukrainian language and history. Read more ..

Secret Web Campaigens

Tea Party Operative Likely Behind Mysterious Web Blitz

February 22nd 2014

Payday Loan Sign

An anonymous online campaign that criticizes a government crackdown on fraudulent Web-based businesses appears to have been developed by the same company that built websites for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and other tea party leaders.

"Stop the Choke" is an online blitz that argues the Obama administration’s efforts to cut off fraudsters from the financial system will kill free markets and take away people’s guns. The site pictures President Barack Obama as a marauding Godzilla to punctuate its points. The Center was first to report on the group this week.

The name Stop the Choke refers to Operation Choke Point, a government initiative to sue banks that debit people’s accounts illegally on behalf of companies such as online payday lenders, firearms dealers, porn sites and pyramid-style sales schemes where fraud is common. The crackdown has drawn loud opposition from industry groups that fear legitimate companies will be punished for their peers’ misdeeds. Read more ..

Nigeria on Edge

Another Boko Haram Attack Yields Dozens of Deaths in Nigeria

February 21st 2014

A large contingent of Islamic extremist rebels from Boko Haram invaded a predominantly Christian village in northeastern Nigeria Saturday night (Feb. 15) and slaughtered at least 106 people, sources said. According to the Nigeria Correspondent for Morning Star News, the Boko Haram rebels, who seek to impose sharia (Islamic law) throughout Nigeria, and were dressed in military fatigues, reportedly shot some people and slit the throats of others while shouting "Allahu Akbar [God is greater]" in Izghe village of the Gwoza Local Government Area of Borno state. They also destroyed homes and shops.

"We have received information about yet another attack from my friends and family members in Gwoza," Enoch Wonder, a Christian worker from Gwoza now in Jos told Morning Star News. Read more ..

Broken Economy

Transcripts Show Fed Shock at '08 Collapse

February 21st 2014

Frantic Wall Street denizen

Transcripts released Friday of Federal Reserve meetings held throughout 2008 suggest the Fed was caught off guard by the suddenness and severity of the financial crisis that year.

The financial crisis and resulting recession has widely been referred to as the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, but it was not immediately clear to the Fed's economic stewards just how much trouble the nation was in during the immediate aftermath of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, which kindled the collapse.

At a September meeting held one day after Lehman went bankrupt, some Fed officials speculated the economic impact could be muted, and would perhaps be restricted to New York City or the financial sector. Others argued it was a positive thing that the government did not step in to rescue Lehman, sending a message to markets that the government would not provide a safety net. Read more ..

Sudan on Edge

Bor Residents Rush to Bury Dead Amid South Sudan Fighting

February 20th 2014

South Sudan Death Row Inmates

Fighting between rebels and the government is still raging in South Sudan, where a political crisis in late December lit the fuse to an explosion of violence that first split the army, and now has turned whole communities against one another.  In some towns - which have changed hands several times - the few remaining residents are trying to bury the many dead littering the streets. 

The only sound in the streets of Bor, the capital of South Sudan's long-troubled Jonglei state, is silence. The odd scavenging child picks through the rubble of what was once the market. But even the smallest bag of flour has been taken, and the vultures sometimes caw as they circle overhead. On the other side of town, the silence is punctured by diggers, churning up the earth for mass burial sites. Read more ..

The Ukraine on Edge

Pro-Russian Separatism Rises In Crimea As Ukraine's Crisis Unfolds

February 19th 2014


From the dingy basement of a decaying apartment block on the outskirts of Simferopol, Crimean parliament deputy Sergei Shuvainikov is leading the fight to defend the ethnic Russians of this strategic Black Sea peninsula.

In an office festooned with banners showing a map of Crimea overlaid with a World War II medal featuring the communist hammer and sickle and the slogan "In union with Russia," the voluble Shuvainikov spills out a litany of alleged assaults on the Russian language and Russian culture in Ukraine.

"This is the result of a political position to deny Russians, for whom the language is the main identifier of their Russian ethnicity, of their Russian nation, Russian people," he says. "To deny them the right to remind children and young people that they are Russians. It is in fact the destruction of Russian nationality, of the concept of the Russian people of Ukraine."

The piles of megaphones and rolled up banners in the corner of Shuvainikov's self-proclaimed "bunker" attest to the stepped-up activity of the organizations he heads, the Congress of Russian Communities and the Russian Front. Since the political crisis erupted in Kyiv in November, his organizations have repeatedly held demonstrations in Simferopol and elsewhere, burning EU flags and blaming U.S. and NATO interference for Ukraine's time of troubles. Read more ..

Mexico on Edge

Medical Tourism is Becoming a Big Business in Mexico

February 18th 2014

Price. Quality. Technology.

That was the triple message Dr. Octavio Gonzalez had for attendees at the Medical Matters 2014 conference held [last] week in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The veteran dentist was among dozens of exhibitors at an event catering to expatriates, snowbirds and tourists in the Mexican coastal city.

Gonzalez estimated that 95 percent of his customers hail from the United States, Canada and Europe, mostly from North America.

Under the worst scenario,” Gonzalez told FNS, the prices of his Dental Avant Garde company might reach a third of comparable costs in the U.S. and Canada. Gonzalez’s firm specializes in dental implants and full mouth functional rehabilitation.

Apart from pocketbook savings, a visit to Dental Avant Garde has other advantages over seeing a dentist north of the border, Gonzalez insisted. Read more ..

The Culture Edge

Asiana Adopts New Pilot Training After US Crash

February 17th 2014

Damaged Airplane

After a deadly crash landing last summer in San Francisco, Asiana Airlines is changing its training for pilots to encourage crews to talk more and change cockpit culture.

A U.S. investigation found that corporate culture may have been an issue in lthe crash.

"It's a reality that within our country there is a leaning toward a patriarchal culture and many pilots work and fly within the strict military order," Asiana's chief executive Kim Soo-cheon said this week at a press conference in Seoul.

Asiana Flight 214, a Boeing 777, crashed on landing on a runway in July. Three people died and 180 were injured. The following month, VOA was the first to report that the crash could be linked to a culture of "cockpit hierarchy." That's when one pilot defers to a senior officer, even if the junior pilot fears imminent danger. Read more ..

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