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Soviet-Afghanistan War

Soviet-Era Journalist, Face Of Afghan War, Looks Back On Pullout

February 16th 2014


When the Soviet Union withdrew its forces from Afghanistan 25 years ago after a bloody and protracted war, Mikhail Leshchinsky was one of the last people out. Leshchinsky wasn't a soldier.

A reporter for Soviet television, he was dispatched to Afghanistan in 1985, shortly after Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, to cover the final stages of a war in which Moscow was rapidly losing faith. His last report from Afghanistan shows General Boris Gromov leading the few remaining Soviet troops out of the country on February 15, 1989.

In the now historic images, Gromov is seen strolling toward Leshchinsky across the Friendship Bridge that once separated Afghanistan from the Soviet Union before declaring the nine-year war officially over. Gromov's teenage son then leaps into his arms, clutching a bouquet of carnations. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Bird Watchers Gear Up For Global Count

February 14th 2014

Northern Fulmar

Mark Mallalieu has been an avid bird watcher since he was 6 years old. Now he has the opportunity to both follow his passion and do something that counts for his fine-feathered friends.

Between February 14 and 17, Mallalieu will be joining tens of thousands of volunteers from around the world participating in the 17th annual Great Backyard Bird Count.

The four-day count calls on anyone to help collect real-time data on the distribution and numbers of birds throughout the world.

In Mallalieu's case, that would be Afghanistan, where he currently is the head of the British government's Department for International Development. He says he'll be "in a diplomatic compound in Kabul where there are some trees and I put some food out for the birds, so that's where I'll be.

"A campaign like this to get people looking at their birds in the garden will generate interest in birds, wildlife, conservation, and the environment more generally," he continues. "I think that's the thing that most excites me about [the bird count]." Read more ..

The Economy on Edge

As the Wages of Men Fall, Female Wages Are Rising

February 13th 2014

Employee applications

In his State of the Union speech last week, President Obama again invoked the provocative statistic that women earn only 77 percent as much as men. With Hilary Clinton increasingly viewed as a prospective successor, rhetorical attacks on gender-based wage differentials will only rise.

The problem is that the 77 percent statistic-combined with the assertion that it is an "embarrassment," and "wrong," and that women "deserve equal pay for equal work"-misdiagnoses a complex issue and can only mislead policy.

The 77-percent statistic is not based on a comparison of men and women doing "equal work," but simply compares the annual earnings of women and men who are full-time, year-round workers. Because men who work "full-time" work 8 to 10 percent more hours per week than full-time women, it fails to compare men and women who spend equal time at work. Nor does it take into account any other productivity differences. Read more ..

Nature on Edge

US, World Act to Save Elephants

February 12th 2014

Rampaging Bull Elephant 500px

The Obama administration has unveiled a comprehensive strategy for combating wildlife trafficking in hopes of curbing illicit poaching that is threatening to wipe out elephants, rhinoceros and other endangered species in Africa. The document issued Tuesday places an almost complete ban on the ivory trade in the United States. Meanwhile, representatives of many African countries are meeting with world's leading conservationists in London to discuss how to stop the illegal sale of ivory.

A large pile of ivory was crushed in central London as a symbolic gesture, ahead of a major summit this week aimed at curbing illegal wildlife trade. Rowena Paxton was among citizens who gave away their ivory items to be crushed.

"I feel like a big weight has been taken off me and I'm now to say goodbye and I just say please, please save our elephants, save our rhino," said Paxton.

A 1989 ban outlawed the international trade in ivory, but cross-border smuggling continues. Conservationists estimate that more than 25,000 elephants are killed across Africa each year so their tusks can be extracted for ivory. French customs official Sebastien Tiran said France seizes at least a half-ton of ivory per year. "What we have noticed regarding trafficking of protected species is that there is a lot of change, but one thing that never changes is the interest of consumers for ivory," said Tiran. Read more ..

The Way We Are

I Smoke, But I'm Not a Smoker

February 11th 2014

cigarette in ashtray

While smoking among California adults has dramatically declined in recent decades, researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine report there is a surprisingly large number of people who say they use cigarettes, but don't consider themselves to be "smokers."

Writing in the February 5 online issue of Tobacco Control, Wael K. Al-Delaimy chief of the Division of Global Health in the UC San Diego Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, and colleagues estimate that, in 2011, almost 396,000 Californians (12.3 percent of the state's population of smokers) smoked on a measurable basis, but rejected the characterization of "smoker." Almost 22 percent of these smokers consumed tobacco on a daily basis. Al-Delaimy said the phenomenon has both individual and social ramifications. For individuals, the behavior puts them at many of the same health risks as identified smokers. "There is no safe level of smoking," he said.  Read more ..

Taiwan and China

Taiwan, China to Hold First Official Talks

February 10th 2014

Industrial and Commericial Bank of China

Taiwan and China hold official talks this week, a historic first for the two governments since a civil war ended more than six decades ago. Political differences still linger and while the two administrations do not officially recognize one another, some analysts think the talks could mark a small step toward more normal, official ties - and perhaps even be a prelude to a possible meeting between China's Xi Jinping and Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou later this year.

Since Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou was elected in 2008, Taipei and Beijing have made big strides in boosting economic ties.

However, as bilateral trade has boomed, Ma's approval ratings at home have sunk, hovering in the teens and low 20s for much of last year. Only halfway through his second term, there are concerns both for Ma and China's leadership that the political tide in Taiwan could be shifting away from Taipei's ruling Nationalist Party, also known as the Kuomintang. Read more ..

Mexico on Edge

The Deportee Chronicles: The Girl from Guajajalmiton

February 9th 2014

She moves between the tables with the grace of the dolphins that sometimes delight the bayside diners of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Greeting customers in Spanish and English, the server has the poise, the demeanor and the intellect to work with an international clientele. Born in Mexico and raised in the United States, Danae is a student of European history, a lover of Romeo and Juliet, and a fan of thrash metal music. "I love Shakespeare!" she declares.

She also likes poetry, blackjack, Jack Daniels and tatoos.

Though seemingly at ease on the Bay of Banderas, Danae confesses she would rather be somewhere else. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Survey: Tech More Important Than Sex for Americans

February 9th 2014

Walking-Cell phone

More Americans would rather go without sex than without their mobile phone, laptop or Internet access, according to new survey.

The survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, a market research firm, showed that 20 percent of American adults polled said they could not do without sex. That’s compared to 28 percent who said they could not live without Internet access, 26 percent who said they could not live without their cell phone and 24 percent who said they could not live without their computer.

Rob Weiss, an expert on the relationship between digital technology and human sexuality, said it was hard to interpret the numbers without knowing the ages of the respondents.

“Most folks I know who are 40 or 45 think sex is important, but there are things that are more important like kids or careers.” he said. “You’d have a different answer from someone who’s 20 than from someone who's 50.” Read more ..

Nature on Edge

Kenya Counts Elephants From the Air

February 8th 2014

Young Republicans

Kenya is conducting an aerial census of the elephant population in a national park that has been the scene of gruesome poaching incidents in the last year. An intensive effort is underway to count and protect the threatened elephant population.

Pilots are taking to the skies above Tsavo National Park in eastern Kenya on a singular mission -- to find elephants.

The census, which takes place every three years, is organized by the Kenya Wildlife Service to map out the elephant population in the area.

Volunteers from organizations across the country have contributed their planes, including Save the Elephants and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which also donated all the fuel. The total cost of the exercise is about $200,000. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Critics Spoil Iranian Government's Food-Aid Initiative

February 7th 2014

Hassan Rowhani

A well-intended initiative to feed the needy has backfired on Iran's president.

Braving heavy snow amid a bitter cold snap, low-income Iranians across the country lined up this week outside state-owned stores to receive free food packages.

But the effort, which was launched on February 2, has drawn enough criticism to warrant a rare public apology from President Hassan Rohani.

Three people reportedly died while waiting in line in freezing temperatures, and hard-liners have alleged that the sight of citizens lining up for handouts is damaging to Iran's image abroad.

Addressing the controversy, Rohani told state television on February 6 that he, as president, "expresses regret if people have faced trouble in receiving the commodity basket." Low-income families, meaning those whose monthly income is below $170, qualify for the food basket, which contains rice, poultry, cheese, eggs, and cooking oil. Read more ..

The Edge of Sport

Despite Official Denial, Gay Life Flourishes Underground in Sochi

February 6th 2014

Gay Pride

In recent days, videos have gone viral showing Russian skinheads and others attacking gays. The videos fueled protests around the world Wednesday, calling on corporate sponsors of the Winter Olympics in Sochi to condemn restrictions on gay life in Russia.

But, often overlooked, a gay scene does exist in Russia, although invariably behind tightly closed doors.

Above ground, Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov had told news media last week that he does not believe there are any gays living in his city.

Below ground, at Mayak, one of Sochi's two gay bars, business was booming Wednesday. Andrei Tenichev owns the "Mayak" which means "Lighthouse." 

"In my opinion there is no gay community in Russia - there are just gays," he said. “Russian gays socialize with each other abroad more than in Russia, because in Russia they don't like to make their orientation known.” Read more ..

Technological Edge

'Deep Concern' Emerges over Google NameTag Facial Recognition App

February 5th 2014

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is worried about the privacy implications of a new facial recognition app.

In a letter on Wednesday, Franken expressed "deep concern" about NameTag, a facial recognition app for Google Glass devices that have been "jailbroken" to circumvent Google's ban on facial recognition tools.

Franken, chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Privacy, asked NameTag to delay its launch until there are best practices for facial recognition technology, such as those that will come out of a Commerce Department initiative beginning this week.

“According to promotional materials, NameTag lets strangers get a broad range of personal information — including a person’s name, photos, and dating website profiles — simply by looking at that person’s face with the Glass camera," Franken said in his letter. Read more ..

America on Edge

U.S. Abortion Rate Hits All-Time Low

February 4th 2014

The U.S. abortion rate declined to its lowest point in 2011 since the procedure became legal across the country in the 1970s, according to research released late Sunday.

The Guttmacher Institute, a think tank that supports abortion rights, found in a census that the abortion rate dropped in 2011 to 16.9 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age. This rate is the lowest since 1973, when the Supreme Court handed down in its Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion in all 50 states. That year, there were 16.3 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age, Guttmacher reported.

The study also pointed out the 2011 rate is "well below" the 1981 peak of 29.3 abortions per 1,000 women. Read more ..

Nature on Edge

Red Fawn: Cold War Lives On In Minds Of Deer

February 3rd 2014

Saiga Antelope

The barbed wire, electric fences, watchtowers, and heavily-armed guards that once lined the Iron Curtain are long gone, but red deer wouldn't dare jump the border.

Behavior learned at the height of the Cold War lives on among the herds that roam land that used to straddle the former Czechoslovakia and West Germany.

The once heavily fortified borders separating East from West today traverse national parks and remote landscapes that serve as popular summertime migratory destinations for the imposing beast.

In the spirit of post-Cold War fellowship, Germany's Bavarian Forest National Park and the Czech Republic's Sumava National Park established a transboundary wilderness area where animals like the red deer could find refuge.

But as it turns out, the deer populations on either side of the former Iron Curtain roam along the border and remain reluctant to cross. Using GPS satellite collars, Czech zoologists, in cooperation with their German colleagues, monitored the migration patterns of red deer on either side of the border between 2005 and 2011. Read more ..

The Edge of Extinction

Hong Kong to Destroy 30 Tons of Ivory

February 2nd 2014

Young Republicans

More than 30 metric tons of ivory stocks are scheduled to be destroyed in Hong Kong. The African Wildlife Foundation says it welcomes the move in a region where a culture of ivory is deep seated.

The decision to destroy the ivory stocks was made by the Endangered Species Advisory Committee of Hong Kong’s Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

Because of the huge amount of ivory it will be destroyed in stages.  And it won’t be crushed as in recent events in the U.S. and China where much smaller amounts were destroyed. Instead, it will be incinerated and turned to ash to ensure no small pieces remain that could be sold.

Speaking from Nairobi, African Wildlife Foundation CEO – Dr. Patrick Bergin – said he is thrilled by Hong Kong’s decision for several reasons. “One, I think it shows growing global consensus, and two, I think it shows that this is an issue that the East and the West and Africa can work together on.” Read more ..

The Ancinet Edge

Ice Age Thrives In Southern Siberia

January 31st 2014

European hippo

If you ever wondered what the Ice Age looked like, then look no farther than Eurasia's Altai-Sayan mountains, where thriving mammalian communities are frozen in time.

Parts of the range along the Russia-Mongolian border have served as sanctuaries for Ice Age mammals since the last glacial period.

While the sizes and unique physical features of the mammals have evolved, the communities themselves are nearly identical to those that existed in the region during the Pleistocene era.

Czech scientists from the University of South Bohemia have compiled a list of mammals at seven Eurasian sites that lived between 35,000 and 12,000 years ago, and compared them with the mammals living today at 14 sites. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Scientists: New Versions of Plague Could Cause Future Outbreaks

January 30th 2014

Docs and Tech

An international team of scientists tracing the origins of two of the world’s most devastating plagues says strains of the same plague caused the pandemics hundreds of years ago. They warn that new strains could trigger future outbreaks. 

The so-called Plague of Justinian, the first one known to historians, struck in the sixth century.  The pandemic originated in China and killed between 30 and 50 million people as it spread across Asia, northern Africa, Arabia and Europe between 1347 and 1354.  Experts believe that plague, caused by a bacterium carried by rodents, contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire.

Eight hundred years later, according to researchers, the Black Death killed an estimated 75 million to 200 million people in Europe and North Africa.  Expert say this plague, which also originated in Asia, was hardier, resurfacing in the 1800s.  The Black Death was caused by a different strain of the same bacterium that caused the Justinian Plague. Read more ..

Broken Government

The War on Poverty Lost the Political Battle

January 29th 2014

A new University of Michigan analysis challenges the conventional wisdom that President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty failed. In the decade after Johnson declared "unconditional war on poverty," poverty rates plummeted to reach their historic low of about 11 percent in 1973. Poverty rates were 19 percent in 1964.

In a new analysis of spending during the Johnson administration, University of Michigan economists Martha Bailey and Nicolas Duquette examine why Johnson and the War on Poverty received so little credit.

"We find that the Johnson administration chose poverty over politics," said Martha Bailey, associate professor of economics and co-author of a paper titled "How Johnson Fought the War on Poverty: The Economics and Politics of Funding at the Office of Economic Opportunity." Read more ..

After the Holocaust

UN Sec. General Denounces Anti-Semitism While Remembering the Holocaust

January 29th 2014

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon sounded a strong warning against the dangers of anti-Semitism and hatred of any kind in the world during the International Holocaust Day held at the UN offices in Nairobi in tribute to the six million Jews and countless others massacred in the Holocaust.

In a statement, Ban Ki-Moon wrote, “The United Nations was founded to prevent any such horror from happening again. Yet tragedies from Cambodia to Rwanda to Srebrenica show that the poison of genocide still flows.” His message was read on his behalf by the UN Resident Coordinator Nardos Bekele-Thomas on January 27. Read more ..

The Economy on Edge

NYC Invests Heavily In Biotech Development

January 28th 2014

Research and Development Chemistry

New York City and the State of New York are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to become a major player in the development of high tech industries. They have developed a concept called incubators - providing fully-equipped, subsidized workspaces for qualified start-up companies.  There are approximately 40 incubator projects across New York State. 

Harlem Biospace is the first city-backed incubator facility for biomedical engineering.  It gives young entrepreneurs a relatively low-cost way to develop their ideas and businesses.  A low monthly fee provides them with desk space and laboratory facilities. They pay for their own raw materials.

“This is great.  The reason is because it is so cheap and it has the wet lab that we need. So, I order chemicals that I need, and I’m given the facilities here to do my experiments," said Tyler Poore.

Tyler Poore and his partner are developing a product that will kill bacteria forever.  It can be applied to household items, like a sponge, or to anything that needs to be bacteria-free.   His goal and that of the 17 others at Biospace is to find solutions to biomedical problems. Read more ..

The Economy on Edge

California Drought Could Impact World Food Prices

January 27th 2014

mexico drought

Southern California, where many fruits and vegetables for the country are grown, is experiencing a recording-breaking drought, which could impact world food prices in 2014.

Andy Domenigoni is a fourth generation grower in Riverside, California. He says there are good years and bad years, and this year things are not looking good. “I have some fields that we planted almost a month ago that are still not out of the ground,” Domenigoni said.

He says normally it takes five to seven days for the wheat to sprout, but not this year. He points to a brown field behind him. “This field was planted two weeks ago and it is just bone dry. The seed is not in any moisture," he said. "It can’t sprout. We got to wait for the rain.”

Domenigoni is not the only one waiting for rain. The western United States has been in a drought that has been building for more than a decade, according to climatologist Bill Patzert of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Ranchers in the West are selling off their livestock," Patzert said. "Farmers all over the Southwest, from Texas to Oregon, are fallowing in their fields because of a lack of water. For farmers and ranchers, this is a painful drought.” Read more ..

Ukraine on Edge

Dwindling Choices for Ukraine President Yanukovych

January 26th 2014

Ukraine's Euromaidan protest movement has gained fresh momentum as the country's embattled President Viktor Yanukovych seemed to spend the weekend losing old friends while failing to make new ones.

Demonstrators kept a steady drumbeat in the capital Kyiv, buoyed by a 24-hour cycle that saw opposition leaders Vitali Klitschko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk decline Yanukovych's partnership deal and protesters oust some 200 police from makeshift headquarters in a Kyiv congress center.

Meanwhile, protests continued to spread into parts of Ukraine once considered Yanukovych's base. Thousands of pro-Maidan demonstrators gathered outside the regional administration headquarters in Zaporyzhzhya in the country's traditionally pro-Russian east. In the neighboring region of Dnipropetrovsk, hard-core football fans known as "ultras" provided security for protesters marching on the local government. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Croatian Researchers Pioneer Use Of Robots To Diagnose Autism

January 26th 2014


Four-year-old Luka is enthusiastic about his new friend. "He can write. He can sit down. And he can drink water," he says. The two also like to dance together.

But it is an unusual friendship. Luka is a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a developmental disability that inhibits social, behavioral, and communications skills. And his friend, Rene, is a robot.

They met thanks to a joint project of the University of Zagreb's Faculty of Education and Rehabilitation Sciences and its Faculty of Electronics and Computer Sciences. The initiative aims to use robots to improve the diagnosis and assessment of children with the disorder, a process that until now has been highly complex and subjective. The robot is intended to assist, not replace the clinician.

"For children with autism, the robot is a stimulus that is very simple and always the same," says researcher Jasmina Stosic. "Its eyes are always in the same place. Its mouth is always in the same place. People are rather complicated for such children because when we talk we make various gestures. And one day we'll wear a red t-shirt and the next day, a blue one. The robot is one constant stimulus, and the children don't need to think about so much different information and instead can concentrate on the essence." Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

White House Announces a 'Hangout' with a Big Wedge of Cheese

January 25th 2014

The White House will host a virtual "Big Block of Cheese Day" later this month in a nod to historical tradition — and the popular West Wing television show. In the show, White House staffers were required on one day a year to meet with citizens and interest groups who normally might not earn attention from top administration officials. The fictional tradition was a nod to President Andrew Jackson, who in 1837 hosted an open house with a 1,400 pound block of cheese in the White House's foyer.

But the real White House said Friday that they would be hosting a real version of the event — albeit in cyberspace. "On Wednesday, January 29th, with a nod to history (and maybe the TV show the West Wing), the Obama Administration is hosting the first-ever virtual “Big Block of Cheese Day,” during which dozens of White House officials will take to social media for a day long 'open house' to answers questions from everyday Americans in real-time on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram and via Google+ Hangout," the White House said in a statement. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Environmentalists Criticize EU's Draft Climate Policy

January 24th 2014

Pakistan flooding

The European Union's executive arm has unveiled what it calls an ambitious new climate change and energy policy for the 28-member bloc.

Europe has been hailed as a leader in fighting greenhouse gases. But a year before a key United Nations climate change conference, critics say the EU's proposals don't go far enough. 

With cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, more renewables and greater energy efficiency by 2030, the new climate and energy proposals make environmental and business sense, according to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who unveiled the draft package in Brussels.

"An ambitious and smart 2030 strategy will contribute to Europe's share in global climate action," he said, "but will also help to reduce our costly dependence on imported gas and oil [and] boost our green technology industry and sustainable growth, by providing a stable long-term perspective for our companies to invest," Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Family Man Obama Unhappy with his 'Caricature' among Opponents

January 23rd 2014

Click to select Image

President Barack Obama said that gridlock on Capitol Hill stemmed from an inability to "penetrate the Republican base" and convince voters there that he's "not the caricature that you see on Fox News or Rush Limbaugh," rather than his oft-questioned willingness to socialize with lawmakers.

In bonus excerpts from an interview with The New Yorker's David Remnick, Obama conceded that there was "no doubt that personal relationships matter at the margins and can tip something over the finish line," and admitted that he "wasn't in a position to work the social scene in Washington" as the father of two young girls.

But he said comparisons to presidents like Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson were unfair in an era of polarized parties and gerrymandered districts.

Broken Government

Members of Congress Not Likely to Become Marijuana Consumers

January 22nd 2014

Republicans and Democrats who want to ease marijuana laws say they won’t smoke pot — regardless of whether it’s legal.

Marijuana politics have changed significantly since former President Clinton famously said 22 years ago that he didn’t inhale. But politicians aren’t ready to say they would light up, at least not publicly.

People can get high legally in Colorado and soon will be able to do so in Washington state. Supporters say the taboo of marijuana is evaporating, though the topic is certainly still politically delicate.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) has praised his state’s new law and has introduced legislation that would legalize marijuana nationally. Asked if he had legally tried pot, Polis stepped back and shook his head, saying, “No, no, no, no.” Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

South Africa Game Park Protects Rhinos Against Poaching

January 21st 2014

Rhino, black, Tanzania

2013 was a very bad year for South African rhinos with almost 1,000 animals killed for their horns. That death toll is 50 percent higher than in 2012 - despite a more concerted international fight against poaching and an international trade ban that has been in place for decades.

South Africa is home to more than 25,000 rhinos, roughly 80 percent of the world's rhinoceros population. But with their horns more valuable than gold in Asia markets, this ancient species is losing the fight against possible extinction.

"It's a national treasure for us [in South Africa]. That's why it is so important for us to protect these guys," said Park Ranger C.J. Lombard. He and his tracker Patrick Moyane are out on another game drive looking for rhinoceros. Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

Tobacco Report From 50 Years Ago Has Changed the World

January 20th 2014

cigarette in ashtray

If there is one person whose work created a ripple effect that is changing the world, it was the ninth surgeon general of the United States. Fifty years ago this month, he issued a report that linked cigarette smoking to lung cancer and heart disease. 

On a cold, rainy day at Arlington National Cemetery, people gathered to remember and honor a man who devoted his life to improving the health of others.

Surgeon General Luther Terry, now buried at the cemetery for military heroes, released a report in 1964 that linked smoking with cancer. "President Kennedy ultimately selects him to be the ninth surgeon general," said Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak.

Acting Surgeon General, Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak, spoke of Dr. Terry's accomplishments. "What took place 50 years ago changed the world. Fifty years ago, [it was a] completely different world when it comes to tobacco use and smoking," he said. Read more ..

Inside Politics

Lawmakers: Fear Silicon Valley and Data Brokers, Not NSA

January 19th 2014

Amazon Kindle

Voters should be much more concerned about what private companies are collecting on them than about the National Security Agency, say several congressional defenders of the agency’s surveillance programs.

Silicon Valley firms, retailers, and behind-the-scenes “data brokers” all collect information on individual Americans in ways that could raise privacy concerns, yet these groups have largely escaped the raging debate focused on what the government collects.

“It’s just the irony of this whole debate,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a prominent defender of the NSA.

“I mean it’s unbelievable what private companies collect from individuals and how they track them and track what their shopping habits are and where they may or may not be and how they shop,” he said. “All of that is collected. The NSA doesn’t do anything like that at all.” Rogers’s counterpart in the Senate made the same point. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

More Severe Heat Waves to Come as Australia Sizzles

January 18th 2014


Heat waves in Australia are becoming more common and severe, according to a report released on Thursday by the nation's Climate Council. The independent non-profit organization insists that extreme weather patterns can be attributed to climate change. The report comes as southern Australia braces for more punishing heat and emergency crews battle dozens of bushfires.

Temperatures in the southern city of Adelaide have been near 46 degrees Celsius, while Melbourne is on track to record its second-longest heat wave since the 1830s. Strong winds are likely to increase the bushfire danger later this week in South Australia and Victoria, where more than 1,000 fires have been reported. Some 40 are currently burning out of control.

The Climate Council said that periods of intense heat in Australia are becoming more frequent, hotter and are lasting longer. The council predicts that such heat waves will become increasingly severe in the future. Researchers blame climate change, and believe that the burning of fossil fuels is trapping more heat in the lower atmosphere. Read more ..

Ukraine on Edge

Does 'Black Thursday' Mark End Of Ukraine's Democratic Decade?

January 17th 2014


With a disorderly show of hands, the Ukrainian parliament appears to have not only shut down the country's pro-European protests, but rolled back an entire decade of reforms that once made Ukraine the leader of the post-Soviet neighborhood's democratic hopes.

Pro-presidential lawmakers in the Verkhovna Rada on January 16 passed a package of radical legislation that cracks down on street protests, strips opposition politicians of immunity, and imposes a raft of free-speech restrictions that have critics crying censorship.

Most immediately, the legislation appears aimed at shutting down the boisterous pro-European protests that have convulsed the capital, Kyiv, since Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych rejected an EU Association Agreement in November in favor of closer ties with Russia.

Longer term, the proposals could have damning consequences for Ukrainian civil society and independent journalism, which continued to flourish even as Yanukovych, in office since 2010, began to roll back reforms.

"The law fully restricts all types of expression, across all platforms. It makes it possible to shut down websites, block access to the Internet. It makes it possible to control all SIM cards so they can track any person who says something bad about the government at a forum, on blogs, or even from a mobile phone," says Taras Shevchenko, the director of the Kyiv-based Media Law Institute. "This 'bad' thing can be labeled as extremism, defamation, slander, insulting law enforcement or judges -- whatever is needed." Read more ..

Iraq on Edge

Fallujah Residents Suffer As Tribesmen, Al-Qaeda Fight On

January 16th 2014

Syrian refugees

Amid the fog of war, it is becoming clear that everyday citizens are bearing the brunt of the recent violence in Iraq's Anbar Province.

For weeks, local Sunni tribesmen and Iraqi security forces have been battling Al-Qaeda-linked militants in the western province. In the city of Fallujah, fierce fighting with Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) has resulted in a tense standoff as army troops encircling the city await word to move in.

In the meantime, Fallujah's 300,000 residents are suffering. Basic services have been cut off and many locals remain without water, electricity, and food. Umm Akram says that militants forced her and her family out of their home a week ago. Akram's family of 14 wandered the streets before taking shelter at a local school that now serves as a temporary shelter for dozens of families. Read more ..

Venezuela after Chavez

Don't Cry for Me Venezuela: The Life of Hugo Chavez Gets Star Treatment

January 15th 2014

Music lovers in Belarus will soon be treated to a show honoring the life of late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

The Belarusian Music Theater has announced it is working on a Spanish-language musical in collaboration with Venezuelan artists.

"In Memory of Hugo Chavez" is scheduled to premiere this summer in Minsk and later in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas.

The Minsk-Novosti news agency reported that the music would be composed by Gerardo Estrada, the first secretary of the Venezuelan Embassy in Belarus and a seasoned musician.

Olga Gudazhnikava, a spokeswoman for the theater, told RFE/RL that the musical's director was currently unavailable for comment.

The news from Minsk will come as no surprise to those who have witnessed Chavez's own musical antics and knew of his friendship with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Read more ..

CAR on Edge

UN Reports Grave Human Rights Violations in CAR

January 14th 2014

African Rebels and Guns

A new United Nations report presents an appalling picture of human rights violations in the Central African Republic, including killings, kidnappings, torture, and rape.  The report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights describes events since the explosion of violence in the capital, Bangui and the northern town of Bossangoa on December 5 and 6.

U.N. fact-finders who visited the CAR last month have confirmed there were large-scale killings of Christian and Muslim civilians carried out on December 5 and 6 in Bangui and Bossangoa. The U.N. estimates 1,000 people in Bangui alone were killed during the two days of violence.

The violence began when Christian militias, known as the anti-balaka, mounted coordinated attacks in Bangui against Muslim forces that were formerly part of the Seleka rebel alliance.  The attacks prompted a series of reprisals by both sides, which spiraled into sectarian violence between Muslim and Christian civilians in the capital and elsewhere in the country. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Polish Conservatives Urge Jail Time For Calling Nazi Camps 'Polish'

January 13th 2014

Holocaust cattle cars

Polish conservatives want to jail anyone describing the concentration camps operated by Nazi Germany in their country during World War II as "Polish."

The Polish parliament is debating a proposal to punish the use of the terms "Polish concentration camp" or "Polish death camp" with up to five years in prison.

Dariusz Piontkowski, one of the bill's authors, has branded such expressions "a blow against Polish national interests" and "a falsification of the historical truth." The initiative builds on an ongoing campaign to stamp out what Poles see as a misleading and deeply offensive expression.

Outside Poland, journalists and public figures continue to routinely use the shorthand "Polish concentration camps" to refer to the camps built and run by Nazi Germany on occupied Polish territory, where the bulk of the Holocaust was carried out. Read more ..

Israel’s Leading Edge

A Jordianian Named Yitzhak Rabin

January 12th 2014

IDF Officer training ceremony

In January 1996, a Muslim baby born in northern Jordan was given the name Yitzhak Rabin. The mother and father, who were supporters of peace with Israel, had wanted to honor the slain Israeli leader’s role in the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty with King Hussein of Jordan in 1994. It was an unusual move, to say the least, and at the time, the parents’ decision to give their child a Jewish name, sparked an unprecedented uproar in Jordan.

The father lost his job and was harassed by family members and neighbors following the name choice. Jordan’s state registrar had told the parents that it was illegal to give the boy a Jewish name, but the Jordanian Ministry of Interior later ruled that it was legal. However, the continuing hostilities forced the family to flee. Yitzhak Rabin Namsy has been living in exile with his family for nearly 16 years - in Israel.

The Atlantic recently ran an article following up on Namsy, today 18, who lives in Eilat with his mother, and follows Judaism -- keeping the Sabbath and going to synagogue. Read more ..

USA and Mexico on Edge

Revisiting the Environmental Costs of U.S./Mexico Free Trade Agreement

January 12th 2014

Deer at US/Mexico border wall

As possible, new trade agreements stir debate on the world stage, a North American citizen advisory panel is urging that a new emphasis be placed on the ecological costs of increased trade and money flows.

In a statement issued shortly before Christmas, the Joint Public Advisory Committee (JPAC), a trinational group consisting of representatives from the three member nations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), called on the leaders of Canada, the United States and Mexico to demonstrate a “revival of political will” and undertake a “new mission” with enhanced public involvement in trade and environmental matters.

The 15-member JPAC is affiliated with the Montreal-based Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), which serves as the environmental watchdog agency established under NAFTA’s environmental side agreement. Read more ..

The Holocaust Revisited

Israeli Organization Searches for Art Looted by Nazis

January 11th 2014

Hitler Sepia

International efforts are intensifying to recover and identify items stolen by the Nazis during World War II, including paintings, ceramics, books and religious treasures.  In Israel, a committee is pressing local museums to search their collections for artwork looted by the Nazis.

Israeli authorities believe more than 1,000 pieces of artwork stolen by the Nazis were sent to Israel for safekeeping after World War II. An Israeli state-run committee has been assigned to track down unclaimed assets in Israel of Jews killed during the Holocaust. 

On Thursday, the committee convened officials from Israel's major museums for a talk on the search effort. Israel Peleg is leading the committee.

"We know that after the war at least 400 pieces of art paintings reached the shores of Israel and the museum in Israel.  The Israel museum has already publicized it, and we believe that the research, the provenance research, should be done now by all the museums in Israel, which they are cooperating very carefully with us," said Peleg.

Peleg voiced hope the unclaimed artwork would find its way to descendants of its owners. "The idea of starting now this effort is a breakthrough in the effort to return to the rightful heirs of the Holocaust victims the pieces of art which belong to their families," he said. Read more ..

Hollywood on Edge

Actress Meryl Streep Blasts Walt Disney as Anti-Semitic; ZOA Condemns Actress Emma Thompson

January 10th 2014

Meryl Streep

Hollywood actress Meryl Streep blasted Walt Disney as an anti-Semitic misogynist in an unusually long and scathing speech at a film awards dinner on Tuesday night, Variety reported on Thursday.

Ironically, Streep’s nine-minute speech was to honor the actress who portrayed ‘Mary Poppins’ creator P.L. Travers in The Walt Disney Company’s ‘Saving Mr. Banks,’  Emma Thompson, who the Zionist Organization of America denounced on Thursday for her letter in the Guardian advocating for a boycott of Israel’s Habima Theater troupe, which is to perform later this year at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, in London.

Variety aptly described the scene at the awards dinner on Tuesday night: “The National Board of Review dinner is like the big pre-game to the Golden Globes, where wine bottles are uncorked in New York and don’t stop flowing until the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s gala on Sunday. But this year’s ceremony will forever be remembered for its nine-minute tour-de-force speech from Meryl Streep.”

“There was plenty of effusive Thompson praising in the speech — with phrases like ‘she’s practically a saint’ and ‘she’s a beautiful artist’ — and it ended with a poem that Streep had written for her friend titled ‘An Ode to Emma, Or What Emma is Owed.’ But Streep also made a point of blasting Walt Disney for his sexist and anti-Semitic stances.”

According to Variety, “Streep talked about how Disney ‘supported an anti-Semitic industry lobbying group’ and called him a ‘gender bigot.’ She read a letter that his company wrote in 1938 to an aspiring female animator. It included the line, ‘Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that task is performed entirely by young men.’” Read more ..

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