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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 ..

The Edge of Sports

Uzbekistan Plunges Into Gene Pool To Spot Future Olympians

January 9th 2014


The idea of using genetic testing to spot future world-class athletes has been bandied about for years. Now, Uzbekistan hopes to get a jump on the competition by testing children as young as 10 to determine their athletic potential.

Rustam Muhamedov, director of the genetics laboratory at Uzbekistan's Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry, announced the program for "sports selection at the molecular genetic level" on January 5 in the government-owned "Pravda vostoka" newspaper.

He says that the program, overseen by Uzbekistan's Academy of Sciences, would be "implemented in practice" in early 2015 in cooperation with the National Olympic Committee and several of the country's national sports federations -- including soccer, swimming, and rowing.

Muhamedov's team began studying the genes of champion Uzbek athletes two years ago. He says that after another year of work in Tashkent, his team will be ready to publish a panel presentation on a specific set of 50 genes that he claims will identify future champions.

"Developed countries throughout the world like the United States, China, and European countries are researching the human genome and have discovered genes that define a propensity for specific sports," Muhamedov says. "We want to use these methods in order to help select our future champions." In practice, Muhamedov says that after the 50 genes of a child are tested from a blood sample, "their parents will be told what sports they are best suited for" -- such as distance running or weight lifting. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Reporter's Notebook: Enduring the Midwest's 'Polar Vortex'

January 8th 2014


It’s garbage day today.  Time to put out the trash for collection. 

It’s a Monday ritual in the Farabaugh home, getting up a little earlier in the morning to make sure all the bins are emptied and the recycling is gathered, so all of it can sit neatly at the end of our driveway waiting for our trash collector, who usually arrives early in the morning.

But today the ritual is a little different, because before I can accomplish any of that, I need to put on extra thick layers of clothing and snow gear to protect myself from the “polar vortex” that I’ve heard so much about on the radio and television over the last several days.

When I ventured outside only the day before to shovel and blow about 12 inches (30 centimeters) of snow off my driveway (not once but twice) there was no bitter cold to mention, no “polar vortex” threatening an otherwise enjoyable, mildly cold snowfall.  My sons and I made the most out of it by attempting to build a snowman, which ultimately turned into a snow fort. Read more ..

The Edge of Trade

NAFTA Twenty Years On

January 7th 2014

Traffic Jam

The 20th anniversary of NAFTA's implementation on Jan. 1 has revived some of the perennial arguments that have surrounded the bloc since its inception. The general consensus has been that the trade deal was a mixed bag, a generally positive yet disappointing economic experiment.

That consensus may not be wrong. The history of the North American Free Trade Agreement as an institution has been one of piecemeal, often reluctant, integration of three countries with a long tradition of protectionism and fierce defense of economic national sovereignty. While NAFTA was a boon for certain sectors of the economy, particularly the U.S. agriculture industry, the net effect of the world's second-largest trade bloc remains somewhat unknown.

The debate over NAFTA can, however, obscure some fundamental realities about the future of North America and its three major countries. While the formation of the trading bloc represented a remarkable political achievement, NAFTA has remained a facilitating institution whose success has mirrored the ebb and flow in the slow but inevitable economic integration of the United States, Mexico and Canada. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Fifty-Year 'War on Poverty' Brings Progress, Not Victory

January 6th 2014

American poverty

In January 1964, President Johnson was aware that almost one in every five Americans lived in poverty.

In his first State of the Union address, just weeks after taking office, he proposed a solution.

"And this administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America," he said, issuing his first salvo in the "war" that would take the form of new programs to improve nutrition, health care, education and job training.

"Our chief weapons in a more pinpointed attack will be better schools, and better health, and better homes, and better training, and better job opportunities," he said. According to James Jones, who later became Johnson's chief of staff, the president wanted to complete the unfinished domestic agenda of previous Democratic Party presidents. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Warmer World Will Produce Fewer Clouds

January 5th 2014

Sunrise or Sunset

With rising global carbon emissions, the planet will heat up and cloud cover will dissipate, according to a new study.

The concentration of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has climbed 40 percent over the last century. And, the new study reports, in response to the release of CO2 emissions, from the burning of fossil fuels in power plants, cars and buildings, the Earth will continue to warm to dangerous levels.

Steven Sherwood, a climate scientist at Australia's Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science and lead author of the report, says the prediction of a 4-degree celsius warming is based on the role of water vapor in cloud formation.

“What we see in the observations is that when air picks up water vapor from the ocean surface and rises up, it often only rises a few kilometers before it begins its descent back to the surface," Sherwood said. "Otherwise it might go up 10 or 15 kilometers. And those shorter trajectories turn out to be crucial to giving us a higher climate sensitivity because of what they do to pull water vapor away from the surface and cause clouds to dissipate as the climate warms up.” Under this scenario, in which clouds do not form, the Earth would absorb more sunlight.   Read more ..

Europe on Edge

Four 'Black Sheep' Presidencies To Watch In 2014

January 4th 2014

euro flags

January 1 marked more than the start of a new year. It was also the day that many institutions handed over their rotating presidencies from one country to another. Sometimes it's a good fit. Sometimes...not so much. RFE/RL looks at four odd presidencies to watch in 2014.

The European Union has spent the past three years bailing out Greece, providing, together with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), more than $320 billion in loans and aid to save the struggling Mediterranean economy from complete collapse. So there's a certain irony to the fact that for the next six months, Athens will hold the EU Presidency -- even as the 28-member bloc moves to decide whether to extend yet another aid package to Greece. Read more ..

The Future Edge

An Asimov-Style Question For 2014: What Will Life Be Like In 2064?

January 3rd 2014

Terminator Robot

In 1964, Isaac Asimov -- the author of such science fiction classics as "I, Robot" and "The End of Eternity" -- attended the World's Fair in New York.

The fair featured a display dedicated to advances in electrical appliances since the start of the 20th century. And it left Asimov asking himself a question: what further advances would the world see 50 years on?

His resulting essay, "Visit To The World's Fair Of 2014," was in many ways prescient. Asimov, among other things, predicted a world of 3D movies, cordless home appliances, driverless cars, and screens that allow you to make video phone calls, read books, or study documents.

Other forecasts, meanwhile, have yet to be realized. Asimov predicted that by 2014, much of humanity would be living underground or underwater to maximize the use of the Earth's surface for agricultural production. He imagined robots that would tend gardens, and cars that would hover over roads rather than driving directly on them. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syria Misses Chemical Weapons Deadline

January 3rd 2014

Syrian Chemical Weapons

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the UN said Saturday that Syria would fail to deliver its first shipment of chemical weapons to the international community. Under a deal agreed to earlier this year, Damascus would to give up the "most critical" chemicals first, most notably about 20 tons of mustard nerve agent. Russian trucks from 12 storage sites around Syria were supposed to have transported these chemical compounds to the northern port of Latakia by December 31st.

A joint OPCW-UN statement blames the missed deadline on a number of factors. First, fighting and insecurity have constrained chemical shipments; the Syrian government set restrictions for moving nerve agents when rebel fighters are nearby. Additionally, inclement weather and obscurely phrased, "logistical challenges," have prevented delivery of chemicals to the port. One such "challenge" might be limited Syrian government control of the main highways linking the chemical sites with the ports. Even with such conditions, the OPCW reaffirms that Damascus retains "the ultimate responsibility" for turning over its chemicals to the international community for destruction. Read more ..

Backlash Against Israel Boycott Puts American Studies Associastion on Defensive

January 3rd 2014

American Studies Association logo

With its recent vote to boycott Israel's higher-education institutions to protest that nation's treatment of Palestinians, the American Studies Association has itself become the target of widespread criticism and ostracism. It has gone from relative obscurity to prominence as a pariah of the American higher-education establishment, its experience serving as a cautionary tale for other scholarly groups that might consider taking similar stands on the Middle East.

In sharp contrast to the international campaign for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel, which had been slow to gain a foothold in the United States, the campaign to rebuke the American Studies Association has spread rapidly since the group's mid-December boycott vote. The presidents of more than 80 American colleges have condemned the boycott as an assault on the free exchange of ideas. Read more ..

Islam's War Againsty Christianity

Iran Bans Farsi-Speaking Christians from Their Own Church

January 2nd 2014

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As a result of increasing pressure on Iranian Christians, Farsi speaking Christians are no longer welcome at St. Peter Evangelical Church in Tehran. That's according to a story by Mohabat News Service, relying on a source saying that the church has been added to an expanding list of churches where Farsi speaking Christians are not allowed anymore.
According to Mohabat News, St. Peter Church Pastor Sargis Benyamin announced on Sun. Dec. 8 that Farsi speaking attendees, the majority, are not allowed in the church anymore.

Some Farsi-speaking members had been attending the church regularly for more than 20 years.

A week after the announcement, the church's custodian prevented a few of the Farsi speaking members from entering the church. They included Sunday school teachers, ministers and elders of the church. They were told they cannot enter the church building even for purposes other than attending the service.

Also, according to unconfirmed reports, Mohabat News said Benyamin announced that the entire service will be held in a language other than Farsi, Iran's official language. Read more ..

The Putin Edge

Putin Stole The Headlines In 2013, But How Is He Positioned For 2014?

January 1st 2014


At a press conference back in September, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made a seemingly throwaway remark that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could avoid outside military intervention by giving up all his chemical weapons.

The same day, Russia's President Vladimir Putin seized the diplomatic initiative by calling on his longtime ally to do just that, paving the way for a deal that may have prevented major military action and unpredictable instability in the Middle East.

"Putin Takes Advantage Of Kerry Blunder," the headlines blared. Purely in terms of visuals, Putin came out looking like a global peacemaker against the background of a bellicose United States.

And it wasn't just in the Syria crisis that Putin looked like a foreign-policy maestro. From the ongoing story of whistle-blowing former U.S. National Security Agency consultant Edward Snowden to Armenia and Ukraine's abrupt U-turns on their European-integration ambitions in favor of closer ties with Moscow, 2013 seemed to be a gift bag of victories for the Russian president. Read more ..

The Way We Are

From The U.S. To Russia, 2013 Was The Year LGBT Rights Went Global

December 31st 2013

Brazilian gay pride on parade

Yelena Goltsman describes June 30, 2013, as one of the best days of her life -- and also one of the worst.

On the one hand, it was the day that she and other Russian-speaking members of New York's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community debuted the first-ever Russian float in the city's annual Gay Pride parade.

The parade came just days after landmark U.S. Supreme Court rulings bolstering the right of same-sex couples to marry. Goltsman, who had immigrated from Soviet Ukraine years before coming out in New York, said she was "elated" to be recognized as equal with fellow American citizens.

But on the other hand, for the parade's Russian-speakers, there was a darker side as well. Russian President Vladimir Putin had chosen the same day to sign a law prohibiting gay propaganda, a sweeping setback in a country that had decriminalized homosexuality 20 years earlier. At such moments, "it's very difficult to live in both worlds," Goltsman says. "The parade and the signing of this document happened on the same day. You can't describe it any other way than bittersweet." Read more ..

Saudi Arabia on Edge

Saudi Double-Duty Suppressing Terrorism and Arab Spring

December 30th 2013

The oil kingdom is codifying current legal practices that do not distinguish between terrorists and nonviolent activists.

King Abdullah is expected to decree a new "penal system for crimes of terrorism and its financing" in the coming days. This comes on the heels of amendments to the country's criminal procedure law earlier this month.

The terrorism crimes legislation passed December 16 by the Saudi cabinet defines terrorism as "disturbing public order," "endangering national unity," and "defaming the state or its status," among other endeavors. A criminal procedure law change that came into effect December 6 legalizes indefinite detention of prisoners without charge or trial. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

PA Promotes Murder at a Cultural Event

December 30th 2013

At a Palestinian Authority event under the auspices of Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, with the participation of the Minister of Culture, the Palestinian Authority portrayed murder as a positive act. The event ended with PA Minister of Culture Anwar Abu Aisha honoring a number of released terrorist murderers by inviting them on stage and awarding them PA plaques of honor -- plaques that show a map of "Palestine," denying the existence of Israel.

It is documented that the PA uses cultural events to honor terrorists. PA TV ad announcing this event read, "Under the auspices of Mahmoud Abbas, Ramallah's Youth Club is honored to invite you to the 5th Festival of the Heritage of the Fathers."

During the program, a play was performed by Palestinian youth. The actors in the play are divided into two rival camps of Hamas and Fatah supporters. They end up throwing away their Fatah and Hamas flags, uniting under the PA flag. They then shoot and kill all the "Israelis." Among the dead bodies of the Israelis, they find a Palestinian who had been spying for Israel. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

An Uncertain Future for Afghanistan, says National Intelligence Estimate

December 29th 2013

The Washington Post says an intelligence report on Afghanistan predicts gains made by the United States and its allies will be lost by 2017, with the Taliban and other terrorist groups becoming increasingly influential as international forces leave. The paper reported on December 29 that the new National Intelligence Estimate says Afghanistan will quickly fall into chaos if Washington and Kabul do not sign a security pact to keep an international military contingent in the country beyond 2014.

The newspaper quotes one U.S. official familiar with the report as saying that without a continuing troop presence and financial support, the intelligence assessment "suggests the situation would deteriorate very rapidly." But the newspaper said other officials felt the report was overly pessimistic and did not take into account progress made by Afghanistan's security forces. Read more ..

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