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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

Click to select Image

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 ..

The Edge of Climate Change

"Dark Money" Funds Climate Change Denial Effort

December 29th 2013

Money Stack

The largest, most-consistent money fueling the climate denial movement are a number of well-funded conservative foundations built with so-called "dark money," or concealed donations, according to an analysis released Friday afternoon.

The study, by Drexel University environmental sociologist Robert Brulle, is the first academic effort to probe the organizational underpinnings and funding behind the climate denial movement.

It found that the amount of money flowing through third-party, pass-through foundations like DonorsTrust and Donors Capital, whose funding cannot be traced, has risen dramatically over the past five years.

In all, 140 foundations funneled $558 million to almost 100 climate denial organizations from 2003 to 2010. Meanwhile the traceable cash flow from more traditional sources, such as Koch Industries and ExxonMobil, has disappeared. Read more ..

Inside Jewry

Origins and Meanings of Ashkenazic Last Names

December 28th 2013

Lviv synagogue remnant

Ashkenazic Jews were among the last Europeans to take family names. Some German-speaking Jews took last names as early as the 17th century, but the overwhelming majority of Jews lived in Eastern Europe and did not take last names until compelled to do so. The process began in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1787 and ended in Czarist Russia in 1844.

In attempting to build modern nation-states, the authorities insisted that Jews take last names so that they could be taxed, drafted, and educated (in that order of importance). For centuries, Jewish communal leaders were responsible for collecting taxes from the Jewish population on behalf of the government, and in some cases were responsible for filling draft quotas. Education was traditionally an internal Jewish affair.

Until this period, Jewish names generally changed with every generation. For example, if Moses son of Mendel (Moyshe ben Mendel) married Sarah daughter of Rebecca (Sora bas Rifke), had a boy and named it Samuel (Shmuel), the child would be called Shmuel ben Moyshe. If they had a girl and named her Feygele, she would be called Feygele bas Sora.


Inside Washington

Senator Ted Cruz: Man of the Year

December 28th 2013

Click to select Image

No politician had a greater impact on the past year than freshman U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Cruz came from the Lone Star State not owing the D.C. political establishment anything, after he beat the chosen replacement for Kay Bailey Hutchison in an underfunded, grassroots driven Republican primary election.

Using his historic first speech on the Senate floor to support Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s quest to force the Obama administration to agree not to use drones to kill Americans on American soil, Cruz showed he would sacrifice personal glory for the cause of liberty. By helping shine a constitutional light on the Justice Department’s unwillingness to unequivocally declare that the federal government cannot just send a missile through the windshield of American citizens driving down I-95, Cruz chose to take his first stand on a seemingly esoteric, but important, constitutional issue.

Of course, Cruz made his biggest mark when he and fellow freshman Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) led a last-ditch national grassroots effort to defund ObamaCare before the law went into effect fully. Imagine how many Senate Democrats wish right now that they had heeded Cruz's entreaties and agreed to delaying or defunding it for one year. Now, they are stuck with the law and all its consequences.

Since the short federal government shutdown, Americans are coming to the conclusion that ObamaCare was sold through a series of lies, and they are not happy. Fear of losing coverage, fear of significantly increased healthcare costs and fear of losing the doctor/patient relationship have become the table topic in households. These households know that Republicans, because of Cruz and Lee, did everything possible to protect America from the impact of ObamaCare. Read more ..

Singapore on Edge

Singapore Fights Image As Swiss Banker of Asia

December 27th 2013

$1B US Currency

In a place that restricts everything from chewing gum to pungent durian fruit.  Singaporean authorities pride themselves in having a high bar for strict laws and a low crime rate to match. So they’ve been none too pleased by reports that tax dodgers, corrupt officials, and money launderers might be closing their Swiss bank accounts and moving funds to Singapore.

In response, the government is ramping up measures to battle this reputation as a tax haven. It is now negotiating a deal with the United States that requires banks in Singapore to share details of Americans’ offshore assets with the Internal Revenue Service. The United States just signed the so-called FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) with six other governments this month. “There is no basis for the allegation that wealthy individuals can hide money and avoid taxes in Singapore,” a Ministry of Finance spokesperson told said. Read more ..

Inside Washington

Memorable Quotes from 2013

December 26th 2013

The year started with a deal on the fiscal cliff and ended with a deal on a two-year budget accord. In between, there were fights over the Benghazi, Libya terrorist attack, National Security Agency surveillance programs, immigration reform, the war in Syria and the implementation of ObamaCare.

Here are the most memorable quotes of the year:

1) “What difference, at this point, does it make?”

Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, January 23

Republicans pounced on this remark, in which Clinton seemed to downplay the importance of figuring out the circumstances surrounding the death of four U.S. officials in Benghazi, Libya.

Clinton quickly said it's the job of the State Department to assess what happened, but the GOP said her remarks were in line with earlier administration comments saying that the U.S. consulate was attacked as part of a spontaneous protest against a movie.

Republicans are almost sure to resurrect the quote — and Clinton's role in failing to keep the officials safe — if and when she runs for president in 2016. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Kalashnikov's Uncomfortable Legacy

December 25th 2013


Mikhail Kalashnikov, who has died aged 94 in Izhevsk, will forever be associated with one of the world's most iconic -- and controversial -- weapons.

When his AK-47, or "Kalashnikov," assault rifle first went into production more than six decades ago, it is unlikely that he envisaged it would not only become the standard-issue firearm for Soviet forces but also become the weapon of choice for countless guerrilla fighters, terrorists, and even criminals around the globe.

Kalashnikov was one of 19 children born to a poor peasant family in Russia's southern Altai region, in 1919, just a couple of years after the Bolshevik Revolution. In his youth he dreamed of becoming a poet. He actually wrote poetry his entire life and also published six books, but it was his talent as a self-taught designer that was to make his name. "There are many bad poets out there without me," he told reporters in 2009. "I went along a different path." Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Obama Administration Understated America's Nuclear Costs

December 24th 2013

Nuclear Missile in Silo

The Obama administration's plan for maintaining and upgrading the U.S. nuclear arsenal will likely cost around 66 percent more over the next decade than senior Pentagon officials have predicted, according to a new assessment by the independent Congressional Budget Office.

Under the administration’s plan, operating, maintaining and upgrading the nuclear stockpile will cost a total of $355 billion from 2014 through 2023, said the CBO report, published just before the holidays and shortly after Congress finished action on a 2014 budget bill that restored some planned Pentagon spending cuts.

James Miller, the Pentagon’s outgoing policy chief, had said in 2011 congressional testimony that the 10-year tab would be around $214 billion, or an average of $21 billion a year, an amount he pegged at around 3 percent of the Pentagon’s likely overall budget for that period.


The Race for Batteries

Wearable Textile Battery Can Be Recharged by Lightweight Solar Cells

December 24th 2013

Sunrise or Sunset

A research team at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology has developed a technology for textile-based foldable batteries that are which are rechargeable using energy recharged via integration with lightweight solar cells.

Key to the researchers' approach was a polyester yarn coated with nickel and polyurethane to form the battery's current collector, binder and separators. The performance of the batteries is said to be comparable with that of conventional foil-based cells, even under severe folding/unfolding conditions.

The research group which developed the technology is now looking to make the batteries softer and more wearable. Trial versions of flexible and wearable electronics are being developed and introduced in the market such as Galaxy Gear, Apple’s i-Watch, and Google Glass. Research Read more ..

Iran on Edge

In 2013, Iran Got A New President And Maybe A New Direction

December 23rd 2013


For years, it seemed Iran was going deeper into isolation in its standoff with world powers over its controversial nuclear program. In 2013, that suddenly changed.

In June, Iran elected a new president who campaigned on promises to take a more moderate approach, including in foreign policy.

And in November, his new government cut a six-month deal with world powers to halt some nuclear activities in exchange for some sanctions relief, a first step toward seeking a comprehensive solution to the nuclear crisis.

But if the two events suggest President Hassan Rohani -- a cleric and establishment insider -- is taking Iran in a new direction after decades of confrontation with the West, the question still remains how far things can go. Michael Adler, a regional scholar at the Washington-based Wilson Center, says that for now, at least, Rohani's team is off to a strong start. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Climate Change Affecting Water Resources

December 22nd 2013


Scientists say climate change will not affect all regions of the world equally – especially when it comes to fresh water. The latest computer models indicate some places will get a lot less, while others get a lot more.

Dr. Jacob Schewe and his colleagues say that “water scarcity is a major threat for human development” if greenhouse gas emissions remain unchecked. They’ve published their findings in a special issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The reason we’re concerned is that it’s a very important issue for a lot of people. We all depend on water for so many different purposes," he said. "And water scarcity, where it exists, really impairs many things that people do and that people live on.”

Schewe works at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. He said the “steepest increase of global water scarcity” could happen if global warming rises two to three degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. That could happen, he said, in the next few decades. Read more ..

The Protest Edge

How Will Euromaidan End? For Clues, Look To Past Protests By Ukraine's Neighbors

December 21st 2013

Russian Protest

Ukraine's Euromaidan protesters have pledged to stay the course until their political demands are met. So what are their chances? RFE/RL looks at the outcomes of two protests that achieved their aims in Georgia and Serbia -- and two, in Russia and Belarus, that didn't.

When it comes to public protests, Georgia is best known for its 2003 Rose Revolution, which unseated President Eduard Shevardnadze and led to the election of Mikheil Saakashvili, a pro-democracy upstart.

But six years later, Georgia witnessed protests of a different kind. The euphoria of the Rose Revolution was over. Discontent with Saakashvili was rife. Critics accused the president of concentrating power in the hands of his allies and dragging Georgia into the disastrous 2008 war with Russia, a five-day conflict that ended with Georgia losing nearly 20 percent of its territory as breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia declared independence. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

IEC Presses for a Single Charger Specifications for Notebook Computers

December 20th 2013

E-book readers

Aiming to “significantly reduce e-waste”, the IEC international standards and conformity assessment body for all fields of electrotechnology, has announced what it terms the “first globally relevant Technical Specification” for a single external charger for a wide range of notebook computers and laptops. The detailed IEC Technical Specification 62700: DC Power supply for notebook computer, will be available in early 2014.

Each year billions of external chargers are shipped globally. Power supplies for notebooks weigh typically around 300 but sometimes up to 600 grams. They are generally not usable from one computer to the next. Sometimes they get lost or break, leading to the discarding of computers that may still work perfectly well. It is estimated that the total e-waste related to all kinds of chargers of ICT devices (Information and Communication) exceeds half a million tons each year; basically the equivalent of 500 000 cars. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Hospitals at Risk in States that Opt Out of Key Obamacare Provision

December 19th 2013

No Obamacare

Nearly half of all U.S. states are rejecting a key component of the new U.S. health care reform law popularly known as "Obamacare." These states - almost all with strong Republican majorities - are citing unsustainable costs as the reason for opting out.  But, by not participating, states like South Carolina could lose billions of dollars in federal funds.

At the Anderson Free Clinic in South Carolina, people line up early in the morning to see a doctor.  The clinic treats more than 2,000 people a year.  Most of the patients - like Ronnie Green, who is 60-years-old and living on a small pension - are either unable to work or have limited incomes. “My nerves are real bad. I cry all the time. I shake. Can’t hold nothing. My nerves [are] just gone," said Green. Read more ..

Health on Edge

Animal to Human Disease More Likely

December 18th 2013


About 70 percent of the new diseases that have infected humans in recent decades have come from animals. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization warns it’s getting easier for diseases to make that jump as the population and food-supply chains grow.

The FAO has released a new reported called "World Livestock 2013: Changing Disease Landscapes." It says those landscapes have become “vastly more complicated” by human activity.

“I think that if we continue the state of play, we’ll only see more diseases emerge – more natural resources disappear – and more threats to the human health into the food chain,” said Juan Lubroth, the agency’s chief veterinary officer. He described conditions as the “perfect microbial storm.” Read more ..

China on Edge

China Replacing Labor Camps With 'Black Jails'

December 17th 2013

China arrests Catholics

Earlier this year, China announced it would close the country’s labor camps, overturning a law that had been in place for more than 50 years. However rights group Amnesty International alleges that the labor camp system has merely been replaced by other detention centers that continue to wrongfully imprison political and religious dissidents.

Since the announcement, Amnesty International reports that authorities are silencing increasing numbers of petitioners, political dissidents and members of the Falun Gong through black jails and drug rehabilitation centers.

“The individuals who were sent to those camps are being increasingly sent to black jails for instance, undocumented and unofficial detention facilities,” said Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director for Amnesty International. China’s Foreign Ministry denies this is happening and questions the veracity of Amnesty International’s reports. Read more ..

The Way We Are

A Formula for Happines

December 16th 2013

Ferris Wheel

Happiness has traditionally been considered an elusive and evanescent thing. To some, even trying to achieve it is an exercise in futility. It has been said that “happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

Social scientists have caught the butterfly. After 40 years of research, they attribute happiness to three major sources: genes, events and values. Armed with this knowledge and a few simple rules, we can improve our lives and the lives of those around us. We can even construct a system that fulfills our founders’ promises and empowers all Americans to pursue happiness. Psychologists and economists have studied happiness for decades. They begin simply enough — by asking people how happy they are.

The richest data available to social scientists is the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey, a survey of Americans conducted since 1972. This widely used resource is considered the scholarly gold standard for understanding social phenomena. The numbers on happiness from the survey are surprisingly consistent. Every other year for four decades, roughly a third of Americans have said they’re “very happy,” and about half report being “pretty happy.” Only about 10 to 15 percent typically say they’re “not too happy.” Psychologists have used sophisticated techniques to verify these responses, and such survey results have proved accurate. Read more ..

Broken Education

San Francisco's Black Students Suspended at Extremely High Rates

December 15th 2013

Juvenile Law

One of America's most liberal bastions — San Francisco — has cut student suspensions by nearly a third in three years but continues to struggle with grossly disproportionate suspensions of black students.

District data obtained by Public Counsel, the country's largest pro bono legal group, and community organizers in San Francisco show that African-American students represented only 8 percent of the city's public high school kids last school year. Yet 50 percent of high school students suspended for misbehavior labeled "willful defiance” were black.

Willful defiance is a vague, catchall category for disruptive student behavior that can range from arriving late to using foul language to refusing to obey instructions.

The district’s black and Latino students are 10 percent and 23 percent, respectively, of the student population.Together, however, students of these ethnic backgrounds comprised 77 percent of all student suspensions and 81 percent of all suspensions for willful defiance. Read more ..

Our Darkest Hour

Schools Seek Answers, One Year after Newtown Massacre

December 14th 2013

Click to select Image

It wasn’t quite cold enough to need a vest on a mid-November Texas morning, but Matt Dossey was wearing one anyway. Made of heavy-weight beige canvas, the vest just might have been concealing a pistol. There was no way to tell. Perhaps that was the point.

Dossey is the superintendent at Jonesboro Independent School District, a compound of three low, pale-brick buildings sandwiched between broad oak trees in the back and a horse pasture across the road up front. Jonesboro is a tiny community nestled in the rolling Texas scrubland 110 miles north of Austin, but aside from the schools, a post office and two churches, there’s little to suggest a town.

In January, the district adopted a policy of arming a select group of staff members with concealed weapons as a deterrent and defense against a potential school shooter. Jonesboro straddles the border between Coryell and Hamilton counties, and it’s more than 15 miles to the nearest sheriff’s department. The town is unincorporated, so it has no government and no police. If someone were to attack the school, Dossey said, no one’s coming to protect the kids — not quickly, anyway. Read more ..

Spain on Edge

For Sale: Spanish Airport on the Block at 10 Percent of Cost

December 13th 2013

Ciudad Real Airport Spain

The Ciudad Real airport, sometimes called the 'ghost airport', is being auctioned for a fraction of its cost, at the expense of taxpayers.

Despite having one of the longest runways in Europe, and as yet hardly ever used, Spain’s so-called ‘ghost airport’ at Ciudad Real – a telecommuter suburb of Madrid – went on the auction block on December 9 with an opening price of just a tenth of the cost of its construction. The receivers of the company that owned the airport, which went into bankruptcy for three and a half years ago, offered the airport at a minimum starting price of 100 million euros despite an initial investment of over  1.1 billion euros. The first deadline for the sale is at 3 PM local time in Madrid on December 27.

Bidders are expected to offer only serious bids of at least 100 million euros. They must submit a financial guarantee of 5 percent of the total offered , either in cash or through a bank or insurer. If the airport has not sold during the first phase of the sale, a second round of bidding will  open in a public auction where the price of the airport will be set at between 80 and 100 million euros. A deposit will also be required. Read more ..

Significant Lives

Nelson Mandela and Zionism

December 12th 2013

Nelson Mandela 1995

In the coming days, there will be much reflection on the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, following the former South African president's passing on Dec. 5. And in the coming weeks, we can anticipate a febrile exchange over his true views on Israel and the Middle East.

We shouldn't underestimate the significance of such a debate. Mandela has entered the pantheon of 20th-century figures that exercised the most extraordinary influence over global events, touching the lives of ordinary mortals in the process.

In the 1940s, many Britons could tell you exactly where they were when Churchill delivered his famous "Blood, Sweat and Tears" speech to the House of Commons; in the 1960s, it was hard to find an American who couldn't remember his or her precise location when the news of Kennedy's assassination came through; and in the 1990s, it seemed, at least to me, that absolutely everyone could recall what they were doing at the moment the world learned that Mandela had been released after serving 27 years in a South African jail. Read more ..

The Bear is Back

Russia Strengthens Ties With Vietnam

December 12th 2013


Recent challenges in exporting energy to Europe have made an orientation toward Asia more desirable for Moscow. Russia's economy depends on hydrocarbon exports, and while Western Europe is attempting to become less dependent on Russia by seeking new energy sources, Asian markets have large and indiscriminate appetites for energy.

Although Russia's focus in Asia traditionally has been on China, Japan and South Korea, it also has ties to Southeast Asia, which remains a strategically significant -- though not absolutely essential -- area for Moscow's efforts to extend its influence and energy exports eastward. Notably, Moscow recently struck a spate of energy and defense deals with Hanoi in an effort to strengthen their relationship, open up new markets for Russian energy and balance against China's moves in Central Asia. Moscow's moves into Asia through Vietnam are proceeding piecemeal, paralleling Russian moves elsewhere in the region.

More than 70 percent of Russi


Armenia on Edge

Armenia's Ombudsman Highlights Court Graft With Bribery 'Price List'

December 11th 2013

judge's gavel

Armenia's judiciary is reeling from a new report detailing unbridled corruption in the courts.

According to findings published on December 9 by the country's human rights ombudsman, Karen Andreasian, bribe-taking is so rampant in Armenian courts that judges even use an unofficial price list for kickbacks. The amounts paid as bribes can allegedly go up to $50,000.

"The data obtained through our interviews shows that the bribe amounts to 10 percent of the cost of the lawsuit," Andreasian's deputy, Genya Petrosian, told a news conference on December 9. "The majority of our interviewees said bribe rates fluctuate within the following range -- from $500 to $10,000 at courts of first instance, from $200 to $15,000 at the Court of Appeals, and from $10,000 to $50,000 at the Court of Cassation."

Andreasian's team reached its conclusions after conducting interviews with some 120 lawyers, judges, and prosecutors, and analyzing all the rulings handed down over the past seven years by the Court of Cassation and the Council of Justice -- an oversight body headed by the president, the prosecutor-general, and the justice minister. The report has sparked angry reactions from judicial authorities. Read more ..

After Fukushima

Rice from Fukushima Area Served to Government Officials in Test

December 11th 2013

Rad monitor Japan

Rice from fields in the Fukushima prefecture, evacuated after the worst nuclear disaster in Japan, will be served to government officials for 9 days in a bid to demonstrate the safety of the country’s most-beloved crop, a local broadcaster reported.

The rice cultivated in several decontaminated fields in the Yamakiya District in Kawamata Town and Iitate Village, two areas designated as evacuation zones after the March 2011 nuclear catastrophe, will be served in a government office in Tokyo from Monday.

Over half a ton (540 kilograms) of rice will be part of a test to prove the effectiveness of the decontamination process. Officials from the Fukushima prefecture have given assurances that the rice contains no radioactive substances. The rice balls tasted especially good after the great effort put into cultivating the crop, said Senior Vice Environment Minister Shinji Inoue on Monday. Parliamentary Vice Environment Minister Tomoko Ukishima also joined the tasting. Read more ..

Kurdistan on Edge

Kurdistan Continues to Smolder

December 10th 2013

PKK (Kurdish Worker's Party) Fighter

At the edge of empires lies Kurdistan, the land of the Kurds. The jagged landscape has long been the scene of imperial aggression. For centuries, Turks, Persians, Arabs, Russians and Europeans looked to the mountains to buffer their territorial prizes farther afield, depriving the local mountain dwellers a say in whose throne they would ultimately bow to.

The hot temperament of this borderland was evident in an exchange of letters between Ottoman Sultan Selim I and Safavid Shah Ismail I shortly before the rival Turkic and Persian empires came to blows at the 1514 Battle of Chaldiran in northern Kurdistan. The Ottoman sultan, brimming with confidence that his artillery-equipped janissaries would hold the technological advantage on the battlefield, elegantly denigrated his Persian foes: Read more ..

Significant Lives

We Need More Mandelas

December 9th 2013

Nelson Mandela 1995

As American and world leaders offer high praise to the magnificent and courageous man known as Nelson Mandela, I propose we mourn his passing not merely with words of praise for the greatness of Mandela but with challenges for bold action in the spirit of Mandela.

Mandela was a giant whose greatness words cannot fully express. Mandela gave up almost three decades of his freedom for his country and his ideals after being called a communist, terrorist and criminal because of his support for freedom, justice and equality.

Mandela emerged from political prisons with a generosity of spirit and a passionate dream for democracy that changed his nation and moved the world. Mandela not only sacrificed his freedom for his cause, he risked his life, for most of his lifetime, for his cause, which should be our cause. Read more ..

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