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Russia on Edge

Russian Artist Who Painted Putin In Lingerie Flees, Fearing Arrest

August 29th 2013


A Russian artist who painted President Vladimir Putin in lingerie stroking the hair of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said threatening phone calls and the fear of arrest compelled him to flee St. Petersburg for France.

In a telephone interview with Konstantin Altunin he said does not want to return to Russia.

"Today, I appealed to the French prefecture in Paris because I have no other [option]. I would gladly get [local residence and work permits] so that I can be useful to France and to work and pay taxes," he said. "But now, I am forced to request political asylum because I fled very quickly without luggage or money."

On August 26, police seized several of Altunin's paintings that poked fun at the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and lawmakers who promoted controversial legislation against "gay propaganda." Altunin defended his artistic freedom and described the Russian authorities' response to his paintings as "very unpleasant and very ugly." Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

Healthcare Costs Will Mushroom as Injured Veterans Age

August 28th 2013


Jerral Hancock wakes up every night in Lancaster, Calif., around 1 a.m., dreaming he is trapped in a burning tank. He opens his eyes, but he can’t move, he can’t get out of bed and he can’t get a drink of water.

Hancock, 27, joined the Army in 2004 and went to Iraq, where he drove a tank. On Memorial Day 2007 — one month after the birth of his second child — Hancock drove over an IED. Just 21, he lost his arm and the use of both legs, and now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. The Department of Veterans Affairs pays him $10,000 every month for his disability, his caretakers, health care, medications and equipment for his new life.

No government agency has calculated fully the lifetime cost of health care for the large number of post-9/11 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with life-lasting wounds. But it is certain to be high, with the veterans’ higher survival rates, longer tours of duty and multiple injuries, plus the anticipated cost to the VA of reducing the wait times for medical appointments and reaching veterans in rural areas. Read more ..

Egypt's Second Revolution

Political Islam Unpopular in Egypt

August 27th 2013

Coptic Christian mourners

The head of Egypt’s weekly Christian newspaper calls the ouster of former president Morsi a people’s coup, not a military takeover. Youssef Sidhom says his country is in a struggle against political Islam.

Sidhom is editor-in-chief of the Sunday weekly called Watani, which translates to “My Homeland.” He says after “decades of oppression” under former ruler Hosni Mubarak, he – along with many Egyptians – believed the Muslim Brotherhood had the right to try to govern the country in the interests of all Egyptians. However, Sidhom said that did not happen.

“Months and months had elapsed when they failed to do so. And there has been during the past year of the rule of President Morsi an accumulating level of bitterness and anger on [the] part of Egyptians -- that the Muslim Brotherhood are only clever in taking power in their hands and ousting every other political faction.” He said by late June, many Egyptians had rejected Mr. Morsi’s policies.

“Egyptians enormously went down to the streets – whether Christians or Muslims – saying enough is enough and we’re not taking any more of the rule of Morsi. And I have to admit they were very lucky that their anger, which erupted, was sided by the Egyptian military,” he said. Read more ..

Inside Israel

Tibetan Monks Chant Prayers of Peace in Jerusalem

August 26th 2013

Tibetan Monks Peace Prayers2

The sounds of Tibetan monks chanting, an Iranian playing the santoor, western African style music, Rastafarian and reggae beats, as well as some Israeli rock, among other musical genres could recently be heard pulsating from Jerusalem's Tower of David in the Old City.

The international and local rhythms made up the beats of the second annual Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival part of the Jerusalem Season of Culture, whose musical venues were located in different parts of the city including the YMCA, Tzidkiyahu's Cave, and Hebrew University.

The three day festival (August 20-23) attracted at least 1,000 visitors each night to the Tower of David according to director, Eilat Lieber. "It was very important for me to bring this unique festival to the Tower of David," Lieber told Tazpit News Agency. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Forget the Red Line and Engage in Syria

August 26th 2013

Dead Syrians

On Wednesday, Aug. 21, Bashar Assad's regime in Syria all but certainly used chemical weapons to kill hundreds of civilians, including dozens of women and children. That was just one day after the first anniversary of President Obama's warning that Assad's use of chemical weapons was a "red line" that would "change my calculus."

The red line has proved to be a hollow threat. Both prior to and after Obama's August 2012 statement, credible reports gave strong reason to think that such weapons had been used. Indeed, after this latest outrage, the administration has not only refused to blame Assad, it announced that it would bring the matter to the United Nations Security Council, a time-tested recipe for further inaction.

The administration's reluctance to get involved in Syria is wholly understandable. Such an arbitrary humanitarian trigger for military involvement makes little sense. After all, to date more than 100,000 Syrians have been killed, mostly by bullets, artillery and missiles. Why should Washington change its policy just because the Assad regime altered its modality of killing? Is the murder of 1,000 innocents with sarin gas worse than that of 100,000 with conventional weapons? Read more ..

Inside Politcs

'America Votes' spent nearly $1 million on Wisconsin recall

August 25th 2013

Gov Scott Walker

America Votes, a national liberal nonprofit group with significant union funding, made the 2011 and 2012 Wisconsin recall elections a top priority, providing a major cash infusion to a handful of groups that helped organize the efforts.

Documents show the nonprofit gave a combined $940,000 to four organizations that tried to boot Republican Gov. Scott Walker and several other GOP lawmakers out of office.

America Votes, which aims “to coordinate and promote progressive issues,” raised $11.1 million from July 2011 through June 2012 and spent $9.6 million, according to an IRS filing obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.

Of the total, $725,400 went to the Greater Wisconsin Committee and $150,000 went to We Are Wisconsin, a nonprofit launched shortly after Walker announced his controversial legislation that restricted collective bargaining. America Votes also gave nearly $45,000 to Citizen Action of Wisconsin and $20,000 to Wisconsin Progress. Read more ..

Broken Labor

OSHA Rule Targets Worker Exposure to Silica

August 24th 2013

Health and Human Services Washington D.C.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Friday proposed a long-awaited rule to control worker exposures to silica, a toxic mineral that can cause the deadly lung disease silicosis, lung cancer and other ailments.

The rule could save nearly 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis each year, OSHA chief David Michaels told reporters in a conference call. Tiny silica particles are unleashed through activities such as sandblasting, concrete-cutting and a form of oil and gas drilling called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

“This proposal is long overdue,” Michaels said. “OSHA’s current standards are dangerously out of date and do not adequately protect workers’ health.” The agency estimates that 2.2 million workers, most of them in construction, are exposed to silica in the United States. The rule will likely take “many months” to become final, Michaels said, with public hearings planned for March. Read more ..

US and Afghanistan

Afghan President Hopes for US Help for Families of Bales' Victims

August 24th 2013

Staff Sgt Robert Bales

Afghan President Hamid Karzai says the life sentence handed to an American soldier convicted of massacring 16 Afghan civilians “will not replace the loss” that his nation has suffered.  Speaking in Kabul Saturday, he also said he is in no hurry to sign a security pact with the United States that Washington insists is needed before the bulk of U.S. forces leave the country in 2014.

President Karzai spoke to reporters in the Afghan capital, a day after a military jury sentenced U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales to life in prison without the possibility of release.

The Afghan leader said he did not favor capital punishment, but even if the American soldier had been given the death penalty it would not turn back the clock.

“A life sentence to him or a death sentence to him will not bring back our children that he killed, will not bring back the happiness of those families and will not replace the loss that the Afghan nation suffered. We are more in trying to bring an end to the sufferings of the Afghan people rather than seeking revenge that will not bring back the lost children of ours,” he said. Read more ..

Ancient Days

Researchers Reveal Mysteries of Caveman Cuisine

August 23rd 2013

Cave painting, Altamira, Spain

Thank God for bad Stone Age chefs, says archaeologist Hayley Saul at the University of York. “We like dirty pots. People who can’t cook very well," she said. "They burn food onto their pots, that’s what we’re after.”

It’s from those charred remnants of prehistoric dinners that she and her colleagues isolated the first evidence of a spice used in cooking. They found microscopic traces of garlic mustard in crusts on 6,000-year-old pots found in Germany and Denmark.

Garlic mustard grows wild today throughout Europe and western Asia. And it’s an invasive species in North America. “The leaves smell like garlic, but the seeds taste like mustard,” Saul explained. “Hence the name garlic mustard.” Prehistoric use of spices has been hard to study because plants decompose quickly and are not usually preserved. But when plant cells decay, they leave behind petrified outlines of themselves in silica. Studying these outlines, Saul found modern garlic mustard seed was an excellent match. Read more ..

The Environment on Edge

Scientists Work to Save Disappearing Kelp Forests

August 22nd 2013


Underwater kelp forests are sometimes called the rainforests of the sea, but - like the verdant jungles on land - the vast beds of seaweed are disappearing, hurting fisheries and coastal communities worldwide.  A project off the coast of California is helping to restore them.

Divers are working in the waters off the Palos Verdes Peninsula in places known as barrens, which once were home to thriving kelp forests. Today, these parts of the seabed are thick with sea urchins, creatures that have proliferated because of pollution and other human activities. The divers are killing some of urchins to thin the population, which is sickly and malnourished.  This restores the natural balance, says David Witting of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

“That will allow the kelp to establish itself," he said. "Once there's a healthy kelp forest system, the urchins tend to feed off of the broken-off pieces of adult kelp, rather than foraging on the juvenile kelp.” Scientists regularly head out to sea for the restoration work on the 60-hectare project. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Drought Called a Factor in Syria’s Uprising

August 21st 2013

mexico drought

Two-and-a-half years ago, a group of children in the Syrian city of Dara’a triggered one of the bloodiest conflicts in the 21st century when they painted some anti-government graffiti on a school wall in the ancient farming community.

The children were quickly detained and tortured, leading to widespread protests in the city that were met with harsh repression.  The government’s brutal response led to a nationwide revolt that has now stagnated into a bloody stalemate with no end in sight. 

Dara’a is a mostly agricultural community in a region that has suffered an unrelenting drought since 2001. Some experts say it’s no accident that Syria’s civil war began there. In 2009, the United Nations and other international agencies found that more than 800,000 Syrian farmers and herdsmen had been forced off their lands because of drought, with many crowding into cities like Dara’a.  Additionally, thousands of illegal wells were drilled, drastically lowering the nation’s ground water supply. Read more ..

The Environment on Edge

Houston Sprawl Leaves Wildlife Stranded

August 20th 2013

cougar/American mountain lion

Houston, Texas, and its surrounding suburbs are growing fast and sprawling out into natural forest areas that are the habitat for many species of indigenous wildlife. Local leaders as well as environmentalists are seeking some sort of balance between growth and preservation of nature.  But time is running out.

On a ranch in the woods northwest of Houston, several young deer who were left orphaned when their mother was killed, are growing to maturity within a safe, fenced-off area.

Nearby,  at the Friends of Texas Wildlife Center northwest of Houston, volunteers help care for a variety of injured animals. There, a red-tailed hawk is recovering from what may have been a collision with a glass window.

Center Director Lisa Wolling is helping him exercise his wings so he can be returned to his natural world. "He needs to be in this flight area to be able to [be in] flight condition and get his endurance back up," she said. Animals throughout this area are facing a crisis as developers build more homes and more roads to link them to Houston. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Plastic Surgeons’ Pro Bono Surgery Frees Young Orange County Woman from Daily Bullying

August 19th 2013


Twenty-seven year old Sarah Simmering has dealt with an enormous, disfiguring tumor on her nose since she graduated from college. The benign tumor, known as Rhinophyma, grew hideously large over time and caused years of daily ridicule and bullying. Renowned Newport Beach facial plastic surgeon, Dr. Kevin Sadati, heard about Sarah’s story from a colleague and was inspired to help change this young woman’s life.

Following Sarah’s college graduation, the tumor on her nose was controlled by medication; however, soon medications were no longer enough to suppress the growth of the mass on her face. She was not able to join the work force due to her condition, and a lack of money and medical insurance prevented Sarah from receiving effective medical treatment. Read more ..

Israel and Palestinians

To Get an Israeli-Palestinian Agreement, U.S. Needs to Re-engage

August 18th 2013

Obama Peres Biden

Having coaxed Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table after an unprecedented drought of talks, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry can claim at least a measure of vindication for his seemingly single-minded focus on the peace process. But now that negotiations have commenced, that same single-mindedness could prove the talks' undoing and the unraveling of Kerry's achievement.

In approaching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Kerry was wise to put aside the settlements-first approach that bedeviled the Obama administration's first term. The process that Kerry has put together appears instead to pick up, structurally speaking at least, where the 2007-2008 "Annapolis process" between then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas left off. Read more ..

Islams' War Against Christianity

Muslims Burn 47 Churches in Egypt

August 17th 2013

Coptic woman weeping at funeral

As the death toll from recent violent clashes in Egypt continues to climb with 556 now reported dead and thousands more injured Australia's Egyptian community remains in shock.

"We who stand for 80,000 Christian Egyptians in Australia are deeply saddened by events and the tragic loss of life in Egypt on Wednesday. No matter the difference in our political or religious stance, it is unacceptable to see such bloodshed and the destruction of public buildings and churches throughout Egypt," the leaders of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Australia, Bishop Anba Suriel and Bishop Daniel said in a joint statement this morning.

Egypt is under a state of emergency and facing a humanitarian disaster with security forces firing on protesters supporting deposed president Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Heavily armed police have opened fire on men, women and children in Cairo and regional centres. Read more ..

Inside Politics

Investors, Companies Fuel Super PAC Tied to Boehner

August 16th 2013

Money Bands=Happiness

Hamburger chain White Castle, the for-profit education provider Apollo Group and a firm connected to a controversial high-stakes gambler and golf course developer were among the largest donors to a super PAC dedicated to keeping Republicans in control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

These three corporate contributions amounted to about 30 percent of the $557,000 raised by the Congressional Leadership Fund in the first six months of the year, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of campaign finance records.

The GOP super PAC’s largest donation so far this year — $125,000 — came from John W. Childs, the founder and chairman of a Boston-based private equity firm that specializes in leveraged buyouts. Childs was one of the top bankrollers of super PACs during the 2012 election cycle, giving $4.2 million to pro-Republican groups. Read more ..

The Edge of Faith

Mysterious 'Angel' Priest Identified

August 15th 2013

car door

A mystery was solved when the so-called “angel priest,” who anointed a young woman trapped in her wrecked vehicle on August 4, was identified. Rev. Patrick Dowling of the Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri, stepped forward. According to the Catholic News Agency on August 12, Fr. Dowling said of the incident “I thank God and the amazingly competent rescue workers." He continued, “I thank them for making me welcome in such a highly charged situation and allowing me to minister as a priest.” Besides anointing the victim of the vehicular accident, Fr. Dowling also anointed several emergency workers on the scene as they rescued Tulane University sophmore Katie Lentz.
Reports that a man dressed as a Catholic priest had suddenly appeared on the scene after Lentz had requested prayers circulated worldwide. Speculation was varied, since the emergency workers on the scene said that the priest left the scene just as suddenly as he had appeared. 
Lentz was involved in a serious accident near Center MO and was trapped in her crumbled Mercedes-Benz automobile. Rescuers had spent nearly an hour trying to cut into the sturdy vehicle and remove Lentz. As her vital signs began to wane, Lentz asked for prayers. Suddenly, there was a priest who appeared who said "I will."

Iraq on Edge

For Maliki, Retaining Power Trumps Iraqi Unity

August 14th 2013

Nouri al-Maliki

After almost eight years in power, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is showing signs he never wants to leave.

During his time in office, he has increasingly concentrated authority in his own hands by fostering a patronage system of high-level civil servants and security officials who owe their positions to him. The appointments provide him a loyal power base but are raising mistrust between him and his political partners.

"Considering the ongoing political struggle, Maliki, by concentrating most powers in his hand, has put himself in an unenviable position. The Defense, Interior, and National Security ministries as well as the Intelligence Agency and secret service are all in his hands," says Wasat al-Hashimi, head of the Iraqi Group for Strategic Studies in Baghdad.

"The man does not have sufficient military experience to run such difficult portfolios. Lack of trust may be another important reason. Due to a deep crisis of confidence between Maliki and leaders of the other political factions, he trusts no one." Read more ..

Broken Education

Remembering When Right Was Right And Left Was Wrong

August 13th 2013

Russian girl

Growing up in the southern Kazakh village of Temirlan, Dina got used to a series of daily corrections.

She'd pick up a fork with her left hand. Someone would move it to her right. At school, she'd work on a lesson holding a pencil in her left hand. Her teachers, worried, would urge her to switch to the "normal" side.

"I was also trying to write with my right hand, but it didn't work," she says. "I was the only one in my school who was left-handed. So it was a hard time, because everyone was calling me a lefty. 'Solaqay' -- that's in Kazakh. It literally means a person who writes with their left hand, but at that time it did have some negative connotations." Dina is one of an estimated 900 million people worldwide who are "sinistral," or predisposed to using their left hand, rather than their right, for writing and most manual functions. Natural-born left-handers are believed to make up as much as 13 percent of the human population. Read more ..

Iraq on Edge

UN Reports on Iraq’s Deadliest Month in Years

August 12th 2013

Baghdad bomb

Iraqis witnessed the bloodiest month in years this past July, according to the latest United Nations report. A total of 1,057 people were killed and another 2,326 wounded during the escalating sectarian violence not seen since the peak of the insurgency in 2008. After June experienced a relative decrease in violence, the latest statistics demonstrate a return to a death toll exceeding that of this past May.

“I reiterate my urgent call on Iraq’s political leaders to take immediate and decisive action to stop the senseless bloodshed, and to prevent these dark days from returning,” said UN Deputy Special Representative for Iraq Gyorgy Busztin. A total of 4,137 civilians have been killed since the beginning of the year.

Referring to the ceaseless attacks as “security setbacks,” Prime Minister Maliki vowed to remain steadfast. “Iraq is in a confrontation that we will not lose,” he said on Al Iraqiya state TV. Maliki also blamed unspecified "neighboring countries" of backing militants involved with violence, but did not reach out to other religious minorities to ease the unrest. Read more ..

Healthcare and Industry

California Cities Seek $1 Billion Settlement for Lead Paint-Related Health Care Costs

August 11th 2013

medical malpractice law

In April, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised to 535,000 its estimate of the number of American children with potentially dangerous levels of lead in their blood.

But for U.S. communities combating the lead hazards, there might never be any money from the group some say is most responsible for creating the problem: The companies that made lead pigment used in the old, flaking paint still coating millions of dwellings.

The industry could be on the verge of defeating the last major legal assault by municipalities and states seeking damages to fund lead removal. Apart from one settlement, the industry has successfully defended roughly 50 lawsuits by states, cities, counties and school districts over the last 24 years.

Now, in a bench trial under way in San Jose, Calif., the industry is seeking a final victory in a case brought by 10 public agencies, including the cities of San Francisco, Oakland and San Diego, as well as Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties. The suit seeks to force the defendants to inspect more than 3 million California homes, and to remove any lead paint hazards that are discovered, at an estimated cost of more than $1 billion. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Syrians Find Innovative Ways to Stay Connected Online

August 10th 2013

Tablet Use

Since the conflict in Syria began more than two years ago, the country has intermittently plunged into cyber-darkness. But activists in Europe and in Syria are using innovative means to stay online and to stay in touch with loved ones.

Since the civil war began, the nation's weak communications infrastructure has been made worse by government shut-offs aimed at choking the insurgency.

"After the Revolution, people started using the Internet more intensively," explained Hozan Ibrahim, a Syrian activist who escaped from the country after being tortured by the Assad regime. He's now based in Berlin. "They wanted to participate. Not in the activism, but to learn about what was going on. The number of Facebook profiles, for example, have doubled three or four times. Same with Skype and e-mail and so on," he noted. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syrians Find Innovative Ways to Stay Connected Online

August 9th 2013

Iranian women with mobile


The Digital Edge

Bluetooth Essential to the Internet of Things

August 8th 2013

Minneapolis skyline

Researcher estimates that the installed base of Bluetooth-enabled devices alone reached 3.5 billion in 2012 and is forecast to grow to almost 10 billion by 2018. This doesn't take into account many other technologies such as Wi-Fi, ZigBee, and cellular.

The emergence of standardized ultra-low power wireless technologies is one of the main enablers of the Internet of Everything (IoE) with Semiconductor vendors and standards bodies at the forefront of the market push, helping to bring the IoE into reality. 2013 is seen by many as the year of the IoE, but it will be many years until it reaches its full potential. The next 5 years will be pivotal in its growth and establishment as a tangible concept to the consumer. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Behind Russia's Migrant Raids, Bribes And Opportunism

August 7th 2013

Migrant Workers

If the past week is any indication, the plight of Russia's illegal migrants may be about to go from unenviable to impossible.

Police in Moscow in the past week arrested 1,400 immigrants from Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Syria, Morocco, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Egypt. More than 600 have been forced into a sweltering tent camp to await deportation.

Russian migration authorities, meanwhile, have called for more than 80 detention centers to be built nationwide, signaling that the battle against illegal workers is gathering steam. Observers say the sweep is aimed at currying favor with nationalist-minded Russians ahead of regional elections next month.

But critics like Mohammad Majumder, the president of the Russian Federation of Migrants, say the move overlooks the real problem with migration -- the rampant cycle of corruption and bribes that it perpetuates among police, bureaucrats, and middlemen charging exorbitant fees in exchange for legal documents. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Marine Life Reacting Faster to Climate Change

August 6th 2013

Tuna haul

Marine life is reacting to global climate change faster than land-dwelling species, according to a new three year study published in the journal, Nature Climate Change.

The researchers said their findings show that the distribution of marine life is being re-arranged as the oceans get warmer. The research team includes 19 scientists from Australia, the United States, Canada, Britain, Europe and South Africa.

According to the scientists, marine species are escaping the warming waters by heading toward the Earth’s polar regions at a rate of up to 72 kilometers per decade. That compares to land-based species that are moving toward the poles at an average of six kilometers per decade.

“We found that, on average, marine organisms are moving three to 10 times faster than land-based organisms,” said David Schoeman, a member of the research team from the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia. “They are moving at a rate of 30-72 kilometers per decade, compared with estimates of 6-16 kilometers per decade for land-based species.” Read more ..

Liberty at Risk

License Plate Readers Spur Privacy Concerns

August 5th 2013


Privacy advocates, already reeling from leaks on the government's surveillance of private citizens, have found another concern.  Law enforcement agencies across the U.S. are using powerful camera technology to scan license plates and build databases on the movements of millions of Americans.

Arlington County Police Detective Mohammed Tabibi is with the auto theft unit.  He uses license plate readers, or LPR’s, mounted on the hood of his car, to look for stolen vehicles.

“It has paid dividends.  We have caught some people involved in some serious crimes because of LPR.  And I know it has helped out a lot of agencies in the area as well," said Tabibi. The use of LPRs is growing across the United States.  Some are mounted on poles, others on cars, and privacy groups are concerned.  They say the information is being stored on computer servers and shared with other local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.  Read more ..

Central Africa on Edge

Central African Republic Regional Force Needs Bolstering

August 4th 2013

African Rebels and Guns

The U.N. assistant secretary-general for human rights, Ivan Simonovic, is calling for strengthening the regional security force (FOMAC) in the Central African Republic. U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic said ongoing instability since the March 24 rebel coup could intensify ethnic and religious divisions, and that humanitarian aid remains largely insufficient.

The humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate following the ousting of former President Francois Bozize by the Seleka rebel coalition. Civilians continue to report widespread human rights violations, including arbitrary arrest, rape, torture, looting and summary executions. During a visit to the country this week, Simonovic said that security in CAR remains "virtually non-existent," particularly outside the capital, and that state institutions are "close to collapse."

He said respect for human rights is paramount in resolving the crisis. “Violations of human rights are the root causes of this conflict and reflect the current situation. Preventing further violations and ensuring respect of all human rights for all is a way to end conflict and to achieve reconciliation and sustainable peace, stated Simonovic. "Without security, there will be no return, no social services, no agricultural and no economy.” Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

Primary Care as Affordable Luxury

August 2nd 2013

innoculation of child

When I first arrived in California several years ago, I selected my primary care doctor based on the recommendation of a colleague from residency.  Several months ago, when my doctor announced his departure to join a concierge practice, I assumed I'd find my next physician the same way — through a trusted colleague.

While it may be true that doctors make the worst patients, they generally pick good doctors — or at least the doctors they perceive as good, since it's not at all clear there's any correlation between perception of quality and actual quality.

At the very least, as a physician, you're generally able to steer clear of the conspicuously bad providers ("gome docs"), and equally importantly, you're usually able to get into see even the busy docs whose practices might be closed - an increasingly common situation in primary care.

Armed with a promising recommendation, I called up the offices of the suggested doctor (whose practice, as expected, was closed to new patients), spoke to helpful staff member, and was told I'd hear back from them about my request, one way or another, by the end of the day. No reply. Read more ..

Broken Banking

Bear Stearns Mortgage Executives Have Plum Jobs on Wall Street

August 1st 2013


Before Lehman crashed, there was “The Bear.” Bear Stearns, once the nation’s fifth-largest investment bank, had been a fixture on Wall Street since 1923 and had survived the crash of 1929 without laying off any employees.

But in 2008, its customers and creditors didn’t much care about its storied history. They were worried that the billions of dollars of mortgage-backed securities on its books weren’t worth what the company claimed. En masse, they stopped doing business with Bear.

Within a few days, on Monday, March 17, Bear was gone — subsumed into JPMorgan Chase & Co. with the help of the Federal Reserve for a price that was approximately the value of its shiny new Madison Avenue office tower alone.

Bear Stearns failed largely because it had spent the previous five years gorging on subprime mortgages in what appeared to be an ever-rising housing market. When home prices started falling and those loans started to go bad, Bear’s creditors got scared and pulled their money out of the investment bank. Read more ..

Ecology on Edge

Mozambique Poaching Has Regional Effects

July 31st 2013

Rampaging Bull Elephant 500px

Mozambique says it is committed to fighting wildlife crime, especially elephant and rhino poaching. Thousands of elephants were killed in the country between 2009 and 2012. Poachers also use Mozambique as a base for regional criminal activities.

Mozambique has been under growing pressure to take a much tougher stand against poaching. Neighboring South Africa and conservation groups want the government to adhere to CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. A CITES meeting earlier this year in Thailand singled-out Mozambique for its lack of action on poaching.

“Mozambique increasingly has become one of the major exit points for both rhino horn and elephant ivory. We’re facing a crisis for both species. And, in particular, the Vietnamese syndicates that are behind the rhino horn trade – it’s very clear with the improved law enforcement effort being made in South Africa that they’ve moved next door to Mozambique,” said Tom Milliken, elephant and rhino coordinator for TRAFFIC International, a wildlife trade monitoring network. He said that action taken by Mozambique will have a direct effect on South Africa.

“Mozambique nationals are heavily involved in the poaching of rhinos in Kruger National Park, which is the premier wildlife site in South Africa. Hundreds of rhinos are being killed in that park and mostly by Mozambican nationals, who are crossing over the border killing the animals -- bringing the horns back --selling them to the Vietnamese syndicates behind the trade. And then the horns are leaving for Asia out of airports and seaports from Mozambique.” Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

UN Hails Drop in AIDS-Related Deaths in Africa

July 30th 2013

South African Aids Patient

The United Nations’ AIDS agency is hailing what officials describe as significant progress in the fight against the epidemic in eastern and southern Africa. The report says AIDS-related deaths have declined dramatically and that the number of new infections has decreased - a direct result of more available treatment. But, they warned, challenges remain. 

Top health and aid officials praised the gains in the fight against AIDS in southern and eastern Africa - among them, a nearly 40 percent drop in AIDS-related deaths since 2005, and a 50 percent drop in new infections among children since 2001.

The cause, they said was simple: The number of people receiving anti-retroviral treatment has increased tenfold, from 625,000 in 2005 to 6.3 million in 2012.

But this disease, said Ethiopia’s health minister, is not about numbers. Dr. Kesetebirhan Admasu said he is still haunted by some of the patients he met when he was in practice a decade ago. At the time, he said, Ethiopian hospitals were full of suffering AIDS patients. The disease was taboo, he said, and the media portrayed it “as a horror.” He was one of the first doctors to begin treating AIDS patients in Ethiopia. At the time, treatment was expensive and complicated. Read more ..

Muslims In Europe

Poland's Lipka Tatars: A Model For Muslims In Europe?

July 29th 2013

Muslims pray in Paris streets

The darkish tint in Bronislaw Talkowski's otherwise rosy cheeks provides just a slight hint that his ancestral roots may reach back further to the east. Talkowski is a Lipka Tatar. Unlike other minorities in this Central European, overwhelmingly Catholic country, that fact has never precluded him from being considered a Pole.

Members of this Muslim community, whose ancestors first arrived in Poland six centuries ago, say their experience here can provide a blueprint for newly arriving Muslim immigrants. But they warn that assimilation comes with its own inherent risks in a community that now numbers only in the thousands. As Talkowski tells it, the Tatars did "a service" to Poland and the state paid his community back.

The first Tatars arrived in northeastern Europe in the 14th century. The Turkic settlers, called "Lipka," after the Crimean word for Lithuania, had honed their military skills during Genghis Khan's Eurasian conquests and committed early on to serving the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In return, they were given noble status and allowed to flourish in the lands that today make up Lithuania, Poland, and Belarus. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Palestinian Prisoner Release Opens Wounds

July 28th 2013

Obama Netanyahu Abbas1

Karin Kaub of the Associated Press has captured the predicament in a telling article on the expected freeing of Palestinian terrorists in advance of the forthcoming Israel-Palestinian talks. Kaub wrote:

In April 1993, Omar Masoud and three accomplices broke into a European aid office in Gaza City, grabbed a young Israeli lawyer working there and stabbed him to death.

Israel arrested Masoud a month later and sentenced him to life, meaning he was doomed to die in prison one day for killing the lawyer in the name of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a small PLO faction. Now Masoud, along with dozens of other long-term Palestinian prisoners, is up for release as part of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's attempt to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks after five years of diplomatic paralysis.


The South Africa Edge

Start-ups Find Collaborative Work Space in Johannesburg

July 27th 2013

Interior office and flourescent lights

In Johannesburg, South Africa, there are a small but growing number of shared office spaces in which sole proprietors and small businesses rent a desk and other services.  For small business owners and start-up companies, this route not only provides cheaper overhead for workspace, but it also helps entrepreneurs network. 

The OPEN Collaborative Workspace is on the fourth floor of a building in an artsy, up and coming area just south of downtown Johannesburg, in a neighborhood called Maboneng.

Inside, it is a large open space, with meeting rooms and work rooms off to the side.  There are dozens of tables and chairs set up as desks, couches for meetings, floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the city outside, a full coffee bar with an on-site barista, and some recreational activities to take a break. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The Rise Of Al-Qaeda 2.0

July 26th 2013

Bomb Maker

Early on, Al-Qaeda was a close-knit band of extremists with common cause, a centralized leadership, and a base from which to launch global operations.

With the death of Osama bin Laden, the loss of a host of top commanders, and its retreat from Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda has become a diffuse group with no coherent center. But the emerging network of Al-Qaeda offshoots, with operations around the world, is no less dangerous.

Call it Al-Qaeda 2.0 -- the evolution of a group whose directives once came from the top into a network of affiliates who are essentially on their own to export a fundamentalist brand of Islam and upstage secular governments in the Muslim world. Al-Qaeda's growing list of affiliates, by feeding off local grievances and exploiting political turmoil, are showing their strength in a number of countries, including Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Mali. Read more ..

Edge of Climate Change

Greenland and Antarctic Ice at Risk of Exacerbating Sea Level Rise

July 25th 2013

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In events that could exacerbate sea level rise over the coming decades, stretches of ice on the coasts of Antarctica and Greenland are at risk of rapidly cracking apart and falling into the ocean, according to new iceberg calving simulations from the University of Michigan.

"If this starts to happen and we're right, we might be closer to the higher end of sea level rise estimates for the next 100 years," said Jeremy Bassis, assistant professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences at the U-M College of Engineering, and first author of a paper on the new model published in the current issue of Nature Geoscience.

Iceberg calving, or the formation of icebergs, occurs when ice chunks break off larger shelves or glaciers and float away, eventually melting in warmer waters. Although iceberg calving accounts for roughly half of the mass lost from ice sheets, it isn't reflected in any models of how climate change affects the ice sheets and could lead to additional sea level rise, Bassis said. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Iranian Mobile Provider Under Fire For Insulting Sunnis

July 25th 2013

Smart phone

A text message has landed one of Iran's largest mobile providers in legal trouble after it was indicted for insulting a caliph revered by Sunni Muslims.

A prosecutor from Sistan and Baluchistan Province, an impoverished area that is home to a large Sunni community, last week filed charges against Irancell in the wake of protests over a quiz question sent to the company's subscribers. ''Which judge was deceived by the devil during the time of [the first imam of Shi'a] Imam Ali?'' subscribers were asked in a text message.

Participants in the contest could choose from two possible answers, one of which was Omar, whose role in Islam is hotly disputed among Shi'a and Sunnis. The suggestion in the text message that Omar could have been deceived by the devil could be cause for offense to Sunnis.

Omar was the second caliph to succeed the Prophet Muhammad and one of the four "righteous caliphs," along with Ali, to found the Rashidun Caliphate. Shi'a believe that after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, only Ali was the rightful successor to lead the Muslim world and the first three caliphs were not legitimate. The SMS led to anger among members of Iran's Sunni minority, who launched a campaign to boycott Irancell. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Trailblazing Afghan Female MP Forced To Take Shelter

July 24th 2013

Afgan Women in Burka

Noorzia Atmar is the human face of women's rights in Afghanistan, her unbridled and open enthusiasm now bruised and sheltered from the public eye.

As one of the country's first female lawmakers, she was a vocal and active force in carving out a bigger role for women in a society that had suffered for years under the hard-line rule of the Taliban.

Today her voice has been muted, and her existence in a home for battered women epitomizes the rapid unraveling of what advancements had been made.

Shortly after losing her place in the national parliament, Atmar ran into trouble at home. After divorcing her abusive husband, she was spurned by her own family and forced to seek refuge in a discreetly located shelter in Kabul for abused women and girls.

The 40-year-old's plight has cast a spotlight on the erosion of women's rights that has sped up just as international troops prepare to withdraw by the end of 2014. As international scrutiny has waned, powerful religious and conservative circles have taken steps to undermine women's rights. Read more ..

Healthcare on Edge

Sickle Cell Disease Cases Are Increasing

July 23rd 2013

Docs and Tech

Basic health interventions may significantly reduce deaths among young children with sickle cell anemia. The illness causes the body to produce sickle or disc shaped red blood cells making it difficult for them to transport oxygen from the lungs. The number of newborns with the inherited blood disease is increasing, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

A new study in PLOS Medicine says by 2050 over 400-thousand babies will be born every year with sickle cell anemia. That’s an increase of about 100-thousand per year. Most of those births will occur in Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo and India. The three countries accounted for 75 percent of sickle cell newborns in 2010. Dr. Frederic Piel led the research by the University of Oxford, Imperial College and the KEMRI/Wellcome Trust Research Program in Kenya.

“It’s a genetic disorder and if you inherit one copy of the gene from one of your parents, you don’t have any symptoms and you’re called a carrier or a heterozygote individual. If you inherit two copies from your parents, then you have sickle cell anemia, which is quite severe and lethal in countries where there is no treatment available,” he said. Read more ..

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