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China on Edge

Recognizing the End of the Chinese Economic Miracle

July 23rd 2013

Bank of China

Major shifts underway in the Chinese economy, as forecast and discussed for years have now drawn the attention of the mainstream media. Many have asked when China would find itself in an economic crisis, to which we have answered that China has been there for a while—something not widely recognized outside China, and particularly not in the United States. A crisis can exist before it is recognized. The admission that a crisis exists is a critical moment, because this is when most others start to change their behavior in reaction to the crisis. The question we had been asking was when the Chinese economic crisis would finally become an accepted fact, thus changing the global dynamic.

In mid July, the crisis was announced with a flourish. First, The New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize-recipient Paul Krugman penned a piece titled “Hitting China’s Wall.” He wrote, “The signs are now unmistakable: China is in big trouble. We’re not talking about some minor setback along the way, but something more fundamental. The country’s whole way of doing business, the economic system that has driven three decades of incredible growth, has reached its limits. You could say that the Chinese model is about to hit its Great Wall, and the only question now is just how bad the crash will be.” Read more ..

The Olympic Edge

Cosmonauts to Carry Olympic Torch During Spacewalk

July 22nd 2013


The Olympic torch has been as high as the summit of Mount Everest, as part of the relay for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. It's going to go even higher as part of the relay for the upcoming winter games. 

In the past, the torch has been carried on foot and on horseback, by air, by boat and by bicycle. For the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the Olympic torch will be transported by a reindeer sleigh and even a Soyuz spacecraft.  Yes, it's going to space.  

Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy and NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins make up the next crew that is heading to the International Space Station, or ISS. They're launching in September.

Cosmonaut Kotov told space enthusiasts and members of the media at a recent event at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, that the torch is part of the first planned spacewalk of the mission.

"The next crew is supposed to bring it up to the station, and me and Sergey, we are going to take it with us out from the station to outer space," he explained. Kotov says the cosmonauts will take pictures and videos of the torch during their spacewalk, adding that the space station crew might even have a celebration inside the orbiting outpost.   Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Vera Kichanova: Russia's Opposition Must Go Bold, Even In Starting Small

July 21st 2013

Russian Protest

It's not every 22-year-old that gets a meeting at the White House with U.S. President Barack Obama's national security adviser -- and shows up for it in peach-colored knee-high socks.

Meet Vera Kichanova, a young woman whose hipster garb belies her maturity, and whose fresh complexion has become one of the faces of the new generation of political opposition in Russia.

Kichanova, a journalist for the liberal news website Slon, was elected as a municipal deputy in Moscow's Yuzhnoye Tushino district in March 2012. A member of Russia's tiny Libertarian Party, she had campaigned on a ticket of transparency and democratic principles.

She concedes that her post is one that most Muscovites don't even know exists, but Russia observers and Kichanova alike say her election carries outsize importance. In a country where challenges to the establishment are routinely quashed and officials are usually installed, she says the opposition must be bold when it can -- but must also focus on making small political inroads. Read more ..

Egypt's Second Revolution

They Hate Us, They Really Hate Us

July 19th 2013

Hate Obama Patterson

This week, Hosni Mubarak's old media boss, Abdel Latif el-Menawy, published an astonishing essay on the website of the Saudi-funded, Emirati-based satellite television station Al Arabiya. Menawy described a wild conspiracy in which the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson, directed Muslim Brotherhood snipers to murder Egyptian soldiers.

It would be easy to dismiss the ravings of an old Mubarak hand if they were not almost tame compared with the wild rumors and allegations across much of the Egyptian media and public. Even longtime observers of Egyptian rhetoric have been taken aback by the vitriol and sheer lunacy of the current wave of anti-American rhetoric. The streets have been filled with fliers, banners, posters, and graffiti denouncing President Barack Obama for supporting terrorism and featuring Photoshopped images of Obama with a Muslim-y beard or bearing Muslim Brotherhood colors. Read more ..

Egypt's Second Revolution

Political Transition Accelerates in Egypt

July 19th 2013

Cairo Skyline

Renewed clashes broke out Monday night between Egypt's army and supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi leaving seven people dead and more than 260 wounded. The grim news added to the Muslim Brotherhood's existing outrage – 50 Morsi supporters died last week outside a military compound in Cairo supposedly holding the former President. Even as the Brotherhood held demonstrations in the streets, the new army-backed interim government began setting up a roadmap for a return to democratic governance.

On July 8th, the interim President Adly Mansour detailed a new timetable for constitutional reform and presidential and parliamentary elections. Pushed by the army to accelerate the military's exit from politics, the interim president suspended the constitution drawn up by the Islamist government. Mansour acounced 10 lawyers will draw up changes within a month. Fifty civil-society leaders, judges, and legal experts will review the changes for two months, with a final version put to a referendum a month later. Presidential elections could follow primary elections as early as a year. Read more ..

South Africa and Mandela

South Africans Celebrate Mandela’s Birthday by Volunteering

July 18th 2013

Mandela Volunteers

Nelson Mandela turned 95 Thursday, a remarkable milestone for a man considered South Africa’s most exceptional citizen.  Across the nation, South Africans celebrated the life of the anti-apartheid icon and followed his directive to volunteer for a charitable cause.  Meanwhile, Mandela remains in critical condition in a Pretoria hospital - where he has been for 40 days.

Nelson Mandela is known for doing the impossible: for keeping strong during a punishing 27-year prison term, for overturning South Africa’s ironclad apartheid regime, for uniting his fractured nation as its first black president and for bringing his country back on to the world stage after years of isolation. On Thursday, he proved, yet again, that he is no ordinary man. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Are Sounds Of The Caucasus Shaped By The Mountains Themselves?

July 17th 2013

Village Akhty-Daghestan

In the 10th century, an Arab geographer described the Caucasus region as a "mountain of tongues." The nickname has stuck to this day, likely because of how well it captures two of the area's main features: its dramatic cliffs and its array of languages.

But new and controversial research by a U.S. linguist suggests that the "mountains" may have more to do with the "tongues" than anyone has guessed.

In a study published last month in the journal "Plos One," Caleb Everett, an anthropological linguist at the University of Miami, claims that a special class of sounds occurring in almost all of the languages of the Caucasus may be due to "the direct influence" of the region's high altitude. Read more ..

Broken Intelligence

Keeping the NSA in Perspective

July 16th 2013

NSA facility

In June 1942, the bulk of the Japanese fleet sailed to seize the Island of Midway. Had Midway fallen, Pearl Harbor would have been at risk and U.S. submarines, unable to refuel at Midway, would have been much less effective. Most of all, the Japanese wanted to surprise the Americans and draw them into a naval battle they couldn't win.

The Japanese fleet was vast. The Americans had two carriers intact in addition to one that was badly damaged. The United States had only one advantage: It had broken Japan's naval code and thus knew a great deal of the country's battle plan. In large part because of this cryptologic advantage, a handful of American ships devastated the Japanese fleet and changed the balance of power in the Pacific permanently. Read more ..

Egypt’s Second Revolution

The Confrontation Between Morsi and al-Sisi Revealed

July 15th 2013


Former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi displayed arrogance and complete loss of touch with the Egyptian people in his final meeting with General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the general who led his ouster according to journalist and Algemeiner Blogger Raymond Ibrahim, who deftly translated a “fly-on-the-wall” report from a journalist at the scene.

The reporter, from El Watan, a popular Egyptian newspaper, said he witnessed and transcribed the conversation verbatim from a closed-circuit television in an adjacent room to the Morsi-Sisi tete-a-tete, which took place on July 2, a few hours prior to Morsi’s final public speech before the coup that removed him from office.

Raymond Ibrahim’s translation, below, is based entirely on the El Watan report. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

After Years Of Scandal, Russia's Bolshoi Looks To Move On

July 14th 2013


Russia's world-famous Bolshoi Theater is hoping to finally turn the page after years of scandals, including an embezzlement case, accusations of pimping, and an acid attack that has left the artistic director of its ballet company almost blind.

On July 9, Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky announced that Bolshoi head Anatoly Iksanov had been fired. Speaking at a news conference, Medinsky said that "a difficult situation had developed around the theater" and that events "pointed to the need for renewal."

Vladimir Urin, the director of another major ballet and opera theater, the Stanislavsky Musical Theater, has been appointed to replace Iksanov. Urin said he would do his best to restore calm at the Bolshoi. "It is very important that this transition from one director to another is done in a civilized, normal, calm, and businesslike manner," he added. Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

Ancient Egyptian Leader Appears in Modern Israel

July 13th 2013

sphinx of israel

As modern Egypt searches for a new leader, Israeli archaeologists have found evidence of an ancient Egyptian leader in northern Israel. At a site in Tel Hazor National Park, north of the Sea of Galilee, archeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have unearthed part of a unique Sphinx belonging to one of the ancient pyramid-building pharaohs.

The Hazor Excavations are headed by Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor, the Yigael Yadin Professor in the Archaeology of Eretz Israel at the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology, and Dr. Sharon Zuckerman, a lecturer at the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology.

Working with a team from the Institute of Archaeology, they discovered part of a Sphinx brought over from Egypt, with a hieroglyphic inscription between its front legs. The inscription bears the name of the Egyptian king Mycerinus, who ruled in the third millennium BCE, more than 4,000 years ago. The king was one of the builders of the famous Giza pyramids. Read more ..

Children on the Edge

Young Taliban Victim Calls for Children's Rights

July 13th 2013

Youth Delegates-UN

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistan girl shot by the Taliban in 2012 for being an outspoken voice for girls' education, marked her 16th birthday Friday by giving a speech before U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and more than 500 of her peers at the world deliberative body's New York headquarters.

Addressing the youth assembly, Yousafzai said the gunmen could not silence her because knowledge and education is more powerful than their bullets, adding that Friday's event, which has been referred to as "Malala Day," was really about the much broader cause of children's rights worldwide.

“Do remember one thing, 'Malala Day' is not my day," she said, clothed in a pink shalwar khamez and a shawl that belonged to the late Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. "Today is the day of every woman, every boy, and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights." Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

What Have U.S. Troops Been Doing in Jordan?

July 13th 2013


Weeks ago, fearing a reprise of the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Washington reportedly stationed hundreds of Marines to Sicily in the event they were required to protect the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. But these soldiers aren't the only U.S. assets in the region guarding against contingencies.

In late June, thousands of U.S. service members wrapped up a 14-day annual multilateral military training exercise in Jordan known as "Eager Lion." At King Abdullah's request, 900 of these American soldiers, a squadron of F-16s, and a Patriot Missile Battery have -- according to President Obama -- remained behind to support "the security of Jordan," a state increasingly threatened by spillover from the war in neighboring Syria. And should reinforcements be required, the Marine amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge is steaming off the coast of Aqaba. Read more ..

Brazil on Edge

Unrest Among the Giants of the Emerging World

July 12th 2013

Protest Turkey-Brazil

In a speech given on June 22, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan drew parallels between the current protests and social movements in Turkey and Brazil: “The same game is being played in Brazil … There are the same symbols, the same posters. Twitter, Facebook is the same, so are international media.”  Prime Minister Erdogan was referring to the protests that began in Turkey on May 28, and in Brazil on June 17. Both movements are now under international media spotlights, which have prompted even high-level policymakers like Prime Minister Erdogan to compare the two. Nevertheless, even though some features of these movements bear a resemblance to one another, a look at the underlying principles of these protests highlights their autonomous and distinctive characters. Read more ..

Islam's War Against Christianity

Bedouin Arabs Run Torture Camps in Sinai

July 11th 2013


An absolutely horrific story out of the Sinai peninsula: Bedouin Arabs are kidnapping Christians from Africa and then ransoming them for exorbitant sums. When destitute families cannot pay the ransoms, the victims are tortured to death.

The Christian Broadcasting Network reports many of these Christians flee their African homeland seeking a better life in Israel. They are abducted from refugee camps by Bedouins and then smuggled to Sinai. It is there that the torture begins.

CBN reports:
"Sinai was always a place for human smuggling, but since around two years ago -- even a bit more -- it started also to be a place of human torture," Shahar Shoham, director of Physicians for Human Rights, said. Shoham has documented more than 1,300 cases of torture in the Sinai. Those survivors ... made it to Israel. But most of the cases of torture are not documented. Read more ..

Broken Bookselling

Nook, Nook. Who’s There? Not The CEO or Consumer Engagement

July 10th 2013

Barnes-and-Noble store shot

No joke. Barnes and Noble CEO William Lynch, resigned on Monday. The writing was on the wall, or e-reader, well somewhere, that B&N’s digital division had failed to turn their e-readers and tablets into best sellers.

Surprise ending to this story? Well, shouldn’t have been. Not from either a financial or emotional engagement perspective. If you’ve been reading the financial reports digitally, or on old-century newsprint, you can’t have missed the fact that Nook recently reported a 34% drop in sales. If you had paged through the Brand Keys Nook emotional engagement assessments, you would have found that a real tearjerker too.

We’ve been measuring e-readers since there were e-readers. And while there are lots of categories where being first-to-market gives you a substantive advantage, and though you’re probably thinking e-readers were one of those categories, today that’s pretty much a fairytale. New technology will, of course, attract early adopters. And while they’re the ones who set the general plotline for the category, ultimately it’s the rest of us who define the specific emotional narrative thread that brands must follow if they want to show up as a marketplace best seller. Read more ..

Broken Government

Black Lawmakers Demand Obama Take Control of Gun Control

July 9th 2013

Beretta 90TWO

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus urged President Obama to take action on gun control legislation on July 9 at their first meeting with the president in more than two years.

Obama “reaffirmed his commitment” to the issue during the White House meeting, one administration official said.

The president told the lawmakers that he will focus on gun violence, and acknowledged the problem wasn't just about tragic events like the one in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six educators were killed by a lone gunman in December. He gave examples of other places where gun violence was a problem, according to one attendee of the meeting. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Global Corruption 'Worsening,' But Citizens Prepared To Act

July 9th 2013

International Currency 3

The world’s largest public-opinion survey on corruption shows that more than half of respondents believe graft has worsened in their country in the past two years.

But the survey, conducted by Berlin-based watchdog Transparency International, also says nearly 90 percent of respondents expressed an eagerness to act against corruption, from signing petitions to taking part in protests.

The "2013 Global Corruption Barometer" was based on interviews with 114,000 people in 107 countries.

Just over half of respondents, 53 percent, said they felt graft had worsened in the past two years. That includes the majority of people surveyed in countries ranging from Brazil to Russia, Pakistan to the United States, and Turkey to Ukraine. Much of the corruption reported was in the form of paying bribes, which more than a quarter of worldwide respondents said they had done in the past year. Read more ..

Ecology on Edge

Bacteria Thrive On Ocean Plastic Debris

July 8th 2013


Plastic pollution in the ocean is harboring colonies of bacteria that could be harmful not only to marine animals but also to humans.

Thoughtless habits and practices -- a bottle dropped here, a bag thrown there -- are creating garbage dumps in the world’s oceans. The flotilla of debris moves with the currents and harms fish and marine mammals that either ingest or get entangled in it.

But for some organisms, it's home. Scientists have discovered a wide diversity of microbes colonizing and thriving on plastic that is polluting the ocean in the so-called plastisphere.

It takes about six weeks for a plastic bag or bottle to ride the surface currents from the U.S. East Coast to the Sargasso Sea, in the center of the North Atlantic. The area is a gyre, essentially a big whirlpool that traps and swirls the debris which, unlike other types of trash in the ocean, never biodegrades. Read more ..

The Edge of Education

Make Way For MOOCs: How Free, Online Courses Could Revolutionize Education

July 7th 2013

Computer-User Kenya

WASHINGTON -- It's more than 11,000 kilometers from Shakargarh, a city in northeastern Pakistan, to the venerated halls of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the top universities in the United States.

Twenty-five-year-old Khalid Raza lives in Shakargarh but is taking "The Challenges of Global Poverty," a course taught by a former adviser to the World Bank and a professor of international economics at MIT.

Recently, while on the bus, he pulled out his laptop and submitted one of his first assignments. "It was an amazing experience when I was submitting my assignment," he said. "I was traveling and my friend was sitting with me. When I submitted my assignment, after some time he asked me a question, 'What are you doing?' So I told him the whole story, that I am taking a course from the U.S.A. He was so surprised and shocked." Read more ..

The Way We Are

Problems of the Second Generation: To be Young, Muslim, and American

July 6th 2013

Muslim American girl with flag

The Boston Marathon bombings highlighted, once again, the challenges of assimilating Muslim youth. And while the onus of accountability ought not rest exclusively on Muslim Americans, it understandably weighs most heavily on them. Indeed, any fair-minded assessment of recent events must underscore the inadequacies of Muslim-American leaders. Yet the usual criticisms are wide of the mark and fail to identify the institutional as well as intellectual weaknesses of these leaders.

In general we too easily overlook​—​even in the midst of a raging debate over our immigration policy​—​what Norman Podhoretz once referred to as “the brutal bargain” that immigrant children must accept in order to assimilate into the society their parents chose for them. For Muslims today, the drama involves not so much overcoming poverty and educational deficits but adapting to a society whose values are sharply at odds with their religious heritage. Among Muslim-American youth, especially since 9/11, this has led to heightened criticism and suspicion of U.S. government policies at home and abroad. More generally, it has resulted in a hard-edged identity politics that has encouraged some young Muslims to define themselves not only in opposition to the government but to American society and culture. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Uprising Against Morsi Also Anti-Obama

July 5th 2013

Hate Obama Patterson

An abundance of coverage during recent days drew us into Egypt with a 24-hour cable-news eye. If you indulged the instant intimacies of social media images and words,  it's clear that we weren't getting the whole picture from "vintage" sources in print and network news. While captivated by the height of the tsunami of public opinion that was virulently anti-Morsi, "vintage" news ignored another wave: the huge wave of anti-Obamaism.

Dozens of signs were borne through the crowds, hung upon buildings, trees, lightpoles. They were written in English, in Arabic, and in both. Their message is clear: President Obama and U.S. Ambassador, Ann Patterson, are not at all popular with the June 30 crowd. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

New protections coming for disgruntled intelligence workers

July 5th 2013


The Obama administration is moving toward final implementation of new job protections for disgruntled intelligence employees who keep their complaints about wrongdoing within government channels.

Some advocates for whistleblowers have hailed the move, which comes as Edward Snowden — who has claimed to be a U.S. national security whistleblower — accelerates his search for foreign asylum from a Moscow airport waiting room.

By July 8, dozens of federal agencies are required to tell the White House in detail how they plan to implement an order the president signed last October that prohibits retaliation against those who flag “waste, fraud and abuse” in intelligence programs to approved officials. Obama signed the directive after Congress twice dropped intelligence workers from legislation meant to strengthen whistleblowing protections throughout the government. Read more ..

Moldova on Edge

Moldova Bans Chemical Castration for Child Rapists

July 5th 2013

jail door closeup

Moldova's constitutional court has banned the use of chemical castration to punish convicted pedophiles. The court ruled that the procedure amounted to medical intervention against a person's will and therefore was a violation of basic human rights.

Deputies from Moldova's Liberal Party pushed the law through parliament lin 2012.

It provided for chemical castration for Moldovans and foreigners convicted of sexual abuse of children under 15. The proponents argued that Moldova had become a destination for international sex tourists. Accusations that government officials are directly involved in sex trafficking, or who turn a blind eye, have long been rife in the Central European nation. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The Cold War Roots Of Islamist Terrorism

July 4th 2013

Islamic Hamas rocket

The highest-ranking intelligence officer ever to defect from the Eastern Bloc says the Soviet Union orchestrated an anti-American and anti-Israeli propaganda campaign in the Middle East four decades ago -- and the effects of the effort still reverberate.

Ion Mihai Pacepa led Romania's foreign intelligence service and was an aide to dictator Nicolae Ceausescu before defecting to the United States in 1978.

In his new book, "Disinformation," he and his co-author, U.S. scholar Ronald Rychlak, claim that under the leadership of Yury Andropov, the Soviet KGB helped sow the seeds of today's anti-American and anti-Israeli hatred in the Arab and Muslim world by initiating a sophisticated and covert propaganda campaign in the early 1970s. Ion Pacepa formerly headed Romania's foreign intelligence service and was an aide to Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu before his defection in the late 1970s. Read more ..

Egypt's Second Revolution

Nearly 100 Rapes in 4 Days at Tahrir Square

July 3rd 2013

Egypt Riots #2

Egyptian officials and political leaders across the spectrum should condemn and take immediate steps to address the horrific levels of sexual violence against women in Tahrir Square. Egyptian anti-sexual harassment groups confirmed that mobs sexually assaulted and in some cases raped at least 91 women in Tahrir Square, over four days of protests beginning on June 30, 2013, amid a climate of impunity.

“The rampant sexual attacks during the Tahrir Square protests highlight the failure of the government and all political parties to face up to the violence that women in Egypt experience on a daily basis in public spaces,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These are serious crimes that are holding women back from participating fully in the public life of Egypt at a critical point in the country’s development.” Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

New Protections Coming For Disgruntled Intelligence Workers

July 3rd 2013


The Obama administration is moving toward final implementation of new job protections for disgruntled intelligence employees who keep their complaints about wrongdoing within government channels.

Some advocates for whistleblowers have hailed the move, which comes as Edward Snowden — who has claimed to be a U.S. national security whistleblower — accelerates his search for foreign asylum from a Moscow airport waiting room.

By July 8, dozens of federal agencies are required to tell the White House in detail how they plan to implement an order the president signed last October that prohibits retaliation against those who flag “waste, fraud and abuse” in intelligence programs to approved officials.

Obama signed the directive after Congress twice dropped intelligence workers from legislation meant to strengthen whistleblowing protections throughout the government. The lawmakers were responding in part to longstanding intelligence agency claims that those with access to highly sensitive national secrets must be treated differently than other U.S. employees and that they already had adequate redress for any grievances. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

North America Accounts for Nearly Half of $72 Billion Tablet Market

July 2nd 2013

Tablet Use

More than 39 million tablets shipped worldwide during the first calendar quarter of 2013, representing the second largest volume of shipments to date; only bested by the previous quarter ending calendar year 2012, according to market intelligence firm ABI Research.

The spending power of the largest three world regions and availability of new, higher cost Windows devices from PC OEMs are continuing to drive market awareness and growth.
Tablets remain a lucrative market for the three largest world regions for consumer electronics and computer adoption: North America, Western Europe, and Asia-Pacific’s Japan and South Korea. “Three regions of the world are expected to yield 97 percnt of tablet revenues in 2013,” says senior practice director Jeff Orr. Read more ..

Kazakhstan on Edge

Will Human Rights Be On Agenda During Cameron's Kazakhstan Visit?

June 29th 2013

David Cameron, PM

A fervid city cleanup is under way in the western Kazakh city of Atyrau, where British Prime Minister David Cameron is due to arrive on June 30 at the start of a two-day visit to Kazakhstan.

But critics are hoping freshly swept streets and manicured lawns will not distract Cameron from what they say is Kazakhstan's dirty record of imprisoning government critics and cracking down on the media.

Still, by making the bustling oil hub his first stop on a three-city tour, Cameron -- the first serving British prime minister to visit Central Asia -- may be giving some indication that his priorities in Kazakhstan have more to do with business than human rights.

Britain is one of the largest foreign investors in the massive Kazakh energy industry, with its BG Group jointly operating the giant Karachaganak field, with reserves of 1.2 trillion cubic meters of natural gas and 1 billion tons of crude oil. Then there is the fact that Kazakhstan is set to serve as a key transit state during the West's withdrawal from Afghanistan, an undertaking that includes 6,500 containers of U.K. military equipment and thousands of British troops. Bhavna Dave, a Central Asia expert at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, says energy and security are certain to dominate Cameron's landmark trip. Read more ..

China Rising

China's Space Program Tries to Catch Up

June 28th 2013

China Rocket

China's strategic focus on space is less about national pride than about the importance of space for both the military and economic progress of the country. The Chinese space program has developed rapidly over the past decade, illustrating the importance of the program to Beijing. Shenzhou 10, a 15-day mission that began June 11 and returned to Earth the morning of June 26 marked China's fifth manned mission to space. An increasing, ongoing presence in space is essential for civilian and military communications. Satellites' functions include navigation systems such as GPS, weather data and communications relays. But the significance of space goes beyond satellites. Technological advancement and development is required for countries such as China that want to participate in future resource development in space.

The Chinese space program officially began in 1958. Beijing launched its first earth-orbiting satellite in 1970, and while there were a series of launch failures in the 1990s, China carried out its first manned mission -- Shenzhou 5, which put a man in orbit -- in 2003. More manned missions would follow in 2005, 2008 and 2012. A major uptick in activity began in 2010, when China successfully completed 15 unmanned launches, including a lunar orbiting probe. Nineteen more launches would follow in 2011 and 2012. China is now one of only two countries -- Russia being the other -- actively putting people into space and plans to land an unmanned craft on the moon in late 2013. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Israeli Doctors Save Syrian Lives

June 27th 2013


We treat patients regardless of religion, race, nationality and give the best care we can provide’ – Dr. Oscar Embon, Ziv Medical Center, Safed.

In critical condition with severe shrapnel injuries to their torso and limbs, bullet wounds from head to toe and open fractures — this is how Syrian patients arrive at Israeli hospitals in the north of the country. And they are all treated like any other patient.

“It’s our duty as a regional hospital, where we are located along the Lebanese border on one side and the Syrian border on the other side,” Dr. Amram Hadary, director of the trauma unit at Ziv Medical Center in Safed (Tsfat), stated. “We cannot ignore that the Syrian conflict is happening behind our door. We cannot close our eyes, ears and hearts to what is happening there. It’s a catastrophe.” Read more ..

Azerbaijan on Edge

Azerbaijan's First Lady Not Running For President -- For Now

June 26th 2013

Mehriban Aliyeva first-lady

Will she or won't she? More importantly, should she? Those are the questions on many minds in Azerbaijan after the country's formidable first lady, 48-year-old Mehriban Aliyeva, appeared to take another step closer to succeeding her husband as president -- or even battling him for the post.

The Democratic Azerbaijan World Party, a small, pro-government grouping, announced on June 21 it had nominated Aliyeva to run in the oil-rich country's presidential election this October. The World Party has since sought to distance itself from the endorsement, saying the nomination was the work of a splinter faction within the group. If it sticks, however, the nomination would put Aliyeva in direct competition with her husband, 51-year-old Ilham Aliyev, who has already been nominated by the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) to seek a third term. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Despite Sanctions, Iran's Money Flow Continues

June 25th 2013


The United States and Europe are failing to use a tool already in their possession that would deliver a knockout blow to Iran's nuclear program. It isn't a new piece of computer malware or a bomb. The group that would accomplish the mission isn't the Pentagon or the European Union—it's the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or Swift.

From its headquarters in La Hulpe, Belgium, near Brussels, Swift facilitates about a million global financial transactions per day by serving as an interbank messaging system for crediting and debiting accounts. Iranian financial institutions, like nearly every bank in the world, are reliant on Swift to move funds globally.

The EU has blacklisted 14 of Iran's 30 banks for facilitating illicit activity, including terrorism. The U.S. has designated the 14 banks named by the EU as well as another six Iranian banks for supporting Iran's nuclear program and sponsorship of terrorism. Critically, the U.S. has also blacklisted all 30 Iranian banks for deficiencies present in the anti-money-laundering systems of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Read more ..

Afghan on Edge

Protections For Women Under Threat In Afghanistan

June 24th 2013

Afgan Women in Burka

The book on the war in Afghanistan is not yet closed, but already there are attempts to erase one of the post-Taliban era's most celebrated successes.

The participation of women in Afghanistan's political process, a right that was restored and protected in the country's new constitution and electoral law, has come under attack just as its government takes a bigger role in its own affairs.

Afghanistan's House of Elders, the upper house of parliament, is currently debating a revised electoral law whose draft text omits passages that set aside 25 percent of seats on provincial and district councils for women.

The House of the People, the lower house of the Afghan parliament, passed the draft legislation in late May. If approved by the upper house the bill would then be forwarded to the president for his signature. The measure has raised concerns among rights and democracy activists. If it were to become law, they fear, the removal of seats allocated for women would effectively deprive women from serving in government at the provincial and local levels, where more conservative and male-dominated society prevails. Read more ..

Broken Intelligence

US Officials React to Travels of Elusive Intel Leaker

June 23rd 2013

airplanes shadows

U.S. officials and lawmakers are reacting with shock and indignation to news that a fugitive former U.S. intelligence contractor arrived in the Russian capital after being allowed to depart Hong Kong.  News reports from Moscow say Edward Snowden intends to travel to Cuba with a possible final destination of Ecuador.

Earlier this month, Snowden leaked classified U.S. intelligence information concerning domestic surveillance of telephone and Internet communications.  He then fled to Hong Kong. 

The Obama administration sought his arrest and eventual extradition to the United States for prosecution.  Authorities in Hong Kong reportedly objected to the paperwork filed, and allowed his departure for Moscow. Congressman Mike Rodgers,  chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said “Well, it is concerning.” Read more ..

The Edge of Space

The Textile Worker Who Kicked Off Half A Century Of Women In Space

June 22nd 2013


Half a century ago, Valentina Tereshkova made history. On June 16, 1963 the former Soviet textile worker was strapped into the Vostok-6 craft and blasted into orbit, becoming the first woman in space.

And although Tereshkova never made it into space a second time, she instantly became a Soviet hero and pop-culture icon. Some 57 other women followed in her path over the past five decades.

At a ceremony this past week in Vienna marking the anniversary of her flight and 50 years of women in space, Tereshkova, now 76, was jubilant. Speaking at the event, organized by the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs, she said she was inspired by the euphoria that ensued in the U.S.S.R. following Yury Gagarin's historic flight in April 1961 when he became the first man in space.

"After Yury Gagarin's flight in 1961, many young men and women in the Soviet Union not only wanted to look like cosmonauts but they also aspired by any means to be accepted in the selected group of suitable candidates for space flights," Tereshkova said. Gagarin and Tereshkova would later become close friends. Read more ..

Archaeology on Edge

Hopes Rise For Archaeological Revival In Tatarstan

June 21st 2013


When Tatar parents want to show their children the exquisite wash basins that were excavated at the ancient town of Bolgar, they have to pack up and head to Moscow’s State Historical Museum.

Due to the legacy of Soviet and Russian laws on artifacts, the lion's share of Tatarstan’s archaeological treasures wind up in large national museums far from the republic.

"Always the best, shiniest gold and silver discoveries were sent to the State Historical Museum or the Hermitage in St. Petersburg," says Fayaz Khuzin, a professor of history at the History Institute of the Tatarstan Academy of Sciences and a leading expert on the Bolgar civilization.

As a result, major archaeological sites like the one at Bolgar -- the epicenter of the Volga-Bolgar state that flourished from the seventh century until the Mongol period -- have languished, unable to attract any but the most serious visitors. But that may all be about to change. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Global Warming Could Reverse Development

June 20th 2013

Kenya Poverty

Present warming trends could roll back decades of development and exacerbate poverty in some of the world’s poorest regions in South Asia, South East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, according to a new World Bank study, which calls for urgent action to reverse global warming because the window for action is narrowing rapidly.

From declining food production to water shortages, more extreme heat waves to floods, the picture painted by the new World Bank report is grim. The report called "Turn Down the Heat," follows up on an earlier study that found Earth could be warmer by two degrees centigrade in the space of one generation, and by four degrees by the end of this century, if action is not taken to reduce carbon emissions. Today's temperatures are 0.8 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels.

The report focuses on the impact of such warming in the regions that will be hardest hit: South Asia, South East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. It finds that, in Sub-Saharan Africa, warming by two degrees centigrade will significantly reduce crop yields, impacting food security. Loss of savanna grasslands will threaten pastoral livelihoods.

In South Asia, the monsoon will become unpredictable and the region could suffer more extreme droughts and floods. Water in major river basins such as the Indus and the Ganges will reduce further, impacting food security for some 63 million people. Coastal cities such as Kolkata and Mumbai ad Bangladesh are “potential impact hotspots” threatened by floods due to rising river and sea levels. Aross South East Asia rising sea levels, more intense and tropical cyclones and loss of marine ecosystems will adversely impact rural livelihoods. The World Bank country director in India, says the impact of global warming will fall hardest on the poor. Read more ..

The New Egypt

Egyptian Zoo Cover-Up of Three Bears Killed by Keepers

June 19th 2013

Egyptian black bears at zoo

Zookeepers at the Giza Zoo in Egypt accidentally killed three black bears and officials then tried to cover up their negligence. A local newspaper, Al Watan, uncovered their deception and now activists are calling to close all seven government zoos due to prolonged abuse of wild animals throughout the system.

After three black bears died overnight on May 5, 2013 at the Giza zoo in Egypt, officials released an official report claiming that they had mauled each other to death. Two females were said to have fought each other over a male bear – a fight that lasted from 3pm to midnight, they said.

An in-house pathology report detailed injuries sustained by the bears, including broken necks and lower jaws, chest bones and spinal cords. Suspicious of the various inconsistencies revealed in the report, local press and animal activists decided to investigate further, and it didn’t take long to realize that zoo officials had masterminded a terrible cover up that would be comical if their negligence was not so complete. Read more ..

Iran and Latin America

Latin Americans Have a Negative View of Iran

June 18th 2013

Chavez and Ahmadinejad
Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chavez and Iranian Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

A majority of Latin Americans have a negative view of Iran, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center released the same week in which Iranians went to the polls to elect a new president.

The June 14 election, which saw a turnout of nearly 73% of about 50.5 million eligible voters, was won by 64-year-old moderate cleric and ex-lead nuclear negotiator Hassan Rohani, who will succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in early August.

According to the June 11 survey, more than half of respondents in Brazil (72%), Chile (55%), Mexico (52%) and Venezuela (51%) expressed an unfavorable opinion of Iran. Negative reactions also were the majority in the other countries included in the survey, including Argentina (49%), El Salvador (36%) and Bolivia (35%).

More than half of respondents in the seven countries in the region who were surveyed also said they don’t believe the Iranian government respects the personal freedoms of its people. The percentage reached 82% in Brazil, followed by Chile (65%), El Salvador (64%), Argentina (56%), Mexico (55%), Venezuela (53%) and Bolivia (50%). Read more ..

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