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Afghanistan on Edge

Airing Of Dirty Laundry Raises Afghan Hopes That Corruption Will Be Tackled

May 19th 2013

Afgan Drug Seizure

he very public trading of graft accusations in Afghanistan's parliament this week has all of Kabul talking. It has turned the country's finance minister into an instant hero but also kindled hopes that the issue of corruption will finally be addressed in a more serious manner.

Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal became an overnight sensation, when, facing potential impeachment, he turned the tables on lawmakers by publicly naming and shaming deputies allegedly involved in corrupt practices. Zakhilwal's detailed accusations shed a spotlight on the world of graft and influence peddling that has come to be associated with men of power in Afghanistan but is rarely discussed in public. Read more ..


The Human Edge

Students Aim for Aviation History with Human-Powered Helicopter

May 18th 2013

Helicopter-human-power

Students at the University of Maryland want to make aviation history by building the world's first human-powered helicopter. In 1980, the American Helicopter Society announced an award for the first person to accomplish such a feat.

The $250,000 Sikorsky Prize would go to a vehicle that could hover for 60 seconds, not stray beyond a three-meter-square area, and at some point in the flight reach an altitude of three meters.

The prize has gone unclaimed for 33 years, but the student engineers are confident they can bring it home.

What seemed impossible when William Staruk began his PhD studies at the University of Maryland three years ago, is now within reach. He's part of a 50-member team developing a flyer called the Gamera II. “It has flown for 60 seconds and on a different flight gone to an altitude of nine feet [2.7 meters]." Staruk said. "We’re hoping now to combine both of those into a single flight, get that little bit of extra altitude we need and keep the helicopter controlled and stable so that we can take home the $250,000 Prize.” Read more ..


Broken Elections

Judicial Candidate Blames Mystery Nonprofit's Attacks for Defeat

May 17th 2013

One Million Dollars

When Ed Sheehy looked at his mail one day last fall, he was startled to see his face staring back at him, posed alongside the notorious “Christmas Day Killer.” Sheehy, as a public defender, had represented the man a year earlier. Now Sheehy was running for a seat on the Montana Supreme Court and someone was using the double-murder to accuse him of being soft on crime.

“I was furious,” the 60-year-old Sheehy, who was born in Butte, Mont., and now resides in Missoula, told the Center for Public Integrity. “It was misrepresenting what I did and what I do as a lawyer.” So who was behind the attack?

The mailer showed only that it was paid for by the “Montana Growth Network,” a “social welfare” nonprofit, registered under Section 501(c)(4) of the U.S. tax code. Montana election records revealed next to nothing about the organization, which, because of its tax status, is not required to disclose its donors. The nonprofit’s website says its goal is to make Montana “more business friendly.” Read more ..


Economic Jihad

Success and Failures of the BDS Campaign

May 16th 2013

DomeOfTheRock

The most recent victim of the Arab boycott of Israel is the Lebanese-born film director Ziad Doueiri. His crime? Filming in Israel. The Arab League instructed its member states to ban his film, "The Attack," about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, he was forced to cancel a private screening in Beirut because of a threat to arrest his wife.

The Arab League Council established the boycott against Israel on December 2, 1945 (more than two years before creation of the Jewish state). The boycott prohibits all Arab states, companies, and individuals from any financial or trade relations with Israel. Companies worldwide are blacklisted for doing business with Israel, as are companies doing business with boycotted firms. The OIC high commissioner for the boycott of Israel coordinates the efforts of its 57 member states from the Central Boycott Office in Damascus.

In response, the United States made it illegal for individuals or companies to cooperate with the Arab boycott. The law mandates reporting of boycott requests and imposes civil and criminal penalties against boycott participants. Arab boycott requests have risen sharply in tandem with the U.S. financial crisis and the rapid growth of Islamic banking. The Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security reported a 20 percent increase in Arab boycott requests overall from 2005 to 2006, and the Congressional Research Service reported 24 boycott requests to U.S. companies in fiscal 2007 from little Bahrain alone.

On April 5, 2006, Congress unanimously condemned Saudi Arabia for its continued enforcement of the boycott--which violated commitments the Saudis made to the World Trade Organization in 2005. Nonetheless, last August Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states threatened to boycott Nissan, which aired a commercial on Israeli television promoting a fuel-efficient car, and demanded the Japanese car-maker's apology. Not a word from Washington. Read more ..


Broken Banking

Ponzi Scheme Used Offshore Hideaways To Shuffle Investors’ Money

May 15th 2013

Venezuelan Ponzi scheme

Francisco Illarramendi often called on Moris Beracha when he needed an infusion of cash.

The Venezuelan-born Illarramendi was a manager of a Connecticut-based investment advisory firm. Beracha was a Venezuelan financier close to the Hugo Chavez government who, a lawsuit against him claims, could produce multi-million-dollar advances of cash with relative ease — for the right price. On Nov. 2, 2007, Beracha emailed Illarramendi instructions to deposit more than $10 million — Beracha’s share of profits from a transaction — into three HSBC bank accounts in Switzerland, via an HSBC account in New York. “Dude, I am your biggest producer hahahahaha,” Beracha wrote in Spanish before he sent the message off to Illarramendi. Read more ..


The Farhud

Remembering for the Future's Sake

May 14th 2013

Farhud book

On Shavuot, the holiday which Jews around the globe begin celebrating this Tuesday night, Iraqi Jews mark 72 years since the Farhud -- the 1941 riots in which 137 people were slaughtered and hundreds more injured. The Babylonian (Iraqi) Jewry Heritage Center in Or Yehuda has inscribed the victims' names, and Iraqi Jews worldwide recall the horrible disgrace of those events, which were so reminiscent of Kristallnacht in Germany. The Farhud riots were carried out by a mob that had been incited to violence, and resulted in the Iraqi Jewish community losing faith in the country they had called home for millennium; the community of some 140,000 Jewish people dwindled to just a sparse few today.

Iraqi Jews were harassed for no apparent reason. The Jews, who had lived in Iraq for 2,600 years, weren't subverting the country from within, like the Palestinian Arabs who fought against the Jewish settlements, and eventually the State of Israel. Actually, Jews were the targets of hostility in every Arab country in which they lived, not just in Iraq. One-hundred-and-thirty-three Jews were killed in Libya as anti-Jewish violence reached its peak in the North African country in November 1945; in Aden, Yemen, some 100 Jews were murdered in November 1947; in Egypt, the Jews were ejected from their homes and expelled from the state. And, despite all the international attention paid to the "Palestinian Nakba," little has been said about the great injustice that the Jews of Arabia suffered. It's true that history is not a competition of tragedies, but it's important to note the ethnic cleansing that spread throughout the Arab nations. The scope of this tragedy was quite extensive -- some 856,000 Jews were forced to flee their homes in Arab countries, compared to the 650,000 Palestinian refugees. And yet, for unknown reasons, the government in Israel still hasn't placed the catastrophe that befell Arab Jews high on its domestic, or international, agenda.

Jews were being harassed before Israel was declared a state. Historian Edwin Black, Prof. Shmuel Moreh and Dr. Zvi Yehuda have published research that uncovers the links between then-Iraqi Prime Minister Rashid Ali al-Gaylani's pro-Nazi government and the Third Reich in Germany. Iraq implemented discriminatory regulations against Jews that affected all aspects of their daily life, and afterward incited mobs to violence against the Jews. The Farhud riots of 1941 were the culmination of these efforts. Read more ..


Broken Banking

Tax Havens Cost Africa $38 Billion a Year

May 13th 2013

International Currency 3

Campaigners are calling for the world's richest countries to bring an end to so-called tax havens, which allow companies to transfer profits between jurisdictions and reduce their bills.  An investigation headed by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has concluded that the practice costs Africa $38 billion a year in lost revenue. 

Activists claim multinational corporations are costing developing countries billions of dollars in lost revenue by transferring their profits to tax havens. Melanie Ward is spokesperson for the 'Enough For Everyone If' campaign.

"I think a lot of people here in the U.K. and around the world are fed up with tax dodging," said Ward. "They are fed up with a system where the rich and powerful play by a different set of rules to everybody else."

Tax havens and low tax jurisdictions - like Ireland - provide a level of secrecy and enable companies or wealthy individuals to cut their expenses, says Professor Ronen Palan of City University London. "These countries offer very low taxation, either to corporations or to individuals.  And specifically they target non-residents," said Palan. Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

Pakistan's 'Third Gender' Contests First Elections

May 12th 2013

Transgender-Pakistan

Pakistan's parliamentary elections will announce the arrival of a new voting bloc when the country's much-maligned transgender community heads to the polls for the first time.

Following their official "third gender" classification handed down by the Supreme Court in 2011, members of the community composed of transsexuals, transvestites, eunuchs, and hermaphrodites were granted the rights to vote and run for office.

In past polls, the minority group was barred from voting because its members were not willing to classify themselves as men or women to receive official documentation. Pakistan's minority community of transgender men are known in the Urdu language as "hijras" and estimated to number around 500,000. Many Pakistanis refer to the members generally as "eunuchs." Read more ..


American Justice

New York Times continues to Ignore Black Farmers' Plight

May 11th 2013

sharecroppers Depression

The New York Times recently published a report that focused on fraud in disbursing settlements for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) discrimination among African American, Indian, Hispanic, and women farmers. Reporter Sharon LaFraniere wrote of “career lawyers and agency officials who had argued that there was no credible evidence of widespread discrimination.” But there is a long train of evidence of discrimination, much of it from the USDA records at the National Archives, as well as from records of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, National Sharecroppers Fund, NAACP, SNCC, and land grant universities, among other sources. Since the mid-1960s, USDA officials have continually denied discrimination, but the record indicates otherwise.

In February 1997, Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman’s Civil Rights Action Team, after twelve listening sessions, issued a damning report on USDA discrimination, citing “bias, hostility, greed, ruthlessness, rudeness, and indifference” aimed at women and minority farmers. At the time there were 495 pending discrimination complaints at USDA, half of them two years old or older. Read more ..


Georgia on Edge

Georgians Wrestle With Abortion Issue As Gender Imbalance Grows

May 10th 2013

Pregnant

Georgia faces a serious and growing demographic problem. According to the United Nations, the ratio of newborn boys to girls in 1991 was 105 to 100. By 2000, it was nearly 110 to 100. And in 2011, it was almost 114 to 100. Together with its neighbors in the South Caucasus -- Armenia and Azerbaijan -- Georgia is on a trajectory to develop a gender imbalance on par with what has been observed in India and China.

That kind of imbalance brings myriad social problems, from trafficking of women, to increased levels of violence and instability, to outbreaks of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The lopsided numbers are the result of sex-selective abortions -- couples using ultrasound and other technologies to determine the sex of their fetus and to abort it if it is not the gender they desire. And, around the world, most couples desire boys. Read more ..


The New Iraq

Iraq's Marshlands Bloom Again

May 9th 2013

Marshland-Iraq

When Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed, it appeared Iraq's once-abundant marshlands had been destroyed forever. The former president had transformed the largest wetland ecosystem in Southwest Asia into desert in retaliation for a Shi'ite uprising in the early 1990s.

As a result, a 20,000-square-kilometer sanctuary for fish, migratory birds, and water buffalo was feared lost, along with the traditional way of life carried out for centuries by the inhabitants of the marshes, located between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in southern Iraq. By the time Hussein was toppled in 2003, some 90 percent of Iraq's marshland had been drained. Leading experts provided a dire assessment, predicting that the marshes could never be restored. Read more ..


History Edge

A Day Like Today: May 8 and the End of the Second World War

May 8th 2013

Nazi Heinkel 162 Volksjagr and US soldier
Captured Heinkel 162 Volksjager jet and an American soldier

In late spring of 1945, the conflict in Europe ended, not with a whimper but a bang. On April 30, Adolf Hitler put the barrel of a gun to his right temple and pulled the trigger. VE-day, May 8, 1945 soon followed as the Nazis agreed to an "unconditional surrender."

I was a pilot with the 404th Fighter Group located on an airfield near the small German town of Fritzlar. Our final combat mission had occurred several days earlier, over the outskirts of Prague, Czechoslovakia after which we were grounded out of concern for an unfortunate encounter with Soviet aircraft. Grounded and restless, our commanding officer organized a softball tournament between the three squadrons, the winning team awarded a week of R & R in London. Read more ..


Ecology on Edge

Forests at Risk in Southeast Asia's Lower Mekong Region

May 7th 2013

Amazon jungle dreamy

Southeast Asia's Lower Mekong region is set to lose a third of its natural forests in the next two decades, according to a report by the Worldwide Fund for Nature.  Forestry experts blame the current pace of deforestation on governments’ undervaluing forestry resources.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature report, titled "Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong," said between 1973 and 2009 lower Mekong countries chopped down almost a third of their forests for timber and to clear land for agriculture.  

Burma and Laos lost 24 percent of their forest cover. Cambodia lost 22 percent of their forests, while Thailand and Vietnam cleared 43 percent of their trees. "Core forests," a three-kilometer square area of uninterrupted forest, have dropped from 70 to 20 percent of total forest area. The conservation group says the pace of deforestation is accelerating, and countries risk losing a third of their remaining trees by 2030.   Read more ..


Kyrgyzstan on Edge

Aging Farm Machinery Hampers Central Asian Productivity

May 6th 2013

Makeshift-tractor-Kyrgyzstan

It's hard to make money today in rural Kyrgyzstan, where most farming is subsistence-level. But Baktybek Kupeshov, a farmer in the northwestern Issyk-Kul region, has found a way. He cobbles together makeshift tractors from bits of old Soviet-era cars.

"As you see from this tractor, I use the transmission from a Dzhiguli, an engine from a Moravi, the hood from a Zaporozhets, and the axles from a Moskvitch. The tires are from agricultural machines," he says. "So, we take cars that are too old to drive, disassemble them, and reuse the elements."

Over the past several years, Kupeshov has built 14 tractors for his  fellow villagers and sold them for $1,500 to $2,000 a piece -- about a quarter of the cost of a new Chinese tractor. Even he admits his creations are not beautiful, but in a country where new farm equipment is mostly unaffordable, beauty is not the priority. Read more ..


Broken Banking

Caribbean Go-Between Provided Shelter for Far-Away Frauds

May 5th 2013

Indonesian-Beaches

British Virgin Islands firm kept doing business with shady characters even as regulators prodded it to obey anti-money-laundering laws.

The tangled trail of the Magnitsky Affair, a case that’s strained U.S.-Russian relations and blocked American adoptions of Russian orphans, snakes through an offshore haven in the Caribbean.

The death of Moscow tax attorney Sergei Magnitsky sparked international outrage. It also fueled a push to unravel secret deals that had prompted him to claim that gangsters and government insiders had stolen $230 million from Russia’s treasury.

Magnitsky and other private attorneys investigating the affair on behalf of a major hedge fund followed a path from Russia to bank accounts in Switzerland and luxury properties in Dubai — ending up at a small firm based in the British Virgin Islands that specializes in setting up offshore companies for clients who want to remain in the shadows. Read more ..


The Education Edge

Former Microsoft Exec Brings Books to World's Poorest Children

May 4th 2013

Girls School in Sudan

Nearly eight hundred million people in this world are illiterate, most of them in developing countries. Two-thirds are women and girls.

A former Microsoft executive, who hopes to put a dent in those numbers, has opened 1,650 schools and 15,000 libraries in some of the world’s poorest communities.

“The thing I learned at Microsoft was that bold goals attract bold people," said John Wood, founder of the Room to Read campaign. "From the very beginning, I said Room to Read’s goal was to reach 10 million children around the world in the poorest countries.” In 1998, on a three-week vacation trek in Nepal, Wood, then a Microsoft executive, met a local headmaster who invited him to visit his school in a remote mountain village. The experience changed Wood’s life. Read more ..


The Boston Massacre

Defining 'Rights' in a Terror Case

May 3rd 2013

FBI pic of Tsarnaev brothers

The new arrests in Boston look like criminal cases. But why was the interrogation of the accused bomber handled like a criminal matter too?

The three suspects arrested Wednesday in the Boston Marathon bombing case appear to be considered accomplices after the fact. It is likely that they will be treated as common criminals rather than terrorists. Unfortunately, law-enforcement has approached the accused bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev that way as well.

A miasma of conflicting views about Mr. Tsarnaev's legal status has engulfed the case. The rules and principles that should govern the relevant facts are pretty straightforward, but they alone do not explain the actual outcome thus far, which seems rooted instead in the Obama administration's gauzy notions about what is required of law informed by morality.

At the time of Mr. Tsarnaev's April 19 apprehension, no warrant had been issued for his arrest. The case law on warrantless arrests requires the initiation of the court process within 48 hours, with exceptions arguably not relevant here. The reason for the 48-hour requirement, as explained by the Supreme Court in County of Riverside v. McLaughlin (1991), is to prevent secret arrests unsupported by probable cause, as determined by what the law calls a neutral magistrate. Of course, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's arrest was not secret, and the facts surrounding it far surpassed the modest probable-cause standard. All that was missing was the finding by a neutral magistrate. Read more ..


The Archaeology Edge

Gabriel Stone May Revolutionize Bibilical Understanding

May 2nd 2013

Dead Sea Scrolls

Thirteen years after it was found, what has been called the most significant archeological find in the land of Israel since the Dead Sea Scrolls is finally going on display at the Israel Museum.

The unique work known as the Gabriel Stone and sometimes as the Revelation of Gabriel, dates from the Second Temple period. It is a three-foot stone block with extensive writing in Hebrew. The writing is in ink, not carved into the stone, a method that has never been found on any other artifact from ancient Israel.

But what is truly extraordinary is what this writing has to say. The Gabriel Stone is a series of prophetic statements ostensibly made by the angel Gabriel himself, who announces "I am Gabriel" at the beginning of the text. The prophecies are furiously messianic, and depict an apocalyptic battle between the enemies of Israel and the hosts of heaven led by Gabriel. At the end of the battle, Gabriel and his armies rescue Jerusalem from destruction. According to the AP, one scholar believes the inscription is more than just a unique example of Jewish apocalyptic literature. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

The Black Russian: The Incredible Story of Frederick Bruce Thomas

May 1st 2013

Frederick Bruce Thomas

Jews were, in a sense, the “Negroes” of the Russian Empire. The discrimination and violence they suffered under the tsars -- which forced over a million to emigrate to the United States in the decades around the turn of the nineteenth century -- is one of the reasons their descendants empathized with black Americans and played a major role in the civil rights movement. Even earlier in the twentieth century, the anti-Semitism that had compelled Jews to emigrate from Western Europe led their leading figures to support black activists and to help found the NAACP and the National Urban League. American blacks reciprocated, and for much of the twentieth century shared a sense of solidarity with Jews that was motivated by their common goal of social justice.

But there was also a case of remarkable, and now completely forgotten, black solidarity with Jews that occurred in the unlikeliest of places and times -- Moscow in 1915, and that involved the unlikeliest of black Americans -- a man who had become a subject of the tsar. Read more ..


Ecology on Edge

Insect Pollinators Face Interlocking Threats

April 30th 2013

Honeybee

The global decline of honey bees and other pollinating insects is caused by multiple, largely human-induced effects, according to a new study. Over the past decade, scientists have been reporting steady and mysterious declines in the populations of so-called pollinator insects.

These include the honeybees, wasps, flies, beetles, butterflies and moths that help pollinate three-quarters of the world’s food crops, services worth $200 billion annually to the global economy. The new report is the first to pull together years of research on pollinator species decline. Forty scientists from six countries worked on the project organized by the Insect Pollinators Initiative of the United Kingdom (IPI).

While no single factor is responsible for the population decline, the analysis finds intensive land use, climate change and the spread of alien species and disease, are among the major threats to pollinating insects. Bumble bees are in decline around the world due to agricultural pesticide use, disease, and human encroachments on their habitats. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Texting Becomes a Health Tool in Kenya

April 29th 2013

Smart phone running voice recogniton

Mobile phone use in Africa has spread far, wide and fast. By the end of last year, it was estimated that 70 percent of the population would have a mobile phone. Now, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says it’s using the technology to save lives.

In Kenya, the IFRC has developed the Rapid Mobile Phone-based survey, otherwise known as RAMP. It allows the medical aid group to learn a lot about the health of people in remote, rural communities in very little time. Jason Peat, the senior health officer for malaria, says the idea for the survey came from IFRC volunteers.

“There are volunteers using those mobile phones to communicate. They’re doing it two ways. They’re using them as a regular phone, but more often than not we see them use the phones to send text messages back and forth because they’re a very inexpensive way to communicate. Red Cross volunteers and other community health workers at a very local level were already figuring out a way to manage activities, to manage programs and not just health programs, but all programs using mobile phones,” he said. Read more ..


South Sudan on Edge

South Sudan Returnees Stuck in Limbo, Face Tough Choice

April 28th 2013

Sudanese refugee

About two million people have returned to South Sudan since a 2005 peace agreement ended decades of civil war that is estimated to have killed around the same number. But since South Sudan became a nation 18 months ago, tens of thousands of people who have wanted to enter South Sudan from the north are trapped in border towns, and face the tough choice of leaving behind their possessions as U.N. agencies struggle to get them home.

Surrounded by piles of furniture and blackboards in a makeshift home on the banks of the Nile, Mary Venerato Laki does her best to try to teach the children at a camp in the port town of Renk.

Some people have waited for up to two years for the government and aid agencies in South Sudan to take them downstream to new homes. Laki is among those waiting.  “They said there will be steamers [ships] coming to collect us. They used to tell us like that. That we will be going, we be going.  But until now we are waiting," she said. Read more ..


South Africa on Edge

Strike Victory Backfires for S. African Farm Workers

April 27th 2013

South African town

After weeks of strikes and violent confrontations with authorities earlier this year, farmworkers in South Africa's Cape Town region won a partial victory. In February, the government agreed to increase their minimum wage by 52 percent. But this victory may be a curse in disguise as many farmers subsequently reduced the workers’ benefits and laid them off, saying they could not afford to pay the higher wage.

Pointing at a leaking roof and broken windows, Patrick Blu is eager to show the poor condition of his house.  He says he needs a higher living wage and he believes him and his fellow farm workers were justified in striking. But it has not turned out as planned.  The Labor Ministry did agree to increase the minimum wage from 69 rand to 105 rand - or about $4 more a day. It went in effect on March 1. Read more ..


Serbia on Edge

Serbian Orthodox Church Rocked By Sex Scandal

April 26th 2013

Serbian Church

The Serbian Orthodox Church has approved the resignation of a powerful cleric amid sex-scandal claims that culminated this week with the publication of a graphic video appearing to show him engaged in sexual activity with young men.

Vasilije Kacavenda, the bishop of Tuzla and Zvornik in Bosnia-Herzegovina, retreated from his clerical duties months ago as allegations mounted that he had used his position for years to stage frequent orgies and rape underage boys and girls.

But the April 22 decision by the Holy Synod to accept his resignation appears to be the first acknowledgment of the church’s growing unease with the crush of lurid accusations that seem better suited to Caligula’s court than an Orthodox diocese.

Bojan Jovanovic, a former theological student in Bijeljina, the seat of Kacavenda’s diocese, says he observed numerous orgies organized by the 74-year-old bishop and attended by fellow clerics and prominent businessmen. Jovanovic says Kacavenda personally appealed to him to supply young children for sexual purposes and frequently called on high-ranking church officials to organize trysts with young theological students. Read more ..


Broken Banking

Jailed Property Man Hid Assets Offshore During Divorce

April 25th 2013

One Million Dollars

Jailed British property developer Scot Young, an associate of Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, constructed a secret network of offshore companies to hold his assets during a multimillion-pound divorce battle, according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ's) research.

His story graphically demonstrates the way hideaways such as the British Virgin Islands (BVI) can be used by a man bent on cheating the law.

Young, 51, described as a fixer for the super-rich, rose suddenly from working-class origins in Dundee to occupy a $21 million Oxfordshire mansion and to throw his money about in spectacular fashion. He once bought his then wife, Michelle, a Range-Rover filled to the roof with couture dresses. For her 40th birthday, he gave her a $1.5 million necklace. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Intervention Escalation--Syria and Chem Weapons

April 25th 2013

Corpses in Homs

Ever more credible claims by France, Britain, and some Israeli officials that the Bashar al-Assad regime has used chemical weapons have upped the pressure on the Obama administration to respond more decisively to the situation in Syria, and specifically to act on the president's chemical weapons "red line" warning. And the administration appears to be reconsidering its previous hesitancy. During a recent hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the United States would be sending some 200 troops to Jordan from the 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, Texas, to work alongside Jordanian personnel to "improve readiness and prepare for a number of scenarios" relating to the conflict in neighboring Syria. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Pentagon has drawn up plans to possibly expand the force significantly. Read more ..


The Boston Massacre

The Israeli Sharing His Mass Casualty Expertise in Boston

April 24th 2013

Boston Marathon Massacre

Dr. Pinchas Halpern’s advice to Boston hospitals on mass casualty incidents was one of the factors in their successful handling of April 15 casualties.

Israeli critical care specialist Dr. Pinchas Halpern is used to dealing with terror attacks. It’s not a familiarity that most doctors would wish to achieve, but as director of emergency medicine at Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center since 1993, Halpern has had no choice but to become an expert on mass casualties.

It’s no surprise, then, that in the wake of the Boston marathon bombings, when three people were killed and another 282 injured, he was one of the first people US doctors treating the severely wounded victims at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center called to discuss the logistics of handling casualties of the horrific attack. Read more ..


Paraguay on Edge

Regional and Domestic Challenges Greet New Paraguayan President

April 23rd 2013

Horacio Cartes Paraguay

After a brief interlude of less than four years, the Colorado Party will return to lead Paraguay following the victory of Horacio Cartes. The millionaire businessman, whose holdings range from soft-drink manufacturing in the U.S. and Paraguay to significant banking, tobacco and import enterprises, was elected to a five-year term on April 21 with a resounding 46 percent of the vote, as opposed to 37 percent for Efraín Alegre – the candidate of the Liberal Party and the current president, Federico Franco. All other candidates were far behind in the polls that were largely heralded by observers as free and fair.

A political newcomer, Cartes had never voted in any election before joining the Colorado Party just four years ago. He nodded to concerns voiced domestically and abroad that his party and Paraguay’s government has been tainted by corruption, Cartes has pledged reform. "I'll need help from all the Paraguayans to govern in the next five years," Cartes said on election night. There are challenges aplenty for Cartes, who recognized "Poverty, the lack of jobs for young people and international issues await us." Read more ..


The Science of Terrorism

DNA Found on Bomb Backpacks is Traced to Terrorists

April 23rd 2013

backpack bomb

Catching terrorists who detonate bombs may be easier by testing the containers that hide the bombs rather than the actual explosives, according to pioneering research led by Michigan State University. Currently, law enforcement labs tend to test for DNA on the exploded bomb fragments – but this has a low success rate, said David Foran, an MSU forensic biologist and lead investigator on the research project.

Through the MSU-led study, researchers obtained DNA from eight backpacks that had been blown up with pipe bombs inside, and subsequently obtained full DNA profiles that matched all eight volunteers who had carried the backpacks for a week. The findings, which appeared in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, could ultimately change the way law enforcement officials investigate bombings, Foran said.
Read more ..


The New South Africa

South African Viewers Hooked on AIDS-themed Show

April 22nd 2013

South African Aids Patient

Sixty-nine percent of the people in the world infected with HIV-AIDS live in Sub-Saharan Africa. The situation is particularly dire in the southern part of the continent.  And in South Africa, an estimated 17 percent of adults live with the virus.  To address the issue, the health research center John Hopkins foundation has created an original and very popular TV show called Intersexions, broadcast on South African public TV channel SABC, that is currently in its second season.

A radiant young bride is getting ready to walk down the aisle, when she hears on the radio that a famous disc jockey is dying of AIDS.  He is a former lover, from a long time ago.  So what can she do?  She has had three lovers in her life.  But what can she tell the love of her life, a few hours before their wedding night? Harriet Gavshon, producer of the hit TV show Intersexions, says that this is the type of situation that drives the HIV-AIDS pandemic. Read more ..


Sudan on Edge

South Sudan Women Jailed for Not Paying $7 Tax

April 21st 2013

Sudanese refugee

Five South Sudanese women, including a widow with small children, were jailed this week in Aweil East after they failed to pay a state household tax of 30 South Sudanese pounds (7 U.S. dollars), and two local chiefs have been relieved of their duties after refusing to collect the tax.

One of the women, Nyirou Mou, 30, has been in jail since Tuesday and says she doesn't have enough money to pay the annual tax that the state assembly in Northern Bahr el Ghazal introduced in January. Residents were given until this month to pay the tax.

“I don’t have anywhere where I can get the money for taxes. My children are small. They can’t do any work, such as cultivating gardens. My husband died and there is no one taking care of my kids except me. Where can I get the money from?” she asked. The average annual income among South Sudanese is around $3.50 US a day. Mou said she has been told she will only be released when someone brings the money she owes to the police station. Read more ..


The Boston Massarce

Chechen Brothers Suspected in Boston Bombings Grew Up as Refugees

April 20th 2013

FBI pic of Tsarnaev brothers

Russian TV reported Friday that two ethnic Chechen brothers are suspects in terrorist bombings. But, for Russians, there was a new twist: the bombings were in Boston.

In recent years, ethnic Chechens were charged in bombings of the Moscow metro, a Moscow airport and a train from Moscow. But this time, Russian reporters fleshed out the biographies of two young Chechen men, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, suspected of attacks in the United States.

In Dagestan, a traditionally Islamic republic bordering Chechnya, school principal Temirmagomed Davudov said the Tsarnaev family came to Dagestan in 2001 from the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan. During World War II, Stalin deported most of the population of Chechnya to Central Asia.

Davudov told reporters that the two brothers and their two sisters attended school for one year, in 2001, in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan. Then, he said, the family emigrated - apparently first to Turkey, then to the United States. Read more ..


The Boston Massacre

Boston Bombing Suspects: Grassroots Militants from Chechnya

April 19th 2013

Boston Marathon Massacre

Just after 10 p.m. on April 18, the Tsarnaev brothers were identified after having robbed a convenience store in Cambridge, Mass., just three miles from Boston, hours earlier. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer, who responded to the robbery, was shot and killed and found in his car by fellow responding officers. The two suspects later hijacked an SUV at gunpoint, releasing the driver unharmed. Authorities later caught up to the suspects, and a car chase ensued.

Just after midnight, the car chase ended with a gunfight in Watertown, Mass. The suspects reportedly threw explosive devices at police, though it is not yet confirmed what types of explosives allegedly were used. During the firefight, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was wounded, taken into custody and later reported dead. Some press reports suggest he may have been wearing some sort of suicide belt or vest. Dzhokhar escaped by driving the stolen SUV through the police barricade and remains at large. According to media reports, a third accomplice was detained earlier this morning by authorities and is being questioned. Read more ..


The Way We Are

April 19 Brings US Painful Memories

April 19th 2013

Boy in pain

As events continue to unfold in connection with Monday’s terrorist attack in Boston, Americans are marking some other somber anniversaries that fall just days after that attack. April 19 is the anniversary of the 1993 Branch Davidian siege in Waco, Texas, and the 1995 terrorist attack on the federal building in Oklahoma City.

They are tragic images seared into America’s collective memory, and both took place on April 19. The 1993 siege at the Branch Davidian compound in Texas and resulting fire killed more than 70 members of a radical religious sect after a confrontation with federal officers.

Two years later, a devastating truck bomb ripped apart the federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring hundreds of others. Former soldier Timothy McVeigh was convicted of that attack and was executed in 2001.

Since then, the date of April 19 has taken on special significance, according to Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. He monitors radical right wing groups in the U.S. “Well April 19th has become a kind of iconic date in the radical right in the United States," said Potok. "That really begins because that is the day in 1775 when the opening shots of the American Revolution are fired, of course, in Lexington and Concord.” Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

Pervez Musharraf Flees Arrest Warrant

April 18th 2013

Pakistani military brass

The Islamabad High Court denied bail and issued an arrest warrant for Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Thursday. Even though Musharraf was in the courthouse police failed to arrest him, letting the former president, his security guards, and bullet proof SUV leave the area. With the former general also barred from leaving the country, Musharraf's court appearance comes as his lawyer tried to extend a six day bail to two weeks. However, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui rejected the request.

The former leader now appears to be held up at an upscale estate on the outskirts of Islamabad. Police surrounded the compound, but it remains unclear whether they plan to arrest him. Read more ..


The Way We Are

'It Gets Better' LGBT Video Campaign Goes Global

April 17th 2013

Gay Marriage

In 2010, the U.S. journalist and sex-advice columnist Dan Savage posted a video on YouTube in which he and his husband talked about the challenges of growing up gay.

Their aim was simple -- to send a message to American teenagers coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) that their struggles wouldn’t last forever.

“High school was bad. I was obviously gay and some kids didn't like that, and I did get harassed," he says in the video. "If there are 14-, 15-, and 16-year-olds -- 13-year-olds, 12-year-olds -- out there watching this video, what I'd really like you to take away from it, really, is that it gets better.”

The video came at a time when reports were growing about LGBT teenagers committing suicide as a result of isolation and abuse. Seth Levy, a lawyer who works with the It Gets Better project, says that first video quickly inspired a flood of similar video testimonials from gays and straights eager to lend their support. Read more ..


Psychological Edge

People See Bright Future despite Gathering Storm Clouds

April 16th 2013

Baby Boomer

People feel happy about their future even after imagining the many bad events that might occur, a new University of Michigan study found. People tend to "explain away" the presence of bad possibilities in their own lives, thinking that they won't actually happen to them, said U-M researcher Ed O'Brien. "But we have a harder time explaining the absence of good possibilities. The absence of good events in our future feels much worse than the presence of bad ones," he said.

O'Brien explored whether fluency—how easy or difficult it feels to think about different events—might play a role in how people think about well-being.

He conducted five studies, asking participants to complete surveys with questions that addressed past and possible future experiences and perceptions of well-being. Fluency amplified the effects of past events on participants' reports of well-being: The easier it was for them to generate positive experiences, the happier they said they were in those times. Likewise, the easier it was to come up with negative experiences, the more unhappy people said they were. Read more ..


Broken Banking

Secret Files Reveal Rothschild’s Offshore Domain

April 16th 2013

EU flag

Baron Elie de Rothschild, the guardian of the French branch of the famed Rothschild banking dynasty, built an offshore empire in the palm-fringed Cook Islands between 1996 and 2003. Rothschild, a businessman and arts patron who died in 2007 at the age of 90, constructed a complex network of offshore trusts and front companies, according to secret documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and reviewed by Le Monde. The complex nature of the financial arrangements in the Pacific islands and their near-total secrecy made it difficult to identify his hand in the offshore entities. The internal documents reveal at least 20 trusts and 10 holding companies were set up for Rothschild in the Cook Islands, an independent territory in the South Pacific with close ties to New Zealand. The trusts have typically opaque names, Anon Trust, followed by the Benon Trust (apparently set up by Rothschild’s daughter Nelly) and Denon Trust, being notable examples. Read more ..


Broken Banking

The Swiss Lawyers Who Help Europe’s Richest Families Park Their Wealth Offshore

April 16th 2013

Swiss Banks' Lawyers

Little did Zurich-based lawyer Peter Hafter imagine how things would turn out when he ordered a $2,700 offshore kit to create a front company in the Cook Islands on September 13, 1993. Twenty years on from that day, the fax he sent, the ensuing emails and all his business correspondence with Portcullis TrustNet in Rarotonga, the largest island in the archipelago, have been copied and passed on to journalists around the world. Nor did the lawyer imagine that the internal revenue service would then reopen the case of one of his clients, and yet that is precisely what the spokesperson for the tax authorities in Berne, Yvonne von Kauffungen, announced on Thursday. This announcement was triggered by the publication of a preview based on our investigations into two decades of correspondence between Portcullis TrustNet and Peter Hafter. Matin Dimanche and SonntagsZeitung have reviewed hundreds of pages of confidential documents that are part of a cache of 2.5 million files obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists – probably the largest set of confidential financial data ever disclosed to the media.  Read more ..


Inside Iran

Iran's Election Roils On

April 16th 2013

Quds Force

As the political arena is gearing up for Iran's presidential elections slated for June 14, the president's supporters are intensifying their activity and preparing to hold their first significant show of strength. Next week (most likely on Wednesday, April 17) the government is planning to hold a mass event that will be attended by about 100,000 people at Tehran's Azadi Stadium. Officially, the event, which is going to be presided over by Ahmadinejad, is being held as a show of appreciation for government committee members who helped organize the president's trips to Iran's various provinces for the past several years. The government's critics, on the other hand, are saying that the event is "the first election rally of the deviant faction" (a term used to refer to the president's supporters and his controversial ally Rahim Masha'i), arguing that the president intends to take advantage of it to advance Masha'i's possible candidacy ahead of the elections. Read more ..



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