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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 ..

Ahmadinejad on Edge

After Eight Years In Office, Ahmadinejad Faces An Uncertain Future

June 18th 2013

Ahmadinejad pointing

When an outgoing president has as many enemies as does Iran's Mahmud Ahmadinejad, there would seem to be little future left for him.

It is not only Ahmadinejad's reputation abroad that plunged during his two terms in office. Statements at the United Nations in which he called the Holocaust a myth and the 9/11 attacks a "mysterious" precursor to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq helped make him an unpopular figure in many countries.

But more dangerously, Ahmadinejad's standing has also plummeted within Iran's establishment itself. That is due to his efforts to increase his power at the expense of influential figures around Iran's supreme leader. And it suggests that when he leaves office on August 3 he could find a host of enemies gunning for him. Read more ..

The Way We Are

St. Petersburg's Cultural Warrior Takes Aim At Fast Food

June 16th 2013

Fast Food Burger

He gained renown as the champion of a law against "gay propaganda." He memorably crossed swords with Madonna. And now Vitaly Milonov has a new bone to pick -- fast food.

Milonov, a lawmaker in the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, is calling for national legislation to regulate the quality of Russian food and impose limits on the amount of unsaturated fat present in foodstuffs, high levels of which can contribute to heart disease.

On June 5, the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly passed the first reading of a bill to this effect. It will soon be sent on to the Russian State Duma for consideration at the national level. The legislation proposes outlawing the production, import, and trade of food containing over 2 percent trans fatty acids. Milonov is also calling for such foods to contain a health warning. He singled out fast food restaurants as the worst offenders and expressed hope that his initiative would improve diets. Milonov has also proposed requiring restaurants to label the nutritional value of food on menus. Read more ..

The Architectural Edge

Carbon-Fiber Tape Takes Elevators To New Heights

June 15th 2013

Khazar Islnds Project(artist impression)

The weight of the traditional steel cable that hoists today's elevators has prevented them going any higher than 500 meters in one run. That means that people going up and down inside the world's tallest building, Dubai's 828-meter-high Burj Khalifa tower, need to switch lifts to go above the top mark.

But in London this week one of the world's leaders in the elevator industry, Finland’s Kone, unveiled its new UltraRope.

Kone President and CEO Matti Alahuhta claims this innovation will "revolutionize the elevator industry for the tallest segment of buildings across the globe." "Kone has an impressive record of new industry innovations," he says. "This is again a major, new breakthrough. And the long-term business opportunities, they indeed look very, very interesting." Read more ..

Greece on Edge

Rights Group Accuses Greece of 'Abusive' Crackdown on Migrants

June 15th 2013

Greek Protesters

Greek police carrying out a crackdown on irregular migration are accused of conducting abusive stop and searches and detaining thousands of people, according to a report published Wednesday.  Human Rights Watch says people are being treated unfairly based on their race or ethnicity.

“There are police patrols deployed daily in the center of Athens who are stopping people presumed to be undocumented migrants," says Eva Cossé, a Greece specialist at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. "If you take a look in the center of Athens you will see police officers with 10, 20 people who look like migrants behind them.” Afterwards they are detained on police buses, brought to police stations and held for hours, she said. Read more ..

The Automotive Edge

Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) Communications to Reach 70 Percent in 2027

June 14th 2013

Traffic Jam

Global V2V penetration into new vehicles will increase from just over 10 percent in 2018 to 70 percent in 2027, with the EU, US, and Japan as key regions adopting V2V in the mid-term.

“V2X market and regulatory dynamics vary greatly from region to region. While the US will decide whether or not to mandate V2X by the end of 2013 with implementation not expected before 2018, in Europe the CAR 2 CAR Communication Consortium (C2C-CC) has issued a MoU signed by major vehicle OEMs including Audi, BMW, Daimler, Honda, Man, Opel, PSA, Renault, Volkswagen, and Volvo committing to deploying pan-European standard Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems by 2015 to improve road safety, traffic efficiency, and sustainable driving in line with the 2010 ITS EU Directive,” says VP and practice director Dominique Bonte. With multiple trials taking place or planned in the US, Europe, Japan, and Australia and overall awareness about the benefits of cooperative systems increasing, 2013 is clearly a pivotal year for the future of V2X and the use of reserved DRSC spectrum in particular. Read more ..

Broken Intelligence

New Focus on Costly Intelligence Contractors

June 13th 2013

New NSA Data Ctr.
NSA data center

The Obama administration promised four years ago that it would significantly shrink the number of private contractors working for U.S. intelligence agencies. But a key member of Congress said this week she remains unconvinced the administration has done enough to shift critical intelligence-related jobs back to government employees. The most recent public data from the intelligence community depict a one-year decline of 1 percent in the number of contractors holding security clearances, leaving private-sector workers still holding about 22 percent of all those clearances. In the wake of new controversy about such work, stemming from the recent leak of secrets about U.S. surveillance tactics by a federal contract employee in Washington, officials this week cited the decline as a sign of the administration’s commitment to reduce the outsourcing of intelligence work, reversing a hasty expansion of the contractor population after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Read more ..

Broken Education

Exploding Cost of Higher Education Worries Economists and Students

June 12th 2013

university students and laptops

Washington's Republicans and Democrats are haggling over how to finance higher education, including details like the interest rates that students pay for loans. Recent graduates, who are burdened with an average of $26,000 in loans, are watching the debate closely. But some economists say the real issue is controlling the soaring cost of college at a time when post-secondary schooling is crucial to getting a good job and a middle class salary. Experts say these high costs are hurting the whole economy, not just students and their families.

Joshua Jordan earned a doctorate degree in physical therapy. He hopes to open his own practice someday, and says having the expensive graduate degree is good for his patients - but hard on his wallet. “I am currently in debt for $210,000,” he said. Read more ..

America and Azerbaijan

Geopolitical Journey: Azerbaijan and America

June 11th 2013

Azerbaijan Mosque Baku

There is a point where three great powers -- Russia, Turkey and Persia -- meet: the Caucasus. At the moment they converge in a country called Azerbaijan. That fact makes Azerbaijan a battleground for these three great powers, which have competed with each other along various borders for centuries. Until 1991 Azerbaijan was part of the Soviet Union, as was the rest of the South Caucasus. But as the Russian border moved north, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan were once more unveiled by history. Of the three, Azerbaijan won the geopolitical prize of bordering the three great regional powers.

It also emerged as a major energy producer. At the end of the 19th century, half of the oil in the world was produced in Azerbaijan, whose oil fields around the capital, Baku, were developed by the Nobel brothers, famed for dynamite and prizes. This is where they made their fortune. I had the pleasure of dining at their mansion a few years ago, a guest of government officials. Whatever others might have thought in that elegant house, I thought of Hitler urgently trying to reach Baku and its oil, and the fact that his disaster at Stalingrad was actually part of his attempt to seize Azerbaijan's oil fields. Azerbaijan was once the prize of empire. It is now independent in a very dangerous place. Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

Pakistani Villagers Vow 'No Electricity, No Polio Vaccinations'

June 10th 2013

Polio Vaccination Clinc

Tribal elders in a a northwestern Pakistani region are taking extreme measures in an effort to bring electricity to their area, saying that as long as they have no electricity they won't vaccinate their children against polio.

Several hundred residents from villages in Lakki Marwat district staged a protest demonstration on June 10 and turned away polio-eradication teams.

Village elder Zaitullah Betanai stated that polio teams will not be allowed to go about their work until the central government accepts the villagers' demands. "There is an electricity supply line but no electricity, and there is no electricity transformer in the area," Zaitullah said. "We have no mosquito kits and no spray against mosquitoes is arranged so far. Also, there is no ambulance in the area. We want the government to address the four demands immediately." Read more ..

The Urban Edge

Doubling a City Population Increases Economic Productivity by 130 Percent

June 9th 2013

New York skyline dusk

In 2010, in the journal Nature, a pair of physicists at the Santa Fe Institute showed that when the population of a city doubles, economic productivity goes up by an average of 130 percent. Not only does total productivity increase with increased population, but so does per-capita productivity.

In the latest issue of Nature Communications, researchers from the MIT Media Laboratory’s Human Dynamics Lab propose a new explanation for that “superlinear scaling”: Increases in urban population density give residents greater opportunity for face-to-face interaction.

The new paper builds on previous work by the same group, which showed that increasing employees’ opportunities for face-to-face interaction could boost corporations’ productivity. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Secret Court Judge Attended Expenses-Paid Terrorism Seminar

June 8th 2013

File Folders

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson, who signed an order requiring Verizon to give the National Security Agency telephone records for tens of millions of American customers, attended an expense-paid judicial seminar sponsored by a libertarian think tank that featured lectures from a vocal proponent of executive branch powers.

Vinson, whose term on the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court began in 2006 and expired last month, was the only member of the special court to attend the August 2008 conference sponsored by the Foundation for Research on Economics & the Environment, according to disclosure records filed by the federal judge.

Disclosure records were collected as part of an investigative report that revealed how large corporations and conservative foundations routinely sponsor ideologically driven educational conferences for state and federal judges.

It’s unclear which lectures Vinson attended during the “Terrorism, Civil Liberty, & National Security” seminar. FREE’s website only provides a general agenda for the program and no lecture transcripts. Read more ..

Africa on Edge

Leaders Call for Investing in Girls

June 7th 2013

NGO-girl power

Leaders of some of the world’s top foundations say much more needs to be done to encourage the hopes, dreams and ambitions of young girls. The issue was discussed at the Women Deliver conference in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.

United Nations Foundation President and CEO Kathy Calvin said investing in girls has long term benefits.

“If we don’t put a girl first, if we don’t start with a girl, we may never have the opportunity to help her as a woman. If you address a girl’s issues across the board, you have a really good chance of ensuring that she will have an opportunity to live a long and healthier life – changing both her life and her family’s.” Maria Eitel, President and CEO of the Nike Foundation, said that often there’s a small window of opportunity to intervene on behalf of girls. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Britain Apologizes, Pays Compensation for Colonial Abuses in Kenya

June 6th 2013

Mau Mau Vet

Britain has apologized and agreed to pay compensation to thousands of veterans of the Mau Mau nationalist uprising in Kenya, which was brutally suppressed by the British colonial government in the 1950s.  It could pave the way for further claims against Britain for its actions in its former colonies.

The uprising by Mau Mau nationalists in 1950s Kenya was brutally suppressed by the British colonial government.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission estimates that 90,000 Kenyans were killed or maimed and 160,000 detained.  Torture and rape were common. More than 50 years later, British Foreign Secretary William Hague has apologized and agreed to pay compensation. Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

Palestinian Catholic Schools May Be Forced to Close

June 6th 2013

Catholic nun in Gaza with child

Five Christian schools in Gaza face closure if the Hamas-controlled government insists on an order forbidding such co-educational institutions, in accordance with the terrorist group’s interpretation of Islamic law. Rev. Faysal Hijazin, the director of schools for the Latin Catholic Patriarchate in Israel and Palestine said of the controversy, “This will be a big problem. We hope they will not go through with it, but if they do, we will be in big trouble. We don’t have the space and we don’t have the money to divide our schools.”

Fr. Hijazin said on June 3 that although the order did not single out the Christian schools, the five are the only schools with mixed enrolment in Gaza. “We hope they will not go through with it, but if they do, we will be in big trouble. We don’t have the space and we don’t have the money to divide our schools,” he said. Read more ..

Azerbaijan on Edge

Sex, Drugs, And Dissent: The Return Of A 'Classic Technology'

June 5th 2013

jail door blue

If you didn’t know any better, you’d think that dissidents in much of the former Soviet Union were a bunch of foul-mouthed junkie pornographers.

In March, police in Azerbaijan arrested Mahammad Azizov on drugs charges. A few weeks later, they picked up Dashgin Malikov. Days later, Taleh Bagirov was nabbed. On May 9, it was Rashad Ramazonov's turn.

What all these young men have in common, besides denying the charges, is their outspoken criticism of the government of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. Azizov and Malikov belong to opposition groups. Bagirov is an imam who gave a sermon criticizing Aliyev days before his arrest. Ramazanov is an opposition blogger.

Rounding up opposition activists on odd and often spurious charges, drug-related or otherwise, is not unique to Azerbaijan. From Russia to Ukraine to Belarus, activists have been charged with crimes ranging from distributing pornography to smuggling caviar to cursing in public.

Heather McGill is a researcher for the London-based rights group Amnesty International. She maintains that the prosecution of activists under various nonpolitical charges complicates the work of organizations such as hers as they try to identify and defend political prisoners. The tactic also provides political cover for authoritarian regimes, she says, as "governments are very keen to claim that they don’t have political prisoners."

"If you claim somebody has committed a criminal offense, then it makes it harder for people to defend that person," she says. "It just makes the case more complex for us and we need to be very, very careful in researching whether that person has in fact done what the authorities claim they have." Read more ..

The Edge of Labor

Labor Union Decline, Main Cause of Rising Corporate Profits

June 5th 2013

Bundles of Cash

A new study suggests that the decline of labor unions, partly as an outcome of computerization, is the main reason why U.S. corporate profits have surged as a share of national income while workers' wages and other compensation have declined.

The study, "The Capitalist Machine: Computerization, Workers' Power, and the Decline in Labor's Share within U.S. Industries," explores an important dimension of economic inequality that has been largely overlooked in research and the national discourse.

"Most of the research on growing economic inequality focuses on rising earnings inequality among workers, including the growing income share of the top 1 or 10 percent," said study author Tali Kristal. "But this is only part of the overall picture on rising economic inequality, or as Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman writes, this 'may be yesterday's story.' The other part is the distribution of national income, the total economic pie, between workers' compensation ('labor's share') and corporate profits. It's a zero sum game: whatever is not going to the workers goes to the corporations." Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

Eyelid Lifts Skyrocket Among Medicare Patients, Costing Millions

June 4th 2013


Aging Americans worried about their droopy upper eyelids often rely on the plastic surgeon’s scalpel to turn back the hands of time. Increasingly, Medicare is footing the bill.

Yes, Medicare. The public health insurance program for people over 65 typically does not cover cosmetic surgery, but for cases in which a patient’s sagging eyelids significantly hinder their vision, it does pay to have them lifted. In recent years, though, a rapid rise in the number of so-called functional eyelid lifts, or blepharoplasty, has led some to question whether Medicare is letting procedures that are really cosmetic slip through the cracks — at a cost of millions of dollars. 

As the Obama administration and Congress wrestle over how to restrain Medicare’s growing pricetag, critics say program administrators should be more closely inspecting rapidly proliferating procedures like blepharoplasty to make sure taxpayers are not getting ripped off.

From 2001 to 2011, eyelid lifts charged to Medicare more than tripled to 136,000 annually, according to a review of physician billing data by the Center for Public Integrity. In 2001, physicians billed taxpayers a total of $20 million for the procedure. By 2011, the price tag had quadrupled to $80 million. The number of physicians billing the surgery more than doubled. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran's Alleged Part In 1994 Bombing Of Buenos Aires Jewish Center

June 3rd 2013

Bombing Buenos Aires Jewish Center

A top Argentinian prosecutor has said new evidence strengthens the case against high-ranking Iranian officials accused of involvement in the decades-old bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires in which 85 people were killed and around 300 more wounded.

Alberto Nisman, who presented a 500-page indictment to a federal judge in Buenos Aires on May 29, said intelligence reports from South America, Europe, and the United States underscores the role Iranian officials and diplomats had in sponsoring the 1994 attack on the Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) center.

Argentinian courts in 2006 charged eight current and former senior Iranian officials, along with a Lebanese national, with involvement in the attack. The Argentinian government has secured from Interpol international arrest warrants against the eight men. Tehran, which has vehemently denied the allegations, has refused to extradite the suspects to face trial in Argentina. Read more ..

The Cyber Edge

Minimizing Risks from Cybercrime

June 2nd 2013

Computers/Nerd Silhouette

Cybercrime strikes an estimated 1.5 million people every day. That’s about 18 victims every second, 556 million people around the world, every year. While experts say the people who commit these crimes are becoming more sophisticated, you don’t have to be another statistic. There are effective ways businesses and individuals can minimize their risks.

Protecting organizations and individuals from data thieves is a multibillion-dollar industry. There's a good reason. Alan Edwards, the president of WhiteHorse Technology Solutions says anyone with access to the Internet should be worried - because cybercrime is no longer limited to your home, your office or your bank. Read more ..

The Natural Edge

Crocodiles Have Aussies on Edge Following Fatal Attacks

June 2nd 2013

Australian crocodile

As the crocodile population reaches levels not seen since hunting was banned in Australia’s Northern Territory in the early 1970s, wildlife authorities are reinforcing efforts to protect residents and tourists. School children are taking part in a new “Crocwise” campaign following several fatal attacks in recent years and other near-misses. It is estimated there are 130,000 saltwater crocodiles in northern Australia.

The message to schoolchildren in Darwin is simple: that one of nature’s most efficient killers lives among them.

Rachel Pearce, from the Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory, tod schoolchildren in Darwin of the dangers posed by the world’s largest reptile. She showed them a crocodile’s skull, where rows of sharp teeth are embedded. Read more ..

Broken Government

Tobacco Giant Funded Conservative Nonprofits

June 2nd 2013

cigarette in ashtray

Tobacco giant Reynolds American Inc. last year helped fund several of the nation’s most politically active — and secretive — nonprofit organizations, according to a company document.

Reynolds American’s contributions include $175,000 to Americans for Tax Reform, a nonprofit led by anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, and $50,000 to Americans for Prosperity, a free-market advocacy outfit heavily backed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

The tobacco company’s donations are just a fraction of the nearly $50 million that those two groups reported spending on political advocacy ads during the 2012 election cycle, almost exclusively on negative advertising. Federal records show that Americans for Prosperity alone sponsored more than $33 million in attack ads that directly targeted President Barack Obama. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Five Important Facts about Russian S-300 Missiles in Syria

June 1st 2013

Click to select Image

Russia's S-300 missile system could dramatically change the stakes in the Syrian conflict if it is sent to Damascus, which Russia has signed a contract to do. Here are laid out five things to know about the air-defense system.

What are the capabilities of the S-300 system?

The S-300 missile system is designed to shoot down aircraft and missiles at a range of 5-to-150 kilometers. That gives it the ability to destroy not only attackers in Syrian airspace but also any attackers inside Israel.

It can track and strike multiple targets simultaneously at altitudes ranging from 10 meters to 27,000 meters.

"The S-300 is Russia's top-of-the-range air-defense system," says Robert Hewson, the London-based editor of "IHS Jane's Air-Launched Weapons." Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

WHO Urges Ban on Tobacco Advertising

May 31st 2013

cigarette burning

May 31 is World No Tobacco Day. The message from the World Health Organization to governments around the globe is to ban  tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. That's to try and prevent children from taking up smoking and to encourage smokers to quit. Tobacco kills nearly six million people every year, and the numbers are only expected to rise.

Terrie Hall is a former smoker. Her grandchildren will never know what she sounded like before she got cancer. She appears in a public service announcement: "If you're a smoker, I have a tip for you. Make a video of yourself before all this happens. Read a children's story book, or sing a lullaby.  I wish I had."

Hall is part of a new campaign from The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that features stories from former smokers. Bill Busse is another former smoker. "Last year they amputated my left leg because of poor circulation.  After surgery, I reached down and found that my foot wasn’t there anymore.  That was the day I quit," he recalled. The campaign has renewed interest in quitting, according to Dr. Thomas Frieden of the CDC. "Quitting smoking is the single most effective thing you can do to improve your health," he said. Read more ..

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