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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 ..


Israel on Edge

Michael Oren Interviewed on Israeli-U.S. Partnership

April 15th 2013

Recently, inFOCUS editor Matthew RJ Brodsky interviewed Ambassador Michael Oren. Born and raised in New Jersey before attending Princeton and Columbia universities, Dr. Oren became an officer in the IDF serving multiple tours, and was a liaison to the U.S. Sixth Fleet during the Gulf War. The Ambassador is also the author of two New York Times best-sellers, Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East from 1776 to the Present and Six Days of War. The Jerusalem Post named Dr. Oren as one of the world's ten most influential Jews.

iF: The relationship between Israel and Greece and Cyprus has been elevated tremendously over the past three or four years, generally because of a common interest in energy exploration and extraction. In what other ways have Israel and Greece strengthened their political and military relations?

MO: Jews and Greeks share a 3,000-year history. Anywhere you go in the State of Israel you'll find evidence of how Jews and Greeks lived and flourished together in antiquity. For the last 20 years, Greece and Israel have enjoyed excellent relations. Now, that relationship has truly blossomed into the fields of energy, agriculture, trade, military cooperation, and tourism. This year alone, some 400,000 Israelis visited Greece, and we expect even more next year. Read more ..


The Edge of Immigration

Religious, Nonreligious Organizations: Impact on Ability of Immigrants to Adapt to US

April 14th 2013

Praying to a purple sky

Religious and nonreligious organizations may have a similar impact on the ability of immigrants to acclimate to life in the U.S., despite the organizations’ different motivations for providing charitable services, according to new research from Rice University.

“There’s been a lot of discussion as to whether religious organizations offer some special or unique benefit to immigrant groups that will help them better adapt to American society,” said  Elaine Howard Ecklund, director of Rice’s Religion and Public Life Program. “We wanted to see at the organizational level whether there was any practical difference between these two groups.”

The study examined the behavior of two Mexican-American organizations, one religious and one nonreligious. The two groups identified different motivations for providing job placement, language and financial services to immigrants: The religious organization said  its religious convictions necessitated service to the local community, whereas the nonreligious organization cited its commitment to at-risk groups. However, the study showed that there was was little difference in the impact of the two organizations – both sought to provide outreach and services to their respective communities. Read more ..


Latin America on Edge

The Free Market Experiment in Latin America

April 13th 2013

Bolivian Miner

Poverty in Latin America has been reduced substantially in the last three decades. In the late 1980s, nearly half of Latin America’s population lived in poverty. Today the fraction is about a third. This marks important progress, and it has continued in some area nations. However, it is worth noting that between 2002 and 2008, poverty contracted most in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Argentina, countries which had largely abandoned neoliberalism; in Brazil, which had at least partially rejected neoliberalism; and in only two other states, Honduras and Perú, which still remained, at least partially, committed to free market polices.

It was mostly factors beyond economic policy that helps to account for recent declines in the rate of Latin American poverty.  One factor was increasing remittances from Latin Americans laboring in the developed world, especially in the United States.  Total remittances from Latin American workers rose from $12 billion USD in 1995, to $45 billion in 2004, and $68 billion in 2006.  However, “by far the main contributor to the reduction in the poverty rate,” as Jaime Ros has noted, was “the fall in the dependency ratio.”  The indicator measures the number of non-working age people—children and the elderly—who are supported by the working age population. The higher the dependency number, the greater the economic burden.

Latin America’s past demographic history underlies this shift in the dependency ratio.  The late 1940s in Latin America witnessed lower overall death rates (the number of people who died a year divided by the total population), especially due to lower infant and childhood mortality rates.  Initially, birth rates stayed high even as death rates fell, but after a generation passed Latin America’s birth rates began to drift downward to match the lower death rates. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Laser Scanner Authenticates Goods Through 'Topographical Fingerprinting'

April 12th 2013

Hacker keyboard

Ingenia Technology has released the first product in its K-series of high-speed laser scanners to help manufacturers combat counterfeiting and diversion practices. Designed to be integrated into the fastest production lines, the new scanner is capable of scanning at 10m/s or up to 50 items a second.

Operating at these high speeds the data captured and processed every second by the highly sensitive laser scanner is equivalent to playing 140 CDs simultaneously. The new K-series scanner represents the next generation implementation of Ingenia's novel Laser Surface Authentication (LSA™) technology. LSA uses a laser to scan the surface of products to generate an intrinsic 'fingerprint' of each item. Using a secure database and field scanners, each individual product or document can be authenticated anywhere in the world and traced through the entire supply chain. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Japanese Man, 80, Seeks Third Mt. Everest Ascent

April 10th 2013

Continental Crust

Yuichiro Miura lives by the motto that nothing is impossible. For him, that includes climbing Mount Everest at age 80. The 80-year-old Japanese adventurer plans to ascend Everest, the world's tallest peak, for the third time next month.

He reached the summit of the Himalayan mountain at age 70 and at 75. If successful this time, he will set the record for the oldest person to climb the 8,848-meter peak. The record, however, is not what motivates Miura, who is instead curious about coping at his age in the frigid temperatures, thin air and low oxygen levels in the Himalayas. Those conditions, he believes, will add 70 years to his physical body age once he reaches the summit.

His daughter, Emili Miura, says he will thus feel like he is 150 years old. "No mankind ever lived that long, that old, and he’s so curious to know how it would be like," she said. "He would like to know what is the limit, what is the possibility, potential of humankind.” Emili Miura also says her father believes that every goal one sets is within reach. Read more ..


Anthropological Edge

Lip-Smacking Gelada Monkeys Show Similarities with Humans

April 9th 2013

Gelada monkeys Ethiopia

The rhythmic vocal sounds made by lip smacking in wild gelada monkeys have similarities to human speech, a new University of Michigan study shows. Lip smacking, a common primate facial gesture used in friendly interactions, involves rapid opening and closing of mouth parts in a speech-like fashion. However, geladas are unique because they simultaneously vocalize while lip smacking to produce a sound that has been called a "wobble."

The gelada wobbles have a rhythm that closely matches the pacing of syllables spoken by humans, says Thore Bergman, U-M assistant professor in the departments of Psychology and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Researchers tracked geladas in the Simien Mountains National Park in Ethiopia where they recorded the unusual sounds of this species. Bergman describes geladas as sociable creatures with a large vocal repertoire. The wobble is used primarily by males and always in a friendly context. Read more ..


Europe on Edge

Low Life Expectancy Continues To Plague Former Soviet Countries

April 8th 2013

Smoking

More than two decades after the fall of communism, most former Soviet countries still have mortality rates significantly higher than those in Western Europe.

Cardiovascular disease, high infant-mortality rates, infectious diseases, and a decrease in the quality and financing of public health-care systems were the main factors driving the trend, according to an article that appeared last week in "The Lancet," a British medical journal.

The combined effect of a steep increase in alcohol and tobacco consumption, both among working-age people and the younger generation, is the main trigger of cardiovascular disease, the article, "Health and Health Systems in the Commonwealth of Independent States," concluded. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

The Cell Phone Turns 40

April 7th 2013

Smart phone

Forty years ago today the cell phone era began on the streets of New York City. The historic first cell phone call was made by Martin Cooper, director of systems operations for the communications division of the Motorola company, to his main rival at Bell Labs. Martin described his call to Bell’s Dr. Joel S. Engel on April 3, 1973 in an article called The History of the Cell Phone by Gareth Marples.

“As I walked down the street while talking on the phone, sophisticated New Yorkers gaped at the sight of someone actually moving around while making a phone call,” Martin wrote. “Remember that in 1973, there weren't cordless telephones or cellular phones. I made numerous calls, including one where I crossed the street while talking to a New York radio reporter - probably one of the more dangerous things I have ever done in my life.”

A 1973 press release, Motorola touted its new Dyna-Tac “portable radio telephone,” saying it would operate over radio frequencies and “talk” to any conventional (landline) telephone in the world. “What this means, said John F. Mitchell, manager of Motorola’s communications division, is that in a city where the Dyna-Tac system is installed, it will be possible to make telephone calls while riding in a taxi, walking down the city’s streets, sitting in a restaurant or anywhere else a radio signal can reach.” Read more ..


The Human Edge

Nelson Mandela Released from Hospital

April 6th 2013

Mandela

Former South African president Nelson Mandela has been discharged from a Pretoria hospital after being treated for pneumonia. An official from the president’s office says the anti-apartheid icon will get constant medical supervision. Nelson Mandela spent nine nights in the hospital for this last episode, before being discharged Saturday.

Officials said he was admitted suddenly after suffering a recurrence of a lung infection. He was treated for pneumonia, and President Jacob Zuma visited him earlier this week and said he had made steady improvement. Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said Mandela will now get round-the-clock care at home. Like many South Africans, he referred to Mandela by his clan name, Madiba.

"We are delighted to inform you that the former president, Nelson Mandela, has been discharged from hospital today, the 6th of April, following sustained and gradual improvement in his general condition," he said. "The former president will now receive home-based high care. President Zuma thanks the hard-working medical team and the hospital staff for looking after Madiba so efficiently. He also extends his gratitude to all South Africans and friends of the republic in Africa and around the world, for all of their support." Read more ..


Mali on Edge

Refugees from CAR and Mali Flee Instability

April 5th 2013

Mali Refugees

The United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, said they are continuing to see influxes of refugees from the Central African Republic pouring into the neighboring countries of Chad, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo, due to instability from fighting in CAR

In addition, the agency is also working to provide assistance to Mali refugees who are fleeing violence, either by foot or donkey and going into areas of Niger. The UNHCR says the CAR refugees are in a dire situation, leaving their homes in such a hurry that they left behind all of their personal belongings. Most of them are living out in the open.

“Refugees from the Central African Republic are coming in a poor state. For some of them, we’ve had cases of malnutrition; we have separated children.  Most of the families left in a hurry so they were not able to take their personal belongings with them, which means that they depend on humanitarian assistance.  [Some are] in areas where some host families have accommodated them despite the fact that they themselves live in extreme poverty,” explained Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, spokesperson for the UNHCR. Read more ..


The Coffee Edge

Despite Slow Start, Starbucks Expands in India

April 4th 2013

Starbucks

Despite a slow start in India, the world's largest coffee chain, Starbucks, says it will continue to expand in the South Asian country. That is good news for the Indian government, which is counting on continued foreign investment to help the country boost economic growth.

The Starbucks outlet in New Delhi’s Connaught Place has been open for more than a month and still draws long lines and interest from young people like Vikram Maour, who until now had only seen the coffee chain on television. “I think it’s great to have Starbucks in India," said Maour. "We just heard about Starbucks in foreign countries, but to have Starbucks in India, it’s a really good thing.”

Starbucks opened its first store in India in October of 2012, through a joint venture with India’s Tata Global Beverages. The U.S.-based coffee chain had planned to open 50 outlets in the country by the end of last year, but so far has a total of nine stores in the cities of Mumbai and New Delhi. Read more ..


The Race for Ethanol

Corn for Ethanol May be Killing the Great Lakes with Algae

April 2nd 2013

Iowa corn field

The largest harmful algae bloom in Lake Erie's recorded history likely was caused by the confluence of changing farming practices and weather conditions that are expected to become more common in the future due to climate change.

Rather than an isolated, one-time occurrence, Lake Erie's monumental 2011 algae bloom was more likely a harbinger of things to come, according to University of Michigan researchers and colleagues from eight other institutions.

The interdisciplinary team explored factors that may have contributed to the event and analyzed the likelihood of future massive blooms in the lake.

"Intense spring rainstorms were a major contributing factor, and such storms are part of a long-term trend for this region that is projected to get worse in the future due to climate change," said aquatic ecologist Donald Scavia, director of the Graham Sustainability Institute, and professor of natural resources and environment, and civil and environmental engineering. "On top of that we have agricultural practices that provide the key nutrients that fuel large-scale blooms." Read more ..



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