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Russia on Edge

Russian Activist Charged With Slandering Cathedral

January 22nd 2013


The chairman of Russia's Consumer Rights Defense Society has been charged with slander for comments he made about Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral. Gazeta.ru reported that Mikhail Anshakov was summoned to the Moscow police department, where he was informed of the charges and travel restrictions were imposed.

The plaintiff is Vasily Poddevalin, the director of the Christ the Savior Cathedral Fund. Poddevalin filed the slander charges over Anshakov's comments to the "Novaya gazeta" newspaper in September.

Anshakov is accused of saying that cathedral has turned into a business center "accommodating 15 commercial firms, a car wash, a car maintenance center," and other enterprises. Read more ..

Africa on Edge

Savanna Study Highlights African Fuelwood Crisis

January 21st 2013

African savanna and elephants

The dwindling reserves of fuelwood in Africa have been illuminated in a new study published today, which shows a bleak outlook for supplies across savannas in South Africa. Researchers have found that at current consumption levels in the communal areas of Lowveld, South Africa, reserves of fuelwood could be totally exhausted within 13 years.

The consequences are significant, with around half of the 2.4 million rural households in the country using wood as their primary fuel source, burning between four and seven million tonnes per year. Consumption of fuelwood is greater across the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, which includes countries significantly less developed than South Africa – around 80 per cent of households rely on fuelwood as their primary energy source. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

New Clues in Antarctica Aid Future Sea-Level Predictions

January 21st 2013

Stormy Seas

Radiocarbon dates of tiny fossilised marine animals found in Antarctica's seabed sediments offer new clues about the recent rapid ice loss from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and help scientists make better predictions about future sea-level rise. This region of the icy continent is thought to be vulnerable to regional climate warming and changes in ocean circulation.

Reporting this month in the journal Geology a team of researchers from British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) and the University of Tromsø presents a timeline for ice loss and glacier retreat in the Amundsen Sea region of West Antarctica. The team concludes that the rapid changes observed by satellites over the last 20 years at Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers may well be exceptional and are unlikely to have happened more than three or four times in the last 10,000 years. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Climate Change's Effects On Temperate Rain Forests Surprisingly Complex

January 20th 2013

Amazon jungle dreamy

Longer, warmer growing seasons associated with a changing climate are altering growing conditions in temperate rain forests, but not all plant species will be negatively affected, according to research conducted by the U.S. Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station. "Although the overall potential for growth increases as the climate warms, we found that plant species differ in their ability to adapt to these changing conditions," said Tara Barrett, a research forester with the station who led the study.

Barrett and her colleagues explored trends in forest composition in southeastern and south-central Alaska, home to the bulk of the world's temperate rain forests. The researchers found an uptick in growth in higher elevations of the region over the 13-year period, with an almost 8-percent increase in live-tree biomass, a measure of tree growth. Individual species within the rain forest, however, differed—western redcedar biomass increased by four percent, while shore pine declined by almost five percent. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russia's Muddled Policy Driving Migrant Workers Into Shadows

January 19th 2013

Migrant Workers

Bek Takhirov knows all too well the problems that migrant workers face. The 38-year-old ethnic Uzbek came to Russia in 2004 and worked illegally, stacking cargo in a warehouse for alcoholic beverages. Two years ago, he completed a lengthy application for Russian citizenship in order to step out of the shadows. He now works legally in St. Petersburg as a translator by day and moonlights as a security guard by night.

He also uses his experience to help newly arrived migrants from his homeland navigate Russia's increasingly difficult labor market. "Every year it becomes harder," Takhirov says. "It used to be easy to find work quickly -- you didn't need any documents or anything. But nowadays you fill out all the documents and then they still deceive you and throw you out all the same. There is so much deceit everywhere." Read more ..

Algeria on Edge

Secretary Clinton Deeply Concerned for American Hostages in Algeria

January 18th 2013

Hillary Clinton

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she is "deeply concerned" about the ongoing hostage crisis in Algeria, and called on the Algerian government to do everything in its power to save lives. Clinton spoke during a joint appearance with the new Japanese foreign minister on January 18 in Washington as new reports from Algerian state media said at least 12 Algerians and foreigners had died after an assault by the Algerian army. She also said it is absolutely essential for the U.S. to" broaden and deepen" counter-terrorism efforts with Algeria and all countries of the region.

One American, Frederick Buttaccio of Texas, is dead and dozens of foreign hostages were unaccounted for on January 18 after an Algerian military raid in the Sahara desert to retake the Ain Amenas gas compound that was stormed this week by Islamist militants.

The Algerian government said 573 Algerians and nearly 100 of approximately 132 foreign hostages have escaped or had been freed. Much about the military operation, however, remained unclear, leaving officials in other countries frustrated by contradictory versions of what happened at the remote gas field near the Algerian-Libyan border. A Norwegian spokesman expressed frustration that his government had not been warned in advance of the raid. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Four Years On, Obama And His Family Appear At Home In The Nation's Capital

January 18th 2013

Obama and Kids

Change is all around President Obama and his family four years after he came to Washington aspiring to be an agent of change in the nation’s capital.

His wife, Michelle, initially reluctant to come to Washington, now enjoys sky-high approval ratings and has become one of the president’s greatest assets — and a fashion icon, gracing the cover of Vogue while lending a luster of political celebrity to mainstream brands like J. Crew. Daughters Malia and Sasha, who moved into the White House at the ages of 10 and 7, respectively, have grown into young women, sprouting as tall as their parents. The president’s mother-in-law, Marian Robinson, left her life in Chicago and moved into the White House residence to help make the family’s Beltway transition a little more seamless. (Sources close to the family say the first granny plans to remain at the White House in the president’s second term.) Read more ..

Inside Sierra Leone

Cricket Makes Comeback in Sierra Leone

January 18th 2013

Boys Plauying Cricket

The game of cricket is making a comeback in Sierra Leone and is inspiring young men in particular.  Many young people who play are also being encouraged to stay in school by the local cricket association. The temperature is 28 C in the afternoon as a coach shouts out commands to his cricket players at Sierra Leone's only cricket ground in the country's capital Freetown.

The players look intense, concentrating on their game.  But this is not any random cricket game, this is different. Several of these cricket players are playing not only for fun, but also to enhance their education and improve their lives.  Osman Koroma, 18, is currently is homeless. "I am living around with my friends, so when I want to go to sleep, I say to my friends, 'Man, I am coming over' and I go and lay my head," he explained. Read more ..

Inside America

Life After Presidency

January 17th 2013


Nearly every U.S. president has found himself in the position of figuring out life after the presidency. Former presidents have demonstrated there are multiple ways to adapt to life outside of Washington and the Oval Office, and the word "retirement" does not quite apply.

George W. Bush's quiet service
When former president George W. Bush left the White House in 2009, he largely left the spotlight. But last year he worked alongside volunteers in Zambia to renovate a clinic that specializes in treating cervical cancer. Like other former presidents, Bush uses his fame to draw attention to issues, but says he prefers not to call attention to his own work. "I hope you don't see much of it, because I don't want to be in the news," said Bush as he took a break from painting. "In other words, I believe that quiet service is the best kind of service."

Urgent missions
Former presidents have the ability to harness the public's attention and goodwill. President Barack Obama tapped Bush and former president Bill Clinton to lead a fundraising effort in 2010 after the earthquake in Haiti.

America's Darkest Edge

Link Between Incarceration and Psychiatric Disorders

January 17th 2013

jail door closeup

Psychiatric disorders are prevalent among current and former inmates of correctional institutions, but what has been less clear is whether incarceration causes these disorders or, alternatively, whether inmates have these problems before they enter prison. A study co-authored by Jason Schnittker, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, shows that many of the most common psychiatric disorders found among former inmates, including impulse control disorders, emerge in childhood and adolescence and, therefore, predate incarceration. Yet, incarceration seems to lead to some mood related psychiatric disorders, such as major depression, which have important implications for what happens to inmates after their release.

Using data from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, which took place between 2001 and 2003, the researchers examined the relationship between incarceration and psychiatric disorders after statistically adjusting for influences that might affect both, including an impoverished childhood background. Read more ..

America on Edge

Bilingual Seniors Have Mental Edge

January 16th 2013


Older adults who've spoken two languages since childhood have a distinct cognitive edge over their monolingual peers, according to a new study.

Previous studies have shown bilingualism seems to favor the development of heightened mental skills. The new research, published in Neuroscience, provides evidence of that cognitive advantage among older, bilingual adults.

Subjects were divided into three groups: bilingual seniors, monolingual seniors and younger adults and instructed to sort colors and shapes in a series of simple cognitive exercises. The researchers used a brain imaging technique  to compare how well the subjects switched between mental tasks. 

Brian Gold, a neuroscientist at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and lead author of the study, found the results showed different patterns of brain activity in the frontal part of the brain associated with the tasks. 

“We found that seniors who are bilingual are able to activate their brain with a magnitude closer to young subjects," Gold says. "So they do not need to expend as much effort, and yet they still out-perform their monolingual peers, suggesting that they use their brain more efficiently.” Read more ..

America's Darkest Edge

Juvenile Court Judges Latest to Express Concern Over Armed Security in Schools

January 16th 2013

Sandy Hook Shooting

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges is voicing concern over the push to put armed police or guards into American schools following the Newtown school massacre of 20 first-graders and six staff last December. On Tuesday, the Reno, Nev.-based group posted an excerpt of a letter sent to Vice President Biden, who has been leading a month-long effort to gather ideas for more effective gun restrictions and improved school safety. The White House is reportedly poised to reveal some recommendations Wednesday at a midday press conference. In its letter to Biden, the NCJFCJ expressed strong misgivings about the prospect of communities putting armed guards in schools – which could become even more likely if federal dollars are offered to help schools make that choice.

Published reports indicated Biden’s task force was considering such a plan, which has also been pushed by Sen. Barbara Boxer, a liberal Democrat from California. In addition, the National Rifle Association has been vocal in its backing of armed security in the nation’s schools.   Read more ..

Saudi Arabia on Edge

Leadership Change in Oil-Rich Saudi Province

January 15th 2013

Saudi Oil

The Eastern Province is the largest of Saudi Arabia's thirteen administrative areas and arguably the most crucial. It contains most of the kingdom's oil reserves -- the largest in the world -- as well as most of its estimated two million Shiites, who form a local majority. Additionally, it is the closest province to Iran (which lies just across the Persian Gulf) and the only one that borders the kingdom's fellow Gulf Cooperation Council member states, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman.

The outgoing governor, Prince Muhammad bin Fahd, supposedly resigned "upon his own request," but the immediate speculation is that Riyadh wants a surer pair of hands to manage burgeoning Shiite protests. Local youths have been regularly demonstrating in towns near the kingdom's oil export facilities, resulting in occasional armed clashes with local security forces. Riyadh is no doubt worried about potential contagion from the near-daily Shiite protests in neighboring Bahrain, which is connected to the Saudi mainland by a causeway. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Global Warming Trend 'Unmistakable' UN Says

January 15th 2013

Melting Arctic glacier by Angus Duncan

The United Nations' chief science body is meeting in Tasmania as climate scientists urge Australia to prepare for rising sea levels that could put about $300 billion worth of commercial property, infrastructure and homes at risk.  The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change summit in Hobart is the latest round of talks before the release of its fifth major paper in September.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change insists its methods are both vigorous and reliable. The United Nations' main climate agency says the global warming trend is "unmistakable" and it is defending the science behind its assertion.

More than 250 scientists who will contribute to the September report, have promised to deliver "scientifically defensible" conclusions when the study is released. The IPCC meets as Australia confronts a record-breaking heat wave that has sparked widespread wild fires across the country’s southeast. Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

Pakistani Islamist March on Islamabad Demanding Reforms

January 14th 2013

Pakistan protest January 2013

Thousands of marchers led by influential Islamic cleric Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri have arrived in the Pakistani capital from Lahore to protest government corruption and demand election reforms. Qadri's proclaimed "Caravan of Democracy March" reached Islamabad late on January 14, more than a day after setting out for the roughly 300-kilometer journey.

The cleric had said he hoped to attract 100,000 or more protesters to the event's ultimate destination, a site called the Blue Area that lies some 3 kilometers from the parliament building in Islamabad. RFE/RL estimated the number of people entering the city at well above 10,000 based on correspondent and eyewitness accounts, while Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik told the station that "only a few thousand" had arrived in the capital and organizers claimed there were more than 20,000 demonstrators on hand. Eyewitnesses reported tens of thousands of marchers. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russians Protest Ban on Adoptions by American Parents

January 14th 2013

Russian Protest

During the Christmas holidays, Russia's President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill banning adoptions of Russian children by American parents.  Russia’s legislature overwhelmingly passed the law, retaliating for a new U.S. law that blocks Russian officials accused of corruption and  human rights violations from obtaining American visas or bank accounts.

With Russia’s long New Year’s break over, Russians responded Sunday to the adoption ban with the largest protest rally in Moscow since President Putin’s inauguration last May.

This time they braved freezing temperatures, tough new laws against protests, and a heavy police presence, complete with low-flying helicopters.  Police say 9,000 people turned out - about two protesters for every policeman.  Opposition activists said they counted 24,000 people passing through police metal detectors. Read more ..

Islam on Edge

Aceh Town Bans Women From Straddling Motorbikes

January 14th 2013

Women Motorbikes

In Indonesia’s province of Aceh, where Islamic law governs, adultery, gambling, tight jeans and Mohawk haircuts are outlawed by religious police. Now, women passengers have been banned from straddling motorbikes. The new bylaw has sparked strong criticism with activists saying that discriminatory regulations, seemingly justified by Islam, are undermining Indonesia’s pluralist reputation.

In the Aceh town of Lhokseumawe, the moral crusade continues. Town Mayor Suaidi Yahya says local morals are slipping - and it’s ‘impolite’ for women to straddle motorbikes. Religious leaders have expressed support for the new regulation, but women’s groups say it is ridiculous and unfair. They say local laws enacted in the name of religion and morality have disproportionately affected women. Read more ..

The Battle for Jordan

As Jordan Prepares to Vote, Imam Decree "Democracy is Forbidden in Islam"

January 14th 2013

Muslim Brotherhood Jordan

Why are radical Muslims opposed to the upcoming parliamentary election in Jordan?

Because they believe that democracy is in contradiction with Islam's concept of the sovereignty of Allah's law. They argue that Islam and democracy cannot go together, and they are obviously right, especially if one considers the experiences of people living under Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Thanks to the "Arab Spring," which has seen the rise of Islamists to power in a number of countries, Muslim extremists today feel free to express their opinion on political and religious issues.

One of them, Abed Shehadeh, leader of the Salafi Jihadi movement in Jordan, ruled this week that democracy in its concept as "ruling of the people by the people" and "should be forbidden in Islam." Read more ..

The Digital Edge

The Brazilian Congress Yet Again Postpones Discussions Regarding Internet Regulation

January 13th 2013

computer keyboard woman hands

The so-called “Brazilian Internet Constitution” was shelved for the sixth time on December 5 after the government failed to even bring the legislation to a vote. The draft document, 25 articles in length, aims at spelling out the rights and responsibilities of internet users and providers, and also fixes the Federal Government’s ability to intervene in the matter.

The controversy that forced Brazilian party leaders to delay the debate of the measure to this year hinged on the principle of neutrality, which prevents Internet providers from affording priority to certain packets of data or clients who pay more for their service. Had Brazilian politicians been able to come to an agreement, the country would have been a pioneer in prohibiting, as a matter of law, these measures routinely practiced by telecom companies both in Brazil as well as elsewhere in the world.

In the United States, this same subject had already found its way on to the agenda of the U.S.Congress. In the case of the U.S. legislature, a great majority of that body came out against any regulation regarding the principle of neutrality. Analogous bills have failed on a total of five occasions due to strong Internet-freedom lobbyists on Capitol Hill, a similar situation to that found on the Brazilian Central Plateau. Read more ..

The Edeg of Health

Foods Identified as 'Whole Grain' Not Always Healthy

January 13th 2013


Current standards for classifying foods as "whole grain" are inconsistent and, in some cases, misleading, according to a new study by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers. One of the most widely used industry standards, the Whole Grain Stamp, actually identified grain products that were higher in both sugars and calories than products without the Stamp. The researchers urge adoption of a consistent, evidence-based standard for labeling whole grain foods to help consumers and organizations make healthy choices. This is the first study to empirically evaluate the healthfulness of whole grain foods based on five commonly used industry and government definitions.

"Given the significant prevalence of refined grains, starches, and sugars in modern diets, identifying a unified criterion to identify higher quality carbohydrates is a key priority in public health," said first author Rebecca Mozaffarian, project manager in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at HSPH. Read more ..

Edge of the Cliff

A Canadian View of America's Broken Economy

January 12th 2013


It is stormy waters in the world today. In Rome and Athens, cradles of civilization are replaced with cradle-to-grave socialism. Across Europe and the United States, millions go without work. Those who do work face a lifetime of crippling taxation to pay for the entitlements of their countrymen and the debts of their governments.

See VIDEO here.

Canada by contrast is strong. To stay that way, we must never repeat the mistakes of Europe and the United States and we must instead focus on what Canada has already done right.

What went wrong in the United States? Many believe that the 2008 financial collapse and recession were the result of irresponsible behaviour by business and banks. In fact, this behaviour was merely the symptom. The illness was massive government intervention to turn the mortgage business into a social program. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syria's Rebels Gain Heavy Weapons

January 12th 2013

Syrian Jihadis

Rebel units in Syria can no longer be described as "lightly armed." Many have acquired heavy machine guns and antiaircraft guns, mortars, recoilless rifles, and artillery rocket launchers. Some also have tanks (see below) and BMP infantry fighting vehicles, while at least a few have shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles (MANPADS), antitank guided missiles (ATGMs), and medium field artillery pieces. Most of these weapons were captured from regime stocks, and the rebels are increasingly employing them against Bashar al-Assad's forces. As the regime loses ground, the rebels will acquire significantly greater numbers of such weapons, boosting their capabilities still further. Read more ..

The Employment Edge

Unemployment Benefits Often Not Sought By Jobless

January 11th 2013

Unemployment Line in California

Employment insurance is a vital safety net for the unemployed across North America, yet some take advantage of the system. Recent headlines have made much of a recent report from the U.S. Department of Labor that 11 per cent of all unemployment benefits were overpaid between 2009-11. But new research from Concordia University proves that uncollected benefits represent a much larger dollar figure than overpayments.
In a study commissioned by the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, Concordia economics professor David Fuller examines the U.S. unemployment insurance system's expenditures from 1989 through 2011. With the help of Concordia colleague Damba Lkhagvasuren, Fuller and his co-authors crunched the numbers and proved that overpayments represent a far smaller amount than uncollected benefits. These benefits may be unclaimed due to any number of reasons; from employees being unaware that they’re eligible to individuals believing their unemployment will be too short-lived to justify making a claim.

Mexico on Edge

Immigration: Top Issue for Incoming Mexican Diplomats with NAFTA partners

January 10th 2013

Immigration Protest

With little opposition, the Mexican Senate ratified this week the nomination of Eduardo Medina Mora as Mexico’s new ambassador to the United States. In a presentation to the Senate’s foreign affairs commission broadcast on the Congress Channel, Medina sketched out his views on the parameters, problems and promises of the Mexico-U.S. relationship. A longtime mover and shaker on Mexico´s political scene, Medina touched on immigration, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), migrant remittances, arms trafficking and drug legalization. Notably, he did not speak about outstanding environmental issues between Mexico and the U.S. per se.

“Few problems are as complex in the relations with the U.S. as this one,” Medina said of the immigration question. Read more ..

The Intelligence Edge

Intelligence and Human Networks

January 10th 2013

File Folders

People use human networks to organize the control of resources and geography. No person alone can control anything of significance. Presidents, drug lords and CEOs rely on people to execute their strategies and are constrained by the capabilities and interests of the people who work for them. Identifying these networks may be a daunting task depending on the network. For obvious reasons, criminal organizations and militant networks strive to keep their membership secret, and it is not always apparent who gives the orders and who carries out the orders in a political body. To discern who's who in a group, and therefore whether an individual matters in a group, requires both intelligence and analysis to make sense of the intelligence.

How intelligence is acquired depends on the resources and methods available to an intelligence organization, while the analysis that follows differs depending on the intent. For example, International Security Assistance Force military operations aimed at disrupting militant networks in Afghanistan would require the collection of informants and signals intelligence followed by analysis to pinpoint the exact location of individuals within a network to enable targeted operations. Simply knowing who belongs to a militant network and their location is not enough; the value lies in the significance and capabilities of an individual in the group. Detaining an individual who lays improvised explosive devices on a road may result in short-term disruptions to the target's area of operations, but identifying and detaining a bombmaker with exclusive experience and training will have a far greater impact. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

France in a Pique over California 'Champagne' at Obama's Second Inauguration

January 10th 2013

California champagne seized in Belgium
California sparkling wine seized in Belgium

The French wine lobby is upset about the menu for Obama's inauguration and is penning a letter to the chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), The Hill has learned.

At issue is the menu's dessert course, which will be accompanied by “Korbel Natural, Special Inaugural Cuvée Champagne, California,” according to a press release from the inauguration committee. That description violates U.S. law, according to Sam Heitner, the director of the Champagne Bureau, a Washington lobby.

The inauguration committee however says the wine itself is labeled in accordance with U.S. law and will be correctly identified on the menu. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syrian Opposition Struggles to Create Union in War

January 9th 2013

Syria Rally

International support for the 21-month-old uprising in Syria is coming together around a newly formed coalition that hopes it can avoid the chaos and continued bloodshed many have predicted when President Bashar al-Assad’s regime falls.

The new opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), was formed last November at a conference in Doha. Its first order of business has been to find some way to link their own national transition efforts with the political activists and community leaders inside Syria.

So far, the front-line rebel fighters have been pushing ahead with their military offensive faster than their would-be diplomatic allies outside Syria. Thanks to covert outside aid, Syrian Army defectors and captured weaponry, those rebel units have been able to take on and often beat Assad’s military in the larger cities such as Damascus and Aleppo as well as in the oil fields of the northeast. The rebels also effectively control large swathes of the north along the Turkish frontier.

Broken Healthcare

Texas Tries To Crack Down On Dental Chains That Put Profits Ahead Of Patients

January 8th 2013

medicine and money #2

A leading Republican in the Texas legislature, who says she’s outraged by allegations that corporate dental chains put profits ahead of patients, has introduced a bill that would allow the state to regulate chains and forbid them from forcing dentists to meet revenue quotas. An investigation last summer found that two of the largest dental chains owned by private-equity firms, Aspen Dental Management and Kool Smiles, put pressure on its dentists to meet production goals, prompting complaints of overbilling and unnecessary treatments. Both companies deny this. And a coalition of dental chains in Texas contends that their dentists have total control over patient care. But the chief sponsor of the bill remains skeptical.

“Several reports ... have uncovered outrageous activities involving the illegal enticement of patients, especially among our Medicaid providers and often involving dental service organizations,” said Republican Sen. Jane Nelson, who chairs the Senate’s Health & Human Services committee.


Kyrgyztan on Edge

Sokh Exclave: Two Decades Of Simmering Tension

January 7th 2013

Tank & SUV

Sokh district, a small pocket of Uzbek territory within Kyrgyzstan, has been the scene of low-level violence and bilateral tension since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Following an outbreak of violence on January 5-6, we have assembled a brief look at the history of this territory and some of the contentious issues it presents for Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

What is Sokh and how did it come to be?
Sokh is an exclave of Uzbekistan comprising about 350 square kilometers along the Sokh River. It is completely surrounded by Kyrgyzstan's Batken Oblast. Although the territory is disputed between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, its population of less than 60,000 people is overwhelmingly Tajik and some other nationalities. Read more ..

Broken Business

When is Disclosing a Whistleblower's Identity Retaliation

January 7th 2013

woman headache head bowed

Under the law, whistle-blowers are supposed to be protected from direct reprisals on the job, including discrimination. But what if they and their actions becomes the subject of a widely distributed email? Is that a form of retaliation?

Two professors at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business set out to answer that question and determine when public disclosure of the whistle-blower's identity -- like in an email -- is sufficient to support such a claim, in a paper that has been accepted for publication in North Carolina Law Review.

"When someone makes a complaint of discrimination that's covered by federal anti-discrimination laws, you're automatically cloaked in protection from retaliatory actions that could come in response," said Jamie Prenkert, associate professor of business law at the IU Kelley School of Business Bloomington and the study's lead author. "But what can be retaliatory is a broad-ranging continuum of actions that the courts don't specifically define." Read more ..

Broken Business

Faltering Barnes and Noble Gets Battered in Media Due to Dismal Nook and Book Sales

January 6th 2013

Barnes and Noble store

Battered Barnes and Noble, limping over huge reductions in its store and web sales, both for books and ebook reader called The Nook, is taking a beating in the media over its poor performance. An astonishing drop in store sales, almost 11 percent, and an equal drop in both Nook sales and BN.com orders, is speeding BN to a fiery crash in the media and perhaps in the real consumer world, its seems.

Propelling the critical charge is media dismay over a shrinking Nook business, with shrinkage so severe the device is now approaching digital irrelvance. This tumble occurs in an era of massive digital growth in publishing, hence it appears to be a trebly bad omen for the faltering retailer. The chorus of doom sayers on Nook are joining the those stunned over the continuing closures of some of Barnes' most important street sores.

The New York Times headline proclaimed, "Barnes & Noble Faces Steep Challenge as Holiday Nook Sales Decline." The paper lead with: "After a year spent signaling its commitment to build its business through its Nook division, Barnes & Noble on Thursday announced disappointing holiday sales figures, with steep declines that underscored the challenge it faces in transforming from its traditional retail format. Retail sales from the company’s bookstores and its Web site, BN.com, decreased 10.9 percent from the comparable nine-week holiday period a year earlier, to $1.2 billion, the company reported. More worrisome for the long-term future of the company, sales in the Nook unit that includes e-readers, tablets, digital content and accessories decreased 12.6 percent over the same period, to $311 million." Read more ..

Inside Washington

Frank Would Likely Be Active And Vocal During A Short Stint In The Senate

January 6th 2013

Barney Frank headshot
Retired U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass)

If former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) gets his way, he’ll be serving in the Senate just as the upper chamber takes up legislation concerning the budget, the debt ceiling and sequestration. 

They are all fights Frank would relish. Frank told MSNBC on Friday that he wants to be appointed interim senator if Sen. John Kerry (D) is confirmed as secretary of State, and revealed he has already been in touch with Gov. Deval Patrick (D) about the seat.

His appointment is by no means assured. Patrick gave no indication of his preference during a press conference later that day. He offered only generic praise for Frank, calling him “a really gifted legislator, and he’d be a great senator.” 

He dodged the question of a possible Frank appointment. “I have a lot of factors I’m considering and he’s definitely on the list,” Patrick said. Read more ..

Broken Banking

Payday Lenders Agree To Stop 'Deceptive And Illegal' Practices

January 5th 2013

Controversial lenders that claim to be owned by Indian tribes and offer payday loans over the Internet have agreed to stop practices that federal authorities say deceive borrowers and violate federal laws. The agreement, filed in federal court, could save borrowers hundreds of dollars on each payday loan. The Federal Trade Commission last year sued an Overland Park, Kan., company, AMG Services, to recover millions of dollars in revenues, alleging that borrowers were illegally deceived. The business was founded and is still managed by Scott Tucker, best known as an endurance race-car driver who recently won the Baltimore Grand Prix. Tucker’s case awaits trial. But the FTC argued that AMG Services was continuing to mislead thousands of new borrowers. Tucker and the representatives from the Indian tribes last month agreed to change the practices that the FTC said were illegal.


The Weapon's Edge

'Tsunami Bomb' Tested Off New Zealand Coast

January 4th 2013

Stormy Seas

The United States and New Zealand conducted secret tests of a "tsunami bomb" designed to destroy coastal cities by using underwater blasts to trigger massive tidal waves. The tests were carried out in waters around New Caledonia and Auckland during the Second World War and showed that the weapon was feasible and a series of 10 large offshore blasts could potentially create a 33-foot tsunami capable of inundating a small city. The top secret operation, code-named "Project Seal", tested the doomsday device as a possible rival to the nuclear bomb. About 3,700 bombs were exploded during the tests, first in New Caledonia and later at Whangaparaoa Peninsula, near Auckland.

The plans came to light during research by a New Zealand author and film-maker, Ray Waru, who examined military files buried in the national archives. "Presumably if the atomic bomb had not worked as well as it did, we might have been tsunami-ing people," said Mr. Waru. Read more ..

America on Edge

Were New Mexico's Border Counties Shortchanged by Obama's Stimulus?

January 4th 2013

Click to select Image
El Vado, New Mexico

Historically, New Mexico’s three counties sharing a border with Mexico have shown higher-than-normal rates of poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment. In the late 20th century, an absence of affordable housing for low-income workers coupled with rising real estate prices pushed the growth of colonias, the rural and peri-urban settlements lacking in paved roads, utility services, adequate storm water drainage and wastewater treatment.

As jobs became scarce and state funding grew austere after the Great Recession hit in 2008, historic problems of employment and access to services deepened for many people in New Mexico’s border region.

Arguably, the economic whammy would have been much worse without the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the so-called Obama stimulus program. However, a preliminary review of information collected by an investigative journalists’ group suggests New Mexico’s three border counties were short-changed in stimulus funding, which for the state’s border residents fell far below the averages of either New Mexico as a whole or the United States. Read more ..

The Dangerous Roads of Mexico

The Blood of the Sierra Madre

January 3rd 2013

Deceased Sinaloa Cartel Member Miss Sinaloa Maria Susana Flores Gamez,

As 2012 drew to a close, violence was down from previous months and years in the northern Mexican urban centers of Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez. But in several rural zones of Chihuahua state, drug-related mayhem is on the rise. A major flashpoint is in the Sierra Tarahumara, the mountainous region internationally renowned for the Copper Canyon and the long-distance runners of the Raramuri indigenous people.

Among Mexico’s prime opium poppy and marijuana-producing regions, the Sierra Tarahumara has also been known to harbor clandestine air strips that transport cocaine to interior markets. And new sources of profit are thought to be lurking under the ground in the form of gold and other precious metals.

Since the end of November, violence between rival criminal organizations identified as the Sinaloa Cartel and La Linea, a group affiliated with the Juarez Cartel and allied with the Zetas, has intensified over control of the strategic zone. Read more ..

Edge of the Cliff

Boehner, Pelosi Facing Defections as House Votes for Speaker

January 3rd 2013

Disgruntled House lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are lining up to voice their discontent with their own leaders during Thursday's vote to choose the Speaker in the 113th Congress. Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) is expected to keep his Speaker position while Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has already secured her spot as the Democratic leader. But the small groups of defectors are a reminder that neither party is entirely unified heading into the high-stakes fiscal battles that are expected to define 2013.

For Boehner, Thursday's vote for Speaker could be particularly punishing amid a week when the Ohio Republican pushed through a fiscal-cliff package that was wildly unpopular in his conference, and then scrapped a promised vote on federal relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy.

The first move alienated conservatives who said the tax-and-spending package didn't include nearly enough cuts; the second enraged Republicans from the Northeast, who were apoplectic Wednesday that the aid to their districts won't come faster. Reps. Pete King (R-N.Y.) and Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) threatened to defect on the Speaker vote unless Boehner reversed course on the Sandy measure. After Boehner did an about face, they expressed support for the Ohio Republican. Read more ..

The Way Were Are

While In Womb, Babies Begin Learning Language From Their Mothers

January 2nd 2013

Premature Baby

Babies only hours old are able to differentiate between sounds from their native language and a foreign language, scientists have discovered. The study indicates that babies begin absorbing language while still in the womb, earlier than previously thought. Sensory and brain mechanisms for hearing are developed at 30 weeks of gestational age, and the new study shows that unborn babies are listening to their mothers talk during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy and at birth can demonstrate what they’ve heard.

“The mother has first dibs on influencing the child’s brain,” said Patricia Kuhl, co-author and co-director of the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington. “The vowel sounds in her speech are the loudest units and the fetus locks onto them.” Read more ..

The Edge of Mars

Mars Mission Could Accelerate Alzheimer’s in Astronauts

January 2nd 2013

Space-X Dragon Capsule

Traveling into deep space could accelerate the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, an incurable form of dementia, according to a new report. The NASA-funded study assessed how cosmic radiation would impact the astronauts throughout their trip in deep space. The effect of cosmic radiation on the human body has been a  concern for the US space agency as it plans manned missions into deep space, such as one to a distant asteroid in 2021, and another to Mars in 2035.

Earth’s magnetic field usually keeps us, and those in low Earth orbit, safe from the perils of cosmic radiation. However, beyond Earth’s protective magnetic fields, space travelers are exposed to a constant barrage of radiation. With adequate warning, such as in the case of solar flares, steps can be taken to protect astronauts from dangerous forms of radiation. However, other forms of cosmic radiation, which occur without warning, cannot be blocked as effectively. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

More Aid Workers Gunned Down in Pakistan--7 Killed

January 1st 2013


Gunmen have ambushed a vehicle carrying Pakistani aid workers, killing seven people in northwest Pakistan. Mohammad Rafiq, a spokesman for the Pakistani non-governmental organization (NGO) Support With Working Solutions, says that six of the victims were women -- five school teachers and a health worker.  One man was killed and the driver was wounded in the shooting.

Rafiq said Tuesday's attack took place in the Swabi district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, about 75 kilometers northwest of the Pakistani capital Islamabad.  He said the aid workers were on their way home when their vehicles were ambushed by gunmen on motorcycles.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. The NGO spokesman said the workers had not been threatened before and that this was the first time such an incident had taken place. Rafiq said the health worker and teachers were working on two projects in the area (including one named "Ujala" or light) and that the charity has been operating in the region for the last two decades. Read more ..

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