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Inside Mexico

Systematic Disenfranchisement and Violence Accompanied PRI Victory in Mexico

July 7th 2012

Enrique Pena Nieto
Enrique Peña Nieto

Making a surprise appearance in a television time slot that was previously billed as an official first look at the day’s election results, Mexican presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) strode before the television cameras late in the evening on Sunday to give a victory speech even as the ballots were still being counted.

As Mexicans huddled around their sets, Peña Nieto promised to chart a new course for his troubled country. Exuding a conciliatory tone, he vowed to listen to the concerns of the young, who emerged as a new political force during the campaign, but promised to be stern with the legions of criminals that keep dishing up violence on a daily basis.

“There will be no pact or truce with organized crime,” the 45-year-old, self-proclaimed victor pledged, in an apparent response to critics in Mexico and the United States who fear the return of the PRI will mean a coddling of the drug cartels.

The former Mexico state governor’s election victory was immediately recognized by President Calderón as well as rival candidates Josefina Vázquez Mota of Calderon’s conservative National Action Party (PAN) and Gabriel Quadri of the National Alliance Party; the official runner-up, Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the Progressive Movement, demanded a recount. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Grasshopper Anxieties Lead to Soil Changes

July 7th 2012

Grasshopper

Snakes, spiders and creepy-crawly things that go bump in the night are the creatures of children’s nightmares. But who ever thought that the little critters might actually be scared of each other? A new research project by Israeli researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and scientists at Yale University, shows that grasshoppers are afraid of spiders. And this fear has an impact on the soil quality after the scared grasshoppers die.

According to a new paper written by the researchers in the prestigious journal Science, a fear of predation by spiders stresses out the grasshoppers so much that it affects their metabolism and subsequently the nitrogen content in their bodies. Scared grasshoppers eat more sugary plants, a process that affects the microbes and chemical processes in the local environment. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

E-Waste: Mined for Gold and Silver

July 6th 2012

E-waste

'Urban mining' deposits are 40 to 50 times richer than mined ore, experts tell 1st GeSI and StEP e-Waste Academy in Africa; New PCs, cell phones, tablets, other e-products now use 320 tons of gold, 7,500 tons of silver per year, and rising

A staggering 320 tons of gold and more than 7,500 tons of silver are now used annually to make PCs, cell phones, tablet computers and other new electronic and electrical products worldwide, adding more than $21 billion in value each year to the rich fortunes in metals eventually available through "urban mining" of e-waste, experts say.

Manufacturing these high-tech products requires more than $16 billion in gold and $5 billion in silver: a total of $21 billion -- equal to the GDP of El Salvador -- locked away annually in e-products. Most of those valuable metals will be squandered, however; just 15 percent or less is recovered from e-waste today in developed and developing countries alike. Electronic waste now contains precious metal "deposits" 40 to 50 times richer than ores mined from the ground, experts told participants from 12 countries at last week's first-ever GeSI and StEP e-Waste Academy for policymakers and small businesses, co-organized in Accra, Ghana by the United Nations University and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI). Read more ..


The Edge of Physics

The New Particle Discovery—Could It Really Be the Higgs Boson?

July 5th 2012

cern-atlas nov 2006

The long and complicated journey to detect the Higgs boson, which started with one small step about 25 years ago, might finally have reached its goal. This was reported by Large Hadron Collider (LHC) particle accelerator scientists on July 4 at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) near Geneva.

Named after Scottish physicist Peter Higgs, the Higgs boson is the final building block that has been missing from the “Standard Model,” which describes the structure of matter in the universe. The Higgs boson combines two forces of nature and shows that they are, in fact, different aspects of a more fundamental force. The particle is also responsible for the existence of mass in the elementary particles.

Weizmann Institute scientists have been prominent participants in this research from its onset. Prof. Giora Mikenberg was for many years head of the research group that searched for the Higgs boson in CERN’s OPAL experiment. He was then leader of the ATLAS Muon Project—one of the two experiments that eventually revealed the particle. Prof. Ehud Duchovni heads the Weizmann group that examines other key questions at CERN. Prof. Eilam Gross is currently the ATLAS Higgs physics group convener. Three scientific “generations” are represented in the Weizmann team: Prof. Mikenberg was Prof. Duchovni’s supervisor, who was, in turn, Prof. Gross’s supervisor.

Prof. Gross says, “This is the biggest day of my life. I have been searching for the Higgs since I was a student in the 1980s. Even after 25 years, it still came as a surprise. No matter what you call it—we are no longer searching for the Higgs but measuring its properties. Though I believed it would be found, I never dreamed it would happen while I was holding a senior position in the global research team.” Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

More Evidence found of Mayan End of Worlds

July 4th 2012

Aztec calendar

Archaeologists working at the site of La Corona in Guatemala have discovered a 1,300-year-old-year Maya text that provides only the second known reference to the so-called "end date" of the Maya calendar, December 21, 2012. The discovery, one of the most significant hieroglyphic finds in decades, was announced today at the National Palace in Guatemala.

"This text talks about ancient political history rather than prophecy," says Marcello A. Canuto, director of Tulane's Middle American Research Institute and co-director of the excavations at La Corona. Since 2008, Canuto and Tomás Barrientos of the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala have directed excavations at La Corona, a site previously ravaged by looters. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Freedom on the Net is Hotly Debated by Politicians

July 3rd 2012

twitter jail

Advocacy groups and politicians from across the political spectrum have taken up “Internet freedom” as their rallying cry in recent months. Although many people eagerly declare their support for a free Internet and promise to protect privacy, the broad consensus breaks down when people begin discussing specific policies, such as net neutrality or cybersecurity.

On July 3, a coalition of more than 100 advocacy groups unveiled their “Declaration of Internet Freedom,” and libertarian groups TechFreedom and the Competitive Enterprise Institute quickly countered with their own alternative Internet freedom proposal. Later in the week, Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) and his son, freshman Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), declared their support for an Internet freedom manifesto from the Campaign for Liberty. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) got into the act last month when they called for a “digital bill of rights” to protect Internet users from intrusive legislation.

The issue even burst on to the international stage when the United Nations Human Rights Council backed a resolution affirming that people have the same rights in the digital world as they do offline, including freedom of expression. The use of Twitter, Facebook and other online tools during the Arab Spring protests demonstrated to the world how the Internet can spread information and bolster political freedom. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Assessing Iraq’s Oil Industry

July 2nd 2012

Oil fields near Ramadi

Contributing 60 percent of GDP, 99 percent of exports, and over 90 percent of government revenue, the oil industry is by far the most vital sector of the Iraqi economy, with proven petroleum reserves of 143 billion barrels and a potential to recover and refine a further 200 billion barrels. The existence of substantial oil reserves in the area of Mesopotamia has been known since at least the end of the nineteenth century, with the monopoly of oil exploration and production originally lying in the hands of the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC), which was owned by a consortium of foreign oil companies until the Ba’th government completely nationalized the IPC in 1972. It should be emphasized that since that time, the oil industry has remained a state-run enterprise in Iraq.

In the run-up to and in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion in March 2003, a common theory among critics of the war has been that the coalition forces invaded the country to take over its oil reserves. This speculation was fuelled in 2011 by a report in the Independent on UK government memos that had been obtained through a Freedom of Information request. According to this report, in October 2002, the petroleum firms BP, Shell, and BG had a meeting with Baroness Symons, who was Trade Minister in the British government at the time, and agreed to lobby the Bush administration on BP’s behalf. Read more ..


The Polluted Edge

Plastic Pollution Reaching Surprising Levels Off Coast of Pacific Northwest

July 2nd 2012

Northern Fulmar

Plastic pollution off the northwest coast of North America is reaching the level of the notoriously polluted North Sea, according to a new study led by a researcher at the University of British Columbia.

The study examined stomach contents of beached northern fulmars on the coasts of British Columbia, Canada, and the states of Washington and Oregon, U.S.A.

"Like the canary in the coal mine, northern fulmars are sentinels of plastic pollution in our oceans," says Stephanie Avery-Gomm, the study's lead author and a graduate student in UBC's Department of Zoology. "Their stomach content provides a 'snapshot' sample of plastic pollution from a large area of the northern Pacific Ocean."

Northern fulmars forage exclusively at sea and retain ingested plastics for a long period of time, making them ideal indicators for marine littering. Analysis of beached fulmars has been used to monitor plastic pollution in the North Sea since the 1980s. The latest findings, when compared to previous similar studies, indicate a substantial increase in plastic pollution over the past four decades. Read more ..


Edge of Environment

North Atlantic Algae Blooms and Uptakes Humanity's Carbon Output

July 1st 2012

North America sat image

On the extended July 4th week, U.S. beachgoers have thronged their way to seaside resorts and parks to celebrate with holiday fireworks. Across the horizon and miles out to sea toward the north, the Atlantic Ocean's own spring and summer ritual is unfolding: the blooming of countless microscopic plant plankton, or phytoplankton. In what's known as the North Atlantic Bloom, an immense number of phytoplankton burst into color, first "greening" then "whitening" the sea as one species follows another.

In research results published in this week's issue of the journal Science, scientists report evidence of what triggers this huge bloom. Whirlpools, or eddies, swirl across the surface of the North Atlantic Ocean sustaining phytoplankton in the ocean's shallower waters where they can get plenty of sunlight to fuel their growth, keeping them from being pushed downward by the ocean's rough surface. The result is a burst of spring and summer color atop the ocean's waters.

How important is the bloom to the North Atlantic Ocean and beyond--to the global carbon cycle? Much like forests, springtime blooms of microscopic plants in the ocean absorb enormous quantities of carbon dioxide, emitting oxygen via photosynthesis. Their growth contributes to the oceanic uptake of carbon dioxide, amounting globally to about one-third of the carbon dioxide humans put into the air each year through the burning of fossil fuels. Read more ..


The Safety Edge

OSHA Reforms Voluntary Protection Programs

June 29th 2012

Ash Grove Plant, KS

Citing a 2011 Center for Public Integrity investigation, a Labor Department official said Thursday that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has reformed a program that rewards workplaces reporting lower-than-average injury and illness rates.

OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP), which exempt “model workplaces” from routine inspections, were established in 1982. VPP tripled in size between 2000 and 2011, as OSHA’s inspection staff diminished and membership requirements were relaxed. The Center’s investigation found that at least 80 workers had died at VPP sites during that period.

At a hearing before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Jordan Barab, the Labor Department’s deputy assistant secretary for occupational safety and health, said the department “is committed to VPP. But like every other federal agency, we need to make some very hard decisions about how to allocate our limited resources where we will get the most worker protection bang for our buck.” Read more ..


Paraguay on Edge

Land Reform Issues Intensify as Paraguay Enters Into a Political Crisis

June 27th 2012

Fernando Lugo

 Lugo risks expulsion from office by an unlikely coalition of the Liberal and Colorado parties
 Both parties use the police-campesino clash as a self-serving ignition for the impeachment process, but fail to address any solutions to the fundamentals of Paraguay’s land tenure problems
 Extra-constitutional expulsion threatens the democratic legitimacy of the Paraguayan state and defies the OAS prohibition of extra-constitutional changes

The historic antagonism in Paraguay between the campesinos and the elites over land tenure morphed into a violent conflict in Curuguaty on June 15. In the aftermath of the clash, political, social, and religious leaders have expressed serious concerns over President Fernando Lugo’s administration’s ability to control internal security. When President Lugo took office in 2008, he promised sweeping agrarian reforms as well as a reduction in violence and corruption within the government. However, since his election the Paraguayan citizenry has seen a rise in both crime and congressional support for corrupt officials. In Curuguaty, Paraguayans witnessed the consequence of policies that have long sacrificed land reforms for elite interests. Horacio Cartes, the leader of the Colorado Party and a potential presidential candidate in the 2013 elections, has led the movement to impeachment Lugo, an action that has politicized the Curuguaty deaths and thereby threatens to sweep the underlying social concerns under the rug. The police-campesino clash in Curuguaty highlights the Lugo administration’s ultimate failure: its inability to protect and provide basic social rights for the Paraguayan citizenry across the entire socio-economic continuum. But more tellingly, the political coup initiated by the Colorado Party not only threatens Paraguay’s democratic legitimacy, but also exhibits the continued power-driven actions that have prevented any agrarian reforms as well as further distanced the political process from the majority of Paraguayans. Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

Corporate Dental Chains See Big Profits in Adults Who Can't Afford Care

June 26th 2012

Say ahhhh

Forty percent of Americans have a family member who can’t afford to go to the dentist. Private-equity firms have found a lucrative market in this statistic.

Surviving on a meager $1,300 a month, 87-year-old Theresa Ferritto fretted about the cost when her dentist told her she needed two teeth pulled. She figured an oral surgeon would be too expensive. So she decided to try out a dental chain that promoted steep discounts in its advertisements. She went to an Aspen Dental office just outside Cleveland.

Ferritto said Aspen Dental wouldn’t just pull the teeth but insisted on a complete exam. She was bewildered when they finally handed her a treatment plan four pages long. Total price: $7,835. Ferritto could not afford it, but Aspen Dental signed her up for a special credit card, with monthly payments of $186 for five years. She blames herself for signing the papers. “I made a big mistake going there,” she says. “I should have known better.” Read more ..


Mexico on Edge

Mexico's Elections in an Era of Climate and Culture Change

June 26th 2012

Mexico election

As Mexico's political campaigns wind down in preparation for the big election day on July 1, mixed moods of doubt, anger, tension, confusion, excitement, exhaustion, resignation and hope grip the body politic. For the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the recapture of the presidency is within reach. At a June 24 campaign rally in the southern state of Guerrero, former Governor Rene Juarez Cisneros declared that his party’s presidential candidate, Enrique Pena Nieto, was the virtual winner.

“It can’t be that millions of compatriots across the country are mistaken or that the polls are wrong,” Juarez said to thousands of people in the Pacific coast town of Zihuatanjeo. “Pena Nieto’s triumph is irreversible.”

Although the national discussion has largely focused on the upcoming federal, state and local elections, other significant developments have grabbed public attention in recent days. Major stories include teacher strikes, the militarized Summit of the G-20 leaders in the posh resort of Los Cabos, the June 25 shoot-out at the Mexico City airport and the earlier arrest of the supposed son of fugitive crime boss Chapo Guzman, an event that proved to be false and left egg on the face of the Calderon administration, its Washington allies and presidential candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota of President Calderon's center-right National Action Party (PAN). Informed of the arrest of a young man who later turned out to have no relation to Guzman, Vazquez vowed to press ahead with President Calderon's campaign against organized crime if elected to replace him. Read more ..


The Archaeological Edge

Iberian Paintings Found to be Europe’s Oldest Cave Art

June 26th 2012

El Castillo cave art Spain

The practice of cave art in Europe thus began up to 10,000 years earlier than previously thought, indicating the paintings were created either by the first anatomically modern humans in Europe or by Neanderthals.

Fifty paintings in 11 caves in Northern Spain, including the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Altamira, El Castillo, and Tito Bustillo, were dated by a team of UK, Spanish, and Portuguese researchers led by Dr Alistair Pike of the University of Bristol, UK.

As traditional methods such as radiocarbon dating don’t work where there is no organic pigment, the team dated the formation of tiny stalactites on top of the paintings using the radioactive decay of uranium. This gave a minimum age for the art. Where larger stalagmites had been painted, maximum ages were also obtained. Read more ..


The Edge of Cimate Change

Significant Sea-Level Rise in a 2-Degree Warming World

June 25th 2012

NASA ICESCAPE Arctic melt pools

Sea levels around the world can be expected to rise by several meters in coming centuries, if global warming carries on:

The study is the first to give a comprehensive projection for this long perspective, based on observed sea-level rise over the past millennium, as well as on scenarios for future greenhouse-gas emissions.

"Sea-level rise is a hard to quantify, yet critical risk of climate change," says Michiel Schaeffer of Climate Analytics and Wageningen University, lead author of the study. "Due to the long time it takes for the world's ice and water masses to react to global warming, our emissions today determine sea levels for centuries to come."

Limiting global warming could considerably reduce sea-level rise: While the findings suggest that even at relatively low levels of global warming the world will have to face significant sea-level rise, the study also demonstrates the benefits of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Read more ..


Paraguay on Edge

Paraguay’s Nascent Occupy Movement Cut Short by Political Crisis

June 24th 2012

Fernando Lugo

 Fernando Lugo, whose presidency ended 60 years of Colorado-Party rule in Paraguay, faces impeachment charges and is unlikely to finish his term.
 The Paraguayan Congress began impeachment procedures in the aftermath of violent land conflicts that left 11 landless farmers and 6 policemen dead in the country’s rural interior.
 Today, four Liberal Party Ministers resigned as their party withdrew support from President Lugo and joined the opposition Colorado Party to vote the president out of office.
 The power grab by the two major parties comes nine months before the country’s general elections and following a successful wave of popular protests modeled on the Occupy Movement.

The Paraguayan lower house impeached President Fernando Lugo this morning in a vote of 76 to 1. The vote came six days after a land conflict in the rural district of Curugauty turned violent, claiming the lives of 11 landless farmers and 6 policemen. Paraguay is the world’s fifth largest soy exporter and a major exporter of beef. The country also has one of the world’s most unequal land distributions. While development experts agree that land reform is vital to improve the country’s economic and social performance, traditional landed elites make up a majority of the political class and have remained hostile to the idea. Polarizing land conflicts pit landless peasant organizations against the traditional landed elite and the Brazilian-dominated soy industry in a struggle to claim ownership over land with unclear or absent titles.

Land-owners accuse Lugo’s government of sympathizing with land invasions, inciting violence, and failing to protect their property. Lugo came to power in 2008, marking the first democratic change of power in the country’s history and ending 60 years of one-party rule in Paraguay. Read more ..


The Economy on Edge

At 75, New Deal's 'Green Towns' Endure

June 24th 2012

Depression Jobs

In an effort to pull the United States out of the Great Depression of the 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt’s so-called “New Deal” administration created a bevy of government agencies designed to help Americans regain and maintain their economic footing.

The New Deal produced the social-security system, farm subsidies and jobs for struggling workers, who cleared forests, built highways, wrote guidebooks to the states, photographed rural families and dust-blown towns, and created public works of art across the nation. 

Roosevelt picked Columbia University economics professor Rexford Tugwell to lead a radical new agency called the Resettlement Administration. The RA moved struggling families into new, utopian communities - planned and built by the federal government; ringed by woodlands; and laced with parks, co-operative gardens, and swimming pools. The government noted that dirty U.S. cities had become “a hodge-podge of towering offices, mansions, slums, warehouses, hot-dog stands and decaying residential districts.” As John Kelly recently wrote in The Washington Post, the byproducts were “illness, not only physical scourges such as [tuberculosis] and rickets, but also the societal scourge of crime.” New, clean, carefully planned cities were to be the antidote to urban blight. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

NASA Makes Surprise Discovery in Arctic Ocean

June 23rd 2012

NASA ICESCAPE Arctic melt pools
ICESCAPE team members examine Arctic melt ponds
(credit NASA GSFC)

NASA has discovered that phytoplankton are much more abundant in Arctic waters than any other ocean region on Earth, which could have a huge impact on our understanding of the region’s ecology. Space agency officials say the revelation is as dramatic and unexpected as finding a rainforest in the middle of a desert.

The microscopic, one-celled aquatic plants are known as essential primary-producers, which form the base of the food chain for sea life. NASA’s ICESCAPE expedition made the discovery after punching through nearly 31 centimeters of thick ice.

Scientists found concentrations of the phytoplankton that were “almost two orders of magnitude greater than any other concentration of phytoplankton ever found on the Earth,” according to Dr. Paula Bontempi, NASA’s Ocean Biology and Biogeochemistry program manager. Read more ..


Sudan on Edge

Sudanese Refugees Fleeing From One Nightmare to Another

June 22nd 2012

Sudanese refugee

United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says the situation for tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees in South Sudan is now among the most critical faced by refugees anywhere in the world. The UNHCR warns its life-saving operations are at risk because funding to assist an ever-growing refugee population has dried up.

The UNHCR is caring for 162,500 Sudanese refugees in South Sudan and 36,500 in Ethiopia.  The agency says it expects this number to grow to 235,000 by the end of the year.  It has appealed for nearly $220 million to assist these people.  But, as of now, it has received only about one-fifth of that total.

The UNHCR says the refugee population in Ethiopia appears to have stabilized, whereas the situation in South Sudan is worsening by the day.  It says the number of people fleeing fighting and hunger in Sudan continues to grow.  In recent weeks, it reports there has been a sharp surge of new refugees arriving in the South's Upper Nile State.  And, people continue to come at a rate of about 1,000 a day.  Read more ..


Syria on Edge

Syria Crisis Must Not Spiral Out Of Control

June 22nd 2012

Kofi Annan

Joint Special Envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, says he hopes it will be possible to convene a high-level meeting of ministers at the end of the month to try to push the Syrian peace process forward.  Annan says there is no time to waste, action must be taken to stop the Syrian crisis from spiraling out of control.  He has even suggested Iran be part of the peace process.

Annan acknowledges the peace plan is not working, that violence in Syria is escalating and so is the suffering of the civilian population, especially children and women.

He says the only chance for forging peace in that country is to have the united and sustained support of the international community.  He says it is time for countries of influence to raise the pressure on the parties to stop the killing and start the talking. He added that Iran should be "part of the solution" for bringing peace to Syria.  Russia has pushed for Iran's involvement in resolving the conflict, while the U.S. has said Iran should not be involved.

He says the peace process cannot go on indefinitely.  It cannot be open-ended.  He says it is urgent that consultations yield real results before it is too late to stop the crisis from spiraling out of control.

Annan agrees it is hard to know when a situation is likely to spiral out of control.  But, he adds, if violence continues to escalate, there will come a moment when it will become clear to everyone that the situation is not sustainable and is beyond control.

“And, we do not want to get there. And, this is why we are trying to press and push to see if we can get the parties to take steps to end the violence before we get to that stage. I do not think we are there yet. But, we may not be far from there. And, my own wish is to appeal to the fighters to really put down their guns for the sake of the Syrian people,” Annan said. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Top Counter-Terrorism Expert Gets Canned by DoD for Shedding Light on Islamism

June 21st 2012

General Martin Dempsey

A top United States counterterrorism expert who taught a course that familiarized military officers with the U.S. war with radical Islamists was fired from the Joint Forces Staff College and the course was removed from the curriculum, according to a U.S. police counterterrorism expert.

The police source stated that he was informed the course materials would be revamped to exclude references to Islam and use terms such as extremists or militants.

While the Pentagon and most news media outlets did not name the instructor, the Law Enforcement Examiner source claims the fired instructor was Lt. Col. Matthew A. Dooley and that he was removed from the faculty permanently for telling students practitioners of Islam are responsible for terrorism.

"One can only wonder how much protection of Catholicism and Christianity would receive from this Administration and its media sycophants -- such as TV host Bill Maher -- when they verbally attack Christians," said former police commander and military officer Mike Snopes. According to a source, Joint Forces Staff College course included a slide-show that told students -- mostly battle-hardened officers -- that the U.S. is fighting a life and death battle with Islamists and that "we need to recognize that the U.S. and its allies are at war with Islam." Read more ..


The Medical Edge

New Understanding of How Bacteria Spread

June 21st 2012

E. Coli
E. Coli

A University of Alberta researcher is moving closer to understanding how infection is caused by the spread of bacteria. In a study published in the Cell Press journal Structure, Joel Weiner and his collaborators, Gerd Prehna and Natalie Stynadka at the University of British Columbia, share new knowledge about how bacteria release proteins.

Proteins are complex molecules that perform all sorts of functions in the cells of living things. The group studied a specific protein called YebF in E. coli bacteria. It is widely found in other bacteria as well.

Solving the structure and understanding the mechanism by which this protein spreads bacterial pathogens was a big step forward. As humans develop more resistance to antibiotics, researchers are in search of new ways to stop bacteria from spreading. Read more ..


The Agricultural Edge

Pushing Back the Desert with Ancient Wisdom

June 21st 2012

Wadi Mashash

Ancient Jewish prayers still recited today include special mention of dew in the summer and rain in the winter. Survival of Israelites back then, and of the Israelis in modern times, rests largely on how much water is available for agriculture. While Israel has answers to drought such as desalinating water, researchers in Israel’s Negev Desert look for more sustainable solutions that have been in use on the land since time immemorial.

Based on techniques used by the ancient Nabateans, Prof. Pedro Berliner, director of Israel’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev, is reviving effective and natural desert farming methods from 2,000 years ago.

The Nabateans settled the lands of present-day Israel, Jordan (where they built the glorious pink city of Petra), Saudi Arabia, and Syria. Berliner believes that their system for making the most of rare desert rain, when put into a modern framework, could save people in developing countries from desertification, drought and famine. His updated technique is already in use worldwide. Read more ..


Broken Medicine

Health Care Scam Uncovered that Deposited Millions of Dollars in Cuba

June 21st 2012

Oscar Sanchez crime scene Florida

A Cuban man living in Miami, FL, was charged on June 19 for his part in a money-laundering conspiracy that deposited millions of U.S. dollars, obtained in a health care scam, into banks located in Cuba, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Oscar Sanchez had been arrested by FBI agents last week and appeared in federal court in Miami yesterday morning. He is accused of being the leader of a criminal enterprise that illegally obtained more than $30 million from Medicare, the federal health care program for the elderly.

The stolen funds were then transferred into several Havana banking institutions in the communist country, according to Justice Department officials. According to the grand jury indictment, the 46-year-old Sanchez is charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering through a syndicate with links from Montreal and Trinidad to Cuba from sometime in April 2005 through October 2009.

Sanchez is facing upwards of 20-years in federal prison on the conspiracy charge alone. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami also seeks more than $20 million in Florida real estate and other property purchased using the accused's name, according to court documents. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

U.S. Chamber, GOP Block Election Ad Transparency Bill

June 20th 2012

One Million Dollars

Alexi Giannoulias “can’t be trusted,” the 2010 election ad said. His family’s bank loaned money to mobsters, he accepted an illegal tax break and he even squandered money that families were saving for college. If the charges were true, the U.S. Senate candidate from Illinois must have been a real creep. But they were bogus. Giannoulias, the Democratic candidate, lost anyway.

His accuser was not his opponent. It was an anonymously funded, pro-Republican nonprofit called Crossroads GPS, a “social welfare” organization that, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, can accept unlimited donations from corporations, wealthy individuals and unions, and run attack ads. In short, it functions just like the better-known super PACs but with a major distinction — it is not required to disclose its donors, despite the high court’s consistent support for disclosure rules Read more ..


Mexico on Edge

Inside Mexico's Restless Youth Rebellion

June 19th 2012

Mexico election

In Aguascalientes, Mexico, a group of young people passed out leaflets to passerby in the city's busy downtown. A young woman wore a homemade poster that protested the murders of women in the state of Mexico, while her companions distributed leaflets that flashed a satiric image of former Mexico state governor and current presidential candidate Enrique Pena Nieto. Contrasting Pena's spending on publicity with a state debt the 2012 standard-bearer of the Institutional Revolutionary Party and Mexican Green Party reportedly left behind, the broadside also criticized Pena's gubernatorial record for other affronts to society including increased crime rates, higher malnutrition and the 2006 state raid against protesters in the town of Atenco that resulted in international human rights complaints of police rape.

"Inform yourself well," the leaflet appealed. "And think through your vote."

The weekend leafleting was just one of many actions carried out by a new youth movement that's shaken up the 2012 Mexican elections after it spontaneously erupted as a protest against an appearance by Pena this spring at Mexico City's private Ibero-American University. Pena minimized the protest, dismissing it as a group of 131 demonstrators. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Obama's Former Law Professor Calls for his Student's Defeat in November

June 19th 2012

Roberto Mangobeira Unger
Professor Roberto Unger

A professor who once taught the future President Obama at Harvard University, Roberto Mangabeira Unger, has produced a scathing video in which he called for Obama’s ouster in the November election. Posted on Youtube, Unger denounced Obama for supposedly abandoning the American labor movement for what he called a “food stamps” policy. A Brazilian politician and scholar, Unger indicted both the Democrat and Republican parties. Nonetheless, Unger said that Obama must be defeated so that the latter’s party can be restored “as the vehicle for progressive alternative in the country.”

Unger said that Obama has veered from the cause of progressives. “President Obama,” said Unger, “must be defeated in the coming election. He has failed to advance the progressive cause in the United States.” In the video entitled ‘Beyond Obama,’ Unger said “He has spent trillions of dollars to rescue the moneyed interests and left workers and homeowners to their own devices.” Read more ..


Israel and Africa

Israel Begins Deporting Migrants from Africa

June 18th 2012

Sudan Refugees Israel

Israel is deporting a first planeload of African migrants back to their home country. Israel says the deportation of 120 Africans to South Sudan is the first step toward expelling thousands more. More than 4,000 migrants who came from African countries that have friendly ties with Israel will be sent home on weekly flights.

Describing the migrants as "infiltrators," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is carrying out the deportation in a humane way while safeguarding their dignity.

Each deportee was given 1,000 euros to help them start a new life in South Sudan. But for the migrants, deportation is a punishment. Many have been in Israel for years, having fled war or poverty for the relative prosperity of the Jewish state. Simon Meir, who describes himself a Sudanese refugee, says he and the others want asylum in Israel. "We [are] asking peacefully that refugees from Sudan should be recognized as refugees here, to take their rights, to give them health care, education and, you know, all these things," he said. Read more ..


Broken Security

US Government Reveals New Allegations Against Secret Service Agents

June 17th 2012

Secret Service

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has released new details of serious allegations of misconduct against Secret Service agents since 2004.  The allegations include sexual assault, leaking sensitive information, publishing pornography and involvement with prostitutes.

The long list of allegations against Secret Service officers was quietly released under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act to the Associated Press and other news organizations.  The complaints include claims of illegal wiretaps, improper use of weapons and drunken behavior and a report from 2011 of a case of alleged attempted sexual assault by a male employee on a female employee during a work trip.  In 2008, an on-duty Secret Service officer was arrested in Washington, D.C. in a prostitution raid.  Some of the claims were resolved administratively and others are being formally investigated. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Is Obama's Immigration Innovation an Election Game-Changer?

June 17th 2012

US Border Patrol arrest

President Obama's June 15 announcement of temporary deportation stays for eligible undocumented youth under 30 years of age not only immediately changed hundreds of thousands of lives, but also dropped a new ingredient and possible game changer into the political pot of the 2012 elections.

Sentiments of deep personal relief were detectable in the words of Johana Perez, a New Mexico high school student who came to the U.S. when she was only two years old. "This joyful day means that as a high school student, I now have more options to realize my potential," Perez said in a statement distributed by Somos un Pueblo Unido, a New Mexico immigrant and labor advocacy organization. "I have been living with the fear of being separated from my parents and going back to a country I don't know."

Many organizations backing the passage of the long-stalled DREAM Act, a piece of legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented youth enrolled in higher education or serving in the military, greeted President Obama's announcement with emotion, praising the White House's new posture while lauding the pivotal role of undocumented youth who have waged public protests, marches, hunger strikes and Congressional lobbying campaigns for more than a decade.

"Today we have tears of joy," declared Lorella Praeli, member of the United We Dream National Coordinating Committee. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Pakistani Authorities Look For Safer Place To Incarcerate 'Bin Laden Doctor'

June 17th 2012

Dr Shakil Afridi
Dr Shakil Afridi

Just weeks after a doctor who helped uncover Osama bin Laden's hideout was sentenced to a lengthy prison term in Pakistan, local authorities are looking for a more secure facility to house the divisive physician out of concerns for his safety.

Bashir Bilour, a minister for the country's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, says Dr. Shakil Afridi has received the best possible protection during his incarceration in Peshawar, the provincial capital.

But the doctor's reputation as a traitor among many Pakistanis, the presence of Taliban inmates at the jail, and a recent large-scale prison break elsewhere in the province have raised concerns, according to the minister.

In mid-April, Bilour's government came under harsh criticism after extremists freed hundreds of Taliban prisoners in a brazen jailbreak in the western city of Bannu, and Bilour says it cannot afford a repeat with Afridi. Read more ..


Indonesia on Edge

Facebook Atheist Jailed in Indonesia

June 16th 2012

Kazak Mosque

An Indonesian man extolling the virtues of atheism and posting controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad online has been jailed for two-and-a-half years. It is a verdict human rights activists say is a step backward for the majority Muslim nation they say is known for religious tolerance. It was posting the words “God does not exist” on his Facebook page that first caused trouble for 30-year-old Alexander Aan.

The civil servant from Sumatra was beaten by an angry mob and later arrested, but it was not only for his admission of atheism. Aan had also posted several explicit cartoons of the prophet Muhammad online, one depicting the prophet having sex with his servant, another that showed him finding his daughter-in-law sexually alluring.

Facing charges of blasphemy, inciting hatred and encouraging atheism, a Sumatra court ruled Thursday that Aan will spend the next two-and-a-half years in prison and pay a $10,000 fine. His lawyer Deddi Alparesi said the decision is unjust. The judges did not consider the facts, Aparesi said, as Alexander never intended to spread religious hatred.

The lawyer also pointed out that an Islamic professor even took to the stand to verify that Aan is “theologically anxious” and does not have anyone with whom he can discuss his thoughts on atheism. While the charges of blasphemy and promoting atheism were dismissed, Aan was found guilty of spreading religious hatred under the controversial 2008 electronic transactions law. Read more ..


The Edge of Fashion

African Fashion Finds a Home in Dakar

June 15th 2012

fashion show

Dakar Fashion Week celebrates its 10th year with the biggest lineup yet. The organizers of the international event aim to reach the heights of fashion weeks in Paris and New York, while remaining distinctly African.

High fashion is nothing new in Africa. And Senegalese designer Adama Ndiaye says it has its own special quality.

"We do one piece, one by one. We're not sending it to the factory because we don't have a big factory," Ndiaye said. "It's something we've been doing forever." But the industry, like many on the continent, is developing.

To help it along, Ndiaye started Dakar Fashion Week.  Ten years on, the event is drawing the attention of industry notables from all over Africa and the world. Originally from Cameroon, Marcial Tapolo came from Paris to participate for the second time. "It's like a high-class show that she's trying to do. Very sophisticated, which is rare in Africa, as a fashion show," he said. Despite the international presence, most of the talent is local, in a deliberate effort to showcase Senegalese designers and models. Arame Sarr has been to fashion weeks in New York and Paris, but she says Dakar is special. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Cougars Are Re-Populating Their Historical Range

June 14th 2012

cougar/American mountain lion

American mountain lions, or cougars, are re-emerging in areas of the United States, reversing 100 years of decline. The evidence, published in The Journal of Wildlife Management, raises new conservation questions, such as how humans can live alongside the returning predators. "The cougar population declined dramatically from 1900, due to both hunting, and a lack of prey, leaving the remaining population isolated to the American west," said Michelle LaRue from the University of Minnesota. "Here we present the hard evidence that the western population has spread, with cougar populations re-establishing across the Midwest."

Three main cougar populations exist in the Midwest centered around The Black Hills in South Dakota, however, cougars are venturing far outside of this range. One male cougar from the Black Hills was found to have traveled 2,900 kilometers through Minnesota, Wisconsin and New York, before ending up in Connecticut. "While the distance the Connecticut cougar traveled was rare, we found that cougars are roaming long distances and are moving back into portions of their historical range across the Midwest ", said LaRue. "Our study took in over 3,200,000 Km² of territory, confirming the presence of Cougars from Texas, Arkansas and Nebraska, to the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Manitoba." Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

New York Democrat Charles Barron: 'Malignant Clown' and 'Anti-Semite'

June 13th 2012

Charles Barron
Charles Barron

Charles Barron calls Robert Mugabe and Moammar Gadhafi his “heroes.” He compared Israel’s government to the Nazis, says he won’t salute the American flag, and once offered that he wanted to “slap” the nearest white person. And come January, he could be central Brooklyn’s newest congressman, if voters here give him an upset victory in the Democratic primary on June 26. Barron, a longtime New York City Councilman, is running for the congressional seat being vacated by the retiring Rep. Edolphus Towns (D), a 30-year House veteran whom Barron tried to unseat in 2006 and again earlier this year.

With much deeper coffers and establishment support, Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries is the favorite in the race, but a run of key endorsements — including the surprise backing of Towns — has given Barron hope for a win in a primary for which turnout is expected to be low. The 8th district is heavily Democratic, meaning the June 26 winner likely will cruise to election in November.

A former Black Panther, Barron is known for his rhetorical bombs, and in a House that will be devoid of departing Reps. Ron Paul (R-Texas), Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Barney Frank (D-Mass.), he could easily claim the mantle of most outspoken member, and arguably the most radical. During more than a decade in the City Council and as a candidate for higher office, he’s described Mugabe and Gadhafi as “African heroes,” likened Israel’s conduct to that of terrorists and Nazis and, at a rally for slavery reparations, suggested he wanted to “slap” the nearest white person, “for [his] mental health.” Read more ..


Broken Government

Trouble for Republicans in Forthcoming Supreme Court Health Law decision

June 13th 2012

US Supreme Court

The Supreme Court’s landmark healthcare ruling will pose a big test for Republicans, even if the court strikes down all or part of President Obama’s healthcare law.

So far, the party has not come together around a set of policies to replace the healthcare law if it’s struck down entirely. Republicans also haven’t said how they would handle policies that are already in place, including discounts on prescription drugs for many seniors.
House Republicans will proceed with a rational, positive transition so that any disruption that’s created by the court decision is mitigated,” said Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who chairs the Republican Policy Committee.

The court is expected to decide this month whether the law’s mandate that individuals buy insurance is constitutional — and, if not, whether to throw out the entire law, or only part of it.

A ruling against the health law would certainly be a blow to Obama, and Republicans would claim that it validates their entrenched opposition to the president’s signature legislative achievement. But it would also present political and policy questions the GOP is not necessarily ready to answer. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Good News: Fewer Maternal and Child Deaths

June 13th 2012

Nigera Mid-wives

Since 1990, annual maternal deaths have declined by almost one half and the deaths of young children have declined from 12 million to 7.6 million in 2010. Some of the world's poorest countries have achieved spectacular progress in reducing child deaths. Rates of child mortality in many African countries have been dropping twice as fast in recent years as during the 1990s.

In Botswana, Egypt, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Rwanda and the United Republic of Tanzania, the rate of decline was on average 5 percent or more a year between 2000 and 2010. Similar progress has been seen in reducing maternal deaths, although in fewer developing countries: Equatorial Guinea, Nepal, and Vietnam have each cut maternal deaths by 75 percent. But all the news is not good. Every two minutes, somewhere in the world, a woman dies from complications of pregnancy and her newborn baby's chances of survival are very poor. For every woman who dies, an additional 20-30 suffer significant and sometimes lifelong problems, as a result of their pregnancy. Read more ..


The Edge of Sport

Muslim Olympians Face Ramadan Fasting Choices

June 13th 2012

Chinese buffet

To eat or not to eat? That is the question for about 3,000 Muslim athletes in London's 2012 Summer Olympic Games. All 17 days of competition, from July 27 to August 12, fall within the holy month of Ramadan - a time when Muslims are required to fast and refrain from drinking water from sunrise to sunset. But the obligation is more lenient for traveling Muslims, who are allowed to delay their fast. Some Islamic scholars say athletes traveling to London to compete in the games should take advantage of that exemption.

For medal contender Nesar Ahmad Bahawi, a 27-year-old Afghan taekwondo fighter, the issue is critical. Bahawi finished seventh in his weight group at the 2008 Olympics. He won silver medals in the 2007 Taekwondo World Championships and 2010 Asian Games. Bahawi says he will delay his Ramadan fast until later. "We have a very important competition. It is the dream of every athlete to win an Olympic medal. Because of that, we must not take part in the fast," Bahawi says. "But we will compensate by later respecting the same number of days that we did not fast during Ramadan. This is because we are training on daily basis," he adds. "During days when we have competition, it is completely impossible to fast because it is necessary for us to at least drink water."
Read more ..

Children on the Edge

Hundreds of Millions of Children Labor to Survive

June 12th 2012

mexican children working

The International Labor Organization (ILO) is urging nations to step up the fight against child labor.The ILO is issuing a call to action to mark the 10th anniversary of the annual World Day Against Child Labor on June 12.

More than half of the 215 million child laborers are exposed to slavery and involvement in armed conflict, which the International Labor Organization calls the worst forms of child labor. About five million children, out of 21 million people globally, are caught in forced labor, including commercial sexual exploitation and debt bondage. 

Senior technical specialist Patrick Quinn of the ILO international program for the elimination of child labor says the worst forms of child labor include work that is dangerous to the health, safety and moral development of children. He says hazardous work, such as mining, agriculture and domestic service is the largest part of the worst forms of child labor.  Read more ..


The Animal Edge

Free-Loving 'Hippie Chimps' Face Extinction

June 11th 2012

Bonobo chimp

Deep in the forest of the African Congo lives an animal most people have never heard of. It looks like a chimpanzee, but is smaller and leaner. And like the chimpanzee, it shares almost 99 percent of our DNA.

But these rare creatures of the rainforest are actually bonobos, a completely different species of primate. And while they are the last ape to have been discovered, bonobos may be the first to become extinct. While bonobos and chimps are our closest relatives, they are actually very different from each other, especially when it comes to their behavior.

Unlike chimpanzees, which can be aggressive and efficient predators - killing monkeys, and sometimes each other - bonobos are peaceful. “Whereas chimpanzees have a male-dominated society," says Sally Coxe, president of the Bonobo Conservation Initiative in Washington, "bonobos are matriarchal. The females are in charge.” Bonobos are also different in that they have a more egalitarian and cooperative society than chimpanzees, she says. Read more ..



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