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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 ..


Broken Government

Human Capital in a Global Age

June 11th 2012

Graduates

The rapid rise of emerging countries such as China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, and others means new challenges and new opportunities for the United States. So how will America fare in this latest wave of global competition?

In many ways, the United States is exceptionally well-positioned to compete as the wealthiest, most advanced power in history. What’s more, America boasts abundant natural resources and other advantages—expanses of arable farmland; huge supplies of oil, coal, and natural gas; the greatest technical colleges and universities in the world; an entrepreneurial culture; and a large and growing population. No other country today possesses all of these endowments at the scale of our continental nation.

Nevertheless, to maximize these advantages—and to make sure the United States doesn’t lose a step—it would be wise for policymakers and the business community to focus attention on America’s human capital. Human capital includes an individual’s skills, education, talents, habits, personal networks, and more that enable him or her to produce income. Read more ..


Sudan's Leading Edge

Manute Bol's Legacy Honored in S. Sudan

June 10th 2012

Girls School in Sudan

  A U.S.-based organization is carrying on the legacy of the late basketball star Manute Bol by continuing to build schools and work for reconciliation in South Sudan. The recent work comes despite South Sudan’s many struggles during its first of year of existence as a country. Immediately as he enters the Washington offices of the U.S. aid group Sudan Sunrise, executive director Tom Prichard points to a series of pictures high up on the wall.

“We were visiting an elementary school to talk about the needs for schools in southern Sudan," he explained. "Manute was in terrible pain. He was in so much pain he had to use a wheelchair. Manute spoke seated the whole time, but when it was all over he said, ‘I want them to see how tall I am.’” The last picture shows Prichard holding up Bol so the American schoolchildren could see the full physical range of the 2.31-meter-tall basketball defensive specialist, who played for a decade in the National Basketball Association.

An Internet video by Sudan Sunrise shows construction of a school in Bol’s hometown of Turalei in South Sudan's Warrap state. Bol, whose first name Manute means “special blessing,” also appears, explaining the humanitarian ideas that drove the last years of his life. Read more ..


Somalia's Leading Edge

Somalia Steps Up Appeals to Foreign Backers

June 10th 2012

Edna-adan Maternity Hospital

 Somalis are working to change the image of their country from a war-torn African nation to an attractive destination for foreigners. Somalia, after decades of unrest, is now slowly opening its doors to business with the international community now that government and African Union (AU) forces have pushed al-Shabab militants from most regions of the country.

Nowhere is the transition more obvious than in Mogadishu. Expatriates are flocking back to the capital with a new vision of the future that includes trendy shops catering to a foreign clientele. Parliament member Mohammed Amin Osman says the capital is undergoing a transformation. "Now, business, hotels, restaurants have started opening, roads are building, schools are building so now, a lot of hope are [is] there," he said.

Ahmed Jama chops meat and vegetable at one of his restaurants in Mogadishu, Somalia. Ahmed Jama recently left Britain and returned to his native Somalia where he is opening two Western-style restaurants in hotels that he owns in Mogadishu. Jama says he is using the skills he acquired in Britain to help Somalia prosper. Read more ..


The Edge of Safety

OSHA Pares Inspections Goals

June 9th 2012

construction workers

Two weeks after a Center for Public Integrity story highlighted concerns about alleged quotas imposed on federal workplace safety inspectors, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has pared its inspection goal for the year. OSHA had established a target of 42,250 inspections nationwide for fiscal year 2012, which ends Sept. 30. An OSHA spokesman confirmed Wednesday that the new goal is 41,000 inspections.

The revision was made primarily because the agency has been conducting "more complex, time consuming" inspections this year, the spokesman wrote in an email. OSHA told the Center it sets goals, not quotas. But some former agency managers said that inspectors who fail to "make their numbers" face repercussions from their bosses. Read more ..


Coke and Confiscation

Jewish Egyptian vs. Coca-Cola Chairman Muhtar Kent in Lifetime Struggle over Stolen Family Property

June 8th 2012

Coke for Nazis

For 15 years, Egyptian-Jewish businessman Refael Bigio has been battling a goliath corporate adversary, The Coca-Cola Company. Bigio charges that Coke has been profiting from his family’s stolen property just outside Cairo. The Bigio family’s property was expropriated by Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser in the mid-1960s during one of Egypt’s anti-Jewish purges. Over the course of a decade and a half, the Coca-Cola Company has steadfastly refused to bargain in good faith or to negotiate any fair compensation for the expropriated property, according to Bigio’s lawyers. In the company’s defense, Coke’s attorneys have defended Egypt’s anti-Jewish seizures and even those of Hitler’s Germany as confiscations that “did not violate international law.”

Coca-Cola’s stony refusal to even place a fair offer on the table, Bigio’s attorneys charge, stands in bitter contrast to hundreds of millions of dollars in profits derived since 1965 from the operations of “Coca-Cola Egypt.” Coke has always known that its multimillion dollar windfall in Egypt has been and is now being generated by property unlawfully stolen from its Jewish owners by Nasser’s regime in a Nazi-style property seizure. In other words, the company is in possession of stolen property—and knows it. Coke’s only defense is that the theft Bigio suffered, for no reason other that he was Jewish, actually did not violate international law and was perfectly legal. By Coke’s long-standing legal rationale, the property of every Jew in the world could be seized without violating international law. Read more ..


Broken Economy

‘Financial Seismograph’ Detects Early Signs of Global Crisis

June 8th 2012

Click to select Image

If the Germans only knew what a liability Greece would become to the European Union, they could have pulled out of Greek-tied investments earlier. This is one of the suggestions made by an Israeli-German team of researchers that has linked modern physics with contemporary economic theory to develop a new predictor of global financial hurricanes. World Bank executives take note.

The new team’s empirical-based research tool is built on a new understanding of principles from the modern field of complex biological systems, an increasingly popular subfield of physics. While the interconnected parts of a complex system, like in the case of the weather, might seem unrelated at first––such as cloud coverage in Singapore and puddles on a New York sidewalk––the new methodology to assess and quantify inter-market relations can explain the connectedness so that valuable data can be extracted and evaluated.

Examples of complex systems include ant colonies; the nervous system of the human body; climate; social structures; and living things. Global economics is also a complex system that can be explained with the right prediction tools. “Complex systems—this is the name of the game,” says Dror Kenett, a PhD student at Tel Aviv University’s School of Physics and Astronomy who worked on the research. “Based strongly on physics theory, this is the intersection between physics, economics and finance. Over the past 20 years, there have been ever-growing amounts of data for economics and finance, and we make use of physics tools, concepts and algorithms, and empirical data approaches to look at what’s really going on.” Read more ..


Mexico on Edge

This is the Year of the Grasshopper in Mexico

June 7th 2012

Mexico election

As Mexico enters the final weeks of the 2012 election campaign, the grasshoppers are hopping about the land. In Mexican political lingo, a chapulin, or grasshopper, is a person who jumps from one political party to another, even if the two organizations are diametrically opposed in ideology. On June 5, the secretary-general of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in the strategic state of Guerrero became the latest politico to switch sides.

A 15-year PRI veteran, Flor del Carmen Sotelo resigned from her party and announced she was joining the political coalition that backs Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) for president. The same parties supporting the former Mexico City mayor in the presidential race are also running candidates for local offices in Acapulco and other municipalities under the banner of the Guerrero Unites Us coalition.

Criticizing the treatment of women in the PRI, Sotelo also said the party had become alienated from popular causes and no longer represented a “democratic option.”. Read more ..


Education on Edge

Free Education Programs and Quality: A Tale of Two Amazing Old Men

June 7th 2012

African school kids

This week, the Biannual Workshop of the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) is being held in Arusha , Tanzania on June 3 to 8. The title of the day long plenary session held on June 3 was “Institutions and Service Delivery.” The primary objective of the session was to explore the paradox observed in many developing countries in which increased spending on social services such as education and health in is often not associated with concomitant increases in the quality and quantity of services. I presented one of the papers on the impact of free primary education program and the quality of learning in Kenya. Although the study used rather complex methodologies, the message can be explained easily with a tale of two amazing old men.

Using case studies investigating Kenya’s free primary education (FPE) program, which has been implemented since 2003, I outlined its major success – primarily the reversal of the hitherto declining school enrollment rates experienced during the 1990s. Eliminating user fees triggered massive enrollment of school age children who had dropped out or had never attended school. But even older people who had never set foot in school followed the young ones. One such example was an old man in his eighties—Mr. Kimani Murage—now well known as the “First grader” courtesy of a movie “The First Grader” depicting his life. Read more ..


The Water's Edge

Bringing Clean Water To The Globe

June 7th 2012

First, the bad news: Clean water is in very short supply across the globe. Now the good news: Amiad Water Systems, founded 50 years ago at a kibbutz near the Sea of Galilee, has built a successful business by providing solutions to this pressing problem. Amiad’s filtration and treatment technologies bring clean water to industries, households and farms in 70 countries—even in remote areas such as Alaska, Antarctica, Siberia, Africa and Papua New Guinea.

Earlier this year, the Israeli company got more good news in the form of $10 million worth of contracts won by its Australian subsidiary. It will install automatic self-cleaning screen filters at a desalination plant near Perth, which is doubling its 50-billion-liter annual production capacity. And it will put automatic self-cleaning disc technology to work in the pre-filter stage as one of Australia’s leading integrated energy companies turns coal seam gas into liquefied natural gas. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

AntiGravity Yoga Gains Popularity

June 6th 2012

Lighting a candle against the darkness

A growing number of health clubs around the world is offering exercise that allows people to stretch and strengthen their bodies while hanging in the air, often upside down. It's called AntiGravity Yoga. At first glance, students hanging upside down on hammocks made of silk cloth hanging from the ceiling seems more like acrobatics than yoga. “When I first saw people hanging upside down from hammocks and calling it yoga I thought they were crazy," said Marie Bice. "But it ended up being a lot of fun and just swinging it felt very playful.”

That’s student Marie Bice. She says AntiGravity Yoga is not all play. It’s also hard work, with benefits. “I don’t have a lot of flexibility in my back and doing this work has really helped my back with that," she said. Instructor Heather Blair says hanging upside down helps the body in a way that regular yoga does not offer. “You actually have spinal decompression so when you’re upside down your vertebrae actually open up so the space in between the vertebrae opens naturally and gently," said Blair. Read more ..

South Africa on Edge

Silicosis Crisis Grips South Africa as 10,000 Gold Miners Getting Set To Sue

June 5th 2012

Lesotho gold mine workers
Lesotho mine workers listen attentively to a Mineworkers Dev. Ass. briefing.

Tagged as victims of "the world’s biggest, longest running industrial disaster; dwarfing Chernobyl," 10,000 known silicosis-affected, southern African, gold miners are finally set to negotiate a payout that could induce a painful paroxysm of shareholder coughing across the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. Richard Spoor, the lead lawyer who a year ago secured a landmark Constitutional Court ruling allowing lung-diseased miners to sue their employers for substantial damages (under common law), said the application for certification of a class action, plus a process for establishing liability, would come before the South Gauteng High Court "within months."

Spoor has out-of-court settlements from asbestos mining houses totalling R1.1 billion since 2003, all of which precluded a ruling on the constitutionality of archaic mining legislation that in some cases limited medical incapacity payouts to just R1,000 for every year worked. The latest litigation is virgin legal territory and may well bring substantial financial relief to those injured or to relatives of those killed by mining-acquired silicosis. Read more ..


Broken Government

The State of Open Records Laws: Access Denied

June 4th 2012

Paper Stack

Early last month, lawmakers in Iowa completed work on a new open records statute. Senate File 430 creates the Iowa Public Information Board, a nine-member commission charged with enforcing the state’s open records and meetings laws.

For good government advocates in the Hawkeye State, the new legislation was cause for celebration — sort of. Indeed, there were smiles all around as Gov. Terry Branstad signed the law on May 3 in the ornate Capitol Building, surrounded by lawmakers and journalists — many of whom spent six years on the effort. And the law is undoubtedly a victory of sorts for open government in the state, where enforcement was spotty at best, divided among several local and state entities. If a citizen’s request for information was denied, the only option was to sue — a time-consuming and costly course of action. Now, the Board can investigate complaints and bring them to court on citizens’ behalf.

It all sounds good — except for the fine print. Tacked on to the bill is an amendment that exempts “tentative, preliminary, draft, speculative, or research material” from Iowa’s open records law. Translation: a document that is part of the policy making process can be held from public view. Such language was not part of Iowa’s original open records law, enacted in 1967, and its inclusion now is troubling to some. “You can use the drafts to learn things,” said Lyle Muller, executive director of the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism, a nonprofit and nonpartisan news service. “I think they are valuable. They give you an idea of what the early ideas were that were rejected.”  Read more ..


The Edge of Health

OSHA Rules on Workplace Toxics Stalled

June 4th 2012

COPD

 Alan White, a 47-year-old foundry worker from Buffalo, N.Y., suffers from silicosis, a debilitating lung disease caused by exposure to silica dust. An unprotected restoration worker generates a cloud of silica dust while cutting masonry on a school in Michigan.

Each year, some 4,500 American workers die on the job and 50,000 perish from occupational diseases. Millions more are hurt and sickened at workplaces, and many others are cheated of wages and abused. In the coming months the Center for Public Integrity will publish, under the banner Hard Labor, stories exploring threats to workers — and the corporate and regulatory factors that endanger them. At 58, retired machinist Bruce Revers is tethered to his oxygen machines — a wall unit when he’s at home, a portable tank when he’s out. The simple act of walking to the curb to pick up his newspaper is a grind. “This is a hell of a thing to live with,” Revers, of Orange, Calif., said of his worsening lung disease. “There’s nothing I can do without my air.” Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

Pakistan's Goat-Grown Hashish

June 3rd 2012

Pakistan Hashis Seller

For Noor Muhammad Afridi, dealing in "Awal Namber Garda" is more than just his life's work. By providing the black, sticky hashish that keeps his customers very happy, he's keeping up a long, family tradition. Just like his forefathers in the Afridi clan, the 32-year-old from Pakistan's tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghan border has become a connoisseur of the local delicacy, aged to perfection with a centuries-old technique.

"If you put [freshly prepared] hash resin into a goatskin or a sheepskin, it matures into something very good," he says. "It is well-preserved inside the skin, which also adds oil to it." The technique is believed to greatly enhance the hashish's quality and, more importantly for its users, its effect. If the end product makes the cut, it earns the right to join the prize sheep skins hanging from the rafters of Afridi's hash shop in Jamrud, gateway to the Khyber Pass. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Computer-Designed Proteins Programmed to Disarm Variety of Flu Viruses

June 2nd 2012

Bird Flu Eradication

Computer-designed proteins are under construction to fight the flu. Researchers are demonstrating that proteins found in nature, but that do not normally bind the flu, can be engineered to act as broad-spectrum antiviral agents against a variety of flu virus strains, including H1N1 pandemic influenza.

"One of these engineered proteins has a flu-fighting potency that rivals that of several human monoclonal antibodies," said Dr. David Baker, professor of biochemistry at the University of Washington.

Baker's research team is making major inroads in optimizing the function of computer-designed influenza inhibitors. These proteins are constructed via computer modeling to fit exquisitely into a specific nano-sized target on flu viruses. By binding the target region like a key into a lock, they keep the virus from changing shape, a tactic that the virus uses to infect living cells. The research efforts, akin to docking a space station but on a molecular level, are made possible by computers that can describe the landscapes of forces involved on the submicroscopic scale. Read more ..


The Ecological Edge

Where Have All The Hummingbirds Gone?

June 2nd 2012

black-chinned hummingbird

The glacier lily as it's called, is a tall, willowy plant that graces mountain meadows throughout western North America. It flowers early in spring, when the first bumblebees and hummingbirds appear. Or did.

The lily, a plant that grows best on subalpine slopes, is fast becoming a hothouse flower. In Earth's warming temperatures, its first blooms appear some 17 days earlier than they did in the 1970s, scientists David Inouye and Amy McKinney of the University of Maryland and colleagues have found. The problem, say the biologists, with the earlier timing of these first blooms is that the glacier lily is no longer synchronized with the arrival of broad-tailed hummingbirds, which depend on glacier lilies for nectar. By the time the hummingbirds fly in, many of the flowers have withered away, their nectar-laden blooms going with them.

Broad-tailed hummingbirds migrate north from Central America every spring to high-mountain breeding sites in the western United States. The birds have only a short mountain summer to raise their young. Male hummingbirds scout for territories before the first flowers bloom. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Republicans Fail in Attempt to Ban Sex-Selective Abortion

June 1st 2012

capitol building night #2

An effort by Republicans in the House of Representatives to outlaw abortions based on gender failed in a vote on May 31. The Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA), H.R. 3541, of 2012 would ban sex-selective abortions, the victims of whom are overwhelmingly female. The bill's author, Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said before the vote that whatever the outcome, the point would be made that "When people vote on this, the world will know where they really stand."

The bill was defeated in a 246-168 vote. Even while that is a clear majority of the House, Republicans called up the bill under a suspension of parliamentary that limits debate and requires a two-thirds majority vote to pass. In this case, it would have required more support from Democrats. Twenty Democrats voted for the bill, while seven Republicans opposed it. The bill would have needed 30 more ‘yeas’ to pass. Republicans voting against the bill were Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Charlie Bass (N.H.), Mary Bono Mack (Calif.), Robert Dold (Ill.), Richard Hanna (N.Y.), Nan Hayworth (N.Y.), and Ron Paul (Texas).

Democrats voting in favor of it were Reps. Jason Altmire (Pa.), John Barrow (Ga.), Dan Boren (Okla.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Jerry Costello (Ill.), Mark Critz (Pa.), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), John Garamendi (Calif.), Tim Holden (Pa.), Larry Kissell (N.C.), Daniel Lipinski (Ill.), Stephen Lynch (Mass.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Collin Peterson (Minn.), Nick Rahall (W.Va.), Silvestre Reyes (Texas), Mike Ross (Ark.) and Heath Shuler (N.C.). Republicans could attempt to pass the bill a second time on a simple majority vote. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

There's More Star-Stuff Out There But It's Not Dark Matter

May 31st 2012

gaseous ring on star

More atomic hydrogen gas—the ultimate fuel for stars—is lurking in today’s Universe than we thought, CSIRO astronomer Dr Robert Braun has found. This is the first accurate measurement of this gas in galaxies close to our own.

Just after the Big Bang the Universe’s matter was almost entirely hydrogen atoms. Over time this gas of atoms came together and generated galaxies, stars and planets—and the process is still going on. Astronomers want to understand where, when and how the atomic gas is transformed to better understand the Universe in which we live.

By taking a new look at some archival data, Dr Braun, Chief Scientist at CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science in Sydney, Australia, has discovered that galaxies around us are hiding about a third more atomic hydrogen gas than previously calculated. The study also shows that the gas is distributed very differently from how it was in the past, with much less in the galaxies’ outer suburbs than billions of years ago. “This means that it’s much harder for galaxies to pull the gas in and form new stars,” Dr Braun said. “It’s why stars are forming 20 times more slowly now than in the past.” Read more ..


The Edge on Fitness

New Research Shows Runners Can Improve Health and Performance With Less Training

May 31st 2012

walking on beach

The new 10-20-30 training concept can improve both a person's running performance and health, despite a significant reduction in the total amount of training. This is the conclusion of a study from University of Copenhagen researchers just published in the renowned scientific Journal of Applied of Physiology. Over the course of seven weeks, runners were able to improve performance on a 1500-metre run by 23 seconds and almost by a minute on a 5-km run – and this despite a 50 per cent reduction in their total amount of training. These are just some of the results from a research project involving 18 moderately trained runners following the 10-20-30 training concept developed by researchers from the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences at the University of Copenhagen.

In addition to enhancing running performance, the runners from the project also had a significant decrease in blood pressure and a reduction in cholesterol in the blood. "We were very surprised to see such an improvement in the health profile considering that the participants have been running for several years," says Professor Jens Bangsbo, Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences, who heads the project. "The results show that the very intense training has a great potential for improving health status of already trained individuals," says Professor Bangsbo. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Innovative Solar Retinal Implants May Give Sight to the Blind

May 31st 2012

Eye biometrics

Using tiny solar-panel-like cells surgically placed underneath the retina, scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine have devised a system that may someday restore sight to people who have lost vision because of certain types of degenerative eye diseases.

This device, a new type of retinal prosthesis, involves a specially designed pair of goggles, which are equipped with a miniature camera and a pocket PC that is designed to process the visual data stream. The resulting images would be displayed on a liquid crystal microdisplay embedded in the goggles, similar to what's used in video goggles for gaming.

Unlike the regular video goggles, though, the images would be beamed from the LCD using laser pulses of near-infrared light to a photovoltaic silicon chip — one-third as thin as a strand of hair — implanted beneath the retina. Electric currents from the photodiodes on the chip would then trigger signals in the retina, which then flow to the brain, enabling a patient to regain vision. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Unchecked Dust Explosions Kill, Injure Hundreds of Workers

May 31st 2012

emergency room

Small fires were a part of the job at the Hoeganaes Corp. metal powder plant 30 miles northeast of Nashville. By early 2011, some workers later told investigators, they had become practiced in beating down the flames with gloved hands or a fire extinguisher. The company’s own product fueled the fires. Scrap metal rolls into the rust-colored plant on the town’s industrial periphery and is melted, atomized and dried into a fine iron powder sold to makers of car parts. Sometimes, powder leaked from equipment and coated ledges and rafters. Under the right conditions, it smoldered.

Wiley Sherburne, a 42-year-old plant electrician, sometimes told his wife how this dust piled up everywhere, she recalled. On quieter weekend shifts, he said he could hear the telltale popping sound of dust sparking when it touched live electricity. Read more ..


Japan after the Quake

Sandia Labs Technology Used in Fukushima Cleanup

May 30th 2012

Click to select Image

A Sandia National Laboratories technology has been used to remove radioactive material from more than 43 million gallons of contaminated wastewater at Japan's damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Sandia researchers had worked around the clock following the March 2011 disaster to show the technology worked in seawater, which was pumped in to cool the plant's towers.

"It's the kind of thing that sends a chill," said Mark Rigali, manager of the geochemistry group at Sandia. "We've helped really make a difference in the world. These are the kinds of successes we want to see with all our intellectual property."

UOP LLC, a Honeywell company, late last year renegotiated its license of the Sandia technology being used at Fukushima. The revised license makes UOP the exclusive U.S. manufacturer of crystalline silico-titanate, or CST, a molecular sieve that can separate highly volatile elements from radioactive wastewater. "Sandia has a very important and longstanding business relationship with UOP," said Bianca Thayer of Sandia's Intellectual Property Management, Alliances and Licensing Department. "This is an opportunity to grow our partnership with the company." Read more ..


Afganistan on Edge

System Tests Afghan Graduates' Resistance To Radicalism

May 30th 2012

Afghan School

 The Afghan government has lauded its progress in restoring the country's education system as one of its preeminent achievements over the past decade. But despite some visible inroads, there are warning signs. At best, the effort to open opportunities through education has failed to meet expectations; at worst, the system has essentially become a breeding ground for extremists.

The Afghan government, from the onset, earmarked education as key to eliminating poverty and thwarting radicalism. It devised a plan to send all Afghan children to school, to construct universities and technical schools to address a skills shortage, and, above all, to create job opportunities.

Those who pass through the system find the going tough upon graduation, however, with jobs and university slots scarce. Wadir Safi, an Afghan law professor, says this leaves young graduates with few options.

The Afghan National Army and National Police Force are expanding, but the work is low-paid and hazardous. Some choose instead to eke out a living on the streets, which can descend into a life of drug abuse. In the end, joining the ranks of militant groups can begin to look appealing for some. Read more ..


The Economic Edge

Americans Appear Bullish About the U.S. Economy

May 29th 2012

No Bull

Consumer confidence improved in each of the past nine monthly surveys, rising to its highest level this month since October 2007, according to University of Michigan economist Richard Curtin, director of the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers. According to a release from the Ann Arbor-based institution, more favorable job and wage prospects were the main factors behind the improved outlook.

Curtin said, “Record numbers of consumers mentioned that they heard of favorable employment trends despite the jobs slowdown recently reported by the Labor Department," he said. "The continued revival of consumer confidence critically depends on renewed job growth. One issue that only a few consumers even mentioned was the potential impact on the domestic economy from the European financial crisis.”

Many more consumers reported hearing about recent job gains than job losses—the fewest consumers reported hearing of job losses in May than any time since mid 2007. In each of the past three months, a majority of consumers reported an improved economy and twice as many expected further improvement rather than renewed declines in the year ahead. Most consumers, however, expected the gains to be modest. Confidence in the government's economic policies remained relatively low, with 41 percent holding negative views. These surveys, conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research, have been monitoring consumer attitudes and expectations for over 60 years. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Michelle Obama Sponsors Navy’s First Submarine with All-Female Crew

May 29th 2012

michelle obama

The USS Illinois, the first Navy submarine to be staffed by an all-female crew, received the support of the White House on Memorial Day. On Monday, First Lady Michelle Obama officially sponsored the Virginia-class submarine, which will be one of the newest nuclear-powered boats scheduled to enter the fleet by 2015, according to a White House statement. “It’s an honor and a privilege to serve as sponsor of the USS Illinois,” the first lady said, according to the statement. “This submarine is a tribute to the strength, courage, and determination that our Navy families exhibit every day."

The Illinois is the second ship the First Lady has sponsored since coming to the White House. She sponsored the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton, based in Alameda, California, earlier this year, according to administration officials. Former First Lady Laura Bush sponsored another Virginia-class attack sub, named the USS Texas, in 2004. In 1994, then First Lady Hillary Clinton sponsored the Los Angeles-class sub USS Columbia. Obama's endorsement of the Illinois, particularly its all-female crew, comes as women in the military are pushing the Pentagon for a larger role in combat operations. Read more ..



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