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The Arab Winter in Libya

New Fighting May Emerge in Libya as its Eastern Region seeks Autonomy

March 5th 2012

Abdul-Jalil of Libya
Abdul-Jalil, leader of National Transitional Council of Libya

Eastern Libya will declare itself as an autonomous province, according to a report from the London-based Exclusive Analysis, thus increasing the risk of further war and risks to global oil prices.

The region – called Barqa – will become a self-governing state within a federal Libya. The new state will extend beyond historical Cyrenaica to include part of oil-rich Fazzan in the Gulf of Sirte. Eastern Libya has 65 percent of Libya’s oil production but only 25 percent of its population.

The report from Exclusive Analysis reported that 'Barqa' (Arabic for Cyrenaica) and its territory will stretch from the Egyptian border in the east to the city of Sirte in the west. It was Sirte that served as a stronghold of the rebels who eventually brought down the government of Muammar Gaddaffi. The declaration will stipulate that Barqa will have its own parliament and separate oil, defence and finance ministries, and its own army. The report noted that a so-called 'Barqa Army' has already been formed out of former eastern-based units of Gaddafi's Army and the rebels’ eastern militias. Read more ..


Edge of Mexico

Mexico's High-Tech Maquiladora Workers Demand Dignity and Improved Conditions

March 5th 2012

Mexican maquilador high tech worker

The two high-tech workers laughed when asked if they could afford the smartphones made by their colleagues on Mexican production lines. “No, no, no,” chuckled Maria and Alma, two Guadalajara workers who have labored for years in Mexico’s Silicon Valley. A cheap $20 cell phone has to make do for Maria, while Alma uses a similarly low-priced contraption she won on a five-dollar raffle ticket. “It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity, especially when you have kids,” Alma said.

The two women, who asked that their real names not be used because of possible employer retaliation, recently sat down to discuss their jobs and lives as factory workers in Mexico’s second largest city and one of the world’s most important centers in the electronics industry supply chain. An assembly-line worker, Maria makes about $10 for an eight hour shift six days a week. Although Maria said she gets all the benefits afforded by Mexican law, she must renew her work contract every two months. A quality control specialist, Alma has more responsibilities than Maria but gets the same amount of pay. A third woman who joined the conversation worked in the local high-tech industry until she was fired two years ago. Unlike Maria and Alma, the friend completed higher education training for a technician’s career but still maxed out her earnings at approximately $500 monthly after a dozen years in the industry. Read more ..


Middle East on Edge

Obama Tells Israel: I've Got your Back, But Chill Out

March 5th 2012

Barack Obama Israel speech

President Obama reaffirmed his staunch commitment to Israel on March 4, making clear in no uncertain terms that “I have Israel’s back.” But, at the same time, he urged Israel and its supporters to allow time for diplomacy and “crippling” sanctions on Iran to take hold to halt Tehran’s nuclear program.

Addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the influential pro-Israel lobby group, Obama tried to reassure the crowd of 13,000 people, who initially greeted him with a lukewarm response, by saying that if Iran fails to meet its obligations and the problem remains, “we must accomplish our objective.”

“Iran’s leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment, I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Obama said, drawing hearty applause from the crowd. “And as I’ve made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.” During his address, which comes one day before he sits down with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama sought time and again to reassure Israel and its supporters that he will do whatever it takes to help defend the country. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Tech Boost Arms Citizens To Monitor Russian, Other Votes

March 4th 2012

Shadowy Computer User

Russia's parliamentary elections in December were characterized by the opposition and observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as seriously flawed. Few were surprised. But what did raise eyebrows was the response of tens of thousands of ordinary Russians who took to the streets to protest. Why did so many, in a country notorious for political apathy, react so differently to violations well-known from votes in the past? At least part of the answer appears to be how those violations were reported, and by whom. The Russian case, analysts say, is a prime example illustrating that technologically-advanced, citizen-driven election monitoring has potential for impact beyond that of more traditional electoral observation by the government and international bodies.

Researchers like Lisa Kammerud of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems in Washington also maintain that the pairing of citizens and new technology for election monitoring is probably here to stay, both in Russia and elsewhere. "The advent of the use of these new digital and personal technologies to monitor elections is definitely on the rise because the technology that's available now simply wasn't available before," she says. "And that's part of why this has definitely increased in the last few years. And there's no reason to think that it won't continue as more people have access to cell phones [and] personal devices that take videos and pictures." Read more ..

Venezuela on Edge

Venezuela Emerges as New Source of ‘conflict’ Minerals

March 4th 2012

Hugo Chavez infirm

Crouched near a mound of rocks and dirt, Ramón swings a short-handled pick at a shallow hole, showing off the technique he uses to mine what he calls “black pebbles” — stones laced with minerals important to high-tech manufacturers worldwide. Over the last couple of years Ramón has labored at small, out-of-the-way mines, walking up to a week to reach claims he’s staked out deep in southwest Venezuela’s Amazon jungle, near the country’s border with Colombia. It’s worth the backaches and sweat, Ramón said, rolling a near-black rock in the palm of his hand. He said he earns good money supplying brokers with stones that hold coltan ore. Applied to microchips, the metal enables electronic capacitors to perform superbly in an array of devices, like smart phones in the pockets of more and more consumers. Refined into a powder and applied to solar panels, coltan increases energy efficiency. And as a strategic mineral, Coltan carries weight because it allows guidance controls in smart bombs to work in extreme climate conditions. Because of that, Venezuelan coltan has raised concerns in Washington, D.C., as the government of President Hugo Chávez has selected Iranian, Chinese and Russian firms to explore minerals and is looking to develop future supplies of different ores. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Obama and Netanyahu to Meet During Annual AIPAC Policy Conference

March 2nd 2012

Obama and Netanyau

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual Policy Conference, being held in Washington D.C., promises to be the largest Policy Conference in AIPAC history, with more than 13,000 people participating and thousands heading to Capitol Hill on the final day of the March 4-6 conference to lobby Congress in support of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

According to organizers, this year’s conference comes as the global threat posed by Iran is at an all-time high. Diplomatic efforts by the United Nations, and the United States and its allies, to effectively halt a feared Iranian nuclear weaponization program Iran have been frustrated, leading to increased fears of Iranian hegemony. Read more ..


North Korea’s Nukes

North Korea Gets Food in Exchange for Suspension of Nuclear Weapons Tests

February 29th 2012

Kim Jong Un
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

North Korea has agreed to temporarily suspend nuclear tests, long-range ballistic missile launches, and other nuclear activities, including enrichment of uranium. U.S. and North Korean officials announced the surprise breakthrough after talks in Beijing. The development came just a little more than two months after the death of the secretive communist state's supreme leader Kim Jong Il.

"On the occasion of Kim Jong Il's death, I said that it is our hope that the new leadership will chose to guide their nation on to the path to peace by living up to its obligations. Today's announcement represents a modest first step in the right direction," said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Secretary Clinton says the United States will continue to watch North Korea closely and judge the country's new leaders by their actions. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

'100-Percent Iranian' Kentucky Fried Chicken Opens In Iran

February 26th 2012

Ahmadinejad pointing

Amid growing tension between the United States and Iran and sanctions that ban U.S. companies from doing business with the Islamic republic, an outlet of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) has opened in the Iranian city of Karaj.

Other outlets are also due to open in Tehran and other major cities throughout the country, presumably satisfying citizens' taste for some down-home southern U.S. cooking. Yet the CEO of Iran's first KFC franchise, Amir Hossein Alizadeh, has gone to great lengths to emphasize that his fast-food restaurant is not American despite its name. Alizadeh says it took him a "huge" investment and five years to obtain the required national and international permits to open KFCs in Iran. When asked how an American brand made it into Iran, he said, "The name of our restaurant is KFC, but we're not an American brand. We're not an American company.” "With the purchase of the rights from the mother company, Iranian KFC -- and not American -- has been inaugurated," he added. Alizadeh also said that his franchise would fully follow general KFC standards but offer a menu of 32 items suited to Iranian tastes. While many Iranians have probably never eaten at KFC, the name of the chain is generally known and there are rip-offs with similar names. KFC branches existed in Iran before the 1979 revolution. Afterward, they maintained their decor and continued to sell fried chicken. Read more ..


The Edge of Fashion

Nation's Capital Nurtures Local Fashion

February 26th 2012

US Capital Day

The business of Washington, D.C., is government. However, as it seeks to diversify and create more jobs, the city is looking to build a new industry, one that is usually associated with New York - fashion. A new effort mentors local designers in hopes of nurturing and growing a local fashion industry. Gennet Purcell has always loved fashion, but it wasn’t her career until recently. “I was a practicing attorney by trade for almost 13 years,” she says. For much of that time, she was also designing and making clothing. A year ago, she decided she couldn’t do both. “I realized that this is something that makes me really happy, and I realized that it was a way for me to make a living doing it full time.” Purcell founded her own fashion line, Maven. Her designs were recently featured in a fashion show in the Washington area. And she was one of four designers chosen for the DC Fashion Incubator, a program that launched in January. Read more ..


After the Holocaust

US Delegation Remembers Holocaust Hero Wallenberg in Hungary

February 26th 2012

Concentration Camp Survivor

A United States Congressional delegation and other officials have gathered in Hungary's capital Budapest to remember Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who is credited with saving the lives of as many as 100,000 Hungarian Jews during World War II. Friday's commemoration was part of a series of events marking the Raoul Wallenberg Year to commemorate his centennial birth. On a chilly day, representatives of the U.S. Congress and other officials laid a wreath at the Budapest monument of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, hidden behind old trees. While serving as Swedish envoy in Budapest from July 1944, Wallenberg gave Hungarian Jews Swedish travel documents and set up safe houses for them. Among the thousands he saved was the late Tom Lantos, who was the first Holocaust survivor to be elected to the U.S. Congress. Wallenberg is also credited with dissuading German officers from massacring the 70,000 inhabitants of Budapest's main Jewish ghetto. Read more ..


Kenya on Edge

Millions in Education Money Stolen in Kenya

February 25th 2012

Nairobi Square

Kenya’s education sector continues to suffer fallout from the theft of millions of dollars two years ago from a government program that, among other things, funds the country’s Free Primary Education initiative. Overcrowded classrooms and fragmented programs are some of the results of the theft, cases of which are still in court. The Kenya Education Support Sector Program was launched with much fanfare in 2005. The $5.8 billion program promised to make basic education available to everyone, improve the quality of that education, increase opportunities for post-secondary education, and train education managers. The World Bank, Britain’s Department for International Development, or DFID, the Canadian International Development Agency, and the U.N.’s children’s agency threw their support behind the program. DFID, for instance, kicked in more than $83 million. Read more ..

The Edge of Physics

Einstein May Be Right After All, Says CERN

February 25th 2012

Einstein

Researchers say they have found a possible flaw in the setup of an experiment that appeared to show particles traveling faster than light. The result of the experiment was met with widespread skepticism by the scientific community when it was announced last September by the Geneva-based European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN. The speed of light was considered by physicist Albert Einstein to be the ultimate speed barrier. James Gillies said two potential issues have been identified that could have influenced the timing of the speed of neutrino particles during the Swiss-Italian experiment known as OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-Racking Apparatus experiment). Gillies explained that results of further measurements and tests will be announced later this year, but it looks increasingly likely that Einstein will be proven right after all.

Question: Scientist and layman alike were surprised and skeptical when CERN announced last September that neutrinos -- electrically-neutral particles -- had traveled the 730 kilometers from Geneva to Italy’s Gran Sasso 60 nanoseconds faster than light. If proven correct, the implications were enormous. Now we are being told that this ultra-sophisticated experiment may have gone slightly wrong. What’s the explanation?

James Gillies: First of all, we don't yet know whether there is an explanation, and we won't know that for sure until we repeat the measurements with [the] beam. But what the OPERA collaboration has seen is two possible effects in their operators that could affect their timing measurement. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

No Refuge From Misery For Afghanistan's Displaced

February 24th 2012

Afghani Taliban

To the casual observer the thousands of caves that dot the sandstone cliffs of the ancient Afghan city of Bamiyan hearken to another era, when monks visiting the region's famous Buddha statues took residence there. But for hundreds of Afghans, the caves represent their current reality. The new residents have been forced to seek refuge in the caves, unable to return to areas they originally fled due to insecurity and the destruction of their former homes and villages. Upon their return to their native lands they have found it a struggle to survive, with basic essentials such as food, shelter, and health care in short supply. One is Gulsom, a 34-year-old mother of seven who has lived in the Bamiyan caves for over five years. Gulsom, who only has one name, returned to Bamiyan after she and her children were deported from Iran. After travelling to her former village and finding it deserted and completely destroyed, Gulsom followed the footsteps of hundreds of other returnees and displaced families in the region and moved into a cave. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

IBM’s Incriminating Holocaust-era Documents to be Published in Author’s New Edition

February 21st 2012

IBM and the Holocaust Expanded Edition

Bestselling author Edwin Black has announced that a provocative, new edition of IBM and the Holocaust will be released in the coming days, on the anniversary of the book's original publication in 2001. Buy it here.

The new “Expanded Edition” will include some 32 pages of never-before-published internal IBM correspondence, State and Justice Department memos as well as concentration camp documents that will graphically chronicle exactly what IBM did and what they knew during the twelve-year Hitler regime. IBM has never denied any of the information in the book, and for years has claimed that it has no information about its Hitler-era activities involving the Third Reich.

The new Expanded Edition was necessitated after 1.2 million copies of IBM and the Holocaust sold worldwide and the book became completely out of print at the end of 2011.

The new edition is scheduled to be released on February 26, 2012, 3 PM during a special Live Global Streaming Event to be held at Yeshiva University’s Furst Hall in New York City. The event is sponsored by the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, co-sponsored by Yeshiva University’s Office of Pre-Law Advisement, Jacob Hecht Pre-Law Society, Beren and Wilf campuses, in partnership with StandWithUs, and in association with NAHOS--National Association of Jewish Child Holocaust Survivors, Generations of the Shoah International, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, the State of California Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights and Tolerance, The Auto Channel, History Network News, Spero Forum, the Jewish Virtual Library, together with other groups. Read more ..


Edge of Narco-Terror

Mexico Offers Reward Following Deadly Prison Break while Investigation goes Forward

February 20th 2012

Nuevo Leon shoot out

Following a prison break near Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo Leon – one of Mexico’s states that borders Texas – Governor Rodrigo Medina de la Cruz has confirmed that at least 30 convicts have escaped following rioting at the Apodaca prison facility on February 19. In a February 20 press conference, Medina said “It was during a riot and disorder within the prison that a group of 30 prisoners managed to escape confinement,” adding that he could also confirm that they belong to Mexico’s ultra-violent Los Zetas narcotics cartel. The Mexican government is offering 10 million pesos ($782,129) for information leading to the arrest of the criminals. According to Mexican media, four high-ranking officials at the prison, including the chief warden, are now under investigation for possible complicity.

Medina said that he has ordered an intense manhunt following the prison break. The names of the escapees have been released, while their photographs will soon be distributed to the public. The governor said that he expects the public’s help in finding the escaped criminals. Following the break out, Medina has also ordered tighter security at all of Nuevo Leon’s prisons. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Weekend Delivery No Better Than Weekends For Infants With Birth Defects

February 18th 2012

Premature Baby

Weekday delivery is no better than night or weekend delivery for infants with birth defects, according to a new study presented at The Pregnancy Meeting, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine’s annual conference. The finding is good news for all parties – moms, babies and healthcare teams – and suggests that this high-risk population of women should deliver when their bodies are ready to deliver, regardless of the day or time. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center, found that infants with birth defects that were delivered at night or over the weekend fared just as well as those delivered on a weekday – they stayed at the hospital for the same amount of time, were admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit at the same rate, and were given antibiotics or got help breathing just as often.

While several studies have looked at the relationship between delivery time and outcomes for healthy infants, there are no current studies on infants with birth defects. These physical abnormalities can occur in any major organ or part of the body and can profoundly influence an infant’s overall health and wellbeing, but little is known about delivery time and results for infants with these problems. Read more ..


The Water's Edge

Dutch Parliament Debates ICIJ’s Pacific Overfishing Investigation

February 18th 2012

Jack Mackerel

Members of the Animal Party asked the Dutch government Wednesday to ban catches of threatened jack mackerel that vessels from the Netherlands and other European countries have overfished in the South Pacific. "For years there have been meetings to bring to a halt the activities of big floating fish factories in whose nets whole soccer stadiums could fit," MP Anja Hazekamp of the Animal Party, said, according to the Dutch daily Trouw. “But there are still no binding fishing quotas established.” The parliamentary debate was sparked by a recent exposé by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which revealed that European, Asian and Latin American fleets have decimated the jack mackerel population in the once-rich waters of the southern Pacific. The stocks have declined from 30 million metric tons to less than 3 million in just two decades.

The bony, bronze-hued jack mackerel plays an important role in the marine ecosystem as food for bigger fish and is a key component of fishmeal for aquaculture. It can take more than 5 kilos of jack mackerel to raise a single kilo of farmed salmon. Fleets compete in a free-for-all in the southern Pacific, the ICIJ investigation found, because governments have failed since 2006 to create and ratify a regional fisheries management organization that can impose binding regulations. In the meantime, quotas are only voluntary. Read more ..


Kenya on Edge

In Slums of Nairobi, Sex for Sanitation

February 17th 2012

Kenya Sanitary

Roughly half of all girls in slums of Kenya have sex with older men in exchange for sanitary napkins. In response to these estimates, healthcare advocates are distributing napkins to girls as part of a nationwide campaign. Health educator Lydiah Njoroge, a field officer for the Freedom for Girls Program, an initiative of HEART (Health Education Africa Resource Team), distributes towels to girls in Mathare, a collection of Nairobi ghettos where poverty is so severe that girls are unable to purchase even the most affordable brands. "The least [expensive] in the market is 40 shillings ... a packet that has eight pieces in it," says Njoroge. "So, because this girl cannot afford 40 shillings -- their mother, their parents are poor, they have other things to provide food and shelter - sanitary towels are not a priority. So the girl just goes [and] has sex with an older man, most of the time not the same man -- they would have one this month, another one next month, so they are very, very at risk of having HIV." In other words, for 40 shillings - about 50 cents - girls and young women repeatedly put their lives at risk. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

FCC Sends Wireless Broadband Firm LightSquared Back to Square One

February 16th 2012

Science - voyager

Wireless broadband company LightSquared’s fast-tracked approval process came to a screeching halt late Tuesday when the Federal Communications Commission decided to “indefinitely suspend” its conditional waiver to operate.

The decision came in the wake of a second government study confirming the concerns raised by congressional Republicans and global positioning system users about the potential for the company’s planned network to interfere with millions of GPS devices.

The FCC described its decision as a setback for competition in the wireless market. It is also a huge blow for Philip Falcone, a major donor to President Barack Obama, and his hedge fund, Harbinger Capital Partners, which owns most of LightSquared. Falcone has invested more than $3 billion in the venture. Read more ..


Edge of Health

Dog Owners More Likely to Achieve Recommended Activity Levels During Pregnancy

February 16th 2012

Social Topics - Pregnant

Research has shown that pregnant women who own dogs are more physically active than those who don't. Researchers found that, through brisk walking, pregnant women who owned dogs were approximately 50% more likely to achieve the recommended 30 minutes activity per day. The study assessed over 11,000 pregnant women in the UK using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) and is the first of its kind to look specifically at the effects of dog ownership on activity levels during pregnancy. It therefore provides valuable new insights that could have important implications for maintaining women's health during pregnancy.

There is growing concern surrounding the health risks of excessive weight gain during pregnancy. Previous studies have shown that maternal obesity can lead to an increased risk of a range of health complications and may even be linked to childhood obesity. This has led to recommendations that pregnant women, and those considering pregnancy, should take steps to manage their weight and ensure regular exercise under guidance from their healthcare provider. Read more ..


Edge of Health

Spice up Your Life and Reduce Cancer Risk with a Good Indian Curry

February 13th 2012

Food - Spices

Curcumin, an active component of the Indian curry spice turmeric, may help slow down tumor growth in castration-resistant prostate cancer patients on androgen deprivation therapy (ADT), a study from researchers at Jefferson's Kimmel Cancer Center suggests.

Reporting in a recent issue of Cancer Research, Karen Knudsen, Ph.D., a Professor of Cancer Biology, Urology and Radiation Oncology at Thomas Jefferson University, and colleagues observed in a pre-clinical study that curcumin suppresses two known nuclear receptor activators, p300 and CPB (or CREB1-binding protein), which have been shown to work against ADT.

ADT aims to inhibit the androgen receptor—an important male hormone in the development and progression of prostate cancer—in patients. But a major mechanism of therapeutic failure and progression to advanced disease is inappropriate reactivation of this receptor. Sophisticated tumor cells, with the help of p300 and CPB, sometimes bypass the therapy. Thus, development of novel targets that act in concert with the therapy would be of benefit to patients with castration-resistant prostate cancer. Read more ..


The World on Edge

A History of Self-Immolation

February 13th 2012

Tibet - Tibetan nun self-immolating

A growing number of Tibetans in China have set themselves on fire in recent months to draw attention to what they consider to be Beijing’s cultural and religious repression. This wave follows the self-immolation of dozens in Tunisia and other countries swept up in the Arab Spring. The suicidal act, while making new headlines, has a long history of being used as a political tool around the world.

In 1963, Buddhists in South Vietnam were facing discrimination by the government of Ngo Dinh Diem, a member of the Catholic minority. The treatment became intolerable for many, and one monk, Thich Quong Duc, made a decision that would have a resounding impact on Vietnam and beyond. “Thich Quong Duc sets himself on fire, and that becomes a major news story all over the world,” recalled Michael Biggs, a sociologist at Oxford University and the author of “Dying Without Killing,” a history of self-immolations.The iconic image of the monk engulfed in flames was captured in a prize-winning photograph. “And as a result of that, not only do other people in Vietnam start using that action, but other people in other places completely unconnected with Vietnam start using it as well,” said Biggs. Read more ..


Mexico on Edge

Mexican Citizens Demand Investigation of Police Brutality in Ciudad Juarez

February 12th 2012

Mexican Topics - mexican police dudes

In a February 10 press conference, non-governmental human rights organizations demanded that Ciudad Juarez Police Chief Julian Leyzaola straighten out the behavior of officers or step down. Representing more than a dozen organizations, the activists announced they had documented 23 cases of alleged torture committed by local police during the month of January alone. In one of the incidents, a man named Jose Cruz Sierra was allegedly tortured to death. Among the groups making the denunciation were the doctors and nurses organized in the Citizens Medical Committee and the Women's Roundtable.

In recent days, Leyzaola and his boss, Mayor Hector "Teto" Murguia, came under increasing fire from different quarters for the conduct of the Ciudad Juarez municipal police force, which was supposedly purged of bad elements and then redeployed as the front-line force against criminal gangs destabilizing the Mexican border city of more than one million people. Yet under the Murguia-Leyzaola administration, more than 100 complaints against officers for alleged abuses are stacked up in the justice commission of the public safety department. Broadly speaking, police officers have also been connected to the repression of public protests, harassment of citizens' organizations and attacks on journalists. Read more ..


Sudan on Edge

Northern Sudan may be on the Verge of its own Arab Spring

February 11th 2012

Sudan - sudanese and syrian protest khartoum
Protests at Syrian embassy in Sudan

Mounting economic hardships plaguing northern Sudan have given political activist group "Change Now" a reason to believe that the Arab-African state is on the verge of its own revolution. Protests, largely concentrated in Sudan's capital and other cities with universities, lack large numbers and longevity, but their increasing frequency and underlying denouncement of the government is beginning to reflect the 1985 ousting of President Gaafar Nimeiri's regime.

Last December a protest sparked by villagers displaced by a hydro-electric dam inspired a week of student demonstrations when authorities responded by closing the University of Khartoum. Similar to in Tunisia and other "Arab Spring" affected states, a participant in the demonstration explained, "It turned into a protest not just against the dam but against poverty, inflation and the bad situation for students." Read more ..


Politics of Religion

Obama Backpedals as Religion Burns Right Through His Policies

February 11th 2012

Presidential - Barack Obama

Chalk up yet another religious controversy on President Obama’s record.

The furor over contraception that consumed much of this week is just one more instance of the president having been put onto the back foot at the intersection of faith and politics.

It’s a problem that previously has popped up in controversies over Israel, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and even Obama’s 2008 comments about people holding on to “guns and religion.”

“It almost appears that every time he tries to steer clear of [the intersection of politics and religion], he steps right into it,” said Susan MacManus, a professor of political science at the University of South Florida. “He’s trying not to call attention to it and then he finds himself in the middle of it.” Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Conservative Lawyers Dismiss Threat of Foreign Money, Anonymous Spending at CPAC

February 11th 2012

Politics - C Pac Convention 2012

Anonymous political speech. Foreign money in U.S. elections. The proliferation of super PACs. How grave a threat do any of things pose to American democracy? Not much, according to a panel of conservative attorneys, who gathered Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.

The high-profile legal minds on the CPAC panel largely agreed that the changes to the campaign finance landscape are grounds for celebration.

Thanks to the Citizens United decision, we’ve seen “more voices, more competition, and more accountability,” said panelist Benjamin Barr, a senior fellow at the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank.

“Without SpeechNow.org, the Republican nomination would have been sewed up weeks ago,” added Brad Smith, the former chairman of the Federal Election Commission who co-founded the Center for Competitive Politics, a nonprofit that promotes First Amendment political rights. “And in 2010, we would have had fewer competitive races.” Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Bain Execs Have Spent over $4.5 Million on Romney’s White House Runs

February 9th 2012

Politics - Ask Mitt

Of all the investments made by the super-wealthy partners at Bain Capital, perhaps none have a greater potential return than the one they have made in Mitt Romney.

Current and former Bain executives and their relatives have given about $4.7 million to organizations dedicated to making Romney the next president of the United States, according to an investigation. And they haven’t just come around lately. Some Bain associates have been filling Romney’s campaign coffers since 2004 when the former Massachusetts governor had early aspirations to become president, and long before he officially embarked on a run. Read more ..


Inside Mexico

Mexico Prepares for July 2012 Elections amidst Increasing Narco-Violence

February 7th 2012

Mexican Topics - Mexico votes

As Mexico's political season rapidly unfolds, attention is focused on the candidates and their political parties. But underneath the glare of the media spotlight, the nuts-and-bolts work of organizing the July 1 elections is quietly taking place without much fanfare. Unlike the United States where each state is in charge of carrying out national elections on the ground, the federal contest in Mexico is organized and conducted by a national institution, the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE).

Established in 1990 as part of Mexico's experiment in political reform, the IFE is in charge of recruiting and training election officials, setting up and running the polls on election day, monitoring media publicity round-the-clock and levying fines for campaign violations. The IFE does not have legislative authority, but it wields a great degree of power in interpreting the law and laying down the ground rules for elections. Despite the ongoing violence associated with the so-called drug war, the voting will go on as planned, an IFE official told Frontera NorteSur. In terms of election-day mechanics, "the problem of security is minimal," insisted David Delgado, president of the IFE council for the southern state of Guerrero. To make sure people will be able to vote, the IFE plans to "work with the state government and the country's security forces," Delgado said in an interview. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Obama Reverses Course to Accept Super PAC Funding

February 7th 2012

Obama Admin Topics - Obama perplexed

In a clear signal that the 2012 presidential election is gearing up to be a monumental slug fest, the Obama campaign told big-money donors late February 6 to begin writing their checks to Priorities USA, a top Democratic "super PAC" and make the president's reelection effort competitive with its deep-pocketed GOP opponents. The president's blessing of the super PAC comes nine months before Election Day and gives Obama's top bundlers the opportunity to help jump-start the outside group, which donors had previously avoided.
 
Obama -- who has kept a distance from the outside group which supports his re-election bid -- plans to send campaign officials, cabinet officers and senior aides to super PAC events on his behalf. Campaign officials said Obama himself, Vice President Joe Biden and their spouses would not be appearing at the group's fundraising events. "We decided to do this because we can't afford for the work you're doing in your communities and the grassroots donations you give to support it, to be destroyed by hundreds of millions of dollars in negative ads," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina wrote in an e-mail to supporters late the evening of February 6. "It's a real risk." Read more ..


Edge of Environmental Health

Costa Rica Seeks Causes of Mysterious Chronic Kidney Disease among Sugarcane Workers

February 6th 2012

Latin American Topics - nicaraguan funeral
Interment of Javier Zapata Pulido (35)

The Costa Rican government has launched a study into the causes of chronic kidney disease in its sugarcane producing northern region. At the same time one of the country’s biggest sugar producers said it is revamping its worker health and safety policies. The steps follow an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that explored the mysterious and largely overlooked epidemic of chronic kidney disease — or CKD — that is killing thousands of sugarcane workers and other manual laborers in Central America.

The Costa Rica study will seek to answer one of the thorniest and most politically sensitive questions surrounding what regional health experts call an epidemic: whether the illness should be classified as an occupational disease. Many workers believe the malady is caused by pesticide exposure and working conditions. They have demanded compensation from the sugar industry, which has vehemently denied responsibility. “The main objective is to test whether CKD is or is not a labor-related exposure,” said Dr. Roy Wong, an epidemiologist with Costa Rica’s national health service and lead investigator for the study. The cause of the disease’s outbreak remains unknown, although a growing body of research has shown links between declining kidney function and repeated heat stress and dehydration — the result of strenuous labor in hot climates. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Pro-Romney 'Super PAC' Brings Total Haul to $30 Million for Year

February 2nd 2012

Politics - Ask Mitt

Mitt Romney cemented his position as the favorite to win the GOP nomination with a first-place finish in Florida Tuesday thanks in no small part to an outside spending group that raised $30 million last year, more than the campaigns of any one of his rivals.

"Restore Our Future" raised nearly $18 million in the second half of 2011 to go with the $12.2 million the group brought in for the first half of the year. The group has spent $17.5 million so far in the primary races, just about double that of pro-Gingrich group "Winning Our Future." The super PAC has poured millions of dollars into advertising criticizing the former House Speaker.

The investment industry was far and away the most generous donor to the pro-Romney campaign. Donors included included several buddies from his old employer, Bain Capital, who gave a combined $750,000. The top donors were Julian Robertson of Tiger Management LLC and Paul Singer of Elliott Management Corp. Both gave $1 million. Robertson is a hedge fund pioneer and wealthy investor. Singer is known for buying other nations' bad debt and collecting on it for a profit. Rooney Holdings Inc., a Tulsa, Oklahoma, construction company, also gave $1 million. Read more ..


The Health Edge

Substantial Post-Operative Differences Found among Women having Mastectomies

February 1st 2012

Health/Medicine - exam

A new study reveals substantial differences - by both surgeon and institution - in the rates of follow-up surgeries for women who underwent a partial mastectomy for treatment of breast cancer. Those differences, which cannot be explained by a patient's medical or treatment history, could affect both cancer recurrence and overall survival rates, according to the study led by Laurence McCahill of Michigan State University's College of Human Medicine, the Lacks Cancer Center at Saint Mary's, and Van Andel Research Institute.
 
The research appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association. "A partial mastectomy is one of the most commonly performed cancer operations in the United States," said McCahill, a surgeon with MSU's Department of Surgery and director of surgical oncology at The Lacks Cancer Center. "Currently, there are no readily identifiable quality measures that allow for meaningful comparisons of breast cancer surgical outcomes among surgeons and hospitals. "But the current U.S. health care environment calls for increasing accountability for physicians and hospitals as well as transparency of treatment results." Read more ..

The Edge of Gadgets

Eureka! Kitchen Gadget Inspires Scientist to Make More Effective Plastic Electronics

January 28th 2012

Food - vacuum food sealer

One day in 2010, Rutgers physicist Vitaly Podzorov watched a store employee showcase a kitchen gadget that vacuum-seals food in plastic. The demo stuck with him. The simple concept – an airtight seal around pieces of food – just might apply to his research: developing flexible electronics using lightweight organic semiconductors for products such as video displays or solar cells.

“Organic transistors, which switch or amplify electronic signals, hold promise for making video displays that bend like book pages or roll and unroll like posters,” said Podzorov. But traditional methods of fabricating a part of the transistor known as the gate insulator often end up damaging the transistor’s delicate semiconductor crystals. Read more ..


Inside the Middle East

Masdar Visionary Tells the Untold Story

January 28th 2012

Nature - ziad-tassmasdar
Ziad Tassabehji, one of the most influential men in the new green Middle East

He came from the dot-com market with a boom and a bust, but in the Arab world. Ziad Tassabehji has always been an entrepreneur at heart. Born in Lebanon and now living in the UK after more than two decades in the United Arab Emirates, Ziad started his first Internet company before there was even Internet in Dubai in 1995. By 2002 after a major downsizing to keep his tech company afloat, he changed course and moved into renewable energy and sustainable development.

Ever hear of Masdar, the zero-energy city in Abu Dhabi? The city that has moonscape mashrabiya surfaces, people podcar movers and a student body whose coffee is brewed by solar power? Read more ..


Oceans in Peril

Business as Usual for Peru as Fisheries Dwindle

January 27th 2012

Animals - anchoveta
Peruvian anchoveta

This northern port reeks of rotten fish year-round, but when anchoveta season begins in late November, its long row of factories belch oily columns of nauseating smoke that impregnate everything within miles. “That’s the smell of money,” a smiling cabbie tells visitors he sees wrinkling their noses as they approach the 27 de Octubre industrial zone, where more than 20 plants throb with activity.

Peru is the world’s second largest fishing nation after China, and 85 percent of its catch is anchoveta. It tastes like anchovy yet is seldom salted; some people eat it like sardines. Almost all is boiled down to fishmeal, a feed for farmed fish and pigs. Peru exported more than a million tons in 2010, mostly to Asia, worth $1.6 billion. Each year up to 6 million metric tons of anchoveta reach the docks of more than 100 fishmeal plants, along with others that can it and make byproducts. What happens inside these factories is known only to company personnel and contracted inspectors. Read more ..


Venezuela on Edge

Venezuela Prepares as Chavez's Health Deteriorates

January 25th 2012

Venezuela Topics - Hugo Chavez infirm
Hugo Chavez

According to a report published by Spanish newspaper ABC on Monday and Tuesday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may only have 9-12 months to live as a result of his decision to prioritize presidential duties over personal health. Chavez's prostate cancer was reportedly discovered in January of 2011, at which point his prognosis was five years. Since that initial diagnosis, Chavez has repeatedly postponed treatments or skipped them altogether in the interests of concealing his illness and protecting his political position.

The leaked report, which ABC says was given to the paper by "intelligence services" (much like a November leak to The Wall Street Journal), is dated Jan. 12 and reviews a medical examination Chavez underwent Dec. 30. According to the report, the South American president needs to undergo a painful, debilitating treatment that, while preventing him from working for more than a month, could extend his lifespan. If he defers the treatment, he will likely to die within the year. According to ABC, when presented with a similar conundrum in November, Chavez chose to stay in Caracas rather than travel to Russia for treatment -- out of fear that the political situation in Venezuela was not secure. We have no way to be completely certain that the report accurately represents Chavez's medical condition, but the tenor of the report matches a series of accounts given to Stratfor and other open sources. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Earth Hit by Solar Space Storm

January 24th 2012

Science - Solar flare

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory witnessed an eruption early Monday morning and now astronomers are warning that the biggest geomagnetic storm since 2005 could cause considerable communication disruptions. A solar flare caused by an eruption of sunspot 1402, a region of the sun that has been highly active lately, has created a radiation storm that could effect power grids, satellites and even air travel. This particular eruption produced a M9 class solar flare, almost high enough to be rated as an X-flare, the most powerful of them all.

Solar flares occur when a build up of magnetic energy in the solar atmosphere is released suddenly, emitting radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum. The energy released is as powerful as the impact of an explosion of millions of hydrogen bombs detonating simultaneously. As magnetic energy is released, particles such as electrons, nuclei and protons are accelerated in the solar atmosphere. The first recorded solar flare was observed in 1859. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Putin's List: 100 Books For Russian Readers

January 24th 2012

Art Topics - Tolstoy
Tolstoy

In his latest campaign article, published in the "Nezavisimaya gazeta" daily, Russian Prime Minister and presidential hopeful Vladimir Putin takes Russia's national question and breaks it in two. How do we deal with outsiders? he asks. And what does it mean to be an insider? Accordingly, Putin uses his piece to call for several hard-nosed policies for dealing with the "outsiders" -- the nation's growing immigrant population. But at the same time, he proposes a literary gateway for those who wish to become "insiders" -- a cultural canon of 100 books to serve as required reading for all students in Russia's schools.

Speaking on January 23 in the southern city of Kislovodsk, Putin acknowledged Russia's rich legacy as a multiethnic state, but said its inhabitants had much to gain from embracing a unified Russian identity. "No one who lives in our country should forget about their religion or ethnicity," Putin said. "But everyone should be, first and foremost, a citizen of the great country of Russia." Putin noted in his article that "every self-respecting" student at leading American universities has dutifully read their way through similar lists, such as the 51-volume Harvard Classics world-lit anthology or the works included in American educator Mortimer Adler's "Great Books of the Western World." Russia, Putin implied in his article, was not to be outdone. "Our nation has always been a reading nation," he wrote, and called on the country's leading cultural authorities to get cracking with a list of their own. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin regards a book about himself during a visit to Penza in April 2011.xPrime Minister Vladimir Putin regards a book about himself during a visit to Penza in April 2011.
Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Carbon Dioxide is "Driving Fish Crazy"

January 22nd 2012

Environment Topics - Fish in net

Rising human carbon dioxide emissions may be affecting the brains and central nervous system of sea fishes with serious consequences for their survival, an international scientific team has found.

Carbon dioxide concentrations predicted to occur in the ocean by the end of this century will interfere with fishes’ ability to hear, smell, turn, and evade predators, says Professor Philip Munday of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University.

“For several years our team have been testing the performance of baby coral fishes in sea water containing higher levels of dissolved CO2 – and it is now pretty clear that they sustain significant disruption to their central nervous system, which is likely to impair their chances of survival,” Prof. Munday says.

In their latest paper, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, Prof. Munday and colleagues report world-first evidence that high CO2 levels in sea water disrupts a key brain receptor in fish, causing marked changes in their behaviour and sensory ability.

“We’ve found that elevated CO2 in the oceans can directly interfere with fish neurotransmitter functions, which poses a direct and previously unknown threat to sea life,” Prof. Munday says.

Prof. Munday and his colleagues began by studying how baby clown and damsel fishes performed alongside their predators in CO2-enriched water. They found that, while the predators were somewhat affected, the baby fish suffered much higher rates of attrition Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Obama's Donors Get Gifts: White House Invites, Appointments and Contracts

January 19th 2012

Obama Admin Topics - Obama working a crowd

As President Barack Obama ramps up his campaign for a second term, many of his top fundraisers are showing how money helps win influence and access to power in Washington.

Dozens of Obama’s elite donors — many of them wealthy business figures — have been appointed to advisory panels and commissions that can play a role in setting government policy. Others have been invited to a range of exclusive White House briefings, holiday parties and splashy social events.

And some have snagged lucrative government contracts that benefit their business interests or investment portfolios, an investigation has found. These fundraisers are known as “bundlers” because they solicit $2,500 con­tri­bu­tions from multiple friends, col­leagues and fam­ily members and provide “bundles” of checks to the campaign. The sum of contributions per bundler ranges from $50,000 to more than $500,000. Read more ..



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