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Secret Web Campaigens

Tea Party Operative Likely Behind Mysterious Web Blitz

February 22nd 2014

Payday Loan Sign

An anonymous online campaign that criticizes a government crackdown on fraudulent Web-based businesses appears to have been developed by the same company that built websites for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and other tea party leaders.

"Stop the Choke" is an online blitz that argues the Obama administration’s efforts to cut off fraudsters from the financial system will kill free markets and take away people’s guns. The site pictures President Barack Obama as a marauding Godzilla to punctuate its points. The Center was first to report on the group this week.

The name Stop the Choke refers to Operation Choke Point, a government initiative to sue banks that debit people’s accounts illegally on behalf of companies such as online payday lenders, firearms dealers, porn sites and pyramid-style sales schemes where fraud is common. The crackdown has drawn loud opposition from industry groups that fear legitimate companies will be punished for their peers’ misdeeds. Read more ..


Nigeria on Edge

Another Boko Haram Attack Yields Dozens of Deaths in Nigeria

February 21st 2014

A large contingent of Islamic extremist rebels from Boko Haram invaded a predominantly Christian village in northeastern Nigeria Saturday night (Feb. 15) and slaughtered at least 106 people, sources said. According to the Nigeria Correspondent for Morning Star News, the Boko Haram rebels, who seek to impose sharia (Islamic law) throughout Nigeria, and were dressed in military fatigues, reportedly shot some people and slit the throats of others while shouting "Allahu Akbar [God is greater]" in Izghe village of the Gwoza Local Government Area of Borno state. They also destroyed homes and shops.

"We have received information about yet another attack from my friends and family members in Gwoza," Enoch Wonder, a Christian worker from Gwoza now in Jos told Morning Star News. Read more ..


Broken Economy

Transcripts Show Fed Shock at '08 Collapse

February 21st 2014

Frantic Wall Street denizen

Transcripts released Friday of Federal Reserve meetings held throughout 2008 suggest the Fed was caught off guard by the suddenness and severity of the financial crisis that year.

The financial crisis and resulting recession has widely been referred to as the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, but it was not immediately clear to the Fed's economic stewards just how much trouble the nation was in during the immediate aftermath of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, which kindled the collapse.

At a September meeting held one day after Lehman went bankrupt, some Fed officials speculated the economic impact could be muted, and would perhaps be restricted to New York City or the financial sector. Others argued it was a positive thing that the government did not step in to rescue Lehman, sending a message to markets that the government would not provide a safety net. Read more ..


Sudan on Edge

Bor Residents Rush to Bury Dead Amid South Sudan Fighting

February 20th 2014

South Sudan Death Row Inmates

Fighting between rebels and the government is still raging in South Sudan, where a political crisis in late December lit the fuse to an explosion of violence that first split the army, and now has turned whole communities against one another.  In some towns - which have changed hands several times - the few remaining residents are trying to bury the many dead littering the streets. 

The only sound in the streets of Bor, the capital of South Sudan's long-troubled Jonglei state, is silence. The odd scavenging child picks through the rubble of what was once the market. But even the smallest bag of flour has been taken, and the vultures sometimes caw as they circle overhead. On the other side of town, the silence is punctured by diggers, churning up the earth for mass burial sites. Read more ..


The Ukraine on Edge

Pro-Russian Separatism Rises In Crimea As Ukraine's Crisis Unfolds

February 19th 2014

Ukraine

From the dingy basement of a decaying apartment block on the outskirts of Simferopol, Crimean parliament deputy Sergei Shuvainikov is leading the fight to defend the ethnic Russians of this strategic Black Sea peninsula.

In an office festooned with banners showing a map of Crimea overlaid with a World War II medal featuring the communist hammer and sickle and the slogan "In union with Russia," the voluble Shuvainikov spills out a litany of alleged assaults on the Russian language and Russian culture in Ukraine.

"This is the result of a political position to deny Russians, for whom the language is the main identifier of their Russian ethnicity, of their Russian nation, Russian people," he says. "To deny them the right to remind children and young people that they are Russians. It is in fact the destruction of Russian nationality, of the concept of the Russian people of Ukraine."

The piles of megaphones and rolled up banners in the corner of Shuvainikov's self-proclaimed "bunker" attest to the stepped-up activity of the organizations he heads, the Congress of Russian Communities and the Russian Front. Since the political crisis erupted in Kyiv in November, his organizations have repeatedly held demonstrations in Simferopol and elsewhere, burning EU flags and blaming U.S. and NATO interference for Ukraine's time of troubles. Read more ..


Mexico on Edge

Medical Tourism is Becoming a Big Business in Mexico

February 18th 2014

Price. Quality. Technology.

That was the triple message Dr. Octavio Gonzalez had for attendees at the Medical Matters 2014 conference held [last] week in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The veteran dentist was among dozens of exhibitors at an event catering to expatriates, snowbirds and tourists in the Mexican coastal city.

Gonzalez estimated that 95 percent of his customers hail from the United States, Canada and Europe, mostly from North America.

Under the worst scenario,” Gonzalez told FNS, the prices of his Dental Avant Garde company might reach a third of comparable costs in the U.S. and Canada. Gonzalez’s firm specializes in dental implants and full mouth functional rehabilitation.

Apart from pocketbook savings, a visit to Dental Avant Garde has other advantages over seeing a dentist north of the border, Gonzalez insisted. Read more ..


The Culture Edge

Asiana Adopts New Pilot Training After US Crash

February 17th 2014

Damaged Airplane

After a deadly crash landing last summer in San Francisco, Asiana Airlines is changing its training for pilots to encourage crews to talk more and change cockpit culture.

A U.S. investigation found that corporate culture may have been an issue in lthe crash.

"It's a reality that within our country there is a leaning toward a patriarchal culture and many pilots work and fly within the strict military order," Asiana's chief executive Kim Soo-cheon said this week at a press conference in Seoul.

Asiana Flight 214, a Boeing 777, crashed on landing on a runway in July. Three people died and 180 were injured. The following month, VOA was the first to report that the crash could be linked to a culture of "cockpit hierarchy." That's when one pilot defers to a senior officer, even if the junior pilot fears imminent danger. Read more ..


Soviet-Afghanistan War

Soviet-Era Journalist, Face Of Afghan War, Looks Back On Pullout

February 16th 2014

Buzkashi

When the Soviet Union withdrew its forces from Afghanistan 25 years ago after a bloody and protracted war, Mikhail Leshchinsky was one of the last people out. Leshchinsky wasn't a soldier.

A reporter for Soviet television, he was dispatched to Afghanistan in 1985, shortly after Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, to cover the final stages of a war in which Moscow was rapidly losing faith. His last report from Afghanistan shows General Boris Gromov leading the few remaining Soviet troops out of the country on February 15, 1989.

In the now historic images, Gromov is seen strolling toward Leshchinsky across the Friendship Bridge that once separated Afghanistan from the Soviet Union before declaring the nine-year war officially over. Gromov's teenage son then leaps into his arms, clutching a bouquet of carnations. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Bird Watchers Gear Up For Global Count

February 14th 2014

Northern Fulmar

Mark Mallalieu has been an avid bird watcher since he was 6 years old. Now he has the opportunity to both follow his passion and do something that counts for his fine-feathered friends.

Between February 14 and 17, Mallalieu will be joining tens of thousands of volunteers from around the world participating in the 17th annual Great Backyard Bird Count.

The four-day count calls on anyone to help collect real-time data on the distribution and numbers of birds throughout the world.

In Mallalieu's case, that would be Afghanistan, where he currently is the head of the British government's Department for International Development. He says he'll be "in a diplomatic compound in Kabul where there are some trees and I put some food out for the birds, so that's where I'll be.

"A campaign like this to get people looking at their birds in the garden will generate interest in birds, wildlife, conservation, and the environment more generally," he continues. "I think that's the thing that most excites me about [the bird count]." Read more ..


The Economy on Edge

As the Wages of Men Fall, Female Wages Are Rising

February 13th 2014

Employee applications

In his State of the Union speech last week, President Obama again invoked the provocative statistic that women earn only 77 percent as much as men. With Hilary Clinton increasingly viewed as a prospective successor, rhetorical attacks on gender-based wage differentials will only rise.

The problem is that the 77 percent statistic-combined with the assertion that it is an "embarrassment," and "wrong," and that women "deserve equal pay for equal work"-misdiagnoses a complex issue and can only mislead policy.

The 77-percent statistic is not based on a comparison of men and women doing "equal work," but simply compares the annual earnings of women and men who are full-time, year-round workers. Because men who work "full-time" work 8 to 10 percent more hours per week than full-time women, it fails to compare men and women who spend equal time at work. Nor does it take into account any other productivity differences. Read more ..


Nature on Edge

US, World Act to Save Elephants

February 12th 2014

Rampaging Bull Elephant 500px

The Obama administration has unveiled a comprehensive strategy for combating wildlife trafficking in hopes of curbing illicit poaching that is threatening to wipe out elephants, rhinoceros and other endangered species in Africa. The document issued Tuesday places an almost complete ban on the ivory trade in the United States. Meanwhile, representatives of many African countries are meeting with world's leading conservationists in London to discuss how to stop the illegal sale of ivory.

A large pile of ivory was crushed in central London as a symbolic gesture, ahead of a major summit this week aimed at curbing illegal wildlife trade. Rowena Paxton was among citizens who gave away their ivory items to be crushed.

"I feel like a big weight has been taken off me and I'm now to say goodbye and I just say please, please save our elephants, save our rhino," said Paxton.

A 1989 ban outlawed the international trade in ivory, but cross-border smuggling continues. Conservationists estimate that more than 25,000 elephants are killed across Africa each year so their tusks can be extracted for ivory. French customs official Sebastien Tiran said France seizes at least a half-ton of ivory per year. "What we have noticed regarding trafficking of protected species is that there is a lot of change, but one thing that never changes is the interest of consumers for ivory," said Tiran. Read more ..


The Way We Are

I Smoke, But I'm Not a Smoker

February 11th 2014

cigarette in ashtray

While smoking among California adults has dramatically declined in recent decades, researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine report there is a surprisingly large number of people who say they use cigarettes, but don't consider themselves to be "smokers."

Writing in the February 5 online issue of Tobacco Control, Wael K. Al-Delaimy chief of the Division of Global Health in the UC San Diego Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, and colleagues estimate that, in 2011, almost 396,000 Californians (12.3 percent of the state's population of smokers) smoked on a measurable basis, but rejected the characterization of "smoker." Almost 22 percent of these smokers consumed tobacco on a daily basis. Al-Delaimy said the phenomenon has both individual and social ramifications. For individuals, the behavior puts them at many of the same health risks as identified smokers. "There is no safe level of smoking," he said.  Read more ..


Taiwan and China

Taiwan, China to Hold First Official Talks

February 10th 2014

Industrial and Commericial Bank of China

Taiwan and China hold official talks this week, a historic first for the two governments since a civil war ended more than six decades ago. Political differences still linger and while the two administrations do not officially recognize one another, some analysts think the talks could mark a small step toward more normal, official ties - and perhaps even be a prelude to a possible meeting between China's Xi Jinping and Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou later this year.

Since Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou was elected in 2008, Taipei and Beijing have made big strides in boosting economic ties.

However, as bilateral trade has boomed, Ma's approval ratings at home have sunk, hovering in the teens and low 20s for much of last year. Only halfway through his second term, there are concerns both for Ma and China's leadership that the political tide in Taiwan could be shifting away from Taipei's ruling Nationalist Party, also known as the Kuomintang. Read more ..


Mexico on Edge

The Deportee Chronicles: The Girl from Guajajalmiton

February 9th 2014

She moves between the tables with the grace of the dolphins that sometimes delight the bayside diners of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Greeting customers in Spanish and English, the server has the poise, the demeanor and the intellect to work with an international clientele. Born in Mexico and raised in the United States, Danae is a student of European history, a lover of Romeo and Juliet, and a fan of thrash metal music. "I love Shakespeare!" she declares.

She also likes poetry, blackjack, Jack Daniels and tatoos.

Though seemingly at ease on the Bay of Banderas, Danae confesses she would rather be somewhere else. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Survey: Tech More Important Than Sex for Americans

February 9th 2014

Walking-Cell phone

More Americans would rather go without sex than without their mobile phone, laptop or Internet access, according to new survey.

The survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, a market research firm, showed that 20 percent of American adults polled said they could not do without sex. That’s compared to 28 percent who said they could not live without Internet access, 26 percent who said they could not live without their cell phone and 24 percent who said they could not live without their computer.

Rob Weiss, an expert on the relationship between digital technology and human sexuality, said it was hard to interpret the numbers without knowing the ages of the respondents.

“Most folks I know who are 40 or 45 think sex is important, but there are things that are more important like kids or careers.” he said. “You’d have a different answer from someone who’s 20 than from someone who's 50.” Read more ..


Nature on Edge

Kenya Counts Elephants From the Air

February 8th 2014

Young Republicans

Kenya is conducting an aerial census of the elephant population in a national park that has been the scene of gruesome poaching incidents in the last year. An intensive effort is underway to count and protect the threatened elephant population.

Pilots are taking to the skies above Tsavo National Park in eastern Kenya on a singular mission -- to find elephants.

The census, which takes place every three years, is organized by the Kenya Wildlife Service to map out the elephant population in the area.

Volunteers from organizations across the country have contributed their planes, including Save the Elephants and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which also donated all the fuel. The total cost of the exercise is about $200,000. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Critics Spoil Iranian Government's Food-Aid Initiative

February 7th 2014

Hassan Rowhani

A well-intended initiative to feed the needy has backfired on Iran's president.

Braving heavy snow amid a bitter cold snap, low-income Iranians across the country lined up this week outside state-owned stores to receive free food packages.

But the effort, which was launched on February 2, has drawn enough criticism to warrant a rare public apology from President Hassan Rohani.

Three people reportedly died while waiting in line in freezing temperatures, and hard-liners have alleged that the sight of citizens lining up for handouts is damaging to Iran's image abroad.

Addressing the controversy, Rohani told state television on February 6 that he, as president, "expresses regret if people have faced trouble in receiving the commodity basket." Low-income families, meaning those whose monthly income is below $170, qualify for the food basket, which contains rice, poultry, cheese, eggs, and cooking oil. Read more ..


The Edge of Sport

Despite Official Denial, Gay Life Flourishes Underground in Sochi

February 6th 2014

Gay Pride

In recent days, videos have gone viral showing Russian skinheads and others attacking gays. The videos fueled protests around the world Wednesday, calling on corporate sponsors of the Winter Olympics in Sochi to condemn restrictions on gay life in Russia.

But, often overlooked, a gay scene does exist in Russia, although invariably behind tightly closed doors.

Above ground, Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov had told news media last week that he does not believe there are any gays living in his city.

Below ground, at Mayak, one of Sochi's two gay bars, business was booming Wednesday. Andrei Tenichev owns the "Mayak" which means "Lighthouse." 

"In my opinion there is no gay community in Russia - there are just gays," he said. “Russian gays socialize with each other abroad more than in Russia, because in Russia they don't like to make their orientation known.” Read more ..


Technological Edge

'Deep Concern' Emerges over Google NameTag Facial Recognition App

February 5th 2014

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is worried about the privacy implications of a new facial recognition app.

In a letter on Wednesday, Franken expressed "deep concern" about NameTag, a facial recognition app for Google Glass devices that have been "jailbroken" to circumvent Google's ban on facial recognition tools.

Franken, chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Privacy, asked NameTag to delay its launch until there are best practices for facial recognition technology, such as those that will come out of a Commerce Department initiative beginning this week.

“According to promotional materials, NameTag lets strangers get a broad range of personal information — including a person’s name, photos, and dating website profiles — simply by looking at that person’s face with the Glass camera," Franken said in his letter. Read more ..


America on Edge

U.S. Abortion Rate Hits All-Time Low

February 4th 2014

The U.S. abortion rate declined to its lowest point in 2011 since the procedure became legal across the country in the 1970s, according to research released late Sunday.

The Guttmacher Institute, a think tank that supports abortion rights, found in a census that the abortion rate dropped in 2011 to 16.9 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age. This rate is the lowest since 1973, when the Supreme Court handed down in its Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion in all 50 states. That year, there were 16.3 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age, Guttmacher reported.

The study also pointed out the 2011 rate is "well below" the 1981 peak of 29.3 abortions per 1,000 women. Read more ..


Nature on Edge

Red Fawn: Cold War Lives On In Minds Of Deer

February 3rd 2014

Saiga Antelope

The barbed wire, electric fences, watchtowers, and heavily-armed guards that once lined the Iron Curtain are long gone, but red deer wouldn't dare jump the border.

Behavior learned at the height of the Cold War lives on among the herds that roam land that used to straddle the former Czechoslovakia and West Germany.

The once heavily fortified borders separating East from West today traverse national parks and remote landscapes that serve as popular summertime migratory destinations for the imposing beast.

In the spirit of post-Cold War fellowship, Germany's Bavarian Forest National Park and the Czech Republic's Sumava National Park established a transboundary wilderness area where animals like the red deer could find refuge.

But as it turns out, the deer populations on either side of the former Iron Curtain roam along the border and remain reluctant to cross. Using GPS satellite collars, Czech zoologists, in cooperation with their German colleagues, monitored the migration patterns of red deer on either side of the border between 2005 and 2011. Read more ..


The Edge of Extinction

Hong Kong to Destroy 30 Tons of Ivory

February 2nd 2014

Young Republicans

More than 30 metric tons of ivory stocks are scheduled to be destroyed in Hong Kong. The African Wildlife Foundation says it welcomes the move in a region where a culture of ivory is deep seated.

The decision to destroy the ivory stocks was made by the Endangered Species Advisory Committee of Hong Kong’s Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

Because of the huge amount of ivory it will be destroyed in stages.  And it won’t be crushed as in recent events in the U.S. and China where much smaller amounts were destroyed. Instead, it will be incinerated and turned to ash to ensure no small pieces remain that could be sold.

Speaking from Nairobi, African Wildlife Foundation CEO – Dr. Patrick Bergin – said he is thrilled by Hong Kong’s decision for several reasons. “One, I think it shows growing global consensus, and two, I think it shows that this is an issue that the East and the West and Africa can work together on.” Read more ..


The Ancinet Edge

Ice Age Thrives In Southern Siberia

January 31st 2014

European hippo

If you ever wondered what the Ice Age looked like, then look no farther than Eurasia's Altai-Sayan mountains, where thriving mammalian communities are frozen in time.

Parts of the range along the Russia-Mongolian border have served as sanctuaries for Ice Age mammals since the last glacial period.

While the sizes and unique physical features of the mammals have evolved, the communities themselves are nearly identical to those that existed in the region during the Pleistocene era.

Czech scientists from the University of South Bohemia have compiled a list of mammals at seven Eurasian sites that lived between 35,000 and 12,000 years ago, and compared them with the mammals living today at 14 sites. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Scientists: New Versions of Plague Could Cause Future Outbreaks

January 30th 2014

Docs and Tech

An international team of scientists tracing the origins of two of the world’s most devastating plagues says strains of the same plague caused the pandemics hundreds of years ago. They warn that new strains could trigger future outbreaks. 

The so-called Plague of Justinian, the first one known to historians, struck in the sixth century.  The pandemic originated in China and killed between 30 and 50 million people as it spread across Asia, northern Africa, Arabia and Europe between 1347 and 1354.  Experts believe that plague, caused by a bacterium carried by rodents, contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire.

Eight hundred years later, according to researchers, the Black Death killed an estimated 75 million to 200 million people in Europe and North Africa.  Expert say this plague, which also originated in Asia, was hardier, resurfacing in the 1800s.  The Black Death was caused by a different strain of the same bacterium that caused the Justinian Plague. Read more ..


Broken Government

The War on Poverty Lost the Political Battle

January 29th 2014

A new University of Michigan analysis challenges the conventional wisdom that President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty failed. In the decade after Johnson declared "unconditional war on poverty," poverty rates plummeted to reach their historic low of about 11 percent in 1973. Poverty rates were 19 percent in 1964.

In a new analysis of spending during the Johnson administration, University of Michigan economists Martha Bailey and Nicolas Duquette examine why Johnson and the War on Poverty received so little credit.

"We find that the Johnson administration chose poverty over politics," said Martha Bailey, associate professor of economics and co-author of a paper titled "How Johnson Fought the War on Poverty: The Economics and Politics of Funding at the Office of Economic Opportunity." Read more ..


After the Holocaust

UN Sec. General Denounces Anti-Semitism While Remembering the Holocaust

January 29th 2014

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon sounded a strong warning against the dangers of anti-Semitism and hatred of any kind in the world during the International Holocaust Day held at the UN offices in Nairobi in tribute to the six million Jews and countless others massacred in the Holocaust.

In a statement, Ban Ki-Moon wrote, “The United Nations was founded to prevent any such horror from happening again. Yet tragedies from Cambodia to Rwanda to Srebrenica show that the poison of genocide still flows.” His message was read on his behalf by the UN Resident Coordinator Nardos Bekele-Thomas on January 27. Read more ..


The Economy on Edge

NYC Invests Heavily In Biotech Development

January 28th 2014

Research and Development Chemistry

New York City and the State of New York are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to become a major player in the development of high tech industries. They have developed a concept called incubators - providing fully-equipped, subsidized workspaces for qualified start-up companies.  There are approximately 40 incubator projects across New York State. 

Harlem Biospace is the first city-backed incubator facility for biomedical engineering.  It gives young entrepreneurs a relatively low-cost way to develop their ideas and businesses.  A low monthly fee provides them with desk space and laboratory facilities. They pay for their own raw materials.

“This is great.  The reason is because it is so cheap and it has the wet lab that we need. So, I order chemicals that I need, and I’m given the facilities here to do my experiments," said Tyler Poore.

Tyler Poore and his partner are developing a product that will kill bacteria forever.  It can be applied to household items, like a sponge, or to anything that needs to be bacteria-free.   His goal and that of the 17 others at Biospace is to find solutions to biomedical problems. Read more ..


The Economy on Edge

California Drought Could Impact World Food Prices

January 27th 2014

mexico drought

Southern California, where many fruits and vegetables for the country are grown, is experiencing a recording-breaking drought, which could impact world food prices in 2014.

Andy Domenigoni is a fourth generation grower in Riverside, California. He says there are good years and bad years, and this year things are not looking good. â€œI have some fields that we planted almost a month ago that are still not out of the ground,” Domenigoni said.

He says normally it takes five to seven days for the wheat to sprout, but not this year. He points to a brown field behind him. “This field was planted two weeks ago and it is just bone dry. The seed is not in any moisture," he said. "It can’t sprout. We got to wait for the rain.”

Domenigoni is not the only one waiting for rain. The western United States has been in a drought that has been building for more than a decade, according to climatologist Bill Patzert of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Ranchers in the West are selling off their livestock," Patzert said. "Farmers all over the Southwest, from Texas to Oregon, are fallowing in their fields because of a lack of water. For farmers and ranchers, this is a painful drought.” Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Dwindling Choices for Ukraine President Yanukovych

January 26th 2014

Ukraine's Euromaidan protest movement has gained fresh momentum as the country's embattled President Viktor Yanukovych seemed to spend the weekend losing old friends while failing to make new ones.

Demonstrators kept a steady drumbeat in the capital Kyiv, buoyed by a 24-hour cycle that saw opposition leaders Vitali Klitschko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk decline Yanukovych's partnership deal and protesters oust some 200 police from makeshift headquarters in a Kyiv congress center.

Meanwhile, protests continued to spread into parts of Ukraine once considered Yanukovych's base. Thousands of pro-Maidan demonstrators gathered outside the regional administration headquarters in Zaporyzhzhya in the country's traditionally pro-Russian east. In the neighboring region of Dnipropetrovsk, hard-core football fans known as "ultras" provided security for protesters marching on the local government. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Croatian Researchers Pioneer Use Of Robots To Diagnose Autism

January 26th 2014

Autism

Four-year-old Luka is enthusiastic about his new friend. "He can write. He can sit down. And he can drink water," he says. The two also like to dance together.

But it is an unusual friendship. Luka is a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a developmental disability that inhibits social, behavioral, and communications skills. And his friend, Rene, is a robot.

They met thanks to a joint project of the University of Zagreb's Faculty of Education and Rehabilitation Sciences and its Faculty of Electronics and Computer Sciences. The initiative aims to use robots to improve the diagnosis and assessment of children with the disorder, a process that until now has been highly complex and subjective. The robot is intended to assist, not replace the clinician.

"For children with autism, the robot is a stimulus that is very simple and always the same," says researcher Jasmina Stosic. "Its eyes are always in the same place. Its mouth is always in the same place. People are rather complicated for such children because when we talk we make various gestures. And one day we'll wear a red t-shirt and the next day, a blue one. The robot is one constant stimulus, and the children don't need to think about so much different information and instead can concentrate on the essence." Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

White House Announces a 'Hangout' with a Big Wedge of Cheese

January 25th 2014

The White House will host a virtual "Big Block of Cheese Day" later this month in a nod to historical tradition — and the popular West Wing television show. In the show, White House staffers were required on one day a year to meet with citizens and interest groups who normally might not earn attention from top administration officials. The fictional tradition was a nod to President Andrew Jackson, who in 1837 hosted an open house with a 1,400 pound block of cheese in the White House's foyer.

But the real White House said Friday that they would be hosting a real version of the event — albeit in cyberspace. "On Wednesday, January 29th, with a nod to history (and maybe the TV show the West Wing), the Obama Administration is hosting the first-ever virtual “Big Block of Cheese Day,” during which dozens of White House officials will take to social media for a day long 'open house' to answers questions from everyday Americans in real-time on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram and via Google+ Hangout," the White House said in a statement. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Environmentalists Criticize EU's Draft Climate Policy

January 24th 2014

Pakistan flooding

The European Union's executive arm has unveiled what it calls an ambitious new climate change and energy policy for the 28-member bloc.

Europe has been hailed as a leader in fighting greenhouse gases. But a year before a key United Nations climate change conference, critics say the EU's proposals don't go far enough. 

With cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, more renewables and greater energy efficiency by 2030, the new climate and energy proposals make environmental and business sense, according to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who unveiled the draft package in Brussels.

"An ambitious and smart 2030 strategy will contribute to Europe's share in global climate action," he said, "but will also help to reduce our costly dependence on imported gas and oil [and] boost our green technology industry and sustainable growth, by providing a stable long-term perspective for our companies to invest," Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Family Man Obama Unhappy with his 'Caricature' among Opponents

January 23rd 2014

Click to select Image

President Barack Obama said that gridlock on Capitol Hill stemmed from an inability to "penetrate the Republican base" and convince voters there that he's "not the caricature that you see on Fox News or Rush Limbaugh," rather than his oft-questioned willingness to socialize with lawmakers.

In bonus excerpts from an interview with The New Yorker's David Remnick, Obama conceded that there was "no doubt that personal relationships matter at the margins and can tip something over the finish line," and admitted that he "wasn't in a position to work the social scene in Washington" as the father of two young girls.

But he said comparisons to presidents like Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson were unfair in an era of polarized parties and gerrymandered districts.
Read more ..


Broken Government

Members of Congress Not Likely to Become Marijuana Consumers

January 22nd 2014

Republicans and Democrats who want to ease marijuana laws say they won’t smoke pot — regardless of whether it’s legal.

Marijuana politics have changed significantly since former President Clinton famously said 22 years ago that he didn’t inhale. But politicians aren’t ready to say they would light up, at least not publicly.

People can get high legally in Colorado and soon will be able to do so in Washington state. Supporters say the taboo of marijuana is evaporating, though the topic is certainly still politically delicate.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) has praised his state’s new law and has introduced legislation that would legalize marijuana nationally. Asked if he had legally tried pot, Polis stepped back and shook his head, saying, “No, no, no, no.” Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

South Africa Game Park Protects Rhinos Against Poaching

January 21st 2014

Rhino, black, Tanzania

2013 was a very bad year for South African rhinos with almost 1,000 animals killed for their horns. That death toll is 50 percent higher than in 2012 - despite a more concerted international fight against poaching and an international trade ban that has been in place for decades.

South Africa is home to more than 25,000 rhinos, roughly 80 percent of the world's rhinoceros population. But with their horns more valuable than gold in Asia markets, this ancient species is losing the fight against possible extinction.

"It's a national treasure for us [in South Africa]. That's why it is so important for us to protect these guys," said Park Ranger C.J. Lombard. He and his tracker Patrick Moyane are out on another game drive looking for rhinoceros. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Tobacco Report From 50 Years Ago Has Changed the World

January 20th 2014

cigarette in ashtray

If there is one person whose work created a ripple effect that is changing the world, it was the ninth surgeon general of the United States. Fifty years ago this month, he issued a report that linked cigarette smoking to lung cancer and heart disease. 

On a cold, rainy day at Arlington National Cemetery, people gathered to remember and honor a man who devoted his life to improving the health of others.

Surgeon General Luther Terry, now buried at the cemetery for military heroes, released a report in 1964 that linked smoking with cancer. "President Kennedy ultimately selects him to be the ninth surgeon general," said Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak.

Acting Surgeon General, Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak, spoke of Dr. Terry's accomplishments. "What took place 50 years ago changed the world. Fifty years ago, [it was a] completely different world when it comes to tobacco use and smoking," he said. Read more ..


Inside Politics

Lawmakers: Fear Silicon Valley and Data Brokers, Not NSA

January 19th 2014

Amazon Kindle

Voters should be much more concerned about what private companies are collecting on them than about the National Security Agency, say several congressional defenders of the agency’s surveillance programs.

Silicon Valley firms, retailers, and behind-the-scenes “data brokers” all collect information on individual Americans in ways that could raise privacy concerns, yet these groups have largely escaped the raging debate focused on what the government collects.

“It’s just the irony of this whole debate,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a prominent defender of the NSA.

“I mean it’s unbelievable what private companies collect from individuals and how they track them and track what their shopping habits are and where they may or may not be and how they shop,” he said. “All of that is collected. The NSA doesn’t do anything like that at all.” Rogers’s counterpart in the Senate made the same point. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

More Severe Heat Waves to Come as Australia Sizzles

January 18th 2014

Kings-Canyon

Heat waves in Australia are becoming more common and severe, according to a report released on Thursday by the nation's Climate Council. The independent non-profit organization insists that extreme weather patterns can be attributed to climate change. The report comes as southern Australia braces for more punishing heat and emergency crews battle dozens of bushfires.

Temperatures in the southern city of Adelaide have been near 46 degrees Celsius, while Melbourne is on track to record its second-longest heat wave since the 1830s. Strong winds are likely to increase the bushfire danger later this week in South Australia and Victoria, where more than 1,000 fires have been reported. Some 40 are currently burning out of control.

The Climate Council said that periods of intense heat in Australia are becoming more frequent, hotter and are lasting longer. The council predicts that such heat waves will become increasingly severe in the future. Researchers blame climate change, and believe that the burning of fossil fuels is trapping more heat in the lower atmosphere. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Does 'Black Thursday' Mark End Of Ukraine's Democratic Decade?

January 17th 2014

Ukraine

With a disorderly show of hands, the Ukrainian parliament appears to have not only shut down the country's pro-European protests, but rolled back an entire decade of reforms that once made Ukraine the leader of the post-Soviet neighborhood's democratic hopes.

Pro-presidential lawmakers in the Verkhovna Rada on January 16 passed a package of radical legislation that cracks down on street protests, strips opposition politicians of immunity, and imposes a raft of free-speech restrictions that have critics crying censorship.

Most immediately, the legislation appears aimed at shutting down the boisterous pro-European protests that have convulsed the capital, Kyiv, since Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych rejected an EU Association Agreement in November in favor of closer ties with Russia.

Longer term, the proposals could have damning consequences for Ukrainian civil society and independent journalism, which continued to flourish even as Yanukovych, in office since 2010, began to roll back reforms.

"The law fully restricts all types of expression, across all platforms. It makes it possible to shut down websites, block access to the Internet. It makes it possible to control all SIM cards so they can track any person who says something bad about the government at a forum, on blogs, or even from a mobile phone," says Taras Shevchenko, the director of the Kyiv-based Media Law Institute. "This 'bad' thing can be labeled as extremism, defamation, slander, insulting law enforcement or judges -- whatever is needed." Read more ..


Iraq on Edge

Fallujah Residents Suffer As Tribesmen, Al-Qaeda Fight On

January 16th 2014

Syrian refugees

Amid the fog of war, it is becoming clear that everyday citizens are bearing the brunt of the recent violence in Iraq's Anbar Province.

For weeks, local Sunni tribesmen and Iraqi security forces have been battling Al-Qaeda-linked militants in the western province. In the city of Fallujah, fierce fighting with Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) has resulted in a tense standoff as army troops encircling the city await word to move in.

In the meantime, Fallujah's 300,000 residents are suffering. Basic services have been cut off and many locals remain without water, electricity, and food. Umm Akram says that militants forced her and her family out of their home a week ago. Akram's family of 14 wandered the streets before taking shelter at a local school that now serves as a temporary shelter for dozens of families. Read more ..



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