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The Ebola Outbreak

CDC Predicts as many as 1.4 million Ebola Cases by January

September 23rd 2014

West Africa Domestic Violence

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report Tuesday predicting as many as 550,000 to 1.4 million cases of the Ebola virus in Liberia and Sierra Leone alone, by the end of January. 

The CDC calculations are based, in part, on assumptions that cases have been dramatically underreported. Other projections haven't made the same kind of attempt to quantify illnesses that may have been missed in official counts. 

CDC scientists conclude there may be as many as 21,000 reported and unreported cases in just those two countries as soon as the end of this month.

“The model shows — and I don’t think this has been shown by other modeling tools out there — that a surge now can break the back of the epidemic. It also shows that there are severe costs of delay," CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said in a press conference Tuesday.

The agency's numbers seem "somewhat pessimistic" and do not account for infection control efforts already underway, said Dr. Richard Wenzel, a Virginia Commonwealth University scientist who formerly led the International Society for Infectious Diseases.

Separately, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned in a new report that the number of people infected with the Ebola virus could reach 20,000 by the beginning of November if efforts to contain the outbreak are not accelerated.  Read more ..

Battle for Ukraine

Ukraine's Cryptic, Clever (And Always Insulting) Lexicon Of War

September 17th 2014

Ukraine protest

As the separatist conflict simmers in eastern Ukraine, supporters from both camps fight on in another war -- a war of words. The result is a torrent of new slurs -- often cryptic, at times clever, always insulting.

Here are some of the most common terms:

Banderovtsy, banderlogi
Russian synonyms for "neo-Nazis," literally followers of World War II-era Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera. The "logi" suffix lends an additional pejorative connotation.

From the onset of the pro-European Maidan protests in Kyiv, Russian authorities have repeatedly branded the demonstrators -- and more generally any Ukrainians supporting efforts to steer their country out of Moscow's orbit -- "banderovtsy."

A hero to Ukrainian nationalists, Bandera collaborated with Nazi Germany in a bid to create an independent Ukrainian state. The Nazis subsequently arrested him and his associates. He was assassinated in 1959, a killing widely attributed to the Soviet KGB secret services. Read more ..

Scotland on the Edge

Meet Some Of The Poles Who Will Help Decide Scotland's Future

September 15th 2014


As he sips a pint of beer at an outdoor cafe, Bartosz Maroszek lapses into a Scottish accent as broad as the nearby River Tay.

The 26-year-old Dabrowa Gornicza native came to Scotland seven years ago to take up a job as a coffin varnisher in a place he'd never heard of.

After being picked up at the bus station by Maroszek's new employer, "We thought we were going to stay in Edinburgh," he says. But the car kept driving north. "'Where are we going?' I asked. They said, 'Perth.' I said, 'Oo! Where is that?'"

Nowadays Maroszek calls Scotland his second home, one he shares with his partner Gosia and their 2-year-old son, Michal, who he calls his "wee terror." Still with the same coffin-maker, Maroszek has been given added responsibilities by his boss. And on September 18 he'll be doing the same as millions of others living in Scotland -- voting in a referendum on whether Scotland should be an independent country. Read more ..

Moldova on Edge

Moldovan Newspaper Threatened Following Reports of Scandalous Life of Orthodox Church Leader

September 14th 2014

A Moldovan newspaper says it was threatened after publishing two scandalous investigative reports on the assets and personal life of the head of Moldova's Orthodox Church.

The Chisinau weekly "Ziarul de Garda" says it received the telephone threats on September 11 after publishing photos of Vladimir, metropolitan of Chisinau and All Moldova, vacationing in Turkey with a woman named Nelli Tcaciuc.

According to an investigation by the newspaper, Vladimir does not live in his official residence or in the apartment that he owns in Chisinau, but rather in a luxurious villa in the Bostanci neighborhood about 5 kilometers from the capital. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

My Son The Jihadist

September 12th 2014

ISIL execution crucifixion Iraq

"They have good living conditions and money to buy food and clothes. They drive brand-new Toyotas… And they only think about war."

That's how Mukhambetkali Danikhanov describes the life of Kazakhs fighting alongside foreign jihadists in Iraq.

He saw it firsthand after traveling to see his own son, and if the militant group his son joined is the Islamic State, Danikhanov isn't saying. His oldest son, Yerzhan, has been on the Kazakh authorities' wanted list since January 2014. But they won't find him in Kazakhstan. When last seen by his father, the 28-year-old Yerzhan was living in a "city in Iraqi territory" along with his wife and their three children.

"I can't say the exact name of the place. I'm not allowed to," Danikhanov said. Danikhanov says the journey he took from central Kazakhstan's Karagandy Province to Iraq was relatively easy. Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

Singing Trucker Hits Kremlin On All Cylinders

September 11th 2014


When Vadim Dubovsky hits the highway, his big rig transforms into a well-tuned, Putin-fighting machine.

The Donetsk-born trucker, who moved to the United States 10 years ago, has no love for the Kremlin's actions in his native Ukraine. And he is low on Russian President Vladimir Putin. Very, very low.

That becomes clear once you listen to his silky smooth baritone belting out operatic rants from behind the wheel.

In "Hell Continues To Burn," Dubovsky croons about Russia's return to its Cold War ways of blaming the West for all its problems and misfortunes. He warns that Putin will be held accountable for the annexation of Crimea, the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and the Malaysian airliner brought down in the conflict zone.

"You will not be forgiven. Neither for the Boeing, nor for Crimea, nor Donbas." Dubovsky's song warns Putin "not to expect mercy" for actions that "will not be forgiven." It predicts Putin will be put on trial at The Hague and end up in hell "teaching" demons. Read more ..

Russia and Putin

In Russia, Orthodox Radical Ponders Putin’s Divinity

September 8th 2014

Vladimir Putin sunglasses

God is inside Vladimir Putin. A divine light transfixed Putin’s essence after his secret baptism as a child. We are not worthy of the Russian president.

These were a few of the tenets advanced by radical Russian Orthodox activist Dmitry Tsorionov in a September 7 lecture that marked one of the more bizarre expressions of a many-faceted grassroots cult of personality surrounding Russia’s paramount ruler.

Feverish Putin adulation layered with irony filled the dimmed auditorium in Moscow’s trendy Kitai Gorod district. Many of the 60 or so attendees filmed the proceedings using iPhones and iPads, sometimes laughing out loud and sometimes breaking into thundering applause.

Proceedings kicked off with a tinny but swaggering rap track dedicated to Russia’s leader of 15 years that featured the refrain "I go hard like Vladimir Putin." An overhead projector displayed a picture of Putin with a caption that read: "Vladimir Putin and God." Read more ..

Broken Borders

Immigration Activists Rip Obama

September 7th 2014

Obama speechifying

Latino groups on Saturday promised they would "not soon forget" President Obama's move to delay any executive action on the border crisis until after the midterm elections. A White House official said Obama decided to postpone acting on immigration until after November because of the tremulous political season and "Republican's extreme politicization of the issue." But immigrant rights and Latino advocacy groups were quick to place blame on Obama and Democrats after hearing the news.

"To wait nine more weeks means that I must again look my mother in the eye and see the fear she has about living under the threat of deportation every day," said Cristina Jimenez, director of United We Dream, an advocacy group.  Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

NATO's Eastern Countries Fractured Over Response To Russia

September 6th 2014

Polish soldiers in Chad

Czech President Milos Zeman sparked a testy exchange with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt this week at the NATO summit in Wales, declaring that Prague had not yet seen "clear proof" of Russia's intervention in Ukraine.

"President Zeman should ask his own people," Bildt retorted. "I don't know if the Czech Republic has an intelligence service. It does? Then he should ask them."

The spat underscores a development that has surprised many in the West: Some countries on NATO's eastern fringe seem decidedly unconcerned by Russia's intervention in Ukraine and its generally belligerent stance.

The Ukraine crisis has fractured the so-called Visegrad Group -- the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. From alarmist Poland to Kremlin-friendly Hungary, the group runs the gamut of possible positions. And their disunity is one factor making it difficult for the European Union and NATO to adopt a unified response to Moscow.  Read more ..

NATO on Edge

NATO Upgrades By Going Back To Basics

September 5th 2014


Oh, what a difference six years and two wars make.

When NATO heads of state gathered in Bucharest back in April 2008, Vladimir Putin pretty much stole the show. The Kremlin leader strutted away triumphantly from that summit after persuading Western leaders not to offer Georgia and Ukraine road maps to eventually join the alliance.

Four months later, Russian troops rolled into Georgia, a move seen by many observers as a dress rehearsal for this year's intervention in Ukraine.

Puitn was, of course, persona non grata at this week's NATO summit in Wales, although he cast a long shadow over it. For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the Atlantic alliance is now treating Russia not as a potential partner with which it can do business but as a problem that needs to be addressed and a threat that must be confronted. "Things have changed dramatically inside NATO," Lauri Lepik, Estonia's ambassador to the alliance, said in an interview. "People realize the seriousness of the situation." Read more ..

The Caliphate

Escape from an ISIS Death Camp

September 4th 2014

ISIL execution victims

While the entire world quivers from the site of the executions of journalists by ISIS, the New York Times exposes today a chilling testimony of a Shia Iraqi soldier who was taken captive by the organization –and managed to survive and escape against all odds: "I was fourth in the shooting line. I lay alive among my friends' bodies for hours, until I managed to escape. Between 600 and 800 people were slaughtered'.

A chilling testimony from ISIS' death camp: Ali Hussein Kdahim, a Iraqi soldier of Shia origin, 23, is one of the sole people who are able to tell about the disgracing conditions of captives held by the radical terror organization ISIS. Kdahim was taken, along with hundreds of other armed Sunni soldiers last June, and captivated in a castle in Tikrit – the birth town of a former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein. he tells his story from his house in Southern Iraq.


Iran on Edge

Iranian Women's Monthly Under Pressure From Hard-Liners

September 2nd 2014

Women's Rights Activists

A newly launched women's monthly run by a prominent female editor has irked Iranian hard-liners, who have accused her of promoting "obsolete" feminist views and ideas that are un-Islamic.

Iran's semi-official Fars news agency reported last week that Shahla Sherkat , editor of "Zanan-e Emruz," will be put on trial by Iran's Press Court on September 7. Fars, said to be close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), did not provide details about the charges against Sherkat.

The report has led to concern that action could be taken to shut down the monthly devoted to women's issues. Sherkat, whose previous publication was shut down under the administration of former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, has not publicly commented on the report. Read more ..

Vote 2015

Unions Open Their Coffers As Senate Hangs In The Balance

September 1st 2014

Money Stack

Organized labor is pouring millions of dollars into congressional campaign coffers, as unions press to stave off a Senate flip this fall that could spell disaster for their policy agenda during the final years of the Obama administration.On issues ranging from collective bargaining to immigration to worker protections, union officials, advocates and experts say GOP control of the upper chamber could jeopardize what has become a period of significant progress for the labor movement.

“There’s a lot of room for mischief in a Senate that’s under Republican leadership,” said William Spriggs, chief economist for the AFL-CIO.

After an often-rocky relationship with Washington’s Democrats in President Obama’s first term, unions have reason to celebrate this Labor Day. President Obama has in recent months sought to counter congressional gridlock on labor issues with aggressive use of executive power, ordering up regulations to extend overtime pay to some workers and increase the minimum wage for others.


The Edge of Terrorism

In Beslan, Struggle For A ‘New Life’ Decade After Tragedy

August 31st 2014

Iraqi church bombed

Nadezhda Guriyeva huddled with her children on the floor of the sweltering school gymnasium. An explosive device rested ominously just a few feet away. The two older children, Boris and Vera, were dressed for a folk dance performance to celebrate the first day of school. The festivities never began.

Boris and Vera were among the 334 people, including 186 children, killed amid explosions and a hail of bullets after being held captive for two days in a terrorist attack on School No. 1 in Beslan. Guriyeva’s youngest daughter, Irina, survived. The girl’s escape allowed Guriyeva to survive the aftermath of the horror. "I had no choice," Guriyeva says. “I had my little daughter. She was always watching me to see if I cried. I couldn't even cry."

Ten years have passed since armed militants stormed the school on September 1, 2004, and took 1,100 children, mothers and teachers hostage in the gymnasium. The ordeal came to an end 52 hours later. But for the survivors and their loved ones, it changed everything forever. Read more ..

The Ebola Outbreak

Patient Zero Believed to Be Sole Source of Ebola Outbreak

August 30th 2014

West Africa Domestic Violence

One glaring fact from the latest report on the Ebola outbreak is that five of the many study authors are dead, killed by the disease that is roiling west Africa. The new analysis, published in the August 29 issue of Science, reveals that the current Ebola outbreak stemmed from an earlier initial leap from the wild into humans, rather than the virus repeatedly jumping from a natural reservoir—perhaps infected animals—to humans. By essentially sketching out a high-tech molecular family tree, researchers concluded that the virus spreading in Sierra Leone and nearby countries is the descendent of an original Ebola viral jump, and not new versions of the pathogen that are being repeatedly introduced into the human population. That means the public health response to this outbreak—which focuses on tracking and treating those who have been exposed to people with Ebola, rather than attempting to keep people away from potential animal carriers—has been the right strategy.
That conclusion comes from a sweeping analysis of 99 Ebola virus genome sequences that comprise some 70 percent of the Ebola patients diagnosed in Sierra Leone in late May to mid-June. The virus samples were extracted from the blood of 78 patients early in Sierra Leone’s outbreak. And the work indicates that the first case of the disease in that country stemmed from the burial of a traditional healer who had previously treated Ebola patients in Guinea. Subsequently, 13 additional women who attended the burial developed Ebola viral disease. Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

In Russia, Ukraine Conflict Hits Home With Secret Funerals, Missing Men

August 29th 2014

Russian Cross

In early spring, Vladimir Putin deployed soldiers without insignia into the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea to ensure a quick annexation of the territory.

After a month of denying their very existence, the Russian president nonchalantly acknowledged that the thousands of well-armed fighters, who had previously been cheekily referred to as "little green men," were in fact Russian troops.

Decried in the West, Russians gave the move near unanimous support. A territory was won through military might -- and an overwhelming referendum vote that has not been recognized in the West -- but without a fight.

But now, as Moscow reinvigorates a flailing pro-Russian separatist insurgency with a barely concealed incursion into southeastern Ukraine, indications are that Russian military men are dying. And as captured Russian paratroopers are paraded on Ukrainian television and servicemen are buried in secrecy, some Russians are asking a seemingly simple question: "Are we at war?"

The answer to the question, originally posed in an editorial in the "Vedomosti" business daily, is one that is becoming increasingly obvious for military families. It is the details that they say are not forthcoming. In Kostroma, 1,300 kilometers from Russia's border with eastern Ukraine, family members of a group of 10 Russian paratroopers captured in Ukraine say all their information has come from secondhand, online sources.

One mother, Olga Pochtoyeva, says when she originally approached officials with photos on her son's Vkontakte page that appeared to show he had been taken prisoner in Ukraine, her claims were dismissed as "provocations." "We showed them [these pictures] and they didn't believe it," she says. "It's Photoshop, they told us. I'm sorry, I'd never mistake my son's eyebrows for photoshop." Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

UNRWA and Gaza Terrorism

August 28th 2014

Hamas protester

The United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) has come under increasing fire in recent weeks for aiding Hamas in the terror group's war against Israel, with one advocacy group lodging a formal complaint against the organization. As evidence seems to continue to emerge of the use of the agency's schools and clinics as Hamas storehouses, rocket launching sites and tunnel entrances, protest has grown in Israel and abroad that the organization, established to aid the Palestinian Arab refugee population, has far exceeded its mandate by aiding and sustaining the psychological and physical assault on Israeli civilians and infrastructure.

At the same time that evidence was mounting that the UN agency was allowing Hamas to use its facilities to launch attacks on Israel, a number of statements were issued by UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon criticizing Israel for use of disproportionate force. In response, the Legal Forum for Israel drafted a letter to Moon decrying his accusations and denouncing the lack of accountability by the international body for its role in the violence.


Afghanistan on Edge

Amid Election Uncertainty, Karzai Prepares For Inauguration Ceremony

August 27th 2014


The long-running deadlock over the disputed presidential election in Afghanistan is still far from over.

That, however, has not stopped outgoing President Hamid Karzai from fixing September 2 as the date for the delayed inauguration of his successor. What's more, Karzai has formed a special government commission that has begun making last-minute preparations for the historic event.

But there's an elephant in the room -- the mammoth task of auditing all eight million votes cast in the June 14 election has still not been completed and rival candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani have still not hashed out the details of a crucial power-sharing agreement brokered earlier this month. 

Neither candidate appears willing to back down, and regular disputes have broken out. The audit was temporarily suspended on August 27 after first Abdullah and then Ghani pulled out of the process, casting the election deeper into disarray and clouding the chances for a swift resolution.

Preliminary results put Ghani, a former finance minister, in the lead. But Abdullah, a former foreign minister, has rejected the results and claimed "systematic fraud." It seems optimistic to expect that in less than one week the audit and a complaints adjudication process will have been completed and that both candidates will have accepted the final results and hashed out a political settlement. Nevertheless, the commission Karzai has charged with organizing the inauguration is going full steam ahead with preparations for what it promises will be a "glorious" event. Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

Russian Soldiers Are In Ukraine

August 26th 2014

Russian S300 launchers

It was an "accident."

That was Moscow's official response to how a group of Russian paratroopers ended up in Ukraine. The soldiers --  apparently from a division based in Kostroma, a city on the Volga River north of Moscow -- were captured by Ukrainian forces, who posted videos of some of their interrogations online.

In what appear to be forced confessions in front of Ukrainian military personnel, they say they were misled by their superiors, who told them they were going on a "training exercise."

The videos appeared to confirm what Kyiv authorities had been claiming for months amid denials from the Kremlin -- that Moscow is supplying pro-Russian separatists with military hardware and personnel. The claims had largely been based on circumstantial evidence. But since mid-August, as Russia has attempted to staunch Ukrainian gains against the militants, that evidence has mounted steadily. Read more ..

The Edge of Hate

Temple University -- Latest Antisemitic Hotspot Protested Amid Record Donation Drive

August 25th 2014

Edwin Black

Temple University has become the latest focal point for groups concerned about the spreading wave of campus antisemitism and academic-based Holocaust minimizing.

Temple student Daniel Vessal, a fellow with CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), was drawn into a verbal exchange with anti-Israel activists at the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) table during an official college event on August 20, 2014. Vessal, in his junior year at the Temple University Fox School of Business, studying Management Information Systems and Entrepreneurship, was allegedly called a "kike," "Zionist pig," and "baby killer." He was slapped so hard at the SJP table that he was sent to the hospital. A police investigation and legal action are underway. The assaultive SJP supporter has purportedly apologized, according to a published SJP statement, which states: "I’m sorry for what I did. I admit I lost my temper."

With lightning speed, fourteen Jewish organizations reacted to the assault, releasing a joint public letter of protest to Temple University. The letter complained: "A university campus should be the setting for thoughtful discussion and intellectual debate. Such an atmosphere should be encouraged by all responsible student groups. Unfortunately, Students for Justice in Palestine is not such a group. It has a proven track record of intimidation, harassment, and incitement merging into anti-Semitism against Israel and its supporters on campus."

The swift-response joint letter was spearheaded by StandWithUs, which has become the nation’s pre-eminent campus pro-Israel advocacy group. Additional signatories included Americans for Peace and Tolerance, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), David Horowitz Freedom Center, Hasbara Fellowships, Proclaiming Justice to The Nations, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, Simon Wiesenthal Center Campus Outreach, The Lawfare Project, The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). Read more ..

The Edge of Terror

Kicked Off Twitter And Facebook, Islamic State Finds New Tools

August 23rd 2014

ISIL execution victims

Thousands of social-media users were unwittingly exposed to horrifying images of James Foley's execution in the hours after Islamic State (IS) militants posted video of his beheading online.

It was exhibit A in the extremist group's two-pronged propaganda campaign: inflict fear in the West while using the same imagery to inspire and recruit radicals from around the world.

But since the video first appeared on August 19, major companies like Twitter and YouTube have increased their efforts to take down offensive material and remove accounts linked to terrorist groups. IS, though, appears to be adapting to the shutdowns by moving to open-source and more decentralized social networks that are difficult to regulate and also experimenting with other tools that are less popular in the West. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

New York Times Reporter James Risen Says Obama Biggest Threat to Press Freedom

August 18th 2014

Obama is leaving the building

The New York Times reporter James Risen, who faces jail over his refusal to reveal a source and testify against a former CIA agent accused of leaking secrets, has called President Barack Obama “the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation”.

Speaking to his colleague Maureen Dowd, Risen accused the president of aggressively pursuing journalists, including himself, who report sensitive stories that reflect poorly on the US government.

Risen faces jail over his reporting of a botched intelligence operation that ended up spilling nuclear secrets to Iran. The Justice Department has long been seeking to force him to testify and name the confidential source of the account, which is contained in his 2006 book State of War.


The Balkans on Edge

Mercenaries, Extremists Become Major Balkans Export

August 16th 2014

Guns for sale

During the Cold War, Yugoslavia sent thousands of teachers, doctors, engineers, and other professionals to work in all corners of the globe.

Now some of the countries of the former Yugoslavia are becoming notorious for a different human export -- jihadists and mercenaries. And the numbers seem to be on the rise, despite measures in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Serbia to stop the traffic.

On August 8, a Bosnian citizen named Emrah Fojnica, 23, blew himself up in a suicide bombing in Iraq during an attack by the Islamic State (IS), formerly known as ISIL.

Just days later, police in Kosovo arrested 40 suspected Islamist radicals during a raid of about 60 locations around the country. The men are accused of fighting with extremist militants in Syria and Iraq. And officials in Serbia estimate that dozens of Serbs are fighting on both sides in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

"It is hard to say what their numbers are at this point," says Milorad Mijatovic, a parliament deputy from the Social Democratic Party. "They are not small. We are certainly talking about tens of people going into those war zones."  Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Tattoo Biobatteries Produce Power from Sweat

August 15th 2014

Researchers University of California San Diego have designed a sensor in the form of a temporary tattoo that can both monitor a person’s progress during exercise and the tattoo biobatteries can also produce power from the perspiration. The research team described their work at the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). The device works by detecting and responding to lactate, which is naturally present in sweat. Lactate is a very important indicator of how you are doing during exercise, explained Wenzhao Jia, Ph.D.

In general, the more intense the exercise, the more lactate the body produces. During strenuous physical activity, the body needs to generate more energy, so it activates a process called glycolysis. Glycolysis produces energy and lactate, the latter of which scientists can detect in the blood. Professional athletes monitor their lactate levels during performance testing as a way to evaluate their fitness and training program. Read more ..

China Rising

China's Credit Slowdown Raises Concerns About Overall Economic Health

August 14th 2014

Chinese currency

New economic data released by China's National Bureau of Statistics on Aug. 13 shows the supply of credit to the Chinese economy expanded by only $44.3 billion in July, the slowest pace in almost six years. To be precise, credit expanded at the slowest pace since October 2008, the month after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and the month before the Chinese government launched an economic stimulus program that sheltered China's economy from the worst effects of the global financial crisis. That program also locked China into a growth model grounded in the intimate bond between government-led credit expansion and housing and infrastructure construction -- one that the Chinese government is now struggling, against time and at the risk of crisis, to escape.

The dramatic and widely unexpected drop in Chinese credit supply in July has raised concerns that the economic "recovery" China seemed poised to make starting in June -- when aggregate financing in China hit a whopping $320 billion, which was more than seven times greater than July's figure -- has been nipped in the bud. There are also concerns that the coming months will bring even worse news from the world's second-largest economy. These concerns are aggravated by anecdotal reports repeated in mainstream news media saying July's decline is the result of the policy-driven credit tightening by the government and also reflects a drop in Chinese enterprises' demand for new loans. If the latter is the case, it raises important questions about the underlying health and trajectory of China's economy.


The Edge of Health

Depression Alone Rarely Causes Suicide

August 13th 2014

woman headache head bowed

In his stand-up and best-loved comedies, including Aladdin and Mrs. Doubtfire, Robin Williams was known for his rapid-fire impersonations and intensely playful energy. His most critically acclaimed work, however, including his Oscar-winning turn in Good Will Hunting, married humor with sharp introspection and appreciation for melancholy.
Reports of his death from apparent suicide on August 11 at the age of 63 prompted much speculation about the actor’s personality and mental health. Williams had been seeking treatment for severe depression, and many commenters have labeled that as the reason for his death. Whereas the majority of people who commit suicide have depression, less than four percent of people with depression eventually take their lives. Clearly, more factors are at work as causes of suicide than depression alone. The severity of mood disorders, past suicide attempts and substance abuse are all thought to increase the risk. Recent evidence also suggests that the mixed depressive state of bipolar disorder can be a particularly dangerous time that can often go undetected or masquerade as depression and irritability. Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

New Sanctions Bill Raises Free Press Fears In Ukraine

August 13th 2014

Ukraine protest

Ukraine, once celebrated for its progressive media reforms, is currently considering legislation that could set the country back to Soviet-era levels of censorship.

Lawmakers in the Verkhovna Rada are set to meet on August 14 to review a sweeping draft law imposing sanctions on Russian companies and individuals. The legislation, meant to hamstring Russia amid intensifying violence in eastern Ukraine, also includes provisions to block media deemed a threat to Ukrainian security.

Supporters say the bill will give the Kyiv government essential tools to fight the onslaught of anti-Ukrainian propaganda and disinformation spread by Kremlin-friendly Russian media.

But critics worry the draft law -- which proposes to skirt standard checks and balances by handing fast-track powers of implementation to President Petro Poroshenko and the National Security and Defense Council -- could also be used to silence dissenting voices within Ukraine itself. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Do Trolls Matter?

August 12th 2014

Hacker keyboard

Like many people with access to the Internet and a holster full of gadgets, Vladimir Nesterenko is living a double existence.

In real life, the 49-year-old Kyiv native is a published author and darling of the Ukrainian counterculture.

Online, he's "Adolfych" -- a Russian-speaking mischief-maker who uses his Twitter, Facebook, and Live Journal accounts to comment, sometimes thoughtfully and often profanely, on the deepening conflict with Russia.

"I know a lot of Muscovites have little dachas in Abkhazia," he wrote in a recent post. "But could these Muscovites have afforded their little dachas if they hadn't gotten rid of the Georgians and turned a flourishing region into cheap f**king sh*t, like they're doing now in Crimea?" Read more ..

The Ecology on Edge

'Rock Star' Botanist Rappels Down Cliffs to Save Hawaii's Rarest Plants

August 11th 2014

European honeybee and flower

After the heavy rains and high winds of two rare, large storms, Hawaiian botanists are hoping the islands’ rarest plants have come through unscathed.

Thanks to its geographic isolation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the Aloha state is home to an incredible bounty of unique native plants, some 1,200 species, 90 percent of which are not found anywhere else in the world.

However, Hawaii has also become the endangered species capital of the United States, home to nearly 40 percent of the plants on that list.

Its natural heritage has been disappearing because of invasive plants and animals, habitat loss due to agriculture and development, and unpredictable natural events, such as hurricanes and droughts.  

Field botanist Steve Perlman has been at the forefront of protecting Hawaii’s endangered species for more than 40 years. He is one of the state's original 'rock star' botanists - literally. In the 1970s, he pioneered rappelling down high cliffs to save the Brighamia insignis - a rare Hawaiian plant commonly known as the Alula.  Read more ..

Israelis and Palestinians

Palestinian Chief Negotiator, Saeb Erekat, on Israel's Legal Obligations

August 11th 2014

Meshaal and Abbas

On November 10, 1975, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 3376 creating the “UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People,” and on May 20, 2013 it held its 352nd meeting, for which Saeb Erekat, Palestine’s chief negotiator with Israel, delivered the keynote address. Erekat explained that the Palestinians will not resume negotiations with Israel, not because it has preconditions, but because Israel has to first satisfy its legal obligations.

“We have no conditions to resume negotiations. When we say Israel must stop settlement activity, this is not a condition, this is an Israeli obligation, emanating Article 31 the final clauses of the Interim Agreement 1995 and the Roadmap which specified stopping settlement activities including natural growth as an obligation on Israel. When we speak about releasing prisoners, especially those who were arrested before the end of May 1994, we also stipulate Article 3 to the Sharm el Sheik Agreement of 1999; that’s an agreement signed with Israel. And when we say two-state solution of 1967 the Roadmap specified that the objective of the peace process is to end the occupation that began in 1967. So Israel in its blame-game and finger pointing that we put conditions. Ladies and gentlemen, these are not conditions, these are Israeli obligations.” Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Kasparov Battles Kremlin Moves In Bitter Chess Election

August 10th 2014

Gary Kasparov

For nearly a decade, chess legend Garry Kasparov has tried to mobilize domestic and global opposition against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Now, as the former world champion seeks election to the international chess world’s highest office, the Kremlin is striking back. The Russian government has flexed its diplomatic muscle to lobby against Kasparov’s campaign for the presidency of the World Chess Federation, known by its French acronym FIDE, ahead of the August 11 election to be held in Tromso, Norway.

Russian embassies throughout the world have contacted national chess federations to drum up support for Kasparov's opponent in the race, incumbent Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, a former Russian regional boss who has presided over FIDE for the past 19 years. Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

Obamacare Typo Costs Vegas Family $1.2 Million

August 9th 2014

File folders

Mixups on a health plan bought through the state’s insurance exchange have left a Las Vegas family facing more than $1 million in medical bills.

For Kynell and Amber Smith and their five children, the Nevada Health Link has been a six-month nightmare with no end in sight.

“I have spent countless hours on the phone trying to get this resolved,” said Kynell Smith, an aircraft parts salesman. “I have contacted and pleaded with elected officials to help and was told I may have to sue to get this resolved. What kind of answer is that?”

The family’s troubles began in February, when Amber Smith delivered daughter Kinsley five weeks prematurely. Kinsley spent 10 days in Summerlin Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, and Amber’s 40-day hospital stay included two surgeries. Read more ..

Iraq on Edge

Contemplating a U.S. Humanitarian Intervention in Iraq

August 8th 2014

Yazidi refugees bury their children

The United States is currently considering whether to intervene unilaterally to protect and succor roughly 40,000 Iraqi refugees trapped on Sinjar Mountain. According to various accounts, most of the refugees are Yazidis — ethnic Kurds whose religion is an offshoot of Zoroastrianism, the religion of pre-Islamic Persia (Iran) and one of the world's first monotheistic faiths. There are also said to be many other ethnic and sectarian minorities, including Iraqi Christians, all of whom have fled recent advances by the group known as ISIS or the Islamic State, which considers all of them to be apostates, infidels and even heretics.

Elsewhere in Iraq, ISIS has reportedly slaughtered men, women and even children whom they branded with those names. Moreover, U.S. government officials and various Iraqi sources believe that the refugees are in danger of dying from thirst, starvation, disease and/or exposure as they have too little food, water, medical supplies and shelter. According to the press accounts, the White House is weighing air drops of food and other humanitarian supplies, and even direct air strikes against ISIS fighters, convoys and staging bases threatening these refugees. Rather than ask why the United States should conduct such an intervention, I find myself asking why on earth shouldn't we? Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russian Foodies React To Import Ban With Patriotism, Some Gloom

August 7th 2014

Food cooperative fruit

Moscow's upmarket food shoppers are reacting variously with patriotic approval and gloomy resignation at the prospect of going without some of their favorite foreign foods for a year.

The Russian government on August 7 approved a lengthy shopping list of foods and produce that cannot be imported from countries that have imposed sanctions on Russia for its interference in Ukraine.

The one-year embargo, decreed by President Vladimir Putin, affects produce, meat, and dairy imports from the United States, the European Union, Australia, and Norway.

Despite assurances from Putin that the tit-for-tat sanctions would be designed to have minimum impact on Russian citizens, his move was immediately assailed online by gourmet sophisticates of Russia's urban middle class who have grown fond of food imports. But the reaction from shoppers at luxury supermarkets such as Moscow's "Azbuka Vkusa" were mixed.  Read more ..

Destination Tunisia

Mysterious Lake Pops Up Overnight In Tunisia

August 6th 2014

Tunisia Mystery Lake

Tunisia offers other-worldly landscapes, fantastical and mysterious. Did you know that four of the Star Wars movies were partially filmed in the southern part of the country? (Tunisia had a starring role as the planet Tatooine). Now, adding to the Atlas mountains and Sahara desert, the tiny republic has another tourist attraction – a newborn lake.

Discovered by shepherds just last month in the middle of Tunisian desert,  there has been no official explanation for its sudden appearance. Some geologists have proposed that seismic activity may have disrupted the natural water table, pushing water from underground aquifers to the surface.  Others disagree.

- See more at: http://www.greenprophet.com/2014/08/mysterious-possibly-radioactive-lake-appears-out-of-the-blue-in-tunisia/#sthash.MNG6Wwdg.dpuf

Tunisia offers other-worldly landscapes, fantastical and mysterious. Did you know that four of the Star Wars movies were partially filmed in the southern part of the country? (Tunisia had a starring role as the planet Tatooine). Now, adding to the Atlas mountains and Sahara desert, the tiny republic has another tourist attraction – a newborn lake.

Discovered by shepherds just last month in the middle of Tunisian desert,  there has been no official explanation for its sudden appearance. Some geologists have proposed that seismic activity may have disrupted the natural water table, pushing water from underground aquifers to the surface.  Others disagree.

- See more at: http://www.greenprophet.com/2014/08/mysterious-possibly-radioactive-lake-appears-out-of-the-blue-in-tunisia/#sthash.MNG6Wwdg.dpuf

Tunisia offers other-worldly landscapes, fantastical and mysterious. Did you know that four of the Star Wars movies were partially filmed in the southern part of the country? (Tunisia had a starring role as the planet Tatooine). Now, adding to the Atlas mountains and Sahara desert, the tiny republic has another tourist attraction – a newborn lake. Discovered by shepherds just last month in the middle of Tunisian desert,  there has been no official explanation for its sudden appearance. Some geologists have proposed that seismic activity may have disrupted the natural water table, pushing water from underground aquifers to the surface.  Others disagree.

Authorities have calculated that the lake area exceeds one hectare, with depths ranging from 10 to 18 meters; that indicates a total water volume of one million cubic meters – liquid gold for the drought-ridden country.

Locally dubbed “Lac de Gafsa”, so far more than 600 people have traveled to the pool and a makeshift beach has grown along its shoreline.  Authorities have warned that the water, which began as a transparent turquoise until rapidly blooming algae turned it murky green, could be radioactive. That hasn’t deterred visitors who buck the 40°C  heat by swimming, diving, and floating atop inflatable rafts.

- See more at: http://www.greenprophet.com/2014/08/mysterious-possibly-radioactive-lake-appears-out-of-the-blue-in-tunisia/#sthash.MNG6Wwdg.dpuf

Authorities have calculated that the lake area exceeds one hectare, with depths ranging from 10 to 18 meters; that indicates a total water volume of one million cubic meters – liquid gold for the drought-ridden country. Locally dubbed “Lac de Gafsa”, so far more than 600 people have traveled to the pool and a makeshift beach has grown along its shoreline. Read more ..

Islam on Edge

'Anti-Sunni' Satellite Channels Under Fire In Iran

August 5th 2014

Koran and prayer beads

Shi'ite satellite television networks in Iran have come under fire for alleged anti-Sunni programming.

Iran's Intelligence Ministry said in an August 4 statement that a number of people working for local and foreign-based Shi'ite satellite channels were arrested during recent raids on "illegal offices" in the provinces of Qom, Tehran, Isfahan, and Khorasan.

The arrest warrants were issued by the country's judiciary, according to Iranian media reports. The offices of an unspecified number of satellite channels were closed, according to the ministry, on the basis that they were involved in "clandestine and illegal" activities, "creating sectarian rifts," and "intensifying division in the Islamic world to damage the image of Shi'ism."

It was unclear where the foreign-based channels had been broadcasting from and what content they had been airing. In May, Iran's Culture Ministry said the activities of such satellite channels were illegal and warned they could be prosecuted. Several of the channels are known to have the support of hard-line Shi'ite clerics in the holy city of Qom. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Astronomers Get a Clearer Look at Supermassive Black Holes at Galactic Centers

August 4th 2014

Gamma Ray Burst

Many of the astronomers and physicists invited to the meeting feared for their safety. Others felt that the event should be cancelled outright. To hold a conference in Dallas, Texas, only weeks after US President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated there — it just seemed disrespectful.

In the end, the first Texas Symposium on Relativistic Astrophysics went ahead as scheduled, starting on 16 December 1963, and most of the invited scientists did go — after the mayor of Dallas sent them a telegram urging their attendance. But the shadow cast by Kennedy’s death added to the already surreal mood as they grappled with a phenomenon that seemed unfathomable. That year, observers had discovered that a collection of mysterious ‘quasi-stellar’ objects, dubbed quasars, were not just oddball versions of ordinary stars. They were cosmically distant, glowing with radiation that had travelled for billions of years to reach Earth. Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

Supplying The Front Lines In Eastern Ukraine

August 3rd 2014

Pro-Russian demonstrators in eastern Ukraine

As the deadly fighting continues to rage in eastern Ukraine, activists on both sides of the conflict are stepping up efforts to funnel equipment, basic necessities, and even fighters to the front lines.

In Ukraine, dozens of groups have sprung up to support the country's cash-strapped army in its bid to stamp out pro-Russian separatist from the eastern regions.

Activists have been raising money for the army and the National Guard, a force composed of reservists and volunteers, and delivering supplies to troops, often risking their own lives in the process. With the rebels appearing to wield increasingly advanced military technology, the needs of the Ukrainian Army are rapidly evolving.

"The nature of the fighting has changed," says Yuriy Kasyanov, a coordinator for the volunteer group Army SOS. "At the beginning we needed the most basic supplies, such as bulletproof vest, helmets, or drinking water, but we are overcoming these shortages. What we need now is high-tech equipment: night-vision devices, drones, secure radio systems, radio transmitters, all-terrain vehicles, and stuff like that." Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

Ukraine Struggles To Find Strategy For Getting Back Crimea

August 2nd 2014

Protest in Ukraine

Although the raging fighting and heated rhetoric in eastern Ukraine still command the headlines, the dispute between Kyiv and Moscow over Crimea simmers on and seems as intractable as ever.

Russia annexed the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula in March, a move that Ukraine and most of the rest of the world have refused to acknowledge.

Speaking on Ukrainian television on August 1, President Petro Poroshenko said his country "will not give up Crimea."

"Ukraine will use all methods that are at its disposal to defend its national interests," he said, announcing his order that the Justice Ministry pursue all legal avenues.

Poroshenko's deputy chief of staff, Valeriy Chaliy, repeated the position the same day, saying there is "no chance" Kyiv will ever recognize the "occupation of Crimea." "Crimea was, is, and always will be part of Ukraine," he said.  Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Ebola Outbreak “Worsening” in West Africa

August 1st 2014

child being vaccinated

The Ebola outbreak continues to roil West Africa, with the World Health Organization announcing Thursday that the death toll has climbed to 729 in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. More than 1,300 people are infected.
To help limit the spread of the disease the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the agency is now “surging” its response. Thursday afternoon the agency issued a new level 3 travel warning for the affected countries—asking Americans to halt nonessential travel to those locations and unveiling plans to send 50 additional CDC staff to the affected areas. Once there, CDC workers will help to ramp up airport screenings to ensure that sick people do not leave the country, augment laboratory testing for Ebola and help local health personnel to track individuals who may have been exposed to sick persons. (There is little risk of transmitting Ebola before a person becomes symptomatic, and even then transmission occurs through exposure to bodily liquids, not via the air or water). “The bottom line is that Ebola is worsening in western Africa,” CDC director Tom Frieden told reporters on Thursday. When it comes to controlling this outbreak, “It’s not going to be quick. It’s not going to be easy, but we know what to do,” he says.

Yet containing this outbreak remains a complex undertaking that requires following every potentially exposed individual and isolating them if they become symptomatic—a significant challenge in any location but more so when there are limited health personnel and health infrastructure systems in place. Read more ..

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