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The Bear is Back

Russia Strengthens Ties With Vietnam

December 12th 2013


Recent challenges in exporting energy to Europe have made an orientation toward Asia more desirable for Moscow. Russia's economy depends on hydrocarbon exports, and while Western Europe is attempting to become less dependent on Russia by seeking new energy sources, Asian markets have large and indiscriminate appetites for energy.

Although Russia's focus in Asia traditionally has been on China, Japan and South Korea, it also has ties to Southeast Asia, which remains a strategically significant -- though not absolutely essential -- area for Moscow's efforts to extend its influence and energy exports eastward. Notably, Moscow recently struck a spate of energy and defense deals with Hanoi in an effort to strengthen their relationship, open up new markets for Russian energy and balance against China's moves in Central Asia. Moscow's moves into Asia through Vietnam are proceeding piecemeal, paralleling Russian moves elsewhere in the region.

More than 70 percent of Russi


Armenia on Edge

Armenia's Ombudsman Highlights Court Graft With Bribery 'Price List'

December 11th 2013

judge's gavel

Armenia's judiciary is reeling from a new report detailing unbridled corruption in the courts.

According to findings published on December 9 by the country's human rights ombudsman, Karen Andreasian, bribe-taking is so rampant in Armenian courts that judges even use an unofficial price list for kickbacks. The amounts paid as bribes can allegedly go up to $50,000.

"The data obtained through our interviews shows that the bribe amounts to 10 percent of the cost of the lawsuit," Andreasian's deputy, Genya Petrosian, told a news conference on December 9. "The majority of our interviewees said bribe rates fluctuate within the following range -- from $500 to $10,000 at courts of first instance, from $200 to $15,000 at the Court of Appeals, and from $10,000 to $50,000 at the Court of Cassation."

Andreasian's team reached its conclusions after conducting interviews with some 120 lawyers, judges, and prosecutors, and analyzing all the rulings handed down over the past seven years by the Court of Cassation and the Council of Justice -- an oversight body headed by the president, the prosecutor-general, and the justice minister. The report has sparked angry reactions from judicial authorities. Read more ..

After Fukushima

Rice from Fukushima Area Served to Government Officials in Test

December 11th 2013

Rad monitor Japan

Rice from fields in the Fukushima prefecture, evacuated after the worst nuclear disaster in Japan, will be served to government officials for 9 days in a bid to demonstrate the safety of the country’s most-beloved crop, a local broadcaster reported.

The rice cultivated in several decontaminated fields in the Yamakiya District in Kawamata Town and Iitate Village, two areas designated as evacuation zones after the March 2011 nuclear catastrophe, will be served in a government office in Tokyo from Monday.

Over half a ton (540 kilograms) of rice will be part of a test to prove the effectiveness of the decontamination process. Officials from the Fukushima prefecture have given assurances that the rice contains no radioactive substances. The rice balls tasted especially good after the great effort put into cultivating the crop, said Senior Vice Environment Minister Shinji Inoue on Monday. Parliamentary Vice Environment Minister Tomoko Ukishima also joined the tasting. Read more ..

Kurdistan on Edge

Kurdistan Continues to Smolder

December 10th 2013

PKK (Kurdish Worker's Party) Fighter

At the edge of empires lies Kurdistan, the land of the Kurds. The jagged landscape has long been the scene of imperial aggression. For centuries, Turks, Persians, Arabs, Russians and Europeans looked to the mountains to buffer their territorial prizes farther afield, depriving the local mountain dwellers a say in whose throne they would ultimately bow to.

The hot temperament of this borderland was evident in an exchange of letters between Ottoman Sultan Selim I and Safavid Shah Ismail I shortly before the rival Turkic and Persian empires came to blows at the 1514 Battle of Chaldiran in northern Kurdistan. The Ottoman sultan, brimming with confidence that his artillery-equipped janissaries would hold the technological advantage on the battlefield, elegantly denigrated his Persian foes: Read more ..

Significant Lives

We Need More Mandelas

December 9th 2013

Nelson Mandela 1995

As American and world leaders offer high praise to the magnificent and courageous man known as Nelson Mandela, I propose we mourn his passing not merely with words of praise for the greatness of Mandela but with challenges for bold action in the spirit of Mandela.

Mandela was a giant whose greatness words cannot fully express. Mandela gave up almost three decades of his freedom for his country and his ideals after being called a communist, terrorist and criminal because of his support for freedom, justice and equality.

Mandela emerged from political prisons with a generosity of spirit and a passionate dream for democracy that changed his nation and moved the world. Mandela not only sacrificed his freedom for his cause, he risked his life, for most of his lifetime, for his cause, which should be our cause. Read more ..

North Korea on Edge

Torture, Execution Rampant in Vast N. Korea Prisons

December 8th 2013

Prison bars

Human rights group Amnesty International says torture and executions are widespread in political prisons in North Korea that can be the size of large cities. Amnesty used new satellite photos and testimony from former guards and inmates to compile its report.

Amnesty International said North Korea’s biggest camp for political prisoners, known as Kwanliso Prison Camp 16, stretches across 560 square kilometers, three times the size of Washington D.C. It is thought to house 20,000 prisoners.

A former prison guard, identified only as Lee, told Amnesty about conditions in the camp. Lee said the purpose of prison camps is to oppress, degrade, and violate the inmates for as long as they are alive. The prisoners are only humans insofar as they can speak.  However, in reality they are worse off than animals, he said. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Obama Tries to Sell Iran Deal at Brookings Institution Gathering in Washington

December 7th 2013

President Barack Obama said at a Saban Forum event at the Brookings Institution on December 7 that the chances of a permanent nuclear deal with Iran are at best no more than even odds. Averring his trust in the diplomatic route with the Islamic Republic, Obama said “I wouldn't say that it is more than 50-50 but we have to try.” He sought to explain his rationale for inking a temporary deal with Iran in November that eases some sanctions with the expectation that Iran will take certain steps towards reducing its nuclear weaponization program.

“What we do have to test is the possibility that we can resolve this diplomatically,” Obama said, adding that if diplomacy fails, military air strikes remain on the table as an option to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Read more ..

Ukraine on Edge

In Ukraine's Industrial East, The Silence Is Deafening

December 7th 2013


 It's been more than two decades since Nikolai Zakharov took to the streets to protest Soviet rule.

And this week, the 60-year-old mechanic, clad in a flat leather cap and clutching a European Union flag, was among dozens of demonstrators singing the Ukrainian national anthem in the freezing December wind on Donetsk's Taras Shevchenko Square.

Zakharov said that he is fed up with the corruption that he claims has become more pervasive since Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a native of the region, came to power in 2010

"I never thought that [over] twenty years later I would be here again with a flag saying that I don’t see a future for you, us, for our children and for anyone else," he said. "The [authorities] are clocking up more and more debt and there is no end in sight. I decided I had to do something.”

But little demonstrations like this are an anomaly.  In the weeks since throngs of protesters poured onto the streets in the capital, Kyiv, to protest Yanukovych's scuttling of a landmark Association Agreement and free trade pact with the EU in favor of closer ties with Moscow, the silence in eastern industrial cities like Donetsk has been deafening. Read more ..

Broken Government

Conservatives Worry about Speaker Boehner's New-Hire

December 6th 2013

Speaker John Boehner’s decision to hire a well-known advocate of immigration reform is raising concerns among the House’s most ardent opponents of legislation.

Boehner this week announced he was bringing on Rebecca Tallent, a former chief of staff to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) who has worked on multiple comprehensive proposals that would provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. The move drew strong praise from immigration reform advocates, who viewed it as a clear signal Boehner intends to bring a bill to the House floor in 2014.

But for some opponents of an immigration overhaul, the hire is seen as cause for alarm.

“It’s a very big concern for me,” Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) said, “because I don’t want to see any new bills come forward and I don’t want to see any new laws on the books until we secure the border and start enforcing the laws that we have today. Why do anything else?” Read more ..

Broken Government

Young 'Invincible' People Increasingly Oppose ObamaCare

December 6th 2013

Mounting opposition to ObamaCare among young adults is creating a new crisis for the White House.

While the federal enrollment website HealthCare.gov appears to be improving by the day, polls show the “young invincibles” key to making the law work are becoming less likely to enroll.

Younger people were skeptical of the healthcare reform law even before its troubled rollout, despite their support for President Obama.

But polling indicates the problems facing HealthCare.gov — a site the administration initially touted as a hip, tech-friendly experience — have reinforced their doubts about the need to have health insurance at all.

“The trend is daunting for the White House but not necessarily surprising,” said Pew Research Center Director Michael Dimock. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

French Scientists Find No Evidence of Plutonium Poisoning for Arafat

December 4th 2013

Click to select Image

French forensic scientists said on December 3 that Yasser Arafat, who once led the Fatah terrorist organization, the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian National Authority, did not succumb to alleged radioactive polonium poisoning that had been suggested in a recent Swiss report.

Even though the official cause of Arafat’s death in 2004 was a stroke, Swiss forensic experts claimed in November that samples they took from Arafat's mortal remains did indicate polonium poisoning, albeit not definitively.

Suha Arafat, Arafat's widow, said in a statement from Paris, “You can imagine how much I am shaken by the contradictions between the findings of the best experts in Europe in this domain.” Read more ..

Israel and the Vatican

Pope Francis Meets Netanyahu for Cordial Talk

December 3rd 2013

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on December 2 with Pope Francis in at the Vatican. There the premier told the Christian leader, “Iran aspires to attain a nuclear bomb. It would thus threaten not only Israel but also Italy, Europe, and the entire world.” Besides the threat of a weaponized Iran, Pope Francis and the premier also discussed the plight of Christians in the Mideast.

Sara Netanyahu, who accompanied the prime minister to Rome, also met the Pope. They told the pontiff that their son, Avner, had won Israel’s National Bible Quiz, while they also discussed with him the essential connections Christianity and its roots to Judaism. 

Prime Minister Netanyahu asked Pope Francis, who is expected to visit Israel in May 2014, to remain as a guest for at least five days so as to visit the Holy Places of Christianity. According to Israel Hayom, Netanyahu invited the Pope, "Come to the synagogue in Chorazin, Jesus visited there.”  Read more ..

Mexico on Edge

'Black Friday' Roils Mexican Retailers

December 1st 2013

If the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) were to have its own holiday, it might very well be Black Friday Week.

Mimicking their counterparts in the U.S., Mexican merchants this month rolled out a version of the U.S. shopping frenzy for the third year in a row, while more and more Canadians planned to turn out for their country’s Black Friday edition, according to the Bank of Montreal. Almost 20 years into NAFTA, many of the same retailers, food processors, bankers, advertisers, and media moguls have a preeminent presence in all three member nations of the trade and investment pact.

U.S.-Mexico border residents had the opportunity to participate in two Black Fridays: the original one in El Norte and Mexico’s El Buen Fin sales event held November 15-18. Until now, however, the flow of customers is mostly one way north. Not surprisingly, lines of vehicles and pedestrians stretching up to three or four hours were reported waiting to cross November 28 and 29 in places such as Tijuana/San Diego and Ciudad Juarez/El Paso. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Pump Premium Fuel, Eat Gourmet Food at Washington Gas Station

December 1st 2013

Grilled steaks on flames

Imagine putting gas in your car and sitting down to a delicious meal - all in the same place. You can do that in Washington, D.C., where a combination gas station and convenience store is also serving food that’s getting rave reviews from customers. Fast Gourmet is doing a booming business.

Fast Gourmet is the one stop shop for Christina Wilkie, who fills her car with gas, buys candy, and then orders a sandwich. She lives nearby and considers Fast Gourmet a hidden gem.

“The food here is amazing. This place gets voted the best sandwich in Washington year after year. There are sandwiches that you wouldn’t expect like the chivito, which is steak, ham, eggs, cheese and olives. There are wonderful high quality ingredients,” said Wilkie.

Co-owners Lina Chovil, from Colombia, and her Argentine husband, Fernando Almiron, opened their gourmet gas station three years ago. Chovil said they drew upon their experiences back home where it's common to get good food from street vendors and at gas stations. Read more ..

America's Darkest Edge

Deadline Looms on Undetectable Guns

November 30th 2013

Beretta 90TWO

Guns that cannot be detected by X-ray machines will no longer be banned if Congress does not renew the decades-old prohibition by Dec. 9.

The 1998 Undetectable Firearms Act will sunset that day, ending the prohibition at a time when new technology has made it easier than ever before to manufacture plastic guns with 3-D printers. Gun control activists warn that a lapse would allow anyone with a few thousand dollars to build a homemade gun that would be undetectable at airports, government buildings or schools.
That threat was little more than “science fiction,” when Congress overwhelmingly backed the ban 25 years ago,” said Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who is pressing legislation to renew the law. “We didn’t think it would be a good idea to let the bad guys get a gun through metal detectors,” Israel said. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Autistic Children Shine on Youth Hockey Team

November 28th 2013

Autistic child

 At ice rinks across America, parents taking their children to hockey practice are a common sight. Many think it not only helps their children stay fit, but also teaches important life lessons, like the value of teamwork. In Rockville, Maryland, near Washington, D.C., a special group of young players has an inspiring story to tell.

On a recent Saturday morning in a quiet neighborhood in Rockville, the Blaisdell family got up before dawn. David Blaisdell was preparing for his son Christopher's weekly hockey practice.

Christopher is 14 years old and plays on a team called the Montgomery Cheetahs. The Cheetahs look no different than young hockey players across the U.S., but their path to the game has been very different. All the players on the team have varying degrees of developmental challenges, including autism. The team was founded in 2006 with only 10 players and two coaches, but now has more than 80 players and a larger coaching staff.  Head Coach David Lucia helped start the team. Read more ..

Fashion on Edge

In The Land Of Fur Coats, An Embryonic Animal-Rights Movement

November 27th 2013


Alfia Karimova's path to animal-rights activism started when she was shopping online -- for a fur coat.

The 34-year-old woman from the industrial city of Magnitogorsk was already the proud owner of an elegant silver-fox-fur coat. And with winter coming, she was in the market for another, this time mink.

But as she surfed the web for the perfect mink "shuba," she happened across an article describing how some coat makers use animals that have been skinned alive, electrocuted, gassed, confined in small cages, or ensnared in cruel traps. And she was horrified.

"Of course it's a cause of constant shame. How was it possible to live for so many years, never pausing to wonder and understand that what you're consuming is in actual fact perpetuating cruelty and barbarism?" Karimova says. "It's a mystery to me and a shame. It's a reason I want somehow to make up for this guilt and at least do something." Read more ..

The Phillipines on Edge

Typhoon Evacuees Wait Out Life in Manila

November 24th 2013

Sumatra village after tsunami

In the Philippines, the exodus from the worst-hit area of Tacloban continues, more than two weeks after a powerful typhoon laid waste to the country's central provinces.  The typhoon left more than 5,200 dead and about 1,500 missing.  Some of the evacuees have gone to Manila where they are welcomed with a host of social services and a little entertainment.

With the ending bell, the crowd in the grandstand inside Villamor Air Force Base in Manila roared to its feet as Philippine boxing mega-star Manny Pacquiao finisheed off Brandon Rios to snag another division title.

The audience was made up mostly of social workers, volunteers and service personnel who watched the live bout on a big screen.  But a few evacuees from the typhoon-stricken central Philippines were able to join in. Maria Nenita Tolibas and her family from Tacloban survived Super Typhoon Haiyan’s powerful winds and massive storm surge that left thousands dead in her city. Read more ..

Egypt on Edge

Egypt-U.S. Relations Strained Following Aid Cuts

November 23rd 2013

Hate Obama Patterson

Egypt's foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, said in remarks in late October that relations between Egypt and U.S. are now in "turmoil" following Washington's decision to suspend military aid. The U.S. State Department announced the decision to curtail military aid and some economic support aid to Cairo last week, although the Obama administration stressed it was not trying to sever ties with its long standing ally.

In announcing the decision, U.S. reiterated its displeasure at the Egyptian military's violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood after the July 3 ouster of former president Mohammed Morsi. The cut will specifically withhold the delivery of helicopters, missiles, tank parts, and airplanes, as well as $260 million for the general Egyptian budget. Some assistance will remain untouched, including aid for counterterrorism programs, health care, education and businesses in Egypt. The announcement emphasized that cuts are meant to be temporary in the hopes that Egyptian military will take steps toward restoring democracy. Read more ..

Broken Government

Concern Grows over 'Cherry-Picking' Federal Laws by Obama Administration

November 22nd 2013

Kickin back in the Situation room

While marijuana is an illegal substance under federal law, the U.S. Justice Department is ignoring smoke signals coming from Washington and Colorado, says a University of Michigan professor. Both states passed ballot initiatives that legalize the possession of certain amounts of marijuana by adults.

Melvyn Levitsky, a professor at the University of Michigan's Ford School of Public Policy, argues that in refusing to challenge legalization laws, federal government authorities are ignoring their duties under the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Controlled Substances Act and U.S. treaty obligations. "I'm concerned about the federal government cherry-picking federal law, deciding which federal laws it's going to enforce," he said.

Levitsky cited the example of Arizona's attempt to pass laws on illegal immigrants. The federal government took the state to the Supreme Court, challenged the state law based on the fact that federal law trumps state law, and won the case. However, it has chosen not to challenge state law on marijuana in Colorado and Washington. Read more ..

Broken Government

Lincoln's Words at Gettysburg Resonate 150 Years Later

November 21st 2013

Abraham Lincoln

One hundred and fifty years ago this month (November 19), at the height of the U.S. Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln delivered a short address at a battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The bloody battle that had taken place there several months earlier is now considered the turning point of the war. While dedicating a cemetery, Lincoln paid tribute to the soldiers who had fought at Gettysburg. He also laid stress on freedom and equality.

In his two-minute speech, President Lincoln recalled the fighting in Gettysburg, which took the lives of tens of thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers. He honored “the brave men, living and dead who struggled here.” From 1861 to 1865, the Northern states - the Union, fought the South - the Confederacy, which had seceded from the nation over several issues, including slavery.

Martin Johnson, history professor at Miami University in Ohio, has written a new book called Writing the Gettysburg Address. He says the president sought continuing support for the Union as the civil war dragged on.

He said, “He knew he had to impress the nation with the importance of the cause, why this war was so important and so crucial."

Shortly before he went to Gettysburg, the president was at this cottage in Washington, where he would go to escape distractions at the White House. Callie Hawkins, program director at the renovated cottage, says this was no retreat, since a military cemetery was next door. “It gave him an opportunity to think and reflect, and think through his ideas of the civil war and emancipation. Lincoln saw burials every day," she said. Read more ..

Financing the Flames

Author Edwin Black Reveals Latest Terrorism Funding at IBC-TV Special Event at Beverly Hills City Council

November 20th 2013

Edwin Black

New York Times bestselling author Edwin Black will be the featured speaker at the IBC-TV Special Event being hosted in the Beverly Hills City Council Chambers by the Beverly Hills Forum November 25, 2013. He will reveal new information from his latest investigative book, Financing the Flames: How Tax-Exempt and Public Money Fuel a Culture of Confrontation and Terror in Israel. The IBC-TV Special Event accompanies a special 10-part broadcast series on Financing the Flames produced as part of the Edwin Black Show on the IBC-TV network.

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Financing the Flames pulls the cover off the robust use of US tax-exempt, tax-subsidized, and public monies to foment agitation, systematically destabilize the Israel Defense Forces, and finance terrorists in Israel. In a far-flung investigation in the United States, Israel, and the West Bank, human-rights investigative reporter Edwin Black documents that it is actually the highly politicized human rights organizations and NGOs themselves—all American taxpayer supported—which are financing the flames that make peace in Israel difficult if not impossible.

Black spotlights key charitable organizations such as the Ford Foundation, George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, the New Israel Fund, and many others, as well as American taxpayers as a group. Instead of promoting peace and reconciliation between Arabs and Israelis, he writes, a variety of taxpayer-subsidized organizations have funded a culture where peace does not pay, but warfare and confrontation do.

Financing the Flames has received a cascade of accolades since it was unleashed upon the public last month. Rick Halperin director of Southern Methodist University Embrey Human Rights Program and former chairman of the board of Amnesty International USA called the book “a jolt.” Halperin wrote, “Most people should and will be appalled to read the revelations in Financing the Flames. It is a jolt!” Read more ..

The Arab Winter

Strange Bedfellows

November 20th 2013

Iranian clerics

Fifteen years ago this month, al Qaeda operatives executed two devastating, simultaneous car bomb attacks targeting the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The attacks in East Africa killed 223 people, injured more than 4,000, and brought international infamy to al Qaeda -- among other repercussions, they earned Osama bin Laden a place on the FBI's Most Wanted list.

U.S. embassies are still targets for violent extremists today -- as shown by the recent closure of 19 U.S. diplomatic outposts across the Middle East in response to intercepted communications from al Qaeda leaders -- but the nature of the terrorist threat has evolved over time. The relationship between al Qaeda Central and its regional franchises has changed dramatically, and the relationship between Sunni and Shiite terrorists is changing as well. These radicals have historically put aside their rivalries to focus on common enemies when their interests aligned -- witness Iran and Hezbollah's relationship with the Sunni Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist organization active in the Gaza Strip. But such partnerships have become more complicated as the two groups find themselves in open battle for control of Syria. Read more ..

The Way We Are

South Africa Opens New Mandela Exhibit

November 18th 2013


Officials in South Africa have opened the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in Johannesburg, just 11 days before the South Africa premiere of a Hollywood film based on the life of the anti-apartheid icon.  Mandela is now 95 and homebound because of health problems, but officials say he has much to teach his nation, and the world. 

The Nelson Mandela Foundation unveiled the new exhibit of Mandela’s life to a veritable who’s who of South Africa. 

Current President Jacob Zuma lauded the man who overturned South Africa’s apartheid government and became the first black president in 1994.  Top politicians and diplomats praised him; singers belted out tunes in his honor; and members of Mandela’s family said they were touched by the attention.

The airy, modern new space presents a variety of artifacts, from the impressive to the banal, the official to the personal.  Photos show Mandela at most stages of his life - from a uniformed schoolboy to a confident young lawyer, from longtime prisoner to president. Visitors may also learn a few intimate details about the man who has been so extensively written about. 

For example, after his release from prison, where he spent 27 years for his opposition to apartheid, he not only spoke optimistically, he literally doused himself in optimism.  One of the pieces on exhibit is a half-used bottle of CK One cologne - a fitting choice, considering the fresh, citrusy scent was revolutionary, in that it was one of the most successful unisex scents ever.  Read more ..

The Edge of Piracy

Somali Pirates Sentenced to Life for Murders

November 17th 2013

Somali Pirate

Three Somali pirates, who were convicted of murdering four American citizens -- who were on board the ill-fated SV Quest -- were told by a federal judge on Thursday that they will spend the rest of their lives behind bars in a federal prison, according to a report from a U.S. Attorney and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS).

A jury previously convicted Somali nationals Ahmed Muse Salad, a/k/a “Afmagalo,” 27, Abukar Osman Beyle, 33, and Shani Nurani Shiekh Abrar, 31, of multiple charges including piracy, murder within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, violence against maritime navigation, conspiracy to commit violence against maritime navigation resulting in death, kidnapping resulting in death, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, hostage taking resulting in death, conspiracy to commit hostage taking resulting in death, and multiple firearms offenses.

The three pirates were sentenced by Chief United States District Court Judge Rebecca Beach Smith to 21 life sentences, 19 consecutive life sentences, two concurrent life sentences, and 30 years consecutive, for their roles in the Feb. 22, 2011, murders of four Americans aboard the sailing vessel Quest.


Broken Aid

How Shipping Unions Sunk Food Aid Reform

November 16th 2013

Hungry African Widow/Children

As members of the U.S. House and Senate meet this week to hammer out a farm bill, they are likely to consider changes to the way the United States delivers food aid to hungry and impoverished nations. The debate will reprise an intense legislative battle that flared in June when food aid reforms were proposed in the House.

That struggle had a startling and little-noticed result: a plan to reshape the way in which the U.S. delivers half of the world’s food aid was dealt a decisive blow by a small but determined group of maritime unions.

Unlike other developed nations, which purchase most food aid in the regions that receive it, the U.S. buys food from American farms, ships it on American vessels, and gives away much of the goods free of cost for humanitarian groups to distribute. Although the Government Accountability Office has concluded that this system is “inherently inefficient” and can be harmful to farmers in recipient nations, for decades the setup has been politically untouchable. A powerful coalition including agriculture companies, the military, the shipping industry and humanitarian aid groups ensured that any changes were dead on arrival in Congress.


China Rising

China: The Next Phase of Reform

November 14th 2013

Bank of China

In light of China's imminent demographic imbalance, the changes to family planning were expected. The country's massive pool of cheap labor previously underpinned its economic and social transformation, but as China prepares to transition toward a consumer-based economy, its aging population is a problem.

No details have been given on the structure of the National Security Committee. The goal was to merge different institutions in charge of diplomacy, security, military and intelligence into a coordinated agency under the authority of the president. However, the decision -- which is far more than an institutional change -- came after a re-evaluation of China's internal and external security environment and of the country's emerging role in the international community. Beijing recognizes the need for a more delicate and coherent team to handle the country's strategic issues and pursue its national interests. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Train To Nowhere: Russian Prison Transfers

November 13th 2013

prison cell northern ireland flickr

Under the cover of darkness in the early hours, Russian jailors unexpectedly transferred 30 Greenpeace activists from their Murmansk cells onto a special prison train carriage that rolled out of the far northern city.

Lawyers and relatives were given no advance warning. It was unclear where the prisoners were being taken. And it was unclear when they would arrive.

There was nothing unusual about the prison transfer, which took place on November 11. The only thing about it that stood out was that investigators subsequently clarified that the group was being transferred to a pretrial detention center in St. Petersburg -- an exception to standard procedure.

In Russia, prison transfers can take days, weeks, or even months. And, as the case of jailed Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova illustrates, the authorities are not legally obliged to provide information as to the detainee's whereabouts or condition during this period. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Thanking You for Your Service

November 11th 2013

Soldier Crying

A few years ago, when I was writing with a different hat, the Band of Brothers USMC Motorcycle Riding Club provided me with a list of companies providing free and discounted services to American military veterans in honor of Veteran's Day.  I wrote at the time:

"Veterans Day is about remembering the sacrifices of our soldiers in today's wars and in wars past. There are military parades and somber reflections, speeches and flags. And for those who commemorate 11-11 as Armistice Day, there is an even more somber twinge as "the war to end all wars" turned out to be only a precursor of bigger and more horrible wars. But in an interesting twist on the very American habit of using Federal holidays for shopping, businesses have taken to offering discounts and gifts to service personnel as a Veterans Day "thank you." A single instance may sound a little silly - a free donut from Krispy Kreme - but in the aggregate, they form a uniquely American picture of a country that appreciates the service of our troops." Read more ..

Wildlife on Edge

Uganda’s Lion Population Devastated by Bush Meat Hunters

November 9th 2013

lion stalking gazelles

A recent report found that Uganda's lion population is down by 30 percent in the past decade.  But in the country's Murchison Falls National Park, the figure is closer to 60 percent, mainly because of snares meant to catch bush meat.

On a blistering hot day in Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park, and Tom Okello, the park’s area manager, rummaged through a shed filled with wires.

“This is a store for recovered poaching implements and equipment,” he said.  “So with us here we have the snares.  We have wires which are got from electric lines, we have wires which are got from telephone lines, then we have wires which are even got from tires.  These snares I would estimate to be about three tons, and these are recoveries in the last five months.” Read more ..

The Way We Are

Was Humanitarian Intervention A Passing Fad?

November 7th 2013

Hungry African Widow/Children

During the 1990s, a previously little-known concept rapidly became the hottest term in international relations. "Humanitarian intervention"—at its simplest, the use of military force to protect human rights—established itself in the political lexicon following a series of brutal conflicts in Africa and the Balkans.

As with most political concepts, humanitarian intervention became voguish, thanks to circumstances. The Soviet Union had collapsed. We hadn't fully grasped the threat posed by Islamist terrorism. With the expulsion of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait and the relative success of the Israel-Palestinian peace process, even the Middle East seemed uncommonly stable.

Most important, there was an acute awareness in Western countries that our impressive military strength hadn't deterred some of the worst slaughters of the 20th century. For around 14 weeks in 1994, Rwanda was the site of the most rapacious extermination since the Shoah, with more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus murdered by machete-wielding Hutu extremists. Between 1992 and 1995, the war in Bosnia spawned countless atrocities, such as the massacre of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Serb forces in the town of Srebrenica. To many—especially American Jews—it seemed that these failures showed the hollowness of oft-repeated promises of "Never again." Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

African Scientist's Research on Mosquito Swarms Awarded

November 6th 2013

mosquito biting

A scientist from Burkina Faso has won an award from Britain’s Royal Society for his research on new ways to target mosquito swarms responsible for the spread of malaria. Scientists say it’s vital to develop new tools to tackle the disease as both the malarial parasite, and the mosquitoes that carry it, are developing resistance to existing drugs and insecticides.

The research by Dr. Abdoulaye Diabate focused on the reproductive patterns of male mosquitoes - and his findings have caught the attention of scientists around the world.

“The important thing about this mating system is that whenever you go into a field site, you will find mosquito swarms at the same place every single day. This kind of makes it really very easy to target, to tackle these mosquitoes and see how you can just reduce mosquito density,” said Diabate.

Burkina Faso has one of the highest rates of malaria in the world. Diabate found that during the rainy season in Burkina Faso, some houses contained 900 mosquitoes. He said the discovery that the insects swarm together to mate in the same place year in, year out presents an opportunity to disrupt breeding patterns. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Homing Pigeons May Home-In on Smells

November 5th 2013

Click to select Image

Homing pigeons, like other birds, are extraordinary navigators, but how they manage to find their way back to their lofts is still debated. To navigate, birds require a ‘map’ (to tell them home is south, for example) and a ‘compass’ (to tell them where south is), with the sun and the Earth’s magnetic field being the preferred compass systems. A new paper provides evidence that the information pigeons use as a map is in fact available in the atmosphere: odours and winds allow them to find their way home. The results are now published in Biogeosciences, an open access journal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU).

Experiments over the past 40 years have shown that homing pigeons get disoriented when their sense of smell is impaired or when they don’t have access to natural winds at their home site. But many researchers were not convinced that wind-borne odours could provide the map pigeons need to navigate. Now, Hans Wallraff of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany, has shown that the atmosphere does contain the necessary information to help pigeons find their way home. Read more ..

Inside Politics

Koch-Backer Governors Group Gives Big to Cuccinelli in Virginia

November 4th 2013

Money Bands=Happiness

Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli has raked in millions from out-of-state donors while at the same time hammering Democratic opponent Terry McAuliffe for doing the same, campaign finance records show.

Cuccinelli has received $8.1 million — more than 40 percent of funds raised by his campaign since Jan. 1 — from the Republican Governors Association (RGA), a Washington, D.C.-based group that funnels big contributions from corporations and billionaires into races for governor across the country, according to state data collected by the Virginia Public Access Project.

Tomorrow’s contest pits tea party favorite Cuccinelli against McAuliffe, former Democratic National Committee chairman and friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Heading into Election Day, Cuccinelli trails in the money race, having received nearly $20 million compared with McAuliffe’s nearly $32.9 million, according to VPAP. A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday shows McAuliffe with a 6 point lead. Read more ..

Financing the Flames

Financing the Flames from a Mobile Home in Florida

November 4th 2013

Financing the Flames

A regular feature of West Bank confrontation between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians seems to be a corps of intrepid young women that villagers call “internationals.” They specialize in upfront and personal, in-your-face, and often nose-to-nose verbal taunting hoping to provoke a reaction that video cameras can record. If and when soldiers finally do react, these incidents are then uploaded to the Internet to prove “the brutality of the IDF.” These “internationals” often seem to appear out of nowhere at a village flashpoint. Just as suddenly, they melt into the background.

Using false names and seemingly untrackable movements, the skilled and stealthy internationals have managed to inspire and encourage videographed confrontation far beyond their numbers. Who are they? What is the font of their financial wherewithal? Who is financing these flames?

Searching for answers, one night in early May 2013, I traveled to the tiny West Bank town of Deir Itsiya where the internationals quietly maintain a base of operations. The women are known to many in that local Arab community, where they are provided logistical assistance and deferential hospitality. They receive many European guests. When I asked my taxi driver, "Do you know where the house is?" he answered, "Yes, Sheik Haider (neighborhood)." He took me there.

At an elbow in a dusty road, I found their compound behind long, ornate iron fencing. I knocked on all the doors, the ones with knockers and the ones without. No answer. I called out for anyone who was home. A neighbor strolled by to remark. The driver translated: "He said the European girls are not sleeping in town tonight. But he knows how to reach them. I will take you where he said." Read more ..

Intelligence on Edge

US Contends Europeans Misunderstand NSA Spying Programs

November 3rd 2013


While European nations are objecting to the American spying programs that reportedly targeted their populations and their leaders, U.S. officials say the program is misunderstood and that some European intelligence agencies have actually cooperated closely with Washington.

A delegation of indignant European Parliament members hit the sidewalks and halls of power in Washington this week to express concern about the National Security Agency’s surveillance operations.

German member Elmar Brok summarized their concerns. “We have not a free feeling to go forward together if you are feeling that your neighbor and friend is monitoring you."

But top U.S. intelligence officials told Congress that’s not exactly what they were doing. Rather, the NSA director, General Keith Alexander, said the information about phone calls and emails was gathered legally, and reporters mischaracterized what it was. “Both they and the person who stole the classified data did not understand what they were looking at,” said Alexander. Read more ..

A Legacy of War

Zimbabwe Seeks Funds to Remove Landmines

November 2nd 2013

Land Mine

International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC] and the government of Zimbabwe have embarked on a landmine removal campaign in a village on the border with Mozambique. Zimbabwe's government is struggling to raise funds for demining, and some people are being maimed or killed by old mines still in the ground.

A loud sound that can be heard is a mock landmine explosion set off by Zimbabwe's army in Gonarezhou National Park, near the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border. But explosions like this still happen 33 years after the country won its independence. People get maimed. Some even killed.

Thirty-year-old Philemon Sibanda lost a limb after he stepped on a landmine in 1998 while herding cattle in his village. “They have not even cleared the area of landmines. As for me, I have no life. I am just seated. If I had not been injured I would be tilling the land as others are doing. Those who are able-bodied are crossing into South Africa to look for employment,” he said.

Sibanda can’t walk, as the prosthetic limb that was donated to him by the charity World Vision now causes pain if he uses it. He needs a new one, but cannot afford it.

Hundreds of thousands of mines laid in the 1970s during Zimbabwe's independence war still litter the ground at sites across the country. According to Halo Trust, a British-based demining organization, Zimbabwe is one of the densest minefields in the world, with approximately 5,500 unexploded landmines per kilometer.  Read more ..

Inside Politics

How JFK's Assisination Changed American Politics

November 1st 2013

JFK official portrait

Almost every American of a certain age remembers where he was when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963.

The nation stopped and mourned. In their grief, few Americans wondered how the tragedy would affect domestic politics, and in the short run relatively little changed. “Let us continue,” President Lyndon Johnson said when he addressed Congress after the funeral.

In the longer run, the effect on partisan politics, on the people and press and parties, was profound. And those effects continue to reverberate today.

Unlike Lincoln and Roosevelt, who were taken from the stage just as they completed historic undertakings -- the Civil War, World War II -- Kennedy was murdered when he and his administration were in the middle of things. The tax cuts he had proposed in February 1963 and the civil rights bill he had endorsed that year had been long delayed in Congress. But, contrary to the conventional wisdom of the time, they were well on their way to passage when he died.

Relations with the Soviet Union were stable after resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. The United States was already sending more troops to Vietnam, and Kennedy’s approval of the Nov. 1 coup against the Diem government committed the United States to continuing responsibility there.

Politically, Kennedy’s job approval had declined significantly from about 70 percent, but only because of the defection of Southern whites on civil rights. In the rest of the nation he was highly popular and running ahead of any Republican by margins larger than those enjoyed by Franklin Roosevelt. That suggests that he would have nearly matched the 61 percent of the vote Lyndon Johnson got in November 1964, with some slippage in Johnson’s Texas and the border South. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Tehran Softens Image Abroad But Remains Hard-Line At Home

October 31st 2013

Hassan Rowhani

Soft on the outside, hard on the inside. That may be the best way to describe the often startling contrast between Iran's current foreign and domestic policies.

Since taking office in August, President Hassan Rohani has won widespread praise for showing greater flexibility in nuclear talks with the international community.

The praise has come even from countries usually highly skeptical of Iran's readiness to solve the nuclear crisis through negotiations.

As U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said following this month's talks in Geneva between Tehran and the six world powers, "We are at a different point in this with a new government in place, and we are having a level of conversation that is different from what we had in the past." Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Improving Earthquake Early Warning Systems

October 30th 2013

Chile earthquake

Earthquake early warning systems may provide the public with crucial seconds to prepare for severe shaking. For California, a new study suggests upgrading current technology and relocating some seismic stations would improve the warning time, particularly in areas poorly served by the existing network – south of San Francisco Bay Area to north Los Angeles and north of the San Francisco Bay Area.

A separate case study focuses on the utility of low cost sensors to create a high-density, effective network that can be used for issuing early warnings in Taiwan. Both studies appear in the November issue of the journal Seismological Research Letters (SRL).

"We know where most active faults are in California, and we can smartly place seismic stations to optimize the network," said Serdar Kuyuk. Richard Allen, director of the Seismological Laboratory at UC Berkeley, is the co-author of this study. Read more ..

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