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China on Edge

China’s Human Rights Record Challenged at UN

October 22nd 2013

jail door closeup

China has made a spirited defense of its human rights record, which is under review at the U.N. Human Rights Council.  While admitting some shortcomings Tuesday, the Chinese delegation told the 47-member U.N. body that Beijing has made many improvements in promoting and protecting the rights of its citizens.

China’s human rights record is under review for the second time under the United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR).  Under this procedure, the U.N. Human Rights Council examines each nation’s record once every four years. 

The last time China came under the human rights spotlight in 2009, Beijing accepted 42 recommendations made by other countries in attendance.  In his statement to the council Tuesday, the head of the Chinese delegation acknowledged that not all of these recommendations have been implemented.  However, he said his country has made great strides. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Chimps Respond to Human Yawning

October 21st 2013

Bonobo chimp

A new study says as chimpanzees grow, they increase their ability for empathy – the ability to recognize emotions in others. Researchers say they learned this by watching chimps yawn when they see people yawn.

Elaine Masden and her colleagues at Lund University in Sweden base their conclusions on studying the primates in a sanctuary. But you have to ask – why study contagious yawning?

Laughing, she said, “I don’t know. It’s a really peculiar effect. It’s such a small thing, but that nonetheless most of us experience. Most of us when we see or hear others yawn or just think about yawning or read about yawning then we ourselves begin to yawn. So it’s something that most people are familiar with.” Dr. Madsen -- an evolutionary psychologist -- says not everyone reacts the same way. About half of people tested do not respond to contagious yawning. Read more ..


Palestine on Edge

PLO: Battle for Succession Has Begun

October 20th 2013

Mahmoud Abbas and father

Over the past few months, a succession battle has been quietly raging in the Palestinian Authority [PA]. This behind-the-scenes battle is continuing even as the PA leadership conducts secret peace talks with Israel. In fact, the U.S.-sponsored peace negotiations have served as a catalyst for increased calls by senior PLO and Fatah officials to start planning for the day after Mahmoud Abbas's departure from the scene.

Like his predecessor Yasser Arafat, the 78-year-old Abbas has been running the PA in an autocratic fashion since his election as president in January 2005. And like Arafat, Abbas has since managed to keep many of his critics silent by providing them with funds, luxurious offices and vehicles, secretaries, bodyguards and assistants. Many senior members of the PLO and Fatah, for example, each receive from Abbas tens of thousands of dollars every month to enable them to cover the costs of office rentals and vehicles, as well as salaries for their secretaries and henchmen. Still, the funds have not been able to buy Abbas 100% quiet. Read more ..


The Race for EVs

Volvo Turns Car Body Into a Battery

October 18th 2013

Plug-in Vehicle

Car batteries are heavy and clumsy, right? Along with research partners, Volvo has developed a concept to integrate the batteries into the car structure. With innovative materials and form factors, the batteries would claim much less space. Further down the road, the concept could significantly reduce the weight of future electric vehicles.

Volvo's new energy storage systems consist of carbon fibres, nano structured batteries and supercapacitors. The project team identified a feasible alternative to the heavy weight, large size and high costs associated with the batteries seen in hybrids and electric cars today, whilst maintaining the efficient capacity of power and performance. The answer was found in the combination of carbon fibres and a polymer resin, creating an advanced nanomaterial, and structural super capacitors. The reinforced carbon fibres sandwich and the new battery are moulded and formed to fit around the car's frame, such as the door panels, the boot lid and wheel bowl, releasing the space normally occupied by the batteries (without sucpercaps) in the floor structure of the car or in the trunk. The carbon fibre laminate is first layered, shaped and then cured in an oven to set and harden. The super capacitors are integrated within the component skin. This material can then be used around the vehicle, replacing existing components, to store and charge energy. Read more ..


Broken Government

US Farm Policy Amouts to $80 Billion for Rich People

October 17th 2013

wheat fields

Alice doesn't just live in Wonderland anymore; she seems to be everywhere. On ABC, in numerous op-ed columns (along with the entire Corleone family in one case), and even hiding out in multiple DC monuments. She has also, apparently, invaded many congressional offices. Why? Because the chaos of Wonderland ‒ complete with various lunatic Queens of Hearts, Mad Hatters, Sleepy Dormice, and random Cheshire Cats on Cruz control ‒ seems to have become pervasive in Washington's corridors of power over the past three weeks (you can pick your own cast for Charles Dodgson's characters; there are many, many contenders for the leading roles).

But, in fact, the advent of Wonderland into the world of congressional legislation is not a new phenomenon. And the House and Senate agricultural committees are prime examples of the long standing nature of the Wonderland legislative tradition. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

The Thorny Issue Of Status Of U.S. Forces In Afghanistan

October 16th 2013

Army in Afghanistan

Washington wants its soldiers to be immune from Afghan courts if they remain after 2014. Kabul isn't sure. Here are five things to know about what makes immunity for foreign soldiers so complicated.

How has immunity become a sticking point for keeping U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan?
Both Kabul and Washington want some U.S. soldiers to remain in Afghanistan after multinational forces leave by the end of next year. But they cannot agree upon the terms of a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) detailing how much immunity U.S. soldiers will have from Afghan courts. Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged the sticking point in Kabul on October 2, when they announced only partial success in writing a new security pact. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Robots Become China's Growing Labor Force

October 14th 2013

Robotic Orange Harvester

While China may be known as the world's factory, rising labor costs have led to booming growth in automation for manufacturing and that is turning the country into the world's biggest purchaser of robots. Leading robotics manufacturers have come to Shanghai to cash in on this rapidly expanding business opportunity.

Robots have traditionally been used in heavy manufacturing, such as automobiles, but now their uses are widening as their capabilities expand.

Shunrin Mizutani, the CEO of Japanese robotics company Yaskawa in Shanghai, said that in addition to being used in the airline industry, some are used to make iPhones and other smart phones. "Assembly that used to be done by hundreds of thousands of people is now done by robots,"  he said. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Terror Attack Leaves Psagot Residents Wondering about Peace

October 13th 2013

It was a frightening Saturday night for the residents of Psagot, a community of 1,800 people located in Judea and Samaria, north of Jerusalem. A Palestinian terrorist infiltrated into the community, firing from point-blank range at nine-year-old Noam Glick, who was playing on the balcony of her home. The girl was lightly wounded with gunshots to her neck and chest and was hospitalized in Jerusalem.

“It was the first time that something like this happened in Psagot,” said Liat Ofer, a 26-year-old resident of the community, who teaches in Jerusalem.

Noam’s father Yisrael Glick told Israel’s Army Radio that Noam managed to get back into the house after she was shot. “Noam told us there was an Arab man out there. I realized that this was a security incident. It’s the scariest thing that can happen here – to have a terrorist enter your home,” he said. Read more ..


Broken Government

What To Know About The Looming U.S. Debt-Ceiling Crisis

October 12th 2013

K Street

If the United States defaults on its debt, the results for the global economy would be catastrophic. Here are five things to know about the U.S. debt ceiling crisis now playing out in Washington.

What is the debt ceiling crisis
U.S. officials warn that if the government is unable to raise the amount of money it can borrow, the country will be unable to pay all its bills. If that happens, the results would not only be catastrophic for the U.S. economy but for the global economy.

The U.S. Treasury says that by October 17 the government will exhaust its ability to stay beneath the current $16.7 trillion federal debt ceiling, which is fixed by law, and would have only about $30 billion left in cash. That's not enough to keep up payments of salaries and social benefits at home, plus interest due on trillions of dollars borrowed internationally.

That would be an unprecedented situation. The United States hasn't defaulted on its debts since 1790, when it was a newly formed country. Today it is the world's strongest economy, with trade and investment ties to virtually every other country, and no state of that economic status has ever defaulted on its debts before.

But whether the United States' two political parties -- President Barack Obama's Democrats and the opposition Republicans -- can agree on letting Washington borrow more money to pay its bills is an open question. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Russia Has Highest Level Of Wealth Inequality

October 11th 2013

International Currency 3

A new report on global wealth has determined that Russia now has the highest level of wealth inequality in the world -- with the exception of a few small Caribbean nations where billionaires have taken up residency.

The annual global wealth study published by the financial services group Credit Suisse says a mere 110 Russian citizens now control 35 percent of the total household wealth across the vast country. By comparison, billionaires worldwide account for just 1 to 2 percent of total wealth.

The report says Russia has one billionaire for every $11 billion in wealth while, across the rest of the world, there is one billionaire for every $170 billion. One of the report's main authors, Tony Shorrocks of the London-based consultancy Global Economic Perspectives, said on October 10 that wealth disparity in Russia is unparalleled. Read more ..


Fatah on Edge

Is Abbas Losing Control Over Fatah?

October 10th 2013

Abbas UN

A series of incidents over the past few weeks indicate that the Palestinian Fatah faction, headed by Mahmoud Abbas, is witnessing a sharp power struggle between some of its top leaders. The infighting in Fatah is a sign of the growing challenges facing Abbas as he continues to conduct peace talks with Israel. Moreover, the internal squabbling raises questions about Abbas's ability to reach any agreement with Israel that would be acceptable to most Palestinians.

What has been happening in Fatah lately is more than differences of opinion among the faction's top brass. Some Palestinians have gone as far as saying that the infighting marks the beginning of a revolt against Abbas's leadership. Fatah gunmen have returned to the streets of some West Bank cities and refugee camps are openly challenging Abbas's leadership. Read more ..


The Video Edge

Red Cross Wants Video Games To Be More Realistic

October 9th 2013

Pearl Harbor Bombing

When it comes to military-style computer video games, realism sells. In first-person shooter games like the top-selling "Call of Duty" and "Modern Warfare," players are virtual participants in realistic battlefield scenarios inspired by and often based on actual combat situations.

But while the onscreen firefights, death, and destruction are not real, the decisions players make in order to "win" the game are another matter. In their pursuit of victory, gamers can choose to wipe out whole villages, shoot civilians, and commit other acts that in real life would constitute war crimes.

Now the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is arguing that this false sense of impunity has the potential to affect what happens on actual battlefields. The Red Cross says the absence of rules of war in the games "create[s] the impression that prohibited acts, such as torture and extrajudicial killing, are standard behavior." Read more ..


The Cyber Edge

Cyber Survival: Why We're Losing and What's Needed to Win

October 8th 2013

Computers/Nerd Silhouette

Cyber security is not just about the computer on your desk, or even the remote computer sitting somewhere in what we now call the cloud. A different way of looking at it is to consider cyber security an issue that concerns any technology that has a computer chip in it. Cyber security issues extend to information and information systems, and increasingly they extend to products and services we use in our day-to-day lives. We are facing a technology issue in which similar vulnerabilities exist to your information as they do, for example, to the new generation of biomedical implant devices that allow for remote diagnostics.

When we think about the harms that can befall our information, information systems, products and services, we typically categorize them into categories involving risk to their confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Everyday in the newspapers we read about harms to confidentiality. Everyday someone's online data is compromised and corporate trade secrets stolen. But, that's not what keeps most people up at night. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

As Sochi Paralympics Approach, Conditions For Russia's Disabled Still Dire

October 7th 2013

Wheelchair athletes

Maria Gendeleva is just 25, but she has already spent more than a decade in a wheelchair. Since losing the use of her legs in a car crash, life has been an uphill battle for the young Russian -- a battle she appears determined to win.

Today, Gendeleva has a full-time job, drives her own car, and enjoys an active social life. In a country like Russia, where inadequate infrastructure and a general lack of awareness mean people with disabilities are all but cut off from society, this makes her the exception rather than the rule.

But Gendeleva, an upbeat Muscovite with flowing blonde hair, says her daily life in a wheelchair is nonetheless strewn with hurdles -- from steep curbs to inaccessible public buildings. "I'm already so used to it constantly happening that I don't even notice it. I just accept it and move on," she says. "For me, it is more surprising when a whole day goes by without these obstacles and barriers." Read more ..


The Prehistoric Edge

Homo Neanderthalensis Made Bone Tools Before Homo sapiens

October 6th 2013

Click to select Image

One day in 2011, undergraduate student Naomi Martisius was sorting through tiny bone remnants in the University of California, Davis, paleoanthropology lab when she stumbled across a peculiar piece. The bone fragment, from a French archaeological site, turned out to be a part of an early specialized bone tool used by a Neandertal before the first modern humans appeared in Europe. "At the time, I had no idea about the impact of my discovery," said Martisius, who is now pursuing her doctoral degree in anthropology at UC Davis.

Martisius' opportunity was the result of a decade of excavation and research by two international teams. Their findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in August.

"Previously these types of bone tools have only been associated with modern humans," said Teresa E. Steele, associate professor of anthropology at UC Davis, who also served as a co-author on the article and adviser to Martisius at UC Davis and at archaeological excavations in France.

"However, our identification of these pieces in secure Neandertal contexts leaves open the possibility that we have found, for the first time, evidence that Neandertals may have influenced the technology of modern humans," she said. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Plant Clinics Taking Root in East Africa

October 5th 2013

Nigerian farmers

Despite advances in science and technology, crop disease continues to plague farmers everywhere.  The Britain-based Center for Agriculture and Biosciences International, or CABI, says up to 40 percent of the food grown worldwide is lost to pests and diseases before it can be consumed.

CABI is trying to change that with a crop protection program called Plantwise.  In the past three years, the program has trained nearly a thousand so-called plant doctors in 24 countries, including one near Kampala, Uganda.

It’s market day in Mukono, a village about 15 kilometers from Kampala.  Plant doctor Daniel Lyazi has arrived by motorbike to set up his clinic next to a stall where a traditional healer is trying to sell herbal remedies to shoppers. 

There is no remedy for the diseased plant samples that people bring to Lyazi’s clinic, which is basically just a table under a small tent. The slime-covered cabbage that a farmer plunks on the table is not going to get any better, nor will the rest of his cabbages.  But Lyazi’s recommendations may save the next season’s crop.  Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Mineral Wealth Could Harm, Not Aid, Afghanistan's Future

October 4th 2013

rust iron oxide wikipedia

Afghanistan's mineral wealth is closely tied to its future prospects. If managed well, the theory goes, the mining sector could be the backbone of a sustainable economy, fund national security, and stabilize the government.

But the country's natural resources could just as easily undercut Kabul's efforts to stand on its own by exacerbating corruption, forcing a sell-off of prized assets to foreign investors, and becoming yet another source of violent conflict.

Based on its handling of the mining sector, observers say, it looks like Afghanistan is on course to join the raft of countries afflicted by the "resource curse."

The Mines and Petroleum Ministry estimates that Afghanistan boasts oil, gas, iron ore, copper, and gold deposits worth about $1 trillion. Kabul hopes to generate about $4 billion a year in mining and energy revenue over the next decade. Yet in 2012, the two sectors brought in less than $150 million combined. Read more ..


The Drug Wars

U.S. Drug Agents Smuggling Cocaine, Venezuelan President Alleges

October 3rd 2013

Nicolas Maduro

The president of Venezuela on Wednesday cast suspicion on an American law enforcement agency saying his nation is probing the American drug enforcement officers to learn whether or not they are involved in narcotics trafficking in his country. President Nicolas Maduro announced that his own law enforcement officials are investigating whether the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was involved in a recent criminal case involving a multi-million dollar cocaine smuggling operation, according to Jerry Langher, a former narcotics detective and director of corporate security. "After the gun-smuggling snafu by [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] U.S. federal agents on what's known as Operation Fast and Furious, more political leaders are finding it easier to make outrageous accusations against the United States," said Iris Aquino, a former NYPD police official.

Read more ..

The Edge of Science

New Morphing Glass Can Be Dimmed, Frosted or See-Through

October 2nd 2013

Color-change

Israeli company is revolutionizing the glass industry with smart glass that can become opaque or transparent at the touch of a button.

As you enter the elevator at the Aish HaTorah yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem, you’d never suspect that you were about to experience the future of glass technology. But as the car rises from the first to the fifth and final floor, its walls gradually transform, from what seemed at first to be solid and opaque to entirely transparent.

When the elevator ultimately comes to a halt on the rooftop of the building, you are surrounded by clear glass – and a stunning view of the Western Wall.

The glass used in Aish HaTorah’s morphing elevator is super-charged with next-generation liquid crystals developed by Gauzy, an Israeli firm that is revolutionizing the way glass can be used in all manner of construction projects – from windows in offices that can be dimmed with the touch of a button, to eco-friendly refrigerators that go transparent so you can see what’s inside without opening the door and wasting energy. Read more ..


The Edge of the Universe

Honing in on the Hunt for Dark Matter

October 1st 2013

Dark Matter

NASA’s premier gamma-ray space telescope may be changing tack in the coming months from an equal-opportunity scan of the whole sky to a pattern that prioritizes the center of our Milky Way galaxy. The new strategy could help the Fermi telescope find more spinning stars called pulsars, observe a cloud on a collision course with the galaxy’s supermassive black hole and, just maybe, find evidence of dark matter.

In March 2013, after five years of business as usual, the Fermi team put out a call for alternative observing strategies. Five proposals came in, and in August a review panel convened to discuss the ideas. Ultimately, the panel recommended a new strategy based on a proposal to prioritize observing the galactic center. Read more ..


The Edge of Protest

At 70, Lech Walesa Can Look Back On An Enduring Legacy

September 29th 2013

Lech Walesa

He had scaled the wall several times before, but this time it was more than just a worker evading the authorities. It was the first giant leap towards freedom for the countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

It was the morning of August 14, 1980, and Lech Walesa had just joined his fellow strikers at the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk.

They had seized control over their workplace to protest against a recent rise of food prices, among other things.

Seventeen days later, Walesa appeared before them triumphantly and told them that they would be able to have "an independent, self-governing trade union" and had won "the right to strike."

Their stocky and mustachioed leader had cajoled Poland's communist government into granting workers the right to organize freely and to strike -- a move not yet witnessed in any other Warsaw Pact country.

He had also chaperoned the creation of the first independent trade union, Solidarnosc (Solidarity), in the Soviet bloc. Within months it had 10 million members, more than a quarter of the country's population.

It was an electrician -- with no higher education -- who had triggered what came to be seen as one of the key events leading to the downfall of communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe.

Hailed in the West as a champion of rights and liberty, Walesa remains, however, a more controversial figure at home in Poland, where he has faced criticisms of his management style and fought off allegations that he collaborated with the former communist authorities. Read more ..


The Nuclear Edge

The Soviet Colonel Who Averted Nuclear War

September 27th 2013

Bomb blast

On September 26, 1983, Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov was on duty at the bunker outside Moscow that monitored the Soviet Union's Oko early-warning satellite system, when the alarm bells went off shortly after midnight.

A satellite was indicating that the United States had fired five ballistic missiles at the Soviet Union. As Petrov told the BBC, "suddenly the screen in front of me turned bright red. It was piercing, loud enough to raise a dead man from his grave."

Just a few weeks before, on September 1, the Soviets had mistakenly shot down a South Korean aircraft they had believed to be a military plane, killing 269 civilians, including a U.S. congressman. Tensions were high and Petrov could have been forgiven for trusting the warning. His orders were to pass the warning up the chain of command, which would approve the launch of a nuclear counterstrike that would have likely led to full-on nuclear war. Read more ..


The Edge of Poverty

Asian Economic Growth Alone Won't Lift Millions Out of Poverty

September 26th 2013

India child labor

A new United Nations report says that although economic growth in Asia Pacific countries in recent years has reduced the severest forms of poverty, millions remain vulnerable to economic and environmental shocks.

The United Nations report, released Friday, challenges Asia Pacific governments to work harder in efforts to target poverty, improve education and improve government accountability.

The report comes less than two years ahead of the target date from the region's Millennium Development Goals [MDGs] that set benchmarks for progress in areas ranging from income distribution, health, education, food consumption and safe drinking water.

Alessandra Casazza, a policy adviser with the U.N. Development Program in the Asia Pacific, said that while fast economic growth has been a highlight of regional development, it has failed to generate sufficient employment to make substantial progress in reducing poverty. Insufficient funds are being allocated to areas such as social services and education.

"There are a number of issues which remain; at the back of this fast and accelerated economic growth people are still suffering from deprivation, very severe deprivation. The main challenges are that people don't have by and large access to basic services, such as water sanitation, and education, health services and energy," said Casazza. The report says the issues facing the region serve as a "stark wakeup call" for meeting the 2015 Development Goals that represent economic and social progress across the region. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

BlackBerry To Be Privatized By Canadian Insurance Firm, Won’t Stop It From Crashing Says Analyst

September 25th 2013

Smart phone

BlackBerry Ltd has reached a preliminary deal with one of its biggest shareholders, a Canadian insurance firm, to take the company private for about $4.7 billion.     According to the Wall Street Journal, Fairfax Financial Holdings signed a letter of intent with the BlackBerry board under which it could pay $9 a share in cash for the 90% of BlackBerry shares it doesn't already own. The deal came over the weekend after BlackBerry announced on Friday it had nearly $1 billion in unsold phones and would slash 40% of its workforce (around 4,500 jobs). The stock plunged 17% that day to below $9, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The deal is subject to six weeks of due diligence, and BlackBerry can shop the company during that period. Fairfax would still have to arrange financing. The agreement also doesn't compel Fairfax to ultimately come forward with a firm offer, underscoring the weak negotiating position BlackBerry finds itself in. BlackBerry, on the other hand, would have to pay a breakup fee of more than $150 million if it turns to another buyer by Nov. 4.

"Taking BlackBerry private doesn't solve the fundamental problems at the company. First, the company's device sales are cratering, and its announcement last week that it no longer intends to pursue the consumer market is essentially the death knell for this business”, commented Jan Dawson, chief telecoms analyst at market research firm Ovum. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Proposal To Confiscate Children Stokes Fear Among Russian LGBTs

September 24th 2013

Gay Pride

When Sasha understood that she was a lesbian, she knew many challenges lay ahead for her in Russia. But nothing prepared the young woman for the possibility of social services taking her child away.

A new bill, however, could soon make this a reality for the estimated 2 million lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Russians who the authorities believe are raising children. "I'm scared," says Sasha, who lives in St. Petersburg with her longtime partner, Marina, and Marina's 3-year-old biological son. "I'm scared our family will be violated."

The draft law, which comes on the heels of controversial legislation banning "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations," would make homosexuality a condition that can lead to parents losing custody over their children. If passed and signed into law, it would put homosexuality on a par with drug addiction and child abuse. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Walk to Mali: Nigerian Activists Plan Climate Trek

September 23rd 2013

Nigera flood

Activists in Nigeria say security in West Africa is directly related to the region’s ability to adapt to climate change. To raise awareness, an environmental group called 'Walk to Mali' is planning a 3,400 kilometer trek from Nigeria to Mali.

Climate change is affecting West Africa, where most of the people are farmers, growing just enough food to feed their families. But ‘Walk to Mali’ program director Oludotun Babayemi says these farming communities are victims of environmental degradation and need to develop strategies to cope with deforestation, increased flooding and other impacts of climate change. “We are not the most emitters of carbon dioxide, but we are left to adapt to what is happening right now, one of which is flooding. So we need to learn how to adapt to these kinds of situations,” says he. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Simple Questions Can Help Stop Killer Disease

September 22nd 2013

Hungry African Widow/Children

Diarrheal disease is one of the leading killers of young children in Africa. While more countries are using vaccines to help prevent outbreaks, health officials are often unable to track down the source of outbreaks when they do occur. Now, researchers believe they can change that.

In Botswana’s Chobe District – about 1,500 kilometers north of the capital Gaborone – there are only five doctors for 23,000 people. So when there’s an outbreak of diarrheal disease, doctors and nurses spend most of their time treating the sick, not learning the epidemiology of the outbreak – the who, what, when, where, why and how of the disease.

Kathleen Alexander is an associate professor at Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources -- and has worked in Africa for more than 20 years. She said usually in diarrheal outbreaks health officials have little information. Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

Erdogan's Empathy for Morsi

September 21st 2013

Erdogan

Among all Middle East powers, Turkey has uniquely stood behind Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party after their ouster from power in July. This has cost Turkey dearly. Egypt has pulled its ambassador from Ankara. To rub salt on the wound, Cairo has entered talks with Greece to delineate Egyptian and Greek maritime economic areas in the Eastern Mediterranean, to Turkey's apparent detriment. What is more, Turkish businesses, the source of Ankara's ascendancy in the Middle East, have been driven out of Egypt by the new government in Cairo. Still, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has not flinched. What, then, explains his steadfast support for Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood? Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Virginia Town Forced to Adapt to Rising Seas

September 20th 2013

Hurricane Sandy Lashes Ocean City

No one is far from the water in Norfolk, Virginia, where citizens are feeling the impact of climate change.

The port city, home to the largest naval base in the world, is a vital part of the region's economy and is critical to the nation's security. At high tide and during storms, water floods streets.

Sea level is rising faster here than anywhere else on the U.S. East Coast. The city, and its residents, are learning to adapt to a warmer world.

Rising water
Jeff Miskill lives just steps away from the Lafayette River in a house his grandparents bought in the 1950s. “In the past, when we would have a storm, the water would not come up even to the yard, just on any storm,” he said. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Startling Revelations From an Iranian Smuggling Case in Hamburg

September 19th 2013

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

I rarely attend trials, but this one is special.

On July 24, 2013, the main hearing in the case of German businessman Rudolf M. and Iranian-Germans Gholamali K., Kianzad K., and Hamid Kh. opened at Hamburg’s Higher Regional Court. The defendants are charged with exporting 92 German-produced specialized valves for use in Iran’s Arak plutonium reactor and arranging the shipment of 856 nuclear-usable valves from India to Iran in 2010 and 2011.

The reasons why the UN Security Council has ordered Iran to halt the construction of the Arak reactor are compelling. If this nuclear plant comes online in 2014, as the Iranians anticipate, it could produce enough weapons-grade plutonium for two bombs a year. The smuggling of nuclear valves from Germany is therefore of exceptional significance and tops the latest UN list of reported alleged violations of the sanction regime against Iran.

Recently, an important detail of this smuggling operation was revealed on the German public television current affairs program, Fakt: “German officials clearly (knew) about this illegal trade since 2009 and did nothing about it for years.” How so? Did such an explosive shipment really take place before the very eyes of the German security services? Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

New Study Profiles Rhino Horn Buyers

September 18th 2013

Rhino, black, Tanzania

One of the biggest markets for illegally poached rhino horns is Vietnam. Now, a new study profiles the consumers driving that demand and how they view the horns as symbols of status and power.

It’s easy to grasp just how big the demand is. In the first half of this year, hundreds of rhinos have been killed in South Africa alone. “South Africa is home to about 75 percent of the world’s rhinos. And since 2008, has been experiencing quite a dramatic increase in the poaching of rhinos for their horns -- up from less than 20 a year to 668 in 2012 and already 635 in 2013,” said Dr. Jo Shaw, rhino coordinator for the World Wildlife Fund South Africa. She said that demand for rhino horns existed long before the huge spike in trafficking to Vietnam and China. Read more ..


After the Holocaust

Should Iraq’s Jewish Archive be Returned to Baghdad?

September 17th 2013

Iraqi Jews Landing in Israel

A few years ago, in response to a Palestinian critic who made a disparaging remark about the fact that I don’t speak Arabic, I felt compelled to write an article explaining why that is the case. I said that under different circumstances, I could have been born in an Arab country and grown up speaking Arabic. My father’s family had been settled in Iraq for generations, but they fled to England in 1941—the same year that Baghdad’s Jews were convulsed by a June pogrom known as the farhud—presaging a much larger exodus of Iraqi Jews over the next decade.

Among my father and his relatives, there was little nostalgia for the old country, and therefore no reason, as they saw it, to ensure that their children born outside Iraq learned Arabic. It’s not that they didn’t appreciate the centrality of Iraq to Jewish history; this was the land where the Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) was completed, where scholarship flowed from the Jewish academies of Sura and Pumbedita (now the city of Fallujah, site of some of the most brutal fighting during the war in Iraq), and where, in modern times, Jewish merchants flourished alongside Jewish writers and musicians. Read more ..


Afghanistanon Edge

Author Provides Glimpse Into Afghanistan's Secret Subcultures, Hidden Worlds

September 16th 2013

Afghan institute of music

Underground converts to Christianity, shadowy male cross-dressers, and gay bloggers are not usually associated with Afghanistan. And yet they are part of the real but often unseen world Afghans live in.

That unknown side of Afghanistan is the topic of a new book, "Afghan Rumor Bazaar: Secret Sub-Cultures, Hidden Worlds, and the Everyday Life of the Absurd," by Nushin Arbabzadah, an Afghan-born writer currently living in the United States.

Arbabzadah, a lecturer at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), was frustrated by the Western media's often one-dimensional coverage of Afghanistan. Her book attempts to go beyond bombs and burqas to provide readers with new perspectives on a country many mistakenly assume to know.

"I'm much more interested in nonconformist people," she says. "I'm not interested in the established facts about Afghanistan and the kind of people who are usually used to represent Afghanistan. I focused on unusual people on the margins of society and those who don't conform to mainstream standards of Afghanistan." Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Fires At Russia's Psychiatric Facilities Highlight Neglect

September 15th 2013

Russian Fires

It was at least the second deadly blaze at a psychiatric hospital this year.

In the early hours of September 13, a fire ripped through an aging and dilapidated psychiatric hospital, burning at least 37 people to death in a village in northwestern Novgorod Oblast. It came just months after a psychiatric hospital in Moscow's suburbs was engulfed by fire in April, killing 38, including patients trapped in wards behind barred windows.

On the heels of lethal fires at schools and nightclubs, the blazes signal haphazard safety regulations in Russia. But they also shine a spotlight on the decrepit state of psychiatric facilities. If changes aren't made, Lyubov Vinogradova, executive director of the Independent Psychiatric Association, says such tragedies will continue to happen. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Jihad 2020: Assessing Al-Qaida’s 20-Year Plan

September 15th 2013

Osama bin Laden in mufti

Since the Arab uprisings erupted two and a half years ago, the global jihadi movement has metastasized to a variety of new locales across the Arab world, most recently in Syria, Libya, Sinai and Tunisia. While these upheavals surprised many in the region, al-Qaida had predicted such events unfolding in a 20-year strategic plan (2000-2020) that came to light in 2005. That blueprint has gone according to plan so far, albeit more because of outside and structural forces than the efforts of jihadis themselves. As a result, the movement was well-positioned to take advantage of the new developments.
In his book “Al-Zarqawi: Al-Qaida's Second Generation,” Fouad Hussein details al-Qaida’s 20-year plan, which has seven phases, with 2013 representing the beginning of the fifth. Here is how al-Qaida, which leaked the plan to Hussein, envisioned each of them playing out: Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Report Emerges on Worst Human Rights Abuse Yet Found in Syria

September 14th 2013

Click to select Image

Atrocities and massacres have been regular occurrences in Syria’s two-and-half year civil war, but Human Rights Watch provided details Friday about one of the worst massacres carried out by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) report documents in exacting detail the summary executions of 248 people by Syrian government forces and allied irregular units in the mainly Sunni Muslim towns of al-Bayda and Baniyas on May 2 and 3 this year. The dead included women and children, some of them infants.  Read more ..


Turkey and Kurdistan

PKK Fighters Halt Withdrawal from Turkey

September 13th 2013

PKK (Kurdish Worker's Party) Fighter

Rebel fighters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) announced Monday that they would stop withdrawing from Turkish soil as part of a planned agreement with the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Citing the “irresponsible attitude” of leaders in Ankara to Kurdish interests in the peace process, the group said it would remain committed to a ceasefire for the time being.

PKK fighters, headed by their imprisoned leader, Abdullah Öcalan, declared a ceasefire in March 2013 and started to withdraw fighters into Northern Iraq in May. In exchange, the Turkish government, lead by the Islamist AK party, agreed to enact reforms aimed at improving Kurdish rights.

But neither side has fully implemented the agreement. In August, Erdoğan accused the PKK of only withdrawing 20 percent of its 2,500 fighters. At the same time, Erdoğan failed to bring a package of reforms before parliament that could allow more Kurdish-language education programs and devolve greater power to the mostly Kurdish southeast. Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

Aging Nations Look to Vietnam to Fill Nursing Gap

September 12th 2013

nurse w/stethoscope

Two countries with the world’s oldest populations, Japan and Germany, are training geriatric nurses in Vietnam to help fill critical health care gaps at home.

This month, 100 young Vietnamese are heading to Germany as part of a new project to train geriatric nurses for work in the European country. The trainees have just finished a six-month language and culture course in Hanoi, and they will spend the next two years in a vocational training program. If they pass the final exam, they can work in Germany as fully qualified geriatric nurses.

One of them, 24-year-old Huong Thi Thi, said she is excited about the move. “In Germany there is modern medicine and nursing. In Vietnam, particularly caring for the elderly, is very new. I want to come to Germany to gain more knowledge and experience in caring for the elderly.” Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Horn of Africa Polio Outbreak Thwarts Global Eradication Effort

September 11th 2013

Nigeria Polio vaccination

The global community came tantalizingly close earlier this year to ridding the world of polio.  But then in May, the eradication effort took a powerful blow. The virus turned up again in the Horn of Africa, first in Somalia. 

The Banadir region of Somalia, which includes a Mogadishu refugee camp, is thought to be the so-called “engine” of the Horn of Africa polio outbreak.

In June, three-year-old Mohamed Naasir became ill.  His mother, Khadija Abdullahi Adam, said soon after one leg became permanently disabled. “My son was fine, but he started having a high fever which lasted for almost four days," she explained.  "I gave him medicine, but there was no change.  The following morning he said to me ‘Mom, I can’t stand up.’”

The virus has spread at a rapid pace, triggering massive vaccination efforts. Earlier in 2013, polio was confined to three so-called “endemic countries” -- Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan -- where the virus has never been snuffed out.  Combined there were fewer than 100 cases in those three countries. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Growing Demand Drives Illicit Global Animal Trade

September 10th 2013

Bonobo chimp

Thai and American officials are reporting progress in a combined effort to curb the global trade in illicit wildlife. But they say the problem is growing because of increased demand worldwide for endangered animals and lucrative parts of their bodies.

Thai authorities are trying to make a dent in what has become a multibillion dollar illicit business, taking endangered animals from their natural habitats and selling them or parts of them on the black market.

For the past several years, Thailand has had ally on the law enforcement front to combat the trade, the United States government. A key official on the American side is William Brownfield, the State Department's assistant secretary responsible for the global fight against illegal drugs and organized crime, who investigates, arrests, prosecutes and incarcerates illicit traders. “Illegal wildlife traffickers are definitely criminals," Brownfield said. Read more ..



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