The Digital Edge
|Julien Happich||September 25th 2013|
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
|Claire Bigg||September 24th 2013|
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
|Heather Murdock||September 23rd 2013|
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
|Joe DeCapua||September 22nd 2013|
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
|Soner Cagaptay||September 21st 2013|
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
|Rosanne Skirble||September 20th 2013|
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.
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 ..
|Matthias Kuntzel||September 19th 2013|
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
|Joe DeCapua||September 18th 2013|
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
|Ben Cohen||September 17th 2013|
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 ..
|Frud Bezhan||September 16th 2013|
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 ..
|Tom Balmforth||September 15th 2013|
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
|Aaron Y. Zelin||September 15th 2013|
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
|Jamie Dettmer||September 14th 2013|
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
|Michael Johnson||September 13th 2013|
Jewish Policy Center
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
|Marianne Brown||September 12th 2013|
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
|Mary Alice Salinas||September 11th 2013|
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
|Steve Herman||September 10th 2013|
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 ..
The Edge of Charities
|Chad Garland and Andrew Knochel||September 9th 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
Over four years, as increasing numbers of veterans returned home from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a charity called Disabled Veterans Services of Pompano Beach, Fla., reported raising more than $8 million in cash and nearly $4 million in donated goods that it claimed would help disabled and homeless veterans.
But barely a nickel of each dollar the charity raised in cash went directly to help veterans, a News21 analysis shows. Although it claimed to have sent about $2.5 million in donated drugs and medical supplies to a Boston homeless shelter, the shelter said it received just one shipment worth about $210,000.
Another charity, Help Hospitalized Veterans of Winchester, Calif., spent only 25 cents of every dollar it raised on arts-and-crafts kits and “craft care specialists” as “diversion therapy for veterans facing extended hospitalization.” Most of the rest of the money, according to the charity’s filings with the Internal Revenue Service, paid for mass mailings soliciting more money and urging Americans to volunteer at veterans’ hospitals and become pen pals with patients. Read more ..
After the Holocaust
|Daisy Sindelar||September 8th 2013|
Perhaps the most memorable words about struggle and resilience come from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger."
A surprising new study looking at World War II appears to draw the same conclusion, saying male survivors of the Jewish Holocaust lived longer than peers of the same age who escaped Europe before the war.
The research, published by the U.S.-based Public Library of Science, compares the lives of 55,000 Polish Jews who emigrated to Israel before and after the war.
What it discovers is that men who lived through the Holocaust as boys or young men lived as much as 18 months longer than those who didn't -- an astonishing finding that co-author Avi Sagi-Schwartz says could be attributed to a phenomenon known as "post-traumatic growth." Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Golnaz Esfandiari||September 7th 2013|
Hoshmand Morad vividly remembers the day his city suffered the deadliest chemical-weapons attack ever carried out on a civilian population.
The air suddenly smelled of apples. Pink, white, and yellow clouds cast a pall over the city. Dead bodies littered the road.
These are childhood memories for Morad, who was just 6 years old when his native city of Halabja, in Iraq's Kurdish region, was targeted in a chemical bombing campaign carried out by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's air force. Human Rights Watch estimates that as many as 5,000 residents of the city were killed and 10,000 injured in the March 16, 1988, attack. Many died instantly from the effects of the sarin, VX, and mustard gases believed to have been used. Others suffered from severe blisters and vomiting before succumbing, according to eyewitnesses and various reports. Read more ..
The Edge of Healthcare
|Joe DeCapua||September 6th 2013|
The origins of humans have been traced to Africa. And now, so have the origins of tuberculosis. New research shows the evolutionary trees of both humans and TB have grown side-by-side.
TB bacteria originated in Africa at least 70,000 years ago. That’s the finding of a team of researchers led by Professor Sebastien Gagneaux of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute. But why study the history of TB?
Gagneaux said, “At the end of the day, it’s a certain kind of historic question and there have been long discussions about where TB came from originally. That’s on the one hand. On the other hand, the idea is that by learning from the past and how infectious disease evolves over time, this potentially could give us some clue about the future of the TB epidemic.” To trace the origins of TB researchers relied on genetic material, which is relatively easy to come by. Read more ..
Egypt’s Second Revolution
|Michael Johnson||September 5th 2013|
Jewish Policy Center
Former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi will go on trial for inciting violence against protesters last year, announced the the country’s top prosecutor earlier this week. The Egyptian Army’s ongoing detention of Morsi, held incommunicado since a coup in early July, shows the military’s renewed willingness to use the judiciary to crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood.
Fourteen other co-defendants, including senior Brotherhood figures, will also be charged for provoking violence outside the Presidential Palace last December. At the time, thousands of anti-Morsi demonstrators had gathered near the palace to voice their discontent over a new Islamist-drafted constitution. Morsi asked the Republican Guard and police minister to restore order, but they refused. The president’s aides allegedly enlisted their supporters to break up the sit-ins; Morsi supporters used weapons and firebombs to disrupt the demonstrators, leaving 10 peaceful protesters dead. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Christoph Reuter and Holger Stark||September 5th 2013|
Two and a half years after the beginning of the uprising, Damascus has become an eerily empty city. The streets were deserted last Friday evening in the remaining regime-controlled districts -- from Bab Tuma in the east to Mezzeh in the west -- where there is still electricity, running water and phone service.
The Syrian capital was bracing itself for the worst. Last Thursday alone, over 10,000 people reportedly fled across the border into Lebanon, and hundreds of families of soldiers have left their apartments.
The headquarters of the intelligence agencies had been largely vacated and, according to one guard on duty, nearly all Alawite officers and generals had headed for the port city of Tartus and the surrounding area. Read more ..
The Edge of Climate Change
|Rosanne Skirble||September 4th 2013|
A warmer planet is helping to fuel more wildfires in the United States, according to a new study. Environmental scientists at Harvard University predict that by 2050, wildfire seasons will be three weeks longer, up to twice as smoky, and will burn a wider area in the western part of the country.
Fires in the Western United States have gotten worse since the 1970s. Scientists at Harvard University School of Engineering and Applied Sciences looked at past weather conditions and wildfires to find out why.
“In some regions, like the Rocky Mountains, really temperature is the driving force, but elsewhere variables like relative humidity can play a role," said Loretta Mickley, an atmospheric chemist and co-author of the study. "If one year is particularly moist, for example, in the Great Basin, Nevada, Utah area, then that will foster a lot of vegetation growth and then the following year all that vegetation can feed wildfires and their spread.” Read more ..
The Edge of Sport
|Suzanne Presto||September 3rd 2013|
U.S. endurance swimmer Diana Nyad has become the first person to swim from Cuba to Key West, Florida without the protection of a shark cage.
Diana Nyad swam for about 53 hours, covering a distance of 177 kilometers from Hemingway Marina in Havana, Cuba to Smathers Beach in Key West, Florida.
Onlookers crowded around the 64-year-old swimmer when she came ashore in Key West. Nyad's lips were swollen, and she appeared exhausted, dazed and determined when she addressed the crowd.
"I've got three messages. One is, we should never, ever give up. Two is, you are never too old to chase your dreams. Three is, it looks like a solitary sport, but it's a team," said Nyad. Medics then escorted the record-breaker off the beach to receive medical attention. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Viva Sarah Press||September 2nd 2013|
Vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems are the latest trend in road safety, as they warn drivers of impending hazards. The roads could become a great deal safer thanks to new Israeli technology.
For drivers, overtaking a truck is always a risk. Now, the latest craze of the auto technology arena, vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication systems – or, cars that can “talk” to one another in real time – is promising to lessen that risk and heighten road safety.
Autotalks, founded and headquartered in Israel, has become a world leader in V2V as well as vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technology, which enables, for example, traffic lights and other infrastructure to respond to an emergency vehicle’s needs.
In 2008, Israeli entrepreneurs Nir Sasson and Onn Haran founded Autotalks to fill a need in the automotive industry. They implemented a sophisticated wireless technology in a smart chipset that allows cars to exchange data. Read more ..
|Alexandra Jaffe||September 1st 2013|
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) faced hecklers angry with his leadership on immigration reform at a Friday Tea Party summit in his home state. According to reports, Rubio was met with cries of "No amnesty!" as he gave an address during the opening session of the Americans for Prosperity's Defending the American Dream Summit in Orlando.
The Florida senator joined a handful of other potential 2016 Republican presidential contenders, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, at the summit on Friday. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz will keynote Saturday's closing session.
Rubio didn't once mention immigration reform during his speech, focusing instead on themes of limited government and criticism of Obama's policies, most prominently his healthcare law. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Naira Bulghadarien||August 31st 2013|
As the United States and its allies lay plans for what many believe will be a sustained missile strike inside Syria, the sizable ethnic Armenian community in that country is bracing for the worst.
Zhirayr Reisian, a spokesman for the Syrian diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, said Armenian Service that the estimated 100,000 ethnic Syrians in Aleppo were aware of the dangers that could lie ahead but were trying to continue with normal life.
"After all, we are residents of this city and this country. We are part of the people of this country," Reisian said. "If something is going to happen to all, it will also happen to us. If something happens, we are sure to use our means to be helpful with whatever we can to anyone who suffers and is in need of help." Syrian Armenians interviewed say they have begun preparing for possible missile strikes, and many say they will take shelter in the basement of their buildings, if necessary. Read more ..
Defense on Edge
|Charles Recknagel||August 30th 2013|
It is sometimes hard to separate the myth from the reality of the Moscow-Washington hotline, which turned 50 years old on August 30.
The hotline is not a telephone that sits in the offices of the two most powerful leaders in the world and can be picked up personally by either for urgent calls. That image comes from movies which, in America at least, have commonly portrayed the hotline as a red phone -- red being the color for emergencies.
A popular U.S. film in 1964, "Dr. Strangelove," showed the American president phoning the Soviet premier, with the main concern being if they could hear each other: "Hello, hello, Dmitry. Listen, I can't hear too well. Do you suppose you could turn the music down just a little? That's much better, yes. Fine, I can hear you now Dmitry, clear and plain and coming through fine. I am coming through fine, too, eh? Good. Well then, as you say, we are both coming through fine. Good." Read more ..
The Toxic Edge
|Jim Erickson||August 29th 2013|
University of Michigan researchers and their University of Hawaii colleagues say they've solved the longstanding mystery of how mercury gets into open-ocean fish, and their findings suggest that levels of the toxin in Pacific Ocean fish will likely rise in coming decades. Using isotopic measurement techniques developed at U-M, the researchers determined that up to 80 percent of the toxic form of mercury, called methylmercury, found in the tissues of deep-feeding North Pacific Ocean fish is produced deep in the ocean, most likely by bacteria clinging to sinking bits of organic matter. The study also confirmed that the mercury found in Pacific fish near Hawaii likely traveled through the air for thousands of miles before being deposited on the ocean surface in rainfall, said U-M environmental scientist Joel Blum. Read more ..
Russia on Edge
|Richard Solash and Tom Balmforth||August 29th 2013|
A Russian artist who painted President Vladimir Putin in lingerie stroking the hair of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said threatening phone calls and the fear of arrest compelled him to flee St. Petersburg for France.
In a telephone interview with Konstantin Altunin he said does not want to return to Russia.
"Today, I appealed to the French prefecture in Paris because I have no other [option]. I would gladly get [local residence and work permits] so that I can be useful to France and to work and pay taxes," he said. "But now, I am forced to request political asylum because I fled very quickly without luggage or money."
On August 26, police seized several of Altunin's paintings that poked fun at the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and lawmakers who promoted controversial legislation against "gay propaganda." Altunin defended his artistic freedom and described the Russian authorities' response to his paintings as "very unpleasant and very ugly." Read more ..
|Jessica Wilde||August 28th 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
Jerral Hancock wakes up every night in Lancaster, Calif., around 1 a.m., dreaming he is trapped in a burning tank. He opens his eyes, but he can’t move, he can’t get out of bed and he can’t get a drink of water.
Hancock, 27, joined the Army in 2004 and went to Iraq, where he drove a tank. On Memorial Day 2007 — one month after the birth of his second child — Hancock drove over an IED. Just 21, he lost his arm and the use of both legs, and now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. The Department of Veterans Affairs pays him $10,000 every month for his disability, his caretakers, health care, medications and equipment for his new life.
No government agency has calculated fully the lifetime cost of health care for the large number of post-9/11 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with life-lasting wounds. But it is certain to be high, with the veterans’ higher survival rates, longer tours of duty and multiple injuries, plus the anticipated cost to the VA of reducing the wait times for medical appointments and reaching veterans in rural areas. Read more ..
Egypt's Second Revolution
|Joe DeCapua||August 27th 2013|
The head of Egypt’s weekly Christian newspaper calls the ouster of former president Morsi a people’s coup, not a military takeover. Youssef Sidhom says his country is in a struggle against political Islam.
Sidhom is editor-in-chief of the Sunday weekly called Watani, which translates to “My Homeland.” He says after “decades of oppression” under former ruler Hosni Mubarak, he – along with many Egyptians – believed the Muslim Brotherhood had the right to try to govern the country in the interests of all Egyptians. However, Sidhom said that did not happen.
“Months and months had elapsed when they failed to do so. And there has been during the past year of the rule of President Morsi an accumulating level of bitterness and anger on [the] part of Egyptians -- that the Muslim Brotherhood are only clever in taking power in their hands and ousting every other political faction.” He said by late June, many Egyptians had rejected Mr. Morsi’s policies.
“Egyptians enormously went down to the streets – whether Christians or Muslims – saying enough is enough and we’re not taking any more of the rule of Morsi. And I have to admit they were very lucky that their anger, which erupted, was sided by the Egyptian military,” he said. Read more ..
|Anav Silverman||August 26th 2013|
Tazpit News Agency
The sounds of Tibetan monks chanting, an Iranian playing the santoor, western African style music, Rastafarian and reggae beats, as well as some Israeli rock, among other musical genres could recently be heard pulsating from Jerusalem's Tower of David in the Old City.
The international and local rhythms made up the beats of the second annual Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival part of the Jerusalem Season of Culture, whose musical venues were located in different parts of the city including the YMCA, Tzidkiyahu's Cave, and Hebrew University.
The three day festival (August 20-23) attracted at least 1,000 visitors each night to the Tower of David according to director, Eilat Lieber. "It was very important for me to bring this unique festival to the Tower of David," Lieber told Tazpit News Agency. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|David Schenker||August 26th 2013|
On Wednesday, Aug. 21, Bashar Assad's regime in Syria all but certainly used chemical weapons to kill hundreds of civilians, including dozens of women and children. That was just one day after the first anniversary of President Obama's warning that Assad's use of chemical weapons was a "red line" that would "change my calculus."
The red line has proved to be a hollow threat. Both prior to and after Obama's August 2012 statement, credible reports gave strong reason to think that such weapons had been used. Indeed, after this latest outrage, the administration has not only refused to blame Assad, it announced that it would bring the matter to the United Nations Security Council, a time-tested recipe for further inaction.
The administration's reluctance to get involved in Syria is wholly understandable. Such an arbitrary humanitarian trigger for military involvement makes little sense. After all, to date more than 100,000 Syrians have been killed, mostly by bullets, artillery and missiles. Why should Washington change its policy just because the Assad regime altered its modality of killing? Is the murder of 1,000 innocents with sarin gas worse than that of 100,000 with conventional weapons? Read more ..
|Adam Wollner||August 25th 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
America Votes, a national liberal nonprofit group with significant union funding, made the 2011 and 2012 Wisconsin recall elections a top priority, providing a major cash infusion to a handful of groups that helped organize the efforts.
Documents show the nonprofit gave a combined $940,000 to four organizations that tried to boot Republican Gov. Scott Walker and several other GOP lawmakers out of office.
America Votes, which aims “to coordinate and promote progressive issues,” raised $11.1 million from July 2011 through June 2012 and spent $9.6 million, according to an IRS filing obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.
Of the total, $725,400 went to the Greater Wisconsin Committee and $150,000 went to We Are Wisconsin, a nonprofit launched shortly after Walker announced his controversial legislation that restricted collective bargaining. America Votes also gave nearly $45,000 to Citizen Action of Wisconsin and $20,000 to Wisconsin Progress. Read more ..
|Jim Morris||August 24th 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Friday proposed a long-awaited rule to control worker exposures to silica, a toxic mineral that can cause the deadly lung disease silicosis, lung cancer and other ailments.
The rule could save nearly 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis each year, OSHA chief David Michaels told reporters in a conference call. Tiny silica particles are unleashed through activities such as sandblasting, concrete-cutting and a form of oil and gas drilling called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
“This proposal is long overdue,” Michaels said. “OSHA’s current standards are dangerously out of date and do not adequately protect workers’ health.” The agency estimates that 2.2 million workers, most of them in construction, are exposed to silica in the United States. The rule will likely take “many months” to become final, Michaels said, with public hearings planned for March. Read more ..
US and Afghanistan
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says the life sentence handed to an American soldier convicted of massacring 16 Afghan civilians “will not replace the loss” that his nation has suffered. Speaking in Kabul Saturday, he also said he is in no hurry to sign a security pact with the United States that Washington insists is needed before the bulk of U.S. forces leave the country in 2014.
President Karzai spoke to reporters in the Afghan capital, a day after a military jury sentenced U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales to life in prison without the possibility of release.
The Afghan leader said he did not favor capital punishment, but even if the American soldier had been given the death penalty it would not turn back the clock.
“A life sentence to him or a death sentence to him will not bring back our children that he killed, will not bring back the happiness of those families and will not replace the loss that the Afghan nation suffered. We are more in trying to bring an end to the sufferings of the Afghan people rather than seeking revenge that will not bring back the lost children of ours,” he said. Read more ..
|Steve Baragona||August 23rd 2013|
Thank God for bad Stone Age chefs, says archaeologist Hayley Saul at the University of York. “We like dirty pots. People who can’t cook very well," she said. "They burn food onto their pots, that’s what we’re after.”
It’s from those charred remnants of prehistoric dinners that she and her colleagues isolated the first evidence of a spice used in cooking. They found microscopic traces of garlic mustard in crusts on 6,000-year-old pots found in Germany and Denmark.
Garlic mustard grows wild today throughout Europe and western Asia. And it’s an invasive species in North America. “The leaves smell like garlic, but the seeds taste like mustard,” Saul explained. “Hence the name garlic mustard.” Prehistoric use of spices has been hard to study because plants decompose quickly and are not usually preserved. But when plant cells decay, they leave behind petrified outlines of themselves in silica. Studying these outlines, Saul found modern garlic mustard seed was an excellent match. Read more ..
The Environment on Edge
|Mike O'Sullivan||August 22nd 2013|
Underwater kelp forests are sometimes called the rainforests of the sea, but - like the verdant jungles on land - the vast beds of seaweed are disappearing, hurting fisheries and coastal communities worldwide. A project off the coast of California is helping to restore them.
Divers are working in the waters off the Palos Verdes Peninsula in places known as barrens, which once were home to thriving kelp forests. Today, these parts of the seabed are thick with sea urchins, creatures that have proliferated because of pollution and other human activities. The divers are killing some of urchins to thin the population, which is sickly and malnourished. This restores the natural balance, says David Witting of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.
“That will allow the kelp to establish itself," he said. "Once there's a healthy kelp forest system, the urchins tend to feed off of the broken-off pieces of adult kelp, rather than foraging on the juvenile kelp.” Scientists regularly head out to sea for the restoration work on the 60-hectare project. Read more ..
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