Amid Syrian refugee flood, aid workers grapple with a new set of problems

Feb 7, 2013 18:57 UTC

A recent report on Syria’s growing refugee crisis showed the extent to which fears of sexual violence are driving women out of the warn-torn country.

But the trail of gender-based violence and abuse also follows women out of Syria to camps, where they are also vulnerable, even under the watch of aid organizations.

As the crisis continues, more women are taking refuge in towns and villages, where they are difficult to account for, aid workers say, making it particularly challenging to provide care and protection. Syrian refugee woman

A Syrian refugee woman holds her son as she stands at the window of their friend’s house at the Syrian-Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, December 6, 2012. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

“Not only can women be targeted because they may be more vulnerable to certain types of violence but they also are in many ways the face of this crisis,” said Alina Potts, an emergency coordinator with the International Rescue Committee.

Attacking obesity, one can at a time

Feb 6, 2013 21:34 UTC

 ”For over 125 years, we’ve been bringing people together. Today, we’d like people to come together on something that concerns all of us: obesity.”

REUTERS/Mike Blake

So opens a new commercial from Coca-Cola, which goes on to tout the company’s 180 low and no-calorie beverage options (roughly 27% of Coke’s 650+ beverage portfolio) and claims an overall reduction of 22% in the average number of calories per serving for Coca-Cola’s U.S. beverage products since 1997.

Unconvinced by the soda maker’s claims to nutritional progress, health advocates took Coke to task.

Brennan’s confirmation and where CIA drones go from here

Feb 6, 2013 19:09 UTC

If President Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor John Brennan is confirmed as director of the CIA on Thursday, he will take the role of the lead authority for CIA drone strikes, institutionalizing a program that has killed an unknown number of suspected militants and civilians since 2004. Although his confirmation is expected to help preserve the drone program while glossing over concerns about its transparency and effectiveness so far, his appointment leaves a bigger question about the CIA’s future role.

Brennan’s open hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday has been pegged as a time to demand answers about the highly secretive U.S. campaigns to target and kill al Qaeda militants using unmanned aerial vehicles in places like Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. The administration is tight-lipped on the subject, and critics have assailed the campaign over its lack of public accountability. U.S. drone strikes have killed not just foreign militants, but also civilians and American citizens. Rights groups have lambasted the extrajudicial killings of American citizens, including the “Internet imam” Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son in Yemen. A New York Times report last May revealed that the government’s troubling definition of a “militant” suggests any military-age man in a strike zone is fair game. On Tuesday, a 16-page memo from the Justice Department published by NBC News further outlined the vague criteria for who can target and be targeted, as well as showed an expanded definition of conditions that the government can use to order strikes.

The effectiveness of the targeted killings remains unknown, and critics say the drone program serves as a recruiting tool for al Qaeda because it embitters local populations whose neighbors have been killed by drones.

Russia’s press freedom score back down after crackdown

Jan 31, 2013 15:36 UTC

Russia has had a busy year clamping down on dissent, and now the Kremlin’s got something to show for it. The international non-profit organization Reporters Without Borders released its annual press freedom index on Wednesday, knocking six points from Russia’s 2012 score and ranking the country 148th out of 179 in the world for respecting media freedom.

According to the report, an “unprecedented” number of protests following Vladimir Putin’s return to a third term as president prompted Russia to respond by introducing more repressive measures. Let’s take a quick look at where Russia lost points. The report first provides context for the government’s response:

“Opposition protests on an unprecedented scale showed civil society to be more vocal than ever.”

Motor City poster boy Lutz touts horsepower — and hybrids

Paul Lienert
Jan 18, 2013 20:11 UTC

DETROIT – Is Bob Lutz the poster boy for the 2013 Detroit auto show?

This year’s event, like Lutz, seems like a throwback to an earlier era. And, like Lutz, is rife with contradiction.

Where Detroit shows in recent years have exhibited a heavy green theme, electric and hybrid vehicles seem almost like an afterthought at this year’s event – a reflection perhaps of the public’s ambivalence toward green cars.

In an abrupt departure, this year’s event instead showcases a clutch of new luxury and performance models that appear to fly in the face of energy and environmental conservation.

Mali and the Afghanistan comparison

Jan 17, 2013 18:31 UTC
A Malian soldie

A Malian soldier stands guard as Mali’s President Dioncounda Traore visits French troops at an air base in Bamako, Mali January 16, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Penney

The French intervention in Mali this week raises the specter of another first-world nation’s rather recent mission to weed out Islamic militants. As France’s jets pummel the desert and its troops face ground battles against al Qaeda-linked rebels, a troubling analogy has presented itself in media reports and analyses: Will Mali become France’s Afghanistan?

France’s mission in Mali is to prevent the Sahel region from becoming a terrorist planning and training ground, particularly for al Qaeda’s North African wing, AQIM. The BBC’s security correspondent Gordon Corera explains the situation in terms of the conditions in Afghanistan before the U.S. intervention in 2001.

Newtown’s community struggles to understand one of its own

Dec 17, 2012 14:08 UTC

This column was originally published in the Wall Street Journal.

NEWTOWN, CONNECTICUT – The word “community” is overused. It is even the title of a television sitcom. But in the context of Newtown – the Connecticut town of 27,000 that I’ve known as home since 1969 – it is authentic. Yet from within our midst came Adam Lanza, now a murderer of 20 innocent local children, six of their dedicated teachers, and his own mother.

Today the world is focused on our heretofore-bucolic slice of America. As the international media’s satellite dishes sprout and their choppers descend to dissect the shooting and the shooter, Newtown is mostly presented as either an affluent suburb of New York or a picture-perfect New England hamlet with old-timey colonial houses, horse farms and a historic Main Street.

Neither characterization does it justice. To live here is to know why, after two decades of global wandering, I returned eight years ago to raise my family.

Why Chavez keeps his cancer under wraps

Dec 14, 2012 21:56 UTC

Military personnel attend a mass to pray for Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, December 13, 2012. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Six presidents from five different countries in Latin America have been diagnosed with cancer over the past few years. Yet Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez stands apart from the others, keeping details about his health shrouded in secrecy. His neighbors in the region have announced their diagnoses and treatments, stamping out speculation and allowing media coverage to get on with it. Both critics and supporters of Chavez, whose idea of medical updates has included declaring himself “completely cured” twice, claim his illness has been used for political gain. However, Chavez’s reluctance to share information about his cancer is hardly unique for a leader poor in both health and transparency.

Presidents from Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, and Colombia reconciled their illnesses with public concern by disclosing details about their cancers. Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff battled lymphoma while campaigning for president, while former Brazilian President Inacio Lula da Silva allowed journalists to photograph him shaving his head and beard before chemotherapy for throat cancer. Paraguay’s Fernando Lugo kept the public updated after the he was diagnosed with lymphoma while president, ultimately declaring the cancer to be in remission a year later. Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez announced the date of her surgery to remove her thyroid gland in early 2012, offering details of her treatment (which turned out to be for naught when a post-operative examination revealed she did not have cancer in the first place). Most recently, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos announced he had prostate cancer halfway through his presidential term and ahead of politically-sensitive peace talks with the FARC. As with the other leaders, Santos openly discussed his recovery with reporters. These leaders kept voters abreast of developments in their treatment despite the possibility of casting doubt on their political careers.

from Hallie Seegal:

A local obstruction in the fracking pipeline

Dec 11, 2012 16:38 UTC


There are high hopes that the natural gas extraction technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, will boost the economy and bring the United States closer to energy independence, but if the energy industry expects to break new ground and fulfill a growing demand anytime soon, they need to make friends with the people who reside near the drilling rigs.

Two new reports out last week point to the potential of how fracking, the process whereby a highly-pressured mixture of water, sand and chemicals is blasted through underground shale rock formations to release natural gas, could positively benefit our economy. One study projects that natural gas will account for nearly one-third of total U.S. energy produced by 2040, and the other one, a government commissioned report which the Obama administration is expected to partially base its shale gas policy on, shows natural gas exports providing revenue to the struggling economy under every condition considered.

Fracking well

A natural gas well is drilled near Canton, in Bradford County, Pennsylvania January 8, 2012. REUTERS/Les Stone

What to watch in 2013 world news

Dec 7, 2012 16:56 UTC

Any opinions expressed here are the author’s own.

Online chatter and political dithering from every corner of the world can make it difficult to follow a narrative when it comes to international news. To cut through the noise, here are four important potential developments to watch next year. Coming up in 2013: “Drug war” frustrations hit a high, Syria groans on, U.S. foreign policy trips over its own feet, and war comes to a computer near you.


U.S. influence on drug policy goes up in smoke.

After six years of drug-related violence in Mexico that has terrorized local communities and killed at least 60,000 people, Latin American governments are fed up with the  ”war on drugs.” In 2012, the U.S. government’s no-tolerance policy was challenged both at home and abroad.

Next year, President Obama will face an “unprecedented revolt” by Latin American countries as their leaders begin to doubt U.S. policies publicly, Brian Winter writes for Reuters. Frustrations run high as cartels continue to rake in profits shuttling illegal drugs across the border to meet U.S. demand while citizens are caught up in rampant violence. Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico in 2012 together urged the UN to consider more effective drug policies, and Uruguay proposed legislation to legalize marijuana.