Monthly Archives: April 2014

The BRICS hit a wall: Manthorpe

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Copacabana Beach

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa have not lived up to the grandiose hopes expressed for them 13 years ago, when it was predicted the developing countries would soon overtake the world’s top economies, writes International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe. An excerpt of today’s column:

There is probably little hope that when Terence James “Jim” O’Neill heard the news on Tuesday he buried his head under a pillow and groaned with embarrassment.

But perhaps he should have done.

It was O’Neill, who as head of Goldman Sachs’ global economics research in 2001, coined the term BRICs, by which he envisaged that the developing economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China would soon overtake the economic power of the seven top industrialized nations.

It was a charming thought that has captivated trade and economic discussion and debate for the last 13 years. But looking at the BRICS today  — the S of South Africa was added in 2010, apparently for reasons of inclusiveness rather than economic muscle – O’Neill’s prophesy looks at best overly-optimistic and at worst, out of reach.

The news on Tuesday that ought to have made O’Neill redden with shame was that James Coates, vice-president of the International Olympic Committee, said Brazils preparations for the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro are “the worst I have experienced.”

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Click here for Jonathan Manthorpe’s page, with all of his columns for F&O.

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Moldova Teeters on Edge of Ukraine Turmoil

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Deputy Gheorghe Ghimpu replaces the Soviet flag on the Parliament with the Moldovan flag on April 27, 1990. Source: Wikipedia, Creative Commons.

The global focus on Ukraine should expand to include Moldova, warns International Affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe Polls suggest that only 44 per cent of Moldovans favour EU membership, while support for a customs union with Russia has grown from 30 per cent a few months ago to 40 per cent now. Moscow’s opaque intentions are adding to anxiety in Moldovia that if civil war breaks out in eastern Ukraine, it will spill over, he writes. An excerpt of today’s column:

As the West fixates on what Vladimir Putin is doing in eastern Ukraine, perhaps not enough attention is being paid to his other hand, which is hovering greedily over neighbouring Moldova.

Moldova and its three-and-a-half million people, sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine behind the north-west shore of the Black Sea, has not had an easy time since it reluctantly emerged as an independent nation in 1990 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is the poorest country in Europe.

It got off to a bad start when independence led almost immediately to a civil war when the pro-Russian people of Transdniestr – that long sliver of Moldova lying east of the Dniester River – rebelled against the possibility of the country joining Romania. Intervention by Russian forces – 1,500 of them are still there – brought a peace deal in 1992, but Transdniestr and its 500,000 people remain a breakaway region, yearning either for recognized independence, a customs union with Moscow or absorption by Russia. The takeover of the Ukrainian province of Crimea, just round the Black Sea coast from Moldova, by Putin has encouraged many of Transdniestr’s people to hope that they may be next on the Russian President’s shopping list.

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Click here for Jonathan Manthorpe’s page, with all of his columns for F&O.

*Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O serves and is entirely funded by readers who buy a subscription or a $1 site day pass. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes.

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Rethinking Cancer: non-sexy, low-cost therapies

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Vikas Sukhatme, a Harvard Medical School professor, and his wife, Vidula, co-founded the nonprofit Global Cures to promote research of cost-effective cancer treatments. (Photo by Matthew Healey for ProPublica)

Increasingly, Big Pharma is betting on new blockbuster cancer drugs that cost billions to develop and can be sold for thousands of dollars a dose. In 2010, each of the top 10 cancer drugs topped more than $1 billion in sales, according to Campbell Alliance, a health-care consulting firm. A decade earlier, only two of them did. Left behind are low-cost alternatives — therapies like off-label medications, including generics — that have shown some merit but don’t have enough profit potential for drug companies to invest in researching them.

Read the free, in-depth, investigation in Think, Magazine, by ProPublica’s Jake Bernstein:

Cancer: Where Are The Low-Cost Treatments?

Excerpt:

Michael Retsky awoke from surgery to bad news. The tumor in his colon had spread to four of his lymph nodes and penetrated the bowel wall. When Retsky showed the pathology report to William Hrushesky, his treating oncologist, the doctor exclaimed, “Mamma mia.”

“Michael had a mean looking cancer,” Hrushesky remembers.

Retsky didn’t need anyone to tell him his prognosis. Although trained as a physicist, he had switched careers to cancer research in the early 1980s and spent more than a decade modeling the growth of breast cancer tumors. During his treatment, he joined the staff of one of the most prestigious cancer research labs in the country.

In the absence of chemotherapy, there was an 80 percent chance of relapse. Even with therapy, there was a 50 percent chance the cancer would return. The standard treatment was brutal. Six months of the highest dose of chemotherapy his body could withstand and, after that, nothing but hope.

 

Support our journalism: Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, FactsandOpinions serves, and is funded by, readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Our original paywalled work in Dispatches, Think and Photo-Essays is available for a $1 site day pass or at a modest subscription price. Use the SUBSCRIBE  form to the right, on our free Frontlines blog, to receive notices of all new work on site.

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Scottish Independence: complex and vexatious

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World Pipe Band Championship, Scotland, 2011 Simon Fraser University Band, photo courtesy of SFU Vancouver

 Scots  will vote in a referendum on September 18 on separation from the United Kingdom. But the division of assets and liabilities in the break-up of a country is complex and vexatious – and in the case of Scotland, these matters are particularly difficult. The latest polls in Scotland, with the undecided vote discounted, shows 52 percent of respondents support staying with the United Kingdom while 48 per cent want independence.  An excerpt of International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe’s column:

Scotland’s First Minister and Nationalist Party leader Alex Salmond is generally reckoned to be the canniest politician in the British Isles.

So it was entirely in keeping that he chose today, the day when the English patron saint St. George is celebrated, to cross the border to the northern English city of Carlisle to promote Scottish separation.

Salmond’s aim, with the campaign for Scottish independence heating up ahead of the September 18 referendum, was to calm anxieties. Little will change when Scotland becomes independent, Salmond underlined as polls show pro-separation supporters significantly narrowing the gap on the “no” vote’s slim majority …

It is in Salmond’s interests to minimize the implications of Scottish independence, which might come in 2016 if there is a majority for separation in the September referendum. But the potential fall-out not only for the United Kingdom, but also for Europe and the European Union is profound.

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*Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O serves and is entirely funded by readers who buy a subscription or a $1 site day pass. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes.

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Findings: Earth Day Videos from the BBC

In honour of Earth Day and all this week, the BBC is running archive clips celebrating more than 50 years of natural history film-making by Sir David Attenborough. In the video below, from the BBC’s Blue Planet series, a leopard seal hunts Emperor penguins in the Antarctic.

You can find others on the BBC Earth YouTube channel.

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New: Hurricane Carter, and U.S. Gun Violence Research

For Canadian journalist Cheryl Hawkes, Rubin (Hurricane) Carter’s death over Easter brought back memories  about the quiet, private and powerful man who was, for a while, her neighbour in Toronto. You will find her column in our Loose Leaf salon — along with a video of Bob Dylan’s song dedicated to Carter.

Also today F&O also publishes ProPublica’s investigation into Republicans opposed to funding research on gun violence in America. The report is in the Publica section of Dispatches.

Both stories are free, for public access.

Hurricane Carter, Champion of the World. By Cheryl Hawkes

carter (discard after use)Rubin (Hurricane) Carter, who spent 19 years in a United States prison for a triple murder he did not commit, died of prostate cancer on Easter Sunday at his home in Toronto. He was 76. Toronto journalist Cheryl Hawkes remembers the man who, for a few years, was her neighbour: “a man who had given a lot of thought to how we treat one another in this world and to the deadly power of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

American Republicans Oppose Gun Violence Research. By Lois Beckett, ProPublica

For nearly 20 years, the United States Congress has pushed America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to steer clear of firearms violence research. After the 2012  shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut — when Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and 6 adults — Jack Kingston, chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that sets CDC funding, was one of a few Republicans who expressed a willingness to reconsider the need for gun control laws and finding “common ground” on research. That was then, this is now. Now, Kingston faces stiff competition from other Republicans  touting gun rights — and there is no talk of common ground.

 

Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, FactsandOpinions serves, and is funded by, readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Our original paywalled work in Dispatches, Think and Photo-Essays is available for a $1 site day pass or at a modest subscription price. Use the SUBSCRIBE  form to the right, on our free Frontlines blog, to receive notices of all new work on site.

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Weibo, the Free Market, and Censorship

Weibo, “China’s Twitter,” has begun offering shares on one of America’s free market stock exchanges. But unlike in the United States, where freedom of expression is protected, in China social media companies rely on censorship for their business model. Weibo’s regulatory disclosures reveal a company’s balancing act between censoring too much and too little.

An excerpt of the ProPublica report, in F&O’s Dispatches/Money section:

As of last week, investors can purchase shares of Weibo, sometimes called “China’s Twitter,” on NASDAQ. The company’s regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission reveals details not previously known about Weibo’s censorship apparatus…

Weibo, like all Internet publishers and providers in China, is prohibited from letting their users display content that is obscene, fraudulent, defamatory or otherwise illegal under Chinese laws. The content prohibitions also forbid material that “impairs the national dignity of China,” “is reactionary,” “superstitious,” or “socially destabilizing.”

As required under SEC regulations, the company must list for investors potential risks that might affect its share price. Weibo is up front about the risk the Chinese government’s regulation of content poses to its ability so succeed. “Failure to [censor] may subject us to liabilities and penalties and may even result in the temporary blockage or complete shutdown of our online operations.”

Click here for the full story, Weibo IPO Reveals a Company Struggling With Censorship. (Free public access.)

 

 

 

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Easter, Kepler-186f, and Exploding Judas

A report that astronomers have found a planet in the constellation Cygnus, which they named Kepler-186f, turned Chris Wood’s thoughts to humanity’s chance of escaping earth. “Star Trek childhoods and a present of holodeck-quality technology inspire dreams of the ultimate geographic cure. We’ve raped this planet to a fare-thee-well? No prob. On to the next.”

What, exactly, would moving to “Kep” entail? Wood does the math. An excerpt of his column:

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Chris Wood

It is Good Friday where I live, in the most Catholic part of old Mexico. The entire week and weekend to come are turned over to a passionate mix of Christian and not-so-Christian rituals: an overnight pilgrimage of the faithful in their hundreds bearing a life-size effigy of a suffering Christ, an entire afternoon devoted to the satisfaction of blowing up life-size paper Judases (although some bear a suspiciously strong likeness to certain political figures — see videos, below).

It is Easter. Which turns out, internet memes notwithstanding, to have nothing to do with Ishtar, a Canaanite goddess of war, fertility and something called “sacred prostitution.” What it does have to do with is the hope that comes with spring time, with the return of life after the little death of winter, that is celebrated by different names in different ways everywhere we are on the planet.

I am not a Christian, but we need that hope just now. There are seven billion reasons afoot on Earth to fear that our savagely brilliant species is on the bloom-and-bust track of the most insentient algae that periodically blossom across hundreds of miles of ocean until they exhaust its oxygen, collapse and die.

Log in to read Wood’s column: A Reflection On Easter, Math and Judas (Subscription or day pass required*)

Chris Wood’s Natural Security column page is here.

 

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Saudi Prince who Charmed and Smarmed is Sacked

International affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe has reported on the doings of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, since the prince was a fixture in the American administrations of Ronald Reagan and both Bushes. “Many saw him as a pernicious influence on these Republican administrations,” writes Manthorpe in today’s column — especially in the hours after 9/11. His new column examines why the prince’s career finally hit the skids — and the role of Syria. An excerpt:

The sacking of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, is public acknowledgement that the strategy for ousting Syrian President Bashar Assad has not only failed, but spawned a new generation of skilled Islamic terrorists.

The departure of Prince Bandar on Wednesday was announced in a brief statement from the royal palace of Saudi King Adbullah, the prince’s uncle. It is the end of a career that has been a major influence on relations with the United States and Washington’s approach to the Middle East for several decades.

For 22 years until 2005, Prince Bandar was the Saudi ambassador to Washington. He charmed and smarmed his way into close relations with both President Ronald Reagan and both presidents George Bush. Indeed, he became such a fixture in the retinues of those administrations that he was often called “Bandar Bush.”

Log in to read today’s column: Saudi Arabia sacks troublesome intelligence chief Prince Bandar. (Subscription or day pass required*)

Click here for Jonathan Manthorpe’s page, with all of his columns for F&O.

*Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O serves and is entirely funded by readers who buy a subscription or a $1 site day pass. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes.

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The Goldilock World in Cygnus

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An artist’s conception of Kepler-186f, courtesy of NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

A cosmic finding: astronomers have discovered Kepler-186f, which NASA calls “the first validated Earth-size planet to orbit a distant star in the habitable zone … (it) confirms that Earth-size planets exist in the habitable zones of other stars and signals a significant step closer to finding a world similar to Earth.”

The search for a habitable world is the quest for a world that’s not too hot, not too cold, but just right — which is why it’s often called a Goldilocks world.

The catch? Kepler-186f exists some 500 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Cygnus.

There really is no place like home.

Blue Marble

Earth.

 Further reading:
NASA press release: http://www.nasa.gov/ames/kepler/nasas-kepler-discovers-first-earth-size-planet-in-the-habitable-zone-of-another-star/
Paper in the journal Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (Paywall): http://www.sciencemag.org/content/344/6181/277

 

Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, FactsandOpinions serves, and is funded by, readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Our original work in Dispatches, Think and Photo-Essays is available for a $1 site day pass or at a modest subscription price. Use the SUBSCRIBE  form to the right, on our free Frontlines blog, to receive notices of all new work on site. 

 

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