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The latest news from around the world, hot off the presses.

A Desperate Chavez Tells Colombia It's Over

— Filed under: Breaking News, Politics & Government
El Comandante Hugo Chavez en el Salón Ayacucho

Image by ¡Que comunismo! via Flickr

Known for his aggressive stances and incendiary speech over the past several years towards his country's neighbors, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez took the final step on Thursday of severing all ties with Colombia. The two countries have had a history of tensions which ratcheted up this month. Apparently the last straw came at a meeting of the Organization of American States, when Colombia presented evidence showing that guerrillas were hiding within Venezuela's borders, including members of FARC. In retaliation, Chavez announced that he was closing the embassy in Bogota while at the same time admitting that Colombia was their "brother nation".… Continues …

Summer of Racism in the United States

— Filed under: Breaking News, Politics & Government, People & Culture
Racism

Image by maHidoodi via Flickr

A glut of racially-tinged stories seems to be flooding the United States this summer - so many that it has some people wondering what the heck is going on.

The madness was prefaced in March of this year by racial epithets hurled at black members of Congress by people who were protesting the passage of the health care reform bill.

Then Arizona really stirred up the pot. The state passed their now-infamous and highly controversial immigration law, which contains a provision for law enforcement officials to demand immigration documents whenever they have "reasonable suspicion" that a person might be an illegal alien. Opponents of the law claim that it encourages racial profiling.… Continues …

New Report Details US Intelligence Bloat

— Filed under: Breaking News, Politics & Government
Top secret area

Image by Marcin Wichary via Flickr

The Washington Post today released a much-anticipated report entitled Top Secret America which highlights the increasing complexity and general unwieldiness of the US intelligence infrastructure. The bloat detailed in the two-year project is neatly summarized by the BBC:

"It says nearly 2,000 private companies and 1,270 government agencies are involved in counter-terror work at 10,000 locations across the country."

The report was heavily discussed and debated even before it was released. Apparently it caused a lot of fear and consternation in the intelligence community, which released statements and sent out preparatory emails to those likely to be affected.… Continues …

Syria Issues Ban on Face Veils at Universities

— Filed under: Breaking News, Politics & Government, People & Culture

Three women with white niqab

Image by superblinkymac via Flickr

Syria has issued a directive forbidding its female students at public universities from wearing face-covering veils. The reason for this ban is to guard against Islamic fundamentalism. A source who wanted to remain anonymous said that the Minister of Higher Education in Syria told his assistants that "We will not leave our daughters a prey for extremist thoughts." Apparently the minister's edict has been well-received by most Syrians.

With all the uproar in Western Europe about countries banning or attempting to ban the burqa in public schools and elsewhere (in France last week, and currently being debated by Spain's parliament), it's a little surprising to see a Muslim country do it. It's also interesting to hear Syria take such a strong stand against extremist forms of Islam.… Continues …

Unnatural Selection: Genetically-Modified, Malaria-Proof Mosquitoes

— Filed under: Breaking News, Science & Technology
None - This image is in the public domain and ...

Image via Wikipedia

Scientists have at long last succeeded in creating a mosquito which is immune to the malaria parasite. Via genetic modification they have shortened the insect's lifespan by 20%, which deprives the parasite of sufficient time to mature in the mosquito's gut. The LA Times states that the researchers "don't yet understand how the genetic change makes the mosquitoes malaria-proof." That doesn't diminish the tremendous potential it represents for tropical regions around the world, where malaria remains a major scourge and kills nearly 1 million people each year.

According to the BBC, "[the researchers'] ultimate goal is to introduce malaria-resistant mosquitoes into the environment." Professor Michael Riehle, working on the project, elaborates:

"Before we do this, we have to somehow give the mosquitoes a competitive advantage over the disease-carrying insects."

The End of the Road for the Barefoot Bandit

— Filed under: Breaking News, People & Culture

Catch me if you can: Colton Harris-MooreCatch me if you can: Colton Harris-Moore

Many of us reacted with a twinge of sadness to the news of Colton Harris-Moore's arrest in the Bahamas over the weekend. Relatively unknown outside the Pacific Northwest, Harris-Moore nevertheless became a teenage folk hero for his ability to confound the police who tried for years to capture him. It seemed as though he would remain one step ahead of the law forever.

Growing up as a troubled youth on Camano Island in Washington state, Harris-Moore often spent nights in the forest when he wasn't in juvenile detention. He ran away from a halfway house in 2008, and started breaking into empty vacation homes on the island.  He ate other people's food, watched their televisions, and soaked in their hot tubs. He became known as "the Barefoot Bandit" because he sometimes committed his crimes with no shoes on. Despite law enforcement's best efforts to catch him, they always seemed to come up empty-handed as Harris-Moore escaped at the last minute. He once left chalk footprints on the floor of a grocery store to taunt police.

Stoning In the Modern World

— Filed under: Breaking News, Politics & Government, People & Culture
all alone bloody stone

Image by TeeF86 via Flickr

At some time in the near future, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani will have rocks thrown at her until she dies. She'll be buried up to her chest, and then stoned. The stones must be big enough to cause pain, but not big enough to kill her immediately. If Ashtiani can somehow wriggle free, her sentence will be commuted, but what's more likely is that she'll experience a painful death - unless the government of Iran can be convinced to give her a reprieve.

What was her crime? After receiving 99 lashes in front of her children, she admitted to adultery, a confession she later retracted. She was then found guilty using "judge's knowledge", which The Guardian calls "a loophole that allows for subjective judicial rulings where no conclusive evidence is present."… Continues …

Sexy Russian Spy Disarms, Captures America's Attention

— Filed under: Breaking News, Politics & Government, People & Culture
Anna Chapman
Anna Chapman, the spy we love

Guerrilla marketers for "Salt" or any number of upcoming spy thrillers couldn't have dreamt up anything better for their films than the currently unfolding Russian spy saga dominating headlines. Living normal American lives for the better part of two decades, eleven special agents sent back intelligence on many topics using diverse technologies, including embedding secret messages in digital images.

The details of the spy ring and resulting arrests are still a bit hazy. Daniel Drezner at Foreign Policy is not impressed and a little confused by the whole thing. The Moscow Times quotes several experts who believe it may be an attack on Obama's credibility and his efforts to "reset" relations with Russia.… Continues …

Guns Don't Kill Bans - Justices Do

— Filed under: Breaking News, Politics & Government
Washington DC: United States Supreme Court

Image by wallyg via Flickr

The US Supreme Court yesterday struck down a ban on handgun ownership in Chicago, a ruling that could have implications for gun ownership across the United States.  The National Rifle Association (NRA) is of course very pleased with the ruling.

In explaining why cities can't impose their own gun bans, Justice Samuel Alito explained that the Second Amendment "applies equally to the federal government and the states."  However, the Court left open the possibility that lighter gun restrictions might be acceptable.… Continues …

The Future is Now: "Pain Ray" Weapon in Afghanistan

— Filed under: Breaking News, Politics & Government, Science & Technology
An operational version of the Active Denial Sy...

Image via Wikipedia

The United States is considering testing a new microwave weapon in Afghanistan, a "pain ray" which causes unbearable pain akin to being burned. The military denies that any decision has been made to commence testing the Active Denial System, but admits that the weapon is in Afghanistan and is being discussed for potential use.

According to the Air Force, the Active Denial System has been heavily tested. However, one test subject had to be airlifted to a burn center for treatment, and questions remain as to whether the weapon can be used safely.… Continues …

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