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Workers repair gas pipelines after they were blown up by unidentified men near the Punjabi town of Rahim Yar Khan, about 370 miles south of Islamabad, Pakistan, February 10, 2014. (Siddique Balouch/Reuters)

Long-ignored ethnic strife cuts off Pakistan's gas

By Staff writer / 02.11.14

Millions of Pakistanis are suddenly without gas supplies after ethnic Baloch separatists blew up three pipelines from gas-rich Balochistan Province to the country’s most populous Punjab Province. The attack serves as a powerful reminder that the forces of entropy in Pakistan are not limited to Islamic militants and hostilities with neighboring nations.

Before Sept. 11, 2001, it was Pakistan’s ethnic divisions that kept some analysts up at night. An illuminating summary of those concerns can be found in this 2000 essay from Robert Kaplan, who has since restated his basic argument here: “Islamic ideology, like communism in Yugoslavia, has proved an insufficient glue to form a prideful national identity.”

Pakistan has long defied predictions of collapse, and I have argued against some of that alarmism in the recent past. But it is safe to say that ethnic separatism in the province with the richest resources has hampered Pakistan’s ability to exploit its mineral and gas wealth, as well as its aspirations to be a regional hub for energy pipelines coming from Iran and Central Asia.

The state-owned gas company estimates it will take at least two days to fix the pipes. The Baloch Republican Army (BRA) has claimed responsibility for the attack, which was highly unusual for knocking out three pipes at once and doing so inside Punjab Province.

“Attacking the pipelines in Punjab is a very powerful symbol that you are attacking the seat of power,” says our correspondent in Karachi. “This attack has really registered the Baloch insurgents’ struggle on a national scale, which I don’t think any other attacks so far have been able to do in the same way.”

The BRA is seeking independence for Balochistan.... For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Frontier Markets.

Riot police use water cannons to disperse demonstrators during a protest against Internet censorship in Istanbul February 8, 2014. Police fired water cannon and teargas to disperse hundreds of people protesting in central Istanbul on Saturday against new controls on the Internet approved by parliament this week. (Nazim Serhat Firat/Reuters)

What does Turkey's new Internet law mean for its EU aspirations? (+video)

By Staff writer / 02.10.14

Passage of an Internet censorship law in Turkey sparked violent protests this weekend and is highlighting Ankara’s receding interest in joining the European Union. (The Christian Science Monitor has a full take on the law here.)

Under the Turkish system, the president has a chance to veto the parliament-approved law. Both Turkish activists and the European Union are applying pressure on President Abdullah Gul to do just that.

However, his political allies, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, backed the law to gain greater control over the media in the midst of a burgeoning corruption scandal and ahead of local elections in March, our Turkey correspondent says. In this context, the incentive to stay on the path to EU accession is getting drowned out by more pressing concerns of Turkey’s ruling politicians.

“They basically feel like they’re fighting for their necks because they’ve been accused of very serious corruption. If the government were to [fall], there’s every chance that you could see these guys on trial within a few months. So I think the gloves are really off and they are prepared to do anything they feel they have to do to keep control of the political agenda,” says our correspondent in Istanbul. “I’d say as early as this week [President Gul] will decide on it. And I think it’s unlikely that he will veto it.”

The European Union holds some amount of suasion over Ankara in the form of Turkey’s long pursuit of membership.... For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Frontier Markets.

Environment Minister Luz Helena Sarmiento (c.) speaks during a news conference in the Caribbean city of Santa Marta, on January 8. Colombia's government said on Wednesday it suspended loading of coal by its second-biggest coal miner, US-based Drummond, until it complies with new regulations governing movement of coal at the ports. (Juliana Alvarez/Reuters)

Colombia stands up to Big Coal

By Stephen KurczyCorrespondent / 02.09.14

Colombia’s government is making a big show of prosecuting US coal producer Drummond for a series of environmental blunders, says our correspondent in Medellín. The case is reverberating all the way to Europe, where coal prices spiked on Jan. 9 when the government suspended Drummond’s shipping activities.

Some see the developments as a sign the government is taking a tougher environmental stance with dirty coal. Last month the environment minister also promised to bring forward legislation requiring environmental permits for mining exploration.

“This is one of the few times the Colombian government has put its foot down,” says our correspondent. “It’s a very significant.”

But the case is unlikely to presage any significant legal or environmental troubles ahead for Big Coal in the South American country, which is eager for the industry’s foreign direct investment, our correspondent adds. The spotlight may have more to do with Drummond’s shady history and President Juan Manuel Santos’s plans to stand for reelection in the May election.

“I’m skeptical if this represents real change,” says our correspondent. “Given the Colombian government’s relationship to the sector, I would be surprised if it continued to take a hard line.”

The government’s chief prosecutor announced last week that six Drummond employees will be charged with environmental damages for spilling some 200 metric tons of coal into the bay of Santa Marta in January 2013, for which the company was already fined $3.6 million. The incident was exposed by a Colombian photojournalist, which only increased the story’s media appeal.

On top of that, last month the government hit Drummond with $100 million in allegedly unpaid back taxes and also ordered the Alabama-based company to suspend all coal-loading operations until it upgraded its facilities to meet new environmental standards that kicked in Jan. 1....For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Frontier Markets.

A grizzly bear crosses a tundra in Canada’s Yukon. (Rick Bowmer/AP)

Good Reads: From a high-tech gold rush, to child brides, to rediscovering faith

By Staff writer / 02.08.14

Forget pickaxes, shovels, and pans. Today’s miners use GPS, soil and data analysis, and bulldozers to strike it rich. And in Canada’s Yukon – the sparsely populated wilderness region between Alaska and British Columbia – modern prospectors have recently discovered gold deposits valuing billions of dollars.
In National Geographic, Tom Clynes describes how the high-tech gold rush faces the decades-old issues of native land rights and environmental impact.

“As the material needs of the world’s seven billion people continue to grow, the rush to exploit the Yukon’s exceptionally rich resources – gold, zinc, copper, and more – has brought prosperity to a once forsaken corner of the continent,” Mr. Clynes writes. “But the boom has brought to the fore a growing tension between those who would keep one of North America’s last great wildernesses unbroken and those whose success depends on digging it up.”

A decentralized new world order

The demand for international cooperation has never been higher, but the future of foreign relations may not be determined by states or behemoth multilateral institutions (like the United Nations or the World Trade Organization). In Foreign Affairs, Stewart Patrick argues for “good enough” global governance – or the need for states to rely more on existing “minilateral” agreements, public-private partnerships, and ad hoc coalitions in order to take small steps in addressing global issues. 

“The clutter is unsightly and unwieldy, but it has some advantages, as well,” Mr. Patrick writes. “No single multilateral body could handle all the world’s complex transnational problems, let alone do so effectively or nimbly. And the plurality of institutions and forums is not always dysfunctional, because it can offer states the chance to act relatively deftly and flexibly in responding to new challenges. But regardless of what one thinks of the current global disorder, it is clearly here to stay, and so the challenge is to make it work as well as possible.”

Daniel Pearl’s last story

Twelve years ago, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl went missing in Karachi, Pakistan. A few days after his disappearance, his brutal murder was turned into a propaganda video for Al Qaeda. In the Washingtonian, Asra Q. Nomani, a colleague and close friend of Mr. Pearl’s, recounts her personal, decade-long investigation into the events surrounding his death. Beyond seeking justice, Ms. Nomani’s story is one about her seeking comfort for her grief.

“We all respond to trauma differently,” Nomani writes. “For a decade, I subsisted by dissociating, by putting up a barrier between my emotions and the trauma of the murder. I took an analytical, clinical approach to it, investigating and absorbing every detail of Danny’s case but never grieving him.”
Some peace of mind came to Nomani after seeing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who confessed to planning the 9/11 attacks and killing Pearl, being arraigned in Guantánamo Bay in 2012. Mr. Mohammed’s trial, however, will not start for a couple of years.

Capturing the plight of child brides

Roughly 39,000 girls under 18 years old are married each day, despite commitments across the globe to end child marriage.
Photographer Stephanie Sinclair has spent more than a decade documenting weddings and communities of child brides, trying to uncover the cultural and economic complexities of the practice. In many cases, families living in poverty feel there are no options for their daughters’ futures. But to Ms. Sinclair, the issue goes beyond the lack of education and opportunity for girls.

“I do think there are cultural and financial pressures, but in many parts of the world girls simply don’t have their rights,” Sinclair told “Women in the World,” a Daily Beast blog. “They are not valued as equal human beings. There is a fight going on globally for women to still have their basic human rights, and child marriage is part of that fight.”

Malcolm Gladwell rediscovers his faith

The journey Malcolm Gladwell went through in writing his latest book, “David and Goliath,” was not only intellectual, but also spiritual.
“I have always been someone attracted to the quantifiable and the physical,” Mr. Gladwell writes in Relevant magazine. “I have always believed in God. I have grasped the logic of Christian faith. What I have had a hard time seeing is God’s power.”

During his research, Gladwell met a couple in Winnipeg, Manitoba, who taught him a lesson in faith and forgiveness. Wilma and Cliff Derksen’s daughter had been kidnapped and murdered, but instead of being vengeful, they talked about wanting to share a love that the perpetrator seemed to be missing in his life.
“Maybe we have difficulty seeing the weapons of the spirit because we don’t know where to look, or because we are distracted by the louder claims of material advantage,” Gladwell writes. “But I’ve seen them now, and I will never be the same.”

A man checks his mobile phone as he walks past a shop displaying the Vodafone logo on its shutter in Mumbai, India, January 15, 2014. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters/File)

Can India's spectrum auction help cap its budget blowout?

By Joseph SchatzCorrespondent / 02.06.14

The Indian government’s wireless spectrum auction this week has been good news for a telecom sector that was until recently shadowed by a corruption scandal – and a boon for the government’s bottom line.

The government has already raised about $8 billion in the multiday auction, which started Monday and is still going. The money should help contain the country’s budget deficit, which is currently around 5 percent of GDP, or roughly $90 billion. “It does help the government – they are getting a fair bit of cash from this,” notes our correspondent on the ground in Mumbai. “What’s worth noting is that it’s pretty competitive.” Indeed, the hotly contested auction is a major turnabout from the government’s last auction, which saw only one company participate. With base prices lower this time around, the auction has drawn big players like Reliance Jio, Vodafone, and Bharti Airtel. It’s part of a broader government effort to revive investment in the sector. India’s telecom market is the second-largest in the world, but ... For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Frontier Markets.

Bipedal humanoid robot ‘Atlas’ developed by Boston Dynamics. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Good Reads: From future robots, to crowd-sourcing problems, to praise for kids

By Staff writer / 02.01.14

In the past year, Google has scooped up several humanoid robotics companies, including Boston Dynamics, maker of all-terrain quadrupeds Big Dog and Little Dog; Nest Labs, maker of the smart thermostat and smoke detector; and a wind turbine manufacturer. Add those recent acquisitions to Google’s fleet of self-driving cars and it becomes clear that the search engine has some big ideas for its role in our future, writes Nick Bilton for The New York Times.

“Yet many of its competitors seem to be stuck in the present,” he writes, before adding that Facebook’s, Yahoo’s, and Twitter’s recent acquisitions seem much less ambitious. “It’s unclear where Apple fits into all of this – the company, is, after all, better at keeping secrets than the National Security Agency.... But if Apple is working in secret on its own robot army and futuristic universe, Google is building for the future in public.”

The bottomless pit of poverty

Fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson declared a war on poverty, many of the nation’s poor remain trapped in an endless loop of work, exhaustion, and uncertainty, writes author Barbara Ehrenreich for The Atlantic. “Poverty is not a character failing or a lack of motivation,” she insists. “Poverty is a shortage of money. For most women in poverty, in both good times and bad, the shortage of money arises largely from inadequate wages.”

Ms. Ehrenreich, who wrote “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America,” tried her hand at several entry-level jobs most readily available to women including hotel housekeeper, server, nursing-home aide, and Wal-Mart associate. She quickly learned that minimum wage did not bring in enough money to pay the bills and the sporadic hours made it nearly impossible to find a second job.

“To be poor – especially with children to support and care for – is a perpetual high-wire act,” she writes.

Crowdsourcing climate change

“If there ever was a problem that’s hard to solve, it’s climate change,” Thomas Malone, Robert Laubacher, and Laur Fisher write for NOVA Next. The challenge is so complex that no one person could ever have the kind of in-depth expertise in atmospheric physics, economics, and human behavior that the task calls for. No problem, write the three researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Collective Intelligence in Cambridge, many heads are better than one anyway.

Enter MIT’s Climate CoLab, an online community where scientists, policymakers, businesspeople, students, economists, concerned citizens – anyone – can submit project ideas for the international community to evaluate. The site is equipped with a computer simulation model that can estimate the potential effects of a particular proposal.

“By bringing together experts, crowds, and key stakeholders, the Climate CoLab opens up the possibility that effective solutions to climate change can come not just from international conferences or labs, but collectively from large numbers of people from all over the world,” they write.

Laboratory for forest restoration

The 400-square-mile Rim Fire that raged for more than a month in the Sierra Nevada last fall caused $54 million in damages and left 60 square miles of completely charred forest in its wake. The state, the US Forest Service, and the National Park Service are left with some difficult choices of how to manage the burned forest, writes Brian Clark Howard for National Geographic.

Should loggers be allowed to haul salvaged wood out of the area or should it be left to rot and replenish the soil? Should the Forest Service conduct controlled burns to reduce the amount of fuel on the ground in the event of another fire? “For some areas of burned forest, the best option may be simply to let nature take its course,” Mr. Howard writes.

Many of the trees that were lost had been planted after a previous fire in the 1980s affected the same area “and may even have contributed to [the Rim Fire’s] ferocity,” he explains. Felled trees, even charred ones, invite beetles, which feed the black-backed woodpecker. Aspens could take advantage of the newly available real estate and sprout up on their own.

In praise of better praise

Parents and teachers touting the merits of positive over negative reinforcement may want to take a closer look at the kind of praise they dish out to children, reports Maria Konnikova for The New Yorker. While there have been numerous psychological studies that suggest that the carrot is a far more effective teaching tool than the stick, sugarcoating that carrot with inflated praise can actually backfire, new research suggests.

In studies conducted by a doctoral student in psychology at Utrecht University, “[c]hildren who were praised emphatically did do better­ – but only if they had high opinions of themselves to begin with,” Ms. Konnikova reports. Those students then felt empowered to tackle even more difficult tasks. However, kids with low self-esteem who received inflated praise were less likely to take on difficult challenges. Other researchers have found that the same may hold true in the workplace.

Jose Maria Villalta, presidential candidate of the leftist Broad Front Party, gives a thumbs up to his supporters after a walk in Tres Rios January 29, 2014. (Juan Carlos Ulate/REUTERS)

Is staid Costa Rica headed for an unpredictable vote? (+video)

By Staff writer / 01.30.14

Costa Rica, a traditionally center-right nation, is witnessing the rapid rise of a leftist candidate in the run-up to national elections on Sunday. The country has long attracted investment beyond its neighbors in Central America due to its strong US ties and political stability. Those strengths are not in peril, but the political landscape has grown less predictable of late and the left’s standard bearer is talking of renegotiating parts of the 2004 Central America Free Trade Agreement with the United States.

José María Villalta, from the left-leaning Broad Front Party, “really popped in the polls in December and took a lot of people by surprise that he could have that strong of a following. Costa Rica traditionally is a fairly conservative country and it’s never really had a strong left-leaning political presence,” says our correspondent in San José.

For decades, Costa Rica had a centrist two-party system. A bribery scandal in the previous decade felled one of the two parties. Still standing was the National Liberation Party (PLN), which currently holds the reins of power and follows a neo-liberal economic policy. The PLN candidate, Johnny Araya, is a longtime mayor of San José and the putative front-runner.

But new, more ideological parties have risen up as challengers, making this election a multiparty nail-biter that includes a serious challenge by the left as well as a libertarian candidate.

“The election really is about people who are breaking away from traditional political parties here. And so that electorate has either cut right or they’ve cut left,” our correspondent says.

Polls suggest a close race and a strong possibility that no candidate will cross the 40 percent threshold needed to avoid an April 6 runoff.

Mr. Villalta has promised to tackle income inequality by raising the minimum wage and reenergizing small-scale farms.... For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Frontier Markets.

Cars are dug out from beneath snow in Zuoz, Switzerland. (Arno Balzarini/Keystone/AP)

Good Reads: From climate reporting, to Romas in France, to an ancient board game

By Marshall IngwersonManaging editor / 01.25.14

In 1975, Newsweek science editor Peter Gwynne wrote a nine-paragraph story that ran on page 64 of the magazine. It noted that average global temperatures had gradually decreased since about 1940, and it rounded up some climate scientists predicting that the planet could move toward the colder temperatures of several centuries ago.

Doug Struck, writing for The Daily Climate and appearing in Scientific American, revisits the long tail of that minor article, and several similar ones that followed it in other publications. It is prominently cited today as Exhibit A in arguments against the existence of global warming.

Mr. Gwynne didn’t see it as a big deal at the time. He told Mr. Struck: “It was just an intriguing piece about what a certain group in a certain niche of climatology was thinking.” That cooling trend is now long over and has been dwarfed by the rise in global temperatures since the Newsweek article appeared.
Gwynne is philosophical about writing science for popular audiences. “I’ve been willing to accept that some of that is misused and misinterpreted.”

Community care for the mentally ill

For more than 700 years, the Flemish town of Geel, Belgium, has been a haven for people termed elsewhere, though not here, “mentally ill.” After a medieval Irish princess was killed there by her maddened father, the town became a pilgrimage site for praying for the mentally afflicted. The townspeople began a tradition of taking them in as “boarders” – both out of Christian charity and as an extra set of hands on the farm.

Writing in Aeon magazine, Mike Jay describes how a very unmodern and nonmedical tradition that has never regarded itself as therapy had by the early 20th century come to be regarded as a model of progressive therapy, widely studied and emulated. A boarder is treated as a member of the family and the community and expected to behave as such, “though it’s also understood that he or she might not have the same coping resources as others.”

The Geel system currently backstops its traditional family care system with modern pharmaceutical treatment when deemed necessary. Demand for what Geel families offer has not waned, but modern life and rising prosperity is eroding the number of families who can or will provide it. One boarder, who recently died at the age of 100, “had spent 80 years with the same family, in the care of successive generations to whom she had been first like a daughter, then a sister and finally an aunt. Who would not wish to live in a community where such extraordinary resources of time, attention and love were available to those who needed them – but who these days can imagine being in a position to offer them?”

The return of petty crime in France

Public sentiment in France seems to be tied in knots these days over its tiny but increasingly visible Roma population. Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker delves into French attitudes toward this population, formerly known as “gypsies” in English, with his usual combination of nuance and clarity.

That attitude is one part fear and impatience with what is perceived as an epidemic of petty crime by young Roma – mainly pickpocketing and purse snatching. A Roma was recently convicted of running one of the largest pickpocket rings ever in Paris. And it is one part sympathy for poor immigrants without much support system.

The case of a high school age Roma girl pulled from a school bus and expelled, with her family, from France drew an outpouring of popular support. In the end, Mr. Gopnik suggests that the French obsession with the Roma is about their own fear of economic falling, finding echoes of Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables,” as standards of living drop for the first time in 30 years.

Lessons in an ancient war game

Games can be a reflection of how people see the world. If the Western world, reared on chess, wants to understand the Chinese worldview, one way is to understand the strategies of Go.

Then there’s Hnefatafl, an ancient Viking game at least 600 years older than chess. Robert Beckhusen, writing in War is Boring for Medium.com, describes a game that is fundamentally asymmetrical: One side begins the game surrounded and outnumbered. He cites Kristan Wheaton, a former Army foreign area officer and ex-analyst at US European Command’s Intelligence Directorate: “I don’t know of a better analogy for post-Cold War conflict.”

Never a dull moment for political satire

For a 30-second read, try humorist Andy Borowitz’s take on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s self-defense over the snarling-traffic-as-political-revenge scandal in The New Yorker. The governor argued, of course, that he knew nothing about what his aides were up to. We’re guessing from the brief dispatch “Christie unaware he was governor” that Mr. Borowitz isn’t buying it.

Nhail Deng Nhail (2nd l.), the head of South Sudan's negotiating team, and top negotiator for the rebel's side, Taban Deng Gai (r.), a general in South Sudan's army before he defected, sign a cessation of hostilities agreement in front of mediator Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom, center, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. (Elias Asmare/AP)

South Sudan's warring factions reach cease-fire – for now

By Staff writer / 01.24.14

The fighting in South Sudan that has disrupted oil production will take a pause starting Friday after the government and rebels signed a cease-fire deal. But the agreement faces serious risks of collapse in the days ahead.

Our correspondent in South Sudan is expressing skepticism that the rebels are united enough to adequately honor the cease-fire on the ground. And our correspondent in Ethiopia, where the cease-fire deal was struck Thursday, says the two camps are far apart still on the key issue of 11 political prisoners held by the government.

“When I spoke to the information minister from the government delegation, Michael Makuel Lueth, I asked him about the detainee issue, and he said that they would be released in accordance with the laws of South Sudan,” says our correspondent in Addis Ababa. “When I asked him whether they would be appearing [and taking part] in the next stage of talks, he said not necessarily.

“But the head of the rebel delegation, the chief negotiator, Taban Deng Gai, said that they would not participate in the next phase of the talks beginning on Feb. 7 if the detainees had not been released so they are able to participate in them. So there’s still a decent gap between the parties on that particular point, and it is quite an important point.”

Fighting broke out in December after President Salva Kiir removed Vice President Riek Machar. Some of Mr. Machar’s supporters took up arms, and were joined by other antigovernment factions. The two leaders hail from different ethnic groups, overlaying ethnic tensions on the resulting power struggle.

Rebels had been demanding the release of 11 Machar allies imprisoned on accusations of attempting to overthrow the government. Under the cease-fire agreement, there is no commitment from the government to release the detainees. Instead, the parties agreed that the prisoners should be part of a coming peace process.

Both sides also agreed to cease hostilities within 24 hours and reconvene in two weeks. Silencing all the guns might be a tall order, according to our South Sudan correspondent.... For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Frontier Markets.

North Korea rare-earth venture: game-changer for investors?

By Staff writer / 01.24.14

It’s billed as potentially the largest deposit of rare earth minerals in the world. Unfortunately, it’s in North Korea, the world’s most isolated regime. Exploration is set to resume in April at the Jongju deposit by a joint venture between the North Koreans and SRE Minerals, a private equity firm from the British Virgin Islands.  

In December, the joint venture – Pacific Century Rare Earths Minerals, Ltd. – announced initial exploration results pointing to a world-beating deposit. Some press accounts have posited that it could prove a game-changer for the Kim regime’s efforts to develop the country’s nonexistent economy. But it remains to be seen whether the North is just playing games with this effort or is really interested in pursuing an economic opportunity.

“It’s been no secret that they have a lot of rare earths,” says our correspondent in Seoul. “The fact that we’ve known about it for so long and nothing has really come of it I think says something about North Korea – that they’ve got a terrible economy and they’ve got all this marketable resource, but they can’t manage to get it together to do anything with it and make any money from it.”

A previous Chinese iron mining project highlights the difficulties at hand. A Chinese firm, Tianchi Industry and Trade, bought extraction rights for 50 years in 2005. The company, however, could not get the North Koreans to live up to their end of the deal in terms of laying railroad track and pipelines to ship the ore. By late 2012, the company simply pulled out, losing the money they put into the investment.... For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Frontier Markets.

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