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TFI Daily News

World News for World Changers

Apr 22


Japanese Negotiator: No Major Progress in TPP Talks With U.S.
(Reuters) A senior Japanese trade negotiator said on Tuesday there had been no major progress on narrowing differences between Japan and the United States on the establishment of a Pacific trade block.

Islamists Kill Second Somali Lawmaker, Threaten More Attacks
(Reuters) Islamist rebels shot dead a Somali lawmaker on Tuesday, a day after blowing up one of his colleagues in his car, and vowed to keep killing politicians and wreck efforts to secure the country.

South Africa Platinum Talks Resume in Bid to End Three-Month Strike
(Reuters) Chief executives of the world’s top platinum producers were to again meet the leaders of the AMCU union on Tuesday for wage talks in a bid to find an agreement to end the longest and most costly strike on South Africa’s mines in living memory.

Biden Offers Kiev U.S. Help, Condemns Corruption
(Reuters) U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told Ukrainian presidential candidates and members of parliament on Tuesday that Washington was ready to help Ukraine’s economy but warned them they must fight the “cancer” of endemic corruption.

Japanese Minister, MPs Visit Yasukuni Shrine on Eve of Obama Visit
(Reuters) A Japanese cabinet minister and about 150 lawmakers on Tuesday visited Yasukuni Shrine, seen by critics as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism, sparking anger among Asian neighbors a day before U.S. President Barack Obama arrives in the region.

Ukraine Peace Deal Falters as Rebels Show No Sign of Surrender
(Reuters) An international agreement to avert wider conflict in Ukraine was faltering on Monday, with pro-Moscow separatist gunmen showing no sign of surrendering government buildings they have seized.

Nine Killed in Attacks in Pakistan’s Volatile Northwest
(Reuters) Nine people, including policemen, were killed and dozens wounded in two separate bomb and gun attacks in Pakistan’s volatile northwest on Tuesday, police said, a week after the Taliban refused to extend a ceasefire with the government.

Cyclone Halts Air Search for Malaysian Plane
(Reuters) A tropical cyclone heading south over the Indian Ocean caused the air search for a missing Malaysian jetliner to be suspended on Tuesday, as a U.S. submarine drone neared completion of its undersea search without any sign of wreckage.

Death count in ferry sinking tops 100
JINDO, South Korea (AP)—One by one, coast guard officers carried the newly arrived bodies covered in white sheets from a boat to a tent on the dock of this island, the first step in identifying a sharply rising number of corpses from a South Korean ferry that sank nearly a week ago.

Syrian rebels make last stand for Homs
BEIRUT (AP)—Weakened Syrian rebels are making their last desperate stand in Homs, as forces loyal to President Bashar Assad launch their harshest assault yet to expel them from the central city, once known as the capital of the revolution.

Thought of the Day

“Never give up on a dream because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.”—Earl Nightingale


with Anu Garg

tractable (TRAK-tuh-buhl) adjective: Easily handled, managed, or controlled.

From Latin tractare (to handle), frequentative of trahere (draw). Earliest documented use: 1504.

“‘I don’t want to go there,’ said Sharina, who was normally such a tractable child.”—Susan Palwick; Hhasalin; Fantasy & Science Fiction (Cornwall, Connecticut); Sep/Oct 2013

Nick Vujicic, Limbless Evangelist, Tells Teens to ‘Stand Strong’ in Face of Bullying

By Nicola Menzie, Christian Post, April 20, 2014

NEW YORK—Nick Vujicic, a Christian evangelist born without limbs who has inspired millions around the globe with his story of faith and perseverance, is using his new book, Standing Strong, to speak to the 3.2 million U.S. teens, and countless others around the globe, who say they have been bullied.

“This is written specifically to teenagers sort of in their language. I’m very passionate about the standing strong against bullying message,” Vujicic told The Christian Post.

Vujicic’s passion for the subject stems from his own experiences with being bullied as a child due to being born with no arms and no legs, a condition called tetra-amelia syndrome.

The Australian-born evangelist has often testified of dealing with depression and attempting suicide at age 10 due to his disabilities and being targeted by bullies.

Vujicic identifies with his teen readers in Stand Strong: You Can Overcome Bullying (and Other Stuff That Keeps You Down) and advises how to build a “bully defense system” by embracing their self-worth, standing by their values and developing a spiritual foundation, among other things.

Below is a transcript of CP’s interview with Vujicic.

CP: Stand Strong is your third book. How does this one differ from your previous ones (Life Without Limits and Unstoppable)?

Vujicic: We’re just so excited about this book that really speaks to the teenager’s heart about knowing the truth of your value. Knowing the truth that you’re beautiful just the way that you are, and not in a prideful way, but not being rocked by what other people think of you. Self-worth is something this next generation really needs to come back on. It’s not determined on other people’s opinions or how good you look or this or that, or how popular you are. Because it was an issue that I was dealing with that actually led me to an attempted-suicide. I want all the people to know to not be chained by other people’s opinions.

CP: Bullying does not seem to get as much emphasis in churches as do perhaps life and marriage issues. Why do you think that is?

Vujicic: I think first of all, pride is something that comes into our mind and then obviously the ease of it, knowing that it’s culturally acceptable to bully, to gossip and all that. It’s not just in the schools, it’s in the workplaces, it’s in some churches, denominations and stuff, Christian schools. We need to be the light in this world, we need to be the salt of the earth. We need to be the ones who reach out to those who have no friends or who are being picked on and standing up for what’s right. Oftentimes we feel like either we can’t make a world of difference or we feel that it’s not going to change anything anyway. The truth is you can change someone’s day, you can change someone’s life, but you have to show up and do what you gotta do to actually see any fruit coming from it.

I just want everyone to know that sometimes we feel like we have to have more before we can be effective or find our purpose. You don’t need more to be a miracle. You can be a miracle for someone today in such small ways yet life-changing ways for them.

CP: Some people might hold the opinion that bullying is a necessary evil, especially in areas like the military or team sports, and that it builds character or camaraderie. What are your thoughts on that?

Vujicic: A lot of parents do that. Actually the largest rate of suicides in the world is in Asian countries, and it’s a pressure to perform. It’s a form of bullying, in my opinion, to make sure that your kid gets the best grades, the best jobs and all that sort of stuff. I just want my child to be happy. I want him to do his best and trust God in the rest, but I’m not going to bully him.

Some people think it’s toughening someone up. Yeah, my cousins picked and poked on me here and there, but in a very fun way that was in a safe place. But just poking at others down the street or in the school hallway is actually more negative than positive, and I don’t need to bring any negativity to build someone’s confidence up. In fact, I’ll find another way to do that—in a positive way. So I challenge myself even in that, because I know that even the smallest negative comments that might be the most non-offensive comment, can always lead to something negative in their mind, subconsciously as well.

CP: Jesus teaches in the Bible to “turn the other cheek” and to forgive others “70 times seven.” Certainly He’s not speaking of being a silent victim. What do you teach people about responding to bullying in positive ways?

Vujicic: You know when Jesus was bullied, Jesus Himself said, “Tell me what I’ve done wrong.” And they didn’t know exactly what to say at that point. That’s the one thing that I’ve used in my life to actually stand up to my bullies: “What’s your problem? Why are you picking on me? What did I do to you?” Sometimes it takes such humility to admit that you are being hurt, that it is affecting you. Going up to your bully and saying, “Can you please stop.” Some do stop, some don’t. Generally speaking, in our findings, about three percent of the student body [in a school] are bullies and just pick on 10-15 people a day. We’ve just done 20,000 students in Hawaii, and in Hawaii 12.8 percent of all teenagers have already attempted suicide. In the surveys that we’ve done, a third of those suicides is because of bullying at school.

So we try bringing the fact that first of all, you might think you’re just having fun but you don’t know how deep your words can go. Why don’t you just do something else? You know in elementary school, we all say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.” In high school we should say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, shut your mouth.” So that’s what I’m telling high schools all around the world.

If we ever wanted to make a difference in our life…if we didn’t do better than yesterday, then why do we think we’re going to do better tomorrow than today? So we really need to set a mark in understanding that first of all, if you’re a victim you’re not alone, don’t give up, don’t worry about what other people say, try standing up for yourself. Sometimes you need to be a true friend to get a true friend. Once we know the truth of our value, that’s not determined by other people around us, that’s when you can have that peace and fulfillment in yourself. You’re gonna get through it, like I did. I got through it, and I think anyone can if they just stick to the truth one day at a time. And pray for those people, right (bullies)? They’re the ones that have some issues.

CP: Faith in God is what helped you overcome bullying and deal the challenges you face. How do you deliver that message when you travel, especially to those who don’t share your religious outlook?

Vujicic: It depends on which crowd and where I’m at, but I always talk about faith, love and hope. The greatest hope is knowing that I’m not going to die, I’m going to live forever and my arms and legs are up there (heaven). I have a pair of shoes in my closet in case He says yes to me. I’ve seen blind people seeing, deaf people hearing, lame people walk. I’ve seen that stuff which is really cool. What I do know is that even if God doesn’t give me arms and legs here on earth, I don’t need them.

I don’t need a physical body that’s healed. Even if I’m dying of cancer. If I don’t die of cancer, I’ll die in a car crash. If I don’t die in a car crash, I’ll die some other way. Either way, I’m a citizen of heaven passing through. The reason I have a positive attitude is because I’m healed. I’m healed to a point that I don’t need stuff. I need peace, I need purpose, I need forgiveness of my sins.

Jesus said, “I am the way the truth and the life.” Knowing that I’m now going to be living forever, the fruit of that is a positive attitude. Now does that mean that I don’t cry? No, I still cry. I still have my ups and downs. But with faith, I remind myself of the promises, knowing that I can stand strong in the truth. The truth that I’m not a mistake. The truth that I’m fearfully and wonderfully made. The truth that everyone is valuable just the way we are.

Blended learning combines the best of online learning with traditional teaching.

By Amanda Paulson, Christian Science Monitor, April 20, 2014

Fourteen-year-old Gabi Directo is technically in the middle of her freshman year. But in bursts of learning, hunched over her laptop in her Summit Shasta High School classroom, she has managed to zoom at her own rapid pace to the completion of all of her ninth-grade English, history, science, and math classes. By February, she was digging into her sophomore year Advanced Placement biology, physics, and Algebra II classes.

But in her school’s “blended learning” program, Gabi has had as much face-time with teachers and classmates as solitary face-to-screen time. The serious and soft-spoken teen is able to “blend” the best of online learning (progress at her own pace through subject content) with the best of classroom work (practicing new knowledge with peers and teachers). For example, her whole math class is working on projectile-motion models. But while some of her classmates’ models involve basic graphing to predict where an object will travel, Gabi’s factor in parametric equations and map time with distance.

Gabi says she thrives on the traditional classroom group work everyone does at the same time—but she also appreciates that she can use her more advanced skills gained in the independent work she does online, shooting ahead rather than waiting for her classmates to catch up. Likewise, she observes, classmates who struggle with a concept get to take the time they need to master it rather than get left behind.

“In regular high schools, you have to go at a certain pace,” says Gabi as she takes a break from typing an essay on her laptop to take a quick glance at her online “playlist,” which lists what material she’s completed and what she still has to do, along with her weekly goal. “Here, if you excel, you can go at your own pace…. I’m all done with ninth grade.”

Gabi’s remarkable progress is not unusual at Summit Shasta, a charter school created this school year here to specifically use the blended learning model. The model being pioneered at Shasta—part of a network of five high schools and one Grades 6-12 school—tailors education to each student’s needs by offering high-quality teaching with cutting-edge online programming.

Blended learning is spreading rapidly, say education experts.

“Most American kids are going to be in an environment that is predominantly digital before the end of the decade,” says Tom Vander Ark, chief executive officer of Getting Smart, an education firm that focuses on innovation and technology. “Most learning resources are digital instead of print…. I think we’ll be able to call most of those environments ‘blended’ in terms of combining online experience with face-to-face instruction.”

But Mr. Vander Ark and other advocates of the new model say that using blended learning to transform education and the traditional classroom means more than just incorporating an online element into instruction, giving kids tablets, or having students supplement class material with courses from Khan Academy (the popular nonprofit interactive education website that allows the teacher to “flip the classroom”: Students learn a concept online at home and apply it in class with a teacher).

Advocates of blended learning say that, when done well, it is as much about the time kids are off-line as the time they’re online—delegating more rote concepts to online instruction so that teachers can better use class time for small-group discussion, one-on-one check-ins, group projects, or targeted tutoring if students are struggling.

And making it work involves far more than coming up with the money to offer every student a tablet or laptop and selecting good software. Good blended learning programs blow apart the traditional school program, reconfiguring classrooms and school days so that learning can be as personalized as possible. Myriad models to accomplish this are being pioneered nationwide.

It’s “a reflection of finally realizing technology’s promise to disrupt and transform education in the ways it has disrupted and transformed nearly everything else we do,” says Andy Calkins, deputy director of Next Generation Learning Challenges, which gives grants to blended learning programs.

Mr. Calkins and other proponents of the model point out that in most US schools, classrooms look pretty much as they did 100 years ago: one teacher in front of a classroom, teaching the same material to 30 students who are probably at varying levels of readiness. Technology, thoughtfully deployed, can change that, they believe.

“Technology has always been a nice whiz-bang element, but stuck onto the traditional model,” says Calkins. “In the last four or five years, really for the first time, we’ve seen how technology has the power to enable this new learner-centered form of education in effective and efficient ways.”

Blended learning can look fairly traditional in some cases, but radical in others.

In almost every case, it involves a form of this balance: delegating the most basic content—such as math equations, history facts, or grammar nuts and bolts—to online programs in order to free up teachers to focus on individual students.

And charter schools, in many instances, have led the charge—with networks like Summit Public Schools, Carpe Diem Learning Systems, KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) LA Schools, and Aspire Public Schools making it a centerpiece of their education.

At the Summit network’s Denali charter school in Sunnyvale, Calif., which began this year with 126 sixth-graders and will eventually be a 6-12 school, the look of blended learning is different. On a recent afternoon, students were spread out over a large open, warehouse-like classroom working, in most cases alone on Chromebook laptops at tables, while teachers met at desks one-on-one with students for weekly check-ins, assessing progress and setting goals.

They’d spent the morning in groups finishing up models for a climate-change project they were to present later in the week, and in the afternoon students went online to their individual learning plans and chose units—varying with each student’s level—in math, science, history, or English to work on independently. A few signaled to teachers that they were ready to take an online test in a unit they’d completed, and moved to a room with a proctor. If they didn’t pass, they were allowed to continue to work through the material and take it again: At every stage, they, and their parents, have an instant sense of how they are doing.

With so much of their learning now in their own hands, students need to not only master the content and skills to succeed, but also become self-directed learners who have a solid understanding of when they’ve mastered material and are ready to move on. This is very different from the typical high school where the teacher sets the syllabus and exam schedule.

Some students are motivated from the beginning, while others may take months or years to develop the habits they need. But weekly check-ins with a mentor teacher help them take responsibility for their progress, assess their growth, and set goals. Summit believes all its students are highly independent learners by the time they graduate—and better prepared, as a result, to succeed in college.

As “sexy” as blended learning has suddenly become, there are plenty of examples of instances in which technology has failed to yield much in the way of results.

The Los Angeles Unified School District’s ambitious $1 billion effort to give every student an iPad last year was fraught with equipment problems and complaints about implementation and security breaches by students. The district has had to revise plans.

In Guilford, N.C., the 73,000-student school district’s 1-to-1 tablet effort for middle school students stalled when the tablets were recalled by Amplify, a digital education firm headed by former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein.

The high-profile problems in those and other school districts caused Florida’s Miami-Dade County school district to slow its move to digital learning.

No hard data exists yet on the numbers of students learning online, but Vander Ark, who wrote “Getting Smart: How Digital Learning is Changing the World,” estimates that 3 million K-12 students took some sort of online class last year. The number of districts and schools truly optimizing technology to transform and personalize learning is still small, he says. Doing it well means overhauls that are particularly challenging for large districts to implement quickly.

There is also resistance to the new education model from skeptics who question the wisdom of increased screen time in a world where most children already spend significant time with smart phones and computers.

“There are things I hear when kids are given an iPad, such as nobody makes eye contact in class anymore,” says Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist and author of “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age.” “The whole classroom dynamic can really change…. Kids say it feels different when everybody has a laptop or screen up on their desk.”

Dr. Steiner-Adair frequently works with districts on implementing technology responsibly and believes it can be thoughtfully done when districts really consider all the possible repercussions. She advocates having a responsible-use contract, for instance, and syncing that with core values such as honesty, respect, and kindness. She urges schools to pay attention to helping students develop their social and emotional intelligence—how to converse, listen, read social cues, wait their turn.

“Technology is a tool, and we can use it as an ally to create community and healthy relationships if we’re mindful and thoughtful about how we integrate it…,” she says.

Climate Change Could Start The Next World War

By Eric Holthaus, Slate, April 19, 2014

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just completed a series of landmark reports that chronicle an update to the current state of consensus science on climate change. In a sentence, here’s what they found: On our current path, climate change could pose an irreversible, existential risk to civilization as we know it—but we can still fix it if we decide to work together.

But in addition to the call for cooperation, the reports also shared an alarming new trend: Climate change is already destabilizing nations and leading to wars.

That finding was highlighted in this week’s premiere of Showtime’s new star-studded climate change docu-drama Years of Living Dangerously. In the series’ first episode, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman traveled to Syria to investigate how a long-running drought has contributed to that conflict. Climate change has also been discussed as a “threat multiplier” for recent conflicts in Darfur, Tunisia, Egypt, and future conflicts, too.

Climate change worsens the divide between haves and have-nots, hitting the poor the hardest. It can also drive up food prices and spawn megadisasters, creating refugees and taxing the resiliency of governments.

When a threat like that comes along, it’s impossible to ignore. Especially if your job is national security.

In a recent interview with the blog Responding to Climate Change, retired Army Brig. Gen. Chris King laid out the military’s thinking on climate change:

“This is like getting embroiled in a war that lasts 100 years. That’s the scariest thing for us,” he told RTCC. “There is no exit strategy that is available for many of the problems. You can see in military history, when they don’t have fixed durations, that’s when you’re most likely to not win.”

In a similar vein, last month, retired Navy Rear Adm. David Titley co-wrote an op-ed for Fox News:

The parallels between the political decisions regarding climate change we have made and the decisions that led Europe to World War One are striking—and sobering. The decisions made in 1914 reflected political policies pursued for short-term gains and benefits, coupled with institutional hubris, and a failure to imagine and understand the risks or to learn from recent history.

In short, climate change could be the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the 21st century.

Earlier this year, while at the American Meteorological Society annual meeting in Atlanta, I had a chance to sit down with Titley, who is also a meteorologist and now serves on the faculty at Penn State University. He’s also probably one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever spoken with. Check out his TEDxPentagon talk, in which he discusses how he went from “a pretty hard-core skeptic about climate change” to labeling it “one of the pre-eminent challenges of our century.”

Slate: You’ve been a leader when it comes to talking about climate change as a national security issue. What’s your take on the connection between war and climate?

Titley: Climate change did not cause the Arab spring, but could it have been a contributing factor? I think that seems pretty reasonable. This was a food-importing region, with poor governance. And then the chain of events conspires to have really a bad outcome. You get a spike in food prices, and all of a sudden, nobody’s in control of events.

I see climate change as one of the driving forces in the 21st century. With modern technology and globalization, we are much more connected than ever before. The world’s warehouses are now container ships. Remember the Icelandic volcano with the unpronounceable name? Now, that’s not a climate change issue, but some of the people hit worst were flower growers in Kenya. In 24 hours, their entire business model disappeared. You can’t eat flowers.

Slate: What’s the worst-case scenario, in your view?

Titley: There will be a discrete event or series of events that will change the calculus. I don’t know who, I don’t know how violent. To quote Niels Bohr: Predictions are tough, especially about the future. When it comes, that will be a black swan. The question is then, do we change?

Let me give you a few examples of how that might play out. You could imagine a scenario in which both Russia and China have prolonged droughts. China decides to exert rights on foreign contracts and gets assertive in Africa. If you start getting instability in large powers with nuclear weapons, that’s not a good day.

Here’s another one: We basically do nothing on emissions. Sea level keeps rising, three to six feet by the end of the century. Then, you get a series of super-typhoons into Shanghai and millions of people die. Does the population there lose faith in Chinese government? Does China start to fissure? I’d prefer to deal with a rising, dominant China any day.

Slate: That sounds incredibly daunting. How could we head off a threat like that?

Titley: I like to think of climate action as a three-legged stool. There’s business saying, “This is a risk factor.” Coca-Cola needs to preserve its water rights, Boeing has their supply change management, Exxon has all but priced carbon in. They have influence in the Republican Party. There’s a growing divestment movement. The big question is, does it get into the California retirement fund, the New York retirement fund, those $100 billion funds that will move markets? Politicians also have responsibility to act if the public opinion changes. Flooding, storms, droughts are all getting people talking about climate change. I wonder if someday Atlanta will run out of water?

Think back to the Apollo program. President Kennedy motivated us to land a man on the moon. How that will play out exactly this time around, I don’t know. When we talk about climate, we need to do everything we can to set the stage before the actors come on. And they may only have one chance at success. We should keep thinking: How do we maximize that chance of success?

Climate change isn’t just an environmental issue; it’s a technology, water, food, energy, population issue. None of this happens in a vacuum.

Slate: Despite all the data and debates, the public still isn’t taking that great of an interest in climate change. According to Gallup, the fraction of Americans worrying about climate “a great deal” is still roughly one-third, about the same level as in 1989. Do you think that could ever change?

Titley: A lot of people who doubt climate change got co-opted by a libertarian agenda that tried to convince the public the science was uncertain—you know, the Merchants of Doubt. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of people in high places who understand the science but don’t like where the policy leads them: too much government control.

Where are the free-market, conservative ideas? The science is settled. Instead, we should have a legitimate policy debate between the center-right and the center-left on what to do about climate change. If you’re a conservative—half of America—why would you take yourself out of the debate? C’mon, don’t be stupid. Conservative people want to conserve things. Preserving the climate should be high on that list.

Slate: What could really change in the debate on climate?

Titley: We need to start prioritizing people, not polar bears. We’re probably less adaptable than them, anyway. The farther you are from the Beltway, the more you can have a conversation about climate no matter how people vote. I never try to politicize the issue.

Most people out there are just trying to keep their job and provide for their family. If climate change is now a once-in-a-mortgage problem, and if food prices start to spike, people will pay attention. Factoring in sea-level rise, storms like Hurricane Katrina and Sandy could become not once-in-100-year events, but once-in-a-mortgage events. I lost my house in Waveland, Miss., during Katrina. I’ve experienced what that’s like.

Slate: How quickly could the debate shift? How can we get past the stalemate on climate change and start focusing on what to do about it?

Titley: When we get focused, we can do amazing things. Unfortunately, it’s usually at the last minute, usually under duress.

Chile Quake, Jittery Bison: Is The Big One Coming?

Pia Heinemann, Die Welt, April 20, 2014

One bison after another trotted along the highway—a long string of the animals coming at the stream of car traffic entering Yellowstone National Park. The camera wobbled a bit, the bison shook and flared their nostrils.

YouTube video blogger Tom Lupshu, pointing out that animals have much sharper senses than people, said last week that the bison seemed to feel the presence of something violent and deadly.

Social networks were swirling with the theory that the bison sensed an outbreak of the Yellowstone supervolcano under which lies a vast magma chamber.

If an earthquake really happened there the results would be devastating for the entire planet. Just a few days before, a strong quake shook Chile. Are the world’s tectonic plates in a state of imbalance? Are we about to face the “mother of all quakes”?

Yellowstone geologists have denied that the bison run is linked to any anomalies in recorded seismic measurements. A spokeswoman for the park told us that the animals’ behavior was simply a reaction to spring weather—nothing threatening at all.

And yet there are continued reports that snakes, turtles, goats and rats know when volcanoes and earthquakes are about to erupt. Frederik Tilmann of the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ) says there is no hard research data to confirm such knowledge. “Of course animals feel smaller preliminary tremors, just as people do,” the seismologist says. “And animals can easily react nervously to such tremors.”

In order not to depend on animal oracles, earthquake and volcano researchers in the geologically actives zones of the world have set up monitoring systems.

These do not make it possible to reliably predict activity, but they do enable experts to identify areas where tension is building and where possible eruptions may occur. Which is why the heavy quake in Chile two weeks earlier didn’t come as much of a surprise: Researchers didn’t need magic powers to see that coming.

“In the past six years, together with French and Chilean partners, we have set up 20 measuring stations in permanent operation in Chile,” explains Tilmann. In field bunkers constructed 40 to 60 kilometers apart along the coast, measuring apparatus register the smallest quakes as well as shifts in the earth’s crust.

“As the data had shown that in past years strong tensions had built up in the earth’s crust, we were banking mid-term on a larger quake.” In March, GFZ’s Günter Asch had been to Chile to check on all the measuring stations.

It was clear then to researchers that a quake was coming up, and that all the measuring instruments needed to be ready. In this area, seismic activity has been on the rise for several months: In the second half of March alone, there were 23 magnitude 5.0 and higher earthquakes.

Only two days after Asch returned to Germany, a quake struck off the coast of Iquique. This is where the Nazca plate is pushing its way under the South American continental plate, at a rate of about 8 centimeters per year.

Large areas of the two plates cannot move freely as they are hooked into each other. Major tensions of this type build up over the space of years, and decompress around every 150 years in major quakes and many lighter regional quakes.

“The last major earthquake took place in 1877. Since then the plates have moved about 10 meters closer together,” says Tilmann. “The tension that’s built up can only be freed by a major quake.” The most recent earthquake in early April did release some pressure, but wasn’t enough to relieve the entire segment.

A bigger quake will be needed because “the tension only got released in the middle part of the zone,” Tilmann says. There was a break some 100 kilometers long, but two large segments to the north and south of Iquique are still intact. Also, hundreds of smaller quakes indicate that the space off the coast of Chile is not about to calm down—the remaining segments will probably require a quake well over 8.0 to break.

Thanks to the measuring instruments that researchers all over the world have set up in quake zones, dangers can be better estimated. “In Chile, relatively little happened as a result of the last quake,” Tilmann says. “That’s also due to the fact that the Chileans are very well informed about the dangers of earthquakes. Based on the previous series of quakes, the inhabitants in the vicinity of Iquique were fully aware of the dangers.”

Inhabitants in other regions of the world also fear “The Big One.” The west coasts of South, Central and North America, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Alaska among other regions are especially high-risk. In Europe, tectonic movements are a significant threat for Turkey, Italy and Greece.

“Historical sources allow us to know relatively well when the last major quake took place in the different regions—which is why seismologists using this data can determine which regions are at risk,” says Tilmann. In other words: no need to worry too much about nervous bison.

Russian Diplomats Are Eating America’s Lunch

By James Bruno, Politico, April 16, 2014

Working the Afghanistan account at the State Department in the late 1980s, I occasionally met the Russian muckraking journalist Artyom Borovik. Before he joined the vanguard of those agitating for change during glasnost, he had served as a Soviet diplomat. The son of a Novosti journalist posted to New York, Borovik spoke nearly unaccented English and excellent Spanish. He was as comfortable in an Afghan tea house as he was at a Manhattan Starbucks. Borovik, in short, was the cream of the crop of Russian youth from which the Foreign Ministry traditionally recruits its diplomats: urbane, multilingual, with elite educations and the skills to deftly navigate foreign societies.

Borovik died in 2000 in a still-unsolved Moscow plane accident days after producing a scathing article about an ascendant Russian politician, Vladimir Putin, who was about to become president. Borovik quoted Putin in an article as saying, “There are three ways to influence people: blackmail, vodka, and the threat to kill.”

Whether or not Putin has expanded his tools of persuasion, he’s got good help in the influence department. In the lead-up to four-way talks over Ukraine and Secretary of State Kerry’s consultations with European leaders this week, Russian ambassadors are using their many close connections with continental elites to press Putin’s case, to seek to stifle or limit economic sanctions and to foster divisions between Washington and its allies. In most cases these Russian envoys have spent the bulk of their diplomatic careers dealing with the countries to which they are posted and have extensive decades-long contacts with whom they can speak, often in the latters’ native languages. This gives them a decided edge.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is fairly typical. A graduate of the prestigious Moscow Institute for International Relations (known by its Russian acronym, MGIMO) and 42-year Foreign Ministry veteran, Lavrov speaks fluent English as well as Sinhalese, Dhiveli and French. A former U.S. ambassador who had dealt with Lavrov at the United Nations described him to me as disciplined, witty and charming, a diplomat so skilled “he runs rings around us in the multilateral sphere.”

Russia has always taken diplomacy and its diplomats seriously. America, on the other hand, does not. Of this country’s 28 diplomatic missions in NATO capitals (of which 26 are either currently filled by an ambassador or have nominees waiting to be confirmed), 16 are, or will be, headed by political appointees; only one ambassador to a major NATO ally, Turkey, is a career diplomat. Fourteen ambassadors got their jobs in return for raising big money for President Obama’s election campaigns, or worked as his aides. A conservative estimate of personal and bundled donations by these fundraisers is $20 million (based on figures from the New York Times, Federal Election Commission and AllGov). The U.S. ambassador to Belgium, a former Microsoft executive, bundled more than $4.3 million.

By contrast, all but two of Moscow’s ambassadors to NATO capitals are career diplomats. And the two Russian equivalents of political appointees (in Latvia and Slovakia) have 6 and 17 years of diplomatic experience respectively. The total number of years of diplomatic experience of Russia’s 28 ambassadors to NATO nations is 960 years, averaging 34 years per incumbent. The cumulative years of relevant experience of America’s ambassadors are 331, averaging 12 years per individual. Russia has 26 NATO ambassadors with 20-plus years of diplomatic service; the United States has 10. Furthermore, 16 American envoys have five years, or fewer, of diplomatic service. The figure for Russia: zero. Five U.S. NATO posts currently have no ambassador. None of Russia’s is vacant. With Michael McFaul’s departure in February, there is no U.S. ambassador in Moscow at the moment.

Domestically, the situation is equally worrisome. Three-quarters of the top policy and management positions at the State Department currently are occupied by non-diplomats, mainly Democratic Party activists or liberal think tankers. “Most are competent, but must pass an ideological test to be appointed,” a former senior official who worked with Obama’s appointees at State told me. “These positions,” she added, “are handed out based on party connections and loyalty.” In the hands of these decision-makers, all major foreign policy issues are viewed through an “ideological prism as opposed to an eye toward the long-term interests of the United States,” she said. The White House’s National Security Council staff, furthermore, has ballooned from about four dozen three decades ago to more than twice that today, a shift that has had the effect of concentrating power in the White House, and infusing key decisions with political calculations.

By contrast, the Russian Foreign Ministry is staffed top to bottom with career diplomats.

So, just how much are we disadvantaged in the diplomatic game over Ukraine? Consider these three strategically situated countries.

Germany: Chancellor Angela Merkel is walking a political tightrope. On the one hand, she and the German public are as outraged over Moscow’s Crimea annexation as anyone. But Germany depends on Russia for a third of its energy needs, and when it comes to trade, the Germans sell almost as much to Russia as they buy, with 300,000 jobs dependent on German-Russian trade. Both sides have much to lose should major sanctions be imposed against Russia.

The Russian ambassador to Germany, Vladimir Grinin, who joined the diplomatic service in 1971, has served in Germany in multiple tours totaling 17 years, in addition to four years in Austria as ambassador. He is fluent in German and English. He has held a variety of posts in the Russian Foreign Ministry concentrating on European affairs. Berlin is his fourth ambassadorship.

The U.S. ambassador to Germany, John B. Emerson, has seven months of diplomatic service (since his arrival in Berlin) and speaks no German. A business and entertainment lawyer, Emerson has campaigned for Democrats ranging from Gary Hart to Bill Clinton. He bundled $2,961,800 for Barack Obama’s campaigns.

Norway: Norway rivals its Russian neighbor in gas exports to the European Union, supplying 20 percent (compared with 25 percent from Russia). Should Russia cut back gas exports to Europe by 20 percent, Norway could easily make up the difference. Oslo suspended all military cooperation with Moscow right after the latter’s incursion into Crimea. Tens of thousands of Russian troops have maneuvered closer to the Nordic and Baltic nations, leading the Norwegian defense minister to call for historically neutral Sweden and Finland to join NATO.

Vyacheslav Pavlovskiy has been Moscow’s envoy in Oslo since 2010. A MGIMO graduate and 36-year diplomatic veteran, he speaks three foreign languages.

President Obama’s nominee as ambassador to Norway, hotel magnate George Tsunis, bundled $988,550 for Obama’s 2012 campaign. He so botched his Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in February with displays of ignorance about the country to which he is to be posted that Norway’s media went ballistic and he became a laughingstock domestically. He is yet to be confirmed.

Hungary: Bordering Ukraine and reliant on Russia for 80 percent of its natural gas imports, Hungary has come out against sanctions against Russia. Domestically, a rise in anti-Semitism and extremism has accompanied a low-growth economy.

Russian envoy Alexander Tolkach, a 39-year Foreign Ministry veteran and MGIMO alumnus, is on his second ambassadorship; he speaks three foreign languages.

Colleen Bell, a producer of a popular TV soap opera with no professional foreign affairs background, snagged the nomination of U.S. ambassador to Hungary with $2,191,835 in bundled donations to President Obama. She stumbled nearly as badly as Tsunis before her Senate hearing with her incoherent, rambling responses to basic questions on U.S.-Hungarian relations. She also awaits Senate confirmation.

With the exception of the U.S. mission to NATO in Brussels, which is headed by a former army general, this talent imbalance is matched at the other European embassies headed by non-career ambassadors.

With so many dilettantes in charge of U.S. foreign policy at home and abroad, how can Washington hope to compete with a highly trained Russian diplomatic cadre?

“The Russians take a much longer-term view. They’ll wait us out, knowing the American people will eventually forget about Crimea,” said a former U.S. diplomat with years of service in Russia and its “near abroad.”

U.S. ambassadors lacking in knowledge of national security, statecraft and European politics as well as long established contacts in the host government are at a clear disadvantage. And those who won their positions through the exchange of cash or cronyism often earn little respect among Europeans, inventors of modern diplomacy. This is not to say that some highly talented non-career ambassadors cannot be effective in pressing Washington’s positions. By and large, however, they lack in innovative diplomacy and often miss opportunities, according to two former U.S. envoys who have worked with political appointees. And the hand-holding they require from their career staff limits what those professional diplomats can get done.

Russia’s diplomats have their own shortcomings. Rigidly trained in the mechanics of diplomacy, they tend to confine their contacts with the foreign ministries of the countries in which they are serving, neglecting to engage with a cross section of society as American diplomats are trained to do. Their bureaucratic culture “discourages innovation and risk-taking,” noted the diplomat who had served in Russia and former Soviet republics. “Our diplomacy has heart. Russian diplomacy has power,” she added. A former senior official who has dealt with Putin noted, “Russian diplomats are backward in social media and feel most comfortable in places like their own.”

Overall, though, we are outmatched diplomatically. Obama’s foreign policy apparatus is bloated at the White House level, over-politicized at the State Department and dismissive of the expertise to be gained from career diplomats, with decision-making tending toward groupthink in an echo chamber. And if the White House believes it can achieve its goals toward Moscow by sending TV soap opera producers, hoteliers and other campaign contributor neophytes to face veteran Russian diplomats in key European capitals, it is nothing short of delusional. At the very least, Obama risks stumbling in his pursuit of foreign policy goals in a situation where every mistake counts.

James Bruno is a retired Foreign Service officer, writer and blogger. His book, “The Foreign Circus: Why Foreign Policy Should Not Be Left in the Hands of Diplomats, Spooks and Political Hacks,” is now out.

Ukraine, Russia trade blame for shootout in east

By Yuras Karmanau, AP, Apr 20, 2014

BYLBASIVKA, Ukraine (AP)—Within hours of an Easter morning shootout at a checkpoint manned by pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement blaming militant Ukrainian nationalists and Russian state television stations aired pictures of supposed proof of their involvement in the attack that left at least three people dead.

The Ukrainian Security Service, however, said the attack was staged by provocateurs from outside the country. And the presented evidence—particularly a pristine business card said to have been left behind by the attackers—was met with widespread ridicule in Ukraine, where it soon had its own Twitter hashtag.

The armed clash early Sunday near the city of Slovyansk appeared to be the first since an international agreement was reached last week in Geneva to ease tensions in eastern Ukraine, where armed pro-Russia activists have seized government buildings in at least 10 cities.

Ukraine’s new leaders and many in the West fear that such clashes could provide a pretext for Russia to seize more Ukrainian territory.

Russia, which annexed the Crimean Peninsula last month, has tens of thousands of troops along its border with Ukraine. Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, originally said the troops were there for military exercises, but Putin’s spokesman on Saturday acknowledged that some were there because of instability in eastern Ukraine.

The self-proclaimed mayor of Slovyansk appealed to Putin on Sunday to send in peacekeeping troops to protect Russian speakers from Ukrainian nationalists.

Yuri Zhadobin, who coordinates the pro-Russia unit manning the checkpoint in the village of Bylbasivka, told The Associated Press he was with about 20 men celebrating Easter when unknown men drove up in four vehicles and opened fire about 3 a.m.

“We began to shoot back from behind the barricades and we threw Molotov cocktails at them,” Zhadobin said. Two of the vehicles caught fire and the attackers fled in the other two, he said.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry’s office in the eastern Donetsk region said three people died in the attack and three others were wounded. The statement said some of the attackers were also killed or wounded, but the number wasn’t known. Russian state television reported that two of the attackers were killed.

In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry quickly blamed the clash on the Right Sector, a nationalist Ukrainian group that has supported the pro-Western interim government in Kiev, the capital.

But a spokesman for Right Sector, Artyom Skoropatskiy, denied any involvement in Sunday’s shootout, which he called a provocation staged by Russian special services.

A man said to be a member of Right Sector and one of the attackers was later paraded before the television cameras in the custody of an insurgent wearing camouflage fatigues and a black balaclava. The man said he would advise other Right Sector activists against coming to eastern Ukraine.

Putin has rejected claims that Russian special forces are directing or encouraging the insurgents. Putin also has said he hopes not to send troops into eastern Ukraine, but he retains the right to intervene if necessary to protect ethnic Russians living here.

The Russian Foreign Ministry statement said the attack “proves the unwillingness of the Ukrainian authorities to restrain and disarm the nationalists and extremists.”

After last week’s talks in Geneva, top diplomats from Ukraine, Russia, the United States and the European Union called for an array of actions, including the disarming of militant groups and the freeing of public buildings taken over by insurgents.

Those terms quickly became a heated issue as pro-Russian armed groups that have seized police stations and other government buildings in eastern Ukraine said they would not vacate them unless the country’s acting government resigned.

The insurgents say the Kiev authorities, who took power after pro-Russia Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February following months of protests, aim to suppress the country’s Russian-speakers. Eastern Ukraine, which was Yanukovych’s support base, has a substantial Russian-speaking population.

Russia also insists that the Kiev government should disarm members of the Right Sector, whose activists are occupying several buildings in the center of the capital, having turned them into makeshift offices.

Troubled history fuels Japan-China tension

By Christopher Bodeen and Mari Yamaguchi, AP, Apr 21, 2014

NANJING, China (AP)—Strolling through China’s sprawling memorial to a 1937 massacre by Japanese troops, a 64-year-old retired teacher said the incident remains an open wound.

“Japan is a country without credibility. They pretend to be friendly, but they can’t be trusted,” Qi Houjie said as a frigid wind swept the austere plaza of the Nanking Massacre Memorial Hall.

Across the waters, Japanese visiting a Shinto shrine in Tokyo that enshrines 14 convicted war criminals among 2.5 million war dead say they’re tired of Chinese harping, underscoring a gradual hardening of attitudes toward their neighbor. China criticized Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday for having a “wrong attitude to history” after he sent a traditional offering to Yasukuni Shrine at the start of a 3-day spring festival.

“Yasukuni Shrine is a damaging element to Japan’s relations with its neighbors,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said. “It is a negative asset for Japan. If the Japanese leaders are willing to continue carrying this negative asset on their back, the negative asset will become increasingly heavier.”

Such statements don’t sit well with Ayumi Shiraishi, a 28-year-old hotel employee who decided to see Yasukuni on a recent trip to the Japanese capital. “The harsher they criticize, the more strongly I feel it’s not their business,” she said of the Chinese. “It’s a matter of the prime minister’s belief, as he has said, and there is nothing wrong with that.”

The Tokyo shrine and the memorial hall in Nanjing, as Nanking is now called, are physical embodiments of divergent views of history that still strain China-Japan relations, 70 years after the war. They complicate America’s objective of maintaining peace and stability in the Pacific, as President Barack Obama starts a four-country Asian tour in Japan this week. The implications are potentially serious, particularly over contested uninhabited islands called Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by China.

Following Japan’s nationalization of the islands in September 2012, violent protests targeting Japanese businesses and brands broke out in many Chinese cities, inadvertently underscoring the vital economic relationship between the sides that continues to defy the political chill.

More recently, Abe set off a diplomatic firestorm by visiting Yasukuni in December. Soon after, newly installed officials at public broadcaster NHK drew fire when one denied the Nanking massacre—in which China claims 300,000 civilians and disarmed soldiers were murdered—happened and another downplayed the Imperial Army’s use of sex slaves, an issue that has chilled Japan’s relations with South Korea too.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida called those statements “regrettable” and said they don’t represent the government’s views. The government apologized to the former sex slaves in 1993 and more generally for its “colonial rule and aggression” on the 50th anniversary of the end of the World War II in 1995.

Such explanations carry little weight among a Chinese public raised on highly negative portrayals of Japan.

No perceived slight is too obscure to go unnoticed. When a smiling Abe posed in a fighter jet last year, Chinese observers were quick to note that the plane was marked 731, the number of a notorious wartime chemical and biological weapons unit. Abe’s office said it was pure coincidence.

The constant hectoring is one factor sparking a backlash among Japanese, said Sven Saaler, a professor of modern Japanese history at Sophia University in Tokyo.

“I don’t think there is such a strong shift to the right, or such a strong resurgence of nationalism but anti-Chinese sentiment has become very strong,” Saaler said.

The latest Pew Research Global Attitudes survey from last July showed just 5 percent of Japanese felt positively toward China.

Shiraishi said she was inspired to visit Yasukuni and its war museum by a recent movie based on a novel by Naoki Hyakuta, the NHK advisor who said the Nanking massacre is a fabrication. She said the film caused her to question the history she learned at school that portrayed Japan solely as an aggressor.

“In order to challenge unfair claims from China and South Korea, we have to acquire a proper understanding of our own history,” she said.

In contrast, 60-year-old retiree Masao Nakajima, said he’s no fan of revisionist views of the war and thinks Abe’s visit to Yasukuni was a mistake.

“Prime Minister Abe should have been more careful about the impact of his actions. I don’t want him to go again as long as he is prime minister,” said Nakajima, after exploring Yasukuni’s spacious grounds. The least Japan can do is not “do things that we know would offend the victims.”

Hardening views among young Japanese may also partly be a symptom of insecurity about widespread perceptions that their country is in decline, experts say.

China’s accusations against Japan are undercut by its own selective approach to history and manipulation of nationalism to shore up ruling party support, critics say. Official histories exaggerate the communist role in fighting the Japanese while minimizing that of the rival Nationalists.

China also downplays Japanese attempts to make things right, including its official apologies for the war—at least 25 by one Chinese scholar’s count—and nearly $36 billion in financial assistance provided by Tokyo in the postwar decades.

Instead, Beijing is doubling-down on the anti-Japanese narrative.

Those moves serve China’s goals of winning domestic support and diminishing Tokyo’s regional role, but also build support among Japanese for leaving their post-World War II pacifism behind, said Rana Mitter, professor of modern Chinese history and politics at Oxford University.

“As a result, you end up with two different discourses that simply cannot meet at the middle,” Mitter said.

Such sentiments find a natural home at the massacre memorial, with its displays of wartime artifacts, including an actual mass grave, and constant references to Japanese cruelty.

Zhang Ya, a 20-year-old student visiting the hall with friends, said that when it comes to history, “I don’t have good feelings toward the Japanese.”

While no one wants a shooting war over the disputed islands, Japan shouldn’t underestimate Chinese resolve, she said.

“We must take back the Diaoyu Islands,” Zhang said. “Japan knows very well we won’t give them up like cowards.”

Errors Mounted as Chaos Ruled Capsizing Ferry

By Choe Sang-Hun, Kirk Semple And Su-Hyun Lee, NY Times, April 20, 2014

JINDO, South Korea—Of all the images from the loss of a ferry in the cold waters off the southwest coast of South Korea last week, perhaps none has angered South Koreans more than that of the captain, an orange life vest strapped to his torso, awkwardly stepping off his half-submerged vessel to the safety of a rescue boat, even as hundreds of his passengers remained trapped inside.

The captain, Lee Jun-seok, 69, has yet to explain publicly why he abandoned the ship with people aboard—an apparent violation of maritime protocol, if not the law—as it sunk beneath the waves.

But a portrait of the ship’s last voyage is emerging from crew members, survivors and a transcript of the vessel’s final 40 minutes of communications with emergency dispatchers on shore. It is a scene of rapidly building chaos in which the captain and his crew faced a series of tough choices, questionable decisions and mechanical failures—including the apparent loss of the onboard communications system. Those factors may have all contributed to the ship’s sinking and the death of at least scores, and more likely hundreds, of people.

“The Coast Guard will arrive in 15 minutes; please tell your passengers to wear life jackets,” emergency dispatchers told the ferry about half an hour after it radioed for help.

“Now we have lost our ability to broadcast our messages,” the ship responded. Crew members, using the ferry’s intercom, had previously instructed passengers to stay where they were, thinking it would be safer.

“Even if you can’t use your speaker, do your best to go out and ensure that your passengers wear life jackets or thick clothes,” emergency dispatchers said.

“If our passengers evacuate, will they be immediately rescued?” the ship responded.

“Let them float even with life rings. Hurry!” the dispatchers responded. A minute later, they added: “We don’t know the situation there. So the captain should make a final decision, and he should hurry to decide whether to evacuate them.”

A communications officer, in a separate part of the ferry, said he never received instructions from the bridge to tell passengers to abandon ship. One crew member on the bridge said he heard the captain give the order to evacuate, but that he did not hear the message broadcast to the passengers. Survivors have not reported hearing it.

When the ferry, the Sewol, began its overnight journey at 9 p.m. last Tuesday, embarking from a pier in Incheon, west of Seoul, and heading toward the southern resort island of Jeju, its voyage seemed like so many others the ship had taken. The 460-foot-long, five-story ferry plied this 264-mile route twice a week, along a busy shipping lane down the west coast of South Korea.

It had 476 passengers on board—60 percent of its capacity. Most of them were second-year high school students on what was supposed to be the last school trip before they entered a pressure-cooker year of cramming for college entrance exams. The ship also carried a full load of cargo, including 124 cars, 56 trucks and 105 shipping containers.

Some of the students gathered on the deck watching fireworks bursting in the night sky. Below deck, others strolled in small groups or gathered in entertainment rooms to sing karaoke or play video games.

Up in the pilothouse, on the ship’s top deck, the crew worked in four shifts. This ship left late because of fog, and Oh Yong-seok, 58, a helmsman, was on a second shift, taking the wheel under the guidance of a shipmate at 11 p.m. The water was calm, the night quiet, Mr. Oh recalled in a series of interviews in the past week. The captain stopped by the bridge from time to time to check on matters.

As Mr. Oh handed over the controls to the third shift, Mr. Oh suggested that crew members double-check the straps tying down the vehicles and cargo in the hold, he recalled. On his round, he told them that he had noticed that several had come loose and he tightened them. Otherwise, he said, there were no issues. With that, he retired to his berth and fell into a deep sleep.

The last shift began at 7:30 a.m., under the watch of Park Han-gyeol, 26, the youngest of the ship’s mates. She had been with the company only six months. On this trip, her shift coincided with the passage of the ship through the most challenging section of the voyage: a waterway known for its rapid and unpredictable currents and frequent ship accidents.

“When the current hits the ship’s side, it can throw the ship off course,” Mr. Oh said. “It’s not easy to steer there.”

Ms. Park was navigating this notorious waterway for the first time, giving instructions to a helmsman at the wheel, according to prosecutors who have raised the question of how qualified she was for the difficult passage.

On Monday, prosecutors detained the Sewol’s three remaining ship mates and its chief engineer for questioning.

Investigators say the Sewol appeared to make a sharp turn to the left around the time it began to tilt, and they were looking into whether unsecured cargo may have shifted, contributing to the accident. The helmsman on duty, Jo Jun-gi, later told reporters that “I made a mistake of my own, but the ship turned much more than usual.” A prosecutor said investigators were also looking into “discrepancies” between Ms. Park’s and Mr. Jo’s versions of what happened.

At 8:48 a.m., Mr. Oh said, he was jolted awake as his body was thrown against the port side wall of his quarters. The vessel had begun to list.

He lurched from his room barefoot and scrambled along the corridor of the ship toward the bridge. The first person he saw was Mr. Lee, the ship’s captain.

Mr. Lee, who had been in his room, had just clambered out of his cabin and, with the ship slowly turning onto its side, was now holding onto the doorway of the pilothouse, trying to pull himself inside and get control of the ship. Mr. Oh pushed the captain up and into the room and followed as well.

Soon, all of the ship’s mates and helmsmen had gathered there. Mr. Lee, clutching onto a pillar near the map table at the center of the bridge, began barking orders.

“The ship was already listing so heavily everyone was hanging onto whatever they could grab,” Mr. Oh recalled. “It was clear we were in a really bad situation.”

That situation would in short order get even worse.

Investigators trying to reconstruct events have been weighing a range of possible causes, including pilot error; an unexpected current; failure in the ship’s ballast; loose or unbalanced cargo; a recent addition of more cabins on the upper deck of the 20-year-old ferry that may have impaired its ability to recover balance; and loosely abided safety regulations.

At 8:55 a.m., with the ship tilting and unable to move, someone on the bridge asked the local maritime authorities to “please come quickly,” according to the transcript of the ship-to-shore radio communications.

Mr. Lee ordered the crew to right the ship. But Ms. Park said the ballast motor was not working, Mr. Oh recalled.

At 9:05 a.m., the radio on shore crackled with another urgent message from the Sewol: “What’s going on with the Coast Guard?” A government emergency dispatcher began asking ships in the area to go to the Sewol’s aid.

Two levels below, Kang Hae-seong, one of the ship’s communications officers, was in the broadcasting room and trying to figure out what to do. With the ship listing about 30 degrees and cutlery falling off the shelves, he made an announcement on the public address system urging the passengers to stay where they were and not to move hastily.

“I didn’t have time to look at the manual but I thought I should calm people down first,” he recalled in an interview.

Mr. Lee said on Friday that he did not order an immediate evacuation because he feared the passengers would be endangered by the strong currents and the cold water. Mr. Oh said Mr. Lee first tried to get the ship’s life rafts deployed. His crew tried but could not make it to the lifeboats.

By 9:18 a.m., the Sewol reported that it was listing at an angle of more than 50 degrees. “Impossible to evacuate,” someone on the Sewol’s bridge told emergency dispatchers by radio.

Down below, Mr. Kang contacted the Coast Guard using his cellphone and then continued to tell people on the public address system to remain where they were “a little while longer” because the rescue boats were coming.

At 9:23 a.m., the bridge sent another distress call: “We are about to sink.”

As the ship continued to list and filled with water, Mr. Kang and his colleagues stacked chairs to enable some passengers to climb to the fourth floor.

“It was chaotic because everyone was just busy saving themselves and many people weren’t pulling up the people below them,” Mr. Kang recalled.

Mr. Oh said he heard Mr. Lee, before leaving the bridge, give the order to evacuate, but Mr. Oh did not hear it broadcast. Mr. Kang, the communications officer, said he never received the order. A senior prosecutor said investigators were still trying to figure out whether it ever reached the passengers.

At 9:38 a.m., in the ship’s last communication with emergency dispatchers, the bridge reported that the vessel was listing at 60 degrees. “Those who can evacuate through the port side are trying it,” a voice said over the radio.

All the crew members began to flee the bridge. More than two-thirds of the 29-member crew, including the entire navigation team, survived. Only about a third of the passengers—174—got out alive. By Monday, 61 people had been confirmed dead and 241 were still missing.

Mr. Oh saw Mr. Lee slide down the floor of the wheelhouse and crash through a door in the port-side wall. The helmsman said it was not clear whether the captain was evacuating or had just lost his grip of the pole and fell.

He did not see Mr. Lee again until an image of him was broadcast on television: The captain was in handcuffs, charged with accidental homicide. He was also charged with abandoning his passengers in a time of crisis, a crime punishable by up to life in prison.

Bowling for Kabul: Amid war, Afghan youth play music and sports, hunt for jobs and love

By Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, April 20, 2014

Amid the news of bombings, political rivalries and Afghanistan’s uncertain future as U.S. troops depart, the daily life of the nation’s young people is hardly noticed by the outside world.

In rural areas, the rhythms of farming and family exist much as they have for generations. But the youth of the capital now enjoy an access to information and freedoms that were unthinkable in the dark days of civil war and Taliban oppression in the 1990s.

The lives of Kabul youth are not defined solely by war and violence, but by their striving to find work, relationships, even artistic expression. Kabul has popular rock bands, rappers, actors and fashion models. Kids hang out with their friends outside mosques and shrines, stroll in city parks under fir trees, and gather at bowling alleys, frozen-yogurt shops, cafes and pool halls.

A host of new television programs, and the presence of numerous American soldiers and diplomats have challenged the social mores in one of the more conservative countries in the world.

Afghanistan is young—nearly two-thirds of its people are younger than 25—and the youth are becoming key players in the nation’s politics.

During this month’s presidential elections, all the major candidates tried to woo the youth vote, posting campaign updates on Facebook and Twitter and sending text messages. And politicians and observers speculated that urban youth may be breaking out of the allegiance to ethnic blocs that has long defined friends and enemies here.

Like voters elsewhere, young people said they wanted better security, a good education and—crucially—jobs. As U.S. soldiers withdraw, and the torrent of American aid slows down, the young people are worried about whether they will slide into harder times.

“The U.S. is not dumping any more money in here. No one’s spending like they were in 2010 or 2011,” said Khalid Safar, a 29-year-old taxi driver who was sitting cross-legged in the back of his station wagon outside a Shiite shrine the other day, waiting for customers. A couple of years ago, a good day for him meant earning $30; now it is $5. And this with a degree from Kabul University. “People are getting poorer, day by day.”

In West Bank, teen offenders face different fates

By Daniel Estrin and Josef Federman, AP. Apr 20, 2014

BEIT UMAR, West Bank (AP)—The boys were both 15, with the crackly voices and awkward peach fuzz of adolescence. They lived just a few minutes away from one another in the West Bank. And both were accused of throwing stones at vehicles, one day after the other.

But there was a crucial difference that helped to shape each boy’s fate: One was Israeli, and the other Palestinian.

The tale of the two teens provides a stark example of the vast disparities of Israel’s justice system in the West Bank, a contested area at the heart of the elusive search for a lasting peace.

While Israeli settlers in the West Bank fall mostly under civilian rule, Palestinians are subject to Israeli military law. Israeli and Palestinian youths face inequities at every stage in the path of justice, from arrests to convictions and sentencing, according to police statistics obtained by The Associated Press through multiple requests under Israel’s freedom of information law.

The results can ripple for years.

“Jail destroyed his life,” said the Palestinian boy’s father.

Only 53 Israeli settler youths were arrested for stone-throwing over the past six years, the data shows, and 89 percent were released without charge. Six were indicted. Four of those were found “guilty without conviction,” a common sentence for Israeli juveniles that aims not to stain their record. One was cleared. The sixth case was still in court as of October, the most recent information available.

By contrast, 1,142 Palestinian youths were arrested by police over the same period for throwing stones, and 528 were indicted. All were convicted. Lawyers say the penalty is typically three to eight months in military prison.

Israel’s Justice Ministry said the numbers reflect the fact that Palestinians threw more stones than Israelis, rather than unequal treatment.

However, critics accuse Israel of dismissing Israeli crimes as youthful indiscretions, while treating Palestinian youths like hardened criminals.

“Everyone knows there is a problem with the treatment of minors in the West Bank, a systematic discrimination between Israeli minors and Palestinian minors,” said Michael Sfard, an Israeli attorney and Palestinian human rights defender. “Now you have the figures to prove that.”

Stones have become an iconic weapon in the West Bank, an arid land where they are plentiful. In the past six years, more than half of all arrests of Palestinian youth have been over stone-throwing, which Israel claims can be the first step toward militancy. Extremist Israeli settlers have also adopted the tactic.

On Feb. 20, 2012, the Israeli boy joined a group of youths pelting a bus with rocks at the entrance to Bat Ayin, according to police reports. The settlement, located in the southern West Bank between Jerusalem and the biblical city of Hebron, is known for its hardline population.

Police said they targeted the bus because the driver was Arab. The rocks damaged the bus but did not harm the driver.

The boy, whose name cannot be published under local law because he is a minor, was brought to the Hebron region police station at 9 p.m., with his father by his side. In his interrogation, the boy invoked his right to remain silent. He spent a night in the station and four days under house arrest. Then he was freed without charge.

The following day, according to police reports, the Palestinian boy lobbed rocks at Israeli cars zipping past his hometown of Beit Umar, a farming town of 14,000 people perched near an Israeli military tower. Police said he and others wanted to show solidarity with a high-profile Palestinian prisoner on hunger strike in an Israeli jail.

The rocks shattered the front windshield of a white Mazda and damaged three other vehicles on a busy highway. There were no injuries. The incident was caught on tape and broadcast on Israeli evening news.

Two weeks later, at 3:30 a.m., Israeli soldiers kicked down the door to the Palestinian boy’s bedroom, carried him to a jeep, blindfolded him and tied his hands behind his back with plastic handcuffs, he said. He was slapped by soldiers, kept awake all night and placed in a military jail cell with 10 other Palestinian youths, he said.

It would be more than nine months before he could go free.

An Israeli psychological exam conducted in prison found the boy showed signs of anxiety and depression. He told the prison’s clinical psychologist and social worker that he looked at a photo of his family to help him sleep, and had nightmares about soldiers killing his relatives. The exam also found he was short-breathed and had a cough, which he said was from soldiers hitting him in the chest during his arrest.

The West Bank, an expanse of rocky hilltops blanketed in olive trees, is central to the current round of U.S.-brokered peace talks. Since Israel captured the West Bank in 1967, it has built more than 100 settlements, creating “facts on the ground” that complicate any future withdrawal. Some 60 percent of the West Bank is under full Israeli control.

Today, more than 350,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, amid roughly 2.5 million Palestinians. The two sides have little interaction, and for the most part live under separate—and often unequal—systems of law.

While the Palestinian Authority governs day-to-day affairs, the Israeli military wields overall control. Palestinians need Israeli permission to enter Israel or to travel abroad through the Jordanian border. Palestinians frequently suffer from poor roads, creaky infrastructure and water shortages.

Israeli settlers, by contrast, are Israeli citizens. They are subject to Israeli law, vote in Israeli elections, move freely in and out of Israel and have access to Israel’s modern infrastructure. They serve in and are protected by the Israeli army.

The Israeli boy’s journey through the justice system was one of repeated second chances. The middle child of a psychologist mother and a psychiatrist father, he lived and studied at a religious school in Bat Ayin, a rural community of about 200 families.

After his release from jail, the case remained closed until he was arrested again. This time, he was accused of attacking two Palestinians with pepper spray while in possession of a knife and a slingshot decorated with the words “Revenge on Arabs.”

During a court hearing on the pepper spray charge, prosecutors brought up his previous rock-throwing arrest. Only then was he indicted for both offenses.

The Israeli minor pleaded guilty to pepper-spraying but denied throwing rocks. He was put under house arrest for nine months.

While at home, he prepared for Israeli national matriculation exams. During the final three months, he was permitted to attend school. Then he was freed. It was nearly two years after the alleged stone-throwing incident that he finally stood trial, which is ongoing.

There was no such leniency for the Palestinian boy. The youngest of four brothers, he grew up in a modest cement home surrounded by bougainvillea plants and verdant farm lands. He liked to play basketball. His lawyer would only permit the AP to identify him by his first name, Zein.

Zein’s father, a short man with a cigarette perched under his mustache and a forehead carved with lines, described the boy as a B-plus student who could have gone on to a professional career.

That all changed after his arrest. While many Palestinian prisoners accept plea bargains in exchange for reduced imprisonment, the boy pleaded innocent and went to trial. After nine and a half months in prison, he was put under house arrest. Seven months later, he was convicted and sentenced to time already served.

In the ruling, the judge criticized the police interrogator for not asking the boy if he understood his rights, and not giving him the opportunity to consult with his lawyer or parents.

In the end, the Israeli and the Palestinian teens had one thing in common: Despite Israel’s stated goals, neither was rehabilitated. Instead, both were embraced by communities that condone stone-throwing.

After his release from house arrest, the Israeli boy joined an extremist group known as the “Hilltop Youth” and moved to an unauthorized settlement outpost called Hill 904. These defiant, ideological Jewish teens squat on West Bank hilltops, and attack Palestinians and their property. There was a big celebration when he arrived, the boy said.

He built makeshift homes on the hill for six months and studied Jewish law with his comrades. Then he moved to another outpost. And another. And another.

He still denies throwing rocks, but said it was an acceptable tactic to fight Palestinians, citing a teaching by an extremist rabbi. He described himself as a warrior in an ideological battle for Jewish control of the West Bank.

“Wherever soldiers are needed, I go,” he mumbled outside the courtroom after a recent hearing. He wore the settler youth uniform of long side locks and tattered cargo pants, with a few chin hairs of adolescence. “We are commanded to inherit the land, and to expel (Palestinians).”

When the Palestinian boy got out of jail, he rejoined his 10th-grade class at the end of the school year, but couldn’t catch up and dropped out. For a while he tried to sell knock-off shoes hoarded in his bedroom. Now he mopes around his parents’ house, not doing much of anything.

His lawyer, Neri Ramati, is appealing the conviction, while prosecutors are seeking a tougher sentence of six more months in jail.

His father, Hisham, said Palestinians have every right to throw stones to achieve independence.

White House Debates ‘Game-Changer’ Weapon For Syria

Michael Crowley, TIME, April 21, 2014

A former CIA director has called them “our worst nightmare.” A 2005 study found that just one could blow a $15-billion hole in the world economy. And the Obama Administration is thinking about sending them to Syria.

They are shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles, capable of knocking helicopters and low-flying planes out of the sky. Syria’s rebels and their Arab government backers insist those weapons could decisively reverse the momentum in Syria’s three-year civil war, which may recently have shifted in favor of Bashar Assad’s regime.

“The introduction of manpads could be a game-changer in Syria, like it was in Afghanistan in the 1980s with Stinger missiles,” an Arab official tells TIME, adding that he believes the Obama Administration has begun discussing the idea more seriously. Other sources say the issue is being debated at the White House, but that strong doubts remain about the wisdom of providing missiles to the rebels.

The issue is newly relevant amid recent reports that Syrian fighters are now using U.S.-made anti-tank weapons against Assad’s forces. Experts say it’s unlikely those weapons could have wound up in Syria without U.S. approval. Nor are they likely to shift the military balance in the conflict.

Anti-aircraft missiles might. For a president unwilling to intervene directly in a conflict that has claimed upwards of 100,000 lives, they might seem an easy and inexpensive way to force out Assad. The Syrian leader has employed his air supremacy to bomb rebel outposts, resupply isolated forces, and force civilians to evacuate pro-rebel areas through terrorizing bombardments.

But supplying the lightweight missiles would involve huge risk. Senior Administration officials worry that the weapons—known technically as man-portable air defense systems, or manpads—could fall into the hands of terrorists intent on shooting down a civilian airliner. Syria’s rebel forces are now dominated by radical Islamists, some of whom recently overran a headquarters used by a moderate faction and looted weapons stored there.

Even hardened national security officials blanch at the thought of al-Qaeda with manpads. It was former CIA director David Petraeus who called that scenario a “nightmare” in January. A 2005 RAND Corporation study found that the shooting down of a civilian airliner might temporarily freeze air travel worldwide and produce total economic losses of more than $15 billion. That’s why, in the chaos following the 2011 fall of Muammar Gaddafi, the State Department frantically hunted down loose manpads from his arsenal, while Petraeus’ CIA reportedly conducted a parallel effort.

Even so, some influential voices in Washington think the risk is worth taking. In a recent interview with TIME, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain singled out the Assad regime’s use of “barrel bombs,” crude explosive devices pushed out of helicopters. “I want to shoot them down,” McCain said. “To stop these atrocities I’m willing to take the risk of a manpad… falling into the wrong hands, because we’ve got to stop it.”

Obama officials are only willing to accept that risk, according to a Congressional aide familiar with the issue, if they can gain far more confidence in measures to control and monitor the weapons. That could involve supplying missiles in very small quantities—perhaps one or a few at a time—to carefully vetted rebels who would present videotaped evidence of their use before resupply, an approach proposed by Saudi officials, who would likely be the conduit for any transfer of the U.S.-made weapons. The catch here is that supplying manpads in small numbers will have little strategic impact, while larger quantities raise the risk that one will fall into the wrong hands.

Obama officials also want something more reliable than human oversight. They are exploring the potential for GPS tracking and remote “kill switches” that could render the manpads useless beyond approved areas. “The administration is thinking through this, but they’re fairly skeptical,” says the aide. “How do you do a kill switch that someone on the ground can’t undo?”

That’s an open question. One former top Bush administration national security official recently told TIME that it’s possible to restrict the lifespan of manpads, standard versions of which can function for 20 years or more. “You can build obsolescence into manpads,” the official said. But Anthony Cordesman, a military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who has proposed “a time clock to disable the weapons at a given time, with the option of extending the life is a suitable code was entered,” said in an interview this week that he was unaware of such technology being implemented.

Obama officials are dubious about the potential for manpads to save the day. While some experts concur that they could be a “game-changer”—terrorism specialist Charles Lister of the Brookings Institution used that very phrase in a recent PRI radio interview—that’s not a consensus view in Washington.

“Manpads alone would not play a decisive role,” Cordesman says. “They would limit helicopter movement and the use of aircraft, but that might provoke the use of Syrian artillery. It’s not clear that’s a good tradeoff.” Experts also say the effectiveness of manpads would depend on whether the U.S. provided advanced models, how well rebels using them were trained, and the larger ability of fractious rebel forces to take coordinated advantage of their new battlefield asset.

Even McCain seems to acknowledge that manpads would primarily be a defense against helicopter-borne barrel bombs. And for now at least, that’s not reason enough for Obama to risk a $15 billion nightmare.

Apr 21


Syria to Hold Presidential Election on June 3: State Media
(Reuters) Syria will hold a presidential election on June 3, state media reported on Monday, setting the date for a vote likely to give President Bashar al-Assad a third term.

Gaza Rocket Salvo Hits Southern Israel
(Reuters) Five rockets fired from the Palestinian-run Gaza Strip landed in southern Israel during the Jewish Passover holiday on Monday morning, wounding no one, the Israeli army said.

China Shoe Strike Spreads, Enters Second Week
(Reuters) One of China’s biggest strikes in years stretched into a second week on Monday, and spread from a huge shoe production complex in southern Guangdong province to a facility owned by the same company in neighboring Jiangxi province.

Japan PM Makes Offering to Yasukuni Shrine, Angers China, South Korea
(Reuters) Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has sent a ritual offering to the Yasukuni Shrine, seen by critics as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism, angering both South Korea and China on Monday and putting regional ties under further strain.

Clock Ticking for Thai PM as Court Verdict Nears
(Reuters) A Thai court will decide this week whether to give embattled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra more time to defend herself against charges of abuse of power, accusations that could bring her down, or whether to move swiftly to a verdict.

Cyclone Threatens to Disrupt Search for Missing Malaysian Plane
(Reuters) A tropical cyclone was threatening to hamper the search for a missing Malaysian jetliner in a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean on Monday, as a submarine drone neared the end of its mission scouring the sea bed with still no sign of wreckage.

Captain of Ill-Fated Korean Ferry Praised Safety in Promotional Video
(Reuters) The captain of a ferry that sank off South Korea’s southwestern tip with hundreds feared dead said in a promotional video four years ago that the journey was safe—as long as passengers followed the instructions of the crew.

Vice President Biden to Meet Ukraine President, Prime Minister in Kiev
(Reuters) U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will meet with Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksander Turchinov, and Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk during a visit to Kiev on Tuesday, the White House said on Sunday.

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