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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

U.N. Overwhelmed by Syria’s Humanitarian Crisis

The United Nations (U.N.) are unable to help as many as one million people in Syria who are now going hungry because fighting and lack of fuel are preventing humanitarian action. About 2.5 million people are in dire need of food, and the U.N. World Food Programme (UNWFP) has only been able to reach 1.5 million of them. “Food needs are growing in Syria” as it becomes increasingly difficult to ”reach the hardest-hit places,” according to UNWFP Spokeswoman Elisabeth Brys. Most of those in need were displaced by the civil war between the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and its opponents. The number of attacks on aid convoys has also sharply risen. This is happening at a time when temperatures are dropping, exposing entire refugee camps to the harshness of winter. A few other humanitarian organizations including UNICEF, War Child, and the Red Cross are collecting funds.

2012 Hottest Year on Record in the U.S.

Last year was by far the hottest on record in the contiguous U.S., the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said today. Temperatures in 2012 averaged “55.3°F (12.94°C), which was 3.2°F (1.77°C) above the 20th century average and 1.0°F (0.5°C) above the previous record from 1998,” the agency announced in a press release. It was also the 15th driest year on record, with a drought that spread to 61 percent of the nation’s territory in July. The U.S. Climate Extremes Index also showed 2012 was the second most extreme year on record, after 1998. The index measures temperatures and rainfall, but also landfalling tropical cyclones. Last year saw 11 weather-related disasters and over $1 billion in damages.

Chávez to Miss Swearing In

Venezuela President Hugo Chávez will not be sworn in tomorrow due to health issues, and the country announced today it has delayed the ceremony. Chávez has not been seen publicly since the day of his cancer surgery in Cuba on December 11. “[Chavez's] medical team has recommended that the postoperative recovery should extend past January 10,” Vice President Nicolás Maduro wrote in a letter to the country’s National Assembly without specifying a date for Chávez’s return. The thrice-elected president is suffering from an acute pulmonary infection, according to medical briefs. His death or his inability to govern for a new term may create a power vacuum in Venezuela, where his brand of charismatic leadership has drawn criticism both nationally and internationally.

Peace on the Agenda for Karzai’s Visit to U.S.

A few days before the beginning of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai’s visit to the U.S., the White House said it is considering leaving no troops in the South Asian country past 2014. Karzai’s three-day trip will include talks with U.S. President Barack Obama in which war, the number of U.S. soldiers, Afghanistan’s military and the future of the nation will be discussed. While Karzai wants U.S. forces out of Afghanistan, the Obama administration has explored the possibility of leaving between 3,000 and 9,000 troops in the country. Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communication Ben Rhodes said the White House is now considering the “zero option,” in which all soldiers would go. Another issue on the table for Karzai and Obama will be possible peace negotiations between the Taliban, Karzai’s government, and other local groups to end decades of war.

U.S. Supreme Court Green Lights Stem Cell Research

The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed yesterday an appeal that sought to block funding for stem cell research. Stem cells are “blank” cells that appear in days-old embryos and have the potential of becoming any kind of cell in the human body. Opponents of stem cell research based their resistance on moral grounds as embryos are generally destroyed after the stem cells are removed. A 1996 law prohibits the use of tax dollars to fund the creation and destruction of human embryos, but in 2009, President Barack Obama’s administration allowed it under certain conditions, antagonizing House Republicans. The court’s decision will now open the door to federal funding for medical investigation that may save lives and cure a host of illnesses.

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