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Monday, August 26, 2013

U.S. Decries Chemical Weapons Use in Syria

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned what he characterized as the undeniable use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Government. He described the August 21st attack that is believed to have killed hundreds in a Damascus suburb as “moral obscenity“. “Make no mistake, President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people.” said Kerry. The secretary did not offer a specific course of action that the U.S. administration might pursue.

U.N. investigators attempting to reach the site came under sniper fire and had to switch vehicles to reach the area. According to the U.N., the investigation is limited to ascertaining whether or not chemical weapons were used. Who might have used them is beyond the scope of the investigation.

The use of chemical weapons has been banned by international treaties since the 1920′s and the production of such arms has been outlawed since 1997. But governments such as the Soviet Union, the U.S., and Iraq have skirted or openly defied these bans, with little to no repercussions. Ronald Reagan’s administration famously championed Iraq’s use of sarin and mustard gas during the Iran–Iraq War.

Rim Fire Continues to Grow

The Rim Fire near Yosemite surged over the weekend, it now covers more than 149,760 acres and threatens a major reservoir serving San Francisco. Additional resources have been allocated to battling the inferno, bringing the total man power to 3,414 fire fighters. But Daniel Berlant of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, notes this particular fire is complicated, saying, “This fire has continued to pose every challenge that there can be on a fire.”

San Fransisco declared a state of emergency late Friday, despite being some 150 miles away, because the power lines and water infrastructure of the city is in danger. Hetch Hetchy reservoir, which provides the city with roughly 85 percent of its water, is within a single mile of the blaze and has ash falling upon it like snow. Two of the three hydroelectric plants that service the city have been shut down. The blaze is 15 percent contained; 23 buildings have been consumed and an additional 4,500 are threatened.

Czech Protestors Arrested at Anti Roma Rallies

Thousands marched throughout the Czech Republic this weekend in a series of anti Romani demonstrations, at least 75 people were arrested after clashing with police. The marchers attempted to leave the permitted route in a bid to enter the Romani neighborhoods of Ostrava and Plzeň and when police stopped them, the protestors pelted them stones. There are between 150,000 and 300,00 Roma in the Czech Republic.

Earlier this month, European Roma Rights Centre executive director Dezideriu Gergely joined with Amnesty International to call for prudent and decisive government action to prevent the harassment of Romani people. “The situation is extremely tense in the Czech Republic at the moment, with far right groups rapidly gaining in influence. Many Roma families and activists we talk to fear for their safety, in particular ahead of demonstrations.” said Gergely.

Three years ago, four people were sentenced to prison for their part in the arson of a house belonging to a Romani family in Vitkov in which a child was severely burned. Natalka, a Romani woman living in the Czech Republic told the ERRC “We are afraid of further attacks. We cannot understand how the government allows them to march in this town, when everybody knows who they are. These marches will fuel more violence against us and we are afraid that more Roma families will be attacked.”

Colombian Strikes Grow

At least 200,000 protesting farmers in Colombia have blocked dozens of major highways throughout the country causing massive delays in transit. The farmers have joined miners, teachers, health workers, truckers and students to protest the U.S. Free Trade Agreement, globalization, and other privatization policies which President Juan Manuel Santos has championed in his three years in office. Interior Minister Fernando Carrillo conceded that many of the farmer’s demands “were just” but insisted the protests would not lead positive solutions.

The strikes and protests have been recurring since the beginning of the year.
Residents of Bogotá, Colombia’s capital, have begun to face shortages of some basic goods like potatoes and milk. Still Santos’ administration has pledged to resume negotiations with protestors only after the roadblocks have been lifted. Meanwhile right-wing paramilitary groups and politicians have threatened the striking workers comparing them to the FARC. But Dignidad Cafetera Javier Correa Velez says the strikers are no revolutionaries but merely reformists looking to their government to provide of Colombia’s citizens. “We’re not trying to overthrow the government or support one armed group or another, we just want solutions to our problems,” he said. “The strike is simply a symptom of an illness that the entire agriculture sector is suffering from.”

Fetuses Are Listening

A study reported today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that children may begin to recognize words before birth. Whereas the sound-processing sections of a fetus’ brain becomes active in the third trimester of pregnancy, and the mother’s abdomen transmit sound readily, the fetus can easily begin to hear words well before birth. “If you put your hand over your mouth and speak, that’s very similar to the situation the fetus is in,” says cognitive neuroscientist Eino Partanen of the University of Helsinki. “You can hear the rhythm of speech, rhythm of music, and so on.

Partanen’s team subjected several expectant women to a number of recordings during their last few months of pregnancy which included a made-up word, “tatata,” repeated many times. By the time the babies were born, they had heard the made-up word, on average, more than 25,000 times. When tested after birth, the infants’ brains recognized the word.

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