Arms Trade Treaty Almost Accomplished, Amnesty Urges

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The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) needs 50 ratifications to become legally binding international law, and it already has 40 ratifications, with the eight ratifications added June 3. Ten were expected to ratify.

A total of 118 states have signed the treaty. Four of the world’s major arms producers–USA, France, Germany and USA–signed in September. Appeals have been made to the 155 states who voted last year to adopt the ATT at the UN General Assembly in New York last June 3, groups such as Amnesty International have made appeals to stop hesitating. Most of the 43 states who have yet to sign are from Asia, Africa and the Middle east.

The ATT prohibits conventional weapons and munitions sales to states when there is knowledge the weapons would be used to commit or fascilitate serious human rights abuses, such as genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. States will be required to conduct objective assessments to avoid risks.

Amnesty International estimates that 500,000 people are killed each year due to armed violence and conflict. In addition, millions of people are displaced, abused and injured.

Amnesty also called on states not to wait for the treaty to come into effect before observing its human rights provisions. Antigua and Barbuda, Belgium, Costa Rica, Germany, Iceland, Mexico, Norway, Serbia, Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, and the UK have decided to implement the treaty’s human rights provisions sooner than the required date.

Currently, international commerce in weapons accounts for the equivalent of billions or trillions USD each year. The ATT is 20 years in the making–it started out as a group of civil activists expressed concern about unregulated global arms trade and its impact on human security. The idea was a set of ethical standards for arms trade.

China and Russia have abstained from signing so far. Both were expected to sign the treaty soon, but on May 20 Voice of Russia reported that Moscow would not sign the ATT because it was “not completely thought through,” and because it “discriminates against the Russian military industrial complex.”

The ATT will come into force 90 days after the 50th ratification. Ratification means adopting the ATT into a nations laws. The ATT will be the  first legally binding instrument ever negotiated in the United Nations to establish common standards for the international transfer of conventional arms.

By Day Blakely Donaldson


Global Issues

Amnesty International


Universal Typeless Blood Substitute Being Developed at University of Essex

A team of scientists at Essex University with a goal of providing an artificial blood substitute to hospitals and disaster areas around the world–and overcome the barriers that have stumped 25 years and $3 billion of global scientific and business investment–have made progress with a recent $2.5 million funding boon.Universal Type-less Blood Substitute Being Developed at University of Essex 2

Overcoming several of blood storage’s perpetual problems, the new blood is hoped to be stored at room temperature, last up to two years, and be available to all patients, regardless of blood type. Donated blood operations are also fraught with concerns about decreasing active donors worldwide and the challenges of distribution to locations where there is need, as well as purity and efficacy concerns.

The Heam02 project  is working on creating an artificial hemoglobin-based oxygen carrier (HBOC). Hemoglobin is the key protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen around our bodies. The protein is protected in the body by the red cell, and previous attempts to make HBOCs have failed because the artificial hemoglobins could not survive outside their protective natural environment.

Heam02’s HBOC is detoxified by the body’s own defenses. HaemO2 is engineering recombinant hemoglobin variants with enhanced electron transfer pathways, and the variants will be better able to detoxify the reactive high oxidation state iron and free radicals produced in extracellular haemoglobin under conditions of oxidative stress. 

Universal Type-less Blood Substitute Being Developed at University of Essex 3“It means we could overcome some of the inherent problems with transfusions as there would be no need for blood group typing and a longer shelf life means you are able to stockpile the supplies necessary for major disasters. It also offers the opportunity for routine transfusion support in ambulances or at remote inaccessible locations,” explained Essex’s Professor Chris Cooper, a biochemist and blood substitute expert.

Professor Cooper commented on the $2.5 Medical Research Council-funded Essex project, which was leaving US attempts by the wayside. “This is an exciting time for artificial blood research in Britain. This funding allows our team to take to first step on the road to bridging the gap between top class research and the commercialization of a product.”

By Andy Stern


University of Essex

Sgt. Bergdahl: Congress Wants Answers

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In response to the exchange of five high-level Taliban operatives for one US soldier–Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl–the US Senate Intelligence Committee held a closed-door briefing Tuesday, wanting answers as to why they were not included in the process, which from the beginning has raised concern for various reasons.

Among the criticisms are that the exchange puts Americans at risk by releasing potentially dangerous Taliban operatives, and that there may have been better alternatives in seeking the return of Bergdahl.

The exchange took place without the Senate’s knowledge despite a promise that the Obama administration would abide by a law that Congress be notified 30 days before any proposed transfer.

Congressmen are calling for an investigation. A full Senate briefing on the exchange has been set for Wednesday. Among the questions already raised are was the price of the exchange too high? was Bergdahl a deserter? was his health really in danger? and were there less costly options?

“Not even the weakest case has been made” to back up the administration’s assertion that Bergdahl’s health was in grave condition, necessitating immediate action, said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga), after the closed-door briefing Tuesday.

By James Haleavy

Ukraine Suing Russia for 1 Trillion for Crimea

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Russia is being sued by Ukraine for 1 trillion Ukrainian Hryvnias (UAH) for the illegal annexation of Crimea. The announcement was made by Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk Tuesday in the Verkhovna Rada.

The PM told the Parliament, “Ukraine has begun the process. The General Prosecutor’s Office has launched an investigation. And in a criminal case, the Ukrainian government filed suit in the amount of more than UAH 1 trillion.”

“The problems lie in the international legal plane,” said Yatsenyuk. “There are not many options for suing. But, without revealing all the legal details, we will use all possible legal means to bring the Russian Federation to court.”

Ukraine has filed two complaints with the European Court of Human Rights directly on the annexation of the Crimea and the responsibility of the Russian Federation to Ukraine, said the PM. Ukraine was also preparing claims against Russia for illegal seizure and robbery.

“We recognize that such trials do not take place in a month, but a legal process will be the result,” said Yatsenyuk.

Pavel Petrenko, Ukraine’s justice minister commented on the 1 trillion figure. “To date the amount of the loss is 1 trillion 80 billion. Due to the limitation of the use of objects, property and minerals, this amount will continue to grow,” said the Minister.

By Day Blakely Donaldson

Pravda Ukraine

New USICA Act Would Create a New US News Agency “Freedom News Agency,” Subsuming Other International News Agencies

Freedom News Network
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Bill HR4490, which has already passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee with bipartisan support, and is expected to be taken up by the full House as early as this summer, would create a new “federal news network,” called Freedom News Network, which would subsume other US international news agencies.

Under a section of the bill headed “Creation of the Federal News Network,” the bill is explained to provide for the creation of the Freedom News Network (FNN), consolidating the grantee broadcasters Radio Free Europe/Radio Libety (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN) into one “surrogate” grantee broadcaster. The brands would remain unchanged, thus maintaining “audience name recognition.”

The board for the FNN would be composed of new individuals appointed by the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the House of Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations Committees.

The FNN would also expand its programming “into regions where no current individual surrogate broadcaster currently operates,” such as sub-Saharan Africa.

The FNN’s mission is provided by the new bill: “[sharpening] the legislative vision of the proper focus for surrogate programming, directing the new grantee to promote democracy, civil society, free media, political freedom, and uncensored flows of information”

By Day Blakely Donaldson


Big Changes in US News Communications if Bill HR4490 Passes


Congressional Research Service report

Federation of American Scientists

US Foreign Affairs

Art of Italian Furniture Design: Joseph Grima: “A New Idea Will Be Born”

Joseph Grima
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Joseph Grima, editor-in-chief of Domus magazine, recently commented on the state of design in Italy–a country with a long design tradition and which has undergone a prolonged crisis, saying that “an era is drawing to an end for Italian design,” and “a new idea will be born.” Grima’s words on the current state and future of Italian furniture design showed a strong vestment in cultural tradition and an understanding of the influence of the system that surrounds designers.

“I think crisis can engender nostalgia, especially when it’s so protracted,” Grima said. Grima spoke of a new idea that will be born, and the hope for such an idea in the contemporary Italian design world. “Something new will emerge,” he said.

As to how this new thing wound enter Italian furniture design, Grima said, “Some hope that new technologies will bring that era in. The digital technologies that we talked a lot about last year, they lend themselves also to being combined with traditional knowledges  regarding materials, the kind of craft–hands-on skills of the artisans that exist in this region and are unrivaled anywhere else.

Grima made his comments in relation to the annual show at the Triennale, where a wide range of Italian designers present.

“I think it’s interesting that at the Triennale the annual design museum exhibition is very much on the theme of the great masters and the past and Italian design almost searching for comfort in its own history, and Italy trying to remind itself that there is something there,” said Grima.

“I think everybody realizes that possibly an era is drawing to an end and a new era is beginning.”

I think some manufacturers are really seriously beginning to think about how they can engage a completely different model of design industry.”

Grima spoke of a distinction between the Italian design tradition and the tradition currently experiencing favor, citing relatively prosperous London. “The great tradition that was born here was not born from the tradition of schools. It’s actually the direct contact between the masters and the craftsmen. It’s almost an apprenticeship model, which is something really, really different from the London model, for example. That’s something that now is in a little bit of a crisis because it’s something that’s not as easy to perpetuate, and the world has moved a little bit more towards being aligned with the schools model.”

Of London, where wealth gained through financial services has been replaced by fast-growing, digital community, Grima said, “I think the reason that that’s sprung up in London is a direct consequence of London being one of the great education centers of the world. It’s got some of the best universities and the best schools.”

Grima did not think the state of Italy was conductive to design innovation. “I think there’s a lot of uncertainty, and the political model of course is not encouraging,” he said

Of the system, Grima said, “It can [move forward with the times]. It’s not a system that is predisposed to naturally move in that direction, and it’s one of the paradoxes of Italy that on the one hand it’s completely–it’s one of the most innovative, creative countries in the world, indisputably. On the other hand, the culture of bureaucracy, the actual framework–the mental framework, the bureaucratic framework, the economic framework of the nation–is, actually, one would be forgiven for actually thinking that it had been designed to suppress any sort of creative, vital energy of creating something new. It’s really–some aspects of it are really beyond belief.

Finally, of the current situation in which Italy is importing designers from around the world, and in which great designers are not living in the country, Grima said,  “I don’t think it necessarily matters, because I don’t think you can expect to survive by perpetuating the past, and I think Milan still has an undisputed role as the design capital of the world, and as long as it is able to look out to the world and kind of capture, and be the arbiter in a way of what is interesting and what is innovative in the design world, that’s something that can be equally as important as being simply the product of a lot of small countries.”

By Joseph Reight


Physicists Say Light Can Be Converted Into Matter Within a Year, and the Race to Complete the Experiment Is On

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By smashing massless photons together, light can be converted into matter, according to physicists at London’s Imperial College, and the race to conduct the experiment is on–and should be carried out within the year. Until now, the idea of converting E into mc2 had been considered practically impossible.

“The race to carry out and complete the experiment is on,” said Imperial College London’s Oliver Pike. The experiment is now possible because physicists are able increase the number of photons to massive levels (billions of times the level of normal visible light) in order to achieve collisions in a photon-photon collider. The tiny size of photons was until recently a near-impossible obstacle to the experiment.

The proposed means of achieving massive photon levels is a photon-photon collider in a vacuum hohlraum. The apparatus consists of a high-powered laser, which bombards a slab of gold, producing a high-intensity gamma ray (photons) a hallow space (“hohlraum”) in which is accumulated a thick field of photons produced by another laser. The gamma ray bombards the hohlraum. Out of the other end of the hohlraum some electrons and positrons will fly, according to the English physicists. A shorter, more technical phrasing of the process is that a gamma-ray beam is fired into the high-temperature radiation field of a laser-heated hohlraum.

The theory of converting light into matter and matter into light dates back to 1930, when theoretical physicist Paul Dirac considered that an electron and its antimatter counterpart (a positron) could be annihilated (combined) to produce two photons. Four years later, physicists Gregory Breit and John Wheeler suggested that the reverse could also be true.

“It’s breathtaking to think that things we thought are not connected, can in fact be converted to each other: matter and energy, particles and light. Would we be able in the future to convert energy into time and vice versa?” said John Adams Institute, Oxford Director Andrei Seryi of the John Adams Institute on the matter.

Many laboratories around the world have the equipment necessary to perform the experimental photon-photon collisions, the English physicists say, and the experiment is expected to be conducted within the year.

By Andy Stern

Nature Photonics

Russian Troops Photo Released Again Reveals No Withdrawal on Ukraine Border, Contradicting Claims of Russian Government

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Tuesday, the US government released satellite images which show Russian forces still near Ukraine’s eastern border, contradicting assertions by the Russian government of late that the forces had been withdrawn.

The photos were published by the US State Department and on the US Mission to NATO’s Twitter account. The troops pictured are assembled at Belgorod, May 9.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had announced the withdrawal last Wednesday. Both the US and NATO countered that they had seen no withdrawal.

“The reality is that Russia continues to have 40,000 high readiness troops massed on Ukraine’s border and another 25,000 troops in Crimea,” countered NATO Allied Command Operations Spokesman Colonel Martin Downie. “The units on the latest satellite pictures show mechanised infantry, armoured vehicles and combat helicopters,” he said in a statement. “These units are there to intimidate Ukraine’s government and they could be used for an invasion of Ukraine, if ordered by Moscow. We will continue to keep a close eye on Russia’s actions near our borders.”

Last April, NATO published similar satellite images, but the Russian government denied the images were recent, saying they were taken last August.

By Day Blakely Donaldson




South Sudan Peace Deal Broken in Two Days, Two Accusations by Two Leaders

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The peace deal signed by South Sudanese leaders President Salva Kiir and Dr Riek Machar in Addis Abada, Ethiopia, Friday has been broken. Both sides are blaming the other.

The agreement came at the urging of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who visited South Sudan Friday and spoke to the two warring leaders. Pressure has also begun to build on South Sudanese leaders due to the beginnings of American sanctions, which targeted generals of both sides of the conflict.

The peace deal was broken just hours after its coming into force. Several attacks took place Sunday morning in South Sudan. The two leaders blamed each other.

“This morning at 6:30 AM Riek Machar forces attacked our forces at Rubkona in Unity State,” said Kiir. “They attacked our forces and we repulsed them and they ran away left dead bodies down there that was one case. When it reached 8:20 AM this morning, Riek Machar forces attacked our base at Kilo-Kamsin east of Bentiu capital of Unity State. They fought and they were also repulsed. The same morning at 9:00 AM, they attacked our forces at Mathiang north- east of Nassir. All in all, they were beaten back and they ran away.”

The opposition reported that it was in fact the government who initiated the fighting. Military spokesman Brigadier-General Lul Ruai Koang said that government forces launched attacks on their bases in Unity State and Upper Nile State hours after the ceasefire.

By Day Blakely Donaldson


Eye Radio, South Sudan

NASA Puts Out a “Request for Information” for Creative Talent to Offer Ideas for Europa Mission

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NASA, planning a mission to the moon Europa–one of the best candidates for life-sustaining habitation–within the next 10 years, has opened the door for crowdsourced talent. The goal is to create a mission for under $1 billion. NASA has published a Request for Information (RFI) seeking creative help.

Although much smaller than the Earth, Europa is thought to contain more water than our planet, and last year jets of water were observed shooting out of the moon’s icy surface, causing scientists to strongly suspect the existence of water plumes.unnamed

With NASA’s RFI, it hopes to address several fundamental questions about the enigmatic moon and life beyond earth, and on a budget. NASA provided a list of its five top goals for Europa:

1. Characterize the extent of the ocean and its relation to the deeper interior;
2. Characterize the ice shell and any subsurface water, including their heterogeneity, and the
nature of surface-ice-ocean exchange;
3. Determine global surface compositions and chemistry, especially as related to habitability;
Jupiters-Europa-moon-Likeliest-to-support-Life-24. Understand the formation of surface features, including sites of recent or current activity,
and identify and characterize candidate sites for future in situ exploration;
5. Understand Europa’s space environment and interaction with the magnetosphere.

The $1 billion target excludes the launch vehicle, but includes everything else, including all the technology and scientific intstruments needed for the mission. Some considerations specifically mentioned by NASA in the RFI for the Europa mission include the extreme radiation environment and protection of Europa’s potentially inhabitable ocean from the Earth’s bacteria.

NASA has released Request for Information: NNH14ZDA008L Europa Mission Concepts Costing Less than $1 Billion, targeting science and engineering communities. The RFI includes details about what and how to submit to NASA.

By Day Blakely Donaldson



South Sudan Top Rivals President Kiir and Rebel Leader Riek Machar Both Answer Ki-moons Requests to Hold Face-to-Face Talks

South Sudan
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Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the UN, announced Tuesday that rebel SPLM/A leader Dr. Riek Machar has agreed to face-to-face talks with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir. Ki-moon spoke with Machar via satellite telephone shortly after his arrival in South Sudan. Last Friday, Kiir also agreed to attend the face-to-face meeting.

“He [Machar] said that he has been invited by Prime Minister of Ethiopia Hailemariam Desalegn in his capacity as a chair of IGAD to come to Addis Ababa and he responded positively that he will be in Addis Ababa for meeting in time,” the secretary general stated, “but he said he will try his best because he is now in a very remote area.”

Ki-moon arrived in Juba, capital of South Sudan Tuesday, with plans to meet with President Salva Kiir in order to push for a ceasefire, as well as hold discussions with the leaders of South Sudanese civil society groups, especially women’s and religious groups. Ki-moon will also visit the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) protection compounds on his visit, where thousands of South Sudanese are currently seeking shelter, and where Ki-moon will meet with community leaders as well as UN staff and peacekeepers.

Monday US U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry threatened sanctions against South Sudan’s government if they should continue to evade peace talks.

By Day Blakely Donaldson


Eye Radio


Russia Paying Trolls to Comment on News Websites, Another Newspaper Says

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Another major newspaper believes that the Russian government is paying internet users to spam the comments section under their articles with aggressive, provocative pro-Russian propaganda. UK’s The Guardian newspaper moderators believe this is an orchestrated campaign.

The Guardian moderators, who deal with 40,000 comments per day, and The Guardian users believe the Russian government is paying webizens to troll their papers, using denigrating and abusive terms against other commenters who criticize Russia or Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. The Guardian’s former Moscow correspondent, Luke Harding, is in no doubt about Russia’s internet campaign, calling it “a well-attested phenomenon in Russia.”

The Guardian reported on the problem as early as 2012. “A pro-Kremlin group runs a network of internet trolls, seeks to buy flattering coverage of Vladimir Putin and hatches plans to discredit opposition activists and media, according to private emails allegedly hacked by a group calling itself the Russian arm of Anonymous,” the paper reported.

The Atlantic also reported on the problem, in October 2013. The paper cited a St. Petersberg Times article about a woman who was interviewed for a job in a “comment-mill,” where workers were expected to and distribute politically supportive or discrediting social media posts.

The Atlantic also noted the prevalence of this abuse of social media, reporting that the NGO Freedom House had stated that the practice is widespread in 22 of the 60 countries it examines, led by China, Bahrain and Russia.

By Day Blakely Donaldson


The Guardian

The Atlantic