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July Already the Deadliest Month for Foreign Troops in Afghanistan

A harbinger of things to come or a temporary spike?

The death toll for foreign troops in Afghanistan halfway through July equalled the highest for any month of the eight-year-old war, tallies showed on Wednesday, as a U.S. escalation has met unprecedented violence.

Authorities announced a U.S. soldier had been killed by a bomb and two Turks had died in a road accident, raising the toll of U.S. and allied foreign fatalities in the first half of July to 46, equal to full month highs set in August and June 2008.

In the two weeks since U.S. and British troops launched massive assaults, Western troops have died at an average rate of three a day, nearing the tempo of the bloodiest days in Iraq and almost 20 times the rate in Afghanistan from 2001-04.

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BBC: Sudan women ‘lashed for trousers’

Primitive and deplorable:

"I was wearing trousers and a blouse and the 10 girls who were lashed were wearing like me, there was no difference," [Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein] told the BBC's Arabic service.

Ms Hussein said some women pleaded guilty to "get it over with" but others, including herself, chose to speak to their lawyers and are awaiting their fates.

Under Sharia law in Khartoum, the normal punishment for "indecent" dressing is 40 lashes.

Ms Hussein is a well-known reporter who writes a weekly column called Men Talk for Sudanese papers. She also works for the United Nations Mission in Sudan.

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Did North Korea Launch a Sophisticated Cyber Attack Against the U.S.?

President Obama's recent decision to name a national cybersecurity chief seems auspicious in light of this:

A widespread and unusually resilient computer attack that began July 4 knocked out the Web sites of several government agencies, including some that are responsible for fighting cyber crime.

Suspected cyber assaults also paralyzed Web sites of major South Korean government agencies, banks and Internet sites in a barrage that appeared linked to the attacks in the U.S., South Korean officials said Wednesday.

The Treasury Department, Secret Service, Federal Trade Commission and Transportation Department Web sites were all down at varying points over the holiday weekend and into this week, according to officials inside and outside the government.

As we saw in the Russia-Georgia conflict, cyberspace is becoming the new global battlefield:

According to Internet technical experts, it was the first time a cyberattack had coincided with a real war. But it will likely not be the last, said Bill Woodcock, the research director of Packet Clearing House, a nonprofit organization that tracks Internet traffic. He said cyberattacks are so inexpensive and easy to mount, with few fingerprints, that they will almost certainly remain a feature of modern warfare.

As far as the July 4th attack, North Korea appears to be the main suspect:

South Korean intelligence officials believe North Korea or pro-Pyongyang forces in South Korea committed cyber attacks that paralyzed major South Korean and U.S. Web sites, a lawmaker's aide said Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the National Intelligence Service told a group of South Korean lawmakers it believes that North Korea or North Korean sympathizers in the South "were behind" the attacks, according to an aide to one of the lawmakers briefed on the information.

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Are the Taliban Buying Children for Suicide Attacks?

This is deeply disturbing:

A top Taliban leader in Pakistan is buying and selling children for suicide bombings, Pakistani and U.S. officials said.

Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud has been increasingly using the children in attacks, the officials said. A video released by Pakistan's military shows the children training for the task.

In the video of a training camp, children can be seen killing and going through exercises.

Mehsud has been selling the children, once trained, to other Taliban officials for $6,000 to $12,000, Pakistani military officials said.

 

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Where’s the Social Web Revolution for Abused Women and Starving Children? (Boiling Frog Syndrome)

It's worth noting that with all this triumphant talk about the Twitter revolution in Iran - especially when it's about a lesser-of-two-evils candidate - we can't summon a fraction of the energy and passion to save abused, raped and battered women across the globe. Nor can we muster the same attention and will to deal with the plight of children who are dying of hunger, deprived of the bare necessities of life.

Here are the brutal facts:

* There are four million new hungry people every week, over a billion total. Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes - one child every five seconds.

* Millions of women and girls (our mothers, sisters and daughters) endure one or more of the following: intimate partner violence; sexual abuse by non-intimate partners; trafficking, forced prostitution, exploitation, debt bondage, sex selective abortion, female infanticide, and rape.

Perhaps it's boiling frog syndrome, the fact that global hunger and women's rights are ongoing tragedies/travesties without sudden spikes of interest. Or perhaps it's the futility of confronting these intractable issues, a sense that we're powerless to change such pervasive problems.

That's not to say that there aren't many courageous and dedicated people working to alleviate hunger and protect women's rights. There are. But where is the massive outrage, the worldwide focus, the grainy images, the Twitter-mania, the color-coded avatars? Most importantly, where is the urgency, the immediacy?

Clearly, something is happening in Iran with technology that signals a new era in global activism. This is the first period in human history when so many individuals, friends and strangers, can speak to one another simultaneously, on equal footing; there's never been a time when ten million people could converse at once, on the same topic, using the same platform.

That also means they can shout and raise the alarm about injustice together. And as we're seeing with CNN, those millions of impassioned people can pressure the media to get on board, further increasing the level of attention.

So why isn't this happening for oppressed and abused women or hungry and starving children, when their aggregate pain and suffering is far greater and the threat to them more severe than to the (brave) Iranian demonstrators? Where's the intense coverage, the excitement over the potential of Twitter and Facebook to alter the course of history?

I'm not calling for less focus on Iran, but more, much more, on the mortal threat so many women and children face.

I'll conclude with a clip from Channel 4 News in the UK, where I was asked to comment on Gordon Brown's statement that because of the Internet, there will be no more Rwandas. My answer: what about Darfur?

Cross-posted on CTN

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Gang Rape as a Form of Male Bonding

Forget athletics, endurance tests, etc...

One in four South African men questioned in a survey said they had raped someone, and nearly half of them admitted more than one attack.

The study, by the country's Medical Research Council, also found three out of four who admitted rape had attacked for the first time during their teens.

It said practices such as gang rape were common because they were considered a form of male bonding.

Is it any wonder I expected a more forceful defense of women's rights in President Obama's Cairo speech - granted it was delivered to the Mideast, but the audience was intended to be global.

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World’s Hungry Top 1 Billion, 4 Million New Hungry People a Week

Unfathomable numbers:
High food prices have pushed another 105 million people into hunger in the first half of 2009, the head of the U.N. World Food Program said Friday, raising the total number of hungry people to over 1 billion.Urging rich nations at a meeting of the Group of Eight's development ministers not cut back on aid, Josette Sheeran told Reuters the world faced a "human catastrophe" as more and more people struggle to eat a decent meal."This year we are clocking in on average four million new hungry people a week, urgently hungry," Sheeran told Reuters.
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Iran election protests turn violent

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A Global Ban on Plastic Bags

Here's a bold idea:

Single-use plastic bags, a staple of American life, have got to go, the United Nations' top environmental official said Monday.

Although recycling bags is on the rise in the United States, an estimated 90 billion thin bags a year, most used to handle produce and groceries, go unrecycled. They were the second most common form of litter after cigarette butts at the 2008 International Coastal Cleanup Day sponsored by the Ocean Conservancy, a marine environmental group.

"Single use plastic bags which choke marine life, should be banned or phased out rapidly everywhere. There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere," said Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme. His office advises U.N. member states on environmental policies.