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While You Were Sleeping: August 2014 

The gist of what you may have missed.

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According to recent energy reports, Germany and the United Kingdom generated record-breaking levels of solar electricity in the sunny weeks of June. The Solar Trade Association of the UK has claimed that the state has nearly doubled its solar capacity since July of last year; of the 530,000 solar photovoltaic (PV) systems now in the UK, 510,000 of them are installed in small, private homes. Germany boasts a whopping 1.4 million PV systems, on June 9 having generated 23.1 gigawatt-hours (GWh)—a little over half of its total electricity demand. The entire continent has increased its installed solar capacity by 16 percent since last year, with Italy, Romania, and Greece also making strides in renewable energy. The Earth Policy Institute in Washington has suggested that China, the US, Canada, and Japan also saw huge growth in 2013. After having raised its PV capacity to 11.3GW, China now stands second behind Germany as a generator of solar power. The US augmented its output from 4.8 to 12GW—a margin of 65 percent. The solar industry is expected to continue growing by at least 20 percent a year, encouraging job creation and providing clean energy to consumers.
Source: Guardian (UK)

You might think twice about jumping in the Hudson on a hot day this month. Riverkeeper recently released its annual "How's the Water?" report and revealed that the quality of swimming conditions in the Hudson River varies depending on where and when you're in the water. With the aid of scientists from CUNY Queens College and Columbia University's Lamont Doherty Earth Conservatory, Riverkeeper collects water samples to test for Enteroccus, a bacteria linked to sewage and fecal contamination. The nonprofit uses the results of these tests to determine the safety of water in the Hudson River and its tributaries. According to the report, 8 percent of Mid-Hudson samples failed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) criteria for safe swimming. While Poughkeepsie waterfronts are impressively clean—92 percent of samples from Waryas Park and 97 percent at the Water Treatment Plant tested safe—the Newburgh boat launch failed in over half of its samples. Smaller tributaries also returned disappointing results; 100 percent of samples taken from the Wallkill River in Orange County and New Paltz failed to meet EPA standards. Water samples were three times more likely to fail if collected after rainfall, suggesting a need for improved waste and sewer management.
Source: Poughkeepsie Journal

According to the 2014 UN Millennium Development Goals report, India is home to one-third of the 1.2 billion extreme poor worldwide. In addition to a high prevalence of poverty, the country saw 1.4 million children die before reaching the age of five in 2012—more than half the under-five deaths of any other—as well as 17 percent of global maternal deaths. Although poverty rates across Southern Asia have fallen since the 1990s, India's improvement has been much slower than that of other countries. Between 1994 and 2010, it only saw a reduction in poverty from 49.4 percent to 32.7 percent. Despite its high levels of poverty and low standards of living, South Asia has seen a marked increase in school enrollment and literacy in the past few years. From 1990 to 2011, the region's youth literacy rates grew from 60 to 80 percent. The Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has acknowledged poverty as its greatest challenge but is confident that it will be overcome.
Source: Times of India

On Saturday, July 5, New York became the 23rd state to legalize the medical use of marijuana. The State Assembly and Senate passed the bill in June, but not before careful debate. Legislators wanted to be sure that the bill, while subscribing to increasing evidence of the drug's medical benefits, would clearly discourage and condemn attempts to defraud the system for recreational purposes. The piece of legislation permits the treatment of 10 serious conditions with cannabis, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases, and epilepsy. New Yorkers who suffer from such conditions are relieved by the bill, but some fear it will take too long to implement—before marijuana becomes available for treatment, the state's health department will spend 18 months drafting regulations for its production and distribution. Governor Cuomo signed the bill into law with the assertion that "if there is a medical advancement, then we want to make sure that we're bringing it to New Yorkers." He was clear, however, on the bill's stringency: it will be a felony for doctors to knowingly prescribe the drug to anyone unregistered or ineligible, and the governor has the right to terminate the program the moment any threat to public safety is detected.
Sources: CNN, Daily News

The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Basel, Switzerland has released an annual report warning that record-low interest rates and high levels of debt in emerging markets could lead to another financial crisis. According to the organization, which represents central banks around the world, investors have driven up the prices of stocks and assets in an attempt to earn returns, creating dangerous new economic bubbles. Many perceive financial markets to be in a particularly "euphoric" period, but the BIS report suggests that keeping interests rates so low could perpetuate increasing debt levels—the same phenomenon that ultimately led to a global crisis in 2007. The BIS believes governments should take more action to improve the productivity of their economies and that banks should raise capital to hasten recovery from the recent crisis. The report also criticizes global corporations, which, in spite of booming stock markets, haven't been focusing on long-term investment. While low-interest capital may seem like an attractive and immediate means of market growth, national central banks fear that relying on debt—especially in a global economy that is still recovering—is taking too great a risk.
Sources: Financial Times (UK), New York Times

Douglas Chase of Acton, Massachusetts, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2011. He was able to get treatment, but only in Boston, which meant he had to take a long ambulance ride into the city. Since he was a veteran of the Vietnam War, his wife, Suzanne, tried to move his medical care to the Veterans Affairs hospital in nearby Bedford. They waited about four months and never heard anything. Chase died in August 2012. In June of this year, he got a letter from the VA in Bedford, saying he could now call to make an appointment to see a primary care doctor. At the bottom of the letter it read: "We are committed to providing primary care in a timely manner and would greatly appreciate a prompt response." Following her husband's death, Suzanne Chase applied for funeral benefits, but was denied. The reason: her husband had never been treated at a VA hospital.
Source: CBS News

State media censors in Singapore have banned the sale of an Archie comic book for its frank presentation of gay marriage, a matter that remains socially taboo and illegal in Southeast Asia's most developed state. Singapore's Media Development Authority (MDA) censored the comic book, first published in January 2012, earlier this year. The comic in question was the third installment in Archie: The Married Life, one of several spinoff series in the multifarious Archie universe, which features the wedding of Kevin Keller, a gay soldier who was introduced as the Obama administration was deliberating the end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. In its guidelines for imported publications, the MDA prohibits comics and other illustrated material that depict or discuss "alternative lifestyles or deviant sexual practices." The country ranks 149th of the 179 countries listed in the 2013 Press Freedom Index, earning it the distinction of having the least free press of any developed economy in the world. The news broke just days after Archie was killed off by taking a bullet meant for Kevin, now a senator campaigning for gun control.
Source: Time

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