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While You Were Sleeping: December 2008 

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In 2007, there were 250 reported thefts of nuclear or radioactive materials. Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, describes the count as “disturbingly high,” in spite of the fact that the materials, even considering the low recovery rate, would not be enough to build even one nuclear device—yet the idea that there might be a new market for such material is a growing concern.
Source: New York Times

Although slavery is outlawed in Africa, the practice is still accepted in remote sectors of the continent. In a recent landmark ruling, a West African regional court ruled that the Nigerian Government had failed to protect Hadijatou Mani, who was sold into slavery at the age of 12. Now 24 years of age, Mani will receive $19,000 in restitution from the government. Antislavery organizations have hailed the decision as an important victory against deeply entrenched social customs.
Source: New York Times


Americans with diabetes have doubled their spending on drugs for the disease in the past six years. The $12.5 billion spent on prescriptions reflects both the increasing cost of the medication and the increasing number of people seeking treatment (from 14 million people in 2000 to 19 million in 2007). Recent studies have shown that older and less expensive medications may be more effective for the treatment of diabetes than newer, more expensive ones, such as Avandia, which can cost as much as $225 a month.
Source: Houston Chronicle

On October 27, in the Somalian town of Kismayu (which is controlled by a radical Islamist group called the Shabab), a 23-year-old woman named Asha Ibrahim Dhuhulow was buried up to her neck and stoned to death after authorities ruled that her status as a rape victim made her guilty of adultery. A crowd of thousands gathered at a soccer field to witness the event.
Source: New York Times

While shareholders in the securities industry have lost $74 billion of their equity, 186,000 workers at companies such as Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, and Lehman Brothers will receive bonuses totaling almost $38 billion. This boils down to roughly $201,500 per person—a figure more than four times the median household income in the US and larger than the gross domestic products of Sri Lanka, Lebanon, and Bulgaria.
Source: Bloomberg.com

North Korea has threatened to expel South Koreans working in the country if Seoul does not prevent activists from dropping propaganda leaflets across the border. Four years ago, the Koreas agreed to end decades of propaganda warfare involving leaflets, loudspeakers, and radio broadcasts, but activists have pushed ahead with their campaigns, citing freedom of speech as justification for their actions. Recently, protesters sent helium balloons containing 100,000 leaflets over the border; the leaflets denounced Kim Jong Il and called for the North Korean people to rise up against him.
Source: New York Times

According to a report released by MAPLight.org in October, members of the House of Representatives raised 79 percent of campaign contributions from outside their congressional districts. For 99 percent of US House members (418 of 421), the city of Washington, DC, outranked top states such as Virginia, California, New York, and Texas in contribution totals. Although Washington, DC, has fewer residents than every state (except Wyoming), 15 of the top 20 zip codes contributing to representatives are in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. Earl Pomeroy (D-North Dakota), for example, received 96 percent of his campaign contributions from outside of his state.
Source: MAPLight.org

In October, a federal jury convicted Charles McArthur Emmanuel, the son of the former president of Liberia, of torturing suspected opponents of his father’s government. Prisoners reported being forced to kick stones until their bare feet bled, having flaming plastic melted on their skin, and genital mutilation; one refugee has reported witnessing Emmanuel commit execution-style homicide. This is the first case to be brought under a 1994 law criminalizing torture committed by US citizens overseas. Human Rights Watch has called the verdict a milestone in the fight against human rights abuses around the world.
Source: New York Times

Medicare drug plan spending fell $6 billion this year (to rest at $44 billion), in large part because more people are using newly available generic drugs to treat conditions like osteoporosis and high blood pressure. While the program is costing taxpayers less than originally estimated, seniors have seen their expenses for premiums and copayments increase every year. Costs are expected to rise again next year as early savings fade and the first of 79 million baby boomers start entering the program in 2011. Some enrollees will see increases of as much as 329 percent.
Source: Houston Chronicle, USA Today

Ballot propositions initiated by the lending industry experienced defeats in Ohio and Arizona as citizens voted to eliminate high-interest payday lending in those states, in favor of cracking down on irresponsible loan practices. In Ohio, where payday lenders outspent the grassroots coalition by over 60 to 1, voters approved a cap on interest rates. In Arizona, where the grassroots campaign was outspent about 90 to 1, payday lenders sponsored a bill that would have halted the Legislature’s efforts to kill payday loans, but voters favored elimination over the proposed reforms. Had the measures passed, annual interest rates as high as 400 percent would still be legal in those states.
Source: MarketWatch

The president-elect of the Maldives (which is currently three feet above sea level) has moved to establish an investment fund to purchase land in Sri Lanka or India as a refuge in the event that the country is overwhelmed by the effects of global warming on the flood-prone Maldivian landscape. After the devastating tsunami in 2004, many of the islands were completely submerged. The Maldives is a founding member of the Alliance of Small Island States, which since 1992 has pressed the world’s industrialized countries to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases linked to climate change.
Source: New York Times

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