Stores Worldwide Sell Shrimp Peeled by Child Slaves

A report by the Associated Press revealed that detained and beaten workers, some of them children, peel shrimp for the seafood industry in Thailand. These same shrimp are sold in stores in the United States, Europe, and Asia.

The workers are brought illegally into Thailand, often from Myanmar. Their documents are withheld and they are forced to labor under debt bondage, which is considered slavery by the U.S. government. The AP interviewed a couple attempting to pay off an $830 debt by working 16-hour days in a processing plan for less than $4 per day, which was regularly withheld for other expenses.

The owners keep illegal workers in line by threatening that they will be deported by the police, but the AP interviewed former slaves who described how they had been sold back into the seafood industry after being detained by police.

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Asia is Growing Old

A fall in both fertility and mortality rates over the last 60 years is aging Asian populations. The demographic shift is tilting populations towards the older years, which will soon mean proportionately more senior citizens seeking healthcare and fewer young people entering the workforce.

In a study of 13 Asian nations, all but Japan had a high fertility rate of five to eight births per woman in the early 1950s. In the last decade, however, only two of the same countries, the Philippines and Pakistan, had a fertility rate above three, and both are on a downward trend. Added to this, not a single one of the 13 countries had a life expectancy exceeding 65 years in the 1950s; now all of them do.

The predicted effect on the labor force is worst for China; the number of people entering the workforce today is nearly twice the number expected 35 years from now. In 2050, the number of citizens aged 70-74 in China is predicted to be larger than any other age group, and the cohorts will taper in size all the way down through the working-age years.

India and Indonesia, on the other hand, are the most demographically well-situated. Roughly the same number of people are entering the labor force this year as is predicted for 2050, which will give these countries a labor supply advantage in the coming decades.

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Leaked Documents Reveal ISIS’s Internal Statehood

A 24-page document, dated 2014 and obtained by the Guardian, contains information on ISIS’s government departments, treasury, and economic plans for self-sufficiency, including centralized control over oil and gas.

Titled “Principles in the administration of the Islamic State”, the document shows that the terrorist organization is also concerned with healthcare, education, and job creation at home. In essence, it is an early blueprint for a nation.

The document also reveals that a year before propaganda surfaced showing child soldiers, ISIS had formed plans to train children on “bearing light arms” and “security portfolio assignments, including checkpoints”.

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China Suggests Free Trade Zone with Russia

Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang called for a pooling of efforts to attain a free trade zone within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). At a session of the SCO council of prime ministers in December, Li pushed for member nations to establish the free movement of commodities, capitals, services, and technologies by 2020.

The SCO includes China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Last summer India and Pakistan initiated admission procedures. Member nations convene yearly on defense matters to maintain high-level contacts and implement security projects.

The permanent regional association, formed in Shanghai in 2001, is Russia and China’s counterbalance to NATO. The two nations regularly hold joint military exercises under the banner of the SCO.

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Groundwater is a (Mostly) Limited Resource

New research presented by a Canadian-led study has found that no more than 6 percent and possibly as little as 1.5 percent of world groundwater is renewable in a human lifetime, yet over a third of the world population relies on groundwater for their drinking water.

The researchers were able to determine what percentage of groundwater had been replenished since the 1960s by measuring samples for radioactive hydrogen that was introduced in trace amounts in all surface water during Cold War nuclear weapons testing.

The small renewable percentage of the nearly 22.6 million cubic kilometers of underground water is still high enough to sustain much of the global population, but the problem is that renewable groundwater sources are not evenly distributed. Places like California and Egypt regularly draw on non-renewable groundwater that will someday run out.

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U.S. and Russia Agree to Syrian Elections for 2017

Agreements regarding the fate of Syria were reached between the United States, Russia, and 17 other countries at talks held in Vienna in November. The countries called for peace talks in Syria to begin on January 1 and a ceasefire to be reached early in the year. Free elections are to be held a year later in the war-torn country.

The talks mark the first time the United States and Russia have come to an agreement on Syria, which was not invited to the Vienna meeting

The fate of Syrian President and Russian ally Bashar al-Assad has yet to be decided, but U.S Secretary John Kerry relinquished America’s longstanding demand that Assad step down when, after negotiations with Russia in December, he announced the two nations had also agreed to let the Syrian people decide on their next government.

Assad has stated that he opposes the international timetable for elections, but a close advisor to Assad said at the end of December that the regime is ready to join U.N.-sponsored peace talks now that the United States has withdrawn from its hardline, anti-Assad position.

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Progress Made Against AIDS

An early report from the UNAIDS organization for World AIDS Day on December 1st show that progress continues against the disease in impoverished regions. After AIDS peaked in Sub-Saharan Africa in the last decade, concentrated efforts have continued to bring the numbers down.

The report highlights that though 1.2m people died from AIDS in 2014, that number is down from 1.3m the previous year, and from a peak of 2m in 2005. The number of new infections also fell; it is down to 2m in 2014 from 2.1m in 2013 and 3.1m at the peak in 2000. In addition, 2015 saw between $22 and $24 billion in fundraising for spending on AIDS in poor and middle-income countries, up from $20 billion in 2014.

The “90-90-90” goal of UNAIDS for the year 2020 is to have at least 90 percent of those infected aware of the fact, 90 percent of those aware already receiving treatment, and 90 percent of those receiving treatment at a level were the virus is undetectable in bodily fluid. Their hope is to “end the epidemic” by 2030.

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Diabetes on Decline in U.S.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released new data that shows that the number of new cases of adult diabetes is on the decline. Over the 1990s and 2000s, the number of new cases each year in the U.S. nearly tripled, up to 1.7 million in 2009. It has steadily declined to 1.4 million new cases per year in 2014—which is still double the rate per capita in 1991.

The CDC has said the largest drop in new cases is among men. The likely cause is an increase in awareness of the risk factors of diabetes, which include high blood pressure and high cholesterol or other fat levels. The best way to reduce the risk is to stay active and eat healthily.

More effort is needed, however, to bring the prevalence of diabetes back to the levels seen in the 1990s. Currently 9.3 percent of the adult population in the U.S. has diabetes, which nationally has combined direct and indirect costs of $245 billion per year.

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Winter 2016