Afghanistan

Afghanistan

Capital: Kabul,

Currency: Afghani,

Area: 647,497 sq.km.

Population: 31,108,077,

Other Large Cities: Kandahar, Heart, Mazare-sharief;

Languages: Pushtu and Persian;

Religions: Sunni-Muslim (80%), Shia-Muslim (19%)

Literacy: 28.1%;

Life Expectancy: 47.32;

P.C.I: $957$;

HDI Rank: 169 (2015)

Date of Independence: 19th August 1919;

Government Type: Presidential system;

President: Ashraf Ghani (2015)

History:

Modern Afghan history began with the establishment of a united emirates by Ahmed Shah Durrani in 1747. In the 19th century, Afghanistan was the playground of Russia and Great Britain for dominance. The British Afghan wars of 1838-42 and 1878-80 left Afghanistan unconquered but within Britain’s sphere of influence. The country won full independence from Britain in 1919 under Amanullah Khan, who proclaimed himself king in 1926. Modern reforms were instituted by Amanullah and his successors Mohammed Nadir Shah (1929-33) and Mohammed Zahir Shah (1933-73).

The monarchy fell to military coup in 1973, and Mohammed Daud Khan established a republic. In 1978 pro-soviet leftist seized power and, ostensibly at the government’s invitation, soviet troops invaded Afghanistan in December 1979 to put down widespread revolts against Communist rule, touching off a long and destructive war.

The USSR withdrew in 1989 under relentless pressure by intentionally supported anti-Communist mujahedin rebels. A series of subsequent civil wars saw Kabul finally fall in 1996 to the Taliban, a hardline Pakistani sponsored movement that emerged in 1994. Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S., Allied, and anti-Taliban Northern Alliance military action toppled the Taliban for sheltering Osama Bin Laden. The UN-sponsored Bonn Conference in 2001 established a process for political reconstruction that included the adoption of a new constitution, a presidential election in 2004, and National Assembly elections in 2005. In December 2004, Hamid Karzai became the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan. Kazai was re-elected in November 2009 for a second term.

Recent Events: The UN reported that the number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan fell in 2012 for the first time in six years. It documented 2,754 civilian deaths in 2012, 12% fewer than 2011.

The US and the Taliban said they would open talks on the future of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, the Afghan President, was cross the way the talks were announced and threatened to pull out of important negotiations on a security agreement with the US.

Afghanistan Embassy in India: 5/50F, Shantipath, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi-110021.

Email: afghanembassy@rediffmail.com

Indian Embassy in Afghanistan is temporarily closed.

Embassy of India: Malalai Wat, Shahre-Nau, Kabul, Afghanistan,

Technology in Invisibility

‘Invisibility’ Closer to Reality

The journal, New Journal of Physics reports that researches have developed a thin material to help make things “invisible”. According to University of Texas in Austin researchers, if any object is wrapped in the material called “mantle cloak”, it ddisappears but the effect only applies to a limited range of light waves – specifically microwaves. In their experiment, microwave detectors could no longer “see” it, although it was still visible to the human eye. Similarly, the researchers are sure that they can make objects invisible to the human eye.
The effect of the material only covers a very small band of electromagnetic waves at one time, and in the visible range of light, it will only work on objects much thinner than a single strand of hair.
In fact, the new cloak is made by combing copper tape with polycarbonate, a material commonly used in DVD’s and CD’s

Research on Stem Cells

Research on Stem Cells

The organs retain a small population of reserve cells or ‘stem cells’ that proliferate, repair, renew and regenerate the organs as and when required.

Adult body is a specialized machine with each part perfected for its intended function. Most cells in the adult body are irreversibly differentiated to form parts, where the myocardial cells form an interconnected bundle that can contract in unison upon receiving instructions from the cardiac pacemaker. Or the brain, which contains millions of neurons connected through synapses designed for this command center to integrate and control all the activities of the organism from digestion to perspiration to locomotion to reproduction to introspection.

Cells that Proliferate, Repair, Renew and Regenerate

The life of every animal starts off from a single cell called Zygote.This single cell divide prolifically to give rise to the embryo, where progressively fell exit cell cycle, specialize for specific function and differentiate. However, there are organs in the body that undergo regular wear and tear and require continuous repair and replacement of lost cells. Examples include skin, gut lining, blood etc. These organs retain small population of reserve cells that do not differentiate. These cells proliferate, repair, renew, and regenerate organs as and when required. These are the ‘stem cells’.

Discovery of the Originator

In 1877, the famous biologist Ernst Haeckel used the term “Stammzelle” (German name for Stem Cell) in his book Anthropogenie to mean the Zygote as the originator of all cells in the organism. Towards the end of the century, scientists studying hematopoiesis arrived upon a cell that they called the ‘Stem Cell’, which was capable of giving rise to all the diverse lineages of blood cells viz. The erythrocytes (red blood cells) leukocytes (T-Cells, B-Cells, macrophages, neutrophils, eosinophiles etc.). This modern concept of stem cells, as a cell that can divide and self-renew indefinitely and that could differentiate into a number of different cell types was introduced and demonstrated by James Till and Ernest Mcculloch in 1960s. Mice irradiated with high dose of X-Ray die rapidly because the radiation kills the blood cells essential for oxygen transport and immunity. Till and McCulloch found that these mice could be rescued by injection of bone marrow from a normal mouse. The bone marrow contained ‘hematopoietic stem cells’ (HSC) that could recolonize the marrow of the irradiated mice and thus provide steady supply of all blood lineages for life.

Stem cells Residence

Adult stem cells thus reside in niches, usually within the tissues that they repair and regenerate. In the stem cell jargon they will be defined as ‘multipotent’ i.e. having the potential to differentiate into a number of different cell types. Usually one stem cell population can replenish losses in a few different cell types e.g. the intestinal stem cells that resides in the crypts of the intestinal villi are multipotent. These stem cells continuously undergo cell division and supply the gut with enterocytes (absorptive cells that absorb nutrients from food), goblet cells (that secrete mucin to form mucus), enteroendocrine cells (that secrete intestinal hormones) and the Paneth cells (that provide defense against microbes). They also replenish the stem cells themselves. However, an adult stem cell does not have ‘pluri’potency; an intestinal stem cell cannot form heart or brain cells.

Creation of Embryonic stem cells

The zygote is a ‘totipotent’ cell; it has the potential to form any tissue or cell type in the animal body, rather the zygote gives rise to the whole animal. Embryonic stem cells are created by growing young embryos in the artificial culture conditions. These cells are ‘pluripotent’ i.e. they have potential to differentiate into almost all cell types in the animal. By controlling their growth conditions they can be made to differentiate into brain, heart, muscle, pancreas and many other cells types. In 1998 James Thomas of the University of Wisconsin created the first embryonic stem cells from human embryo donated by individual after informed consent. These embryos had been created by in vitro fertilization for fertility treatments. Scientists were able to keep these cells dividing in culture conditions for months and became established cell lines, being used by scientist around the world even today.

Option with Genetic Material

The funding and legal problems in working with human embryos and embryonic stem cells had prompted scientists to think about alternatives. In 1960s John Gurdon in Oxford University, U.K., has demonstrated that you could replace the nucleus of a frog oocytes (an immature female reproductive cell) with the genetic material (contained in the nucleus) of an adult frog cell and create a live tadpoles. The tadpole was was thus a clone of the adult frog, which donated the nucleus. Gurdon hypothesized that all the genetic information needed to create a whole organism is contained in the differentiated adult cells of the organism. However, you need the ‘reprogramming’ environment of an egg cell to activate this potential. This was the origin of the cloning of ‘Dolly’, the sheep cloned from the udder cells of a Finn-Dorset ewe in 1996.

Reprogramming Stem Cells

Thus, the hunt was on to define the reprogramming molecules that were needed to make an adult to gain its pluripotency. In 2007 using a combination of just four proteins, the Shinya Yamanaka and James Thomson Labs simultaneously published the successful generation of pluripotent stem cells from the adults human somatic cells that they called the ‘inducible pluripotent stem cells‘ or iPS cells. This has opened the door to patient-specific stem cell therapies for diseases ranging neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and accident damage to tissues such as the spinal cord and many others.

Human Embryo-free Research

The creation of iPS cells frees stem cells research from the dependency on human embryos thus religious and political controversies. However, stem cell therapies will continue to be controversial and will have to be administered with great caution. Stems cells are cells with immense potential for growth, a hallmark of cancer.

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

The Theory of Evolution

(1809-1882)

Charles Darwin was born on February 12, 1809, at Shrewsbury in England, to Robert Darwin and Susannah Wedgwood. Charles was the fifth child in a family of six children.

Robert was a physician, and so was his father, Erasmus Darwin. Erasmus, Charles’ paternal grandfather, had been a biologist too. He had presented a theory of evolution, and like him, many years later, so did his grandson. Charles’ maternal grandfather, Josiah Wedgwood, a porcelain manufacturer, also had interest in science, especially in chemistry. Both grandfathers were core members of scientific society known as the Lunar Society.

Charles’ mother died when he was a little over eight years old. The same year he was sent to a day school in Shrewsbury. He stayed a year in this school. Charles wasn’t a bright kid, and according to him, “I was much slower than my younger sister, Catherine.”

But even at that tender age he was interested in natural science (biology). One of his schoolmates remembers the young Darwin bringing a flower to school and saying that his mother had taught him that by looking at the inside of the blossom, the name of the plant could be detected.

After a year at the day school he was sent to a boarding school in Shrewsbury itself. Even though his home was only about a mile from the school, Darwin lived in the school. Very often he would run home when classes were over and would rush back to the school before the gates were locked for the night. He had the best of both worlds: He could live with his schoolmates without breaking away from home.

Darwin remained in this school till he was sixteen. But the school didn’t help his mental development much. He was rated as a below average student by the teachers. His father sharing this view, admonished him, “ You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and your family.”

But Charles had a zeal for whatever interested him. He was taught geometry by a private tutor. He liked reading Shakespeare and would sit with a book for hours. He liked other poets too, notably Byron and Scott.

What his father said to him was quite true but because he had become addicted to shooting. “I do not think that anyone could have shown more zeal for the most holy cause than I did for shooting birds,” he recollected later on.

He had also developed the interesting hobby of collecting minerals, insects and birds. He liked watching birds, and wondered why everyone didn’t become an ornithologist.

His brother, who was interested in science, had set up a laboratory in the tool house in their garden and Charles was allowed to help him. This was at the end of his school years. Assisting his brother and reading books on chemistry, he got interested in it. The laboratory at the Darwin home was soon known at school, and Charles was nicknamed ‘Gas’! When Charles’ headmaster came to know if it he rebuked him publicly for wasting his time on such useless subjects as chemistry!

Dr. Robert Darwin was not satisfied with his son’s progress in school, so he sent him to Edinburgh University with his brother Erasmus, who was at the university completing his medical course. Charles was also sent there to study medicine.

Charles spent two years at Edinburgh; but he didn’t put any hard effort into the study of medicine; for, as he himself recorded later on, he knew that his father would have him enough ‘property to live comfortably’. He found the lectures boring except those on chemistry by Prof. Hope. “Dr. Munro’s lectures were like himself and the subject disgusted me”, he said in his autobiography. “Dr. Duncan’s lectures on the Materia Medica at 8 o’clock on a winter’s morning are something fearful to remember”.

But he regretted later on that dissection compulsory. “I was not urged to practice dissection, otherwise I should have soon got over my disgust; and the practice would have been invaluable for all my future work.” But he didn’t have enough mental strength to attend the operations of his day. It was long before the days of chloroform and it took a nerve to perform surgery or even to watch it.

During this time Darwin collected quite a number of friends who shared his interest in biology. Some of them became distinguished persons later in life. His friends Ainsworth became a geologist and wrote a travelogue on Assyria. Grant became a professor at London’s University College. Coldstream was a serious student of zoology, and later on wrote many excellent articles on the subject.

Both Grant and Coldstream were interested in marine life. Darwin often accompanied Grant on his explorations of tidal pools to collect sea creatures. Darwin dissected them. He became friends with some fishermen. They took him along with them when they went to gather oysters and this Darwin was able to collect many specimens. This enabled him to read paper before the Plinian Society but he was not very successful, for he was not good at dissection, not did he have a good microscope.

At this time he was a member of several bodies interested in science. One of them was Plinian Society. Darwin used to attend the meetings regularly and read his paper. He was also a member of the Royal Medical Society and the Royal Society of Edinburgh, where he once saw Sir Walter Scott presiding over a meeting.

His father noted that Charles was not taking his medical studies seriously. So he proposed to his son that he become a clergyman. In those days few vocations were open to a young man from a good family. One of those was that of a priest. Charles didn’t subscribe to all the dogmas of the Church of England but the position of a country clergyman appealed to him. He accepted his father’s proposal.

In later life he was labelled an atheist and attacked for his theory of evolution. “Considering how fiercely I have been attacked by the orthodox, it seems ludicrous that I once intended to be a clergyman,” he recalls in his autobiography.

To take up the vocation of a clergyman, it was essential that he should take a degree in theology from one the English Universities. So he proceeded to Cambridge seem to have been only of secondary importance to Darwin. He had more zeal in collecting beetles. “I will give a proof of my zeal,” he writes. “One day on tearing off some old bark I saw two rare beetles, and seized one in each hand; then I saw a third and a new kind which I could not best to lose, so I popped the one which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas! It ejected some intensely acrid fluid which burnt my tongue, so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as was the third one.”

He used to collect insects in various ways. He employed a man in winter to scrape the moss off the old trees and keep it in a large bag. He collected the rubbish from the bottom of the barges. In this way he was able to collected some very rare species of insects. When he saw the words Captured by C. Darwin, Esq.”, in the book Illustration of British Insects,” his delight was beyond measures. “No poet has ever felt more delighted at seeing his first poem published,” he later recorded. Seeing his interest in insects, he was introduced to the science of entomology by his second cousin, W. Darwin Pox.

It was during this time that he met Professor Henslow who would influence his whole career. The professor was a highly learned man with vast knowledge of botany, entomology, chemistry, mineralogy and geology. Together they used to take long walks. A gathering of university men interested in science and students used to take place at the professor’s house once a week.

Prof. Henslow was impressed with the enthusiasm and ability of young Darwin. So, hearing of an opportunity for a naturalist to sail under Captain Robert FitzRoy on the ship HMS Beagle, he recommended the young man.

Forgetting all about becoming a clergyman, Darwin joined the ship as its naturalist, and the ship set sail on December 27, 1831. The accommodation was congested. He had to share the captain’s cabin. The captain was not of the cheerful dirt and there was hardly enough room to keep his equipment. Darwin slept in a hammock that swung mercilessly with every movement of the ship. I’m addition to all these, he suffered from sea-sickness throughout the voyage. The ship was on a five-year exploration to map the coast of Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego. Chile and Peru and to fix longitude, etc. It was customary to take a naturalist along on voyages of this kind so that the survey could include the flora and fauna of the region’s explored.

Darwin had taken four books with him:

  1. The Bible
  2. A copy of Milton’s poems
  3. An explorer account of Venezuela and the Orinoco Basin
  4. The first volume of Lyell’s Principles of Geology.

On arrival at Montevideo on the South American coast he found the second volume waiting for him, sent by Henslow. Volume three awaited him at Valparaiso, on the other side of the continent.

Darwin, throughout the voyage, kept up continuous flow of reports to Henslow, and those papers were read by the professor at the meetings of the Philosophical Society of Cambridge.

On the high seas, the voyage may have been a nightmare, but the opportunities it provides Darwin for biological studies were invaluable. His theory of evolution, and the famous work The Origin of Species, he owed to the knowledge he gathered during the voyage.

South America, especially, fascinated him with its vast variety of animals and plants. He saw giant tortoises in the Galapagos Islands. He was orchids in the Indian Ocean, and innumerable other interesting things. He made detailed notes and drawings and sent hundreds of specimens to Henslow in England.

He saw 13 different species of finches (later given the name ‘Darwin’s Finches‘) living on different isles of the Galapagos. The species were of the same color and size but had developed different shaped beaks. Darwin noticed that the feed available for the birds in those 13 island varied, and the shape of the beak also differed accordingly. He concluded that the species had developed different habitats. About those finches, he recorded in his autobiography that they differed slightly on each island of the group, and such differences could be explained, ‘on the supposition that species gradually become modified.’

The voyage ended in 1836, five years after the ship had set sail, and Darwin landed in England. His discovery, that species evolve from adapting to differing environs, troubled him because he couldn’t yet conclusively say that it was indeed so. He had a great deal of evidence, and yet doubt plagued him. So he began to write down in a notebook all the evidence he could think of, which supported his insight that life-forms get transmuted with adaption to environment.

Then, 1838, he happened to read the Population Theory of Malthus, the famous economist. According to the Malthusian theory, with time, the human population increases geometrically and not arithmetically. What it means is that increase is by multiplication (2, 4, 8, 16…) and not by addition (like 1,2,3,4…..). But the means that support is population increase only arithmetically, that is so say, the production of food, etc., does not keep up with population increases, but lags far behind. So, nature steps into reduce the population and, natural forces such as disease, war, poverty, overcrowding and vice, take over to weed out those that are less fit. Those that are the fittest survive; those that pass the rest of natural selection.

In his notebook, Darwin had used the words descent and modification to describe the process by which distinct characteristic of species evolve. Now, from Malthus he got a new and very apt term: selection.

Darwin developed the idea of natural selection in species, a concept that is often referred to as ‘survival of the fittest’. Thus the fittest survive and reproduce and pass on the traits that enabled them to survive to later generations.

To make his research thorough and well-documented, Darwin started a study of fossils and living forms of barnacles (a small sea creature with a shell). He examined 10,000 specimens and between 1851 and 1854 published four papers in his research. This exhausting, tedious and meticulous work took eight years.

During the period of this work, he came upon the idea of divergence. By divergence is meant the development of differences between varieties of the same species to the extent that they become separate species. According to him this divergence was due to better adaption by the varieties and the branching off took them farther and farther from the original stock.

Now some of his friends, who were fellow scientists and his brother Erasmus, wanted him to present his theory in a fully documented book form. So Darwin began writing and published his famous work Origin of Species on November 24, 1856. This first edition had only 1250 copies, all of which were sold on the same day the books was released.

Most of the scientists of the day accepted Darwin’s ideas, but the general public was slow to accept them. Many people considered the idea to be atheistic–a denial of the role of God in the creation of the world. They labelled the transmutation theory as the ‘rank materialism’.

What troubled most people was the contention that the species evolved from another, since it raises the possibility that the human beings may have descended from a non-human ancestor, though Darwin had avoided stating so in his book.

Reaction that the book was, mostly, hostile. Ape-like cartoons of Darwin appeared in newspapers, and there were articles and sermons against him. Darwin’s daughter had only recently died. The sorrow coupled with his ill-health and the attacks made his condition worse.

In 1871 Darwin published The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, in which he supported the idea that humans had descended from pre-human creatures.

Resistance to his ideas continued for some more time, till it petered off by the end the end of the 19th century.

Charles Darwin died of a heart attack at his home on April 19, 1882. His country honored him by burying him Westminster Abbey.

Darwin changed man’s conception of himself and his place in nature. In this way, he is among those very few great scientists who bring about revolution in human thought. But Darwin, unassuming, humble, innocent, hardly thought so.

“During the voyage of the Beagle I had been deeply impressed by discovering…..great fossils animals covered with armour like that on the existing armadillos; secondly, by the manner in which closely allied animals replace one another in proceeding southwards over the continent…. It was evident that such facts as these, as well as supposition that species gradually became modified; and the subject haunted me.”

Charles Darwin, on how he started his work on “The Origin of Species“.

 

 

South Korea Elect First Female President

Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party won South Korea’s presidential election held on December 19, 2012. She is the daughter of the former military dictator   The win over her Centre-Left rival Moon Jae-in paved the way for Park Geun-hye becoming the country’s first female head of state. The win also marked her return to the presidential palace where she had served as her father’s first lady in the 1970s, after her mother was assassinated by North Korea-backed gunman.

It was one of the most keenly contested elections in recent South Korean history. The voters turnout had reached 75 percent as against the 63 percent in the 2007 election. Park won with 51 percent of the vote. She had appealed to the voters to bring in gender equally by electing the country’s first woman president. South Korea is ranked 108 out of 135 countries by the World Economic Forum in terms of gender equality.

Park is the daughter of the former military dictator Park Chung-hee, one of modern Korea’s most polarizing figures. The late leader is both admired for dragging the country out of poverty and reviled for his ruthless suppression of dissent during 18 years of autocratic rule.

The new president’s major challenge s includes a unintelligent North Korea, a slowing economy and soaring welfare costs in one of the world’s most rapidly age-ing societies. Park has promised strong leadership that would steer the country through the challenges of global economic troubles.    20120221001294_061895-004-1EA77FB7

Shinzo Abe-led LDP Wins Japan General Elections

Japan’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party surged back to power in a major election victory on December 26, 2012. Just three years after it was defeated in 2009, former Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe-led LDP trounced PM Yoshihiko Noda’s ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). The DJP had come to power in August 2009 with 308 seats, ending an LDP monopoly which had lasted all but 11 months of the previous 53 years.

The general election witnessed one of the biggest landslides in the history of modern Japan. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), with its New Komeito ally, swept to power with control 0f 325 of the 480 seats in the lower house of the Diet.

LDP has ruled Japan for most of the post World War II era till 2009, when Noda’s Democratic Party of Japan came to power. Abe’s win also spells a rightward shift in the government that further signifies a possible increase in tensions with China over the disputed islands in South China Sea.noda2_2346444b

The DPJ won in a landslide in 2009 amid high hopes for change, but won only 57 seats, compared to 230 seats before the election. Among the casualties were eight Cabinet ministers, the most to lose their seats in an election since World War II.

With Japan stuck in a two-decade slump and receding behind China as the voters appeared ready to turn back to the LDP. The LDP wants to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution to strengthen its self-defense forces and, breaching a postwar taboo, designate them as a “military.” It also proposes increasing Japan’s defense budget and allowing Japanese troops to engage in “collective self-defense” operations with allies that are not directly related to Japan’s own defense.

A Step Closer to Palestine

On 29 November 2012, the United Nations General Assembly voted to upgrade the status of the Palestinians to that of a “non-member observer state”. The assembly voted 138-9 in favor , with 41 nations abstaining.

It follows  a failed bid to join the international body as a full member state on 2011 because of a lack of support in the UN Security Council.

The votes implies global recognition of the relevant territory as a sovereign state and is a major step towards a two state solutions can now take part in UN debates and potentially join bodies like the International Criminal Court. The new status amounts to less of an achievement than full U.N. membership,which the Security Council declined to consider in September 2011 on the grounds that the members were unable to make a “unanimous recommendation”.

The U.N. resolution could be the harbinger of many momentous changes for West Asia. The Palestinian Authority can now not only seek membership of several U.N. agencies but also can apply to sign the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, with the clear implication that Israel may finally be held accountable for crimes committed against the civilians population of Gaza.

Leveson Inquiry Report

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A major inquiry into the many misdeed of Britain’s diverse, raucous press in the autumn of 2011 has called for legislation to underpin a new system of self-regulation of the press, independent of industry, politicians and governments.

Following nearly nine months of evidence taking, including from over 300 witness in person, the government commissioned inquiry led by Lord Justice Leveson outlined in its 1,987 page report its proposals for the creation of a body that would uphold the “highest standards of journalism” as well as protecting the rights of members of the public.

The closely watched inquiry was established in the wake of the public outcry that followed the revelation that the mobile phone of the murdered school had been hacked by journalists at the News of World tabloid, part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. The remit of the inquiry into the “culture, practices and ethics of the press,” went beyond just examining the press to include its relationship with the public, police and politicians. It is the 7th inquiry to be conducted into the British press in the past 70 years.

Leveson rejected industry proposal for a revamped version of the existing system of self-regulation, arguing that any body with editors was simply not independent enough. “The press needs a regulatory body independent of governments, politicians and industry.”

I am not on a great witch hunt, i am anxious to investigate what has gone wrong in an industry in which there is an enormous amount that goes right.

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Xi Jinping is New Chinese Leader

China’s Vice President Xi Jinping was on November 15, 2012 appointed as the New General Secretary of the ruling communist Party, succeeding President Hu Jintao who retired as the head of the Party and the military after a 10-year stint.

Xi Jinping formally took over the government in March 2013, when the national legislature called the National People’s Congress (NPC) held it annual session.

Rising from a village head to a state leader, Xi carries the tag of a “hereditary”  communist for being the son of a former Deputy Prime Minister from 1959 to 1962, fell out of favor with Mao for his moderate views and relegated to obscurity. He was reportedly imprisoned for sometime. Xi Zhongxun also later publicly condemned the events of Tiananmen Square in 1989 in which thousands of students were killed. He was rarely seen after that.

Besides being the son of the former top Communist leader, Xi became well known in China after he married Peng Liyuan, a famous Chinese folk singer who was widely popular in the 1980s.

Members of the Standing Committee and Politburo are chosen by party’s new Central Committee comprising 205 members and 171 alternate members.

Second Term for Obama

US president Barack Obama won a second term as president in one of the most keenly contested elections in recent times. Obama won 332 of the 538 electoral votes, comfortably more than the 270 he needed to retain the presidency. But the Electoral College lead doesn’t truly reflect the popular votes where Obama had only a slight advantage over his Republican rival Mitt Romney. Obama won the popular vote of the 57th quadrennial presidential election with 60,113,856 votes or 50.3 percent to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney who finished with 57,424,191 votes or 48.1 percent. Obama took the swing states of Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire with Romney only winning North Caroline. The president also won in Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Mexico, states where analysts thought Romney had possibility.

What titled the contest decisively in Obama’s favor was the overwhelming support he enjoyed among the minorities (Hispanic, Asian and Black), women and voters under 30.

In the elections to the House, Republicans maintained overall control after winning 232 seats leaving Democrats with 191. However, the Democrats fared well in the Senate race, clinging on to a slim majority of 51 seats, while Republicans held 45.