The best stories from around the world.
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The Ivory Highway, by Damon Tabor, Men's Journal
Inside one of the world's largest, most shadowy criminal trafficking networks.
The slaughter in Bouba N'Djida is, in many ways, a signal event: The nature of modern poaching has changed. Small-time, subsistence hunters are no longer taking down the occasional elephant. Poachers have become systematic, ruthless, heavily armed. They are capable of overwhelming the porous borders and poor security plaguing many African countries. According to conservation groups, sophisticated criminal syndicates - poachers, middlemen, traders, elusive kingpins - increasingly dominate the trade. Some operations, like that of Pierre and his "command," are modest. Others move tusks by the ton. According to Tom Milliken, ivory expert for the wildlife trade-monitoring group Traffic, many trafficking gangs are "Asian-run, African-based" and now operating "in almost every country where you find elephants." Additionally, according to the UN, wildlife crime, of which ivory constitutes a significant proportion, is now a $10-billion-plus annual business - fourth behind drugs, human trafficking, and arms. This profitability has attracted not just organized crime but African militias and rebel groups: Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army -- accused of carrying out mass murder -- as well as Somalia's al Qaeda-affiliated Shabaab terrorist group have been implicated in the ivory trade.
Crippling Injustice, by James Palmer, Aeon
Disabled people in modern China are still stigmatised, marginalised and abused. What hope is there for reform?
Ambitious government pledges go unfulfilled across the country. The law says that children with special needs are entitled to proper schooling, but there are no provisions for funding. Local authorities regularly turn away children, telling them to go to ‘special facilities' elsewhere that don't exist, or that are far out of their parents' financial or geographical reach. As a result, according to a 2013 report by Human Rights Watch, 43 per cent of disabled Chinese people are illiterate, compared with 5 per cent of the general population. Only a third receive the services they need, according to Handicap International, and only a fifth get assistive devices, such as walkers, prosthetics, or adapted software. And, since welfare funds are often stolen, delivered late, or impossible to access - thanks to the Byzantine turns of the country's regulation system, which limits aid to the recipient's province or even village of birth - only around 15 per cent receive any funding.
In the countryside, disabled children fare far worse. Often, they are confined within the house and kept away from outside eyes. Employees of NGOs tell horror stories of what they've seen: shut away from sight or sound, trapped in fear, malnutrition and neglect, these children are left moaning like animals. Sometimes they are chained to prevent escape, or to ease the pressure on parents or grandparents already struggling under poverty and shame.
How U.S. Evangelicals Helped Create Russia's Anti-Gay Movement, by Hannah Levintova, Mother Jones
The Fox News producer, the nightclub impresario, and the oligarchs who wrote inequality into law.
Anti-gay groups have made tormenting the LGBT community a national and organized affair: Vigilante gangs have used social media to lure hundreds of gay people to fake dates and then disseminate videos of them being beaten or sexually humiliated, garnering hundreds of thousands of followers. Arrests and beatings at gay rights demonstrations are commonplace. This month, LGBT activists were arrested in Moscow and St. Petersburg hours before the Olympic opening ceremony and have been detained in Sochi itself.
Since Jacobs first traveled to Russia for the Sanctity of Motherhood conference, he and his WCF colleagues have returned regularly to bolster Russia's nascent anti-gay movement-and to work with powerful Russian connections that they've acquired along the way. In 2014, the World Congress of Families will draw an international group of conservative activists together in Moscow, a celebratory convening that Jacobs foreshadowed on that first visit, when he ended his speech triumphantly: "Together, we can win!"
Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine, by Timothy Snyder, New York Review of Books
What does it mean to come to the Maidan?
The protesters represent every group of Ukrainian citizens: Russian speakers and Ukrainian speakers (although most Ukrainians are bilingual), people from the cities and the countryside, people from all regions of the country, members of all political parties, the young and the old, Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Every major Christian denomination is represented by believers and most of them by clergy. The Crimean Tatars march in impressive numbers, and Jewish leaders have made a point of supporting the movement. The diversity of the Maidan is impressive: the group that monitors hospitals so that the regime cannot kidnap the wounded is run by young feminists. An important hotline that protesters call when they need help is staffed by LGBT activists.
On January 16, the Ukrainian government, headed by President Yanukovych, tried to put an end to Ukrainian civil society. A series of laws passed hastily and without following normal procedure did away with freedom of speech and assembly, and removed the few remaining checks on executive authority. This was intended to turn Ukraine into a dictatorship and to make all participants in the Maidan, by then probably numbering in the low millions, into criminals. The result was that the protests, until then entirely peaceful, became violent. Yanukovych lost support, even in his political base in the southeast, near the Russian border.
Mayo-Drenched and Heroic, by Anya von Bremzen, Foreign Policy
A tribute to Soviet home cooks, who turned mass production and want into a cuisine.
The official version of Soviet cuisine was born as a grand state project, manufactured out of both the utopian aspirations and the practical realities of the socialist empire. This was the Soviet cuisine that cursed us with the gluey brown industrial podliva (gravy). But authentic Soviet home cooking was another thing entirely: at its best, poignant and heroic, a monument to the daily feats of improvisation and bone-weary resilience spawned by a life of infamous shortages.