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US President Barack Obama and Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi speak during a press conference at her residence in Yangon on Nov.14, 2014. Obama began talks with Suu Kyi in a show of support for the opposition leader as the nation turns towards elections next year with uncertainty over the direction of reforms.

- AFP/Getty Images

CHICAGO — Two world figures whose political destinies were launched in hope took center stage in Myanmar last week.

As fledgling leaders, President Barack Obama and Aung San Suu Kyi both expressed confidence they would “get things done” by reaching out to those who wished them ill. The very titles of their respective memoirs — Obama’s “Audacity of Hope” and Suu Kyi’s “Voice of Hope” — suggested a heady confidence rooted in a belief in the essential goodness of human beings and a limitless possibility when people work together.

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US President George W. Bush holds Baron Mosima Loyiso Tantoh as Tantoh's mother Manyongo Mosima Kuene Tantoh (L), who suffers from AIDS, and Bishop Paul Yowakim (2nd L) look on, after Bush spoke about the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief on May 30, 2007, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC.

- Getty Images

BOSTON — With the declaration that Texas is now Ebola-free, the last potentially infected person having cleared the 21-day monitoring period, the United States is quickly shifting focus to other hot-burner topics.

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Attorneys Beatrice Lindstrom (2nd L) Marioa Joseph (2nd R) and other attorneys exit the federal courthouse in New York on Oct. 23, 2014 in New York. Cholera has killed more than 8,500 people and infected more than 700,000 in Haiti since 2010, when the plaintiffs allege it was introduced by UN peacekeepers, dispatched in the wake of a devastating earthquake.

- AFP/Getty Images

CAMBRIDGE, England — Late last month, attorneys argued before the US Federal District Court in Manhattan that the United Nations is not immune from liability for the spread of cholera throughout Haiti. The medical science is clear on this point, and none but the UN itself disputes this conclusion.

Yet in denying its role in the Haitian cholera epidemic that has killed more than 8,500 and sickened hundreds of thousands more, the UN jeopardizes its own future.

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Communist-affiliated protesters gather during a massive anti-austerity rally in front of the Greek parliament in Athens on November 1, 2014. Thousands of protesters gathered under a motto "we won't live with crumbs" against low wages and unemployment.

- AFP/Getty Images

LONDON — Europe has once again found itself in crisis mode with Greece at the centerfold weighing down the ship, and creating a déjà vu atmosphere among politicians and market watchers alike.

Political uncertainty and fears that Greece will have to call snap elections early next year if the coalition government doesn’t muster a way to secure a 180-majority backing for their presidential candidate, have left investors scurrying to sell off Greek bonds.

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Iraqi Defence minister Khalid al-Obaidi (2nd) and Minister of Peshmerga Affairs Mustafa Said Qadir (3rdL) visit a training camp for Kurdish peshmerga troops on Nov. 3, 2014 in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Though the peshmerga are leading the attacks against the militant group Islamic State, the historic divisions between the Kurds and Arabs should be considered when monitoring the troops' actions in the war zone.

- AFP/Getty Images

BARZANKE, Iraq — Unlike in nearby villages recently captured from the Islamic State (IS) by the armed forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), not a single villager has returned to Barzanke.

As I go from house to house, it becomes clear why: There is nothing for the residents to return to, as virtually all the houses have been destroyed or damaged by bombs or fighting. Most were evidently blown up from inside.

The peshmerga, as the KRG forces are called, offer conflicting explanations for the mass destruction. Some say that their own colleagues had blown up the houses because the villagers supported IS. Others say that IS fighters bombed all the houses before they left – a questionable narrative, as retreating militants did not destroy nearby Kurdish villages. Why would they destroy an Arab village? Other peshmerga say they had to blow up the houses because they were booby-trapped, and warn us not to go into the village because of other traps in the streets. There are also those who claim that the destruction was the result of fighting, even though no sign of battles in the village is evident; no pockmarked walls or spent munitions or cartridges.

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Domestic worker from the Phillipines, Bea stands at the entrance to the illegal boarding house where she lives in Pokfulam on Jan. 26, 2014 in Hong Kong. The domestic help systems in Hong Kong and other Asian and Middle Eastern countries are under scrutiny following recent cases of abuse.

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MINNEAPOLIS — Sex trafficking gets a lot of attention, as it should. It’s a horrific crime. But trafficking in forced labor is also a grave abuse that has even more victims.

In 2012, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated that worldwide there were 14.2 million victims of forced labor compared with 4.5 million victims of forced sexual exploitation. Migrant domestic workers, for example, are at high risk of being trafficked into forced labor, but their stories rarely make the headlines.

Some governments have a blind spot when it comes to trafficking into forced labor. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is one example.

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Re-elected Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff delivers a speech following her win in Brasilia on Oct. 26, 2014. Leftist incumbent Rousseff won after a down-to-the-wire race against center-right challenger Aécio Neves.

- AFP/Getty Images

AUSTIN, Texas — The bitter fight between Brazil’s newly re-elected president Dilma Rousseff and her opponent, Aécio Neves, was not just about a slowing economy or rumors of corruption. This election divided the nation around tough questions of class, race, gender and power.

The presidential election in Brazil was a cliffhanger. By 7 p.m., one hour before the polls closed, Brazilians waited to hear who won: Would it be Rousseff of the Worker’s Party (PT) or Aécio Neves, grandson of former President Tancredo Neves, of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB)?

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Family members gather outside a home in the West Point neighborhood where a man's dead body awaited the arrival of an Ebola burial team to take him for cremation on Oct. 17 in Monrovia, Liberia. The World Health Organization says that more than 4,500 people have died due to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa with a 70 percent mortality rate for those infected with the virus.

- Getty Images

WASHINGTON — As the United States military heads to Liberia to aid in the fight against Ebola, officials should not overlook an unlikely but potentially powerful ally: the rubber tappers who help make their tires.

It may seem an unlikely alliance to have a union of rubber tappers — some of the poorest people in the world — helping the US military and international relief organizations. But they have two invaluable assets: the trust of the local population and the potential to continue supporting programs the relief agencies put in place.

They are making significant contributions even as the disease poses an increasing threat to community leaders and their families.

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ANDREW AIR FORCE BASE, MD - Oct. 14: US President Barack Obama speaks after attending a meeting hosted by Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey with the military leadership from 21 partner nations to discuss the coalition efforts in the ongoing campaign against IS.

- Getty Images

DENVER — Is President Obama dealing with cognitive dissonance? First, against all available information, he blames the intelligence community for underestimating the Islamic State. Then, he embarks on a strategy that fails to encompass key elements vital to meeting his mission to “degrade and destroy” ISIS.

Americans were surprised to hear their president’s admission on a recent Sunday “60 Minutes” broadcast that he had “underestimated” the Islamic State – aka, the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS/ISIL – and its rapid rise to power and control in Syria and Iraq. Equally stunning, he sought to shift the blame for being caught off-guard to the US intelligence community.

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GRATERFORD, Pennsylvania — I have been in and out of prisons in the US and Latin America since I was about 19 years old for all kinds of reasons: as a journalist and writer, as a friend, as a family member. One night, I even slept in a prison in Mexico.

I am committed to visiting, talking with and interviewing those who believe they have been all but forgotten —people who in some cases believe they have no value to society because they are behind bars. 

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