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US Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) speaks to members of the press as she is on her way for a vote January 6, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

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Dear Senator Collins,

You have served Maine well, establishing yourself as one of only two or three moderate Republicans in the Senate. Mainers are particularly glad to have you representing us in Washington.

So it was a surprise to find out that you are supporting the diplomatically disastrous Iran Sanctions Bill. The proposed legislation would torpedo the best opportunity in 34 years for a rapprochement with Iran. Worse, it would wreck the possibility, as a New York Times editorial expressed it, of "the most significant restraint ever on a program that has threatened international stability" for over 10 years.

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A flag of the presidential candidate of Costa Rica's leftist Frente Amplio (Board Front) party, Jose Maria Villalta is seen in a car in San Jose on January 30, 2014. Presidential elections will take place next February 2.

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SAN JOSE, Costa Rica—Unless you live here, chances are you probably haven’t heard much about this country’s presidential and congressional elections on February 2.

Costa Rica is a small, politically stable country, with a proud history of fair and open democratic governance. It doesn’t attract much attention in international politics when there is so much turbulence elsewhere to report on.

Its reputation for plain-vanilla politics and governance could be upended, if current trends in the polls hold. The radically divisive and aggressively leftist party of Frente Amplio and its candidate, Jose Maria Villalta, are running strong in the polls and appear to have momentum.

This is notable because most of their goals and plans are a locally spiced blend of communism with a bit of socialism thrown in. Their platform is being compared to that of Hugo Chavez when he first came to power in Venezuela in 1999.

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Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner arrives at the National Hotel in Havana on January 25, 2014 where she will attend the II Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). The summit, to be held on January 28-29 in the Cuban capital, will bring together leaders and representatives of all nations from across the Americas (except the United States and Canada) with previous meetings starting on Saturday.

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WASHINGTON — Argentines have given so much to the world, yet have so little to show for it.

The second largest country in Latin America has given birth to music (tango), soccer stars (Maradona and Messi) and popular icons (Eva Peron) that have mesmerized the world for decades. Its people are known to be exciting, passionate and predisposed to living in the moment; qualities which endear them to the millions of tourists that grace its shores each year.

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Defendant Beate Zschaepe arrives for her trial in a courtroom in Munich, on August 6, 2013. The trial negotiates against a previously unknown neo-Nazi cell, the National Socialist Underground (NSU), which is accused of murdering nine Turkish and Greek immigrants and a policewoman from 2000 to 2007. The focus of the trial is 38-year-old woman, Zschaepe, who is accused of being an NSU founder member and faces charges of complicity in the murders, two bombings in Cologne and 15 bank robberies. Four suspected male accomplices are also on trial. The existence of the NSU emerged in November 2011 after Uwe Boehnhardt and Uwe Mundlos of the NSU were found dead in a burnt-out mobile home and the third Zschaepe, gave herself in to police.

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MUNICH —The prosecution of five members and associates of the National Socialist Underground (NSU), now at its midpoint in a courtroom here, is one of Germany’s longest and most historic trials.

Despite the trappings of an ordinary legal proceeding, the crimes for which it has been convened are anything but ordinary. The five defendants are accused of a decade-long spree of bombings, bank robberies, and murder of a police officer and nine others of Greek and Turkish origins.

The case is a brutal reminder of the tumor of hate that metastasized here more than 70 years ago and still lingers in parts of the German social fabric.

The NSU’s mere existence as a right-wing terrorist group and the years it took to uncover it has been cause for reflection and collective soul searching. Least of all, it is a major embarrassment for a country that strives to confront and overcome its Nazi past.

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(L-R) Wired Magazine editor-in-chief Chris Anderson, Revolution LLC CEO and AOL co-founder Steve Case, Aneesh Chopra, Chief Technology Officer of the United States, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, John Doerr and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings participate in a panel discussion during the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness High Growth Business and Entrepreneurship Listening and Action Session at the VMware headquarters on August 2, 2011 in Palo Alto, California. Jobs Council members, administration officials and Silicon Valley leaders spoke with entrepreneurs about how public and private sectors can partner to create jobs through innovation.

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President Obama’s sit-down with Silicon Valley in Washington before the holidays fittingly highlights a trend that dominated the headlines in 2013 and will only continue to grow in 2014.

While the plight of Edward Snowden and his revelations’ impacts on staunch US allies around the globe ruled the headlines, along with the visiting technology CEO’s concerns about privacy, an emerging sub-current with greater implications for the global economy laid right below the surface for government leaders.

With global e-commerce now topping $1 trillion a year, these companies like countries need to come together on how to broaden access to the digital marketplace for their businesses, even as they compete with each other. Of all the issues for the world’s nations, how to work together to expand internet freedom—access to the web, and being able to surf it freely—will define the future of the global economy.

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Hog farmers demonstrate in front of the German federal chancellery with their free-range pigs on January 15, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. The pigs, which are not treated with hormones or antiobiotics except in medical emergencies and are only fed with non-genetically-modified food, were brought to the demonstration as a symbol against industrial farming and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a trade agreement to be negotiated between the European Union and the United States that organic farmers see as a threat to environmental protection, health and safety standards as well as consumer rights.

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WASHINGTON — The prospect of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) constitutes a signal policy opportunity between the United States and the European Union.

Hailed by some as potentially the largest trade agreement in history, TTIP would reduce trade barriers by enacting a non-tariff paradigm in which myriad public- and private-sector players could spur growth, create jobs, and do business in markets previously inaccessible.

TTIP’s promises have not won all hearts, however. Detractors see the deal as a menace to their own interests, even to national sovereignty. TTIP could also fail on purely procedural grounds: given recent resistance to legislation on the “Fast Track” Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) framework, the US Congress inspires only mild confidence.

A dose of cautious optimism is therefore appropriate about the chances of success for the proposed TTIP trade regime.

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A boy reads a book at the Hong Kong Book Fair on July 17, 2013.

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HONG KONG—For the second time, Shanghai has just topped the charts of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a benchmark standardized test covering reading, science and math skills for15 year-olds in dozens of countries every three years.

While China should be recognized for its achievements in Shanghai and in raising basic literacy across the country, these high scores obscure an important fact: that China’s education system is deeply unequal, and is failing students with disabilities.

For a start, Shanghai is atypical of China, where half of the people live in the countryside and children attend underfunded and struggling schools.

Even in Shanghai, hundreds of thousands of migrant children often have difficulties accessing public schools because of China’s outdated “hukou” system, requiring official permission to establish a new residency and access public services.

In addition, a large proportion of China’s students—those with disabilities—are denied the chance to even go to public schools because of discrimination and exclusion. Indeed, according to official estimates, one in four children with disabilities is not in school at all.

China has a two-track system, one for children with disabilities and one for those without, from primary school through university. Theoretically, children with disabilities can join mainstream education as long as they “are able to adapt” to life in these schools.

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A destroyed trolleybus stands on a street in Volgograd on December 30, 2013 after ten people were killed in a bombing on the packed vehicle, the second attack in the city in two days after a suicide strike on its main train station, officials said. The new attack will further heighten fears about security at the Winter Olympic Games which are due to open on February 7 in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi, which lies 690 kilometres (425 miles) southwest of Volgograd.

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BIRMINGHAM, Alabama—Unconfirmed reports of the death of Doku Umarov have done little to dampen talk of the terrorist threat at the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Last summer, Umarov, the leader of a jihadist group based in the Northern Caucasus, promised to use “maximum force” to derail the Sochi games. Two suicide bombings in December in the Russian city of Volgograd killed 34 people and sent international speculation into overdrive that Umarov’s group, the Caucasus Emirate, might well have the means to make good on the threat.

But last week, Chechnya’s pro-Kremlin president announced that Umarov was killed in a gunfight with security forces. Doubts, however, remain about the reliability of the claim. Putin and Russia’s counterterrorism forces have been silent on the issue, despite the fact that they have the most to gain by touting Umarov’s death.

It matters little, for Umarov’s control over the violent campaign he purports to lead is indirect at best. Umarov has acted more as a figurehead, encouraging loosely affiliated cells to carry out terrorism against Russia, the latest chapter in a lengthy struggle to establish a breakaway, radical Islamist state in the Northern Caucasus.

In fact, soon after the announcement of Umarov’s supposed death, a video surfaced in which armed militants claimed responsibility for the Volgograd blasts on behalf of a new organization in partial fulfillment of Umarov’s anti-Olympics threat. It should be noted that this news also has not been authenticated.

What is significant is that Umarov’s threat and the recent bombings have primed the international community for attacks that may not come.

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Photographers, cameramen and visitors crowd around a statue-bust of Hungary's wartime leader Miklos Horthy after it was unveiled in Budapest on November 3, 2013. The unveiling provoked protests of antifascist demonstrators. Horthy, the autocrat who led the country into World War II as an ally of Hitler, passed anti-Jewish laws and oversaw the first wave of deportations of Hungarian Jews in 1944.

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EVANSTON, Illinois — As President Barack Obama awaits Senate confirmation of his choice for US Ambassador to Hungary, hopefully he knows that his appointee, Colleen Bell, a Hollywood television producer, has complex tasks ahead.

Hungary is a NATO member, a member of the European Union and was in the forefront of democratic transformations a quarter century ago. But during the past four years Hungary has built an autocratic regime with open anti-Semitism in its parliament and is currently engaging in whitewashing the reign of Hitler-ally Admiral Miklos Horthy.

Horthy was leader of Hungary between 1920 and 1944. His crimes included Hungary's active cooperation in deporting and annihilating more than 400,000 Jews during World War II.

A new statue now stands in Budapest honoring Horthy. It casts a strange shadow in this historic city with one of the highest Jewish populations in Europe.

This history touches my family personally.

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NEW YORK — I have two distinct yet overlapping lives. One is my substantive, everyday existence. The other is my online existence.

In real life, I have a few close friends. I get bored, I endure hardships, and I enjoy successes. I have my good days and my bad days.

Online, I have almost one thousand friends. I am continually satiated, invulnerable, and well spoken. I am the master of my own little piece of cyberspace.

For most readers, this double-life has become second nature. The lines between these two lives become blurred. But the way in which these lives relate to each other is far from clear to most of us, myself included. There is a lot to find attractive about online existence, but I’m learning that even those attractive aspects are not what they seem.

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