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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Shanghai, hundreds of thousands of migrant children often have difficulties accessing public schools because of China’s outdated “hukou” system, requiring official permission to establish a new residency and access public services.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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Protesters take part in a march commemorating the 1973 students uprising against the military junta, on November 17, 2013 in the center of Athens. Tens of thousands marched in Greece on November 17, amid tight security, to commemorate the 40-year anniversary of the violent suppression of a student uprising against a US-backed junta. At least 12,000 people, according to a police source, participated in the annual march to the US Embassy in Athens, remembering a historic event seen as a key moment in the restoration of democracy.

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WASHINGTON — These are hard times for democracy, reminiscent of 40 years ago, when communist governments, autocrats, military juntas, and white-minority rulers were firmly in control of most countries, and the United States largely accepted them as a permanent fixture of the international landscape. But that time 40 years ago marked the beginning of a historic wave of democratization. The United States came to champion the cause of democratic change and to exert significant influence in bringing that change about.

The Obama administration is hesitant to push for democracy abroad and exercise US leadership in defense of democratic principles. In this, it is in sync with a significant segment of the Republican Party and the American public. Its apprehension is partly a response to recent setbacks for democracy and US failures to advance democratic change, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Freedom House’s annual country-by-country survey, on political rights and civil liberties have suffered eight straight years of global decline.

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Snow begins to gather on a statue outside the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, December 10, 2013.

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Republicans believe the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is the key to keeping the House and winning the Senate in this year's midterm elections.

Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, told reporters that, "The law stinks, and it's a disaster. It's not possible for this not to be the No. 1 issue in the 2014 elections."

GOP strategists were more enthusiastic when they told the Washington Examiner that President Barack Obama's health care law was "electoral gold." They claim Obama's credibility sustained considerable damage after reports of canceled policies that contravened Obama's assurances that nothing would change for policyholders. With polls showing his job approval near record lows, the Republicans "question Obama's ability to fully recover."

There are good reasons to wonder if he can recover, but there's far more to it than “Obamacare.” Those same polls show voter approval has been declining for months, long before it was clear that Obamacare's website was broken, and long before, as Republicans love to say, the president was caught in the lie of the year.

As he has since first taking office, Obama continues to be haunted by the specter of an economy that fails to thrive. It's probable, given the congressional redistricting, that the Republicans will keep the House. But if they want to take the Senate, they must address Americans' bread-and-butter concerns.

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NEW YORK – Silvia leaned on my kitchen counter and looked at me with sullen eyes, showing me what it looked like to see another American dream go up in smoke.

“I’m going back to Mexico,” she said.

“I am tired of waiting and I am beginning to feel like a fool waiting for someone to do something in this country. I don't believe any of them when they say they care about me anymore. I am done waiting. I don't believe in this country any more,” said Silvia, who is an immigrant from Mexico and here struggling to raise her teenage children.

Some people might think I am overly dramatic, but I believe that one of the best traits a journalist can have is to be able to feel things deeply. For everyone. No matter what side of the story they fall on. So to hear Silva say she had given up on this country, given up on the promise, given up on its political leadership and given up on the ‘dream,” breaks my American heart. Maybe it comes from the fact that I chose to become a citizen and so I take these core American values so seriously.

As if I have the duty to protect them. Like I said, dramatic.

My American heart is all about democracy, and it’s all about dreams. I believe that modern American democracy stands for the notion that we all have voice and that the laws of our country state explicitly that we are all also equal. To have someone living in our country, raising teenagers like me, sharing the same city as I do and feeling ‘invisible,’ as Silvia describes it, is disheartening for my profound sense of what it is to be an American.

Silvia is a Mexican citizen who is an invisible person in this country. In Mexico, at least, Silvia can vote. And she will. Deeply engaged politically, she dreamed of voting in the US. But now the worrisome message is what Silvia will communicate to her three American citizen children. If she does indeed leave.

This country once held her American dream. But our country now is a dream breaker.

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Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on December 10, 2013 in Washington, DC. During his testimony Secretary Kerry asked on behalf of the Obama Administration that congress hold off on sanctioning Iran to give diplomacy a chance to work its course.

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OWL’S HEAD, Maine — As President Obama made abundantly clear in his end-of-year press conference—his body language even more eloquently than his actual language—2013 was a good year to see the end of.

It was a year that most inhabitants of the Middle East are surely glad to see end, though 2014 isn't likely to turn out any better for most of them.

That perennial problem, Israeli-Palestinian, is no closer to resolution despite the efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry. The bad news, from Kerry's perspective, is the way he pushed himself into the issue. The question of why, exactly, he thought he could succeed when everyone else has failed is more a psychological one than it is strategic.

With all that is going on in the Arab World—not just the Syrian civil war, but the increasing radicalization of Sunni Arabs and the concomitant deepening split between them and their Shiite cousins—the Israelis are, not surprisingly, worried about what the future will bring just beyond their borders. And the Arab focus, also not surprisingly, has turned inward.

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Like many young Americans, I was fascinated by the renewed attention on the civil rights movement in 2013. Last year marked the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the document that arguably set the course for the long struggle for racial inequality. In August we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s paradigm-shifting address at the March on Washington.

What’s sometimes lost about that iconic rally fifty years ago was that it was more than a demand for political and civil equality and a demonstration of racial harmony. The march was also rooted in the economic plight of people of color in the United States and laid out an economic agenda to expand economic opportunity for all citizens. The full name of the event was The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, after all.

The public policy community took advantage of the renewed attention to expose that while America has accomplished much in progressing past the dark days of racial discrimination, it’s the economic agenda that remains elusive.

The Economic Policy Institute reported that overall black poverty rate is almost triple those of whites. Poverty among blacks is more concerted too: nearly half (45 percent) of poor black children live in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty, compared to a little more than a tenth (12 percent) of poor white children.

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The Wynne Unit is pictured on May 21, 2013 in Huntsville, one of the seven prison units in Walker County, Texas.

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GENEVA — Edgar Tamayo Arias, an inmate on death row in Texas, is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Jan. 22. At stake is not only the life of this 46-year-old Mexican national, but also Texas’ respect for the Constitution of the United States and for international law. The case highlights how states treat detained foreign nationals, especially those facing capital punishment.

The case has attracted widespread attention from several sources, including the US State Department, the Mexican government, the International Court of Justice and the international community.

Tamayo, a native of Mexico’s Morelos state who came to the US to find work when he was 19 years old, was sentenced to death in October 1994 for the murder of Houston police officer Guy Gaddis in January that year. We do not doubt the seriousness of the crime, but the execution of Tamayo would be a clear breach of US and international law.

As well as violating international law, Texas would be potentially violating the Constitution of the United States by executing a person with “mild mental retardation,” a condition with which Tamayo has been diagnosed.
In the spotlight is the significance of an international treaty, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Most countries, including the United States, are party to this convention, which provides a framework for consular relations between countries.

Under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention, foreign nationals must be notified “without delay” of their right to inform their consulate when detained. Yet when he was arrested, Tamayo was not informed of this right. Mexican authorities did not learn of the case until one week before his trial.

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