TIME Thailand

Is the Thai Junta Really Going to Jail Sommeliers for Recommending Wine?

TO GO WITH STORY Lifestyle-finance-econo
In a picture taken on July 6, 2009, Nikki Lohitnavy, Thailand's first female winemaker tests her wine at a wineshop in Khao Yai National Park 155km (96 miles) north of Bangkok. PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL—AFP/Getty Images

A threatened booze crackdown hasn't materialized yet, but it speaks of a moral tension in the so-called Land of Smiles

Earlier this week, local officials in the sleepy city of Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, called a meeting of media and hospitality industry representatives to outline draconian curbs on alcohol promotion.

All drinking, they said, was to stop at midnight. Advertising and happy hours were to be banned; promotional staff could no longer serve beer while wearing branded uniforms; glasses, ashtrays and any other items sporting brewery, winery and distillery logos were to be removed. Even decorating a pub or trattoria with empty bottles could mean six months in jail — as could “verbal promotion” of alcohol, which could be something as innocuous as a sommelier telling you which wine to try.

“This law was put into effect due to the rapidly growing costs of alcohol to this nation,” Second Lieutenant Taweesak Jintajiranan told the meeting, which was reported in the Chiang Mai City News. “Alcohol-related accidents have increased significantly in recent years. While the government makes 70 billion baht [$2.2 billion] income per year from alcohol tax, the cost to the government is upwards of 150 billion baht [$4.7 billion].”

Predictably, social media erupted with indignation. “No booze sold or consumed after midnight?” wrote one Bangkok expat on Facebook. “Ludicrous in what purports itself to be a world class capital city and something of a nightlife capital.”

As it turns out, none of the proposed curbs on alcohol promotion are new. They are already provided for under a strict interpretation of the 2008 Alcohol Control Act. The act has never been enforced because it is seen as unworkable in a nation that depends on free-spending tourists for much of its income. But the threat of its implementation in Chiang Mai — described by Andrew Bond, editor of travel website 1stopchiangmai.com, as “a local official taking his orders from the junta a little too literally” — has drawn attention to a growing split between the military’s moral agenda and a nation synonymous with cold beer and cheap cocktails.

Alcohol is a major Thai industry. The firm Thai Beverage brews the nation’s iconic Chang beer and Sangsom rum and boasts distilleries in Thailand, Scotland, Ireland, Poland China and France — along with annual profits nearing $1 billion. Boon Rawd Brewery, which produces the popular Singha and Leo beers, enjoys royal patronage and has lucrative marketing deals with English Premier League goliaths Chelsea and Manchester United.

Little wonder alcohol moguls enjoy enormous political sway. The poster-girl of the recent Shutdown Bangkok protests, which culminated in the May 22 coup, was Chitpas Bhirombhakdi, heiress to the Boon Rawd fortune. The photogenic 28-year-old openly called for the overthrowing of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government, prompting pro-democracy Red Shirts to boycott Singha and Leo beers in response. A ban on alcohol advertising by the junta she helped install might see her rethink her political loyalties.

There is no doubt that the junta has taken on an increasingly priggish character. It has set about attempting to address “social ills” such as inflated state lottery prices and undocumented migrants. Raids have also targeted sex workers, particularly from the “ladyboy” transsexual community, and this week officials swooped on markets hawking counterfeit and pirated goods.

“The military is trying to legitimize itself as some kind of moral force,” says Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai associate professor for Southeast Asian studies at Japan’s Kyoto University and an outspoken critic of the coup. “But such matters do not concern them at all,” he adds. Pavin suggests that the moral crusade is instead a political trap to goad the nation’s protesting demimonde — what he calls “dark influences” and “godfathers” — out into the open, which then provides further legitimacy for the junta’s grip on power.

There could be another reason. There is a tradition of Thai leaders embracing ascetic Buddhist values after becoming embroiled in bitter tumult. Military dictator General Thanom Kittikachorn famously entered the monkhood in 1976 after the Thammasat Massacre; firebrand Shutdown Bangkok leader Suthep Thaugsuban followed suit immediately after the May coup. According to Pavin, Prayuth could similarly be trying to atone for the sin of seizing power and so “really wants to prove something to society.”

But the reality is that vice is deeply imbued in modern Thailand. Prostitution is officially illegal, but up to two million sex workers toil in the country’s twinkling neon go-go bars and massage parlors. And while alcohol is undeniably conflated with social problems — Thailand’s roads are ranked as the second most dangerous in the world with 44 road deaths per 100,000 people, a quarter of which the WHO says are alcohol-related — even the junta would struggle to make an impact.

The tourism industry is worth up to $60 billion annually, and the nation welcomes over 20 million foreign arrivals each year, drawn by the pearl-white beaches, beautiful temples, fabulous cuisine and, well, the pumping bars.

“I don’t think we’ll see an immediate effect on tourism because Thailand’s reputation for vibrant nightlife continues, whatever the reality is,” says Joe Cummings, author of the Lonely Planet Guide to Thailand. What’s more, “Thais are among the most clever people in Asia when it comes to finding legal loopholes.”

There could also, of course, be a domestic backlash. One poll conducted soon after the coup found an astonishingly high 93.5% of respondents approved of the military’s intervention. But petty booze curbs, if enforced, could well turn the tide.

One bar owner in Chiang Mai, who asked to remain anonymous, gave his own caustic assessment. “It won’t last if they ever do enforce it,” he said. “Give it a few months and they’ll have to change the stupid law. Maybe we’ll get some clarification instead of just paying off the cops whenever they want.”

TIME russia

Canada Trolls Russia on Twitter With Sardonic Geography Lesson

So what is and isn’t Russia? Canada aims to set the record straight

“Geography can be tough.”

Canada’s NATO delegation posted a cheeky lesson on what is — and isn’t — Russian land in a tweet on Wednesday.

The snide post, which includes labels of “Russia” and “Not Russia,” was aimed at the Kremlin’s soldiers who “keep getting lost & ‘accidentally’ entering #Ukraine” — a clear reference to the recent capture of Russian soldiers in Ukrainian territory. Exactly why the Russian soldiers wandered across the border remains murky, though Moscow maintains it was an accident.

The Canadian tweet had been retweeted more than 30,000 times as of early Friday morning, including by NATO delegations from the U.S., U.K. and Sweden on their official Twitter accounts. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry also retweeted the map.

Russia, however, came back with its own snarky rebuttal.

On Thursday, the Russian NATO delegation’s official account wrote, “Helping our Canadian colleagues to catch up with contemporary geography of #Europe.” The tweet included its own map, which noticeably labels the Crimean Peninsula as belonging to Russia.

The map also shaded in a separate color for Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two states whose 2008 unilateral independence is recognized by Russia — but internationally condemned.

The Canada-Russia tweet battle came prior to an emergency NATO session with E.U. leaders on Friday. They plan to discuss Kiev’s accusations that Russia invaded eastern Ukraine as well as the West’s contention that Moscow is directly involved in the conflict with pro-Russian separatists.

TIME Ukraine

Ukraine Brings Back Conscription as Russia Appears to Launch All-Out Invasion

Servicemen sit atop an armoured vehicle as they travel through the steppe near the village of Krasnodarovka in Rostov region
Servicemen sit atop an armored vehicle as they travel near the village of Krasnodarovka in Rostov region, Russia, on Aug. 28, 2014 Reuters

Moscow slammed at emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s national security council has ordered the reinstatement of mandatory conscription in response to what seems to be a full-scale Russian invasion of the country. The draft, affecting able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 25, is the latest indication that the Ukrainian conflict is rapidly intensifying.

Previous attempts at mandatory conscription have led to protests. But during a meeting with the council Thursday, Poroshenko urged his countrymen to “keep a cold mind” as Ukrainians geared up for a broader conflict.

NATO has provided satellite images that appear to show Russian armored vehicles fighting in Ukrainian territory, CNN reports. British intelligence says it has similar evidence, while U.S. officials say there are now up to 1,000 Russian troops in Ukraine.

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to taunt Kiev by calling on separatist forces to open a humanitarian corridor in southeast Ukraine so that demoralized Ukrainian troops could flee home to their “mothers, wives and children.” He also claimed that “a large number” of Ukrainian troops were not “in the military operation of their own volition” but were simply “following orders.”

Vox reported that in his statement Putin referred to Ukraine’s embattled Donbass region by the politically loaded term Novorossiya, literally “New Russia.” Novorossiya is the old czarist name for the parts of Russia and Ukraine around the Black Sea and is a designation favored by separatists wishing to confer a historical integrity on the areas for which they are fighting.

“A counterfactual equivalent might be if a disturbingly post-Gestapo government in Germany began referring to the Netherlands as Western Germany or to western parts of the Czech Republic as Sudetenland,” John Besemeres, professor and adjunct fellow at the Australian National University’s Center for European Studies, tells TIME.

Responding to the incursions, Western envoys lambasted Russia on Thursday at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council in New York City. The U.S. representative, Samantha Power, said “Russia has come before this council to say everything except the truth. It has manipulated. It has obfuscated. It has outright lied. So we have learned to measure Russia by its actions and not by its words.”

The British envoy Mark Lyall Grant described Moscow’s incursions as a “brazen” violation of the U.N. Charter and international law.

Moscow’s U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin admitted there were Russians fighting in the Ukraine but claimed they were volunteers. He then went on to raise questions about the presence of U.S. military advisers in the country.

“A message must be sent to Washington — stop interfering in the internal activities of sovereign states and restrain your geopolitical ambition,” Churkin said, according to a U.N. statement.

Earlier on Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed alarm about the escalating conflict and urged Moscow and Kiev to follow up on talks held in Minsk earlier this week to forge “a peaceful way out of the conflict.”

Reports have meanwhile surfaced that separatist forces have succeeded in opening a third front after seizing the port city of Novoazovsk on the Sea of Azov in the wake of days of shelling. Analysts continue to speculate whether the move is designed to draw troops away from heavy fighting near the separatist strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk, or is part of a strategic maneuver to forge a corridor to the Russian-controlled Crimean Peninsula farther west.

TIME Aviation

Malaysia Airlines to Cut 6,000 Staff in Overhaul

Malaysia Airlines announced the overhaul on Friday to revive its damaged brand, after double passenger-jet disasters

(KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia) — Malaysia Airlines will cut 6,000 workers as part of an overhaul announced Friday to revive its damaged brand after being hit by double passenger jet disasters.

The staff reduction represents about 30 percent of its current workforce of 20,000. A search for a new CEO for the airline is underway.

Khazanah Nasional, the state investment company that owns 69 percent of the airline, said the overhaul includes the establishment of a new company that will take over the existing Malaysia Airlines business and its reduced staff.

The revamp and new investment in the carrier will cost about 6 billion Malaysian ringgit ($1.9 billion).

“The combination of measures announced today will enable our national airline to be revived,” said Khazanah managing director Azman Mokhtar.

The airline will be taken completely under the wing of the government. Khazanah previously announced that it plans to take 100 percent ownership.

A substantial revamp has long been on the cards for Malaysia Airlines, which was struggling with chronic financial problems even before it was hit by the double disasters this year.

Investigators continue to scour the southern Indian Ocean for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 which veered far of course while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8 with 239 people on board. In July, 298 people were killed when Flight 17 was blasted out of the sky as it flew over an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

The tragedies have scarred the airline’s brand, once associated with high-quality service. Travelers on recent long-haul flights have posted photos on social media of nearly empty cabins and departure lounges. The airline says passengers fell 11 percent in July from the year before.

In releasing its latest quarterly financial result, a loss, on Thursday, Malaysia Airlines said the worst impact from the disasters will come in the second half of this year.

Khazanah said at a press conference that it has begun a search for a new chief executive for the airline, which is likely to be completed by the end of this year.

Current CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya will continue to head Malaysia Airlines until its new incarnation is established in July next year.

The state investment fund said it aims to restore Malaysia Airlines to profitability by the end of 2017.

TIME Syria

U.N. Says Syria Refugees Top 3 Million Mark

Syrian refugees flee from Lebanon
Syrian refugees wait in the border town of Arsal, Lebanon, on Aug. 8, 2014. Bilal Jawich—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

One of every eight Syrians has fled across the border, and 6.5 million others have been displaced within Syria since the conflict began in March 2011

(GENEVA) — The civil war in Syria has forced a record 3 million people out of the country as more than a million people fled in the past year, the U.N. refugee agency said Friday.

The tragic milestone means that about one of every eight Syrians has fled across the border, and 6.5 million others have been displaced within Syria since the conflict began in March 2011, the Geneva-based agency said. More than half of all those uprooted are children, it said.

“The Syria crisis has become the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era, yet the world is failing to meet the needs of refugees and the countries hosting them,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.

Syria had a prewar population of 23 million.

The recent surge in fighting appears to be worsening the already desperate situation for Syrian refugees, the agency said, as the extremist Islamic State group expands its control of broad areas straddling the Syria-Iraq border and terrorizes rivals and civilians in both countries.

According to the agency, many of the new arrivals in Jordan come from the northern province of Aleppo and the northeastern region of Raqqa, a stronghold of the group. An independent U.N. commission says the group is systematically carrying out widespread bombings, beheadings and mass killings that amount to crimes against humanity in both areas.

The commission investigating potential war crimes in Syria said on Wednesday that the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad likely used chlorine gas to attack civilians, who are bearing the brunt of a civil war that has killed more than 190,000 people and destabilized the region.

The massive numbers of Syrians fleeing the civil war has stretched the resources of neighboring countries and raised fears of violence spreading in the region.

The U.N. estimates there are nearly 35,000 people awaiting registration as refugees, and hundreds of thousands who are not registered.

International Rescue Committee President David Miliband said the Syrian refugee crisis represents “3 million indictments of government brutality, opposition violence and international failure.”

“This appalling milestone needs to generate action as well as anger,” he said, calling for more aid to Syria’s overburdened neighbors and for civilians still in the country.

The refugee agency and other aid groups say an increasing number of families are arriving in other countries in shockingly poor condition, exhausted and scared and with almost no financial savings left after having been on the run for a year or more. In eastern Jordan, for example, the agency says refugees crossing the desert are forced to pay smugglers $100 per person or more to be taken to safety.

Lebanon hosts 1.14 million Syrian refugees, the single highest concentration. Turkey has 815,000 and Jordan has 608,000.

TIME

Hacker Attacks on American Banks Look More Like Fraud Than Russian Cyberwar

Cyber Crime
Philippe Brysse—Getty Images

The theft of data from JPMorgan Chase does not fit the established pattern of Russia's political cyberattacks against rival nations

Subtlety has never been the strong suit of Russia’s hacker-patriots. In 2008, during the Russian invasion of Georgia, they managed to hijack or disable all the key websites of the Georgian government, plastering one of them with images of Adolf Hitler. The year before that, during Russia’s diplomatic spat with Estonia over a Soviet war memorial, hackers targeted Estonian banks, media and government websites, paralyzing some of them for days. None of these attacks had any clear financial motive. They were meant to send a political message, and though it proved impossible to trace them back to the Kremlin, the attacks were designed to make it as easy as possible for the victim to infer their Russian origins.

That is partly why the latest reports suggesting that Russian hackers might have targeted American banks seem so different. As the Bloomberg news agency reported on Thursday, the attacks appear to have come in mid-August, just as the U.S. imposed its harshest round of sanctions to punish Russia for intervening in Ukraine. Those sanctions could indeed have been a motive for Russian hackers to hit back, as the Bloomberg report suggested, citing sources familiar with the FBI investigation of the crime. Instead of targeting the U.S. government agencies behind the sanctions — or indeed any branch of the U.S. government — the suggestion is that they might have gone after JPMorgan Chase and at least one other financial institution.

If true, this would mark a major shift in the cybercomponent of Russia’s ongoing standoff with the West. From its inception in March, when Russia annexed the region of Crimea from Ukraine, this conflict has not involved the use of hackers on any serious scale. “We were all expecting a major Russian cyberoffensive against Ukraine, something along the lines of the Estonian example,” says Andrei Soldatov, a Moscow-based expert on cyberwarfare and the Russian security services. “But none of that ever happened, which was strange. A lot of people were wondering, including in NATO, what’s the deal? Why aren’t the Russians doing what they normally do?”

Only a couple of incidents played into these expectations. The Ukrainian security service claimed in early March that Crimea was being used as a base for cyberattacks on Ukrainian cell-phone networks, though no widespread disruptions followed. Then, just before Russia formally annexed Crimea on March 18, hackers briefly took down the public websites of the NATO military alliance.

This was not the stuff of cyberwar, and neither is the reported attack on American banks this month, says Nikita Kislitsin, a cybersecurity expert in Moscow and a former editor of Russia’s Hacker Magazine. “Even if there is a political motive, it is more likely just a mask for criminal intent,” he says. The troves of data stolen from the banks’ websites could either be sold online or used to siphon money from banks’ accounts. Had the hackers wanted to send a political message, they would likely have chosen different targets and different means of attack.

The cyberattacks on Estonia and Georgia both involved one of the more primitive weapons in the hacker arsenal. Known as the distributed denial of service attack, or DDoS, it overwhelms a server with so many requests that it crashes. In the case of Estonia, a member of a Kremlin-backed youth group called Nashi admitted to organizing the DDoS attacks “to teach the Estonian regime a lesson.” In the case of Georgia, pro-Kremlin hackers posted instructions online on how to launch a DDoS attack on Georgian servers, and anyone who sympathized with the Russian cause in that war was thus invited to do their patriotic part in the cyberoffensive.

The reason no such campaign was launched against Ukraine, Soldatov suggests, is that the Nashi youth group was disbanded in 2012 and its political overseers lost their jobs in a Kremlin shake-up. “The new team that came in doesn’t seem to like working with hackers very much,” he says. “They use the Internet more for the dissemination of propaganda.”

And it is hard to see an upside in the propaganda war from attacking big Western financial institutions. If anything, the Kremlin would be interested in keeping such companies on its side, encouraging them to lobby their governments to ease the sanctions on the Russian economy. Many Western businesses have a vested interest in keeping Russia open to trade and investment. So it would not make much sense to antagonize them with a state-sponsored hacker attack. Whatever the motives and means involved in hacking American banks, they do not fit the mold of Russia’s previous cyberwars with its disobedient neighbors.

TIME Foreign Policy

Obama Says ‘We Don’t Have a Strategy Yet’ for Fighting ISIS

“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse"

+ READ ARTICLE

President Barack Obama seemed to commit the worst of Washington gaffes Thursday when he updated the American people about the ongoing threat from Islamist militants wreaking havoc in Iraq and Syria.

“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse: we don’t have a strategy yet,” Obama said of the effort to combat the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in its safe haven in Syria. “I think what I’ve seen in some of the news reports suggest that folks are getting a little further ahead of what we’re at than what we currently are.”

Obama’s comment that “we don’t have a strategy,” delivered to reporters at the White House before the Labor Day holiday weekend, prompted immediate mockery from Republicans — not to mention quick damage control from the White House.

“In his remarks today, [Obama] was explicit — as he has been in the past — about the comprehensive strategy we’ll use to confront [ISIS] threat,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a series of Twitter posts. “He was referring to military options for striking [ISIS] in Syria,” Earnest added in a hastily scheduled CNN appearance.

Obama was set to meet with the National Security Council on Thursday evening, and he said his Administration is working hard to develop a plan for stemming ISIS’s spread from Iraq to Syria.

“We need to make sure that we’ve got clear plans, that we’re developing them,” he said. Obama said he’s ordered Secretary of State John Kerry to begin assembling a coalition to strike back at ISIS, while he has tasked Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to present him with military options. “We’re gonna cobble together the kind of coalition that we need for a long-term strategy as soon as we are able to fit together the military, political and economic components of that strategy,” Obama said. “There will be a military aspect to that.”

The President defended his decision not to seek authorization from Congress before beginning strikes on ISIS targets in Iraq three weeks ago, saying the urgency of the threat to the U.S. consulate in Erbil required immediate action. “I can’t afford to wait in order to make sure that those folks are protected,” Obama said. Since Aug. 8, the military has conducted 106 air strikes in Iraq, according to U.S. Central Command.

Obama suggested that once he has a strategy for tackling ISIS, he would seek authorization from Congress, particularly since it may require additional funding. “It is my intention that Congress has to have some buy-in as representatives of the American people,” he said.

“This should be a wake-up call to Sunni, to [Shi‘ite], to everybody, that a group like ISIS is beyond the pale; that they have no vision or ideology beyond violence and chaos and the slaughter of innocent people,” Obama said. “And as a consequence, we’ve got to all join together — even if we have differences on a range of political issues — to make sure that they’re rooted out.”

Obama also condemned continued Russia aggression in Ukraine, following U.S. and NATO confirmation of Russian ground troops and heavy equipment fighting against the Ukrainian military in eastern Ukraine, but he stopped short of calling it an invasion. The President ruled out American military action in Ukraine, but said the U.S. stands with its NATO allies in the region and suggested that additional sanctions on Russia will be forthcoming.

“We are not taking military action to solve the Ukrainian problem,” Obama said. “What we’re doing is to mobilize the international community to apply pressure on Russia. But I think it is very important to recognize that a military solution to this problem is not going to be forthcoming.”

TIME United Kingdom

No, Britain Is Not Poorer Than Alabama

Is the United Kingdom really "poorer than much-maligned Kansas and Alabama"? Er, not quite

Britain just loves confirming the worst about itself. Our tabloids thrive on stories that portray the country as a teeming mass of greedy migrants and workshy idlers, run by a parliament of elites in alliance with a small uber-class of the 1%. The truth is rather more complex than that, of course, but no newspaper will go broke telling Brits that their country’s gone to the dogs.

Take Fraser Nelson’s bleak diagnosis in The Spectator of how Britain compares to the poorest states in the U.S., which has been picked up widely by media on both sides of the pond. If Britain were somehow to become the 51st state of America, Fraser suggests, it would rank near the bottom:

“If you take our economic output, adjust for living costs and slot it into the US league table then the United Kingdom emerges as the second-poorest state in the union. We’re poorer than much-maligned Kansas and Alabama and well below Missouri, the scene of all the unrest in recent weeks. Only Mississippi has lower economic output per head than the UK; strip out the South East and Britain would rank bottom.”

This may shock Americans who stick to an outmoded idea of the United Kingdom as a sceptred isle of pageantry and gentility (though any Yank who has ever visited an urban center outside of London on a Friday night will know that it isn’t all tea and hunting parties). But are our poorest areas really comparable to the worst of Mississippi or Alabama?

The statistics tell only part of the story, and it seems Nelson has rather skewed them to favor his conclusion. In pure GDP per capita, the UK ranks 21st in the world. That’s behind the U.S., at 6th, but ahead of countries such as Italy, Israel and Japan. When compared to U.S. states, it puts Britain in the lower half of the table, nestled between Tennessee and Missouri.

It’s only when you adjust the UK GDP per capita for living costs—that is, when you factor in that a dollar goes further in the U.S. than its equivalent in sterling does in the UK—that the Brits sink to the bottom of the state-by-state listings.

But here’s the thing: Nelson doesn’t appear to have attempted to factor in living costs within the U.S. The idea that a dollar spent in New York goes equally as far as a dollar spent in Alabama is laughable, but the comparison he uses proceeds from that assumption.

In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics finds sizable regional differences in the Consumer Price Index, with the South some 21 points below the Northeast. There’s no easy way to work that differential into Nelson’s back-of-an-envelope study, especially as the BLS doesn’t break down CPI by state. But isn’t it a little inaccurate to factor in the living costs of the UK and not the states used as a comparison?

It is also a little simplistic to equate poverty with GDP, which measures business and government spending as well as individual consumer behavior. Poverty is better reflected by rates of joblessness, education level and life expectancy. The UK’s unemployment rate is 6.6%, roughly comparable to New York (36th among the states). The UK has a 91% high school equivalent graduation rate, which would put it in the top 5 among states. And the UK’s life expectancy at birth is over 80; that would rank it among the top 10 states.

None of this is to say that Britain—an island of roughly the same square mileage as Michigan, but with a population almost twice the size of California—doesn’t have huge structural economic problems, or its own areas of persistent blight. But it shouldn’t take an oversimplified comparison to Mississippi to make residents see them.

Nelson does, however, get one thing absolutely right. If there’s one thing the Brits enjoy more than despairing at their own squalid state of affairs, it’s smugly noting that at least the Americans have it worse.

TIME Ukraine

Russian Forces Fighting Alongside Separatists in Ukraine, NATO Says

NATO releases satellite imagery that they say shows Russian combat troops inside Ukraine
A satellite image provided by DigitalGlobe and made available to media by NATO on Aug. 28, 2014, shows what NATO says are self-propelled artillery at an undisclosed location inside Ukraine at the time the image was made NATO/DigtalGlobe/EPA

Satellite pictures show convoy of Russian artillery units on Ukrainian territory

Western officials confirmed Thursday that Russian military forces are directly involved in combat alongside Ukrainian separatists in eastern Ukraine, as the months-long civil war escalated in recent days.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) announced Thursday that it has photographic proof of Russian regular army forces participating in fighting against the Ukrainian military, saying the situation is “increasingly grave.” The Russian movement follows months of fighting following Russia’s annexation of Crimea earlier this year.

“Over the past two weeks we have noted a significant escalation in both the level and sophistication of Russia’s military interference in Ukraine,” said Dutch Brigadier General Nico Tak, director of NATO’s Comprehensive Crisis and Operations Management Center. “The satellite images released today provide additional evidence that Russian combat soldiers, equipped with sophisticated heavy weaponry, are operating inside Ukraine’s sovereign territory.”

The State Department said Thursday that Russia had stepped up its supply of heavy weaponry to pro-Russian separatists, even after a Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July, reportedly by pro-Russia separatist groups.

“It’s clear that Russia has not only stepped up its presence in eastern Ukraine and intervened directly with combat forces, armored vehicles, artillery and surface-to-air systems, and is actively fighting Ukrainian forces as well as playing a direct supporting role to the separatist proxies and mercenaries,” said spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

At the U.N., the Security Council convened an emergency meeting on the crisis in Ukraine. “Russia has come before United Nations Security Council to say everything except truth,” said U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power. “It has manipulated. It has obfuscated. It has outright lied.”

Russian officials have said that the Russians fighting in Ukraine are on leave, a claim Power rejected. “A Russian soldier who chooses to fight in Ukraine on his summer break is still a Russian soldier,” she said.

U.S. and European nations have already put in place sanctions on individuals and key sectors of the Russian economy, but they have yet to deter the Russian government.

Western officials have stopped short of calling the Russian action an invasion, wary of further escalating the situation, calling the situation “aggression” or an “incursion.” On Thursday afternoon President Barack Obama is scheduled to convene a meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the situation in Iraq and Syria, as well as Ukraine.

TIME Infectious Disease

How Nigeria Is Keeping Ebola at Bay

APTOPIX Nigeria Ebola
Nigeria health officials wait to screen passengers at the arrival hall of Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria, Aug. 4, 2014. Sunday Alamba—AP

Fears that Africa's most populous country would become a tinderbox for the disease have so far not come to fruition

Ebola is still running rampant in parts of West Africa. Over 1,500 people have died in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, where authorities have risked unrest by imposing nationwide curfew and quarantine zones.

But in nearby Nigeria, the government has largely contained Ebola in a single cluster traced back to the first imported case, and reported a total of only six deaths. The death of a doctor in Port Harcourt, in the south of the country, initially raised fears of a second outbreak when it was revealed on Thursday—but it soon emerged that his infection was also linked to the first Ebola case.

Health experts say that while more Ebola cases can’t be ruled out, Nigerian authorities quickly and effectively reacted to contain the disease, tracking people who had contact with patients, conducting widespread testing and quarantining suspected victims. “The response of the government has been robust,” said John Vertefeuille, who leads the Nigeria Ebola response team of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Ebola arrived in Nigeria on July 20, when Liberian-American financial consultant Patrick Sawyer flew from Liberia to Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital. Sawyer collapsed at the airport and was taken immediately to hospital, reducing chances of infecting more people in Lagos, a city of more than 21 million people.

He infected a few people before he was isolated, as doctors didn’t initially suspect Ebola and didn’t take full precautions. All other confirmed cases were traced back to him; eight have recovered, with only one case still being treated in isolation.

When the government realized Ebola had arrived on Nigerian soil, it acted quickly to coordinate international health organizations including the CDC, the World Health Organization, and recently Médecins Sans Frontières. It invited those groups to “come to the table and… insert themselves into those structures that the government has formed,” said Vertefeuille.

The work is divided into the management of confirmed cases who are treated in an isolation center in Lagos, and epidemiology and contact tracing, key to containing the virus.

Confirmed cases are treated in isolation, while those the victims made contact with pre-diagnosis are visited daily at their homes. If they develop symptoms, they too are taken to quarantine and tested. Nigeria began its program of contact tracing with Sawyer, and currently has more than 100 people under surveillance in Lagos.

But one man slipped through the net, Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu said Thursday. A Nigerian man who had contact with Sawyer developed symptoms and evaded surveillance, traveling to the oil industry hub of Port Harcourt last month, where he was treated by a doctor for his symptoms.

The man recovered and returned to Lagos four days later, after a manhunt for him had begun. The doctor, however, had contracted the virus and died on Aug. 22. The government has now begun contact tracing for him, and 70 people are now under surveillance there.

The man who escaped surveillance was an isolated case, Chukwu said. The fact that most people being treated at hospital have survived and were soon discharged has encouraged people under surveillance to cooperate. “Initially when we started we had one or two stubborn cases, but now they’re all cooperating,” he said.

As well as taking a rapid response approach to Ebola cases, the government has also been acting to stop the spread of misinformation about the disease. It has been issuing bulletins explaining how the disease spreads, and attempting to dispel rumors about unorthodox “cures” that have spread on the streets and on social media.

Benjamin Akinola, a 65-year-old retired army officer, said he and his wife bathed with and drank water with salt after a rumor suggested it could prevent Ebola. They stopped after hearing on the radio that it led to the death of some people. “People stopped it, and this is what the government is telling us,” said Akinola.

The government has also been pushing for better personal hygiene practice. Guards at supermarkets, banks, restaurants, and clubs will often spray people’s hands with sanitizers before entering.

The public relations operation seems to be working. Lawrence Obioha, a 43 year old newspaper seller in Lagos said initially fewer people attended his Sunday church service out of fear of Ebola. “Gradually it’s picking up,” he said. “There’s a lot of relief now that they know that at least there’s a response to treatment.”

While fears that Africa’s most populous country would become a breeding ground for the disease have so far proven unfounded, officials in Nigeria are under no illusion that the virus has been stamped out. “We have not eliminated the disease. We have not eradicated it,” said Chukwu. Over 200 remain under observation, and the infection is still raging in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. The battle against Ebola will continue in Nigeria for some time yet.

“This really could be a long and a hard fight,” said David Daigle, a spokesman for the CDC team on Ebola in Nigeria. “We’re optimistic, but we know that this is like a forest fire and if there’s just one ember left in place it could easily start back up.”

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