TIME Infectious Disease

African CDC to Open in 2015

The goal for the agency is to support the continent with active disease surveillance and response

Secretary of State John Kerry signed an agreement Monday to help establish a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Africa.

The memorandum of cooperation, signed by Kerry and African Union Commission (AUC) Chairperson Nkosanzana Dlamini Zuma, makes formal the relationship between the United States CDC and AUC, and mandates the establishment of an African CDC. The new institute, set to launch in 2015, will work to prevent and respond to future outbreaks in the continent, like the Ebola epidemic.

“The West African Ebola epidemic reaffirmed the need for a public health institute to support African ministries of health and other health agencies in their efforts to prevent, detect, and respond to any disease outbreak,” said CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden, in a statement. “This memorandum solidifies the commitment by the United States to advance public health across Africa and global health security.”

The formation of an African CDC has been under development for a few years, and the physical launch of the health institute will happen later this year. An African Surveillance and Response Unit will be established with an emergency operations center. Five regional centers will also be identified with a coordinating center in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. Like the U.S. CDC, there will be epidemiologists at the various locations who will perform disease surveillance, investigation and tracking of infection trends. The new unit will also provide response expertise during large outbreaks.

“With the African CDC in place, these volunteers and others can be organized to form a deployable force ready to serve Member States during future health emergency responses on the continent,” said a CDC statement.

TIME

How a Marvel Comic Hero Became the Icon of the Fight Against ISIS

The Punisher skull logo seen painted on the helmet of an Iraqi army soldier patrolling in Baghdad in 2007.
Patrick Baz—AFP/Getty Images The Punisher skull logo seen painted on the helmet of an Iraqi army soldier patrolling in Baghdad in 2007.

The creator of The Punisher says he is 'flabbergasted' by the appropriation of his image by Iraqi fighters

The stencils of skulls on the vests of Iraqi fighters entering Tikrit last week may look familiar to many Americans. The long fanged, wincing face is that of the Punisher, a Marvel comic character whose mission is to fight evil employing all means necessary.

The Punisher’s journey from the mind of a Californian comic-book writer to the battle for Tikrit has been a long one. He was created 40 years ago as an anti-hero cameo for a Feb. 1974 edition of The Amazing Spider-Man.

“The Punisher was originally conceived as a secondary, one-issue, throw-away character,” says Gerry Conway who created the Punisher along with artists John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru. “But readers really responded to him. He was sort of like an anti-villain, as opposed to an anti-hero.”

In his regular life the Punisher is Frank Castle, a veteran of the Vietnam War whose family was killed in the crossfire of a mob dispute. Angry that the police fail to bring his family’s killers to justice, Castle takes the law into his own hands as the Punisher, using torture, murder and kidnapping in his anti-crime crusade. For the Punisher the ends justify the means in fighting evil.

“That is paralleling the Shi’ite militia,” says Aymenn al-Tamimi, a researcher at the Philadelphia-based think tank Middle East Forum.

As a poorly-guided vigilante the Punisher is a well-suited icon for the Iraqi security forces and Shi’ite militia that have been accused of looting towns, burning homes and murder in their fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Italian journalist Daniele Raineri documented the popularity of the Punisher image throughout Iraq in a series of tweets last week.

“I think they forget the American association and just think, ‘oh, look how cool we are with these death skulls’,” says Tamimi. He points out that Iraqis appropriate “American symbols, despite of course the rampant anti-Americanism particularly with the Shi’ite militias. It’s an interesting discord.”

These Iraqi fighters are not the first Middle East militants to appropriate American insignia. Tamimi points to the example of the Iraqi Shiite militia Faylaq al-Wa’ad al-Sadiq, which uses the famous image of American soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima during World War II on their logo—despite its association with the U.S.

Faylaq al-Wa’ad al-Sadiq “is about as anti-American has you can get. It was a proxy group set up to attack U.S. forces in the days of the Iraq war,” says Tamimi. “‘I think they come to the point where they forget about the American connection and they just see these as general symbols of military might and strength.”

In the case of the Punisher, it was actually U.S. soldiers that first brought him to the battlefield in Iraq. The unit of Chris Kyle, the American Sniper, called themselves the Punishers, labeling their gear with the four-fang skull and painting it on walls of Iraqi homes and buildings to mark their territory.

“He righted wrongs. He killed bad guys. He made wrongdoers fear him,” wrote Kyle in his autobiography, which details his life as the U.S.’s most deadly sniper. “We spray-painted it on our Hummers and body armor, and our helmets and all our guns. We spray-painted it on every building or wall we could, We wanted people to know, We’re here and we want to f**k with you.”

For Conway, the appropriation of his comic character by gun-toting soldiers and militiamen is uncomfortable, if not depressing.

MarvelPunisher Vol 6 #9

“I was an anti-war person. I argued against it and certainly wrote against it,” says Conway who was 21-years-old when he invented the character. At the time he filed for conscious objector status before being excused from the draft for the Vietnam War on medical grounds. “We’d probably be considered the weak-kneed hippies they’d want to punch out.”

Perhaps the strangest thing for Conway is how popular the Punisher has become despite the character’s moral ambiguity and violent actions. People wearing t-shirts with the skull emblem regularly approach Conway at comic-book conventions, proclaiming the Punisher is their favorite character.

“In my mind he’s not a good guy,” say Conway.

However, Conway says he can understand how the Punisher may appeal to soldiers and militiamen who risk their lives for a cause in sometimes morally difficult situations.

“Here’s a guy that never questions himself. He never asks, ‘am I doing the right thing?’ say Conway. “I think there is something really attractive about that to people.”

It was so attractive, that in Kyle’s memoir he notes that his unit’s sister platoon had wanted to use the Punisher also.

“We told them we are the Punishers. They had to get their own symbol,” wrote Kyle. But while they might have stopped their American comrades from adopting the Punisher, they clearly had no control over the Iraqi fighters of today. And Conway has no control at all over who uses his character.

“I’m flabbergasted by the whole thing,” says Conway. “It’s very strange for me as creator to see this. Nobody asked my permission.”

Read next: The New Spider-Man Will Be a Teenage Peter Parker, Again

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME World

A Sword-Wielding Polish Prince Just Challenged a U.K. Politician to a Duel

"I’d like us to meet in Hyde Park one morning, with our swords, and resolve this matter"

The son of a celebrated Polish cavalry officer has formally challenged an English parliamentary candidate to a duel.

Polish prince Janek Żyliński challenged UKIP leader Nigel Farage to a 18th-century-style duel in a video posted on Youtube. Janek is the son of Andrzej Żyliński, a Polish officer who led a charge against the Nazis in 1939, according to the Independent.

“I’ve had enough of the discrimination against Polish people in this country,” Żyliński said before brandishing the sword his father used in World War II. “The most idiotic example I’ve heard of has been Mr. Nigel Farage blaming migrants for traffic jams on the M40.”

“What I’d like to do is to challenge you to a duel. I’d like us to meet in Hyde Park one morning, with our swords, and resolve this matter,” he continued.

“It is an impressive sword,” Farage said in response to the video, according to Sky News. “I don’t have one but I’m sure we could find one if we had to. But I’m not intending to accept the offer.”

[The Independent]

TIME legal

This Country Just Banned Revenge Porn

TIME.com stock photos Computer Keyboard Typing Hack
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

New U.K. law cracks down on many kinds of online abuse

The United Kingdom is cracking down on people who share nude photos of their exes without their consent, a practice known as revenge porn.

Under the U.K.’s new Criminal Justice and Courts Act enacted Monday, anyone who discloses private sexual photographs of another person with the intent to cause distress could be prosecuted. Violating the new law carries a punishment of up to two years in prison, a fine or both. The law applies to photos shared both online and offline, according to The Telegraph.

The new law marks the U.K.’s first time revenge porn has been listed as a specific crime.

The U.K. is also cracking down on Internet trolls through the new act. Punishment for abusive messages that have the “intention of causing distress or anxiety” will be punishable by up to two years in prison, up from a six-month maximum under previous rules.

TIME Aviation

Airline Service Is Getting Worse, Study Finds

Airplane Interior
Getty Images

The Airline Quality Rating has been measuring the performance of airlines for 25 years.

In what seems like a broken record, the quality of airline service deteriorated last year as carriers continued to squeeze passengers in numerous ways.

“As a group they generally did worse,” said Dean Headley of Wichita State University. “We track four elements that we think are consumer relevant, on-time, baggage handling, complaints and things like that and literally all four of those got worse for the industry this year.”

The Airline Quality Rating, conducted by Wichita State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, has been measuring the performance of airlines for 25 years.

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME conflict

Boko Haram Violence Has Forced 800,000 Children From Homes, Report Says

Civilians who fled the fighting in Bama and the surrounding areas in recent days walk at a makeshift camp for displaced people on the outskirts of Maiduguri, Nigeria on March 25, 2015.
Nichole Sobecki—AFP/Getty Images Civilians who fled the fighting in Bama and the surrounding areas in recent days walk at a makeshift camp for displaced people on the outskirts of Maiduguri, Nigeria on March 25, 2015.

"Children have become deliberate targets"

(LAGOS, Nigeria) — The children’s drawings show men with guns, a coffin, a car exploding. One picture has stick-like figures of eight siblings missed by their teenage sister.

The disturbing images come from some of an estimated 800,000 children forced from the homes by Boko Haram extremists, according to a UNICEF report published Monday.

It says the number of refugee children has doubled in the past year, making them about half of all the 1.5 million Nigerians made homeless in the Islamic uprising.

“Children have become deliberate targets, often subjected to extreme violence – from sexual abuse and forced marriage to kidnappings and brutal killings,” the report says. “Children have also become weapons, made to fight alongside armed groups and at times used as human bombs.”

The number of children absent from primary school in Nigeria has increased from 8 million in 2007 to 10.5 million- the highest figure in the world, it says. Boko Haram has targeted schools, destroying or severely damaging more than 300 and killing 314 students and 196 teachers, UNICEF says.

The nickname of Nigeria’s home-grown Islamic extremist group, Boko Haram, means “Western education is forbidden” or sinful.

One picture in the UNICEF report shows stick figures of the eight siblings missed by Rita, a 14-year-old living in a refugee camp in neighboring Chad with her mother, father and one younger sister. They became separated when Boko Haram attacked the Nigerian town of Baga, and she knows how worried they must be.

“When you have your mother around, you (are) not worried about anything. But if she is missing … you are worried the whole time,” the report quotes Rita as saying.

Called “Missing Childhoods,” the report was published ahead of the first anniversary of the mass kidnappings the night of April 14-15, 2014, of nearly 300 schoolgirls from Chibok. Dozens escaped on their own but 219 remain missing.

TIME Australia

Australia to Cut Benefits for Parents Who Don’t Vaccinate Kids

"The choice made by families not to immunize their children is not supported by public policy or medical research," Prime Minister Tony Abbott said

Australia is set to cut thousands of dollars of welfare benefits for parents who don’t vaccinate their children, top officials said Sunday, ending a “conscientious objector” exemption to vaccination requirements.

“Parents who vaccinate their children should have confidence that they can take their children to child care without the fear that their children will be at risk of contracting a serious or potentially life-threatening illness because of the conscientious objections of others,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in a statement.

The change in policy, which will take effect Jan. 1, 2016, will keep in place medical exemptions and some religious exemptions, Abbott said. It could ultimately cost parents who don’t vaccinate their children up to $11,000 a year in welfare benefits, CNN reports.

The move comes after a measles outbreak in the U.S. briefly reignited the debate over vaccinations, which persists in the U.S. despite scientific consensus that vaccinations are safe and that wide use is needed to establish the so-called “herd immunity” that protects entire populations.

“Australia now has childhood vaccination rates over 90 percent… but more needs to be done to ensure we protect our children and our community from preventable diseases,” Abbott said. “The choice made by families not to immunize their children is not supported by public policy or medical research nor should such action be supported by taxpayers in the form of child care payments.”

TIME China

China’s Trade Decline Shows Signs of Economic Weakness

Investors look at an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shenyang, Liaoning province, China on March 30, 2015.
Sheng Li—Reuters Investors look at an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shenyang, Liaoning province, China on March 30, 2015.

The decline has deepened since mid-2014

(BEIJING) — China’s trade contracted in March by an unexpectedly wide margin, adding to expectations that Beijing will launch new stimulus to shore up weakening growth in the world’s second-largest economy.

Exports fell 15 percent compared with a year earlier to $144.6 billion following a 20.5 percent contraction the previous month, customs data showed Monday. Imports declined 12.7 percent to $141.5 billion.

The decline fueled fears that economic growth in the first three months of this year, due to be reported this week, fell further after declining to 7.3 percent in the final quarter of 2015.

The weakness “represents not only monthly volatility but also further weakness in foreign trade, adding uncertainties to economic recovery,” Citigroup economist Minggao Shen said in a report.

The economy has cooled steadily as communist leaders try to steer China to more sustainable growth based on domestic consumption and reduce reliance on trade and investment. Last year’s full-year growth of 7.4 percent was the lowest in two decades.

The decline has deepened since mid-2014, feeding concern that growth might be falling too sharply and raising the risk of politically dangerous job losses.

To spur growth, Beijing has cut interest rates twice since November. China’s top economic official, Premier Li Keqiang, said in March that Beijing might intervene to stimulate growth if employment weakens too much.

Also in March, the central bank governor, Zhou Xiaochuan, said economic growth had fallen “too sharply.” He said inflation has fallen so low that the country should be alert to the possibility of deflation, or a damaging overall decline in prices.

Total imports and exports in the first three months of the year fell 6.3 percent from a year earlier, making it unlikely China can meet the Communist Party’s official target of 6 percent growth for the year.

That “dismal performance” increases the chances Beijing might roll out more help for Chinese exporters following the announcement of export rebates in March, economist Brian Jackson of IHS Global Insight said in a report.

TIME India

Indian Political Party Advocates the Denial of Voting Rights for Muslims

Protest against release of 2008 Mumbai attacks mastermind
EPA Activists of India's right-wing Shiv Sena party shout slogans before they burnt posters of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi (C-bottom), alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks during a protest against Zaki-ur-Rehman's release, in New Delhi, on April 11, 2015.

The party hastily back-tracked after the editorial in its official publication caused outrage

A major Indian political party called for the voting rights of Muslims to be revoked in an editorial published Sunday, a statement that was slammed across the board and left its leadership red-faced and hastily backtracking.

The editorial was published in Saamana — the mouthpiece of the right-wing Shiv Sena party — and reiterated a statement from its late founder Balasaheb Thackeray that advocated the withdrawal of Muslim people’s right to vote, the Indian Express reported.

“If Muslims are being used … to play politics, they can never develop,” the editorial reads. “Balasaheb had once said voting rights of Muslims should be withdrawn. What he said is right.”

The statement invoked the condemnation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well as the opposition Congress party and several others.

“The Indian Constitution has given every citizen, irrespective of his/ her caste, community or religion, the right to vote,” said BJP spokesman Madhav Bhandari. “Those who express such views are blatantly violating the Indian Constitution. Strict action should be taken against them for such remarks.”

Senior Congress politician Anand Sharma called the editorial “unacceptable,” adding that “those behind the remarks have no place in a culture like ours.”

Neelam Gorhe, a state legislator from the Shiv Sena, sought to downplay her party’s controversial stand. “What [the Saamana editor] meant was that Muslims are being exploited for vote bank, and this will not lead to their development,” she said. “He is not suggesting that their voting rights should be taken away.”

The rights of India’s minorities have become a major issue since Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP came to power, with several controversial statements over the past year including one by the leader of a Hindu fundamentalist organization just a day before the Shiv Sena editorial, calling for the forced sterilization of Muslims and Christians.

Later on Monday, controversial BJP lawmaker Sakshi Maharaj (who once said all Hindu women should produce four children) echoed the Shiv Sena’s viewpoint by implying that Muslims should indulge in family planning or be “stripped of their voting right”.

Read next: What India Can Teach Us About Islam and Assimilation

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Egypt

Attacks on Troops in Egypt’s Sinai Kill at Least 14

Egyptians gather at the scene following a bombing that struck a main police station in the capital of the northern Sinai province in el-Arish, Egypt on April 12, 2015.
Muhamed Sabry—AP Egyptians gather at the scene following a bombing that struck a main police station in the capital of the northern Sinai province in el-Arish, Egypt on April 12, 2015.

Militants attacked a police station in Sinai and detonated a bomb against an armored vehicle, killing mostly policemen

(EL-ARISH, Egypt) — At least 14 people, mostly Egyptian policemen, were killed Sunday in separate operations when militants attacked a police station in the provincial capital of Egypt’s northern Sinai, and detonated a roadside bomb against a passing armored vehicle, officials said.

Northern Sinai has witnessed a series of complex and successful attacks targeting Egyptian security forces, many of which have been claimed by a local affiliate of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham). Twitter accounts affiliated with the group claimed responsibility for the Sunday attacks.

In the largest of the day’s attacks, a suspected car bomber detonated his vehicle at the entrance of a large police station in el-Arish, the capital of North Sinai province, killing at least six, including five policemen, and injuring several civilians, the Interior Ministry said.

By nightfall, Health Ministry Spokesman Hossam Abdel-Ghaffar in Cairo said at least eight bodies were pulled from the rubble, while 45 people were injured, including some in critical condition.

The blast left a deep crater in the residential area, and damaged several homes nearby. Officials said rescue crews were still searching through the rubble for survivors and the death toll was expected to rise.

The explosion was the second attack Sunday on troops in Sinai. Earlier in the day, six soldiers, including an officer, were killed when a roadside bomb struck their armored vehicle traveling south of el-Arish. In a third smaller attack, militants clashed with soldiers at a mobile checkpoint in Rafah, south of el-Arish, wounding one police officer and two soldiers.

Sunday is Eastern Orthodox Easter in Egypt, and police have been on high alert against attacks.

The attacks took place as Egypt’s defense minister carried out a limited military reshuffle, replacing the commander of the army division responsible for securing northern Sinai.

Maj. Gen. Mohammed el-Shahat, who only commanded Egypt’s second field army for about a year, was promoted to head of military intelligence; el-Shahat’s deputy, Maj. Gen. Nasser el-Assi, will replace him.

In a statement posted on its official Facebook page, the Interior Ministry —which oversees the police — said a suicide bomber in a small truck drove through a checkpoint outside the police station, causing guards to open fire before the vehicle exploded. The ministry said five policemen and a civilian were killed in the explosion.

An official said the dead include two ranking police officers and two conscripts.

The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.

Residents say the explosion outside one of four main police stations in el-Arish shook the surrounding district. One woman said her house walls cracked. Cars outside the station were on fire.

Abu Mohammed, a resident who lives near the police station, said body parts littered the area after the huge explosion, which also split an armored car into two. He said the suicide bomber kept on driving past sand mounds and a cement blast wall securing the station — all despite coming under heavy fire from the guards.

“Those at the other end of town heard the explosion. It was humongous. It terrified us,” Abu Mohammed said, using an alias for fear of reprisals from the militants. “I am not afraid of them. I only fear for those around me. We will not leave our town until we liberate it from those terrorists.”

The new army commander in the area, el-Assi, inherits the simmering Sinai-based Islamic insurgency that continues to target army soldiers and police officers despite an intensive military campaign. The attacks surged following the 2013 military ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

The largest Sinai-based militant group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, pledged allegiance to ISIS last year and now refers to itself as the group’s Sinai Province.

Earlier this month, the IS affiliate in Sinai killed at least 16 soldiers and three civilians and kidnapped a conscript. On Friday they posted a video showing the kidnapped soldier pleading with Egyptians not to join the army before being shot to death.

The reshuffle in military leadership also included the commander of the Egyptian navy at a time when the navy could begin playing an increasingly prominent role, because of the Yemeni crisis. Egyptian warships are already deployed off the coast of Yemen to secure the strategically vital Bab el-Mandab strait — the gateway to the Suez Canal.

Egypt is currently a main member of the Saudi-led military coalition launching airstrikes against Shiite rebels who have conquered the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, and forced out the Western-backed president. Egyptian military leaders have repeatedly stated their willingness to commit ground troops, if necessary, to the operation.

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