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Nancy Johnston (Family handout/AP)

NATO rescue

And more news briefs

Issue: "The brain trust," June 30, 2012

Four aid workers held captive for nearly 12 days in a remote cave in Afghanistan won their freedom on June 2 after NATO forces rescued the group during a daring nighttime raid.

The group included two Afghans, a British woman, and a Kenyan woman working on nutrition and hygiene projects for the Swiss-based Medair aid group. Armed gunmen abducted the workers on May 22 as they traveled on horseback to deliver relief in remote sections of Badakhshan province.

The NATO troops launched the rescue mission during the early morning hours using helicopter support, according to a NATO spokesman. The team included British forces authorized by Prime Minister David Cameron. Five kidnappers died during the raid. NATO commander General John Allen suggested the abductors were Taliban operatives.

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Medair delivers aid to some of the most dangerous parts of the world and has worked in Afghanistan since 1996. In a statement after the NATO raid, Medair CEO Jim Ingram said the rescued workers were "safe, healthy, and in good spirits." He also said that Afghans living in remote areas remain in danger: "Against a backdrop of violence, drought, and chronic poverty, the Afghan people are more vulnerable than ever."

Doubling down

If a government trying to get control of its finances is practicing austerity, then what France did on June 6 could be called audacity. Despite a heavy debt problem and an increasing lifespan among the French population, new President François Hollande announced that his government would lower the retirement age for many workers to 60 from 62.

The policy reverses his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy's move that increased the minimum retirement age to 62. Sarkozy's reform prompted nationwide protests that helped elect Hollande in May. Under Hollande's decree, which will take effect in November, a French citizen who entered the work force at age 18 or 19 will be eligible for a full pension at age 60.

The change comes as Europe faces a mounting crisis over debt brought on by expensive pensions and social welfare programs. Other nations, such as Germany, have been raising their retirement ages amid growing lifespans and falling birth rates. (Germany's retirement age will go from age 65 to age 67 by 2029.) Life expectancy in France is 85 years for women and 78 years for men, among the longest in the world.

Activist arrives

During his first days of freedom in the United States, blind human-rights activist Chen Guangcheng offered an assessment of Chinese officials who abuse their own citizens: "Their moral standards are rock bottom."

Chen arrived in New York City on May 19 after a harrowing escape from brutal house arrest in his home province of Shandong. He took refuge in the U.S. embassy in Beijing for nearly two weeks before Chinese officials allowed Chen and his immediate family to leave China for law studies at New York University.

The activist endured years of imprisonment and house arrest for protesting thousands of forced abortions and sterilizations in his home province that violated Chinese law. During a press conference at the Council on Foreign Relations in Manhattan on May 31, Chen told a packed audience: "China does not lack laws, but the rule of law."

Chen said that he would spend the summer catching up on news he missed during nearly seven years in captivity, and pursuing something else he hasn't enjoyed in years: "I need some rest."

Dollar collared

Police arrested televangelist Creflo Dollar of megachurch World Changers Church International on June 8, after his 15-year-old daughter alleged that he choked and hit her when he wouldn't let her go to a party. One of Dollar's other teenage daughters confirmed the 15-year-old's account to police. Dollar, who was released on bail, denied the allegations as "sensationalism" before his congregation the following Sunday. "I should never have been arrested," Dollar told his church. "The truth is that a family conversation with our youngest daughter got emotional, emotions got involved, and things escalated from there." Dollar, a preacher of the prosperity gospel, came under a Senate investigation in 2011 for his personal use of church airplanes and credit cards.

Man knows not his time

Futuristic author Ray Bradbury, famous for his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, died June 5 at age 91. Fahrenheit 451, the temperature at which books burn, tells the story of a fireman who is drawn to read the books he is forced to burn. Bradbury wrote the novel, which now has millions of copies in print, in the space of nine days.

He was prolific the rest of his career, writing more novels like The Martian Chronicles as well as short stories and scripts for movies and television series. When NASA's Phoenix spacecraft traveled to Mars in 2008, it left a digital copy of The Martian Chronicles on the red planet. Bradbury was a cheerleader for space exploration and colonization, because, he supposed, "When we do that, we will live forever."


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