Akex Park

Alex Park

Writing Fellow

Alex Park is a recent graduate of the UC-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. His work has been published in PBS/MediaShift, New America Media, allAfrica.com, Time.com, and the Believer.

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A recent graduate of the UC-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, Alex Park is an investigative journalist with an interest in global agriculture. He has blogged in South Africa and reported on Cyprus, and in college he published an award-winning paper on a 2008 period of anti-immigrant violence in South Africa, since cited in academic works. Currently, his interests lie explaining complex social systems—be they governments, conflicts, trade patterns, or waves of immigration—for a general audience. His work has been published on PBS/MediaShift, New America Media, allAfrica.com, the Believer, and Time.com

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Russia Is Going After McDonald’s. (Can We Give Them Jack in the Box?)

| Fri Aug. 29, 2014 4:28 PM EDT
A McDonalds in St. Petersburg, Russia

Russia's health inspection agency is scrutinizing more than 100 McDonald's locations and has forced the company to temporarily close multiple others in the country. The agency says McDonalds outlets are getting inspected because some have violated sanitary regulations— but others see retaliation for US sanctions on Russia.

"This is a prominent symbol of the U.S. It has a lot of restaurants and therefore is a meaningful target," Yulia Bushueva, managing director for Arbat Capital, an investment advisory company, told Bloomberg. "I don't recall McDonald's having consumer-safety problems of such a scale in over more than two decades of presence in Russia."

McDonald's was the first fast food chain to enter Russia, and it holds some symbolic importance in the country. The first location opened in Pushkin Square in Moscow in January 1990 to one utterly massive line (see video below). This was shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall but nearly two years before the dissolution of the Soviet Union when Western brands of any stripe were a rare sight in Russia. At the time, the site of the Golden Arches in the center of Moscow signaled the arrival of a new era of prosperity and integration with the world economy.

Today, there are more than 400 McDonald's outlets in the country. Many are owned locally. The company employs more than 37,000 people in Russia and sources 85 percent of its products from Russian suppliers, according to its website.

But as Russia and the West began facing off over Ukraine this spring, McDonald's has fallen victim to their power struggle. In April, McDonald's announced it would close it's three company-owned locations in Crimea "due to operational reasons beyond our control," according to their statement to Reuters.

That decision was praised by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a prominent legislator and Putin supporter, who suggested the chain should leave Russia as well. "It would be good if they closed here too, if they disappeared for good," he said in Russian media. "Pepsi-Cola would be next." Zhirinovsky also proposed instructing members of his Liberal Democratic party to picket outside McDonald's until they closed.

Since August 20, McDonald's has temporarily closed 12 locations throughout Russia, including four in Krasnodar, near the black sea, and the iconic first-ever location in Moscow. Burger King, Subway, and KFC— which have all seen big expansions in Russia in recent years— have remained unscathed.

This is What a Russian Invasion of Ukraine Looks Like

| Thu Aug. 28, 2014 2:56 PM EDT

It has become quite hard for Vladimir Putin to deny that Russia's activities in Eastern Europe aren't benign. On Thursday, Ukraine's president, Petro Poroshenko, announced that "Russian forces have actually entered Ukraine." And at a State Department briefing, spokeswoman Jen Psaki called Russia's activities "an incursion and a violation of Ukraine's sovereignty."

The most striking evidence comes from NATO, which has released satellite photos of what it calls "concrete examples of Russian activity inside Ukraine."

Digital Globe/NATO

According to NATO, the image above depicts a Russian convoy carrying artillery in Krasnodon, an area of Ukraine currently controlled by pro-Russian separatists, on August 21.

Digital Globe/NATO

This shows artillery setting up in firing positions in Krasnodon. "This configuration is exactly how trained military professionals would arrange their assets on the ground, indicating that these are not unskilled amateurs, but Russian soldiers," a NATO press release notes.

Digital Globe/NATO

This image shows side-by-side photos of Rostov-on-Don, about 31 miles from the Ukrainian border, taken two months apart. The photo on the left, taken on June 19, shows the area mostly empty. The photo on the right shows the same area on August 20 occupied with tanks and other armored vehicles, cargo trucks, and tents. These units "are capable of attacking with little warning, and could potentially overwhelm and push-back Ukrainian units," according to NATO.

Digital Globe/NATO

According to NATO, this image shows Russian six artillery pieces, probably 6-inch howitzers, positioned six miles south of the Ukrainian border. The guns are pointed toward Ukraine.

Earthquake Warning Systems Exist. But California Won't Pay for One.

| Tue Aug. 26, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
The aftermath of California's August 24 earthquake in Napa, California

As Bay Area residents clean their streets and homes after the biggest earthquake to hit California in 25 years rocked Napa Valley this weekend, scientists are pushing lawmakers to fund a statewide system that could warn citizens about earthquakes seconds before they hit.

California already has a system, called ShakeAlert, that uses a network of sensors around the state to detect earthquakes just before they happen. The system—a collaboration between the University of California-Berkeley, Caltech, the US Geological Survey (USGS), and various state offices—detects a nondestructive current called a P-wave that emanates from a quake's epicenter just before the destructive S-wave shakes the earth. ShakeAlert has successfully predicted several earthquakes, including this weekend's Napa quake. It could be turned into a statewide warning system. But so far, the money's not there.

"For years, seismic monitoring has been funded, essentially, on a shoestring," says Peggy Hellweg, operations manager at UC-Berkeley's seismological lab.

Maintaining ShakeAlert in its current state costs $15 million a year—a tiny fraction of the estimated $1 billion in damage caused by the Napa quake. Turning it into a statewide early-warning system would require installing new earthquake sensors throughout the state, building faster connections between sensors and data centers, and upgrading the data centers themselves. Since many of California's population centers, including the Bay Area, sit on fault lines, a warning system would likely give residents little time to prepare, ranging "from a few seconds to a few tens of seconds," depending on a person's proximity to the earthquake's epicenter, according to ShakeAlert's website—not enough time to leave a large building, but perhaps enough to take cover under a desk or table. Warnings could be deployed via text messages, push notifications, or publicly funded alert systems. Setting the whole thing up could cost as much as $80 million over five years—and keeping it running would cost more than $16 million annually, according to a USGS implementation plan published earlier this year.

In September 2013, the California legislature passed a bill requiring the state's emergency management office to work with private companies to develop an early warning system, but forbade it from pulling money from the state's general fund. The effort got a boost last month when the House appropriations committee approved $5 million for the system, the first time Congress has allocated money for a statewide system. But the project is still short on funding. 

An earthquake early-warning system would not be a unprecedented: Similar systems already exist in China, India, Italy, Romania, Taiwan, and Turkey. In Mexico City, a warning system connected to sensors 200 miles to the south gave residents two minutes' warning before a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck earlier this year—enough time for many to leave buildings and congregate in open areas. 

More than 200 people were injured following last weekend's Napa earthquake, 17 of them seriously, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Among those hit was a boy who was hit by debris from a falling chimney. 

On Monday, the USGS said the likelihood of a "strong and possibly damaging" aftershock (magnitude 5.0 or higher) occurring within the next week was around 29 percent.

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