World

South Korea "Blackout Bombs" Can Take Down Pyongyang Without Firing a Shot

The South Korean military is developing a new weapon to fight North Korea’s growing nuclear capabilities.

Seoul’s Agency for Defense Development (ADD) has acquired the technology to build graphite bombs, non-lethal weapons that can take down North Korea’s power system in case of a war, according to military sources who spoke to South Korea’s news agency Yonhap on Sunday.

“All technologies for the development of a graphite bomb led by the ADD have been secured," a military official said. "It is in the stage where we can build the bombs anytime."

Known as “blackout bombs,” the warheads can be dropped by a plane over power stations. A form of cluster bombs, they split into several canister-like “sub-munitions,” which in turn release carbon graphite filaments that short-circuit the electricity supplies.

The bombs were first used by the U.S. Navy in 1991 to black out power supply in Iraq during the first Gulf War. They were later also deployed against Serbia during the Balkan conflict in 1999.

After their use in Kosovo, NATO spokesperson Jamie Shea said that the bomb’s impact is mostly psychological, as the targeted country feels literally and figuratively powerless. “We can turn the power off whenever we need to and whenever we want to," Shea told the BBC at the time.

South Korea is adding the weapons to its arsenal as part of one of its recently-developed military programs, the so-called “Kill Chain,” which aims to detect an imminent missile attack from the North and react with a pre-emptive strike.

Read more: Donald Trump agrees South Korea should have bigger warheads to face North Korea

As reported by the Korea Times in 2016, the arms build-up also includes the Korea Air and Missile Defense Program, tasked with tracking and shooting down nuclear missiles heading for South Korea, and an initiative known as the Korean Massive Punishment and Retaliation system, which would first strike back against a North Korean attack.

Originally due for completion in the mid-2020s, South Korea has sped up the program’s timeline to face North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear weapons development program.

Monitoring groups such as the Nuclear Threat Initiative recorded Pyongyang conducting 19 missile tests this year alone, including two intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. North Korea also tested a hydrogen bomb in its sixth—and most powerful—nuclear test to date.

The South Korean military says there are no signs of an imminent threat.

"We have yet to detect any signs of immediate provocations from North Korea," a South Korean military source said on Monday, quoted in Yonhap, adding: "We are maintaining an upgraded monitoring effort to guard against any developments."

Courtesy: Yahonews- Newsweek

Read more

Austria"s "Burqa Ban" law comes into force

VIENNA (AP) — A law that forbids any kind of full-face covering, including Islamic veils such as the niqab or burqa, has come into force in Austria.

Starting Sunday, wearing a ski mask off the slopes, a surgical mask outside hospitals and party masks in public is prohibited.

The law, popularly known as the "Burqa Ban," is mostly seen as a directed at the dress worn by some ultra-conservative Muslim women.

Violations carry a possible fine of 150 euros (nearly $180.) Police are authorized to use force if people resist showing their faces.

Only a small number of Muslim women in Austria wear full-face veils, but they have become a target for right-wing groups and political parties.

France and Belgium have similar laws. The nationalist Alternative for Germany party is calling for one there, too.


Courtesy to: yahoo news

Read more

‘A disaster in the making’: Pakistan’s population surges to 207.7 million

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan — For years, Pakistan's soaring population growth has been evident in increasingly crowded schools, clinics and poor communities across this vast, Muslim-majority nation. But until two weeks ago, no one knew just how serious the problem was. Now they do. 

Preliminary results from a new national census — the first conducted since 1998 — show that the population has grown by 57 percent since then, reaching 207.7 million and making Pakistan the world's fifth-most-populous country, surpassing Brazil and ranking behind China, India, the United States and Indonesia. The annual birthrate, while gradually declining, is still alarmingly high. At 22 births per 1,000 people, it is on a par with Bolivia and Haiti, and among the highest outside Africa. 

"The exploding population bomb has put the entire country's future in jeopardy," columnist Zahid Hussain wrote in the Dawn newspaper recently. With 60 percent of the population younger than 30, nearly a third of Pakistanis living in poverty and only 58 percent literate, he added, "this is a disaster in the making."
The chief causes of the continuing surge, according to population experts, include religious taboos, political timidity and public ignorance, especially in rural areas. Only a third of married Pakistani women use any form of birth control, and the only family-planning method sanctioned by most Islamic clerics is spacing births by breast-feeding newborns for two years.
Even if the birthrate slows, some experts estimate that Pakistan's population could double again by midcentury, putting catastrophic pressures on water and sanitation systems, swamping health and education services, and leaving tens of millions of people jobless — prime recruits for criminal networks and violent Islamist groups. 

But instead of encouraging fresh ideas to address the population crisis, the census has triggered a rash of arguments over whether certain areas have been over- or undercounted, or reclassified as urban instead of rural. These squabbles amount to fights over political and financial spoils, including the number of provincial assembly seats and the amount of funding from the central government. 

A few people, however, are paying close attention to the larger picture. One is Shireen Sukhun, a district officer for the Population Welfare Department in Punjab province. Her mission is to persuade Pakistani families to have fewer children and offer the families access to contraceptive methods — but she is keenly aware of the obstacles.

"The fatal combination we face is poverty and illiteracy," Sukhun said. "It takes a long time to change people's mind-sets, and we don't have the luxury of leaving it to time."

One outpost in her campaign is a tiny, bench-lined room in Dhoke Hassu, a congested working-class area of Rawalpindi. Inside, Rubina Rehman, a family welfare worker, listens all day to women's problems with feverish babies, painful deliveries and other woes. Once they feel comfortable with her, she broaches the topic of contraception. 

It has not been an easy sell. All the clients are Muslims, and most have little education. Some have been taught that God wants them to have many children. Some have husbands who earn too little to feed a large family but keep wanting another child. Some would like help but are too shy to discuss a taboo topic. 

"When we first opened this post, women were frightened to come, and some people asked why we were against increasing the ummah [Muslim masses]," Rehman said. "But we explained how the prophet taught that you should have a gap of 24 months between each child, and that you should consider the family's resources when making decisions. Now we do not face such opposition." 
On Thursday, a dozen women crowded into Rehman's office, some carrying infants or toddlers. Several leaned close and whispered to her, then slipped packets of birth-control pills into their purses. One woman named Yasina, 35, explained proudly that she had gotten an "implant" — a hormone dose injected under the skin that prevents conception for several years. 

"I already have five children, and that is more than enough," she said. At first she had agreed to a tubal ligation, which the government arranges at no cost, but her husband, a laborer, would not allow it. "So I got the implant instead, and I didn't tell him," she said, bursting into laughter as the other women smiled.  

Outside, the markets and alleys of Dhoke Hassu were teeming with a mix of Afghan refugees, migrants from rural Punjab and government workers. Some expressed confidence that God would provide for any children that came. But many said that it was important to balance family size with income and that their Muslim beliefs did not conflict with such practical needs.

"If half of our population is young, what will happen to their lives, their jobs, their needs?" mused Rizvi Salim, 29, a government railways employee carrying his only child, a 2-year-old girl, in his arms. Salim said that he was raised with seven siblings but that today, "things have changed. We do believe that God will take care of us all, but we also need to plan for our futures."  
But upwardly mobile urban communities are more open to such perspectives than rural areas, where two-thirds of all Pakistanis live. In village life, the influences of traditional culture and Islamic teachings are stronger, and the reach of public media campaigns about baby spacing is much more limited.  
Attempts to open rural family welfare offices are often met with community suspicion and political opposition, but health officials say more mothers are asking about birth control. The remaining major taboo, they said, is permanent contraceptive practices such as vasectomies or tubal ligations. 

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the population nearly doubled, from 17.7 million in 1998 to 30.5 million this year. The province is home to several million Afghan refugees, numerous Islamist militant groups and conservative religious leaders suspicious of supposed foreign plots to sterilize Muslims. But their views, too, are evolving. 

"Islam does not contradict the idea of family planning, but it challenges the Western concept of birth control," said Mufti Muhammad Israr, a religious scholar in Peshawar, the provincial capital. He said Islam allows "natural family planning" via breast-feeding but not "stopping the reproductive system permanently. The prophet Muhammad asked believers to marry and produce children."

Hospital officials in Mardan, a large district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said this month that they frequently deal with cases of child malnutrition and often see mothers with several very young children. They said that although more married couples are seeking family-planning services, women still have difficulty getting their husbands to cooperate.
One pregnant housewife waiting to see a gynecologist in Mardan had a small child on her lap and a 5-year-old girl by her side. All looked weak and malnourished. 

"My husband doesn't care about my health or the health of our children. He can barely support us, but he wants more," said Zarina Bibi, 34. She said that a doctor had advised her to take a break from childbirth for several years but that she had no choice. "My husband doesn't want birth control." 

Correction: The headline on an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the rate at which Pakistan’s population has grown.

Courtesy: Yahoo news
Haq Nawaz Khan in Peshawar contributed to this report. 

Read more

How can US stop North Korea nukes? 3 experts have ideas

TOKYO — If the U.S. attacks North Korea, the world could see another nuclear war. Yet negotiations won’t work — leader Kim Jong Un won’t live up to his promises even if he were to make any. And China — if only it would help more!

Those are the sentiments that have produced a collective shrug from many as they watch the North make rapid strides toward developing nuclear missiles capable of striking anywhere in the United States.

[For Kim Jong Un, nuclear weapons are a security blanket. And he wants to keep it.]

But Washington hasn’t tried everything yet.

Below, three experts offer ideas on how the U.S. might get out of its policy box on North Korea.

Read: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/how-can-us-stop-north-korea-nukes-3-experts-have-ideas/2017/09/06/64e35666-92d4-11e7-8482-8dc9a7af29f9_story.html?utm_term=.31ae0be31131

Read more

How war with North Korea could start and what it would look like

North Korea has frequently warned that a full-scale conflict is about to break out on the Korean Peninsula - and with belligerent comments coming from both Pyongyang and Washington DC in recent weeks, that possibility may be inching closer.

What was previously dismissed as wild rhetoric, the nightmare scenario become significantly more likely after North Korea carried out two test launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles in June.

The crisis deepened with Pyongyang reacting to the latest sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council by threatening to subject the US mainland to "an unimaginable sea of fire".

In response, US President Donald Trump warned in a televised address that North Korea would be met with "fire and fury like the world has never seen" after a US intelligence assessment concluded that Pyongyang has been able to miniaturise a nuclear warhead to fit atop an ICBM.

In pictures: Japanese military might on display at the foot of Mount Fuji

Ignoring Mr Trump's threats, North Korea fired a missile over Japan, on August 29 prompting the country's warning system to kick in, in a significant escalation of Kim Jong-un's military posturing.

Less than a week later, North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test, which it said was of an advanced hydrogen bomb for a long-range missile, prompting the threat of a "massive" military response from the United States if it or its allies were threatened.

Attack on Guam

North Korean ballistic missiles have sufficient range to cover the 2,100 miles to Guam, although there are still questions about their accuracy and whether nuclear-armed missiles are able survive re-entry.

Pyongyang would be keen to target Guam as its military air and naval facilities make it a key element in any US operations against North Korea, including resupplying ground forces on the Korean Peninsula in the event of a conflict breaking out.

Despite Pyongyang's claims, analysts believe that an unprovoked attack on Guam is "extremely unlikely" because of the inevitable response from Washington.

At a glance | Guam

"If the North launched any sort of attack against Guam, that would be a red line crossed and would be considered by the US to be an act of war," said Garren Mulloy an associate professor of international relations at Japan's Daito Bunka University.

"If they launched ballistic missiles - and especially if they used nuclear weapons - then I imagine the US would reply with targeted nuclear strikes against the North's nuclear facilities or such a vast conventional strike that it would have the same result", he said.

How many people are at risk?

Analysts have devised a number of scenarios of how tensions might develop into a conflict that would devastate the peninsula and, potentially, neighbouring countries such as Japan. 

A conventional war could cost the lives of one million people, according to some estimates, although that figure would rise sharply if either side resorted to weapons of mass destruction. 

North Koreas missile test range

The three most likely scenarios are a limited pre-emptive attack by the US, a first strike by the North, and a sudden escalation of a minor clash into more generalised fighting.

There is little reason to believe that the outcome of any of the three scenarios will be anything other than devastating, said Daniel Pinkston, a professor of international relations at the Seoul campus of Troy University. 

Will the US attack North Korea?

"The idea of a pre-emptive strike to degrade the North's growing nuclear capabilities was considered by the US back in 1993 and 1994, but they decided against it at the time and I think it would be even harder for such an attack to work today", Mr Pinkston told The Telegraph. 

"The North Koreans have learned to disperse their assets, they are using hardened shelters and it would be very difficult to eliminate all those targets", he said. 

There is also a high possibility that not all of the North's military facilities have been identified, while road-mobile tractor-erector-launcher vehicles for missile launches make it harder to track all the North's weapons.
Diplomatically it would be almost impossible for the US to secure international support. China, Pyongyang's main ally, and Russia hold veto votes in the UN Security Council, while South Korea and Japan would likely oppose such an attack as they would bear the brunt of any immediate retaliation.

And while the US could take unilateral action on the grounds of self-defence, Pyongyang would be unlikely to consider surgical strikes against its long-range missiles as anything other than a declaration of war. 

"They would see it as a full-scale attack and use everything that they have at their disposal to avoid their complete destruction", Mr Pinkston said. "And that is why I believe that the 'cure' of a US first strike would be worse than the disease".

What if North Korea attacks first?

The second scenario envisages a sudden attack by the North, most likely if it believes its enemies are planning an attack or an attempt at regime change. One credible belief is that Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator, would rather go down fighting than be deposed and forced into exile, even if that meant widespread death and destruction. 

An estimated 10,000 artillery pieces and rocket launchers are aimed at Seoul, home to 10 million people and a mere 35 miles away. The North would attempt to move troops through tunnels that have been excavated beneath the demilitarised zone, land commando units in the South by submarine, and activate thousands of its sleeper agents who have infiltrated the South. 
US military planners believe the North would initially attempt to physically overrun the South's defences by sheer numbers. South Korea has some 660,000 men under arms, while there are also 28,000 US troops stationed in the country. The North, in contrast, has more than 1 million men and women ready to fight. 

While it has greater manpower, the North is at a significant technological disadvantage and war planners estimate the North's juggernaut would be blunted after about four days of fierce fighting. The US would carry out extensive missile attacks against the North's command-and-control capabilities, while Kim Jong-un and senior military officials would also be targeted in the hope their deaths would damage the morale of the troops.

The US let it be known earlier this year that the SEAL team that killed Osama Bin Laden was training in South Korea for interdiction and "decapitation" operations. 

Could North Korea use WMD?

What concerns war planners most is North Korea's response if defeat appeared inevitable. Would it take a conventional conflict to the next stage?

North Korea has already tested nuclear weapons and many analysts surmise that it has already achieved the miniaturisation of components required to attach a warhead to a missile. Short-range missiles could be launched at troop concentrations or civilian centres in South Korea and Japan, both to cause chaos but also to interfere with the resupply and reinforcement of ground units.
The North is also believed to have significant stockpiles of chemical weapons, including weapons that can be delivered by artillery shells. A number of reports that the regime has developed biological and bactereological weapons have not been confirmed.

The use of any weapon of mass destruction by the North would meet a devastating reply aimed at any remaining targets, but the damage would already have been done. 

What is most likely scenario for war?

For Mr Pinkston, the third scenario is the most likely route to war on the pensinsula.  "The biggest threat, I believe, is an accident, a miscalculation or a misunderstanding escalating very quickly", he said. "If, for example, one of the North's missile test launches went wrong and was heading for South Korea. 

"The South would immediately see that as an attack and would have to respond, which would lead to escalation on both sides", he said.
"Similarly, the North could interpret some new joint exercise in the South as being a prelude to invasion and respond. 

"Both sides are presently on hair triggers and it would not take very much at all for a misjudgement to lead to a high number of casualties and a great deal of destruction", he added.


Courtesy: Yahoo news -  Julian Ryall,The Telegraph

Read more

HOW ISRAEL DEFEATED THE PALESTINIAN DREAM

It was the end of Ramadan, a few days before Eid al-Fitr, a time of feasts and family. But the housewives shopping in a Gaza City market were buying just a few handfuls of vegetables and small pieces of meat. “Nobody can use their refrigerators,” one vendor explains; the power is out for much of the day, and food spoils quickly here. It was the start of a typically harsh summer, with daytime temperatures in the 90s, and in one office after the next, politicians and professors apologized to visitors for the heat—their air conditioners were useless.

After three wars and a decade-long military blockade, Gaza's nearly 2 million people are familiar with hardship. This summer’s power crisis is merely the latest in a long list of shortages of everything from drinking water and cooking gas to cement and cars. But this time, one thing is different: The problem has been created by other Palestinians.

Until recently, Israel provided Gaza with about half of its electricity, paid for by the Palestinian Authority, the internationally recognized body that governs the West Bank. But in April, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, decided to reduce those payments by 40 percent, and on June 11, at the request of the PA, the Israeli security Cabinet approved a commensurate cut in the supply. Most Gazans received just four hours of electricity at a time, followed by 12-hour blackouts; now, they get about two and a half hours at a stretch.

A Palestinian boy in Gaza City, where power outages have been common. Many young Palestinians have given up on the two-state solution and now see the struggle as a civil rights movement. Ali Jadallah/Anadolu/Getty

The reduction was partly an effort to win favor with Donald Trump. Abbas has been eager to establish a good relationship with the new American president, who has repeatedly said he wants to strike the "ultimate deal" between Israel and the Palestinians. Trump tasked his longtime corporate lawyer, Jason Greenblatt, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, with reviving the moribund peace process between the two parties. Abbas hoped that imposing sanctions on Gaza, which is controlled by the militant Islamist group Hamas, would boost his standing. "He believes this is his last chance for a two-state solution," says Salah al-Bardawil, a member of the organization’s politburo. "So he's in a rush to show Trump that he's against terrorism."

But Trump's efforts have already collided with the realities on the ground: a hawkish government in Jerusalem and a divided, unpopular Palestinian leadership. Kushner made a quick trip to the region in mid-June to meet with leaders on both sides. In the days before and after his visit, Israel announced plans to build 7,000 new homes in occupied East Jerusalem and broke ground on a new settlement in the West Bank, the first in more than two decades. Arabic media reported that Kushner’s talks with Abbas were “difficult,” and that Trump might abandon the effort. Even if he plows ahead, few observers expect him to succeed.

By midsummer, the Palestinians were publicly frustrated with what they viewed as the pro-Israeli slant of Trump’s top aides. But Abbas did not abandon the electricity cuts, nor his decisions to halt shipments of medicine to Gaza and reduce the salaries of tens of thousands of civil servants there. They were more than just geopolitical ploys; they were also parts of a long-running internal Palestinian battle—one that now consumes more of their attention than the fight against Israel.

As Samir al-Ajla, a resident of eastern Gaza, puts it: "I never thought the one making my life difficult would be another Palestinian."

A Palestinian protester clashes with Israeli soldiers in a village near the West Bank city of Nablus. Though Israel’s status as a Jewish and democratic state in the very long term is still imperiled, five decades after the occupation began, the Palestinian national movement has been largely defeated. Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP/Getty

The Palestinians, living under occupation or scattered across the diaspora, have long been the weaker party in the conflict with Israel. For decades, though, they were able to put up a costly fight. In the years after the Six-Day War in 1967, they did so from exile in Beirut, Amman and Tunis, a militant campaign that caused chaos across the Arab world and even spilled into Europe. The climax came in the late 1980s, with the start of the first intifada, a homegrown movement of mass protests. Israel responded with brute force, killing and wounding thousands of demonstrators—what then–Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin called its "broken bones" policy. This drew sharp criticism from abroad and helped spur a diplomatic process that culminated in the mid-1990s with the Oslo Accords, which granted the Palestinians a measure of self-governance.

Oslo was meant to last for five years, an interim step toward a final peace agreement. But optimism soon collided with the second intifada, a grisly campaign of suicide bombings that silenced the peace camp in Israel. From there, the Palestinian strategy diverged. Hamas fought three wars. Young Palestinians carried out hundreds of lone wolf attacks in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Israel. The PA, meanwhile, waged a diplomatic battle against Israel, joining the International Criminal Court and winning recognition from the United Nations and a number of European states.

Yet none of these moves forced Israel to make concessions. Over the past decade, Palestinians have killed about 200 Israelis, less than half the number they killed in a single year, 2002, at the height of the second intifada. Lawmakers treat the violence as inevitable. Even at the peak of the last Gaza war, the largest pro-peace rally in Tel Aviv attracted a scant 5,000 protesters. Nearly half a million Israelis, by contrast, turned out in the summer of 2011 to protest the high cost of living. Meanwhile, Abbas's diplomatic efforts haven’t amounted to much: Joining the International Convention Against Doping in Sport has not, it seems, placed any meaningful pressure on Israel.

Instead, the Palestinians have spent the past 10 years fighting among themselves. Both Hamas and its secular rival Fatah run their territories like police states, harassing and jailing journalists, activists and even ordinary citizens who post messages critical of them on Facebook. (Most of the Palestinians interviewed for this story asked for anonymity—because they fear their own governments.) A decade after their mandates to rule expired, neither side wants to hold elections. Far from achieving a two-state solution, they have created a three-state reality: two dilapidated statelets dominated by a strong, prosperous Israel.

And though in the very long term, Israel’s status as a Jewish and democratic state is still imperiled, five decades after the occupation began, the Palestinian national movement has been largely defeated. “I find it hard to say as a Palestinian, but we haven’t achieved any of our national goals,” says Mkhaimer Abu Saada, a political analyst in Gaza. “Our leadership has failed to achieve anything.”

The father of a Palestinian teenager who stabbed three Israelis to death in the West Bank settlement of Halamis holds up his photo. Heidi Levine for Newsweek

In April, thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails started a hunger strike, the largest such mass demonstration in years. It was organized by Marwan Barghouti, a prominent Fatah leader, to demand better conditions: extra family visits and access to pay phones. Israel vowed not to negotiate. At one point, the Israeli Prison Service even set up a sting, planting cookies and candy bars inside Barghouti's cell, then filming as he noshed in the bathroom. Yet the video did little to dent his popularity—some Palestinians dismissed it as a fake, others as a dirty trick.

As the protest wore on, Israeli officials worried that reports of sick or dying inmates would spark unrest in the occupied territories. The Palestinians had timed the climax of the hunger strike to coincide with both Ramadan, when tensions often run high, and the 50th anniversary of the occupation. So on May 27, after lengthy negotiations, the detainees announced a deal. They stopped their fast after securing a second monthly family visit. The families of prisoners celebrated on the streets of Ramallah, where Barghouti won praise for defending the "dignity" of his fellow inmates. "You'd think we just liberated Jerusalem," quipped one Palestinian journalist.

But even this victory was a defeat for the PA. Until the summer of 2016, prisoners were entitled to two family visits. It wasn't Israel that reduced the number. It was the Red Cross, which coordinates the trips and wanted to cut costs, mostly related to busing. The money to pay for the extra visit will come from the Palestinian Authority, which is already struggling to close an $800 million gap in its annual budget. Abbas had been privately fuming about the hunger strike, fearing it would undermine his efforts to ingratiate himself with Trump. On his visit to the region in May, the American president unexpectedly canceled a visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, fearing he would bump into a crowd of prisoners’ mothers holding a sit-in nearby. So the Palestinian president ponied up the cash.

Abbas, 82, took office in 2005 for what was officially a four-year term. He is still in power, with no plans to resign. He’s overweight, a heavy smoker who has undergone two heart surgeries, yet has done almost nothing to plan for a successor. Nor does he have many good choices. His deputy, Mahmoud Aloul, is a little-known apparatchik chosen for his loyalty. Another contender, Jibril Rajoub, is a former secret police chief more beloved by Israeli generals (for his work to arrest Islamists) than by Palestinian voters. The most popular candidate, Barghouti, is serving five life sentences for organizing deadly attacks during the second intifada.

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as they deliver a statement at the White House in Washington D.C., U.S., May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Abbas is quick to fire and ostracize anyone who becomes too critical, so his challengers do not offer much public dissent. "We need Abu Mazen," says Rajoub, the No. 3 man in Fatah. "He's the only one who can sign, or will sign, a [peace] deal. He's important to everybody, to Israel, to the U.S., and he's still working hard." One important group disagrees: his constituents. Two-thirds of them want him to resign. A slim majority also supports dissolving the Palestinian Authority, widely viewed as little more than a subcontractor for the Israeli occupation.

On May 13, the Palestinians held a much-hyped municipal election in the West Bank. It was their first vote in five years, and officials hoped it would generate enthusiasm. Palestinians weren't interested. Fatah ran almost unopposed because Hamas and other factions decided to boycott the election, but the secular group nonetheless failed to win a majority in major cities like Hebron, where its candidates picked up just seven of 15 seats. Turnout was a paltry 53 percent compared with more than 70 percent in ballots a decade ago. "Palestinians are no longer interested in politics," says Abu Saada. "Why would they be?"

They have more pressing concerns. More than three-quarters of Palestinians feel their government is corrupt. Asked to name the biggest problem in society, a majority of respondents choose internal ones: poverty, unemployment, corruption and the political schism between Hamas and Fatah. Just 27 percent say the occupation is their largest concern, according to the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, the top pollster in the territories. The official unemployment rate in the West Bank is 16 percent, and roughly one in five families lives in poverty. (The actual figures are thought to be higher.) Yet the streets of Ramallah are lined with billboards advertising million-shekel apartments. A tenuous middle class has loaded up on consumer debt, which soared from $1.3 billion in 2012 to $2.2 billion just three years later. All of this has served to make Palestinians more risk-averse. The way a CEO of a major bank in Ramallah sees it: "You're not going to join an intifada when you have to make mortgage payments.”

A Palestinian woman in Gaza City during the 2014 conflict with Israel. After three wars and a decade-long military blockade, people here are familiar with hardship and suffering. Heidi Levine

At first glance, the Erez crossing into Gaza could be an airport terminal; it’s a soaring structure with glistening windows and dozens of lanes to process travelers. On a typical day, though, only one or two lanes are open, staffed by desultory border guards flipping through paperback novels. A warren of narrow passageways takes you to the PA's Potemkin checkpoint on the other side (they have not actually controlled Gaza for a decade). And then, half a mile down a rutted road, you reach the real border post, where the Hamas police check your bags for smuggled alcohol.

The Islamist group seized power in Gaza in 2007, after a lengthy period of infighting that followed its victory in legislative elections the previous year. Since then, it has fought three wars against Israel. The most recent one, in the summer of 2014, dragged on for 51 days, far longer than anyone expected. It was devastating for the Palestinians: Israeli bombs killed more than 2,200 people, left 100,000 homeless and destroyed the strip’s infrastructure.

But Hamas kept firing rockets until moments before the August 26 cease-fire. It counts the war as a victory, not because it achieved any of its strategic goals, but simply because it survived. The group speaks the same way about the broader situation in Gaza. Israel and Egypt’s 10-year blockade has crippled the strip; most of its young inhabitants have never left the 140-square-mile territory. Yet it feels normal in a way that the West Bank, with its visible occupation, does not. There are no Israeli military patrols—no Israelis at all, just a handful of skeletal greenhouses, the remains of settlements that once dotted the area. "The expansion of settlements in the West Bank is because of the holy security cooperation with Israel," says Mahmoud Zahar, one of the co-founders of Hamas. "Since Hamas came to power in Gaza, Israel has not demolished a single home here."

It is an absurd argument, of course—Israeli jets and artillery have ravaged Gaza. Hanging on the wall of Zahar's salon, just yards from his chair, is a photograph of his son, killed in an Israeli airstrike on the family compound, which he has had to rebuild three times. Despite all of the hardships, though, Hamas claims it liberated Gaza from the occupation’s daily indignities, and the group is loath to give up control.

A growing number of Gazans, however, don’t feel liberated. In private conversations, the anger they once directed at Israel and Egypt is now aimed at their own leaders. They often have these conversations in the dark, owing to the lack of electricity. Tap water, when it is available, is undrinkable, brackish and polluted. About half of the population, and more than 60 percent of young people, are unemployed—the highest rate anywhere, according to the World Bank. More than 70 percent of Gazans rely on international aid to survive. In a courtyard outside Azhar University, recent graduates peddle cheap snacks and cigarettes to current students, who offer bleak predictions about their own futures: "I'll be here with my own cart next year," said one young man, a computer science student.

Hamas has always been divided between its hard-line military wing and its comparatively moderate political branch. The gulf has only widened in the three years since the last war. In early 2015, Ghazi Hamad, a pragmatic member of the Hamas politburo, penned an unusual op-ed entitled "How and Why the Arabs Lost Palestine." It was a rare act of self-criticism: Both Hamas and Fatah, he argued, were consumed with their own narrow interests, focused on preserving their fiefdoms rather than liberating Palestinians. "You will find that we disagree about everything, from the liberation or statehood project to the most trivial of issues," Hamad wrote. "This has dragged us into drowning in the small details."

In some respects, the military men seem to be winning. Hamas spent the early part of 2017 shuffling its leaders, for the first time in more than a decade. The new leader in Gaza—effectively the group's No. 2 man—is Yahya Sinwar, a hard-liner who spent decades in an Israeli jail. He helped to set up a unit that hunted down suspected "collaborators" with Israel, and allegedly killed some of them with his own hands. "He's a hard man," as one of his colleagues puts it.

  
But Sinwar and his boss, Ismail Haniyeh, are taking control of a movement that has recently shown what many analysts call an unusual degree of willingness to compromise with Israel. In May, Hamas unveiled a new policy document meant to amend its 1988 founding charter. It dropped the worst anti-Semitic language from the original, which spoke of a war against the Jews, and it severed ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. Perhaps most significantly, it accepted the idea of a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 borders, describing it as a formula accepted by public consensus. It was not a complete reversal: The group still does not recognize Israel. Even some of the most hawkish Hamas leaders, though, recognize that a fourth war with Israel would likely end in catastrophe. "They understand that the next attack on Gaza might end, for them, the Hamas government in Gaza," says Amos Gilad, an official at the Israeli Defense Ministry. "That's very possible."
So there is a desire to avoid that next attack; there is serious talk of signing a lengthy cease-fire with Israel in exchange for a seaport, a step that would effectively end the blockade. Hamas has spent the past few years cozying up to Mohammed Dahlan, a former Fatah strongman who was once its greatest nemesis: His men were notorious for throwing Islamists off rooftops. He has since gone into exile in the United Arab Emirates, after running afoul of Abbas, and he now serves as a sort of diplomatic fixer for the Emirati royal family. Hamas believes he can deliver both economic investment and political legitimacy; his past transgressions are all but forgotten. "It was a difficult time," says Ahmed Yousef, a longtime member of Hamas. "He is rewriting his history, and Hamas has changed too."

A seaport, or any other meaningful steps to connect Gaza to the outside world, would cement a de facto three-state solution. It seems the opposite of what Islamist groups like Hamas have spent decades fighting to achieve—and yet they are enthusiastic about it. I ask Yousef whether his movement had simply become a bearded version of Fatah. He chuckles, and says, "You could say that.”
In December, the Palestinians briefly had something to celebrate: The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution that said Israeli settlements "have no legal validity." It was a parting shot from then–U.S. President Barack Obama. After eight years of frustration with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he decided to abstain rather than veto the measure. "This is a move that no [U.S.] administration has dared to do for decades," cheered Nabil Shaath, a longtime Palestinian diplomat.

Maybe so, but it was an entirely symbolic act. Six months after its passage, there are no blue-helmeted peacekeepers on the hills around Nablus. Israel approved plans for 5,000 new settler homes in the first few weeks after Trump's inauguration, and then another large batch in June, weeks after the president visited the region. Nickolay Mladenov, the top U.N. envoy to the region, admitted in June that Israel had ignored the resolution. "In fact…there has been [a] substantial increase in settlement-related announcements," he said.
Meaningless as it was, the White House is unlikely to repeat this gesture over the next few years. The U.S. has steered the "peace process" for more than two decades, since that symbolic moment when four Israeli and Palestinian leaders shook hands and signed the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn. (Three of them are now dead; only Abbas remains.) George W. Bush had the Annapolis conference and his "road map for peace." Obama had his unnamed initiatives, which also ended in failure. It is too early to say how far Trump will trudge down the same road—whether he will convene a Mar-a-Lago peace summit or abandon the process. But it was striking that, in six public appearances during his 25-hour visit to Israel and the West Bank this past spring, he didn't once utter the phrase "two-state solution." Many Palestinians saw it as a tacit admission that the peace process had failed.

"For decades, you had an Arab world, with U.S. leadership, that was interested in maintaining stability in the region," says Khalil Shikaki, the director of Palestine's top pollster. "But the American role reached its peak in the early 1990s, and it's been waning ever since."

For older Palestinians, the goal is still to create a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 borders. The younger generation sees this idea as hopelessly outdated. Decades of struggle, on the battlefield and around the negotiating table, failed to deliver a state. Last year, for the first time, Shikaki found that support for the two-state solution had dipped below 50 percent. "Fatah has tried diplomacy for 35 years, and here we have the so-called resistance movement," says one young man from Shuja'iya, a neighborhood in eastern Gaza that was hit hard during the 2014 war. "And what do we have? Nothing."

Instead, many now see their struggle as a civil rights movement: “Give us Israeli passports,” they argue, “and let us work in Tel Aviv and fly abroad from Ben-Gurion airport.” Even Palestinians who are committed to two states acknowledge that the idea has an expiration date. "The two-state solution is not a Palestinian demand," says Husam Zumlot, the Palestinian ambassador in Washington. "It's a Palestinian offer."
By many estimates, Palestinians are now the majority between the river and the sea. A civil rights struggle would have unmistakable echoes of the fight against apartheid. And a single state would likely never have a Jewish majority—an argument the Israeli center-left uses to push for a two-state solution. But their warnings have done little to move public opinion.

In the United States, on the other hand, there are already signs of such a shift. In a 2014 poll by the Brookings Institution, 38 percent of Americans supported sanctioning Israel over its illegal settlements. Two years later, the number jumped to 46 percent. Within those figures was a striking partisan gap. Democratic support for sanctions grew by a quarter, from 48 percent to 60 percent, while Republican support stayed basically flat. A majority of Democrats now believe Israel has too much influence over U.S. policy. Less than 25 percent of Republicans agree, and the number has dipped over the past few years.

Liberal American rabbis who visit Jerusalem fret openly that their younger congregants no longer feel an attachment to Israel the way their parents did. The rift is only deepened by political and social trends inside of Israel, where the Jewish population has become more nationalistic and religious—a shift that alienates Jews in America, a reliably liberal bloc but also Israel’s best advocate in Washington.
And Israel has no replacement for its "unbreakable alliance" with the United States. Though its new allies in Africa and Asia are useful trade partners, they cannot offer a reliable Security Council veto, nor the billions in annual military aid that have preserved Israel’s military edge over its neighbors.

For all its tactical brilliance, Israel has always struggled with strategic thinking. It helped nurture Hamas in the late 1980s, for example, because it saw the Islamist group as a useful counterweight to its secular enemies. In doing so, it helped create an intractable foe. Netanyahu likes to boast that his administration "manages the conflict." Though his long tenure may be coming to an end, as graft investigations swirl, his probable successors will likely take a similar approach—one that could be similarly shortsighted and, in the long run, pose enormous risk for Israel.
On a rainy morning in 2016, hundreds of Israelis packed into a Jerusalem conference hall for a major summit on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, a global campaign to punish Israel for its half-century occupation. The Netanyahu government had spent the previous few years casting it as a sort of existential threat. In 2015, when Gilad Erdan accepted a job as the minister in charge of fighting BDS, he told reporters he did so with "a sense of holy dread."

One by one, leading Israeli politicians took the stage in Jerusalem to warn of the dire threat posed by boycotts. The president spoke. So did the opposition leader and at least four Cabinet members. (The keynote speaker was Roseanne Barr.) After a few hours of this, it was Moshe Kahlon's turn, and the center-right economy minister offered a discordant note. He explained that his ministry had set up a hotline to help Israeli businesses harmed by BDS. But it hadn't received many calls. "I don’t think there’s something that you can specifically call a detrimental effect or some kind of damage” to the economy, he said.

Even if Israel's strategy is ultimately counterproductive, the day of reckoning seems far off. By one 2014 estimate, BDS shaved just $30 million off Israel's annual gross domestic product, less than one-hundredth of a percent—52 minutes' worth of economic activity. Foreign investments in Israel have more than tripled in the decade since the BDS movement began. Exports to the European Union, its largest trading partner, have grown by more than 30 percent. Israel can offer cutting-edge agricultural technology to African states and high-tech opportunities to Asia. Neither of them care much about the occupation or the BDS movement, which they regard as a curiosity, a fad on Western college campuses.
The Palestinians have little to offer their allies. After 50 years of occupation, their aid-dependent economy produces almost nothing of value. They would be of little help against the Islamic State militant group, or in the regional cold war with Iran. Western policymakers once promoted a theory of "linkage," the idea that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would bring peace to the Middle East. No one believes that anymore, not with the entire region in flames. Quite the opposite: Even Arab states, from Egypt to the Gulf, are eager to establish closer ties with Israel, which they see as a useful partner in the fight against both terrorism and Iran. Israeli politicians like to criticize Qatar because the tiny Gulf emirate hosts the leadership of Hamas. Yet the tens of millions of dollars in aid Qatar provides to Gaza have helped to stave off another war—and preserve the status quo. To an unprecedented degree, the Palestinians are alone.

"We're no longer the main issue," says Abu Saada, the Gazan political analyst. "We're not in a good position. We don't have good cards to play against Israel…and we can only hope that the next generation will bring some new ideas."

Courtesy: Yahoo News
Published by: Greg Carlstorm, News Week

Read more

Turmoil In Asia: Chinese-Indian Relations Are Deteriorating

While the international media remains concerned to the point of being fixated on the US-DPRK (North Korea) stand-off, in terms of sheer firepower, the much more pressing stand-off between China and India holds the potential to be far more destructive.

Indian Nuclear Weapons

While the best intelligence about North Korea’s weapons delivery capabilities indicates that North Korea is in possession of intermediate range ballistic missile systems which are incapable of hitting the US mainland, India’s intermediate range systems are not only more advanced but due to India’s proximity with China, these missiles could easily strike targets within China.

Of course, China has a vastly more equipped army and nuclear capacity, but any war between China and India that would involve the use of intercontinental ballistic missiles would be a world-changing event.

While many have focused on the possibility of a short land-based border war, similar to that which the two countries fought in 1962, due to the rapid advance of both the Chinese and Indian militaries in the decades since 1962, there is every possibility that such a war could escalate quickly.

The Modi Factor

Much is said in the western mainstream media about North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un being unpredictable and flippant. This information is largely based on self-fulfilling propaganda rather than actual knowledge of Kim Jong-Un’s thought process and leadership.

While little is actually known about Kim Jong-Un’s long term strategic thinking, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s modus operandi is all too clear.

Modi’s political programme has resulted in economic stagnation, worsening relations with its two most important neighbours, China and Pakistan and increasing incidents of violence, discrimination and intimidation against India’s large Muslim minority.

With these major failures looming large (however much they are dismissed or rationalised by the ruling BJP), Modi has resorted to an entrenched militant nationalism which has resulted in galvanising the most extreme elements of Modi’s Hindutva base domestically while provoking China by placing Indian troops in territory China claims as its sovereign soil.

Against this background it could be fair to surmise that India’s leadership is less stable than that of North Korea, even when accounting for the differences in India’s size, wealth and global reach vis-à-vis North Korea.

Related: Will Oil Demand Growth Be Enough To Tackle Inventories?

If U.S. leaders have been well known to provoke wars to get a poor domestic political performance or a scandal out of the headlines, one should not surmise that Modi will behave any differently. The fact that a conflict with China whether a military conflict, the ensuring trade conflict for which India is virtually entirely responsible or a combination of both, is manifestly to India’s detriment, seems to be lost on a leadership which is obsessed with short term propaganda victories rather than genuine economic and diplomatic progress.

Actual versus Perceived Chinese Interests

China’s concerns about Indian violations of its sovereignty and moreover with the anti-cooperative attitude that Modi’s government has taken, is a very serious matter for China. China has repeatedly warned that its patience is being tested and that China will not ultimately hesitate to militarily defend itself, even while stating that war is not China’s preferred option.

By contrast, China’s interest in both North and South Korea is one of stability and more importantly, one of peace. China, like Russia, does not want to see the Korean war reignite on its borders. This is why China has taken an even hand on the North Korean issue, one that has surprised those who overestimate China’s relationship with the DPRK, one which throughout most of the second half of the 20th century, was less important than Pyongyang’s relationship with the Soviet Union.

North Korea is on occasion a source of a Chinese headache, but it is the United States which has a lingering geo-strategic ambition to unite Korea under the auspices of a pro-American government. China, by contrast, would be happy with the status-quo minus weapons tests and military drills on both sides of the 38th parallel.

In respect of India however, China has a deeply specific set of interests which are summarised as follows:

1. No threats made to China’s territorial integrity

2. A resentment towards dealing with an Indian government that from the Chinese perspective is needlessly hostile

3. A long-term goal of cooperation with India in respect of One Belt—One Road

4. A more intrinsic desire not to see India fall too deeply into the US rather than what Chinese media calls the ‘Asian’ sphere of influence.

Modi would appear to understand China’s perspective which is perversely why his government is doing precisely the opposite of what China wants. India currently has soldiers on Chinese territory in the disputed Doklam/Donglang region. India is attempting to shut China out of Indian markets in such a manner that seeks to paint India as a competitor to China rather than a country whose economic potential is complimentary to that of China. In an all-out trade war with China, India will lose, the only question remains how badly. Thus far Modi’s attitude does not bode well for an honourable second place.

Related: Russia Claims To Have Invented Alternative To Fracking

Finally, India’s recent purchase of American weapons that are vastly overpriced via-a-vis their Russia or Chinese equitant is an example of Modi being penny wise and pound foolish. Modi’s relationship with the United States is one where Modi is squandering Indian treasure in order to make an expensive point. Donald Trump himself joked at a press conference with Modi that the American side will try and get the final price higher before India commits to a final sale of weapons.

Conclusion:

India would stand to benefit greatly from doing what Pakistan has been going for years, namely understanding that the old alignments of the Cold War, including the idea of being non-aligned means something very different in 2017 than it did in 1970. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Pakistan’s historically good relations with Russia and its refusal to follow US ally Saudi Arabia into an unnecessary conflict with Qatar and by extrapolation with Iran, demonstrates a far-sighted geo-strategic maturity that will ultimately benefit Pakistan greatly.

India has every ability to do with China what Pakistan has done with Russia while not losing its old Cold War friend. Until India realises this, it is fair to say that the flash-points of conflict between Beijing and New Delhi are far more worrying and could be far more damaging in the long term than the war of words between Washington and Pyongyang, frightening though it may at times sound.

By Zerohedge

Courtesy: yahoo.com

Read more

China standoff in background, India, US, Japan start Malabar naval exercise

The US, Japanese and Indian navies today began the Malabar Naval Exercise-2017 aimed at achieving deeper military ties between the three nations.

Taking part in the trilateral naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal would be US Ship Nimitz (CVN68), guided missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG59), guided missile destroyers USS Howard (DDG83), USS Shoup (DDG86) and USS Kidd (DDG100), a Poseidon P-8A aircraft as well as a Los Angeles class fast-attack submarine.


Besides, Japan Maritime Self Defence Force ships JS Izumo (DDH 183), JS Sazanami (DD1 13) along with Indian Naval Ship Jalashwa and INS Vikramaditya would participate in the joint naval exercise, an official press release said. The 21st edition of the exercise, conducted ashore and at-sea, would include professional exchanges on carrier strike group operations, maritime patrol and reconnaissance operations, surface and anti-submarine warfare.

ALSO READ: Countering China: India, Japan, US' biggest warships to be part of war game

Medical operations, damage control, explosive ordinance disposal, helicopter operations and anti-submarine warfare would also take place.

The at-sea exercise includes events such as submarine familiarisation, air defence exercises, medical evacuation drills, surface ware fare exercises, communication exercise and search and rescue operations. Indian, Japanese and US maritime forces have an understanding and knowledge of shared working environment at sea. As members of Indo-Asia Pacific operations, the three maritime forces would look forward to continuing to strengthen the bonds and personal relationships, a press release said. The Malabar exercise is taking place amid the military standoff between armies of the India and China in the Sikkim section and Beijing ramping up its naval presence in South China sea.


Courtesy: business-standard.com

Read more

Scientists have identified the 50-foot creature that washed up on an Indonesian beach

A giant sea creature, possibly with tusks and possibly straight out of your nightmares, washed up on a beach in Indonesia last week, freaking out people on the island of Seram and launching a global guessing game to determine what, exactly, it used to be.
 
As images of the floating carcass rocketed around the Internet, the scientific community asked itself: What is it? How did it get to an Indonesian island? And what does its presence say about climate change and whale migration habits?
 
The people of Seram have a more pressing query: How do we get rid of it?
 
Asrul Tuanakota, a 37-year-old fisherman, initially thought he had discovered a boat stranded in shallow water, according to the Jakarta Globe. On closer inspection, he determined that it was the rotting corpse of a 50-foot-long dead sea creature — possibly a giant squid because the remains looked like tentacles.
 
Blood seeping from the dead sea beast had turned the water near the coastline a bright red, which didn’t stop locals from wading in for a closer look and snapping pictures.
George Leonard, the chief scientist at the Ocean Conservancy, told HuffPost that the rotting carcass was probably a baleen whale, judging by parts of a protruding skeleton and what appear to be baleen plates used to filter out food.
Decomposition gases bloated the whale into a very un-whale-like shape, and some of the noxious gases were seeping out. Can nightmares have smell?
 
Seram, the largest island in the Maluku Island group, is near the migration routes for baleen whales, so it makes sense that one would be nearby. Locals have asked the government to help remove the carcass, HuffPost reported.
 
But dead whales usually sink to the bottom of the ocean, providing a years-long buffet for the creatures that dwell there, according to Live Science. The publication theorized that the whale had a bacterial infection that produced more gases or that it possibly died in warm waters, allowing bacteria to accumulate and gases to expand its body. It also could have died an unnatural death after being clipped by a ship.
Of course, things die in the ocean all the time producing all kinds of weird phenomena. But now fishermen and villages and tourists — and their smartphones — are coming into contact with dead sea things as they go through the circle of life.
 
For example, fishermen off the western coast of Australia found a humongous, floating balloon of flesh that looked as if it was the first sign of an alien invasion. At first, the father and son thought they had encountered a hot-air balloon.
“When we got closer we realized it had to be a dead whale because of the smell,” Mark Watkins told the West Australian.
 
They snapped photos of the whale balloon, then headed to shore. By then, they said, circling sharks had taken bites of the dead creature, causing it to deflate.
 
And earlier this year, a giant, hairy sea creature washed up on a beach in the Philippines, according to the Daily Mail. Locals believe the unusual occurrence was brought on by a recent earthquake.
 
Pictures showed people climbing on top of the carcass to take selfies.
 
Courtesy: Washingtonpost
Read more

Infosys plans to hire 10,000 Americans within the next two years

Indian IT and outsourcing major Infosys plans to hire 10,000 Americans within the next two years. CEO Vishal Sikka said the local hiring move came as companies were under pressure to recruit more Americans.

"Yes it does coincide. I understand the visa regulations and so forth," Sikka told the Financial Times.

Trending: 'Shameful' social media firms slammed for not tackling hate crime postings

Infosys was one of the tech firms mentioned by US officials last month when they announced a review of H-1B visas. The White House said salaries paid to Indian workers undercut those of American workers.

The local hiring reflected the Infosys' changing nature of work, said Sikka. Advanced technologies including artificial intelligence were also part of the company's business, which according to him put more emphasis on local hires who could work closely with customers. "You need a strong sense of locality in the work we do," he added.

Don't miss: Samsung Galaxy S8 review: More than just a pretty face

The recruitment plans, which include 2,000 jobs at one of the four technology centres Infosys is planning to build in the US, are due to be announced at an event with Eric Holcomb, Indiana governor, on Tuesday (2 May).

Sikka said the hiring Infosys was planning was in line with more valuable types of work. "I don't see a direct correlation there. These are high-margin, high-salary, high-value jobs," he said.

Most popular: After holding Netflix hostage, hacker group claims Fox, IFC and ABC next on their list

The company did not disclose how many of its employees are in the US. In 2014, it announced plans to hire 2,100 Americans, calling the move a "major recruitment drive".

Indian companies are said to flood the system with applications to win the lottery used to allot the 85,000 H-1B visas that are available. Last year, Infosys alone filed more than 25,000 visa applications, more than any other company, according to MyVisaJobs.com.

A US official told the Financial Times that top Indian IT companies pay $60,000 (£46,605) to $65,000 a year, with four out of five workers paid below the median salary that locals get for the same jobs.

Infosys offered its H-1B applicants an average of $81,705 last year, lower than the salaries paid by leading US tech companies that rely on H-1Bs. Google and Microsoft offered $130,000 to workers who applied for the visa last year.

Credit: yahoo news

Read more

Why North Korean tests would be suicidal

Why North Korean tests would be suicidal

US President Trump has reversed his stance on a number of foreign policy issues, including NATO, Russia, and China.

This leaves citizens in the United States and worldwide more unsure than ever of what to expect from the coming months and years.

Nuclear bombs have a strange quality: They are a type of weapon that countries spend enormous sums of money to develop but don’t actually intend to use. While chemical weapons have been frequently used in war, no country has detonated a nuclear bomb since the end of World War II.

Nuclear weapons are in their own category. Their efficacy comes from their ability to deter aggression, as the potential for massive devastation forces countries to rethink moves that threaten an adversary’s essential national security interests.

States, therefore, are unlikely to use nuclear weapons against one another.

However, the risk of a nuclear attack would increase if they were to fall into the hands of non-state actors that follow a different set of calculations that don’t necessarily take into account the defense of a predefined territory.

Nine countries currently have nuclear weapons with an assortment of delivery systems. The following graphics outline which countries possess or have possessed nuclear weapons, as well as some states capable of producing them. They also show how these weapons have reshaped the constraints that countries face in their geopolitical calculations.
The second aspect is the three delivery systems that comprise the nuclear “triad”: land-based missiles (usually ballistic missiles but sometimes also cruise missiles), submarine-launched missiles (SLBMs), and weapons carried by aircraft (usually bombers but sometimes air-to-surface cruise missiles loaded on fighters or fighter-bombers).

Land-based ballistic missiles—especially intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM)—provide long-range strike capability within a short period. SLBMs have retaliation capabilities in the event that a country’s land-based ballistic missile arsenal is destroyed in a first strike.

Warheads on aircraft are more flexible, since bombers can be recalled after a strike has been ordered, but they are slower to reach their target than missiles (except in the case where bombers are already in flight and their target is nearby). Each nuclear country has a different mix of delivery capabilities, but only the Uni ted States and Russia are known to definitively possess a full triad, while China and India are suspected to have it.

The third aspect is the large portion of global nuclear arms held by the United States and Russia. Currently, the US has approximately 4,480 warheads, and Russia has 4,500. These figures include both strategic warheads (which are meant to strike sites located far from any hypothetical battlefield) and nonstrategic, or tactical, warheads (which are intended to be used near a battlefield, and as a result, are usually less powerful).

The size of these arsenals, however, pales in comparison to each country’s peak inventory during the Cold War: The US had 31,255 in 1967, and the Soviet Union had 40,159 in 1986.

Throughout the Cold War, the doctrine of mutually assured destruction required a sufficiently large force that would allow for a massive retaliation even if a first strike eliminated a large portion of a country’s nuclear arsenal.

Additionally, during most of the Cold War, delivery systems were not particularly accurate, which required that nuclear weapons have very large yields to reliably strike a target that might be located miles away from the point of detonation (many hydrogen bombs were in the several megaton range).

As the accuracy of delivery systems improved, fewer nuclear warheads were required to maintain a credible deterrence threat, leading to a decline in both countries’ arsenals.

Nuclear weapons fundamentally alter the relations between countries because each country is forced to think more pointedly about its adversaries’ security imperatives. Developing a strong understanding of those imperatives is critical to avoiding a nuclear retaliation. While several “hot” wars and other tense moments occurred during the Cold War, none escalated to a direct confrontation between the Soviet Union and the US.

For a more recent example, consider the case of North Korea, which has received a lot of attention in the last week due to a recent missile test and the expectation of another nuclear test.

It is a poor country whose nuclear program has allowed it to punch above its weight internationally and force superpowers to approach it with great caution. North Korea’s deterrent capability would be eliminated the moment it uses a nuclear weapon, which would be akin to committing certain suicide. While many fear the irrationality of North Korea’s leadership, Geopolitical Futures’ current understanding of the regime is that it has persisted for decades throughout the Cold War and after the fall of the Soviet Union because it is able to make cautious calculations and has continued to choose not to inflict destruction on itself.

The first aspect is a distinction between deployed and reserve weapons.

Deployed nuclear weapons are already attached to a delivery system and ready to use. Warheads in reserve still require this final attachment step before they can be delivered.

Conclusion
Every country has a red line, past which its security imperatives will be threatened and it will be compelled to respond with force. Without a sufficient deterrent, potential adversaries incur less risk when they test where exactly that line is. Introducing nuclear weapons into these calculations, however, forces the aggressor to proceed with caution because the risk of massive retaliation is great. This is a difficult balance to strike when the addition of nuclear weapons by one party is itself the act that breaches the security imperatives of the other.

The world’s eyes are now set on North Korea for this reason: The United States is in the process of deciding whether recent developments in North Korea’s nuclear program have crossed this boundary and, if they have, what force constitutes an appropriate response. Though the US is not directly threatened by North Korea’s nuclear weapons (based on the current understanding of its ballistic missile technology), the safety of its allies would be jeopardized by a North Korean bomb.

British and French fears that the US would not make good on its nuclear guarantee led to proliferation in Europe. Similarly, if the US’s Asian allies question the credibility of its guarantee, the risk of nuclear proliferation in the region will grow.

This article first appeared on Maudlin Economics. See the original post here.

Read the original article on Mauldin Economics. Copyright 2017.

Credit: businessinsider.com

Read more

United States deploys supersonic bomber

March 16 (UPI) -- North Korea claimed Thursday the United States deployed a supersonic U.S. bomber during joint training exercises on the peninsula.

Pyongyang's state-controlled news agency KCNA stated the "U.S. imperialists and their hunting dogs" are "deepening the threat of nuclear weapons."

"Nuclear threats are being stepped up," Pyongyang said.

In the statement, North Korea claimed the U.S. B-1B bomber departed Andersen Air Force Base in Guam on Wednesday, and the move was unilateral.

"For about an hour, the United States conducted atomic bombing exercises that rehearsed pre-emptive strikes against our major facilities," North Korea stated.

North Korea also condemned the U.S. decision to deploy the nuclear-powered supercarrier USS Carl Vinson to the peninsula.

The United States and South Korea recently completed missile-warning drills, South Korean news service News 1 reported.

"The act of pre-emptive strike against us demonstrate the reckless militarization of the enemies," the statement from KCNA read. "Despite our repeated warnings, as [the enemies] make a frantic last-ditch effort to engage in a scheme of provocation, we will mete out more ruthless nuclear punishment."

South Korea's defense ministry spokesman Moon Sang-kyun neither denied nor confirmed whether the B-1B bomber allegations were true.

"For reasons of operational security, we cannot give confirmation on this matter," Moon said Thursday.

Joint U.S.-South Korea exercises began March 1 are expected to continue for two months.

Credit: http://www.upi.com

Read more

Controversial ‘Sharia Law’ Bill Advancing in Montana

 Montana’s Senate Bill 97, which bans the application of foreign laws in Montana, passed the Republican-controlled House Judiciary along party lines and will now move to the House floor, Montana Public Radio reported on March 13.

While the legislation does not specifically mention Sharia law, both those in favor of and in opposition to the measure have referred to it in hearings as the “Sharia law bill.”  Sharia law is what governs Islamic societies, in the public square and in the home.

The bill’s sponsor, state Senator Keith Regier (R-Kalispell) insists that his intent is to protect the fundamental liberties of Montana citizens by forbidding the use of foreign laws in state courts.

“For these immigrants to retain their diverse rule of law would create a society in chaos,” said Regier, as reported by the Flathead Beacon.

Sandy Montgomery, a constituent of Regier’s, defended the measure, calling it “long overdue.”

“We have allowed legal immigrants, illegal immigrants, and now refugees to take advantage of our law and our culture and to take up their own agendas,” she said. “They have no intention to abide by our laws nor are they interested in assimilating into our culture.”

Sandy Bradford of Helena fears

that the application of Sharia law in state courts would hurt women’s rights.

“It is my opinion that Islam is not a peaceful religion,” said Bradford. “In fact Islam is not a religion at all but rather an ideology. Islam in my opinion is an enemy to all. But especially to women.”

Rachel Carroll Rivas, co-director of the Montana Human Rights Network, decried the bill as “a direct reaction to Islamophobia” and an “underhanded effort to spread an alarmist message about Islam in order to keep Muslims in the United States on the margins.”

The legislation is “rooted in xenophobia that is unfounded and unfair,” she said.

The bill now advances to the House floor for debate. Should it pass, it will go to Governor Steve Bullock, a Democrat, for consideration.

Credit : cnsnews.com

Read more

For Wall Street, India Is The Best Country In Asia

Here is a list of all that is good and great about India from a Wall Street point of view. No trade drama. No political crisis. No wars and rumors of wars. Reliable central bank. Stable government. A little expensive, but these days, who cares? Win.

India is winning. As measured by the Wisdom Tree India Earnings (EPI) fund (up 12.8% year-to-date), investors have caught on to India after a slow start to the year, when it was underperforming the major Asian nations. It's beating China (FXI), Indonesia (IDX), Thailand (THD), Vietnam (VNM), South Korea (EWY) and one of the favorite markets out there today, Japan (EWJ) is also getting beat by the Indians by about seven percentage points.

"If you look across the countries the IMF tracks worldwide, how many can you name that are growing over 7%? Iraq, Myanmar and India," says Wisdom Tree allocation strategist Gaurav Sinha. "India is the only large economy that has those numbers and that you can buy in the equity markets. China is slowing down because of demographic issues. Their work force is aging fast. India is still a young country with a fairly educated workforce. The growth curve I think is moving from China to India. It's India's turn to do what China once did."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been nothing short of a shot in the arm to Indian business confidence. Modi continues his plans to cut red tape, root out corruption, upgrade infrastructure, improve the fiscal position. The new goods and services tax is a starter and was hailed by investors when it appeared in the budget finally last year. The idea was to unify taxes across state lines, making the move of goods and services across those lines easier and more free. In theory, it is seen leading to a pickup in investment.

India remains the best domestic story in Asia at the moment, says Robin Parbrook, head of Asia ex-Japan equities at Schroders. "The base is low in India, so the building of roads, provision of mobile telecoms networks, formal banking to the masses, and rooting out of middlemen and corruption can all make a big difference," Parbrook says. "I think the frustration remains that stock market valuations are high so that bottom-up we struggle to justify the prices being asked for the better domestic names, although longer term the market continues to look attractive."

With over 1.2 billion people, most of them poor, India is what China was a decade ago, minus the authoritarian government. The democratic aspect of India makes for a cumbersome, if not slow and often disappointing, development story. Still, all factors are supportive of the India growth story long term, including lower costs for oil and a pro-business government under Modi. India is also not part of the Trump trade story even though it has a $24 billion trade surplus with the United States.

The recent move to cut large rupee bills out of circulation spooked the market. The move was designed to weaken the informal economy, stop black money from moving around, and bring small business owners into the banking system. The cash-money consumer sector and real estate market are the most impacted this policy, but cash cow companies like financials and energy have not been impacted. Banks should see larger deposits coming their way, if all goes according to plan.

Credit: forbes

Read more

Feds send message with de Blasio interrogration

Hard-charging US Attorney Preet Bharara sent a message to Mayor de Blasio Friday — trotting out the same prosecutors who took down Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos to interrogate Hizzoner about his campaign fund-raising activities.

“Preet’s office is a force to be reckoned with, but these prosecutors he rolled out for this case are a big deal and very competent, indicating that they are taking this matter very seriously,” a federal law-enforcement source told The Post.

Andrew Goldstein, chief of the public corruption unit, and his deputy Tatiana Martins were among at least four assistant US attorneys to question de Blasio at the Midtown office of his lawyer, Barry Berke.

The contingent arrived around 9:18 a.m. and spent about 4¹/₂ hours inside before the meeting broke up at about 1:50 p.m.
Bharara stayed in the shadows, choosing not to attend the interview, sources said.

“What they will do now is pore over every statement the mayor made — go over it with a fine-tooth comb. They will go over it looking for any contradictions,” the federal law-enforcement source said.

“Even the slightest contradiction can be used to at least build a case or to show misleading intent.”
De Blasio spent the better part of two workdays this week preparing for the interrogation with his lawyer.

On Friday, he was scheduled to head out of town for two days to attend the Democratic National Committee meeting in Atlanta.

The feds have been probing the mayor over whether he and his advisers exchanged favors to donors for contributions to his 2013 campaign and his now-shuttered nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York.

Hizzoner raised $4.3 million for CONY, which promoted his political pet projects, including from numerous individuals and firms with business interests before the city.

City Hall Press Secretary Eric Phillips said in a statement that the mayor attended the four-hour meeting “voluntarily.”

“We remain confident that at all times the mayor and his staff acted appropriately and well within the law,” he said.

“We hope our continued cooperation will help bring a swift conclusion to the US attorney’s review. In the interest of protecting the integrity of this process, we will refrain from any further comment at this time.”

De Blasio is also under separate investigation by Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr. over fund-raising tied to a failed attempt to win Democratic control of the state Senate in 2014.

He was questioned by the DA’s Office in late December.
Federal investigators have recently focused their wide-ranging inquiry on de Blasio’s relationship with Moishe Indig, a landlord who co-hosted a fund-raiser for the mayor in October 2013.

At question is whether Indig — who landed on de Blasio’s “Worst Landlords” list when he was the public advocate in 2010 — was given favors in exchange for his fund-raising and support.

One of the donors being probed is Harendra Singh, a restaurant owner who has been cooperating with the feds after being slapped with bribery and tax-evasion charges.

Singh and his relatives donated more than $27,000 to de Blasio’s 2013 campaign.

The restaurateur was named to the advisory board of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York, and owned The Water’s Edge restaurant in Long Island City, where the de Blasio campaign forked over $2,613 on events.

The feds have subpoenaed thousands of e-mails and documents related to de Blasio’s 2013 campaign activities and CONY.

Meanwhile, state and federal grand juries have been hearing testimony related to the separate probes into the de Blasio administration’s fund-raising. De Blasio has said he did not testify before either one.

Vance’s office has been investigating whether de Blasio aides steered donations to Ulster and Putnam County state Senate campaign committees to get around campaign-donation limits during the 2014 race.

Additional reporting by Kevin Fasick, Kaja Whitehouseand Danika Fears

Credit: NY Post

Read more

Americans Can"t Enter Many Muslim-Majority Countries

With all of the misinformation and confusion about the temporary travel ban, Americans should keep in mind that there are over three dozen countries they cannot visit safely, or ever.

Since January 15, 2016, the U.S. Department of State has issued 41 travel warnings to U.S. passport holders for 41 countries “due to an unpredictable security situation subject to rapid deterioration, activities of armed groups, and violent crime.”

More than half are Islamic-controlled countries/territories: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, the West Bank/Gaza, and Yemen.

If U.S. passport holders ignore these warnings, here’s what they can expect in just a few countries on the list:

•    Algeria: Even with a certificate of accommodation from Algerian authorities and an invitation from a registered travel agency in Algeria, non-immigrant visas are rarely issued and entry is rarely permitted. Safety is also unlikely.

•    Iran: No American can travel to Iran independently. Even if through the sponsor/invitation/visa process, U.S. citizens with valid visas are regularly refused entry at the border with no explanation. There is no U.S. Embassy in Iran. (Even the U.S. Navy was unsafe in international waters despite the U.S. State Department illegally transferring more than $4 billion to Iran.)

•    Libya: It’s nearly impossible to obtain a visa, but plausible if a Libyan sponsor applies for the traveler in Libya first. Still, they might be denied. Safety is also unlikely, as it was for U.S. citizens killed on September 12, 2012.

•    Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia issues no tourist visas. No one can enter Saudi Arabia without a sponsor, an official invitation, oversight of a particular licensed agency, and approved accompaniment and itinerary. Violating/overstaying visa terms results in incarceration and hefty fines.

•    Somalia is the second least visited country on earth for a reason. Even with a sponsor, invitation letter, and paid protection from pirates, entry without being kidnapped is unlikely.

•    Turkey: Turkey claims to be a free country to which anyone can travel but the American most recently arrested and detained indefinitely in prison is Wheaton College graduate and missionary, Pastor Andrew Brunson, falsely charged with “membership in an armed terrorist organization.”

•    The West Bank/Gaza: As Gaza is under control of Hamas, a terrorist organization, entry is prohibited. Even to Israeli citizens, travel is restricted in the West Bank in Bethlehem, Jericho, and Hebron.
When it comes to Israeli passport holders, these 17 Muslim-majority countries have for years prohibited entry: Algeria, Bangladesh, Brunei, Indonesia (fluctuates), Iran, Iraq (except Iraqi Kurdistan), Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia (fluctuates), Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, United Arab Emirates (can travel through but can’t be admitted), and Yemen.

All non-Israeli passports holders — anyone who has traveled to Israel, or whose passports have a used or unused Israeli visa — are prohibited entry to Iran, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

When it comes to religious or ideological views, consider how just one of these countries, America’s “greatest Gulf state ally,” Saudi Arabia, treats atheists, Christians, Jews, and non-Muslims seeking entry.

Atheists: According to a recent law, atheism is a criminal act and is considered a “terrorist offense.” Entry to atheists would be denied, with few exceptions.

Christians: On the rare occasion that a Christian is permitted entry, they are prohibited from discussing or displaying anything publicly related to their beliefs, including wearing a cross, worshipping in public, building a church, or even appearing to disparage or not follow Saudi customs. Doing so would lead to their arrest, imprisonment, and/or deportation, as would overstaying their visa. But they also could be arrested at any time for any perceived offense.

Jews: Only recently were Jews temporarily permitted entry because of their U.S. diplomatic status. No Jew is permitted to do business with or in Saudi Arabia.

All non-Muslims: Upon entry, all visa-holders must be chaperoned, all women must be escorted and covered, and all non-Muslims are prohibited from driving on certain roads and from going near or visiting Mecca.

By contrast, people from all of the above countries are permitted entry into the United States in several capacities.

Bethany Blankley is a former Capitol Hill communications strategist, Fox News Radio political analyst, public speaker, and commentator on Christianity and politics in America. Her commentary can be read in numerous publications. She won the 2017 Xulon Press Christian Writers Award. Follow her: @BethanyBlankley. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.

Credit: Newsmax

Read more

Foreign companies are shutting shop in China

U.S.-based Seagate, the world's biggest maker of hard disk drives, closed its factory in Suzhou near Shanghai last month with the loss of 2,000 jobs, in a move that has rekindled fears that China is becoming increasingly hostile towards foreign firms operating in the country.

A passionate speech presented by Chinese president Xi Jinping at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in early January had been hoped to address the issue, and reassure investors that China's remained open to foreign investment.

Xi defended globalization and promised improved market access for foreign companies, a positive sign seen by many that China is still sticking firmly to its opening up policies, first rolled out by late leader Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s.

Yet, Seagate joined a spate of foreign companies to shutter operations in China in recent years, for various reasons, but most have attributed the country's high tax regime, rising labor costs and fierce competition from domestic companies.

Panasonic, for instance, stopped all its manufacturing of televisions in the country in 2015 after 37 years of operating in China.
When it first opened in 1979, the Japanese home electronics corporation was the country's first foreign firm, tempted by generous benefits not offered to its Chinese competitors, including lower taxes and land prices and easier access to local governments.

But almost four decades down the road, this certainly isn't the case anymore.

In November last year, Japanese electronics conglomerate Sony sold all its shares in Sony Electronics Huanan, a Guangzhou factory that makes consumer electronics, and British high-street retailer Marks & Spencer announced it was closing all its China stores amid continuing China losses.

Add to that list Metro, Home Depot, Best Buy, Revlon, L'Oreal, Microsoft, and Sharp and we start to see more than a trend developing.

Once considered Beijing's most-welcomed guests, bringing with them the money, management skills, and technical knowledge that the country so badly needed, foreign companies now appear to have fallen out of favor.
"China doesn't need foreign companies so badly now in terms of acquiring advanced technology and capital as in previous years," said Professor Chong Tai-Leung from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, "so of course, the government is likely to gradually phase out more of these preferential policies for foreign firms."

Echoing Chong's comments, Shen Danyang, a spokesperson for China's Ministry of Commerce accused some foreign corporates last September of only wanting to make "quick money", had become too dependent on preferential government policies in China, and were starting to feel the pain of what he called a "deteriorating environment for business" in the country.

But for those who had "insight and courage", Shen insisted China is still a good place to invest.
While it's still open to discussion whether those who have now retreated from China lacked "insight and courage", there are certainly some common factors emerging on why.

Keith Pogson, a senior partner at Ernst & Young who oversees financial services in Asia, said the major one is quite simply fierce competition from Chinese rivals.

"We are seeing more Chinese companies becoming champions in other countries, and of course that adds a lot of pressure on foreign corporates." he said, agreeing that the gradual phasing out of preferential policies for foreign firms was certainly in China's self-interest.

Chinese TV brands, for example, for the first time overtook their South Korean rivals last year, ranking first in global sales, with the market share of TCL – a household name in the domestic home electronics market – increasing more than 50 per cent in Northern American market in the past year.

With the rise of such home-grown firms, the Chinese authorities have been leaning towards their own "children", said Pogson, and this gradual phasing out of preferential policies for foreign companies is likely to continue.

Preferential treatment towards foreign firms goes back to 1994 when they were included under the country's general tax regulations.

Until 2007, firms that received foreign investment were subject to 15 per cent income tax while domestic companies paid 33 per cent tax.

But in recent years Beijing has stepped up its efforts to tighten such policies, with the new Enterprise Income Tax Law and Implementation Rules, effective since 2008 unifying the rate for domestic and foreign companies at 25 per cent.

Unclear laws and inconsistent interpretation of them have also been blamed for the flight of some foreign firms.

A survey last year by consulting firm Bain & Company and the American Chamber of Commerce in China (AmCham-China) highlighted those were the two top factors hindering foreign firms' ability to invest and grow in China.

High labor costs and a lack of qualified employees were also among the top five challenges, the study showed.
An example of the type of regulation that is now hindering foreign progress is the new cyber security law, approved by parliament last November.

It sparked fears that foreign technology firms would be shut out and subjected to contentious requirements for security reviews, and for data to be stored on Chinese servers.

Despite more than 40 international business groups signing a petition to amend some sections of the law, the final draft approved by the parliament remained unchanged – a clear indication of Beijing's determination to toughen its stance against foreign firms.

A quarter of the AmCham-China's 532 member firms taking part in the survey said they had either moved or were planning to move operations out of China by the end of last year, with almost half moving to parts of "developing Asia".

"If more overseas companies want to develop in China at this stage," Chong said, "I would suggest they consider second- and third-tier cities."


Credit: CNBC.com

Read more

Bill Introduced to End US Membership in UN

A bill has been introduced into Congress that would end U.S. membership in the United Nations, WCNC.com reported on Sunday.

The bill, which is sponsored by Republican Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, would also remove U.N. headquarters from the United States, halt American participation in peacekeeping operations, eliminate diplomatic immunity for U.N. officers or employees, and end U.S. involvement in the World Health Organization. It would take effect two years after it passed.

However, experts say that the bill does not have much of a chance of becoming law, Death and Taxes reported.

The bill is separate from legislation introduced earlier this month by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz that would halt American funding to the United Nations until the president confirms the repeal of a U.N. Security Council resolution that called Israel's building of settlements in disputed areas a violation of international law, The Hill reports.

Credit: newsmax.com

Read more

How the University of California exploited a visa loophole

Using a visa loophole to fire well-paid U.S. information technology workers and replace them with low-paid immigrants from India is despicable enough when it’s done by profit-making companies such as Southern California Edison and Walt Disney Co.

But the latest employer to try this stunt sets a new mark in what might be termed “job laundering.” It’s the University of California. Experts in the abuse of so-called H-1B visas say UC is the first public university to send the jobs of American IT staff offshore. That’s not a distinction UC should wear proudly.
UC San Francisco, the system’s biggest medical center, announced in July that it would lay off 49 career IT staffers and eliminate 48 other IT jobs that were vacant or filled by contract employees. The workers are to be gone as of Feb. 28. In the meantime they’ve been ordered to train their own replacements, who are employees of the Indian outsourcing firm HCL Technologies.

The training process was described by UCSF managers by the Orwellian term “knowledge transfer,” according to Audrey Hatten-Milholin, 53, an IT architect with 17 years of experience at UCSF who will be laid off next month.
“The argument for Disney or Edison is that its executives are driven to maximize profits,” says Ron Hira of Howard University, a expert in H-1B visas. “But UC is a public institution, not driven by profit. It’s qualitatively different from other employers.” 

By sending IT jobs abroad, UC is undermining its own mission, which includes preparing California students to serve the high-tech industry.

“UC is training software engineers at the same time they’re outsourcing their own software engineers,” says Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose), whose district includes much of Silicon Valley. “What message are they sending their own students?”
As we’ve reported before, H-1B visas were created to allow American technology companies to import uniquely talented individuals from abroad; visa holders can work in the U.S. for three years, with the goal of obtaining permanent residency and ultimately citizenship.

But the program has been co-opted by outsourcing firms that use the visas to import workers, mostly from India, to replace Americans in middle-level IT jobs. Those firms, including HCL, corral about half of all H-1B visas every year. The workers they import often live here barracks-style and are at the beck and call of supervisors who can revoke their residency at will. Eventually they return home to continue their assignments, without workplace benefits and at wages a fraction of what their American counterparts were paid. 

UCSF officials say the decision to outsource 97 IT jobs, about 20% to the total IT headcount, was forced on it by daunting economic challenges. The state requires UCSF Health, which encompasses the university’s hospitals, to be fiscally self-sustaining, collecting its revenue entirely from patient fees, Chief Executive Mark R. Laret says.

The hospitals recorded a $42-million deficit in the last fiscal year on $3.4 billion in revenue, he told me. The red ink was partially the result of an increased caseload from Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program, which was expanded under the Affordable Care Act. Medi-Cal reimbursements are so low that UCSF loses 40 cents on every dollar it spends on those patients’ treatment, he says.

In searching for costs to cut, USCF concluded that the most expendable IT employees were systems maintenance staff, whose jobs could be done for so much less by foreign workers going without high salaries and fringe benefits.

UCSF officials have convinced themselves that most of the laid-off workers will have little trouble finding new jobs in the vibrant Bay Area technology industry; they say three of the workers already have accepted other positions at UCSF and some have been offered work by HCL. “These individuals are not unemployable,” Laret says.

The university says outsourcing their work to HCL will save $30 million over the five-year term of the HCL contract, which will cost $50 million.

That’s a meager savings of 0.1% of the UCSF budget, which was $5.83 billion in 2015-16. But the key question is what the university may be giving up in terms of system security and other important considerations. 

The work being sent abroad isn’t trivial. According to an email sent to the IT staff last July, it includes managing and backing up most of the system’s data; management and administration of its data networks; operations related to its telephones, email and video conferencing; and payroll and financial applications. 
Laret says UCSF expects the security of all these systems to be at least as good under HCL as it is now, though he acknowledges that “there are no guarantees.” Breaches of medical systems can be exceptionally harmful; a hack attack of UCLA Health System’s network revealed in 2015 may have compromised personal and medical information of 4.5 million patients.

Some UCSF workers involved in training their replacements were less than impressed with the process. Kurt Ho, 57, a systems administrator at UCSF since 2015 who is earning about $100,000, says he spent all of two days with his replacement. “He told me he would go back to India and train his team, and would be sending me emails with questions.”

Hatten-Milholin, whose salary has been $127,000, says some of the replacements were on hand for two weeks.

“What was shocking is that the system is so complex there’s no way you can learn it in two weeks,” she told me. She and Ho are among nine workers who have filed a complaint against UCSF with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, asserting that they’ve been discriminated against based on national origin, age, sex or race.

Disclosure of the layoffs triggered an uproar last fall. Letters went out to UC President Janet Napolitano from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Lofgren, who urged Napolitano to reverse the outsourcing plan and suspend the HCL contract until UC can “thoroughly examine” the public policy issues raised by the plan.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) pointedly reminded Napolitano that UC received about $8.5 billion in federal funding in 2014-15, and said she was unhappy to hear that the funds would be used “to replace Californian IT workers with foreign workers or labor performed abroad.” She added, “this is not the way” to cut costs.

UCSF responded by tinkering with the plan a bit. The university told Feinstein’s office in November that of 27 HCL employees assigned to UCSF during the transition, eight were H-1B visa holders. UCSF said all had been moved to other locations in the U.S. and would not be working any further on the UCSF program, which raises the question of why they were brought to UCSF for training in the first place.

Sending them away allowed UCSF to assert in a public statement that neither the university nor HCL would “replace the affected UCSF employees … with H-1B visa holders.”

But that’s mostly an optical illusion, says Sara Blackwell, a visa attorney who has sued Disney for discrimination on behalf of Walt Disney World employees whose jobs were outsourced to an Indian H-1B firm.

“The endgame is not to have foreign workers stay on the job here,” she says, “but to move the jobs to India.” 

Blame for the outsourcing extends well beyond UCSF. The California Legislature has systematically reduced to pennies the state’s share of the budgets of UCSF and the rest of UC, which once was proudly supported by Sacramento. Meanwhile, Congress has consistently failed to close a glaring loophole allowing U.S. employers to send good American jobs overseas — instead, it has moved to expand the H1-B program at the behest of tech firms claiming, dubiously, that they can’t find enough good engineers in the U.S.

UC President Janet Napolitano seems to be trying to dodge responsibility for this policy. Although she vowed to crack down on H-1B abuses as secretary of Homeland Security, a job she held from 2009 to 2013, she’s been utterly silent about UC’s abuse of that very program on her watch. 

Let’s be clear: The outsourcing of IT jobs to India isn’t UCSF policy, but emerging UC policy. Napolitano’s staff says this is UCSF’s deal. But the HCL contract on which UCSF is operating applies system-wide, and it’s up to individual campuses and schools to opt in; UCSF simply was the first to do so. According to notes from an Aug. 5 meeting of UC’s IT Architecture Committee, chief information officers at other campuses are happy to let UCSF act as a guinea pig and will “wait for a year before jumping in with HCL” in order to gauge UCSF’s experience.

Of course, if UCSF’s initiative blows up in its face, the victims will be its patients, doctors and researchers. In running a university hospital, Laret told me, “you have to make some hard choices.” That’s indisputable, but the unanswered question is whether UCSF’s choice will cost more than it saves.

Credit: latimes

Read more

Sounding The Alarm On Potential Genocide In Burma

A recent report from Amnesty International highlights heightened persecution against Rohingya, a Muslim minority group in Burma. The report claims that activities carried out by Burmese security forces against Rohingya may amount to crimes against humanity. As violence continues, the international community should carefully examine whether the attacks rise to the level of genocide.

Burma, a majority Buddhist country, discriminates against Rohingya primarily on the basis of religion, but recent persecution is also political. Many Rohingya have roots in Burma tracing as far back as the 19th century, when their ancestors emigrated from Bangladesh.  Yet the Burmese government does not consider Rohingya to be citizens. Instead, they are stateless – denied the right to vote and limited in educational opportunities and access to food and medical care. Today, nearly 140,000 Rohingya are corralled in 40 internment camps established by the Burmese authorities in the Rakhine state where most Rohingya reside. Conditions in the camps are deplorable with limited access to food, water, and medical care.

The situation facing Rohingya worsened in 2015 after the government revoked their temporary identification cards and excluded them from voting in the historic election that brought to power the National League for Democracy (NLD) party led by Nobel-laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Despite Burma’s transition to relative democracy, the situation facing Rohingya continues to deteriorate. Suu Kyi has been unusually quiet on their plight. Her leadership on this issue, however, is critical to it gaining political traction and legitimacy in Burma.

The Genocide Convention defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” Among these “acts” are killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm, attempting to destroy an entire group, and transferring children from one group to another.
A U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) report sounded the alarm in 2015, indicating that there were already early warning signs of genocide in Burma. The report listed physical violence against Rohingya, segregation, blockages of humanitarian assistance, and denial of citizenship as just a few of the early indicators of genocide – all of which continue today.

Rohingya have unquestionably experienced extrajudicial killings and bodily or mental harm targeting them specifically because of their ethnicity and religion. According to Matt Smith, a Burma watcher and founder and CEO of Fortify Rights, extrajudicial killings and mass rape of Rohingya women and girls is occurring today. And satellite imagery from Human Rights Watch provides evidence of government forces torching as many as 1,500 homes in Rakhine State.

Credit: forbes.com

Read more

Christians were 2016"s most persecuted group

Nearly 90,000 Christians were killed for their faith in 2016, equivalent to one every six minutes, according to a new study by the Italy-based Center for Studies on New Religions (Censur). The annual study, which is set for release next month, also indicated that 500 to 600 million Christians were prevented from freely practicing their faith.

The number has actually declined from 105,000 in 2015, but it still makes Christians the most persecuted religious group in the world, Massimo Introvigne, director of Censur, told Vatican Radio when announcing the findings on Monday.

“Without wishing to forget or belittle the suffering of members of other religions, Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world,” Introvigne said.
Around 70 percent of the killings occurred in tribal conflicts in Africa, with the high number attributed to Christians refusing to take up weapons for reasons of conscience, Introvigne said. A separate report earlier this year found that a large number of Christian deaths were occurring in northern Nigeria, where the terrorist group Boko Haram operates.

The other 30 percent, according to Introvigne, occurred due to terrorist attacks and government persecution, notably in North Korea. Last year, Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim was sentenced to life in prison in North Korea for what Pyongyang described as “anti-state activities.”
The numbers found in the study were significantly higher than calculated elsewhere because Censur used a broader definition of what constitutes a person being killed for their faith, Introvigne said.

However, the number of Christians and Muslims killed was of a similar number outside of Africa, with the Islamic State terror group responsible not only for killing Christians but large numbers of Muslims, Introvigne added. According to the study, Muslims are generally killed by other Muslims.

While it has long been claimed that Christians are the most persecuted religious group, they are also by far the most populous religious group. There are believed to be 2.2 billion Christians in the world, significantly more than the next highest, Muslims, with an estimated 1.6 billion.

In terms of the places where the two groups face persecution, the numbers are very similar. Christians faced harassment in 110 countries around the world, compared to 109 countries for Muslims, in 2012, according to a 2014 Pew Research Study.


Credit: Newsweek

Read more

A gunman shot three people at an Islamic center in Zurich

A gunman entered an Islamic center in Zurich at around 5:30 p.m. on Monday and opened fire, wounding three people. The gunman then fled and was later found dead by police.

The attack is disconcerting for Switzerland’s Muslim community, particularly after recent negative media coverage. Local media has accused certain mosques in Zurich and Geneva of allowing or even encouraging the radicalization of worshipers.
Islamophobia is not a new problem in Switzerland. In 2008, right wing populist group the Swiss People’s party led a campaign to ban minarets. The vote passed with more than 57 percent of the vote. In 2015, a burqa ban was passed in one Swiss canton, with failure to abide by the law resulting in a heavy fine.
Also yesterday, a Turkish policeman assassinated the Russian ambassador to Turkey and a truck plowed through a Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 and wounding up to 50 people. These stories dominated news coverage yesterday, while the Zurich attack took the backseat. AP didn’t even run any photos of yesterday’s aftermath (hence the photo from 2009).
This can at least partially be explained by the potential geopolitical implications of the ambassador’s assassination and the death toll in Berlin. But there is also an element of anti-Muslim sentiment involved.
Monday’s assassination was carried out by a Turkish policeman who shouted “God is great” in Arabic before firing eight rounds at the ambassador. He then proceeded to deliver a speech in Turkish, saying, “Don’t forget Aleppo. Don’t forget Syria. Unless our towns are secure, you won’t enjoy security. Only death can take me from here. Everyone who is involved in this suffering will pay a price.”
The identity of the Berlin truck driver is still unknown, and police say the attacker may still even be on the loose. That hasn’t stopped some conservatives or the president-elect from blaming Islam for the attack, though. President-elect Donald Trump also tweeted about a terror attack in Switzerland, but didn’t specifically comment on the nature of the attack.
Monday’s attack in Zurich was not perpetrated by, but against, Muslims. Similar incidents in the past have also called into question the media’s coverage of hate crimes targeting Muslims.
In the United States, many Muslims decried a lack of coverage over the February 2015 execution of three Muslim students by a white man in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In October of 2016, three white men were arrested and set to face domestic terrorism charges after “allegedly plotting to bomb an apartment complex occupied by Somali immigrants in southwest Kansas,” according to the U.S. Justice Department. Around 120 Somali immigrants lived in the complex, and while the story was covered in the media it didn’t get the same foothold that a story about an attack by Muslims would get. And on Monday, a Klu Klux Klan member was sentenced to 30 years in jail for creating an X-ray device with which he planned to harm Muslims.
Media coverage of Islam was worse in 2014 than after 9/11, according to a study of 2.6 million Western news stories from 10 American, British and German outlets. The study also showed that Islam is treated differently from other religions in the media and that “a striking absence of Muslim religious leaders in news coverage” resulted in “a more negative portrayal of Islam.”

Credit: thinkprogress

Read more

Islamic States turned Mosul into city of terror and darkness

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — She survived the first stone that struck her, then the second.

One of the Islamic State group's fighters bent down and pressed his fingers to the side of her neck to check her pulse.

As her horrified neighbors watched, extremists threw a third stone at the young woman, who was accused of adultery. That one killed her.

It was, for those who witnessed it, the cruelest moment in Mosul's descent into fear, hunger and isolation under 2 ½ years of IS rule. Before the militants' takeover, Iraq's second-largest city was arguably the most multicultural place in the country, with a Sunni Muslim Arab majority but also thriving communities of Kurds, Shiites, Christians and Yazidis. Together, they had created Mosul's distinct identity, with its own cuisine, intellectual life and economy.

But the Islamic State group turned Mosul into a place of literal and spiritual darkness.

It began with promises of order and of a religious utopia that appealed to some. But over time, the militants turned crueler, the economy crumbled under the weight of war and shortages set in. Those who resisted watched neighbors who joined IS turn prosperous and vindictive. Parents feared for the brainwashing of their children. By the end, as Iraqi troops besieged Mosul, the militants hanged suspected spies from lampposts, and residents were cut off from the world.

The woman's killing in Mosul's Samah district shook to the core those in the crowd who were forced to watch.

Several witnesses described to The Associated Press how the woman and her alleged lover were paraded blindfolded through the streets. The militants summoned everyone they could find to watch. It was in August, after the militants had lost strongholds in other parts of Iraq and Syria, prompting them to heighten their repression.

"'Still not dead,'" Samira Hamid recalled the militant pronouncing after he checked the woman's pulse, before the lethal blow to her head. The man accused of being her lover was flogged 150 times and forced to go to Syria to fight in IS ranks.

Another witness, Sarmad Raad, found recalling the killing nearly unbearable.

"I shut down," the 26-year-old said, "I just lost my mind."

The AP interviewed dozens of residents who have left Mosul since Iraqi troops began retaking outlying districts last month. They described life in a city that has been virtually sealed off from the outside under the rule of the Islamic State group. They spoke from Mosul's edges and from the refugee camps that are their homes for the foreseeable future, even as smoke rose and artillery boomed from nearby front lines.

For many among Mosul's Sunni Arabs, rule by the Sunni militants of IS initially seemed a respite from what they considered the heavy hand of Iraq's Shiite-led central government in Baghdad.

As Iraqi soldiers vanished in those first few weeks, people were simply happy to see hated security checkpoints pulled down and traffic moving smoothly along streets lined with low, pale buildings. Sunni insurgents have long been active in Mosul, and Baghdad's clampdowns against them usually only fueled residents' distrust.

But even as families strolled in the parks and shops stayed open, signs emerged that this group of fighters was unlike past insurgents who had worked strictly underground. They were staying put: Trucks began hauling office furniture to various government buildings, according to a blog called "Mosul Eye," written by a resident who took on the role of city historian.

Several weeks later, the group declared its "caliphate" stretching across its territory in Syria and Iraq.

Within a month, the homes of Christians and other minorities were tagged with official stickers — for "statistical purposes," IS officials said, according to Mosul Eye. Christians and Shiites soon fled, leaving their marked homes and belongings behind.

Kurds were soon targeted as well.

"If you turned in a Kurdish family, they gave you a car," said Hassan Ali Mustapha, a retired prison guard. He said he moved into a home deserted by a Kurdish family, after the family asked him through a mutual friend to do so to keep Islamic State from taking it over.

Mustapha walked with a heavy limp through the camp that is his family's new home. They made their escape from Mosul first on foot and then by Iraqi government truck.

The group imposed the extreme, severe vision of Islamic law across its zone of control. Dress was strictly regulated, and clothes manufacturers were told to report to Islamic State offices to receive the acceptable measurements. Women were required to hide their faces and don black down to their fingertips. The fine for violations — even as small as the wrong kind of stocking — was 25,000 dinars, around 20 dollars. Repeat offenders got lashes.

There was another, widely feared punishment as well: The women's brigade of religious enforcers used a metal-toothed device to deliver vicious, deep "bites" on women they deemed as dressing improperly, according to two women.

Punishments were often public, and in a central square the group printed broadsheets proclaiming how it would respond to disobedience. In one case, according to a witness, there was a gleeful description of "criminals" being shoved into a commercial oven to roast to death.

The militants took a cut of all business through fees, fines or taxes. Even roadside hawkers had to pay IS according to the size of the sheet on the ground where they displayed their wares — 15,000 dinar ($12) per square meter. As they described indignities piling up, the camp residents dragged their feet in the dust to show just how small a space could be taxed.

Residents learned to keep a mental tally of all the different rules — and find ways to dissent.

The most symbolic was the widespread refusal to send children to the schools, which the extremists took over.

Mosul prides itself on an ancient history of knowledge. Near the center of the city are the ruins of the city of Nineveh where stone tablets more than 3,000 years old were discovered in a library, inscribed with the Mesopotamian epic of Gilgamesh, considered humanity's oldest surviving work of literature.

But in the IS schools, lessons were about guns and warplanes. Mathematics courses couldn't use a plus symbol because it resembled a Christian cross. Mosul's biggest libraries were ransacked over a number of weeks, beginning in late 2014, and the extremists set up bonfires to torch books on science and culture, according to accounts at the time.

Though IS threatened flogging and even death as punishments for absenteeism, students and teachers alike stayed away from the university, according to Mosul Eye.

Schools once free to everyone now involved fees that few could afford without a steady paycheck. By mid-2014, steady income came only from joining the Islamic State group. Many dismissed entirely the thought of paying their dwindling cash for a worthless education.

"So we didn't send them to school," said Khodriya Ahmed, a mother of 12 from the outlying neighborhood of Gogjali. "For two or three years, Daesh only educated their own children," she said, using the Arabic acronym for the group.

Hussam Ghareeb, a former soldier, also refused to send his children to IS-run schools.

He is living in a camp with his family, including his 6-year-old son Omar.

"God willing, you will be a doctor and help those who are hurt. Yes, son?" he asked, turning to the boy. Omar has yet to set foot in a classroom.

The group's propaganda insisted all was fine in the city. John Cantlie, a British journalist held hostage by the Islamic State group for four years, has made periodic appearances in videos filmed in Mosul, showing a market, an efficient IS motorcycle police force and a city continuing to function despite the threat of airstrikes from the Iraqi military and the U.S.-led coalition.

Members of the actual police force, meanwhile, had either been killed or gone into hiding as IS hunted down policemen or soldiers to eliminate the group of people best able to fight against them.

Oday Mustapha Suleiman, a former soldier, knew of two police officers killed by militants, as well as his brother. Suleiman himself spent most of his time inside his house for fear of being caught.

"They drove through the streets with a microphone, calling our names," he said. "For 10 days I hid, just pacing between my room and the front door because they wanted to cut off my head."

Azhar Yonas, a small, nervous man who fingered his prayer beads as he spoke, said his name was on an IS list of police officers so he went into hiding. Yonas estimated that a third of the 30,000 strong force was killed — tossed into a natural pit outside the city believed to hold thousands of bodies.

"They said they put them in the hole so they would not make the land unclean," Yonas said.

His youngest child was born July 3, 2014, a day before IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi mounted a dais in a Mosul mosque and gave a sermon demanding Muslims obey him as the newly declared "caliph."

Yonas' wife gave birth at the hospital without him. He did not dare join her.

The family skipped from relative to relative an estimated 100 times in 2½ years.

"Iraqis have big families," he said with a wry smile.

The city's economy suffered a string of blows. The Baghdad government cut off the flow of money it had been paying civil servants, and airstrikes cut into Islamic State's oil revenue and cash reserves. The infrastructure and services initially provided by the group broke down. Electricity cuts forced people to rely on oil lamps. Communications were cut off, although people still managed to make periodic, hushed calls to Alghan FM, a radio station founded by an exiled Mosul resident that has become a sounding board to those trapped in the city.

"Four months ago, satellite television went down. Six months ago, it was the internet," said the station's founder, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Mohammed, for his safety. IS "wanted people to be isolated completely."

IS enforcers cowed entire neighborhoods by forcing people to watch as they hacked off hands and lashed, beheaded or stoned offenders.

Hamid, one of the residents of the Samah neighborhood who witnessed the stoning, said her 39-year-old son suffers from severe psychological problems and ran afoul of Islamic State when he wandered from home one evening. They accused him of being drunk, clubbed him with a gun and took him away. In detention, they beat him more. Finally the family found out where he was being held and brought him home.

"Only his eyes were untouched. Everything else was bruised. And he became like a parrot, just repeating what we would say," she said.

Residents said IS fighters herded people into Mosul's central market nearly every week for public punishments. "They forced all of us to watch," said Raad, the 26-year-old, speaking in the Hassan Sham camp midway between Mosul and Irbil where he and many of his neighbors have ended up.

With the militants digging in as they lost territory elsewhere, Mosul's residents saw food supplies dwindle until onions and bread were all that was left. Prices that had been kept stable began to spiral. With food in short supply and jobs even scarcer, people started selling anything of value to anyone willing to buy.

Khodr Ahmed sold his car for $400 dollars. But as that money ran out, he sent his young boys Bashir and Mushal out to hunt for scrap metal.

As they scrounged, 9-year-old Bashir picked up what turned out to be an abandoned IS explosive. It blew off his hand and gouged a hole in his 10-year-old brother's shin.

"Poverty and hunger caused all of this," said Ahmed. And the poverty and hunger, he said, were caused by IS. "For them, they were living the good life. They had food to eat, but because we did not join, there was nothing for us."

Their neighbor was among those to reap the rewards of joining, the Ahmeds said. That family got a car and never wanted for food or electricity. But Khodriya, Ahmed's wife, said her refusal to fully accept IS rules for women earned her a death threat from the same neighbor — one he never had the chance to carry out.

In recent weeks, to further seal off Mosul's people from the world outside, Islamic State took to hanging people from street lights in residential neighborhoods, according to two men who fled Mosul, speaking on condition they not be named to protect their families. Most of the dead were caught using mobile phones, an act considered spying.

Still, people within Mosul find ways to communicate, if only briefly.

Saif, a man from the Zahra neighborhood, said his family inside the city managed to send quick texts to say they are safe. He spoke using only his first name to protect his relatives.

Mustapha, the former prison guard, was among those to keep his cell phone. He wrapped it in plastic and buried it in the garden, making only brief phone calls. One of his sons lives in Irbil. They have not seen each other since IS took over, although the two cities were, in better days, just an hour apart by car.

Mustapha now is unsure he would ever want to return home.

"Mosul is like a forest with hidden monsters," he said, but he knows everyone who joined the Islamic State. "I can remember everything."

Credit: Yahoo news

Read more

Germany considers law to invalidate Muslim refugees" underaged marriages

The German government is preparing legislation to outlaw child marriage, an accepted practice among the country’s more than 1 million Muslim refugees. The proposed bill is likely to become law because it has the support of the Social Democrats and the Christian Democratic Union, which are the majority parties in the country’s ruling coalition.

This legislation reflects a larger cultural clash between Western democratic values and those of traditional Muslims. Some Germans see their core beliefs coming under siege.

These differences are leading to a rise in Islamophobia and acts of violence. According to a government report, hate crimes soared by 77 percent between 2014 and 2015, with 1,050 recorded cases of arson against refugee homes in 2015.

Germany’s 4.7 million Muslims comprise 5.8 percent of the country’s population, according to the Pew Research Center. 

There are 1,450 known Muslim couples in Germany in which at least one spouse, usually female, is underaged. In 361 of these marriages, at least one partner is under 14. The legal age for marriage in Germany is 18.

The number of such marriages may be much higher, according to Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster.

The proposed legislation would deny legal status to any marriage in which a partner is under the age of 16 and would require a hearing in family court if a partner is between 16 and 18.

According to Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Committee’s office in Berlin, the abject poverty and insecurity of life in the refugee camps in the Middle East are driving Muslim families to push their daughters to marry younger for protection. Berger believes almost half of the marriages in the refugee camps involve children under the age of 16.

“A law that would annul these marriages leaves the young women very vulnerable, and some already have children,” said Berger.
A recent court ruling in Bamberg, Bavaria, upheld the legal status of a marriage between a 21-year-old Syrian and his 15-year-old cousin because the marriage had taken place in Syria and was legal according to that country’s laws.

The proposed legislation is designed to invalidate such marriages in Germany.

Berger’s concerns are shared by Thomas von der Osten-Sacken, the co-founder of Wadi, a Frankfurt-based non-profit that fights for human rights and the development of a democratic civil society in the Middle East.

“Often the young mother’s own parents are dead, and she is badly traumatized and in need of help,” he said, adding that, in some cases, it is better to keep the family intact, especially when the young wife has a child.

Critics of these marriages include conservative Christians and feminists, who view such marriages as oppressive and demeaning to the underaged brides. A new political party, the Alternative for Germany, has achieved remarkable success with an anti-Muslim message.

“No one who comes here has the right to put his cultural values or religious beliefs above our law,” said Minister of Justice Heiko Maas, a Social Democrat whose ministry drafted the bill.

“Children should be in school, not in marriages,” Piotr Malachowski, spokesman for the Justice Ministry, told Fox News, noting that these young girls are not mature enough to make an informed decision whether to wed, and that many of them are in forced marriages.

According to Malachowski, Germany has the right to define marriage according to German law, even for unions that are legal in other countries. He gave as an example gay marriage, which may be acceptable in one country and not another.

Women’s rights groups are also adamantly opposed to such marriages.

“Girls that are married early are robbed of their childhood,” said Monika Mitchell, an official with Terre des Femmes, a Berlin-based women’s rights organization. “And they are more likely to drop out of school.”

According to Mitchell, the lack of schooling makes it harder for girls to get jobs and more likely for them to be totally dependent on their husbands.

In Muslim countries the marriage of very young girls is common, says Seyran Ates, a German woman of Turkish origin and a practicing Muslim, possibly inspired by one of the Prophet Mohammad’s first wives having been only 9 years old.

Ates, a lawyer and human rights activist, said there is nothing in Islamic theology that supports the young marriage of girls. She has braved attacks by Muslim extremists because of her work on behalf of women.

“Since the Iranian revolution in 1979, we have had a dark century for all of Islam, and no enlightenment,” she said. “Look at the relationship between men and women in Europe and North America 200 years ago … that’s the condition we have in Muslim society today.”

The lack of democracy in Muslim societies, she explained, made matters worse since there are few opportunities for women outside the home.

Ates is not optimistic about greater freedom for young Muslim women in Germany. She pointed out that most of the imams in Germany’s 2,500 mosques support child marriage.

Credit: foxnews

Read more

Muslim American leaders to Trump: Protect our freedom of religion

A group of more than 300 Muslim American leaders have published an open letter to President-elect Donald Trump decrying his cabinet selections and demanding he work to protect the First Amendment rights of the Islamic community.

The letter, published on Monday, seeks to convince Trump that American Muslims are an integral part of American culture, and should not be singled out by his coming administration in ways that jeopardize their right to worship freely.
“As American Muslims committed to the values of our faith and the principles that underpin our country’s democracy, we write to express serious concerns about policies proposed during your campaign as well as announcements regarding appointments to your upcoming administration,” the letter reads. “As our President-Elect, one of your duties is to ensure our collective safety and security. This includes protecting the First Amendment rights of all Americans to freely practice their faith, without fear, intimidation or reprisal.”

The letter notes the historic uptick in anti-Muslim hate incidents both during the campaign season and immediately following the election, and criticizes Trump for “considering proposals that would target Muslims based on religion and violate their Constitutional rights”—namely, his proposals to ban Muslim immigration and a create Muslim registry. It specifically lists the case of Trump surrogate Carl Higbie, who recently cited Japanese internment during World War II as justification for polices that target Muslims in modern America.

The letter then goes on to criticize Trump’s cabinet choices, which include National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who once tweeted that tweeted that fear of Muslims is “rational” and that “Arab & Persian world ‘leaders’” must renounce “Islamic ideology.”

“It is deeply concerning that you have announced the appointment of individuals to your upcoming Administration with a well documented history of outright bigotry directed at Muslims or advocating that Muslims should not have the same rights as their fellow Americans,” it reads. “We urge you to reconsider and reject such candidates.”
Signers of the letter are a veritable who’s-who of Muslim American leaders, such as Hatem Bazian, co-founder of Zaytuna College, a Muslim school in California; Nihad Awad, National Executive Director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR); Azhar Azeez, President of the Islamic Society of North America; and Fatima Salman, Executive Director of the national-level Muslim Student Association.

“Just as with previous administrations, we will continue to engage all levels of our government to make America great,” the letter concludes. “As engaged citizens, we also pledge to holding you and all elected officials accountable for upholding our Constitution and the equal protections it guarantees.”
As of Monday afternoon, ThinkProgress has tracked 29 anti-Muslim hate incidents nationwide since Trump was elected on November 8. The cases include letters sent to mosques threatening anti-Muslim genocide, Muslim women being attacked for wearing a hijab, and an assailant who threatened to set a Muslim student on fire. Trump’s name, polices, or election victory were mentioned in several of the incidents.

Credit: Thinkprogress

Read more

EXCLUSIVE: Video shows Queens school bus, with kids aboard, running red light

FLORAL PARK, Queens (WABC) --
Exclusive video shows a school bus filled with kids about to run a red light and cross a busy street in Queens.

The video shows that the driver waits for the right moment with the hazard signals blinking.

It slowly inches forward and then drives straight through.

"I was stunned actually. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it," said Thomas David, witness.

The video was taken by David Friday morning around 8:20.

The Floral Park man had just dropped off his son at school, when all of a sudden at the Cross Island Parkway Service Road at Hillside Avenue, David says the bus squeezed by his vehicle on a narrow one lane road, driving up onto the curb, almost hitting his car, and cutting to the front of the line.

That's when David took out his phone and took the video.

"I knew something; you know he's going to do something bad. So it was really shocking to see that he's passing through a red signal on a busy road during the rush hour with children in it," David said.

The driver runs the red light and just 10 seconds later, the light turns green.

Parents in the area are stunned.

The bus driver works for Thomas Buses.

The owner of the company says he too is appalled by this video.

He says there's no explanation for it and adds this driver will definitely be suspended.

In a statement a spokesperson for the Department of Education says, "The safety and security of students and staff is our top priority. We are looking into this serious incident and will work with the bus vendor to ensure it's addressed."

The driver will have a chance to speak at a hearing, sometime before Tuesday, but until then, that driver will not be behind the wheel.

Courtesy to http://abc7ny.com/news/exclusive-queens-school-bus-with-kids-aboard-runs-red-light/1637447/

Read more

McDonald"s Unveils Job-Replacing Self-Service Kiosks

As the labor union-backed Fight for $15 begins yet another nationwide strike on November 29, I have a simple message for the protest organizers and the reporters covering them: I told you so.

It brings me no joy to write these words. The push for a $15 starter wage has negatively impacted the career prospects of employees who were just getting started in the workforce while extinguishing the businesses that employed them. I wish it were not so. But it’s important to document these consequences, lest policymakers elsewhere decide that the $15 movement is worth embracing.
Let’s start with automation. In 2013, when the Fight for $15 was still in its growth stage, I and others warned that union demands for a much higher minimum wage would force businesses with small profit margins to replace full-service employees with costly investments in self-service alternatives. At the time, labor groups accused business owners of crying wolf. It turns out the wolf was real.

Earlier this month, McDonald’s announced the nationwide roll-out of touchscreen self-service kiosks. In a video the company released to showcase the new customer experience, it’s striking to see employees who once would have managed a cash register now reduced to monitoring a customer’s choices at an iPad-style kiosk.

It’s not just McDonald’s that has embraced job-replacing technology. Numerous restaurant chains (both quick service and full service) have looked to computer tablets as a solution for rising labor costs that won’t adversely impact the customer’s experience. Eatsa, a fully-automated restaurant concept, now has five locations—all in cities or states that have embraced a $15 minimum wage. And in a scene stolen from The Jetsons, the Starship delivery robot is now navigating the streets of San Francisco with groceries and other consumer goods. The company’s founder pointed to a rising minimum wage as a key factor driving the growth of his automated delivery business.
Of course, not all businesses have the capital necessary to shift from full-service to self-service. And that brings me to my next correct prediction–that a $15 minimum wage would force many small businesses to lay off staff, seek less-costly locations, or close altogether.

Tragically, these stories—in California in particular–are too numerous to cite in detail here. They include a bookstore in Roseville, a pub in Fresno, restaurants and bakeries in San Francisco, a coffee shop in Berkeley, grocery stores in Oakland, a grill in Santa Clara, and apparel manufacturers through the state. In September of this year, nearly one-quarter of restaurant closures in the Bay Area cited labor costs as one of the reasons for shutting down operations. And just this past week, a California-based communications firm announced it was moving 75 call center jobs from San Diego to El Paso, citing the state’s rising minimum as the “deciding factor.” (Dozens of additional stories can be found at the website FacesOf15.com.)
Other states are also learning the same basic economic lesson: Customers have a limit to what they will pay for service. Voters in Washington, Colorado, Maine and Arizona voted to raise minimum wages on Election Day, convinced of the policy’s merits after millions of dollars were spent by union advocates. In the immediate aftermath, family-owned restaurants, coffee shops and even childcare providers have struggled to absorb the coming cost increase—with parents paying the cost through steeper childcare bills, and employees paying the cost through reduced shift hours or none at all.

The out-of-state labor groups who funded these initiatives aren’t shedding tears over the consequences. Like their Soviet-era predecessors who foolishly thought they could centrally manage prices and business operations to fit an idealistic worldview, economic reality keeps ruining the model of all gain and no pain. This brings me to my last correct prediction, which is that the Fight for $15 was always more a creation of the left-wing Service Employees International Union (SEIU) rather than a legitimate grassroots effort. Reuters reported last year that, based on federal filings, the SEIU had spent anywhere from $24 million to $50 million on the its Fight for $15 campaign, and the number has surely increased since then.

This money has bought the union a lot of protesters and media coverage. You can expect more of it on November 29. But the real faces of the Fight for $15 are the young people and small business owners who have had their futures compromised. Those faces are not happy ones.


Credit : Forbes

Read more

Spike in Traffic Deaths in 50 Years? Blame Apps

The messaging app Snapchat allows motorists to post photos that record the speed of the vehicle. The navigation app Waze rewards drivers with points when they report traffic jams and accidents. Even the game Pokémon Go has drivers searching for virtual creatures on the nation’s highways.

When distracted driving entered the national consciousness a decade ago, the problem was mainly people who made calls or sent texts from their cellphones. The solution then was to introduce new technologies to keep drivers’ hands on the wheel. Innovations since then — car Wi-Fi and a host of new apps — have led to a boom in internet use in vehicles that safety experts say is contributing to a surge in highway deaths.

After steady declines over the last four decades, highway fatalities last year recorded the largest annual percentage increase in 50 years. And the numbers so far this year are even worse. In the first six months of 2016, highway deaths jumped 10.4 percent, to 17,775, from the comparable period of 2015, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“This is a crisis that needs to be addressed now,” Mark R. Rosekind, the head of the agency, said in an interview.
The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating an Oct. 26 crash near Tampa that killed five people. A passenger in one car, a teenager, recorded a Snapchat video showing her vehicle traveling at 115 m.p.h. just before the collision.

A lawsuit filed in a Georgia court claims a teenage driver who was in a September 2015 crash near Atlanta was using Snapchat while driving more than 100 m.p.h., according to court records. The car collided with the car of an Uber driver, who was seriously injured.

Alarmed by the statistics, the Department of Transportation in October outlined a plan to work with the National Safety Council and other advocacy groups to devise a “Road to Zero” strategy, with the ambitious goal of eliminating roadway fatalities within 30 years.

The Obama administration’s transportation secretary, Anthony Foxx, said that the near-term effort would involve identifying changes in regulations, laws and standards that could help reduce fatalities. That might include pushing for all states to tighten and enforce laws requiring use of seatbelts in cars and helmets on motorcycles, while cracking down on distracted or drunken driving. The effort might also include tougher regulation of heavy trucks, Mr. Foxx said.
A second, related effort would focus on setting longer-term goals and speeding the introduction of autonomous-driving technologies that many safety experts say have the potential to prevent accidents by removing distracted humans from the driving equation.

One concern so far, though, is that current generations of automated driver-assistance systems, like the Autopilot feature offered by Tesla Motors, may be lulling some drivers into a false sense of security that can contribute to distracted driving.

Whether highway safety officials in the Trump administration will have the same priorities, though, is too soon to say. The names of candidates for transportation secretary have not yet been publicly floated.

Most new vehicles sold today have software that connects to a smartphone and allows drivers to place phone calls, dictate texts and use apps hands-free. Ford Motor has its Sync system, for example. Others, including Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz, offer their own interfaces as well as Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto.

Automakers say these systems enable customers to concentrate on driving even while interacting with their smartphones.

“The whole principle is to bring voice recognition to customers so they can keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel,” said Alan Hall, a spokesman for Ford, which began installing Sync in cars in 2007.

Since then, the company has added features to reduce distractions, like a “do not disturb button” that lets drivers block incoming calls and texts.

CarPlay allows use of the iPhone’s Siri virtual assistant to answer phone calls, dictate texts and control apps like Spotify and Pandora. Both Sync and CarPlay present simplified menus on a car’s in-dash display to reduce driver distraction and turn off the phone’s screen, eliminating the temptation to use the device itself.

But Deborah Hersman, president of the nonprofit National Safety Council and a former chairwoman of the federal National Transportation Safety Board, said it was not clear how much those various technologies reduced distraction — or, instead, encouraged people to use even more functions on their phones while driving. And freeing the drivers’ hands does not necessarily clear their heads.
“It’s the cognitive workload on your brain that’s the problem,” Ms. Hersman said.

Technology in some new cars is meant to reduce driver distractions or compensate for them.

Dr. William Chandler, a retired neurosurgeon in Ann Arbor, Mich., just bought a 2017 BMW X5 sport utility vehicle that warns him if he drifts out of his lane on the highway or if a car is in his blind spot. His favorite feature is a heads-up display on the windshield in front of him that projects his speed, the speed limit and navigation information.

“It puts all the directions and turns right there in my field of vision,” he said. “That’s a real safety factor for distracted driving, because I’m never looking at the map on the screen in the console.”

But new cars make up only a small portion of the 260 million vehicles on the road in the United States. Digital diversion is harder to address in older models.

Brett Hudson, 26, a teacher at a charter school in Jackson, Mich., said his iPhone 6 Plus had become essential to his daily commute in his 2002 Chevrolet TrailBlazer. He uses Apple Maps for navigation, listens to music via Pandora and gets his favorite Michigan football call-in show on iHeart Radio.

To reduce the time he looks at the phone, Mr. Hudson installed an aftermarket Bluetooth system for hands-free phone calls. He mounts the iPhone on a clip attached to an air vent, enabling him to see the screen while still keeping the road in his field of vision.

Mr. Hudson concedes that the setup is not risk-free.

“I’ve noticed that when I do have to touch the phone,’’ he said, ‘‘my brain becomes so totally focused, even in that short period of time, and I don’t really remember what’s happening on the road in those four or five seconds.”

Insurance companies, which closely track auto accidents, are convinced that the increasing use of electronic devices while driving is the biggest cause of the rise in road fatalities, according to Robert Gordon, a senior vice president of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

“This is a serious public safety concern for the nation,” Mr. Gordon said at a recent conference in Washington held by the National Transportation Safety Board. “We are all trying to figure out to what extent this is the new normal.”


Credit: NYTIMES

Read more

WHY I VOTED FOR TRUMP

WHY I VOTED FOR TRUMP

Marilyn Weydert
74 years old • Kenosha, Wis.

I voted against Hillary Clinton, and for Donald Trump, because Clinton compromised our national security by putting classified information on a personal email account and allowed people without security clearances to access that information. As a retired federal employee with a security clearance, I have protected classified information. Failure to do so has resulted in prison for many, and rightly so.

Kirsten Johnson
31 years old • Minneapolis

I was literally undecided until I went into the voting booth. I was a strong advocate for Gary Johnson for most of the race, but I changed my mind after I saw him at a lackluster rally in town. Then Trump came through, and the energy and passion was astounding. He overflowed an airport hangar with 24 hours notice on a Sunday during a Vikings home game. Holy crap. So, in the end, I voted for the economy, against Obamacare and against a corrupt government, just as I was planning to for Johnson. But I also voted for the people, because Trump was the clear choice of the silent majority I eventually became a part of.

Nick Flores
39 years old • Sacramento, CA

I voted for Donald Trump because he will deport illegal immigrants more than Clinton. As a legal immigrant who had to wait 13 years for an immigration visa approval and pass two health screens and an English language proficiency exam prior to entering the United States, I consider it an insult to to cater to criminals who disobeyed immigration laws and cut in front of all law-abiding immigration applicants waiting patiently to be approved. I have never received any government assistance, nor is it my goal to do so. My dignity disallows such a thought. To witness some illegal immigrants gaming the welfare system boils my blood.

Nicole Citro
47 years old • Burlington, Vt.

Donald Trump came to Burlington, Vt. — Bernie Sanders’s home town — in December. I stood in line with a few thousand people and was confronted by a few hundred people protesting Trump’s appearance and those supporting him. I was still on the fence, but after that rally I knew without a doubt Trump was going to be our next president. He had tapped into what the everyday Joe — and Jane — were feeling but had become PC-shamed from expressing. As Trump cleared each hurdle during the campaign, and I saw how the media, the establishment and celebrities tried to derail him, my hope began to grow that I would be able to witness their collective heads explode when he was successful. Tuesday night was beyond satisfying to watch unfold. I hope all the aforementioned have learned their lesson. I look forward to watching Trump make good on his plans to make America affordable, make America safe and make America work. I always thought it was great.

Erin Keefe
22 years old • Manchester, N.H.

I am white, I am a woman, I am pro-choice, I am educated, and I voted for Donald Trump. The government needs to be run like a corporation, simple as that. Of course humanitarian issues are of concern to me, as they are to every American. His degrading language toward women bothers me, and his views on global warming are a problem for me. I do not 100 percent love Trump, but I am convinced he can lead this nation. I was part of the silent majority. My friends would bash those who leaned toward Trump and comment on how insane, uneducated and racist his supporters were. I was afraid to speak my mind because of the possibility it might hurt my reputation socially and professionally. I respect everyone’s opinion and vote, and it’s wrong to be ridiculed for supporting someone you have a right to support. I scrolled through my Facebook page on Election Day personally hurt. Friends accused Trump supporters of not loving them because they are gay, a woman, a person of color or an immigrant. My stomach dropped knowing what might happen if someone found out that I supported him and that they thought I did not love them for that. I voted for Donald Trump because he can create change for our country, economy and world.

Deniz Dolun
22 years old • Boca Raton, Fla.

My entire family — five Muslim immigrants from Turkey — voted for Donald Trump in Florida because of the Democratic Party’s pandering to Islamism. As people who have actually experienced Islamism in its purest form, back in Turkey, we supported the candidate who promised to help us fight that issue, regardless of any of his other policies. For us, the people of the Middle East, this election was just too important to hand over to someone such as Hillary Clinton.

Diane Maus
61 years old • Suffern, N.Y.

On Tuesday, I voted Republican for only the second time in my life. The media did the United States a huge disservice in covering this campaign. As I watched, I got the impression that voting was a mere formality. The commentary was all about how Hillary Clinton was set to get down to business once the pesky election was over. It was obvious watching the election returns on several networks that not one of them prepared for the possibility of Donald Trump triumphing. Why was that? My vote was my only way to say: I am here and I count. I wish President-elect Trump all the best and have hope that Washington will, in the next four years, actually work for all Americans.

Howard Gaskill
77 years old • Georgetown, Del.

I remember the Clintons from back when they tap danced around the Gennifer Flowers story. Then came Whitewater and then Hillary Clinton’s billing records were nowhere to be found, and then there was Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton looked right at me through the TV screen and said “I did not have . . .” The lies never stopped. Then came the Clinton Foundation, foreign donations and the emails. I have 100 percent Clinton Fatigue. If Bernie Sanders had been on the ballot, I would have voted for him, even though I agree with him on virtually nothing. But he seems to be honest and stands up for his beliefs and not for enriching himself.

Phil McNeish
 57 years old • Roanoke, Va.

 I am an independent voter who leans slightly to the left. I am a small business owner. I am not an uneducated, deplorable redneck. Donald Trump, despite his imperfections, will be the most left-leaning Republican president of all time. Hillary Clinton would have steered the country further to the extreme left, while Trump will be a good mix of left and right. We, in the middle, are weary of partisan bickering. Trump was our best hope of a president willing to compromise.

Lori Myers
 51 years old • Houston

 I voted for Donald Trump because the media was so incredibly biased. They were unhinged in their obvious role as the Clinton campaign propaganda machine. The collusion was just too much.

Debra Knox
 61 years old •  Shallotte, N.C.

 I am concerned about my impossibly expensive health insurance and the impact on my family. I am concerned about undocumented immigrants and the Democratic Party’s propensity to give and give to everyone. The middle class is in dire condition. I haven’t had a raise in 10 years. I couldn’t stand the thought of four more years heading in this direction. My decision was based on my fiscal needs.

George Erdner
65 years old • Duluth, Ga.

It was time we had a businessman with strong executive skills leading our nation back to capitalism. We must reverse the trend toward socialism, and who better to make that change than a capitalist?

Christopher Todd
53 years old • Tampa

I voted for Donald Trump on the calculated bet that he would nominate conservative Supreme Court justices. The Constitution is a social contract, not a poem to be variously interpreted. If people want to permit gay marriage or abortion for any reason, then make both legal through the legislature, not via an unelected oligarchy rewriting the Constitution.

Mackenzie Gans
28 years old • Las Vegas

We need to focus less on individually placating all the groups that make American wonderful and more on solving issues related to the economy and foreign adversaries. Tap-dancing around our national debt, our failure to contain Iran and North Korea, and our long-term unemployed citizens helps no one.

James Brady
74 years old • Tennessee

I voted for Donald Trump based on my Christian values. I didn’t know a lot about Trump but I knew too much about the Clintons. This country needs to get back on track with God, to give God praise, honor and glory each and every passing day. He is worthy. I pray for the new administration that will take office in January. I believe if Hillary Clinton had won the election we would be dead in the water. Too many things she sought to get passed were against any Christian belief for those who are true to Christ.

Helene Berkowitz
37 years old • Hashmonaim, Israel

Unlike most Americans, I know how to compartmentalize and separate my personal opinion of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and my belief about who is better for the job. I have always said — years before Trump was ever interested in politics — that the country should be run like a business. Meaning the United States should be led by someone who knows how to delegate, and understands complex budgets, negotiation and leadership. That is why I voted for Trump. I don’t need my president to be nice to everyone and to give them a warm, fuzzy feeling. Get a bathrobe for that. I also don’t have to agree with him on every single opinion or policy. I don’t need to be friends with my president; I need him or her to lead the country, provide solutions for our problems and make a stronger and greater United States.

Jim Barnacle
 66 years old •  Harrisburg, Pa.

I don't believe Donald Trump is a racist, misogynist or homophobe. I think he will focus on making the economy better for American citizens and businesses. I'm hopeful that he will help our inner cities and help everyone reach their potential. I'm a 40-year veteran of law enforcement, and my two sons are cops as well. My three sons-in-law are in the military. Hillary Clinton convinced me that she does not support my profession or the military. I also believe the Clintons were wrong for accepting so much money for speeches. They were being paid for access, which is wrong.

Credit: Washingtonpost

Read more

Donald Trump wins the presidency in stunning upset over Clinton

Donald Trump was elected the nation’s 45th president in the stunning culmination of a campaign that defied expectations and conventions at every turn and galvanized legions of aggrieved Americans in a loud repudiation of the status quo.

Hillary Clinton’s quest to make history as the first female president was thwarted by the Republican nominee’s breathtaking performance at the polls. He was carried to victory by voters fed up with the political system and mistrustful of Clinton, a former first lady, senator and secretary of state.

Trump, a 70-year-old celebrity businessman who had never before run for office, is poised to become the oldest president ever elected to a first term.

After running a divisive campaign, Trump sounded a magnanimous note of reconciliation as he claimed victory shortly before 3 a.m. Wednesday.

“Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country,” Trump said, minutes after Clinton called him to concede. “I mean that very sincerely. Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division. We have to get together. To all Republicans, Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people.”

He had portrayed his opponent as the embodiment of a rigged system that had failed the everyday American. Her credentials through a quarter-century on the national stage, which in another electoral climate would have been an asset, pegged her in his supporters’ view as the ultimate establishment insider.

Trump said that under his administration, “America will no longer settle for anything less than the best.” And he promised foreign countries that “while we were always put America’s interests first, we will deal fairly with everyone,” adding: “We will seek common ground, not hostility.”

The real estate developer thanked his wife, Melania, and his children for their patience, saying: “This was tough. This was tough. This political stuff is nasty and it’s tough.”

With Trump’s ascension to the White House, the nationalist wave that has swept capitals around the world — including in Britain, which voted to break from the European Union this year — came crashing onto U.S. shores.

The prospect of an impulsive authoritarian in the Oval Office rattled investors around the world. On Wall Street, all three major stock index futures sank more than 3 percent. Japan’s Nikkei index plunged more than 2 percent; Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index fell by nearly 4 percent. The Mexican peso — which had fallen when the Republican nominee rose in the polls during his campaign — nose-dived to an eight-year low, according to Bloomberg.

The general election, which riveted the nation and produced a record television audience for a presidential debate, turned on the question of national identity. While Clinton assembled a diverse coalition that she said reflected the nation’s future, it was no match for the powerful and impassioned movement built by fanning resentments over gender, race and religion.

Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again” inspired millions of Americans alienated by the forces of globalization and multiculturalism and deeply frustrated with the inability of Washington to address their needs.

Voters anxious about the economy, convinced that the system was stacked against them, fearful of terrorism and angry about the rising gap between rich and poor, gravitated toward Trump. In him, they saw a fearless champion who would re-create what they recalled as an America unchallenged in the world, unthreatened at home and unfettered by the elitist forces of “political correctness.”

“It’s a movement comprised of Americans from all races, religions, backgrounds and beliefs who want and expect our government to serve the people, and serve the people it will,” Trump said in his victory speech.

He vowed: “Every single American will have the opportunity to realize his or her fullest potential. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.”

The presumption held by both campaigns, right up to the hours when polls began closing, was that Trump had a far narrower path to victory than Clinton. But he capitalized on nearly every opportunity across the electoral map.

One by one on Tuesday night, electoral prizes that for hours had been too close to call deep into the night fell into Trump’s win column. First, Florida and Ohio. Then North Carolina. And then Pennsylvania and, at 2:30 a.m., Wisconsin.

A few minutes after 2 a.m., Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, told stunned supporters who had gathered in anticipation of celebrating her victory to go home because there would be no further statement as outstanding votes were counted. “We can wait a little longer, can’t we?” Podesta said.

Clinton claimed Colorado and Virginia as she thought she would, but she underperformed expectations in the traditionally Democratic-leaning Rust Belt states where Trump campaigned aggressively in the final weeks.

Clinton had so taken for granted a region thought of as her “blue wall” that she did not hold a single event in Wisconsin during the general election.

Control of Congress was on the line as well, with Republicans poised to maintain their majority in the House and a string of hotly competitive Senate contests going their way as well.

Trump’s feuds with Republican leaders created deep fissures in his party, and his victory has set the GOP on a new path. Whether he can achieve any of his grandiose ideas could hinge on his relationship with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), who had all but abandoned Trump in the campaign’s final weeks. In an early sign of detente, Ryan’s office let it be known that the speaker had placed a congratulatory call to Trump.

President Obama campaigned vigorously for his former secretary of state — going so far as to label her opponent temperamentally unfit to be commander in chief — but his resurgent popularity did not rub off on his legatee.

Trump had pledged to dismantle Obama’s achievements, starting with his signature law, the Affordable Care Act that became known as Obamacare. He also will be in position to fill the current vacancy on the Supreme Court.

A Trump presidency is certain to produce significant geopolitical repercussions. He has promised to transform U.S. foreign policy and take it in a more unilateralist direction.

He also has promised to build a wall on the border with Mexico and deport immigrants who are in this country illegally. Trump said he would “bomb the s---” out of the Islamic State and says he has a secret plan to annihilate the terrorist organization. He has also expressed admiration for strongmen such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom he has promised to forge a closer relationship based on mutual respect.

Never one to let go of a grudge, Trump has vowed to send Clinton to prison. At his victory party early Wednesday, his supporters chanted, “Lock her up!”

Trump, a flashy real estate developer who extended his brand with reality television, would be the first person to become president without having previously held elected office or served in the U.S. military. Trump’s vice president will be Michael Pence, 57, the governor of Indiana and previously a longtime member of the House.

Until polls closed on Tuesday, confidence in the Clinton campaign had been high that she would topple a barrier that has stood for nearly a century after women in the United States got the right to vote and be elected president. For her election-night party, she chose a utilitarian convention center in midtown Manhattan notable for one architectural feature: a glass ceiling.

But Clinton’s historic quest hit head winds early in the evening as key states she had expected to carry easily, such as Virginia, remained in doubt. Though she prevailed there, the contest proved significantly closer than the pre-election polls would have indicated.

Inside the Javits Center, the jovial atmosphere quickly grew dark as the night wore on. Senior Clinton aides, who had been circulating among the press risers, had long since disappeared and stopped answering their phones. The only Clinton staff in evidence as the 11 o’clock hour approached were fairly junior aides, looking nervous and uncertain. By midnight, supporters were streaming out the exits. Many of those who remained were in tears.

“I’m actually speechless right now,” said a dejected Julia Beatty, 38, who left the Javits Center with her Clinton sticker peeling off her leather jacket. “I just want to make it safely uptown so I can sob into a glass of wine.”

Clinton faced the additional burden of running for what would be the third consecutive term for one party in the White House — something that has happened only once since the middle of the 20th century.

After nearly a quarter-century in the nation’s consciousness, Clinton had become a walking paradox, a Rorschach test of what defines character and values. Trump nicknamed her “Crooked Hillary.” And for more than a year, she was hobbled by her use of a personal email server as secretary of state, which flouted protocol and became the subject of an FBI investigation.

FBI Director James B. Comey roiled the campaign 11 days before the election by announcing that a fresh trove of emails had been discovered on the computer of Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s estranged husband, former New York congressman Anthony Weiner. On Sunday, Comey said the investigation found no cause for the FBI to reverse its earlier decision against an indictment. Still, the developments took Clinton off her stride in the home stretch and contributed to a tightening of the polls.

Clinton got an early warning of trouble ahead, even before the general election. To win the Democratic nomination that had once been presumed to be a coronation, she had to fend off an unexpectedly potent primary challenge from Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), a self-identified democratic socialist who sparred with her until the final primaries in June.

Trump proved resilient against an onslaught of negative advertising from Clinton’s campaign and her allied super PAC, Priorities USA, which portrayed him as racist, misogynist and unhinged. Nearly a quarter-billion dollars was spent on ads supporting Clinton, while just $153 million went into spots backing Trump.

Clinton’s sprawling and supposedly superior data-driven organization — which mobilized a broad coalition of Latino, African American, women and young voters — did not deliver the knockout blows it had hoped in critical contests. It appeared that Trump was following through on his promise to remake the political map by igniting a populist rage across among working-class whites in huge swaths of the country.

A razor-thin margin in Florida, which had decided the 2000 presidential election, was a microcosm of the story in many contested states. Clinton and her allies had helped spur record turnout among Democrats and Latino voters in early voting, but Trump rapidly made up ground on Tuesday with record turnout in exurban communities and GOP-leaning counties.

Meanwhile, Trump’s unexpectedly strong performance rippled down the ballot. His army of supporters helped power several endangered Republican senators to reelection, including Marco Rubio in Florida, Rob Portman in Ohio and Richard Burr in North Carolina. And in Indiana, Republican Todd Young defeated former Democratic senator Evan Bayh in a closely watched race for an open seat.

Rarely in modern electoral history had the two parties offered such a stark choice for voters at the top of the ballot. Trump and Clinton also registered the highest and second-highest personal negative ratings, respectively, of any two major-party nominees in the history of polling.

Initially dismissed by the GOP elders and the mainstream media as a mere showman, Trump vanquished a highly credentialed field of 16 other contenders — including governors and senators — in the nominating contest.

Indeed, the last Republican president, George W. Bush, and the party’s last nominee, Mitt Romney, refused to support Trump. When they voted Tuesday, Bush and his wife, Laura, did not select either Trump or Clinton, according to their spokesman.

Trump resisted building a traditional national political infrastructure, shunning the kind of data analytics that have become the norm in campaigns in favor for mega rallies and an omnipresence on cable news.

It fell to the Republican National Committee to pull together a ground-level operation on Trump’s behalf, which it did by following an example that Obama had set in 2008 and 2012. The party built a field operation that refocused on voter contact and early balloting.

In New Hampshire alone, party officials said, GOP volunteers and organizers had knocked on 1.5 million doors by the weekend before the election — three times as many as Romney’s campaign had in 2012.

Trump’s unorthodox campaign also severed the Republican Party from its philosophical roots. His populist stance against free trade diverged with the GOP’s long-held position, while his harsh rhetoric on illegal immigration flew in the face of the strategy party leaders presented in the wake of Romney’s defeat, of championing immigration reform as a means of broadening the GOP’s appeal to Latino voters.

Clinton, meanwhile, focused on building a diverse coalition that rejected Trump’s brand of divisiveness. Hers was a call for inclusion and tolerance — and for a recognition of how far the country has progressed beyond its founding as a society where power was vested almost exclusively in white men.

Ironically, it was not the first female major-party nominee who brought discussions of sexism and misogyny to the forefront of debate this year, but her opponent.

Trump unapologetically made frequent boorish references to the physical appearance and intelligence of women. A leaked video from 2005 revealed him bragging of groping and kissing women without permission.

Subsequently, more than a dozen women came forward to accuse Trump of various incidents of sexual assault, all of which he denied. It set off a national conversation, involving not just women, but their husbands and sons and brothers.

Having lived much of his adult life within range of a microphone, Trump provided decades of fodder for his critics. And once he rode a Trump Tower escalator to announce his candidacy in June 2015, he said things, again and again, that would have been disqualifying had a more conventional politician said them.

He characterized Mexicans who immigrated illegally as rapists and murderers, mocked a disabled New York Times reporter, insulted Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for his time as a prisoner of war, suggested that a female debate moderator had been tough on him because she was having her menstrual period, and tangled with the Muslim parents of a U.S. soldier who was killed in the Iraq War.

With her singular credentials and experience, Clinton set out to forge a path to the nation’s highest office that no one had ever walked. At the same time, her public choices and personal ordeals became the emblem of a generation of striving women who had come of age with a feminist movement that promised they could “have it all.”

Clinton struggled throughout the campaign to articulate a simple, pithy reason for running. Her strategists considered 85 possibilities for a general election campaign slogan before settling on “Stronger Together,” according to an email stolen from campaign chairman John Podesta and published by WikiLeaks.

Credits to www.washingtonpost.com

Read more

World"s First Wave-Powered Buoy Turns Seawater Into Drinking Water

North Carolina-based startup EcoH2O Innovations has created the first-ever desalination buoy that only uses the power of waves to turn seawater into drinking water.

Engineers Justin Sonnett and Chris Matthews claim that a single Swell Actuated Reverse Osmosis System (SAROS) machine can clean 3,500 gallons of seawater a day. A grouping of 10-20 units can provide up to 50,000 gallons per site.

According to CityLab, the SAROS "draws in sea water, pumps it at high pressure through a reverse-osmosis membrane, and emits clean, drinkable water, which it stores in a tank until it's ready to be run back to shore."

Desalination plants are a potential solution for water scarcity but they have several problems—they require a large swath of land and city infrastructure, have a big brine discharge problem and also require fossil fuels to operate. The portable SAROS, however, can fit in the back of a truck only needs waves to run, making it relatively cost-effective and energy independent.

"SAROS is different because, by using it, we can cut the cost currently associated with producing fresh water in half," Matthews, SAROS director of research and development, told New Atlas.

The system was designed for the 230 million people living on island and coastal communities that lack access to potable water.

"Typical desalination processes can be taxing on the environment, especially coastal communities," the team said. "Unlike traditional methods that require a huge amount of power, typically generated by burning fuel oil, SAROS uses clean, renewable wave energy and produces zero emissions and minimal salt brine concentration."

Besides providing a constant source of clean water, the SAROS can help island nations curb their use of dirty energy. Many of these areas are bearing the brunt of climate change, from natural disasters to sea level rise.

"We're completely removing the dependency on electricity and fossil fuels, and creating one of the first environmentally conscious desalination systems that will allow us to bring affordable fresh water to coastal areas across the globe," the team added.

EcoH2O said the SAROS can one day be used to tackle other problems besides water scarcity.

"The innovative, wave-powered technology used in SAROS could also be configured to do things like generate electricity, autonomously pump water to clean up oil spills or even filter plastic from our ocean," the team said. "The amount of potential good that SAROS can bring is as exciting as it is endless."

Sonnett and Matthews came up with SAROS as their senior design project at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2014. After graduating, they've picked up multiple awards for their concept, including the prestigious Thomas Edison Award in 2014 for dedication to sustainability. 

The SAROS team has launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise the $25,000 they need to take this project above water. The cost per unit is expected to retail around $23,000.

Credit: ecowatch

 
Read more

Airbus unveils its 2050 vision for ‘Smarter Skies’

More flights, fewer emissions and quicker passenger journey times. Welcome to Smarter Skies, the latest instalment in The Future by Airbus. For the first time, our vision of sustainable aviation in 2050 looks beyond aircraft design to how the aircraft is operated both on the ground and in the air in order to meet the expected growth in air travel in a sustainable way.

Already today, if the Air Traffic Management (ATM) system and technology on board aircraft were optimised (assuming around 30 million flights per year), Airbus research suggests that every flight in the world could on average be around 13 minutes shorter. This would save around 9 million tonnes of excess fuel annually, which equates to over 28 million tonnes of avoidable CO2 emissions and a saving for passengers of over 500 million hours of excess flight time on board an aircraft. Add to this new aircraft design, alternative energy sources and new ways of flying and you could see even more significant improvements.

The Future by Airbus concentrates on just that and the Smarter Skies vision consists of five concepts which could be implemented across all the stages of an aircraft’s operation to reduce waste in the system (waste in time, waste in fuel, reduction of CO2.

Read More : http://www.airbus.com/innovation/future-by-airbus/

Read more

The incredible rise of China and India, in two GIFs

These two animated charts, published earlier this year by Swedish data-visualization designer Aron Strandberg, show China's and India's economic growth from the 1970s to their predicted levels in 2030. Neither appear in the world's top economies in the chart until the 1990s, when China first emerges as a tiny blip and then zooms up the chart past Europe's traditional economic titans and Japan. India jumps into the frame by the late 2000s. By the end of the next decade, China and India, along with the United States, will rank as the world's top three economies.

The Asian giants were burdened by a legacy of Western imperial rule and meddling. Then, they made their own missteps, stumbling through a half-century of sclerotic socialism and traumatic Maoism, respectively. China's opening up of its economy under Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s and India's landmark reforms in the early 1990s set the stage for the nations' return as key global players. This includes the rise of hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. At the same time, China and India remain at the heart of profound global challenges: Both nations are grappling with the disastrous effects their economic ascent is having on the environment and will also account for some of Asia's most staggering rates of income inequality.

Credit: Washingtonpost

Read more

The entire territory of Syria must be “liberated,” Putin.

The Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) — The entire territory of Syria must be “liberated,” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said in remarks televised Saturday, dismissing demands for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s departure as “thoughtless.”

The Russian statement came as intense clashes were reported in northern Syria between Turkish troops and Turkey-backed opposition fighters with Kurdish-led forces. The Syrian army command condemned the fresh offensive by Turkish troops inside Syria, describing it as “an occupation that will be dealt with by all available means.”
The Turkish military intervened in the Syrian war in August this year under orders from Ankara to clear the border area of Islamic State fighters and U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces linked to Turkey’s own outlawed Kurdish insurgency. The Turkish government considers both to be terrorist groups.

In the northern city of Aleppo, government forces shelled eastern rebel-held neighborhoods Saturday night marking an apparent end to a lull announced by Russia.
Russia’s Dmitry Peskov said Assad needs to stay in power to prevent the country from falling into the hands of jihadis.

“There are just two options: Assad sitting in Damascus or the Nusra sitting in Damascus,” Peskov said in a reference to the Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s branch in Syria that renamed itself Fatah al-Sham Front earlier this year. “And Assad must sit in Damascus to ensure a political settlement.”

Peskov’s statement comes as the break in the fighting Russia has declared in the besieged city of Aleppo entered its third day before seemingly collapsing Saturday night. He said Russia’s decision to extend the break, which was initially declared for just one day Thursday, wasn’t a concession to Western pressure.

The U.N. greeted the lull intended to allow the evacuation of wounded civilians and fighters from the rebel-held eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo that had been devastated by airstrikes. But the rebels rejected the offer to evacuate and no evacuations were seen along the corridors created by the Syrian government.

A U.N. official told The Associated Press that Syrian opposition fighters were blocking the evacuations because the Syrian government and Russia were not holding up their end of the deal and were impeding deliveries of medical and humanitarian supplies into Aleppo.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the truce collapsed while the Aleppo Media Center, an activist collective, reported artillery shelling on different neighborhoods and an attempt by government forces to advance south of the city. They had no word on casualties.


Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the West was turning a blind eye to the al-Qaida militants blocking humanitarian aid deliveries to Aleppo and trying to shift the blame onto Moscow.

“It’s mean and cynical to … watch the Nusra block the delivery of food and medicines to civilians while blaming Russia for the humanitarian catastrophe in Aleppo,” she said.

Russia launched an air campaign in support of Assad a year ago, helping his forces win back some key ground. The relentless bombing of Aleppo, the country’s largest city and its commercial hub before the war, has caused international outrage.

Peskov said the goal of the Russian campaign is to fight “terrorists,” saying that the fall of the Syrian government would cause new flows of refugees and more terror attacks in Europe.

“Some countries are trying to play with the devil and use terrorists to get rid of Assad, and some just say thoughtlessly that Assad must leave,” Peskov said. “If Damascus falls and terrorists take hold there, there will be no political settlement then.”

He said there is little hope that the Syrian conflict could end soon, adding that it will require a “long and hard work by the international community.”
“The territory of Syria must be liberated,” Peskov said. “It must be liberated and everything must be done to prevent the country’s breakup, which could have catastrophic consequences for the entire region.”

Asked if the deployment of a Russian aircraft carrier into the eastern Mediterranean was intended as a warning for the U.S. against striking Assad’s forces, Peskov said Russia already has sufficient military assets in Syria.

The Admiral Kuznetsov carrier and escorting ships sailed through the English Channel Friday en route to Syria’s shores. Russia has a navy repair supply facility in the Syrian port of Tartus, the only such outpost the country has outside the former Soviet Union.

“There are plenty of instruments already there to control the skies and the security of our infrastructure in Syria,” Peskov said.

Earlier this month, the Russian military warned the U.S. against striking the Syrian army, stressing that Russian air defense weapons in Syria stand ready to fend off any attack.

In northern Syria, Syrian rebels backed by Turkish tanks advanced under intense bombardment toward a major northern town held by Kurdish-led rebel forces.
The Observatory said the fighting between the Turkey-backed fighters and the Kurdish-led Syria Democratic Forces was concentrated near the town of Tel Rifaat.

Ahmad Araj, member of the Syrian National Democratic Coalition, which is allied with the Kurds, told the AP that Turkish tanks crossed the border near the town of Marea and were heading toward Tel Rifaat.

The Observatory said 13 Turkey-backed rebels and three SDF fighters were killed in the fighting.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been one of the Syrian rebels’ strongest backers.

On Thursday, Turkey said it conducted air raids on 18 targets in northern Syria, adding that between 160 and 200 militia fighters were killed. The Observatory said the airstrikes killed 15 SDF fighters and four civilians.

The Syrian army statement said “the new aggressive stance by Erdogan’s regime is a dangerous escalation and flagrant violation” of Syria’s sovereignty. It added that Erdogan’s government has been playing a “dirty role in harboring, training, arming and funding terrorist groups and opening its borders to facilitate the crossing of thousands of terrorists and mercenaries into Syria’s territories.”
Erdogan said Ankara will be expanding its operations in north Syria, including entering areas such as al-Bab, and Raqqa that are held by the Islamic State group and the town of Manbij that is under the control of the SDF.

He added that if the U.S.-led coalition was ready to act jointly, Turkey would do “whatever is necessary” against IS in Raqqa, but Kurdish militants should not have a role.

___

Mroue reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Geneva, Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, and Cinar Kiper in Istanbul contributed to this report.

VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV
BASSEM MROUE

Credit: seattletimes

Read more

Indian Student Says "Americans Are Mean" to Christians in College

FORT Mill, SC — A young Christian woman from India spoke at the Ratio Christi Symposium Saturday night, and she said that schools in India, where most people are Hindu or Muslim, are more friendly to Christians than schools in America. She recalled a conversation with a fellow student, who pointed her to the evangelical campus outreach group Ratio Christi.

"I told her that I was a Christian, but that Americans are mean and they judge me for studying physics while believing the Bible," declared Diana Joy, a student at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. In contrast, she recalled that back in India, "every religion was welcome."

"I wondered why people couldn't leave me alone here," Joy said, describing how Americans would pester her about her religious faith.

When her friend introduced her to Ratio Christi, the organization "fundamentally changed my life." It offered her answers to spiritual problems from a Christian perspective, and in a way that answered the skeptics in American colleges.
Ratio Christi's mission is to equip "university students and faculty to give historical, philosophical, and scientific reasons for following Jesus Christ." The name means "the reason of Christ." The organization has more than 170 chapters in the United States and abroad, in countries as far flung as South Africa, Pakistan, and the Philippines. Find more information at RatioChristi.org.

Credit: pjmedia.com

Read more

Jerusalem Holy Site Declared Muslim, Not Jewish, In United Nations Resolution

One of the world's most important religious sites and Judaism’s holiest site, Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and Western Wall, were reclassified as an exclusively Muslim shrine Thursday after a United Nations organization adopted a polarizing resolution that denies Jewish connection to the site.

The resolution, which condemns Israel for its activities in Jerusalem and the West Bank, asserts that Jerusalem is holy to three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. However, it includes a special section pertaining to the Temple Mount that says the site is sacred only to Muslims and fails to mention it as sacred to Jews. The resolution from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization does not refer to the Al-Aqsa mosque by either the Hebrew term for the site—Har Habayit—or its English translation, the Temple Mount, but only by its Muslim name.

"What's next? A UNESCO decision denying the connection between peanut butter and jelly? Batman and Robin? Rock and roll?" Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted after the decision.

The complex is considered Judaism’s holiest site due to it being the location of its first and second temples. It is the third holiest site to the Muslim faith as the place where the prophet Mohammed made the miraculous night journey to and from Mecca in order to ascend up to heaven. 

The UNESCO resolution this week coincided with international efforts to calm violence in the region after what Palestinians say are increasingly frequent Jewish visits to the compound that is officially under Muslim administration. Under Israeli law, Jews are not allowed to pray at the site to avoid potential violence, but many Jewish activists still rally at the site.

Palestinian protesters have fought back in recent months and clashed with Israeli police outside the temple, with police releasing tear gas and stun grenades and Palesintians throwing rocks at officials. Meanwhile, between July 8 and Aug. 27, more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed during a Israeli military operation in the Gaza strip, along with 66 Israeli soldiers and seven civilians in Israel, according to a BBC News report.

The U.S. State Department expressed concern in September about violence at Temple Mount.

"The United States is deeply concerned by the increase in violence and escalating tensions surrounding the (al-)Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount," said State Department spokesman John Kirby, referring to another Islamic name for the site. "We strongly condemn all acts of violence. It is absolutely critical that all sides exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric and preserve unchanged the historic status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount." 

The Palestinian Authority initiated the UNESCO campaign to reclassify the Temple Mount in 2015 and garnered support from Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar and Sudan. Palestinians want the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip for a future state, with Arab East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital, including the predominately Arab east annexed in 1967, though the claim is not recognized internationally.

Multiple efforts had been made by the Israeli government to try and prove the historical Jewish connection to the holy site before the historic vote. Israel’s Mission to UNESCO in Paris gave board members and international diplomats a brochure that included a ninth-century BCE inscription referring to the House of David, an eighth-century BCE seal from King Hezekia, a stone etching of a Jewish menorah from the year 66 CE found in Jerusalem and a picture of the Arch of Titus in Rome on which images of holy artifacts that the Romans stole from the Second Temple in Jerusalem are depicted, according to a PressReader report.  
“If the Jews have no definite connection to the holy sites-UNESCO and the United Nations has no connection to history and reality,” said Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, Israel's parliament speaker, after the Thursday resolution.

Due to Israeli diplomatic efforts before the vote, no European country backed the motion. Twenty-four countries voted in favor of the decision, while six voted against. Twenty-six abstained while two were missing, according to a Haaretz report. The U.S., United Kingdom and Germany were among those against the resolution. France, Sweden, Slovenia, Argentina, Togo and India abstained from the vote.

Jordan has custodian rights over the Al-Aqsa mosque compound after Israel seized East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East War.

Credit: ibtimes.com

Read more

Immigrants in US Increasingly Educated, Enterprising, from India, China

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA — 
When Manasi Gopala immigrated to America, she finally got the chance to row crew.

As a child in India, she had dreamed of the sport from watching Olympic telecasts. Now, twice a week, she pulls a pair of oars as her scull glides along tree-lined Lake Wheeler, far from her birthplace of Bangalore.

Gopala is among throngs of educated Indians who have moved in recent years to North Carolina’s tech-laden Research Triangle and other areas across America. A 39-year-old software developer, she peppers her emails with an adopted “y’all.” She became a U.S. citizen three years ago.

“America had given me the opportunity to pursue my own life,” she said.

Increasingly, the face of U.S. immigration resembles Gopala.

Changing face of immigration

For all of Donald Trump’s talk of building a border wall and deporting 11 million unauthorized immigrants who are mainly Hispanic — and for all of the enduring contention over illegal immigration — immigrants to the U.S. are now more likely to come from Asia than from Mexico or Latin America.

And compared with Americans overall, immigrants today are disproportionately well-educated and entrepreneurial. They are transforming the nation in ways largely ignored by the political jousting over how immigration is affecting America’s culture, economy and national security.

As of three years ago, Census figures show, India and China eclipsed Mexico as the top sources of U.S. immigrants, whether authorized or not. In 2013, 147,000 Chinese immigrants and 129,000 Indians came to the U.S., compared with 125,000 Mexicans. Most of the Asian immigrants arrived in the United States legally, through work, student or family visas.

Immigrants are also more likely now to be U.S. citizens. Nearly half of immigrants older than 25 — 18 million people — are naturalized citizens, compared with 30 percent back in 2000, according to Census figures.

Simultaneously, more Mexicans without documentation are returning home. The number of Mexicans in the United States illegally tumbled nearly 8 percent in the past six years to 5.85 million, the Pew Research Center found. Border Patrol apprehensions, one gauge of illegal crossings, last year reached their lowest point since 1971.
Defying stereotypes

With the share of U.S. residents born abroad at its highest level in a century, immigrants increasingly defy the stereotypes that tend to shape conversations on the issue. Consider:

About 40 percent of Indian immigrants hold a graduate degree. Fewer than 12 percent of native-born Americans do. And earnings for a median Indian immigrant household exceed $100,000, more than twice the U.S. median.
A majority of Chinese immigrants have come to the United States to seek education. China has become the dominant source of foreigners attending U.S. universities, with 304,000 student visas in the past academic year. India is second, with 133,000 visas. In addition, a quarter of immigrants from China hold graduate degrees.
Since 2011, a majority of Indian and Chinese immigrants have been between ages 15 and 29. Their youth means they’re likely to have children born as U.S. citizens, who will then become prime contributors to American population growth in the years ahead, according to an analysis by Census officials.
Immigrant divide widens

The influx of Asians has not only reshaped the face of America’s immigrant population. It has also sharpened the divide within the immigrant population, between well-educated Asians and arrivals from Mexico and Latin America who have little money or education.

The result is that America’s 40 million-plus immigrants more and more reflect the extremes of America’s economic spectrum, from super-rich tech titans to poor agriculture workers.

Yet economists say immigrants from both ends of the divide are benefiting the economy. At a time when the growth of the U.S. workforce has slowed, immigrants and their collective spending have become a key source of economic fuel.

These disparate groups of immigrants have helped reshape towns and cities, populated new suburban housing developments and revived main streets in some rural communities.

The changes flash into view on a visit to the political swing state of North Carolina. The proportion of immigrants in the state’s population has quadrupled from 1990 to nearly 8 percent. Similar trends have emerged in Georgia, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.

Case in point, North Carolina

None of these states approaches the more than 20 percent share in California and New York. Yet the transformations are evident in a drive across the dense highways that connect North Carolina’s Research Triangle. The suburbs sandwiched among Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh have exploded with plazas crowded with upscale lunch spots and designer gyms.

Indian immigrants have put their distinctive stamp on this area. Their prevalence here is similar to the many educated Chinese immigrants who have settled around Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York.

On evenings in the Research Triangle, many of the cars on Aviation Parkway pull off to stop at the 20-acre Hindu Society of North Carolina in Morrisville, which hosts yoga classes and religious services.

In 2000, when the society’s temple was built, Morrisville was home to 230 Indians. Now, there are 4,300. Those with roots in the community dating to the 1960s recall a period when a grocery run for authentic Indian ingredients required a five-hour drive to Washington, D.C. Those treks are no longer necessary.

Their rising numbers have established a broad community of Indians that has made it easier for new arrivals to integrate than it was for prior generations.

“Now, you come from India, you don’t really have to know anything else,” said Pranav Patel, a 57-year-old software developer. “The system is here to help you adjust. There are no real hardships.”

Asked how they have been received in the community, about a dozen Asian immigrants said they have generally been warmly accepted despite the national furor over immigration.

One, oncologist, Dr. Neeraj Agrawal, said he could recall a patient having to overcome an initial reluctance to be treated by a foreigner. But that was a rare exception.

“There’s a dramatic change in attitudes about skilled, educated immigrants: ‘You’re welcome. You’re a good neighbor. You’re a good addition to society,’” said Agrawal, who was born and educated in India.

In August, Gopala went to the Hindu Society to celebrate India’s independence day. Over the entrance of the temple is the symbol for “om,” representing knowledge, a reminder of education’s vaunted status. Music blared over the crowd amid dancing and honors paid to statues of deities. Gopala enjoyed the festivities. Yet she saw few white and black guests sharing in the moment.

One prominent outsider did show up: Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican in a heated re-election campaign that has been fueled in part by a crackdown on illegal immigration.

McCrory flattered the crowd.

“This is the best of America,” he said, sharing the stage with a life-sized statue of Mahatma Gandhi. “This is the best of India. We work together. We learn together. We can pray together. We love family values together.”

Not all immigrant groups enjoy that same Southern hospitality from North Carolina’s government.

McCrory has backed laws to deny basic services and forms of identification to immigrants without legal status and their children. The governor signed a law last year barring North Carolina cities from helping unauthorized immigrants, whom he has associated with crime, and overcrowded schools and hospital emergency rooms.

His policies are premised on the belief that less-educated immigrants without legal status are burdens for taxpayers. But the arrival of Mexican immigrants helped save Duplin County, a quiet stretch of leafy tobacco fields and prefab homes about 70 miles south of Raleigh.
Undocumented help, too

Until the 1990s, Duplin County’s population had been roughly a flat 40,000 for 50 years. Then Hispanic farmworkers began immigrating, and the population nears 60,000 today. About 7,200 immigrants now live in Duplin County, most from Latin America; there are no clear estimates of how many are there legally.

Nearly three out of four didn’t finish high school, but even these immigrants have helped rural North Carolina — opening businesses and keeping farms in operation despite harsh work conditions.

One Mexican immigrant arrived in North Carolina nearly two decades ago illegally, after a brutal crossing where he saw a fellow Mexican robbed. Having dropped out of school at 13 with little fluency in English, he took whatever jobs were available.

Planting and cutting tobacco was the hardest, he said. In one case, a building contractor offered to pay $500 a week, only to give him just $350 after five long days of labor. The immigrant said there was no one to protect him from this abuse.

Ultimately, this immigrant, who agreed to speak only anonymously because of his legal status, saved enough to open a small business.

“For me, this my pueblo,” he said of his adopted country. “I love this place.”

Battle lines harden

Americans’ sentiments about him and other immigrants have largely hardened along racial, political and demographic lines. Overall feelings toward immigrant workers remain negative. But sentiment has improved since 2006, possibly a sign that the growth of educated immigrants has begun to reshape attitudes, according to a Pew survey released this month.

Two-thirds of Republicans and 54 percent of whites said they think immigration harms U.S. workers. But a majority of Democrats, Hispanics and the college-educated said they felt immigrants made society better off.

By comparison, almost all economists view immigrants as helpful, even essential, for the nation’s continued prosperity.

On the one hand, some visa programs have deprived U.S. workers of jobs. And some companies have been accused of hiring cheaper foreign workers to replace older workers in similar jobs. But academic research has debunked the claims that immigration on the whole takes jobs away from natives, said Bill Kerr, a professor at Harvard University’s Business School whose research has shown that immigration helps business formation.

“Ultimately, our economies are able to grow, absorb people and do a number of dynamic things,” Kerr said.

Because of the aging U.S. population causing more retirements, most economists say immigrants are needed to ensure that the workforce increases at a sufficient pace to sustain overall growth in the long term.

Anti-immigration groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform argue that the United States should cap all immigration levels. These groups contend that lesser-educated workers from Latin America diminish economic growth because they receive government-funded health care and education. And they argue that the jobs that are going to educated immigrants should be directed toward U.S. citizens.

“Trying to grow your economy through the importation of bodies is rudimentary and Neanderthal-like,” said Dan Stein, FAIR’s executive director. “It’s backward.”

Other research disputes this claim, finding value among the largely Hispanic group of less-educated immigrants. For every dollar spent on health care and education, North Carolina got $11 back from Hispanic residents in terms of consumer spending and taxes paid, a finding that includes unauthorized immigrants, said James Johnson, a demographer at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
While much of the debate has focused on the economic effects of immigration, many opponents fear a burden on taxpayers and the cultural changes in a nation coming to grips with its widening diversity.

The anti-immigrant rhetoric has concerned Gopala. She feels fortunate to no longer be among the millions of foreigners still applying for U.S. residency.

“I got very lucky that my green card was processed when immigration wasn’t a bad word,” Gopala said.

“America had given me the opportunity to pursue my own life. On the day you’re born in India, your life is written. But here, that is not true.”

Credit: Yahoo news

Read more

3 Who Studied Unusual States of Matter Win Nobel Prize in Physics

Three physicists born in Britain but now working in the United States were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday for research into the bizarre properties of matter in extreme states, including superconductors, superfluids and thin magnetic films.

David J. Thouless of the University of Washington was awarded half of the prize of 8 million Swedish kronor, or about $930,000, while F. Duncan M. Haldane of Princeton University and J. Michael Kosterlitz of Brown University shared the other half.

The scientists relied on advanced mathematical models to study “theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter,” in the words of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm.

Their studies may have major applications in electronics, materials science and computing. In an email, Michael S. Turner, a physicist at the University of Chicago, described the work as “truly transformational, with long-term consequences both practical and fundamental.”

Why did they win?

The three laureates sought to understand matter that is so cold or so thin that weird quantum effects overpower the random atomic jostling that dominates ordinary existence. Superconductivity, in which all electrical resistance vanishes in matter, is one example of such an effect.

Dr. Thouless and Dr. Kosterlitz worked together at the University of Birmingham in the 1970s to investigate what happens when two-dimensional films of matter shift from one exotic phase, like superconductivity, to another.

The key to their success was something called topology, a branch of mathematics focused on the fundamental shapes of things. At the Nobel news conference in Stockholm, Thors Hans Hansson, a member of the Nobel physics committee, tried to illustrate topology by holding up a cinnamon bun, a bagel and a pretzel.

To a topologist, he said, the only difference between them is the number of holes, as opposed to the characteristics an average person might notice, like saltiness or sweetness. There is no such thing as half a hole, the topologist would note, and the number of holes only changes stepwise in integers.

Likewise, the macroscopic properties of exotic matter change in stepwise “quantum leaps” if the materials involved are thin or small enough that their behavior is determined by the strange rules that govern the behavior of atoms.

An example is the quantum Hall effect, in which the electrical resistance of a thin film changes in stepwise fashion. In 1983, Dr. Thouless was able to link these changes mathematically to the so-called Chern numbers — after the mathematician Shiing-Shen Chern — that characterize topological shapes.

Dr. Haldane used a similar technique to analyze the properties of chains of atoms so skinny that they could be considered one-dimensional threads. Someday, they may be the basis of a new kind of computer.

In the last decade, this work has led to the development of materials called topological insulators, which conduct electricity on their surfaces but not inside.

“They have ignited a firestorm of research, and although applications are still yet to come, I believe it’s only a matter of time before their research leads to advances as unimaginable to us now as lasers and computer chips were a hundred years ago,” said Laura H. Greene, president-elect of the American Physical Society.

Who Are the Winners?

Dr. Thouless, 82, was born in Bearsden, Scotland, was an undergraduate at Cambridge University and received a Ph.D. in 1958 from Cornell. From 1965 to 1978, he taught mathematical physics at the University of Birmingham in England, where he collaborated with Dr. Kosterlitz. In 1980, he joined the University of Washington in Seattle, where he is now an emeritus professor.

Dr. Haldane, 65, was born in London. He received his Ph.D. from Cambridge, where he was also an undergraduate, in 1978. He worked at the Institut Laue-Langevin in Grenoble, France; the University of Southern California; Bell Laboratories; and the University of California, San Diego, before joining the Princeton faculty in 1990.

Dr. Kosterlitz, 73, was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, and received his doctorate in high-energy physics from Oxford University in 1969. He has worked at the University of Birmingham; the Institute of Theoretical Physics in Turin, Italy; and Cornell, Princeton, Bell Laboratories and Harvard.

Statements from the winners

“I was very surprised and very gratified,” Dr. Haldane, whom the Nobel committee reached by phone Tuesday morning, told reporters at the news conference in Stockholm. “The work was a long time ago, but it’s only now that a lot of tremendous new discoveries are based on this original work and have extended it.”

Dr. Kosterlitz told The Associated Press that he had gotten the news while heading to lunch in Helsinki, Finland, where he is a visiting professor at Aalto University.

“I’m a little bit dazzled,” he said. “I’m still trying to take it in.”

He said that he was in his 20s when he began studying two-dimensional materials and that his “complete ignorance” was an advantage in challenging the established science.

“I didn’t have any preconceived ideas,” he said. “I was young and stupid enough to take it on.”

Who else has won a Nobel this year?

Yoshinori Ohsumi, a Japanese cell biologist, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Monday for his discoveries on how cells recycle their content, a process known as autophagy, a Greek term for “self-eating.”

Who won the 2015 physics Nobel?

Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald were named co-laureates last year for discovering that the enigmatic subatomic particles known as neutrinos have mass.

When will other prizes be announced?

Four more will be awarded in the coming days:

■ The Nobel Prize in Chemistry will be announced on Wednesday in Sweden. Read about last year’s winners, Tomas Lindahl, Paul L. Modrich and Aziz Sancar.

■ The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday in Norway. Read about last year’s winner, the National Dialogue Quartet of Tunisia.

■ The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science will be announced on Monday, Oct. 10, in Sweden. Read about last year’s winner, Angus Deaton.

■ The Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced on Thursday, Oct. 13, in Sweden. Read about last year’s winner, Svetlana Alexievich.

Credit : NY times

Read more

Religious fundamentalism could soon be treated as mental illness

Kathleen Taylor, a neurologist at Oxford University, said that recent developments suggest that we will soon be able to treat religious fundamentalism and other forms of ideological beliefs potentially harmful to society as a form of mental illness.

She made the assertion during a talk at the Hay Literary Festival in Wales on Wednesday. She said that radicalizing ideologies may soon be viewed not as being of personal choice or free will but as a category of mental disorder. She said new developments in neuroscience could make it possible to consider extremists as people with mental illness rather than criminals.
She told The Times of London: "One of the surprises may be to see people with certain beliefs as people who can be treated. Someone who has for example become radicalized to a cult ideology -- we might stop seeing that as a personal choice that they have chosen as a result of pure free will and may start treating it as some kind of mental disturbance."
Taylor admits that the scope of what could end up being labelled "fundamentalist" is expansive. She continued: "I am not just talking about the obvious candidates like radical Islam or some of the more extreme cults. I am talking about things like the belief that it is OK to beat your children. These beliefs are very harmful but are not normally categorized as mental illness. In many ways that could be a very positive thing because there are no doubt beliefs in our society that do a heck of a lot of damage, that really do a lot of harm."
The Huffington Post reports Taylor warns about the moral-ethical complications that could arise.

In her book "The Brain Supremacy," she writes of the need "to be careful when it comes to developing technologies which can slip through the skull to directly manipulate the brain. They cannot be morally neutral, these world-shaping tools; when the aspect of the world in question is a human being, morality inevitably rears its hydra heads. Technologies which profoundly change our relationship with the world around us cannot simply be tools, to be used for good or evil, if they alter our basic perception of what good and evil are."

The moral-ethical dimension arises from the predictable tendency when acting on the problem, armed with a new technology, to apply to the label "fundamentalist" only to our ideological opponents, while failing to perceive the "fundamentalism" in ourselves.
From the perspective of the Western mind, for instance, the tendency to equate "fundamentalism" exclusively with radical Islamism is too tempting. But how much less "fundamentalist" than an Osama bin Laden is a nation of capitalist ideologues carpet bombing civilian urban areas in Laos, Cambodia and North Korea?

The jihadist's obsession with defending his Islamic ideological world view which leads him to perpetrate and justify such barbaric acts as the Woolwich murder are of the same nature as the evangelical obsession with spreading the pseudo-religious ideology of capitalism which led to such horrendous crimes as the murder of hundreds of thousands of civilians in four years of carpet bombing operations by the Nixon administration caught in a vice grip of anti-communist paranoia.
The power to control the mind will tend too readily to be used as weapon against our jihadist enemies while justifying the equally irrational and murderously harmful actions we term innocously "foreign policy."

Some analysts are thus convinced that neuroscientists will be adopting a parochial and therefore ultimately counterproductive approach if they insist on identifying particular belief systems characteristic of ideological opponents as the primary subject for therapeutic manipulation.
On a much larger and potentially more fruitful scale is the recognition that the entire domain of religious beliefs, political convictions, patriotic nationalist fervor are in themselves powerful platforms for nurturing "Us vs Them" paranoid delusional fantasies which work out destructively in a 9/11 attack or a Hiroshima/Nagasaki orgy of mass destruction.
What we perceive from our perspective as our legitimate self-defensive reaction to the psychosis of the enemy, is from the perspective of the same enemy our equally malignant psychotic self-obsession.

The Huffington Post reports that this is not the first time Taylor has written a book about extremism and fundamentalism. In 2006, she wrote a book about mind control titled "Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control," in which she examined the techniques that cultic groups use to influence victims.
She said: "We all change our beliefs of course. We all persuade each other to do things; we all watch advertising; we all get educated and experience [religions.] Brainwashing, if you like, is the extreme end of that; it's the coercive, forceful, psychological torture type."
She notes correctly that "brainwashing" which embraces all the subtle and not-so-subtle ways "we make people think things that might not be good for them, that they might not otherwise have chosen to think," is a much more pervasive social phenomenon than we are willing to recognize. As social animals we are all victims of culturally induced brainwashing whose effectiveness correlates with our inability to think outside the box of our given acculturation.

Credit: digitaljournal

Read more

Over 5,600 migrants plucked from sea

ROME (Reuters) - At least 5,650 migrants were rescued on Monday as they tried to reach Europe on about 40 boats, one of the highest numbers in a single day, Italy's coast guard said.

A spokeswoman said one migrant had died and a pregnant woman had been taken by helicopter to a hospital on the Italian island of Lampedusa, halfway between Sicily and the Libyan coast.

One coast guard ship rescued about 725 migrants on a single rubber boat, one of some 20 rescue operations during the day. Three were still under way and the spokeswoman said the number saved could reach 6,000 by the end of the day.

About 10 ships from the coast guard, the navy and humanitarian organisations were involved in the rescues, most of which took place some 30 miles off the coast of Libya.

According to the International Organisation for Migration, around 132,000 migrants have arrived in Italy since the start of the year and 3,054 have died.

(Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Credit: Yahoo news

Read more

Russia warns of "tectonic shifts"

Russia warns of 'tectonic shifts' in region if US attacks Syrian regime

Russia has warned the US not to take any action against the Syrian regime even as the largest hospital in rebel-held eastern Aleppo was bombed on Saturday (1 October).
Russia's foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova was quoted by the state- run Sputnik news agency as saying: "If the US launches a direct aggression against Damascus and the Syrian army, it will lead to terrible, tectonic shifts not only on the territory of this country but also in the region in general."
She added that the US risked creating a power vacuum if it were to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with a power vacuum being filled by "terrorists of all sorts".
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry, in a meeting with a group of Syrian civilians last week—which took place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York—supported their demand for more decisive US action amid the Syrian offensive backed by Russia, according to an audio recording obtained by CNN.
Kerry is heard saying in the audio: "I've argued for the use of force. I'm the guy who stood up and announced that we're going to attack Assad for the use of weapons." He was referring to the discussions within the Obama administration when Assad allegedly deployed chemical weapons in 2013.
In another audio recording published by the New York Times, Kerry can be heard venting his frustrations: "We are trying to pursue the diplomacy and I understand it's frustrating. You have no one more frustrated than we are."
The Syrian offensive which began on 22 September has seen dozens of civilians killed and buildings flattened in eastern Aleppo. An estimated 250,000 people live in the area under a government siege. Diplomatic efforts to put an end to the fighting have collapsed.
The Russian foreign ministry stated on its Facebook page that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke on the phone to his US counterpart Kerry on Saturday, adding that they "examined the situation in Syria, including the possibility of normalising the situation around Aleppo". The latest attack on the hospital also comes on the first anniversary of the Russian intervention.


Credit: ibtimes.co.uk

Read more

Fewer people living below poverty line

By Sebastien Malo

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The number of people living in extreme poverty has declined by more than 100 million across the world despite a sluggish global economy, the World Bank said on Sunday.

The World Bank said 767 million people were living on less than $1.90 a day in 2013, its latest comprehensive data, down from 881 million people the previous year, with the strongest income rises in Asia.

"It's remarkable that countries have continued to reduce poverty and boost shared prosperity at a time when the global economy is underperforming," Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank's president, said in a statement.

The new figures confirm progress made in helping the poor over the past quarter century. The world has nearly 1.1 billion fewer poor in 2013 than in 1990, despite population growth, the Bank said.

The findings bring the world closer to meeting the United Nations goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030.

The target is part of the Sustainable Development Goals, a set of 17 goals to combat poverty, inequality and climate change.

But meeting that target will also mean tackling persistent inequality, the Bank said.

"Meeting the international community's targets by 2030 will actually require that the world takes on inequality and it makes growth more inclusive," Francisco Ferreira, senior adviser on the World Bank's Development Research Group, said in a call to journalists.

Income inequality had widened over the 25 years to 2013, the Bank said.

Still, latest data shows inequality has lessened in more than 40 countries - including Brazil, Peru, Mali and Cambodia, it said.

Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for half of those living in extreme poverty, according to the Bank. A third of the global poor live in South Asia.

Poverty reduction was driven mainly by countries in East Asia and the Asia Pacific, particularly China, Indonesia and India, the Bank said.

Last year, the Bank said the number of people living in extreme poverty was likely in 2015 to fall for the first time below 10 percent of the world's population.

(Reporting by Sebastien Malo, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)


Credit: Yahoo news

Read more

Japan has a worrying number of virgins

Japan's demographic challenges are well-known: It's home to the world's oldest population and has a shrinking birthrate and an astonishing number of single people. And it seems that, despitegovernment efforts to incentivize marriage and child-rearing, things aren't quite trending in the right direction.

According to the Japan Times, a new survey of Japanese people ages 18 to 34 found that 70 percent of unmarried men and 60 percent of unmarried women are not in a relationship. It gets worse: Around 42 percent of men and 44.2 percent of women admitted that they were virgins.

The study is carried out by Japan's National Institute of Population and Social Security Research every five years. The organization has noted a marked trend since its first foray on questions of relationships and sex in 1987, when it found that 48.6 percent of men and 39.5 percent of women surveyed were unmarried. In 2010, 36.2 percent of men and 38.7 percent of women in the 18-34 age bracket said they were virgins. The number of children among couples who have been married for between 15 and 19 years averaged a record low this year.

The Japanese government under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said it wants to raise the nation's fertility rate from 1.4 to 1.8 by 2025. It's offering better child-care services and tax incentives for married couples, though such programs have yet to bear statistical fruit.

Most people surveyed said they want to get married at some point. It's just not clear when.

"They want to tie the knot eventually. But they tend to put it off as they have gaps between their ideals and the reality," Futoshi Ishii, head researcher for the study, told Japan Times. "That’s why people marry later or stay single for life, contributing to the nation’s low birthrate."

This is not unique to Japan — in various parts of the developed world, economic uncertainty is reshaping the way millennials and other young people conceive of their sex lives and marital choices. But it's particularly pronounced in the Asian nation, where experts and government officials have spent the better part of a decade fretting over the country's population decline and, as WorldViews once put it, "sexual apathy."

A booming industry surrounds Japan's growing condition of loneliness, a phenomenon at once quite particular to the Japanese, yet also a glimpse into a future where many people live atomized lives mediated exclusively through personal technology.

There was one clearly positive indicator in the survey: For the first time, the proportion of womenreturning to work after having their first child in Japan's once notoriously patriarchal society exceeded 50 percent.

Credit to: Washington Post

Read more

Can Israel and the Arab States Be Friends?

Israel and Saudi Arabia have no formal diplomatic relations. The Saudis do not even recognize Israel as a state. Still, there is evidence that ties between Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states and Israel are not only improving but, after developing in secret over many years, could evolve into a more explicit alliance as a result of their mutual distrust of Iran. Better relations among these neighbors could put the chaotic Middle East on a more positive course. They could also leave the Palestinians in the dust, a worrisome prospect.

A recent case in point was a visit to Jerusalem last month by a Saudi delegation, led by a retired major general, Anwar Eshki, that included talks with Dore Gold, a senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official.

The meeting was notable because it was openly acknowledged. General Eshki and Mr. Gold reportedly began secret contacts in 2014; they went public last year by appearing together at an event in Washington.

Israel and the Sunni Arab states last fought a war in 1973. Now, after decades of hostility, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is seeking to engage his country’s former enemies. Meanwhile, since coming to power 18 months ago, King Salman of Saudi Arabia and his son Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have shown a surprising willingness to take foreign policy risks.

The Israelis and the Saudis have reasons to work together. They share antipathy toward Iran, the leading Shiite-majority country.

Both are worried about regional instability. Both are upset with the United States over the Iranian nuclear deal and other policies, including those dealing with Syria. For some time, Israeli and Saudi officials have been cooperating covertly on security and intelligence matters.

As an international boycott movement is seeking to isolate Israel over its treatment of Palestinians, Mr. Netanyahu is determined to expand the number of countries that recognize his state and to capitalize on the economic potential of trade between it and the Arab states. He also has repaired relations with Turkey and has sought to strengthen ties with Africa.

It’s hard to tell sometimes whether and through whom the Saudi royal family is speaking, and some analysts do not view General Eshki as a serious interlocutor.

But his visit to Jerusalem, which included a meeting with members of Parliament, suggested a new Saudi openness to testing how the public in both countries would react to overt contacts. Significantly, Saudi Arabia has also begun a media campaign in the kingdom, apparently to prepare its citizens for better relations with Israel.

In recent years, Israelis and Saudis have encountered each other often at academic and policy forums. In addition, Israel has established separate official channels of communication with Saudi Arabia, as well as with the United Arab Emirates, and these channels are considered “real and significant,” according to Daniel Levy, president of the U.S./Middle East Project.

Egypt has also been pursuing warmer ties with Israel. A week before the Saudi delegation arrived, Sameh Shoukry became the first foreign minister of Egypt to visit Israel in nine years.

Although the two countries signed a peace treaty in 1979, the relationship never fulfilled its promise. However, ties have improved since Abdel Fattah el-Sisi became Egypt’s president in 2014, enabling greater security cooperation against Hamas in Gaza and the militants battling Egyptian troops in the Sinai.

Where does this leave the Palestinians? Both the Saudi and Egyptian visits were ostensibly aimed at promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, who have relied on the Sunni Arab states to advance their interests. General Eshki, for instance, talked of reviving the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which promised Israel normalized relations with the Arab League countries as part of a deal to end the Palestinian conflict.

Unfortunately, neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians show interest in serious peace talks. And there are reasons to doubt that the Palestinians are the Arab countries’ real focus.

Mr. Netanyahu, in fact, has made clear his preference for improving relations with the Arab states first, saying Israel would then be in a stronger position to make peace with the Palestinians later on.

Of course, improved relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors do not preclude a Palestinian peace deal.

The danger is that these countries will find more value in mending ties with each other and stop there, thus allowing Palestinian grievances, a source of regional tension for decades, to continue to fester.

Courtesy to http://www.nytimes.com/                                  

Read more

Saudi Arabia Kills Civilians, the U.S. Looks the Other Way

In the span of four days earlier this month, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition inYemen bombed a Doctors Without Borders-supported hospital, killing 19 people; a school, where 10 children, some as young as 8, died; and a vital bridge over which United Nations food supplies traveled, punishing millions.

In a war that has seen reports of human rights violations committed by every side, these three attacks stand out. But the Obama administration says these strikes, like previous ones that killed thousands of civilians since last March, will have no effect on the American support that is crucial for Saudi Arabia’s air war.

On the night of Aug. 11, coalition warplanes bombed the main bridge on the road from Hodeidah, along the Red Sea coast, to Sana, the capital. When it didn’t fully collapse, they returned the next day to destroy the bridge.

More than 14 million Yemenis suffer dangerous levels of food insecurity — a figure that dwarfs that of any other country in conflict, worsened by a Saudi-led and American-supported blockade. One in three children under the age of 5 reportedly suffers from acute malnutrition. An estimated 90 percent of food that the United Nation’s World Food Program transports to Sana traveled across the destroyed bridge.

An Obama administration official told me on the condition of anonymity that the United States included the bridge on a no-strike list of vital infrastructure, explicitly informing the Saudis that it was “critical to responding to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.” And yet the Saudi-led coalition obliterated the structure, either intentionally disregarding humanitarian considerations and the wishes of the United States, or out of sheer incompetence.

On Aug. 14, coalition airstrikes hit the school in the Saada governorate, a stronghold of the Houthi rebels.

Saudi officials said the Houthis were running a training facility there for child soldiers. The United Nations’ child welfare agency said it was a religious school.

A day later, warplanes attacked the hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders, or M.S.F., for its French name, Médecins Sans Frontières. It was the fourth coalition attack on a facility of the doctors’ group since October. At least 19 people were killed, including an M.S.F. staffer.

M.S.F. said its hospitals’ coordinates had been shared with all parties to the conflict, including the Saudis. The hospital should have already been on no-strike lists that the United States and Saudi Arabia insist the coalition maintains.

The American assistance for Saudi Arabia that Mr. Obama authorized last March includes aerial refueling for coalition jets, intelligence and targeting assistance. American tankers offload fuel to any coalition jet, no matter its target. This support comes on top of more than $100 billion in arms deals with Saudi Arabia between 2010 and 2015, and recent deals made explicitly to “replenish” stockpiles spent in Yemen.

At the United Nations, Saudi Arabia and its allies have blockedinvestigations into the Yemen conflict and complained when the Security Council considered a resolution aimed at protecting Yemeni civilians. Saudi Arabia has also warned aid workers to leave much of Yemen, ominously presaging M.S.F.’s Aug. 18 decision to pull out of two governorates in the country’s north because of the coalition’s “indiscriminate bombings.”Without the group’s presence, it will be more difficult to know the toll of future strikes in these areas.

In June, Saudi Arabia threatened to cut its funding to the United Nations after Secretary General Ban Ki-moon included the coalition on a list of violators of children’s rights. While criticizing the Saudis for their bullying, Mr. Ban’s office has also been accommodating out of a belief that it can’t afford to lose Saudi money.

The Saudis are not the only negative force in Yemen. The Houthis and their allies loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh have waged a cynical war, and are responsible for human rights violations. But it is difficult to see what possible progress can be made when Saudi Arabia routinely bombs civilian sites.

Many in Washington see support for the Saudi-led coalition as necessary for maintaining American-Saudi relations after the nuclear deal with Iran last year.

Saudi Arabia has used this leeway to carry out its Yemen campaign with abandon. Each fatal strike and subsequent implausible Saudi denial should test the limits of the Obama administration’s support.

Instead, a spokesman for United States Central Command, which oversees American operations in the Middle East including support for the coalition, told me last week that the United States is not conducting a single investigation into civilian casualties in Yemen.

The recent uptick in airstrikes and fighting across Yemen follows the collapse of United Nations-brokered peace talks that were being held in Kuwait.

The possibility of a resumption of full-scale war and all the suffering that accompanies it could have been an opportunity for the Obama administration to reflect on its axiomatic support for the Saudi coalition. But even after last week’s string of outrageous bombings, the White House has still not done that.

The Obama administration has in recent days insisted that it wants all sides in Yemen’s war to stop fighting. But as American tankers wait to refuel American-made fighter jets, loaded with American-made bombs destined for Yemen, the White House evidently doesn’t realize that it is waging a war.       

Courtesy to http://www.nytimes.com/  

Read more

Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees Urges United Nations Security Council to Act

(New York, NY - August 9, 2016) – Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees (MFA), the nation's leading faith-based coalition comprised of more than 60 faith-based and humanitarian organizations, is calling upon the United Nations (UN) Security Council to take swift action to stop the indiscriminant killing by barrel bombs of women and children in the besieged city of Aleppo – the largest city in Syria, and throughout this war torn country.

MFA supports its participating organization, the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and its Doctors Zaher Sahloul and Samer Attar, who presented graphic photos and heartbreaking eyewitness testimony about the worsening medical crisis facing civilians in Aleppo at yesterday’s Arria- formula meeting of the UN Security Council: “Aleppo Under Siege: Syria’s Latest Tragedy Unfolds.” Rabbi Eric J. Greenberg, MFA’s Director of Communications, Programs and Interfaith, joined SAMS at the extraordinary Security Council session and discussed the worsening situation with UN Ambassadors. 

In gripping detail, the two SAMS doctors warned Security Council members that as of yesterday, there are no functioning CT scans in the entire city of Aleppo, preventing doctors from saving lives.

In response, MFA today is calling upon philanthropists to provide life-saving CT scans to the handful of functioning Aleppo hospitals, to help doctors save the lives of children and pregnant women being critically injured by barrel bombs. The doctors stated there are only about five hospitals left to serve a city with now only 300,000 people because the Assad regime with Russian support has targeted and destroyed most of the city’s hospitals, which they called a war crime.

“The few remaining doctors in Aleppo need CT scans now, and we urge those with access to these machines to work with us to deliver them,” Rabbi Greenberg said. “The Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees strongly supports the Syrian American Medical Society Foundation’s (SAMS) doctors Sahloul and Attar in their herculean efforts to bring the truth of what is happening in Aleppo directly in front of the United Nations and world leaders.”

 The graphic and heartbreaking photos they presented of Aleppo babies, children and pregnant mothers maimed and killed by barrel bombs raining from the skies, is devastating and heart wrenching.  As Ambassador Power stated, after watching these devastating photos, world leaders have no plausible deniability about the death and destruction in Aleppo.  

“As the faith leaders of the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees, we are called to bear witness to the suffering of the Syrian people and stand in solidarity with their children, elderly, women and patients,” Rabbi Greenberg said. “As was learn today - despite the latest headlines -  the siege of Aleppo has not really ended. “

MFA Founder Dr. Georgette Bennett said: “The continued devastation in Syria is unacceptable and we will not be silent in the face of these evil atrocities.  We condemn evil and barbaric tactics of war, and demand action from the international community.  We demand a permanent end to the siege of Aleppo and communities across Syria, the safe passage of humanitarian aid and access to the city of Aleppo, and most importantly, the protection of civilians, hospitals, schools, and houses of worship.”

courtesy to http://www.multifaithalliance.org/

Read more

How discrimination against Muslims at airports actually hurts the fight against terrorism

Recently, newspapers across the world — including in the United States, Britain and Israel — have reported on the challenges that Muslims, and people perceived to be Muslim, have faced at airports and on planes. Just last week, three siblings were removed from a plane in London and questioned by police for an hour after passengers incorrectly claimed that one of them had references to Allah on her phone and was therefore a member of the Islamic State.

This suspicion toward all things Islamic or seemingly Islamic has given rise to the expression “flying while Muslim.” The challenge for Western countries where Muslim immigrants have settled is that “flying while Muslim” threatens to undermine the successes that some countries have had in actually integrating Muslims into society.

We can learn a lot about this subject from the experience of Scotland. Relative to other European nations, Scotland has actually accommodated Muslim diversity quite well. Moreover, Muslims and the police generally have a positive relationship. But the experiences of Muslims at Scottish airports are far less positive.

The psychologists Leda Blackwood, Nick Hopkins and Stephen Reicher have found that the scrutiny of Muslims at Scottish airports undermines their sense of respectability and complicates their sense of identity, which otherwise encompasses both a Muslim and British (or, more often, a Scottish) identity.

Blackwood and colleagues have also found that, unsurprisingly, Muslims change their behavior to avoid contact with airport authorities — traveling less frequently and even avoiding certain airports. Muslims have even boycotted Glasgow Airport at least twice in the past 10 years. Their experiences with airport security officers can undermine their relationships not only with airport authorities but with the wider community.

My own research confirms these findings. When questioned about their relationships with authorities, most Scottish Muslims I interviewed mentioned their negative experiences at airports. These experiences are all the more striking given that Scottish Muslims reported generally positive views of their interaction with police in everyday life.

Indeed, during observation that I conducted in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, police officers paid courtesy visits to mosques and reassured Muslims during protests organized by the far-right Scottish Defense League. Other research has shown that Scottish police have not targeted ethnic and religious minorities per se (but young people across the board) during stops and searches on the street, as their English counterparts have done.

It is therefore airports that stand out as negative experiences for Muslims — whether because of predictive profiling based on travel plans and suspicious behavior, racial profiling based on ethnicity and religion, or a mixture of both. The probability of a negative experience is compounded by the global nature of the Islamist terrorist threat, which means that Muslims of any ethnic background can attract the attention of authorities.

For their part, airport authorities understand that Muslims’ experiences are unfortunate. Five years ago, Scottish police representatives stated publicly that the law empowering airport authorities to carry out stops and searches without reasonable suspicion had affected certain ethnic and religious communities. Nevertheless, airport authorities see this as inevitable given today’s security climate and the nature of airports.

The challenge for Scotland is simple: Muslims’ experiences at Scottish airports could undermine an otherwise successful case of integration. In Scotland, the threat from violent radicalization appears to be lower than in other parts of Europe. My research further shows that Muslims have managed to integrate into wider society and are better off than English Muslims.

They have also benefited from a Scottish political system that values civic, rather than ethnic, nationalism and that promotes what sociologist Nasar Meer calls an “aspirational pluralism.” Consequently, Scottish society has more support for diversity and lower levels of Islamophobia compared to England. Scotland is responsible for two milestones for Muslims in British politics: the 1970 election of Bashir Maan, the first Muslim councillor, and the 1997 election of Mohammad Sarwar, the first Muslim member of Parliament.

But even in Scotland, security efforts at airports risk weakening Muslims’ support for the Scottish state. There is also reason to suspect that similar findings would emerge in other countries — including in the United States, where Muslims are also fairly well-integrated but still experiencenegative interactions with airport authorities.

The further consequence is this irony: measures intended to prevent terrorism may actually backfire — lowering Muslims’ trust in and cooperation with the security apparatus, which are key to preventing terrorism in the first place.

Dr. Stefano Bonino is a lecturer in the Department of Social Sciences at Northumbria University and a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in the U.K. He is the author of “Muslims in Scotland: The Making of Community in a Post-9/11 World” (Edinburgh University Press).

courtesy to https://www.washingtonpost.com

Read more

Massacre reports show U.S. inability to curb Iraq militias

Shi’ite militias in Iraq detained, tortured and abused far more Sunni civilians during the American-backed capture of the town of Falluja in June than U.S. officials have publicly acknowledged, Reuters has found.

More than 700 Sunni men and boys are still missing more than two months after the Islamic State stronghold fell. The abuses occurred despite U.S. efforts to restrict the militias' role in the operation, including threatening to withdraw American air support, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.

The U.S. efforts had little effect. Shi’ite militias did not pull back from Falluja, participated in looting there and now vow to defy any American effort to limit their role in coming operations against Islamic State.

All told, militia fighters killed at least 66 Sunni males and abused at least 1,500 others fleeing the Falluja area, according to interviews with more than 20 survivors, tribal leaders, Iraqi politicians and Western diplomats.

They said men were shot, beaten with rubber hoses and in several cases beheaded. Their accounts were supported by a Reuters review of an investigation by local Iraqi authorities and video testimony and photographs of survivors taken immediately after their release.

The battle against Islamic State is the latest chapter in the conflict between Iraq's Shi’ite majority and Sunni minority, which was unleashed by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. The war ended decades of Sunni rule under Saddam Hussein and brought to power a series of governments dominated by Shi’ite Islamist parties patronized by Iran.

Washington’s inability to restrain the sectarian violence is now a central concern for Obama administration officials as they move ahead with plans to help Iraqi forces retake the much larger city of Mosul, Islamic State’s Iraqi capital. Preliminary operations to clear areas outside the strategic city have been under way for months. Sunni leaders in Iraq and Western diplomats fear the Shi’ite militias might commit worse excesses in Mosul, the country’s second-largest city. Islamic State, the Sunni extremist group, seized the majority-Sunni city in June 2014.

"CENTRAL TOPIC"

U.S. officials say they fear a repeat of the militia abuses in Mosul could erase any chances of reconciling Iraq’s Sunni and Shia communities. "Virtually every conversation that we have had internally with respect to planning for Mosul - and virtually every conversation that we’ve had with the Iraqis - has this as a central topic," said a senior Obama Administration official.

In public, as reports of the abuses in Falluja emerged from survivors, Iraqi officials and human rights groups, U.S. officials in Washington initially played down the scope of the problem and did not disclose the failed American effort to rein in the militias.

Brett McGurk, the special U.S. envoy for the American-led campaign against Islamic State, expressed concern to reporters at a June 10th White House briefing for reporters about what he called “reports of isolated atrocities” against fleeing Sunnis.

Three days before the briefing, Gov. Sohaib al-Rawi of Anbar Province informed the U.S. ambassador that hundreds of people detained by Shi’ite militias had gone missing around Falluja, the governor told Reuters. By the time of the White House briefing, Iraqi officials, human rights investigators and the United Nations had collected evidence of scores of executions, the torture of hundreds of men and teenagers, and the disappearance of more than 700 others.

Nearly three weeks later, on June 28, McGurk struck a measured tone during testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He said reports of abuses had been received in the early days of the operation, “many of which have turned out not to be credible but some of which appear to be credible.”

McGurk declined a request for an interview. Mark Toner, the State Department’s deputy spokesperson, said American officials had expressed “concern both publicly and privately” about reported atrocities. “We find any abuse totally unacceptable,” Toner said, and “any violation of human rights should be investigated with those responsible held accountable.”

Militia leaders deny that their groups mistreated civilians. They say the missing men were Islamic State militants killed in battle.

EXACTING REVENGE

Iraqi government officials also challenged the reports of widespread violence against civilians. In an interview, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi’s deputy national security adviser, Safa al-Sheikh, said there were a few incidents, but added: “There are a lot of exaggerations, and some of the reports didn’t have any basis.”

Iraq’s main Shi’ite militias, trained and armed by Tehran, emerged during the 2003-2011 U.S. occupation and have grown in power and stature. After helping the government defend Baghdad when Islamic State seized Mosul in 2014, the militias became arms of the Iraqi government. Islamic State has slaughtered thousands of Iraqis, of all faiths.

There now are more than 30 Shi’ite militias whose members receive government salaries. The major groups have government posts and parliament seats.

Their might has also been enhanced by some of the more than $20 billion in military hardware the United States has sold or given to Iraq since 2005. Their weaponry includes armored personnel carriers, trucks, Humvees, artillery and even tanks, according to U.S. officials, independent experts and pictures and videos militia members have posted on the internet.

Collectively, the Shi’ite militias are known as the Hashid Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). The militias officially answer to Abadi. In reality, the main groups answer only to themselves, display their own flags and emblems, and are advised by the Quds Force - Iran’s elite foreign paramilitary and intelligence service.

The Falluja offensive began on May 22.For more than a year, American officials had warned Iraqi officials repeatedly that the United States would suspend air support in areas where militias were operating outside the Iraqi military’s formal chain of command. The policy was designed to prevent American planes from inadvertently bombing Iraqi forces and to restrain militias from entering areas considered sensitive to Sunnis, according to U.S. officials.

In the first two days of the Falluja offensive, reports emerged of militiamen separating males from fleeing families. American, Western and U.N. diplomats pressured Abadi, other top Iraqi officials and militia leaders to stop the abuses.

Abadi and other political leaders publicly called for protection of civilians.

"DON'T BE TREACHEROUS"

The Americans' influence was hindered by the fact they had no forces in Falluja and couldn’t observe specific abuses, according to the Western diplomat who tracked the campaign.

On May 26, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's leading Shi’ite cleric, pleaded with combatants to protect civilians. Aid agencies estimated at the time that as many as 100,000 people remained inside Falluja.

“Don't be extreme ... don't be treacherous. Don't kill an old man, nor a boy, nor a woman. Don't cut a tree unless you have to,” Sistani said, citing sayings of the Prophet Mohammed.

Sistani’s pleas and the American threats fell on deaf ears.

The first known instance of systematic abuse by the militias in the Falluja offensive occurred May 27 northeast of the city, in the farming region of Sejar. Militiamen and security forces stopped a group of fleeing Sunnis, pulled aside somewhere between 73 and 95 males aged 15 and older and took them away, according to Gov. al-Rawi of Anbar Province and a Western diplomat who monitored the offensive. Women and children were freed.

“We are still in contact with women and children who were handed to government people,” said the Western diplomat. “They still don’t know where the men are.”

On May 29, militiamen just west of the farming areas of Sejar, separated 20 men from a group of fleeing Sunnis and “started killing them,” said the Western diplomat. “The police arrived when there were three left alive. The police took the three and dumped them” in a camp east of Falluja for people displaced by the civil war.

Terrified that the militias would storm the camp and kill them, the trio arranged protection for themselves in Baghdad, the diplomat said. Gov. al-Rawi confirmed this account.

A Sunni academic said he spoke to three survivors of the alleged massacre, two brothers and their cousin. The men said the killings occurred during fighting between Iraqi federal police forces and Islamic State, according to the academic.

SURVIVOR ACCOUNTS

The three survivors told the academic that they were among some 50 people who had sought shelter in a house when they saw federal police raise the Iraqi flag at a nearby school. The group waved white cloths and was directed to leave the house by the police.

When the group emerged, the three said, the police separated the men from their families. One officer then opened fire and killed 17 men, the academic quoted the survivors as saying, adding that the three were spared when another officer intervened. The shooter was arrested, according to the Anbar governor.

Worse was to come. Shi’ite militiamen seeking vengeance against Islamic State rounded up Sunnis on June 3 from the town of Saqlawiya, according to witnesses interviewed by Reuters, U.N. workers, Iraqi officials and Human Rights Watch.

According to these accounts, more than 5,000 Sunnis, mostly members of the al-Mohamda tribe, left Saqlawiya, a farming community five miles northwest of Falluja. The Sunnis made their way toward what they thought was the safety of government lines marked by Iraqi flags. A gray-haired man described the scene in a video recorded by local officials after he and 604 other men were freed two days later.

“When we arrived there, we discovered they were the Hashid,” the Shi’ite militias, the witness said.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein, two senior Iraqi officials, and a 69-year-old survivor interviewed by Reuters identified the militiamen as members of Kataib Hezbollah. One of the most powerful Shi’ite paramilitaries, Kataib Hezbollah was organized by and retains close ties to Iran’s Quds Force. Both are deemed to be terrorist groups by the United States.

Kataib Hezbollah denied being involved in abuses in Falluja. "They make these claims based on accusations from politicians that ISIS is depending on," said Kataib spokesman Jaafar al-Husseini. "They are trying to keep us far from the operations of Anbar and Mosul."

The militiamen separated out an estimated 1,500 males aged 15 and older and moved them in groups to different locations, including warehouses and an Iraqi base called Camp Tariq, according to survivors, U.N. investigators and Human Rights Watch.

"FISTS, KNIVES AND CABLES"

The survivors described being crammed into small rooms and halls and denied food and water, straining to breathe in the stifling heat. Militiamen using sticks, pipes and hoses beat the detainees and declared that they were taking revenge for Camp Speicher – a June 2014 massacre by Islamic State of 1,566 Shi’ite and other non-Sunni air force cadets.

A 32-year-old man, one of six survivors Reuters interviewed, said he was packed into a room with dozens of other captives, his hands tied behind his back.

“They started hitting us with their fists, knives and cables,” he said. “When people fainted, we yelled they were going to die, and the guards told us that’s what they wanted.”

The guards, the survivor said, told the captives they were avenging the deaths of hundreds of Iraqi soldiers killed in fighting around Falluja since 2014.

In a video recorded by local officials, another survivor told how men craving water were given bottles in which to urinate and told to drink their own waste.

A 47-year-old survivor described how he watched militiamen repeatedly beat his 17-year-old son and carry off the corpses of 15 men who appeared to have been beaten to death. The man was one of the 605 survivors released on June 5. His son was not among them, he said; the boy hasn’t been seen since.

“We want to know the destiny of our sons,” the man told Reuters. “We consider the Americans responsible for everything that has happened.”

UNACCOUNTED FOR

In all, militiamen killed at least 49 men who were detained in Saqlawiya, four of whom were beheaded, according to the U.N.'s Zeid.

The brutality ended without explanation for some 800 detainees after two days. But 643 Saqlawiya detainees remain unaccounted for. Their names are recorded on a list circulated by local officials to the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and government investigators and reviewed by Reuters.

On June 7, Sheikh Ali Hamad, a leader of the Mohamda, a Sunni tribe, decried on television what he called “a genocidal crime” and the deaths of “tens of our sons.”

The same day, the Anbar governor informed U.S. Ambassador Jones that hundreds of Sunni men were missing. U.N. envoy Zeid issued a statement citing “extremely distressing, credible reports” of abuse, including summary executions of men and boys by militiamen.

On June 9, the day before McGurk’s White House briefing, Human Rights Watch issued a report on the alleged atrocities in Sejar and Saqlawiya.

The regular Iraqi security forces, including the U.S.-trained Counter-Terrorism Service, eventually established safe corridors and guided civilians out of the city. Some 100,000 civilians escaped as a result.

A PIECE OF THE ACTION

Today, the Shi’ite militias are clamoring to join the Mosul offensive, fired by zeal, a desire for revenge and hopes of burnishing their political standing within their sect.

“They will want a piece of the climactic battle,” said Kenneth Pollock, a former CIA analyst now with the Brookings Institution, a Washington policy institute.

Ryan Crocker, a career diplomat who served as U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009, said the Obama administration has downplayed abuses by both militia and Iraqi forces. “This administration is so determined to be able to declare victory over ISIL (that) they don’t really care about any of the rest of it,” said Crocker.

Over the disapproval of the Mosul provincial government, Abadi and militia leaders have said that militias will participate in the campaign to liberate the city.

The chief PMF administrator is Jamal Ibrahimi. Known by the nom de guerre Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis, he is on the U.S. international terrorist list.

U.S. officials say Ibrahimi is the leader of Kataib Hezbollah, the militia that Iraqi officials, Western diplomats and others hold primarily responsible for the atrocities committed in the Falluja offensive.

Ibrahimi and the militia deny that he heads Kataib Hezbollah.

Abadi’s office has announced that a committee will investigate allegations of rights abuses in Falluja. It is uncertain if the inquiry will find anyone responsible beyond a handful of low-level suspects whose arrests Abadi reported on June 13.

(This version of the story has been refiled to remove word "new" from headline)

(Edited by David Rohde and Michael Williams)

Credit: Reuters

Read more

Bullied 13-year-old left heartbreaking letter before killing himself

A 13-year-old Staten Island boy took his own life on Thursday after students at the private school he was attending bullied him mercilessly, his family said on Friday.
 
Danny Fitzpatrick wrote a letter before his death that described the ordeal of dealing with bullies at Holy Angels Catholic School.
 
A 13-year-old Staten Island boy took his own life on Thursday after students at the private school he was attending bullied him mercilessly, his family said on Friday.
 
Danny Fitzpatrick wrote a letter before his death that described the ordeal of dealing with bullies at Holy Angels Catholic School.
 
The teen said his experience at the school had started out well, but became a nightmare once he began being taunted.
 
“At first it was good lots of friends, good grades, great life,” he wrote. “I moved and went back but it was different. My old friends changed they didn’t talk to me they didn’t even like me.”
 
After the fight that Danny said resulted in a fractured pinkie, he tried to tell the teachers.
 
The only person at the school to come to his aid, Danny wrote, was one teacher, but she couldn’t do enough.
 
“She was the nicest teacher,” Danny wrote. “She understood and did something but it didn’t last.”
 
A friend of the Fitzpatrick family said that Danny was indeed victimized by bullies, and said the teachers did not do enough to help him.
“Look at Danny’s smile,” the friend, Scott McGrath, wrote on Facebook. “Take a close look at his smile and think of how he was hurting, crying out for help and hiding his pain from all the bullying and fights.”
 
The Fitzgerald family was planning a funeral service for Monday at Harmon Funeral Home in West Brighton, and a GoFundMe page was set up to give him a “proper memorial to shine a bright light” on bullying.
Read more

Lockheed Martin"s Bid to Build Lethal F-16 Fighters in India

The US Air Force and those of other NATO countries are phasing out F-16s much sooner than anticipated. This implies that performance of F-35s has met expectations, and that there are no obvious show-stoppers to ramping up production as fast as budgets allow. The F-15, F-16, and F/A-18 production lines are all slated to close by 2020. But there is more to this deal, as it has the potential to alter the balance of power in South and Southeast Asia over the next decade.

Lockheed-Martin’s “Made in India” deal, which offers exclusive rights to manufacture and produce ‘Block 70/72’ F-16s, implies that few—if any—orders are expected from NATO countries. India will have a veto on sales to sensitive countries like Pakistan and Taiwan. This deal is being “finalized”, though no deal with India is a done deal until cash arrives on the barrelhead. But suppose it moves forward, and Indian F-16s are produced in quantity starting in 2019 or 2020. Depending on the technologies transferred or made accessible by India, there is considerable scope to update and upgrade the F-16 to achieve a degree of equivalence to stealth-by-other-means, so as to be competitive with state-of-the-art and relatively stealthy Russian and Chinese fighters. Those upgrades will likely find a ready market with the world’s F-16 operators.

India is one of the world’s largest operators of both Russian and European military equipment. The deal opens the door for India to be the only vendor in the world that can acquire the expertise and infrastructure to integrate and upgrade existing Russian, European, and American platforms. The technical and logistical challenges are formidable, and India will likely require external assistance. However, a well-integrated Indian air defense system built around numerous and inexpensive pre-5th generation aircraft, appropriately upgraded, together with a few indigenously developed items will be sufficient against likely Chinese and Pakistani threats for decades. Will India step to the challenge? Successfully fielding this capability would give India leverage in many areas.

The F-16 deal can be used as the cornerstone to develop a domestic Indian military aircraft manufacturing capability with considerable export potential. This would give China pause before risking a conflict with India, and put China on notice that its arming up Pakistan—to include the transfer of nuclear weapons know-how—is threatening India. Until now, China has not paid much of a price for this Maoist-era strategy of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Developing these technologies and capabilities can give India the option of expanding arms sales to other Southeast Asian states which presently operate a mix of poorly integrated or wholly unintegrated American, European and Russian equipment. Beyond that, there is the option of Indian arms sales to Taiwan in response to a major provocation or conflict with China. Integrating these weapons with appropriate upgrades and acquisition of a few key pieces will challenge Chinese dominance of the South China Sea. To wit, the sale of BrahMos cruise missiles fundamentally altered Chinese strategic calculations toward Vietnam. Modest sales of relatively inexpensive (at $3 million each) air-, land-, ship- and submarine-based cruise missiles to Southeast Asian states disputing the 9-Dash-Line claims would effectively make those waters a no-go zone for major Chinese surface combatants or shipping. The BrahMos and the F-16IN would thus constitute a key component of a low cost, high leverage anti-access and area denial strategy against China.

Dr. Danny Lam is an independent researcher based in Calgary. The opinions herein are the author’s. This piece first appeared in the Defense Industrialist blog here.

courtesy to http://nationalinterest.org/

Read more