Thursday, May 31, 2018

Report: Rural Poverty In America Is 'An Emergency'

The United States does not stack up favorably when compared to other nations with advanced economies when it comes to childhood poverty worldwide, according to a new report, which considered factors such as the lack of access to quality food, high adolescent birth rates and a child dropping out of school.

Out of 175 nations, the U.S. ranks 36th – far behind Singapore, Slovenia, Norway, Sweden and Finland, which round out the top five — and just behind Bahrain and Belarus in the report produced by the advocacy group Save the Children.

"We are just above Russia, Kuwait and Bosnia," says president and CEO Carolyn Miles. "So I wouldn't say that the United States is doing terribly well as far as childhoods."

The report looks at so-called childhood enders or "events that rob children of their childhood and prevent them from reaching their full potential," including things like displacement due to war, gender bias, child labor and child mortality.

There are three childhood disruptors that account for why the U.S. ranking is relatively low, says Miles, "One was our infant mortality rate, which is by global standards, pretty high. The second was the teen pregnancy rate, which, although it's getting better in the United States, it's still, again, globally quite high," Miles says.

"And then the third was the number of children that are actually victims of homicide in the United States."

In total, the report estimates more than 1.2 billion children worldwide are at risk of missing out on childhood. 

"The index finds the overall situation for children appears more favorable in 95 of 175 countries." In 40 other countries, however, "conditions appear considerably worse. - Read More, NPR

Report: Rural Poverty In America Is 'An Emergency'

Record-high opium production in Afghanistan creates multiple challenges for region and beyond, UN warns

The report noted opium cultivation increased by 63 per cent; from 201,000 hectares in 2016 to an estimated 328,000 hectares in 2017.

UNODC said that it would be possible to produce between 550 and 900 tons of export-quality heroin from the poppies harvested throughout the country during 2017.

The report highlighted that the record level of cultivation creates multiple challenges for the country and its neighbours, as opiate-based illegal drugs make their way across the Afghan border. 

Poppy production and illicit trafficking of opiates also fuel political instability, and increase funding to terrorist groups in Afghanistan who profit from the trade.

The report revealed that the record-high production led to a rapid expansion of the illegal economy in 2017. Being worth between $4.1 billion to $6.6 billion in 2017 - or 20 and 32 per cent of gross domestic product - the value of the opiate-based economy exceeded by far, the value of Afghanistan’s legal exports of goods and services during 2016.

Opium poppy production has become so engrained in the livelihood of many Afghans, that it is often the main source of income for not only farmers, but also many local and migrant workers hired as day-labourers on farms. In 2017, opium poppy weeding and harvesting provided the equivalent of up to 354,000 full-time jobs to rural areas.

The report concluded that addressing the opiate problem in Afghanistan remains a shared responsibility. Reducing production, requires an international approach that targets the supply chain of opiates at every stage; from source to destination. - Read More

Record-high opium production in Afghanistan creates multiple challenges for region and beyond, UN warns

Trump Administration Imposes Steel, Aluminum Tariffs On EU, Canada And Mexico

The Trump administration made good on threats to impose tariffs on some of the nation's closest allies Thursday, announcing it will no longer exempt Canada, Mexico and the European Union from previously announced levies on steel and aluminum.

The announcement was made in Paris by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Canada and Mexico had been exempted from the tariffs announced in March while negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, continued. But Ross said those talks were taking longer than "we had hoped." And so the administration decided to lift the exemption from the tariffs for those countries.

He said trade talks with the EU had also been fruitless.

The EU is the nation's No. 1 source of imported steel, and Canada is the top aluminum source.

The tariffs — 25 percent on imports of steel and 10 percent on aluminum — take effect at midnight Friday. They are expected to lead to retaliation from European nations. Likely targets are thought to be U.S. exports of jeans, motorcycles and bourbon.

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said of the U.S. tariffs, "This is protectionism, pure and simple. We will defend the Union's interests, in full compliance with international trade law." - Read Nore

Trump Administration Imposes Steel, Aluminum Tariffs On EU, Canada And Mexico

Congressman Rohrabacher defends Russia, calls US intel agencies ‘liars - socaldailymedia

In a late April interview with Newport Beach, California, Councilman Scott Peotter,  Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) called U.S. intelligence agents liars for claiming Russia hacked Democratic National Committee emails during the 2016 election.

Rep. Rohrabacher claimed U.S. intelligence agencies engaged in a massive plot to lie to the American people about Russian hacking in the 2016 election, saying American people “are being lied to by their own intelligence agencies claiming that the Russians hacked [the DNC].”  Rohrabacher even used air quotes as he mocked U.S. intelligence services, to emphasize his position.

“In terms of all of the intelligence services, 16 of them, that have said, ‘Oh, no, the Russians did meddle and the Russians were engaged in this.’ No, I’m sorry, they didn’t,” Rohrabacher says. Rohrabacher says only three intelligence agencies concluded Russia was involved in the hack.

In fact, four intelligence agencies were responsible for the January 2017 assessment about Russian interference: the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency (NSA) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which is an umbrella agency that oversees all 17 organizations. (While intelligence agencies such as the Treasury Office of Intelligence and Analysis did not specifically weigh in, it is likely because that office had no reason to weigh in. No intelligence agencies dispute the findings.)

But according to Rohrabacher, even Trump-appointed heads of these agencies are involved in a conspiracy to lie to the American people about Russia’s role in election interference.

The conclusion of the intelligence community is clear: “We assess with high confidencethat Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and to release US victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks.”

Yet Rohrabacher claims there are weasel words in the report, including the words “high confidence.”

After disparaging the entire American intelligence community as “liars,” Rohrabacher, widely known as “Putin’s favorite congressman,” rehashes a conspiracy theory so outlandish it has been debunked by virtually every reputable media outlet.

Rohrabacher claims that a DNC staffer named Seth Rich stole the emails and gave them to Wikileaks. Rich, who was employed at the DNC, was murdered in Washington, D.C., in the summer of 2016. The claim that he was responsible for the leak was first reported by a Fox affiliate, and later on Fox News. - Read More

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Drought Adds to Woes of Afghanistan, in Grips of a Raging War - nytimes

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan, already torn by decades of intensifying violence, is grappling with a drought in two-thirds of the country that could lead to severe food shortages for up to two million more people, the United Nations has warned.

The United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Afghanistan said in a report released last week that a “precipitation deficit” of 70 percent in most parts of the country had affected winter harvests, and resulted in grim prospects for the spring and summer.

Many farmers have seen their seeds dry out or have delayed planting crops, and there is little or no feed for livestock on pasturelands.

The drought has led to the displacement of thousands of people this spring, adding to the nearly two million who have been forced from their homes in recent years, largely because of violence.

“In the 20 provinces most affected by the drought, nearly 15 million people rely on farming, livestock or labor opportunities in agriculture,” the United Nations report said. - Read More

Drought Adds to Woes of Afghanistan, in Grips of a Raging War - The ...

Is Saudi Arabia’s 32-Year-Old Crown Prince Dead? - Observer

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the 32-year-old media-savvyleader of the oil kingdom, has been unnaturally quiet recently, so much so that some in the Middle East media couldn’t help but wonder if he is dead.

Bin Salman hasn’t been seen in the public eye since his meeting with the Spanish royal family in on April 12. On April 21, heavy gunfire was heard near a royal palace in Riyadh, the kingdom’s capital. Although Saudi Arabia’s state news agency claimed it was a security force shooting down a toy drone that had gotten too close to the royal property, some wondered if the gunfire was in fact a coup led by Saudi royals trying to topple King Salman, Bin Salman’s father.

Last week, the Iranian newspaper Kayhan reported that the Crown Prince was hit by two bullets during the attack and may actually be dead, citing “a secret service report sent to the senior officials of an unnamed Arab state.”

“There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the absence of nearly 30 days of Muhammad bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, is due to an incident which is being hidden from the public,” the daily paper claimed.

To add credence to the speculation, Kayhan pointed out that Bin Salman was not seen on camera when the new U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Riyadh in late April, while his father, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir were photographed. - Read More

Is Saudi Arabia's 32-Year-Old Crown Prince Dead? - Observer

Monday, May 28, 2018

Massive flooding in Ellicott City leaves man missing, again destroys businesses - Washingtonpost

The sudden and widespread flooding, which prompted a state of emergency declaration from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, was reminiscent of a similar storm in the summer of 2016 that left two people dead.

Once again, many storefronts and buildings up and down the historic downtown were severely damaged, including homes and businesses that had only recently recovered from the flooding two years ago.

Howard County officials said they received 1,100 911 calls between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m., and rescue crews assisted 300 people in getting out of “hazardous” structures. At least two dozen people were temporarily stranded by the flood, officials said at a Monday afternoon briefing, and there was a two-alarm fire, possibly caused by lightning.

It was the third major flood since 2011 in Ellicott City, which was founded in 1772 at the site of a grist mill along the banks of the Patapsco River. The enclave grew into a major milling and manufacturing town and, starting in 1830, was the terminus of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad line. 

Ellicott City was designated a national historic district in 1976, according to Preservation Maryland, with more than 200 buildings that dated to the 1800s or earlier. Its location in a valley, where the river converges with two major creeks, has made it particularly susceptible to flooding.

The National Weather Service on Sunday called the flooding an “extremely dangerous and potentially catastrophic situation.” The Howard County fire department warned people trapped on the Main Street to climb to the second floors of buildings as they awaited rescue. - Read More

Massive flooding in Ellicott City leaves man missing, again destroys businesses

Crews rescuing people as torrential floods hit Ellicott City

'No words to describe the devastation' after Ellicott City flooding in Maryland

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. — Rescue personnel here were searching Monday for a man missing after rampaging waters roared like a river through the quaint, historic downtown, swallowing cars and flooding stores and homes. 

The town was pounded by almost eight inches of rain Sunday. When the flash flooding receded, first responders walked through the ravaged downtown area, Main Street strewn with debris. The disaster was similar to a flash flood two years ago that killed two people.- Read More

Maryland man missing after Ellicott City devastated by flood 

Flash flood devastates historic Maryland town - USA Today - 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

SPECIAL INTERVIEW with First Lady Rula Ghani

In this program host Sami Mahdi chats to Afghanistan’s First Lady Rula Ghani and asks her about her activities, her plans for the welfare of Afghan women, political issues and her personal relationships with President Ashraf Ghani.

در این برنامه گرداننده سمیع مهدی با رولا غنی، بانوی نخست کشور، در باره فعالیت‌های وی، برنامه‌های وی برای بهبود وضعیت زنان افغان و مسایل سیاسی بحث کرده است. - Read More

SPECIAL INTERVIEW with First Lady Rula Ghani - YouTube

Afghanistan Criticizes Pakistan’s Unilateral Decision Over FATA

Afghan government officials have declared Pakistan’s move to merge FATA with KP province as unacceptable. 

Afghanistan has strongly criticized Pakistan’s unilateral decision on merging the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, saying the move was in contravention of the 1921 treaty signed between Afghanistan and the then British India.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s former president Hamid Karzai has said that the merge of FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province will not impact the Durand Line. 

“The Afghan government by realizing the colonial and inhuman oppressive system in the tribal regions believes that the unilateral decision aimed at stripping the autonomy of tribal regions is not the solution while we have not the consensus of the people and the suggestion of the Afghan government regarding the issue,” said deputy presidential spokesman Dawa Khan Menapal. 

But, Afghan government officials have declared Pakistan’s move on the merger of FATA as unacceptable and inappropriate. 

According to officials in Kabul, Afghanistan has shared its concerns regarding the matter through diplomatic channels with the Pakistani side and the international community.  -  More

Afghanistan Criticizes Pakistan's Unilateral Decision Over FATA ...

Friday, May 25, 2018

Stabilization: Lessons from the U.S. Experience in Afghanistan. - SIGAR

This report draws important lessons from the U.S. experience with stabilization in Afghanistan from 2002–2017, with a special focus on the years after 2009 when most of the $4.7 billion in stabilization funds was spent. With the rise of the Islamic State and its affiliates, making poorly governed spaces inhospitable to transnational terrorist groups remains a vital U.S. national security priority.

Our analysis reveals the U.S. government greatly overestimated its ability to build and reform government institutions in Afghanistan as part of its stabilization strategy. We found the stabilization strategy and the programs used to achieve it were not properly tailored to the Afghan context, and successes in stabilizing Afghan districts rarely lasted longer than the physical presence of coalition troops and civilians. As a result, by the time all prioritized districts had transitioned from coalition to Afghan control in 2014, the services and protection Afghan forces and civil servants were in a position to provide often could not compete with a resurgent Taliban as it filled the void in newly vacated territory.- Read More

Stabilization: Lessons from the U.S. Experience in Afghanistan -

Stabilization: Lessons from the U.S. experience in Afghanistan - Brookings Institution

On May 24, the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence hosted John F. Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) for a keynote address on the release of the new SIGAR report titled “Stabilization: Lessons from the U.S. Experience in Afghanistan.” This address was followed by a discussion facilitated by Brookings President John R. Allen. - Read More 

Stabilization: Lessons from the U.S. experience in Afghanistan - 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

70 Muslim Clerics Issue Fatwa Against Violence And Terrorism - NPR

Seventy scholars from three Muslim nations issued an edict on Friday that says violent extremism and terrorism violate the principles of Islam.

The announcement was made during a conference in Indonesia. Scholars from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Indonesia convened at the presidential palace in the city of Bogor in West Java, reported The Associated Press.

They were there to discuss ways to stop bloodshed in Afghanistan — and the brutal methods that the Taliban has used to cling to power since it was overthrown in 2001.

"We reaffirm that violence and terrorism cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilization or ethnic group, as violent extremism and terrorism in all its forms and manifestation including violence against civilians and suicide attacks are against the holy principles of Islam," the declaration reportedly said. - Read More

70 Muslim Clerics Issue Fatwa Against Violence And Terrorism

3 Things You Should Know About Europe's Sweeping New Data Privacy Law

The U.S. takes credit for creating the Internet, and the European Union seems determined to govern it. On Friday, a sweeping new directive goes into effect called the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. Taken together, its 99 articles represent the biggest ever change to data privacy laws. The new rules have implications for U.S. Internet users too.

Here are answers to three questions you might have about the new law and its potential impacts.

What is GDPR?
It's a new law that protects residents of the EU — people living there, including Americans. (If you're a European and live in the U.S., you're not protected.) Under GDPR, all companies that have an Internet presence — including large American companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook — have to comply.

At the most basic level, GDPR expands what counts as personal data and your rights over that data. Your data is, for example, what you post on social media, your electronic medical records and your mailing address. It's also your IP address (a string of numbers that's unique to your smartphone or laptop), as well as GPS location. 

The directive says people have to give permission for a company to collect their data. A company can't just sign you up without explicitly asking. And the more personal the data — say, biometrics, which is considered a special category under the law — the ask must be even more clear.

Europeans have a right to have their data deleted if they don't want a company to keep it. Companies have to delete the data without undue delay, or face a penalty - More, NPR

3 Things You Should Know About Europe's Sweeping New Data Privacy Law

Trump Pulls Out of North Korea Summit Meeting with Kim Jong-un - nytimes

WASHINGTON — President Trump, citing a flurry of hostile statements from North Korea, pulled out of a highly anticipated summit meeting with Kim Jong-un on Thursday, telling the North Korean leader “this missed opportunity is a truly sad moment in history.”

But Mr. Trump said later that the meeting with Mr. Kim, which had been scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, could still happen, even as he renewed threats of military action against the North and vowed to continue a campaign of economic pressure against Mr. Kim’s regime.

The mixed messages deepened the uncertainty around a diplomatic encounter that had an air of unreality from the time in March when Mr. Trump spontaneously accepted Mr. Kim’s invitation to meet.

The president made his announcement in a formal and at times mournful-sounding letter to Mr. Kim, in which Mr. Trump cited North Korea’s derisive statements about Vice President Mike Pence as the specific reason for canceling the meeting.- Read More

[Read the text of the letter.]

Letter to Leader of North Korea Cites Its ‘Open Hostility’

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Trying Physical Therapy First For Low Back Pain May Curb Use Of Opioids

Though Americans spend an estimated $80 billion to $100 billioneach year in hopes of easing their aching backs, the evidence is mounting that many pricey standard treatments — including surgery and spinal injections — are often ineffective and can even worsen and prolong the problem.

study published Wednesday in the journal Health Services Research suggests trying physical therapy first may at least ease the strain on the patient's wallet in the long term — and also curb reliance on opioid painkillers, which carry their own risks.

The researchers, from the University of Washington in Seattle and George Washington University in Washington, D.C., analyzed more than 150,000 commercial health insurance claims filed between 2009 and 2013 in six northwestern states. They checked the files of patients who had a new diagnosis of low back pain, comparing the insurance claims of people who had received physical therapy before seeing their family doctor or a specialist to those of people who received PT at a later date, or not at all.

The study wasn't designed to look directly at how well physical therapy ameliorates pain. Instead, the researchers wanted to see if physical therapy reduced overall health care costs and patient outlay related to back pain — including the number of opioid prescriptions and the number of advanced imaging tests like MRIs and CT scans, as well as hospitalizations and ER visits.

It turned out that patients who saw a physical therapist before trying other treatments had an 89 percent lower probability of eventually needing an opioid prescription, a 28 percent lower probability of having any advanced imaging services, and a 15 percent lower probability of making one or more ER visits. - Read More, NPR

Trying Physical Therapy First For Low Back Pain May Curb Use Of Opioids

Monday, May 21, 2018

Royal Wedding 2018: Harry and Meghan release official photos - BBC

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have released three official photographs taken on their wedding day.

The pictures, taken by Alexi Lubomirski, include a group photograph with bridesmaids and close family, including their parents and the Queen.

The couple would like to thank everyone who took part in the celebrations on Saturday, Kensington Palace said.

"Their Royal Highnesses are delighted with these official portraits," a statement added. - Read More

Royal Wedding 2018: Harry and Meghan release official photos - BBC ...

Iran sanctions: Zarif condemns Pompeo announcement

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has condemned the US for promising to impose the "strongest sanctions in history" on his country.
Measures outlined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, he said, showed the US was a prisoner of its "failed policies" and it would suffer the consequences.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also criticised the US.

She said Mr Pompeo had failed to show how dropping the 2015 nuclear deal would make the Middle East safer.

There was, she said, "no alternative" to the agreement, which US President Donald Trump vowed earlier this month to abandon, and she said the EU would stick by it if Iran met its commitments.

Despite the EU's official position, some of Europe's biggest firms who rushed to do business with Iran after the nuclear deal now find themselves forced to choose between investing there or trading with the US.

What did Pompeo announce?
US sanctions lifted after the 2015 deal would be re-imposed, he said, and those and new measures would together constitute "unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime".

He set out conditions for any new deal with Iran, including the withdrawal of its forces from Syria and an end to its support for rebels in Yemen.

The older US sanctions prohibited almost all trade with Iran.

Mr Pompeo did not say what new measures Washington was contemplating but described sanctions imposed last week on the head of Iran's central bank as "just the beginning". - Read More

Iran sanctions: Zarif condemns Pompeo announcement - BBC News