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Updated: 9 min 35 sec ago

Pope Francis Is Still The Most Influential World Leader On Twitter

13 min 49 sec ago
BERLIN (AP) - A new study shows U.S. President Barack Obama is still by far the most followed world leader on Twitter, but Pope Francis is considered the most influential by the number of his messages retweeted.

The annual Twiplomacy analysis of Twitter accounts released Tuesday by PR firm Burson-Marsteller shows nearly 57 million people following Obama, up from 44 million last year. Pope Francis was next with 19.5 million followers on nine language accounts, up from 14 million in 2014.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had nearly 11 million followers, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had more than 6 million, and the White House had almost 6 million followers.

Pope Francis' words were spread widest, with an average of 9,929 retweets per tweet, compared to Obama in fourth place with 1,210.

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Categories: News Monitor

Earthquake From Afar

16 min 58 sec ago
My heart sank when I saw all the missed calls. The news could not possibly be good. Fearfully, I called my brother in Vancouver. A 7.8 Richter scale earthquake had hit Nepal. The earthquake had destroyed many parts of Kathmandu where my elderly parents now live. Their neighborhood was largely spared, but everyone, including my parents, were now in the streets, fearful of the powerful aftershocks. The rumors were circulating about an impending earthquake that would be even more powerful. My father seemed traumatized. I can only imagine what my mother felt -- who suffers from late Parkinson's disease and is mostly bed-ridden.

The young in Nepal have always left their homes to pursue opportunities elsewhere. I grew up in a tiny hamlet in Gorkha -- Jaubari -- a few miles from the devastated village of Barpak, which is the epicenter of the earthquake. Barpak, then as now, was mostly inhabited by Ghales. It was the birth place of Jamdar Gaje Ghale, a textbook Nepali hero who had received the Victoria Cross for his bravery during the Second World War. Many of my classmates in my local school were Ghales from Barpak. But few of them graduated from high school as most were recruited as Gurkhas in the British or the Indian army. Many from my own village -- who were of a different ethnic group and were not considered by the army recruiters -- had to make do with some menial jobs in India.

This trend was accelerated during the Maoist insurgency that started in the mid '90s. A weak democratic polity had unleashed expectations to the populace, but the politicians -- then as now -- were bickering among themselves to divide the spoils. There were few opportunities for the young and little hope for the future. Many joined the Maoists to realize a communist utopia -- initiating a civil war that was to last over a decade and ravaged the whole society. Those who did not, left to work in the factories of Malaysia or the deserts of Gulf States. The better educated ones made it to North America and Europe.

This huge Nepali diaspora is now observing the unfolding tragedy in Nepal with pain and dread. The images and video are heartbreaking to watch. Along with the loss of life, the structures that were part of one's life -- the temples and the monuments -- all lay in ruins. Many in the diaspora have lost their relatives or are listed as missing. It is hard enough to communicate as power lines are down and telephone/cell phone service is erratic. And the social media can be a double edged sword. It provides a much-needed community, but also can be a source of rumors and half truths. Already there are reports of looting and arson. Fears of an epidemic could very well prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sometimes, it is almost as if one is reading a chapter of Saragamo's dystopian Blindness.

Nepali diaspora has been trying to help. Huge sums of money and resources are being raised in different parts of the world. Within communities, there are also arguments as to how they are to be disbursed. But the pain is still palpable and a sense of helplessness pervades. A line by the poet Stephen Spender -- who wrote it while waiting for a war -- keeps coming back to mind: "We who live in the shadow of war. What can we do that matters?"

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Categories: News Monitor

Lava Lake On Kilauea Volcano Is Seriously Close To Overflowing

18 min 38 sec ago
A lava lake on Hawaii's Big Island is mere feet from overflowing.

As of Monday morning, the lava's surface was within seven feet of the lake's rim, the highest it's been since the current eruption began in 2008.

"Magma is rising up into the lava lake from a magma chamber a mile or so beneath the summit of Kilauea volcano," research geologist Matthew Patrick told The Huffington Post. According to Patrick, an overflow is a definite possibility because Kilauea has been consistently inflating for the past week, meaning that magma keeps flowing into the lake from an underground chamber below.

In the event of an overflow, the lava would stay within Halemaumau Crater, the larger crater in the floor of which the lava lake sits, so it would pose no safety threat. But visitors to Volcanoes National Park would get quite a display.

Typically, the lava surface is 100 to 200 feet below the rim of the crater lake and therefore can't be seen from the public viewing area around the volcano. Since the lava has risen, Patrick said, "its incandescent cracks and often vigorous spattering" can easily be seen from the overlook. An overflow would "likely provide an impressive scene for park visitors."

While this is a notable development in the current eruption, it's not particularly unusual in the history of Kilauea, Patrick said. "In the 1800s and early 1900s, there was nearly continuous lava lake activity for about 100 years, and oftentimes that lava was spilling out of Halemaumau Crater," he explained.

As exciting as an overflow sounds, it is also possible Kilauea will abruptly deflate, Patrick said, bringing the lava's surface back down to typical levels.

In the meantime, we can all enjoy a better view into the lava lake:

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Wow! Feel free to share :)Halemaumau from the Jaggar overlook last night April 25, 2015I shot this using the RAW crop video feature in Magic Lantern on a Canon camera.

Posted by Harry Durgin Photography on Sunday, April 26, 2015

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Categories: News Monitor

Courage in the Face of Fear: Remembering Sabeen Mahmud

26 min 7 sec ago
Pakistan lost a beloved, courageous leader last Friday night. Sabeen Mahmud --  a lover of innovation, technology, free speech, intellectual discourse, arts and culture, and the potential of young people  --  was shot dead. She was driving home with her mother after an evening session at The Second Floor (T2F), a community space she ran to encourage civil discourse in Karachi. It was not yet 10 p.m. when two men on a motorcycle rode up to her car and shot Sabeen repeatedly in the face and chest and then shot her mother. Her mother survived, but Sabeen died before reaching the hospital.

No one asked why she was killed. That evening, The Second Floor hosted a conversation titled "Unsilencing Balochistan," Pakistan's largest and poorest province. She had been warned not to host the panel that included controversial human rights activists. She had received death threats --  though this was not the first time. The future of Pakistan, she felt, depended on the courage to hold conversations with all kinds of people across all lines of difference. She stood neither for a particular political party nor a singular ideology, but rather the critical need for discourse, for rational thought, for celebrating the potential of what it means to be human.

I met Sabeen years ago when I spoke at The Second Floor. I was struck by her frank smile, her insatiable curiosity, her generous way of gathering people together to learn about Acumen, patient capital and our approach to tackling poverty. She was a friend to our work, as she was a friend to all who worked for possibility. Sabeen believed that it was up to all of us to create and nourish civil society. And that we were here to support one another, that this endeavor must be a shared one.

Everyone in Pakistan who knew Sabeen has been left speechless, bereft. Hers was a light that made everyone around her shine. Hers was a moral courage that made everyone who met her want to do more, be more.

Those who have spoke of her in the news and on Twitter these past few days remember her audacity, her optimism, how she idolized Steve Jobs and did all she could to promote technology and the future, including sponsoring Pakistan's first Hack-a-Thon.

Upon news of her death, the journalist Mosharraf Zaidi Tweeted, "Sabeen was like titanium. So strong. So dignified. In every way. A huge supporter of all voiceless people. A voice. Ya Allah."

She was like titanium. She did not succumb to fear. She fought for peace.

Hundreds flooded the streets for Sabeen's funeral procession. Breaking Islamic tradition, it began neither from her home nor a mosque but from T2F, the place that will forever symbolize freedom of thought and speech and belief in a shared future. Her mother received visitors despite her bullet wounds and gently urged supporters to carry on. Friends continue to gather everywhere from Lahore to New York to Washington to memorialize her.

I cannot help but think about Acumen's team, our 50-plus Pakistan Fellows and the entrepreneurs we invest in there. They also do what is right and not what is easy in a way that confronts cynicism. I am proud to know every one of them. I know that Sabeen will stand forever as a beacon to them -- and to our entire global community.

When friends in New York have asked if I think Sabeen's killing will make Pakistanis recoil or feel silenced by this horrendous act, my response comes quickly.

To the contrary, Sabeen's stand for dialogue, justice and human potential will inspire more courage, more action, more truth. As my teammate Batool shared, "I am positive we carry her legacy, fearlessness and courage with us because the alternative of fading into the dark is not an alternative at all."

If there is one thing that everyone who had the privilege of knowing Sabeen understood, it is that above all else, she loved Pakistan and believed it was a country worth fighting for -- and, in her case, tragically, worth dying for.

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Categories: News Monitor

Kids Remind Parents They're Doing Better Than They Think In Uplifting Ad

40 min 7 sec ago
Counting down to Mother's Day and Father's Day, Minute Maid has joined in the fray of heartfelt parenting-themed ads.

In this new commercial, real parents answered one simple question: “How do you think you’re doing?” They expressed doubts about their parenting abilities, with responses like, "I do feel like I let them down sometimes" and "I question whether I'm doing a good job every day."

But then their children shared their thoughts, and the tears start flowing. The kids wrote heartwarming letters to their moms and dads, thanking them for everything they do. "There aren't words powerful enough to describe how much you mean to me," one girl writes to her mother. "When I grow up I will always remember all the times you help me feel better when I'm having a bad day," a little boy tells his mom.

The final tagline reminds parents everywhere, "You're doing better than you think."

Cue the waterworks.

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Categories: News Monitor

Saudi-Led Coalition Bombs Airport In Yemen's Sanaa To Stop Iran Plane Landing

41 min 5 sec ago
CAIRO/ADEN, April 28 (Reuters) - Jets from a Saudi-led alliance bombed the runway of Yemen's Sanaa airport on Tuesday to prevent an Iranian plane from landing there, Saudi Arabia said, as fighting across the country killed at least 30 people.

Yemeni Vice President Khaled Bahah had called on the Houthis on Monday to heed a U.N. Security Council demand for an end to fighting, which the Red Cross says has pushed Yemen into a humanitarian catastrophe.

Houthis seized the capital Sanaa last September, demanding a more inclusive government and crackdown on graft. Talks with President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi collapsed and he fled into exile. Chaos set in as Houthi forces swept southwards, fighting loyalist army units, regional tribes and al Qaeda militants.

Top world oil exporter Saudi Arabia, rattled by what it sees as expanding Iranian influence in the region, has been leading a Gulf Arab coalition in waging air strikes on Houthi targets since late March. Riyadh said the campaign moved to a new phase last week, but fighting has intensified again since Sunday.

In Sanaa, airport officials said that Saudi-led warplanes had struck a civilian aircraft operated by Yemeni Felix Airways, setting it ablaze, as well as a cargo plane.

An official at the Yemeni civil aviation authority said the runway was targeted by 20 sorties that destroyed both the take-off and landing runway. The damage will further complicate humanitarian efforts to fly urgently needed aid into Yemen.

A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition said air force planes bombed the runway to stop an Iranian flight landing after it refused to coordinate with the coalition and the pilot ignored orders to turn back.

Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri told Reuters the bombing of the runway made it unusable for planned aid flights.

Iranian state news agency IRNA, confirming the incident, said the pilots had ignored "illegal" warnings from Saudi jets to turn back before the runway was bombed. The agency said the plane was carrying humanitarian aid to Sanaa.

Saudi Arabia had declared Yemen's airspace and coastline off limits to prevent delivery of arms supplies to the Houthis.

A civil aviation official said the airport at the Red Sea city of Hodeidah had also been bombed, but the extent of the damage to the runway was not immediately clear.

HOUTHI LEADER'S HOME BOMBED

Earlier on Tuesday, Saudi-led jets bombed a private villa that nearby residents said belonged to Abdullah Yahya Hakim, a senior Houthi official who was among a number of officials blacklisted by the U.N. Security Council in November.

There were no immediate reports of casualties from the strikes on the airport or Hakim's residence.

Local residents also reported heavy clashes overnight in oil-producing Marib province east of Sanaa, in the city of Taiz in central Yemen, and in the southern port city of Aden.

At least 15 people were killed in the district of Sirwah and around Marib city, the sources said, as tribesmen allied with Hadi tried to stop Houthis and troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh from advancing on the provincial capital.

The Houthis say their advance on Marib is to flush out militants belonging to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), one of the most active branches of the Sunni Muslim militant network and an enemy of the Shi'ite Muslim Houthis.

In the southern province of al-Dhalea, local militiamen said they had killed at least 13 fighters from the Houthi group and troops loyal to Saleh in two separate ambushes. Snipers in Aden also shot and killed two civilians, residents said.

As the civil war rages on and the impoverished country sinks deeper into a humanitarian emergency, Yemenis warn that it will get ever harder to restore credible central state authority, raising the risk to nearby oil shipping lanes.

VICE PRESIDENT PLEADS FOR NEGOTIATED SOLUTION

The fighting has doubled the number of people displaced by the violence from the previous estimate of 150,000 on April 17, the U.N. humanitarian agency OCHA said on Tuesday.

Speaking in Saudi Arabia on Monday, Vice President Bahah said Yemenis should seek a negotiated way out of the crisis based on a U.N. Security Council resolution passed in April.

The Houthis have already rejected the resolution, which imposes an arms embargo on them and on Saleh's supporters, calls on them to lay down their weapons and to leave Yemen's cities.

"The brothers in Ansarullah are called on to fear God ... and to stop their war on the cities," Bahah said, according to Yemeni news website www.voice-yemen.com. Ansarullah is the group's official name.

Bahah is popular among many of Yemen's feuding parties, and his appointment earlier this month created some hope that a negotiated solution could be reached.

In addition to bread and medical supplies running short, telecommunications could be cut within days due to fuel shortages, the state-run news agency Saba reported, quoting the director of the telecommunications authority. (Additional reporting by Angus McDowalla in Riyadh, Sam Wilkin in Dubai and Omar Fahmy in Cairo, Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Categories: News Monitor

Nepalese Girls Cook For, Provide First Aid To Thousands Of Earthquake Survivors

46 min 11 sec ago
Underprivileged girls and young women in Nepal are stepping up in a big way for their neighbors in need after Saturday's devastating earthquake.

About 20 girls who live in the affected region are cooking rice and lentils, and providing first aid kits for those impacted by the magnitude-7.8 earthquake, People.com reported. According to Reuters, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala said the disaster could be responsible for upwards of 10,000 deaths when all is said and done.

The girls and young women -- who are between 4 and 20 years old and part of the Unatti Foundation -- are helping cook for more than 3,500 people in Bhaktapur, according to the group's Facebook page.

The foundation recently took in a large donation of first aid kits, according to Stephanie Waisler-Rubin, the nonprofit's founder and president, and the girls are also helping pass out critical resources to those in need.

"Our area was hit pretty heavily, and everyone has been weathering the night outside in open rice and vegetable fields, as they're fearful of going into their homes," Waisler-Rubin told People.com.

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Unatti Foundation is single handedly feeding 3500+ people in Bhaktapur. We have secured 3000 lbs of rice with another...

Posted by Unatti Foundation on Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The foundation has been helping to educate and empower Nepalese children since its creation more than a decade ago. The group runs a home for underserved girls in Bhaktapur, and enables the girls to attend the "best schools in the village and receive 24-hour care," according to the nonprofit's website.

The girls' selfless acts are coming in handy, as Nepal grapples to overcome devastation caused by the worst earthquake it has experienced in more than 80 years.

Governments, aid groups and development agencies will continue allocating vital resources toward the region in the coming weeks, the Associated Press reported, and Nepal's lawmakers have pledged to give one-month salaries -- totaling more than $400,000 -- toward relief efforts.

American tech companies -- like Google, Apple and Microsoft -- are also giving money toward relief efforts and providing free services for loved ones to connect with those in devastated areas, NPR reported. On Monday, Facebook announced it'd match every dollar given through its donation widget, up to $2 million.

But in their own smaller way, the girls of the Unatti Foundation are making a big impact on those they've been able to help.

"They have a purpose now," Waisler-Rubin told People. "They're helping their community, and they feel like they're making a difference."

The button below indicates how much has been raised on Crowdrise's "Nepal Earthquake Relief" page. Click to visit the site and donate.



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Fundraising Websites - Crowdrise




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Categories: News Monitor

SuperTrucks: Clean, Efficient and Long Overdue

52 min 49 sec ago
The idea that big tractor-trailer trucks could be overlooked might seem ludicrous when you're trying to merge onto a freeway with one bearing down on you at 70 miles per hour. But when it comes to energy efficiency and fuel economy -- that is to say, when it comes to CO2 emissions and climate change -- trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles have indeed been mostly overlooked so far. That's a problem -- and an opportunity.

There's been a lot of attention paid to passenger-vehicle efficiency, and with good reason. In the U.S., passenger vehicles account for roughly 60% of greenhouse-gas emissions in the transportation sector, and more than 115 billion gallons of annual fuel consumption. Whether you're most concerned with energy security or global warming, driving those numbers down makes sense. Globally, the story's much the same. Roughly 80% of all new passenger-vehicle sales worldwide now happen in markets regulated by fuel-efficiency standards. And without exception, those standards -- in North America, Europe, China, Japan and elsewhere -- get tighter every year.

That kind of attention pays off. In the U.S., average passenger-car fuel economy will roughly double by 2025, the last year of the current CAFE standards. Consider this: we're on track to actually reverse the trend of annual increases in CO2 emissions from the global passenger-vehicle fleet that's been in place literally since the invention of the automobile.

Meanwhile, though, heavy-duty vehicles have largely avoided this type of regulation. The average "big rig" in the U.S. today gets about six mpg diesel, pretty much exactly what it did during the Reagan era. Heavy-duty vehicles are responsible for about one-third of CO2 emissions from the on-road transportation sector in the U.S., and unless things change, that proportion will rise to about half over the next 20 years, as passenger cars get more efficient. In other parts of the world, HDVs account for an even larger proportion of all transportation-GHG emissions, and their share is increasing even faster. All that CO2 represents gallons of fuel burned -- and is paid for by raising the cost of the goods carried on all those trucks.

Which brings us to the "what's working" part of the story.

The U.S. Department of Energy has quietly sponsored a collaborative effort involving all the major truck manufacturers in the U.S. to develop and test new, energy-efficient long-haul tractor-trailers. As part of this "SuperTruck" program, Cummins/Peterbilt last year unveiled a prototype tractor-trailer that got 10.7 miles per gallon, and recently Daimler debuted a rival prototype, using a different design and technology, that gets just more than 12 mpg -- that is, double the fuel economy of the average long-haul tractor-trailer today.

No, they're not quite ready for mass production, but these are not mere drawing-board vehicles either: the Cummins/Peterbilt rig has logged half a million miles already. Our own research is showing that these technologies could enable tractor-trailers to get more than 10 mpg within the next 5-15 years and offer payback periods of less than 18 months -- well within current industry expectations.

The SuperTruck program is an example of collaboration paired with competition, a public-sector/private-sector effort that wouldn't be effective if it didn't involve that cross-sector cooperation, and wouldn't even exist without the DoE's initiative. By any measure, it's been a success in terms of leveraging the best engineering knowledge to develop the technologies for a very fuel-efficient truck.

And by itself it isn't enough. The trucking industry is a conservative one, the manufacturers are risk averse, and right now the cost of all that unnecessary fuel consumption is passed on to the consumer in the form of fuel surcharges or simple higher prices for goods. Something else is needed to put SuperTrucks on the road.

Which explains why the EPA and NHTSA are about to propose fuel-efficiency standards for heavy-duty vehicles that will require a steady improvement in average fuel economy for new trucks starting around 2020. To be precise, these will constitute Phase 2 of a regulation first adopted in 2011, which set standards for new HDVs, starting in 2014.

While it's impossible to say exactly what standards the agencies will propose, there's every reason to hope that they'll push the envelope very close to what the SuperTruck prototypes have demonstrated are the currently feasible limits of technology and design.

The standards are the indispensable complement to the collaborative R&D effort that the SuperTruck program represents. Only three other governments (Canada, Japan and China) have set any type of efficiency standards for trucks, and none have ventured into the same type of public/private cooperation on technology innovation. The U.S. could lead the way by pushing the advanced SuperTruck technologies into the market with a policy nudge. Big economies around the world have a huge opportunity to double the fuel efficiency of one of the largest sources of carbon emissions. The 45th anniversary of Earth Day last week should remind us that we don't have time to waste.

This post is part of a Huffington Post What's Working series on the environment. The series is putting a spotlight on initiatives and solutions that are actually making a difference -- whether in the battle against climate change, or tackling pollution or other environmental challenges. To see all the posts in the series, read here.

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Categories: News Monitor

Obama On Baltimore: 'This Is Not New'

57 min ago
President Barack Obama on Tuesday addressed the eruption of protests and riots in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, condemning the violent demonstrations while acknowledging that the underlying problems plaguing the city are "not new" and will require national "soul-searching" to solve.

During a press conference with Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, Obama was asked by NBC News' Chris Jansing about the growing frustration that not enough is being done in communities like Baltimore.

Obama said his thoughts are with Gray's family as well as the police injured in Monday's protests, and he criticized the violent approach taken by some demonstrators.

"There's no excuse for the kind of violence we saw yesterday," he said. "It is counterproductive. When individuals get crowbars and start prying open doors to loot, they're not protesting. They're not making a statement. They're stealing. When they burn down a building they're committing arson, and they're destroying and undermining businesses and opportunities in their own communities that rob jobs and opportunities from people in that area."

Obama said the violent protests "distracted" from the largely peaceful protests over the weekend.

"They were constructive and they were thoughtful," he said of those demonstrations. "And frankly it didn't get much attention. And one burning building will be looped on television ... and the thousands of demonstrators who did it the right way have been lost in the discussion."

He continued, "Since Ferguson and the task force that we put together, we have seen too many incidences of what appears to be police officers interacting with individuals -- primarily African-American, often poor -- in ways that raise troubling questions. It comes up, it seems like, once a week now. Or once every couple of weeks. So I think its pretty understandable why the leaders of civil rights organizations, but more importantly moms and dads, might start saying this is a crisis. What I'd say is this has been a slow rolling crisis."

"This is not new," he said. "And we shouldn't pretend this is new."

Obama urged police unions to work with communities and "acknowledge that this is not good for police."

"We have to own up to the fact that occasionally there are going to be problems here," he said.

However, he added, change needs to go beyond law enforcement.

"We can't just leave this to the police. I think there are police departments that have to do some soul-searching. I think there are some communities that have to do so some soul-searching. But I think we as a country have to do some soul-searching. This is not new. It's been going on for decades," he said. "If we are serious about solving this problem, then we're going to not only help the police, we're going to have to think about what we can do, the rest of us."

He pointed to policy changes including investing in infrastructure, bolstering early education and reforming the criminal justice system.

"That's hard. That requires more than just the occasional news report or task force," he said. "If we really want to solve the problem, we could, it's just it would require everybody saying this is important, this is significant and that we just don't pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns. And we don't just pay attention when a man gets shot or has his spine snapped."

Violent protests broke out in the Maryland city on Monday following the funeral for Gray, the 25-year-old who died last week after suffering a spinal injury while in police custody. At least 15 police officers were injured and 27 individuals were arrested during Monday's protests.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard, making 5,000 troops available to patrol the city.

Follow The Huffington Post’s live coverage of the Baltimore protests here.

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Categories: News Monitor

Integration Is the Open Secret to Deradicalization

Tue, 04/28/2015 - 23:22

One of the most troubling developments resulting from the escalation of violent extremism in the Middle East is the rise in the number of Muslims from the West who are joining the ranks of jihadist groups, notably ISIS. Western governments are struggling to find out what motivates young Muslims to leave their sheltered lives -- many are well-to-do and educated -- only to join radical organizations that offer an elusive goal and the prospect of violent death.



It appears that the determining factor behind this phenomenon is the absence of integration, by choice or design, of young Muslims into the mainstream of their respective Western countries. For this reason, integration must be the engine that propels deradicalization, and of necessity it takes a whole range of socioeconomic, religious, and political measures to mitigate the vulnerabilities in these areas that young Muslims experience.



The rise of violent extremism is only at the early stages, and if the West wants to stem the flow of volunteers to these ruthless groups, Western countries should make a concerted effort to engage and understand the nuances of their Muslim communities, especially the families from which these volunteers are coming.



Unlike assimilation, where an individual stands to lose his identity by absorption into the mainstream culture, integration involves a mutual recognition and respect of the other -- a harmonization that includes difference rather than denies it.



Lewis Mumford put it best when he stated:

Integration proceeds by ... a deliberate heightening of every organic function; a release of impulses from circumstances that irrationally thwarted them; richer and more complex patterns of activity; an esthetic heightening of anticipated realizations; a steady lengthening of the future; a faith in cosmic perspectives.



The psychological dimension of violent extremism needs to be understood, as there is no one single root cause or path that leads to the mental and emotional conditioning that transforms young Muslims from being ordinary peaceful individuals to violent radicals.



The threat emanating today from ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other Islamist groups is inspired by religious teachings, distorted under the guise of defending purist Sunni Islam, which ultimately aim to infect susceptible Muslim youths to whom religion provides an escape and a sense of belonging.



Violent extremists wage a war on Western cultural and religious precepts and wish to see their acts fused into the identity of their own Muslim community so that they can be recognized as being representative of the larger community, especially by the media.



Many of the young men and women who live in Western countries feel increasingly marginalized economically, socially, and politically and are particularly vulnerable as they are often in transitional stages in their lives, whether as immigrants, students in search of friends, job seekers, etc.



On the whole, they are in need of an outlet to vent their frustration, and consequently, they become easy prey for extremists seeking new recruits in mosques and online.



However, there is a common denominator behind most of the causes that radicalize Muslim youth, which is the lack of integration into their new social milieu, caused by:

  • Lack of interest in being integrated, as many young Muslims are living in a bubble where they feel comfortable and secure and are not encouraged to step out beyond their immediate circle of peers and family. This is further compounded in situations where extremism runs deep in a particular family, or where they have certain gripes against the sociopolitical milieu in which they live.


  • No deliberate effort by governments to integrate Muslim youth into general society, a condition further aggravated by entrenched prejudices in most West European societies, such as Britain and France. Citizens of foreign descent in these states are often identified and remain as "foreigners," regardless of how long they have been living in their adopted countries, even if they are second- or third-generation citizens.


  • The growing pervasiveness of Islamophobia among Europeans, precipitated by the rise of violent extremists of all colorations and the seemingly endless bloodshed between Muslim communities and against Westerners, which has produced a conscious and unconscious repudiation of anything related to Muslims in general.


  • A deeper, growing sense of alienation, which is the antithesis to feelings of inclusion, leading young Muslims in particular to find ways to resist and defy rather than seek new opportunities to integrate and become loyal nationals of their adopted countries.



Interestingly enough, the number of young American Muslims joining violent extremist groups remains proportionately considerably less than the number of British and French Muslims joining ISIS.



This perhaps can be explained by the fact that the U.S. is essentially a country of immigrants, and having foreign roots is part of American culture. Therefore, the incorporation of foreigners into the social mainstream, with some exception, is left up to the individual and is generally constrained only by the person's qualifications and ambitions.



West European Muslims in particular seek to maintain their identity and can do so through integration, where their identity as a Muslim is not lost, rather than through assimilation.



If West European countries are to subscribe to Mumford's notion of integration, they must develop a comprehensive strategy that would prevent young disenfranchised Muslims from being lured to join the ranks of violent extremists.



Before they can develop such a strategy, they must avoid generalizations (for example, that Islam is inherently violent) and understand why young Muslims and converts are joining and why many of them come back. Only then should governments take specific steps to ensure that those who joined and return are deradicalized and become useful citizens who can dissuade others from following their path.



There are no quick fixes for this alarming development, and no amount of law enforcement and coercion will halt the flow of volunteers of West European Muslims to join the ranks of violent extremists other than inclusion.



To successfully counter violent extremism, West European countries, together with Muslim leaders and educators in their respective communities, must investigate who is embracing radical views through field studies, raise awareness, and analyze the real root causes in different Muslim communities, which was and still is missing.



This approach would enable them to present credible counterarguments with candid, transparent, and open-ended dialogue that could change the socioeconomic and political dynamics to create a new atmosphere that would single out young Muslims in a positive light. To that end, West European governments must:

  • Adopt a new public narrative by using a strategic way to communicate utilizing every conceivable media outlet to counter extremists with facts, avoid moral preaching, and address the perception of Western nations assailing Muslims, which leads the young to seek justice through violence.


  • Develop community service programs to introduce young Muslims to the larger community of their Western peers and begin a process of integration in which they develop personal interests to fill the social, economic, and political emptiness they feel.


  • Invite credible and respected voices from the Muslim world to discredit the messages of the extremists by arguing that there is no path to glory in death, that joining such violent groups only reinforces the vicious cycle of death and destruction, and that there is no martyrdom in their senseless self-sacrifices.


  • Encourage young Muslims to join sport activities and provide opportunities to show off their talent and ability to excel, while supporting those who seek to establish their social identity and be recognized.


  • Prevent prisons from becoming incubators for new terrorists by rehabilitating prisoners through community programs, schooling, professional enhancements, and assigning of responsibility within the prison's setting; nearly 80 percent of prisoners who went through such rigorous programs in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Yemen ended up being completely rehabilitated and became role models for other prisoners to emulate.


  • Foster the desire of young Muslims to participate in local political discussion groups, be involved in the decision-making process from the bottom up, and be part of any positive changes to advance the interests of their communities and enhance their self-esteem.


  • Develop international exchange programs to expose young Muslims to what is happening in other communities, areas of social and economic progress, and new innovations and ideas that can be duplicated to benefit their own families and communities.



Finally, all these programs require a commitment for long-term funding. No country directly or indirectly affected by violent extremism can afford to be long on talking and short on funding. They must provide the financial and human resources to meet this unprecedented challenge, regardless of how costly it might be and how long it might take.



Given that the violent turmoil sweeping the Middle East -- especially the Sunni-Shia conflict and the civil wars in Syria, Yemen, and Libya -- is unlikely to settle anytime soon, a growing number of young Muslims will join the ranks of extremists, posing an ever-greater national security menace for Western countries.



For this reason, we must distinguish between what's possible and what's impossible to achieve, and what might become more probable if circumstances change.



Western governments must develop a long-term deradicalization strategy to stem the flow of Muslim volunteers with the objective of substantially reducing the threat they pose upon their return to their respective countries. There is no shortcut and no means by which to deradicalize young Muslims other than by taking the measures outlined above and approaches tailored to specific communities.



Failure is not an option, as the consequences will be extraordinarily dire. A state of constant alarm, emergencies, and terrorism will become a way of life, haunting Western democracies and violently destabilizing the Middle East for decades to come.

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Watch Conan and Andy Turn Themselves Into MyIdol Nightmares

Tue, 04/28/2015 - 23:22
There's no hair like Conan's in China.

If you've never heard of the Chinese app MyIdol, do yourself a favor and try it. The only catch is that it's all in Chinese -- though an English version is coming soon. If you can figure it out, though, the results are hilarious. You upload a photo of your face and then the app creates animations of you doing things, ranging from awesome to hilariously creepy.

On Monday night, Conan and Andy Richter decided to give the app a whirl, and while it didn't quite nail Conan's hair, you can't deny that it absolutely captured his spirit.

Warning: Do not look directly into the Conan MyIdol.



Follow Huffington Post's board LOL onPinterest.


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Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam

Tue, 04/28/2015 - 23:16
A version of this article first appeared in the May/June issue of Islamic Horizons.

The Fort Hood killings, the Times Square terror plot and the Boston marathon bombing were all ostensibly carried out in the name of Islam.

All terrorists are not Muslims and nor are all Muslims terrorists. Yet, a disproportionate number of perpetrators of violent attacks claim doing so in the name of Islam and defense of Muslims. University of Maryland's Global Terrorism Database (GTD) shows that from 2000 to 2013, ISIS or ISIL, Boko Haram, Taliban and al-Qaida, all claiming to act in the name of Islam, killed 23,899 people and injured 31,140. In 2013, these four groups were responsible for seven out of 10 people killed in terrorist incidents worldwide.

Terrorism is indeed a threat whose impact far exceeds any body count. It elicits strong security response by national governments including, but not limited to, the U.S. Many of the security measures have curtailed civil liberties and often have disproportionately targeted Muslims. In addition, according to RAND Corporation, terrorism's economic cost surpasses the direct loss of life and property from the incident. Increases to security costs, additional insurance premiums, and added military expenditure often outweigh the original attack's direct economic impact. Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz states that the loss of life and property from the September 11, 2001 attacks totaled $55 billion in New York alone. However, increased security ($589 billion), decreased economic activity ($123 billion) and other costs have totaled approximately $3.3 trillion.

Boko Haram, ISIS, al-Qaeda and Taliban have killed more Muslims than others. Thus, their claims that they are using "prophetic methodology" is absurd. The idea of killing Muslims to "save" Islam is not only irrational, but indeed poses an existential threat to Muslims, not only where these groups holds sway, but also where Muslims live as minorities, such as the United States. Each beheading spectacle overseas triggers a backlash. In addition, children, radicalized over the social media, are fleeing their homes to join up such groups overseas. Their parents' anguish cannot be understated.

Radicalization of Muslim Youth

A 2014 report from the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, shows that 25 Muslim Americans were associated with violent terrorism in 2014, bringing the total to 250 since 9/11. Of these, 109 were alleged to have plotted against targets in the United States. The number of Muslim Americans plotting to harm their homeland may be small, but certainly not negligible. In the rare instance when such miscreants are successful, the harm caused is widespread and devastating. The Boston Marathon bombing killed three spectators and injured 264 others. At least 14 people required amputations. A major American city was on virtual lockdown during the manhunt that followed.

Much of the recent spike in terrorism cases involving Muslim Americans is related to individuals seeking to join overseas terrorist groups, mainly the Nusra Front (an al-Qaeda affiliate) and ISIS in Syria. A March 22, 2015 article by the New York Times reported that, "Since 2013, 29 people in the United States have been charged or detained as juveniles on allegations of supporting the Islamic State."

The demographics of these 29 defy easy description. While 11 are teenagers, the rest are between 20 and 47 years old. Eight are women and six are converts. However, according to the FBI, these individuals are a fraction of the suspects being tracked or surveilled by the U.S. government. In 2014, FBI Director James Comey said that the figure will be many times more than hundred, but could not give a precise estimate, because they are "so hard to track."

Only nine of 35 people returning from serving with terrorist groups abroad engaged in plots aimed at targets in the United States, two of them succeeded -- in 2013 the Boston Marathon bombers, the Tsarnov brothers who allegedly trained in Dagestan, and in 2010 Faisal Shahzad, who trained with militants in Pakistan, unsuccessfully attempted to detonate a car bomb in New York City's Times Square.

Despite the increase in terrorist activity in the name of Islam abroad, very few Muslim Americans are joining and fewer are returning from terrorist training camps. In addition, financial support from Muslim Americans for such so-called jihad abroad remains very low, leading the Triangle Center report to conclude, "Muslim Americans have little contact with terrorist activities in the United States or overseas." Another report by University of Maryland's START Center found that there has been more individual radicalization from the American far right than from among Muslims in the United States.

A 2010 study titled, "Anti-Terror Lessons of Muslim-Americans," jointly produced by the Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill concluded that American mosques deter the spread of extremism by building youth programs, sponsoring anti-violence forums and often placing renewed scrutiny on the curriculum being taught. It was a Muslim street vendor who thwarted the Times Square bomber, and Muslims in Irvine, California, concerned about incitement of violence by a fellow Muslim, reported him to the police, only to later learn that he was an FBI informant.

It was the leadership of the Islamic Center in Jacksonville, Florida that reported to the FBI a person who was attempting to recruit youth to join jihad in the Middle East. The so-called underwear bomber's father, worried that his son posed a threat, reported him to the authorities. This father placed the safety of others over his own paternal instincts. The largest single source of initial information involved tips from the Muslim American community. A 2011 study by the Muslim Public Affairs Council reported that Muslim communities helped foil 14 out of 41 terrorist plots since 9/11, four of them prior to operational stage.

Responding to Muslim Radicalization

A 2011 report titled, "Rethinking Radicalization" by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University asserts:

Radicalization is complex. Yet a thinly-sourced, reductionist view of how people become terrorists has gained unwarranted legitimacy in some counterterrorism circles...

Only by analyzing what we know about radicalization and the government's response to it can we be sure that these reactions are grounded in fact rather than stereotypes and truly advance our efforts to combat terrorism.

Some within law enforcement agencies and much of the mainstream media have developed simplistic theories of how Muslim Americans may become radicalized. These theories suggest that the path to terrorism has a fixed trajectory with identifiable markers. They posit the existence of a "religious conveyor belt" that leads from grievance or personal crisis to religiosity to the adoption of radical beliefs to finally terrorism. Little empirical evidence supports such a theory. However, actual connections to terrorist activity may be discernible, if community members and its leadership remain alert. For example, Sheldon Bell from Jacksonville, Florida was reported to law enforcement, not because he dressed conservatively or followed religious rituals meticulously. Rather, he came to the authorities' attention because a parent, concerned that his son was being encouraged to join violent jihad in Syria, reported Bell. The assumed link between religiosity and terrorism alienates the very community whose cooperation will be crucial to defend against terrorists who claim to act in the name of Islam. The Brennan report asks, "Can a community simultaneously be treated as suspect and also be expected to function as a partner?"

Marc Sageman's book Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century (University of Pennsylvania Press; 2008) asserts that most terrorists lack religious knowledge and were secular individuals until just before joining an extremist group. He concludes, "A well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalization." Sageman, who analyzed more than 500 cases to understand how people "evolve into terrorists," describes the radicalization process as having several stages, but emphasizes that there was no linear progression from one stage to the next. Muslim Americans should understand these stages and act to limit radicalization of their youth, no matter how small the number might seem. Steps such as public and private denunciation of terrorism, nipping extremist ideas at their bud, social networking and political engagement, have been helpful but need of further enhancement for better sustainability. While Muslim leaders and imams have issued general condemnations of terrorism, they have often not been specific in naming groups, and more importantly, have not directly refuted the claims about Quranic or Prophetic justifications for violent actions.

What Muslim Communities Can Do Now?

Groups such as ISIS proclaim a messianic vision that portends an apocalyptic end-of-time battle between Muslims and the kuffar (many Muslims have been labelled kafir after fatwas proclaiming them as murtads, i.e. those who renounce Islam by their actions). Those joining their ranks believe that they are doing so for the cause of Allah. In the aforementioned article in New York Times, one of the people who left the U.S. to join ISIS described his mission as, "The Words of Allah, The Quran, that's what brain washed me." This person ignored pleas from his sister to come back saying that, "I want jannah (paradise) for all of us." Growing up, this person seemed like a normal kid who loved playing basketball. How do otherwise normal kids get brainwashed into joining a cult like ISIS?

ISIS uses social media and the internet to attract disenfranchised youth searching for meaning. Their assertion that they are giving believers a chance to earn Jannah is tantalizing to some. Mere condemnation of the ISIS ideology is not enough. Imams and scholars need to refute the dangers that come from the lack of contextualization of the sacred texts that ISIS uses to propagate their dark vision. One of the hadiths frequently used by ISIS is the following:

The Last Hour would not come until the Romans land at al-A'maq or in Dabiq. An army consisting of the best (soldiers) of the people of the earth at that time will come from Medina (to counteract them).

-- Narrated by Abu Hurrairah and reported in Sahih Muslim Vol. 41, Chapter 9, Hadith# 6924

ISIS uses this hadith to imply that the great battle between the "Roman West" and "Islam" is imminent, and the believers should join ISIS given that only they claim to be the one khilafa (caliphate) on Earth today. They invoke hadiths that suggest pledging allegiance to the khalifa is a sacred duty of every Muslim. Not coincidentally, Dabiq (the name of the place mentioned in the hadith cited earlier) is also the name of ISIS's slick magazine that not only shows graphic images of beheadings and murder, but also justifies them by quoting sacred scriptures. Left unchallenged, such spurious interpretations will assume an air of authenticity. Imams, scholars and leaders need to directly refute the un-contextualized interpretation of such hadiths and highlight the dangers that stem from excessive literal reading of sacred texts.

One of the best antidote to radicalization is better social integration and accepting the fact that responsibility towards citizenship must go hand-in-glove with assertion of rights. Complaining about Islamophobia, but doing little to promote dialogue and understanding, creates an attitude of victimhood, which in its most radical form can lead to violence. A 2006 study titled, "Countering Radicalization," by the Dutch Clingendael Centre for Strategic Studies, provides a way to measure social integration, arguing that better social integration can reduce chances of being radicalized. The study asserts that there are ten factors, which are necessary for social integration:

  1. Acceptance -- an individual's perception for being accepted in society.

  2. Welcome -- an individual's feeling of being welcomed or warmly greeted by society.

  3. Integration -- an individual's involvement in activities outside of their own ethnic or religious groups.

  4. Entitlement -- an individual's feelings about their citizenship rights.

  5. Equal Opportunity -- an individual's perception of fairness in their professional life.

  6. Social Access -- an individual's feeling about being accepted in or have easy access to local clubs, sporting groups etc.

  7. Loyalty -- an individual's loyalty or allegiance towards their country of residence.

  8. Citizenship Pride -- an individual's satisfaction in being a member of the national community.

  9. Social Values -- an individual's attitude towards social values, such as freedom, human rights, etc., of the broader society.

  10. Language -- an individual's fluency in the local language of the country they reside in.


Scoring low on these factors increases the risk of radicalization. The propensity to radicalize is a multifaceted and complex process that needs help from both the Muslim community and the society at-large. Community organizations need to proactively institute programs that allow young Muslim Americans to develop positive attitude towards their society even when facing hardships. Redressing grievances in an inclusive way can engender positive feelings towards citizenship and foster loyalty. In addition, first generation immigrant Muslims need to be better integrated into American civic society. Youth alienation is closely linked to their parents' insular attitudes.

While Muslim Americans are better educated and earn more than the average American, the number of hours or dollars committed to volunteer activity is relatively low. The average American volunteers about 20 hours a week and donates 4.7 percent of their pretax earnings to charity. A 2011 Pew Research Center report suggests that nearly one in two Muslim Americans, attend weekly services at their mosque. However, given that fundraising remains a constant struggle at local mosques, it is safe to conclude that the rate of charity by Muslim Americans is not at par with that for their fellow Americans.

Undoubtedly, progress has been made over the past decade with more Muslim Americans voting than ever before and getting involved in local civic projects -- from feeding the homeless to establishing free medical clinics. While the Muslim American leadership, particularly its plethora of civic organizations such as ISNA, MPAC and CAIR remain committed to interfaith work, engagement at local grassroots level is usually limited to a few Imams and the occasional Islamic center leadership. Muslim Americans legitimately worry about the increasingly negative perception of Islam and Muslims in the public square. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that Muslim Americans are ignorant about the religious practices of other faith communities. Understanding is a two-way street. Mutuality must be the cornerstone of the quest to make society more civil. While many churches and synagogues invite Muslim speakers to address their congregations, examples of reciprocal gesture by mosques is few and far between. Ignorance breeds radicalization. Insularity allows victimization to fester.

Steps in Countering Radicalization

  • Embrace Pluralism -- Mosque communities need to develop and project an attitude that is inclusive of the multitude of ways in which Islam is practiced, from the orthodox to the liberal. Pluralism does not mean a mere toleration of diversity. Harvard University's Pluralism Project defines pluralism as "energetic engagement with diversity" and an "active seeking of understanding across lines of difference." This needs to be applied both in interfaith and intra-faith relations. A greater appreciation of diversity can counter the poison of "takfir" spilling over the internet and social media. Pluralism in general, particularly intra-faith, can become a bulwark against the takfiri ideology.

  • Political Mobilization -- Increased political mobilization will stunt radicalization by providing to Muslims both here and abroad a model for peaceful resolution of conflict though democracy and working within the confines of law. Political mobilization with a broader coalition will increase the chances of success, which will draw out more members of the community to rally behind common causes. American political and civic leaders must step forward to aid integration by establishing regular contact with their local Muslim communities.

  • Relationship with Law Enforcement -- In light of the many media exposes about FBI infiltration of the Muslim American community and about how agents goaded vulnerable youth toward radical views, Muslim American leaders find it increasingly difficult to trust law enforcement. However, cynicism must not replace pragmatism. Efforts towards meaningful dialogue with law enforcement need to be sustained and enhanced. In addition, youth need to be encouraged to seek careers in law enforcement. Serving one's country, whether through military, police or civil service, should not only be encouraged, but also celebrated. Consistent presence of law enforcement and civic society officials at Muslim events can also help create mutual trust.

  • Access -- Nearly two out of three Muslim Americans are first-generation immigrants. Some, especially those coming as refugees from war torn nations, may struggle to adequately provide for their families often due to poor English language skills or lack of higher education. Parents may work double or triple shifts to make ends meet with little time for their children, particularly the youth. Such youth are often vulnerable to unsavory networks, particularly via today's social media. Muslim Americans in partnership with public agencies, need to provide resources such as youth centers, health clinics, and English language courses to struggling immigrant families. The community must invest in developing institutions that will help youth practice Islam within the context of American pluralism.


Despite the setbacks on civil liberties, the United States remains a land where Muslims can practice Islam freely. Muslims must use the freedom they enjoy to effectively respond to the trials recent incidents have created about the compatibility of Islam to American values. The publications of cartoons ridiculing holy figures, such as in Charlie Hebdo or the Danish newspapers pose a particular challenge in balancing between freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

While speaking out against perceived affront to Islam, Muslims must uphold the principles of free speech, no matter how unpalatable that may sometime seem. The First Amendment gives Muslims the right to freely practice Islam without coercion from government. The same amendment also guarantees freedom of speech, albeit with certain limits. Muslims cannot demand selective enforcement of First Amendment rights. Moreover, taken holistically, Islam also upholds free speech rights and teaches an unequivocal commitment to the rule of law. Citizens have the right to protest unfair treatment, and if they believe laws to be unjust, they should work to change such laws by using peaceful advocacy.

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery. It remains an inspiring reminder about non-violence in the face of unimaginable oppression. Promising integration lies in embracing pluralism, engaging in civic work and mobilizing politically. Random violence is immoral and ineffective. It can never be justified no matter how severe the underlying grievance -- this message needs constant reinforcement from the mosque pulpit to the kitchen table.

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Stephen Hawking Predicts Humans Won't Last Another 1,000 Years On Earth

Tue, 04/28/2015 - 22:49
Renowned British physicist and author Stephen Hawking has a dire prediction for humanity: We will not survive another millennium unless we colonize another planet.

"I don't think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet," Hawking said in remarks delivered at Sydney's Opera House last weekend. His addresses on Saturday and Sunday were his first in Australia, but were delivered via hologram from his office in Britain.

We must continue to go into space “for the future of humanity,” he added. “I want to encourage public interest in space."

Hawking has made similar comments in the past, suggesting that technological improvements in space travel could make colonizing a new planet feasible in the future. "Sooner or later disasters such as an asteroid collision or a nuclear war could wipe us all out," he told BBC radio in 2006. "But once we spread out into space and establish independent colonies, our future should be safe." In 2010, he said humanity's future "must be" in space.

Hawking also answered several pre-submitted questions during his Sydney appearance, including a surprising one about Zayn Malik's departure from pop band One Direction. "Finally, a question about something important," he said. Hawking used the opportunity to share his thoughts on the possibility of multiple universes.

"One day there may well be proof of multiple universes," he said. "It would not be beyond the realms of possibility that somewhere outside of our own universe lies another different universe. And in that universe, Zayn is still in One Direction."

Watch a full video of Hawking's remarks below:

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Categories: News Monitor

Stephen Hawking Predicts Humans Won't Last Another 1,000 Years On Earth

Tue, 04/28/2015 - 22:49
Renowned British physicist and author Stephen Hawking has a dire prediction for humanity: We will not survive another millennium unless we colonize another planet.

"I don't think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet," Hawking said in remarks delivered at Sydney's Opera House last weekend. His addresses on Saturday and Sunday were his first in Australia, but were delivered via hologram from his office in Britain.

We must continue to go into space “for the future of humanity,” he added. “I want to encourage public interest in space."

Hawking has made similar comments in the past, suggesting that technological improvements in space travel could make colonizing a new planet feasible in the future. "Sooner or later disasters such as an asteroid collision or a nuclear war could wipe us all out," he told BBC radio in 2006. "But once we spread out into space and establish independent colonies, our future should be safe." In 2010, he said humanity's future "must be" in space.

Hawking also answered several pre-submitted questions during his Sydney appearance, including a surprising one about Zayn Malik's departure from pop band One Direction. "Finally, a question about something important," he said. Hawking used the opportunity to share his thoughts on the possibility of multiple universes.

"One day there may well be proof of multiple universes," he said. "It would not be beyond the realms of possibility that somewhere outside of our own universe lies another different universe. And in that universe, Zayn is still in One Direction."

Watch a full video of Hawking's remarks below:

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Post-Ebola Sierra Leone: Leadership Needed to Keep Pregnant Young Girls in School

Tue, 04/28/2015 - 22:48
Photo credit: Idris Kpange


When the Ebola crisis hit West Africa closing schools indefinitely, I know I was not the only person who slowly laid their head on the desk and sighed. I knew what education professionals have always known. This would be a long fight. Not only would education -- often the first sacrifice in times of emergency -- be the last to recover from this crisis, for many children the door to their education would always remain closed.

More than 5 million children were kept out of school some for nearly a year. The longer students are out of school and the more they fall behind, the more likely they are to never return.

Out-of-school children -- particularly in poor settings -- are at high risk of abuse and exploitation as real or perceived opportunities for the future narrow particularly for already poor families. Rates of child labor and child marriage rise quickly with school closures as do sexual and other types of violence. Within just a few short months of school closures many female students in primary school were visibly pregnant.

Then it went from bad to worse.

In Sierra Leone, where re-opening schools has taken the longest, Dr. Minkailu Bah, the Minister of Education, decreed that 'visibly pregnant' girls can not return to school at all. The Council of School Principals and the Head Teachers Association backed the decree noting that pregnant girls will be a 'bad influence' on other more 'innocent' girls. Not only is this a poorly cloaked assault on the right to education for these girls, it ignores the reality of what young girls in Sierra Leone face in terms of control over their bodies as well as access to reproductive health services.

According to well known Sierra Leonean education advocate Chernor Bah, who has been strongly speaking out against this policy, roughly 85% of girls in Sierra Leone aged 15-24 years said their first sexual encounter was with a man at least ten years older and less than 10% of women of reproductive age use any method of contraception. Assuming that some girls are actually able to make choices and be in control of their bodies, even during a prolonged quarantine, health clinics overwhelmed with Ebola were not providing reproductive counseling and services.

Lack of access to health services, education and basic child protection measures have created a crisis for girls and young women in Sierra Leone -- leading to high rates of child marriage and teen pregnancy. Education -- not shaming the mothers of the next generation -- is critical to end this crisis.

Every year that a girl stays in school increases her chances and the chances of her children of basic survival. This is likely one reason why Sierra Leone's president Ernest Koroma recently committed the government to pay school and exam fees, and provide supplies, for public school students for the next two years.

To show true revolutionary vision, President Koroma will also stop efforts to push pregnant girls out of the classroom, deny their right to education and pretend that they are the source of their own poverty and exploitation.

This moment is an opportunity for President Koroma to not only to stand up for these girls and provide services so they can have healthy pregnancies and finish their education, but also to have a real national conversation about the root causes of these and other young pregnancies. This conversation should include the creation of strategies to empower girls to prevent coercive sex and to report rape and abuse, strengthen the legal system to enforce the child marriage ban, and create a system that protects and values girls rather than punishing them for things that are beyond their control.

President Koroma will show true leadership by supporting pregnant girls to get back in classrooms, finish their education and raise their children to do the same.

Let Pregnant Girls Go to School! Sign the Petition!

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Mayors Banding Together To Fight Climate Change

Tue, 04/28/2015 - 22:42
Momentum is building toward December's summit on climate change in Paris. Unlike the 2009 Copenhagen summit, where high hopes were dashed by low politics, this time the world's two biggest polluting countries (the U.S. and China) are onboard.

Political leaders will find it harder than ever to avoid their responsibilities.

The shameful truth is that the slow response to this urgent issue means some climate change is now inevitable.

But we must not waver from the common goal of limiting a global temperature rise to 2 degrees.

The United States has committed to reducing their greenhouse-gas emissions by 26-28 percent below its 2005 levels in 2025. The European Union has put forward a target of 40 percent. And Japan is expected to announce a target of at least 20 percent.

Developing nations like Mexico and China have agreed to reduce their emissions after 2026 and 2030, respectively.

These announcements are an important benchmark for other countries, including Australia. We have the highest greenhouse emissions per capita in the developed world, and our commitment is crucial to a successful global approach to tackling climate change.

Commitments from national governments are the crucial foundation for keeping us below a 2-degree-temperature rise.

Cities are where these national commitments will turn from words to action. Cities are economic hubs, driving development, growth and investment. But cities are also causing more than 70 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions.

We must improve on the 20th century model of urban sprawl, fossil-fuel consumption and private motor-vehicle transport, or preventing runaway climate change may not be possible.

Fortunately, a number of mayors are leading the way, and those who are taking action are seeing the economic and health benefits of investing in sustainable climate solutions.

In Sydney, our Sustainable Sydney 2030 long-term plan lays out a vision for becoming a green, global and connected city. We are on track to meet our ambitious greenhouse-gas-reduction target of 70 percent below 2006 levels by 2030.

As well as planning for a city driven by clean energy, we are forming profitable partnerships with the private sector to reduce emissions today.

Our Better Buildings Partnership with property owners covers more than half of the Sydney CBD's commercial-floor space. The program has reduced emissions in these buildings by 35 percent, putting it ahead of schedule to reach the 70 percent target by 2030. Businesses have also slashed their energy bills by $30 million a year.

Our efforts are based on our belief that addressing climate change promotes both growth and livability -- and we are not alone. While national governments have struggled to work together to solve the global-climate crisis, mayors are cooperating through organizations like the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) to deliver concrete results.

Sydney will co-chair the C40 Private Sector Buildings Energy Efficiency Network with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. We're hoping to share some of the secrets of our success with them, and other cities.

Seoul is reducing their entire city's energy demand by the equivalent output of one nuclear power plant, through energy conservation and the use of renewable-energy sources.

By 2020, San Francisco will be diverting 100 percent of its garbage away from landfill, avoiding enormous amounts of greenhouse gases. In 2010, they were already diverting 80 percent away from landfill.

These are examples we can all learn from. If Chicago has a great idea, Johannesburg can benefit. If Singapore is taking effective action, Mumbai can gain, too.

In 2012, we began to replace our street lights with new LED bulbs. This was an idea we borrowed from Los Angeles, and it has already cut emissions from street light by more than 46 percent.

City leaders across the globe are pulling together and pulling their weight.

In the coming weeks, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott will decide whether our country is a climate lifter or a climate leaner. The success of global-climate negotiations rests on this kind of decision.

The economic consequences of failing to act are serious. Over the past 12 months, investment in the renewable-energy sector in Australia has collapsed because of the Abbott Government's unwillingness to take serious action. This investment is now headed to other cities and regions that support clean energy, while we miss out on a global boom in the industries of the future.

If Prime Minister Abbott makes the wrong decision, he will make Australia an international pariah that cowers from its duty to act.

The world is now moving, and it is time for Australia to step up. The City of Sydney is ready to support an ambitious target that Australia puts into place, and to lend our full weight to achieve those goals.

Clover Moore is Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney. Sydney is one of 75 city members of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, which -- along with UN Special Envoy Michael Bloomberg and other city networks -- has launched the Compact of Mayors, the world's largest cooperative effort among cities to fight climate change.

This post is part of a Huffington Post What's Working series on the environment. The series is putting a spotlight on initiatives and solutions that are actually making a difference -- whether in the battle against climate change, or tackling pollution or other environmental challenges. To see all the posts in the series, read here.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Categories: News Monitor

Mayors Banding Together To Fight Climate Change

Tue, 04/28/2015 - 22:42
Momentum is building toward December's summit on climate change in Paris. Unlike the 2009 Copenhagen summit, where high hopes were dashed by low politics, this time the world's two biggest polluting countries (the U.S. and China) are onboard.

Political leaders will find it harder than ever to avoid their responsibilities.

The shameful truth is that the slow response to this urgent issue means some climate change is now inevitable.

But we must not waver from the common goal of limiting a global temperature rise to 2 degrees.

The United States has committed to reducing their greenhouse-gas emissions by 26-28 percent below its 2005 levels in 2025. The European Union has put forward a target of 40 percent. And Japan is expected to announce a target of at least 20 percent.

Developing nations like Mexico and China have agreed to reduce their emissions after 2026 and 2030, respectively.

These announcements are an important benchmark for other countries, including Australia. We have the highest greenhouse emissions per capita in the developed world, and our commitment is crucial to a successful global approach to tackling climate change.

Commitments from national governments are the crucial foundation for keeping us below a 2-degree-temperature rise.

Cities are where these national commitments will turn from words to action. Cities are economic hubs, driving development, growth and investment. But cities are also causing more than 70 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions.

We must improve on the 20th century model of urban sprawl, fossil-fuel consumption and private motor-vehicle transport, or preventing runaway climate change may not be possible.

Fortunately, a number of mayors are leading the way, and those who are taking action are seeing the economic and health benefits of investing in sustainable climate solutions.

In Sydney, our Sustainable Sydney 2030 long-term plan lays out a vision for becoming a green, global and connected city. We are on track to meet our ambitious greenhouse-gas-reduction target of 70 percent below 2006 levels by 2030.

As well as planning for a city driven by clean energy, we are forming profitable partnerships with the private sector to reduce emissions today.

Our Better Buildings Partnership with property owners covers more than half of the Sydney CBD's commercial-floor space. The program has reduced emissions in these buildings by 35 percent, putting it ahead of schedule to reach the 70 percent target by 2030. Businesses have also slashed their energy bills by $30 million a year.

Our efforts are based on our belief that addressing climate change promotes both growth and livability -- and we are not alone. While national governments have struggled to work together to solve the global-climate crisis, mayors are cooperating through organizations like the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) to deliver concrete results.

Sydney will co-chair the C40 Private Sector Buildings Energy Efficiency Network with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. We're hoping to share some of the secrets of our success with them, and other cities.

Seoul is reducing their entire city's energy demand by the equivalent output of one nuclear power plant, through energy conservation and the use of renewable-energy sources.

By 2020, San Francisco will be diverting 100 percent of its garbage away from landfill, avoiding enormous amounts of greenhouse gases. In 2010, they were already diverting 80 percent away from landfill.

These are examples we can all learn from. If Chicago has a great idea, Johannesburg can benefit. If Singapore is taking effective action, Mumbai can gain, too.

In 2012, we began to replace our street lights with new LED bulbs. This was an idea we borrowed from Los Angeles, and it has already cut emissions from street light by more than 46 percent.

City leaders across the globe are pulling together and pulling their weight.

In the coming weeks, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott will decide whether our country is a climate lifter or a climate leaner. The success of global-climate negotiations rests on this kind of decision.

The economic consequences of failing to act are serious. Over the past 12 months, investment in the renewable-energy sector in Australia has collapsed because of the Abbott Government's unwillingness to take serious action. This investment is now headed to other cities and regions that support clean energy, while we miss out on a global boom in the industries of the future.

If Prime Minister Abbott makes the wrong decision, he will make Australia an international pariah that cowers from its duty to act.

The world is now moving, and it is time for Australia to step up. The City of Sydney is ready to support an ambitious target that Australia puts into place, and to lend our full weight to achieve those goals.

Clover Moore is Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney. Sydney is one of 75 city members of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, which -- along with UN Special Envoy Michael Bloomberg and other city networks -- has launched the Compact of Mayors, the world's largest cooperative effort among cities to fight climate change.

This post is part of a Huffington Post What's Working series on the environment. The series is putting a spotlight on initiatives and solutions that are actually making a difference -- whether in the battle against climate change, or tackling pollution or other environmental challenges. To see all the posts in the series, read here.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Categories: News Monitor

Nepal Earthquake Left Tens Of Thousands Of Pregnant Women Without Care. Here's Who's Helping

Tue, 04/28/2015 - 22:37
Even before the devastating magnitude-7.8 earthquake rocked Nepal’s capital on Saturday, the maternal health system there was severely compromised. Now, amid the carnage and destroyed hospitals, tens of thousands of pregnant women are facing even more troubling conditions.

As of Monday afternoon, the death toll topped 4,000 people, according to the Associated Press, as aid organizations scrambled to deliver food, water and emergency medical aid to survivors in need. But, as is often the case when disaster strikes, pregnant women remain one of the most vulnerable populations because of the vigilant care they require and the high risks they face.

“In times of upheaval or natural disasters, pregnancy-related deaths and gender-based violence soar,” Priya Marwah, a UNFPA humanitarian response coordinator, said in a statement. “Many women lose access to essential reproductive health services and give birth in appalling conditions without access to safe delivery services and lifesaving care.”

Such “appalling conditions” include babies being born outside with no medical resources whatsoever.

Matt Darvas, a communications officer with World Vision, said he witnessed women delivering in fields lying on only yoga mats, according to a statement released by organization.

Many of the clinics are simply too overstretched to cater to these women’s needs and some pregnant patients are reluctant to return to the hospital because of fears of aftershocks.

"I saw one baby born in front of me, an incredible testimony to the power of life amidst so much death and chaos," Darvas, who was stationed at the Western Regional Hospital, Pokhara hospital, said in a statement.

Pregnant women and new moms require a whole host of services, including antenatal care, safe delivery services and postpartum care.

But considering that clinics have been devastated, prices for essentials are soaring and the maternal health situation was already grim before the disaster, thousands of pregnant women and new moms simply can’t get access to the health care they need, according to UNFPA.

While maternal deaths have significantly declined in Nepal, advocates are concerned about the country’s dearth of qualified health staff, midwives in particular, Irin News reported in 2013.

Three-fourths of the pregnant women are anemic, according to UNICEF and many misuse a prescription drug that stimulates contractions.

While oxytocin is safe for pregnant women to use in small doses, many women in Nepal take it to excess to induce premature births, often to time the delivery with a religious holiday, according to Doctors Without Borders. The drug can lead to fetal and neonatal deaths, and ruptures of the uterus.

While most aid groups are working on bringing the basic essentials to survivors, a number of groups are focusing their efforts on the needs of pregnant women.

The UNFPA is dispensing emergency staff members who are delivering dignity kits and reproductive health kits to Nepal. The dignity kits include such items as sanitary napkins, soap, toothbrushes and towels.

The reproductive health kits provide tools needed for vaginal tears, blood transfusions and other medical issues that arise during delivery.

“The fund is particularly concerned about the fate of pregnant women who have been affected by this tragedy, including those who might face potentially life-threatening complications,” Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA executive director, said in a statement on the disaster. “All efforts will be exerted to support their safety and the safety of their babies.”

The button below indicates how much has been raised on Crowdrise's "Nepal Earthquake Relief" page. Click to visit the site and donate.


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Fundraising Websites - Crowdrise





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-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Categories: News Monitor

Nepal Earthquake Left Tens Of Thousands Of Pregnant Women Without Care. Here's Who's Helping

Tue, 04/28/2015 - 22:37
Even before the devastating magnitude-7.8 earthquake rocked Nepal’s capital on Saturday, the maternal health system there was severely compromised. Now, amid the carnage and destroyed hospitals, tens of thousands of pregnant women are facing even more troubling conditions.

As of Monday afternoon, the death toll topped 4,000 people, according to the Associated Press, as aid organizations scrambled to deliver food, water and emergency medical aid to survivors in need. But, as is often the case when disaster strikes, pregnant women remain one of the most vulnerable populations because of the vigilant care they require and the high risks they face.

“In times of upheaval or natural disasters, pregnancy-related deaths and gender-based violence soar,” Priya Marwah, a UNFPA humanitarian response coordinator, said in a statement. “Many women lose access to essential reproductive health services and give birth in appalling conditions without access to safe delivery services and lifesaving care.”

Such “appalling conditions” include babies being born outside with no medical resources whatsoever.

Matt Darvas, a communications officer with World Vision, said he witnessed women delivering in fields lying on only yoga mats, according to a statement released by organization.

Many of the clinics are simply too overstretched to cater to these women’s needs and some pregnant patients are reluctant to return to the hospital because of fears of aftershocks.

"I saw one baby born in front of me, an incredible testimony to the power of life amidst so much death and chaos," Darvas, who was stationed at the Western Regional Hospital, Pokhara hospital, said in a statement.

Pregnant women and new moms require a whole host of services, including antenatal care, safe delivery services and postpartum care.

But considering that clinics have been devastated, prices for essentials are soaring and the maternal health situation was already grim before the disaster, thousands of pregnant women and new moms simply can’t get access to the health care they need, according to UNFPA.

While maternal deaths have significantly declined in Nepal, advocates are concerned about the country’s dearth of qualified health staff, midwives in particular, Irin News reported in 2013.

Three-fourths of the pregnant women are anemic, according to UNICEF and many misuse a prescription drug that stimulates contractions.

While oxytocin is safe for pregnant women to use in small doses, many women in Nepal take it to excess to induce premature births, often to time the delivery with a religious holiday, according to Doctors Without Borders. The drug can lead to fetal and neonatal deaths, and ruptures of the uterus.

While most aid groups are working on bringing the basic essentials to survivors, a number of groups are focusing their efforts on the needs of pregnant women.

The UNFPA is dispensing emergency staff members who are delivering dignity kits and reproductive health kits to Nepal. The dignity kits include such items as sanitary napkins, soap, toothbrushes and towels.

The reproductive health kits provide tools needed for vaginal tears, blood transfusions and other medical issues that arise during delivery.

“The fund is particularly concerned about the fate of pregnant women who have been affected by this tragedy, including those who might face potentially life-threatening complications,” Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA executive director, said in a statement on the disaster. “All efforts will be exerted to support their safety and the safety of their babies.”

The button below indicates how much has been raised on Crowdrise's "Nepal Earthquake Relief" page. Click to visit the site and donate.


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width: 298px !important;
margin-left: 0 !important;
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Fundraising Websites - Crowdrise





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-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Categories: News Monitor

Pope Francis Just Made New York's Rabbi Arthur Schneier A Papal Knight

Tue, 04/28/2015 - 22:36
NEW YORK (AP) - A Park Avenue synagogue rabbi has received a papal knighthood.

Arthur Schneier of the Park East Synagogue was honored Monday for his work on behalf of religious freedom and international peace.

The Wall Street Journal (http://on.wsj.com/1IimP8P) says Schneier was knighted and made a member of the Papal Order of St. Sylvester at a Manhattan ceremony. Previous luminaries who have held the title include comedian Bob Hope and industrialist Oskar Schindler.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan says the recognition was Pope Francis' "touching and tender way of confirming" Schneier's good works.

During his career, the 84-year-old Holocaust survivor campaigned for greater religious freedom and tolerance. He also built ties between Jews and Roman Catholics after World War II.

Schneier has been affiliated with Park East Synagogue since 1962.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Categories: News Monitor