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Updated: 1 min 9 sec ago

ISIS Declares War on Mohammad's Covenant

42 min 55 sec ago
Back when ISIS was still expanding into the multi-ethnic and religiously diverse northern Iraq, not just Yazidis but also the country's 1 million Christians were some of their main targets. They were asked to either convert or leave, otherwise they would be killed. All along, churches were being bombed or burnt to the ground.

Most of the Christians that used to inhabit those areas of the Levant where ISIS now rules have been displaced, in an act of religious/ethnic cleansing more thorough than any that Saddam had ever achieved. And ISIS is still working through the backlog of churches to be destroyed. Only recently they destroyed one that was described as equivalent to Canterbury Cathedral.

Muslim scholars I have spoken to have stated that such actions are completely un-Islamic, strictly against Sharia and a blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad more serious than any they can think of from history. The Qur'an commands Muslims to follow Muhammad and his example:

"O you who believe! Obey God and obey the Messenger" (4:59)

This and dozens of other verses in the Qur'an compel Muslims to obey Muhammad. And this is why Sharia law is based not just on the Qur'an, but also on the Sunnah, the words, the life and the practices of the Prophet.

And the Prophet Mohammad was very clear about how Muslims should treat Christians. He entered a treaty with them which deserves to be quoted in full here:

This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.

Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them.

No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims' houses.

Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God's covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.

No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants.

No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).

("Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad with the Monks of Mount Sinai", CE 628)

These words were written in a Patent given by the Prophet Muhammad in Medina to a delegation of Christian monks from St. Catherine's Monastery at Mount Sinai. The Patent was signed with the Prophetic seal.

The original has since been moved from St. Catherine's monastery by Sultan Selim I of the Ottoman Empire in 1517, and today can be seen in the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul. When he took the document from the monastery, the Sultan and Caliph of Islam Selim renewed its terms and gave the resident monks a copy.

The Prophet granted unconditional protection and what today we would recognise as basic human rights to Christians, near and far. All true Caliphs since then have observed this treaty, as they have been compelled to do till the Last Day (IE this treat can not be abrogated). There are few things in the Sharia that can be as clear as this prescription towards Christians.

But today, Wahhabi clerics and ISIS fanatics seem to think that they know better than the Prophet himself how to be good Muslims. And that now includes destroying all churches, in direct violation of God's covenant.

Wahhabis say they want to emulate the life and times of the Prophet. ISIS and their "Caliph" want to rebuild the original Caliphate to represent the entire ummah. So why are their teachings and their actions then exactly opposed to those of the very first Islamic state of Muhammad in Medina (CE 622)?

The Prophet's Constitution of Medina brought together what Muslim scholars describe as an ummah wahidah where all the residents of the state, Muslims, Jews, Christians and pagans, ensured religious freedom, gave all groups representation, established the security of women and declared that no weapon can be carried or blood be spilled on the haram land of the Islamic state.

Has there ever been a group of people to call themselves "Muslim", while they spit on the Prophet's treaties written on paper, they dishonour his law and precedent, and with the most breath-taking arrogance claim that they know better how to be good Muslims by calling itself a "Caliphate"? Has there ever been any group of people in the world that has blasphemed so obscenely against God's covenant and God's Prophet before?

Dr Azeem Ibrahim is an International Security Lecturer at the University of Chicago and Adj Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute US Army War College
Categories: News Monitor

The Sooner Alberta Weans Itself From Its Resource Addiction, the Better

43 min 4 sec ago
Any Canadians curious about where Prime Minister Stephen Harper's plan to turn the country into an energy superpower is heading need look no further than the provincial budget just tabled by Alberta. The collapse in oil prices has turned a once-enviable budget surplus into a monster $5-billion deficit.

What makes Alberta's current predicament even more troubling is how little of its royalty wealth the province has saved. In the last 25-plus years, Alberta has contributed barely anything to its Heritage Savings Fund, which was established in the mid-1970s by Premier Peter Lougheed. It now stands at $17 billion, which is a mere pittance compared to its potential. And it's not like this is a case of twenty-twenty hindsight. Over the years, Albertans have consistently wondered why its Conservative governments weren't being more prudent with their oil wealth.

When sovereign wealth funds are discussed, the first example out of the box is typically Norway, which has put away nearly $900 billion despite only starting to save its North Sea oil royalties in 1990. A more damning comparison that highlights the ironic fiscal myopia of oil-rich, Tory-dominated Alberta, though, is tiny East Timor. Compared to Alberta, the southeastern Asian island nation has a fraction of the oil and gas production, a third of the population, and considerable social and political unrest. Yet, it also boasts a wealth fund equal in size.

Instead of saving, Alberta governments have put resource royalties towards financing the so-called Alberta Advantage, part of which included a flat 10 percent personal income tax rate and no provincial sales tax. In theory, such choices are designed to attract other industries to the province in much the same way that Texas, which has no state income tax, tries to use its oil revenues to convince companies in footloose industries, like electronics, to set up shop in the state. In practice, the main beneficiary of the province's policy decisions, as ever, is Alberta's oil industry, as the rapid expansion of the oil sands will attest.

Premier Jim Prentice has vowed to wean the province from its fiscal dependence on oil, a promise Albertans have heard before. The last time oil prices crashed in 2008, then Finance Minister Ron Liepert pledged to do the same. Since then, Alberta has only become even more dependent on resource royalties, as production from the oil sands continued to march higher. Should Albertans believe this government anymore than the others? Neither side, as it happens, may have a choice.

The problems of Alberta's oversized and high-cost oil sands industry aren't due to a wild, yet cyclical part of the commodity price roller coaster that will ultimately self-correct. We now have nearly a decade of evidence that shows the high crude prices counted on by the oil sands industry aren't compatible with healthy global economic growth. Not only have those prices produced the deepest recession of the post-war era, but the ensuing recovery also continues to be among the weakest on record.

What's more, Alberta's oil sands also faces new competition for refinery space from the millions of barrels of tight oil that's being fracked from previously inaccessible shale formations. Not long ago, US shale production, which now doubles the output from the oil sands, was off the radar.

Even more troubling for Alberta's oil industry, as well as future provincial budgets, is the global move towards reducing carbon emissions. The world doesn't yet have a binding global agreement on emissions in place, but that hasn't stopped individual countries from taking their own steps. Consider the measures adopted to fight coal-fired emissions in the U.S. and China, the world's two largest coal-burning economies. The new rules have hurt coal prices and the value of coal companies as much as any future global pact likely could.

Alberta's government should be thinking deeply about what happens when countries turn their attention from the coal-fired emissions pouring out of smokestacks to the oil-fired ones spewing out of tailpipes. According to the International Energy Agency, the fight against climate change means world oil demand will need to peak in the next five years and then start falling considerably in order to keep atmospheric carbon from reaching even more dangerous levels.

The new realities of climate change mean Premier Prentice may be right in spite of himself. The imprint of oil revenues on future provincial budgets is bound to become much fainter, as will the oil industry's profile to Alberta's economy. In a world of increasing carbon constraints and low economic growth, the oil sands look more like a stranded asset than the source of any fiscal advantage. The sooner Alberta can wean itself from its resource addiction, the better off the province will be in the long run.
Categories: News Monitor

Looking Local: Addressing Hunger, Poverty and WASH

2 hours 6 min ago

Why does hunger persist in a world of plenty? In a world that has made so much progress in achieving many of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), cutting extreme poverty in half by 2010, why has it not yet cut hunger in half? Most people are surprised that it has virtually nothing to do with food supply, and far more to do with sexism, open defecation and weak local government.



India has the world's largest share of hunger -- more hungry people than all of Africa combined. Experts estimate that half of that hunger is a result of water-borne disease caused by open defecation. With 17 percent of the world's population, India has 61 percent of the world's open defecation. And the greatest reason this practice persists is that women have been denied voice in decision-making.



Hunger is a violation of human rights, and human rights are built on the concept of human dignity. There is perhaps nothing more fundamental to our human dignity than water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). When that human right is secure, we might take it for granted. But for the millions of children whose nutrition is destroyed by water-borne diseases, and for the billion-plus women and girls who risk sexual assault daily simply for lack of access to a toilet, it is a critical political issue.



WASH politics are local. If the pipes are broken, you shouldn't have to travel to your national capital to get them fixed. You need someone within reach to hold to account. This is why I am such a passionate advocate for strong, participatory local democracy. When you visit communities where the water doesn't work, you can bet that underneath that problem is a lack of local democracy.



The good news is that the long-standing issues of sexual assault, nutrition and open defecation are finally getting public attention in the media. India has elected a prime minister famous for his pledge "toilets before temples." Yet fulfilling this pledge requires local action.



Fortunately, an earlier prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, championed a constitutional amendment reserving 1/3 of all seats in local government for women. In deeply patriarchal rural India, which suppressed women's voice for thousands of years, women are now discovering their voice and learning to flex their political muscles. My Hunger Project colleagues in India have worked with 100,000 of these elected women representatives to build their leadership skills and advocacy networks. Our work is based on an innovative, holistic approach, which empowers women and men living in rural villages to become the agents of their own development and make sustainable progress in overcoming hunger and poverty, including through WASH.



Twenty-four-year-old Nepura Mahji, a tribal woman from the impoverished state of Odisha, was a rare high school graduate from her village and one of the few whose home had a toilet. She was elected to be the village council president in 2012 and made it her mission to protect the women of her village: "I know that women without toilets at home are vulnerable while walking miles in the dark to find a private place to relieve themselves. I could well imagine their painful situation particularly during menstruation." She educated her community on diseases caused by open defecation and helped people understand how toilets will improve their lives. She ran into bureaucratic obstacles, however, and even had to file a Right-to-Information request to find out what funds were allocated for water and sanitation. After repeated efforts, she secured funds for 222 household toilets and has repaired broken water pumps.



Rekha Devi, from the even poorer state of Bihar, had been dependent on making hand-rolled cigarettes (Beedi) for a living before running for local election in 2011. She, too, took up the challenge of sanitation -- seeking to clean up the open sewage drains in the village. Her council president stonewalled her. She went to the local newspapers and made the filthy conditions a front-page issue. The council president caved, granting the $200 required to solve the problem. Rekha is now taking on securing a clean water supply for everyone in her community.



Women like Nepura and Rekha are making a difference in hunger and poverty in their communities by tackling the issue of WASH through the local government system. Their efforts are improving the nutrition of the children of their communities, allowing other women to study or engage in livelihood activities, and creating an environment where women's voices can be heard.



Twenty years ago, my colleagues in The Hunger Project-India studied whether water projects launched by NGOs or the state government were more effective. They frankly thought the evidence would favor NGOs. But they found that both failed equally -- the only determinant of success was the engagement of local government.



When I visited my Midwestern parents after my first visit to India, they asked what it was like. I was at a loss for words. I simply asked them to be grateful that they had a metropolitan sewer district -- people locally accountable for a thankless but essential responsibility.



More stories like those of Rekha and Napura can be found at thp.org/water.



This blog post is part of the "WASH and the MDGs: The Ripple Effect" blog series, in partnership with WASH Advocates, addressing the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) to global development. To see all the other posts in the series, click here. To learn more about WASH, visit the WASH Advocates website, and for more information about the Millennium Development Goals, click here.
Categories: News Monitor

Report Finds Honolulu VA Supervisor Manipulated Veterans' Data

3 hours 40 min ago
HONOLULU (AP) — A supervisor at the Veterans Administration office in Honolulu was manipulating data to make it look like the agency was processing veterans' benefits claims faster it actually was, according to a new report by the VA Office of Inspector General.

The data manipulation happened last year when there was heightened scrutiny nationwide over how long veterans were waiting to see doctors. The electronic records altered in Honolulu dealt with benefits claims, not medical appointments. But the finding underscores that there are ongoing problems within the system.

The Honolulu supervisor was removing controls in the electronic record that are used to track and identify the progress of claims.

"It made his performance measures for his team look better than they actually were," said Brent Arronte, director of the San Diego Benefits Inspection Division of the VA Office of Inspector General.

Those data manipulations resulted in delays for the delivery of benefits to veterans, including benefits like payments for dependents, Arronte said.

There has been no indication that the manipulation was particularly widespread, but it wasn't unique. "We haven't seen this at all 57 regional offices. We have seen it at a few. I think four additional ones aside from Honolulu," he said.

The Hawaii investigation was originally prompted by the Honolulu VA Regional Office, which asked the inspectors to review 147 cases from April through August 2014 in which it was believed the supervisor had removed the controls used to track claims. The inspectors reviewed 139 of those — because the others were located at a different facility — and found that the supervisor inappropriately manipulated the records in 100 of the cases, a rate of about 72 percent.

The Office of Inspector General then reviewed another 48 cases selected at random and found that the supervisor had removed the controls in 43 claims — nearly 90 percent of those records.

Each claim corresponds to an individual person, so there were 143 veterans known to be affected, although the extent of the impact wasn't yet known, Arronte said. Since 90 percent of the randomly selected records were manipulated, the actual number of affected veterans could be much higher.

"If anybody was harmed, they're going to fix it," Arronte said.

The Honolulu Regional Office worked closely with the inspectors to address areas addressed in the report and took corrective actions on all cases that were improperly processed, said Patrick Zondervan, acting director of the VA Regional Office Honolulu, in an email.

The supervisor in question has resigned, the report said.

Elisa Smithers, a member of the Hawaii Army National Guard and veteran of combat tours in Iraq and Kuwait, said she knows soldiers in Hawaii who are having issues with benefit delays. But her experiences with the VA system have improved since the summer, when she and others testified about problems getting medical care.

The claims inventory in Honolulu — which includes disability compensation and pension claims that need a decision from the VA — was reduced from 6,059 in January 2013 to 2,692 this week, according to Zondervan's office. Veterans with a pending claim in Honolulu are waiting on average 227 days less for a decision than those that were waiting in March 2013, he said.
Categories: News Monitor

Russia-Ukraine Conflict 101

4 hours 1 min ago


Ukraine Majority Language Map

If it's possible to condense the incomprehensibly complex Russia/Ukraine conflict into one coherent hour, Matthew Rojansky can do it. Rojansky, Director of the Kennan Institute, and an expert on the region, proved that in a recent presentation at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club. A listener who blinked could miss a paragraph, but Rojansky's fast-paced illustrated lecture had most of his audience too engaged to blink. What follows is an abbreviated summary of the presentation.

For openers, Rojansky explained that Ukraine, under now-deposed leader Viktor Yanukovych, was "a society absolutely primed for revolt. A few years ago," Rojansky said. "I moved to Kiev with my family, (finding) Yanukovych one of the most corrupt politicians in history -- and that's saying something."

Illustrating his point, Rojansky showed slides taken during his time in Kiev including views of some of Yanukovych's perks: a heli-pad, a palace with gold, jewel-encrusted design, three-lane bowling alley, billiard room, private floating pirate-themed restaurant reported to have cost a few billion dollars -- a rather definitive picture of excess. Rojansky also mentioned the stuffed lion guarding a corridor leading to the nail salon and spa, and a collection of exotic cars and animals. It was not just personal excess, he said, "There was government corruption on a grand scale."

By the fall of 2013, Ukranian citizens were tiring of this. A peaceful protest known as the Euromaidan began in the square Rojansky, and his family could see from their apartment window. "It was surreal." Public sentiment favored closer connections to Europe, Rojansky said, but Yanukovych, instead, signed an agreement with Russia's Vladimir Putin. Thus began the increasing protests fueled largely by social media, with help for the needs of Euromaidan solicited via constant Facebook postings.


Matthew Rojansky

Initially, Rojansky explained, the movement was not political. But also thanks to social media -- Twitter users began receiving messages letting them know they were registered as protesters -- things quickly changed. And on January 16, 2014, the anti-protest laws were passed: No protests, no groups, no gatherings. The movement against abstract corruption became "Yanukovych Must Go." Things came to a crisis when someone gave the order to fire and all-out shooting began. Despite the European Union intervening to broker a deal in late February, Yanukovych escaped -- presumably with boxcars of treasure -- though leaving behind the exotic animals still being cared for on his former palatial estate outside Kiev.

Soon came the time of "the little green men" in Crimea, a significant chunk of Ukraine on the Black Sea. Rojanksy explained that there have always been Russians in Crimea; the little green men wore Russian military garb minus the insignia, carried Russian weaponry, but Putin at the time denied they were sent by Russia.

By May of 2014, Rojansky said, regions of Ukraine that are heavily Russian-speaking began to hold referenda to break away -- not to become independent, but to become part of Russia. Things accelerated significantly with the downing of a Malaysian Airlines plane in July, 2014, and the ground war began. "This was not World War II," Rojanksy explained, but guerilla warfare with terror tactics, firing on civilian buildings, the destruction of the once-beautiful Donetsk airport. "This is insane stuff."

As to what Mr. Putin wants out of all this? Rojansky listed three main points;

1. Domestic politics are life-or-death. If the idea that when regular people take to the streets life gets better catches on, Russians might say "What about us?"

2. Putin has a major image issue. He's the tsar. He is never wrong. There's God, and then there's the Tsar.

3. Geopolitics are important. If Russia and Crimea get together, Putin's bargaining power is greater.

Rojanksky characterizes Ukraine as being between a rock and a Russian hard place. The hard place is boosted by the fact that half the people in Ukraine speak Russian, and many more watch Russian TV with its decidedly nationalist fervor.

For now, Rojansky says the wise course is: "Don't show up giving out cookies. Get observers on the ground as fast as possible, and eyes on the ground on the borders. Watch to see if sanctions are working."

And in the very long term: "Ukraine matters. We have to help Ukraine defeat corruption. Things we can do include letting Ukrainians come here, and knowing about the region." In the end:

"There are no easy answers."

Disclaimer: This writer knows as little about Russia and Ukraine as a few long-ago college courses and one unforgettable trip from Moscow to St. Petersberg might suggest. But listening to Matthew Rojansky's take on the current situation is enough to convince one to pay attention.
Categories: News Monitor

Francis Fukuyama Talks To China About The Sorry State Of American Democracy

4 hours 17 min ago
In this premiere episode of a new Chinese Youku series produced by Guancha.cn, Shanghai scholar/entrepreneur Eric X. Li talks with political scientist Francis Fukuyama about his latest book: “Political Order and Political Decay.”

Francis Fukuyama is well known for the thesis of his seminal post-Cold War book, “The End of History and the Last Man,” which extolled the triumph of liberal democracy after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. In his new book, Fukuyama focuses on the dysfunction and decay of political systems, notably American democracy.

Here are three short video excerpts from the full hour-long discussion held recently in Shanghai.

U.S. Courts Have Too Much Policy-Making Power:


Post-Reagan, America Realized It Needed the State:


Marxism vs. Rising Inequality in China:


Click here to see the full conversation.
Categories: News Monitor

If Obama Can Embrace the Saudi Monarch, Why Can't Putin Greet the North Korean Ruler?

4 hours 22 min ago
VLADIVOSTOK -- Kim Jong-un is scheduled to visit Moscow this May as one of the Kremlin's numerous guests of honor for the 70th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany. This will be his first visit abroad since he succeeded his father Kim Jong-il as the ruler of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in December 2011.

Kim Jong-un's trip to Moscow is one indication of the warming relationship between Russia and North Korea. The past year has seen a flurry of high-level exchanges between Moscow and Pyongyang. The two countries have concluded a number of agreements aimed at expanding their economic ties. To top it off, 2015 was designated official Year of Friendship between Russia and the DPRK. Russia-North Korea relations are now at their best since the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the two communist countries were considered allies.

The current renaissance of Russian-North Korean friendship is due to several reasons. Ostracized and penalized by the U.S.-led West over its actions in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin is seeking closer ties with the regimes that have the reputation of being anti-American. North Korea is clearly among them. Like North Korea, Russia is now a target of Western reprisals, which makes Moscow feel more empathy with Pyongyang. Furthermore, Moscow may probably want to use its increased support for North Korea as additional leverage in its dealings with the Western capitals, Tokyo and Seoul.

That said, I would argue that even without the Ukraine crisis, Russia should have invited Kim Jong-un and would have probably done so. After all, North Korea was liberated by the Soviet troops in the Second World War. It is a sovereign state that neighbors Russia, with the two countries having long-standing connections. True, the DPRK has been under the United Nations sanctions. And Russia has the legal obligation to enforce these sanctions -- which it does. However, the UN sanctions do not prohibit the head of state of North Korea from visiting foreign capitals.

Even though some of the horror stories told by defectors from the DPRK turn out to be concocted there is no denying that the North Korean regime is despotic, brutal and nasty. However, there are quite a few no less unpalatable regimes that are generally in good standing with the West as respectable international citizens. Think, for example, of some Gulf monarchies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the countries where people are jailed, publicly flogged, and can even face execution for expressing liberal views.

North Korea has breached international law to acquire atomic capability, but its primitive nukes are meant for deterrence -- they will only be used if the DPRK's very existence is directly threatened. The North Korean regime -- a quirky mix of Korean nationalism, the Kims' personality cults and Marxism -- has long been in the purely defensive mode. The DPRK's principal goal is to survive, not to pursue any kind of territorial or ideological expansion. On this account, again, the fundamentalist Arab theocracies seem much more dangerous, serving as sources of spiritual and material support for extremist Islamist groups who would gladly destroy Western society. North Korea might have been behind the hacker attack on Sony Pictures as retaliation for a movie mocking Kim Jong-un, but can this cyber mischief be compared to the Islamist massacre at Charlie Hebdo's offices in Paris as retribution for making fun of the Prophet?

North Korean bombastic propaganda may sound awful, but how about Saudi Arabia's officially approved school textbooks that call on youths to wage violent jihad? Yet Western leaders do not have qualms about appearing together with the rulers of Islamist regimes. Last January Barack Obama even cut short his trip to India to go in person to Riyadh to pay respects to the Saudi royal family after the death of King Abdullah. If so, would Vladimir Putin be any less morally justified when he meets with the North Korean autocrat?

Some hope for North Korea?

Unlike the Gulf theocracies, which seem set on promoting "pure Islam" and show little inclination to change their fundamentalist ways, there are indications that North Korea may be liberalizing, at least in the economic realm. Some change is obviously brewing inside the DPRK, including it incrementally becoming more open to the outside world. As one testimony to that, I have recently had a chance to interact with North Korean scholars who talked enthusiastically about their country's policy emphasis on special economic zones to attract foreign trade and investment.

The experience of dealing with Pyongyang shows that the more you pressure and penalize it, the more aggressive it becomes. Rather than trying to isolate North Korea, it may be just the right time to engage it as a recent report by Stanford has suggested.

Kim Jong-un's visit to Moscow, where he will be for the first time exposed to a big international gathering, may be one appropriate step to help North Korea overcome its siege mentality, reduce its feeling of insecurity and thus make the rest of the world a little bit more secure too.
Categories: News Monitor

Saudi Attack on Yemen Aims to Prevent Thaw Between Iran and the West

4 hours 49 min ago
Another bloody, destructive, and quite possibly long war has begun in the Middle East due to intervention by a foreign power in the internal affairs of another nation. A coalition of Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, began bombing Yemen on March 26. The coalition's partners include the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan, and Jordan. It is also supported by Turkey, Pakistan, and Egypt. The bombing, dubbed Operation Decisive Storm, has been receiving intelligence and logistical support from the United States Central Command that is responsible for all the Middle East and southwest Asia.

The goal of the Saudi-led coalition is to defeat the Houthis, who belong to the Shiite branch of Islam and whose forces had overthrown the central government in Sanaa. The Houthis, who represent about 40 percent of Yemen's population, take their name from Hussein Badr Al-Deen Houthi, a Shiite religious leader who had visited Iran in the 1990s, and led the movement until he was killed in 2004.

Saudi Arabia's excuse for the attacks was articulated by Adel al-Jubeir, its ambassador to the United States, who said, "Having Yemen fail cannot be option for us or for our coalition partners." Apparently, the Saudis believed that Yemen was failing because Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen's former president who was supported by Saudi Arabia but was deposed as a result of months of demonstrations in 2012, had sided with the Houthi Shiites. The alliance allowed the Houthis to make rapid progress in their attacks on the central government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and take control of a significant part of Yemen. Hadi fled Yemen and took refuge in Saudi Arabia, and al-Arabiya, the mouthpiece of the Saudi regime, claims that one goal of the military operation is to restore "the legitimate leader" of Yemen to power, never mind that when Hadi was elected, he was the only candidate running in the elections.


"The real reason behind the attacks is one and only one word: Iran."




But, the real reason behind the attacks is one and only one word: Iran. Ever since the Shiites came to power in Iraq in 2004 and Jordan's King Abdullah spoke about a "Shiite Crescent" in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, a religious dictatorship of the worst kind, together with its Sunni allies in the region, which are also dictatorial regimes, have been obsessed with the Shiites and Iran. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, former Saudi Arabia ambassador to the United States and former intelligence chief of Saudi Arabia, said several years ago, "The time is not far off in the Middle East, when it will be literally 'God help the Shia.' More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them." The late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had called for bombing of Iran by the United States.

So, since 2004, the Sunni Arab states have been accusing Iran of aiding the Shiites in the region, including in Yemen. They point, for example, to some Iranian hardliners who have boasted about the Yemeni Shiites' victories. But, the fact is, even though Iran has been involved in Yemen for decades, the wars there have been turf wars, and Iran has never been the kingmaker. Joost Hiltermann, of the International Crisis Group put it this way, "The Iranians are just brilliant. They play no role whatsoever [in Yemen], but they get all the credit, and so they are capitalizing on it."

Saudi Arabia considers the Houthis as Iran's puppets. It is supposedly terrified by the prospect of a Shiite-controlled government in Yemen, viewing it as a copy of the Lebanese Hezbollah, this time on its southern borders. Iran's role in Yemen has, however, been exaggerated. Iran does not view Yemen as having strategic importance to either its national interests or its ambitions for influence in the Middle East. At the same time, getting involved in such a poor and war-torn country at a time when its forces are present in Syria and Iraq, and its economy is still suffering from the weight of Western sanctions, would represent a heavy and unnecessary burden. Iran supports the Lebanese Hezbollah because it views it as its strategic depth against Israel. What does Yemen offer Iran strategically? Not much. Even if the Saudis had not intervened in Yemen, and the Houthis could have formed a government, Iran simply does not have have the resources to prop it up.

Another important reason for the Saudi aggression against Yemen has to do with the negotiations between Iran and P5+1 -- the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. The negotiations, which are opposed by Saudi Arabia, have made great progress, and may soon result in a comprehensive agreement with Iran. The Saudis believe that the agreement will marginalize their country, hurting its strategic significance to the United States. They are well aware that, given Iran's young, educated and dynamic population of nearly 80 million, its strategic position as a bridge between Asia and Europe and in control of the entire northern shores of the Persian Gulf, its rich natural resources in addition to vast reserves of oil and natural gas, and deep and old culture and influence throughout the Middle East, Afghanistan and Central Asia, Saudi Arabia cannot simply compete with Iran, if Iran's relations with the West are improved, and the crippling economic sanctions imposed on Iran are lifted. So, they are doing what they can to poison the negotiations' atmosphere, presenting Iran as a menace to the Middle East that must not be trusted. Saud al Faisal, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, said a few days ago, "It is impossible to give Iran deals it does not deserve."


"The question is, when does the United States finally recognize that it is Iran that is its strategic ally, not the corrupt Sunni Arab regimes of the Middle East?"




Saudi Arabia's aggression against Yemen fits completely with its other actions in the region, intervening in the affairs of other nations of the Middle East. It intervened militarily in Bahrain to suppress the democratic movement there led by the Shiites that represent 70 percent of Bahrain's population. It supported the military coup in Egypt in July 2013 that overthrew the democratically-elected government of President Mohamed Morsi. It intervened in Syria's civil war, transforming it from what had begun as a struggle between the moderate groups and the government of President Bashar al-Assad to a sectarian war between Shiites and Sunnis. As Vice President Joe Biden put it last October at Harvard University, "The Saudis, the Emiratis. . .were so determined to take down [Bashar al-] Assad in essentially a proxy Sunni-Shiite war. What do they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollar and tens of thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad, except that the people who were being, who were being supplied were [Jabhat] al-Nusra], al-Qaeda, and extremist elements of jihadists coming from the parts of the world." So, just to hit Iran and the Shiites, the Saudis supported the worst terrorist groups in the Middle East, hence contributing mightily to the rise of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, in Iraq.

By supporting Saudi Arabia and its contention that it wants to restore the "legitimate president" of Yemen to power, the United States demonstrated once again its double standards. Why is it that the U.S. works closely with the dictatorial regime of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the man who toppled the Morsi government?

Once again we see the difference between Iran and the Sunni Arab regimes of the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, that the United States has been "pampering" by its blind support for them. Despite all of its internal problems regarding the treatment of its citizens and violations of their human rights, Iran is a far more open society than Saudi Arabia has ever been, or can be for the foreseeable future. The question is, when does the United States finally recognize that it is Iran that is its strategic ally, not the corrupt Sunni Arab regimes of the Middle East?



Categories: News Monitor

Impoverished Pregnant Women Forced To Haul Water To Their Own Deliveries. Here's Who's Helping Them

4 hours 50 min ago
After giving birth to twins in a dingy clinic in Tanzania, Doris Alikado wasn’t able to clean herself for 24 hours. But the exhausted mother was at least relieved that she had had enough water to wash her newborns.

Every year, nearly half a million babies in the developing world die before they turn 1 month old because they’re born into unhygienic conditions, a new study released by nonprofit WaterAid found. And though half of hospitals in Africa don’t have access to clean water, the staff are well aware that expecting mothers need it, so many require the patients to cart it themselves to the clinic.

“It was mandatory to take water from home and take it with us for the delivery of the babies,” Alikado, who walked to the clinic while she was in labor, said in an interview with WaterAid.

While Alikado noted that she only had to trek a short distance to the clinic, most other women living in remote areas aren’t quite as fortunate.

Pregnant mothers travel up to two hours, most by foot or by motorcycle, to the Mlali Health Centre in rural Mvomero district in Tanzania, for example, Carolynne Wheeler MacKinnon, WaterAid media officer, and Neil Wissink, WaterAid senior photography officer, wrote in a blog post for Medium.

An already difficult journey, which involves ambling through dark fields and rocky terrain, is made even more difficult for these women who have to carry about 40 to 60 liters of water to the facility with them.

Yet, these women are willing to shoulder the added burden in order to at least try and improve the fraught conditions.

“I felt bad giving birth at the health center without enough safe water because the environment was dirty,” Alikado said.

To help grant women access to sanitation and clean water at clinics worldwide, WaterAid is petitioning the U.N. to include the issue in its new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs, which will be decided on in September, will work to reduce poverty, advance education and foster gender equality, among advancing other human rights issues.

WaterAid is pushing the U.N. to include making clean water and sanitation available to everyone, including healthcare clinics, by 2030.

"Pregnant mothers rely on a birthing environment that, at a minimum, does not place them or their baby at risk, saying nothing of the need for drinking-water or having to leave the facility to search for a toilet," Maria Neira, a WHO expert on public, social and environmental health, said in a statement.

Find out more about the Sustainable Development Goals and how you can push for clean water and sanitation to be included here.

H/T Upworthy

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Categories: News Monitor

Yemen's Former Dictator Is Still Pulling Strings In Current Conflict

4 hours 53 min ago
When Ali Abdullah Saleh came to power in Yemen in 1978, analysts at the CIA predicted that he wouldn't last six months. Almost 40 years later, Saleh is still a political force to be reckoned with.

Saleh, now 73 years old, occupies a unique place among the old guard of authoritarian leaders in the Middle East and North Africa. As the wave of uprisings across the region left heads of state imprisoned or dead, Saleh opted amid massive government protests in 2012 to negotiate for immunity and resign his post after 33 years as president. But while the deal took Saleh from power, it didn't take the power from Saleh.

He remained one of the biggest power brokers in the country. Saleh's successor, current President Abd-Rabo Mansour Hadi, has accused the ousted leader of leveraging his influence to destabilize the transitional government and back rebel groups. The United States, which supports President Hadi, has expressed similar concerns.

Now, as the nation is in the midst of civil war between Houthi militias and those loyal to the Hadi government, Saleh appears to be using the crisis to assert his power once again.

Political maneuvering is second nature to Saleh, who once said that Yemeni politics is like "dancing on the heads of snakes." Analysts have described him as a veteran operator with a Machiavellian ability to manage Yemen's different sectarian demands, which under his rule involved tactical allocation of state funds to rival factions and careful alliance-building.

Saleh seemingly has no permanent allies, but only permanent interests. While he once fought multiple wars against the Houthi rebels, he is now widely accused of being a large factor behind their rise to power. Saleh still commands loyalty among many in the armed forces, and some key members of the country's air force and Republican Guard have defected to join the Houthi rebellion, The New York Times reports.

The U.N. Security Council levied sanctions on the former leader and two Houthi commanders last year for threatening the peace.

On Saturday, Saleh appeared on Yemeni television calling for elections, and attempted to stir up public support against airstrikes that a Saudi Arabia-led coalition has been conducting against the Houthi rebels.

While Saleh has claimed that neither he nor a member of his family would run for president, analysts say he still has his eye on power. Saleh's goal “is not particularly to create chaos in Yemen, but to create enough instability where he and his family are perceived to be the only viable candidates,” Ayham Kamel, Middle East and North Africa director at Eurasia Group, told Bloomberg.

Now that Yemen is the site of a war that includes Saudi-led airstrikes against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, the instability Saleh helped create has indeed tipped over into outright chaos. Saleh may find ample opportunity for political gain in that chaos as the crisis continues to overtake his country.

More from The WorldPost on the crisis in Yemen:

- What To Read To Understand The Crisis In Yemen
- What You Need To Know About The Houthi Militia In Yemen
- Yemen's Capital Fell To A Rebel Group And The World Hardly Noticed
Categories: News Monitor

The Boat, The White Hat, The Survivors: Key Moments In Boston Marathon Trial

5 hours 4 min ago
BOSTON (AP) — The defendant's startling admission on Day One that he did it. Tearful testimony from survivors who lost limbs. The boat. The white hat. As the prosecution rests, here's a look at some of the most compelling moments in the government's case against Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev:

OPENING STATEMENTS

Tsarnaev's lawyer, Judy Clarke, startled a packed courtroom when she bluntly admitted during opening statements, "It was him." In a strategy designed to save him from the death penalty, Clarke told the jury that Tsarnaev had fallen under the malevolent influence of his now-dead older brother, Tamerlan, who she said had become radicalized and drew his brother into his plan to bomb the marathon.

But prosecutor William Weinreb said the two brothers were equal partners in a plan to "tear people apart and create a bloody spectacle" to retaliate against the U.S. for its wars in Muslim lands. The Tsarnaevs — ethnic Chechens — moved to the U.S. from Russia more than a decade before the bombings.

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THE SURVIVORS

People who lost limbs in the explosions delivered heart-wrenching testimony about the moments after the explosions. Rebekah Gregory said she looked down at her leg: "My bones were literally laying next to me on the sidewalk and blood was everywhere. ... At that point, I thought that was the day I would die."


Boston Marathon bombing victim, Rebekah Gregory, right, arrived at Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston, where the second day in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev got underway on March 5, 2015. (Photo by Wendy Maeda/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Bill Richard, the father of 8-year-old Martin Richard, who was killed in the second explosion, described making the agonizing decision to leave his mortally wounded son with his wife so he could get help for his 6-year-old daughter, whose leg had been blown off. "I saw a little boy who had his body severely damaged by an explosion, and I just knew from what I saw that there was no chance," Richard said.

Jeff Bauman, who lost both legs in the attack, recalled locking eyes with Tamerlan Tsarnaev just before the first bomb exploded. "He was alone. He wasn't watching the race," Bauman said. Bauman, who gave the FBI a description of Tamerlan from his hospital bed, became a symbol of the attack when he was captured in an Associated Press photograph as he was wheeled away from the bombing scene, ashen-faced and holding onto his ravaged legs.

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THE BOAT

Investigators work, on Saturday, April 20, 2013, near the location in Watertown, Mass., where police captured Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in a backyard boat after a wild car chase and gun battle earlier in the day left his older brother dead. (AP Photo/Katie Zezima)

Jurors were taken to South Boston to see the boat Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured hiding in four days after the bombings. On the inside walls of the boat, Tsarnaev wrote and carved a note denouncing the U.S. for its actions in Muslim lands. "Stop killing our innocent people and we will stop," he wrote. Jurors also saw more than 100 bullet holes on the sides of the boat, which was fired at by police before Tsarnaev was captured.

___

THE WHITE HAT

This Monday, April 15, 2013 photo provided by Bob Leonard shows bombing suspects Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, center right in black hat, and his brother, Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, 19, center left in white hat, approximately 10-20 minutes before the blasts that struck the Boston Marathon. (AP Photo/Bob Leonard)

An FBI agent showed jurors the white cap Tsarnaev wore during the attack. In video and still photos released by the FBI three days after the bombings, Tsarnaev was seen wearing a white cap backward. The FBI referred to him as "White Hat" until they learned his identity.



___

THE KILLING OF THE POLICE OFFICER

Jurors heard the frantic radio call made by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer who found fellow Officer Sean Collier mortally wounded in his cruiser. "Officer down! Officer down! ... Get on it!" the officer yelled. A medical examiner testified that Collier, 26, was shot three times in the head, including one shot between the eyes. Tsarnaev's lawyer said it was Tamerlan who shot Collier. An MIT graduate student who was riding his bike by the scene around the time of the shooting identified Dzhokhar as the man he saw leaning into Collier's cruiser.


A Ruger pistol, that was shown during the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev federal death penalty trial, is displayed at a conference room at the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse in Boston, Tuesday, March 17, 2015. Authorities say the P-95 Ruger was the gun used to kill MIT police officer Sean Collier. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)


___

CARJACK VICTIM

Dun Meng testified about a harrowing ride he had with the Tsarnaev brothers the night of April 18, 2013, hours after the FBI publicly released photos of the two men as suspects in the bombings. Meng said he pulled his car to the side of the road to respond to a text message when suddenly a man jumped in, pointed a gun at him and told him to drive. Meng said the man — Tamerlan Tsarnaev — told him he had committed the Boston Marathon bombings. Meng testified that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev later joined them in the car, took his bank card and withdrew $800 from an ATM in Watertown. Meng said he jumped from the car when the brothers stopped to get gas and ran across the street to another gas station. Jurors saw surveillance video of a terrified Meng begging the clerk to call police.


Dun Meng is seen here on a gas station's surveillance camera moments after escaping from Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who had carjacked his Mercedes SUV and stolen money from his bank account at an ATM in Cambridge, Massachusetts on April 18, 2013.
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Categories: News Monitor

This Croatian 'Sea Organ' Uses Wind And Waves To Create Enchanting Harmonies

5 hours 4 min ago
If the sound of waves lapping gently onto the shore puts you in a trance, then it's time you listen to the Morske Orgulje -- or, the Sea Organ.

The crooning structure in the video above is a 230-foot long instrument on the coast of Zadar, Croatia, that plays mesmerizing harmonies using the movements of the sea.

The Sea Organ was conceived in 2005 by architect Nikola Bašić, after a new jetty was built to welcome cruise ships and their tourists to the charming port town.

On its surface, the organ looks like large marble steps leading into the Adriatic Sea. Below, however, lies a series of narrow channels that connect to 35 organ pipes. Each set of steps holds five organ pipes each and is tuned to a different musical chord.

As waves and wind push air through the channels, a song pours through the organ pipes and out onto the steps above. The sounds produced rely completely on the wave energy's random time and space distribution.

Visitors say the sound is "hauntingly memorable" and "rather rhythmical and even hypnotizing."

In 2006, the Sea Organ won the European Prize for Urban Public Space because it was a "perfect grandstand for watching the sunset over the sea and the outline of the [neighboring] island of Ugljan, while listening to the musical compositions played by the sea itself."

Below, listen to the organ wail its harmony on an especially rough day by the sea.

Categories: News Monitor

How to Decipher Yemen, Where the Enemy of Your Enemy Is Also Your Enemy

6 hours 36 min ago
Yemen, like Afghanistan, has a long reputation as a quagmire for foreign invaders. Saudi Arabia could break its teeth there if the U.S. does not constrain it. Astonishingly, Yemeni events have now conspired to bring about the supposed intervention of some 10 regional powers in one of the most hyped events in the Arabian Peninsula of recent times.

Most of this proxy war makes little sense: the threats emanating from Yemen are distorted and exaggerated, the stakes are actually relatively low (except for Yemenis), any imposed settlement is highly elusive, and the costs to those engaged may be high. For the U.S., it can be once again something of a lose-lose situation, where the enemy of my enemy is often also my enemy.

There are fourth myths about Yemen that need to be sorted out:

The first myth is that this war represents yet a new front on a massive regional Sunni-Shiite struggle. The reality is that a great deal of this struggle is heavily among Yemeni Shiites themselves. Yes, the Houthis, who are now well on the way to seizing leadership of the entire country, are indeed Shiite. They are Zaydi Shiites to be specific (also known as Fivers, believing in five imams) -- who differ significantly from Iranian Shiites (mostly Twelvers). Indeed, among the various schools of Shiism, Zaydism is theologically closest to Sunni Islam. Sunni and Shia have co-existed quite well in Yemen over long centuries.

Zaydi imams ruled most of Yemen for hundreds of years as an Imamate, until some 60 years ago when an Arab nationalist revolution displaced them.

But the Zaydi Shia remain a major force in the country (some 40 percent) and are dominant in the north. Furthermore, the two most important tribal confederations in the country are also both Zaydi. So was the former president of Yemen for 32 years, Ali Abdullah Saleh (overthrown in the Arab Spring and who now may be secretly supporting the Houthis). The Houthis are simply one regional Zaydi clan who happen to be rebelling for an end to what they saw as discrimination and the corruption of Saleh and his successor -- both Saudi-supported Shiites. Typically the Houthi movement takes the form of a revivalist movement seeking cleaner government and a "purer Zaydism."

The second myth is that the Houthis represent the cutting edge of Iranian imperialism in Arabia -- as trumpeted by the Saudis. The Zaydi Shia, including the Houthis, over history have never had a lot to do with Iran. But as internal struggles within Yemen have gone on, some of the Houthis have more recently been happy to take Iranian coin and perhaps some weapons -- just as so many others, both Sunni and Shia, are on the Saudi payroll. The Houthis furthermore hate al-Qaeda and hate the Islamic State. And more recently they have denounced the U.S. as well for its past support to the government in Sanaa that was suppressing the Houthis.

The third myth is that Saudi Arabia is fighting to "preserve stability in the Arabian Peninsula." What the Saudis are doing is fighting to maintain overlordship in the Arabian peninsula (an Arabian Monroe Doctrine). A century ago, the Saudis seized traditionally Yemeni areas in the southwest corner of Saudi Arabia and forcibly imposed radical Wahhabi views there. Riyadh has always loathed Yemeni feistiness, independence, its revolutionary politics, and even its experiments with democracy. The Saudis have traditionally sought to buy off as many tribal and political forces as they can in Yemen -- Sunni or Shiite -- to try to maintain their shaky and shifting form of dominance.

But now it's about more than just Yemen. In the wake of the Arab Spring, Saudi Arabia has sought to forge a broad counter-revolutionary force to block any further regime change in the Arab world; it brands its new campaign as some kind of pan-Arab Sunni movement designed to face an ostensible "Persian/Shiite threat."

With a lot of money and the support of insecure Gulf rulers, the Saudis now seem to have orchestrated some grand Sunni front to invade Yemen to "meet the looming Iranian threat." From Riyadh's perspective, Tehran has supposedly pocketed Iraq, is successfully keeping Assad in power in Syria, threatens Bahrain, stirs oppressed and restive Shia within the Saudi Kingdom, and now bids to control Yemen, thereby "encircling the Peninsula." Ironically, the promising U.S.-Iranian nuclear talks raise further fears in Riyadh that Washington will no longer be a predictable member of the demonize-Iran camp.

Much of this paranoia reflects fevered authoritarian Saudi thinking. Never mind that Persians have never in centuries invaded the Arabian Peninsula. Shiite majorities, as in Iraq and Bahrain, have indeed demanded democratic processes that hugely empower them politically. But since the Saudis in recent years have all but declared war against Iran and created a massive anti-Shiite front -- mostly to preserve Arabian and Egyptian autocrats --Tehran has reciprocated; it is happy to try to keep the Saudis off balance in Yemen at quite limited cost. But it is absurd to believe that Tehran is in a position ever to call the political shots in obstreperous Yemen. And the fear that the Houthis in power want, or are even capable of shutting down the Bab al-Mandab entrance to the Red Sea is a fantasy.

The fourth myth is that the U.S. has support in Yemen. Whatever support it has is extremely limited; its interests and policies in this dirt-poor country over the last decades have focused almost exclusively on counter-terrorism. In the process, the U.S. backed the three-decade dictatorship of Ali Abdullah Saleh and has been conducting dozens of drone strikes in the country that have caused many civilian deaths and stirred much anger. Under the present turmoil, the U.S. has felt compelled to close its embassy and has largely decamped to Riyadh. Washington now helps advise the 10-nation anti-Yemen campaign from Riyadh in what looks increasingly like some grand Arabian armada run amok.

The choices for the U.S. are poor. But Houthi dominance in Yemen need not be a disaster in itself. They are blood enemies of the militantly anti-Shiite forces of al-Qaeda and ISIS. Still, the Houthis will be deeply suspicious of U.S. intentions, especially now that the U.S. is working with Yemen's arch-enemy, Saudi Arabia. For that matter, the Houthis are not fanatics and will not be able by themselves to control Yemen unless they work with the broad array of political and religious forces and ideologies that make up the Yemeni mosaic.

But we now face a major new factor. The new, ailing Saudi King Salman -- or more precisely his activist, powerful and ambitious son -- now are bidding for a historical transformation of the Kingdom's long-standing cautious and defensive foreign policies.

We should remember that the history of Saudi Arabia shows its Wahhabi forces sweeping twice across the Peninsula to the Persian Gulf in some kind of Arabian Manifest Destiny.

The Saudis' small Gulf neighbors may not find it so comfortable to support a new, more geopolitically ambitious Riyadh -- with its radical Islamic ideology and its virulently sectarian regional vision. Nor should the U.S. A massive, unnecessary -- and likely failing Saudi effort --to take over Yemen in this counter-revolutionary spirit may augur dangerously for the stability of the Peninsula in the future.

Graham E. Fuller is a former senior CIA official; his latest book is "Breaking Faith: A novel of espionage and an American's crisis of conscience in Pakistan." grahamefuller.com



Categories: News Monitor

The Lights Go Off At St. Peter's Basilica For Earth Hour

6 hours 48 min ago
St. Peter’s Basilica joined more than 1,400 of the world’s iconic landmarks on Saturday to take a stand for stronger climate action.

The Vatican’s central square plunged into darkness on March 28 for Earth Hour, a global campaign held between 8:30 pm and 9:30 pm local time in 172 countries and territories. Rome’s Great Synagogue and Great Mosque also took part in the initiative this year, along with other iconic religious sites, like St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow.

Like his two predecessors, Pope Benedict XVI and Saint John Paul II, Pope Francis has taken a serious interest in promoting action on environmental issues. He’s currently drafting an encyclical about man’s relationship with nature, reportedly with the hopes of influencing the United Nation’s upcoming climate change conference.

In the past, Francis has called the exploitation of nature a grave sin.

"This is one of the greatest challenges of our time: to convert ourselves to a type of development that knows how to respect creation," he said while addressing students at a university in southern Italy last year.

"When I look at America, also my own homeland (South America), so many forests, all cut, that have become land ... that can longer give life. This is our sin, exploiting the Earth and not allowing her to her give us what she has within her."
Categories: News Monitor

Nigeria's Buhari Leads By 2 Million Votes With Three Quarters Of States Counted

7 hours 20 min ago
ABUJA, March 30 (Reuters) - With three quarters of states counted in Nigeria's election, opposition challenger Muhammadu Buhari had 11.5 million votes against President Goodluck Jonathan's 9.5 million, official results collated by Reuters showed. (Reporting by Tim Cocks; Editing by Ed Cropley)
Categories: News Monitor

Saudi-Arabia Goes to Battle: The US-Iran Strategy Under Pressure

7 hours 28 min ago
Yemen is not the ideal country for foreigners to intervene in. It was in 1962, when a Sunni general, Abdallah Sallal, brought down the Shi'ite Imam Al Badr, called upon Egypt of Gamal Abd Al Nasser to come to his help, and the rest is history. Nasser lost his aura as the undisputed leader of the Arab world, and finally in 1965 he called his troops back. Two years later came the disaster of the June 1967 war. The Wahabbis of Saudi Arabia then supported the Shi'ite Imam because they did not want a revolutionary pro-Egyptian regime on their door step. Today they do not want a revolutionary Shi'ite regime on their doorstep. They do not want Iran, and unlike the early 1960s, today they view the danger presented by the Houtis Zaidi Shi'is, helped by Iran, as an existential threat, so they send their air force and threaten to send ground forces.

Some clarifications are needed before we get to the REAL story here; this is surely not the last fallout of the emerging American-Iranian rapprochement. First, while the Zaidis represent a version of Sh'ia Islam different than the Twelfth Shi'ism of Iran, the latter are up in arms to help them, as much as they do the Alawites of Syria, as part of the grand strategy to create a Shi'ite crescent in the Middle East; in fact an Iranian-dominated sphere of interest. Second, the Saudis are terrified by this expansionist plan, and they are certain that the next in line are the 2 million Shi'ites of the Hasa Province in Eastern Saudi Arabia. When the Shi'ite majority revolted in Bahrain, the Saudis intervened there in force. Third, the Saudis will hesitate before sending ground troops to Yemen. This is because they do not have such troops and they may need them in the Kingdom itself, and then they remember the lessons of Egypt in the 1960's. So will President Al Sisi be careful before sending ground troops to help his Saudi allies and financial supporters? If, however, the Saudis and Egyptians are tempted to send such troops, it may indicate the gravity with which they view the situation, but without doing that, they will face the same dilemma as the Americans face with regard to ISIS, which is how to defeat well-entrenched ground forces, without a ground campaign....

The Yemen war is taking place as part of the "Great Game" in the Middle East, which is Iran and the US [???], versus the rest. The issue at stake is Sunnis vs. Shi'ites, the Iranian nuclear program and the impending agreement with the US and its allies is the great shadow hovering over it all, and the pawns on the ground are the various Shi'ite militias operated by Iran in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The same with the Sunni forces fighting them. On the ground, the immediate loser is the US, which lost its intelligence infrastructure in Yemen, as well as the large arms shipments to the Yemeni army. But the American loss is more than just that. It is developing into a strategic debacle, as not one of America's allies in the Middle East has any clue where the US is heading to. Arab and Palestinian colleagues told me directly that the American policy towards Iran, including the deepening rift with Israel, seems to destroy American credibility, rather than pleasing the Arab world. Sure, the Arabs are not too unhappy to see Netanyahu sweating in an effort to prevent the deterioration of relations with the US, but they think first and foremost about themselves. If the US deals like that with President Mubarak in 2011, and with Israel now, who is next in line? The Saudis think that they may be the ones, and they do not like it, and this is to put it very mildly. Al Sisi as well, and so does even President Erdoghan of Turkey, who evoked the other day the old, traditional suspicion of Sunni Turkey towards Shi'ite Iran. Whether some planners in DC view it this way or not, they are arousing too many sleeping dogs and increasingly motivate those who are already roaring with fear and suspicion And in the background lurking Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel.

Free advice from here to him: the best tactics for you right now in dealing with Iran and the impending agreement is not to deal with it... yes, keep mum about it, let the Arabs do the job against it and against Iranian expansionism, and let the impossible current American strategy run into the inevitable limbo that is awaiting her. The work of righteous people, as Judaism teaches us, is done sometimes by others.
Categories: News Monitor

Indiana's Anti-Gay Law Prompts Thousands Of Businesses To Stand Up For Diversity

7 hours 41 min ago
Indiana's controversial "religious freedom" bill was signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence last Thursday, but one grassroots campaign promoting inclusion is growing in its aftermath -- and rapidly.

Open For Service, an initiative aimed at supporting "businesses that open their doors for everyone -- black, white, gay, straight, Christian, atheist, disabled," is selling stickers to businesses so they can display their stance against discrimination for the public to see. Participating businesses also get their name placed into an online business directory accessible to consumers.

Since the campaign's March 11 launch, 3,121 businesses have signed up to be included in the directory and purchased a $10 sticker -- which reads, "this business serves everyone" -- a representative of Open For Service told The Huffington Post in an email.

I am still playing catch-up from everything that is happening,” Josh Driver, the Indianapolis-based philanthropist behind the initiative, told NUVO News of the campaign's quick growth.

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Some lovely people “shop hopping” at #openforservice businesses #love #support #wewelcomeall http://ow.ly/i/a8vEO

Posted by Open For Service on Saturday, March 28, 2015




In a statement provided to HuffPost, Driver said he wanted to launch the campaign because he thought the media was focusing too much on businesses that have turned people away based on who they are, and he wants to "bring positivity back, and promote those who believe in an ‘open door economy.’"

Funds raised through the campaign's sticker sales are going toward Score -- a nonprofit that helps other "open-minded businesses and organizations" get off the ground.

Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act has drawn criticism from across the country over its alleged enabling of businesses to discriminate against customers. However, Gov. Pence -- who said he would back legislation that "[clarifies] the intent" of the law -- told The Indianapolis Star its passing wasn't about legalizing discrimination.

"If it was, I would have vetoed it," he said.

But Indiana's reputation may have already been damaged, causing long-term economic repercussions, according to one economist.

Kyle Anderson of the Indiana University Kelley School of Business told The Indianapolis Star that negative perceptions of the state could linger far into the future, affecting tourism and potential economic investments.

"It doesn't take you long to get into the hundreds of millions of dollars," he said of Indiana's potential economic losses due to the law. "Some of those decisions can really be long-lasting."

Driver, on the other hand, hopes business booms for organizations that choose inclusion.

People have been asking for it,” Driver told NUVO News of the initiative’s business directory. “And, in general, [people] have been asking for it for a long time: 'Well, if this business is discriminating, I want to know where these other businesses are that won’t.'”

Learn more about the Open For Service campaign here.

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Categories: News Monitor

8 Contemporary Icons Explain The Relationship Between Artistry And Technology

7 hours 43 min ago
It's difficult, if not entirely impossible, for today's artists to ignore the growing influence of technology on their respective fields. As tools both digital and physical become more and more sophisticated, from 3D printing to creative robotics, contemporary icons in the worlds of music, film, visual art and literature are forced to watch as their industries change radically. That is, unless they hop aboard an always-shifting train of innovation, and embrace the visionary tactics that can make creativity that much more impactful.

In a new film from Liberatum titled "Artistry/Industry," major figures like the iPad-happy painter David Hockney, the app-savvy Miranda July and the Facebook-attuned architect Frank Gehry discuss the ways in which new technologies have changed the ways they create. Directed by Pablo Ganguli and Tomas Auksas, the short gives a glimpse into the minds of artists who see a happy marriage between culture and tech.

We've rounded up our favorite quotes from the film, all of which illuminate a future in which art and science coexist. You can watch the film in full above, chock full of faces like Kehinde Wiley, Susan Sarandon and Simon de Pury.



“Technology has liberated an entire generation of thinkers, movers, creators. Technology for black and brown people all over this globe has created a state of grace that we have never seen here before. What we have now is a communication ability. We have the ability to see working ideas that are going on in the great cities throughout the world and whether you live in Shanghai or you live in Sao Paulo, you have the ability of seeing and knowing the ideas of some of the greatest minds of our generation.” -Kehinde Wiley



“I know lots of artists who are totally committed to the smell of oil paint and that’s it for them. They are not interested in anything else. I can identify with that but I also see these other people as using the world to make their statement. Bringing technological advances and fusing them together to make a new picture.” -Ed Ruscha



“The first technology is brushes, pencils, pens. Things like that, the technology that you draw with. Technology always alters pictures. I got an iPhone and then I found you could draw on it. I made about two hundred drawings on the phone and then I read about the iPad. So I thought the moment the iPad is out I will get that because drawing on a bigger thing would be better.” -David Hockney

“I don’t make sweetie pie buildings but I want them to be user friendly. I want you to feel comfortable in them. I don’t design every piece of furniture so I am very interested in watching what people do with the spaces and bring their own stuff to make it their own. I love that. That’s why we are having fun with Facebook because you have got two thousand kids with machines and they all have different tastes and we have built a building where we are letting it all hang out.” -Frank Gehry



"Technology was essential in order for there to be filmmaking. There could be no cinema without recorded images, moving images, recorded sound and as the technology changed, as different elements were added to it such as colour, talking capability then the cinema evolved, and as we go on and as the technology evolves and changes, so will storytelling.” -Francis Ford Coppola



“If somebody doesn’t have a smartphone and they don’t own a computer, that’s enough art for me. That person is off the grid. Say it’s an eighteen year old or a fifteen year old to exist for ten years on this planet without needing to put yourself out there like that, that takes so much more power, you might as well be a monk in China. It probably is the equivalent. That is going to be what kids get into in 20 years time.” -MIA

“Young artists from any part of the planet, you could be from Afghanistan and have a camera and have a desire to tell a story and that actual child or kid making a film from the middle of nowhere can actually put something up on YouTube and have the world experience it. That is to me the most exciting time.” -Brett Ratner



"People don’t actually think about the fact that the modern day music business probably came from Tesla. Tesla created the idea of radio, radio became mainstream amongst us and radio was a passing of music across vast amounts of land. We were able to have mainstream radio and suddenly there was a need for mainstream music business. So technology actually created the music business itself, so it only makes sense that it shapes us over time.” -Scooter Braun
Categories: News Monitor

9 Things Your Parents Say That You Never Want To Hear

7 hours 53 min ago
Alalalalalalalalalala, not listening!

You know your parents care about you. They see you and they beam with pride and their hearts swell. And then those hearts balloon all around you, eventually overtaking and suffocating you. But don't worry, because they'll have plenty of things to say in the meantime, mostly things you have no interest in listening to.

Here are things your parents say that cause you to run off into your childhood bedroom and slam the door behind you (no matter how old you are).

Categories: News Monitor

Introducing The HuffPost What's Working Honor Roll: A Daily Roundup Of Solutions-Based Stories

8 hours 3 min ago
As journalists, we dutifully report on what's going wrong, from scandals and corruption to natural disasters and social problems. But far too often the media fails to show the whole picture, neglecting to tell the stories of what is working. From scientific breakthroughs to successful crime-reduction initiatives, the What’s Working Honor Roll highlights some of the best reporting and analysis, from a range of media outlets, on all the ways people are working toward solutions to some of our greatest challenges.

Yahoo! News: Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus Talks Community Policing With Katie Couric



The recent shootings of unarmed black men by police officers in Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin have led to violent protests and division between officers and residents nationwide. But the town of Richmond, California seems to have found a solution to reducing crime, while unifying the police department with the community. Many say it's all thanks to one man: Richmond's chief of police Chris Magnus. Since Magnus became chief in 2006, the town has seen significant drops in homicides and other violent crimes. One of the ways he's done it is by engaging in conversation with the community and building stronger relationships. That sense of trust, along with actively hiring a diverse police staff, appears to be a successful recipe for stopping crime, creating peace and working toward a safer tomorrow.

"I feel like all lives matter," Magnus said. "That's really what community policing should be about."

Read the full story here.

The New York Times: Company Thinks It Has Answer for Lower Health Costs: Customer Service



The United States has the most expensive health care system in the world. And yet, a little customer service could go a long way toward changing that. One company in Seattle thinks it has a solution that can keep patients healthy and out of the hospital, while also improving the nation's health care overall. Iora Primary Care in the Central District of Seattle is a new kind of health care provider with a customer-is-always-right mentality, where the customer is the patient. Iora has patients pay a monthly fee, as opposed to paying doctors by the visit, and offers 24/7, non-billed assistance via phone and email. The company is trying to “transform health care" using health coaches to reach patients at a personal level -- all while making a profit at the same time. Iora hopes to one day open hundreds of practices nationwide -- "a kind of Starbucks for health care."

Read the full story here.

More:

The New York Times: How Idealism, Expressed in Concrete Steps, Can Fight Climate Change

The Washington Post: Can rural America be saved? A new national ‘challenge’ tries to see

The Guardian: How Seville transformed itself into the cycling capital of southern Europe

Positive News: Survivors of war and torture united by music

The Atlantic: The Role of Parents in Improving School Diversity

Good News Network: Painting for Peace in Ferguson

If you know a story you think should be on our Honor Roll, please send an email to our editor Catherine Taibi via catherine.taibi@huffingtonpost.com.
Categories: News Monitor