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Updated: 28 min 46 sec ago

How One Israeli Hair Salon Brings Jews And Arabs Together

43 min 24 sec ago

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Jews and Arabs live largely segregated in Israel, but you wouldn't know it spending an afternoon at Fifi's hair salon in Haifa. 

The salon is the subject of a new documentary, "Women in Sink," by Israeli filmmaker Iris Zaki, who captured an unlikely place where cultures come together in harmony. The New York Times featured a clip on Tuesday called "The Shampoo Summit," adapted from Zaki's documentary, with commentary from the filmmaker.

"I had initially set out to make a film about Israeli Arabs, a community which I believe is treated unequally in this country," Zaki wrote. "I never expected that to do that, I would find myself in a hair salon of all places."

Owned by two Christian Arab women and frequented by Jewish and Arab women alike, Fifi's stood out to Zaki as a bastion of coexistence in a place where different groups often remain insular.

"My hometown, Haifa, in Israel, is very proud of its legacy of peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs. But I think it is more divided than it can seem. For example, as a Jew I don’t remember ever chatting with my Arab neighbors growing up," she said.

But Fifi's is different. To go behind the scenes, Zaki got a job washing hair at the salon and filmed herself chatting in Hebrew with the women of varied faiths and backgrounds who filed through her chair.

Many of the women bemoaned the distrust and antagonism that exists between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

"Let me tell you," one woman told Zaki, "if women were running things here, including the politics, we would have lived in peace with our neighbors ages ago."

Check out the clip from "Women in Sink" above.

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Categories: News Monitor

Humanitarian System 'Stretched To The Limit' By Global Crises: USAID

1 hour 26 sec ago

(Reuters) - More complex humanitarian disasters such as the war in Syria and the Ebola epidemic threaten to overwhelm the international community's ability to respond, the head of the leading U.S. aid agency told Reuters in an interview.

Gayle Smith, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), described a global humanitarian system stretched to the limit by the number of disasters and a growing funding gap compounded by emergency responses that cost more than traditional relief methods.

"This is not the time to cut resources," Smith said. "Everybody is facing financial trade-offs, but the world has got to ante up at a much higher level than is the case right now."

Smith is set to lead the U.S. delegation to the first U.N. World Humanitarian Summit on Monday and Tuesday in Istanbul, which will include donor countries, U.N. agencies and non-governmental organizations.

Frustrations with humanitarian crises in countries such as Syria and Afghanistan, where hospitals have been bombed, have bubbled into the open, with international relief agency Médecins Sans Frontières announcing it will boycott the gathering.

"The humanitarian system is both stressed and stretched to the limits … by the number and complexity of crises," Smith said. "It has been a relentless drumbeat of very large, most often complex crises, the majority of which are chronic."

The summit "needs to lay down serious markers for a global agenda," she said.

Smith cited a familiar list of crises and disasters that are testing humanitarian relief efforts: Syria's refugee crisis, the largest since World War II; the conflicts in South Sudan, Yemen and Iraq; the effects of the El Niño climate phenomenon in Africa; the Ebola epidemic; and increasingly destructive natural disasters such as Nepal's earthquake last year.

She said the meeting also must address the increasingly hostile work environments relief agencies are facing; make disaster response more efficient; develop new funding sources, and strengthen development programs so poorer countries can respond more quickly to crises.

With the number of disasters growing, the gap between donor funding and estimated needs is also growing, she said.

According to the Financial Tracking Service, which follows global humanitarian aid flows, only 20 percent of the $18.2 billion needed for disasters has been covered.

In January, a U.N. panel estimated the world is spending some $25 billion a year to provide aid to 125 million people, more than 12 times the $2 billion spent in 2000.

The private sector also can provide support, Smith said, noting its larger role in recent years in fighting poverty. While lacking in experience managing disasters, the private sector can contribute funds and logistical assistance as needed, Smith added.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by John Walcott and Leslie Adler)

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Categories: News Monitor

How A Cat Sparked A Fight Between John Oliver And The Leader Of Chechnya

1 hour 15 min ago

Comedian John Oliver has found himself in the middle of an online feud with a violence-prone, Kremlin-backed dictator who has repeatedly been accused of having his enemies tortured and killed.

The host of HBO's "Last Week Tonight” took aim at Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in a five-minute segment of his popular satire show that aired on Sunday. Oliver made fun of Kadyrov for posting an emotional plea to Instagram last week, asking the Chechen people to help find his missing cat.

У нас бесследно пропала кошка. Очень похожа на маленького тигрёнка. Гости всегда говорили, что очень и очень напоминает тигрёнка. Дней десять назад он куда-то исчез. Мы все думали, что вот-вот появится, так как очень сильно привязан к детям, любит с ними играться, сопровождать их по двору. Но теперь стали серьёзно беспокоиться. Возможно, он у кого-то совсем недалеко находится. Человек может не знать, как найти хозяев. Уверен, что и ему не нужна чужая кошка. Поэтому были бы признательны за информацию, если что-то известно. Заранее всем благодарен #Кадыров #Россия #Чечня #Кошка #Кот

A photo posted by Ramzan Kadyrov (@kadyrov_95) on May 16, 2016 at 4:29am PDT

“We all thought that he would reappear... But now we have begun to seriously worry,” the autocratic ruler wrote in an emoji-filled caption accompanying a photo of himself holding the cat in his arms. It's unclear when the feline disappeared.

"I'm presuming [Kadyrov] searched the most common locations for cats, such as lying in a sunbeam, or staring right at you with murder in its eyes," Oliver joked. He then turned his attention to the many other unusual posts on the controversial leader's Instagram page, such as videos that show him lifting weights and purportedly attacking a crocodile.

The account, followed by 1.8 million people, also made headlines earlier this year when Kadyrov posted a video that appeared to show Kremlin critic Mikhail Kasyanov, an opposition leader, being targeted by a sniper. The video, which Kasyanov described as "incitement to murder," was eventually taken down by Instagram, angering the Chechen leader.

In 2014, Kadyrov reportedly lost his phone at a museum opening event, and had authorities question more than 1,000 guests about the whereabouts of the device. He later denied doing so.

"Just think, if he is willing to do that for a cell phone, just imagine what he is willing to put the Chechen people through for a cat," Oliver said, after mocking how Kadyrov is "absolutely obsessed" with Vladimir Putin, who appointed him as leader in 2007. 

Россия и США договорились о перемирии в Сирии. Об этом в специальном обращении сообщил Президент России Владимир Путин. Режим прекращения огня и начала перемирия вступает в силу с 27 февраля. До полудня 26 февраля все участники конфликта, согласные с таким решением, должны сообщить об этом России и США, а также сложить оружие. В этом случае ВКС РФ и коалиционные силы не будут действовать против них. Есть одна важная деталь, которой интересовался весь мир. А как же с Иблисским государством, "Джебхат ан-Нусра" и другими террористическими организациями? Операция против них продолжается в полном объёме. Руководство России будет работать с Башаром Асадом, а Вашингтон с поддерживаемыми ими оппозиционными силами для начала процесса политического урегулирования в Сирии. Это свидетельствует о том, что Президент России Владимир Путин наряду с военной операцией ищет пути достижения мира и согласия между Дамаском и теми, кто готов отказаться от насилия и сесть за стол переговоров. Надежда на прекращение кровопролития в Сирии появилась. Мы полностью поддерживаем усилия нашего Президента! #Кадыров #Россия #Чечня #Сирия

A photo posted by Ramzan Kadyrov (@kadyrov_95) on Feb 22, 2016 at 1:16pm PST

Oliver pointed out how often Kadyrov posts photos of himself wearing shirts that feature Putin's face. But he wasn't done there. The comedy show host then took to Twitter to post a photo of himself holding a cat, asking Kadyrov: "Is this your cat?"

.@RKadyrov Is this your cat? pic.twitter.com/2UacV3km7J

— John Oliver (@iamjohnoliver) May 23, 2016

Oliver also encouraged his viewers to respond to Kadyrov's plea for help by either commenting "I have seen your cat" or "I have not seen your cat" on the original Instagram photo, or tweeting a similar message with the hashtag #FindKadyrovsCat. Many have obliged.

#FindKadyrovsCat Dude, totally found your cat! @iamjohnoliver @RKadyrov pic.twitter.com/LCNjoijR2K

— Adam Deher (@AdamDeher) May 23, 2016

Maybe it's under a pile of Putin tshirts? #findkadyrovscat #LastWeekTonight

— Lyndi Schnelle (@lyndileigh) May 23, 2016

Kadyrov was not amused. It was not long before Oliver himself graced the Chechen leader's infamous Instagram page, with Putin's face photoshopped onto his shirt.

Recently my “tiger cat” has left the house. It happens in spring from time to time. He also needs to meet with friends, mingle and share news. By cat rumors he has in our district a familiar she-cat with which he’s going to start a family. I’m sure that after spring affairs, the cat will return to native walls. Perhaps, he'll bring his sweet love with him. I got used to share with my friends in Instagram with all news, including cat issues. And this time I didn't want to leave as a secret the cat's adventures. I receive lots of photos. Some people say that they saw the cat in Vladivostok, Japan, Iceland, New Zealand, and even in the Oval Office of the White House! I am grateful to all, but this is NOT my cat. It became known that even the American TV channel “HBO” joined to search. The anchorman comedian - John Oliver asks millions of viewers to look for a cat. I knew long ago that in the USA unevenly breathe to my younger friends. One day horses aren't allowed to jump, the other - a cat is a real star of a show. Oliver laments a fact that we put on t-shirts with a photo of the President of Russia - Vladimir Putin. Yes, millions of people rejoice t-shirts with the image of the national leader. For this purpose, there is a good motivation. Vladimir Vladimirovich is a wise, courageous, resolute Head, who managed to withstand unfriendly campaign, which is conducted by the USA and its assistants. Thanks to Putin, we have crushed terrorists among whom there were also citizens of the USA, and European citizens. The country directed by Obama under the guise of peacekeeping operations spark new wars and bloody internal conflicts, in which die millions of people. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria... That's why there is nothing surprising that Oliver also got a wish to appear publicly in a T-shirt with an image of Putin, but not Obama. #Kadyrov #Russia #Chechnya #USA #HBO #Oliver #findkadyrovscat #Ihavenotseenyourcat #IHAVESEENYOURCAT

A photo posted by Ramzan Kadyrov (@kadyrov_95) on May 23, 2016 at 11:41am PDT

The text: "I’m tired of jokes, I want to care for cats in Chechnya. By the way, Putin is our leader!" was added to the photo, along with a confusing English caption that praised Putin, explained the cat simply needs to "meet with friends," and concluded with "#IHAVESEENYOURCAT."

Let's hope this bizarre catfight ends here.

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Categories: News Monitor

Washington's Pivot to Southeast Asia Needs Economic Ties

1 hour 24 min ago
This piece was co-authored by Jack Myint and Nicholas Borroz. It originally appeared in New Mandala on 23 May, 2016.

To sustain its efforts to counter China's growing influence in Asia, Washington must deepen its economic ties with Southeast Asia. Since 2011, President Barack Obama has stated he intends to pivot American foreign policy towards Asia, the goal of which is essentially to "contain" China, no matter how White House spokesmen try to avoid such a contentious term.

Southeast Asia is the priority sub-region for the pivot. India and Japan are also important elements, but their preexisting antagonism towards Beijing make them natural barriers to Chinese expansionism. Southeast Asia--particularly the poorer countries that are economically beholden to Beijing--falls more within China's sphere of influence.

The pivot comes after a long-term decline in American influence in Southeast Asia, caused by two factors. First, Washington shifted its focus to the Middle East and Central Asia as a result of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Second, China has displaced American influence with its increasing foreign direct investment in Southeast Asia.

The Obama Administration's attempts to reprioritize Asia have had a decidedly militaristic quality. Washington has repositioned warships to the region; it has indicated it intends to jointly develop an aircraft carrier for India; it will reportedly increase reconnaissance drone flights over the South China Sea; and it has announced it plans to set up "permanent logistics facilities" by developing military bases in the Philippines.

Despite these developments, the pivot is still poorly defined. According to a recent report commissioned by the US Department of Defense, there is "consistent confusion about the rebalance strategy." Essentially, the following questions have no clear answers: how should the United States rebalance towards Asia, and what justifies such a shift?

Economic ties to sustain military involvement

There is growing American awareness that a purely military rebalance will not allow Southeast Asia to resist China over the long term and enable the United States to pursue its interests. An increasing number of articles and policy events in Washington highlight Southeast Asia's need for infrastructure development, warning that China is meeting this requirement in order to establish its dominance in the region. It is in this context that policymakers reacted with alarm last year to Beijing's creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

There is also increasing consciousness that to validate any military presence in Asia over the long term, Washington must strengthen economic ties with the region. This counters the common criticism both domestically and abroad that the United States often becomes involved in far-flung places where it has no direct economic interest; lightning rods for such criticism are Afghanistan and, to a lesser extent, Iraq.

It is true that the United States already has an economic interest in the region. Southeast Asia's waters are one of the world's most critical shipping lanes for the movement of goods and oil on a daily basis. US-ASEAN two-way trade exceeded over $200 billion in 2015, including over $80 billion in US exports. Additionally, the United States is close to finalizing the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which will closer link it to the economies of four ASEAN countries--Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore.

But these economic ties must be further strengthened to justify any pivot, as President Obama is well aware. He signaled this when he met with leaders of the ten member states of ASEAN in February--two months after the creation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). After the summit, Obama remarked the United States' main priorities with respect to Southeast Asia are economic and trade-related.

Specific goals
To solidify economic ties with Southeast Asia, Washington should define and pursue specific objectives that deepen economic ties between it and the United States. These objectives should lower the cost of entry for American firms, and also ensure these companies' investment provides meaningful benefits to receiving countries.

One such objective in US trade policy could be to reduce local content requirements in Southeast Asian countries. These requirements--which pose major disincentives for American companies investing in the region--are in place to ensure economic activity does not unfairly benefit foreign investors over local communities.

In exchange for reducing such requirements, therefore, Washington should work with American companies to ensure their economic activities in Southeast Asia offer substantive support to host countries' economic development. This could come in the form of CSR, technical training, or building infrastructure development projects that are eventually transitioned to local control. Additionally, US companies could support entrepreneurship initiatives.

To meet these objectives, the United States should look for ways of collaborating with its regional ally Japan--which enjoys a strong reputation in Southeast Asia because of its common implementation of such knowledge transfer programs.

Another specific objective Washington could pursue would be to work with Southeast Asian governments to reduce compliance risk--another major discouragement for risk-averse American companies. Washington could tackle corruption issues by supporting Southeast Asian governments' justice and law enforcement sectors, and also by helping local companies to develop compliance programs.

The benefits of reducing compliance risk for Southeast Asian countries would be meaningful, since it would help improve investment inflows not just from the United States, but also from compliance-conscious investors from other countries. The United States leads the world's anti-corruption industry: it is the author of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), a global standard for defining corruption in international business; and Washington and New York are replete with companies dedicated to helping investors mitigate compliance risk abroad.

Washington should focus these efforts on Southeast Asia's least developed countries. Doing so would allow Washington to build up resistance to Chinese influence in countries most susceptible to it, and also to reduce economic disparities in Southeast Asia that prevent the region's economic integration.

In these ways, Washington can create an economic justification for its pivot to Southeast Asia. When such ties are established, the United States will be able to sustain its presence in the region over the long term.

Nicholas Borroz is a Washington-based strategic intelligence consultant specializing in geopolitics, the energy sector, and investment risk.

Jack Myint is an Associate at the US-ASEAN Business Council in Washington. He has advised numerous private companies on business risk in Southeast Asia, with a particular focus on Myanmar.

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Categories: News Monitor

No One Believes That Obama's Lifting of the Vietnam Arms Embargo Is 'Not About China'

1 hour 35 min ago

Precisely no one, including the Chinese, believes this. So what was achieved by maintaining this fiction?

This is not meant as a naive question. I recognize there are plenty of occasions in diplomacy, as in life, when it is inadvisable to tell the unvarnished truth. There are even occasions when it is mutually beneficial to maintain a patently false facade so that both sides in a diplomatic crisis can save face (see "This is Why Governments Don't Comment on Intelligence Matters"). But how does this situation qualify?

One possible justification is that such a blunt denial shuts down any potentially awkward questions from the media. But he's the U.S. president. He can handle it, can't he? And surely the whole point of lifting the embargo is to send a signal to China, so why would he want to avoid questions anyway?

Perhaps the clinching reason is that Obama simply didn't want to speak so openly while in Vietnam and while standing right beside his Vietnamese counterpart, who has a delicate balance to maintain in relations with Beijing. If that's the case, perhaps Obama will speak more openly after his departure.

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Categories: News Monitor

A Look Back on President Buhari's First Year: Part One

1 hour 45 min ago
As we approach the end of Nigerian President Buhari's first year in office, sworn in before celebratory crowds looking for change (May 29, 2015), the country will be waiting to hear his list of accomplishments. There seems to be two schools of thought on what type of report card his administration should have. Yes, there are critics who primarily complain about changes taking place way to slowly, but there are those that still believe the government is trying to do the right thing and want to give it time to get there. If you are wondering where I fall, well, I fall into the latter category -- very much supporting giving the government the time it needs to make the transformative changes that Nigeria needs and Nigerians want.

Certainly, with any new government, there are fits and starts, and the Buhari Administration has had its own over the last 12 months, coupled with critical economic difficulties making it hard for the President to fulfill his campaign promises. There have been 2 steps forward and one back on things like confusion over the budget submission; the long wait for ministerial appointments; and, on the economic side, challenges in protecting its currency (the naira) from devaluation. The President strongly believes that devaluation will hurt the poor and help the privileged. Drop in global oil prices have hit the country's reserves hard over the last year, along with its ability to pay its bills, or move forward on social sector improvements, particularly health, education, and job creation. As of May 24, 2016, oil prices were at $USD48 barrels per day, still $10 off the country's 2016 benchmark; luckily the new budget's benchmark has oil at $38 per barrel.

That being said here is the good news:

The list below list is not meant to be exhaustive but highlights some of the changes:

The Buhari Government has:
-- Committed to strong anti-corruption efforts; asked foreign governments, including the U.S., to help return $150 billion in stolen state wealth in foreign countries.

-- Moved to "zero-basing," of the budget, linking needs and costs, with a focus on infrastructure development, social needs, manufacturing, and job creation; publicized his personal wealth (good first tone-setting step); and paid civil servants some of their unpaid wages;

-- Made gains against Boko Haram, including more international resources to combat Boko Haram and rescuing more than 800 people held captive by Boko Haram and, two young Chibok girls;

-- Appointed new leadership to the problematic National Petroleum Company (NNPC); and,

-- Worked to carefully vet senior appointments (we will have to see how they all actually do).

Looking at some of these key steps, what do they mean for Nigeria's bigger picture?

Analysis: Steps on Corruption & the Economy:

President Buhari is unshakeable on his quest to end corruption and his national and international reputation on this issue is virtually unmatched. His recent comment "what I am demanding is the return of assets" checkmated British Prime Minister David Cameron, at his own London anti- corruption conference, following his remarks that "Nigeria and Afghanistan are the most 'fantastically' corrupt countries in the world," especially in light of his father being named in the Panama papers . Buhari, not being deterred over the calls for an apology, kept his eye on ball, which is his steadfastness to get state assets back.

At home, the Buhari Administration has had to institute some difficult economic policies to protect the naira such as tightening foreign exchange. Some of these steps are linked to his anti-corruption efforts to block ways money has been stolen over the years; cash money was one of the biggest ways by which former government officials and others removed funds over decades, or through inflated government contracts.

Business & Investments Feeling the Pinch

I know many businesses are feeling the pinch, but presumably these restrictions are short term for a few more months as the government fine tunes its checks and balances. As an example, in September of last year, the Buhari Government required all ministries to use their Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) accounts, called Treasury Single Account for all government monies. Meaning, ministries cannot deposit government funds into commercial banks -- a past practice where it is believed substantial state wealth disappeared.

Further on the economy is the oil subsidy. Efforts to remove it in 2012 caused strikes which left the country paralyzed for more than a week (I was in Nigeria during this period), and strikes are underway as the Administration tries this again. Depending on what happens between now and President Buhari's May 29, 2016 anniversary speech, it will be important for him to convince the public to get on board. They are not onboard now, particularly since in his campaign he promised not to; the subsidy is, however, financially unsustainable.

Nigeria has Africa's largest population (estimated at 178 million) and economy (Nigeria rebased in 2014),. However, these are tough times as it struggles to get its financial footing back, and keep investors engaged. We will look to Buhari's anniversary speech on the way forward on corruption issues, the economy, federal salaries, and jobs.

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Categories: News Monitor

New Insurance To Help Poor Countries Tackle Pandemics Like Ebola, Zika

2 hours 7 min ago

A new tool aims to help poor countries manage epidemics, before they devastate their health and finances.

The World Bank recently launched the “Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility” an insurance market designed to quickly disburse funds to countries and agencies tackling infectious disease outbreaks.

“Pandemics pose some of the biggest threats in the world to people’s lives and to economies,” Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group, said in a statement. “For the first time we will have a system that can move funding and teams of experts to the sites of outbreaks before they spin out of control.”

Over the last two years, the Ebola epidemic caused more than 11,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. It also severely weakened economies in West Africa, costing Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone a collective $2.8 billion in GDP losses, according to the World Bank.

If the new financing had existed in mid-2014, when Ebola first began spreading, the global cost of responding to the outbreak could have been cut from a whopping $7 billion to $300 million -- or 4 percent of what was spent -- Keith Hansen, World Bank vice-president, told the Financial Times. More crucially, the outbreak might also have been more easily contained, saving countless lives. 

“This [new financing] facility addresses a long, collective failure in dealing with pandemics,” Kim said. “The Ebola crisis taught us that we must respond immediately to save lives and protect economic growth.”

The new mechanism gets its funding in a complex way: Money from donor countries like Japan, combined with funds raised from the reinsurance market and World Bank-issued bonds, provide coverage of up to $500 million, according to FT.

Only the poorest countries -- or the 77 countries who receive funding from the International Development Association -- will be eligible for the pandemic support.

Some development experts worry that the funding mechanism is too complex, and that the $500 million available for deployment is simply not enough.

“Anything less than a very substantial amount of money in the billions is going to be inadequate,” Laurie Garrett, of the Council on Foreign Relations, told Devex.

While it may not be the perfect solution, funding for international crises is sorely needed. Though humanitarian aid hit a record high last year, it still wasn’t enough to address the demand from U.N.-led appeals. Doctors Without Borders even ditched a humanitarian summit this week, partly in protest that more funding is needed for emergency responses, including in conflict areas and epidemic situations.

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Categories: News Monitor

Watch This Strongman Pull A 9.5-Ton Truck Using Only His Hair

2 hours 25 min ago

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Ever do something that makes you feel like pulling out your hair?

Not like what Manjit Singh did on Monday. The 66-year-old strongman pulled a 9.5-ton truck 50 feet by his hair, SWNS reports.

It's actually the second time Singh, of Leicester, UK, has attempted the feat. Back in 2009 when he pulled an 8.5-ton truck by his hair.

But it almost didn't happen. Singh's first four attempts failed because his hair was "too shiny." after he washed it.

"I washed it this morning," he told SWNS. "It kept slipping three or four times, but we did it."

Amazingly, Singh's hair-raising stunt did not set a world record.

The record for heaviest vehicle pulled by hair was set in January by China's He Yi Qun, who dragged 10.55 tons the required distance of 50 feet.

Qun not only pulled a 9.7-ton truck, but also nine passengers, the driver and a cameraman.

Don't feel bad for Singh though. He already owns Guinness World Records for farthest distance to pull a single decker bus by the ears, as well as heaviest weight lifted by an eye socket and heaviest weight lifted by both eye sockets.

"The hardest record was pulling with my ears, though," he told SWNS.

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Categories: News Monitor

Austria Dodged A Bullet, But Brexit Is The True Test For Europe

2 hours 36 min ago
The recent Austrian presidential elections have ensured that Altiero Spinelli's dream of a united Europe will live on -- for the moment. Green Party candidate Alexander Van der Bellen's victory over the right-wing candidate, Norbert Hofer seems to have been an act of fate, since it happens to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the death of Spinelli, author of the Ventotene Manfiesto.

Even those who don't believe that fate has a role in current events must admit that the results of the Austrian elections represent a good omen.

The next 30 days will be a trying time for the European Union: Until June 23, everyone on this side of the Atlantic who believes in Spinelli's dream of a united Europe will experience a number of difficult tests. The Austrian elections became a symbol for the current conflict between Austria and Italy at the Brenner border, which has been closed for reasons that are more related to the recent elections than to an actual state of emergency.

There are at least three obstacles that need to be addressed in the upcoming period.

First is the finalization of yet another version of a Greek bailout plan, since it has become clear to everyone that the government in Athens will never be able to repay the new loan of 86 billion euros, despite the new draconian measures put in place by the Tsipras government.

The elections hung by a thread, since the country has been stricken by fear of the foreigners coming from distant lands.

Second, Brussels needs to make a decision on the EU-wide deposit insurance fund. (The Germans have condemned the plan, and are insisting on absurd sovereign debt ceilings.)

Finally, on June 23, everyone will find out the results of the referendum in which Great Britain will decide whether or not to remain in the EU. We cannot predict the repercussions of a "Brexit" ahead of time, but they would certainly be similar to those of a "Grexit."

The path ahead is not an easy one. The victory of the Green party and the pro-Europeans in Austria was a surprise. The elections hung by a thread, since the country has been stricken by fear of the foreigners coming from distant lands.

However, the numbers tell a different story, one which seems to have charmed many Austrians. According to the United Nation's World Population Prospects report, 1.2 million migrants settled in Europe between 2000 and 2010 -- which makes up 0.2 percent of Europe's population. This number seems quite daunting, given that the United States received 1 million migrants within the same time period. From 2010 to 2015, the number of migrants dropped dramatically to 400,000 per year, and between 2000 and 2015, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain received between 100,000-200,000 refugees each.

As Thomas Piketty, the famous opponent of austerity, noted, it was only last year that the number of migrants flooding into Germany reached one million. This influx was perhaps the main cause for Austria's concerns, and for the closing of the border with Italy. Now, Italy is at the front lines.

Europe can breathe a momentary sigh of relief, but we cannot ignore the fact that the migration plan that the Juncker Commission is preparing is not progressing as expected. Its failure will only fuel the fires of the xenophobic parties, who have turned the Brenner frontier into a symbol that has more to do with ideology than with creating an actual barrier.

Nonetheless, despite the battle over migration in Austria, now that the worst seems to be over, it is worth taking a moment to reflect. Among all of the European states, Austria has one of the highest numbers of foreign jihadists per capita who have left to fight with ISIS: Over 260 Jihadists in a country with a population of 8.5 million.

According to the 2014 census, the Muslim population in the country amounted to a total of 600,000 people (7 percent of all Austrians), including 120,000 Turks, 51,000 Bosnians and 34,000 Afghanis. A portion of the Austrian population uses these statistics to suggest that every Muslim migrant is a potential terrorist. This argument will probably be brought up by every nationalist party during the upcoming European elections. It is necessary to counter this manifesto with a better idea, one that convinces Europeans to choose instead the path of greater integration. It will not be an easy task.

This post first appeared on HuffPost Italy. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.

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Why Monsanto Just Rejected A $62 Billion Mega-Merger Offer

2 hours 43 min ago

Monsanto wants more green.

The seed and pesticide giant on Tuesday rejected a $62 billion bid from German conglomerate Bayer, but said it would be open to a bigger offer. In a statement, the company said its board of director's unanimously voted against the unsolicited proposal, which it deemed "incomplete and financially inadequate."

“We believe in the substantial benefits an integrated strategy could provide to growers and broader society, and we have long respected Bayer’s business,” Hugh Grant, Monsanto's chairman and chief executive, said in the statement. “However, the current proposal significantly undervalues our company and also does not adequately address or provide reassurance for some of the potential financing and regulatory execution risks related to the acquisition.”

The rejection comes as no surprise. The offer -- which would be the biggest takeover ever attempted by a German company -- comes amid rapid consolidation in the agricultural chemicals industry. And generous as it seems, it falls flat compared to other landmark deals.

Last December, Dow Chemical and DuPont agreed to a $130 billion merger, after which the companies are expected to split into three separate businesses, including one focused on seeds and crop sprays, according to the Financial Times. Then, in February, Swiss competitor Syngenta agreed to a $43 billion takeover by the China National Chemical Corp., or ChemChina. The deal came just months after Syngenta rejected for the fourth time a $47 billion bid from Monsanto. 

So in a reversal, the predator became prey. Monsanto is unlikely to go down for less than it offered its former target. 

Bayer's bid for Monsanto appears big, but as The Wall Street Journal's Helen Thomas pointed out on Monday, the offer isn't as juicy as the one that wooed Syngenta to its Chinese state-owned rival:

At 15.8 times earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization, Bayer’s offer is hardly stingy. But it also falls short of the knock-out 17 times that ChemChina paid for Syngenta.

Bayer did not respond to a request for comment on the failed bid. 

The merger may be a hard sell to investors. Many of Bayer's shareholders are focused on the company's pharmaceutical business, and may view Monsanto's agrichemical empire with suspicion. The eye-popping offer also came less than one month into Werner Baumann's newly minted tenure as Bayer's chief executive.

“We have struggled to find investors who favour this transaction,” Alistair Campbell, an analyst at Berenberg, told the Financial Times in a profile of Baumann last week. “We think a bid for Monsanto will be expensive, [earnings] dilutive and destroy value.”

Still, Monsanto may be vulnerable to a hostile takeover if Bayer commits the resources to a higher offer.

The company, reviled by environmentalists for its aggressive pushing of genetically modified crops and toxic pesticides, has struggled over the past year, despite recent studies backing its claim that GMOs are safe to eat. A shortlist of those woes includes: 

  • In January, the company laid off a total of 3,600 employees, or about 16 percent of its workforce.

  • In February, Swiss competitor Syngenta agreed to the China National Chemical Corp.’s acquisition offer, just months after refusing for a fourth time to sell itself to Monsanto. 

  • In March, the maker of RoundUp weed killer slashed its earnings forecast for the year amid economic headwinds from low commodity prices.

  • Earlier this month, two of the largest U.S. grain traders refused to buy a new type of Monsanto’s genetically modified soybean because European Union regulators have yet to approve it.

  • The firm is locked in ongoing disputes over seed royalties in Argentina and India.

  • Its stock price has fallen by as much as 31 percent in the past 12 months, according to Bloomberg.

“It’s a relentless string of bad news,” Jonas Oxgaard, an analyst at the research firm Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., told Bloomberg News last week. “It’s almost like they forgot to sacrifice a goat to the gods.” 

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Love in the cell

2 hours 44 min ago

I sat there and listened to her as she poured out her soul. She spoke of a life that was long gone and a nightmare that never ended. She told me stories of happiness, anguish, love, and loss. I listened to her unable to say a word. Tears formed in my eyes as I took her pain, and cradled it in my hands without judgment. This is what I heard...

He and I are two, but sometimes I think that we might be three, even four, and never just one. I love him, but I don't love myself with him. I see the world through him, and I hate what I see. I speak his thoughts and I don't really understand them.

When love turns to an impossible mission, when words are not enough, and everything becomes black or white, we forget how to smile, to cry and to play like two little children.

Are we humans or has the war stolen our humanity? I saw him in his corner, lost, and afraid I didn't know what to do. I cannot change the past; I cannot stop them from arresting him. I cannot pause time and stop them from beating him. I know how dark it was there, in a room that was not even big enough to lie down. The rats even left it. How could one human decide to put another human in this hell? How could one human decide to strip a man of his love and his identity and transform him into a mere prison number? My love had a number, I don't know the number, but I would love to imagine that it was a nice number, maybe ''777'' ...

I lost my love there, and he lost his soul. I met him for the first time after he was released. I couldn't tell if he was different because I didn't know him before, but he also tried to be funny, and positive. He wanted to appear that he was normal.

Perhaps he had decided to think like the rats and leave his memories behind to poison the monsters that controlled the prison.

Now I see him. He took them all with him, the rats, the memories and the memories' poison, all together in a new place. Now he even misses his life in prison. He thinks that it would have been better to die there than to come out. He is numb, and I love him; I don't know if love is enough because I am also lost, numb and I need him. I really want him to be with me to understand; to wake up. I need him to let it go!

I am not stronger, I am not a dreamer, I am giving up, and he is still there. A flicker of light and a wisp of smoke-I see him. He is smoking his cigarette in the corner and I am on the other side begging for him to open the window. The smoke is killing me, and the stench of his rotting memories is suffocates us.

He looks at me and says nothing, but I know when I will leave he will cry and he will miss me. Yet, I know he won't stop me for real, and I know that he will continue smoking in his corner, until the day he can forgive himself.

I will miss the rats, the poisoned memories, and our place. Not yet though...not yet. I am still here and we are together, and we will be together until I am completely poisoned.

My love was arrested because he participated in demonstrations in Damascus/ Syria. After being realised, he fled the country because he did not want to get arrested or even killed. He is outside the country now, and he took nothing except me, his cigarette, and a shade of himself. I wish I had been left there, I wish I no longer loved him. However, until you choose something, everything remains possible, and I have chosen my love, I have chosen him, and I would choose him again.

To end up my story, I have a request to make, a huge demonstration is taking place in Paris on the 11th of June, aiming for a 1000 detainee pictures, dead or alive, to be shown to the public. The pictures can show detainees detained by armed groups or by the Assad regime.

Please join, maybe that would change something, maybe if you accept to come, then my love, 777, will agree to join as well and he may be able to remember me, and I can finally call him again by his name.


777 Syrian former detainee Lover

Photo credit: Fares Cachoux - Detainees First Campaign

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Buddha Was Born In Nepal

2 hours 47 min ago

Photo: Buddha's Page

There is no doubt that Buddha was born in Lumbini, Nepal. The word "Buddha" means a person who has personally been able to perceive the ultimate truth. Buddha was considered "Siddhartha Gautam" before being recognized as the enlightened being. Most of the historians agree that his lifetime was between 563B.C. to 483B.C. According to the last investigation, his death is said to have occurred between 486-483 B.C.

He spent his first 29 years as a King's son among wealth and prosperity. However, he was always reflecting upon the pains of birth, old age, disease and the sufferings of this miserable and transitory world. For this reason, Buddha abandoned his home at the age of 29 across the plains of India to find solution to these problems. At last, realizing that arduous path to self-realization was not fruitful, Buddha switched to a more moderate path called "the great middle way" by his followers. While under a tree in Bodhgaya meditating on the self, he realized the true knowledge of the Self and was thus called "Buddha." Later, for over 45 years, he went on sharing the knowledge he had gained throughout Indian sub-continent.

Of serious demeanor since his childhood, Gautam used to be worried easily by little things. While performing daily chores, he saw people of old age and full of diseases. He also saw people dying. All these created indifference in him. Why do people becomes diseased? Why do they get old? Why do they die? All these caused a holy indifference in him. One day, he left the palace in the middle of the night at the age of 29 abandoning father's kingdom, which he was to inherit.

Siddharatha Gautam's father Suddhodhana was the Shakya dynasty King of the kingdom of Tilaurakot. His mother's name was Mayadevi. It is said that Queen Mayadevi was resting at Lumbini on her way to Devdaha when she experienced a great pain. By the puskarani sarobar while lying by the tree, child Siddaratha was born. Sage Asit named the child Sidartha. Meaning of Sidartha is "completely satisfied in the self."

Lumbini- Birthplace of Lord Buddha (Photo: Nepal Tourism Board)

Buddha was definitely born in Lumbini, Nepal.
Lumbini is a very vibrant place today with people from all over the world travelling for pilgrimage. Besides, Bodhgaya is considered a sacred spot for those seeking ultimate peace/nirvana. There's no sense fighting for Buddha's birthplace. Seekers of truth should be able to make use of both places for the purpose of perceiving the ultimate like Buddha did.

Buddha travelled across the world meditating and seeking knowledge from the masters before attaining enlightenment. His journey was often arduous after he left the palace. He acquired knowledge from various masters in the process and ultimately while sitting under the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, full knowledge dawned on him.

Buddhism like any other religion has become a way for different political and social groups to attain power/pleasure. Many international organizations are simply using Buddhism to increase their influence among people. Mist of these people do not follow the tenets of Buddism or are engaged in any type of yogic practices. Most of them do not have any text on Dhammapada at their homes. Most of these institutions are created to import immigrants as Buddhist monks from countries like Tibet, Nepal, India, Bhutan etc.

Emperor Ashoka is said to have contributed to the transmission of the messages of Buddha across the world. After himself becoming a Buddhist, he sent all his children across the world to teach people Buddha's messages. He made Buddism the national religion, constructed Boudha Bihar and regularly honored Boudha Bhikshus on the national stage. This caused rise of Buddism across the Kingdom. Buddha's teachings have been recorded as "sayings" in collections called "Tripithak." They include 82000 sutras by Buddha and 2000 sutras by his disciples.

Why do Christians go to Israel? Because, it's the birthplace of Jesus. Buddhist followers are all over the world, but we can't find anyone who visit Lumbini. It doesn't show any respect or faith over Buddha and what he taught. That's why; the nation is far above any religion. There's no need of recognition or position for those who want to serve their country. Just 10 minutes in 24 hrs are enough.
We must think positively. We have hundreds of ways in front of us today. Let's work hard to bring one million tourists to Nepal this year.

Photo: Nepal Tourism Board

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At Lord Buddha's Birthplace on His Birthday

2 hours 48 min ago
On the occasion of 2560th birthday anniversary (Buddha Jayanti) of Gautam Buddha, we visited his birthplace in Lumbini, Nepal. Here is a collection of pictures which is worth to be looked on. These pictures were taken in Lumbini, birthplace of Gautama Buddha. If you were not able to visit the birthplace of Lord Buddha on the occasion of his birthday. Enjoy the pictures!

'Flowers' or 'Thorns'? 'Rose Blossom' front of 'Mayadevi Temple' in Lumbini, Nepal. Maya Devi Temple is the main temple traditionally considered the birthplace of Gautama Buddha. Photo: Kishor Panthi

Beyond Religion: People from different cultures and religions visited the birthplace of Lord Buddha on the occasion of his birthday. Not only Buddhists but also Hindus and people from other religions observed the special day. Buddhism doesn't fit neatly into either category of religion or philosophy. When people asked Buddha what he was teaching, he said he teaches "the way things are." He said nobody should believe his teachings out of faith, but instead they should examine for themselves to see if they are true or not. Photo: Sudhan Panthi

Natural Tiara: The best kind of tiaras are made with flowers rather than jewels. Birthplace of Buddha is covered with those beautiful natural tiaras someone can put together to make these wreaths. Photo: Sudhan Panthi

Holy Crowd: A large number of people including national and international monks gathered in Lumbini to pray for world peace. Photo: Sudhan Panthi

Bodhi Tree: This Bodhi tree is located opposite the Mayadevi pond in Lumbini. The Buddha became enlightened sitting under the Bodhi Tree in Bodhgaya. Photo: Subodh Panthi

Sacred Pool: Next to the Mayadevi Temple, there is a sacred pool where Maya Devi is said to have bathed before the birth. The newborn Buddha also reputedly had his purification bath in this pool. Photo: Kishor Panthi

Great Place to Meditate: Birth place of the Buddha is great place to mediate for inner peace. Gautama Buddha is also known as one of the greatest healers. Photo: Kishor Panthi

Eternal Peace Flame:The eternal World Peace Flame is a major attraction in Lumbini. The flame is kept glowing uninterrupted 24 hours a day. The flame was lighted on 1st November 1986 AD . The flame represents peace and fraternity in the world. This was brought from the United States of America as part of the celebration of the International Peace Year.Photo: Sudhan Panthi

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The Persistent Frontier: Our World Humanitarian Crises

3 hours 37 min ago
French philosopher Henri Lefebvre introduced the concept of "the right to the city" in his 1968 book, Le Droit a la Ville, in which contemporary urbanist Neil Brenner refers to as a "radical demand for a democratization of control over the collective means of producing urbans space." More specifically, "the right to the city" characterizes the antagonistic sociopolitical and neoliberal forces of governance--and by extension urbanization--that have prioritized the city for a group of powerful elites while disenfranchising the "others". Even today, the concept of "the right to the city" remains highly relevant in midst of the humanitarian crises as the United Nations, world leaders, and stakeholders are working to create a new framework for humanitarian action at the World Humanitarian Summit that began yesterday in Istanbul, Turkey.

Even though political conflict and socioeconomic instability have severe consequences on human conditions around the world, it is hard to ignore the disproportionate impact that this has on the lives of children and youth who are most vulnerable and in need of humanitarian assistance. While the fragile nature of children and youth are commonly recognized, their dual role as agents of positive change in humanitarian action and peace-building has yet to be fully understood or harnessed.

All around the world, young people are galvanizing in solidarity to ameliorate the lives of the most marginalized, those affected by disaster, conflict, forced displacement and other humanitarian crises. Looking at the United Nations Volunteer programme, the majority of first responders are under the age of 29. Meanwhile, young people have also shown that they are able to be innovative contributors to humanitarian action. The UN Major Group for Children Youth working with the UN-HABITAT Youth Unit have both actively and meaningfully engaged the voices of youth inflicted by humanitarian crises through their own network of changemakers around the world, from the slums in Nairobi to refugee camps in Jordan. To lead them into the World Humanitarian Summit, young people developed the Compact for Young People in Humanitarian Action to guide their advocacy and activism.

In the host city of the World Humanitarian Summit, the Istanbul Municipal Youth Council has endeavored to meet the needs of young refugees by conducting a face-to-face quantitative study of 378 Syrian refugees and three in-depth consultations to better understanding their living conditions in the Istanbul, discovering, for instance, that under half of refugees area able to speak Turkish. The Council's work has shown that young people have tremendous abilities to respond to humanitarian crises in differentiated ways, as well as the role of cities in responding to humanitarian challenges. It is undeniable that there is a clear urban dimension in crises, particularly the city's role in often serving as an intermediary in the current refugee emergencies. Cities have both the professional knowledge and direct abilities to intervene in humanitarian management.

On the second day of the World Humanitarian Summit, the Mayor of Istanbul, Dr. Kadir Topbaş, will commit to the Youth Councils Network on Humanitarian Action and emphasize the crucial role local youth-led organizations have in humanitarian action. Dr. Topbas' position as the President of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) and the United Nations Advisory Committee of Local Authorities (UNACLA) will powerfully enhance the attention that youth and youth-led organizations will receive from local authorities.

Following the first ever World Humanitarian Summit here in Istanbul, the international community will be preparing for the upcoming UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) that will be hosted in Quito, Ecuador, and which will renew global commitment towards sustainable urbanization via the production of the New Urban Agenda. It is crucial that the role of both youth and local authorities in sustainable urban development, including humanitarian response, be emphasized in the New Urban Agenda. Only an agenda that is inclusive of youth and cities can truly create a framework for future action and empower actors around the world to work towards a more peaceful future where all persons, regardless of their gender or geographical location, can lead a life of peace, prosperity and dignity. For now, those present at the World Humanitarian Summit are pushing for an ambitious framework for humanitarian action as the international community awaits the outcome of this unprecedented gathering.

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This Artist Plans To Temporarily Tattoo Sick Kids With Gorgeous Designs

3 hours 39 min ago

Benjamin Lloyd is putting his tattoos where his heart is.

The artist plans to ink patients at Starship Children's Hospital in Auckland, New Zealand, with gorgeous temporary tattoos -- for free.

How this came about is perhaps the best part of social media. Lloyd, of Tauranga, New Zealand, took to Facebook on Sunday to declare, "Nothing brings me more joy than boosting a kids confidence with a custom tattoo." He pledged to provide the service gratis for the hospital, as long as he got 50 likes on Facebook.

Needless to say, the response was far beyond what he had hoped. The post has been liked and shared hundreds of thousands of times.

Lloyd told Seven Sharp that he began "tattooing" children a few years ago after the death of his stepson. He choked back tears during the exchange and didn't elaborate. But as he began working on the kids, he said, "It just made me realize how much it makes children happy."

Seven Sharp says the hospital is reaching out to Lloyd to perhaps work out an arrangement.

Lloyd assures that the ink he uses is safe and washes off in the shower.

"The only bad thing is that they don't want to take a shower afterwards," he said, per Bored Panda.

Here's video Lloyd posted of the process:

 H/T Elite Daily

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Obama's Hiroshima Visit Is a Reminder that Atomic Bombs Weren't What Won the War

3 hours 59 min ago
U.S. President Barack Obama's forthcoming visit to Hiroshima offers an opportunity to reconsider some of the myths surrounding the historic decision to use the atomic bomb. Such reconsideration also helps focus attention on how we can avoid any future use of weapons that are now thousands of times more powerful than the ones used in 1945.

A good place to start is with an unusual and little-noticed display at The National Museum of the United States Navy in Washington. A plaque explaining an exhibit devoted to the atomic bombings declares: "The vast destruction wreaked by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the loss of 135,000 people made little impact on the Japanese military. However, the Soviet invasion of Manchuria on 9 August -- fulfilling a promise made at the Yalta Conference in February -- changed their minds."

Hiroshima, Japan, on Sept. 8, 1945, about a month after the first atomic bomb ever used in warfare was dropped by the U.S. (AP Photo/Stanley Troutman)

Though the surprising statement runs contrary to the accepted claim that the atomic bombs ended World War II, it is faithful to the historical record of how and why Japan surrendered. The Japanese cabinet -- and especially the Japanese army leaders -- were not, in fact, jolted into surrender by the bombings. Japan had been willing to sacrifice city after city to American conventional bombing in the months leading up to Hiroshima -- most dramatically in the March 9 firebombing of Tokyo, an attack that cost an estimated 100,000 lives.

What Japan's military leaders were focused on was the Red Army, which was poised to take on the best of Japan's remaining army in Manchuria. The historical record also makes clear that American leaders fully understood this. Indeed, before the atomic bomb was successfully tested, U.S. leaders desperately sought assurances that the Red Army would attack Japan after Germany was defeated. The president was strongly advised that when this happened, Japan was likely to surrender with the sole proviso that Japan be allowed to keep its emperor in some figurehead role.

'The vast destruction wreaked by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the loss of 135,000 people made little impact on the Japanese military.'

Nor was this deemed a major problem. The U.S. military had long planned to keep the emperor in such a role to help control Japan during the postwar occupation. Once the atomic bomb was successfully tested, however, assurances for the emperor that were included in the 1945 Proclamation Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender were eliminated, making it certain Japan would continue to fight. As the Navy museum plaque also accurately explains: "Truman's political advisors overrode the views of the military leaders and foreign policy makers, insisting that Americans would not accept leniency towards the emperor."

Although it goes on to suggest this was done for political, not military reasons, there are unresolved questions about this judgment. The fact is the historical record also shows that Republican leaders in the United States Senate and elsewhere at that time were urging the president to provide assurances for the emperor precisely because they too judged that this would end the war.

Japan's surrender ceremony aboard the U.S. battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945. (Xinhua via Getty Images)

The Joint Chiefs of Staff felt so strongly about the matter that they undertook what we would now call an "end run" to try to put assurances back into the proclamation. They asked British military leaders to ask Prime Minister Winston Churchill to try to persuade U.S. President Harry Truman to include the emperor paragraph in the proclamation -- and in turn Churchill attempted to get Truman to do so. But to no avail.

Ultimately, of course, the United States allowed Japan to keep its emperor as a way to help control Japan during the occupation -- but only after, not before, the bombs were used. Japan still has a figurehead, powerless emperor to this day.

'Possessing and demonstrating the bomb would make Russia more manageable.'

The unusual pattern of events -- with the combined U.S. military leadership strongly urging a course of action deemed likely to save lives, and the president resisting -- has, of course, raised questions in the minds of many as to whether other issues were involved.

The most obvious alternative explanation was put forward by early postwar critics who pointed out that there is considerable evidence that diplomatic reasons concerning the Soviet Union -- not military reasons concerning Japan -- may have been important. For instance, after a group of nuclear scientists met with Truman's chief adviser on the atomic bomb, U.S. Secretary of State James Byrnes, one reported that, "Mr. Byrnes did not argue that it was necessary to use the bomb against the cities of Japan in order to win the war ... Mr. Byrnes' ... view [was] that our possessing and demonstrating the bomb would make Russia more manageable."

A huge cloud above Hiroshima, a few hours after the initial explosion on Aug. 6, 1945. (Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum/U.S. Army via AP)

U.S. Secretary of War Henry Stimson's diary also includes many passages like the following: "[I]t may be necessary to have it out with Russia on her relations to Manchuria and Port Arthur and various other parts of North China, and also the relations of China to us. Over any such tangled weave of problems the [atomic bomb] secret would be dominant ..." He continues: "We have coming into action a weapon which will be unique ... let our actions speak for themselves."

Close attention to some key dates is also instructive. The Soviet Union was expected to enter the Japanese war three months after Germany surrendered on May 8 -- which would have put the Red Army attack on or around Aug. 8. Hiroshima was destroyed on Aug. 6 and Nagasaki on Aug. 9.

'Wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.'

That diplomatic considerations may have been at the heart of the decision to postpone the planned assurances for the emperor from the proclamation until after the bomb was used can hardly be proved. What can be proved is that the president was advised that the assurances were, in fact, likely to end the war without the bombs and long before a first landing on the southernmost of the Japanese main islands -- not to mention a full invasion -- could take place. So there was plenty time to use the bombs if Japan did not surrender once assurances for the emperor were given.

The Navy museum plaque is not the only evidence that some of the nation's most important military leaders had grave misgivings about using the atomic bombs against the largely civilian targets of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For instance, the president's chief of staff -- William Leahy, a five-star admiral who presided over meetings of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- declared in his 1950 memoir:

It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender ... My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.

The Enola Gay, the Boeing B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb, on Aug. 6, 1945. (Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

Similarly, the five-star general who oversaw America's military victory in World War II and later became president, Dwight Eisenhower, declared publicly in 1963 that, "it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing." In his memoirs Eisenhower recalled that when he was informed by Stimson that the atomic bomb was about to be used:

I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and second because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives.

A few weeks after the bombing, U.S. Major General Curtis LeMay, the famous "hawk" who led the 21st Bomber Command, an air force unit that was involved in many bombing operations against Japan, stated publicly: "The war would have been over in two weeks without the Russians entering and without the atomic bomb ... [T]he atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all."

'The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all.'

And a May 29, 1945 memorandum written by U.S. Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy shows that America's top military leader, U.S. General George Marshall:

thought these weapons might first be used against straight military objectives such as a large naval installation and then if no complete result was derived from the effect of that, he thought we ought to designate a number of large manufacturing areas from which the people would be warned to leave -- telling the Japanese that we intend to destroy such centers.

What really happened in the days leading up to the decision to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki may never be known. Enough is known, however, to underscore a critical lesson for the future: Human beings in general, and political leaders in particular, are all too commonly prone to making decisions that put near-term political concerns above truly fundamental humanitarian concerns.

The only serious answer to the threat of nuclear weapons is an all-out effort to abolish them from arsenals throughout the world -- an answer that President Obama has urged and hopefully will reaffirm during his historic visit to Hiroshima.

Gar Alperovitz is the author of two major studies of the atomic bombings: "Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam" and "The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb," where references to the key documentary sources in this piece can also be found.

Earlier on WorldPost:

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From Vision to Action: Five Ways that Israeli-Americans Are Changing the Face of Jewish Life in the U.S.

4 hours 2 min ago
This month (May 2016), I authored a piece in the Jerusalem Post focused on one of the most pressing challenges facing the Jewish people in America today: how to connect our next generation to their Jewish heritage, instill in them a sense of pride in their Jewish identity, and connect them to their Jewish homeland. In recent years, this has been a frequent subject of conversation and a source of controversy, with the now infamous 2013 Pew Research Center study, "A Portrait of Jewish Americans" showing a serious decrease in Jewish affiliation among millennials and a disconnect between them and Israel.

I presented what I see as one of our community's most effective solutions to this great challenge: Israeliness. Israeliness is the identity of the people who have been living in Israel for the last century and those who left Israel and moved to the diaspora. It incorporates many elements, including Israeli culture; Jewish values; Hebrew, the modern version of the biblical language; pride in the Jewish tradition and history; a deep belief in Zionism (believing in the right of the Jewish people to live freely in their homeland); a connection to the Land of Israel; and a commitment to the idea that the Jewish people around the globe are brothers, sisters, in one big family.

I've seen firsthand how Israeliness can attract, engage, and inspire American Jews, particularly the next generation of Jewish Americans - and how Israeli-Americans are uniquely positioned to serve as champions and ambassadors of Israeliness in the United States.

The replies to my article came in quickly. Many loved the idea. Some people didn't comprehend what I meant when I wrote Israeliness. They had NO IDEA what I was talking about. Others said, "Adam, we love the concept, but how can we implement it?"

The short answer is that this is no longer merely a vision, but a reality. More than a dozen programs built by the Israeli-American Council (IAC) in partnership with the broader Jewish community are spreading Israeliness all across the U.S. Through the IAC's work, we are seeing how Israeliness--and Israeli-Americans--have the capacity to change the landscape of Jewish life for the next generation.

Here are five ways that Israeli-Americans are engaging the broader Jewish community.

1. We are leveraging Israeliness to bring young people into the community. The IAC exposes American Jews to Israeliness through bilingual programs like Eitanim, which uses the inspiration of Israeli entrepreneurs and innovation along with a special project-based curriculum to cultivate leadership skills in high school students. Despite starting just this January, there are already hundreds of participants across the country from both the Israeli-American and Jewish-American communities. We also have Mishelanu, which provides a home for Israeli-Americans and pro-Israel college students through programming focused around the Hebrew language and Israeli identity building. It is the fastest-growing Jewish program on college campuses. Other programs focus on young professionals, like Dor Chadash and BINA, bring together Americans and Israeli-Americans for gatherings inspired by Israeli culture, offering everything from social and business networking to intellectual salons.

2. We are igniting Jewish pride and heritage for those who are not interested in going to synagogue. Recently, the IAC opened the first Israeli Community Center in the U.S. We are building partnerships run Israeli Centers inside JCC's all across the country. These centers serve the Israeli-Americans and the broader Jewish community through activities centered on Israeli culture, art, music, and food. They can provide a home for programs like Shishi Israel--a Friday night "Israeli-style" Kabbalat Shabbat dinner filled with Israeli music and culture, and food, which bring the joy of Shabbat - and a reignited sense of Jewish pride - into families that were long unaffiliated with the "temple-going" crowd. We also organize and encourage Shabbat dinners at our homes where we bring our Jewish-American friends to enjoy our food and culture with us. Through the IAC, many young, Jewish Americans are finding a way express their Judaism through an Israeli lens, which is not necessarily religious.

Israeli-American Council's Celebrate Israel Festival. Photo credit: Abraham Joseph Pal.

3. We are uniting all different strands of Jews--religious and secular--under one umbrella. Israeliness means Jewish identity without religious affiliation. It means being Jewish without the label of Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform. Israeliness means being proud to be who we are, with courage, and standing up for what we believe in. It means not judging people from where they came from - whether Ashkenazic, Sephardic, secular, or Orthodox. This month's Celebrate Israel Festival brought together Jews of all backgrounds in six major cities, and was the largest celebration of the Jewish State outside of Israel. We provide a space for everyone from the orthodox to the unaffiliated and all those in between to come together in a place that they never would before.

4. We are bringing the joy and vibrancy of Hebrew to American Jewish life. Hebrew unites Jews not just because it is our historical language or even because it is the language of the Jewish state: it is the language of our ancestors, beautiful and rich in history and nuance. It should be the second-language in every Jewish home (or the first if you live in Israel). We offer programs like Keshet (previously known as Sifriyat Pijama), which brings Hebrew into the home from the earliest years of life, providing young families with free Hebrew-language children's books that teach Jewish values. More than a quarter of the participants are Americans Jews with basic Hebrew knowledge. They seek to improve their language skills, while teaching their kids Hebrew. As the co-founders of this program, my wife Gila and I hear over and over how it is changing life for more than 18,000 families across America.

5. We are bringing a fresh pair of eyes and energetic spirit to how we think about American Jewish life. Israelis are famously bold. Our ingenuity and willingness to take risks turned a sparse desert into a thriving oasis of high-tech innovation. Israeli-Americans can bring this same spirit when it comes to community building. The IAC's rapid growth in just a few years from a single region to a national Movement reaching 250,000 people show that this willingness to take risks can yield huge rewards. We are willing to fight anti-Semitism and BDS, and we are gaining friends and allies in the Jewish-American community to help us in this fight.

In his new book, Flexigidty, Gidi Grinstein, Founder and CEO of the Reut Institute, a well-respected Israeli think tank, makes a compelling argument: he says that the secret of Jewish success and survival over the millennia has been a willingness to "balance new and old, innovation and tradition, flexibility and rigidity". As we look at how to address the great challenges facing the Jewish people in America, it is clear that engaging Israeli-Americans and the next generation of Jewish-Americans in new ways must be part of the solution. Building wider and deeper partnerships between Israeli-Americans and Jewish-Americans will benefit all, bringing new vibrancy to Jewish life in our country and all over the world.

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Italian Filmmaker Captures A Different, Darker Side Of Rome

4 hours 10 min ago

Rome is best known for its ancient ruins, its impeccably designed fountains, and the gelato stores dotting its alleys and squares.

In his documentary film "Pezzi," Italian filmmaker and photographer Luca Ferrari documents an unseen side of his hometown. "Pezzi" offers a portrait of Laurentino 38, in Rome’s suburbs, and the violence, drugs, illness and misery that pervades it. In the film, Ferrari zooms in on the lives of a handful of Laurentino 38 inhabitants, including Giuliana, Stefano, Rosi, Bianca, and Lillo.

The film earned him a best documentary film award at the Rome Film Festival in 2012. The photo essay below, which Ferrari produced in parallel to the film, captures Laurentino 38's unglamorous interiors, its dreary skyline, and the anguish in its people’s eyes.

This post originally appeared on HuffPost Italy and has been translated into English.

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Categories: News Monitor

Gay Couple Stands Up To Neo-Nazi, Homophobic Mob With A Kiss

4 hours 13 min ago

A pair of gay Spaniards stood up to a homophobic mob... with a kiss.

David Fernández and Gregor Eistert were strolling around the Plaza del Dos de Mayo in Madrid's Malasaña neighborhood on May 21, while on a date when they encountered Hogar Social Madrid, a right-wing, neo-Nazi group, staging an anti-refugee protest, BuzzFeed News reports.  

Que foton de. @lunanegra1976 pic.twitter.com/m7BYymSDXP

— juan carlos mohr (@juancarlosmohr) May 21, 2016

Fernández and Eistert said they didn't plan on being involved in the protest in any way. Instead, they told BuzzFeed they were searching for a place to grab a drink when they were spotted by members of Hogar Social Madrid, who began shouting homophobic epithets like "maricón," a derogatory term for a gay man similar to "faggot," at them. 

"So I turned to my friend and did what I thought would annoy them the most," Fernández said of the passionate and "spontaneous" kiss. 

Video footage and snapshots of said smooch have since gone viral on Twitter. 

El beso gay que desafió a los neonazis en Madrid https://t.co/VUyN5tFgHYhttps://t.co/mph9cUyMiG

— El Español (@elespanolcom) May 22, 2016

The above footage shows a police officer removing Fernández and Eistert from the square, although The Local suggested that the cop's actions were done in interest of the couple's safety. 

Bravo for your bravery, guys! 

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Pope Francis Meets With Top Sunni Muslim Leader At The Vatican

Tue, 05/24/2016 - 23:56

Pope Francis met on Monday the grand imam of Egypt's highest Islamic authority, Al-Azhar, looking to heal Vatican relations with the influential center of Sunni Muslim learning after dialogue was frozen five years ago.

The 1,000-year-old mosque and university center cut contacts with the Vatican in 2011 over what it said were repeated insults toward Islam from Francis's predecessor, Pope Benedict.

The decision came just days after Benedict denounced what he called "a strategy of violence that has Christians as a target" following a bomb attack outside a church in the Egyptian city of Alexandria that killed 23 people.

Since his election in 2013, Francis has put great emphasis on improving interfaith relations and smiled warmly as he greeted Egypt’s top cleric, Ahmed al-Tayeb.

"The message is the meeting," the pope told reporters.

In a subsequent statement, the Vatican said the two men had discussed the problems of violence and terrorism, and the situation of Christians in the Middle East, including how best to protect them.

Pope Francis last year urged an end to what he called a genocide against Christians in the Middle East, but he has also said it is wrong to equate Islam with violence.

In an interview last week, he said "the idea of conquest is inherent to the soul of Islam" but added that Christianity had the same missionary goal in its "Great Commission" where Jesus told his apostles to "go and make disciples of all nations".

Looking to set an example for Europe, Francis has taken in Muslim refugees fleeing the war in Syria. Last week he criticized Western powers for trying to export their own brand of democracy to the Middle East and Africa without respecting indigenous political cultures.

Christians, mostly Orthodox Copts, account for about 10 percent of Egypt's population, which is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim.

Sectarian violence sometimes erupts over disputes on issues related to church building, religious conversions and interfaith relationships.

The Al-Azhar university has some 450,000 students, many from countries across Asia and Africa. It also has a network of more than 9,000 schools across Egypt attended by more than 2 million students.

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Categories: News Monitor