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Updated: 20 min 15 sec ago

Literal Food Bank Lets People Deposit, Withdraw Food As Needed

45 min 15 sec ago

This project is giving a whole new meaning to the word “food bank.”

The Roti Bank in Aurangabad, India allows people with extra food to deposit it at the “bank,” and others who are hungry or poor to withdraw it, according to the Indian Express.  

“The idea behind the bank is to ask people from well-to-do families to spare food cooked at their home,” Yusuf Mukati, the project’s founder, told the news outlet. “The poor, unemployed and old can withdraw it respectfully, without begging.” 

While traditional Food Banks get food from national food and grocery manufacturers or governments agencies, this model gets its food from ordinary citizens: anyone with extra food can give, and anyone who is hungry takes.

Businessman Yusuf Mukati started the Roti Bank last year, according to the video above from AJ+. The bank serves more than 500 people in need every day. 

“Over the years, I saw many poor people, especially Muslims, who can't afford one square meal a day," Mukati told the Indo-Asian News Service. “But because they live a dignified life, they do not resort to begging.”

More than 200 food deposits are made every day, by good samaritans, as well as hotels and caterers who contribute leftover food, according to the Indian Express. 

By making use of leftover food, the Roti Bank not only helps to provide nourishment to poor families, but also contributes to curbing food waste

Other food banks with similar give-and-take models have popped up around India in the last year, in Uttar Pradesh, Bundelkhand, and Mumbai

“Start the work and God will help you take it ahead,” Mukati said in the video. “The poor person who couldn’t get any food before, now they get food.”

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Categories: News Monitor

Albinos in Malawi at Brink of 'Total Extinction,' Warns UN

1 hour 17 min ago

People with albinism face systemic extinction as locals continue to murder them for their body parts.

People with albinism in Malawi are at risk of "systemic extinction" due to relentless attacks so their limbs can be used in witchcraft, said the United Nations' expert on albinism.

Albinism is a genetic condition that leads to little or no pigment in the eyes, skin and hair. The southern African nation has about 10,000 albinos, according to the U.N.

In countries like Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania, albinos are routinely hunted and killed. For reasons that don't make the slightest sense, albinos' body parts are believed to bring wealth and good luck. As a result, attackers chop off their limbs and pluck out organs, and sell them to witch doctors.

Even children as young as 2 and 3 aren't safe from albino hunters.

A 2016 report titled Reported Attacks of Persons with Albinism reviewed 180 countries and listed 172 recent killings and 276 other attacks, all within 25 African countries.

There are further issues which arise when there is lack of education about albinism. Fathers often suspect the mother of the albino child of infidelity with a white man or that the child is the ghost of a European colonist.

An albino child is often seen as a bad omen and treated as unwanted.

It is not uncommon to find families practicing infanticide on babies born with albinism.

They are often not sent to school believing that their employment chances are limited, and therefore their education a waste of resources.

There are also cases of discrimination and bullying from peers.

Ikponwosa Ero, the United Nations' expert on albinism, recently visited Malawi, which has seen an increasing number of attacks.

Since the end of 2014, there have been 65 recorded cases of attacks, the U.N. said.

Ero said people with albinism are "an endangered people group facing a risk of systemic extinction over time if nothing is done."

"We talk about protecting wildlife while not even prioritizing efforts in protecting people with albinism," she explained.

More than 200 witch doctors and traditional healers in Tanzania were arrested last year in a crackdown on the murder of albino people. Albinos, sadly, have everything to fear -- even extinction.

Read More: New Prosthetic Limbs Offer Hope To Tanzania's Hunted Albino Children

Photo credits: Reuters

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Categories: News Monitor

Daughters Of Domestic Workers In India Fight Back Against Exploitation

1 hour 32 min ago

CHENNAI, India, May 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Placing their hands on the shoulders of the person in front, dozens of teenage girls excitedly form a human train and chug around the sparsely furnished community hall in India's southern city of Chennai.

Aged between 12 and 17, the girls - who are drawn from urban slums across the country - chatter, laugh and sing songs as the gathering gets underway.

But within minutes a more sombre tone prevails as they settle cross-legged on the floor and begin to narrate the daily threats they face living in India's slums.

"To enter my home, I have to negotiate drunk men, lewd language, garbage and filth," said 17-year-old Sayali Mandve, the daughter of a domestic worker, from the Jogeshwari slum area in Mumbai, India's financial capital.

"My mother leaves very early for work and comes back only in the evening. I have to negotiate school and everything else alone and it is difficult in my neighbourhood."

Mandve is one of almost 50 girls - daughters of domestic workers or former child maids themselves - who gathered in Chennai this week as part of a nationwide campaign to help curb the abuse of children from low income urban homes.

Such children often live in densely packed slum areas, say activists, where they are at risk of physical and sexual violence, or exposure to alcohol, drugs and other crimes.

The meagre income of their families, who are already teetering on the brink, often means a major expense such as medical fees for illness or a sudden debt can compel parents to make their children quit school and take up a job.


Led by the National Domestic Workers Movement, the campaign aims to help children of informal sector workers such as maids, nannies and drivers recognise threats and equip them to better protect themselves.

"The initiative is part of a child rights movement taking shape across the country," said Andrew Sesuraj of the Tamil Nadu Child Rights Observatory, a Chennai-based charity.

"More than 5,000 children in slums have already been organised into a community and more are joining everyday."

Census data shows there were 4.35 million labourers aged between five and 14 in 2011 against 12.66 million a decade earlier - although activists say the figures are under-reported.

Most work in farming, toiling in cotton, sugarcane and rice paddy fields, or in the manufacturing sector, making products such as matchsticks, embroidering clothes or weaving carpets.

Many children also work in the services sector -- in restaurants and hotels or middle-class homes where they cook, clean and even take care of other children.

"Children of domestic workers often drop out of school and end up doing odd jobs themselves," said Christin Mary, coordinator of the National Domestic Workers Movement, which has over three million members.

"We are seeing a large number of boys working as domestic help now. They are walking the dogs, cleaning the cars and are out of schools just like the girls."

Organisers say the campaign provides a platform for children to confront sensitive issues ranging from child labour to sexual abuse and will empower them with information on the laws dedicated for their care and protection.

Mandve said she joined the campaign because she wanted to know her rights so she could protect herself and other children from abuse.

"Where I live, we need a space to be children. We don't get that easily and being part of this campaign makes me realise how important it is," she said. (Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj, Editing by Nita Bhalla; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)


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Categories: News Monitor

Do We Hold Maintenance Staff Accountable for Genocide Even as We Absolve Politicians?

1 hour 33 min ago
When the Dag Hammarskjöld Library at the United Nations announced its most checked out book for 2015 was a doctoral thesis on how heads of state and government officials could be charged in foreign courts, many were taken aback that within an institution making peace its mission, criminal accountability for leaders generated greatest interest. Accountability is not the most popular subject for leaders and heads of state. Institutions, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) are particularly unpopular. Cases like Prosecutor v. Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta demonstrate the difficulties in holding leaders accountable, the politicization of justice processes, restraint in targeting the largest perpetrators, and a strategy of focusing on smaller rather than larger power blocs in seeking accountability.

When Richard Wilson, Professor of Law and Anthropology at UConn Law School and founding director of the Human Rights Institute at the University of Connecticut, came on April 8 to speak at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law (chrgj.org), he elicited our examination of accountability. Accountability is in the terrain of his upcoming book Propaganda on Trial: The Law and Social Science of International Speech Crimes (2016, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), exploring how international tribunals hold individuals accountable for inciting genocide and crimes against humanity.

Wilson began the discussion with a look at the use of historic evidence in trials. In his research, Wilson found that prosecutors often called historians first at international trials. Whereas in national trials, take a murder trial in Miami as an example, calling a historian to testify might seem absurd. In propaganda trials, where there have been 8-10 convictions at the ICC, low-level employees like maintenance worker Joseph Serugendo at Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLMC) were held accountable, reworking Hannah Arendt's banality of evil to the banality of maintenance. In delving into the subject, Wilson saw the ICC's attempts to pursue propaganda as an issue. He then began to ask questions as to where the strategy worked and where it hadn't. These questions included: how did prosecutors bring hate speech experts to ICTY and ICTR trials and why did judges admit their expertise or exclude it? How have international tribunals handled experts brought by the prosecution and the defense? What criteria do international courts use to evaluate the value of expertise?

Wilson looked to the court of the land. Though the United States Supreme Court stated in Daubert its preference for science and evidence that is falsifiable, Justice Rehnquist honestly admitted he didn't really understand what falsifiability meant. It's the same for SCOTUS as it is for international tribunals; as much as these lawyers and judges may like science, in theory, being neither scientists nor mathematicians, can they actually understand it? Or further yet, can they successfully apply it?

As for allowing the field to speak for itself, in the Ngudjolo case, the ICC decided that scientific evidence is objective, "even if the expert was appointed by only one party or by the Court". Moreover, the experts used widely vary. In the United States, for example, the police are the most common experts called at trials, not scientists. The picture at the ICTY in the Hague looks different, where social scientists are in third place for those most called at trials, and the police at sixth place, the same rank as human rights experts. Not only are social scientists called more frequently, but they are also cited a lot more. Finding that international tribunals prefer qualitative research to quantitative, Wilson examines why that is so in his work, utilizing two specific cases: the Prosecutor v. Nahimana, Barayagwiza and Ngeze in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the recent Šešelj case in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) heavily critiqued in the press.

Published with permission from Dr. Richard Wilson

In Prosecutor v. Nahimana, Dr. Mathias Ruzindana, an expert linguist, was called in to provide context for the "Media Trial" in Rwanda. He was able to show that though the accused, RTLM radio owner Ferdinand Nahimana used euphemisms in his speech, it constituted direct incitement to genocide since ordinary Rwandans knew what the words meant: extermination of the Tutsi minority. Ruzindana determined that gukora "to work" in Rwanda at the time meant "to kill". He also determined that both Inkotanyi "warriors" and Inyenzi "cockroaches" referred to Tutsis and the Icyitso "accomplices" referred to Hutu moderates. The Tribunal's primary concern was ascertaining what ordinary Rwandas understood by such terms and the concern served as a test for the case. The judges relied on Ruzindana due to his qualitative and not quantitative expertise and Ruzindana himself approached the judges with the vested knowledge to speak to them as lawyers rather than scientists.

However, in the Vojislav Šešelj case at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the prosecution's approach was different. Though Šešelj was not a military leader and his followers were not under his official military command, Šešelj was a nationalist politician who had gone to conflict zones to provoke Serbian troops just as they were to set off on missions by telling them of incoming reports of Serbian children massacred by non-Serbs. Šešelj then sent off riled-up Serbian soldiers armed with lies to commit war crimes themselves in retaliation. At his own trial, more a circus than a legal process, Šešelj went so far in his speech as to say that should Kosovo gain independence, the result would be rivers of blood. He also utilized direct speech in calling Croatians poisonous snakes, in stark contrast to the Rwanda media case were such speech was more indirect.

Yet, how did the judges evaluate the expert witness for the prosecution in each case? Wilson shows when expert sociologist Anthony Oberschall was asked by the Tribunal what specific speech caused what specific act, he was unable to show such specificity, stating that hate speech increased the probability that the crime would be committed. Judges were hostile to the answer, unwilling to quantify "beyond a reasonable doubt", preferring rather to answer causation questions with the common sense of the ordinary man. Therein Ruzindana succeeded where Oberschall floundered; Ruzindana utilized non verbose, non-technical language. Oberschall utilized specific numbers. Ruzindana did not discuss causation. Oberschall did.

Published with permission from Dr. Richard Wilson

For Wilson, the legal notions of direct causation are flawed when applied to cases of incitement, where speech is one factor among many and theories of multiple and indirect causation are more appropriate. Therefore Wilson proposes inciters be charged with aiding and abetting an accessorial liability rather than direct instigation which requires that a speech act directly cause a criminal offence.

For Wilson, the judges' standards required unrealistic fact patterns that ignore foreseeability. When I asked Wilson his views on hate speech, he replied that his work pushed him personally towards a very low tolerance for hate speech in the media, but legally speaking, he still leaves open the question of how it should be criminalized, explaining that when members of ethnic, religious, and racial minority groups are persecuted, hate speech creates conditions in which hate and even violence are more likely to be morally justified. If we were bombarded with hate speech for two weeks, would there be physiological effects on us? Would we be more likely to be aggressive upon encountering the target of that hate speech? When speech like that of Donald Trump escalates and we see a presidential candidate who promises to deport 11 million Latin Americans, where does accountability for incitement lie?

As such, Wilson advocates for examining the speaker's intent in cases of incitement to genocide, removing the intent of the speaker from the consequences of the speech. By looking at the content, meaning, and force of speech, instead of its outcomes, efforts can be refocused on genocide prevention and refocusing accountability so that instead of holding low-level maintenance staff accountable, individuals like Šešelj would have to answer for their actions, rather than further run for elections.

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Categories: News Monitor

The Real Cost of Corruption, Incompetence and Impunity in Kenya.

1 hour 58 min ago
Days after a six-story apartment building collapsed in Huruma -- killing scores, injuring hundreds and causing millions in damages -- President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered the arrest of one Samuel Kamau, the (building's) owner. The collapse was triggered in part by another tragedy that vividly illustrates the real and true cost and impact of corruption, incompetence and impunity in Kenya: the recent floods in Nairobi.

Both events revealed a city whose growth has been poorly planned and managed; a city whose infrastructure has not been maintained; left instead to the vagaries of its well-connected and rapacious city fathers and the cartels they control -- since independence.

Let me state categorically that with adequate systems and oversight, the sub-standard constructions and overwhelmed infrastructure/storm drainage system are preventable, at least mitigatable.

Like clockwork, the now demonstrably incompetent and unaccountable Governor of Nairobi Mr. Evans Kidero offered his post-mortem of the flooding by blaming past governments for the "City in the Sun's" less-than-sunny response to the floods. The former Managing Director of the bankrupt Mumias Sugar Company went on to offer a "Top 11 List" of excuses why the city cannot cope with heavy rains even though its residents pay taxes and a potpourri of fees for city and county services ostensibly to prepare it for such eventualities.

Taken together and juxtaposed with the intolerable traffic, the portmanteau "Nairobbery" and the inexorable and widespread corruption, it is a wonder Nairobi continues to "function" at all; that it has not ground to a halt. It is equally surprising that Nairobians have not run Mr. Kidero and the county council out of town or strung them up and demanded back their tax shillings as a condition for being unstrung and lowered down!

Likewise, given the litany of tragedies and miscues that have befallen Kenya and can be directly tied to President Uhuru Kenyatta's incompetence and poor leadership, it is a wonder Kenyans continue to believe anything the man says: That they have not staged their own "Kenyan Spring" and run the man affectionately and aptly known as "Kamwana" or "Little One" out of office!

President Kenyatta and Governor Kidero, the two political leaders respectively at the helm of the tormented country and city have both demonstrated erratic, paranoid and haphazard responses to gross malfeasance and incompetence that is simply unacceptable. Both individuals, supposed students of politics AND management have been literally deaf and blind to the cries and needs of their constituents.

While President Kenyatta displays a disarming and beguiling bonhomie that has endeared him to many; frankly insulated him from the many missteps he has had throughout his term, Mr. Kidero's gruff personality and temperament is legendary as one Rachel Shebesh found out early in the governor's first term in office.

His personal charm aside, the President has repeatedly offered an assortment of lame, churlish and convenient non sequiturs re: WHY he cannot take direct and punitive action against gross malfeasance, incompetence and suspected illegalities perpetrated by his appointees including those working in the Office of the President:

That he "is constrained by the Constitution" or hindered by an opposition that "engages in negative politics". These are responses that turn on its head the signature mantra of competent and accountable leadership:

The buck stops with the person in charge.

And far from being a characterization that is one's opinion, the president's incompetence in the wake of the collapsed six-story structure has been evidenced by revelation that he issued a directive in January 2015 (after the last collapsed building), received recommendations for specific actions aimed at mitigating recurrence and a year later, not one of recommendations had been enacted! It also does not help when the president himself is accused of "repeated interference on various issues" related to enforcement of demolition edicts.

It shouldn't be a surprise that the same president who has not acted -- visibly, fairly and consistently -- on recommendations of the Ndungu Commission (on land reforms) or Truth, Justice & Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) Report (on the 2007/8 post-election violence) has not acted on recommendations of the National Construction Authority aimed at alleviating sub-standard constructions.

Similarly, Gov. Kidero, in this latest illustration of a rudderless county government, opted to offer a listing of WHYs and WHO to blame for the clogged storm drainage system, uncollected trash and nightmare traffic -- 3 years into his governorship. The same governor who responded "swiftly" (and violently) when Ms. Shebesh's "violated his personal space"; who then went on to become the nation's laughing stock because his organization thought newly-planted "Kidero Grass" would flourish and blossom in time to beautify the city for the visiting US President Barack Obama has not been able to ensure that his constituents receive consistent trash pick-up or unclogged storm drains even after repeated flooding AND three years of tax revenue receipts.

If Kenyans had any doubts about the real consequences of their repeated selection of corrupt, incompetent and unaccountable leadership, the two events described above should put those doubts to rest.

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Categories: News Monitor

London Set To Elect Its First Muslim Mayor

2 hours 1 min ago

Sadiq Khan was headed for victory in London's mayoral race Friday, making him set to become the first Muslim to take the helm of a European Union capital.

Khan, a member of the center-left Labour Party, was poised to defeat Conservative Zac Goldsmith in the race to replace outgoing Mayor Boris Johnson, who is also a member of the Conservative Party.

With all votes counted, Khan had 44 percent to Goldsmith's 35 percent. In order to win, Khan needs 50 percent of the vote, so election workers are now counting second preference ballots.

The son of Pakistani immigrants, Khan worked as a human rights lawyer before becoming a politician. He was elected as a Member of Parliament in 2005, and later served in several government ministries. From 2009 to 2010, he served in Gordon Brown's cabinet as transport minister, the first Muslim to serve in this position.

England's Muslim population has doubled over the last decade, and as of 2011, 12.4 percent of London's population practiced Islam. Like many European cities, London has struggled with rising Islamophobia in recent years.

Racial tensions also creeped into the mayoral race. In April, the Muslim Association of Britain accused Goldsmith's campaign of sinking to "disturbing lows" by distributing pamphlets critics said were aimed at exploiting anti-Muslim sentiment. Prime Minister David Cameron, who is the leader of the Conservative Party, also drew criticism for accusing Khan of having ties to an imam who Cameron alleged supported the Islamic State. Goldsmith himself offered similar sentiments, accusing Khan of giving "platform, oxygen and cover to people who are extremists." 

Khan fired back at the comments, describing them as "horribly desperate stuff from a Tory campaign that is clearly losing." 

Hey @ZacGoldsmith. There’s no need to keep pointing at me & shouting ‘he’s a Muslim’. I put it on my own leaflets. pic.twitter.com/EGeRXlPWAa

— Sadiq Khan MP (@SadiqKhan) April 11, 2016

Goldsmith's tactics also drew criticism from members of his own party:

Our appalling dog whistle campaign for #LondonMayor2016 lost us the election, our reputation & credibility on issues of race and religion.

— Sayeeda Warsi (@SayeedaWarsi) May 6, 2016

 And Roger Evans, a Conservative deputy mayor of London, said he was worried about the lasting effects Goldsmith's campaign would have on the party.

"I'm concerned that the campaign we’ve run is going to leave a negative legacy which we in London are going to have to clear up long after the the people who ran Zac Goldsmith’s campaign have gone on their way," he said. "We're going to have to do quite a lot of work to re-establish trust with a lot of communities in London, that’s a shame and an opportunity missed." 

In a blog posted on HuffPost UK, Khan asked voters "to choose hope over fear." 

"London is the greatest city in the world, but we're at a crossroads," he wrote. "Londoners can vote for a candidate who will fight for ordinary citizens, or they can vote for four more years of the same. They can vote for hope and diversity, or they can vote for fear."

In addition to its historic mayoral race, Thursday's elections were seen as a major test for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was elected to the post inSeptember. The New York Times reports:

Thursday’s council elections are one of the first major tests of Mr. Corbyn’s electoral appeal. But Labour faces a tough task in retaining the seats it currently holds. They were last contested four years ago, when the party was performing well. In some of its urban English strongholds, and in Wales, Labour is also now being challenged by the U.K. Independence Party, which campaigns against immigration and for leaving the European Union.

Khan plans to step down from his post as a member of Parliament. 

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Categories: News Monitor

Tattoo Artist Use Real Leaves As Stencils For The Freshest Of Ink

2 hours 7 min ago

These tats leave a real impression. 

Ukrainian tattoo artist Rita Zolotukhina uses leaves as stencils to create what she calls "live leaf tattoos." The result is some beautifully botanical ink. 

жасмин #liveleaftattoo #jasmine #floraltattoo #botanicaltattoo #ritkit #ritkittattoo

A photo posted by tattoo and Illustration (@rit.kit) on Apr 17, 2016 at 7:37am PDT

The 23-year-old artist, who's been making these works of art for about a year now, presses leaves or flowers dipped in stencil ink onto the clients' bodies during the tattoo process.

By creating a tattoo stencil -- or the helpful outline over which artists ink -- with the actual leaf, she can create a more true-to-form image than a stencil made from a sketch. Her approach yields a tattoo that captures exactly how, for example, the plant’s stem bends or the leaf vein’s wind. Then she inks in the details, using nature as her guide for coloring and shading.

малыш гинкго билоба #liveleaftattoo #ginkobiloba #tattoo #tattrx #botanicaltattoo #leaftattoo #nature #floraltattoo #dsfloral #ritkit #ritkittattoo

A photo posted by tattoo and Illustration (@rit.kit) on Apr 12, 2016 at 6:56am PDT

While she's always liked incorporating nature into her artwork, she realized this particular technique would be the best way to reveal the plants' true beauty. 

"I wanted the tattoo to be as natural as the plant itself. It’s impossible to get it with a sketch – you would interpret the object in your own way, and the result is always a styled picture," she explained to HuffPost. "[These] prints look in harmony with a human body."

✨ #liveleaftattoo #botanical #ritkit

A video posted by tattoo and Illustration (@rit.kit) on Apr 16, 2016 at 10:00am PDT

Zolotukhina's first tattoo of this sort was of a dandelion leaf for her best friend and she was ecstatic with the way it turned out. She says she's done about 20 of these live leaf tattoos by now and one of her favorites remains a tattoo of a willow branch. Though it was by no means a simple tattoo, she says it was definitely worth the challenge. 

fern tattoo and fern stencil with @htozkaya #liveleaftattoo #ferntattoo #fern #tattoo #tattrx #dsfloral #floraltattoo #ritkit #ritkittattoo

A photo posted by tattoo and Illustration (@rit.kit) on Apr 1, 2016 at 5:52am PDT

"It was the only one that required two sessions and it was quite ambitious to draw not a leaf, but the whole branch. I worried a lot," she said. "But I was extremely satisfied -- the willow seems to have always been here, on the leg."

We can only imagine how gorgeous a forest of these tattoos must be! 

ива #tattoo #tattoos #liveleaftattoo #willow #willowtattoo #botanical #botanicaltattoo #ritkit #ritkittattoo #liveleaftattoo

A photo posted by tattoo and Illustration (@rit.kit) on Feb 14, 2016 at 11:40am PST

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Categories: News Monitor

Zika -- An Underestimated Danger

2 hours 7 min ago

(Image courtesy of The Zika Foundation)

Co-authored by William Witenberg a contemporary artist focused on abstract painting

If you have either been unaware of the current Zika epidemic, or thought it was not relevant to you, consider the following: New York University bioethicist Art Caplan recently labeled Brazil as irresponsible with public health by "trying to run an Olympics and battle an epidemic at the same time". He advises Brazil to cancel the Olympics outright in order to limit public exposure to the Zika virus. The impact of Zika on the global consciousness is likely to be felt more immediately with the Miami Marlin's and Pittsburgh Pirates notification that they are poised to cancel an upcoming two-game series in Puerto Rico.

The Zika virus is not only spread by two species of mosquitos (the tropical Aedes aegypti and more cold-tolerant Aedes albopictus), but also transmitted by recently infected males during unprotected sexual contact. Pregnant women infected with Zika have an extraordinary increase in abnormal pregnancies, spontaneous abortions, and inter-uterine growth retardation. Congenital defects occur in as much as 28% of newborns. Babies born to mothers infected with Zika virus during pregnancy have a diverse range of disabilities including microcephaly (proportionally small heads), skeletal malformations, blindness and impaired cognitive development. For post-infection patients, Zika also can cause a disastrous auto-immune disorder known as Guillain-Barre syndrome or "GBS". Guillian-Barre Syndrome is known to cause a range of symptoms from mild tingling of fingers or general weakness of the body, to stumbling gait or paralysis requiring mechanical ventilation. Doctors working in Brazil report that the intensive care facilities are filling up with patients that have survived Zika only to be disabled by Guillllian-Barre Syndrome. Recently, experts working in Puerto Rico shared new data that indicated that approximately 1% of patients infected with Zika who developed symptoms go on to have GBS. These patients require expensive intensive care. Dr. Michael Callahan, a Harvard physician, who specializes in catastrophic infectious disease outbreaks such as Ebola and Bird Flu, is helping 6 nations and 3 U.S. states prepare hospitals to treat large numbers of paralyzed GBS patients. Dr. Callahan reported in an emergency international meeting last week, that global response is repeating the 2014 mistakes of Ebola: "We are too slow, too disorganized, and soon, too late".

The consequences of not addressing this mosquito transmitted virus immediately are serious. In the parts of the world (Latin America, the Americas and southern part of the United States) where abortion is a lighting rod issue, is exactly where this virus is becoming an epidemic. Nearly thirty percent of the pregnant women infected with Zika will give birth to babies with congenital defects. Households will have to abandon regular employment to care of disabled children full-time, thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty in these countries. Zika is a subject that is going to intensify many debates concerning women's rights and freedoms, including the issue of safe conception. The diabolical nature of Zika is that only one out of four people infected by Zika experiences symptoms; a woman can pass Zika to her fetus without ever suspecting the risk she is incurring.

While the danger of the Zika virus has been recognized in Brazil and throughout Latin America, this threat is just beginning to be understood in the US. Public health officials are concerned that political infighting in Washington will significantly delay the start of accelerated drug and vaccine development, a process that routinely takes 7 to 14 years. To date the Obama Administration has been unable to get Congress to agree to commit the $1.7 billion originally appropriated to fight the ebola virus. The New York Times reports that Senator Bill Nelson of Florida recently referred to Zika as "an emergency". As for Republicans, Mr. Nelson said, "they are not treating it like one". Senator Nelson represents Florida - one of the states (along with the entire southeastern United States and southern California) where the Aedes mosquito that transmits Zika is already widespread. On April 27, 2016 a new risk map was released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) showing that the mosquito could spread as far as Philadelphia this summer. As Senator Rubio highlighted in his recent speech before Senate - it is not "if" it's "when" the Zika gets to the US. He urged government officials, regardless of their political affiliation, to view Zika with urgency appropriate to the scale of this global threat.

It is critical not only that the US Congress allocates the necessary resources to control the Aedes mosquito, which would also prevent other Aedes transmitted diseases dengue, chikungunya as well as Zika, but also expedites funding for accelerated drug and vaccine development. Unfortunately, current progress indicates few interventions will be in place before the peak mosquito season of June to September. The economic and social consequences of an epidemic of Zika are clearly staggering. Summer is almost here. Zika comes with summer.

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Categories: News Monitor

One Child’s Sexual Abuse Allegations Show The Problems With Our Immigration System

2 hours 13 min ago

A woman locked in a Texas immigrant detention center is alleging that her 12-year-old daughter was sexually abused by another detainee there last month.

The charges, contained in an affidavit obtained by The Huffington Post and submitted to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, surfaced just days after the facility won a temporary license to operate as a child care center.

The woman and her daughter, both Salvadoran immigrants, have been detained at the Karnes County Residential Center since March. A federal judge ruled last year that children shouldn’t be held in family detention centers for more than a few days, and immigrant rights groups continue to view them as jails by another name. However, the facility has tried to convince Texas authorities that it can comply with the ruling by providing adequate accommodations for families and children.

The abuse allegations and other elements of the case highlight a number of glaring problems with the U.S. immigration system, particularly as authorities struggle to address an influx of women and children fleeing violence in Central America.  

Escaping Abuse In El Salvador

The mother -- who declined to be identified, citing fears for her family’s safety in El Salvador -- wrote in her affidavit that she came to the United States after being repeatedly abused and threatened by a gang.

In January, members of the gang shot and killed her brother-in-law while he was on his way to work, she stated. During the wake, she was handing out coffee to her neighbors when four men pulled her away from the crowd and raped her, she said. They claimed to be the same people who killed her brother-in-law.

“They said they would kill my husband and rape my daughter if I told anyone what they did to me,” the woman wrote. “They said that my daughter was pretty and they wanted the same from her.”

For the next two months, the woman said, the gang members returned to her home to rob her. In March, she wrote, they broke into her home and each of the four men raped her again.  

El Salvador currently has the highest homicide rate of any peacetime country, at roughly 116 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. Neighboring Guatemala and Honduras also struggle with extreme violence, weak policing and gang wars.

More than 275,000 families and unaccompanied minors from those three countries have fled to the United States since 2014, according to Customs and Border Protection. Many ask for asylum or other humanitarian relief, saying they will be killed or abused if they're deported to their home countries.

The woman says that she crossed into the U.S. in March and told an immigration officer that gang members in El Salvador had raped her and threatened her life.

But she claims the officer told her it didn’t matter to authorities whether she had been raped in her home country. When she went before immigration authorities for a “credible fear” interview, the first step in applying for asylum, she didn’t mention the rapes -- both because of what the officer had told her and because her daughter was sitting alongside her.

Both she and her daughter were locked in a holding station, then transferred to the Karnes County Residential Center outside of San Antonio, Texas.

Complaints About Another Detainee Ignored

Once they arrived at the detention facility in Karnes City, Texas, the mother says she immediately complained to guards about her female suite mate, who she said made lewd comments about her and her daughter.

But according to the affidavit, the guards ignored her concerns. Authorities only moved the suite mate after she flashed the child and touched the child’s genitals, according to the girl's mother.

“My worst nightmare became a reality when my daughter was sexually assaulted in jail by a woman we were forced to share a room with,” the affidavit reads. “My daughter’s abuser remains in this detention center and we must see her every day. My daughter is afraid to be without me for even a minute.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement said they concluded an investigation into the allegations last month.

“Three agencies -- the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Child Advocacy Centers and the Karnes County (Texas) Sheriff’s Department -- closed the case April 20 of a 12-year-old, housed with her mother at the Karnes County Residential Center, who alleged she was inappropriately touched by another female resident,” ICE said in a statement to HuffPost. “All three agencies concluded that information provided by the minor could not be corroborated, and the case lacked evidence to pursue any further action."

Asylum Denied

Despite the severity of the threats the mother claimed to face in El Salvador, an immigration judge denied her request for asylum. RAICES, a group that offers pro-bono legal representation for women locked up at Karnes, asked for another interview last month, arguing that their client omitted key information in her first interview. That appeal was also rejected.

“This case represents everything that’s wrong with the policy of deterring refugees with detention,” Jonathan Ryan, the executive director for RAICES, told HuffPost. “She faces imminent death if returned, and she can’t even get an interview to explain why. It defies comprehension.”

Last month, the attorneys petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to issue protective measures for the woman and her child. It’s uncommon for attorneys to go over the federal government’s head on immigration issues, though the IACHR has ruled in immigrants’ favor in the past.

Unknown Adults Aren't Supposed To Be Sleeping With Kids

Amid protests and lawsuits, the Obama administration largely ended the policy of family detention back in 2009.

But the Karnes detention facility was repurposed as a family detention center in 2014 when a growing number of Central American mothers, children and unaccompanied minors entered the U.S., setting off a storm of political controversy. The Obama administration also hastily constructed another family detention center in Dilley, Texas, to lock up women crossing into the United States with their children.

Immigrant rights activists and lawyers describe both facilities as little more than jails, used to deter victims of violence from seeking asylum. Both detention centers are run as for-profit enterprises by private companies that specialize in prison contracting.

A spokesman for GEO Group, the company that runs the Karnes County Residential Center, declined to comment on the abuse allegations.

Federal judge Dolly Gee ruled last year that locking children up with their mothers in family detention violates the 1997 Flores settlement, which requires the federal government to keep kids in the least restrictive setting possible and to generally favor a policy of releasing them.

To comply with the ruling, both the Karnes and Dilley family detention centers applied for licenses to operate as child care facilities. Texas state officials granted Karnes a temporary license for six months last week, but the state faces an ongoing lawsuit aimed at derailing the process.

Luis Zayas, a professor of social work at the University of Texas at Austin who has interviewed more than 20 women and children detained at Karnes, says that a facility conceived as a detention center isn’t equipped to make that transition abruptly.

Child care facilities differ from prisons and detention centers, he said. Kids housed in child care facilities often leave the grounds on field trips or other excursions, while children in family detention are stuck there.

The alleged child abuse at Karnes would not have happened if the facility were actually taking the precautions child care facilities are required to, Zayas said, pointing out that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services prohibits most adults from sleeping in the same room as minors. Among other requirements, mental health staff must screen adults who might potentially sleep in the same room as kids they're not related to for "any past history of sexual trauma or sexually inappropriate behavior."

To allow such a sleeping arrangement, a social worker or mental health professional must also provide a written and dated evaluation confirming that it is in the child's best interests.

A spokesman with TDFP declined to comment because of the lawsuit.

“Staff needs to be trained in identifying abuse and mental health problems in children, parents or other staff,” Zayas told HuffPost. “These regulations and rules are not being applied in the manner they should, or the way they are applied to other child care settings.”

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Origins: Healing, Diaspora and the Becoming of a Persian Culinary Tradition

3 hours 5 min ago
I feel inspired share my background and speak to the experience of diaspora, nostalgia, and food.

In my household food was a potent means for communicating love, for restoring and persevering health, and for remembering and passing on our Persian heritage. At the time of our New Year, at the Spring Equinox (both for the Bahá'í community to which I belong, and to the Zoroastrian community to which we have many relatives), was when the senses and smells of this several thousand year culture would come alive. The bright floral notes of the purple and white hyacinths, the intoxicating smell of rose water, which would often be poured on the hands of visitors to our home, and the cardamom, saffron and rose water infused sweets, I knew my culture, its beauty, delicacy and generosity, through these sensory experiences.

This food was also deeply healing, both my grandmother and mother, though perhaps unaware of it, are powerful healers and alchemists with the food they prepare. For every ailment there was a corresponding dish, which served as a potent elixir to restore health and well-being. In the process of creating these dishes there was particular attention to detail and beauty, as is the hallmark of Persian cuisine. It is like living, breathing art, which is then enjoyed in community and celebration with others. From the April 16, 2016 New York Times article, "Persian Cuisine, Fragrant and Rich With Symbolism" it is written,

"The repertoire of dishes is fragrant, diverse and highly refined, based on complex culinary techniques. They are imbued with fresh flowers and herbs like rose petals, fenugreek and mint; spices like saffron, sumac and cardamom; fruits like pomegranate and barberry; all kinds of citrus; and nuts, including pistachios and almonds" (New York Times, April 16, 2016).

This is also a culinary tradition that I largely knew as an Iranian living in the diaspora. A difficult political history has forced millions of Iranians into exile, with conditions too inhospitable and dangerous in their motherland; food, music, language, dress, and other markers of culture also travelled with this exodus. In the case of my family, and those in our social spheres, this then transformed the meaning of food from simply that which is consumed for physical nourishment, rather it became the psychic representation of our homeland, the way we came to know the traditions of our ancestors, and the way we remember and didn't forget the experiences, smells, and tastes of our beloved homeland.

Cuisine in exile is both a great celebration, and marked with particular nostalgia and sadness. For us it was it was the truest and surest connection, but also a constant reminder of our difficult exile. Food always taste better back home, but for many of my generation the recreation of our cuisine was all that we knew. It is also a culinary tradition that myself and many of my friends my age are working hard to share, keep alive, and transmute to those around us. Consistently there is a sentiment that this food is at its core, deeply healing, inspires poetry and art, and brings people together in profound ways.

In the Persian literary tradition there is also extensive references to particular foods, often used in metaphorical and symbolic ways. For example in the following excerpt from a poem by Mawlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi entitled, "The Laughter of Pomegranates":

A laughing pomegranate
brings the whole garden to life.
Keeping the company of the holy
makes you one of them
Whether you are a stone or marble,
you will become a jewel
when you reach a human being of heart.

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Never Again

3 hours 29 min ago
Never Again.
Will We Let Our Arms be Tattooed With Serial Numbers.

Never Again.
Will We Bow Our Heads Before An Occupier.

Never Again.
Will We Let Our Beards Be Shaven.

Never Again.
Will We Part With Our Children, Parents, Uncles, Aunts, Crying.

Never Again.
Will We March To our Death, Weary And Exhausted.

Never Again.
Will We Stand Naked Huddled In A Gas Chamber, Yearning To Die.

Never Again.
Will We Bow Our Heads In Shame For Being Jewish.

Never Again.
Shall We Remain Stateless, Ashamed And Alone in The World.

Never Again.
Will We Keep Quiet And Submissive In The Face Of Our Haters.

Never Again.
Will We Allow Them To Trample Our Humanity, Our Dignity, Our Hearts.

Never Again.

For Today The Jewish State Of Israel Is Standing Strong,
Strong To Defend Jews Wherever They Are,
Strong To Shine The World With The Light Of Humanity,
Strong To Be.

To Be.

Israel is here, and it is here to stay.


(Holocaust Remembrance Day, May 5 2016).

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Luana's Story and the Continued Assualt on the Black Population of Brazil

3 hours 33 min ago
"But she had a criminal record"
"It was God's will, she became a little angel"
"A good thief is a dead thief"

When a black person dies in Brazil, these three sentences are often used as the best response to transform the continued assault on the black population into a euphemism.

Therefore, we must talk about Luana.

Luana Barbosa dos Reis was a black lesbian mother who lived in the outskirts. She died after being brutally and cowardly attacked by the Military Police of Ribeirão Preto (SP).

When Luana was approached by the police (something usual for any black person thanks to an unrepaired, racist, sadistic and corrupt public security force), they didn't believe she was a woman. She was frisked in an invasive, truculent and illegal way. Her defensive behavior, which was a justified reaction to the abuse of power by the police officers, became an excuse for her beating. Luana was brutally beaten in front of her 14-year old son, then arrested. A few days after she was admitted into emergency care at a nearby hospital, she died due to complications caused be traumatic brain injury.

Luana's mere existence was oppressed and criminalized. She was black, lesbian and poor. Luana had a motorbike that "could only have been stolen." Luana had a home that "could only be a hiding place for drugs." Luana apparently had a worthless life.

In Brazil, the police force considers itself above the law and good and evil. Luana was virtually executed and what we see (once again) was an attempt to blame the victim for her own death: "she had a criminal record," they said. This is one of the excuses the general population has accepted for the arbitrary murder of black people in this country, where it is seemingly encouraged by the state and often implemented by the police.

Criminalizing and blaming the victim is a common device used to trivialize the fact that black and innocent women, men and children die every day in Brazil and become statistical data.

According to the study Violence Against Women: Femicides in Brazil, conducted by IPEA (Institute for Applied Economic Research), each year 5,664 women are killed violently, which corresponds to 472 murders per month, 15.52 victims per day or a death every hour and a half.

Of the women murdered in Brazil between 2001 and 2011, more than 60 percent were black women, and that is not a coincidence, representing the main victims in all regions, except in the South of Brazil.

In Brazil the femicide against black women raised by 54 percent, while the percentage of white women killed violently dropped 9.8 percent, according to the 2015 Map of Violence. Finally, the number of incarcerated black women increased significantly nationwide.

Black women are constantly marginalized and oppressed just for being black. Thus, Luana's case cannot be considered an isolated one. A crime committed by her in the past does not justify the homicidal and racist treatment she suffered. Nothing justifies her brutal beating in front of her son and without the right to a defense.

Black children don't "become little angels" after being killed by a stray bullet. They become statistical data, figures and victims of a never ending situation....

Criminalizing and blaming the victim is a common device used to trivialize the fact that black and innocent women, men and children die every day in Brazil and become statistical data.

"It was God's will, she became a little angel," we often hear.

The culture of relativism and trivialization of the death of innocent people often attributes the death to "God" and the so called "Divine Providence." Black children don't "become little angels" after being killed by a stray bullet. They become statistical data, figures and victims of a never ending situation that haunts the collective unconscious of every black person in Brazil.

I am absolutely convinced that these murdered children didn't want to become "angels," they just wanted to be children. And that means playing in the streets, flying kites, collecting marbles, going to school, having friends, growing up, working, among other things that build the narrative of a dignified, full and healthy growth that should be guaranteed by the state.

We must stop using euphemisms to talk about the history of those who are dying at an increasingly young age: they are black, poor and live in the outskirts.

The 2014 Index of Juvenile Vulnerability to Violence and Racial Inequality shows that the rate of young black people killed per 100,000 inhabitants raised from 60.5 in 2007 to 70.8 in 2012. Among white young people the rate of homicide victims also increased: from 26.1 to 27.8. In absolute numbers, this means that 29,916 young people were killed in 2012, of which 22,884 were black and 7,032 were white. The difference is blatant. Is it pure chance? Shouldn't one conduct a socioeconomic or racial analysis?

Caio Daniel was shot while he was playing soccer, Ana Beatriz was shot in the head at a party in an uncle's house, Ryan Gabriel was playing at the doorsteps of his grandparent's house when he was shot and Matheus Moraes was playing marbles when he met the same fate.

They were simply being children. Even though we consider it an absurd for children to be killed by policemen while playing in front of their houses, we remain silent.

"God is always to blame."

We trivialize and remain silent about the murder of black people to an extent that we become accomplices to these deaths. The main factor to change this reality is breaking the silence around racism. We must debate gender, race and class issues. Brazilians must face their reality head on.

There is no collective reaction when a black person is killed. Such stories don't capture the headlines of our major newspapers. The families of the victims don't get the support of the general population. Facebook doesn't generate a filter to be used on a profile picture or a hashtag.

The assault on the black population is not a theory, it is not God's will and it will never be justified.

Deep down, we know that the state allows the killing of innocent black people. And yet we remain silent. Why? The answer is in the lack of empathy from those who will not be murdered in their homes or living-rooms. The determining factors? The region where one lives and one's color, as well as the lack of indignation with the perpetrators and the lack of historical knowledge about the racist structure in this country. The collective indignation is limited to blaming "God" for these deaths, after all:

"He wanted it this way; He wanted these angels by His side."
"God loved these children so much that He called them to sit by His side."

Brazil is one of the countries where the Christian faith is most evident and even participates actively in politics. We are raised within religions that place God in power, and as the One with the answers to everything. In the name of faith in this punitive God, many crimes have been justified. In our history, the native population was virtually decimated and the black population was enslaved "in the name of God."

Today we blame Him for the "lack of discomfort," for our collective amnesia and for the indifference to the many deaths which we fail to care about. The other is always to blame. The blame for the death of a black person is never ours and we will never take the blame collectively.

I would like to believe that by saying that "children become little angels" and by making God responsible for everything would solve the problem. I would like to believe that the 111 shots were "unintentional," that Amarildo is not missing and that Cláudia didn't suffer at all while she was dragged for miles by a police car. I would really like to think that Luana didn't feel the pain of dying simply for being what she was. But I can't take into consideration any effort make these stories any less cruel than they are.

Children are being murdered, women are being beaten and dragged behind cars, and boys that walk on the streets with their friends are being shot to death. Another child died today. Another child will die tomorrow. At least one black woman will die every day, despite being innocent. Black boys will play soccer next to dead bodies, because they are used to it.

And if you don't see how serious the situation is, don't just say that someone "became an angel" so that you can sleep peacefully at the end of the day. And you won't be able to say "a good thief is a dead thief" about these young and innocent victims because they are your "little angels," right?

Every day, every hour and every minute, in Brazil, the neglect and the debt to the black population only increases. This debt will never be paid off, this wound will never heal. The assault on the black population is not a theory, it is not God's will and it will never be justified.

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

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This Photographer Is Making It His Mission To Document Faces Around The World

Fri, 05/06/2016 - 23:54

With more than 7.3 billion people and countless cultures and traditions, the world is a beautifully diverse place.

For Australia-based photographer Alexander Khimushin, capturing this beauty became an exciting challenge that has already led him to explore 84 nations in his lifetime, camera in hand.

An avid traveler, Khimushin spent the past two years venturing from country to country to shoot portraits of people he encountered for "The World In Faces," a photo project celebrating diverse cultures around the world.

"While on the road, I realized that people were the most interesting part of my travel experience; it is them that I have most unforgettable memories about," he told The WorldPost. "I was especially fascinated by people living in remote, off-the-beaten-path places, where traditional lifestyle and ancient culture remained untouched by the outside world."

"The idea is simple," he wrote on his website of the ongoing photo project. "I want to show diversity of the world we are all living in by taking portraits of its incredible people."

Khimushin believes that embracing cultural diversity will make the world a more tolerant and compassionate place. "Our diversity is not a reason to hate each other. Quite the opposite, we must admire and respect it," he said.

Check out some of his extraordinary photographs of men, women and children from around the world. To view more of Khimushin's work, visit the project on his website.

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A Major Loophole In The Tiger Trade Is Closing, But It's Not Enough To Curb Trafficking

Fri, 05/06/2016 - 23:48

A major loophole in the regulation of America's tiger population went into effect Friday, after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service closed the loophole last month. Mixed-breed, or "generic," captive tigers will be subject to the same oversight as pure-bred tigers, which are protected by legislation.

All tigers will now be subject to the Endangered Species Act and subject to the highest level of national regulation. Generic tigers that are being bought and sold across state lines tigers will need to be registered under the Captive-bred Wildlife Registration program.

The immediate effects of this action will be to curb the sale of tigers across state lines and to deter those who illegally traffic in tigers or tiger parts abroad, according to Kate Dylewsky, a spokesperson for the animal advocacy group Born Free USA. "But it will probably have no effect whatsoever on private ownership," she told The Huffington Post.

As many as 5,000 tigers live in America, in peoples’ backyards, private zoos and breeding facilities -- far more than the 3,200 tigers left in the wild.

The unregulated trade in generic tigers for pets, private zoos and medicinal purposes, particularly in China, undermines tiger conservation efforts, says Dylewsky. The proliferation of privately-owned tigers makes it more likely that their parts end up in the lucrative international exotic animal trade, according to a 2008 report from TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network. 

The possession of exotic animals is currently governed by an ineffective "patchwork" of state laws, according to Carney Anne Nasser of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. And private ownership (without exhibition or dealing) doesn't even require a USDA license.

According to several American wildlife activists, the gold standard in tiger regulation would be the Big Cat Safety Act, which would almost entirely prohibit the private possession and breeding of big cats outside of zoos. 

BCSA was introduced in the House last summer, and a companion Senate bill was introduced in February. However, it took five years for FWS to count generic tigers as endangered (after first proposing the broader regulation in 2011), so a comprehensive bill may take years to pass.

"The political climate is very difficult this year," Dylewsky said. "There's absolutely appetite for this at the federal level, but it's honestly hard for any kind of bill to pass right now." She said there is bipartisan support for the action, although some Republicans prefer that it remain a state issue out of a general distaste for federal regulation. 

If the bill passes in Congress, it will be illegal for Americans to buy big cats for private ownership. Current owners, however, will be allowed to keep their tigers, but will have to register them. They’ll also be prohibited from breeding them or acquiring others.

A cohesive federal ruling like BCSA is the only foreseeable way to curb the private tiger population, Susan Bass of Big Cat Rescue told HuffPost. "You wouldn't believe how easy it is to own a tiger in America. In many states, all you need is a $40 'exhibitor license,'" she said. "It's easier to buy a tiger than adopt a puppy."

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Daily Meditation: Unleash Your Creative Genius

Fri, 05/06/2016 - 23:27

We all need help maintaining our personal spiritual practice. We hope that these Daily Meditations, prayers and mindful awareness exercises can be part of bringing spirituality alive in your life.

Today's meditation features a stunning time lapse video by artist Thijme Termaat. May this remarkable work inspire you to unleash your own creative genius.

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A Street Artist Leaves His Mark On Jordan’s Refugee Camps

Fri, 05/06/2016 - 23:10

Spanish graffiti artist Pejac visited a couple of Jordan's refugee camps this spring and painted murals he dedicated to children and their mothers in the camps. 

Jordan is home to 639,000 Syrian refugees -- 80,000 of whom now live in the bustling Zaatari camp. Jordan’s King Abdullah said in recent months that the massive influx of refugees has overwhelmed his country and brought it to a “boiling point.”

In April, Pejac visited the sprawling Azraq camp in east Jordan, which was built in 2014 to alleviate the pressure off of Zaatari. There are currently more than 20,000 refugees in the camp, 56 percent of whom are children, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

The artist's intervention in Azraq captures a silhouette of a veiled woman bathing her child. To the left of the images is Pejac's adaptation of a painting by the post-impressionist Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla, titled Playa de Valencia a la luz de la Mañana (Valencia Beach in the morning light). 

Pejac said he dedicates this artwork to the mothers in the camp -- three in 10 households in Azraq are headed by women, according to a UNHCR report published in April. 

“A mother’s creativity is something truly admirable -- how they manage to create a special world to protect their child by transforming reality into a better place,” he said.

The Barcelona-based artist is known for his public space interventions and replicas of classic masterpieces by the likes of Claude Monet and Alberto Giacometti. His artwork -- often carefully designed silhouettes against a wall -- tackles social and environmental issues.

Pejac’s visit to Azraq follows a visit earlier this year to Al-Hussein, a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan that dates back to 1948.

'Kite' #Pejac #alhusseinrefugeecamp #refugeescrisis

A photo posted by Pejac (@pejac_art) on Apr 23, 2016 at 2:40am PDT

Pejac spent some time in the popular neighborhood of Jabal Al-Weibdeh during his visit to Amman. In a mural he titled “Rotation,” a silhouette of a teenage boy spins a globe like a basketball at his finger tip.

“On the one hand I’m talking about Jordan, a country that has a long history of hospitality towards refugees,” Pejac said. “On the other hand…a big part of Jordan’s population and its future is being determined by, is in the hands of, the kids.”

Scroll down for more photos of Pejac's artwork in Jordan. 

This post originally appeared on HuffPost Spain and has been translated into English and edited for clarity.

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Trump Adviser’s Ties Raise Security Questions

Fri, 05/06/2016 - 23:05

With Donald Trump on the brink of receiving classified security briefings from the Central Intelligence Agency, U.S. foreign policy figures of both parties are raising concerns about a close Trump aide’s ties to allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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Help Us Show How Beautifully Diverse The Hijab Can Be

Fri, 05/06/2016 - 23:04
Muslim women worldwide wear the hijab -- Islamic head covering -- in various ways, and often incorporate elements of their own culture to create a head scarf style that is native to their region. The many different styles is a testament to the rich diversity of Muslim women. It's both an expression of self as much as of love.

Sometimes, the hijab is portrayed primarily as a full-length garb echoing styles that are commonly found in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. But we know this foreignizing depiction of the headscarf is one dimensional.

Show us how you wear your hijab along with a short description of what it means to you to help us illustrate the vibrancy and diversity of women who don it. Tag your photo with #HijabToMe on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, and we'll showcase it in The Huffington Post.


The Huffington Post is covering the rise in anti-Muslim discrimination and those who are working to combat it. Why? Because hate and bigotry are toxic for everyone. Share your story and send to [email protected] and we'll consider including it in the Islamophobia Tracker.

All submissions are subject to Huffington Post Terms and Conditions.

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Russia and Israel's Middle East Dance

Fri, 05/06/2016 - 22:52
Russia and Israel have a long history of diplomatic and military collaboration in the Middle East, dating back to the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, when Israel's triumph over its neighbors was largely attributable to Moscow's military support. Following the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, Israel established itself as a key U.S. ally, as the Soviet Union partnered with a host of Arab nations -- most importantly, Syria. Yet, despite their history of having been on opposite sides for much of the Cold War, since the Soviet Union collapsed, the Russian Federation has pursued an increasingly pragmatic foreign policy with Israel.

As Russia reasserts a robust footprint in the tumultuous Middle East, the state of Russian-Israeli relations is naturally complicated, but it is arguably true that the bilateral relationship has never been stronger. In 2005 Russian President Vladimir Putin was the first Russian leader to visit Israel. Putin has since referred to Israel as a 'special state' to Russia, based on their shared interests and long collaborative history. The foundation the two nations have established is being tested, as their positions on Iran and Syria weigh heavily on their ability to move forward collaboratively.

Russia's growing coordination with Iran and Hezbollah on the Syrian battlefield has made more complicated Israel's views of Putin's agenda in the Middle East. Although an important player in the P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran, Russia is also now in the process of providing S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Tehran. Russia and Iran's common cause in the Levant is increasingly at odds with Israel's stance on numerous issues. While Moscow and Tel Aviv remain committed to their cordial relationship, they are also finding it increasingly difficult to justify prioritizing that relationship at the expense of their grander regional strategic objectives.

Russia's support of President Bashar al-Assad is not necessarily an issue for Israel. The Israeli government appear to prefer that Assad's regime survives, given the risks of Islamist extremists seizing control of Damascus and/or large swathes of territory near Israel and the Golan Heights. What is potentially a real problem for Israel, however, is the S-400 anti-aircraft missiles that Russia has sent to Syria. If these were either successfully provided to Hezbollah for its use, or if Russia were for some reason chose to use them against the Israeli air force, Israel's strategic advantage against Hezbollah would be severely compromised. This subject was no doubt discussed when Putin met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in April.

Moscow views Hezbollah as a more effective fighting force against the Islamic State (and other Sunni Islamist extremists) -- fighting in tandem with the Syrian Arab Army and elite Iranian forces. Putin's dilemma is to increase Assad's chances of continuing to retake lost ground and remaining in power while maintaining the status quo between Israel and Hezbollah. Israel is very sensitive about the risk that the Golan Heights would be overtaken by Hezbollah or other Islamic extremists, and it remains on constant alert regarding Hezbollah's ongoing receipt of weaponry from Iran. Israel has repeatedly attacked convoys suspected of delivering heavy weaponry to Hezbollah and will no doubt continue to do so - especially if it suspects that S-400s or similar weapons are among them.

Mr. Netanyahu must continue a delicate diplomatic dance - maintaining good relations with the Russians without further alienating the U.S. -- an issue that will outlive Barack Obama's presidency. The same may also be said about Mr. Putin: eventually, he will presumably want a warmer relationship with the U.S. When that time comes, what compromises will he need to consider vis-à-vis Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Israel in order to achieve that objective? At this juncture, Putin holds many cards, and both the Americans and Israelis know it.

But by the same token, either Russia or Israel has the ability to disrupt the existing status quo with respect to Syria and Iran, because either could choose to ramp up their military engagement in a variety of ways. Russia may do so by sending its armed forces back into Syria at will, by directly arming Hezbollah, or by arming other Iranian proxies elsewhere in the region. Israel may do so by choosing to become directly engaged in Syria, by re-engaging Hezbollah in Lebanon (or Syria), or in the longer term, making good on its threat to bomb Iranian nuclear sites - particularly if Iran were to make egregious violations of the P5+1 Agreement without any meaningful penalty from the West -- or if the Agreement were to expire and Iran were to ramp up its nuclear program. Any of these actions would serve to significantly disrupt the status quo ante in the Middle East.

While Israel will never have the 'special relationship' with Russia that it does with America, the two nations clearly have some similar objectives, such as not wanting the reach of Islamic extremist groups to spread, and keeping Mr. Assad in power (at least, until such time as there is viable non-extremist alternative). Mr. Putin must also realize that while Hezbollah serves an important objective in the near term in Syria, it cannot be in Russia's long-term interest for Hezbollah to gain a permanent foothold in Syria - something Iran surely would like to see. In that regard, Mr. Putin is playing a dangerous game, and, from the Israeli perspective, equally dangerous by delivering missiles, rockets, and other types of weaponry to Hezbollah, which can be used against Israel.

It would be in Moscow and Tel Aviv's long-term interest to coordinate their movements and align their long-term objectives. In the end, they will find that they may have more in common geo-strategically than differences. With the latest round of peace talks in the process of failing, and the fighting ramping up again in Syria, now is a good time for the two countries to re-assess where they are going, and how they are going to get there. Iranian influence in Syria is unlikely to be part of the long-term mix for either of them. For that reason it would be better for Mr. Putin to establish some boundaries vis-à-vis Tehran in Syria that are also in accordance with Israel's objectives. Otherwise, things will get even messier, and the foundation of their bilateral relationship could be at risk.

*Daniel Wagner is CEO of Country Risk Solutions and co-author of the book "Global Risk Agility and Decision Making".

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Categories: News Monitor

Kim Jong Un Boasts Of Nuclear Tests As He Opens Rare Party Summit

Fri, 05/06/2016 - 22:48

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PYONGYANG (Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Friday hailed the country's recent nuclear test and launch of a satellite into space, as he opened the first congress of the country's ruling Workers' Party in 36 years.

Wearing a dark western-style suit and grey tie, the 33-year-old was flanked by his top military aide and the titular head of state in a massive hall packed with military and party delegates, according to footage on North Korean state television aired late on Friday.

During the congress, Kim is expected to further consolidate his control over a country that has grown increasingly isolated over its pursuit of nuclear weapons, including its fourth nuclear test in January, which led to U.N. resolutions in March tightening sanctions.

"In this year of the seventh party congress, the military and the people accomplished the great success in the first hydrogen bomb test and the launch of an earth observation satellite, Kwangmyongsong-4, to brilliantly illuminate the prowess of Juche Joson," he said, referring to the North's home-grown founding ideology combining Marxism and extreme nationalism.

"Unprecedented results have been accomplished."

Foreign analysts expect the third-generation leader of the Kim dynasty to formally adopt his "Byongjin" policy of simultaneously pursuing nuclear weapons and economic development.

"Kim is after catching two rabbits, a nuclear arsenal and economic development, and he's likely going to declare the country is a nuclear weapons state, so that's one rabbit," said Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

"He might also lay out a five-year or seven-year blueprint for the development of the people's economy," Yang said.

Foreign journalists invited to cover the event were not permitted inside the April 25 House of Culture, the imposing stone structure draped in red party flags where the congress is expected to run for several days.

Kim has aggressively pursued nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology. The February satellite launch was criticized internationally as a long-range missile test in disguise.

Giant neighbor China, the North's lone major ally, backed the U.N. resolutions, as it grew frustrated over the nuclear tests.


Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, asked about the congress at a daily briefing in Beijing, said North Korea was at an important stage in its national development.

"We also hope North Korea can listen to the voice of the international community, and jointly maintain northeast Asia's lasting peace and stability," Hong said.

Thousands of delegates from around North Korea had been expected to attend the first congress to be held since 1980, before the 33-year-old Kim was born. Security guards in suits and ties surrounded the venue on Friday.

The Byongjin policy follows Kim's father's Songun, or "military first" policy, and his grandfather's Juche ideology.

State radio said the Workers' Party congress would "unveil the brilliant blueprint to bring forward the final victory of our revolution", according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

North Korean state media has trumpeted a 70-day campaign of intensified productivity in the run-up to the congress, and Pyongyang has been spruced up for the event.

"Miraculous results were produced," KCNA said, touting production in the industrial sector that achieved 144 percent of the target and electricity generation 110 percent, although the actual targets were not given.

Under Kim Jong Un, an informal market economy has been allowed to grow, although it has not been officially adopted as government policy.

However, more taxis and private cars on the streets, more goods in shops and more buildings under construction attest to growing prosperity and consumption among Pyongyang residents.

South Korea has been on alert in anticipation that the North could conduct a fifth nuclear test to coincide with the congress. North and South Korea are still technically at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty.

North Korea's founding leader, Kim Il Sung, spoke for more than five hours at the last party congress. Kim Jong Il, who almost never spoke in public, did not hold a party congress.

(Additional reporting by Jack Kim, Jee Heun Kahng and Dagyum Ji in SEOUL and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Paul Tait and Nick Macfie)

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Categories: News Monitor