Sunday, January 10, 2016

Music Video - WALK THE MOON - Shut Up and Dance

Video - CES 2016 debuts breakthroughs in drone tech

Video Report - MSF hospital bombed in Yemen: 5 killed, Doctors Without Borders operations director confirms

David Cameron condemned live on TV by Andrew Marr Show band Squeeze as group change lyrics to target Tories

David Cameron had no choice but to sit and listen as a seventies rock band criticised Tory policy to his face live on TV.

The Prime Minister appeared on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning to launch a project that will see more than 100 council house estates torn down and replaced with private properties.

Mr Cameron wrote in the Sunday Times “the mission here is nothing short of social turnaround”, adding the Government will “tear down anything that stands in our way”.

And he told Andrew Marr: “I think it is time with government money - but with massive private sector and perhaps pension sector help - to demolish the worst of these and actually rebuild houses that people feel they can have a real future in.”

With the interview over, Mr Cameron stayed on the sofa with Mr Marr to listen to veteran rockers Squeeze, who played the title single from their new album Cradle to the Grave.

Lead singer Glenn Tilbrook has previously hit out at the Conservative Party for being “seemingly intent on pursuing little people and demonising immigrants”.

And apparently prepared for his Prime Ministerial audience, he changed the third chorus of the rendition of the new song so it went:

“I grew up in council houses

Part of what made Britain great

"There are some here who are hell-bent
On the destruction of the welfare state.”
Squeeze rose to fame in the seventies, and have been fronted by song-writing duo Tilbrook and Chris Difford ever since. 

    A spokesperson for Jeremy Corbyn told Huffington Post the band "gave a remarkably timely voice to what millions of people are thinking about how this government is failing", while the BBC was reportedly not made aware of the protest beforehand.

    Saudi Arabia’s Reckless Extremism

    By Mohammad Javad Zarif
    THE world will soon celebrate the implementation of the landmark agreement that resolves the unnecessary, albeit dangerous, crisis over Iran’s nuclear program. All parties hoped, and continue to believe, that the resolution of the nuclear issue would enable us to focus on the serious challenge of extremism that is ravaging our region — and the world.
    President Rouhani has repeatedly declared that Iran’s top foreign policy priority is friendship with our neighbors, peace and stability in the region and global cooperation, especially in the fight against extremism. In September 2013, a month after taking office, he introduced an initiative called World Against Violence and Extremism (WAVE). It was approved by consensus by the United Nations General Assembly, giving hope for a farsighted global campaign against terrorism.
    Unfortunately, some countries stand in the way of constructive engagement.
    Following the signing of the interim nuclear deal in November 2013, Saudi Arabia began devoting its resources to defeating the deal, driven by fear that its contrived Iranophobia was crumbling. Today, some in Riyadh not only continue to impede normalization but are determined to drag the entire region into confrontation.
    Saudi Arabia seems to fear that the removal of the smoke screen of the nuclear issue will expose the real global threat: its active sponsorship of violent extremism. The barbarism is clear. At home, state executioners sever heads with swords, as in the recent execution of 47 prisoners in one day, including Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a respected religious scholar who devoted his life to promoting nonviolence and civil rights. Abroad, masked men sever heads with knives.
    Let us not forget that the perpetrators of many acts of terror, from the horrors of Sept. 11 to the shooting in San Bernardino and other episodes of extremist carnage in between, as well as nearly all members of extremist groups like Al Qaeda and the Nusra Front, have been either Saudi nationals or brainwashed by petrodollar-financed demagogues who have promoted anti-Islamic messages of hatred and sectarianism for decades.
    The Saudi strategy to derail the nuclear agreement and perpetuate — and even exacerbate — tension in the region has three components: pressuring the West; promoting regional instability through waging war in Yemen and sponsoring extremism; and directly provoking Iran. Riyadh’s military campaign in Yemen and its support for extremists are well known. Provocations against Iran have not grabbed international headlines, primarily thanks to our prudent restraint.
    The Iranian government at the highest level unequivocally condemned the assault against the Saudi embassy and consulate in Tehran on Jan. 2, and ensured the safety of Saudi diplomats. We took immediate measures to help restore order to the Saudi diplomatic compound and declared our determination to bring perpetrators to justice. We also took disciplinary action against those who failed to protect the embassy and have initiated an internal investigation to prevent any similar event.By contrast, the Saudi government or its surrogates have over the past three years directly targeted Iranian diplomatic facilities in Yemen, Lebanon and Pakistan — killing Iranian diplomats and locals. There have been other provocations, too. Iranian pilgrims in Saudi Arabia have endured systematic harassment — in one case, Saudi airport officers molested two Iranian boys in Jeddah, fueling public outrage. Also, Saudi negligence was to blame for the stampede during the recent hajj, which left 464 Iranian pilgrims dead. Moreover, for days, Saudi authorities refused to respond to requests from grieving families and the Iranian government to access and repatriate the bodies.
    This is not to mention the routine practice of hate speech not only against Iran but against all Shiite Muslims by Saudi Arabia’s government-appointed preachers. The outrageous beheading recently of Sheikh Nimr was immediately preceded by a sermon of hatred toward Shiites by a Grand Mosque preacher in Mecca, who last year said that “our disagreement with Shiites will not be removed, nor our suicide to fight them” as long as Shiites remained on the earth.
    Throughout these episodes, Iran, confident of its strength, has refused to retaliate or break — or even downgrade — diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. We have until now responded with restraint; but unilateral prudence is not sustainable.
    Iran has no desire to escalate tension in the region. We need unity to confront the threats posed by extremists. Ever since the first days after his election, the president and I have indicated publicly and privately our readiness to engage in dialogue, promote stability and combat destabilizing extremism. This has fallen on deaf ears in Saudi Arabia.
    The Saudi leadership must now make a choice: They can continue supporting extremists and promoting sectarian hatred; or they can opt to play a constructive role in promoting regional stability. We hope that reason will prevail.
    Mohammad Javad Zarif is the foreign minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

    ‘Regrettable’ is as far as our criticism of Saudi Arabia is allowed to go

    Only six of our British military chaps, it seems, are helping the Sunni Saudis kill Shia Yemenis. And they’re not actually in Yemen, merely helping to choose the targets – which have so far included hospitals, markets, a wedding party and a site opposite the Iranian embassy. Not that our boys and girls selected those particular “terrorist” nests for destruction, you understand. They’re just helping their Saudi mates – in the words of our Ministry of Defence – “comply to the rules of war”.
    Saudi “rules”, of course, are not necessarily the same as “our” rules – although our drone-executions of UK citizens leave a lot of elbow-room for our British warriors in Riyadh. But I couldn’t help chuckling when I read the condemnation of David Mephan, the Human Rights Watch director. Yes, he told us that the Saudis “are committing multiple violations of the laws of war in Yemen”, and that the British “are working hand in glove with the Saudis, helping them, enhancing their capacity to prosecute this war that has led to the death of so many civilians”. Spot on. But then he added that he thought all this “deeply regrettable and unacceptable”.
    “Regrettable” and “unacceptable” represent the double standards we employ when our wealthy Saudi friends put their hands to bloody work. To find something “regrettable” means it causes us sadness. It disappoints us. The implication is that the good old Saudis have let us down, fallen from their previously high moral principles.
    No wonder the MoD has popped across to Riyadh to un-crease the maps and explain those incomprehensible co-ordinates for the Saudi leaders of the “coalition against terror”. Sorting this logistics mess out for the Saudis does, I suppose, make it less “unacceptable” to have our personnel standing alongside the folk who kill women for adultery without even a fair trial and who chop off the heads of dozens of opponents, including a prominent Saudi Shia cleric.
    Those very words – regrettable and unacceptable – are now the peak of the critical lexicon which we are permitted to use about the Saudis. Anything stronger would force us to ask why David Cameron lowered our flag when the last king of this weird autocracy died.
    And exactly the same semantics were trotted out last week when the Tory MP and member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Daniel Kawczynski – who was also chairman of the all-party UK parliamentary group on Saudi Arabia – was questioned on television about the 47 executions in Saudi Arabia, the kingdom’s misogynistic policies and its harsh anti-gay laws. Faced with the unspeakable – indeed, the outrageous – acts of a regime which shares its Wahhabi Sunni traditions with Isis and the Taliban, Kawczynski replied that the executions were “very regrettable”, that targeting civilians would be “completely unacceptable” and the anti-gay laws “highly reprehensible”. “Reprehensible”, I suppose, is a bit stronger than regrettable.
    It was instructive, also, to hear Kawczynski refer to executions as “certain domestic actions”, as if slicing heads off human beings was something to be kept within the family – which is true, in a sense, since the Saudi authorities allow their executioners to train their sons in the craft of head-slicing, just as we Brits used to allow our hangmen to bring their sons into the gallows trade. This familial atmosphere was always advertised by its ambassadors and their friends. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, when he was Saudi Arabia’s man in Washington, spoke of his country’s religion as part of a “timeless culture” whose people lived according to Islam “and our other basic ways”. A former British ambassador to Riyadh, Sir Alan Munro, once advised Westerners to “adapt” in Saudi Arabia and “to act with the grain of Saudi traditions and culture”. This “grain” can be found, of course, in Amnesty’s archives of men – and occasionally women – who are beheaded each year, often after torture and grotesquely unfair trials.
    Another former ambassador, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles – or “Abu Henry” as he was affectionately called by his Saudi friends – used arguments back in 2006 that might have come from David Cameron today. “I’ve been hugely impressed by the way in which the Saudi Arabian authorities have tackled and contained what was a serious terrorist threat,” he said then. “They’ve shrunk the pool of support for terrorism.” Which is exactly how our Prime Minister justified his support for Saudi Arabia’s place on the UN Human Rights Council last October. “It’s because we receive from them important intelligence and security information that keeps us safe,” he told Channel 4’s Jon Snow.
    But wasn’t there, nine years ago, a small matter of the alleged bribery of Saudi officials by the British BAE Systems arms group? The Financial Times revealed how Robert Wardle, the UK director of the Serious Fraud Office, decided he might have to cancel his official investigation after being told “how the probe might cause Riyadh to cancel security and intelligence co-operation”. The advice to Wardle was that persisting with his official enquiry might “endanger lives in Britain”. Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara ordered the investigation closed.
    The advice to Wardle, I should add, came from none other than Sherard Cowper-Coles, who later became UK ambassador to Afghanistan and, on retirement from the Foreign Office, worked for a short time as a business development director for BAE Systems. Our former man in Riyadh now has no connection with BAE – yet it would be interesting to know if the Saudis are using any of the company’s technology in the bombing of civilian targets in Yemen.
    But relax – this would elicit no expressions of outrage, condemnation or disgust at Saudi Arabia – nor any of the revulsion we show when other local head-choppers take out their swords. Any such UK involvement would be unacceptable. Even regrettable. We would be sad. Disappointed. Say no more.

    Saudi Arabia Is Receiving Weapons From the Same Nations Condemning Its Human Rights Record

    By Lizabeth Paulat

    Despite condemnation from around the globe, Saudi Arabia is in the midst of securing some of their biggest arms deals in recent history. The juxtaposition between what politicians say and what they do is almost impressive in its duplicity. With one breath countries in the West such as Canada, the UK and the US condemn mass executions of government activists, floggings of bloggers and the indiscriminate bombing of Yemen. Then, hoping nobody is looking, they stuff their pocketbooks while sending tanks, artillery and fighter jets to the kingdom.
    However a number of activist groups, particularly those in Canada, are questioning the current arms deals taking place. Perhaps that's because Saudi Arabia just executed 47 people in one day. Perhaps it's their massive violations against 50 percent of their population, their treatment of migrant workers and their indiscriminate shelling of Yemen. Or perhaps because Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest financiers of terrorism in the world.
    Yet citizen anger seems to matter very little in Canada, where the government said it would go ahead with a $15 billion dollar arms deal to the kingdom. This comes at the same time their foreign affairs minister is condemning the kingdom's mass executions.
    This also comes at a time when a new study, from the Campaign Against Arms Trade, is showing that under the UK's conservative government around £5.6 billion pounds worth of military gear has been sold to Saudi Arabia. These include fighter jets and artillery. These weapons are currently being used by Saudi Arabia to bomb Yemen. A war that has cost 2,800 civilians their lives.
    And let's not forget one of the biggest arms dealers in the world: the United States. In November of last year the US managed a $1.29 billion dollar package of bombs and various military hardware to the kingdom. Joe Stork, the Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director of Human Rights Watch urged the Obama administration not to go through with the deal in November. "The US Government is well aware of the Saudi-led coalition's indiscriminate air attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians in Yemen since March," he said. "Providing the Saudis with more bombs under these circumstances is a recipe for greater civilian deaths, for which the US will be partially responsible."
    There are also worries these weapons will be used against activists and civilians within Saudi Arabia. Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told Free Speech Radio News that some of the items being purchased by Saudi Arabia are incredibly troubling from a human rights perspective: "The armored vehicles, which are not so very expensive, but are being bought in large numbers. Or the machine guns and the rifles, which are the things which are usually used first against demonstrators or internal rebellion."
    To round this all out let's also consider the vast amount of evidence linking Saudi Arabia to terrorist cells around the world, including the Islamic State. This was confirmed by Hillary Clinton in a leaked diplomatic cable when she was secretary of state. Saudi collusion with terrorism was reaffirmed by Joe Biden during a speech at Harvard, and the Vice Chancellor of Germany has also voiced serious concerns about where their money and arms end up. Saudi led financing and proselytizing has also been the subject of numerous investigative pieces throughout the past decade.
    So why are Canada, the US and the UK making arms deals with a country that has one of the most atrocious human rights records on earth, engages in warmongering and funds numerous terror cells? Obviously in the short term, money is the biggest driver. However according to Daniel Lazare this might come back to haunt the west.
    "No matter how hard the West tries to seal itself off against the disorders that it itself is creating, it will find that a cordon sanitaire is impossible to maintain," Lazare writes. "This is wonderful news for arms manufacturers not to mention politicians desperate for an uptick in GDP, but somewhat less so for masses of ordinary people in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Paris who are now at the receiving end of all that weaponry and violence."
    But hey, according to Canadian officials their deal will create 3,000 jobs for 15 years, so it must be worth it, right?

    Video Report - 5 killed in missile strike on Medicins Sans Frontieres clinic in Yemen


    A Saudi Arabia-led coalition of nine Arabs states has been conducting airstrikes in Yemen since the beginning of 2015 in response to the ouster of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, whose overthrow during the Arab spring uprising of 2011 sparked a civil war. The UN has declared a humanitarian crisis. According to the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights almost two-thirds of civilian casualties have been a direct result of airstrikes. Since May 2015, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has been providing emergency medications and surgical supplies to a number of hospitals in the country, all of which have been receiving large numbers of people wounded in the escalating violence, including more than 5,307 war-wounded at Al Rawdah hospital. MSF has also been blocked from delivering medical supplies to two hospitals in Taiz in southern Yemen. A slightly different version of the story that follows first appeared on
    Sana'a, Yemen – In the capital, the warplanes flying overhead are the main threat. They drop their bombs, go away and then come back again. They can stay in the sky for hours, making everyone nervous. All people want is for the planes to empty their deadly cargo and go away so they can continue with their daily lives. Yemenis have learned to live with them, and so did we.
    Before an airstrike, there is a whistling noise. The reaction is automatic: find shelter. There were a couple of nights when I rolled under my bed, afraid the windows would be blown in by the blast. The whole house shook. Bombs are being dropped in Yemen on a regular basis and this is how everyone lives.
    One day, a compound in front of MSF's main hospital for mothers and children was heavily bombed. Two children died while hospital staff were evacuating patients from the building, not because of the airstrikes, but because of a lack of oxygen.
    The impact of this war is not only related to the fighting. Most deaths are a result of the fact the healthcare system is collapsing. Those two unfortunate children were two among many.
    In the city of Taiz, however, the main threat are the snipers. Even though you can’t see them, they are always there. When you cross a frontline, they are always on your mind. You become super-sensitive to the sound of gunshots. You learn quickly in this environment the difference between an AK47 and sniper’s gun. You have to. It can be a matter of life or death.
    But, no matter how many measures you take, you can still suddenly find yourself in the middle of a gunfight.
    One day we were visiting hospitals that MSF supports across Taiz. As we entered no man’s land, we saw two fighters who had just been shot in the head by snipers. Before we knew it, we were caught in the crossfire.
    Gunshots were coming from everywhere, landing a few metres from us. We got out of the car and tried to find a place to take shelter. We crouched behind a water tank. One Yemeni colleague managed to squeeze himself into a tiny gap between the water tank and a brick wall. The adrenaline rush to save your life makes you do things you never imagined.
    After 20 minutes, a family kindly let us into their house. The father was barefoot, wearing only a Yemeni traditional skirt and a white tank top, and holding a Kalashnikov at the ready. The children looked tired. They had had no sleep for the past several days, as the fighting had been so intense, with wounded fighters screaming in the streets after being shot. It has become more and more obvious that we have to offer psychological support to the Yemeni people as soon as possible.
    The gunfight lasted nearly two hours. I’ll never forget the hospitality of that Yemeni family who saved our lives.
    Yemenis are incredibly resilient. Travelling around the country, you see how they are adapting to living with this indiscriminate war. The fuel and water crisis affects everyone. Families walk to wells to get water. There are long queues of cars waiting for gasoline, sometimes for days at a time. People ride motorbikes which have been modified to run on natural gas or use horses and donkeys.
    The daily business of life simply goes on. The markets are always busy, ice cream sellers ring their bells among the heavily-armed fighters; windows shattered by gunfire are repaired; chickens are sold next to checkpoints. "We can’t just stop because of the war,"  a Yemeni doctor in one of our hospitals tells me.
    I got to meet and work with many Yemenis. They are very welcoming and open to others, so you get involved in their personal lives. Everyone I met has lost a loved one in this war. Their wounds are wide open. I sincerely hope they will get a chance to heal soon.

    Prince Mohammed bin Salman: Naive, arrogant Saudi prince is playing with fire

    German intelligence memo shows the threat from the kingdom’s headstrong defence minister.
    At the end of last year the BND, the German intelligence agency, published a remarkable one-and-a-half-page memo saying that Saudi Arabia had adopted “an impulsive policy of intervention”. It portrayed Saudi defence minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – the powerful 29-year-old favourite son of the ageing King Salman, who is suffering from dementia – as apolitical gambler who is destabilising the Arab world through proxy wars in Yemen and Syria.
    Spy agencies do not normally hand out such politically explosive documents to the press criticising the leadership of a close and powerful ally such as Saudi Arabia. It is a measure of the concern in the BND that the memo should have been so openly and widely distributed. The agency was swiftly slapped down by the German foreign ministry after official Saudi protests, but the BND’s warning was a sign of growing fears that Saudi Arabia has become an unpredictable wild card. One former minister from the Middle East, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: “In the past the Saudis generally tried to keep their options open and were cautions, even when they were trying to get rid of some government they did not like.”
    The BND report made surprisingly little impact outside Germany at the time. This may have been because its publication on  2 December came three weeks after the Paris massacre on 13 November, when governments and media across the world were still absorbed by the threat posed by Islamic State (IS) and how it could best be combatted. In Britain there was the debate on the RAF joining the air war against IS in Syria, and soon after in the US there were the killings by a pro-IS couple in San Bernardino, California. 
    It was the execution of the Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 others – mostly Sunni jihadis or dissenters – on 2 January that, for almost the first time, alerted governments to the extent to which Saudi Arabia had become a threat to the status quo. It appears to be deliberately provoking Iran in a bid to take leadership of the Sunni and Arab worlds while at the same time Prince Mohammed bin Salman is buttressing his domestic power by appealing to Sunni sectarian nationalism. What is not in doubt is that Saudi policy has been transformed since King Salman came to the throne last January after the death of King Abdullah.
    The BND lists the areas in which Saudi Arabia is adopting a more aggressive and warlike policy. In Syria, in early 2015, it supported the creation of The Army of Conquest, primarily made up of the al-Qaeda affiliate the al-Nusra Front and the ideologically similar Ahrar al-Sham, which won a series of victories against the Syrian Army in Idlib province. In Yemen, it began an air war directed against the Houthi movement and the Yemeni army, which shows no sign of ending. Among those who gain are al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula, which the US has been fruitlessly trying to weaken for years by drone strikes. 
    None of these foreign adventures initiated by Prince Mohammed have been successful or are likely to be so, but they have won support for him at home. The BND warned that the concentration of so much power in his hands “harbours a latent risk that in seeking to establish himself in the line of succession in his father’s lifetime, he may overreach”. 
    The overreaching gets worse by the day. At every stage in the confrontation with Iran over the past week Riyadh has raised the stakes. The attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad might not have been expected but the Saudis did not have to break off diplomatic relations. Then there was the air strike that the Iranians allege damaged their embassy in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. 
    None of this was too surprising: Saudi-Iranian relations have been at a particularly low ebb since 400 Iranian pilgrims died in a mass stampede in Mecca last year. 
    But even in the past few days, there are signs of the Saudi leadership deliberately increasing the political temperature by putting four Iranians on trial, one for espionage and three for terrorism. The four had been in prison in Saudi Arabia since 2013 or 2014 so there was no reason to try them now, other than as an extra pinprick against Iran. 
    Saudi Arabia has been engaging in something of a counter attack to reassure the world that it is not going to go to war with Iran. Prince Mohammed said in an interview with The Economist: “A war between Saudi Arabia and Iran is the beginning of a major catastrophe in the region, and it will reflect very strongly on the rest of the world. For sure, we will not allow any such thing.” 
    The interview was presumably meant to be reassuring to the outside world, but instead it gives an impression of naivety and arrogance. There is also a sense that Prince Mohammed is an inexperienced gambler who is likely to double his stake when his bets fail. This is the very opposite of past Saudi rulers, who had always preferred, so to speak, to bet on all the horses. 
    A main reason for Saudi Arabia acting unilaterally is its disappointment that the US reached an agreement with Iran over Tehran’s nuclear programme. Again this looks naive: close alliance with the US is the prime reason why the Saudi monarchy has survived nationalist and socialist challengers since the 1930s. Aside from the Saudis’ money and close alliance with the US, leaders in the Middle East have always doubted that the Saudi state has much operational capacity. This is true of all the big oil producers, whatever their ideological make-up. Experience shows that vast oil wealth encourages autocracy, whether it is in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Libya or Kuwait, but it also produces states that are weaker than they look, with incapable administrations and dysfunctional armies. 
    This is the second area in which Prince Mohammed’s interview suggests nothing but trouble for the Saudi royal family. He suggests austerity and market reforms in the Kingdom, but in the context of Middle East autocracies and particularly oil states this breaches an unspoken social contract with the general population. People may not have political liberty, but they get a share in oil revenues through government jobs and subsidised fuel, food, housing and other benefits. Greater privatisation and supposed reliance on the market, with no accountability or fair legal system, means a licence to plunder by those with political power. 
    This was one of the reasons for the uprising in 2011 against Bashar  al-Assad in Syria and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. So-called reforms that erode an unwieldy but effective patronage machine end up by benefiting only the elite. 
    Oil states are almost impossible to reform and it is usually unwise to try. Such states should also avoid war if they want to stay in business, because people may not rise up against their rulers but they are certainly not prepared to die for them.

      Selena Gomez - Hands To Myself

      Cuba’s potential to become major transport hub

      Obama to Highlight Legacy, Future in Last SOTU

      Barack Obama - 'Non-traditional' State of the Union address will focus on America's future

      Alan Yuhas

      Barack Obama will not deliver ‘your traditional policy speech that outlines a series of proposals’ but will touch on inequality, criminal justice and gun violence.
       Barack Obama will deliver a sweeping and “non-traditional” State of the Union address that touches on inequality, criminal justice and gun violence, the White House chief of staff said on Sunday.
      “He doesn’t want this to be your traditional policy speech that outlines a series of proposals,” Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, told ABC’s This Week, during a tour of the talkshows to preview the president’s final such speech, which he will deliver on Tuesday in Washington.
      Instead, McDonough said, Obama plans to “step back and take a look at the future of this country” and “talk about the kind of country he hopes will be present not just in the course of this year, and this election year, but over the course of the next 20 years”.
      McDonough said major themes of the speech will include how inequality affects democracy, and Obama’s aim to create an “economy that gives everyone a fair shot”. He added that the president will stress that “every American has a chance to influence this democracy, not the select few” whom he said included “millionaires, billionaires”.
      “America succeeds when we draw on all 350 million Americans that we have in this country,” he said.
      Obama will not endorse a candidate before the 2016 Democratic primary election, McDonough told NBC’s Meet the Press. The president plans instead to campaign “out there” after the election, in favor of the chosen nominee.
      McDonough insisted that the president will return to the rhetoric of hope and optimism that vaulted him to the White House in 2008.
      “He’s very optimistic about the future,” he told CNN’s State of the Union – the first of five shows on which he appeared.
      The speech will be “very different than some of the doom and gloom we hear from some of the Republican candidates out there”, he told ABC.
      Pressed on what Obama hopes to achieve in his final year in office, with Congress held by the Republicans, McDonough said the president will push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and criminal justice reform, two issues many Republicans support.
      The White House also announced the guest list of men and women who will sit with the first lady, Michelle Obama, during the address – an eclectic mix that hints at the president’s priorities for his last year in office.
      The list includes Refaii Hamo, a Syrian refugee who arrived in Detroit in December, and Saudi-American army veteran Naveed Shah, reflections of the president’s effort to resettle 10,000 refugees and his opposition to anti-Muslim sentiment.
      The president may also speak on his growing concern for mounting heroin and prescription pill abuse, something McDonough noted in remarks about therecapture of a Mexican cartel boss, and an issue highlighted by guest Cary Dixon, an opioid reform advocate.
      One seat in the first lady’s guest box will stay empty, the White House said, in memory of victims of gun violence “who no longer have a voice”. In the wake of mass shootings in California, Oregon and South Carolina and persistent gun violence in Chicago and other cities, gun control has become one of the president’s most emotional – and difficult – objectives.
      “In Dr King’s words, we need to feel the fierce urgency of now, because people are dying,” Obama told an audience last week, breaking down into tears as he spoke.
      He reminded the audience of the 20 children murdered by a gunman in Sandy Hook, Connecticut in 2012. “Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad and, by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day.”
      “The president is not making a big issue of gun control,” McDonough told CNN. “What’s happening in our country, with more than 33,000 deaths” by mass shooting a year, he said, means “this is a big issue”. 
      McDonough also suggested that Obama means to reflect on how his two terms fit in the scope of US history, past and future.
      Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff who brought same-sex marriage to the US supreme court and won its legalization last year, will sit in the guest box, as will Major Lisa Jaster, one of the first women to graduate from the army’s elite ranger school.
      Gloria Balenski, an Illinois woman who lost her job in the 2008 financial crisis, will also join as a guest, having written Obama a letter thanking him for prioritizing the economy and healthcare in his first term.
      The presence of Balenski, two Vietnam war veterans and a native Alaskan who now works as a software engineer – along with the White House’s pointed use of the phrase “great recession”– suggests a speech that will implicitly frame Obama with other reformer presidents, such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson.

      Americans told to cut their sugar intake in half

      New US dietary guidelines have been released that tell consumers to get no more than 200 calories per day from sugar. But the government's official advice doesn't call for red meat intake to be cut.
      The US government singled out sugar as the latest nutritional enemy on Thursday, as it called for Americans to reduce their reliance on the sweet, white powder.
      Releasing its new dietary guidelines, which are updated every five years based on the latest nutrition science, the government insisted for no more than 10 percent of a 2,000-calorie diet to come from sugar. At present, Americans consume up to 22 teaspoons a day.
      The latest advice was quickly hailed by doctors and some consumer groups, as the US battles an obesity and diabetes epidemic. More than one-third of adults - nearly 79 million Americans - are obese, and over the past five years that figure has shown no sign of declining.
      The new guidelines follow calls from several health experts for the US to introduce a nationwide "sugar tax" on soft drinks, which is already in effect in the city of Berkeley, California.
      A similar tax led to a 12 percent drop in sugary drinks when it was introduced in Mexico in 2014.
      In response to the latest dietary advice, the American Medical Association said it was "extremely pleased" with the recommendation, which would "significantly reduce the amount of added sugars and sugar sweetened beverages from the American diet."
      But many health campaigners and environmental groups say the guidelines - devised by the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services - fall short of expectations by not including limits on red meat or recommending that consumers make food choices according to the sustainability of the ingredients.
      "USDA and HHS did not include explicit recommendations about the risks of red meat and the benefits of plant-based diets, ignoring clear scientific evidence from their own advisory committee," said conservationist Andrew A. Rosenberg of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
      The latest guidelines also call for saturated fats to make up less than 10 percent of daily calories and Americans to cut their salt intake by a third, to about a teaspoon a day. Women are advised to drink no more than one alcoholic drink per day, while men can have up to two.
      But they've dropped longstanding advice to limit cholesterol from eggs and other foods in its "key recommendations."
      The new guidelines follow several global studies that show the negative effect that sugar consumption has on human health. The issue has also hit the headlines in recent years, with one author, Dr. Robert H. Lustig, describing sugar as a "poison."
      Michael Jacobson, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, hailed the news. "If Americans ate according to that advice, it would be a huge win for the public's health," he said.

      Pashto Music - Sardar Ali Takkar زما روح ـ شمسُ الدین کاکړ

      "Ghost" troops slowing down Afghanistan's military

       Afghan forces  are struggling to man the front lines against a resurgent Taliban, in part because of untold numbers of "ghost" troops who are paid salaries but only exist on paper.

      The nationwide problem has been particularly severe in the southern Helmand province, where the Taliban have seized vast tracts of territory in the 12 months since the U.S. and NATO formally ended their combat mission and switched to training and support.
      "At checkpoints where 20 soldiers should be present, there are only eight or 10," said Karim Atal, head of Helmand's provincial council. "It's because some people are getting paid a salary but not doing the job because they are related to someone important, like a local warlord."
      In some cases, the "ghost" designation is more literal -- dead soldiers and police remain on the books, with senior police or army officials pocketing their salaries without replacing them, Atal said.
      He estimates that some 40 percent of registered forces don't exist, and says the lack of manpower has helped the Taliban seize 65 percent of the province -- Afghanistan's largest -- and threaten the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah. Those men who do serve face even greater danger because of the no-shows. In the last three months alone, some 700 police have been killed and 500 wounded, he said.
      The province's former deputy police chief, Pacha Gul Bakhtiar, said Helmand has 31,000 police on the registers, "but in reality it is nowhere near that."
      Nearly 15 years after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban, and despite billions of dollars in military and other aid, corruption remains rife in Afghanistan and local security forces have struggled to hold off insurgent advances across the country. Last year the Taliban seized the northern city of Kunduz for three days, marking their biggest foray into a major urban area since 2001.
      Pakistan will host four-nation talks Monday with Afghanistan, China and the United States aimed at reviving peace talks with the Taliban, but even if those efforts succeed the insurgents are expected to stay on the offensive in order to gain land and leverage.
      The Defense Ministry declined to comment on ghost security forces. Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi acknowledged the problem and said an investigation has been launched, without providing further details.
      Iraq has also struggled with the ghost soldier phenomenon, a factor in the Islamic State group's rapid conquest of much of the country's north and west in the summer of 2014. In December of that year, Iraqi officials said the payment of tens of millions of dollars in salaries to nonexistent forces had been halted.
      But Afghan lawmaker Ghulam Hussain Nasiri, who has been researching the problem for more than a year, said his government is ignoring it.
      "When we say we have 100 soldiers on the battlefield, in reality it is just 30 or 40. And this creates the potential for huge catastrophes when the enemy attacks," he said.
      "It is an indication of massive corruption - the reason Afghanistan is one of the most corrupt nations in the world," he added. Afghanistan consistently ranks among the most corrupt countries in indices released by global watchdog Transparency International.
      Nasiri said the government "doesn't seem to want to know about it," and that he received death threats after revealing the names of parliamentarians who are allegedly in on the racket. He said he handed a list of 31 names of corrupt parliamentarians to the Interior Ministry but has so far received no response.
      Cash-strapped Afghanistan's security forces are entirely funded by the international community, at a cost of some $5 billion a year, most of which comes from the United States. The U.S. government's auditor of spending in Afghanistan, John Sopko, told a congressional hearing last year that Afghan government figures on security personnel and pay could not be regarded as accurate.
      "No one knows the exact numbers of the Afghan National Defense Forces," an Afghan official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief media on the topic. He said the best internal estimates put the number at around 120,000, less than a third of what's needed to secure the country.
      The heaviest cost of the ghost soldier phenomenon is being exacted on the battlefield. Neither the government nor NATO publicizes casualty figures for local security forces, but an internal NATO tally seen by The Associated Press shows casualties are up 28 percent from 2014, when some 5,000 Afghan forces were killed.
      Last month, an army base in Helmand's Sangin district was besieged by insurgents for almost a week before reinforcements were rushed in backed by U.S. airstrikes and British military advisers.
      In the northern Helmand district of Kajaki, soldier Mohammad Islam said many of his comrades deserted their posts because they didn't believe their bodies would be sent back to their families if they died. In the absence of a body, the family would not be eligible for compensation payments.
      "Everyone knows that we are facing this fight alongside 'ghost' soldiers, and that's the reason we don't have enough men," he said. "The Taliban know it, too. When they attack us, and we're unable to protect ourselves, the big men then ask why."

      Pakistan - Nepotism displayed in all major projects: Bilawal

      Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has on Sunday said that the government is focused only on extending the rule. He said that nepotism was displayed in all the major projects of the government. He said that the government is focusing only on colourful buses and roads, reported Dunya News.

      Talking at a combined marriage ceremony in Lahore, Bilawal said that the government is being unfair with the farmers by buying substandard wheat from Ukraine. Although he congratulated the newlywed couples, Bilawal also criticized the government on this occasion.
      Bilawal also mentioned the projects started by PPP government on this occasion. He said that the projects started by the PPP government were aimed at empowering the people of Pakistan. He said that the current government is initiating the same PPP projects under their new banner.
      The combined marriage ceremony was also attended by Bilawal’s sisters Bakhtawar and Asifa.