Thursday, November 23, 2017

Music Video - Europe - Open Your Heart

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Video Report - US: Hurricane Harvey victims homeless on Thanksgiving

Music Video - Katy Perry - Bon Appétit

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Sandbranch - 'America's dirty little secret': the Texas town that has been without running water for decades


A bottle of Sandbranch well water with sediment at the bottom. Photograph: Stewart F House
Sandbranch is a small, poor, largely African American community just outside Dallas but its residents have to rely on charitable donations of bottled water.
It’s a sweltering Saturday in October and Pastor Eugene Keahey is becoming agitated. His flock live in a Texas town that hasn’t had running water in 30 years and the donated bottled water they rely upon is in short supply.
“We got six cases of water from a donor but two have already gone in the last hour,” said Keahey, eyeing the line of people waiting for their weekly handout of food and water from the Mount Zion Baptist church in Sandbranch, a largely African American community that lies 20 minutes and a world away from Dallas.
Recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida have diverted the attention of non-profits away from the sisyphean struggle endured in Sandbranch. “I’m going to have to come up with a plan, get on Facebook and beg or borrow water from somewhere,” said Keahey.
“People come for donations from outside the town and it’s difficult to say, ‘No you can’t get water because you’ve got running water at home.’ My test is to say ‘What do you do with the bottled water?’ If they just say they drink it, I have to say no because people here shower, brush their teeth with it, everything.”
Keahey, a stout man with a greying beard and half-moon glasses, rubbed his face. “This is a full-time job. It’s not part time. Water is like gold here.”
Sandbranch has no water pipes, sewerage, trash collection or street lights. In an added dash of irony, the sprawling Dallas Southside water treatment plant is situated about 10 yards from Sandbranch, its rusting barbed wire fence running along the northern boundary of the town. The slow, dry decay of Sandbranch is startling but little known even among the Dallasites who neighbor this crumbling enclave that extends off a quiet stretch of looping highway to the south of the metropolis. The population once stood at more than 500, dwindled to less than 100 by 2010 but has anecdotally rebounded with some newcomers attracted by the cheap land. “Everyone around us has water but not here,” said Detra Newhouse, a 46-year-old who grew up in Sandbranch with her grandparents. “For a while people didn’t even bathe. Some still don’t. There’s a man who lives nearby and I don’t think he’s had a proper bath in 20 years. “We are a dirty little secret no one wants to talk about. I was listening to MSNBC talk about Flint, Michigan, the other day and what is happening there is unconscionable. But I thought, ‘Yeah, and what about us? What about us?’”
Many residents are at a loss as to why they have been forgotten. Officially, Sandbranch’s woes stem from being small, unincorporated and situated on a floodplain area that restricts new development. But the fact that low-income minority areas in the US are often blighted by environmental problems, whether it’s tainted water or toxic air from nearby industrial plants, is well understood here. Sandbranch is a jarring example of environmental injustices that have pockmarked the US for decades.
“We don’t have water here and you know why?” asked Ivory Hall, a spry 83-year-old black man who deftly slaps my arm as he makes his point. “The pigment of my skin. If I were white like you I bet they’d have water down here.” Newhouse easily draws upon fonder Sandbranch memories; of collecting eggs from the chickens at the back of the house, hanging upside down in trees, getting penny candies from the corner store, playing in the then unpaved streets with other children until the dark finally forced them indoors.
There was a well at her grandparent’s house and the children would press their mouths to the nozzle of the pump and gleefully guzzle the water. “It was so refreshing and it was so cool,” Newhouse said. “I had the best childhood ever.”
By the mid-1980s, Newhouse had moved in with her parents in Dallas and noticed a difference in the well water when she visited Sandbranch. The liquid was brown, laced with sand. It emitted a nauseating smell. “I got used to being able to fill up a cup of water and drink it but then I’d go to Sandbranch and have to stop and think, ‘I can’t do that – I could die,’” she said. Later, as an adult, Newhouse’s job required trips to India, where it became clear she had diverged from the American norm. “Places like Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore – you wouldn’t dare drink the water there,” she said. “I thought, ‘Dang, we are living like India. I’m living like an Indian woman.’”
Sandbranch is an unincorporated town - an area not serviced by a municipality - that Dallas County dates back to 1940, although in previous decades properties were established by African Americans lured by cheap land and the opportunity to elude the various indignities inflicted by the white bastion of Dallas.Water pipes were never installed and, like some other unincorporated places, the lack of trash collection means residents have to surreptitiously burn their garbage or take it to relatives in the city. These were tolerable quirks when Sandbranch had a supply of clean groundwater but the wells are now tainted and now either rot or are sparingly used for washing a car or, for those prepared to risk it, a bracing shower. Testing in the 1980s and early 1990s confirmed bacterial contamination of the water. The Sandbranch populace points the finger at gravel mining that has scarred the fringes of the town. Dallas County can’t be sure of the culprit but suggests the widespread keeping of hogs, now banned, created rivers of waste that poisoned the water table.
Whatever the cause, the pollution forced residents to trek several miles to buy bottled water or fill up jugs at relatives’ houses. As poverty has tightened its grip on Sandbranch – the average monthly income is now $720 – most people cannot afford to buy an endless supply of bottled water and now lean heavily on the church’s donations.
Richard Shivers, a white 59-year-old man who walks with a slight limp, bought a parcel of land last year for a few thousand dollars and moved his trailer to live there with his wife Rachel Garcia and a menagerie of animals, including at least a dozen dogs and cats, a couple of pigs, five donkeys and a brood of chickens. Shivers pays a neighbor $50 a month to use his pump to fill five barrels with water, which he transports back in a sagging van, found next to two other dilapidated vehicles on the land, a former hog farm. He said he not only showers in the water, but also drinks it.
“Some people don’t understand how we do it, but I know how to survive,” he said, scooping fetid water from one of the barrels with a grimy hand and offering it to me. “It’s clean. Taste it. I’m serious – taste it.” The Guardian declines the offer. Mount Zion Baptist church is a modest but tidy place of worship with a pitched roof and one of the few functional toilets in Sandbranch. It has a 325-gallon water tank outside for donated water and on Saturdays is transformed into a sort of community triage center, distributing foodstuffs while volunteer nurses from the Texas Woman’s University gather around a fold-out table to offer free blood pressure checks.
“It’s a unique environment,” said Keahey, who gave up a rather more comfortable pastorship in Dallas to grapple with Sandbranch’s stubborn maladies. His wife was raised in Flint. “We are the water crisis family,” he said with a chuckle. “You don’t really expect to see these living conditions next to one of America’s wealthiest cities.” Sandbranch has never been financially viable enough for the city of Dallas to subsume and provide water and, in any case, the town sits on a floodplain which, since the 1970s, has pinioned it with federal rules that limit development.
The oldest houses have been grandfathered but no new properties are allowed unless they can be elevated on stilts above the flood risk level, to around 10ft. Sandbranch doesn’t have the heft of city services, and the freewheeling nature of being unincorporated is nullified by the federal floodplain rules that limit its growth and therefore tax base. It’s a bind that acted as a slowly tightening ligature around the town for decades. “We looked at it and thought something could be done but it’s a Rubik’s cube and we haven’t been able to line up all the colors on one side,” said Rick Loessberg, who has been planning director at Dallas County for the past 20 years. The county provides roads, signage and law enforcement but doesn’t provide water infrastructure. Loessberg said the county looked at creating a new water utility for Sandbranch the 1990s but no one in the town wanted to run it. The well water can’t be cleansed of its pollution. And the county doesn’t see its role as paying for bottled water. Sandbranch’s decline may now be irreversible. “We tried to get them water but with the cost involved and a declining population was it good policy to spend millions of public dollars for 88 people?” Loessberg said. “With the community in the floodplain it’s unlikely there will be new development so there will be no new houses to share the cost of it.
“Whenever you see poverty in a country as prosperous as ours, it’s disconcerting. We like to think we are better than that. I wish we could wave a magic wand, but it’s tricky. It’s complicated.” Wandering around Sandbranch feels a little like stepping into a historical re-enactment with a few modern flourishes. About half of the town’s houses have been torn down or left to ruin, either due to the intervention of Fema, the federal disaster agency, or a Dallas County initiative where residents were offered a small amount of money to leave.
The former five and dime store, once a mobile home, has tilted on to an angle with a gaping maw on one side where the rot has set in. The corner store has also gone, as well as the community center, now wreathed in weeds. The lost properties have left behind vacant spaces filled with knots of weeds, grass and trash next to the remaining structures, which are mainly ageing wood-framed houses daubed in white that can only be patched up, not materially improved, under the Fema floodplain rules. The verdant vegetation is slowly enveloping the town, adding a bucolic feel to the decay. There is little noise apart from the continual crackle of gunshots from a firing range that was placed right next to Sandbranch. Keahey has provided an injection of optimism since becoming Sandbranch’s pastor in 2013. He has spearheaded a group that has pulled together the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Agriculture, with a view to obtaining grants to put in pipes and then buying water from the city of Dallas. Should the byzantine bureaucracy work in his favor, Keahey believes Sandbranch’s long drought could end as early as next year. In total it may cost $6m, perhaps more. “It’s realistic, it’s a real thing, we are excited,” he said. “If we get the permits and all that, it could happen next year. Once people get water to the lots, they will come back.”
Others are more skeptical. “We wish them the best but it’s a very complicated process,” said Loessberg. “It might even end up cheaper buying bottled water than paying a monthly water bill to the city. It’ll be difficult. You see where the long-term population trend is. You can see which way it’s going.” It may be practical for the county for Sandbranch simply to cease, for its remaining residents to find somewhere else to live where there are jobs and running water and a Tuesday night garbage collection on illuminated streets. But communities put down hardy roots that often weather the most extreme adversity. If we get water I’ll be down here like a shot because why should I pay a mortgage where I am in Dallas when I have a house here?” said Newhouse. “I think the county is waiting for everyone to die out here so they can redevelop all of this, so they can dig for their precious gravel. I don’t think that will happen. All we are asking for is a water bill.”
It’s Sunday and the good people of Sandbranch are neatly dressed and ambling into the church. Two dozen souls fan themselves in the pews as the gospel choir finds its voice and Keahey provides some spiritual perspective. “We don’t have creature comforts and amenities here but we have your love, God,” he bellows into a microphone, prompting several people to stand and shout, “Say it pastor!” The choir launches into I Will Trust in the Lord and does a job that wouldn’t disgrace Aretha Franklin. There’s no shortage of takers for the precious liquid. The two gallons go to Alvin Wayne, who escorts me and the water to his weatherboard house, shuffling on his cane. “Is that all you got?” Wayne, who has completely run out of water, asked.
The latest scheme to lay water pipes leaves Wayne naturally skeptical. He has lived in Sandbranch since 1963 and he’s heard it all before. But cynicism doesn’t seem to be able to flourish here, in this friendly forgotten corner of Texas where everyone waves at you as you pass by.
“I’ve heard about that plan,” Wayne said. “I hope I live long enough to see it happen.”

What Obama, an Oscar winner and astronauts are thankful for on Thanksgiving

  • What do President Barack Obama, an Oscar winner, a rock legend and even astronauts have in common? They are all thankful for friends, family and health on Thanksgiving!

    Obama and others took to social media Thursday to share sweet photos with the family and praise others making this world a better place each and every day.
    "From the Obama family to yours, we wish you a Happy Thanksgiving full of joy and gratitude," the 44th President of the United States wrote, sharing a picture of his family.
    Just because astronauts are in space doesn't mean they don't want to share a message of thanks!

    A Split From Trump Indicates That Flynn Is Moving to Cooperate With Mueller

    Lawyers for Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, notified the president’s legal team in recent days that they could no longer discuss the special counsel’s investigation, according to four people involved in the case — an indication that Mr. Flynn is cooperating with prosecutors or negotiating a deal.
    Mr. Flynn’s lawyers had been sharing information with Mr. Trump’s lawyers about the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who is examining whether anyone around Mr. Trump was involved in Russian efforts to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
    That agreement has been terminated, the four people said. Defense lawyers frequently share information during investigations, but they must stop when doing so would pose a conflict of interest. It is unethical for lawyers to work together when one client is cooperating with prosecutors and another is still under investigation.
    The notification alone does not prove that Mr. Flynn is cooperating with Mr. Mueller. Some lawyers withdraw from information-sharing arrangements as soon as they begin negotiating with prosecutors. And such negotiations sometimes fall apart.
    Still, the notification led Mr. Trump’s lawyers to believe that Mr. Flynn — who, along with his son, is seen as having significant criminal exposure — has, at the least, begun discussions with Mr. Mueller about cooperating.
    Lawyers for Mr. Flynn and Mr. Trump declined to comment. The four people briefed on the matter spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.
    A deal with Mr. Flynn would give Mr. Mueller a behind-the-scenes look at the Trump campaign and the early tumultuous weeks of the administration. Mr. Flynn was an early and important adviser to Mr. Trump, an architect of Mr. Trump’s populist “America first” platform and an advocate of closer ties with Russia.
    His ties to Russia predated the campaign — he sat with President Vladimir V. Putin at a 2015 event in Moscow — and he was a point person on the transition team for dealing with Russia.
    The White House had been bracing for charges against Mr. Flynn in recent weeks, particularly after charges were filed against three other former Trump associates: Paul Manafort, his campaign chairman; Rick Gates, a campaign aide; and George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser.
    But none of those men match Mr. Flynn in stature, or in his significance to Mr. Trump. A retired three-star general, Mr. Flynn was an early supporter of Mr. Trump’s and a valued surrogate for a candidate who had no foreign policy experience. Mr. Trump named him national security adviser, he said, to help “restore America’s leadership position in the world.”
    Among the interactions that Mr. Mueller is investigating is a private meeting that Mr. Flynn had with the Russian ambassador and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, during the presidential transition. In the past year, it has been revealed that people with ties to Russia repeatedly sought to meet with Trump campaign officials, sometimes dangling the promise of compromising information on Mrs. Clinton.
    Mr. Flynn is regarded as loyal to Mr. Trump, but he has in recent weeks expressed serious concerns to friends that prosecutors will bring charges against his son, Michael Flynn Jr., who served as his father’s chief of staff and was a part of several financial deals involving the elder Mr. Flynn that Mr. Mueller is scrutinizing. The White House has said that neither Mr. Flynn nor other former aides have incriminating information to provide about Mr. Trump. “He likes General Flynn personally, but understands that they have their own path with the special counsel,” a White House lawyer, Ty Cobb, said in an interview last month with The New York Times. “I think he would be sad for them, as a friend and a former colleague, if the process results in punishment or indictments. But to the extent that that happens, that’s beyond his control.”
    Mr. Flynn was supposed to have been the cornerstone of Mr. Trump’s national security team. Instead, he was forced out after a month in office over his conversations with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak. Mr. Flynn’s handling of those conversations fueled suspicion that people around Mr. Trump had concealed their dealings with Russians, worsening a controversy that has hung over the president’s first year in office.
    Four days after Mr. Trump was sworn in, the F.B.I. interviewed Mr. Flynn at the White House about his calls with the ambassador. American intelligence and law enforcement agencies became so concerned about Mr. Flynn’s conversations and false statements about them to Vice President Mike Pence that the acting attorney general, Sally Q. Yates, warned the White House that Mr. Flynn might be compromised.
    The conversations with the Russian ambassador that led to Mr. Flynn’s undoing took place during the presidential transition. When questions about them surfaced, Mr. Flynn told Mr. Pence that they had exchanged only holiday greetings — the conversations happened in late December, around the time that the Obama administration was announcing sanctions against Russia.
    While Mr. Pence and White House press officers repeated the holiday-greetings claim publicly, Mr. Flynn and the ambassador had in fact discussed the sanctions. That invited the idea that the incoming administration was trying to undermine the departing president and curry favor with Moscow.
    Mr. Trump sought Mr. Flynn’s resignation only after news broke that Mr. Flynn had been interviewed by F.B.I. agents and that Ms. Yates had warned the White House that his false statements could make him vulnerable to Russian blackmail.
    Since then, Mr. Flynn’s legal problems have grown. It was revealed that he failed to list payments from Russia-linked entities on financial disclosure forms. He did not mention a paid speech he gave in Moscow, as well as other payments from companies linked to Russia.
    The former F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, has testified before Congress that Mr. Trump asked him to end the government’s investigation into Mr. Flynn in a one-on-one meeting in the Oval Office the day after Mr. Flynn was fired. Mr. Trump’s request caused great concern for Mr. Comey, who immediately wrote a memo about his meeting with the president. And investigators working for Mr. Mueller have questioned witnesses about whether Mr. Flynn was secretly paid by the Turkish government during the presidential campaign. Mr. Flynn belatedly disclosed, after leaving the White House, that the Turkish government had paid him more than $500,000.
    Mr. Flynn’s firing was, in some ways, the first domino that set off a cascade of problems for Mr. Trump. After the president ousted Mr. Comey, news surfaced that the president had requested an end to the Flynn inquiry, a revelation that led to Mr. Mueller’s appointment. That, in turn, raised the profile of an investigation that the president had tried mightily to contain.

    Music Video - INNA - Yalla



    There have been many signs that Saudi official attitudes toward Israel are changing, and today brought one of the strongest. As a headline in the Jerusalem Post put it, "In Possible Nod to Israel, Two Top Saudi Officials Visit Paris Synagogue." The article continues:
    In a historic first and possible nod to Israel, two top officials from Saudi Arabia – both former government ministers – visited a synagogue in Paris this week, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
    The officials were Secretary General of the Muslim World League Dr. Muhammad Abdul-Kareem al-Issa, a former Saudi justice minister, and Khalid bin Mohammed Al Angari, a former Saudi education minister who currently serves as Riyadh’s ambassador to France.
    Needless to say, neither man would conceivably have made this visit without official approval from Riyadh.
    This is a small step, of course; this is not Sadat visiting Jerusalem to speak to the Knesset, an event that happened almost exactly forty years ago (November 19, 1977). But it is not exactly nothing, either. It fits within a recent pattern that should be recognized and encouraged. As I've written before, it seems to me the Trump administration believes this will go further than I think it will. I think the Saudis are getting most of what they want from Israel in secret military and intelligence channels. I doubt they will take big risks by doing things in public that might bring significant attacks on them.
    But they will do some things, and this is a potentially important one. The late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia started a center on interfaith dialogue, announcing it at a United Nations session on religious tolerance in November 2008 that he and President Bush attended. This gives the current Saudi king and crown prince something to build on (and hide behind). Given the growth of anti-Semitism in Europe and globally in recent years, having the Saudis publicly demonstrate respect for Judaism is a helpful and useful step--for Israel and for Jews. Let's hope it is followed by more. If the Saudi ambassador to France can visit a synagogue, can the Saudi ambassador to Washington--who happens to be the King's son? Can the head of the World Muslim League issue a strong and clear denunciation of anti-Semitism and all religious hatred? Can the Saudis cleanse their textbooks of anti-Semitic material? Such steps seemed ridiculous not so long ago, but these are questions that may seriously be asked today--with at least some hope that in future years the answer might be yes.

    British risk complicity in Yemen 'famine crime', says Alex de Waal

    Africa analyst believes UN inaction makes security council members accessories to crisis in Arab nation gripped by cholera, hunger and violence.
    Britain is in danger of becoming complicit in the use of starvation as a weapon of war in Yemen, academic and author Alex de Waal has said.
    “The UK and the US, and others on the security council risk becoming accessories to the worst famine crime of this decade,” said De Waal.
    Yemen has been crippled by fighting between a Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels, which has brought the country to the brink of famine and left it in the grip of the world’s worst cholera outbreak.
    Earlier this month, the coalition closed all Yemen’s borders, preventing humanitarian aid from arriving in the country. The UN called for the blockade to be lifted to prevent the deaths of thousands of people and, while Saudi Arabia announced on Thursday that some key air and seaports would be reopened to allow the delivery of food and medicine, agencies have warned only unrestricted access will avert famine.
    “If you see someone starving, it’s not just that they’ve got a disease. Somebody has done it to that person. Yemen is really the most shocking case of our generation of a famine crime because the lines of culpability are so clear and there’s no denying them,” said the longtime Africa analyst, in London to promote his latest book.
    Twenty years after publishing his influential Famine Crimes, De Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation, has returned to the subject with Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine, published on Friday. Cataloguing the famines that have killed 100,000 or more people since the 1870s, De Waal’s research showed that famine killed 10 million people every decade until the 1980s, but had almost disappeared by the early 2000s.
    This positive trend has been disrupted recently by war, blockades, hostility to humanitarian principles, and a volatile global economy.
    De Waal concedes that Yemen was food insecure, mismanaged and in economic crisis. But he argues that people have reached starvation point due to the military campaign on both sides. Air attacks, he said, are destroying roads, markets, hospitals – all crucial for civilians to survive – and, critically, the main port of Hodeidah.
    “Repeated attempts by the United Nations to get expedited clearance for humanitarian access for reconstructing the port have been blocked,” said De Waal.
    “Yes, the UN security council has tried to find ways around it, but frankly they have not cared enough really to force the hand of those who are inflicting famine on Yemen in order to get them to stop.” The problem with prosecuting starvation is “that we don’t care enough to do it”, he said. “We should be saying to our political leaders and to the judges at the international criminal court, ‘You ought to be looking for who is responsible politically and criminally for the starvation in Yemen and bringing them to court’.
    “And if it embarrasses not only our allies in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates but our own governments here [UK] and in Washington as well … Well, so be it.”
    In Famine Crimes, De Waal argued that the global relief industry had substituted itself for the political action needed to prevent famine. Twenty years on, he attributes relatively low famine mortality, despite ongoing conflict in places such as South Sudan and Somalia, to the fact that action by the UN and NGOs has become “more informed, more professionally effective than it ever was before”.
    De Waal said he still believes famine can be abolished, but that we need “a more humane capitalism” to avoid food price spikes and to address climate change.
    He called for wars that “trample on humanitarian values” to stop.
    The “humanitarian imperative” has to be above all else, “including above restrictions imposed on humanitarian action by the war on terror by this country [UK] and by the United States.
    “If we go down the path of a deal-making, transactional politics where every international engagement is run on the basis of ‘what’s in it for us’, then I’m afraid we’re going to have another era of famines in the world.”

    Video Report - Diphtheria in Yemen: More than 100 infected, 14 deaths

    By Bernard Smith
    With Yemen's hospitals close to collapse, and famine imminent, aid agencies are pleading for a complete lifting of the Saudi-led coalition's blockade.
    Yemen is suffering the world's worst cholera epidemic - and now doctors are warning of an outbreak of the potentially fatal diphtheria virus.
    The WHO says the disease is spreading quickly, and doctors in Yemen are warning that the blockade is preventing essential medical supplies from entering the country.
    Al Jazeera's Bernard Smith reports.

    Starving Yemen ...Is this the face of this age of progress: our 21st century?


    Why did the world tolerate the Saudi bombing and blockade of its neighbor?
    Dear All,
    As far as wars and ‘interventions’ go, the conflict in Yemen has received relatively little media attention over the past three years.
    A civil war and power struggle between different sectarian groups has meant the conflict has turned into another proxy war involving Saudi Arabia and Iran.
    But the level of cruelty and destruction enacted by Saudi Arabia upon this country has perhaps never been witnessed in this region in modern times. Even Saddam Hussain’s much publicised Halabja gassing of the Kurds in 1988 pales in comparison to what the Saudis have done to Yemen.
    After three years of this cruelty, the US congress finally discussed the matter last week and came up with a naive ‘nobody told me’ sort of statement saying that it “had not authorised war in Yemen”.
    The country’s population is now mostly starving and no aid has been able to get in because of a Saudi blockade. Skeletal children are being kept (marginally) alive in specially designated ‘feeding centres’, and families have to choose which of their many starving children to take to the centre. And a cholera epidemic is sweeping through the land while the blockade keeps medicines and supplies from reaching the sick and vulnerable.
    But now slightly more attention is being paid to Yemen’s plight after the recent UN warning that the country faced massive famine if the blockade was not lifted (UN humanitarian flights were cancelled earlier this month). Since then, the UN has been urging the ‘Saudi coalition’ to reopen Yemen ports. The coalition’s bombing of Sanaa airport was not terribly helpful either.
    Whether or not the Saudis succumb to international pressures and partially lift the blockade, the fact remains that they have already destroyed and starved their neighbour — and the world has stood by and watched.
    Apparently, this sort of behaviour is perfectly in line with western democratic norms and no Arab Spring was needed in KSA. Otherwise, why has this been tolerated by the champions of democracy in the West?
    After three years of this cruelty, the US congress finally discussed the matter last week and came up with a naive ‘nobody told me’ sort of statement saying that it “had not authorised war in Yemen”.
    Meanwhile, the British government has so far not paid any attention to the criticisms being voiced of its arms dealings with Saudi Arabia, and the accusations that British bombs were used by the Saudis on their neighbour. These criticisms of the defence relationship between KSA and the UK are nothing new; yet somehow the lack of attention to these criticisms indicate that the government considers it perfectly okay   to supply and tolerate a completely undemocratic and despotic monarchy that treats its women like property, and bombs and starves its neighbours. It’s likely that the UK, like the USA and the UN, will have many more discussions and issue more statements about the siege and the famine over the next few days. It will probably say a great deal but do nothing much to actually force the Saudis to end the siege or the bombing.
    Many brave correspondents have travelled to this war zone; their dispatches describe a horrific situation. Their reports are harrowing and heartbreaking. Yet despite these reports, countries in the western bloc have been strangely cowed down by the Saudis and have failed to stop the fighting.
    What I find truly mindboggling is that this barbaric situation exists in the 21st century. A country is being systematically starved, yet the level of outrage has not been proportionate to the level of destruction. Plus, it’s not been considered worth giving it the ‘band aid’ treatment yet by doing a fundraising concert at an international level.
    Yemen, home to an ancient civilisation and many architectural splendours, has been forgotten by the world. Occasional statements by human rights organisations have done nothing to relieve the hunger, starvation and misery of Yemenis. Instead, we simply watch as this drama of death and destruction unfolds before our eyes.
    Is this the face of this age of progress: our 21st century?
    Best wishes,

    Pashto Music - By Hidayat Ullah -

    Pashto Music - Khayal Mohammad - Hamza Khan Shinwari: kala ba yaar kala aghyar usama


    Pashto Song - Haroon Bacha - Wakht Ba Razi

    Pashto Music Video - Da Kurme Gula - Gul Khoban

    #Afghanistan - International Day Of The Girl: 121 Districts Have No Intermediate Pass Girl

    Afghanistan: Attaullah Wesa, an office bearer of Pen Path Civil Society (PPCS) has said at least 121 districts in the country have zero intermediate pass girl which is a national tragedy, needs war-footed efforts.
    According to him, in the past 16 years, the government with the close support and collaboration of international community has been gained a number of achievements in educational sector which are not enough to meet the public demands.
    He said educationa is the fundamental right of every male and female and it is the key to peace and development in Afghanistan. He added many districts and villages have been deprived of education where no government schools are available for male and female children.
    “80 districts have no female teacher and the government must overcome this human tragedy.”
    He urged the National Unity Government to appoint female staff in all girls’ schools in the country, as male teachers for girls are contradicting to the norms and traditions which creates hurdles for educating them. He slammed the role of education ministry for not chasing its goals to provide educational facilities to our sisters in remote areas.
    On the occasion of international day of girls, he called on the government, international community and donor organizations to help Afghanistan in education sector to provide it to all male and female children in the country.
    He said establishing proper schools buildings and caring local customs and norms are the foundations to reach our goal. “Less care for education and cold-shouldered response to public demands questions the legitimacy of the government, he furthered.

    Pakistan - The out-of-school children challenge

    By Zulfiquar Rao
    We are wrong if we think we can continue running this country the way we have so far without the risk of some fatal blow to its geography, economy, and democracy.
    On the face of it this might not look frightening but as many as 22.6 million of children between five and 16 years of age are out of school. Just to assure you these figures are not from some NGO’s agenda-driven survey or research but very much from National Education Management Information System (NEMIS) — a subsidiary of the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training.
    The number of out of school children constitutes as much as 44 percent of the said age bracket. Those who luckily get enrolled at schools find it hard to continue. Of all the children enrolled in primary schools in Pakistan, 69 percent are retained until class 5 and only 28 percent until class 10. These are rounded statistics on national level; needless to say, the situation in different regions of the country such as FATA, KP, Balochistan and the interior of Sindh is far worse than this.
    Just imagine what kind of workforce or human resources this generation of children will form around 2030 when they will be between 18 and 29 years. Most likely they will end up as unskilled labour and in the most favorable estimates, some of these might become no more than partially trained semi-skilled workers. But the great majority will only add to poverty and millions of food insecure empty stomachs. Developing countries have all faced this kind of problem; and certainly, not the entire population anywhere in such economies has been able to go and pass university level education. Yet, governments in countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand had alternative plans to offer better chances of acquiring skills and earn better livelihoods to those sections of population which faced economic challenges while getting formal education.
    ''We have been hearing of national and provincial bodies on technical education and vocational training. But how effectively have these been utilized to help poor kids and youth acquire some reliably employable skills and fill the gap of skilled and trained workmen for Pakistan’s industrial and trade sectors can be anybody’s guess.''
    We have been hearing of national and provincial bodies on technical education and vocational training. But how effectively these have been utilised to help the poor kids and youth acquire some reliably employable skills and filling the gap of skilled and trained workmen for Pakistan’s industrial and trade sectors can be anybody’s guess. Of the total, just over 3500 TEVT institutes in public and private sectors as many as 2300 are located in Sindh and Punjab, which are already well off regions compared to rest of the country. Ironically, we have ten times more Madaris (religious seminaries) in the country inculcating an austere and intolerant version of Islam to over 3.3 million students in complete absence of any vocational skills.
    According to an estimate by National Vocational and Technical Training Commission, the annual demand of TVET graduates in Pakistan’s industrial sector is around 950,000, whereas the capacity of existing TVET institutes across Pakistan is not more than 350,000. So we have not only been unable to provide an alternative route to education and training to those who can’t afford to opt for a more formal schooling and education, but are also failing our industrial demand for trained workmen. With the arrival of CPEC and expected increase in demand for trained and skilled professionals, Pakistan needs an appropriate national plan for increase in vocational and technical workmen. Our current TVET infrastructure and thinking hardly match the needs of both supply and demand sides.
    The democratic governments, that so tirelessly boast of being the representatives of the downtrodden masses, owe so much to this section of population which is the largest element in bringing them to power and which finds technical education more concrete and quicker means to improve their worsening socio-economic conditions. Investments into the skills development of the poor offers most profitable national dividends as it reclaim those who are at risk of falling into the vicious circle of poverty for being left out from formal schooling and education system. Keeping in view the internal security challenges and rise of religious extremism in the country, it’s imperative that those sections of population which are socio-economically unable to afford going to schools are incentivised to keep them from attracting towards extremism.
    We are wrong if we think we can continue running this country the way we have so far without the risk of some fatal blow to its geography, economy, and democracy. With an annual population growth rate of 2.4 percent, we will be around 250 million by 2030. Imagine that if the 44 percent of our children who are currently out of school continue to be not only out of school but also without an alternative means to acquisition of technical skills and vacations. Undoubtedly, we will be facing a frightening scenario as a nation because unskilled workforce perpetuates not only unemployment, poverty, low human development indicators, but also vulnerability to socio-political instability and disorder which, seen in geo-political context, may be exploited by the country’s nemesis.

    Pakistan - ''SMOG'' - Polluting happiness

    The government needs to formulate and implement policies effectively to offset the effects of pollution
    There is enough evidence that the air we breathe is dirty and killing us prematurely. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 60,000 Pakistanis died from exposure to higher levels of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) in 2015.
    Most of it is a result of pollutants emitted from power plants, automobiles, construction sites, and factories that reduce visibility and cause the air to appear hazy when levels are elevated, something like the cloak of smog that covered Lahore for over three weeks this November.
    Often termed the “airpocalypse”, new research (though still nascent) is suggesting that those wily invisible polluting particles are not just affecting our bodies but our brains too.
    Depression, Alzheimer’s, even poor academic performance is being connected to air pollution by scientists.
    Lahore-based Dr. Ali Madeeh Hashmi, associate professor of psychiatry at King Edward Medical University, is not surprised. Pointing to multiple studies in the last 30 years, he said it has been documented that smog and air pollution cause everything from “fatigue and decreased concentration to depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses”.
    In fact, he said, dirty air impacts young children and adolescents, yet Pakistan remains oblivious to this.
    Often termed the “airpocalypse”, new research (though still nascent) is suggesting that those wily invisible polluting particles are not just affecting our bodies but our brains too.
    A recent research: “Happiness in the air: How does a dirty sky affect mental health and subjective well-being?” by the Washington D.C. based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) found that increase in air pollution in China accounted for 22.5 per cent of the actual decline in happiness in the country from 2007 to 2014. This reduction in happiness was more pronounced with people concerned with “environmental problems, who worked outdoors, earned lower incomes, or had young children”.
    “Lower air visibility, due to air pollution, significantly reduced shorter-term happiness and raised the rate of depressive symptoms. Conversely, as air visibility increased, it boosted happiness,” Xiaobo Zhang, one of the co-authors of the study and Senior Research Fellow with IFPRI, told The News on Sunday over an email exchange.
    “Conditions that create smog have a negative effect on the mood and a person’s mental health,” concurred Hashmi. “Over crowded cities, fumes from cars and factories, traffic, noise and air pollution, all test your nerves; and incidentally all these also contribute to smog,” he said.
    Zhang had his first encounter with smog in Beijing after he returned from the US in 2012 and began experiencing bouts of headaches. IFPRI’s is also the first study ever that has found a definite link between worsening air quality and reduced happiness, despite rapid economic growth.
    But not everyone is convinced of this link. Dr Zafar Ahmed Fatmi at the Department of Community Health Sciences at Aga Khan University feels finding a link between air pollution and mental health was a “distraction from the main issue” of how the former was exacerbating respiratory and cardiovascular disease.
    “Little has been done to estimate that burden in Pakistan,” he said emphasising the need to push the government to invest time and money on research around it.
    Abid Omar, founder of the Pakistan Air Quality Initiative (PAQI), has six air quality monitors installed — two each in Lahore and Karachi and one each in Peshawar and Islamabad. According to him fine inhalable particles, with diameters that are generally 2.5 micrometers and smaller (the average human hair is about 70 micrometers in diameter — making it 30 times larger than the largest fine particle), and which can penetrate into our bloodstream through the lining of our lungs, had reached up to 1,077 micrograms per cubic meter of air — many times the safe standard set by Pakistan’s national environmental quality standards of 10 (for the year) and 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air during a 24-hour period.
    According to Hashmi, sunlight helps regulate many body rhythms including sleep/wakefulness, appetite, mood swings and others. “In a sustained smog spell like we had in the Punjab, where we did not see the sun for over three weeks, many bodily functions like sleep and mood got disrupted because of lack of sunlight, in addition to other limitations like the inability to walk or exercise outdoors etc.”
    But what is even more worrying is the long term exposure of these pollutants on the next generation.
    “Long-term exposure to air pollution may even change the structure and functioning of brains,” said Zhang. In another study, he did, the IFPRI researcher found air pollution had a lasting adverse impact on cognitive performance in math and verbal tests. “The impact lasts at least two years,” he said.
    Today, said Zhang, cleaning up the air is a top priority of the Chinese government. “In the past several years, the Chinese government has shut down many polluted factories. During the days of severe air pollution, all outdoor construction projects are halted, even traffic is restricted,” he said.
    In addition, the Chinese government is encouraging more investment in environment-friendly technologies and renewable energies, said Zhang.
    Has Pakistan learnt anything from the west or for that matter, China, to clean its air. Hashmi thinks otherwise!
    “It has only been trying to downplay the scale of this public health disaster, or blaming India for it, which is always convenient,” he said.
    Even the smog policy is being looked at warily. As a quick fix measure, open burning of rice stubble and solid waste has been banned and smoke emitting industries closed temporarily.
    “To me the policy is irrelevant,” said Omar. He said he has gone through enough policies to know they all read the same, whether made for Nepal, India or Pakistan. “What is of paramount importance, is that the policy is implemented and that can only be done if there is a political will to do so.”
    Dr Masood Arshad, Director Climate, Energy and Water at WWF-Pakistan, wants the same — that the government implement the policy in true spirit.
    “If they want to develop urban jungles; shut down brick kilns during that critical period, ban burning residues of rice paddy, or crackdown on smoke-spewing vehicles plying on the roads or even if Environment Protection Department is monitoring air quality through its programme, then be it that way.”
    But for making informed decisions to form a policy that is then implemented, Omar said accurate data was needed. “It is just not about having air monitors installed across the country; it’s about using the right ones, having the right sensors to collect accurate data and trained manpower to do all that,” he said.
    All that implementation would require taking some difficult desicions, said Dr Abid Suleri, executive director of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute.
    “I am told Delhi has instituted a toll of INR 2,000 for any truck entering Delhi; sale (but not its use) of firecrackers was banned on Diwali as has burning of rice stubble; and all kinds of construction has been put on hold till March.”
    Suleri said Lahore’s smog should come as wakeup call for all on how climate change is causing havoc in developing countries. “Pakistan’s Climate Change Authority, the Climate Change Council and the Climate Change Fund look good on paper; it’s time to breathe life into them!” he said.
    But all is not lost and Hashmi is hopeful we can turn back the clock. “If there is one lesson we can learn from other countries, he said, it is that the environment is a dynamic ecosystem. The smog of London in the 1880s and Los Angeles in the 1970s was worse than Lahore right now, but they enacted clean air laws. The earth rejuvenates itself. If we reduce our pollution, our planet will clean itself up. All we need to do is to stop our wasteful ways.”

    Pakistan - Abbasi asks Shah to arrange meeting with Bilawal, Zardari

    Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi asked Leader of Opposition Syed Khurshid Shah to arrange his meeting with the Pakistan People’s Party Chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari , and former president Asif Ali Zardari , so that he could seek their support in getting the constitutional amendment approved from the Senate on delimitation of constituencies on the basis of provisional census results.
    The premier on Wednesday held meeting with Shah and sought his help in the Senate to get the constitutional amendment passed, which would pave the way for delimitation of constituencies across the country on the basis of provisional results of recently held census, but latter expressed his inability, and said that the party leadership should be approached in that regard.
    Abbasi has sought Shah’s help, as delay in the passage of the constitutional amendment from the Upper House would result in the delay in next general elections.
    Election Commission of Pakistan had given the deadline to the Parliament to pass the amendment by November 10th as further delay would make it difficult for the commission to complete the exercise of delimitation.
    Later, the fresh deadline of December 2 was given by the Election Commission and it was cautioned that any further delay would make it almost impossible for the commission to complete the task of delimitation in short span of time. The spokesman of the Election Commission of Pakistan in a media chat said the process of delimitation was quite sensitive and a tedious job, and would require six months, which they had curtailed down to five-and-a-half months.
    The fresh deadline of December 2 was given as later than that it would not be possible for the commission to manage the things.
    Shah during his meeting with Prime Minister Abbasi said that he would convey his message to the party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari .
    Later, while talking to media, Syed Khurshid Shah said that it would be better for the prime minister to extend written request for meeting the PPP Chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari , and Asif Ali Zardari as he could only convey his message to them, but could not confirm the meeting between them.
    The relations between both ruling PML-N and the PPP turned tense, following the PPP defeat of the bill tabled in the National Assembly seeking placing of bar on a disqualified person to hold party portfolio and the hard-hitting speeches against each other in the follow up.
    Earlier, the PPP and other political parties had extended complete support to the government in getting the amendment on delimitation through from the Lower House of the Parliament but now the PPP, which was having majority in the Upper House was creating hurdle in the passage of the same bill from the Senate by keeping its senators away from the house.