Sunday, January 10, 2016
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
By Mohammad Javad ZarifTHE 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.
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?
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 middleeasteye.net.
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.
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.
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.
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."