Wednesday, November 29, 2017

BBC News: The teenage maths genius from Lebanon

I saw this on the BBC News App and thought you should see it:

The teenage maths genius from Lebanon
Mohammad al-Mir, 13, has won three world titles for his super fast maths skills.
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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

'I cheated customers and I did it well,' former Pilot Flying J sales exec tells court

Check out this article from Ventura County Star:

'I cheated customers and I did it well,' former Pilot Flying J sales exec tells court

What creeps

Sent from my iPhone by Nick Iqbal Quidwai Newbury Park CA

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Britain's secret role in Saudi Arabia's dirty war: UK troops are training army that has left a million on the brink of starvation,

Britain's secret role in Saudi Arabia's dirty war: UK troops are training army that has left a million on the brink of starvation, investigation finds

  • Up to 50 UK military personnel teaching soldiers who will be deployed to Yemen
  • Thousands of civilians have been killed in bombing raids hitting the country
  • Charity Unicef predicts that 150,000 children could die by the end of 2017 

The British Army is secretly training Saudi Arabian troops to fight in Yemen, where the country has been accused of committing crimes against humanity, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

Up to 50 UK military personnel have been teaching battlefield skills to soldiers who will be deployed in the so-called 'dirty war'. 

Thousands of civilians have been killed in bombing raids and an estimated one million children are facing starvation and serious illness as a result of the conflict.

The Army's involvement is part of Britain's 'shameful complicity' in the suffering, according to Tory MP and former Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell. 

Salem, five, is one of the thousands of children affected by the conflict in Yemen. The five-year-old suffers from malnutrition and Unicef predicts that 150,000 children could die by the end of 2017

Salem, five, is one of the thousands of children affected by the conflict in Yemen. The five-year-old suffers from malnutrition and Unicef predicts that 150,000 children could die by the end of 2017

The training mission – codenamed Operation Crossways – came to light only after the Army released photos and information by mistake.

The United Nations is investigating the situation in Yemen, describing it as the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Some 10,000 people have died since the conflict between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and rebels supported by Iran began in 2015.

Recently a Saudi blockade of Yemen's ports brought the country to the edge a famine, with the charity Unicef predicting 150,000 children could die by the end of 2017.

Last night, Mr Mitchell demanded that the UK Government provide answers in the Commons about Britain's role in Saudi military operations.

He said: 'The UK has been shamefully complicit in Saudi's role in Yemen, which has clearly included breaches of the Geneva Conventions. 

'I have no doubt Parliament will require an explanation of this training mission in view of the high level of concern about the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Yemen.'

Operation Crossways involved troops from 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland (2 Scots) teaching 'Irregular Warfare' (IW) techniques to officers from the Royal Saudi Land Forces Infantry Institute.

IW is a collective name for specific tactics used by conventional armies to defeat terrorist groups. 

In Yemen, Saudi soldiers are fighting against an Iranian-backed paramilitary force known as the Houthi rebels.

SNAP BRITISH ARMY DIDN'T WANT YOU TO SEE: Saudi troops preparing to fight in Yemen – shown in the light blue map in the middle of the board – look on as a British Army trainer taking part in Operation Crossways gives instructions on conducting an 'irregular warfare' mission

SNAP BRITISH ARMY DIDN'T WANT YOU TO SEE: Saudi troops preparing to fight in Yemen – shown in the light blue map in the middle of the board – look on as a British Army trainer taking part in Operation Crossways gives instructions on conducting an 'irregular warfare' mission

Due to the concern surrounding Saudi Arabia's military operations in Yemen, Operation Crossways was never supposed to be made public. 

It came to light only after a mission summary and photographs were inadvertently posted on 2 Scots' Facebook page earlier this month.

In one picture a British instructor is seen standing in front of a map showing Yemen and the surrounding region as he explains a possible attacking strategy. 

The MoD attempted to launch a cover-up after the MoS brought the images to the attention of defence officials. 

Within 20 minutes of a reporter contacting the MoD, the images and the summary had been removed from the Facebook page.

Last night, former head of the Royal Navy, Lord West, demanded transparency over the UK's role in training Saudi troops. 

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He said: 'Given the sensitivities surrounding Saudi Arabia and Yemen at the moment it would be better to be open about what we are doing. Our training will hopefully save lives.'

A serving senior British Army officer who chose to remain anonymous added: 'There will be serious concern that this mission has leaked out given the sensitivities of Saudi's role in the Yemen conflict.'

The MoS can also reveal the British training mission has involved Explosive Ordnance Disposal officers from the Royal Logistic Corps teaching Saudi troops how to defuse roadside bombs. 

The UK has been heavily criticised for selling billions of pounds of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, in particular as British-made bombs are understood to have been used in the Saudis' aerial bombardment of Yemen.

The MoD said: 'The UK is not training the Saudi Armed Forces in irregular activity but is providing courses in how to counter it.'


 Our complicity in this biblical horror is shameful writes ANDREW MITCHELL, former international development secretary

It is a proud achievement that, in the aftermath of two terrible world wars, our leaders created the Geneva Conventions, a historic set of rules to govern conflict. 

Yet even this month, as we mark the sacrifice of our soldiers, that rules-based international order is crumbling.

And in Yemen, it is being fatally undermined by our own allies.

As wreaths were being laid in the UK to mark Remembrance Sunday, Yemen was enduring yet another day of a brutal blockade that risks plunging the country into the world's largest famine. It has been imposed by Saudi Arabia.

The blockade – enforced after Houthi rebels fired a missile towards Riyadh, the Saudi capital – has now been in place for more than 20 days, cutting off half a million tons of food and fuel to a starving population, barring delivery of desperately needed medical supplies, and grounding UN humanitarian flights carrying aid workers to their lifesaving missions.

Saudi Arabia's Defence Minister, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, pictured in Moscow during a meeting with Vladimir Putin

Saudi Arabia's Defence Minister, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, pictured in Moscow during a meeting with Vladimir Putin

Ever more urgent pleas from the UN and humanitarian agencies to fully lift the siege fall on deaf ears. Despite Saudi protestations, it is increasingly hard to deny that this constitutes collective punishment of an entire population. 

This is a crime under international law – and as an ally and major arms supplier to Saudi Arabia, the UK is shamefully complicit.

The impact of the blockade could not be more grave. Yemen is a country ravaged by medieval diseases and on the precipice of a biblical famine. 

The Saudi pledge to open some ports to urgent humanitarian supplies does not come close to feeding a population reliant on commercial imports for 80 per cent of its food. 

Every hour, 27 children are diagnosed as acutely malnourished: that's 600 more starving children every day. Fuel shortages mean at least seven cities have already run out of clean water and sanitation; hospitals have shut down due to a lack of running water and fuel for generators. 

As vaccines run out, one million children are at risk of diphtheria, known as The Strangling Angel of Children.

The imagery on our television screens seems from a bygone era: emaciated children; tiny babies in incubators, their tenuous hold on life dependent on fuel for hospital generators that is fast running out.

Preventing the supply of weapons to Houthi rebels fighting Yemen's internationally recognised government is a legitimate aim, mandated by UN Security Resolution 2216. But this cannot justify the ongoing strangulation of Yemen and its people.

A UN panel of experts found no evidence to support Saudi claims that their obstruction of civilian goods is stopping missiles being shipped to the Houthis by Iran. 

Such an obstruction is illegal under the international system. The UK's silence in the face of these clear crimes against the people of Yemen not only shames us, it implicates us.

This is a war waged by British allies using British weapons: we have supplied Saudi Arabia with almost £4 billion of weapons and military support in recent years.

As the 'penholder' on Yemen, responsible for leading action at the Security Council, we bear a special responsibility – political as well as moral – to lead the international response to end this conflict. 

Yet the British government has declined to call this what it is: an illegal blockade. While the Government was right to condemn the attempted Houthi missile attack on Riyadh airport, where is the British condemnation of 1,000 days of intensive Saudi bombing of Yemen? On the first day of my recent visit to the capital, Sana'a, the city was attacked six times by bombers from the Saudi air force. 

Throughout the conflict, our 'quiet diplomacy' has failed to curb outrage after outrage perpetrated by our allies in pursuit of what the UN Secretary General has called a 'stupid war'.

The current blockade does not just risk the senseless death of millions. By tightening the noose around a starving population, Saudi Arabia is feeding the propaganda machine of the opponents it aims to vanquish. 

More than collective punishment, then, it is self-harm on a grand scale. The Houthis have publicly vowed revenge, blaming Saudi aggression that 'shuts down all doors for peace and dialogue'.

Saudi Arabia's borders can ultimately be made secure only by having a stable Yemen. But as it wreaks relentless havoc on its own neighbourhood, it cannot be surprised when the Yemenis refuse to toe the line.

Every action of the Saudis currently serves the narrative of Saudi's enemies who want it to be seen as the aggressor to win support of the general population.

Prolonging the conflict serves the purpose of those who profit from war and wish to undermine stability in the region: including Iran and extremist groups. 

When I was in Yemen, I saw signs in the street in Arabic and English declaring 'America and Britain are killing Yemeni children'.

The time for UK leadership is now. We must demand an urgent ceasefire, an immediate and unconditional end to the blockade, and a return to reinvigorated, inclusive peace talks. 

A new Security Council resolution is long overdue: it is widely recognised that Resolution 2216 is an anachronism that constitutes a barrier to a peace process.

The cost of our inaction is measured in Yemeni lives. The clock is ticking: a child dies every ten minutes. Yemen is also a time bomb threatening international peace and security.

The abrogation of our responsibility to denounce these crimes and use our leverage to stop them condemns millions of Yemenis to death. Shying away from demanding compliance by all to the international rules-based order that we helped take root also weakens a strained system that keeps British citizens safe.

We must use every inch of our leverage – diplomatic, political and economic – to demonstrate to our allies they have more to gain from peace than a fruitless military strategy that is exacerbating the world's largest humanitarian catastrophe, and undermines the international rules-based order that keeps us all safe.

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​Congress’s Assault on Charities​ ny times​ nov 26 17

A fund-raising gala for City Harvest, which delivers food to community food programs. Charities like City Harvest could be hurt under the Republican tax bills. CreditNina Westervelt for The New York Times

NEWTON, Mass. — The Tuesday after Thanksgiving, called "Giving Tuesday" to mark beginning of the season of charitable giving, reminds us of the important work charities do: feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, promoting justice, nurturing the spirit, curing diseases, providing education, promoting the arts and more. These organizations play an essential role in American society.

While legislators pay lip service to the importance of charities, in recent years they have failed to adopt policies to ensure that charities get what they need to do their work. Provisions in the tax bills the House and Senate are considering would make the situation worse.

For charities to function, they need an adequate flow of donations, the ability to use these donations for their mission and the ability to remain outside the political fray. These interests have been protected in the past by a tax deduction that encourages charitable giving, a rule that requires donors to give up control over donated funds in order to take advantage of the deduction, and prohibition of political activities by charitable organizations. Each of these is under significant threat.

The first threat has to do with the availability of the charitable deduction. Under current law, it is available only to taxpayers who itemize their deductions. Tax filers can choose to either itemize their deductions (in which case they add up their deductions for charitable giving, state and local taxes, mortgage expenses and other allowable deductions), or to take a "standard deduction" of $6,350. Taxpayers who claim the standard deduction — 70 percent of all taxpayers — get no additional tax benefits for their charitable giving.

Proposals in both the House and Senate tax bills would increase the standard deduction to dollar amounts so high that a vast majority of American taxpayers would no longer itemize and therefore would receive no tax benefits for their charitable giving. Charities are particularly concerned about this expansion of non-itemizers because it would include many larger donors who tend to be mindful of the tax consequences of their gifts. A recent report by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy estimates that charities could lose as much as $13 billion in donations if the standard deduction is increased.

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The second threat to charities has to do with control of charitable donations. The requirement that donors give up control over donations to get the deduction is intended to withhold tax benefits until a charity is given full use of the funds.

But in recent years, financial institutions have promoted an investment vehicle — the donor-advised fund — that follows the letter but violates the spirit of this rule. Contributions to such funds receive an immediate tax benefit because donors give up legal control over the donated money. However, the appeal of donor-advised funds is that donors, in practice, retain control over the eventual distribution (and until then, the investment) of their contributions. Donors claim an immediate tax deduction but can defer distribution of the money into the indefinite future, all the while making money for the financial institution managing the funds.

Donor-advised funds are popular among the wealthy, with Fidelity Charitable, the largest purveyor of such funds, receiving more "donations" than any other charity, while six of the top 10 fund-raising charities were donor-advised fund sponsors. More than $85 billion is parked in donor-advised funds, but there is no obligation for these funds to ever be made fully available for charitable use. Although proposals have been made to ensure the timely payout of money put in donor-advised funds, Congress has yet to act.

The third threat has to do with the ability of charities to remain outside the political fray. If charities were permitted to be involved in politics, they could be pressured by donors seeking to promote their political views in a tax-beneficial way. Since 1954 charities have been saved from this pressure by a rule known as the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits charities from engaging in political speech.

Charities have been unified in their support for retaining the Johnson Amendment, but still the House bill includes language limiting its application, and threatening to pollute the whole charitable sector by pulling it into the realm of politics.

Lawmakers can take three simple steps to save charities. First, they should ensure that all taxpayers be allowed to claim the charitable deduction, regardless of whether they claim the standard deduction. To minimize the impact on the federal budget, and to encourage greater giving, Congress should limit this benefit to charitable contributions in excess of 2 percent of the donor's adjusted gross income.

Second, Congress should require that donor-advised fund accounts be distributed outright to charities within 10 years of contribution. Third, Congress should retain the law prohibiting political activities by charitable organizations.

It is the season of giving. Let's give charities what they really want for the holidays: the ability to do their work to fulfill their missions and serve the American people.

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Iqbal  Quidwai