In health and well-being, youth in America rank below those in Iraq and Bangladesh

In the Global Youth Development Index and Report 2016 (YDI), released by the Commonwealth Secretariat, the United States falls far below its self-acclaimed status as global leader. In overall ranking among 183 states, the U.S. comes 23rd.

Although there is no universally accepted definition of “youth,” the report’s authors primarily use the most commonly applied age bracket of 15-29, in line with other international organizations.

The YDI is a composite index of 18 indicators that collectively measure progress on youth development in 183 countries, including 49 of the 53 Commonwealth countries. It has five domains, measuring levels of education, health and wellbeing, employment and opportunity, political participation and civic participation among young people.

In its rankings within these five domains, the number on American youth that jumps out is for health and well-being: 106 — that’s below, for instance, Iraq (103) and Bangladesh (102).

There’s no mystery as to why the U.S. ranks so poorly in this regard. The primary reason: obesity. And the primary causes of obesity are diets loaded in empty calories combined with sedentary life styles.

The American way of life has become a system of factory farming in which a large proportion of citizens get fattened up and fed into a life-long disease management system. The primary beneficiaries of this system are the pharmaceutical industry, the manufacturers of sodas and junk food, and the entertainment industry.

Suppose a terrorist plot was uncovered revealing a plan to poison most Americans. This discovery probably wouldn’t generate a huge amount of alarm for the simple reason that however evil its ambitions might be, no terrorist organization could actually carry out a plot on this scale.

On the other hand, even though there has never been a corporate conspiracy designed to accomplish this goal, a largely unquestioned obedience to the principle of profit has brought America to this juncture. This is a chronic condition of commercial exploitation and social decay that has been decades in the making.

In “The Global Epidemic of Obesity: An Overview,” a report published in Epidemiologic Reviews, Dr. Benjamin Caballero wrote:

The sedentary lifestyle of the US population was already a concern in the 1950s, when President Eisenhower created the Council on Fitness and Health to promote physical activity in the population. While secular data to assess trends are limited, in 2000 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that less than 30 percent of the US population has an adequate level of physical activity, another 30 percent is active but not sufficiently, and the remainder is sedentary. A longitudinal study of girls aged 9–18 years documented the dramatic decline in physical activity during adolescence, particularly among Black girls. A number of factors may result in limited physical activity at schools, such as budget constraints and pressure to meet academic performance targets. Out of school, physical activity is also frequently limited. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a dramatic decline in the proportion of children who walk or bike to school, from close to 42 percent in 1969 to 16 percent in 2001. At home, the average US teenager spends over 30 hours per week watching television. This activity is not only sedentary but also associated with reduced consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, possibly related to consumption of snack foods while watching television and to the influence of food commercials, most of which advertise low-nutrient-density foods.

In the 1950s, the sugar industry sought to halve the amount of fat in the American diet and replace this with sugar which would result in a 30% increase in sugar consumption and “a tremendous improvement in general health,” according to the president of the Sugar Research Foundation, Harry Hass. The industry turned out to be tremendously successful in boosting sugar consumption, but instead of improving health it has poisoned America, setting multiple generations on a path towards chronic disease and premature death.


The 2014 documentary, Fed Up, can be rented or bought here, or viewed on Netflix.


Gary Younge: America’s deserving and undeserving dead children

It’s rare to hear an author say, “Researching and writing this book has made me want to scream.”  But perhaps it’s not surprising, given the topic of Gary Younge’s Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives — the daily, weekly, monthly, yearly death-by-gun of startling numbers of kids in this country — and the time he spent tracking down the stories of the young Americans who died on a single day in November 2013 in separate incidents nationwide.

After all, these days, the U.S. is a haven and a heaven for guns.  It’s hard to find another nation on the planet — except in places like Syria or Afghanistan where whole populations have been thrown into desperate internecine conflicts — in which guns are so readily available. Between 1968 and 2015, the number of guns in the U.S. essentially doubled to 300 million. Between 2010 and 2013 alone, American arms manufacturers doubled their production of weapons to almost 11 million a year.  And those guns have gotten more deadly as well.  Military-style assault rifles and semi-automatic handguns are now the weapons of choice for mass killers and “lone wolf” terrorists in this country.  In almost all cases those killers got their guns and ammo (often high-capacity magazines capable of holding 15 to 100 rounds) in perfectly legal fashion. And it’s getting easier to carry concealed weapons all the time. Missouri, for instance, recently passed a law that allows the carrying of such a weapon without either a permit or training of any sort.

Under the circumstances, no one should be surprised that kids die in remarkable numbers from guns for all kinds of reasons. Believe me, though, that makes it no less shocking when you read Younge’s unsettling and moving book. Long a journalist, columnist, and editor for the British Guardian stationed here in the U.S., today he offers us a look at the death toll from guns among our young and the way we Americans generally like to explain that toll to ourselves (or rather how we like to explain it away). Tom Engelhardt

An all-American slaughter
The youthful carnage of America’s gun culture
By Gary Younge

Every day, on average, seven kids and teens are shot dead in America. Election 2016 will undoubtedly prove consequential in many ways, but lowering that death count won’t be one of them. To grapple with fatalities on that scale — 2,500 dead children annually — a candidate would need a thoroughgoing plan for dealing with America’s gun culture that goes well beyond background checks. In addition, he or she would need to engage with the inequality, segregation, poverty, and lack of mental health resources that add up to the environment in which this level of violence becomes possible.  Think of it as the huge pile of dry tinder for which the easy availability of firearms is the combustible spark. In America in 2016, to advocate for anything like the kind of policies that might engage with such issues would instantly render a candidacy implausible, if not inconceivable — not least with the wealthy folks who now fund elections.

So the kids keep dying and, in the absence of any serious political or legislative attempt to tackle the causes of their deaths, the media and the political class move on to excuses. From claims of bad parenting to lack of personal responsibility, they regularly shift the blame from the societal to the individual level. Only one organized group at present takes the blame for such deaths.  The problem, it is suggested, isn’t American culture, but gang culture.

Researching my new book, Another Day in the Death of America, about all the children and teens shot dead on a single random Saturday in 2013, it became clear how often the presence of gangs in neighborhoods where so many of these kids die is used as a way to dismiss serious thinking about why this is happening. If a shooting can be described as “gang related,” then it can also be discounted as part of the “pathology” of urban life, particularly for people of color. In reality, the main cause, pathologically speaking, is a legislative system that refuses to control the distribution of firearms, making America the only country in the world in which such a book would have been possible.

[Read more…]


Iran is enjoying the U.S. presidential election

Robin Wright writes: The first season of “House of Cards,” the Netflix series about the demonic American politician Frank Underwood and his duplicitous wife, Claire, recently made its début on Iranian television, just in time for the finale of the American elections. The show has been dubbed in Farsi — as “Khaneh Poushaly,” or “House of Straw” — by a state-run television channel. It ran every night for two weeks. The timing seemed deliberate, and authorized from the top: the Islamic Republic vigorously censors most American programs, and the director of Iran’s broadcasting authority, I.R.I.B., is appointed by the Supreme Leader.

Among hard-liners, the response to the series has been gleeful. It fits their profile of the United States as the Great Satan. Mashregh, a Web site linked to the Revolutionary Guards, commented, “House of Cards has skillfully shown the deception in the complicated political sphere of liberal American civilization, as well as the treason, power-hungriness, promiscuities and crimes behind those ruling in the country.”

Iran’s media has generally been obsessed with the upcoming American contest, even more than with the country’s own Presidential election, scheduled for next May. Mashregh has an entire page devoted to it. For the first time, Iranian television broadcast an American Presidential debate live, in simultaneous translation — the October 9th encounter, in which Donald Trump denied sexually assaulting women and threatened to put Hillary Clinton in prison if he is elected. [Continue reading…]


Syria’s forgotten revolutionaries

Murtaza Hussain reports: As Naji Jerf stepped out of an office building in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep last December, a man walked up to him and fired two shots from a silenced pistol, striking Jerf in the head and chest and killing him instantly.

Jerf, 38, was a Syrian filmmaker and journalist who had become a popular activist during the revolution. A fierce critic of both the Assad regime and the Islamic State, he had received numerous death threats in the months before he was killed. Shortly after his murder, the Islamic State issued a statement claiming responsibility and Turkish authorities arrested three men in connection with the shooting.

Jerf is only one of the innumerable Syrian revolutionary activists who have lost their lives over the past five years. An editor and documentarian, he helped train a generation of young Syrians to continue the fight for democracy in their country. But his story, and the stories of those like him who continue the spirit of the 2011 uprising, rarely register in broader narratives of the conflict. For all they have sacrificed, their struggles have gone largely ignored, in a framing of the conflict that has been convenient for the Assad government.

Leila Shami, co-author of the book “Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War,” told me, “The Syrian government has taken huge efforts to frame the conflict as one solely between themselves and extremist groups. People are not aware that there is a third option in Syria, that there are many Syrians from a wide range of backgrounds who are still fighting for the original goals of the revolution.”

Shami added, “Syria has had so many heroes, but people often don’t know who they are.” [Continue reading…]


ISIS after Mosul

Hassan Hassan writes: As an alliance of Iraqi and Kurdish forces pushes to retake the city of Mosul from the Islamic State, there should be no doubt about what the group plans to do next. It will fight to the bitter end to defend its most populous and symbolic stronghold. After all, it was in Mosul that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — the city’s leader for two years before he became the Islamic State’s leader in 2010 — declared a caliphate from the pulpit of an iconic 12th-century mosque.

If the Islamic State loses Mosul, the group has a clearly articulated contingency plan, a strategy it has frequently broadcast on multiple platforms for the past five months: inhiyaz, or temporary retreat, into the desert.

The word “inhiyaz” appeared in May, in the last speech delivered by Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the group’s spokesman who was killed by an American airstrike in August. Mr. Adnani explained that territorial losses did not mean defeat and that militants would fight until the end and then retreat to the desert, preparing for a comeback, just as they did between 2007 and 2013.

Various Islamic State outlets picked up the theme. Al-Naba, the group’s newsletter, ran an article about the subject in August, recalling how the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq, the Islamic State’s predecessor, survived after they were driven out of Iraqi cities following the 2007 American troop surge and the tribal insurrection known as the Awakening. [Continue reading…]


From French soldier to ISIS spymaster

Michael Weiss writes: The photograph is nearly a decade old, but it is not difficult to imagine that the young man staring inscrutably into the camera, his face bathed in the white light of a flash, now looks much older. The clean-shaven teenager, about 16 or 17, with close-cropped black hair, probably has a long beard now. Gone will be the stylish patterned T-shirt he’s wearing, which looks like it was picked up at a local H&M. Ditto the blingy chain around his neck. If the ravages of time have been accelerated on this young face in the nine years since this portrait was taken then it is because the young man has got the blood of hundreds on his hands, blood that has been spilled in two capital cities of Europe.

The boy in the photograph, which a Western intelligence source shared exclusively with The Daily Beast on the condition that it is not published, is Abdelilah Himich, who U.S. and French intelligence officials have identified as the mysterious Abu Suleyman al-Firansi, the terror operative believed to have been a prime mover of the Paris and Brussels attacks over the last year, and arguably the single most important European in ISIS.

Much that was speculated about Abu Suleyman, pieced together from testimony of active informants inside the ISIS security branch he allegedly heads as well as from defectors from the organization—a game of terrorist telephone—missed some nuances, but otherwise was close to the mark. [Continue reading…]


The battle for Mosul: A precarious alliance takes on ISIS

Christoph Reuter reports: A thundercloud, heavy and dark gray. That is what it looks like from a distance. But the closer you get to Mosul from the south, the bigger and darker this cloud becomes. Instead of floating in the sky, it grows out of the ground, ultimately becoming a towering, opaque wall that swallowing entire villages, making them disappear into the darkness.

Driving to Mosul is a drive into the apocalypse. Or at least that’s what it feels like, with the gigantic clouds of smoke coming from burning oil wells, reservoirs and ditches — laid out by Islamic State over the last two years and now set alight one after the other. Although it would normally be a sunny midday in fall, the military jeeps coming from the other direction have their lights on.

The dark curtain is meant to keep the attackers’ jets and helicopters at bay; the smoke irritates the throat and causes headaches. An armada of over 30,000 soldiers and fighters from at least a half-dozen countries began a major offensive against the de-facto capital of the “caliphate” in northern Iraq last Monday. It is not only the biggest coalition to have assembled in the fight against Islamic State (IS), it is also the least predictable.

The jihadists can be expected to commit any number of heinous acts in the hopes of holding onto their most important city, which is home of many of its leaders. The attackers, meanwhile, are part of an extremely fragile alliance: The US Air Force and Special Forces are contributing enormous firepower that can react quickly to realities on the ground. On the ground, meanwhile, the two strongest forces eye each other with suspicion: The Peshmerga fighters from the Kurdish Regional Government and the primarily Shiite militias of the so-called Popular Mobilization Forces. They forces were recently declared by decree to be Iraqi state troops, but are ultimately controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The Shiite militias are feared, and have been accused of systematically expulsing, torturing and killing Sunnis. Furthermore, under the guise of fighting IS, they are suspected of conducting large-scale sectarian cleansing. [Continue reading…]


Turkey’s push to join battle for Mosul inflames tension with Iraq

The New York Times reports: A dispute between Iraq and Turkey has emerged as a dramatic geopolitical sideshow to the complicated military campaign to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, from the Islamic State.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has insisted on a role in the battle for Mosul, trying to ramp up an involvement in Iraq that has already alarmed the Iraqi government.

“We have a historical responsibility in the region,” Mr. Erdogan said in a recent speech, drawing on his country’s history of empire and defeat, from Ottoman rule of the Middle East to its loss in World War I. “If we want to be both at the table and in the field, there is a reason.”

In response, the normally mild-mannered Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, warned last week of a military confrontation between Turkey and Iraq. If Turkish forces intervene in Mosul, he said, they will not “be in a picnic.”

“We are ready for them,” Mr. Abadi said. “This is not a threat or a warning, this is about Iraqi dignity.”

The rift between Turkey and Iraq is no mere diplomatic row; it is a stark example of the complete breakdown in sovereignty of not just Iraq but Syria as well. The Islamic State has erased the borders between the two countries, while Turkey has stationed troops in both countries without the permission of either government. [Continue reading…]


How Ataturk became a model for Erdogan


Mustafa Akyol writes: Since he was elected as Turkey’s president in August 2014, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been hoping to redesign the Turkish Constitution to introduce an executive presidential system. The July 15 failed coup put that discussion aside for a moment, but not for long. Last week, the leader of the opposition Nationalist Action Party, Devlet Bahceli, who has lately emerged as a political ally of Erdogan, announced that his party could help the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) take the presidential system to a referendum. As a result, political observers began to expect a referendum in early 2017. In fact, government spokesman Hayati Yazici made the plan clear by noting that a constitutional amendment may come to the parliament in January and that a referendum could be held in April.

Given Erdogan’s popularity, which was only boosted with the public reaction to the coup attempt, the referendum would very likely get a “yes” vote. This would be followed by an election to choose the new president, a second ballot that Erdogan could easily win. Erdogan, in other words, may well be the first leader of the second Turkish Republic whose political system will revolve around an executive presidency.

What kind of presidency would this be? An answer to this question came from Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, an Erdogan confidant, last week. “[Mustafa Kemal] Ataturk’s era was presidential system in action,” he said, asking, “Can you name any prime minister of that era with the exception of [Ismet] Inonu? You can’t.” This reference to Ataturk surprised some observers, because the conservative/Islamic political camp that Erdogan and his party comes from has traditionally not been a fan of Ataturk and his staunchly secularist era. Turkish-American academic Timur Kuran noted the irony here, tweeting: “Turkish Islamists have treated Ataturk’s regime as a destructive dictatorship. Now AKP uses Ataturk to justify its own monopoly of power.” [Continue reading…]


Aleppo erupts in protests following temporary ceasefire

Riad Alarian reports: After the ceasefire negotiated by the United States and Russia collapsed on September 19, 2016, the Syrian regime and its Russian allies steadily intensified their ongoing bombing campaign against Aleppo. Since then, as many as 740 civilians have been killed, while at least 1900 others have been injured, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

On October 20, 2016, the Syrian and Russian governments instituted another (extremely short-lived) ceasefire. According to Reuters, the “unilateral ceasefire backed by Russia had come into force to allow people to leave besieged eastern Aleppo, a move rejected by rebels who say they are preparing a counter-offensive to break the blockade.”

The purpose behind this ostensibly humanitarian gesture is, however, deeply sinister, and will likely end in even more bloodshed. Sharif Nashashibi, a London-based Syria analyst, argues in News Deeply that “as with previous cease-fires, this is an escalation – part of an overall military solution to the conflict – masquerading as diplomacy and humanitarianism.”

In Nashashibi’s view, the ceasefire’s purpose “is to facilitate the capture of eastern Aleppo by encouraging rebels to abandon their positions, before ramping up the previous onslaught under the pretext that those remaining in rebel-held areas are either fighters or sympathizers.” It should come as absolutely no surprise, therefore, that rebels and residents of the city alike are holding their ground and choosing not to leave.

The city’s residents not only refused to evacuate, but also mobilized a series of protests echoing the very same demands that sparked the uprising against President Bashar Al-Assad five years ago, namely, for freedom and liberty from the tyranny of the regime and its allies.

While these protests have received little attention, they are hardly new. During periods of calm in besieged areas of Syria, protests usually break out. In March of this year, for example, Aleppo, Idlib, and Hama were engulfed in mass protests calling for the fall of the Assad regime, both in between and during periods of constant shelling. [Continue reading…]



Bring Syria’s Assad and his backers to account now

John Allen and Charles R. Lister* write: For 5½ years, the Syrian government has tortured, shot, bombed and gassed its own people with impunity, with the resulting human cost clear for all to see: nearly 500,000 dead and 11 million displaced. Since Russia’s military intervention began one year ago, conditions have worsened, with more than 1 million people living in 40 besieged communities. Thirty-seven of those are imposed by pro-government forces.

While subjecting his people to unspeakable medieval-style brutality, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has sabotaged diplomatic initiatives aimed at bringing a lasting calm to his country. The most recent such diplomatic scheme was trashed not just by Assad, but also Russia, whose aircraft were accused of subjecting a U.N.-mandated aid convoy to a ferocious two-hour attack in September.

Since then, at least 2,500 people have been killed and wounded in eastern districts of Aleppo, amid horrendous bombardment by Syrian and Russian aircraft, and Russia cynically vetoed a U.N. resolution that would have prohibited further airstrikes in the city.

It is time for the United States to act more assertively on Syria, to further four justifiable objectives: to end mass civilian killing; to protect what remains of the moderate opposition; to undermine extremist narratives of Western indifference to injustice; and to force Assad to the negotiating table. The United States should not be in the business of regime change, but the Assad clique and its backers must be brought to account before it is too late. The world will not forgive us for our inaction.

The consequences of continued inaction are dreadful. U.S. policy has never sought to decisively influence the tactical situation on the ground. Unrealistic limitations on vetting and a policy that prohibited arming groups to fight the regime left us unable to effectively fight the Islamic State or to move Assad toward a transition. U.S. policy and strategy on Syria had a major disconnect, in being focused militarily on a group that was a symptom of the civil war without any means to achieve the stated policy objective: Assad’s departure. [Continue reading…]

*John Allen, a retired U.S. Marine general, led the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2013 and the international coalition to counter the Islamic State from 2014 to 2015. Charles R. Lister is a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and author of The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency.


Iranian human rights activist given six years in prison for hand-written unpublished story

IranWire reports: On Tuesday, October 4, writer and human rights activist Golrokh Ebrahimi received a strange phone call ordering her to present herself at Evin Prison by noon on Wednesday evening to start serving her prison sentence. By law, authorities much convey such an order by way of a written summons. But that was not the only unusual thing about the call.

“The arresting officer used the phone of Navid Kamran, a codefendant of mine,” Ebrahimi told IranWire hours before presenting herself at Evin. “They had gone to his shop to arrest him and used his phone. When I answered the call, the man who introduced himself as an agent of the Centre for the Implementation of Sentences said that I must present myself to serve the sentence. I said that I had received no official summons or a call from Evin Court. ‘You are using my friend’s phone to call me and it might be a joke,’ I said. ‘I don’t know you and I have no idea who is talking to me.’ He answered back that ‘you might think this is a joke but we are here to arrest your friend and you must present yourself at Evin’s court right away.’ I said that I could not get there by the end of business hours but perhaps I could do it the next day. He said that I would be arrested if I did not present myself by the next day.”

Ebrahimi’s ordeal began when the Revolutionary Guards arrested her along with her husband, Arash Sadeghi, at his workplace in Tehran on September 6, 2014. The Guards had no arrest warrant, but took the couple to their home, ransacked the place, and confiscated their computers, CDs, and notes. Among the confiscated items was a story about the punishment, under Islamic law, of death by stoning. According to a report from Amnesty International, “The story describes the emotional reaction of a young woman who watches the film, The Stoning of Soraya M, which tells the true story of a young woman stoned to death for adultery — and becomes so enraged that she burns a copy of the Quran.” [Continue reading…]