From mobile phones, tablets and laptop computers to all the different types of social media out there, modern day society as a whole is distracted in a way it never has before. Scientists have noticed that as technology becomes more prevalent, people are also getting fatter. VOA’s Elizabeth has the details on a Rice University study examining whether there is a link between technology habits and obesity.
Education has been a key issue for Democratic candidates running for president in the 2020 race, especially as they seek the support of younger Americans who have now replaced Baby Boomers as the country’s largest voting bloc. But education is not the only concern for these young voters. Other social issues are likely to motivate them to go to the polls in 2020. Sahar Majid has more in this report for VOA narrated by Kathleen Struck.
There is an allure and excitement to the power of an old-fashioned steam train. Coal powered trains plied the rails in the United States for 175 years, starting in the 1830’s, and were an integral part of America’s westward expansion and industrial revolution. Today, visitors can experience riding on America’s oldest operating railroad, which is only seven kilometers long. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us more from Ronks, Pennsylvania.
British Treasury chief Philip Hammond said Sunday that he will quit if _ as widely expected — Boris Johnson becomes prime minister this week on a promise to leave the European Union with or without a divorce deal.
Hammond said Johnson’s vow to press for a no-deal Brexit if he can’t secure a new agreement with the EU is “not something that I could ever sign up to.”
Hammond was almost certain to be removed from office by the new leader in any case. He has angered Brexit-backers, who now dominate the governing Conservative Party, with his warnings about the economic pain that leaving the EU could cause.
Hammond told the BBC that if Johnson wins, “I’m not going to be sacked because I’m going to resign before we get to that point.”
Johnson is the strong favorite to win a two-person runoff to lead the Conservative Party and the country. The winner is being announced Tuesday, with the victor taking over from Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday.
Britain is due to leave the EU on Oct. 31 but Parliament has repeatedly rejected the divorce deal struck between May and the bloc. Both Johnson and his rival Jeremy Hunt, the current foreign secretary, say they will leave the EU without an agreement if the EU won’t renegotiate.
Most economists say quitting the 28-nation bloc without a deal would cause Britain economic turmoil. The U.K.’s official economic watchdog has forecast that a no-deal Brexit would trigger a recession, with the pound plummeting in value, borrowing soaring by 30 billion pounds ($37 billion) and the economy shrinking 2% in a year.
But Johnson, who helped lead the “leave” campaign in Britain’s 2016 EU membership referendum, says a no-deal Brexit will be “vanishingly inexpensive” if the country prepares properly.
The EU insists it won’t reopen the 585-page divorce deal it struck with May.
Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said Sunday that the bloc is “simply not going to move away from the Withdrawal Agreement.”
“If the approach of the new British prime minister is that they’re going to tear up the Withdrawal Agreement, then I think we’re in trouble,” he told the BBC. “We’re all in trouble, quite frankly, because it’s a little bit like saying: ‘Either give me what I want or I’m going to burn the house down for everybody.'”
Hammond is the third U.K. minister within a week to quit or say they will resign in order to try to prevent a cliff-edge Brexit. Britain looks set for a fall showdown between the new Conservative government and British lawmakers determined to thwart a no-deal exit.
“I am confident that Parliament does have a way of preventing a no-deal exit on October 31 without parliamentary consent and I intend to work with others to ensure parliament uses its power to make sure that the new government can’t do that,” Hammond said.
The World Bank estimated Sunday that Afghanistan’s economy grew by less than two percent (1.8 %) in 2018 primarily due to ongoing war, drought and political uncertainty, likely leading to further increases in poverty.
In its latest assessment of the Afghan economy, the Bank noted that sustained and substantial improvement in the security situation are key to better economic conditions required to reduce poverty from high current levels.
“Any political settlement with the Taliban could bring major economic benefits through improving confidence and encouraging the return of Afghan capital and skilled workers from overseas,” the assessment noted.
The report comes as the United States has been holding negotiations with Taliban insurgents to try to bring an end to the 18-year-old Afghan war. The two adversaries are said to have come closer to signing a peace deal that could also jumpstart intra-Afghan negotiations for permanent cessation of four decades of hostilities in the country.
“Whatever happens, rapid growth will only be possible with improved security under a government that remains committed to private sector development, respects the rights of investors, and maintains the gains Afghanistan has achieved over the past two decades towards establishing strong and impartial government institutions” said Henry Kerali, the World Bank Afghanistan country director.
Sunday’s report, however, hailed progress in government policies and a strong economic management, saying it has improved prospects for 2019, with growth expected to accelerate to 2.5 percent with the easing of drought conditions.
“Government revenues reached a new high of nearly 190 billion afghanis in 2018, up seven percent from 2017 while budget execution rates also reached record levels,” it noted.
It urged the government to do more to improve the business environment, ensure a smooth election process and prevent corruption and management of scarce fiscal resources over the difficult months to come.
Afghan election officials are preparing to hold the repeatedly-delayed presidential vote on September 28. Presidential hopefuls alleged incumbent President Ashraf Ghani, who is also seeking re-election, is using state machinery and resources to undermine his rivals.
Presidential spokespeople, however, reject the charges.
The United States said it’s concerned by reports of China’s interference with oil and gas activities in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, where Vietnam accuses Beijing of violating its sovereignty.
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement that China’s “repeated provocative actions aimed at the offshore oil and gas development of other claimant states threaten regional energy security and undermine the free and open Indo-Pacific energy market.”
Vietnam on Friday demanded China remove a survey ship from Vanguard Bank, which it says lies within Vietnam’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone. China claims the South China Sea almost in its entirety and has rattled smaller neighbors by constructing seven man-made islands in the disputed waters and equipped them with military runways and outposts.
Chinese coast guard vessels also have been reported near a drilling rig in the same Vanguard Bank area where Vietnam has contracted Russia’s Rosneft to develop gas fields.
“Vietnam has made contact with China on multiple occasions via different channels, delivered diplomatic notes to oppose China’s violations, and staunchly demanded China to stop all unlawful activities and withdraw its ships from Vietnamese waters,”Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said in a statement Friday.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang earlier in the week urged Hanoi to respect China’s sovereign rights and jurisdiction, “and not to take any move that may complicate matters.”
In May 2014, Chinese and Vietnamese vessels engaged in a dangerous confrontation when China’s national oil company moved its oil platform into waters Vietnam considers its territory.
Ortagus calls on China to “cease its bullying behavior and refrain from engaging in this type of provocative and destabilizing activities.”
Pakistan organized its first ever provincial elections Saturday in a northwestern region along the mountainous border with Afghanistan that until a few years ago was condemned as the “epicenter” of international terrorism.
Pakistani officials said the elections in the seven districts of what were formerly known as the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) are central to steps the government has taken to supplement regional and global efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan and counter violent extremism.
Pakistani election officials said some 2.8 million registered voters were to choose from 285 candidates for 16 seats in the legislative assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.
The contestants, including two women, represented major mainstream political parties. The election was held under tight security and no incidents of violence were reported.
The historic vote came on a day when Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan left for the United States for his first meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House on Monday, where the two leaders will discuss counterterrorism measures among a range of other issues.
A landmark constitutional amendment pushed through the parliament last year paved the ground for the tribal territory to be merged in the adjoining KP province to bring it into the national mainstream.
Until last year, the lawless border regions of FATA were federally administered through a set of British colonial laws that were not applicable to the rest of Pakistan, and residents could vote only in the national assembly, lower house of the parliament.
FATA anti-terror campaign
Civilian and military leaders in Pakistan hailed Saturday’s democratic process as testimony that years-long security operations have rid most of the ex-FATA of militant groups, including al-Qaida and fighters loyal to the Taliban waging a deadly insurgency against U.S.-led intentional forces on the Afghan side of the porous border.
Islamabad has been for years accused by American and Afghan officials of harboring training camps and sanctuaries for the Taliban. Pakistani officials have consistently denied those charges.
The anti-terrorism Pakistan army offensives, backed by airpower, over the years had displaced several million residents of FATA, although officials say 95% of them have since been rehabilitated.
A government document shared with VOA claimed the operations killed more than 15,000 militants and captured another 5,000. The remnants have fled and taken refuge in “ungoverned” border regions of Afghanistan, it added.
It was not possible to ascertain the veracity of the data through independent sources because conflict zones in FATA had remained inaccessible for journalists and aid workers during military operations.
In recent months, however, the military has organized media trips to showcase infrastructure development, particularly in North Waziristan, which Pakistani officials say was the final battleground in their bid to clear FATA of terror.
The retaliatory terrorist attacks and suicide bombings in FATA districts and elsewhere in the country also killed thousands of Pakistanis, including about 8,000 military personnel, according to Pakistani officials.
The violence, which stemmed from Pakistan’s participation in the U.S. “war on terror,” also has inflicted direct and indirect losses to the national economy totaling more than $200 billion, according to government estimates.
Foreign critics also had been referring to FATA as the “most dangerous place”on the globe, and the U.S. repeatedly called for Pakistan to dismantle the terrorism infrastructure.
“This most dangerous spot on the map may well be the source of another 9/11 type of attack on the Western world or its surrogates in the region,” concluded the Center for Strategic and International Studies in a 2009 study on FATA..
Border security and reconstruction
The Pakistani army is currently building a robust fence and new posts along most of the 2,600-kilometer Afghan border to deter militant infiltration in either direction. The massive border management project is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.
“With fencing of Pak-Afghan border, cross border movement of terrorists, drugs and smugglers has reduced to almost 5% of what was happening before,” according to a Pakistani government document shared with VOA.
The ensuing reconstruction effort has established roads, bridges and telecommunication networks, schools, health facilities and markets.
The key infrastructure was previously almost non-existent in many FATA districts. Pakistani officials cited a lack a government authority in the region for decades, saying it long served as a “transit zone for Jihadi groups where they had established a de-facto government.”
The military lately, however, has faced allegations of abuses from a newly emerged group in FATA, known as Pakistan Tahafuz Movement or PTM. But both army and government officials deny the charges, alleging that some of the PTM leaders are being supported by Afghan and Indian spy agencies in their bid to undermine Pakistan’s counterterrorism gains.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s nearly one-year-old government takes credit for arranging an ongoing peace dialogue between the U.S. and the Taliban aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan.
During recent trips to FATA districts, Khan has announced new projects and allocated substantial funds for the development of the regions, hoping they will become a commercial and transit trade hub between Pakistan and Afghanistan if peace eventually returns to the neighboring country.
Saudi-coalition spokesman Col. Turki al Maliki says that coalition fighter jets took out at least five Houthi air defense sites around the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, early Saturday. Amateur video showed a number of explosions rocking Sanaa, overnight.
Amateur video broadcast by Arab media showed a series of explosions around the Yemeni capital Sana’a, early Saturday, followed by loud percussive explosions.
Saudi-owned media, quoting coalition spokesman Turki al Maliki, indicated that at least five Houthi air defense sites were bombed by Saudi warplanes. Maliki claimed that a number of Houthi ballistic missiles were destroyed in the air attacks.
The Saudi-owned Asharqalawsat newspaper quoted Maliki as saying the “operation [overnight] targeted the Houthis air defense capabilities, as well as their ability to launch aggressive attacks.” Maliki went on to say the coalition raids “conformed with international human rights law.”
Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, tells VOA that he doesn’t think the Saudi air raids are going to have much effect on the ongoing war or the Houthis military capabilities:
“This is not the first time the Saudis announced launching attacks on missile sites in Yemen,” he said. “It happened in the past and it’s highly unlikely that such attacks are going to have any tangible effects on the Houthi war effort.”
Khashan stressed that most of the Houthis’ attacks on Saudi territory in recent weeks have been launched “using drones, rather than by firing ballistic missiles.”
The Houthis military spokesman, Gen. Yahya Saree, claimed Saturday that his group had launched a retaliatory drone attack Saturday, which “destroyed several radar [sites] and other military equipment at the King Khaled airbase in southern Saudi Arabia.” Saudi-owned al Arabiya TV countered that the drone was shot down near Abha and “hit no targets.”
The Saudi air attacks on Houthi missile sites come one day after unknown drones struck a Shi’ite militia camp that allegedly contained Iranian ballistic missiles in the north of Iraq. Some Iraqi analysts accused Saudi Arabia of the attack, but it was not immediately clear who was responsible. A number of Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces and Lebanese Hezbollah advisers allegedly were killed or wounded in the raid.
Marylou Whitney, a successful thoroughbred breeder and owner whose family helped keep Saratoga Race Course open in the 1970s, has died. She was 93.
The New York Racing Association said she died Friday at her estate in Saratoga Springs after a long illness. No further details were provided.
Whitney became the first woman in 80 years to own and breed a Kentucky Oaks winner in 2003 with Bird Town, a filly trained by Hall of Famer Nick Zito. In 2004, Whitney and Zito teamed with Birdstone to win the Belmont Stakes, spoiling Smarty Jones’ Triple Crown bid. Birdstone won the Travers, Saratoga’s signature race, later that summer.
Her stable had over 190 winners starting in 2000 and into the current year.
Opens her own stable in 1992
Before opening her own stable in 1992, Whitney teamed with her husband, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, to race horses. They won the Travers in 1960 with Tompion and again in 1968 with Chompion. C.V. Whitney co-founded the National Museum of Racing and Pan American Airlines in 1958.
In the 1970s, the couple helped convince NYRA to keep Saratoga open at a time when wagering and attendance sagged. Their efforts and long-term vision paid off, with Saratoga’s summer meet attracting more than 1 million fans annually.
Whitney was nicknamed “Queen of Saratoga” for her philanthropic initiatives in Saratoga Springs.
The Whitneys founded the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, which opened in 1966 and continues to host world-class musical and dance performances.
C.V. Whitney died at age 93 in 1992.
Eclipse Award of Merit
In 1997, Whitney married John Hendrickson, who was 40 years her junior and an aide to Alaska’s then-governor, Wally Hickel. The couple continued her philanthropic endeavors, helping establish a program to help Saratoga stable workers.
“Marylou’s passion for racing was only matched by her love for the city of Saratoga Springs and her support for the backstretch community,” NYRA CEO and President Dave O’Rouke said. “Her generosity was unparalleled and the list of her contributions is endless. Saratoga would not be the destination it is today without the esteemed leadership, dedication and support of Marylou.”
Whitney received an Eclipse Award of Merit in 2010 for her contributions to racing and was elected to The Jockey Club in 2011.
“Whether it was her extraordinary philanthropic endeavors, her festive galas or her racing stable of stakes winners, Marylou devoted all of her energies to our sport and its traditions, most prominently, her beloved Saratoga,” the Breeders’ Cup said in a statement. “Marylou has left an indelible mark of distinction, class and style upon thoroughbred racing.”
Last year, she was in attendance as the Racing Hall of Fame inducted three generations of Whitneys as Pillars of the Turf, including C.V. Whitney, his father, Harry Payne Whitney, and his grandfather, Williams Collins Whitney, who purchased Saratoga in 1900 and also helped create Belmont Park.
“Mrs. Whitney was a beloved and irreplaceable icon whose extraordinary legacy will have a lasting effect on future generations,” the Racing Hall of Fame and Museum said in a statement.
Born Marie Louise Schroeder on Dec. 24, 1925, she grew up in Kansas City, Missouri.
After graduating from Southwest High School, she attended the University of Iowa for a time before working as an actress, appearing in movies and television shows and in radio.
Besides Hendrickson, she is survived by her five children, Louise, Frank, Henry, Heather and Cornelia.
The U.S. government on Friday expanded its policy requiring asylum seekers to wait outside the country to one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities, where thousands of people are already camped, some for several months.
The Department of Homeland Security said it would implement its Migrant Protection Protocols in Brownsville, Texas, across the border from Matamoros, Mexico. DHS said it expected the first asylum seekers to be sent back to Mexico starting Friday.
Under the “Remain in Mexico” policy, asylum seekers are briefly processed and given a date to return for an immigration court hearing before being sent back across the southern border. Since January, the policy has been implemented at several border cities including San Diego and El Paso, Texas. At least 18,000 migrants have been sent back to Mexico under the policy, according to Mexico’s National Migration Institute.
The U.S. is trying to curtail the large flow of Central American migrants passing through Mexico to seek asylum under American law. The busiest corridor for unauthorized border crossings is South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, where Brownsville is located. Other cities in the Rio Grande Valley were not immediately included in the expansion.
DHS said it had coordinated with the Mexican government on the policy. The Mexican government did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But the Trump administration has pressured Mexico to crack down on migrants, threatening earlier this year to impose crippling tariffs until both sides agreed on new measures targeting migration.
Matamoros is at the eastern edge of the U.S.-Mexico border in Tamaulipas state, where organized crime gangs are dominant and the U.S. government warns citizens not to visit because of violence and kidnappings.
The city is also near where a Salvadoran father and his 23-month-old daughter were found drowned in the Rio Grande, in photos that were shared around the world.
Many people have slept for the last several months in a makeshift camp near one of the international bridges, including families with young children. Thousands more stay in hotels, shelters or boarding houses. Only a few migrants daily have been allowed to seek asylum under another Trump administration policy limiting asylum processing known as “metering.”
A list run by Mexican officials has more than 1,000 people on it, said Elisa Filippone, a U.S.-based volunteer who visits Matamoros several times a week to deliver food and donated clothes. But many others not on the list wait in shelters. There are frequent rumors that migrants are shaken down for bribes to join the list, Filippone said.
She described a desperate situation that could be made worse if people are forced to wait longer in Mexico for their asylum claims to be processed.
“I’m afraid that Matamoros is about to catch on fire,” she said.
Filippone said Friday that she saw the camp closest to one of the bridges being cleared away, though it was not immediately clear why or where the people detained would go.
DHS recently implemented the “Remain” policy for migrants in Nuevo Laredo, across from Laredo, Texas. About 1,800 asylum seekers and migrants are currently waiting in Nuevo Laredo, where some have reported being kidnapped and extorted by gangs.
“I don’t want to go out on the street. I’m afraid the same men … will do something to me or my boys,” said one woman, insisting on speaking anonymously out of fear for their safety.
People in Nuevo Laredo were told to return in September for U.S. court dates. At other points along the border, wait times have stretched to several months.
Unlike in criminal court, the U.S. government does not have to provide lawyers to people in the immigration court system. Attorneys in South Texas have long questioned where they could meet with potential clients in Tamaulipas.
Many migrants who get to the U.S. have exhausted all their resources by the time they arrive, said Lisa Brodyaga, an attorney who has represented asylum seekers for decades.
“It would be extremely difficult for them to find attorneys who would have the time and the ability and the willingness to expose themselves to what’s going in Matamoros,” she said. “I’m not sure how it’s going to work.”