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He Escaped the Airstrikes in Yemen

The war in Yemen is one of the worst humanitarian crises in decades — and the U.S. is making it worse. It’s time to end U.S. involvement in Yemen:

NOT REAL NEWS

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A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals. None of these is legit, even though they were shared widely on social media.

The Associated Press checked these out. Here are the real facts:

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THE CLAIM: Madonna told Fox News: “I heavily regret my vote against Trump ... and I will vote for Trump in 2020.”

THE FACTS: Madonna, a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, has not changed her politics, as stated in a social media post being shared. Luke Burland, Madonna’s publicist, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the post is “completely not true,” adding that Madonna “never did an interview with Fox.” The post, which consists of her picture alongside a quote said to be from a Sept. 5, 2018, Fox News interview, surfaced again recently after circulating on social media in September. Madonna has been an outspoken critic of Trump and opposed his candidacy. In 2016, she posted an Instagram story of a Trump piñata for her son’s birthday. She also posted a picture that year of Trump’s sons Donald Jr. and Eric during a hunting trip with the caption, “One more reason to vote for Hillary!”

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THE CLAIM: Video shows French firefighters turning their backs and walking out on French President Emmanuel Macron during a ceremony.

THE FACTS: Macron was not at the event where firefighters were captured on video turning their backs on officials on Saturday, Dec. 1, but the video is real. Social media users began sharing the video with the false claim after grassroots demonstrations in France turned violent last weekend. The protests began as a response to Macron’s plan to increase the fuel tax. Sebastien Delavoux, secretary general of the local fire and rescue union, told The Associated Press that firefighters turned their backs toward their employers because they were angry that their yearslong concerns about staffing issues had not been addressed.

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THE CLAIM: A social media post states: “If you need to call 911 but are scared to because of someone in the room, dial and ask for a pepperoni pizza. They will ask if you know you’re calling 911. Say yes, and continue pretending you’re making an order.You can ask how long it will take for the pizza to get to you, and they will tell you how far away a patrol unit is. Share this to save a life!!!”

THE FACTS: Dispatchers are not trained to interpret a takeout pizza order as a covert way of seeking emergency assistance. The claim has circulated on social media for several years. Christopher Carver, dispatch center operations director for the National Emergency Number Association, told The Associated Press in a statement that asking for a “pizza in emergency situations is not standard practice or procedure.” Carver said a dispatcher would not hang up upon hearing a pizza order, they would ask more questions to determine what is going on. But, he said, there is no single nationwide rule regarding what to do if someone calls ordering pizza. “Setting any expectations of secret phrases that will work with any 911 center is potentially very dangerous,” he said. Carver suggested that if someone is unable to speak on the phone a better option would be to text 911.

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THE CLAIM: Video shows French citizens chanting “We want Trump!” during recent protests.

THE FACTS: Social media users are misrepresenting the video, falsely claiming it was taken during recent protests in France. The video actually shows people at a demonstration in London chanting for President Donald Trump. The video was taken June 9, 2018, during a rally held in support of Tommy Robinson, a right-wing activist who was jailed for contempt of court in England. In the video, a demonstrator wearing a Trump mask can be seen on top of a blue sightseeing bus trying to rally the crowd by chanting, “We want Trump!” Posts saying the video was taken during a French demonstration began circulating widely on social media after protests in France turned violent the weekend of December 01.

Viral Vid Seems to Show Couple Getting Busy Atop Great Pyramid

It’s one of the Seven Wonders of the World, but some aren’t filled with wonder at a video that appears to show a salacious undertaking at the landmark. CNN reports that three minutes of nighttime footage, originally uploaded Wednesday by Danish photographer Andreas Hvid, have been making the rounds on social media showing a man and woman—Sky News and Egypt Today say it’s Hvid himself and a “friend”—seemingly climbing Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza. When they reach the top, one of the two is seen smoking some sort of cigarette and gazing down at the city of Cairo, lit up for the night. The clip then cuts to the woman stripping off her shirt, then morphs into a still image of the two lying together naked as the sun comes up.

“In late November 2018, a friend and I climbed the Great Pyramid of Giza (a.k.a. Pyramid of Khufu, Pyramid of Cheops),“ Hvid wrote when he posted the video. “Fearing to be spotted by the many guards, I did not film the several hours of sneaking around at the Giza Plateau, which lead up to the climb.“ Per Sky, a pyramid site rep says he thinks the footage is fake due to a suspect “illumination” seen at one point in the clip. Not only is scaling Egypt’s ancient pyramids illegal—the conservative populace isn’t looking too kindly on the couple’s supposed sexytime on top of the pyramid, either. The country’s antiquities minister has referred the video to the prosecutor general to be looked into. The video is no longer on Hvid’s YouTube channel, though others have been posting it instead, and a still of the nude couple can be seen on his website under the “Nude Art” section.

This Country Is Making All Public Transit Free

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If Luxembourg’s newly elected government keeps its campaign promises, residents will be able to use public transportation for free, spend the money saved on legal cannabis, and smoke it on two new public holidays. Prime Minister Xavier Bettel has promised to make public transit a priority and to lift fares on buses, trains, and streetcars by next summer, the Guardian reports. The first-of-its-kind move is expected to relieve chronic congestion in the tiny country’s capital, Luxembourg City, where the 110,000 residents are joined by around 400,000 commuters every day.

Commuters currently pay a flat rate of around $2.50 for any journey under two hours. The government, which introduced free public transit for everybody under 20 last year, says the move will save money on collecting fares, and will be partially paid for by ending a tax break for commuters, Euronews reports. Prime Minister Xavier Bettel was sworn in for a second term Wednesday after his ruling coalition, which includes the Socialist Workers’ Party and the Green Party as well as his Democratic Party, narrowly won the recent election, taking 31 out of 60 seats in the legislature, the AP reports.

Where France’s Emmanuel Macron Blew It

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Paris and other large cities in France are bracing for violence this weekend. “Yellow vest” protesters promise to be out in force, and police promise to be there to meet them. One potential sign of good news: Representatives of the protesters will meet with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe Friday night. “Our message is that we are listening to them,“ says a government spokesman. A look at what the protests are about, and the mounting criticism on President Emmanuel Macron:

  • The start: The original protests were over a fuel tax increase, part of a plan to steer France toward cleaner energy. Macron has since scrapped the tax hike in the wake of the protests in the first big about-face of his presidency, notes Reuters. But the protests have gone way beyond that single issue at this point.
  • Much bigger: “This is now about so much more than fuel tax,“ one of the protesters, a 41-year-old single mom, tells the Guardian. “We seem to live in a world gone mad where the rich pay next to nothing and the poor are constantly taxed.“ The newspaper sums up the complaints: Macron presents himself as a progressive to the world, but at home, he defends the old guard and is seen as “an arrogant, would-be monarch.“ Protesters now want reform on a wide range of cost-of-living issues.
  • A pattern: The fuel tax “was the latest of several reforms proposed by Macron that would disproportionately affect France’s least well-off, including abolishing a wealth tax, making it easier for companies to hire and fire employees, and fighting unions,“ per the Washington Post.
  • Not helping: images (like this one) of police forcing protesting high school students to get on the ground with their hands behind their heads. Critics say the police, in ski masks, used undue force in the incident. “You don’t beat up kids,“ a trade union representative tells Le Monde, per the AP.
  • Miscalculation: Moving toward cleaner energy might be a noble move, but the UK director of the European Climate Foundation says Macron went about it wrong. His “policy didn’t fail because it taxed carbon,“ writes Joss Garman in Politico. “It failed because it was a bad, regressive policy that hit the poorest hardest.“ Something like this requires a creative approach, not a “blunt” tax put into place without the public’s approval.
  • Miscalculation, II: Analysts quoted in the New York Times echo the above point. They “say the French tax was not politically deft, falling hardest on people outside French cities who were already feeling the pain of stagnating incomes and who do not have the same mass transportation options as urban residents.“ The government, for example, could have figured out ways to soften the blow on low-income families.
  • Survival: At Vanity Fair, Isobel Thompson wonders whether the 40-year-old Macron can survive this “civil war.“ As in the Guardian piece, she says he has developed a “reputation for arrogance and classism.“ He needs to drop those traits fast and truly listen to the protesters. “If Macron can successfully show that climate change and progressive social policy do not have to be mutually exclusive, he could quell France’s popular revolt, restore his credibility, and become the global leader he already presumes himself to be, “she writes. “Nobody said it will be easy.“
  • A ‘monster’: In the meantime, France’s interior minister says the protests have created a “monster” and warns that “radical elements” may infiltrate them, reports the BBC. As for Macron, he is due to address the nation early next week.
  • The name: “Yellow vests,“ or “gilets jaunes,“ refers to the safety vests many of the protesters wear. French motorists are required to have them in the car.

China Takes On Diplomats After Huawei Executive’s Arrest

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China’s Foreign Ministry summoned Canadian and American ambassadors over the weekend to protest what it described as the “unreasonable” arrest of Meng Wanzhou,

Huawei’s chief financial officer, in Vancouver.

She faces a U.S. extradition request over allegations that the tech giant violated sanctions against Iran.

As it tries to forge a trade deal with the U.S.,

China warns of “serious consequences” if Meng is prosecuted.

Meanwhile, investors spoke with their money, sending Tokyo and Hong Kong stock indexes down 2 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively.


Learn More:    SCMP    DW    CNN

FACT CHECK: Trump claims wrong drug concession from China

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Donald Trump is claiming victory in getting China to designate fentanyl a controlled substance, but China took that step against the deadly opioid years ago.

What’s actually on the table is a far more sweeping shift in the way China regulates synthetic opioids. The question is how China will follow through on its words.

China’s stated intention is to expand controls on all varieties of drugs that mimic fentanyl, a step advocated by U.S. officials eager to end the game of regulatory whack-a-mole with chemists who can manufacture novel opioids faster than they can be banned.

TRUMP, about his meeting at the G-20 summit in Argentina with Chinese President Xi Jinping: “What he will be doing to fentanyl could be a game changer for the United States — and what fentanyl is doing to our country in terms of killing people. Because he’s agreed to put it at the highest level of crime in his country.” — aboard Air Force One on Saturday.

WHITE HOUSE: “Very importantly, President Xi, in a wonderful humanitarian gesture, has agreed to designate Fentanyl as a Controlled Substance, meaning that people selling Fentanyl to the United States will be subject to China’s maximum penalty under the law.” — statement Saturday.

THE FACTS: That’s a misreading of what China agreed to do, at least as far as Chinese authorities are concerned.

Fentanyl has been a controlled substance in China for years, according to Chinese regulators . All told, China has already put 25 variants of fentanyl, plus two precursors — chemicals used to make the drug — on its list of controlled substances, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said last week.

Now, “China has decided to list all the fentanyl-like substances as controlled substances and start working to adjust related regulations,” says China’s foreign ministry .

Doing so could help block China’s opioid merchants from skirting the law by inventing new chemical variants of fentanyl faster than regulators can declare them illegal.

The standard approach of regulating drugs one by one has failed to control the proliferation of new and deadly synthetic opioids in the United States.

In February, the U.S. said that for at least the next two years, all new chemical versions of fentanyl that weren’t already regulated would be classified as illegal controlled substances. U.S. officials had been urging China to do something similar.

But China hasn’t always followed through on its promises. “Similar suggestions have failed to gain approval from Chinese regulators in the past,” the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission said in a report last week that criticized China for “slow and ineffective” regulation of fentanyl.

In 2016, U.S. negotiators thought they had secured an agreement with Beijing that China would target U.S.-bound exports of substances that were illegal in the United States, even if they weren’t illegal in China, but Beijing never implemented the policy, according to the commission, a group formed by the U.S. Congress to monitor economic relations with China.

China’s new approach could indeed be game changing, as Trump said. But so far there’s no timeline for implementation of the policy.

On Monday, Geng, the foreign ministry spokesman, said, “I think this is just an announcement from the Chinese side. The specific work still needs further development.”

More Facebook Scrutiny Over Preferential Data Sharing

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The UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee released documents revealing that the platform gave particular businesses — including Airbnb, Lyft and Netflix — special access to user data while denying it to competitors like Vine.

While the 250-page records trove didn’t show the social network was selling users’ data, it includes executive emails detailing Facebook’s strategy of “whitelisting” companies in their data access.

Still reeling from the Cambridge Analytica scandal earlier this year, a Facebook spokesperson said “the facts are clear: We’ve never sold people’s data.”


Learn More:    The Verge      Engadget

It’s now or never pedestrians: German town has Elvis lights

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Keep your blue suede shoes behind the curb: the central German town where Elvis Presley was stationed as a U.S. soldier in the 1950s has installed three pedestrian lights with images of the American rock icon.

The red shows an image of the singer striking a pose at a microphone and the green depicts his trademarked hip swivel dance.

They went online this week in the town of Friedberg, where Elvis, who died in 1977, was stationed at the U.S. Army’s Ray Barracks from October 1958 to March 1960. He lived in nearby Bad Nauheim.

Friedberg, north of Frankfurt, already has an “Elvis Presley Platz” — Elvis Presley Square — and decided to add the three lights as an added attraction for the many Elvis fans who already make the pilgrimage to the town.

Boy Sends Card to Dad in Heaven, Gets Reply

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This is a busy time of year for Britain’s Royal Mail, but they were still able to deliver a heartwarming reply when they received an envelope with this request: “Mr. Postman, can you take this to Heaven for my dad’s Birthday.“ It was from Jase Hyndman, a Scottish 7-year-old whose father died in 2014, the BBC reports. Assistant delivery office manager Sean Milligan replied: “I just wanted to take this opportunity to contact you about how we succeeded in the delivery of your letter, to your dad in heaven. This was a difficult challenge avoiding stars and other galactic objects on route to heaven.“

Milligan added: “I will continue to do all I can to ensure delivery to heaven safely.“ Jase’s mother, Teri Copland, says the boy “was overwhelmed and kept saying ‘my dad really got my letter mum,‘“ the Independent reports. She says Jase and his 10-year-old sister Neive have marked the occasion of their father’s birthday every year since his death. “I want people to realize that a small gesture of kindness can have such a fantastic impact on someone’s life,“ she says. In a Facebook post which has been shared more than 250,000 times, she wrote: “Royal Mail you’ve just restored my faith in humanity and thank you it honestly means the world to him.“

Japan Making a Big Change to Its Military

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Japan is bound by its post-war constitution to put little emphasis on the military, but a major upgrade is now in the works. The nation will get its first aircraft carriers since World War II, reports the Guardian. The plan is to retrofit two existing helicopter carriers so they can be used by fighter jets, too. It dovetails with Tokyo’s recent decision to buy more than 100 F-35 jets from the US, on top of 42 previously purchased. The move is likely to draw criticism that Japan is moving even further away from the pacifist aims of its constitution. As Reuters notes, the constitution technically bans the maintenance of armed forces, though it has been interpreted more liberally to allow for a military on self-defense grounds.

Japan’s move is largely seen as a response to China’s efforts to step up its own navy. Beijing acquired its first aircraft carrier in 2012, and it is currently building its third, reports the South China Morning Post. The Tokyo development is indeed “a major departure from Japanese postwar military policy,“ writes Kyle Mizokami at Popular Mechanics. But don’t expect to see the carriers anytime soon. Mizokami runs down the logistics involved with the retrofitting—including the possible addition of ramps—and figures the ships won’t be operational for at least five years.

Report: North Korea Continues Work at Missile Base

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Upgrades to the Yeongjeo-dong long-range missile base plus a previously unknown site have been spotted in satellite images secured by CNN.

Analysis suggests the bases have tunnels for storing missiles.

And it seems that work on a large underground facility, started in 2017, continued after the Singapore Summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

National security adviser John Bolton, who said North Korea has not lived up to its commitments, said this week that Trump believes a second summit with Kim is “likely to be productive.”


Learn More:    The Guardian      Japan Times        CNN

Post-Paris Climate Talks Present ‘Impossible Task’

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Three years after sealing a landmark global climate deal in Paris, world leaders are gathering again to agree on the fine print, per the AP. The euphoria of 2015 has given way to sober realization that getting an agreement among almost 200 countries, each with their own political and economic demands, will be challenging—as evidenced by President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris accord, citing his “America First” mantra. “Looking from the outside perspective, it’s an impossible task,“ Poland’s deputy environment minister, Michal Kurtyka, said of the talks he will preside over in Katowice from Dec. 2-14. Top of the agenda will be finalizing how countries have to count their greenhouse gas emissions, transparently report them to the rest of the world, and reveal what they are doing to reduce them.

Seasoned negotiators are calling the meeting “Paris 2.0” because of the high stakes at play in Katowice. Forest fires from California to Greece, droughts in Germany and Australia, tropical cyclones Mangkhut in the Pacific and Michael in the Atlantic—scientists say this year’s extreme weather offers a glimpse of disasters to come if global warming continues unabated. Experts agree that the Paris goals can only be met by cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050. But the Paris agreement let countries set their own emissions targets. Some are on track, others aren’t. Overall, the world is heading the wrong way. Last week, the World Meteorological Organization said globally averaged concentrations of carbon dioxide reached a new record in 2017, while the level of other heat-trapping gases such methane and nitrous oxide also rose.

11 Messages Sent by Saudi Killer Have Suspicious Timing

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The CIA is pretty sure that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Now the Wall Street Journal has details on why the CIA thinks that way, and a big one involves 11 messages sent by the prince himself in the hours before and after the killing. The CIA does not know the content of the messages, but they went to a close aide of his overseeing the Saudi operatives who killed Khashoggi. The Washington Post confirms that the prince and Saud al-Qahtani exchanged multiple messages in this time. The missives are part of why the CIA has “medium-to-high confidence” the prince “personally targeted” the journalist, according to excerpts of the agency’s analysis viewed by the Journal. He “probably” ordered the killing, but “to be clear, we lack direct reporting of the Crown Prince issuing a kill order.”

The CIA also says the prince uttered a cryptic statement to associates last year, telling them that if Khashoggi did not agree to return to Saudi Arabia, “we could possibly lure him outside Saudi Arabia and make arrangements.“ Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi embassy in Turkey. “The accepted position is that there is no way this happened without him being aware or involved,” a US official tells the Post, referring to the prince. That is not the White House view, however. “I have read every piece of intelligence that is in the possession of the United States government, and when it is done, when you complete that analysis, there’s no direct evidence linking him to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi,“ Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN Saturday.

Dutch court rejects man’s request to be 20 years younger

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Dutch motivational speaker Emile Ratelband may feel like a 49-year-old but according to Dutch law he is still 69.

A Dutch court on rejected Ratelband’s request to shave 20 years off his age in a case that drew worldwide attention.

“Mr. Ratelband is at liberty to feel 20 years younger than his real age and to act accordingly,” Arnhem court said in a press statement . “But amending his date of birth would cause 20 years of records to vanish from the register of births, deaths, marriages and registered partnerships. This would have a variety of undesirable legal and societal implications.”

Ratelband went to court last month, arguing that he didn’t feel 69 and saying his request was consistent with other forms of personal transformation which are gaining acceptance in the Netherlands and around the world, such as the ability to change one’s name or gender.

The court rejected that argument, saying that unlike in the case of a name or gender, Dutch law assigns rights and obligations based on age “such as the right to vote and the duty to attend school. If Mr. Ratelband’s request was allowed, those age requirements would become meaningless.”

Ratelband, perhaps unsurprisingly given his background as self-described advocate of positive thinking, was undeterred by the court’s rejection and vowed to appeal.

“This is great!” he said. “The rejection of (the) court is great ... because they give all kinds of angles where we can connect when we go in appeal.”

He said he was the first of “thousands of people who want to change their age.”

The court said it acknowledged “a trend in society for people to feel fit and healthy for longer, but did not regard that as a valid argument for amending a person’s date of birth.”

Ratelband also insisted his case did have parallels with requests for name and gender changes.

“I say it’s comparable because it has to do with my feeling, with respect about who I think ... I am, my identity,” he said.

The court said Ratelband failed to convince the judges that he suffers from age discrimination, adding that “there are other alternatives available for challenging age discrimination, rather than amending a person’s date of birth.”

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