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US Bomb-Sniffing Dogs Dying From Neglect in Jordan

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  • A new federal report said that at least 10 bomb-sniffing dogs sent to Jordan as part of an anti-terrorism program died from medical issues related to inadequate care between 2008 and 2016. 
  • Despite becoming aware of the mistreatment and neglect in 2016, the State Department continued to send dozens of canines to Jordan. 
  • After the latest report was issued, the State Department agreed to follow some recommendations, including more frequent wellness checks but refused to stop sending dogs to Jordan until there was a sustainability plan in place. 

Federal Investigation

The State Department sent dozens of bomb-sniffing dogs to Jordan even after it was aware of severe neglect and mistreatment, a federal investigation found.

After a year-long investigation, the Inspector General’s Office of the State Department released a report last week, saying at least 10 dogs died in Jordan between 2008 and 2016 from “various medical problems” out of at least 100 canines that were sent. The investigation, which was launched after a hotline complaint, found that surviving animals were suffering after being overworked and forced to live poor conditions. 

The specially trained dogs were found living in feces-covered kennels, with insufficient food, water, or medical care. In some facilities, the handlers fed dogs by throwing food on the ground as there were no dog bowls available. Photos released from the report show emaciated animals with their ribs protruding from their sides. Many had overgrown nails and ears infested with large ticks.

The majority of the canines were described as being well beyond their working years and in need of being retired and replaced immediately. “Several canines were observed to have hip dysplasia and obvious arthritis, and have lost the will to work,” the report said.

Images Included in OIG Report

The U.S. sent these specially trained animals to partner nations as part of an anti-terrorism program. The report concluded that despite spending “millions of dollars” training and dispatching the animals, State Department officials failed to ensure their health and welfare.

As far as the major issues that allowed this problem to form, the State Department cites loose regulations and a lack of concrete policies. The department said it could not provide investigators information for other dogs in countries besides Jordan. They also said there often weren’t any written agreements with countries that outlined how to care for the canines

Jordan, the largest recipient of the program, has 61 active bomb-sniffing dogs. Other counties like Thailand, Morocco, Indonesia, and Bahrain have less.

The report says that the first dog to die in Jordan was Zoe, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois. Zoe died from heatstroke in 2017 after less than a year. Investigators described her passing as a “terrible death” that was not an accident, but rather, caused by inadequate care and negligence. 

In a separate case, 2-year-old Athena became severely emaciated after being starved and forced to live in filthy conditions. Photos of Athena show dirt and feces all over her kennel, along with an empty water bowl. Athena was sent back to the U.S. in 2018 to recover. 

A 3-year-old named Mencey was overwhelmed by ticks and sandflies under Jordanian care. He was evacuated to Virginia in 2018 but by then it was too late. While at the Virginia facility, he suffered from vector-borne disease and kidney failure. Less than a year after he left, Mencey was euthanized at the same facility where he was trained before heading to Jordan. 

Dogs Sent Despite Reports of Mistreatment 

Perhaps the most concerning information in the report was the fact that canines were still sent despite previous reports of neglect. The investigation noted that concerns were raised as early as April 2016, when U.S. canine training staff visited Jordan for a welfare check. There, officials noted the high death rate, lack of medical care, and poorly maintained facilities.

Despite those 2016 findings, more dogs were sent to Jordan and the program continued to receive funding. Some new measures were put into place. For instance, full-time mentors from the U.S. were deployed to monitor the dogs in Jordan, but the problems carried on. In fact, two mentors were stationed in Jordan during the “entire time” of Athena’s declining health, the new report says. However, those on the ground officials reportedly failed to intervene until a site visit in 2018.

The report says that for two years the State Department knew Jordan was unable to adequately care for the dogs, yet at least 60 more were sent in six waves through 2018. The Inspector General’s office said it “remains concerned that Jordan is not able or willing to provide adequate care for working dogs without the Department’s intervention and that any improvements that have been made were simply a reaction to pressure ” from U.S. officials.

Recommendations

The report laid out five recommendations, including more frequent welfare checks and the creation of a written agreement with partner nations. The State Department agreed to four of the recommendations but did not agree to the suggestion that it stop sending dogs to Jordan until there was a sustainability plan in place. 

After the report was released, U.S. officials began demanding action. Senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Committee of Finance, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday, asking for more information on the issue.

“It is important for Congress to know whether the [Explosive Detection Canine Program] is operating effectively and efficiently and whether animals involved in the program are being treated according to the humane and ethical standards that the American people undoubtedly expect,” Grassley said. “The best-trained dog in the world is still ill-equipped to protect American interests if it is sick or starving.”

See what others are saying. (CNN) (The Washington Post) (CBS News

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100Mbps Uploads and Downloads Should Be U.S. Standard, Bipartisan Senator Group Says

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Image via Pixabay
  • On Thursday, a bipartisan group of four U.S. senators sent a letter to the heads of the Federal Communications Commission and the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture arguing that the definition of broadband internet should be changed.
  • Since 2015, broadband internet has been defined by the FCC as a minimum of 25Mbps download speed and 3Mbps uploads, but the senators urged the agency to define the new minimum as 100Mbps for both download and upload speeds.
  • Currently, the U.S. ranks 11th in average wired internet speeds, at 170Mbps, however, many rural parts of the country are far below the current 25Mbps download standard. 
  • The senators hope a higher standard will force companies to raise speeds for millions of rural Americans.

Some Americans Left Behind

A bipartisan group of several US senators have come out in support of increasing U.S. broadband internet speeds.

When it comes to broadband speeds, the U.S. ranks 11th in the world. The average consumer has download speeds at about 170Mbps, with uploads speeds often about one-third of that.

While 170Mpbs is more than enough for nearly any activity online, rural Americans often struggle to even get 11Mbps. That speed is barely enough to function online today.

The Federal Communications Commission has attempted to rectify this in some ways. In 2015, for instance, when it set a 25Mbps download and 3Mpbs upload speed as the minimum to be labeled “broadband.” Despite this, many Americans still fall short of that due to various exceptions to the rule.

On Thursday, in an attempt to rectify this situation and increase speeds for Americans across the board, Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Angus King (I-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) sent a letter to the heads of the FCC, U.S. Commerce Department, and the Department of Agriculture urging that a 100Mbps download/upload speed be the new standard to be considered “broadband.”

“We strongly urge you to update federal broadband program speed requirements to reflect current and anticipated 21st century uses,” the four Senators wrote.

“In the years ahead, emerging technologies such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, health IoT, smart grid, 5G, virtual and augmented reality, and tactile telemedicine, will all require broadband networks capable of delivering much faster speeds, lower latency, and higher reliability than those now codified by various federal agencies,” they added.

Overlapping Jurisdiction

The letter was sent to the various agencies because, confusingly, they all have different standards of what broadband internet is, which may explain the discrepancy between speeds for rural and urban/suburban Americans.

The Department of Agriculture claims that 10Mpbs down and 1Mpbs up is enough to be broadband internet. To reiterate, that is barely enough to watch a single YouTube video in 1080p resolution (HD) and do any other activity on the internet.

The issue compounds with multiple users in a household as 11Mpbs (used by most rural Americans) can only account for about two YouTube videos at 1080p resolution being watched at a single time before quality is impacted.

While the FCC hasn’t answered a request to comment, it’s possible that it may consider the proposal in the senators’ letter. Back in 2015, the commission’s acting head, Jessica Rosenworcel, had advocated that the benchmark should be 100Mpbs.

While a new standard may not be agreed upon, the FCC has been making efforts to help rural Americans by distributing billions to internet service providers in an attempt to bring gigabit-broadband speeds to remote areas.

Arguably the most successful venture has been SpaceX’s Starlink platform, which has begun beta-testing with some members of the public and is a drastic difference at between 50Mpbs to 150Mpbs, with low latency.

See what others are saying: (Engadget) (The Verge) (Gizmodo)

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Death Toll in Myanmar Surpasses 50 People as Police Continue To Use Live Ammunition

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  • At least 50 people have died across Myanmar since the start of the coup on Feb. 1, with Wednesday being the single largest loss of life to date after 38 were shot by security forces.
  • Despite the danger, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.
  • The U.N. Security Council is due to meet Friday to discuss how to deal with the situation in Myanmar in response to calls for a solution from nations and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Growing Violence Across Myanmar

Over the weekend, security forces in Myanmar killed 18 anti-coup protesters and wounded at least 30 more. Across the subsequent three days, that number rose considerably.

According to the U.N., at least 38 people were killed on Wednesday alone.; making it the bloodiest day of the coup so far and raising the overall death toll to over 50. Exact number are difficult to find, as the chaos on the ground precludes outlets from confirming accounts of possibly more deaths.

The violence has occurred across the country, with the deaths largely being tied to the use of live ammunition by security forces. The demonstrations, and the response to them, have been widely captured on camera. Some of the most shocking scenes are of police passing a BA-53 (a Burmese Army variant of the HK G3 military rifle) to fire into protesters.

Despite the death, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar. Thursday morning saw thousands in the streets who attended vigils for those slain on Wednesday, an increasingly common ritual for the prior day’s deaths.

Sanctions May Not Work

The United States has tried to get neighboring countries to join it and the European Union in sanctioning the Burmese military, but few Southeast Asian countries wanted to sign on, which gives the Burmese military breathing room as most of its diplomatic and trade relations are with neighboring countries.

At the U.N., Security Council members are due to meet on Friday to discuss calls from countries and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to stop the coup and the escalating crackdowns against protesters. However, it’s unclear what more they can do. Sanctions against specific military leaders are often ineffective, yet sanctions on the country as a whole would affect the everyday people they’re trying to support.

Other options include direct intervention, but Justine Chambers, Associate Director of the Myanmar Research Center at the Australian National University, pushed back against this, telling The New York Times, “Unfortunately I don’t think the brutality caught on camera is going to change much.”

“I think domestic audiences around the world don’t have much of an appetite for stronger action, i.e. intervention, given the current state of the pandemic and associated economic issues.”

While it’s unclear what more the international community can do, it’s quite likely that violence will continue in Myanmar as citizens try to peacefully restore democracy.

See what others are saying: (AP) (Reuters) (New York Times)

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Saudi Arabia To Require Vaccine for Hajj Pilgrims

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  • Saudi Arabia will require all pilgrims participating in the Hajj this year to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to local media.
  • The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are required to take at least once in their lifetime if they are physically or financially able to.
  • Many believe the inoculation requirement may help allay suspicions over vaccines within certain Muslim communities.
  • Those suspicions have persisted despite Muslim leaders clarifying that there are no theological problems with taking any of the COVID-19 vaccines available.

COVID-19 Vaccines for Pilgrims

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry will only allow people vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend the Hajj this year, according to local outlet Okaz.

The Hajj is a mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca for all Muslims at least once in their lifetime – assuming they are physically and financially able to. However, requiring a vaccine before taking part in the Hajj isn’t a new thing. In fact, Saudi Arabia already has a list of necessary vaccinations for pilgrims.

For a virus that is among the most virulent in recent history and requiring a COVID-19 vaccine makes sense, especially since the Hajj is among the most densely populated events in the world.

In an effort to combat COVID-19, Saudi Arabia has also introduced restrictions over how many pilgrims can come to Mecca for the first time in modern history.

Requiring the COVID-19 vaccine to partake in the Hajj will likely have the added benefit of allaying fears about COVID-19 vaccines in Muslim communities, which account for nearly 2 billion people in the world. While Muslims overall support vaccinations and their religious leaders openly support vaccination efforts, some do doubt vaccines for either political reasons or religious ones.

Changes in Vaccine Hesitancy

Suspicions have arisen due to recent history, notably after Osama bin Laden was located through a vaccine program that acted as a front for the C.I.A. That incident led to a wider-anti vaccine movement in parts of Pakistan that have seen vaccine clinics burned to the ground.

Others are worried over more religious concerns, such as whether the vaccines are Halal, which is roughly the Muslim version of Kosher. To that, most major vaccines say that they are Halal and contain no animal products, such as Pfizer’s, Moderna’s, and AstraZeneca’s,

While other possibly non-Halal vaccines, such as Sinovac’s, have been given the okay from major Islamic authorities, such as Indonesia’ Ulema Council.

The concerns over whether a vaccine is Halal or not may be mute as most imams and Islamic councils have clarified that such dietary restrictions are trumped by the need to save human lives.

While the Health Ministry’s statement is for 2021, it’s possible that the decision will last beyond that based on the pandemic’s progress.

See what other are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The Hill) (Middle East Eye)

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