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Merkel, Orban to mark Iron Curtain anniversary amid new divides -

Merkel, Orban to mark Iron Curtain anniversary amid new dividesHungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban will welcome German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the city of Sopron Monday to commemorate a pivotal moment in the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. While Monday's meeting will see them celebrating the tearing down of a historic barrier in Europe, the question of how the continent's borders should be managed now has strained the relationship between the two leaders in recent years. Orban has been a sharp critic of Merkel's 2015 decision to open Germany's border to those fleeing Middle Eastern conflict zones.

Sun, 18 Aug 2019 22:10:19 -0400

Corbyn Gears Up for Election as Chaotic Brexit Fears Escalate -

Corbyn Gears Up for Election as Chaotic Brexit Fears Escalate(Bloomberg) -- U.K. opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn will promise to do "everything necessary" to prevent a no-deal Brexit as Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares to take his threat to let Britain crash out of the EU to the heart of Europe.The Labour Party leader in a speech on Monday will renew his pledge to hold a second Brexit referendum if a general election is called this year “with credible options for both sides, including the option to remain” in the European Union.Corbyn will hold out the prospect of a “once-in-a-generation chance to change direction” under Labour two days before Johnson is to due to visit Berlin and Paris on his first foreign trip since becoming Conservative Party leader in July.Johnson will tell Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Emmanuel Macron of France that the EU must offer an acceptable new deal or face Britain leaving on Oct. 31 without one, saying the British Parliament “will not, and cannot, cancel the referendum.”Brexit AftershocksThe prime minister’s warning comes amid reports that the government is preparing for a three-month "meltdown" at British ports, a hard Irish border and shortages of food and medicine. These represent the “most likely aftershocks" of a no-deal Brexit, according to the Sunday Times, which cited leaked government documents.Johnson has accused Remain-supporting former ministers, including ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, for leaking the secret dossier known as Operation Yellowhammer, according to the Times.Corbyn this month urged lawmakers opposed to a no-deal Brexit to let him head a caretaker government. But the proposal failed to win the support of pro-EU Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, who are queasy at the prospect of a hard-line socialist taking the top job.Corbyn has said he will force a vote of no confidence on Johnson, who has a majority of just one in Parliament, and there are signs that the prime minister is preparing the groundwork for a general election with promises of extra billions for the National Health Service and crime-fighting.On Monday, Johnson will visit a hospital in southwest England to announce urgent action to boost the number of children and young people receiving vaccinations following a rise in cases of measles.In his speech, Corbyn will say the problems facing the U.K. run deeper than Brexit, according to his office.“The Tories have lurched to the hard right under Boris Johnson, Britain’s Trump, the fake populist and phony outsider, funded by the hedge funds and bankers, committed to protecting the vested interests of the richest and the elites, while posing as anti-establishment,” according to excerpts of the speech provided by his office.“Labour believes the decision on how to resolve the Brexit crisis must go back to the people,’ ’he will add.Britain is heading for a no-deal Brexit as fears are mounting for the global economy amid the escalating trade clash between the U.S. and China.The pound this month fell to its lowest levels since the aftermath of the 2016 Brexit vote and the U.K. economy shrank for the first time in more than six years between April and June. Johnson is under growing pressure to recall Parliament from its summer recess to discuss the Brexit crisis.No RenegotiationThe EU has ruled out renegotiating the thrice-rejected deal it struck with his predecessor, Theresa May. The agreement stalled in Parliament over how to keep the Irish border open, with the EU insisting on a “backstop” that would tie Britain closely to the bloc.The standoff leaves opponents of a no-deal Brexit just weeks to find a way to stop Britain crashing out of the bloc, an event that business leaders and many economists say would trigger economic chaos.Johnson will meet world leaders at the Group of Seven summit in Biarritz, France, starting Saturday. His talks with Merkel and Macron, scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, are expected to focus on foreign policy and security as well as the global economy and trade.To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Atkinson in London at a.atkinson@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Fergal O'Brien at, Steve GeimannFor more articles like this, please visit us at©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

Sun, 18 Aug 2019 18:18:55 -0400

Iceland commemorates first glacier lost to climate change -

Iceland commemorates first glacier lost to climate changeIceland on Sunday honoured the passing of Okjokull, its first glacier lost to climate change, as scientists warn that some 400 others on the subarctic island risk the same fate. As the world recently marked the warmest July ever on record, a bronze plaque was mounted on a bare rock in a ceremony on the former glacier in western Iceland, attended by local researchers and their peers at Rice University in the United States who initiated the project. Iceland's Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson also attended the event, as well as hundreds of scientists, journalists and members of the public who trekked to the site.

Sun, 18 Aug 2019 16:10:38 -0400

Who Will Rule the Twenty-First Century? -

Who Will Rule the Twenty-First Century?For ten years now, I have had the privilege of teaching outstanding students at Johns Hopkins University, Syracuse University, and the University of Denver a course called “Who Will Rule the 21st Century?” It is a course about almost everything of geostrategic note: China’s rise, Russia’s return, democracy’s spread, authoritarianism’s resurgence, many challenges but many enduring strengths of America and NATO, warming climates and rising oceans, proliferating weapons of mass destruction, new technologies including artificial intelligence, and the planet’s likely push towards ten billion humans by mid-century. Most of those human beings are in the developing world and most of them live in cities. Additionally, as my Brookings Institution colleague, Homi Kharas, underscores, a larger fraction of those humans living middle-class lives or better than at any time in history. We start the course by reading Paul Kennedy’s 1987 classic, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, as a retrospective on previous eras. We then read big-idea authors dealing with today’s world—Robert Kagan, John Ikenberry, Fareed Zakaria, Charlie Kupchan, Tim Snyder, Tom Wright, Bruce Jones, the late Zbigniew Brzezinski, Henry Kissinger—and do “deep dives” on subjects like China and climate. The students are mostly American, and mostly thirty-ish (many already holding full-time jobs) in age, but they come from all walks of life and many countries.At the end of each semester—right now, for Syracuse’s summer program—we then attempt to answer the question of who will most likely rule this century. The “ruler” could be a country, an alliance, a coalition of countries, a big idea like democracy or authoritarianism, a big tragedy like nuclear war or climate catastrophe, or a set of technological and economic trends (for better or for worse). Our plan is to get together in 2050 (if I can hold out that long) for an interim assessment of who has been right to date and who has been wrong!The reason I am describing this course in the form of an op-ed is this: in 2019, my students collectively displayed a pessimism about the future of the United States, and the world, that no previous class had exhibited—with the exception of the 2016 groups at Syracuse and Denver. I believe there is an important message in my students’ collective worries that both political parties in the United States should hear.To be fair, only about half of my recent Syracuse students are truly pessimistic. The others, at least from an American perspective, still hold out considerable hope. Answering the question of who would rule the century, in terms of setting its main security and strategic conditions and parameters, about one-third of the group said the United States. Another couple favored democracy or some variant on that concept. But I was struck that even these optimists were guarded in their enthusiasm—often appreciating how many problems China still faces, and how disunified the European Union countries really are, and how poor India still is today despite all the progress, and so on—more than they were celebrating any great American renewal.And then there was the other half of the group. Two students argued that that illiberalism and authoritarianism would likely overtake the forces of democracy as the century unfolds. Two of my other students thought technology would rule—with the potential for good, but also the potential for horribly bad things like desecration of the planet or nuclear war. Two more expected conflict to dominate the news—much as it ultimately did in the first half or so of the twentieth century, even after the heady days of the century’s first decade or so. Two more thought that companies and other supranational or nongovernmental organizations would rule. But they saw this as just as likely to be a bad thing as a good one. One student predicted that the African Union would rule once the major developed economies had decimated each other through war and other tragedies and, in effect, left Africa as the last continent still standing.Perhaps this year’s group of Syracuse students just included an unusually ornery and fatalistic lot. I am joking. In fact, I found them as smart and thoughtful as any previous group. That gives me pause; I didn’t like their collective net assessment, and wish I were able to dismiss it more confidently.Speaking of previous groups, they trended towards optimism almost every time—expecting that the United States, or NATO, or the general tide of democracy (including in places like India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Latin America), or the “liberal global order” would be the predominant force of the century. Typically, two-thirds to three-fourths of my students could be “coded” as optimists of some sort. They offered such prognostications even as the great recession left us in horrible economic straits in the early years of my course, even as Washington remained highly acrimonious throughout the Obama years, even when the Arab Spring turned to winter, even when Putin seized Crimea and ISIS seized large chunks of Iraq and Syria, even when Ebola took hold in West Africa in 2014. My students, rightly or wrongly, were able to convince themselves that America’s and the West’s strengths, and those of other emerging forward-looking power—as well as broader positive forces shaping human history—were more consequential than the crises of the day. All that changed for a while in 2016. I taught the course at both Syracuse University and the University of Denver that year. Both courses concluded before election day, so most students probably expected Hillary to win. Although this observation is not meant as a direct attack on President Donald Trump, it is, however, a referendum of sorts on candidates Trump, Clinton, Sanders, and others. The partisanship and personal invective that characterized that year’s political campaigns, along with problems inside America that the political discourse revealed, seemed to make students wonder for the first time if America’s internal cohesion was up to the job of keeping us great in the twenty-first century. And even the non-American students wondered who could lead a stable and prosperous world if the United States would not.Things got a bit better in 2017 and 2018; optimism returned a bit in my classes. Perhaps it was because we were collectively learning we might just, despite it all, survive the Trump presidency. Perhaps his supporters in my class were hoping he was growing into the job, while his detractors were looking forward to midterm elections as a chance to right the tables of American politics a bit. Probably the strong economy contributed a little bit to the hopefulness as well.But this year, we fell back. I am still struggling to figure out the answer. The poor state of great-power relations, which has now lasted more than half a decade, could explain a good deal of it. However, I think the more likely principal cause is that American politics seem headed for something that will feel like 2016 all over again. Negativity is paramount. Big, hopeful, and yet realistic ideas of the type a Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, or Ronald Reagan—or even a Bill Clinton, John McCain, or Barack Obama—brought to the table are few and far between. The humid Washington air through which we came to class each evening may have reminded us that the “swamp” remains pervasive. There is still time to change this—and I look forward to what my class of 2020 will have to say on the matter. But for now, I have concluded that today’s political and policy environment has my students more worried about the fate of the country, and the Earth, than they have been at any previous time over the past ten years. I hope our political leaders and aspirants hear them.Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at Brookings and adjunct professor at several universities, is the author most recently of The Senkaku Paradox: Risking Great Power War over Small Stakes.Image: Reuters

Sun, 18 Aug 2019 15:14:00 -0400

Saudi Arabia’s Hyper-Nationalism Is Here To Stay -

Saudi Arabia’s Hyper-Nationalism Is Here To StayAs Saudi Arabia adjusts its social contract to lean away from religion and towards nationalism, it is siphoning power away from the religious extremists who have long dogged its reputation and security. But in so doing, it is also giving power to a new brand of Saudi radical: the hyper-nationalist. And while the Saudi hyper-nationalist trend does not seek the same kind of violent, global caliphate as previous Saudi extremists like Osama bin Laden, they nevertheless pose a real risk not just to the reputation of the Kingdom, but to its more independently-minded Gulf Arab neighbors, and aspects of its critical relationships with the West.          Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his hyper-nationalist deputies, Saud al-Qahtani and his agents in the Center for Studies and Media Affairs, are carrying out a far-ranging campaign against activists, academics, influencers and public personalities to rapidly transform Saudi Arabia’s social contract from religion-cum-tribalism to modern nationalism. The imperatives driving this transformation are multiple. At its core, the Saudi social contract is years out of date. The religious establishment’s long-standing loyalty, especially after the Siege of Mecca in 1979, helped glue Saudi society to the monarchy. But Saudi religiosity is changing, undermining the political potency of the clerics who once could reliably rally followers to the flag. The Kingdom’s cradle-to-grave welfare system is increasingly unaffordable; whereas once Riyadh could dump dollops of cash onto unruly citizens and regions to purchase loyalty, now the state must find means to turn its citizens into productive workers thriving in their currently moribund private sector. With the religious and economic planks weakened, Riyadh has sought to use nationalism as a salve to patch the strained relationship between rulers and ruled.It is a remarkable pivot. Saudi nationalism is a relatively new concept: not until 2005 did King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein officially recognized a National Day for the Kingdom, and only in recent years has the holiday begun to gain steam in the public sphere. Saudi kings typically saw nationalism as a dangerous flirtation with the anti-monarchical, pan-Arab nationalism espoused by Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, and therefore sought to limit its growth. Now the Kingdom is embracing the concept with gusto to shore up its social contract.On the edges of this growing nationalist movement are the hyper-nationalists—mostly men, often young, who patrol social media, sometimes in foreign languages like English. They help shape the narrative of the Kingdom’s reputation and establish new red lines that Riyadh must consider when crafting policy. In 2018 alone, they helped stoke Canadian-Saudi tensions; cheered on the detention of women’s rights activists; extolled mass executions of political dissidents; justified the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, while taking on the mantle of maintaining public order once held by the religious police. As the taboos of the old religious establishment fade away, the hyper-nationalists are moving to command public opinion. Sometimes, the hyper-nationalists are useful tools for the state to enforce policy, shape public sentiment, and adjust the social contract. As nationalism gains credence, the religious establishment’s disquiet with social reform will increasingly become irrelevant—an important evolution in the state’s character, as many social reforms, like allowing women to travel and work freely, are also economic in nature. It will also help isolate the religious extremists within Saudi Arabia; although jihadi ideology has been given a stinging propaganda defeat with the destruction of the territorial version of the Islamic State, young Saudis, particularly in hinterland provinces being overlooked by the Kingdom’s tumultuous reforms, nevertheless find solace in the appeals of extremist preachers. There may be military benefits as well: typically casualty-averse, more nationalist military ranks may increase their tolerance for risky operations and national sacrifice, traits that Riyadh has chased for decades with little success. That will allow Saudi Arabia to be more confrontational with its regional rival, Iran, and mitigate some of the war weariness cropping up from its intervention in Yemen.Other times, the hyper-nationalists have proven to be reputational and policy risks for a Riyadh trying to court foreign investment and maintain strategic alliances. Al-Qahtani is widely blamed for the botched Khashoggi operation, an issue that has soured relations between Saudi Arabia and America’s Congress. Saudi Arabia’s hyper-nationalists also helped drive the Canadian-Saudi diplomatic spat of August 2018 which has interrupted the long-standing relationship between Canada and Saudi students, and which threatened to derail business relations between the two countries. The hyper-nationalists have also raised tensions with Iran: in an editorial in state-backed Arab News in May 2019 (which is part of Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Research and Publishing Company that is a key vehicle in pushing the nationalist narrative), the editorial board argued for punitive military strikes against Iran in retaliation for the tanker attackers in the Gulf of Oman and attacks by the Houthis on Saudi oil infrastructure.Moreover, the ever-evolving concept of national dignity will produce new diplomatic challenges for both Riyadh and its allies. While Saudi Arabia has never welcomed foreign opinion on its domestic affairs, it has, in the past, been able to ignore popular opinion in the name of state security, as it did when it invited in Allied troops to defend the Kingdom from Iraq after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and, more recently, as it reaches out to Israel for a common front against Iran.Moreover, Saudi nationalists have shown less tolerance for the regional deviation of nearby Gulf Arab states. Qatar has taken the brunt of these attacks, and the blockade has become infused with a nationalist spirit that will be hard to turn down should Riyadh ever find resolution with Doha. In the future, Oman and Kuwait may also face the strengthened ire of these nationalists. Oman’s Sultan Qaboos has been independent enough, especially with Iran and Qatar, to face pressure from Riyadh. Qaboos helped scuttle a Saudi attempt to strengthen the regional Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) into a Gulf Union in 2013, something that upset Saudi Arabia’s strategy of turning the GCC into a more unified front against Iran. In addition, Oman has never joined the Qatar boycott, and Muscat has felt exposed enough to Saudi criticism to take stridently pro-U.S. measures, like inviting Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Muscat in November 2018, to reassure its alliance with the Americans. (It also opened up a military base with Britain, the first since decolonization in 1970). Finally, Kuwait’s long-standing territorial dispute in its oil-rich borders with Saudi Arabia also will increasingly take on nationalist tinges not present before.Perhaps most of all, Saudi Arabia’s new nationalism will infuse it with the political backing it needs to resist foreign influence to change its behavior. As Western allies grow concerned about Saudi Arabia’s human-rights record and conduct in Yemen, pressure from allies to change Saudi Arabia’s behavior will butt up against nationalist demands for the monarchy to maintain the Kingdom’s sovereignty. This will be a marked change from the heady days of George W. Bush and King Abdullah, when Bush helped pressure the king to hold municipal elections as part of his regional Freedom Agenda. Even close allies of the Kingdom may find that the more nationalism gains stature in Saudi Arabia, the more closed the minds of its officials become.Ryan Bohl is a Middle East and North Africa analyst at Stratfor. He holds a BA in history and an MAEd from Arizona State University, where he studied Middle Eastern history and education, and St. Catherine’s College at the University of Cambridge. He lived and taught in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar from 2009-14. Image: Reuters

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