US-backed SDF fighters say they took major Raqqa position from ISIS

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have taken the National Hospital in Raqqa, one of the last remaining bastions of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in its former Syrian capital, Reuters reports, an SDF spokesman said. The SDF is now fighting IS in the area around Raqqa stadium, spokesman Mostafa Bali said.
The SDF is a predominantly Kurdish militant group, controlling large areas in northern Syria. It has been receiving broad military support from the US, and proclaims that fighting IS is its primary goal. The SDF and the Syrian Army, with its allies, are conducting two separate operations in the area, aiming to control the oil- and gas-rich eastern part of Syria.

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UK inflation hits five-year high of 3 per cent as workers face continued wage squeeze

Inflation rose to a five-year high of 3 per cent in September, far outstripping wage increases, the latest official figures show.

Consumer price inflation (CPI) increased from 2.9 per cent in August, its highest since April 2012.

Consumers face rising costs for essentials, with food and transport prices driving rising inflation, the Office for National Statistics said on Tuesday.

Businesses are also facing a squeeze as Retail Price Index inflation, which will be used to set business rates next year, was 3.9 per cent in September.

Wages rose at an annual rate of 2.1 per cent in the three months to July, meaning workers are seeing the value of their pay packets decrease.

Inflation has risen sharply since the Brexit vote in June last year as the value of the pound has fallen against other major currencies, causing the prices of imports to rise.

A counterbalancing rise in exports, predicted by some analysts, has not materialised. Rising oil prices and fuel costs also contributed to increasing inflation in September, the ONS said.

The pound rose against the dollar on Tuesday morning on predictions that rising inflation would increase pressure on the Bank of England to raise its benchmark interest rate at the Monetary Policy Committee’s next meeting on 2 November

The Bank of England said last month that UK interest rates are likely to rise “over the coming months” in order to curb inflation, preparing the ground for the first rise in the cost of borrowing in a decade.

While a rate hike would mean bigger returns on savers’ bank deposits, it would also mean higher repayment costs for many mortgage borrowers. An increase would also run the risk of choking off overall economic growth, at a time when activity is already weakening markedly because of uncertainty over Brexit.
In its latest meeting in September, the Bank’s nine-member Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) voted by a 7-2 margin to keep rates on hold at their record low of 0.25 per cent.

Laith Khalaf a senior analyst,at Hargreaves Lansdown said it was “important to keep perspective” on the impact rising prices would have on consumers.

“The pound in your pocket is depreciating, as the rising price of goods continues to chip away at its value. Consumer spending remains remarkably resilient in the face of inflationary pressures and weak wage growth, but the current squeeze on household budgets is a slow burner, as it takes some time for economic reality to hit home,” he said.

“Employment remains high and borrowing costs are low, for the time being at least.”

The inflation figure also means that 10.5 million households face losing an average reduction of £450 per year to their benefits as the Government continues a 4-year freeze on payments.

Normally the September inflation figure is used to uprate benefits and tax thresholds the following April. However, the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies pointed out that current government policy is to freeze most working-age benefits in cash terms until March 2020.

The Trades Unions Congress, which represents millions of British workers, urged the Government to help workers facing falling incomes.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government needs to face up to Britain’s cost of living crisis. The squeeze on household budgets is getting tighter by the month.

“The Chancellor must use November’s Budget to ease the pressure on hard-pressed families.

“That means giving five million public sector workers the pay rise they have earned.

“Prices are sky-rocketing. Offering hard-working public servants below-inflation increases would amount to yet another real-terms pay cut.”

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Facebook might be putting sex workers at risk of stalkers

Sex workers go to great efforts to hide their true identities from their clients – but Facebook’s People You May Know function might be putting their anonymity at risk.

One female sex worker from California was shocked to see some of her regular clients appearing on the feature when she was logged into her account, which is under her real name, Gizmodo reports.

“The worst nightmare of sex workers is to have your real name out there and Facebook connecting people like this is the harbinger of that nightmare,” she said.

“With all the precautions we take and the different phone numbers we use, why the f*** are they showing up?”

She told Gizmodo that her “real identity” – the one which is on Facebook – was created in 2011 and she uses it to post about politics.

Despite not revealing anything about her life as a sex worker on the social network, the People You May Know function was able to connect her to her clients.

Whilst for most people, the ambivalent feature may be no more than a vexing invasion of privacy, for porn stars and prostitutes it could be incredibly dangerous as it can reveal their true identities to clients and viewers, subsequently putting them at risk of stalking and blackmail.

Facebook has never disclosed the details of their “suggested friends” algorithm, though it’s assumed to work on the basis of mutual friends.

Leila – as she is named in Gizmodo’s article – believes that Facebook must have somehow accessed contact information from other apps on her phone or used location services to find that she was often in the same place as her clients.

However, a Facebook spokesperson told Gizmodo that they never use information from third party apps to gather their data, so it remains unclear how they were able to connect the supposed far-reaching dots between Leila and her clients on the site.

“We take privacy seriously and of course want to make sure people have a safe and positive experience on Facebook,” they said.

“For people who choose to maintain a separate identity, we’ve put safeguards in place to help them understand their privacy choicesmoderate comments,block peoplecontrol location sharing, and report abusive content.

“We fell short here and we will do better.”

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Las Vegas shooting: Unarmed security guard who led police to gunman Stephen Paddock has 'vanished'

The security guard who led police to Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock has vanished, his union president said. 

Jesus Campos had been due to break his media silence following the devastating attack on a music festival that left 58 dead.

But the night before his interviews were due to take place he disappeared, according to David Hickey of the Security, Police, and Fire Professionals of America (SPFPA). 

Mr Hickey said he later received a message saying Mr Campos had been taken to urgent care facility UMC Quick Care, according to Fox News

“For the past four days he’s been preparing… we had a meeting with MGM officials, and after that meeting was over, we talked about the interviews, we went to a private area, and when we came out, Mr Campos was gone,” Mr Hickey said. 

“Right now I’m just concerned where my member is, and what his condition is. It’s highly unusual. I’m hoping everything is OK with him and I’m sure MGM or the union will let (media) know when we hear something.”

A spokesperson for UMC Quick Care say they had “heard nothing” about Mr Campos attending one of their centres. 

Mr Campos was shot as he approached the 32nd floor suite of the Mandalay Bay hotel, from where 64-year-old gunman Paddock was firing customised automatic weapons into crowds at a festival below. 

After raising the alarm with police, Mr Campos reportedly remained nearby, helping to evacuate rooms on the same floor before being ordered to leave himself. 

He was hit in the right leg by a bullet and was due to be operated on. His injuries were not believed to be serious.  

Mr Campos was hailed a hero for raising the alarm, and received a union award in the wake of the attack.

But he has also found himself at the centre of conspiracy theories surrounding the shooting.

Internet forums went into overdrive after police revised the timeline of the shooting after the attack. 

Online sleuths claimed — entirely without basis — that Mr Campos was somehow involved in the massacre. 

Some say they have even visited Mr Campos’ house, and are poring through his online footprint in an attempt to make their theories stick.

False reports have attempted to blame him for the attack, reviving conspiracy theories about there being another shooter on the night of the attack, which have been rejected by police.

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How to lift weights safely and effectively

When it comes to burning fat, weight lifting and resistance work is essential. By building muscle, you boost your basal metabolic rate, meaning you burn more calories over the course of the day even when you’re not exercising.

But with the rise of seemingly miracle workouts that promise unbelievable results in a short amount of time, good form can often be compromised.

When it comes to lifting weights, ensuring correct technique is crucial. Not only will you get the results you want, but you’re more likely to avoid injury too.

“Quite often I see people come to the gym and try and lift weights too fast, that are too heavy and with no control and poor technique,” personal trainer Tom Mans told The Independent

Skill and control is essential, so it’s worth getting an expert to show you how to execute different moves correctly when you start working out with weights.

Once you’ve done that, what do you need to know though?

1. Build a strong foundation

“The first thing I teach a new client is how to be in control of the weight,” Mans says.

He recommends starting off with technically sound movements that are slow with a light load. Then over time you progress to a heavier load or a faster movement or both, depending on your goal.

BENCH PRESS STANCE SET UP – Hips & Feet position. The first 2 pictures are both common examples of incorrect bench press set ups. Incorrect set up 1 – Feet in the air. Make sure your feet are on the floor throughout the press. If your feet are off the floor you lose all stability from your lower body and core. This will prevent you from lifting any serious weight, and can cause an injury. Incorrect set 2 – Over arched lower back. Make sure your hips (bum) are in contact with the bench at all times. Over aching the lower back will put too much stress and tension into the lumbar spine. The last picture is a correct bench press stance set up. Keep your feet are on the floor, shins are vertical, screw your feet into the floor and squeeze your glutes. Have a slight arch in the lower back while keeping the hips on the bench. This will enable you to set your shoulders in the correct position. Tag a friend or training partner who can improve on their bench press technique. #benchpress #chestday #strength #powerlifting #bodybuilding #transformationtuesday #fitfam #healthychoices #grindout #gainz #muscle #strengthandconditioning

A post shared by Tom Mans – Fitness Page (@tommanspt) on Oct 25, 2016 at 6:18am PDT

“If you are new to lifting weights and going to the gym then you need to spend time (one to two months) learning the basics and building a solid foundation,” Mans explains. “This includes learning how to squat, hip hinge (deadlift movement), push, pull, rotate, and train on one leg. 

“Otherwise you may get an injury and struggle further down the line when the exercises become more advanced. Tendons and ligaments take longer to adapt than muscles, therefore you cannot rush the process.”

2. How do muscles work?

Unless you’re training for power and speed, all muscle contractions need to be performed in a slow, controlled manner in order to stimulate the muscle for growth and adaptation. 

There are three main types of muscle contraction that explain how muscles work, and each can be described by a different stage of a squat:

  • Eccentric – when the muscle lengthens under load. In the squat this would be the downward phase from standing to at the bottom of the squat, when the hips are parallel with the knees. The quadriceps and gluteal muscles are the main muscles lengthening under load. 
  • Isometric – when the muscle stays at a constant length under load. This would happen if you were to pause at the bottom of the squat. Another good example is the plank exercise. 
  • Concentric – when the muscle shortens under load. This would be the upward phase in the squat from the bottom back to standing. The quadriceps and gluteal muscle muscles shorten and knees and hips lock out. 

“To train your muscles effectively you need to have control over and be aware of each type of muscle contraction, especially the eccentric and concentric phases,” Mans explains. 

He believes that in the majority of HIIT (high intensity interval training) classes, most people move too quickly, with their muscles lengthening and shortening under no control.

If you do this, you’re not actually supporting your own body weight and are using momentum to complete the exercise. 

“This may feel easier to complete as it requires less effort, but you will see less progress and will most likely get hurt,” Mans says. 

“There is nothing wrong with doing exercise at speed but the majority of people lack the skill and foundations to perform the exercises correctly.”

3. Technique and skill acquisition

It’s normal to want to reach your fitness goals as fast as possible with the least amount of effort. But according to Mans, this often means technique is the first thing that goes. 

“Lifting weights and resistance training is a skill; therefore you need to spend time learning the skill,” he says. 

You need to learn the essentials such as making sure your knees don’t angle in when you squat, maintaining a neutral spine when deadlifting and keeping your upper back pushed up when planking. 

Although our bodies are all different and no two people will squat or do a press-up in exactly the same way, there are guidelines you need to know to make sure the exercises are performed correctly, safely and in conjunction with your ability and goals.

Mans explains that when learning the skills required to lift weights, you need to engage your brain and focus on each phase (eccentric, isometric and concentric) of a movement. 

“Over time the movements and exercises will become second nature – like a golf pro’s swing, you will not think about the skill itself, it will just happen,” Mans says. 

“You will be focusing on the results instead of the skill itself, for example lifting the weight up above your head or hitting the ball on the fairway. Once you hone the skill of lifting then you can start lifting heavy loads and lifting quickly.”

And then you can just enjoy the sense of achievement, fun and #gains. 

Sign up to Tom’s Health and Fitness newsletter and receive weekly tips on training, nutrition and wellbeing.

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Cheap flights for Christmas: How to get the best festive deals, according to an expert

Is it too soon to think about Christmas? If you’re planning to escape abroad, the common wisdom is that it’s actually too late. But don’t worry, says Jack Sheldon, our resident flight expert who runs Jack’s Flight Club – now’s the cheapest time to book. 

When to book

Most travellers assume that booking a flight over the Christmas holidays is best done as far in advance as possible, but this is a common misconception that the airline industry loves to peddle. Airlines factor in the high demand for flights over this peak holiday period in advance, and price them high to begin with.

They’ll then monitor seat availability for these flights throughout the year and, at which point they feel seats are undersold, they’ll do a short, unannounced ‘flash sale’ (though it won’t be billed as such, and will be completely under the radar) in order to catch up to their projections. These flash sales can occur throughout the year, but most often you’ll see them closer to the holiday season – typically throughout October and early November. 

Last week, for example, United Airlines and British Airways both briefly dropped their Christmas period fares from the UK to various US cities by nearly 50 per cent, then raised them back up within 48 hours – presumably after they’d sold enough seats. These secretive flash sales are the absolute best opportunity to grab your Christmas holiday flights and save big. So be ready.

But don’t look on a weekend

While browsing on a Saturday or a Sunday may be more convenient, I recommend searching for flights during the week as you’re much more likely to stumble upon a cheaper fare or a flash sale and avoid paying over the odds. Tuesdays are known in the industry as the best day of the week to look for flights from the UK. If it’s Monday and you’ve found a decent fare, it might be worth waiting an extra day to see if it’ll pop up even lower on Tuesday morning.

How to find the best deal 

Searching for the best deals can be cumbersome, but there are a few handy tools that can make the process a lot easier for those without much extra time on their hands. For long-haul trips, I recommend starting every search with Google Flights – it has the absolute best calendar tool out there for helping you find the cheapest travel dates. If you’re looking to travel to a specific destination for two weeks over Christmas, say, it’ll immediately show the cheapest dates that you should depart and return.

For example, travelling from 19 December to 2 January might be significantly cheaper than from 21 December to 4 January. Google Flights makes it easy to immediately identify which dates are going to save you money.


But bear in mind…

It’s important to note that Google Flights only compares prices available from the airlines themselves rather than from online travel agents (OTAs) and, with few exceptions, the best deals on major airlines are seldom found by booking directly through the airline itself. If you’re after maximising savings, booking with an OTA is the way to go. The problem is, there are literally hundreds of OTAs out there – from massive ones such as Expedia to tiny ones that most people won’t have ever heard of. The best way to sift through all of these options in a single search is by taking your chosen travel dates and entering them into a OTA aggregator, such as Kayak or Momondo, which will instantly highlight those OTAs offering the best fare based on the specific flight you’ve identified in Google Flights. And yes, you can trust OTAs listed on major sites – just be aware that they’ll charge heavy fees if you need to make a change to your reservation.

Chance it till the last minute 

If you’re not too fussed about the destination and just want to grab a cheap getaway over Christmas, consider waiting until the absolute last minute and booking with Thomson. Unlike almost all other airlines, Thomson bucks the trend and tries to fill their leftover seats at a substantial discount to last-minute travellers rather than adding on a premium as other airlines often do.

Search their website two to seven days before travelling and you’ll often unearth a gem, even over Christmas. Last year, I spotted some seats on flights to the Caribbean over Christmas for under £300 return.

Consider neighbouring airports

Flying out of or into airports near your destination can often result in big savings. Keen to visit New York City over Christmas? Look out for options to nearby hubs like Boston or Philadelphia. The savings can well exceed the price of the additional train ticket it’ll take to get to your destination and, this way, you can even tack on a ‘bonus’ destination if said airport happens to be somewhere of interest.

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Low-fat avocados are pointless, say leading health experts

While millennials are quick to consume avocados by the bucket load, be it smashed on toast or blended in a morning smoothie, it can be easy to forget how fat-laden they really are.

It makes sense then that someone should come up with a way to make the fruit even more appealing to the masses.

Enter, the diet avocado. 

Created by Spanish company Isla Bonita, the new, lighter version has a third less fat than normal avocados, an average-sized one of which typically contains 322 calories and 30 grams of fat.

And as an extra bonus, they also ripen much faster and crucially have a slower oxidation rate, meaning they turn brown a lot slower. 

But, do we really need them? Health professionals think not.

Another example of how society demonises all types of fat, Ruth Kander, Consultant Dietitian at Your Diet Matters says those found in standard avocados are mostly monosaturated, which have been linked to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.


“They also contain vitamins such as B group which are essential for metabolism and vitamin E which is good for antioxidant health,” Kander told The Independent.

“Avocados as part of a healthy balanced diet are a great food to have.”

Leading Harley Street Nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert – whose forthcoming book Re-Nourish: A Simple Way To Eat Well is released December 28 – agrees, adding, “A concern is that these so-called ‘diet’ avocados share a negative message by demonising a natural, whole fruit which is widely encouraged as part of a healthy balanced diet,” she told The Independent.

😬Back in 60s and 70s, scientists believed that saturated fat was the main cause of heart disease, by raising “bad” cholesterol in the blood. 👎🏻This started the low-fat diet and despite being nearly 50 years later, we’re still suffering the consequences. 😳It’s not really a surprise that the world’s obesity and diabetes problem started the same time these low-fat guidelines came out! 👀While correlation does not always equal causation, it’s obvious that low-fat recommendations encourage people started eating less of foods like meat, butter and eggs, while eating more heavily processed foods marketed as low-fat yet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates. 🤓Ultimately, there is no real evidence that low-fat diets have any benefits. They certainly don’t cause weight loss in the long-term or reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Some studies show that they may even cause harm. 🥑So, go on and enjoy your avocado but also know that portion sizes will dictate whether the amount of fat you’re eating is actually healthy. Too much a good thing can also be a bad thing. Half an avocado is 1 portion folks! #RhiannonLambert #ReNourish #Rhitrition

A post shared by RHIANNON LAMBERT BSc MSc ANutr (@rhitrition) on Aug 12, 2017 at 11:55pm PDT

“One aspect of a healthy relationship with food is eating with pleasure and without shame. 

“Anything that fuels the diet culture rife today will only contribute to unhealthy relationships with food.”

While the NHS recommends eating just one half of an avocado as a portion size because of thir high fat content, Lambert also fears “that some will see a ‘diet avocado’ as an opportunity to eat twice as much.”

With the initial launch later this month at a trade show in Madrid, Isla Bonita’s new diet version will be available year-round but, for now at least, is going to be sold exclusively in Spain. 

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Royal Mail shareholders paid over £800m in past four years while services are scaled back

Royal Mail shareholders have been paid over £800m in the past four years while the company scaled back the number of postal workers, delivery offices and planned cuts to pension schemes for employees.

The company – privatised by the coalition government in 2013 – paid out the lucrative dividends of £626m to non-employee private shareholders between October 2013 and the end of the last financial year, according to a Labour analysis. 

A further £86m was paid to employee shareholders and the Government received £81m during the two-year privatisation transition. 

Responding to the figures, Jeremy Corbyn said the Royal Mail was “sold off on the cheap” by the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives while in coalition and now “hundreds of millions are being siphoned off by shareholders”. 

The Labour leader added: “Labour will end this rip off, bring Royal Mail back into public ownership and run it in the interests of the many, not the few.” 

Labour MP Helen Hayes has previously claimed that between the privatisation of Royal Mail in October 2013 and May 2017, 142 delivery offices have been closed by the company – around 10 per cent of the total. Ms Hayes added that the company has sold more than £200m worth of property. 

Dave Ward, the general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, told the Daily Mirror: “A massive £500,000 a day paid in dividends to mainly hedge funds and city shareholders will sicken the public.

“This money should have been used to modernise Royal Mail giving the public a first-class service alongside protecting post workers’ terms and conditions.

“At a time of school cuts, hospital closures and record use of food banks it is outrageous to see such an abuse of funds which should be in the public hands.” 

The figures come after the company won a High Court injection preventing a planned 48-hour strike by postal workers, who were set to protest over pensions and pay.

A Royal Mail spokesperson described the dividends as a “good thing, not a bad thing”, adding: “Our dividend payments have benefited the many Royal Mail people and private investors who own the company. They also benefit the many UK pension funds who have invested in Royal Mail on behalf of UK workers.

“Alongside the legitimate payment of dividends, Royal Mail has invested £1.5bn in the company since privatisation.

“In state ownership, Royal Mail was starved of investment. Royal Mail is one of a few large companies that pay substantially more in pension contributions than dividends. Since privatisation, we have paid £1.4bn into our pension funds and £800m in dividends to shareholders, including colleagues.

“We don’t recognise the figure of 142 delivery offices closing since privatisation. In fact, less than 4 per cent (51) of our delivery offices have closed since then. During that time, letter volumes have declined by around 12 per cent. Royal Mail has by far the largest delivery office network in the UK and that will continue to be the case.”

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AirAsia cabin crew become 'hysterical' as plane plunges 20,000ft on Perth to Bali flight

Passengers aboard an AirAsia flight that plummeted 20,000ft have accused cabin crew of escalating panic by becoming “hysterical”.

The flight was on its way from Perth to Bali on Sunday when the plane made a rapid descent in response to a cabin pressurisation issue, before turning around and landing safely back in Perth.

Instead of reassuring those on board, crew have been criticised for making the situation worse.

“The panic was escalated because of the behaviour of the staff, who were screaming and looked tearful and shocked,” Clare Askew, a passenger on board flight QZ535, told Seven News Australia

“We look to them for reassurance and we didn’t get any. We were more worried because of how panicked they were.”

Another passenger, Mark Bailey, added: “They went hysterical. There was no real panic before that. Then everyone panicked.”

The flight was diverted after a “technical issue”, according to a statement from AirAsia.  

“We commend our pilots for landing the aircraft safely and complying with standard operating procedure,” said Capt. Ling Liong Tien, AirAsia Group’s head of safety. “We are fully committed to the safety of our guests and crew and we will continue to ensure that we adhere to the highest safety standards.”

Video emerged showing a member of cabin crew shouting “passengers, get down, passengers, get down” as oxygen masks were deployed. 

The Airbus A320 aircraft descended from 34,000ft to 10,000ft in minutes, data from confirmed; this is apparently standard practice in the event of cabin depressurisation. 

It’s not the first time the airline has come under fire for staff’s reactions under pressure. A pilot on a flight with AirAsia’s sister company, AirAsia X, from Malaysia to Perth in June encouraged passengers to pray after the plane started to violently shake due to a technical fault.

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