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  • Suicide-bomb at Kabul wedding leaves 63 dead and 182 wounded news

    A suicide-bomb blast ripped through a wedding party on a busy Saturday night in Afghanistan’s capital, leaving at least 63 dead and almost 200 injured. The Taliban denied responsibility for the blast at a west Kabul wedding hall, in a minority Shi'ite neighbourhood, packed with more than 1,000 people celebrating a marriage. Interior Ministry spokesman Nusrat Rahimi said the attacker set off explosives among the wedding participants. He later said 63 people had died and 182 wounded in the attack. "Among the wounded are women and children," he added. Both the Taliban and a local affiliate of the Islamic State group carry out bloody attacks in the capital. The blast occurred near the stage where musicians were and "all the youths, children and all the people who were there were killed," witness Gul Mohammad said. One of the wounded, Mohammad Toofan, said that "a lot of guests were martyred." "There are so many dead and wounded," said Ahmad Omid, a survivor who said about 1,200 guests had been invited to the wedding for his father’s cousin. "I was with the groom in the other room when we heard the blast and then I couldn’t find anyone. Everyone was lying all around the hall." An Afghan man mourns near the body of his brother after he was killed in an explosion at wedding hall in Kabul Credit: AP Outside a local hospital, families wailed. Others were covered in blood. The blast at the Dubai City wedding hall in western Kabul, a part of the city that many in the minority Shiite Hazara community call home, shattered a period of relative calm. On August 7, a Taliban car bomb aimed at Afghan security forces detonated on the same road, killing 14 people and wounding 145 - most of them women, children and other civilians. Kabul’s huge, brightly lit wedding halls are centres of community life in a city weary of decades of war, with thousands of dollars spent on a single evening. "Devastated by the news of a suicide attack inside a wedding hall in Kabul. A heinous crime against our people; how is it possible to train a human and ask him to go and blow himself (up) inside a wedding?!!" Sediq Seddiqi, spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, said in a Twitter post. The wedding halls also serve as meeting places, and in November at least 55 people were killed when a suicide bomber sneaked into a Kabul wedding hall where hundreds of Muslim religious scholars and clerics had gathered to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The Taliban denied involvement in an attack that bore the hallmarks of the Islamic State affiliate. A wounded man receives treatment at a hospital after an explosion at wedding hall in Kabul Credit: AP Saturday night’s explosion came a few days after the end of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, with Kabul residents visiting family and friends, and just before Afghanistan marks its 100th independence day on Monday under heavier security in a city long familiar with checkpoints and razor wire. The blast comes at a greatly uncertain time in Afghanistan as the United States and the Taliban near a deal to end a nearly 18-year war, America’s longest conflict. The Afghan government has been sidelined from those discussions, and presidential spokesman Seddiqi said earlier on Saturday that his government was waiting to hear results of President Donald Trump’s meeting on Friday with his national security team about the negotiations. Top issues include a US troop withdrawal and Taliban guarantees not to let Afghanistan become a launching pad for global terror attacks. While the Taliban earlier this year pledged to do more to protect civilians, it continues to stage deadly attacks against Afghan security forces and others in what is seen by many as an attempt to strengthen its position at the negotiating table. The conflict continues to take a horrific toll on civilians. Last year more than 3,800, including more than 900 children, were killed in Afghanistan by the Taliban, US and allied forces, the Islamic State affiliate and other actors, the United Nations said.

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 23:48:39 -0400
  • Top Chinese, North Korean generals meet in Beijing

    Top military leaders from North Korea and China have recommitted themselves to strengthened exchanges between their armed forces during a meeting in Beijing. The meeting Saturday came as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervised another test-firing of an unspecified new weapon, seen as an attempt to pressure Washington and Seoul over nuclear negotiations and joint military exercises. The official Xinhua News agency says Zhang Youxia, the vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, met Kim Su Kil, director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People's Army.

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 23:23:05 -0400
  • British MPs press Johnson to recall parliament over Brexit news

    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson came under pressure Sunday to immediately recall lawmakers from their summer holiday so parliament can debate Brexit. More than 100 MPs have written to Johnson to urge him to reconvene and let them sit permanently until October 31 -- the date Britain is due to leave the European Union. "Our country is on the brink of an economic crisis, as we career towards a no-deal Brexit," said the letter, signed by MPs and opposition party leaders who want to halt Britain's departure from the EU.

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 21:26:25 -0400
  • U.K. Faces Fuel, Food Shortages, Port Delays Post-Brexit

    (Bloomberg) -- The U.K. will grapple with a shortage of fuel, food and medicine as well as job losses and a disruption at its ports of as long as three months with a no-deal Brexit, the Sunday Times reported, citing leaked government documents.The dossier called “Operation Yellowhammer,” prepared by the cabinet office, also warned that the supply of fresh food could be reduced, it said. Critical elements of the supply chain, including ingredients, chemicals and packaging, may be affected, the paper added.The newspaper said the document had been compiled this month to set out the “most likely aftershocks of a no-deal Brexit rather than worst-case scenarios.“A no-deal exit from the European Union may also result in the return of a hard border in Ireland, which may trigger protests and road blockages, the document said.Petrol import tariffs will lead to the closure of two oil refineries, the loss of 2,000 jobs, strikes and disruptions, the document said.To contact the reporter on this story: Sebastian Tong in San Francisco at stong41@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Kopit at, Linus ChuaFor more articles like this, please visit us at©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 19:33:46 -0400
  • UPDATE 1-UK faces food, fuel and drugs shortages in no-deal Brexit - Times, citing official documents

    Britain will face shortages of fuel, food and medicine if it leaves the European Union without a transition deal, jamming ports and requiring a hard border in Ireland, official government documents leaked to the Sunday Times show. The Times said the forecasts compiled by the Cabinet Office set out the most likely aftershocks of a no-deal Brexit rather than the worst case scenarios.

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 19:16:10 -0400
  • UPDATE 1-UK parliament cannot stop Brexit, Johnson to tell Macron and Merkel

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson will tell French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the Westminster parliament cannot stop Brexit and a new deal must be agreed if Britain is to avoid leaving the EU without one. The United Kingdom is heading towards a constitutional crisis at home and a showdown with the EU as Johnson has repeatedly vowed to leave the bloc on Oct. 31 without a deal unless it agrees to renegotiate the Brexit divorce.

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 18:11:31 -0400
  • U.K.’s Johnson to Double Down on Brexit in Germany, France Trip

    (Bloomberg) -- U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will travel to Germany and France Aug. 21-22 to make clear that the country is leaving the European Union on Oct. 31 with or without a deal, his office said in a statement.Johnson will also use his trip, which comes ahead of the Group of Seven summit, to reiterate that parliament “will not, and cannot, cancel the referendum,” the statement said, adding that there needs to be a new Brexit deal.“Number 10 therefore believes there will be very little discussion of Brexit on the European visits this week. Each side will state its position and move on to other things,” the statement said.The Prime Minister’s Office said it expected discussions to revolve around issues on the upcoming G7 agenda, including foreign policy and security as well as the global economy and trade.“The EU are our closest neighbors and whatever happens we want a strong relationship after we leave,” the statement added.Germany’s Scholz: EU27 United on Brexit, Ready for All OutcomesTo contact the reporters on this story: Sebastian Tong in San Francisco at;Robert Hutton in London at rhutton1@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Sarah Kopit at skopit@bloomberg.netFor more articles like this, please visit us at©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 17:30:00 -0400
  • Senegalese ex-UN food agency chief Jacques Diouf dies news

    Senegalese Jacques Diouf who headed the UN food agency for 18 years has died at the age of 81, President Macky Sall said on Saturday, describing him "as one of Senegal's most valiant sons". Diouf, a former Senegalese ambassador to the United Nations, died in France following a long illness, his family said quoted by Senegal media. "Senegal has lost one of its most valiant sons with the death of our compatriot Jacques Diouf," Sall said on Twitter.

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 16:18:43 -0400
  • Sudanese protesters sign final power-sharing deal with army news

    Sudan's pro-democracy movement and ruling military council signed a final power-sharing agreement Saturday at a ceremony in the capital, Khartoum, after weeks of tortuous negotiations. The historic deal paves the way for a transition to a civilian-led government after the military overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir months ago and the more recent deadly suppression of protests. Earlier this month, the two sides initialed a constitutional document in the wake of international pressure and amid growing concerns that the political crisis that followed al-Bashir's ouster could ignite civil war.

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 16:16:22 -0400
  • White House to Proceed With Ending Some Foreign Aid Payments

    (Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration will move forward within days with a plan to cancel certain foreign aid payments authorized by Congress, setting up a fight with lawmakers opposed to the move.A senior administration official confirmed that the so-called rescissions package would be announced early next week.Some of the funding being zeroed out was for projects like installing solar panels in the Caribbean and creating safe spaces in Ireland for people upset about Brexit, said the administration official, who declined to be identified discussing plans not yet made public. Unspent funds for certain climate-related projects in Asia and Africa are also being targeted for elimination. CNN reported Saturday that the move would take aim at funding for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, as well as the United Nations for certain peace-keeping operations in the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.The official said that Congress during the Trump administration has funded State and USAID at about $12 billion above the president’s budget requests, and that the rescission package would return some of that excess back to the budget.Republican lawmakers who are typically Trump allies, notably Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, this week urged the president to reconsider “in the strongest possible terms” after word of the possible rescissions was reported.“We share your concern about our mounting national debt, which in itself creates security risks to the country,” Graham and Representative Hal Rogers of Kentucky said in a letter to Trump. “However, it has been reported that this proposal makes sweeping and indiscriminate cuts without regard to national security impacts.”(Updates throughout with detail.)\--With assistance from Jordan Fabian.To contact the reporter on this story: Justin Sink in Washington at jsink1@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Alex Wayne at, Ros Krasny, Steve GeimannFor more articles like this, please visit us at©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 15:36:57 -0400
  • Kim expresses 'great satisfaction' over NKorea weapons tests news

    North Korea said Saturday that leader Kim Jong Un supervised another test-firing of an unspecified new weapon, seen as an attempt to pressure Washington and Seoul over slow nuclear negotiations and their joint military exercises. Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA, said that following Friday's launches, Kim expressed "great satisfaction" over his military's "mysterious and amazing success rates" in recent testing activity and vowed to build up "invincible military capabilities no one dare provoke." The report did not mention any specific comment about the United States or South Korea.

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 15:31:23 -0400
  • UPDATE 1-Several injured in Kashmir in clashes with Indian police

    Indian security forces injured at least six people on Saturday in Srinagar, the main city in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir, as several protests broke out against New Delhi's revocation of the region's autonomy last week. In New York, the U.N. Security Council held its first meeting in almost 50 years on Kashmir, a majority Muslim region claimed by both India and Pakistan - which controls its western third.

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 14:30:10 -0400
  • Airstrikes on Syrian rebel stronghold kill family of 7 news

    Government and Russian airstrikes pounded the southern edge of a rebel stronghold in Syria's northwest on Saturday, killing at least seven members of one family, activists and a war monitor reported. The intense airstrikes were coupled with fierce ground clashes as the government, backed by Russia, pushed ahead with a months-old offensive seeking to chip away at territory on the periphery of the rebel enclave. Idlib and surrounding areas are home to 3 million civilians and is dominated by Islamist insurgents.

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 12:41:09 -0400
  • EU Chief Juncker to Undergo Emergency Gallbladder Surgery news

    (Bloomberg) -- European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is set to undergo emergency surgery to have his gallbladder removed.The EU leader was vacationing in Austria when he was taken back to Luxembourg for the operation, the EU said in a statement on Saturday. Juncker, 64, is set to leave his post when his term ends this fall. The former prime minister of Luxembourg has previously faced questions about his health. At a North Atlantic Treaty Organization Summit last year, Juncker was filmed struggling to keep his balance, which the commission later said was the result of a painful sciatica attack.Gallbladder removal surgery is a common procedure, according to the U.K.’s NHS website, which says an operation to take it out is often recommended if any problems with it develop. While such procedures are uncomplicated, it can sometimes take weeks before people return to normal activities.Juncker is scheduled to attend the Group of Seven summit in Biarritz, France, next weekend, though the emergency procedure means the EU chief may not be in a position to participate. The leaders are expected to discuss global challenges in the economy and the environment as well as relations with Iran, Russia and North Korea.The gallbladder surgery comes as the EU leader is set to hand over the presidency of the European Commission to Ursula von der Leyen in October. Following her confirmation by the European Parliament last month, the former German defense minister is accepting nominations from EU member states for the team of senior officials who will be in charge of the bloc’s executive body for the next five years.The commission has in recent years had to grapple with complex challenges, including difficult negotiations with the U.K. as it plans to leave the bloc as well as simmering tensions with the U.S. over trade.(Updates with more background from fourth paragraph.)To contact the reporter on this story: Natalia Drozdiak in Brussels at ndrozdiak1@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Giles Turner at, Chad Thomas, James AmottFor more articles like this, please visit us at©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 11:40:19 -0400
  • Iranian tanker to leave Gibraltar soon despite US pressure news

    The shipping agent for an Iranian supertanker caught in a diplomatic standoff says the vessel is ready to depart Gibraltar on Sunday or Monday, as the U.S. made a last-minute effort to seize it again. The head of the company sorting paperwork and procuring for the Grace 1 oil tanker in the British overseas territory said the vessel could be sailing away in the next "24 to 48 hours," once new crews dispatched to the territory take over command of the ship. "The vessel is ongoing some logistical changes and requirements that have delayed the departure," Astralship managing director Richard De la Rosa told The Associated Press.

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 11:39:39 -0400
  • Iran tanker in limbo off Gibraltar as US issues warrant news

    A last-minute US warrant to seize an Iranian oil tanker preparing to leave Gibraltar after weeks of detention cast doubt over its departure on Saturday, prolonging a diplomatic spat between Tehran, London and Washington. The US Justice Department alleged the ship was part of a scheme "to unlawfully access the US financial system to support illicit shipments to Syria from Iran by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps," which Washington has designated a foreign terrorist organisation. There was no comment from Britain or Gibraltar, its overseas territory.

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 10:12:01 -0400
  • The Latest: Sudan army, protesters ink final transition deal

    Sudan's army and the country's pro-democracy movement have signed a final power-sharing deal at a ceremony in the capital, Khartoum. Saturday's agreement paves the way for a transition to civilian rule following the military overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir in April after months of protests. The agreement would also establish a Cabinet appointed by the activists and a legislative body.

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 08:25:57 -0400
  • Did Russia’s Bizarre Nuclear-Powered Missile Just Blow Up? news

    Did Russia’s nuclear-powered cruise missile just blow up? Or was it something else that spewed a radioactive cloud and triggered radiation alarms?  An accident at a military test site in northern Russia has sparked speculation of a mishap with the 9M730 Burevestnik ("Petrel"), an intercontinental cruise missile powered by a nuclear reactor.  Russia has confirmed an explosion during an August 8 test at Nyonoksa, a military testing base on the White Sea. The explosion killed employees of Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy corporation. “Five Rosatom staff members died and a further three people were injured in a tragic accident that took place during tests on a liquid propulsion system involving isotopes at a military facility in Arkhangelsk region,” stated a brief Rosatom announcement.   After Russian media reports that radiation in the area had spiked to 200 times normal background levels, Russian news agency TASS hastened to claim that the dose was less than that of a medical X-ray—though the village near the explosion has been ordered to evacuate, raising memories of the Chernobyl incident.  The fact that the accident involved rocket propulsion and radioactive isotopes immediately led to speculation that the Burevestnik (NATO code name SSC-X-9 Skyfall) was involved. In fact, President Donald Trump went on Twitter to announce that “we have similar, though more advanced, technology. The Russian ‘Skyfall’ explosion has people worried about the air around the facility, and far beyond. Not good!”  But Edward Geist, an expert on Russian nuclear history at the RAND Corp. think tank, cautioned that it is premature to assume that the Petrel was the culprit.  “The case that this may be associated with the nuclear cruise missile is pretty circumstantial,” Geist told The National Interest. For example, the site of the accident is a closed Russian military town that is “associated with the testing of all kinds of missiles.”   Perhaps there was an accident involving Petrel. Or, perhaps there was an accident involving another weapon that damaged a Petrel. Or, maybe Russia was testing some other system: among Putin’s much-touted wonder weapons is the nuclear-powered Poseidon robotic torpedo.  In other words, something happened, and that something involved fatalities and release of radiation. But we can’t be sure, and the Russian government isn’t likely to tell us.  Nonetheless, Geist suspects that Russia is expanding on Cold War-era Soviet research into nuclear aircraft propulsion. During that era, both the U.S. and the Soviet Union explored nuclear-powered manned aircraft. They also explored nuclear-powered missiles, such as the notorious 1950s U.S. Project Pluto, a nuclear-powered, low-altitude, supersonic ramjet missile that would have dropped atomic bombs over the Soviet Union—and poisoned the Russian countryside with radioactive exhaust from its reactor.   While the United States abandoned those projects by the 1960s, Soviet research continued into the 1970s, according to Guest. It is more than possible that Petrel is based on those old nuclear ramjet designs.  The problem isn’t with nuclear power per se. NASA uses Radioisotope Power Systems—fueled by plutonium—for its spacecraft exploring Mars, Saturn, Pluto and the Voyager probes that have journeyed beyond our solar system. Operating so far from the Sun, solar power isn’t an option. Despite some public fears about launching a plutonium device through the atmosphere aboard a rocket, the system has so far worked safely.  But these spacecraft spend almost all of their lives far, far from Earth. Not only are there technical challenges to powering a missile or aircraft with a nuclear reactor (especially if the aircraft is manned), but the Petrel will fly inside the atmosphere.  Nor is it clear why Russia needs a nuclear-powered cruise missile in the first place. Russia claims that because such a weapon has unlimited range, it can evade U.S. missile defenses designed to stop ballistic missiles descending from space rather than low-flying cruise missiles. Yet even if the Petrel was hard to detect and intercept, it would be too slow as a first-strike weapon.   It would be more useful as a retaliatory weapon. But as always with the nuclear Balance of Terror, it would be simpler to just build more ICBMs, armed with multiple warheads, to overwhelm anti-missile defenses. An ICBM can also reach its target within 30 minutes, compared to a cruise missile that would take hours.   Unlike an ICBM, a nuclear-powered cruise missile could potentially stay aloft indefinitely. But over whose territory would the radiation-spewing missile orbit? For how long? And why would anyone want a nuclear missile orbiting over their heads 24/7?  Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.Image: Reuters

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 07:30:00 -0400
  • Argentina Teeters, Protests Rage, Glaciers Melt: Weekend Reads news

    (Bloomberg) -- Want to receive this post in your inbox every day? Sign up for the Balance of Power newsletter, and follow Bloomberg Politics on Twitter and Facebook for more.Argentina is teetering on the edge of an economic abyss while its neighbor Chile is watching its glaciers melt at an alarming rate, and China is massing its troops on the border with Hong Kong.Dive into these and other stories that chronicle the week’s major political events with the latest edition of Weekend Reads. What Life at Center of Chaos Looks Like for Argentine BusinessesAfter two sovereign defaults this century, small business owners in Argentina are well versed in navigating times of crisis. But even they were left floundering by the latest rout. With presidential elections still 10 weeks away, they were left wondering how much worse it can get. Jonathan Gilbert, Jorgelina do Rosario and Patrick Gillespie report.Macron’s Quiet Summer May Turn to Anger as Voters Return to WorkPresident Emmanuel Macron has spent three weeks in the Cote d’Azur, south of France, alternating between the beach and preparing for a delicate G-7 summit on Aug. 24. While Macron himself doesn’t face voters until 2022, Gregory Viscusi reports any turbulence would be an unwelcome backdrop for local elections that are essential for developing his three-year-old party.Xi’s Dilemma: Send Forces Into Hong Kong, or Wait Out ProtestersThere’s signs China is preparing to mobilize mainland forces to quell the weeks-long uprising in Hong Kong. The question now is whether President Xi Jinping will actually do it. The protesters, meanwhile, have raised the stakes with actions to inflict economic pain as they push for leader Carrie Lam’s resignation and other demands to loosen Beijing’s grip on the city.Hong Kong’s Massive Protests Raise Ominous Questions About 2047When the U.K. agreed to return Hong Kong to China, “One country, two systems,” was shorthand for Beijing’s pledge to maintain the city’s character for 50 years — and the possibility that by the time 2047 rolled around, the systems would have converged. But as Matthew Campbell reports, that’s now unlikely.It’s Democracy vs. the Hackers as the 2020 Election ApproachesThe front line to protect the integrity of the U.S. presidential election is in a Springfield strip mall, next to a Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant. As Kartikay Mehrotra and Alyza Sebenius report, it’s there that a couple dozen bureaucrats, programmers, and security experts are working to prevent a replay of 2016, when Russian hackers breached voter registration rolls.Protests Pop Up Across Russia as Putin’s Popularity, Economy DipYevgeny Dubinin had never been to a demonstration before. But he was so angry authorities had refused to register opposition candidates in Moscow’s city council election that he couldn’t sit at home. The protest-arrest cycle represents the biggest public challenge to Vladimir Putin’s two-decade rule since in 2012, Irina Reznik and Ilya Arkhipov write..Where America Flirted With Its Own ChernobylThe Three Mile Island accident four decades ago turned the U.S. against nuclear energy. Now the complex is closing just as some say it still has a role to play, writes Will Wade. Today, nuclear energy is at the center of a complicated debate — while cheap gas has upended the economics of operating reactors, questions about whether to shut one down involve more than the bottom line.Gaza Needs Cement to Rebuild, But Israel Dominates the MarketGaza needs concrete, and lots of it. In the 2014 war, some 11,000 housing units were destroyed, and an additional 160,000 sustained damage — affecting more than a quarter of the families in the territory. As David Rocks and Yaacov Benmeleh write, Israeli-Palestinian politics have hampered the pace of recovery.The Walls Are Closing In on Cyril RamaphosaWhen Cyril Ramaphosa succeeded Jacob Zuma as South Africa’s president, he promised a “new dawn” after nine years of misrule that hobbled the economy. But as Michael Cohen reports, 18 months later, hopes have dissipated that the former labor union leader can orchestrate a turnaround.Modi Has Limited Options to Boost Economy in Locked Down KashmirPrime Minister Narendra Modi says his move to revoke Kashmir’s autonomy is about boosting its economy. But as Archana Chaudhary and Bibhudatta Pradhan report, observers say it will take more than rhetoric to bring investments to a state that’s lost more than 42,000 lives to conflict in the last three decades.And finally … Chile has one of the world’s largest reserves of fresh water outside the north and south poles. But its abundant glaciers are melting fast, with the ice mass now retreating one meter per year, Laura Millan Lombrana reports. The formations also happen to cover some of the massive copper deposits that make Chile the world’s largest producer of the metal — and uncovering those minerals also threatens to hasten the glaciers’ demise. To contact the author of this story: Ruth Pollard in New Delhi at rpollard2@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Kathleen Hunter at khunter9@bloomberg.netFor more articles like this, please visit us at©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 07:23:46 -0400
  • Before Buying Russia's S-400, Turkey Made Sure to Have Spare F-16 Parts On Hand news

    The U.S. has threatened to end Turkey’s participation in the F-35 fighter program by July 31 if Ankara doesn’t scrap the S-400 deal.A Bloomberg report says Turkey has been stockpiling parts for F-16s and other military equipment in anticipation of a U.S. sanction for acquiring the Russian S-400 air defense system.Two anonymous officials from Turkey who spoke to the news outlet refused to clarify on what types of spares were accumulated, how much was acquired and how long they can last.Relations between the two countries deteriorated over the course of the Syrian civil war, when the U.S. armed a Kurdish militia that Turkey views as a terrorist group, and in the aftermath of a 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan that his government blames on a Turkish imam residing in the U.S.NATO member Turkey is determined to acquire ballistic missile technology, and aims to co-produce the next generation of the S-400, the officials added, citing discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Erdogan said his country will take delivery of the S-400 within days.“The first batch of S-400s will be delivered in a week or 10 days,” Haberturk newspaper cited him as saying in a report Monday. “I’ve clearly told this to Trump, Mr. Putin also said it.”The U.S. argues that the pivot to Moscow could allow Russia to collect critical intelligence that would weaken NATO and compromise the American F-35 stealth fighter, which Turkish companies are helping to build. Yet while Congress is drawing up potential sanctions plans that at their harshest would cripple the Turkish economy, U.S. President Donald Trump has cast Turkey as a victim in the saga.At the Group of 20 nations meeting in Japan on Saturday, the U.S. president said Erdogan was treated unfairly by the Obama administration when he sought to buy the U.S. built Patriot air-defense system. While the S-400 deal is “a problem,” the U.S. is “looking at different solutions,” he said.Turkey in fact turned to Russia to address weaknesses in its air defense after failing to persuade the U.S. to share technology from its Patriot air-defense system as part of any acquisition deal.A resolution submitted to the House of Representatives seeking sanctions against Turkey may hold a clue to the focus of Turkey’s parts-buying spree.“In addition to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Turkish defense acquisition programs that could be affected by sanctions include the Patriot air and missile defense system, CH-47F Chinook heavy lift helicopter, UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopter and F-16s,” the resolution says.The U.S. has threatened to end Turkey’s participation in the F-35 fighter program by July 31 if Ankara doesn’t scrap the S-400 deal.If Turkey is excluded from the F-35 program, it will look for alternatives, including Russian Su-57 jets, while trying to develop its own warplanes and ballistic missiles for domestic use and export, the Turkish officials said.If Turkey had to buy the Su-57 it would be the first country (outside Russia) to buy the first Russian stealth fighter after India dropped out of Sukhoi/HAL Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), known in India as the Perspective Multirole Fighter (PMF), which actually was a derivative project of the Sukhoi Su-57.The Sukhoi Su-57 is a stealth, single-seat, twin-engine multirole fifth-generation fighter aircraft designed for air superiority and attack roles. The aircraft is the product of the PAK FA (literally “Prospective Airborne Complex of Frontline Aviation”) program. Sukhoi’s internal designation for the aircraft is T-50.In fact, Russian state media claimed that the Su-57 will feature a maximum speed of 1,600 mph, slightly more than that of the F-22 Raptor, and that its missile range, based on the information available, also exceeds that of the F-22.This first appeared in Aviation Geek Club here. Image: Creative Commons. (This first appeared earlier in July 2019.)

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 06:30:00 -0400
  • The U.S. Navy Let Me Come Aboard Their Deadliest Aircraft Carrier Ever news

    If all goes well, the ship should be operational by 2020. If the current schedule holds, Ford should be able to work up with an air wing and deploy in 2021 or 2022.The United States Navy will commission the first of a new generation of aircraft carriers into service today.The future USS Gerald R. Ford ​(CVN-78) will represent the future of naval aviation and will be the most advanced and capable aircraft carrier ever built.(This first appeared several years ago.)With Ford’s imminent commissioning ceremony coming up later this month, the Navy invited The National Interest to preview the mighty warship and see the new vessel’s technology firsthand on July 10.Recommended: How North Korea Could Start a WarRecommended: This Is What Happens if America Nuked North KoreaRecommended: The Colt Python: The Best Revolver Ever Made?Even at first glance, PCU Gerald R. Ford is an impressive sight even as she was moored pierside at Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia next to older Nimitz-class carriers USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69)—one of America’s oldest flattops, USS George Washington (CVN-73) and USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72).Immediately noticeable is that Gerald R. Ford’s island is not only smaller than that of the Nimitz-class carriers, but that the structure is set further astern by about 140ft and slightly further starboard. Moreover, unlike regular fleet carriers, the brand-new Ford is still in pristine condition and sports a gold-painted anchor—a badge of honor noting that she has an exceptionally high crew retention rate.Entering the massive vessel via one of her three aircraft elevators—Nimitz-class ships have four—into her cavernous hangar bay, Ford’s interior looks similar to that of other carriers. However, whereas the Nimitz-class has three partitions in their hangar bays, the new CVN-78-class has only two in order to simplify maintenance.As we walked into the interior to climb up to the bridge, the air conditioning is immediately noticeable. Ford is able to produce 9,900 tons of air conditioning—which not only makes for a more productive crew but should reduce maintenance requirements for new vessels because of reduced humidity. Indeed, the key tenant of the entire CVN-78-class is improved maintainability and efficiency. Unlike previous carriers, Ford is projected to enter drydock only once every 12 years.Climbing up into Ford’s bridge, the systems are far more advanced than anything else in the Navy’s fleet other than the new Zumwalt-class guided missile destroyers. All of the controls and navigational systems are completely digital and use touch-screen interfaces. The only concession to the past is a metal wheel connected to an electronic steering and transmission system—though the ship does have backup systems.The entire ship features far greater automation—with far greater reliance on electrical and electronic systems—than any other carrier in the fleet. To power her systems and to meet future growth requirements, Ford’s twin nuclear reactors are almost three times more powerful than the ones onboard the Nimitz-class—generating 250 percent more electricity. Indeed, sister PCU John F. Kennedy (CVN-79)—currently under construction—will adopt electrically-powered elevators, further reducing the need for hydraulic systems.Primary flight control—which is a few more decks up on the island—is similarly high-tech, but aside from a few modifications to the firefighting system—the setup is very similar to the Nimitz-class according to Lt. Commander Jon Biehl, Ford’s mini-boss (deputy air boss) and Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet pilot. Biehl said he is very confident in the new carrier’s systems though the ship has yet to be tested in launching and recovering real aircraft.“Very confident, it’s proven to be successful,” Biehl said.Several decks down in Flight-deck Control, I was surprised to see a traditional “Ouija board,” which visually indicates the position and status of aircraft on the ship’s flight deck using scaled aircraft templates and various pins and washers. Ford has automated systems that track the location and status of the ship’s aircraft, but the crew setup the Ouija board as a manual backup—and for the sake of tradition.“We kept the Ouija board for guys just like you that come into flight deck control and it’s just not flight deck control if the Ouija board is not here,” Lt. Commander Jamie Roman, Ford’s aircraft handling officer told me.“This was not part of the ship’s design, this was taken out because we have a system that will track the aircraft called ADMACS [Aviation Data Management and Control System.”   Our next stop was the flight-deck, which we reached via the hangar bay via one of Ford’s three aircraft elevators. Ford’s rearranged and reconfigured flight deck—which is 1,106ft long and somewhat wider than the Nimitz-class’—visibly looks and feels considerably larger than that of previous generation aircraft carriers.Underneath, the massive steel deck, Ford is equipped with four Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch Systems (EMALS) and an Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) which are replacing their steam and hydraulically driven equivalents onboard the Nimitz-class (and which allows for unrestricted operation of the 4 catapult). The ship also features 40 refueling stations and a revised configuration for her weapons elevators. The ship could achieve between 25 and 33 percent greater sortie generation rates than her predecessors once she has been fully tested according to Navy projections.Capt. Brent Gaut, Ford’s executive officer, said that the next steps for the ship and her crew after commissioning will be to move into the test and evaluation phase. By the end of July, the ship is expected to set sail for a 10 to 12-day shakedown period where the crew will begin to test all of Ford’s systems including the EMALS and AAG. If all goes well, the ship will be certified to launch and recover aircraft by the end of September or early October.“The systems I think, in theory, are just phenomenal and designed to perform a certain way,” Gault said.“And now the challenge is to be able to go out and make sure they are able to meet the mark and they allow us to do what we need to do, which is put the ship in harm’s way and go out and fight the fight. So we need to make sure we get there first.”Capt. Rick McCormack, Ford’s commanding officer, said that the ship has already tested the EMALS and AAG with dead loads, and as such, he is very confident that the systems will work as advertised. Indeed, both systems have proven themselves in testing, but the Navy has to be certain that they meet operational standards at sea.“I’m very very confident that the EMALS will do everything we need it to,” McCormack said.“But bottom line, that’s why we’re here. We’re here to test and evaluate these systems.”As McCormack explained, the Navy will use the post-commissioning shakedown to test all of the new systems onboard Ford to identify any deficiencies or fixes that might need to be made. Ford will then move into a post-shakedown availability where the shipyard will make any needed corrections and install certain critical components onboard the ship that have yet to be installed. One such system is Ford’s Dual Band Radar, McCormack said, where there is still ongoing work that must be completed.Subsequently, the ship will then go out to sea for another shakedown cruise to ensure that all of the corrections and new systems work properly, McCormack said. If all goes well, the ship should be operational by 2020. If the current schedule holds, Ford should be able to work up with an air wing and deploy in 2021 or 2022.“All this stuff takes time, so in an ideal world—where everything works right the first time—we go out there and everything works great, you’re on timeline,” McCormack said.“If you go out there, and it doesn’t work quite right and you have to redesign—or there’s something they can do so that it works a little better—that takes time.”Early signs are promising.Ford seems to be delivering on the promise of a more efficient carrier that will take naval aviation into the future. Ford—which is based on the Nimitz-class hull form—restores weight and stability margins by reconfiguring the ship’s interior, though she displaces roughly 100,000-tons just like the CVN-68 class (Indeed, one officer noted that while a sea, Ford is much more sporty than the Nimitz thanks to her prodigious horsepower and reconfigured interiors). But more importantly, Ford adds improved survivability measures while reducing manning and maintenance requirements. If all of Navy’s projections are realized, the service will save $4 billion in total ownership costs over the life of the ship.For operators like McCormack—a career Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet pilot—they just want to take the ship out and launch jets. Indeed, McCormack said that he wants to be among the first aviators to “trap” onboard Ford.“As an operator, I just want to go to sea,” McCormack said.“I want to launch airplanes and catch them and hopefully get a launch and an arrestment myself in a Super Hornet.”

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 06:20:00 -0400
  • Communists Rally in Moscow as Opposition Takes Weekend Off

    (Bloomberg) -- The Russian Communist Party held a rally in central Moscow calling for honest and fair city council elections as the newly energized opposition planned to skip mass protests this weekend for the first time in five weeks.The rally started at noon Moscow time at Sakharov Avenue, the traditional spot for demonstrations, and senior party officials, politicians and State Duma members were scheduled to take part. About 4,000 people gathered during the first hour, according to Moscow police.This weekend marks a lull in protests over the refusal to put opposition candidates on the ballot for city council elections, which sparked the biggest wave of unrest in the capital since 2011-2012. Last Saturday, as many as 60,000 people attended a demonstration in central Moscow to demand the excluded politicians be allowed to run, while over 2,000 people have been detained by riot police in recent weeks for participating in unsanctioned gatherings.Attempts to get a permit to hold an opposition demonstration this Saturday were denied by city authorities, Andrei Morev, a local politician and member of the liberal Yabloko party, wrote on Facebook Thursday. He called instead for a series of individual street protests, a form of opposition that is legal.The opposition plans to return to the streets next week en masse. While the city denied a permit for a rally in the center on Aug. 24, it authorized a meeting at the edge of Moscow in a working class neighborhood filled with Soviet-era residential towers. The protests have continued despite the arrests of many of the opposition politicians on charges of organizing unsanctioned protests. Opposition leader Alexey Navalny is serving 30 days in prison for urging supporters to join an unauthorized action last month.The Communists are one of four parties in Russia’s lower house of parliament but have seen their power wane since President Vladimir Putin was first elected in 2000. They currently hold less than 10% of seats in the chamber.Just 11% of Russians said they would vote for the Communists in parliamentary elections, according to a recent survey by the Levada Center. The low level of support comes despite the ruling United Russia party losing popularity after it pushed through unpopular pension reforms last year, according to a July 18-24 survey of 1,605 people.To contact the reporters on this story: Jake Rudnitsky in Moscow at;Yuliya Fedorinova in Moscow at yfedorinova@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Torrey Clark at, Guy CollinsFor more articles like this, please visit us at©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 06:16:45 -0400
  • Meet the Journalist Who Exposed the Jeffrey Epsteins of Victorian London news

    Wealthy men soliciting underage girls for sex. Girls lured to expensive homes by promises of good-paying jobs. Captains of commerce and heads of state reveling in debauchery. Officials looking the other way.A newspaper exposé written by British journalist W.T. Stead, “The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon” sounds just like the sordid sex ring of Jeffrey Epstein, who died of an apparent suicide in prison on Aug. 10.The difference is that Stead’s account appeared over a century ago, in London’s Pall Mall Gazette in the summer of 1885.In the four-part series, investigative journalist W.T. Stead graphically detailed the ways that wealthy Victorian men procured young girls for sex. Ironically, Stead was the only one who ended up in jail.Lured by the Promise of a Better LifeOn July 6, 1885, the first article in Stead’s exposé was published. Stead revealed how thousands of girls, most of whom were between 13 and 15 years old, were bought for sex by prominent London men, including a “well-known member of Parliament,” a cabinet minister, a doctor and a clergyman who obtained a 12-year old virgin for £20.As soon as it hit London’s newsstands, the story went viral. Stead already had a reputation as a fearless editor who advocated “Governmentby Journalism” and didn’t shy from sensationalism. The Gazette’s reporting was front-page news in the U.S., with The New York Times covering the scandal and the reaction by Englishauthorities.Instead of working to swiftly shut down the illicit sex trade and identify those involved, London’s city solicitor ordered police to seize copies of the Gazette and to arrest vendors for selling copies of the paper. Despite – or because of – the attempted censorship, copies sold well above their cover price. Thousands waited outside newspaper offices for their chance to buy each new installment.Those who could get their hands on a copy learned about how women recruited young girls, and how the authorities who knew about it failed to intervene.Stead interviewed women who explained how they enticed girls to enter the homes of wealthy men with promises of meals, money and jobs. Looking out for “pretty girls who are poor,” brothel keepers and professional procurers recruited orphans, shop girls, servants and nursemaids to “visit” gentlemen.“The police knew all about them long ago,” Stead added, noting that officers were discouraged from pursuing leads, while prosecutors intimidated potential witnesses.Stead interviewed some of the men who paid for the girls. They assured him that the maidens willingly – sometimes eagerly – consented. As the member of Parliament told Stead, “I doubt the unwillingness of these virgins … it is nonsense to say it is rape.”The victimized girls told a different story: They were lured with the promise of a better life. They had no idea that the employment agencies they used were actually fronts for prostitution.Once the girls consented to go into the gentleman’s house, there was no going back. According to Stead, those who resisted were told that they could choose either to be raped and paid, or raped “and then turned into the streets without a penny.”Powerful Predators Remain in the ShadowsThe “maiden tribute” in the series’ title was a reference to the Greek myth in which virgins were sacrificed to theminotaur of Crete, the half-man, half-bull so brutal that a labyrinth was built to contain him. But Stead points out that, unlike the mythic narrative, which required the sacrifice of seven virgins every nine years, modern London was witnessing an exponential number of girls being sacrificed each day.The abuse wouldn’t stop, Stead insisted, until people started believing the girls.“When a woman is outraged,” he wrote, “her sworn testimony weighs nothing against the lightest word of the man who perpetrated the crime.”The Victorian men in Stead’s account were never publicly named. Nor did they ever face criminal prosecution. As a journalist, Stead refused to reveal his sources. And once public attention waned, officials declined to pursue Stead’s leads.In an ironic twist, Stead himself served three months in prison for abduction. In order to prove how easy it was, he had a procurer deliver a 13-year-old girl named Eliza Armstrong to him. Even though it was done for the sake of his reporting, the authorities pounced.Stead’s reporting did have one desired effect: It mobilized support for a parliamentary bill that raised the age of consent for girls from 13 to 16. But none of the women who recruited the girls and none of the men who sexually molested them were held accountable.Different Century, Same Story?In some ways, the parallels between the men of Victorian London and Epstein are striking.Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s one-time girlfriend, allegedly acted as Epstein’s procurer. According to The New York Times, one of Epstein’s victims, Virginia Giuffre, fingered Maxwell as the one who approached her and invited her to Epstein’s home, promising that she could learn how to give massages and “earn a lot of money.” Maxwell has also settled several civil suits with Epstein accusers who named her as his accomplice. Too often, it seems the law serves the interests of powerful men. We saw this in Epstein’s 2007 non-prosecution agreement proffered byAlexander Acosta, who was, at the time, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida.As the Sentencing Project noted in a 2018 report submitted to the United Nations, “The United States in effect operates two distinct criminal justice systems: one for wealthy people and another for poor people and people of color.” Epstein emerged relatively unscathed during his first brush with the law. Rarely do the authorities haul the same powerful men before the courts a second time, as they did with Epstein.We can thank the dogged reporting of journalists, who, over the past few years, have been exposing patterns of male sexual abuse, making sure to keep the story in the public eye until justice is served. Ronan Farrow’s Pulitzer Prize-winning New Yorker articles exposing Harvey Weinstein’s decades of predation and his articles detailing Les Moonves’ sexual harrassment played a big role in holding both powerful men to account.Julie Brown and Emily Michot of the Miami Herald revealed the secret Acosta deal and uncovered more than 80 of Epstein’s alleged victims. Due in part to their reporting, Epstein was indicted in July.With the continued persistence of journalists, victims and the public, perhaps the labyrinths that shield the other minotaurs in our midst will be permanently razed.This story first appeared in The Conversation on August 12.Image: Reuters

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 05:34:00 -0400
  • US issues warrant to seize Iranian tanker in last-ditch effort to stop supertanker leaving Gibraltar news

    The United States has issued a warrant to seize an Iranian oil tanker caught in the standoff between Tehran and the West in a last ditch effort to prevent the vessel from leaving Gibraltar. The Grace 1 was seized by British Royal Marines at the western mouth of the Mediterranean on July 4 on suspicion of violating European Union sanctions by taking oil to Syria. Gibraltar lifted the detention order on Thursday after the British territory's chief minister said he had secured written assurances from Tehran that the cargo would not go to Syria. But with the vessel and its 2.1 million barrels of oil free to leave, the United States launched a separate legal appeal to impound the ship on the grounds that it had links to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which it designates as a terrorist organization. A federal court in Washington issued a warrant to seize the tanker, the oil it carries and nearly $1 million. "A network of front companies allegedly laundered millions of dollars in support of such shipments," the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Jessie Liu, said in a news release. "The scheme involves multiple parties affiliated with the IRGC and furthered by the deceptive voyages of the Grace 1." The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how the warrant, which was addressed to "the United States Marshal's Service and/or any other duly authorized law enforcement officer," may be enforced. The Pentagon declined to comment, as did the British Foreign Office. Asked on Friday about the U.S. intervention, Gibraltar's chief minister, Fabian Picardo, said that would be subject to the jurisdiction of Gibraltar's Supreme Court. "It could go back to the court absolutely." The Gibraltar Chronicle newspaper reported that the vessel was unlikely to sail before Sunday, citing an unnamed source who added that it was waiting for six new crew members including a captain to arrive. The Grace 1 had its name erased and it was no longer flying a Panama flag. Iranian state television had quoted Jalil Eslami, deputy head of the country's Ports and Maritime Organisation, as saying the tanker would depart for the Mediterranean after being reflagged under the Iranian flag and renamed Adrian Darya.

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 05:33:58 -0400
  • North Korea vs. America's Mach 3 SR-71 Spy Plane (Who Wins?) news

    No SR-71 has ever been lost or damaged due to hostile action. The aircraft was extremely difficult for enemy radars to find. Featuring the original stealth technology, the SR-71’s leading edges and vertical rudders were composite construction. Being made from a mixture of asbestos and epoxy provided high temperature resistance and radar absorbent characteristics to reduce the radar cross section (RCS).​The SR-71, unofficially known as the “Blackbird,” was a long-range, advanced, strategic reconnaissance aircraft developed from the Lockheed A-12 and YF-12A aircraft. The first flight of an SR-71 took place on Dec. 22, 1964, and the first SR-71 to enter service was delivered to the 4200th (later 9th) Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., in January 1966.Its incredible speed enabled it to gather intelligence in a matter of a few seconds while streaking across unfriendly skies. From 80,000 feet, it could survey 100,000 square miles of Earth’s surface per hour.No SR-71 has ever been lost or damaged due to hostile action. The aircraft was extremely difficult for enemy radars to find. Featuring the original stealth technology, the SR-71’s leading edges and vertical rudders were composite construction. Being made from a mixture of asbestos and epoxy provided high temperature resistance and radar absorbent characteristics to reduce the radar cross section (RCS).As former Blackbird driver Col. Richard H. Graham, USAF (Ret.), explains in his book The Complete Book of the SR-71 Blackbird: The Illustrated Profile of Every Aircraft, Crew, and Breakthrough of the World’s Fastest Stealth Jet, an antiradar coating with iron ferrites was also used on the leading edges as well, lowering the RCS further. In effect, the SR-71 became the first stealth airplane. Ben Rich, head of the Lockheed Skunk Works from 1975-1991, says in his book Skunk Works that the shape of the SR-71 reduces the RCS by 65 percent, and the iron ferrite radar absorbing coating reduced it by a further 35 percent. At cruise speed and altitude, the RCS of the SR-71 represented a target of less than ten square meters. For comparison purposes, the RCS of an F-15 fighter is somewhere around one hundred square meters. Even if the SR-71 could be found on radar, its detection was so late that there was simply not enough time for a missile to lock onto it for a successful kill.The only published and U.S. government-acknowledged missile firing at an SR-71 occurred on Wednesday Aug. 26, 1981. SR-71 pilot Maj. Maury Rosenberg and Reconnaissance System Officer (RSO) Maj. E. D. McKim were making their final pass on the DMZ, heading southwest, when North Korea fired two Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) at their aircraft. Major McKim was the first to notice anything out of the ordinary by his DEF system [the Defensive Electronic systems that were designed to jam or spoof any radar or SAM system as necessary and were carried in SR-71’s chine bays] automatically jamming the missile’s guidance system and lighting up his cockpit displays. After he informed Major Rosenberg of his DEF indications, he looked out to the right just in time to see the missiles scream by. The incident caused quite an uproar in the press, and crews became much more cautious in future passes through the Korean DMZ.At the time North Korea denied American charges that its forces fired SAMs at the SR-71.As Henry Scott Stokes reported for the New York Times on Aug. 29, 1981 “North Korea said nothing about whether such an attack had been made in what it defines as its own airspace. Issuing its first direct statement on the incident, the official North Korean press agency charged that the SR-71 had violated ‘the territorial air of the northern half of our republic,’ meaning North Korea […].“Since 1977, however, North Korea has maintained that its military borders extend 50 miles to sea from its eastern and western coasts. It describes its territorial limit as 12 miles from shore. The United States officially recognizes a limit of only 3 miles.“The North Korean statement charged that the SR-71 mission was part of ‘maneuvers to aggravate tension and start a new war in Korea.’ It accused the United States of fabricating a story about a missile attack and of ‘groundlessly slandering’ North Korea.Stokes continues: “North Korea’s denial came in sentence in which the Pentagon’s term ‘international airspace’ was rendered as ‘above high seas.’ ‘According to foreign reports,’ the statement said, ‘the U.S. Defense Department announced on Aug. 26 that the high-altitude reconnaissance plane of the U.S. Air Force, SR-71, seemed to be attacked by a North Korean missile above high seas, groundlessly slandering us.’ ”“The Pentagon announcement on Wednesday did not directly accuse the North Koreans of shooting at the plane as it flew in ‘South Korean and international airspace.’ It said, ‘If a missile was launched, it could have originated from any one of a number of missile sites in North Korea.’“But Dean Fischer, the State Department spokesman, said yesterday that the United States had been able to confirm that North Korean forces ‘fired a missile at a U.S. Air Force plane flying in South Korean and international airspace’ in a routine mission similar to those conducted in the region for years.“On Aug. 14, North Korea complained that SR-71’s had intruded into North Korean airspace eight times this month. ‘The flight patterns are only over South Korea and international airspace,’ an American military official said at the time. ‘They don’t go over North Korea.’“A United States military spokesman said in Seoul today that North Korea had objected to an American proposal for a special meeting of the Korean Military Armistice Commission at Panmunjom tomorrow to discuss the plane incident. He said North Korea had proposed that it be held Sept. 5.”Stokes concludes: “The incident came a week after two American F-14’s shot down two Soviet-built Libyan Su-22’s during maneuvers in the Gulf of Sidra off Libya. That case also involved disputed territorial limits.”Noteworthy there haven been reports of more than one thousand SAMs fired at the SR-71, but in his book, Rich says the number is closer to one hundred. According Graham this number is more accurate.This article by Dario Leone originally appeared on The Aviation Geek Club in 2018.Image: DVIDS.This was first published last month.

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 05:33:00 -0400
  • Huawei denies helping governments of Uganda and Zambia spy on political opponents news

    Huawei Technologies sent a letter to The Wall Street Journal on Friday, refuting the publication's bombshell report describing how China's tech giant allegedly helped the governments of two African nations spy on their political opponents.Uganda and Zambia, the two governments mentioned in the article, also denied that Huawei employees had helped them conduct espionage.The Journal's article on Wednesday said that Huawei employees in the two African countries were involved with government cybersecurity forces in helping intercept communications and tracking opponents' social media activity and physical movements.In the letter, Huawei lawyer Steven Friedman said "the article is neither a fair nor a responsible representation of Huawei's legitimate business activities in these countries.""The publication of these false statements has and will continue to damage Huawei's reputation and business interests across the globe," he wrote.The Journal also reported that Huawei technicians helped Zambian authorities spy on opposition bloggers running a news site critical of President Edgar Lungu.Dora Siliya, a Zambian government spokeswoman, criticised the news report in a tweet on Friday."The WSJ article on government spying on political opponents is malicious, we refute it with the contempt it deserves," she wrote.Ugandan musician turned politician Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, on July 24. Photo: Reuters alt=Ugandan musician turned politician Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, on July 24. Photo: ReutersUganda also denied the allegations, other news outlets reported on Friday. According to The Wall Street Journal, Huawei employees helped Ugandan authorities use spyware to disrupt the concerts of Bobi Wine, a popular musician who is now a member of parliament.Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, is preparing for a presidential run in 2021 to challenge President Yoweri Museveni."It is totally false to claim Huawei helped African governments among them Uganda spy on its political opponents," Ugandan presidential spokesman Don Wanyama told Agence France-Presse. "Why spy on Bobi Wine?"Huawei, the world's second-largest smartphone maker and a leading 5G technology developer, has been in the spotlight since the US-China trade war began more than a year ago.The company's development of next-generation wireless communications has made it a crucial player in China as the country attempts to achieve global dominance in critical technologies.Huawei is caught in the cross hairs as the Trump administration pressures China to rein in forced technology transfers and what the US considers intellectual property theft.In May, Huawei was put on US government's Entity List, effectively prohibiting US tech companies from selling it components. A temporary export license that allows legacy sales to Huawei expires on Monday, by which time the White House will have to announce a new rule that will either extend or suspend sales.The US fears that Huawei can be compelled by Beijing to hand over critical technologies and information that would harm American tech leadership and threaten national security.Huawei is also accused of defrauding HSBC and other banks by misrepresenting its relationship with a suspected front company, Skycom Tech, in Iran.This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2019 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved. Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 05:30:00 -0400
  • Senior UK Conservative lawmaker says he could not back Corbyn-led government

    A Conservative lawmaker at the centre of efforts to block a no-deal Brexit said on Saturday he was pessimistic about his chances because he and other party colleagues could not support a caretaker government led by opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn. With Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowing to take Britain out of the European Union with or without a deal by Oct. 31, anti-Brexit politicians from all sides have been trying, and so far failing, to agree on a plan to stop it from happening. Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, wants a caretaker government with himself as head, and then an election.

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 05:24:41 -0400
  • US issues warrant to seize Iranian oil tanker news

    The US justice department has issued a warrant for the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker, a day after a Gibraltar judge allowed the release of the detained vessel.The Grace 1 supertanker was held by British Royal Marines in July on suspicion of illegally transporting oil to Syria.Authorities in the US claim they can seize the ship and the 2.1m barrels of oil it is carrying over alleged violations of terrorism statutes and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. But officials in Gibraltar have already allowed the Grace 1 to leave.Two weeks after the vessel was detained, Iran seized the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz in apparent retaliation.A last-minute legal attempt by the US to keep the Grace 1 detained was rejected by Gibraltar on Thursday.The following day, the US federal court issued a warrant calling for the tanker and oil on board to be seized.The warrant was issued by the US district court for the District of Columbia and addressed to “the United States Marshal’s Service and/or any other duly authorised law enforcement officer”.It has also ordered the seizure of $995,000 from an account at an unnamed US bank linked to Paradise Global Trading LLC, an Iranian company."A network of front companies allegedly laundered millions of dollars in support of such shipments," federal prosecutor Jessie Liu said in a statement.She added the parties involved were linked with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the US regards as a foreign terrorist organisation.Gibraltar's chief minister, Fabian Picardo, said the warrant would be subject to the jurisdiction of Gibraltar's Supreme Court.The Grace 1 shifted its position on Friday, but its anchor was still down and it was unclear if it was ready to set sail soon. The ship had its name removed and was no longer flying a Panama flag.The Gibraltar Chronicle reported that the Grace 1 was unlikely to sail before Sunday, citing an unnamed source who added that it was waiting for six new crew members including a captain to arrive.It is to be renamed and will fly an Iranian flag for its onward journey, the deputy head of Iran’s ports and maritime organisation, Jalil Eslami, told Iranian state television on Friday.Additional reporting by agencies

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 04:20:48 -0400
  • The Ultimate Iran Nightmare: Not a War with America, But a Civil War news

    Less than a month later, Iranian security forces suffered another devastating attack at the Mirjaveh border post, the main border crossing between Iran and Pakistan. In that attack, insurgents or terrorists somehow surprised and kidnapped a dozen Iranian servicemen inside an Iranian base. On November 22, 2018, Pakistani forces returned five of the hostages, but the fate of the others remains unknown. The Iranian investigation suggests that the attack on the Mirjaveh post was, in part, an inside job. Clearly, security around the periphery of Iran is beginning to fray.It was an unseasonably warm morning, in northwestern Iran, although a fresh snow blanketed the mountains. Civil unrest had persisted in the area for years amidst the backdrop of war and regional unrest. Crowds gathered in the Mahabad town square. They did not have to wait long. Qazi Muhammad, the founder of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran, ascended a platform and delivered a fifteen-minute speech declaring the Kurds a people apart and sharing the right to self-determination with other nations. When he concluded, 300 supporters each fired five rounds into the air to mark the occasion. On that day, the Iranian central government was nowhere to be seen. Its problems were vast, and its army was riven by defection. At any rate, the Iranian leadership was far more concerned about preserving security and stability in Tehran and defending against external threats than sending its forces to restore order in the countryside.The anecdote above, of course, refers to the January 22, 1946 declaration of the Mahabad Republic, an entity that continued for nearly a year before the Iranian Army was able to restore Tehran’s control over the region. But, in Iran’s recent history, it is a story that repeated a half dozen times in the twentieth century. And, such separatist outbursts and insurgencies are a scenario that will likely repeat in the aftermath of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s eventual demise.A History of Unrest:But back to the history: In the first decade of the twentieth century, Edward Granville Browne, a British scholar of the Middle East and freelance correspondent for British newspapers, chronicled the uprisings against the Iranian monarchy’s autocratic excesses in The Persian Revolution. In that episode, Tabriz—at the time, Iran’s second largest city—became the epicenter for the revolutionary movement. The shah in Tehran effectively lost control over the city and unsuccessfully sought to starve it into submission.Then, in 1920, after five years of intermittent insurgency that was born of widespread dissatisfaction with Iran’s still corrupt, dictatorial and arbitrary leadership, for example, Mirza Kuchek Khan declared the Soviet Republic of Gilan along the Western portion of Iran’s Caspian coast.Four years later—and one year before the ultimate collapse of the Qajar dynasty—it was Khuzistan, a predominantly Arab province inside Iran, which became the scene of separatist rebellion against the central state. Sheikh Khazal of Muhammarah—a city known today as Khorramshahr—rose up in defiance of the Iranian monarchy. His rebellion lasted two months before the Iranian state could put it down. Khazal’s grandson today lives in the United Arab Emirates and remains committed to his grandfather’s goals and legacy.Against the backdrop of the chaos of World War II and its aftermath, not only the Kurds rose up, but so too did some Iranian Azerbaijanis (who, like the Kurds, received Soviet support). At the time of the Islamic Revolution, the Kurds again rose up against the central government; that low-key rebellion was put down brutally. Iran’s southeastern Baluchistan region, too, has been the scene not only of a low-level insurgency for decades, but also rampant criminality brought on by the Afghan drug trade. That the Islamic Republic discriminates against the native Baluch not only in terms of their ethnicity but also because they are Sunni in a sectarian Shia state adds fuel to the fire. So too does Baluchistan’s brief flirtation with independence.Iranian Border Security is Collapsing:Simply put, in Iran, the past is prologue. When the state is weak or governments collapse, restive minorities along the periphery rebel. There are ample signs that Iranian security forces are beginning to lose their grip. Not only do the economic protests which began nearly a year ago continue sporadically, but in recent months, terrorists and insurgents have grown increasingly bold along Iran’s periphery.Consider Ahvaz, the largest city in the oil-rich Khuzistan province, and Iran’s eighth-largest city overall. On September 22, 2018, gunmen attacked a military parade, killing twenty-five. It was the deadliest attack inside Iran since terrorists a Shia procession in the southern city of Chabahar in 2010, killing more than thirty. The subsequent Iranian investigation blamed a cell of forty terrorists, twenty-two of whom have reportedly already been executed. Iranian authorities might pat themselves for quick justice, but they might instead consider how it was that such a large cell could operate undetected for so long and how multiple gunmen could infiltrate a high-security area and kill so effectively. While some killed at the parade were innocent bystanders, if the soldiers and Revolutionary Guardsmen slaughtered were unarmed, then that would indicate how little trust Iran’s regime has in the loyalty of its forces.Less than a month later, Iranian security forces suffered another devastating attack at the Mirjaveh border post, the main border crossing between Iran and Pakistan. In that attack, insurgents or terrorists somehow surprised and kidnapped a dozen Iranian servicemen inside an Iranian base. On November 22, 2018, Pakistani forces returned five of the hostages, but the fate of the others remains unknown. The Iranian investigation suggests that the attack on the Mirjaveh post was, in part, an inside job. Clearly, security around the periphery of Iran is beginning to fray.Meanwhile, Iranian Kurdistan remains the site of continued insurgency and unrest. This summer, ten Revolutionary Guardsmen succumbed in a single attack. Clashes in the region are frequent, and only regime repression keeps the region from outright rebellion. That the Iranian government has been forced to report on such incidents rather than bury them is a testament to the fact that the challenge can no longer be denied, even in Tehran.Those new to Iran policy who look at its demography and see its sheer ethnic diversity often propose playing “the ethnic card” to support some of these separatist movements. This would be a huge mistake. The sense of Iran as a nation predates the notion of states organized around ethnicity. When, in the past, foreigners have sought to incite ethnic unrest, they only caused Iranians of all types to rally around the flag, no matter how odious the government. Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s 1980 invasion of Iran probably saved the Islamic Revolution which was already starting to spin out of control. Fortunately—and despite Iranian propaganda to the contrary—neither the United States nor any other power has supported separatist movements in Iran in the post-revolutionary-era.Post-Khamenei Security Challenges:But, as Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s health waivers and he approaches his final months or years, the central government’s control over the periphery appears increasingly weak. The vacuum which will follow his death will likely mean a number of simultaneous and indigenous uprisings. And, while the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) will remain on paper a formidable force, with the regime’s leadership vacant and its commander-in-chief functions absent, it will likely be faced with simultaneous indigenous uprisings and insurgencies in Khuzistan, Kurdistan and Baluchistan. It is unclear, however, how effective the IRGC could be.The U.S. intelligence community has two major blind spots with regard to the IRGC. The first is its factional divisions. While all acknowledge the IRGC is not homogenous—some men only join for the privileges—there is little understanding about who or how many within the organization represent the true ideologues. The second concerns individual units. In 2007, Mohammad Ali Jafari, the current head of the IRGC, reorganized the Guards to put a single unit in each province (and two in Tehran) with the aim of keeping order. It is unknown, however, whether each provincial IRGC unit is composed of men native to the province in which they serve. The answer to that question would indicate whether ideology trumps loyalty when servicemen are given the order to fire into a crowd which might include family, friends or schoolmates. When Khamenei dies, it is likely that those whose hearts are not in the regime’s revolutionary ideology will just go home, moves which will only further encourage Kurdish, Baluchi and, perhaps, Arab insurgency. Even if the IRGC remains largely loyal, its hands will be full securing Iran’s major cities—Tehran, Mashhad, Isfahan and Tabriz—as well as Iran’s oil infrastructure. Insurgents and local councils will fill the vacuum. Some may declare independence; others will likely cloak their movements in talk of federalism.In the 1920s, mid-1940s and at the time of the Islamic Revolution, it took the Iranian regime months and, in some cases, years to restore order to the periphery. And it took officers willing to shed previous constraints and precedents to pacify the countryside. It was Reza Khan, a Cossack officer, for example, whose success putting down rebellions catapulted him first into a military hero and then, in 1925, the shah. Unclear is whether any Iranian leader in lies in wait among the middle-ranks of the Iranian Army or IRGC or, if not, what the response in Tehran, the region and the broader world would be to state collapse and fracturing. If history is any guide, the world may not have to wait too long to find out.Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 04:10:00 -0400
  • Why the Air Force Gave Up on the SR-71 (The Fastest Plane Ever) news

    Said the former astronaut, “The termination of the SR-71 was a grave mistake and could place our nation at a serious disadvantage in the event of a future crisis. Yesterday’s historic transcontinental flight was a sad memorial to our short-sighted policy in strategic aerial reconnaissance.”​The SR-71, unofficially known as the Blackbird, was a long-range, advanced strategic reconnaissance aircraft developed from the Lockheed A-12 and YF-12A aircraft. The first flight of an SR-71 took place on Dec. 22, 1964, and the first SR-71 to enter service was delivered to the 4200th (later 9th) Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., in January 1966.No SR-71 has ever been lost or damaged due to hostile action: in fact its incredible speed enabled it to gather intelligence in a matter of a few seconds while streaking across unfriendly skies. From 80,000 feet, it could survey 100,000 square miles of Earth’s surface per hour.Despite the aircraft’s incredible flight characteristics, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) retired its fleet of SR-71s on Jan. 26, 1990, because of a decreasing defense budget, high costs of operation and availability of sophisticated spy satellites.“General Larry Welch, the Air Force chief of staff, staged a one-man campaign on Capitol  Hill to kill the program entirely,” Ben Rich wrote in his book Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years of Lockheed. “General Welch thought sophisticated spy satellites made the SR-71 a disposable luxury. Welch had headed the Strategic Air Command and was partial to its priorities. He wanted to use SR-71 refurbishment funding for development of the B-2 bomber. He was quoted by columnist Rowland Evans as saying, ‘The Blackbird can’t fire a gun and doesn’t carry a bomb, and I don’t want it.’ Then the general went on the Hill and claimed to certain powerful committee chairmen that he could operate a wing of fifteen to twenty [F-15E] fighter-bombers with what it cost him to fly a single SR-71.That claim was bogus. So were claims by SAC generals that the SR-71 cost $400 million annually to run. The actual cost was about $260 million.”Both Welch and SAC commander General John Chain testified before Congress that the SR-71 should go, and so it did.As Rich so aptly reflected, “a general would always prefer commanding a large fleet of conventional fighters or bombers that provides high visibility and glory. By contrast, buying into Blackbird would mean deep secrecy, small numbers, and no limelight.”Blackbird operations, except training flights, were officially terminated in November 1989, having been eliminated from the FY1990 Defense Department budget.On Mar. 6, 1990, one Blackbird famously set a series of world speed records on its ‘retirement flight.’ The SR-71 with tail number 64-17972 was flown from California to the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum (NASM) Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport, where it would eventually go on display. In the process, it set the official National Aeronautic Association coast-to-coast speed record of 2,086 miles in one hour and seven minutes, averaging 2,124.5 mph. It made the 311-mile St. Louis-to-Cincinnati leg in less than nine minutes, averaging 2,176.08 mph.As told by Bill Yenne in his book Area 51 Black Jets, within a few months of this much-publicized flight, Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army had occupied Kuwait and the U.S. was involved in the Desert Shield buildup that culminated in Operation Desert Storm in January and February 1991. During that conflict, many operational commanders, including General Norman Schwarzkopf, lamented the absence of expedited reconnaissance that the SR-71 might have contributed.Mounting concerns about the situations in world trouble spots from the Middle East to North Korea led Congress to reconsider the reactivation of the SR-71. In 1993, Admiral Richard Macke, director of the joint staff for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress that “from the operator’s perspective, what I need is something that will not give me just a spot in time but will give me a track of what is happening. When we are trying to find out if the Serbs are taking arms, moving tanks or artillery into Bosnia, we can get a picture of them stacked up on the Serbian side of the bridge. We do not know whether they then went on to move across that bridge. We need the [reconnaissance information] that a tactical, an SR-71, a U-2, or an unmanned vehicle of some sort, will give us, in addition to, not in replacement of, the ability of the satellites to go around and check not only that spot but a lot of other spots around the world for us. It is the integration of strategic and tactical.”In its FY1994 appropriations, Congress authorized a reinstatement of funding to permit a revival of part of the SR-71 fleet. By that time, many of the twenty surviving SR-71s were being prepped for museum displays, but at least a half dozen were in storage at Palmdale or flying research missions with NASA.The USAF moved too slowly on the path to SR-71 reactivation, and in October 1997, using a line-item veto, President Bill Clinton deleted the funding. The Blackbird was permanently grounded by the US Air Force in 1998, leaving just two at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB.One of the last NASA missions for the SR-71 was the Linear Aerospike SR-71 Experiment (LASRE) series conducted in 1997 and 1998. The object was to study aerodynamic performance of lifting bodies combined with aerospike engines such as would have been used in the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works X-33, the demonstrator for the conceptual VentureStar single-stage-to-orbit reusable spaceplane. The latter program was abandoned by NASA in 2001 but pursued by Lockheed Martin thereafter.In signing off any discussion of the Blackbird’s demise, Americans are left with the words that Senator John Glenn spoke on the floor of the U.S. Senate on the day after the 1990 “retirement flight.”Said the former astronaut, “The termination of the SR-71 was a grave mistake and could place our nation at a serious disadvantage in the event of a future crisis. Yesterday’s historic transcontinental flight was a sad memorial to our short-sighted policy in strategic aerial reconnaissance.”This article by Dario Leone originally appeared on The Aviation Geek Club in 2018.Image: DVIDS.This article first appeared last month and is being republished due to reader interest.

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 04:00:00 -0400
  • Satellites Could Help Solve Our Planet From the Climate Crisis news

    Today, more than 700 million people around the world drink water from unsafe or untreated sources, such as wells, springs and surface water.About half of these people live in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, in more than 30 African countries, fewer than 20% of the people have access to safe drinking water.Climate change is likely to worsen the situation by making water less available in some locations and by changing the amounts and timing when water is available.Determining whether a region has sufficient water to satisfy the needs of people who live there is a complicated and imperfect process. Our research team has developed a new approach to measure water scarcityby using satellites hundreds of miles in space.How to measure water scarcityTo estimate water scarcity, hydrologists, the people who study the science of water, build what they call a “water budget.”They estimate all of the water entering the country – from rivers, rainfall, groundwater and man-made sources – and then subtract all of the water exiting the country. This produces an estimate of the available water in the country or region.By dividing the available water by the population in the region, hydrologists can tell whether there is sufficient water to meet people’s needs.Generally, in the U.S., the average person uses between 300 and 400 liters of water per day for basic needs – like drinking, sanitation, bathing and food preparation.Globally, a country is said to experience a serious water scarcity problem if it has less than 500,000 liters of water per person per year, to meet both their daily needs and agricultural needs.This water budget process works if accurate data are available for each source of water. However, in many developing regions, such as Africa, the data required to calculate water budgets are not available.Yet Africa critically needs accurate information on its water scarcity status. As the second most populated continent, Africa is projected to have a population of 2.4 billion by 2050, approximately double the current estimated population. Such rapid population growth will exert considerable stress on the continent’s available water resources, worsening the already acute water scarcity situation.So, assessing the potentially available water resources is essential for the future.Look to the skiesOur study takes a new approach to assessing water scarcity.We used data from two satellite systems. The first is called the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, operated since 1997 by the U.S. and Japan. The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission uses several instruments – including a precipitation radar, microwave imager, visible and infrared scanner – to estimate rainfall. Getting the rainfall estimate right is critical, because this is the most important source of water for human use.The second type of satellite data is from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, a joint mission between the U.S. and Germany. First launched in 2002, the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment is a twin satellite mission that uses the changes in the Earth’s gravitational fields to infer changes in the global water resources, from the Earth’s surface to the deepest groundwater aquifers.We combined data from these two satellite systems to calculate the monthly potential available water from all sources of water for each country in Africa from 2002 to 2016. By dividing this value by the population in each country, we obtained a new measurement of available water storage per capita.Because the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellite data also estimates water in deep groundwater aquifers, which may not be accessible due to technical or economic limitations, we refer to this new estimate as potential available water storage.Measuring water, fasterWe compared our results with the data currently used by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization. Their method relies on conventional water budget accounting to estimate the total renewable water resources in a country. It then classifies each country into one of four categories: water-sufficient, vulnerable, water-stressed or water-scarce.Of the 48 African countries studied, our method classified 26 in the same category as the U.N.‘s method; 12 were classified as having more water than indicated and 10 as less.These differences are not surprising. Our estimate includes also water in aquifers deep underground that the U.N.’s method does not account for. Their method likely underestimates the total available water for countries that have substantial groundwater reserves.On the other hand, the accuracy of our method can be affected by the size of a country. Countries smaller than the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment footprint – the approximately 200,000 square kilometer blocks that the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment estimates can be made with confidence – are much more likely to be in error.By 2050, assuming no change in available water resources, we project that 19 countries in Africa will face water scarcity and another nine countries will be water-stressed. However, if climate change were to cause Africa’s water resources to decrease by 10%, which is within the range of several climate projections for some African countries, then approximately 85% of Africa’s population will experience a dangerous water scarcity situation.In general, we think that our method has several advantages over existing methods. It circumvents many of the limitations related to data unavailability and reliability in Africa. The data are more temporally and spatially continuous, as well as easier for researchers to access. As a result, estimates of water scarcity can be carried out much more rapidly for the entire continent.Satellites will gather new data in the coming years. We plan to take advantage of such data improvements as they become available to refine our method in terms of accuracy and water scarcity assessment at the sub-country level, not only in Africa but globally.This article by Emad Hasan and Aondover Tarhule originally appeared at The Conversation.Emad Hasan is a Postdoctoral Researcher in Geography at Binghamton University, State University of New York.Aondover Tarhule is Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School at Binghamton University, State University of New York.Image: Reuters.

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 03:52:00 -0400
  • Hitler Lives?: A 1955 CIA Document Said It Might Be Possible news

    The Soviets and then the Russian Federation claimed for years to have some remains of Hitler, though the bodies of both he and Eva Braun, his longtime lover turned wife, were hastily cremated. Still, Moscow claims they recovered partial remains. ​A document on the Central Intelligence Agency’s website makes an explosive, if outlandish, claim: Adolf Hitler survived World War II.“CIMELODY-3 [a code name] was contacted on 29 September 1955 by a trusted friend who served under his command in Europe and who is presently residing in Maracaibo,” the acting intelligence chief in Caracas, Venezuela sent to his supervisor days later, on October 3, 1955. “CIMELODY-3's friend stated that during the latter part of September 1955, Phillip CITROEN, former German SS trooper, stated to him confidentially that Adolph HITLER is still alive." It continued, “CITROEN commented that inasmuch as ten years have passed since the end of World War II, the Allies could no longer prosecute HITLER as a criminal of war.”Recommended: Air War: Stealth F-22 Raptor vs. F-14 Tomcat (That Iran Still Flies)Recommended: A New Report Reveals Why There Won't Be Any 'New' F-22 RaptorsRecommended: How an ‘Old’ F-15 Might Kill Russia’s New Stealth Fighter   “The source thought it worthy of sending up to HQ which is notable,” a source in the Department of Defense tells me. “Even at the time, those guys had to do a lot of separating the wheat from the chaff.”What’s more, there is a purported photo. “On 28 September 1955, CIMELODY-3’s friend surreptitiously obtained the photograph CIMELODY-3 referred to. On 29 September 1955, the photo was shown to CIMELODY-3 for purposes of getting his reaction to the possible veracity of this fantastic story.”In the declassified memo, the photo is attached, showing an “Adolf Schrittelmayor” in Tunga, Colombia in 1954, seated next to a companion. “The person on the left is alleged to be CITROEN and the person on the right is undoubtedly the person which CITROEN claims is HITLER. The back side of the photograph contained the following data: ‘Adolf Schrittelmayor, Tunga, Colombia,1954.’"  The figure in the purported photograph clearly resembles the Nazi leader who committed suicide on April 30, 1945, in his bunker in Berlin, to avoid being captured by the Red Army. Conspiracy theories have flourished for years that senior officials in the Nazi high command escaped to South America, including the most infamous of all.Those theories, for Hitler, have generally centered around Argentina, not Colombia, and it was widely presumed he would be heavily disguised--not keeping his first name and looking the exact same as his world-famous appearance during the bloodiest conflict in human history. The United States Secret Service issued images in 1944 about how he might try to disguise himself.The Soviets and then the Russian Federation claimed for years to have some remains of Hitler, though the bodies of both he and Eva Braun, his longtime lover turned wife, were hastily cremated. Still, Moscow claims they recovered partial remains. But the Russians were embarrassed in 2009 when an American scientist was allowed to examine the skull for an hour claimed the skull was definitely female, not male, and from a person aged 20 to 40, not 56, Hitler’s reported age of death. The Russian FSB fiercely denied this account from Nick Bellantoni of the University of Connecticut.“The Soviet story of handling them shortly [after the suicides] is fraught with inconsistencies,” the Defense official argues. “It would appear both the USSR and the U.S. seriously considered that he was not dead. It was the Wild West when Berlin fell. Some senior Nazis gave fake names and survived as unnoticed regular soldiers in Soviet camps, some were rumored to have dressed similar-looking dead bodies in their uniforms, some used the preexisting exfiltration networks to get out. … There are age-advanced photos out there of Hitler, put out by U.S. intelligence.” Still, when pressed, the official put the chance that Hitler actually escaped to South America at five percent. “While suspicious and out of character the KGB story is much simpler and more plausible than him living for years in South America.”Still, in the week the administration dragged out the declassification of all its JFK assassination files for another six months, documents like this historical curiosity will certainly provide fodder for further conspiracy theories.Curt Mills is a foreign-affairs reporter at the National Interest. Follow him on Twitter: @CurtMills.Image: Flickr.(This is being reposted due to reader interest.)

    Sat, 17 Aug 2019 02:15:00 -0400
  • Macron’s Quiet Summer May Turn to Anger as Voters Return to Work

    (Bloomberg) -- Macron’s quiet summer season could turn to discontent in the fall.President Emmanuel Macron has spent three weeks in the Cote d’Azur, south of France, alternating between the beach and preparing for a delicate G-7 summit on Aug. 24. The president’s holidays have so far been relatively uneventful, a contrast with his two previous summers marked by intense policy work, a soccer World Cup triumph and a dangerous scandal.All the same, “the return from the vacations could be quite agitated,” said Sylvain Boulouque, a French historian who has written books about popular movements. “There are quite a few reforms the government is proposing that could bring out large demonstrations.”While Macron himself doesn’t face voters until 2022, any turbulence would be an unwelcome backdrop as he gears up for local elections in the spring that are essential for developing his three-year-old party.UnhappinessUnions are promising major actions against his plans to streamline France’s unemployment insurance system. The tension has already been simmering during the summer with striking health workers, youths angry about police violence and farmers vandalizing offices of lawmakers who backed for a free-trade pact with Canada. On top of that, the grassroots Yellow Vests movement isn’t dead, and Brexit beckons.A recent poll by Ifop said 44% of the French “understand but don’t approve” of the attacks on deputies’ offices and 9% -- that’s more than 4 million adults -- fully approve.Not MellowThe Yellow Vests already forced the most significant U-turn of Macron’s presidency when he announced 15 billion euros of spending increases and tax cuts in December.Protesters had blocked roads across France and held sometimes violent demonstrations in Paris and other cities to protest rising gasoline taxes as the movement morphed into wider rejection of Macron’s ruling style. A handful of members were out marching Aug. 17 through various French cities for the 40th consecutive Saturday.“The movement isn’t dead because Emmanuel Macron hasn’t brought an answer to our political demands,” said Francois Boulo, a lawyer and activist in Rouen, north-west of Paris. “He continues to give tax breaks to the rich and continues to push through reforms that hurt the unemployed.”In late June, Macron’s government announced changes to the country’s unemployment insurance system that among other measures extends the period people have to work before being eligible. The changes are scheduled to take effect Nov. 1 and more is coming.Clashes at CustomsOn July 18, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe received a report recommending raising the effective age of retirement to 64 from 62, aligning public and private sector pensions and the government is aiming to legislate this year.Every recent government has tried and failed on this one, in the face of a backlash from voters.In the midst of this, Britain could tumble out of the European Union Oct. 31 without an accord and the customs officers who’d have to handle the disruption at French ports aren’t happy either.They staged occasion strikes earlier this year to drive home the point that France, which handles 60% of the goods traded between the U.K. and continental Europe, isn’t prepared. After long truck lines at Calais and seriously disrupted Eurostar train travels, pay increases achieved a temporary truce but still aren’t satisfied with the government’s hiring plans.“We are in a climate that’s very electric and politically tense,” Jerome Fourquet, Ifop’s head of opinion studies, said in a tweet.To contact the reporter on this story: Gregory Viscusi in Paris at gviscusi@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Ben Sills at, Geraldine AmielFor more articles like this, please visit us at©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

    Fri, 16 Aug 2019 23:00:01 -0400
  • US issues warrant for seizure of Iranian tanker in Gibraltar news

    The US Justice Department issued a warrant Friday for the seizure of the Iranian oil supertanker Grace 1, one day after a Gibraltar judge allowed the release of the detained vessel. The Justice Department alleged the ship was part of a scheme "to unlawfully access the US financial system to support illicit shipments to Syria from Iran by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps," which the US has designated a foreign terrorist organization. There was no immediate word from Britain or Gibraltar over whether they would act on the warrant, as Iran said it was sending a new crew to pilot the tanker and its 2.1 million barrels of oil.

    Fri, 16 Aug 2019 22:15:24 -0400
  • How Strange: Nazi Germany's Fighter Planes Helped Save Israel news

    The incessant accidents took a grim toll of the pilots, however. On October 15, after providing ground support to an Israeli counter-offensive, the S-199 of Squadron Leader Mordechai Alon developed an engine problem while making a second landing attempt after his landing gear refused to lower.When Israel declared independence from British colonial rule in May 1948, it immediately went to war with the neighboring Arab states. One of the first weapons Israel acquired was a fighter plane designed by a country that had sought the extinction of the Jewish people.The German Messerschmitt Bf.109 — later re-designated Me.109 — was the most advanced fighter plane of its time when it first saw combat in 1937 in the Spanish Civil War. Flown by German pilots in support of General Franco’s Nationalists, Bf. 109s secured air superiority over Spain and allowed Fascist bombers to terror bomb cities nearly unopposed.The Bf.109E model was upgraded with 20-millimeter cannons and a new Daimler Benz 601 engine that increased its speed to 354 miles per hour. It swept its opponents from the skies in the invasion of Poland and the Battle of France.Only when it met large numbers of Royal Air Force Spitfires in the Battle of Britain did it meet its match — resulting in the Nazi war machine’s first major defeat.While superior fighter aircraft began entering service on all sides by 1942, Nazi Germany continued upgrading and producing 109s until the end of the war. Much of this production took place in heavily industrialized Czechoslovakia, which had been annexed by Germany in 1938. After the defeat of Nazi Germany, the Czechs decided to reopen production by making their own version of the 109, the Avia S-199.The Czechs planned on using their stock of Daimler Benz 605 engines intended for use in 109 aircraft. However, a factory fire destroyed the engines, forcing the Czechs to find an alternative. They settled on tapping a stockpile of Jumo 211F engines and propellers used by Nazi Heinkel-111 twin-engine bombers.Needless to say, the 211F wasn’t designed to be a fighter engine — and caused endless problems when fitted to the 109's airframe. Not only were the engines underpowered, but the 109’s original nose-hub cannon was incompatible with it, so the Czechs instead strapped MG 151 cannons under the wings using World War II-era Rüstsatz VI add-on kits. These worsened the S-199’s flight performance.The Czechs produced 532 S-199s, which served in the Czech air force for 10 years under the unaffectionate nickname mezek — “mule” — because of their difficult handling characteristics.War in Palestine:In the wake of violent anti-Semitic pogroms in Tsarist Russia during the 1880s, European Jews had begun immigrating to Palestine as part of the Zionist movement, which promoted Jewish nationalism.They joined a local population of Middle Eastern Mizrahi Jews that had lived alongside Arab Muslims and Christians for centuries.The growing Jewish population led to increasing tensions with local Arab communities, and many Jews and Arabs began to see themselves as being in a zero-sum competition for control of the territory. Palestine at the time was under British colonial rule, which clumsily attempted to pacify both populations, satisfying neither.As violent clashes erupted, Jewish groups began forming militias. Haganah, the largest group, was led by David Ben-Gurion. There was also the more hardline Irgun under Menachem Begin, and the violent extremist Lehi or “Stern Gang.”After World War II, these groups launched a guerilla war against colonial rule that led the United Kingdom to begin withdrawing in 1947 after a deadly attack on the King David Hotel. A United Nations resolution calling for separate Jewish and Arab states cleared the way for Ben-Gurion to declare the creation of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948.Fighting between Jews and Arabs for control of Palestine had already begun well before then.Britain and France had been decolonizing its other holdings in the Middle East, too, and the newly independent Arab states of Egypt, Transjordan, Iraq and Syria intervened against Israeli forces, which they viewed as illegitimate.Egypt in particular had inherited a lot of military equipment from the British, and soon Egyptian Spitfires were strafing Israeli-held airfields, while C-47 transports converted into bombers began bombing Tel Aviv.The leaders of the newly formed Israeli Defense Force, drawn out of Haganah’s ranks, scrambled to put together an air force even before the declaration of statehood.Haganah already operated an assortment of light civilian planes such as Piper Cubs in its Sherut Avir — “air service” — which flew reconnaissance as well as bombing missions. The pilots held bombs and grenades on their laps and threw them out the side of the cockpit. Clearly, that wasn’t going to cut it much longer.But Israeli agents had difficulty purchasing military equipment because of an arms embargo. Finally, Otto Felix found a Czech arms dealer willing to sell Avia S-199s at the then-exorbitant rate of $180,000 each, equivalent to $1.8 million today. The price included equipment, ammunition, delivery, and flying lessons for the Israeli pilots, many of whom had only civilian flying experience.The first order for 10 S-199s was followed by another for 15. When the Israelis subsequently received an offer to purchase far more capable P-47 Thunderbolts at a lower price, they turned it down.The new air force also lacked qualified pilots and mechanics, so it assembled a rag-tag group of volunteers, adventurers and low-paid mercenaries known asMachal or Machalniks.Of the 609 personnel that served in the Israeli air force in its first war, 181 were Israeli-born, 182 came from the United States, 80 were South African and around 50 each hailed from Canada and the United Kingdom. The remainder came from at least a dozen other countries. Around four-fifths were Jewish.On May 6, 1948, two of these volunteers and eight Haganah pilots left for the Czech Republic to begin training on the S-199s.Four Broken Aircraft Save Tel Aviv:On May 18, an Egyptian C-47 dropped bombs on Tel Aviv’s central bus terminal, killing 42 people and wounding more than 100.When the Israeli pilots learned of the attack, they demanded to return to Israel early. Their Czech instructors objected that the volunteers hadn’t even received basic combat training, and only the experienced pilots had any chance of operating the aircraft safely. But the volunteers got their way and headed back to the Middle East.Plans to ferry the S-199s directly became impossible because of the arms embargo. Instead, technicians dismantled the S-199s. Each was shipped over in two separate flights by enormous long-range C-46 Commando transport aircraft. These flew first to Corsica and from there to Ekron — now Tel Nof Air Base — in Operation Balak, which began on May 20.In an omen of things to come, the first S-199 was lost on May 23 when its C-46 transport crashed attempting to land in the fog, the dismantled fuselage sliding forward and killing navigator Moshe Rosenbaum. On other occasions, aircraft carrying the 199s were impounded and their crew jailed at various airports for their violation of the arms embargo.It wasn’t until noon on May 29 that the first S-199s were assembled and in functioning order under the newly-christened 101 Squadron. The appellation “Messerschmitt” for the knock-off aircraft was shortened to Messrs — which also means “knife” in Hebrew.By then, an Egyptian column of around 2,300 men drawn from the 2nd Brigade mounted in hundreds of trucks was heading toward Tel Aviv, accompanied by armored cars and 10 Matilda and Mark VI tanks. The force stopped near Ashdod, also called Isdud, delayed by a destroyed bridge only 30 kilometers away from the Israeli capital. If it completed repairs to the bridge, the column was poised to capture Tel Aviv the following morning.Without even a single test flight, the four operational Avias were dispatched directly into combat. The pilots included Ezer Weizman and Mordechai “Modi” Alon — both combat veterans that had served in the British Royal Air Force — plus Lou Lenart, a Pennsylvania Jew with experience flying for the U.S. Marines over Okinawa and Eddie Cohen, who had flown for the South African air force. Each fighter was armed with two small 154-pound bombs.Upon spotting the Egyptian vehicles, the four S-199s swooped down on the column as 40-millimeter anti-aircraft shells tore up the sky around them. Releasing their bombs, the fighters made three passes, machine guns chattering and cannons barking — but only briefly, because three of the four aircraft’s cannons immediately jammed.Cohen’s Messr, likely struck by flak, crashed in flames close to the air base of Hatzor. Alon’s airbrakes malfunctioned while returning to base and a wingtip plowed into the ground while landing.In this “pathetic little attack” in the words of the 101 Squadron history of the event, the Israeli air force had lost two aircraft and one pilot.But the Egyptian column ceased its advance entirely, flummoxed to have been attacked from the air. “We have been heavily attacked by enemy aircraft, we are dispersing,” explained a radio transmission to Cairo.The Egyptian force came under several more air attacks and repelled a major Israeli counterattack on June 2 — but it never resumed its advance toward Tel Aviv.This seemingly minor raid is credited by some as having preserved “the existence of Israel as we know it.” This is far from certain. While many see the column’s halt as marking the turning point of the war, it is debatable whether the Egyptian force even intended to enter Tel Aviv.Yet the mere presence of the S-199s had made an impact — and would soon do so again.The following morning, two Avias were back in action strafing an Iraqi column. A bird struck Weizman’s airplane in the cockpit, while a 199 piloted by Milton Rubenfeld sustained damage in a clash with Egyptian fighters. Forced to bail out, Rubenfeld narrowly escaped death at the hands of locals that assumed him to be an Egyptian pilot.Egyptian Spitfires retaliated by strafing two unassembled 199s on May 30, and the squadron was pulled back to a new air base at Herzliya a week later.While flying on June 3, Modi Alon spotted two Egyptian C-47s escorted by two Spitfires over Tel Aviv — the 16th raid of this kind. Swooping down on the formation, he chased off the Spitfire escort and then shot down both of the C-47s — the first aerial victories of the Israeli air force.After that, the bomber attacks on Tel Aviv ceased for good. After being celebrated with gifts of wine and chocolate by the locals, two American pilots designed the logo for the unit that remains today, a winged skull wearing a fighter pilot’s helmet.On June 8, American Machal Gideon Lichtman and Alon engaged their Messrsagainst four Egyptian Spitfires on a bombing mission in an ironic rematch for the two types that had battled over England eight years earlier. Lichtman’s guns shot one of them down.The Crash-Prone Menace:On June 11, the United Nations organized a truce. This gave the Israelis time to assemble five additional Avias to replace the ones they had lost. Other new aircraft included two P-51 Mustangs fighters and two B-17 bombers smuggled via Puerto Rico. More aerial clashes ensued when the truce ended in a month later.On July 6, Maurice Mann’s S-199 reportedly shot down a Syrian AT-6 Texan trainer bombing a kibbutz, but his wingman Lionel Bloch crashed over the Golan Heights while pursuing another Texan. Syrian records report he was shot down by the tail gunner of the second Texan, Muhi Al Din Wadi, who died from his wounds after landing.Two days later, on a strafing mission against the Egyptian air base at El Arish, American Bob Vickman’s Messr was seen crashing into the sea — either shot down by flak or possibly a victim of his own machine guns shooting off his propeller.On July 18, Alon scored a third kill when he downed the Spitfire flown by Wing Commander Said Afifi Al Janzuri.Yet it soon became evident that the greatest danger to Israeli pilots came not from enemy fighters and flak, but from the Avias themselves.To begin with, the S-199’s narrow landing gear made the aircraft unstable while landing and prone to flipping over — a problem that the original Bf.109 suffered from, as well. It soon became a routine for neighboring Yemeni farmers to pull down flipped over Avias with wooden poles. Such accidents were made even worse by the side-locking canopy which could not be opened by the pilot.The Avia’s MG.151 cannons jammed more often than not. The nose-mounted 13-millimeter MG 131 machine guns regularly fell out of synchronization for unknown reasons — with the horrifying result that many Avia pilots shot off their own propellers.The enormous propellers — intended for use on large bombers — also created intense leftward torque, making landings and takeoffs especially dangerous. The S-199’s accident rate grew so bad that Israeli pilots began taking bets each time an Avia attempted a landing on whether it would crash or not. When Avias flew alongside other aircraft, they always landed last so that any wreckage from a crash wouldn’t obstruct the other planes.Serviceability rates for the S-199s were abysmal, and no more than four of the 25 were ever in the air at the same time. The volunteer mechanics were unable to decipher the aircraft’s difficult hydraulic systems or its engines, which on several occasions fatally overheated.On July 18, the United Nations organized a second truce. Neither side had any serious intention of negotiating, and instead frantically recruited, reorganized and rearmed despite an arms embargo. Israeli agents concluded a contract for 50 Spitfires IXs. The superior aircraft cost only $23,000 a piece — $230,000 in 2016 dollars — and began arriving in September 1948. When the second ceasefire ended on October 15, the new Spitfires permitted the Israeli air force to establish air superiority.The incessant accidents took a grim toll of the pilots, however. On October 15, after providing ground support to an Israeli counter-offensive, the S-199 of Squadron Leader Mordechai Alon developed an engine problem while making a second landing attempt after his landing gear refused to lower.Streaming fumes from its engines, the 199 suddenly nosed down into the runway and burst into flames while Alon’s pregnant wife watched in horror.Two other Avias crashed while attempting to land the same day and a third landed on its belly after being hit by anti-aircraft fire. Morale grew low and the Machal became infamous for their raucous partying and their habit of stealing vehicles for use at the airfield.The last S-199, which had been impounded in Rome for four months, finally arrived in November. S-199s flew a few more combat missions. One crashed while taking off in November, while another shot off its propeller in December and only barely made it back to the ground. When 101 squadron redeployed to Ramat David that winter, Weizman, the new squadron leader, recommended they leave the Czech-built fighters behind.Fighting in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War came to an end in March 1949. A year later, Israeli inspectors decided to scrap the decrepit aircraft.Of the 25 Avia 199s, at least five had been lost as a result of enemy fire, six were destroyed attempting to land, three flipped over taking off, another is believed to have shot its propeller off, one had its cockpit shattered by a bird and two were destroyed on delivery. And that doesn’t count all the incidents in which damage was repairable.Ezer Weizman went on to further glory as a Spitfire pilot — and controversy, as it appears he deliberately led a deadly attack on neutral British Tempest fighters on Jan. 7, 1949. In his later years he became air force commander, defense minister and, finally, the president of Israel from 1993 to 2000, during which he advocated strongly for the peace process with the Palestinian Authority.Today 101 Squadron flies F-16s out of Hatzerim air base. The only surviving S-199 can be seen there, in the Israeli Air Force Museum.This first appeared in WarIsBoring here.Image: Flickr.(This article was first published in 2016.)

    Fri, 16 Aug 2019 21:30:00 -0400
  • UN expert: Executions in Iran among the world's highest

    The U.N. expert on human rights in Iran says last year saw increasing restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and continuing violations of the right to life, liberty and a fair trial in the Islamic Republic, including 253 reported executions of adults and children. The significant decline, he said, is attributed to enforcement of a 2017 amendment to Iran's anti-narcotics law that saw the number of executions for drug-related offenses drop from 231 in 2017 to at least 24 in 2018.

    Fri, 16 Aug 2019 20:03:04 -0400
  • AP Interview: Pelosi assails 'weakness' of Trump, Netanyahu news

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday the U.S.-Israel relationship can withstand the "weakness" of President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who shook diplomatic norms this week in barring two members of Congress from visiting the country. "We have a deep relationship and long-standing relationship with Israel that can withstand Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu," Pelosi said.

    Fri, 16 Aug 2019 19:58:22 -0400
  • Police: Palestinian killed, 2 Israelis hurt in car attack news

    Israeli police fatally shot a Palestinian man Friday after he drove his car into two Israeli pedestrians in the West Bank, injuring them, and militants from the Gaza Strip fired at least one rocket toward southern Israel, the Israeli military said. Israel's national rescue service, known as Magen David Adom, said a man was severely hurt by the car and a woman was moderately injured. The incident took place near the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, south of Jerusalem, not far from where the body of an off-duty soldier was found stabbed earlier this month.

    Fri, 16 Aug 2019 19:29:39 -0400
  • Lawyer: Iranian supertanker captain no longer wants the job news

    The captain of an Iranian supertanker at the center of a diplomatic standoff no longer wants to keep command of the ship, which is in need of repairs that could impede its immediate departure from Gibraltar, the sailor's lawyer said Friday. Any delay in the Grace 1's departure could provide a window for the U.S. to mount further legal action in Gibraltar seeking to seize the tanker amid a growing confrontation with Tehran. U.S. authorities announced in Washington late Friday afternoon that they had obtained a warrant to seize the tanker, though Gibraltar court officials said they had not received any claim by the end of the business day in the British overseas territory.

    Fri, 16 Aug 2019 19:23:16 -0400
  • The Latest: US unveils seizure warrant for Iranian tanker news

    The U.S. government says it has a warrant to seize an oil tanker at the center of a diplomatic standoff because of violations of U.S. sanctions, money laundering and terrorism statutes. The U.S. attorney's office in Washington says a seizure warrant and forfeiture complaint were unsealed Friday. The U.S. is seeking to take control of the oil tanker Grace 1, along with all of the petroleum aboard and $995,000.

    Fri, 16 Aug 2019 18:40:25 -0400
  • Hundreds defy restrictions, join protests in Kashmir news

    Hundreds of people protested an unprecedented security crackdown and clashed with police Friday in Indian-controlled Kashmir, as India's government said it was constantly reviewing the situation in the disputed region and the restrictions there will be removed over the next few days. The U.N. Security Council met on Jammu and Kashmir for the first time in decades, and Pakistan's ambassador to the world body said the session showed that people in the region "may be locked up ... but their voices were heard today." The Security Council took no action during the closed meeting, which was called for by China and Pakistan. The government imposed the lockdown to avoid a violent reaction to its decision on Aug. 5 to downgrade the autonomy of the Muslim-majority Kashmir region.

    Fri, 16 Aug 2019 17:37:04 -0400
  • Trump Wants to Cut $4.3 Billion in Foreign Aid news

    The Trump administration is proposing to eliminate more than $4 billion in unspent foreign assistance funds, Politico reported late Thursday.The White House budget office reportedly sent a proposal to the State Department to cut $2.3 billion in unspent funds at the United States Agency for International Development and another $2 billion in unspent funds at the State Department. The cuts would hit the budget of the United Nations particularly hard and include the cancellation of $522 million in basic funding for the international organization, $787 million for peacekeeping activities, and $364 million for humanitarian and human rights programs.The Trump administration is expected to formally submit the so-called rescission package next week. Congress will have 45 days to approve the rescissions, during which time the funds will be frozen; if lawmakers fail to approve the package, as expected, the money will be released. However, given that the fiscal year ends on September 30, the move could effectively cancel the funding, even if Congress does not approve the rescissions.Can the White House do that?The Trump administration could face legal challenges under a 1974 law governing unspent funds if it proceeds with the rescissions, Politico said, and lawmakers from both parties have asked the White House to reconsider. “Such action would be precedent-setting and a direct affront to the separation of powers principle upon which our nation was built,” the bipartisan leadership of the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations panels wrote in a letter to the White House.Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said that the “funds were appropriated by overwhelming bipartisan majorities and the lengthy negotiations between the House, the Senate, the White House. And they were signed into law by the president.” Lowey also said that cuts to foreign aid have been rejected on a bipartisan basis, and that “these funds are essential for U.S. global leadership and protecting the security of the American people.”The White House attempted a similar rescission effort for foreign aid last year but dropped the proposal due to resistance from both Republicans and Democrats.Like what you're reading? Sign up for our free newsletter.

    Fri, 16 Aug 2019 16:53:26 -0400
  • Mexico Wants to Run a Tourist Train Through Its Mayan Heartland—Should It? news

    President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has a dream for the Yucatan Peninsula. He wants to build a train that will leverage the tourism economy of Cancun by bringing more visitors inland to the colonial cities, Mayan villages and archaeological sites that dot the region.The Yucatan is a unique Mexican cultural crossroads. Many Maya here continue to farm, live and dress according to indigenous traditions developed millennia before the Spanish colonized the Americas. Travelers also come from across the globe to sunbathe along the modern, highly developed Riviera Maya. Over 16 million foreigners visited the area in 2017; three-quarters of them were American.The Mexican government thinks that a tourist train could turn Maya villages into destinations, too, bringing an infusion of cash and jobs into one of its poorest and most marginalized regions. Commuters would also benefit from rail travel.But there are social and environmental consequences to laying 932 miles of railway tracks across a region of dense jungle, pristine beaches and Maya villages. And in his haste to start construction this year, López Obrador – whose energy policy is focused on increasing fossil fuel production in Mexico and rebuilding the coal industry – has demonstrated little concern for conservation. Pristine forests and Mayan ruins at risk As a landscape architecture scholar who has studied Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, I agree that the Maya Train could bring substantial benefits to this region. But the train must be designed in a way that respects the delicate ecology, indigenous history and social fabric of the region.The Yucatan, a biodiverse peninsula that’s geographically isolated from the rest of Mexico and Central America, has already suffered mass deforestation due to careless urban development, massive tourism and, in particular, unsustainable cattle ranching.For stretches, the Maya Train will run on existing tracks. But other parts of its planned route will cut through some of the only unspoiled ancient forests on the Yucatan Peninsula that are not federally protected as nature reserves. That bodes badly for endangered native species like the kanzacam cactus and black howler monkey.Running a train through virgin forest also puts potentially hundreds of undiscovered ruins at risk. New technology has lead archaeologists to believe that the ancient Maya had many more cities, shrines and settlements than have been uncovered and excavated.There is concern, too, that the construction of a new train line may exacerbate a demographic shift already underway in the Yucatan.As young Mexicans have left the small towns of the Yucatan to seek tourism jobs, many traditional Maya villages face abandonment. In 2015, 36% of Yucatec residents lived in traditional towns of fewer than 5,000 people – about 10% fewer than in 1990.A Maya Train with limited stations may spur development of a select few traditional towns. But many more – all those not located within the new rural tourism corridor – will likely see their population dwindle.  Building a better Maya TrainI don’t believe López Obrador’s ambitious signature infrastructure project should be killed. But the rushed construction schedule could be slowed down, giving the government time to study how the environmental and social costs of the Maya Train can be mitigated.Analysts have almost universally pointed out that the government’s six-year timeline necessarily precludes a deliberate, comprehensive and careful planning and construction process.Landscape ecology, the study of natural systems, teaches us that simply maintaining green corridors connecting patches of unbroken wilderness can go a long way to protect wildlife, their habitat and the natural drainage patterns of the area.The railway’s path could probably be redesigned to avoid severing these ecological arteries, but a sound environmental impact assessment must first be conducted to determine the impact and feasibility of alternative routes. That has not yet been done.The possible negative social consequences of the Maya Train could also be avoided, or at least compensated for, if the communities impacted by the railway could participate fully in the planning process.López Obrador says that Mother Earth granted permission to build the train, but Mexico’s Maya Train was approved at a hastily called popular referendum last year with only 1% voter participation. Some indigenous activists have rejected the outcome of the vote, which polled Mexicans nationwide about a project that affects mainly Maya villagers. “We don’t accept it,” a representative of the Zapatistas, a southern Mexican indigenous insurgency, said of the train on July 23. “We won’t allow [the government] to come in and destroy” the land.Other Yucatan residents appear to support the idea of a tourist train but want to be consulted closely about its route, stops and offerings, asked about their concerns and given the chance to make design proposals.This kind of participatory planning process would ensure that Yucatec residents are the beneficiaries, not the victims, of the anticipated economic boom.Done right, the Maya Train could actually trigger an economic conversion with sweeping environmental benefits for the Yucatan. If new ecotourism and agrotourism businesses grow up around the train, some rural residents will naturally move toward those trades and away from the high-impact, low-efficiency ranching that has so damaged the local ecology.Slow DownBig public works like the Maya Train take patience, careful planning, thinking and rethinking.These are not the hallmarks of López Obrador’s leadership style. The Mexican president insists the $6 billion train will be completed before the end of his term in 2024 and has mocked journalists who question the train’s environmental impact.But the public backlash appears to have forced his government to do some quick course correction.United Nations-Habitat, the U.N.‘s urban development agency, began consulting with the Mexico government in May. U.N.-Habitat’s interim director, Eduardo López Moreno, has called for a more holistic vision of the Maya Train.“This is not 1,525 kilometers of track,” he said after joining the project. “It’s 1,525 kilometers of opportunities that will improve the quality of life for all inhabitants of southeast Mexico.”This story first appeared in The Conversation on August 13.Image: Reuters

    Fri, 16 Aug 2019 16:37:00 -0400
  • North Korea's Chemical Weapons: The Real Threat the World Should Fear? news

    After the Kuala Lumpur attack, Raymond Zilinskas, a chemical and biological nonproliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, said that VX fumes would have killed the attackers even if they were wearing gloves.US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made clear at a press conference on March 17 in Seoul, South Korea that Washington’s “strategic patience” with North Korea has ended after a series of provocative actions and that some sort of military intervention against Pyongyang could be on the cards.Last month’s murder by nerve agent of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother Kim Jong-nam at the Kuala Lumpur airport in Malaysia, however, casts doubt on the ultimate strategic utility of potential US air strikes against the secretive country’s many military installations.It would not be difficult for US fighters to hit the bases on North Korea’s northeastern coast, from where missiles have been launched in recent provocative test fires, or even to demolish some of its known nuclear facilities at Yongbyon north of the capital Pyongyang or the Punggye-Ri testing site situated in the country’s northeast.Last month’s murder by nerve agent of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother Kim Jong-nam at the Kuala Lumpur airport in Malaysia, however, casts doubt on the ultimate strategic utility of potential US air strikes against the secretive country’s many military installations.It would not be difficult for US fighters to hit the bases on North Korea’s northeastern coast, from where missiles have been launched in recent provocative test fires, or even to demolish some of its known nuclear facilities at Yongbyon north of the capital Pyongyang or the Punggye-Ri testing site situated in the country’s northeast.But unlike nuclear reactors and missile launching grounds which can be easily detected by satellites, North Korea’s chemical and biological weapons facilities are known to be hidden underground. And Pyongyang’s use of the lethal VX nerve agent in a transnational assassination has sent a chilling warning of its apparent willingness to use biological and chemical weapons in a conflict scenario.How the nerve agent was transported to Malaysia is still unclear. Some analysts suspect it could have been moved through a diplomatic pouch which is not checked through during normal customs procedures. The alleged involvement of Kuala Lumpur-based North Korean diplomats in the apparent plot has lent credence to the speculation.What is known is that North Korea has for years produced chemical and biological weapons at factories in Kanggye in Chagang province near the Chinese border in the country’s north and at Sakchu in North Pyongan province. Both facilities are known to operate underground.Some chemical weapons have in the past been field tested on islands in the Yellow Sea, off the coast of northwestern North Korea. Causeways link some of those islands with the mainland but no buildings can be seen on them from the air as the facilities are hidden under the earth’s surface.North Korea’s chemical and biological weapons research began in 1954 when Pyongyang, then in the throes of the Korean War, established a directorate known as the “Central Bureau” to develop defenses against chemical weapons as well as to provide doctrinal provisions for the deployment of chemical warfare-trained troops.Each airfield in North Korea was provided with decontamination equipment and detection systems derived from Soviet and Chinese designs and partly supplied by those two countries. In 1961, then leader Kim Il-sung — Kim Jong-un’s grandfather — issued a “Declaration of Chemicalization”, which called for greater efforts to develop facilities where chemical weapons would be produced.That declaration is apparently still in effect. Dual-use chemicals such as phosphate, ammonium, fluoride, chloride and sulfur have recently been procured by Pyongyang from abroad. Those chemicals can be obtained easily anywhere in the world and have legitimate civilian uses but those procured by North Korea are known by analysts to have been used to feed the country’s chemical weapons factories.North Korea is also believed to have significant stockpiles of different kinds of chemical and biological warfare agents, all produced in its underground installations and then stored at Maram-dong near Pyongyang and at Anbyon in the southern border province of Kangwon. Both facilities consist of mazes of tunnels dug into mountains and cannot be detected from the air.Less is known about the origin of raw materials used in North Korea’s biological weapons factories. The US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) said in an unclassified report in 2007 that “North Korea’s resources include a biotechnical infrastructure that could support the production of various biological warfare agents. DIA believes North Korea has a longstanding chemical weapons stockpile of nerve, blister, blood, and choking agents.”The nerve agent VX, or “venomous agent X”, is a tasteless and odorless liquid that was first developed in Britain in the 1950s. The US began producing it in 1961 at Newport Chemical Depot in the state of Indiana. The UN classifies VX as a weapon of mass destruction.It has been banned by international conventions and cannot be used for anything except in chemical warfare. The US cancelled its chemical weapons program in 1969 and began destroying its stockpiles, first on Johnston Atoll in the South Pacific and later on the US mainland. The last of its chemical weapon stockpile was destroyed in December 2008.It is uncertain when North Korea began its production of VX, but it was most likely in the 1960s when it also began to manufacture other nerve agents such as sarin, soman and tabun. VX, however, is believed to be the deadliest nerve agent ever created, of which even a drop of the lethal substance can kill a human.After the Kuala Lumpur attack, Raymond Zilinskas, a chemical and biological nonproliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, said that VX fumes would have killed the attackers even if they were wearing gloves.He suggested the VX agent used to kill Kim Jong-nam was made up of two non-lethal components that when mixed formed VX on the victim’s face. CCTV footage from Kuala Lumpur airport shows two young women touching Kim Jong-nam, apparently on the face, though the images are too hazy to show exactly what they were doing.The nerve agent VX, or “venomous agent X”, is a tasteless and odorless liquid that was first developed in Britain in the 1950s. The US began producing it in 1961 at Newport Chemical Depot in the state of Indiana. The UN classifies VX as a weapon of mass destruction.It has been banned by international conventions and cannot be used for anything except in chemical warfare. The US cancelled its chemical weapons program in 1969 and began destroying its stockpiles, first on Johnston Atoll in the South Pacific and later on the US mainland. The last of its chemical weapon stockpile was destroyed in December 2008.It is uncertain when North Korea began its production of VX, but it was most likely in the 1960s when it also began to manufacture other nerve agents such as sarin, soman and tabun. VX, however, is believed to be the deadliest nerve agent ever created, of which even a drop of the lethal substance can kill a human.After the Kuala Lumpur attack, Raymond Zilinskas, a chemical and biological nonproliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, said that VX fumes would have killed the attackers even if they were wearing gloves.He suggested the VX agent used to kill Kim Jong-nam was made up of two non-lethal components that when mixed formed VX on the victim’s face. CCTV footage from Kuala Lumpur airport shows two young women touching Kim Jong-nam, apparently on the face, though the images are too hazy to show exactly what they were doing.This first appeared in AsiaTimes here.Image: Flickr.(This article originally appeared in 2017 and is being republished due to reader interest.)

    Fri, 16 Aug 2019 16:19:00 -0400
  • UPDATE 3-U.S.'s North Korea envoy to visit Japan, South Korea next week

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    Fri, 16 Aug 2019 16:13:07 -0400
  • Airstrike in Syria rebel area kills 13, including children

    A suspected Russian airstrike hit a displaced people's gathering in a town in Syria's last rebel enclave Friday, killing at least 13, including a number of children, activists and a war monitor said. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strike, suspected to have been carried out by Russian aircraft, hit in the town of Hass south of Idlib province, where peopled displaced by the violence had congregated. The monitoring group said the attack killed at least four children.

    Fri, 16 Aug 2019 16:00:16 -0400
  • Venezuelan exodus may soon double, triggering a bigger regional crisis | Opinion news

    One of the things that surprised me the most during a lengthy interview with Juan Guaidó, the Venezuelan National Assembly president who is recognized by the United States and more than 50 countries as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, was his forecast that the number of Venezuelan exiles may “easily” reach 8 million by next year. It’s a mindboggling figure, because it would be twice the 4 million exiles that, according to a recent United Nations report, have already fled the country since dictator Nicolás Maduro took office five years ago. Eight million people would amount to 25 percent of Venezuela’s population.

    Fri, 16 Aug 2019 15:56:49 -0400
  • California man convicted of torture of pot dispensary owner news

    A California man who previously escaped from jail and was on the run for a week was convicted Friday of kidnapping and torturing a marijuana dispensary owner who he mistakenly believed had buried large sums of money in the desert. A jury in Newport Beach found Hossein Nayeri, 40, guilty of two counts of kidnapping and one count of torture in the 2012 abduction of the dispensary owner and his roommate's girlfriend. Authorities said Nayeri and three others plotted to kidnap and rob the man, who was bound and burned with a blow torch while his captors drove through the desert demanding the money.

    Fri, 16 Aug 2019 15:39:37 -0400
  • Tlaib declines to visit West Bank, citing Israeli conditions news

    Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib said Friday she would not visit her grandmother in the occupied West Bank, despite being granted an Israeli permit on humanitarian grounds, saying Israel's "oppressive" conditions aimed to humiliate her. Israel barred Tlaib and another Democrat, Rep. Ilhan Omar, from visiting Jerusalem and the West Bank over their support for the international boycott movement following an unprecedented appeal from President Donald Trump to deny them entry. Israel had said Tlaib could visit relatives in the West Bank on humanitarian grounds.

    Fri, 16 Aug 2019 15:19:45 -0400
  • The Latest: Omar disputes Netanyahu's claims about itinerary news

    U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota disputes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's claim that she and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan didn't ask to meet with Israeli government or opposition officials before he barred them from visiting Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank next week. Omar tweeted Friday they planned to meet with Jewish and Arab members of the Israeli parliament plus other Israeli officials.

    Fri, 16 Aug 2019 14:43:52 -0400
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