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 on: Aug 29, 2014, 07:16 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

Experts dispute claim that panda faked pregnancy to get more bamboo

By Jonathan Kaiman, The Guardian
Thursday, August 28, 2014 12:01 EDT

Claims that a six-year-old panda faked signs of pregnancy in order to receive better treatment from her conservation centre carers have been debunked by one of China’s leading panda experts.

China’s state newswire Xinhua reported on Tuesday that Ai Hin may have deliberately demonstrated tell-tale signs of panda pregnancy, including “reduced appetite, less mobility and a surge in progestational hormone”.

Pandas that staff believe to be expecting are given a single, air-conditioned room, as well as more buns, fruit and bamboo than non-pregnant pandas. “So some clever pandas have used this to their advantage to improve their quality of life,” Wu Kongju, an expert at the Chengdu research base of giant panda breeding, told Xinhua.

Yet Zhang Heming, director of the China research and conservation centre for the giant panda told the Guardian that Ai Hin’s behaviour was probably more of a hormonal issue than a deliberate ruse. “This phenomenon occurs in 10 to 20% of pandas,” he said. “After the mother panda is inseminated, if her health isn’t so good, the pregnancy will terminate, but she’ll still behave as if she’s pregnant.”

He continued: “This phenomenon also happens to wild pandas, if they don’t have enough bamboo to eat.”

The giant panda is one of the most endangered species on earth – about 1,600 live in the wild, mostly in the mountains of southwest China, according to Xinhua. About 300 live in captivity, and they’re notoriously bad at breeding – only about 24% of captive females give birth.

Pandas ovulate only once a year, and remain fertile for at most 36 hours. Determining pregnancy is complicated because of the size of the foetus – a typical newborn panda is only 1/900th the size of its mother.


Star panda off live broadcast after phantom pregnancy   2014-08-26 01:59:55    

CHENGDU, Aug. 25 (Xinhua) -- A celebrated giant panda was removed from a widely-anticipated live birth after it was discovered she was not actually pregnant.

The panda Ai Hin, 6, was scheduled to star in the world's first live broadcast of the birth of panda cubs, but the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Center told Xinhua Monday that the panda had a "phantom pregnancy."

Phantom pregnancy is common among the endangered bears. Non-pregnant pandas can exhibit prenatal behaviors as a result of progestational hormone changes. But experts said sometimes the pandas, noticing the difference in treatment after exhibiting initial signs of pregnancy, may carry on with the pregnant behavior.

"After showing prenatal signs, the 'mothers-to-be' are moved into single rooms with air conditioning and around-the-clock care. They also receive more buns, fruits and bamboo, so some clever pandas have used this to their advantage to improve their quality of life," said Wu Kongju, an expert at the Chengdu Base.

Ai Hin showed signs of pregnancy, including reduced appetite, less mobility and a surge in progestational hormone in July, but her behaviors and physiological indexes returned to normal after a two-month observation.

Ai Hin was born to panda Mei Mei in December, 2006 in Japan along with her twin brother. The twins quickly became star attractions and were returned to China in 2012.

There are only about 1,600 pandas living in the wild, mostly in the mountains of Sichuan, while about 300 are held in captivity in zoos worldwide. Most pandas in captivity are not good breeders. Only 24 percent of females in captivity give birth, posing a serious threat to the survival of the species.

 on: Aug 29, 2014, 07:12 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Southeast Louisiana is being devoured by the sea — and it’s going to get worse, even quicker

By Bob Marshall, The Lens, Brian Jacobs and Al Shaw, ProPublica
Thursday, August 28, 2014 15:36 EDT

In just 80 years, some 2,000 square miles of its coastal landscape have turned to open water, wiping places off maps, bringing the Gulf of Mexico to the back door of New Orleans and posing a lethal threat to an energy and shipping corridor vital to the nation’s economy.

And it’s going to get worse, even quicker.

Scientists now say one of the greatest environmental and economic disasters in the nation’s history is rushing toward a catastrophic conclusion over the next 50 years, so far unabated and largely unnoticed.

At the current rates that the sea is rising and land is sinking, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists say by 2100 the Gulf of Mexico could rise as much as 4.3 feet across this landscape, which has an average elevation of about 3 feet. If that happens, everything outside the protective levees — most of Southeast Louisiana — would be underwater.

The effects would be felt far beyond bayou country. The region best known for its self-proclaimed motto “laissez les bons temps rouler” — let the good times roll — is one of the nation’s economic linchpins.

This land being swallowed by the Gulf is home to half of the country’s oil refineries, a matrix of pipelines that serve 90 percent of the nation’s offshore energy production and 30 percent of its total oil and gas supply, a port vital to 31 states, and 2 million people who would need to find other places to live.

The landscape on which all that is built is washing away at a rate of a football field every hour, 16 square miles per year.

For years, most residents didn’t notice because they live inside the levees and seldom travel into the wetlands. But even those who work or play in the marshes were misled for decades by the gradual changes in the landscape. A point of land eroding here, a bayou widening there, a spoil levee sinking a foot over 10 years. In an ecosystem covering thousands of square miles, those losses seemed insignificant. There always seemed to be so much left.

Now locals are trying to deal with the shock of losing places they had known all their lives — fishing camps, cypress swamps, beachfronts, even cattle pastures and backyards — with more disappearing every day.

Fishing guide Ryan Lambert is one of them. When he started fishing the wetlands out of Buras 34 years ago, he had to travel through six miles of healthy marshes, swamps and small bays to reach the Gulf of Mexico.

“Now it’s all open water,” Lambert said. “You can stand on the dock and see the Gulf.”

Two years ago, NOAA removed 31 bays and other features from the Buras charts. Some had been named by French explorers in the 1700s.

The people who knew this land when it was rich with wildlife and dotted with Spanish- and French-speaking villages are getting old. They say their grandchildren don’t understand what has been lost.

“I see what was,” said Lloyd “Wimpy” Serigne, who grew up in the fishing and trapping village of Delacroix, 20 miles southeast of New Orleans. It was once home to 700 people; now there are fewer than 15 permanent residents. “People today — like my nephew, he’s pretty young — he sees what is.”

If this trend is not reversed, a wetlands ecosystem that took nature 7,000 years to build will be destroyed in a human lifetime.

The story of how that happened is a tale of levees, oil wells and canals leading to destruction on a scale almost too big to comprehend — and perhaps too late to rebuild. It includes chapters on ignorance, unintended consequences and disregard for scientific warnings. It’s a story that is still unfolding.
Speck by speck, land built over centuries

The coastal landscape Europeans found when they arrived at the mouth of the Mississippi River 500 years ago was the Amazon of North America, a wetlands ecosystem of more than 6,000 square miles built by one of the largest rivers in the world.

For thousands of years, runoff from the vast stretch of the continent between the Rockies and the Appalachians had flowed into the Mississippi valley. Meltwater from retreating glaciers, seasonal snowfall and rain carried topsoil and sand from as far away as the Canadian prairies. The river swelled as it rushed southward on the continent’s downward slope, toward the depression in the planet that would become known as the Gulf of Mexico.

Down on the flat coastal plain, the giant river slowed. It lost the power to carry those countless tons of sediment, which drifted to the bottom. Over thousands of years, this rain of fine particles gradually built land that would rise above the Gulf.

It wasn’t just the main stem of the Mississippi doing this work. When the river reached the coastal plain, side channels — smaller rivers and bayous — peeled off. They were called “œdistributaries,” for the job they did spreading that land-building sediment ever farther afield.

The delta had two other means of staying above the Gulf. The plants and trees growing in its marshes and swamps shed tons of dead parts each year, adding to the soil base. Meanwhile, storms and high tides carried sediment that had been deposited offshore back into the wetlands.

As long as all this could continue unobstructed, the delta continued to expand. But with any interruption, such as a prolonged drought, the new land began to sink.

That’s because the sheer weight of hundreds of feet of moist soil is always pushing downward against the bedrock below. Like a sponge pressed against a countertop, the soil compresses as the moisture is squeezed out. Without new layers of sediment, the delta eventually sinks below sea level.

The best evidence of this dependable rhythm of land building and sinking over seven millennia is underground. Geologists estimate that the deposits were at least 400 feet deep at the mouth of the Mississippi when those first Europeans arrived.

By the time New Orleans was founded in 1718, the main channel of the river was the beating heart of a system pumping sediment and nutrients through a vast circulatory network that stretched from present-day Baton Rouge south to Grand Isle, west to Texas and east to Mississippi. As late as 1900, new land was pushing out into the Gulf of Mexico.

A scant 70 years later, that huge, vibrant wetlands ecosystem would be at death’s door. The exquisite natural plumbing that made it all possible had been dismantled, piece by piece, to protect coastal communities and extract oil and gas.

Engineering the river

For communities along its banks, the Mississippi River has always been an indispensable asset and their gravest threat. The river connected their economies to the rest of the world, but its spring floods periodically breached locally built levees, quickly washing away years of profits and scores of lives. Some towns were so dependent on the river, they simply got used to rebuilding.

That all changed with the Great Flood of 1927.

Swollen by months of record rainfall across the watershed, the Mississippi broke through levees in 145 places, flooding the midsection of the country from Illinois to New Orleans. Some 27,000 square miles went under as much as 30 feet of water, destroying 130,000 homes, leaving 600,000 people homeless and killing 500.

Stunned by what was then the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, Congress passed the Flood Control Act of 1928, which ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prevent such a flood from ever happening again. By the mid-1930s, the corps had done its job, putting the river in a straitjacket of levees.

But the project that made the river safe for the communities along the river would eventually squeeze the life out of the delta. The mud walls along the river sealed it off from the landscape sustained by its sediment. Without it, the sinking of land that only occurred during dry cycles would start, and never stop.

If that were all we had done to the delta, scientists have said, the wetlands that existed in the 1930s could largely be intact today. The natural pace of sinking — scientists call it subsidence — would have been mere millimeters per year.

But we didn’t stop there. Just as those levees were built, a nascent oil and gas industry discovered plentiful reserves below the delta’s marshes, swamps and ridges.

At the time, wetlands were widely considered worthless — places that produced only mosquitoes, snakes and alligators. The marsh was a wilderness where few people could live, or even wanted to.

There were no laws protecting wetlands. Besides, more than 80 percent of this land was in the hands of private landowners who were happy to earn a fortune from worthless property.

Free to choose the cheapest, most direct way to reach drilling sites, oil companies dredged canals off natural waterways to transport rigs and work crews. The canals averaged 13 to 16 feet deep and 140 to 150 feet wide — far larger than natural, twisting waterways.

Effects of canals ripple across the wetlands

Eventually, some 50,000 wells were permitted in the coastal zone. The state estimates that roughly 10,000 miles of canals were dredged to service them, although that only accounts for those covered by permitting systems. The state began to require some permits in the 1950s, but rigorous accounting didn’t begin until the Clean Water Act brought federal agencies into play in 1972.

Researchers say the total number of miles dredged will never be known because many of those areas are now underwater. Gene Turner, a Louisiana State University professor who has spent years researching the impacts of the canals, said 10,000 miles “would be a conservative estimate.”

Companies drilled and dredged all over the coast, perhaps nowhere more quickly than the area near Lafitte, which became known as the Texaco Canals.

This fishing village 15 miles south of New Orleans had been named for the pirate who used these bayous to ferry contraband to the city. For years, the seafood, waterfowl and furbearers in the surrounding wetlands sustained the community. As New Orleans grew, Lafitte also became a favorite destination for weekend hunters and anglers.

Today those scenes are only a memory.

“Once the oil companies come in and started dredging all the canals, everything just started falling apart,” said Joseph Bourgeois, 84, who grew up and still lives in the area.

From 1930 to 1990, as much as 16 percent of the wetlands was turned to open water as those canals were dredged. But as the U.S. Department of the Interior and many others have reported, the indirect damages far exceeded that:

    Saltwater creeped inCanal systems leading to the Gulf allowed saltwater into the heart of freshwater marshes and swamps, killing plants and trees whose roots held the soils together. As a side effect, the annual supply of plant detritus — one way a delta disconnected from its river can maintain its elevation — was seriously reduced.

    Shorelines crumbledWithout fresh sediment and dead plants, shorelines began to collapse, increasing the size of existing water bodies. Wind gained strength over ever-larger sections of open water, adding to land loss. Fishers and other boaters used canals as shortcuts across the wetlands; their wakes also sped shoreline erosion. In some areas, canals grew twice as wide within five years.

    Spoil levees buried and trapped wetlandsWhen companies dredged canals, they dumped the soil they removed alongside, creating “spoil levees” that could rise higher than 10 feet and twice as wide.The weight of the spoil on the soft, moist delta caused the adjacent marshes to sink. In locations of intense dredging, spoil levees impounded acres of wetlands. The levees also impeded the flow of water — and sediments — over wetlands during storm tides.If there were 10,000 miles of canals, there were 20,000 miles of levees. Researchers estimate that canals and levees eliminated or covered 8 million acres of wetlands.

All this disrupted the delta’s natural hydrology — its circulatory system — and led to the drowning of vast areas. Researchers have shown that land has sunk and wetlands have disappeared the most in areas where canals were concentrated.

In the 1970s, up to 50 square miles of wetlands were disappearing each year in the areas with heaviest oil and gas drilling and dredging, bringing the Gulf within sight of many communities.

As the water expanded, people lived and worked on narrower and narrower slivers of land.

“There’s places where I had cattle pens, and built those pens … with a tractor that weighed 5,000 or 6,000 pounds,” said Earl Armstrong, a cattle rancher who grew on the river nine miles south of the nearest road. “Right now we run through there with airboats.”

There are other forces at work, including a series of geologic faults in the delta and the rock layers beneath, but a U.S. Department of Interior report says oil and gas canals are ultimately responsible for 30 to 59 percent of coastal land loss. In some areas of Barataria Bay, said Turner at LSU, it’s close to 90 percent.

Even more damage was to come as the oil and gas industry shifted offshore in the late 1930s, eventually planting about 7,000 wells in the Gulf. To carry that harvest to onshore refineries, companies needed more underwater pipelines. So they dug wider, deeper waterways to accommodate the large ships that served offshore platforms.

Congress authorized the Corps of Engineers to dredge about 550 miles of navigation channels through the wetlands. The Department of Interior has estimated that those canals, averaging 12 to 15 feet deep and 150 to 500 feet wide, resulted in the loss of an additional 369,000 acres of coastal land.

Researchers eventually would show that the damage wasn’t due to surface activities alone. When all that oil and gas was removed from below some areas, the layers of earth far below compacted and sank. Studies have shown that coastal subsidence has been highest in some areas with the highest rates of extraction.

Push to hold industry accountable

The oil and gas industry, one of the state’s most powerful political forces, has acknowledged some role in the damages, but so far has defeated efforts to force companies to pay for it.

The most aggressive effort to hold the industry accountable is now underway. In July 2013, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, which maintains levees around New Orleans, filed suit against more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies.

The lawsuit claims that the industry, by transforming so much of the wetlands to open water, has increased the size of storm surges. It argues this is making it harder to protect the New Orleans area against flooding and will force the levee authority to build bigger levees and floodwalls.

The lawsuit also claims that the companies did not return the work areas to their original condition, as required by state permits.

“The oil and gas industry has complied with each permit required by the State of Louisiana and the Corps of Engineers since the permits became law, said Ragan Dickens, spokesman for the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association.

State leaders immediately rose to the industry’s defense. Much of the public debate has not been about the merits of the suit; instead, opponents contested the authority’s legal right to file the suit and its contingency fee arrangement with a private law firm.

“We’re not going to allow a single levee board that has been hijacked by a group of trial lawyers to determine flood protection, coastal restoration and economic repercussions for the entire State of Louisiana,” said Gov. Bobby Jindal in a news release demanding that the levee authority withdraw its suit.

“A better approach,” he said in the statement, “to helping restore Louisiana’s coast includes holding the Army Corps of Engineers accountable, pushing for more offshore revenue sharing and holding BP accountable for the damage their spill is doing to our coast.”

The industry’s political clout reflects its outsized role in the economy of one of the nation’s poorest states. The industry directly employs 63,000 people in the state, according to the federal Department of Labor.

Many of those employees live in the coastal parishes that have suffered most from oil and gas activities and face the most severe consequences from the resulting land loss.

Legislators in those areas helped Jindal pass a law that retroactively sought to remove the levee authority’s standing to file the suit. The constitutionality of that law is now before a federal judge.
Consequences now clear

Even as politicians fought the lawsuit, it was hard to deny what was happening on the ground.

By 2000, coastal roads that had flooded only during major hurricanes were going underwater when high tides coincided with strong southerly winds. Islands and beaches that had been landmarks for lifetimes were gone, lakes had turned into bays, and bays had eaten through their borders to join the Gulf.

“It happened so fast, I could actually see the difference day to day, month to month,” said Lambert, the fishing guide in Buras.

Today, in some basins around New Orleans, land is sinking an inch every 30 months. At this pace, by the end of the century this land will sink almost 3 feet in an area that’s barely above sea level today.

Meanwhile, global warming is causing seas to rise worldwide. Coastal landscapes everywhere are now facing a serious threat, but none more so than Southeast Louisiana.

The federal government projects that seas along the U.S. coastline will rise 1.5 to 4.5 feet by 2100. Southeast Louisiana would see “at least” 4 to 5 feet, said NOAA scientist Tim Osborn.

The difference: This sediment-starved delta is sinking at one of the fastest rates of any large coastal landscape on the planet at the same time the oceans are rising.

Maps used by researchers to illustrate what the state will look like in 2100 under current projections show the bottom of Louisiana’s “boot” outline largely gone, replaced by a coast running practically straight east to west, starting just south of Baton Rouge. The southeast corner of the state is represented only by two fingers of land — the areas along the Mississippi River and Bayou Lafourche that currently are protected by levees.

Finally, a plan to rebuild — but not enough money

Similar predictions had been made for years. But Hurricane Katrina finally galvanized the state Legislature, which pushed through a far-reaching coastal restoration plan in 2007.

The 50-year, $50 billion Master Plan for the Coast (in 2012 dollars) includes projects to build levees, pump sediment into sinking areas, and build massive diversions on the river to reconnect it with the dying delta.

The state’s computer projections show that by 2060 — if projects are completed on schedule — more land could be built annually than is lost to the Gulf.

But there are three large caveats.

    The state is still searching for the full $50 billion. Congress so far has been unwilling to help.
    If the plan is to work, sea-level rise can’t be as bad as the worst-case scenario.
    Building controlled sediment diversions on the river, a key part of the land-building strategy, has never been done before. The predictions, then, are largely hypothetical, although advocates say the concept is being proven by an uncontrolled diversion at West Bay, near the mouth of the river.

Some of the money will come from an increased share of offshore oil and gas royalties, but many coastal advocates say the industry should pay a larger share.

In fact, leaders of the regional levee authority have said the purpose of the lawsuit was to make the industry pay for the rebuilding plan, suggesting that state could trade immunity from future suits for bankrolling it.

That idea is gaining momentum in official circles, despite the industry’s latest win in the state Legislature.

Kyle Graham, executive director of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said recently that the industry understands its liability for the crumbling coast and is discussing some kind of settlement. “It’s very difficult to see a future in which that [such an agreement] isn’t there,” he said.

Graham has said current funding sources could keep the restoration plan on schedule only through 2019. He was blunt when talking about what would happen if more money doesn’t come through: There will be a smaller coast.

“There are various sizes of a sustainable coastal Louisiana,” he said. “And that could depend on how much our people are willing to put up for that.”

A vanishing culture

Trying to keep pace with the vanishing pieces of southeast Louisiana today is like chasing the sunset; it’s a race that never ends.

Lambert said when he’s leading fishing trips, he finds himself explaining to visitors what he means when he says, “This used to be Bay Pomme d’Or” and the growing list of other spots now only on maps.

Signs of the impending death of this delta are there to see for any visitor.

Falling tides carry patches of marsh grass that have fallen from the ever-crumbling shorelines.

Pelicans circle in confusion over nesting islands that have washed away since last spring.

Pilings that held weekend camps surrounded by thick marshes a decade ago stand in open water, hundreds of yards from the nearest land — mute testimony to a vanishing culture.

Shrimpers push their wing nets in lagoons that were land five years ago.

The bare trunks of long-dead oaks rise from the marsh, tombstones marking the drowning of high ridges that were built back when the river pumped life-giving sediment through its delta.

“If you’re a young person you think this is what it’s supposed to look like,” Lambert said. “Then when you’re old enough to know, it’s too late.”

 on: Aug 29, 2014, 07:06 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Coal plants lock in 300 billion tons of CO2 emissions

By Climate Central
Thursday, August 28, 2014 14:24 EDT

It seems straightforward to say that when you buy a new car by taking out a loan, you’re committing to spending a certain amount of your income per month on that car for a specific period of time.

Of course, by buying that car, you’re also committing to polluting the atmosphere with some amount of carbon dioxide. But how often do car buyers make that calculation?

The same can be said for coal-fired power plants, which spew billions of tons of climate-changing CO2 into the atmosphere each year, and continue to be built across the globe.

Coal-fired power plants are the largest contributors to the atmospheric CO2 concentrations,  which last year reached 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in human history — up from 280 ppm in pre-industrial times.

While utilities account for operating costs, few ever calculate how much CO2 those power plants will emit into the atmosphere during their lifespans, according to a new studyconducted by Princeton University and University of California-Irvine.

That’s a huge problem for the climate because more new coal-fired power plants have been built worldwide in the past decade than in any previous decade, with no sign of slowing down, the study says.

Those existing coal-fired power plants emit billions of tons of CO2 each year and account for about 26 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions — double that of the transportation sector. In the U.S. alone, burning coal emitted 1.87 billion tons of CO2 in 2011, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Worldwide, coal-burning released 14.4 billion tons of CO2 in 2011.

But the study extends those emissions out to the full lifespan of each of the existing power plants — 40 years per plant — and estimates that together they will spew out 300 billion tons of CO2 before they are retired, up from 200 billion tons of CO2 emissions that were committed from the power plants that existed in 2000, the study says.

In other words, the power plants operating today are committed to emitting 300 billion tons of CO2 in the future, enough to contribute an additional 20 ppm of CO2 to the atmosphere globally, Princeton University professor emeritus of mechanical and aerospace engineering and study co-author Robert Socolow told Climate Central.

Estimating future emissions is called “commitment accounting,” according to the study.

When those existing coal-fired power plants are shut down, current trends in China and other developing nations suggest that new ones will replace them, committing the globe to even more CO2 emissions at a time when the climate can least tolerate it, Socolow said.

Calculating CO2 emissions commitments from power plants is almost never done because CO2 emissions are reported to the United Nations based on emissions in a single year rather than those expected in future years, the study says.

“Bringing down carbon emissions means retiring more fossil fuel facilities than we build,” study lead author Steven Davis, assistant professor of earth system science at UC-Irvine, said in a statement. “But worldwide, we’ve built more coal-burning power plants in the past decade than in any previous decade, and closures of old plants aren’t keeping pace with this expansion.”

In the U.S., the Obama administration has set a goal under the Clean Power Plan to slash CO2 emissions from existing coal-fired power plants 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The study says that despite international efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, the global power sector’s CO2 commitments are growing 4 percent each year, and have not declined at all since 1950.

As developing nations like China and India and other countries become more industrialized and build more and more coal-fired power plants — China and India account for more than half of all the coal used on the planet — the world is being committed to more and more CO2 emissions in the coming years.

“Remaining commitments have gotten bigger and bigger every year without exception,” Davis said. “We’re not at the point where power plants alone will emit 30 billion tons if they run 40 years.”

Damon Matthews, Concordia University chair in climate science and sustainability who reviewed the study prior to publication, said the study is a new way of thinking about power plant emissions.

“If we can account for committed emissions over a lifetime of a plant at the time it is built, this may change the equation about what type of power plants it makes sense to invest in,” Matthews said.

Stephane Hallegatte, senior economist in the Climate Change Group at the World Bank and a reviewer of the study prior to publication, said the study is crucial because it creates an indicator to help policymakers understand the long-term consequences of their decisions.

“Indeed, the problem is that we have invested and continue to invest in infrastructure and equipment — including power plants — that emit and will emit for a long time,” Hallegatte said. “Because of the long lifetime of these investments, reducing emissions in 2030 requires an action that starts as soon as possible.”

Accounting for future CO2 pollution commitment is critical for policymakers and the power sector to better understand their role in a changing climate and what can be done to reduce CO2 emissions globally, the study says.

It’s possible some of power plants may not be used for their life expectancy, but that’s a rare occurrence, Socolow said.

“Of course, we can retire plants before the end of their natural lifetime or retrofit them with new technology,” Matthews said. “But this is expensive to do, so we can’t assume that will happen.”

Socolow said one of the things he hopes the paper will do is prod the UN reporting system to account for future emissions. The electric power industry has no good data on emissions, and emission estimates reported to governments are usually based on the amount of coal bought and sold rather than measurements of actual emissions at power plants, he said.

“The result of this paper’s analysis — namely the rapid increase in committed emissions — shows that actions to direct new investments toward cleaner technologies are even more urgent than what emissions alone suggest,” Hallegatte said.

 on: Aug 29, 2014, 07:02 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
As Ebola Grips Liberia’s Capital, a Quarantine Sows Social Chaos

AUG. 28, 2014

MONROVIA, Liberia — Some people are swimming in and out of the Ebola quarantine zone in this seaside capital. One man slips out every day to reach his job at a Western embassy. Another has turned his living room into a tollbooth, charging others to escape through his apartment at the edge of the cordoned area. Countless others have used a different method: bribing their way out with fees that soldiers determine according to a person’s appearance, circumstances and even gender.

Christian Verre, 26, a clothing salesman, sneaked out through an abandoned building with his girlfriend, Alice Washington, 21, and eight friends. “Go back! Go back!” soldiers and police officers yelled, he recalled, but the conversation quickly took on a different turn: “What do you got?”   

Those carrying goods handed over more than $8, Mr. Verre said. Traveling light, he was charged $4.25 for his girlfriend and about $6 for himself, “because I’m a man.” The couple now share a shack a few blocks outside West Point, the vast, sprawling slum that was placed under an Ebola quarantine last week.

“I didn’t want to stay in West Point for 21 days,” he said, referring to Ebola’s maximum incubation period. “I wouldn’t die of Ebola but of hunger.”

The five-month-old outbreak here in West Africa, already worse than all other Ebola epidemics combined, is for the first time spreading uncontrollably in a major city — one in which a third of Liberia’s 4.5 million people are estimated to rub shoulders, often uneasily. Though Ebola reached Monrovia three months after its appearance in the rural north, the city has become, in a few weeks, a major focal point of the epidemic.

The outbreak has overwhelmed the government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who has won the Nobel Peace Prize and the admiration of leaders around the world. But her management of Liberia has long drawn criticism at home, and now her handling of the Ebola epidemic has presented her with a political crisis that is galvanizing her opposition.

“We suffering! No food, Ma, no eat. We beg you, Ma!” one man yelled at Ms. Johnson Sirleaf as she visited West Point this week, surrounded by concentric circles of heavily armed guards, some linking arms and wearing surgical gloves.

“We want to go out!” yet another pleaded. “We want to be free, Mama, please.”

International Ebola experts and her own health officials advised against imposing the quarantine in West Point, worried that it would antagonize a population whose cooperation the government desperately needs to stop the epidemic. But Ms. Johnson Sirleaf sided with the army, which was the strongest proponent of the quarantine and took the lead in enforcing it, especially in the first two days.

“Putting the police and the army in charge of the quarantine was the worst thing you could do,” said Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, a Congolese physician who helped identify the Ebola virus in the 1970s, battled many outbreaks in Central Africa and has been visiting Monrovia to advise the government. “You must make the people inside the quarantine zone feel that they are being helped, not oppressed.”

Isolating communities has succeeded in some rural areas in past outbreaks in Central Africa. But the quarantine of an entire urban neighborhood, where 60,000 to 120,000 people are crammed into crumbling shacks, has proved to be more than just porous. It has also led to deadly clashes with soldiers and may even be helping spread the disease, experts say, forcing people to crowd together for basic humanitarian aid, like food relief.

Cordoned off from the city, young men in West Point squeeze together in dense lines for rice and water, pushing and shoving, sweat mixing, saliva flying, blood sometimes spilling. One morning, a man in a wheelchair trying to cut to the front was beaten, stripped and left sprawled in the middle of the road, urinating over himself.

“The quarantine is going to worsen the spread of Ebola,” said Dr. Muyembe, the director of the National Institute for Biomedical Research in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. “It’s difficult to understand the motivation behind it. It’s simply not a good strategy.”

Lewis Brown, the Liberian minister of information, said the president made the decision based on both health and security concerns. Though Ebola has been spreading throughout other parts of the city, he said, the government singled out West Point because of its dense population and its potential for political instability, as shown when residents recently stormed an Ebola holding center that they did not want in the neighborhood.

“We’re not saying that Ebola is any more present in West Point than other places in the country — that’s not the argument we’re making,” Mr. Brown said. “But the potential is in the size of the area and the interaction with the city itself.”

He added: “We’re not claiming to be experts on Ebola. We’ve never had to deal with this kind of thing, but we’ve always had to deal with our people. We understand our people more than we understand this disease.”

Ms. Johnson Sirleaf has made no public statement since the start of the quarantine and the fatal shooting of a 15-year-old West Point boy, Shakie Kamara, who was caught in a battle between soldiers and men trying to break out of the quarantine zone.

During her visit to West Point, she apologized to his family and looked at those calling for help with sympathy in her eyes, saying little. Walking several feet behind her, a man in a checkered shirt pulled out Liberian dollar bills from a backpack with his gloved hand and tossed the money to the loudest protesters. The money silenced their criticism but immediately set off fistfights.

A Toyota Land Cruiser took the president out of West Point. Her guards and entourage followed on foot, tossing their used gloves on the ground on their way out.

An Explosive Outbreak

No one knows yet why Ebola has succeeded in spreading at such an alarming rate here in the capital. Ebola has reached the capital cities of Freetown, Sierra Leone, and Conakry, Guinea — the two other West African nations most affected by the current outbreak — but the disease has been more effectively contained.

The first cases in Monrovia were reported only in June. Infections have multiplied quickly here in recent weeks, illustrating the speed with which Ebola can spread in a major urban area. The county containing Monrovia quickly registered the nation’s biggest death toll — now 274 deaths out of a national total of 754, according to the Ministry of Health.

“The Conakry outbreaks have been very small, and they haven’t exploded in Freetown,” said Dr. Armand Sprecher, an Ebola expert for Doctors Without Borders here. “So something is different in Monrovia. It’s something in the disease transmission behaviors in Monrovia that has done this. That’s my guess. We’ve never seen this kind of explosion in an urban environment before.”

Others point to a political system long dominated by an elite out of touch with the population and more focused on jockeying for power. Politicians, including members of the president’s own party, publicly expressed doubts about the extent of the outbreak and even accused her administration of exaggerating it to collect money from international donors.

Among Liberians, still grappling with the consequences of a 14-year civil war that ended in 2003, distrust of the government runs deepest in Monrovia’s poorest neighborhoods. Despite billboards and posters throughout the city declaring that “Ebola is Real,” many Liberians believe it is not.

Dr. Moses Massaquoi, who has been heading Ebola case management for Liberia’s Health Ministry during the crisis, said that high-level political denials delayed the expansion of a treatment center just as cases mushroomed last month.

“Unfortunately, Ebola is not waiting for politics,” he said. “That was a missed window of opportunity.”

As the situation worsened in the capital in mid-August, the government established the city’s first Ebola holding center in West Point, Monrovia’s biggest slum and political opposition stronghold. Locals ransacked and closed down the center within days.

On Aug. 20, under the president’s orders, the army and the police placed West Point under quarantine — the first time, some experts say, that a quarantine was attempted on such a scale. West Point reacted with fury: Hundreds of young men tried to storm through the barricades. As soldiers fired live rounds to drive them back, the 15-year-old boy, Shakie, was killed. Only heavy rain starting around noon put a stop to the riots.

In rural areas, quarantining communities can work if they are small enough and unified under political or traditional leadership, experts say.

“What is important is for the people to participate in the process; otherwise it becomes too difficult to implement effectively,” said Dr. Nestor Ndayimirije, the World Health Organization’s director for Liberia.

A week into the quarantine of West Point, life was getting harder for those without the means or connections to get out. The price of goods that find their way into the quarantine zone — rice, water, coal, prepaid cellphone cards, soap — has doubled.

“People are fighting for food to eat,” said Victor Nwanodu, who owns one of West Point’s most popular public toilets and baths. Business has dropped, he said, as people can no longer afford to pay for a hot bath.

Serena Wallo, 31, was one of a few dozen people whose houses were washed away this week along West Point’s heavily eroded shoreline. Unable to leave the quarantine zone, her family now has to stay with friends in the area, in the kind of overcrowded conditions where Ebola thrives.

“I’m not happy with the government,” Ms. Wallo said. “They are treating us like we are slaves.”

A Political Backlash

Like her counterparts in Sierra Leone and Guinea, Ms. Johnson Sirleaf was dealing with Ebola for the first time. She decided to do so with a firm hand by deploying the army — an institution that remains troubled despite being rebuilt after the civil war with American training and hundreds of millions of dollars in American assistance.

Mr. Brown, the information minister, said that it was necessary for the army to take the lead in the first couple of days of the quarantine. “If the military had not backed up the police the way they did, probably not only West Point would have been overrun, but the city center would have also been overrun,” he said.

But the president’s handling of the crisis is drawing new political challenges and leading to defections. Political parties and newspapers are calling for her resignation. This week, Ms. Johnson Sirleaf announced she had fired high-ranking government officials who refused to return to Liberia because of the Ebola outbreak. Though she inspired great hope among Liberians when she was first elected in 2005, becoming the first woman elected head of state in Africa, the crisis has fueled longstanding criticism that her reputation abroad was inflated by foreigners with little knowledge of the conditions in Liberia.

“This Ebola thing now has basically laid the thing out like this: The system is bad and the emperor has no clothes,” said Samuel P. Jackson, who served as an economic adviser to the president until the end of July but is now backing Benoni W. Urey, a businessman believed to be Liberia’s richest man and a candidate in the next presidential election. Mr. Urey was also a close adviser of Charles Taylor, the former president convicted by an international court of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

For months, Mr. Urey has been criticizing the government’s handling of the outbreak. He said Ms. Johnson Sirleaf “must take the ultimate blame for everything.” One of the greatest sources of public anger, he pointed out, has been the government’s inability to pick up the bodies of the Ebola dead, which have often been left in people’s houses or even dumped on public streets.

“Come on!” Mr. Urey said, calling it an example of the government’s incompetence.

Jerolinmek Piah, the president’s press secretary, said that Ms. Johnson Sirleaf was no longer giving interviews.

In a very brief exchange, Ms. Johnson Sirleaf said of the quarantine, “We are trying to make it go well.”

Little a Hospital Could Do

Shakie Kamara, the 15-year-old boy who was killed in the clashes in West Point, was raised by his aunt. His mother died when he was a toddler, and his father a couple of years later.

On the morning of his own death, Shakie had gone to buy tea and bread for his aunt at a shop near the entrance to West Point, but apparently got caught between a crowd of rock-throwing men and soldiers firing live rounds.

“No pa, no ma,” he said, pleading for help as he lay on the ground with wounds to both legs.

The Defense Ministry said the wounds were caused by barbed wire. But Dr. Mohammed Sankoh, the medical director of Redemption Hospital, where Shakie died, and two other hospital staff members said the boy died after suffering deep bullet wounds. There was little the hospital, where a doctor and several nurses had died recently of Ebola, could do, hospital workers said.

“There was no material in the emergency room,” said Dr. Alphonso Gray. “The theater was not operating.”

While visiting West Point, the president promised Shakie’s family an investigation into his death.

Shakie’s older brother, Lusine Kamara, 27, said he told the president he wanted nothing — just Shakie’s body for a proper funeral. Shakie’s aunt, Eva Nah, left the door open.

“She told me that after everything, she will get back to me,” Ms. Nah said.

A couple of hours later, the military released Shakie’s body to his family, and he was buried at Monrovia’s Muslim cemetery.

 on: Aug 29, 2014, 06:56 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Circumcision: South Africans should stop allowing our boys to be butchered

Fezisa Mdibi’s 11-year-old son will soon be called to take part in the Xhosa rite of passage – circumcision. But with dozens dying each year from botched operations, she believes it’s time the practice was banned

Fezisa Mdibi in Eshowe, Thursday 28 August 2014 12.58 BST      

In my village in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, a male who has not undergone circumcision is called ‘inkwenkwe’ – a boy.

A young man who has undergone this rite of passage takes great pride in it. If he has not, he is not considered an adult, and will not be respected by men and women alike. He won’t be able to sit with the village men during ceremonial functions or important discussions. He’ll be shunned and told that his foreskin smells. Women who date him will also be looked down upon for dating an ‘inkwenkwe’.

As a young girl growing up in Mbizana, Eastern Pondoland, every year I looked forward to the celebrations at the end of each circumcision season. I had thought this was the way things had always been done here among my Pondo people, but in his book Faku: Rulership and Colonialism in the Mpondo Kingdom, Timothy J Stapleton writes: “Sometime in the mid-1820s, Faku prohibited circumcision, which was the customary initiation for young men in Xhosa-speaking societies… Oral informants in the early twentieth century stated that circumcision frequently made the initiates ill, probably through infection.”

The reason our King prohibited circumcision in the early 19th century is increasingly evident; over 180 boys have been admitted to hospital and 35 have died so far since the initiation season started this year alone, many due to botched procedures.

As the mother of an 11-year-old boy and responsible for his health, I have to question: is this practice justifiable in the 21st century? In a society that shuns those who are not circumcised, does my son really have a choice about keeping his penis intact or will he just have to submit to having part of himself amputated because ‘it is the way things are done here’.

We celebrate our cultural practices, yet we silently bury the dead, and the victims who live continue to suffer at the hands of the men who cut them.

As a mother with a duty to protect my son, I find I can no longer celebrate this customary rite of passage. I am now faced with the daunting task of speaking to my family about this. As mothers, we are told to stay out of it because this is a sacred rite of passage that boys must go through. Do I have a right to say no when it comes to my child?

    As the mother of an 11-year-old boy and responsible for his health, I have to question: is this practice justifiable in the 21st century?

The entire subject is deeply taboo. We passively accept that scores of young men in our country will inevitably die each year after being circumcised and that many more will be permanently maimed. Many young men end up losing the one thing they ‘go to the mountains’ to attain: their manhood.

It is not only the surgical side of the tradition that is cause for concern. Boys in my village go through initiation to get a pass to drink alcohol in front of and with the elders. Often we have seen these boys change from polite and well-behaved into abusive, violent, drunken young men. My cousin came back from initiation severely beaten, and a friend so badly beaten that he couldn’t walk for months. A neighbour’s son came back permanently mentally disturbed by what he had experienced.

I am angry at the complacency of our men and the silence of our women in the face of this horror. So many young mothers are appalled by the prospect of their sons being circumcised, yet tell me they feel powerless to stop it.

It is recognised that some deeply entrenched harmful cultural practices need ending with legislation. In some areas of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, for instance, young girls were legally abducted and raped in a traditional marriage practice called ukuthwala. Today it is illegal.

Likewise, female genital mutilation is now outlawed in eighteen countries, including South Africa. An estimated 100–140 million women worldwide have suffered FGM, and about three million girls and women continue to be mutilated every year. As awareness spreads and opposition grows, however, attitudes are changing. A spotlight is being directed on the shame and secrecy surrounding FGM, and more and more people are starting to appreciate that there is no developmental, religious or health reason to mutilate any girl or woman.

We must appreciate that cultures evolve, and we must leave harmful practices behind. Can we really say that if we decided to stop the circumcision of our boys we would lose our essential sense of identity as black South Africans? If we have banned the genital butchery of girls, why do we allow it for boys?

 on: Aug 29, 2014, 06:50 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
ISIS Said to Kill 150 Syrian Captives in 2 Days, Videotaping the Horror

AUG. 28, 2014

BAGHDAD — Fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria have killed more than 150 captured soldiers in northern Syria in the last two days, a monitoring group said on Thursday. Video images posted online appeared to show the men being marched through the desert in their underwear by the extremists and then lying dead in the sand.

The mass killing of the soldiers represented a dark end to the battle for control of the Tabqa air base in Raqqa Province. The insurgents seized the base on Sunday after the deadliest fighting so far between ISIS and government forces.

The killings were reported on the same day that Syrian rebel fighters captured 43 United Nations peacekeepers near the demarcation line between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, after heavy fighting in the area between non-ISIS rebel fighters and government troops.

As it has stormed through northern Iraq and seized Mosul, that country’s second-largest city, ISIS has often distributed graphic images of its dead adversaries, to enlarge its reputation and terrify its enemies. But even by the group’s usual brutal standards, the video of jihadist fighters taunting humiliated, nearly naked men as they were led to their death were horrifying, sending shock waves through Syrian communities that have stood by President Bashar al-Assad through more than three years of civil war.

Compounding the reaction were apparent attempts by the government to play down the loss of the air base. The state news agency, SANA, reported on the day the base fell that troops there had withdrawn and regrouped, and were fighting successfully nearby.

The next day, Walid al-Moallem, Syria’s foreign minister, made only a brief reference to the battle in an hourlong news conference, conceding that the base had been lost but claiming that all troops and aircraft had withdrawn successfully.

Anger erupted on Thursday after administrators of a Facebook page dedicated to the soldiers stationed at the base posted one video of the men being marched through the desert, and another that showed their bodies — more than 120 of them — lying in a long line.

“Stop circulating false news,” wrote one commenter under the name Zahraa al-Hassan, referring to the government’s claims. The commenter called the Assad government “a filthy failure that has destroyed the country’s trees and people and allowed ISIS to rise.”

Many comments posted on the site assailed Gen. Fahd Jassem al-Freij, the defense minister, who retained his post in a new cabinet announced on Wednesday despite the loss of three important military facilities to ISIS fighters in little more than a month.

An illustration posted on the page sarcastically addressed Mr. Assad’s press office, saying it had promised to address “the shortcomings that have led to the loss of a number of areas and a large number of martyrs for the homeland.”

Many Syrians have stood by Mr. Assad through the conflict, because they see him as a symbol of the state or they fear that the rebels who are trying to topple him will destroy the country. Many members of Syria’s Alawite minority believe that their survival depends on Mr. Assad, because the extremist elements of the rebellion consider Alawites to be infidels and hold the entire group responsible for Mr. Assad’s actions.

Still, government supporters have grown worried as the war has dragged on and as ISIS has gained strength and territory with little interference from the Syrian Army. The brutal coda to the battle for the Tabqa air base was likely to raise further complaints about Mr. Assad’s prosecution of the war.

The Syrian government did not comment on the killing of its captured soldiers.

Videos posted online by ISIS supporters gave glimpses of the captives’ final hours. In one, men who appear to be the prisoners are seen running in a long line through a stretch of desert as bearded ISIS fighters laugh and herd them like sheep.

“The State of Islam!” the fighters yell, using a common ISIS slogan, and the men reply, “It remains.”

Another video shows scores of captives sitting on the concrete floor of a large room while one is questioned by ISIS fighters who are off camera.

“How many people have you killed?” the fighters ask. “How many have you raped?” The captive soldier shakes his head and says, “No one.”

When he tells the interrogators that he is an Alawite, they insult him and say, “We’ll return you to hell, God willing.”

A Lebanese ISIS fighter who was reached through the Internet and gave his name only as Yousef said that the men seen dead in the video were part of a military column that had come to the area in an attempt to rescue troops who had fled from the air base.

“We ambushed them and arrested them,” he said.

Yousef said the ISIS fighters made the soldiers run in the desert to tire them out, and then locked them in a room where they were beaten.

“Then we took them out and shot them,” he said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group that tracks casualties in Syria, said that more than 150 captured soldiers had been killed by ISIS since Wednesday. But the group’s director, Rami Abdulrahman, raised doubts about the ISIS account. Mr. Abdulrahman said that the military column sent to the area of the base had evacuated 60 soldiers, and that he had seen no proof that the men in the videos were the slain soldiers.

In southern Syria, rebels and government forces have been clashing fiercely in the area near the demarcation line that is monitored by the United Nations peacekeepers, especially around Quneitra, the only border crossing between Syria and the Israeli-held territory. On Wednesday, fighters from a number of Syrian rebel groups, including the Nusra Front, which is affiliated with Al Qaeda, wrested control of the crossing from Syrian government forces. ISIS fighters were not reported to be involved.

The 43 peacekeepers seized in that area on Thursday were Fijians. The United Nations said in a statement that it was making every effort to secure their release. A number of Filipino peacekeepers from the same United Nations mission were held by rebels last year and later released unharmed.

A spokesman for the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, condemned the detention of the peacekeepers and demanded their immediate release.

Antigovernment activists in the area who work with the rebels were not immediately available for comment.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry issued a brief statement saying that the government “holds the terrorist groups and the sides backing them fully responsible for the safety of the kidnapped soldiers and demands their immediate release.”

Fighting continued in the border region on Thursday, as the Syrian government mounted airstrikes. It did not comment on the fighting or say whether any of its soldiers had been killed.

Besides Fijians and Filipinos, the United Nations force in the Golan Heights includes personnel from India, Ireland, Nepal and the Netherlands. The force has been monitoring a cease-fire and military disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria in the area since 1974.


Obama: 'We don't have a strategy yet' to combat Isis militants

Pushing back against fervent speculation that he is preparing to bomb Isis in Syria, Obama said plans limited to Iraq

Spencer Ackerman in New York, Thursday 28 August 2014 22.55 BST      

US President Barack Obama said on Thursday that he has not yet developed a strategy to combat Islamic State (Isis) militants, months after the jihadist army erased the border between Iraq and Syria and more than a week after it beheaded an American citizen.

“We don’t have a strategy yet,” Obama told reporters at the White House, indicating a reluctance to expand his bombing campaign into Syria.

Obama said that he had asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to prepare “a range of options” for confronting Isis. But pushing back against fervent speculation that he is preparing to bomb Isis in Syria, Obama said those military plans will be limited to Iraq.

“Our core priority right now is just to make sure our folks are safe,” Obama said.

Obama’s national security team convened at the White House Thursday afternoon to discuss the contours of a still-inchoate strategy. Administration officials have recently begun describing Isis in apocalyptic and near-hysterical terms, even as they decline to endorse additional military action against it, a discrepancy that has prompted confusion in Washington and beyond.

To the degree Obama’s emerging approach to Isis has a centerpiece, it is enlisting regional allies, particularly Sunni Arab nations, to aid in isolating and attacking Isis. Secretary of State John Kerry will soon leave for the Middle East to continue coalition-building.

Some current and former administration officials, speaking on background, have expressed frustration with Obama for not yet forming a comprehensive approach to Isis, and especially for not attempting to take territory in eastern Syria away from the jihadi group. Others contend that the administration’s options are inherently limited if it seeks not to Americanize yet another Middle Eastern war.

Still others have said they expect Obama’s military operations against Isis to eventually expand in scope, mission and geographic reach. Obama was initially reluctant about the Afghanistan surge, the Libya air war and the arming of Syrian rebels, only to eventually embrace all those options.

Obama gave some indications that he is far from persuaded on attacking Syria, but also that his views have yet to solidify. He portrayed US military action as less significant than Iraqi and regional investment in political reconciliation, a point frequently made last decade by US generals, albeit few who were skeptical of escalation in Iraq.

“The idea that the United States or any outside power would perpetually defeat Isis, I think, is unrealistic,” Obama said.

“We can rout Isis on the ground and keep a lid on things temporarily, but then as soon as we leave, the same problems come back again. We’ve got to make sure Iraqis understand that in the end they are responsible for their own security.”

Yet Obama signaled an openness to “an international coalition providing additional air support” for Iraqi and Kurdish forces that have begun to take some territory away from Isis, a potential expansion of the air war.

Already the 106 US airstrikes in Iraq – now occurring daily, and most recently on Thursday – have expanded in focus from protecting Yazidis atop Mount Sinjar – now an abandoned mission – to protecting Iraqi Kurdistan and pushing Isis back from the critical Mosul Dam, mostly under the broad rubric of protecting US personnel in Iraq.

Additional internationalization of the conflict is likely to be a subject of discussion at next week’s Nato summit in Cardiff, as well as next month’s United Nations session.

About the only option Obama forswore was tacitly or explicitly reversing course and aligning with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, whom Obama nearly attacked last year, against their common foe.

“Frankly, Assad doesn’t seem to have the capability or reach to get into those areas” where Isis operates, Obama said.

A US official recently observed that Assad’s air defenses now render the skies over eastern Syria relatively permissible, which may reduce the risk US pilots could face should Obama order attacks on Isis in eastern Syria. A US special operations team was able to secretly infiltrate Syria from the air earlier this summer in an unsuccessful mission to free US hostages.

Obama said he would continue “consultations with Congress,” but stopped short of committing to a congressional vote on military action, as some lawmakers desire. He dismissed that as premature, as his strategy has yet to develop.

Last year, Obama’s surprise decision to seek congressional approval for strikes against Assad aroused congressional skepticism, and a vote was forestalled after Russia brokered an unexpected accord to divest Assad of the chemical weapons precursors that had prompted the US to consider strikes.


Islamic State: Arab leaders reluctant to heed US call for 'allies against Isis'

Saudi Arabia, UAE and Jordan know dangers of Isis but tribal ties and fears of boosting Syria's Assad are prompting caution

Ian Black, Middle East editor
The Guardian, Wednesday 27 August 2014 20.52 BST   

No one is falling over themselves to respond to Barack Obama's quest for a new "coalition of the willing" to attack the jihadis of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – least of all, it seems, the Arab governments that are most immediately threatened by its brutal, border-demolishing agenda.

The dangers are not in doubt: Jordan has been suffering the jitters since Islamic State (Isis) fighters took the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in June. This week it announced the arrest of 40 alleged extremists as a "precautionary measure".

The Saudi authorities have rounded up "sleeper cells" said to be recruiting terrorists. The normally taciturn Saudis have been vocal in denying they support or finance Isis, and insist they abhor its extremist and revolutionary ideology – even though their own penchant for beheadings is often cited by critics as one unpleasant likeness.

Elsewhere in the Gulf, the UAE has made clear it considers Islamists of all hues a threat, at home and abroad. Even Kuwait, probably the biggest single source of private funding for extremists fighting in Syria, has cracked down. It and other states that looked the other way when their citizens funded jihad against Bashar al-Assad are now cooperating with the US Treasury department. Qatar has cleaned up its act as well.

The Gulf's limitless financial resources alone were never enough to guarantee a coherent effort in the war against Assad. Bandar Bin Sultan, the last Saudi intelligence chief, was adept at delivering cash to rebel groups, but there was too much competition and not enough strategy and control.

The problem with the Saudi-Qatari effort, argues Bruce Riedel, an old CIA Middle East hand and director of the Brookings Intelligence Project, was that it did not have an equivalent of the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence agency that ran the Mujahideen war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The Gulf sheikhs were no match for Iran, Russia and Hezbollah, determined to defend their ally in Damascus.

Conventional military capacity, especially in the air, is not a problem. The six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council have hundreds of advanced combat aircraft.

Turkey, Jordan and Egypt have hundreds more. Saudi pilots have flown sorties against Houthi rebels in Yemen, the Emiratis in Afghanistan, and now against Islamist targets in Libya, a sign perhaps of a greater readiness to act without US leadership.

But problems of command and coordination persist. "It is hard to see how the UAE air force or any GCC air force could provide any real firepower complement to US airstrikes beyond the symbolic legitimacy of an Arab state participating," said Fredric Wehrey, of the Carnegie Foundation.

The case for action against Isis is that the Sunni states have a responsibility to help defeat a group that has a warped sense of its own legitimacy and has behaved with such horrifying cruelty that it has been dubbed "al-Qaida on steroids".

In the trenchant words of the Iraqi Kurdish commentator Hiwa Osman: "Isis is a Sunni Arab problem. Neither Kurds nor Shia can end them. Sunni Arabs inside and outside Iraq should cooperate to do so."

But there are reasons for reticence, too. The growth of sectarianism, linked to the strategic confrontation between the Saudis and Iran, has fed an already strong sense of Sunni solidarity: thus Gulf fury at the Shia-dominated Maliki government in Iraq, which did so much to promote an anti-Sunni agenda. The hope is that the new Baghdad government, headed by Haider al-Abadi, will prove more consensual.

"Each of these states, whether they like it or not, is bound to Iraq and Syria's warring factions by tribal links, religion and history," said Wehrey. "Their rulers are still sensitive to public opinion and especially the pockets of pro-Isis sympathy among certain segments, some of them wealthy and influential."

Another worry is that fighting Isis will inevitably mean strengthening Assad, as western calls for tacit cooperation with him suggest is already happening. Bombing the Arab Sunni heartlands of Iraq and Syria is not the same as action against the universally despised Muammar Gaddafi in Libya in 2011.

Last weekend the escalating crisis prompted an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Jeddah, the summer retreat of the Saudi government on the Red Sea. No decisions were announced but the emphasis appeared to be on increasing coordination and exchanging intelligence to stem the flow of cash and fighters flocking to the black banner of the Isis "caliph", Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and on backing the new Iraqi government. Doing more than that may be more than the fractured Arab system can bear.

 on: Aug 29, 2014, 06:47 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
With Gaza War, Movement to Boycott Israel Gains Momentum in Europe

AUG. 28, 2014

LONDON — A branch of Sainsbury’s grocery store removed kosher products from its shelves, it said, to prevent anti-Israel demonstrations. The Tricycle Theater in north London, after hosting a Jewish film festival for eight years, demanded to vet the content of any film made with arts funding from the Israeli government. George Galloway, a member of Parliament known for his vehement criticism of Israel, declared Bradford, England, an “Israel-free zone.”

Mr. Galloway, in comments being investigated by the police, said, “We don’t want any Israeli goods; we don’t want any Israeli services; we don’t want any Israeli academics coming to the university or college; we don’t even want any Israeli tourists to come to Bradford.”

The war in Gaza and its aftermath have inflamed opinion in Europe and, experts and analysts say, are likely to increase support for the movement to boycott, disinvest from and sanction Israel, known as BDS.

“We entered this war in Gaza with the perception that the Israeli government is not interested in reaching peace with the Palestinians,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Israeli analyst at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a private university. “Now, after the casualties and the destruction, I’m very worried about the impact this could have on Israel. It could make it very easy for the BDS campaign to isolate Israel and call for more boycotts.”

Gilead Sher and Einav Yogev, in a paper for the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, warn that Gaza means Israel pays “a much heavier price in public opinion and in erosion of support for its positions in negotiations with the Palestinians.”

Along with reports of “familiar anti-Semitic attacks on Jews,” they said, “the movement to boycott Israel is expanding politically and among the public.”

Daniel Levy of the European Council on Foreign Relations points to the debate over halting arms exports to Israel, which has been given new momentum in Britain and Spain by the asymmetry of the Gaza war.

“You’re beginning to see the translation of public sympathy into something politically meaningful,” he said. He noted two tracks — the governmental one, which distinguishes between Israel and the occupied territories, and the social one of academic, commercial and artistic boycotts.

But for all the new attention around the BDS movement, the economic impact has been small, experts say. The European Union, which has been looked to for leadership on the issue, does not support the idea.

Instead, the Europeans are drawing a legal distinction between Israel within its 1967 boundaries and Israeli towns and settlements that are beyond them in occupied land. Brussels regards all Israelis living beyond the 1967 lines, including those in East Jerusalem, as settlers living in illegal communities whose status can be regulated only through a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians.

In matters such as scientific cooperation, funding for research, import duties and labeling requirements, Brussels has sought a strong relationship with pre-1967 Israel, while demanding a different status for institutions and products from beyond the Green Line, the armistice lines that ended the 1967 fighting but did not fix borders or create a Palestinian state.

Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said before the Gaza conflict that “there is no boycott” of Israel by the European Union, citing trade and scientific cooperation. “The European Union defends the right of existence of Israel with all its means,” he said. “The view that the Europeans are against Israel, I repeat it, is wrong.”

Some members of the 28-nation European Union are closer to Israel than others, but the bloc is united on Israel within its 1967 boundaries.

“Our relationship with Israel is close and one of the best we have in the region, but only with Israel in its 1967 lines unless there is a peace agreement,” said a senior European Union official who spoke on the condition of anonymity in keeping with diplomatic protocol. “We are clear, however, that what came under Israeli control in 1967 is not a part of Israel, so the settlements are illegal under international law and not helpful in the peace process.”

To that end, the European Union has demanded that all products produced by Israelis beyond the 1967 lines be labeled differently, and they are excluded from the duty-free trade agreement the bloc has with Israel proper. Goods from settlements are imported, but under different labels and tariffs. “There is no question of a boycott,” the European official said.

In an agreement last December on scientific exchanges and funding, known as Horizon 2020, Brussels insisted, despite fierce opposition from the Israeli government, on keeping Israeli institutions in the West Bank, like Ariel University, out of the deal. Since European funding is so important to Israeli academic institutions, the Israeli government gave in, attaching a legally meaningless appendix opposing the distinctions.

While some Israeli companies label goods produced in the West Bank as Israeli, the Europeans have tried to crack down, insisting that permits have a physical address attached and not simply an Israeli post office box. Goods can be labeled “West Bank” or as coming from a particular place, but cannot say “Made in Israel.”

The European Union has gone considerably further than the United States, declaring that Israeli settlements over the Green Line are “illegal” under international law; the United States simply calls them “illegitimate” and “obstacles to peace.”

Israel says its settlement activity is consistent with international law, although it accepts that some settlements are built illegally on privately owned Palestinian land and says that all will be resolved as part of a final deal with the Palestinians.

The United States also has no regulations requiring separate labeling of products from Israeli-occupied land.

The recent fuss over SodaStream and one of its spokeswomen, the actress Scarlett Johansson, was indicative of the passions raised. Oxfam insisted she quit SodaStream, which has a factory in the large West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim, or quit her work with Oxfam; Ms. Johansson chose to quit Oxfam. SodaStream defended itself by citing the number of jobs it was providing for Palestinians, who were being paid the same wages as Israeli workers.

The debate was indicative of shifting attitudes. During the period around the Oslo Accords, in the early 1990s, when peace seemed close and economic cooperation between Israel and the new, interim Palestinian Authority was considered an important part of a future relationship built on mutual dependency and confidence, factories in occupied territory were praised.

With the failure of Oslo to produce a Palestinian state, the tone has changed, and companies once seen by many as in the forefront of economic cooperation are now being seen by some as colonial occupiers undermining a future Palestinian state.

But the interconnection of Israel with the settlements is difficult to untie — every major Israeli bank has a branch in the settlements.

Some countries, like Britain, have gone further. Britain issued voluntary labeling guidelines in December 2009 “to enable consumers to make a more fully informed decision concerning the products they buy,” according to the UK Trade and Investment agency, because “we understand the concerns of people who do not wish to purchase goods exported from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

More troubling to Israel, in December the agency warned companies and citizens to be “aware of the potential reputational implications” of investments in settlement areas. “We do not encourage or offer support to such activities,” it said.

But even these concerns should be distinguished from the organized BDS campaign against the state of Israel itself. Begun in 2005, the campaign is supposed to last, the Palestinian BDS National Committee says, until Israel “complies with international law and Palestinian rights.”

Its three goals are “the end of Israeli occupation and colonization of Arab land and dismantling the Wall,” “full equality” for “Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel,” and respect for the right of return of Palestinian refugees. Israelis see the first two as compatible with two states, but the third as the end of the Jewish state.

Then there is the associated effort at an academic and cultural boycott of Israel, which has attracted well-known figures like Stephen Hawking and Sinead O’Connor. Others defend artistic freedom or the unifying nature of culture, or believe, as the writer Ian McEwan said, “If I only went to countries I approve of, I probably would never get out of bed.”

 on: Aug 29, 2014, 06:44 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Golden Dawn visit dismays Australia’s Greek community

Greek Australians vow to stop neo-fascist party from spreading hate as extremist group steps up efforts to tap diaspora for support

Helena Smith in Athens and Michael Safi in Sydney, Thursday 28 August 2014 03.28 BST   

A planned visit to Australia by members of the European parliament representing Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party has been met with embarrassment and dismay by leading members of the country’s Greek community.

Days after the extremist group announced that former army generals Eleftherios Synadinos and Georgios Epitideios would visit Sydney and Melbourne in October, Greek Australians vowed to stop the organisation spreading its message of hate.

“Greeks in Australia oppose Golden Dawn,” Bill Papastergiadis, the president of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria, told Guardian Australia. “The visit by an anti-immigrant party is incompatible with the pluralist and multicultural society in which we live.”

More than 300,000 people of Greek descent live in Melbourne.

The forthcoming trip is the most concrete sign yet of the neo-fascists’ determination to extend their global reach. Emboldened by its unexpectedly good performance in recent local and European polls, the Holocaust-denying party, now the third-biggest political force in Athens, has stepped up efforts to tap the Greek diaspora for support.

Australia appears to have pride of place in that campaign. Ignatius Gavrilidis, Golden Dawn’s newly appointed Australia representative, told the ABC support for the group was soaring, especially among younger Greek Australians, despite a judicial inquiry in Greece that has unmasked the movement as a criminal organisation. Most of its leadership is detained in pre-trial custody as a result.

The visit aimed to raise awareness and funds, Gavrilidis said. He acknowledged that some ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn MPs admired Hitler – with its leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, keeping a portrait of the Führer in his home – but they neither espoused nor endorsed Nazi ideology.

“Yes they have admired the leadership of Hitler, just like we also admire the leadership of many strong leaders across the world,” Gavrilidis told the public broadcaster. “Vladimir Putin is a very strong leader. He’s got integrity. Benjamin Netanyahu is a very strong leader.”

Supporters in Australia numbered in the “thousands” even if there were no more than 70 activists nationwide, Gavrilidis said.

But Greek community leaders denied the far-right group had any appeal. “Support for Golden Dawn is largely nonexistent,” Papastergiadis said. “They have no profile whatsoever in Australia.”

Victorian Liberal MP Nick Kotsiras, a former minister in the state government, echoed that sentiment, saying Golden Dawn had minimal support among Australia’s Greek community.

“I am embarrassed by the existence of Golden Dawn. Golden Dawn does not represent me, it does not represent my family and does not represent the vast majority of Greeks living in Victoria,” he said. “But they are also not representative of Greeks living in Greece. They are the antithesis of what the Hellenic spirit is all about.”

The politician insisted that if the far-right MEPs were allowed into Australia it should only be after passing the character test automatically conducted on people trying to enter who are suspected of being associated with a criminal organisation.

In May, black-shirted Golden Dawn followers clashed with Greek Australians from the anti-fascist front during a protest in Brisbane that was also attended by supporters of the far-right Australia First party.

A Greek-Australian organiser with the Melbourne Anti-Fascist Initiative, Alex Kakafikas, said opponents of Golden Dawn were meeting to discuss their response to the MEPs’ visit, including a blockade of any events they held.

“The ultimate goal is to stop them from having their meeting,” he said.

Kakafikas said Golden Dawn maintained a “shadowy” presence in Melbourne and had only a few supporters.

“But one of the problems is that local Greek-Australian supporters are making connections with the far-right in Australia. Golden Dawn’s Australian leader has spoken at an Australia First meeting,” he said.

“It’s not that Golden Dawn will be able to muster enough energy for political influence here. Our concern is its ability to contribute resources [to the Greek branch] and to send people over there to work with the organisation,” he said. Australian members of the group had regularly travelled to Greece to take part in demonstrations and engage in “paramilitary training”, he said.

In Athens, leftist activists who maintain contact with the Melbourne-based “No to Golden Dawn” campaign pledged to help stop the party broadening its support base.

“Their aim, clearly, is to set up Nazi cells of hate in the Greek diaspora that would strengthen far-right forces that already exist in Australia and the United States,” said Petros Constantinou, a prominent campaigner with the Movement against Racism and the Fascist Threat (Keerfa).

“We will coordinate with our friends over there to stop them creating this black international of fascism. We will help and support their mobilisations in any way we can,” he said in Keerfa’s Athens office. “Diaspora Greeks, immigrants themselves, have been very vociferous in rejecting Golden Dawn’s message of hate.”

The party, whose insignia bears an uncanny resemblance to the swastika, has gone out of its way to soften its image as support for the organisation has risen on the back of Greece’s economic and social collapse. Both Epitideios, an erstwhile Nato commander and Synadinos, the former head of Greece’s special forces, are representative of Golden Dawn’s determination to replace boots with suits in an effort to expand its appeal.

But although the makeover appears to have paid off – with the far-rightists more than doubling the party’s showing in the Athens mayoral election in May – Golden Dawn MPs still face criminal charges for the brazen violence and hate speech they have directed against immigrants, gay people and Jews. Attacks against dark-skinned migrants and homosexuals by black-shirted assault squads have once again proliferated over the Athens summer.

Michaloliakos, who founded the party more than 30 years ago, and is accused of murder, extortion and assault, will stand trial with other MPs later this year.

 on: Aug 29, 2014, 06:39 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Pakistan 'soft coup' fears as army chief holds talks with protest leaders

General mediates talks with Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri, who have been leading calls for overthrow of government

Jon Boone in Islamabad, Friday 29 August 2014 11.38 BST   
Pakistan's army chief took centre stage in a national political crisis on Thursday night by holding talks with two protest leaders who have been agitating on the streets of Islamabad for the overthrow of the elected government for the last two weeks.

Politician and former cricketer Imran Khan and a Muslim cleric called Tahir-ul-Qadri left their protest camps outside parliament for back-to-back audiences with Raheel Sharif, the general in charge of Pakistan's 500,000-strong army.

Officials said the general had agreed to mediate in a bitter stand-off between the government and Khan and Qadri who have brought thousands of their followers to Islamabad.

Even though prime minister Nawaz Sharif requested the army chief become involved in defusing the crisis, the development was widely seen as a decisive re-assertion of power by an institution that has directly or indirectly ruled Pakistan for most of its history.

The development was widely criticised as a major setback for the country and even described by some as a "soft coup" by the army. One key ally of Khan, a veteran politician called Javed Hashmi, said the army's involvement was a "shameful time for all politicians".

Ayesha Siddiqa, an expert on Pakistan's military, said Sharif would now only be able to serve out the rest of his term as a "ceremonial prime minister".

"Any gains made in the last eight years to strengthen democracy have been rolled back," she said.

Sharif, a politician who lost power during the 1999 military takeover, was elected last year determined to curb the power of the army.

In so doing he enraged the military establishment by ordering the trial of former dictator Pervez Musharraf for treason, pushing for deeper trade ties with arch-enemy India and siding with the country's biggest television station after it accused the army of trying to kill one of its journalists.

On Thursday a senior aide to the prime minister said the army had agreed to help the prime minister defuse the crisis on the condition he left key areas of national affairs to the army, principally foreign and defence policy towards Afghanistan and India.

The aide said among the specific army demands was that Sharif should not call for investigations into firing by Pakistani troops across contested areas of the border with India, of which there has been an upsurge in recent weeks.

The prime minister's reliance on the army chief for survival was underlined by the regular meetings he has had with Sharif in recent days to discuss the crisis.

Some government officials believe the army deliberately encouraged Khan and Qadri to launch their protests to create the circumstances that would allow the army to intervene.

Khan, who has a fondness for cricketing metaphors, has frequently hinted during the two week political drama that a "third umpire" would at some point "raise his finger" and send the prime minister packing.

But it remains unlikely the army will support Khan's demand for the prime minister to be sacked.

Any unconstitutional move would risk billions of dollars of much needed US assistance. Sharif also enjoys solid support in parliament and the quiet endorsement of the US which rejects Khan's claims that Sharif stole last year's election through industrial scale rigging.

In the early hours of Friday morning, after his meeting with Sharif at Army House in the neighbouring city of Rawalpindi, Khan returned to his supporters to insist he would not drop his demand for the prime minister to step down.

"Our sit-in will not be called off until Prime Minister Sharif resigns," he told what remained of the crowd that gathers each night amid a carnival-like atmosphere each night to hear music and speeches.

Khan has watered down his demands somewhat, and now calls for Sharif to temporarily step down as prime minister whilst a judicial inquiry investigates claims of electoral fraud.

Qadri, a Barelvi cleric who spends most of his time in Canada, has also narrowed his focus. Although he wants to sweep away Pakistan's democratic system which he says is irremediably corrupt in recent days his demands have centred on a murder inquiry into the killing of his supporters in June.

At least 10 people died during clashes in the city of Lahore after police attempted to remove security barriers near Qadri's office.

On Thursday, in an apparent bid to appease Qadri, the prime minister's office said a murder case had been registered against senior government officials including Sharif.

The inquiry may ultimately force Sharif's younger brother Shahbaz to resign from his powerful position as chief minister of Punjab province.

 on: Aug 29, 2014, 06:37 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Isis video shows beheading of Kurdish fighter

The video, titled 'A message in blood to the leaders of the American-Kurdish alliance', follows air strikes in northern Iraq

AFP in Baghdad, Friday 29 August 2014 09.22 BST   

The jihadi Islamic State (Isis) group has posted a video of the beheading of a captured Kurdish fighter, in a warning to Iraqi Kurdish leaders to end military cooperation with Washington, a monitoring group has said.

The video, titled "A message in blood to the leaders of the American-Kurdish alliance", opens with 15 men in orange jumpsuits standing around the Isis flag.

Three of the men ask the Kurdish regional president, Massud Barzani, "and the Kurdish government to end their relationship with the US … military intervention in northern Iraq", the SITE Intelligence Group monitoring service said.

"Any mistake or recklessness from you will lead to the [loss] of our life," SITE quoted one of the men as saying.

The video then cuts to three masked men dressed in black standing in front of a mosque with another man wearing an orange jumpsuit kneeling in front of them. They then behead him.

The United States has carried out a wave of air strikes against the jihadis in northern Iraq, helping Kurdish forces to claw back ground lost to the militants this month.

The video follows another released by Isis of the murder of American journalist James Foley and threatening another kidnapped reporter Steven Sotloff with the same fate if US air strikes are not halted.

It also comes straight after the release of a video showing scores of bodies that Isis said were those of Syrian soldiers they had captured and murdered following their seizure of a northern air base last weekend.

The jihadis are spread over a vast swath of territory straddling Iraq and Syria, where their abuses have sparked an international outcry

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