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Newspaper headlines: 'Carillion's gazillions' and Iceland's plastic ban

BBC News - Tue, 16 Jan 2018 - 12:56am
Tuesday's papers focus on the contractor's collapse, which puts thousands of jobs at risk.

Shackled children found in Perris, California home

BBC News - Tue, 16 Jan 2018 - 12:31am
Two parents are arrested after police find in their house 13 people who were allegedly held captive.

Gospel star Edwin Hawkins dies, aged 74

BBC News - Tue, 16 Jan 2018 - 12:31am
The American Grammy-winning singer was best-known for the 1969 hit Oh Happy Day.

Turkey threatens war against US/Kurdish Force in Syria

Informed Comment - Tue, 16 Jan 2018 - 12:21am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The US announcement that it would form a 30,000 strong policing force in northeast Syria from the YPG leftist Kurdish militia has provoked unprecedently strong words from Turkey, and signs of an unusual convergence of Syrian and Turkish foreign policy objectives. In the cross-hairs are 2,000 US special operations troops embedded with the YPG. The US strategic goal is to block Iranian transfers of men and materiel to Syria and Lebanon via Iraq. In other words, this is another of Donald Trump’s walls. It is meant to please US allies Israel and Saudi Arabia, who lost the Syrian war to Iran and Russia but who want to salvage some strategic goals.

The problem is that this US policy is unpopular not only in Iran, Syria and Lebanon but also in Moscow and Ankara. Let me telegraph that I am afraid that the 2,000 US spec ops troops in northeast Syria are in the same peril that US Marines in Beirut were in in 1983. The radical Islamic Amal group drove a truck bomb into the Marines’ barracks in Beirut in that year, killing hundreds and provoking Ronald Reagan to withdraw from Lebanon (“redeploy offshore” were Reagan’s words). Al-Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden later suggested that this withdrawal convinced him that a strike on the US could push it back out of the Middle East. As good as the Kurdish militiamen are, they can’t stop ISIL remnants or other covert terrorist operations from striking in their territory.

Turkey sees the Syrian Kurds as an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrilla group, which both Turkey and the US list as terrorists. The US does not agree.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who has become increasingly strident and erratic in the past few years, said that the Turkish army was now prepared to intervene in Syria against the new Kurdish border force:

“The operation may start any time. Operations into other regions will come after . . . America has acknowledged it is in the process of creating a terror army on our border. What we have to do is nip this terror army in the bud…” Saying that Turkey’s allies should not dare help what he termed terrorists in Syria, he declared, “We won’t be responsible for the consequences.”

Russia and Syria also condemned the move, alleging that the US is attempting to partition Syria. Any policy helping Kurds move toward more autonomy alarms Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran, all of which have significant Kurdish populations they fear could become secessionist. The likelihood is that the Iraqi government also objects, though it isn’t being as vocal as Erdogan and the others. Prime Minister al-Abadi sent Iraqi troops into Kirkuk Province last fall to reassert Baghdad’s authority over the area, also claimed by the now-defeated Kurdistan Regional Government, a superprovince of Iraq itself.

Jordan’s al-Rai (Opinion) newspaper noted that unusual convergence of interests here between Turkey and Syria, both of which feel threatened by Kurdish subnationalism on their territories.

The US military used the Syrian Kurds as ground troops in the fight against ISIL in eastern Syria once it became a serious security concern to Iraq and France from 2014, even though former Secretary of State John Kerry admitted that the US ignored ISIL 2011-2014 because Washington hoped it would weaken the Baath Party state of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. When Obama and then Secretary of Defense Ash Carter decided to target ISIL in 2014 and after, they could not get allies such as Turkey or Saudi Arabia to change the policy of benign neglect the way the Americans did. Since Obama was reluctant to commit infantry, the only way to defeat ISIL in Syria’s eastern Raqqa and Deir al-Zor provinces was to deploy the eager Syrian Kurdish forces against them. After this campaign proved successful, however, the incoming Trump administration decided to repurpose the US-Kurdish alliance to an attempt to block Iranian logistics.

The People’s Protection Units or YPG are the paramilitary of the Democratic Union Party that dominates Syrian Kurdish politics. They were under Communist influence during the Cold War but from the 1990s and moved toward a form of Left anarchism (though their critics say that their co-ops are actually quite heavy-handed and limit personal freedoms, as well as being racist toward Arabs). There are about 2 million Syrian Kurds, some ten percent of the population, located primarily in the northeast of the country in three geographical cantons, Jazira, Kobane and Afrin. The Kurds, with US air support, managed to kick ISIL out of Kobane and unite it with the Jazira in the northeast. But Afrin is separated from Kobane by a string of Arab towns and villages and by a covert Turkish troop presence. The Kurds would like to unite all three cantons into what they call Rojava. At the least, they want Rojava to have a Quebec-like status as a province of a federal Syrian state with special privileges. Maximalists want independence for it. Turkey is determined to block the extension of Rojava to Afrin and wants to roll back YPG presence in Manbij in northern Syria, which they took from ISIL.

The Syrian Baath Party that came to power in the 1960s is so fanatically Arab nationalist (i.e. racist) that it took citizenship away from large numbers of Syrian Kurds. Not sure what they expected but Kurdish secessionism.

The US special ops forces and the YPG now face a similar difficulty to that of ISIL itself in 2014. None of the regional actors wanted its rise and they combined to destroy it.


Related video:

Al Jazeera English: “Is Donald Trump ‘playing with fire’ by backing Kurds in Syria

Washington State activists launch ‘Climate Countdown’ for Urgent Legislative Action

Informed Comment - Tue, 16 Jan 2018 - 12:19am

Brandon Jordan | (Waging Nonviolence) | – –

Climate Countdown activists rallied outside the Washington state capitol building in Olympia last week (Twitter / 350 Seattle / Alexandra Blakely)

As Washington state senators prepared for the first legislative session of 2018 at the capitol building in Olympia yesterday, their traditional welcome ceremony was disrupted by at least a hundred activists from across the state, who had made their way into the balconies. From there, to the dismay of their elected officials, they delivered a loud message for all in attendance: “We have a climate crisis. You need to act now!”

The demonstration was part of an effort organizers are calling Climate Countdown, a campaign pressuring Democrats to pass and implement legislation that reduces carbon emissions. With a Democratic majority in both legislative chambers, organizers from a handful of organizations, from local 350.org chapters to indigenous groups, believe this is the perfect — and perhaps the only — opportunity to act.

Since 2013, passing any form of climate-related legislation in Washington was difficult at best. Republicans held a majority in the state Senate and used this advantage to block proposals, such as a cap-and-trade system, from Democrats. Gov. Jay Inslee, considered the “greenest governor in America” by the League of Conservation Voters, often felt frustrated by Republican opposition to his climate plans.

Yet, on Nov. 8, Democrats succeeded in regaining control of the state Senate with a slim 49-48 majority. Alec Connon, an activist with 350 Seattle, said this victory led to activists discussing a potential plan to ensure lawmakers took responsibility without using Republicans as an excuse.

“It’s about time that the rhetoric we’ve seen from climate leaders in Washington state [translate into] actual meaningful policy,” Connon said.

As part of the campaign, residents are putting forward two demands to lawmakers. First, they want officials to follow a climate test, which are guidelines that determine a project’s approval if it harms the climate. This would reject all fossil fuel proposals.

Second, activists want lawmakers to pass a bill that ensures the state switches to 100 percent renewable energy by 2028. All sectors under the government’s jurisdiction would move toward using alternative fuels.

The window to do this is short, as Washington lawmakers will only meet for 60 days this session. As 350 Seattle communications coordinator Emily Johnston explained, every minute is precious. She referred to scientists who warned world leaders last June that we have only three years to reduce greenhouse gases to a point where the Paris climate agreement target of 1.5 degrees Celsius is still attainable.

“We know what happens beyond that,” she said. “[Climate] acceleration and the disasters we are starting to see become unstoppable.”

Johnston referred the federal government’s refusal to deal with climate change as a major reason for not only Washington, but also other states to focus on the environment.

“If the entire West Coast were to develop laws that were very aggressive on climate then that would have a [massive] impact because the economies of Washington and California are huge,” she said.

Connon used Montgomery County, the largest county in Maryland, as an example of what Washington state could do. Last month, officials there passed a resolution declaring a “climate emergency” and aimed to reduce the county’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2027, and ultimately 100 percent eight years after that.

“The example set by Montgomery County is a commendable example and one we hope Washington state will follow,” Connon said.

Washington does have commitments by law to reduce its greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020. But Olympic Climate Action member Melanie Greer said Washington will fail to meet that deadline barring a significant policy change.

“I want to see real legislation that matches what scientists say has to be done, as well as demonstrable action — so that the state moves in the right direction,” Greer said.

After the activists in the balconies finished their chant, they were ordered to leave by security guards. Having made their voices heard, they are now planning the next steps of the campaign to ensure officials make climate action a top priority this legislative session.

“The clock is ticking,” Connon said. “We, as a society and as a whole, have to respond to the climate crisis.”

Via Waging Nonviolence


Related video added by Informed Comment:

KUOW Public Radio: “What would a climate-friendly Seattle actually look like?”

Not Fighting Climate Change cost $1.5 Trillion Last Year & it is only the Beginning

Informed Comment - Tue, 16 Jan 2018 - 12:17am

By Mark Trahant | ( TrahantReports.com ) | – –

The Trump administration, and its allies in Congress, are fighting a losing war. They continue to press forward for the development of oil, gas, coal, when the rest of the world understands the implication of that folly. Global warming is the most pressing issue for our time. Period.

The thing is governments really have two choices when it comes to managing the impact on its peoples from global warming: Spend money on trying to reduce the problem; or spend money on cleaning up the catastrophes.

The Trump administration is on the hook for the catastrophe. A report released Monday by The National Centers for Environmental Information pegged the total cost this year at $1.5 trillion, including estimates for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. (And that doesn’t even begin to count the human toll, lost lives, lost jobs, lost opportunity.)

I witnessed first hand the impact of Hurricane Maria on the island of Dominica last month. We keep hearing stories about the power grid being down (similar to Puerto Rico) and you think, why? It’s been months. Why aren’t the lights on? Then you see nearly every electrical pole on the island sideways. The entire grid needs to be rebuilt (or better, rethought) and that’s decades of infrastructure. So the figure of $1.5 trillion is far short of what will be needed. Nearly every electrical line, every other house, the damage was so widespread it’s impossible to overstate. And that’s just one island. Multiple the effect across the region. The planet.

Even the United States.

The Centers for Environmental Information says there were sixteen weather and climate disasters with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the country last year. These events included one drought, two flooding events, one severe freeze, eight severe storms, three cyclones, and one extraordinary wildfire. These “events” as the center defines them resulted in 362 deaths.

Turns out 2017 was a record-breaking year. “In total, the U.S. was impacted by 16 separate billion-dollar disaster events tying 2011 for the record number of billion-dollar disasters for an entire calendar year,” the report said. “In fact, 2017 arguably has more events than 2011 given that our analysis traditionally counts all U.S. billion-dollar wildfires, as regional-scale, seasonal events, not as multiple isolated events.More notable than the high frequency of these events is the cumulative cost, which exceeds $300 billion in 2017 — a new U.S. annual record.”

A similar report was published by the Government Accountability Office including a recommendation that Executive Office of the President “identify significant climate risks and craft appropriate federal responses.”

But instead of trying to reduce the impact — and the costs of weather-related catastrophe — the Trump administration continues on course for new development of oil and gas. The Interior Department announced new rules that, if enacted, will open up nearly all of the United States coastal waters to more oil and gas development beginning next year.

“By proposing to open up nearly the entire OCS for potential oil and gas exploration, the United States can advance the goal of moving from aspiring for energy independence to attaining energy dominance,” said Vincent DeVito, Counselor for Energy Policy at Interior in the news release. “This decision could bring unprecedented access to America’s extensive offshore oil and gas resources and allows us to better compete with other oil-rich nations.”

Or as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke put it: “The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American Energy Dominance.”

Dominance is such a funny word. How can any nation be dominant in the face of hurricanes that are ever more powerful and destructive? How does energy dominance work when tens of thousands of Americans will have to move because their homes are no longer there because of fire or storms? What happens if that number grows into the hundreds of thousands? Millions? How can we afford to spend trillions of dollars rebuilding what we have now?

A group of elders on the Bering Sea immediately condemned the Interior Department’s offshore drilling plan. “We told them that in person last October and again in writing, that there were 76 tribes in these regions opposed to this,” said the statement from the elders. “The draft plan implies that Bering Sea communities were ‘generally supportive of some’ oil and gas activity. This is not accurate and there is no evidence of this from Bering Sea communities. For decades, our people have opposed oil and gas activity and we continue to oppose it today. The northern Bering Sea is a very fragile ecosystem. The marine mammals that we rely on use it as their highway and they follow specific migration routes. That is how we know when and where to find them. The noise and vibration associated with drilling will interfere with their sonar and disrupt their migrations. Then we the coastal people will lose our primary food source.”

There is a connection between developing oil and gas and paying the high costs to clean up after a storm. One side of the ledger goes to a few; the oil and gas “industry.” The folks who bought and paid for this administration.

The other side of the ledger is the rest of us. The taxpayers who will foot the bill for this continued folly.

And on the Bering Sea? The folks who live there are one storm away from a tragedy. As the elders put it: “Our people and our way of life are being exposed to danger and we do not understand why.”

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reprinted with permission from Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com #IndigenousNewsWire #NativeVote18

Trahant Reports is on iTunes or Soundcloud. Download here.

WION: “Gravitas: The cost of climate change”

Australian Open 2018: Johanna Konta beats Madison Brengle to reach second round

BBC News - Tue, 16 Jan 2018 - 12:12am
Britain's Johanna Konta makes swift progress into the second round of the Australian Open with victory over American Madison Brengle.

UN Slams Saudi Arabia for Human Rights Atrocities in Yemen

Informed Comment - Tue, 16 Jan 2018 - 12:09am

TeleSur | – –

Widespread destruction from the U.S-backed Saudi airstrikes has displaced over a million people in the region.

A U.N. report on human rights abuses has accused Saudi Arabia’s coalition airstrikes for causing extensive damage in Yemen. Since the beginning of the war in 2015, at least 10,000 people have been killed in the region.

According to information obtained by Al Jazeera, a U.N. panel investigated 10 airstrikes in 2017 that killed 157 people. It found that the targets included migrant boats, a vehicle, a night market, five residential buildings, a motel and government buildings.

“This is a report to the U.N. Security Council that has not been made public, but I’ve been allowed to read a copy. It’s very hard hitting and very critical of all of the parties in the war in Yemen,” Al Jazeera diplomatic editor James Bays said.

“The report talks about beatings, electrocutions, constrained suspension, and it talks about something called the cage which is confinement in a cage in the sunlight and the denial of medical treatment.”

The panel requested Saudi authorities to comment over their rationale behind these attacks, but has received no response, Al Jazeera reported.

The report also pointed towards the role played by Houthi rebels in Yemen’s conflict.

On Dec. 19, Yemen marked 1,000 days of Saudi-led war. Johan Mooij, CARE’s Country Director in Yemen, described the situation as “appalling.” He added that “millions of Yemenis are facing multiple crises of war, hunger, disease outbreaks and recent blockades on fuel and commercial imports.”

The same month, the Pentagon admitted to “multiple ground operations” in Yemen that have led to civilian deaths, leaving the region even more volatile.

“U.S. forces have conducted multiple ground operations and more than 120 strikes in 2017,” U.S. Central Command, Centcom, in Tampa, Florida, said in a statement.

Widespread destruction from the U.S-backed Saudi airstrikes has displaced over a million people in the region. A severe cholera outbreak in the area has also claimed lives of at least 2,119 people, according to the Red Cross. Another eight million are on the verge of starvation.

“Every day, parents are carrying their malnourished children to hospital because they haven’t eaten in days, and families are watching as loved ones die needlessly from treatable illnesses because they do not have access to medical care,” International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said in a statement.

Since the Saudi-led war which started in 2015, the U.S. and U.K. has supplied nearly US$5 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia.



Related video added by Informed Comment:

Al Jazeera: “Yemen

Trump loves Kevin McCarthy because GOP congressman doesn’t make him read and lets him hog the red Starbursts

The Raw Story - Mon, 15 Jan 2018 - 11:56pm
It’s no secret that President Donald Trump loves McDonald’s. So it should come as no surprise that one of his favorite sweets is also processed junk food: Starburst, but only the pink and red ones. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) learned about Trump’s love of Starburst last...

Trump Comments, Infuriating Africans, May Set Back U.S. Interests

World News (NY Times) - Mon, 15 Jan 2018 - 11:36pm
Experts fear that the president’s about remarks “shithole countries” could set back United States interests in the world’s fastest-growing continent.

Drunk droning now illegal in New Jersey

The Raw Story - Mon, 15 Jan 2018 - 11:30pm
(Reuters) – New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a law on Monday making it illegal to fly an unmanned drone aircraft after too many drinks, a spokesman said on the Republican’s last day in office. The law prohibits flying a drone with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or highe...

Australian father's instinct helps find trapped son

BBC News - Mon, 15 Jan 2018 - 11:18pm
The Australian man hired a helicopter after suspecting his son had been in a car crash.

Collapse of U.K. Construction Giant Rattles the Government

World News (NY Times) - Mon, 15 Jan 2018 - 11:15pm
The contractor, Carillion, worked hand in glove with the government, raising questions about the outsourcing of public services to private companies.

Spain’s Prime Minister Threatens to Extend Direct Rule Over Catalonia

World News (NY Times) - Mon, 15 Jan 2018 - 11:15pm
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says he won’t recognize Carles Puigdemont as Catalonia’s leader unless he returns to Spain from exile in Belgium.

‘Would a sane person ever say that?’: Lawrence O’Donnell nails why Trump’s ‘least racist’ claim is the latest sign he’s mentally unfit

The Raw Story - Mon, 15 Jan 2018 - 11:09pm
MSNBC anchor Lawrence O’Donnell fact-checked President Donald Trump’s claim of being the “least racist” person during the continuing back-and-forth over the president’s “sh*thole” comments. “Tonight, it’s Donald Trump versus Dick Durbin (D-IL) on...

Deadly Siege of Venezuela Rebels Led by Former Action Hero Transfixes Country

World News (NY Times) - Mon, 15 Jan 2018 - 11:00pm
The rebel leader, Óscar Pérez, chronicled the siege of his band’s hide-out in a series of videos uploaded onto social media.

Rishikesh Journal: Rebuilding on the Beatles, an Ashram in India Hopes for Revival

World News (NY Times) - Mon, 15 Jan 2018 - 10:57pm
In Rishikesh, which hit the world’s eye when the Fab Four went there to study with the Maharishi in 1968, renovations and remembrances are underway.

Kazakhstan Cheers New Alphabet, Except for All Those Apostrophes

World News (NY Times) - Mon, 15 Jan 2018 - 10:49pm
A switch from the Cyrillic to Roman script is wildly popular in Kazakhstan. But in a country where almost nobody challenges the president, his policy on apostrophes is being assailed from all sides.

North Korean Orchestra Plans to Perform in South Korea During Winter Olympics

World News (NY Times) - Mon, 15 Jan 2018 - 10:47pm
North Korean artists performing for South Korean audiences could be a moment of rare inter-Korean reconciliation, or bitter controversy.

Australian Open 2018: Maria Sharapova beats Tatjana Maria to reach second round

BBC News - Mon, 15 Jan 2018 - 10:46pm
Maria Sharapova powers into the Australian Open second round with a straight-set win over Germany's Tatjana Maria.
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