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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Top US commander can see ISIS presence in Latin America | TheHill

Top US commander can see ISIS presence in Latin America

Navy Adm. Kurt Tidd, the top U.S. military commander in Latin America and the Caribbean, said Wednesday he sees the potential of an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria presence in the region. 
"Short answer? Yes," he said, when asked about that potential at an Atlantic Council event on Wednesday. "We see that radicalization is occurring." 
"When I talk with my counterparts in various countries throughout the region, all of them recognize that the potential for radicalization — and especially this phenomena of self-radicalization, internet-inspired, or facilitated self-radicalization — is something that they are starting to see crop up," he said.
"It's a challenge we can find literally throughout the region," he added. 
Tidd's comments came during an event in Washington where he spoke about the danger of transnational criminal networks throughout the Latin American and Caribbean region. 
He said the networks, which illegally traffic drugs, weapons, gold and other material, could also move people with "known terrorist ties from the Middle East" up through South and Central America across the U.S. border. 
"You want to spread an extremist message in the Caribbean and recruit fighters for ISIL? We have a worrisome number of networks engaged in that," he said, using another acronym for ISIS. 
Tidd's predecessor, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, said about 100 people from the region have gone to Iraq and Syria as foreign fighters. 
He said the most sophisticated of these networks have highly-efficient logistical infrastructure that span the globe, and control distribution hubs and smuggling routes that lead into the U.S. 
He said these networks have a "dense web" of contacts, and in the case of extremist networks, ideologues and influencers who nurture the radicalization process and foster the spread of extremist ideology. 
Tidd said "simply stopping the drugs" is no longer enough to combat these networks, and that he has charged Southern Command to do everything it can to help U.S. government colleagues to try to dismantle these networks. 
Tidd said Southcom is lending its capabilities to a U.S. multiagency team combating human smuggling in the Americas and hosting an interagency cooperation workshop at its headquarters in Miami, and hope to host one with Latin American partners later in the year. 
"Now this may surprise some of you, but we don't often come together like this. We talk a lot about dismantling networks but we almost never talk about building our own," he said. 
"We know that none of us, no single department or agency, no single nation can do it alone. So if we're serious about combating these networks, it will truly require all hands on deck," he said. 

Mobile phone services suspended in Kashmir - Khaleej Times

Mobile phone services suspended in Kashmir

Mobile phone services suspended in Kashmir

IANS /Srinagar
Filed on July 15, 2016 | Last updated on July 15, 2016 at 12.04 am

The curfew has been imposed to prevent large scale violence as large Friday prayer congregation are held each Friday.

The authorities on Thursday evening suspended all mobile phone services throughout the Kashmir Valley without any notice.

The subscribers of different mobile phone companies suddenly found their services snapped.

Authorities said that this has been done to prevent spread of rumours and misinformation by the anti-social elements.

The authorities have also announced that curfew has been imposed in all 10 districts of the Kashmir Valley and it shall remain enforced till further orders.

The curfew has been imposed to prevent large scale violence as large Friday prayer congregation are held each Friday.

For the last many months, the valley has been witnessing stone pelting by youth immediately after Friday prayers conclude.

Donald Trump would be world's only national leader to reject climate science | US news | The Guardian

Donald Trump would be the only national leader in the world to dismiss the science of climate change should he become president, putting him out of step even with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea.
The potential isolation of the US on climate change has been laid bare by a new Sierra Club report which found universal acceptance of climate science among the leaders of the 195 countries recognized by the US state department.

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150 residents fined in RAK for environment violations during Eid - Khaleej Times

150 residents fined in RAK for environment violations during Eid

150 residents fined in RAK for environment violations during Eid

ahmedshaaban@khaleejtimes.com Filed on July 14, 2016 | Last updated on July 14, 2016 at 07.43 am

The 150 included 97 visitors at the Jabal Jais mountains.

The Raqib monitoring patrols of Ras Al Khaimah's Public Works and Services Department fined 150 people for anti-environment violations during the Eid Al Fitr holiday.
The 150 included 97 visitors at the Jabal Jais mountains, said Ahmed Hamada Al Shehi, manager of public services with the department. "Our staff inspectors, armed with judicial power, forced the violators to pay immediate fines."
Though trash cans and waste disposal boxes are placed everywhere in the mountains, many chose to dump their waste, leftover food, and used barbecue coal in non-designated areas, Al Shehi pointed out. "Some families and tourists also vandalised the mountain walls, and trespassed the safety barriers of an ongoing road project."
A significant rise in anti-environment violations has been observed this Eid, compared to the last few months. A total of 21 marine violations were reported as well. "Some families recklessly left barbecue coal, foodstuff, and plastic bags on the beach," Al Shehi said, noting that the department recently ran an open beach cleaning campaign. "However, some beach goers continue to dump empty plastic bottles and bags on the sand, and even in the sea water, damaging both the scenery and the environment."
If an erring driver is caught and refuses to pay the fine, his or her Emirates ID is withdrawn until he or she appears in person at the department and pays the fine. "If the driving licence is withdrawn, the fine is added to the traffic file of the driver," Al Shehi noted.

Aleppo runs short of food supplies - Khaleej Times

Aleppo runs short of food supplies

Aleppo runs short of food supplies

Filed on July 13, 2016 | Last updated on July 13, 2016 at 08.58 pm

For some, it may be the only food available after a government advance severed the sole remaining supply route into rebel-held districts, prompting shortages and rising prices.

In a rebel-held neighbourhood in the east of Syria's second city Aleppo, more than 100 people are lined up outside a bakery, hoping to get a daily ration of bread.
For some, it may be the only food available after a government advance severed the sole remaining supply route into rebel-held districts, prompting shortages and rising prices.
"I've been standing here for about 45 minutes and there are still 40 people in front of me," said Ahmad Al Haj, in the queue of around 150 people.
At another nearby bakery, the queue is even longer, with some 200 people gathered.
"Yesterday, my family of five didn't eat any bread because the bakeries stopped working. Today, I will only get seven pieces which will barely be enough for a single meal," he said.
With their route to the outside world cut, there is no new flour coming to the city's bakeries, and fuel to light their ovens is also now hard to find.
The mood among those waiting is grim, with families arguing over their spot in the queue and the meagre portions available to families that sometimes include seven or eight people.
Once an economic powerhouse and a thriving tourist destination, Aleppo has been devastated by the conflict that began in March 2011. Since mid-2012, it has been roughly divided between government control in the west and rebel control in the east, and has suffered enormous destruction in the war that has killed more than 280,000 people nationwide.
Last week, a government advance brought regime troops within firing range of the Castello Road, the only remaining supply route into the opposition-held east, effectively severing rebel neighbourhoods from the outside world.
The United Nations said on Wednesday it was "deeply alarmed" by the situation in Aleppo, warning that the east was "at risk of besiegement."
It also criticised civilian deaths in ongoing government air strikes on the east and rebel fire on the west. With the Castello Road cut, shop shelves have been left empty and residents are struggling to find even basic goods.
Abu Mohammed was combing through a nearby half-empty vegetable market in a bid to find potatoes, which now go for five times the price they did last week - about 500 Syrian pounds ($1) a kilo.
"I have four children and I don't know what we will eat today," he said.
"The markets are totally empty, I couldn't find anything. Everything is missing - eggs, yogurt, cheese, vegetables."
Abu Mohammed, a tailor, said his salary of 25,000 Syrian pounds was no longer enough to feed his family. "The prices are so high now, so my income isn't enough for a single week."
In another neighbourhood, supermarket owner Mohammed Hijazi looked at the half-empty shelves of his store.
His remaining stock, including cleaning supplies and perfumes, is of little interest to customers who can barely afford food.
"For the past two days, my shop was full of people trying to buy canned food and dates to store them," he said.
"I had to ration what each person could buy so that as many people as possible could get what they needed. But today we've nearly run out of supplies."
Other shopkeepers closed their doors in the first days after the road was cut, and only reopened after hiking their prices.
The price of a kilo of dates has doubled to 800 Syrian pounds ($3.70), while a kilo of tomatoes has gone from 100 to 600 Syrian pounds.
Fuel is also in short supply and increasingly expensive, making life difficult for Hassan Yassin, a taxi driver.
He has stopped working during the day for fear of government air strikes and shelling, but even at night he is no longer driving passengers because the cost of fuel makes trips too expensive.
"A litre of petrol costs 1,500 Syrian pounds, so the shortest trip would cost a customer 700 Syrian pounds," he told.
"I've hidden my taxi so that I don't get hit in shelling. I'll sit at home without work."

How China's trawlers are emptying Guinea's oceans - BBC News

How China's trawlers are emptying Guinea's oceans

The wooden canoes of Guinea's fishermen are dwarfed by Chinese trawlers

Chinese fishing vessels operate illegally off the coast of Guinea, depleting its fish population and destroying marine life. Despite the economic and social consequences of illegal fishing, the Guinean government has failed to police its waters because it doesn't have money to operate surveillance equipment, as the BBC's Tamasin Ford reports.
Abdoulaye Soumah looks out to sea as fishermen bring in the day's catch. Their brightly coloured traditional wooden boats glide into Bonfi port in Conakry, Guinea's capital, where men wait to load the fish into baskets.
"We used to get between $700 (£540) and $1,400 worth of fish a day," says the 32-year-old fisherman.
"But now, because of the increase in illegal fishing, there are fewer fish," he says angrily.
"The same catch will now get around $140 because there's no fish in the zone we normally fish in."

Abdoulaye Soumah:

"The next generation doesn't stand a chance"

The UN estimates that illegal fishing strips the global economy of more than $23bn every year.
And the waters off West Africa have the highest levels of illegal catch in the world, according to the UK-based non-profit organisation, the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF),
More than a third of all fish caught in the region is illegal, unreported or unregulated, it says.
"These illegal pirate fishing operators are in effect stealing from some of the poorest people on our planet to provide short-term profit to wealthy fishing operators," says EJF head Steve Trent.
He explains how a mixture of poor governance, limited resources and corruption create a situation ripe for exploitation. And Guinea is one of the worst examples.
It is the only country in Africa banned from exporting fish to Europe; the world's biggest market.
Levels of illegal fishing are just too high and the EU says the Guinean government "hasn't shown the necessary commitment to reforms".

The most prized fish in Asia

At the fish market in Conakry, Aboubacar Kaba, head of the Artisanal Fisheries Union, grabs a silver fish about the size of his forearm from the back of a refrigerator truck.
"This is the most prized fish in Asia; the yellow croaker," he says, claiming this is what the illegal trawlers are after.

The yellow croaker has reportedly disappeared from Chinese waters

The fish is now classified as endangered and has reportedly disappeared from Chinese seas because of overfishing.
"In 2008 there were 14 Chinese trawlers in these waters," he says. "We're now in 2016 and there are close to 500 trawlers all searching for this species of fish."
And, according to Greenpeace, many of these companies have a history of illegal fishing in the region.
Hundreds of incidents of illegal activity by Chinese trawlers have been documented in West Africa over the years.

Trawlers took advantage of Ebola

Illegal fishing in Guinea got even worse as the country was battling the deadly Ebola virus, according to a Greenpeace investigation.
"During the Ebola outbreak, the country focused all their resources and capacity to deal with Ebola," says Ahmed Diame, the Africa Oceans campaigner at Greenpeace.

During a month-long mission at the end of 2014 while Ebola was ravaging the country, a Greenpeace ship spotted an illegal Chinese trawler once every two days.
"In this investigation we discovered that some Chinese vessels fishing in West Africa under-report their gross tonnage and this has many implications of course, including loss of revenue to the state," says Mr Diame.
Most of the Chinese vessels are known as bottom trawlers; banned in some parts of the world because they are so destructive.
They scrape up everything from the bottom of the ocean, ripping up coral and oyster beds, taking with them everything in their path.
"Up to 90% of the catch can be thrown back into the sea often already dead," according to Greenpeace.
It means fish stocks are rapidly disappearing from West African waters. But while Guinea managed to officially rid the country of Ebola in June, illegal trawlers are still being spotted.
"This is where we see them, late at night," says Mr Soumah as he takes me into the artisanal fishing zone on his wooden motorised boat.
The area stretches 12 miles from the shore and is exclusively reserved for artisanal fishing on small boats like these.
Industrial fishing is forbidden in order to protect the fish stocks.

'I'm scared'

The Environmental Justice Foundation has evidence, yet to be published, that proves illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is still going on in these waters.
Similarly, Greenpeace also started another investigation in January this year across Cape Verde, Mauritania, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone and Senegal.
It will take three years, but the organisation hopes it will get a more detailed analysis of the situation.

Guinea's fishermen say there is not enough fish left for them

The issue of the lack of resources couldn't be made clearer as I visit Conakry's Maritime Authority.
The rear admiral unlocks a door at the back of his office. Members of the navy and maritime surveillance team sit among impressive looking equipment.
This is where they monitor Guinea's waters.
The problem, says the deputy commissioner, as he shows me some of the brand new kit delivered by the EU, is that they have never been able to use it.
The subscription to the satellite system that drives the equipment costs 10,000 euro ($11,000; £8,500) a year and they just do not have the money.
The government says it is trying but without resources, it is an uphill battle.

Illegal fishing operators are in effect stealing from some of the world's poorest people

Guinea recently signed a treaty to crack down on illegal fishing but it is too early to say what effect it will have.
High hopes rest on Andre Loua, the new minister of fisheries, who was appointed earlier this year.
"Yes, I'm very scared if we don't halt illegal fishing," he says frankly.
"The direct consequences of illegal fishing is the destruction of fish stocks and that's why the government has taken every opportunity to show it's willing to fight this practice and we are going to keep going until we eradicate illegal fishing in this zone."
But back on Mr Soumah's boat at Bonfi port, these feel like empty words.
"The next generation doesn't stand a chance," he says bleakly. "Listen, our children survive on what we do."
Illegal fishing is slowly destroying an already fragile economy here.
Mr Soumah thinks the future of his children is dire.
"Fishing enables us to educate our children, feed them and provide for their healthcare. So if the illegal fishing directly affects us as fishermen, what do you think the impact is on our children?" 

Somalia: Drought Brings Drop in Some Diseases, Increase in Others - allAfrica.com

Somalia: Drought Brings Drop in Some Diseases, Increase in Others

press release By Leena Reikko, Finnish Red Cross
Failed rains, coupled with a strong El Niño, have left close to 5 million people in Somalia in need of food support - many of whom are already in the crisis stage. But the effects of the drought are not just limited to hunger in both humans and livestock. It is also causing an increase in some diseases such as eye infections and the risk of epidemics.
On a specific day every month, the cross-country car of the Somali Red Crescent Society mobile clinic arrives at the village of Khalif, in western Somaliland.
Three nurses assemble their respective healthcare stations under the trees. Above all, the mobile clinic is a maternity and child health clinic, but it assists everyone, men included.
Five-month-old Mouhammed Abdullahi has just been measured, weighed in the hanging scales, and vaccinated against pneumonia, tuberculosis, jaundice and polio - and now he is bawling.
"This child is fine," says nurse Zamzam Gedi happily, as she writes down the measurements of the baby boy: 50 centimetres and six kilograms.
Malnutrition weakens the immune system

The village of Khalif is situated in the dry area of Somaliland, and some children are malnourished, though not yet to a troubling extent. It is quite different from other parts of the country where more than 300,000 children under the age of five are reported to be acutely malnourished. Health issues abound.
"Pneumonia and diarrhoea, in particular, are common," says Zamzam.
"The drought reduces some illnesses, but increases others. For example, the number of malaria infections is decreasing here since even the mosquitoes hate the dry weather," says Terhi Heinäsmäki, the Finnish Red Cross representative for eastern Africa.
However, illnesses caused by lack of water, such as eye infections and skin diseases, are increasing.
"Epidemics will also increase, as people meet each other when obtaining water. The immune system of a malnourished person is weakened, and that is why illnesses such as measles, diarrhoea, colds and pneumonia spread," says Heinäsmäki, a physician herself.
For many, the clinic is the only source of healthcare
Under the next tree, clinic staff treat expecting mothers and new mothers with their babies. A nurse sits and holds a patient's hand. They speak quietly and confidentially. The mother feeds her newborn baby during the conversation. The mother receives iron and vitamin supplements and plenty of instructions about her and her baby's health.

"The mobile Red Crescent clinic is our only source of healthcare. Women often have birthing complications, and the closest healthcare centre is more than an hour's drive away," says Raho Said Derie, chair of the local women's committee and a midwife. Most of the women here give birth at home, assisted, at most, by a traditional midwife like Raho.
Under the third tree, the manager of the mobile clinic, Asma Omar, hosts her own outpatient clinic. She has worked here for three years and knows her patients. Perseverance is important. It is how trust and good patient relationships are created.
"At the moment, the drought and the health issues caused by it are the most serious problems. However, we are able to assist the people a lot, since we know the patients and their illnesses."
The mobile clinic carries a basic medication supply, including antibiotics, and patients receive medication free of charge.
The Finnish Red Cross supports the mobile clinics of the Somali Red Crescent Society. There are currently six clinics in Somaliland. Funding from the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department, ECHO, supports three mobile clinics.

Gambia: Fish Price Escalates Due to Unfavourable Weather - allAfrica.com

Gambia: Fish Price Escalates Due to Unfavourable Weather

By Saikou Suwareh Jabai
The fishing communities have experienced a low catch over the past days resulting to a hike in the prices of fresh and smoked fish.
This reporter visited the Tanji Fish Landing Site to find out why the price increment and how it affects those in the trade.
At the Tanji beach over the weekend, a pan of fresh fish costs D450 and some even sold it at D500. Four pieces of 'yaaybouy' and 'cobo' cost D10. As of Sunday evening, only few fresh 'maroc' fish were seen on sale and its price was a little more expensive than that of 'yaaybouy and cobo'.
The price of 'white fishes' also hiked. Depending on the types and sizes, there are various prices that are tagged to them. The price hike is due to the fact that only few of them were caught by the boats that went to the sea for fishing.
For the price of smoked fish, three pieces cost D10. Out of the many fish processing centres on the beach, only three stalls were seen processing.
Speaking to Foroyaa, one Alimatou Bojang, a wholesale fish dealer said the price of fish fluctuates. This, she added, is the nature of their business. She added that whatever the situation is on the beach is reflected at the various markets. She said they as wholesalers do not intentionally increase the price of fish. "It is D450 today but sometimes we sell it at D200, even D100 on some occasions. That's how the business looks," she explained.

A buyer, Mariama Secka, also spoke to this reporter, adding that she is living in Batokunku and always does her shopping at the fish landing site. She said the price of fresh fish is very expensive but maintained that there is no cause to blame. She attributed it to low amount of fish caught, saying 'probably Senegalese fishermen have gone to their country to observe the 'Koriteh' feast that's why there is inadequate catch.
A Gambian fisherman, Modou Johm, said the low catch is due to unfavorable weather conditions that makes it difficult for them to effectively fish. He added that the beach is usually characterized by heavy winds and that on such occasions, fish most often go deep down the water as it is easier to adapt.
Asked if the low catch is due to the Senegalese fishermen who went to their country for 'Koriteh' prayers, he denied that claim and added that even though some went to observe the feast, the reason for the low catch is not due to human resources but the situation at sea.

Zimbabwe protest leader calls for more strikes against Mugabe rule

--> The Guardian Home affairs minister, Ignatius Chombo, had warned that anyone taking part in strikes would face "the full wrath of the law", and in recent days many civil servants were paid their delayed June salaries.

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FBI Director Comey Testifies Clinton's Classified Leak Intentional

CIWARS: Washington July 14, 2016

CIWARS Analysis

FBI Director James Comey dropped a bombshell today about Secretary Hillary Clinton's email investigation  at a House hearing on the Islamic State.  His revelation, under testimony, made it clear that the leak of classified information was an intentional act.

He testified that someone removed the classified material from a classified system and then retyped and re-marked the information with a C as Confidential into an unclassified system on Secretary Clinton's private, unsecured server.

Director Comey dropped the bombshell  under pressure by Arizona 2nd District Representative Martha McSally.  Representative McSally, an Air Force Academy graduate and career Air Force officer,  used her detailed knowledge of classified systems to pressure Director Comey.

"How exactly did this happen?" McSally asked. "There is no way to get information out of the classified system accidentally unless it is retyped or they took a thumb drive, which would be more disturbing, and inserted that into the computer and made the transfer."

She continued asking for more details until Director Comey responded.

"No thumb drive was used to breach the system," Comey testified.

Instead, Director Comey described a process where someone with full knowledge that the information was classified re-typed the briefing point into an unclassified system and then to further demonstrate culpability the person then re-marked the paragraph with a C to denote it was classified as Confidential.

This testimony appears to contradict Secretary Clinton's testimony that first she was not aware  of any unclassified information being sent to her private unsecured server and second, her statement that no material marked classified was transmitted.

Director Comey added  there were no classified headers and footers but that would be consistent with the unauthorized extraction of the classified information.


Malaysia rounds up more than 200 terror suspect The Straits Times

Malaysia rounds up more than 200 terror suspects

Counter- Terrorism Division head Ayob Khan has received a death threat from a terrorist.
Counter- Terrorism Division head Ayob Khan has received a death threat from a terrorist.
KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia continues to be gripped by security jitters following a grenade attack on a nightclub in Selangor more than two weeks ago by ISIS sympathisers.
Police said yesterday it is investigating a warning circulating on social media of a possible attack by the terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on tourist areas in Malacca.
Separately, the country's top anti-terror official received a death threat from a Malaysian ISIS militant who was seen in a beheading video last year.
Police in the meantime have revealed that 186 Malaysians and 27 foreigners had been detained to facilitate investigations into suspected links with terror groups.
Malaysian suspects from Kedah and Perak states topped the list with 30 arrests each, followed by Kuala Lumpur (28), Johor (19) and Selangor (17).

  • Number of Malaysians detained to facilitate investigations into suspected links with terror groups; another 27 suspects were foreigners.
    Kedah - 30
    Perak - 30
    Kuala Lumpur - 28
    Johor - 19
    Selangor - 17
    Negeri Sembilan - 13
    Kelantan - 11
    Pahang - 8
    Terengganu - 8
    Sabah - 6
    Malacca - 6
    Penang - 4
    Perlis - 4
    Sarawak - 2
Others were from Negeri Sem- bilan (13), Kelantan (11), Pahang and Terengganu (eight each), Sabah and Malacca (six each), Penang and Perlis (four each) and Sarawak (two).
In the June 28 attack, two ISIS sympathisers on a motorcycle lobbed a hand grenade into a nightspot in Puchong town, Selangor, at about 2am, injuring eight people. Police have since arrested more than a dozen people, including the duo who carried out the attack.
Central Malacca police chief Shaikh Abdul Adzis Shaikh Abdullah told The New Straits Times newspaper that police are investigating the bilingual message in Chinese and English, which was widely circulated on WhatsApp and Facebook, that named several tourist spots as possible targets.
These included Jonker Street, Stadthuys and several entertainment outlets.
A cafe owner who received the message on WhatsApp filed a report with Malacca police, the paper reported yesterday.
"So far, we have only received one report at the Tengkera (town) police station from a cafe owner who had received a similar message via WhatsApp," the official was quoted by The New Straits Times as saying. "I urge the public not to disseminate the message as the situation is under control," he added.
Malacca's Criminal Investigation Department chief Kamaluddin Kassim said the case is being investigated under a section of the Penal Code for causing fear or alarm to the public.
Meanwhile, Malaysia's top anti- terrorist cop has received a chilling threat from Malaysian ISIS militant Muhamad Wanndy Mohamad Jedi, who is believed to be based in Syria.
Counter-Terrorism Division head Ayob Khan received the death threat through a phone call from the terrorist himself, The Star newspaper reported yesterday.
Muhamad Wanndy, 26, was identified last year as one of the two Malaysians in an ISIS beheading video. The former Malacca resident is believed to have gone to Syria with his wife.
The threat was issued for Senior Assistant Commissioner Ayob's involvement in fighting terrorism and for detaining Muhamad Wanndy's elder brother in May.
Datuk Ayob said ISIS had labelled government institutions as thagut (those which have crossed religious boundaries) and named them as the main target.
"They are regarding us as supportive of thagut and want to attack us first, followed by the non-Muslims in the country," he was quoted as saying by The Star.
Mr Ayob said he was undaunted by the death threat and will continue to foil any terror attempts in the country.
"We have managed to squash nine plots targeting certain institutions and public areas so far," he said. "This would be continued without any fear of any parties linked to terror groups."

Venezuela's military to the fore as President Maduro struggles The Straits Times

Venezuela's military to the fore as President Maduro struggles

Venezuelan soldiers stand guard while people queue for cooking oil and margarine at a supermarket in Caracas on July 12, 2016.
Venezuelan soldiers stand guard while people queue for cooking oil and margarine at a supermarket in Caracas on July 12, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS
Jul 13, 2016, 11:20 am SGT
CARACAS (AFP) - Venezuela's military has been put on the frontline of a worsening national economic crisis by taking charge of food distribution and key ports amid dire shortages and mounting unrest.
President Nicolas Maduro, who is trying to cling to power and avert total collapse of his oil-dependent country, announced on Tuesday (July 12) that the armed forces have taken control of the country's five main seaports.
On Monday, he greatly boosted the authority of his defence minister - armed forces chief Vladimir Padrino - by making him responsible for distributing food, medicine and basic goods, all of which are running out.
The nation's woes have accumulated with multinational firms shutting up shop and, on Tuesday, the US bank Citibank confirming it has closed the government's overseas payments account.
A Citibank insider told AFP on condition of anonymity the decision was due to the "reputational risk" to the bank of continuing to do business with the failing South American country.
Mr Maduro likened Citibank's move to a "financial blockade". His government had used the account to make payments to other accounts in the United States and elsewhere in the world.
Now it will have to find another bank to deal with, so as not to get closed out of the international financial system altogether.
Citibank's move is the latest in a string of closures or scaling back of operations of foreign companies operating in Venezuela, such as Coca-Cola, US food giant The Kraft Heinz company, Clorox and airlines Lufthansa, Aeromexico and American Airlines.
The Maduro government made good on Monday on a threat to take over the facilities of companies that shut down.
A plant run by US consumer products giant Kimberly-Clark has been turned over to its workers.
The company said that it simply could not get hold of hard currency to buy raw materials in Venezuela.
In face of the mounting adversity, Mr Maduro has been characteristically defiant in the same vein as his late mentor and predecessor, populist president Hugo Chavez.
"Nobody stops Venezuela," he said on Monday. "With Citibank or without it, we are moving forward. With Kimberly or without, we are moving."
But the country's economic problems are crushing.
An estimated 80 percent of food items, medicines and other basics - even soap - are in short supply. Inflation hit 180 per cent last year and the IMF has forecast it at 720 per cent this year.
The country imports just about everything it consumes. But the dollars needed to buy all that stuff are also in short supply: both because of the drop in oil prices and because of currency controls the government exercises.
"Companies are leaving because they cannot get hard currency. They have nothing with which to import raw materials, and stop producing," said economist Pedro Palma of consulting firm Ecoanalytic.
"The response is to take over plants. But what are the workers going to use to produce?" he mused.
Critics say the problem stems from the leftist government's model of tight grips on the economy and currency controls in place since 2003.
Mr Maduro says he is being targeted by US interests and local business elites bent on stoking grassroots anger and removing him from power.
Under Mr Maduro's response, civilian ministers are now subordinate to the military. Mr Maduro has also named a new head of the National Guard.
He says the goal is to end corrupt practices, such as crooked officials turning food deliveries over to smugglers who resell the items at much higher prices to the few Venezuelans who can afford to pay.
"We are seeing a major movement of pushing civilians to the side in benefit of the military, which is what is holding up the Maduro government," economist Jesus Casique told AFP.
"This, the Citibank issue and the companies that are leaving all affect the country's image and discontent within Venezuela," Mr Casique added.
Mr Maduro says the military will make things right, arguing that the private sector controls 93 per cent of distribution of basic goods and is killing the economy with hoarding and scalping.
Out of a total of 30 government ministries, the military is now in control in 10.
This not going down well with critics of the Maduro government.
The Venezuelan Bishops Conference said the rise of the military is a "threat to tranquility and peace".
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California droughts caused mainly by changes in wind, not moisture - environmentalresearchweb

California droughts caused mainly by changes in wind, not moisture

Droughts in California are mainly controlled by wind, not by the amount of evaporated moisture in the air, new research has found.
The findings were published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, on June 30. The research increases the understanding of how the water cycle is related to extreme events and could eventually help in predicting droughts and floods, said lead author Jiangfeng Wei, a research scientist at The University of Texas at Austin's Jackson School of Geosciences.
"Ocean evaporation provides moisture for California precipitation but is not the reason for droughts there, although the ocean evaporation is slightly lower during droughts," Wei said.
The researchers analyzed 30-year data sets that recorded precipitation, ocean evaporation, surface wind speed and atmospheric pressure on and near the west coast of the United States. These are all factors that influence the water cycle in California. One of the difficulties of studying the water cycle, Wei said, is that the water sources for precipitation cannot be directly observed, so the team also used a mathematical moisture-tracking method and high-resolution model simulations.
Their analysis showed that although moisture evaporated from the Pacific Ocean is the major source for California precipitation, the amount of water evaporated did not strongly influence precipitation in California, except in the cases of very heavy flooding. That's because the amount of water evaporated from this ocean region does not change much year by year, researchers found, and did not cause rain to occur more or less often.
"Ocean evaporation has little direct influence on California precipitation because of its relatively weak variability," Wei said.
Instead, the researchers found that disturbances in atmospheric circulation, the large-scale movement of air, have the most effect on drought because they can affect factors that will cause it to rain more or less.
The study co-authors are Qinjian Jin, a postdoctoral researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who earned his Ph.D. at the Jackson School; Zong-Liang Yang, a professor in the Jackson School's Department of Geological Sciences; and Paul Dirmeyer, a professor at George Mason University.
Most of California has been in a severe drought since 2011, although a strong El Niño in the winter of 2015 helped diminish the drought. The current drought is caused by a high-pressure system that disturbs the atmospheric circulation. The development of the high-pressure system is related to a sea surface temperature pattern in the Pacific Ocean, according to research cited by the study.
"Although this is a very rare event, the probability of this kind of high-pressure system is likely increasing with global warming," the authors said.
Yang said that the research could aid in the prediction of droughts and floods by improving scientific understanding of the intricate factors that influence rainfall the most.
"The topic is extremely timely as current and future climate change would mean more changes in extreme events such as droughts and floods," Yang said. "Understanding this asymmetric contribution of ocean evaporation to drought and flooding in California will ultimately help us make better predictions."
Source: UT

UK depends on unsustainable water from abroad - environmentalresearchweb

UK depends on unsustainable water from abroad

The evaluation of the sustainability and efficiency of the UK's external water footprint suggests that Spain, the US and Pakistan top the list of exporters of goods to the UK that depend on unsustainable amounts of ground and surface water.
"Our dependence on unsustainable water use should be on the political agenda," said Arjen Hoekstra of the University of Twente.
Until now there's been little research on the risk of depending on unsustainable external water for countries that themselves have relatively abundant water. Hoekstra and his Twente colleague Mesfin Mekonnen investigated this risk for the UK using a parameter known as a water footprint, which measures the amount of water used to produce all goods and services. A "blue" water footprint measures water sourced from the surface or groundwater.
Like many other nations in Western Europe, the UK has a highly external water footprint as it imports so many goods, particularly food. "If you rely as heavily on food imports as the UK does, and if so much comes from regions that face severe water scarcity, the UK has a problem in the long term," said Hoekstra.
Hoekstra and Mekonnen examined what UK inhabitants consume, where their goods come from and how much water was consumed in making them. Combining statistics, remote sensing data and computer models, the researchers mapped the UK's global water footprint, and checked whether the local surface and groundwater use was sustainable for each location.
The Twente researchers found that half of the UK's global blue water footprint derived from locations where the local blue water footprint is unsustainable. The UK's water footprint was also concentrated in a few key areas, with more than half the unsustainable part being located in just six countries: Spain, the US and Pakistan – which together account for 35% of the unsustainable portion – and India, Iran and South Africa. Worse, the results showed that about half of the UK's global water footprint related to direct and indirect crop consumption is inefficient.
"Most people don't know that so much water is needed to make things, particularly food, and they are also not aware that they relate in this way to big water problems elsewhere," said Hoekstra.
Hoekstra believes that water risk could be lowered if people switched to diets that are less water-intensive – eating less meat, for example. What's more, water could be priced according to the degree of local water scarcity, and regulations could be put in place to limit water use per basin. But, he added, "I don't believe there is one simple solution – we need to do a whole range of things."
The scientists, who published their study in Environmental Research Letters (ERL), now plan to map the water footprints of other countries, and evaluate them for sustainability.

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Eskom continues to support SADC through excess capacity

Eskom continues to support SADC through excess capacity

On Wednesday, South African state-owned power company, Eskom said that the cumulative capacity generated by its power plants produced 34,534MW of power last week, claiming to be the highest peak demand supplied by the utility when compared to the same period last week at 33,832MW.
According to the company, the year-to-date load factor for the Eskom and Dedisa open cycle gas turbines (OCGT) is 0.3 % and 1.51 % respectively.

Eskom supplies excess to neighbours

The excess output, once all domestic demands have been met, are supplied to neighbouring countries, even over peak periods. Cross border sales for last week during the peak period reached 2,155MW, the utility noted in a statement.
The utility explained: "In the past year, international sales grew 12.2% due to Eskom having surplus capacity. The SADC region has been experiencing the worst drought in decades which has limited power generation from the hydro-electric power stations that most of the region normally relies on, leading to widespread load shedding.
"Eskom has been able to step in and supply up to 600MW at times, but regularly around 450MW mainly to Zimbabwe and Zambia. Initially these additional exports were during off-peak hours, but increasingly sales are being made in other hours of the day. These sales are typically non-firm, implying Eskom retains discretion over the sales and they can be curtailed if the electricity is needed in South Africa."
The parastatal added that it has been able to boost supply to Namibia and Botswana as well as to Lesotho and Swaziland, however the expansion of these exports has been hampered due to restricted transmission capacity.

Supporting SADC

These recent events demonstrate the value of having an inter-connected SADC regional transmission system and a trading platform through the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), which allows for the exchange of power between different countries, Eskom explained.
"The SAPP, which is in its 21st year of operation, provides a platform for cross-border electricity trading as well as facilitating investments in SADC regional electricity capacity projects.
"SAPP comprises members from all the SADC countries; Angola, Botswana, DRC, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe," the utility said.
Adding that currently only Angola, Malawi and Tanzania are not interconnectors to their neighbouring countries at transmission voltage level.
"The intention into the future is to pursue increased transmission interconnection with our neighbours, allowing further increases in exports as the supply-demand balance continues to improve.
"To this end the Southern African Energy Unit of Eskom is already pursuing long-term firm power sales agreements for application in the future which could underwrite the transmission investments required," the power company said. 

US wheat crop estimate raised soars as European forecast dips

Tale of two continents: US wheat forecast raised as European estimate dips

Record winter wheat yields have been predicted for the US - while bad weather has taken its toll on some European wheat crops.
Stats from the US Department of Agriculture's World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates published yesterday (July 12) have increased expected production from across the wheat belt.
US winter wheat yields are projected to be a record high, according to the report, while spring wheat yields are slightly above average.
The larger supplies – and consequent price competitiveness with corn - have brought an increase in feed and residual use forecast  in the US for 2016/17.
Expected US wheat exports are tipped to increase, by 25 million bushels to 925 million, which would be the highest level in three years.

Global wheat supply up

Global wheat supply is also raised in the report, with favorable weather expected to drive strong production in Russia and Ukraine. Estimated production for Argentina, Australia, and Canada has also been raised.
But these increases are partially offset by a decrease for the EU as a result of heavy rain in Western Europe.
France and Germany, the two largest producing regions in the European Union, have been particularly hard hit. Harvests from both countries are expected to be below initial expectations as a result of heavy rainfall and floods in late May and early June, according to commodities analysts Mintec.

Risk of lower protein levels

"This has also raised concerns over the possibility of lower protein levels, as well as increase in the risk of disease, fungi and insects, which can reduce the quality of the crop," Mintec senior data analyst Avneet Deol told BakeryandSnacks.
She added the wheat crop was already vulnerable to disease and pests, as a result of a warmer than usual winter.
"One example of a known disease that lasted through the winter and has spread due to the wet weather is the yellow-dwarf virus, which stunts the growth and causes decolourisation of the crop," she added.
The drop in production in France and Germany was likely to threaten the competiveness of EU wheat and affect trade to key markets such as North Africa, warned Mintec.

Eastern and Southern Europe unaffected

There was better news in some parts of Europe, with the east and south of the continent  – such as Romania and Spain – unaffected by the weather.
Total EU production is forecast at 157.5m tonnes, which is down 2% year on year but is still the second highest crop on record.
However, Copa & Cogeca – which represents European farmers and agricultural co-operatives – warned the situation for soft wheat and barley could worsen and that figures "will probably" be revised downwards.
"Many countries have had a big problem with pests and disease this year," said chairman of the Copa & Cogeca Cereals Working Party, Max Schulman.
"It is becoming more difficult to fight them as they become more resistant to crop protection products," he added. "There is a real lack of effective crop protection products and consistent tool box to manage risk at field level."

US senators detail a climate science 'web of denial'

US senators detail a climate science 'web of denial' but the impacts go well beyond their borders

A screenshot as US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse spoke about the climate science
A screenshot as US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse spoke about the climate science 'web of denial'. Photograph: C-SPAN

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By the middle of this week, about 20 Democratic senators in the US will have stood up before their Congress to talk about the fossil fuelled machinery of climate science denial.
The senators are naming the fossil fuel funders, describing the machinery and calling out the characters that make up a "web of denial".
"The web is so big, because it has so much to protect," said the Rhode Island senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who bookended the first evening of speeches.
The Senate heard how fossil fuel companies such as ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy and the billionaire oil brothers Charles and David Koch had funnelled millions into groups that had spread doubt about the causes of climate change.
In a resolution also being tabled, the upper house will be asked to acknowledge that the fossil fuel industry had done just what the tobacco industry had done – "developed a sophisticated and deceitful campaign that funded think tanks and front groups, and paid public relations firms to deny, counter, and obfuscate peer-reviewed research" and "used that misinformation campaign to mislead the public and cast doubt in order to protect their financial interest."

— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey)

Groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), the Heartland Institute, the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and many, many others are under scrutiny for the way they have attacked the science linking fossil fuel burning to climate change while accepting cash from fossil fuel interests.
Whitehouse also took time to describe the large body of work in peer-reviewed journals that have examined the funding, the networks and the tactics of organised climate science denial. Climate science denial is itself a live area of academic research.
Already, groups being named in the speeches are reacting. The CEI called it "a McCarthy-style attempt to shut down the democratic process". When Senator Chuck Schumer said those who had participated in the web should be "ashamed of themselves", Steve Milloy said he had "never been prouder."

Schumer says climate skeptics 'should be ashamed of themselves.' I've never been prouder. http://wp.me/p6SqJi-nqL 
— Steve Milloy (@JunkScience)

But the impact of climate science denial – the decades of policy delays, the confusion among the general public and the deliberate politicisation of the science – does not stop at the US border.
Australia has been a consumer, a contributor and a victim of the web of climate science denial.
Australia has long provided personnel and contributors to the efforts of several of the key groups being named in the US Senate.
The late Dr Robert Carter, once of James Cook University, was an advisor and active contributor to several of the groups, including the Heartland Institute and the Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI).
Malcolm Roberts (the wannabe One Nation Australian Senator) and bloggers JoNova and her husband David Evans have all written reports for the SPPI that claim human-caused climate change is some sort of elaborate hoax.
Retired Australian meteorologist William Kininmonth is also an SPPI science advisor.
Australian politicians have flown over to the United States to speak at conferences for climate science denialists hosted by the Heartland Institute – the group that once compared the acceptance of human-caused climate science to the values of terrorist and mass murderer Ted "Unabomber" Kaczynski.
Former Family First Senator Steve Fielding, current Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi and the current Nationals MP George Christensen have all spoken at Heartland's conferences. The conferences themselves have been enthusiastically sponsored by several Australian groups over the years.
Australia's role in the web of denial has been running since the 1990s, when groups like the CEI flew staff to Australia to firm up opposition to greenhouse gas regulations around the world.
Partnerships were formed with groups like the Melbourne-based Institute of Public Affairs, which has hosted and supported many visits from US-based climate science denialists.
Once here, those speakers will write columns for newspapers, do radio and television interviews and travel around the country to give talks.
In 2011 when the Gillard Government was trying to introduce laws to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions, the stopgillardscarbontax.com enlisted Pat Michaels, of the Cato Institute, as a science advisor. Cato is another member of the web of denial. Michaels once estimated that about 40 per cent of his funding came from the petroleum industry.
The impact of all this on the Australian public and the way the media covers climate science is clear.
There remains a split among Australians about the cause of climate change, despite multiple studies showing that more than 90 per cent of climate scientists are in agreement that it's the burning of fossil fuels that's driving up temperatures, fuelling weather extremes, raising sea levels, melting ice sheets and killing corals (and that's just a few of the impacts).
The public becomes doubtful and the media, so often looking for controversy and conflict, has been a conduit for the fossil fuelled messages.
The fossil fuel companies, meanwhile, retain a grip on their so-called "social licence to operate."
When Senator Whitehouse said the web of denial is "so big, because it has so much to protect" we might also think that we have so much to lose.
In failing to unravel the web of denial and by allowing our public discourse to be polluted by fossil fuelled PR outfits, ideologues and pseudo-science, who knows how much time we may have lost.

California's Grid ProposalReducing Fossil Fuel Dependence

California's Multi-State Grid Proposal Suggests Reducing Fossil Fuel Dependence, Including NatGas

California's grid operator on Tuesday issued a 12-volume, 688-page tome analyzing various scenarios to create a multi-state, regional electricity market that would continue to phase out the use of fossil fuels, including natural gas, for power generation.
Promising up to $1.5 billion in annual savings by 2030, the study by the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) concluded that expanding the power market by affiliating dozens of now separate balancing areas would enhance climate change initiatives seeking ever-greater dependence on a combination of efficiency programs, renewables and distributed generation. It downplayed gas-fired generation, even as large numbers of coal-fired generation plants are retired.
Mandated by the California Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act (SB 350) enacted last year, the CAISO study was completed by four research organizations. It considered two scenarios tied to 2020 and three with a 2030 time frame. The 2020 combination of CAISO and Berkshire Hathaway's Portland, OR-based PacifiCorp multi-state western utility operations is one of the scenarios examined.
The four research groups involved -- the Brattle Group, Energy and Environmental Economics Inc. (E3), Aspen Environmental Group and Berkeley Economic Advising and Research LLC (BEAR) -- determined that there would be positive economic and reliability results from the regional market.
For 2020, the study concluded that up to 776 MW of energy transfers from CAISO to PacificCorp and 982 MW of transfers from PacifiCorp to CAISO (the amount of existing transmission capability between the two areas) are "free of economic and operational hurdles."
The latest studies confirmed preliminary results that predicted benefits to grow over time from a broad electricity market in the West, said CAISO CEO Steve Berberich. He said the studies should "help drive the formation of a new, more efficient, cost-effective and greener western electric grid. It is also clear that a regional grid allows California and other states to eventually exceed their renewable goals, including California's 50% renewable mark."
The initial economic and other benefits from the CAISO-PacifiCorp partnership are relatively modest in 2020, with the big bang advantages by 2030, according to CAISO's Keith Casey, vice president for market and infrastructure development. "As the regional footprint grows and the amount of renewables on the system grows as well, those two effects are really driving the market benefits we see in 2030," he said.
From the gas industry's perspective, Berberich and Casey agreed that the move to a broad regional market would reduce the amount of gas-fired generation needed throughout the region.
"I think this regional market in the West would provide a platform for enabling that transformation, and we see how that is playing out in a lot of other regional markets," Casey said.
Berberich added that there are going to be lot of coal plant retirements and displacement from a mixed portfolio of gas and renewables, and it would be up to the policymakers to decide what that mix is.