Why do Americans waste so much food?

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Why India is captured by carbon

The Guardian reports: In 2013, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that in order to restrict the increase of world average temperatures to 2C above pre-industrial times, the world must adopt a strict “carbon budget” for emissions. According to the IPCC, the current rate of fossil fuel burning will exhaust this within 25 years, after which fuels must either be left unexploited, or have their emissions kept from the atmosphere by carbon capture and storage.

India has the world’s fifth-largest coal reserves – and very few cleaner fossil fuels, such as natural gas. Its leaders are also determined to spread the benefits of economic development more widely among its population of almost 1.3bn people – one third of whom still have no access to electricity.

Anil Swarup, the permanent secretary at the coal ministry in Delhi, said in an interview that last year Indian production from both private and state-owned mines was 620m tonnes, more than 85% of it from open-cast workings. A further 400m tonnes were imported. At Singrauli [a coalfield which spans parts of two districts in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh] and elsewhere, he added, production is set to increase rapidly, with strong encouragement from the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which swept to power last year. Modi is determined to restore the sustained GDP growth rate of 8-10% that India enjoyed for a decade until 2011.

“We are looking to double Indian coal production by 2020,” Swarup said, “and to reduce reliance on imports.” Beyond that date, he said production would continue to rise to 1.5bn tonnes a year, with most of this being burnt in coal-fired power plants. In the past six months, the government has given environmental clearance to 41 new mining projects. The consequence, Swarup said, is that from now until 2020, “a new mine will be opened every month. You have to work on the assumption of requirement, and in India, there is a need for power.” [Continue reading…]

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Patrick Cockburn — not quite in a league of his own

In those quarters where the mainstream media is viewed with suspicion if not outright contempt, it’s commonplace to witness a strange anomaly: a handful of mainstream journalists have acquired a hallowed status which results in their reporting being treated as though it possesses unquestionable authority.

This is strange because if one assumes the position of refusing to belong to a flock of “sheep” who blindly believe the mainstream media, it makes no sense to join a different flock of equally uncritical admirers of a few celebrated investigative journalists.

What this anomaly most likely reveals is a lack of critical discernment being directed in any direction. Skepticism and blind faith turn out to be two sides of the same coin. Authority is assigned on the basis of perceived allegiances rather than the integrity of the journalism.

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes: Patrick Cockburn, the Irish foreign correspondent for The Independent, has an eclectic following. He is admired by Noam Chomsky and Rand Paul; and last December, when he won the British equivalent of a Pulitzer for his coverage of Syria and Iraq, the judges declared his journalism in a “league of its own” and wondered “whether the Government should [consider] pensioning off the whole of MI6 and [hire] Patrick Cockburn instead.”

Cockburn is conscious of his exalted position. He frequently admonishes his colleagues against the distortions born of “political bias and simple error.” In his recent book, The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution, he declares, “there is no alternative to first-hand reporting”. He adds: “Journalists rarely fully admit to themselves or others the degree to which they rely on secondary and self-interested sources”.

Journalists rarely admit such things—even those as self-aware as Cockburn is. Consider this gripping, first-hand account of the slaughter of religious minorities by the al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra that appears on page 89 of his book. “In Adra on the northern outskirts of Damascus in early 2014, I witnessed [Nusra] forces storm a housing complex by advancing through a drainage pipe which came out behind government lines, where they proceeded to kill Alawites and Christians.” Cockburn was witnessing a war crime.

But there is a problem. The atrocity might or might not have happened but Cockburn certainly didn’t witness it. [Continue reading…]

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Saudis reflect on the extremism and sectarianism being fueled inside their own mosques

Hassan Hassan writes: The role of clerics in stoking tensions is again under scrutiny in Saudi Arabia. ISIL’s suicide bombing inside a Shia mosque in Al Qudeeh on May 23 has triggered an important debate in the kingdom that should not be missed.

Last year, a similar debate following ISIL’s takeover of Mosul and the subsequent carnage committed in the name of Islam, led many activists in Saudi Arabia to question the roots of such acts. For example, Saudi commentator Ibrahim Al Shaalan tweeted: “ISIL’s actions are but an epitome of what we’ve studied in our school curriculum. If the curriculum is sound, then ISIL is right, and if it is wrong, then who bears responsibility?”

After last weekend’s attack, similar questions have been raised. A day after the bombing, Tariq Al Hamid, a prominent Saudi writer, criticised the sectarian incitement that still spewed in schools and at the pulpit. He said: “What needs to be said, especially after the Al Qudeeh terrorist attack that targeted Saudi Shia nationals, is that the educational, religious, cultural and media discourse in Saudi Arabia must be changed … through laws and regulations. Reform must punish incitement in all forms, at traditional and other pulpits.”

Al Hamid added that reform would prevent a “fertile ground that turns young Saudis into fodder in any battle” taking place in the region. He said that attacks target both Sunnis and Shia in the country, citing the ISIL cell recently uncovered by Saudi authorities, which targeted security officers. Equally important, he echoed a rare admonition of the kingdom’s top clerics by the late King Abdullah about the failure of religious and media figures at speaking out against extremists.

Saudi Gazette’s editor was similarly candid in an article titled “Sectarian divide threatens national security”. He criticised clerics who he said spewed hatred and spread falsehood. “The perpetrators of these murderous acts are driven by an insane ideology disseminated by self-appointed clerics,” he wrote. “For too long, we have kept quiet as they used the mosques, the media … to spread their evil philosophy.” [Continue reading…]

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Islamist fighters drawn from half the world’s countries, says UN

The Guardian reports: More than half the countries in the world are currently generating Islamist extremist fighters for groups such as al-Qaida and Islamic State, the UN has said.

A report by the UN security council says there are more than 25,000 “foreign terrorist fighters” currently involved in jihadi conflicts and they are “travelling from more than 100 member states”.

The number of fighters may have increased by more than 70% worldwide in the past nine months or so, the report says, adding that they “pose an “immediate and long-term [terrorist] threat”.

The sudden rise, though possibly explained by better data, will raise concern about the apparently growing appeal of extremism. The geographic spread of states touched by the phenomenon has expanded, too. [Continue reading…]

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Why are the ISIS commanders so much better than the Iraqi Army?

Foreign Policy reports: One reason for the imbalance is military skill and commitment to the fight: the Iraqi security forces that are taking the field are facing off against battle-hardened officers trained under Saddam Hussein who have spent the past 12 years moving in and out of Anbar Province fighting both American and Shiite-led Iraqi forces.

Those former officers, in turn, have been given relative freedom to operate, with Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi delegating command responsibility to his field commanders, said Ahmed Ali, a senior fellow at the Education for Peace in Iraq Center, a Washington based nonprofit that develops programs to help Iraqi youth. Having grown up in the Sunni heartland of Anbar, these leaders understand the terrain very well, “and their level of intelligence collection is straight out of the Baath Party playbook. Very precise, very personal,” Ali said.

The ISIS commanders, Ali said, also know the province’s tribes and social structures, helping the group identify which it can be co-opted and which would need to be defeated militarily.

The Islamic State’s advantages on the battlefield represent a long-term unintended byproduct of the U.S. decision to disband the Iraqi army in 2003 after Saddam Hussein’s regime melted away. A generation of Sunni military expertise was essentially turned out onto the streets and eventually lost to the insurgency. The situation worsened in recent years when then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite government purged even more experienced Sunni commanders from the security forces and promoted less capable Shiite officers and commanders.

For years, Maliki’s Shiite-led army and police acted as a sectarian militia, brutally suppressing Sunni leadership and taking orders directly from the prime minister, who appointed loyalists and consolidated all military decision making in his own office. Many Sunnis, furious at their treatment, began coalescing around the tribal militias and Islamist groups that eventually evolved into the Islamic State. [Continue reading…]

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Pentagon slams ‘unhelpful’ Shi’ite codename for Ramadi offensive

Reuters: The Pentagon on Tuesday said it was “unhelpful” for Iraq’s Shi’ite militia to have announced an openly sectarian code name for the operation to retake the Sunni city of Ramadi and added that, in the U.S. view, the full-on offensive had yet to begin.

A spokesman for the Shi’ite militias, known as Hashid Shaabi, said the code name for the new operation would be “Labaik ya Hussein”, a slogan in honor of a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed killed in the 7th Century battle that led to the schism between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims.

The United States has been vocally advocating for Iraq to tread carefully in employing Shi’ite militias to help Iraqi forces retake the city, which fell to the Islamic State a week ago in Baghdad’s biggest military setback in nearly a year.

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With help from ISIS, a more deadly Boko Haram makes a comeback

The Daily Beast reports: The Nigerian terror group Boko Haram, after some much heralded reversals on the battlefield, has made a dangerous comeback, unleashing female suicide bombers, carrying out a series of deadly attacks, and seizing a highly strategic town.

Having fled the larger part of their stronghold in Sambisa forest, the sect’s soldiers regrouped in Marte, a town 112 kilometers north of Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria’s embattled northeastern Borno state. Although government officials say Marte was seized last Friday, local sources have confirmed that the militants began to occupy the town at the end of April.

“They [Boko Haram] have been in Marte for a long time strategizing,” said a local community member. “They came in large numbers last month, but more members recently joined following the offensive in Sambisa forest by the military.”

This is the fourth time Boko Haram has seized control of Marte, a key battleground for their six-year insurgency. The town is among several retaken in recent weeks by Nigeria’s military. Sources said on Saturday that the insurgents have hoisted their flags on the recaptured territory, and have been coordinating attacks from there.

All this comes amid reports that Boko Haram may be receiving training from the self-proclaimed Islamic State, widely known as ISIS, which operates in Iraq and Syria. A group called the Mosul Youth Resistance Movement, apparently formed to fight ISIS in and around the major Iraqi city it conquered almost a year ago, killed five Boko Haram members there, according to the Iraqi Kurdish website BasNews. Saed Mamuzini, spokesperson for the Kurdish Democratic Party, is quoted saying, “The Nigerian Boko Haram militants were in Mosul to take part in a military training course conducted by Islamic State.” [Continue reading…]

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Gaza: Palestinians tortured, summarily killed by Hamas forces during 2014 conflict

Amnesty International: Hamas forces carried out a brutal campaign of abductions, torture and unlawful killings against Palestinians accused of “collaborating” with Israel and others during Israel’s military offensive against Gaza in July and August 2014, according to a new report by Amnesty International.

‘Strangling Necks’: Abduction, torture and summary killings of Palestinians by Hamas forces during the 2014 Gaza/Israel conflict highlights a series of abuses, such as the extrajudicial execution of at least 23 Palestinians and the arrest and torture of dozens of others, including members and supporters of Hamas’s political rivals, Fatah.

“It is absolutely appalling that, while Israeli forces were inflicting massive death and destruction upon the people in Gaza, Hamas forces took the opportunity to ruthlessly settle scores, carrying out a series of unlawful killings and other grave abuses,” said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.

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Erdogan’s escalating war on the press

Stephen Kinzer writes: This was to be an extraordinary week in my career and life. It has turned out to be just that — but hardly in the way I expected.

I arrived here [Gaziantep, Turkey] Tuesday morning to receive a great honor. The mayor and city council decided several months ago to make me an honorary citizen in recognition of reporting I did years ago that resulted in saving exquisite Roman mosaics about to be lost to flooding.

A lavish ceremony was planned. Tickets were printed. A professional interpreter was engaged so I would not have to expose my fractured Turkish.

Upon my arrival, however, my acutely embarrassed hosts sat me down and told me the ceremony, and my honorary citizenship, had been cancelled by personal order of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Gaziantep’s mayor was given the order while attending a United Nations conference in Paris. Later, according to one of my friends here, Erdogan’s office sent her a fax describing me as “an enemy of our government and our country.” Attached as evidence was a Jan. 4 column I wrote for the Boston Globe that included a critical paragraph about Erdogan.

It said, “Once seen as a skilled modernizer, he now sits in a 1,000-room palace denouncing the European Union, decreeing the arrest of journalists, and ranting against short skirts and birth control.” [Continue reading…]

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Music: Jacob Karlzon 3 — ‘A Thousand Conclusions’

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The oil companies and the assassins — BP and Ocensa

The Guardian reports: A Colombian trade union leader is beginning an unprecedented claim for damages against BP in the high court in London, alleging the oil company’s complicity in his kidnap and torture 13 years ago.

Gilberto Torres, 52, was abducted in February 2002 while driving home from an oil-pumping station in Casanare, eastern Colombia, and was released after 42 days, only after workers threatened a national oil strike. The case, which begins on Friday, will throw a spotlight on one of the murkiest periods in Colombia’s history, and the role of big business in it.

His lawyers say that it is the first time a union leader has been able to lodge a claim for human rights abuses against a multinational oil company in the high court. They believe his claim could pave the way for scores more similar actions.

BP denies any involvement. It says it will “vigorously” defend the claim.

Torres tells his story for the first time in a Guardian online documentary. The film includes the extraordinary testimony of his kidnappers when they finally faced trial. [Continue reading…]

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Shell can’t afford to wait until 2050 to adapt its business to climate change

By Steffen Böhm, University of Essex

Shell’s recent AGM was tumultuous. Shareholders voted overwhelmingly for the company to report on whether its activities were compatible with promised government action on climate change. The firm’s board reportedly faced a sometimes-hostile barrage of questions about its approach to the environment.

The key question shareholders are asking is this: what if the majority of Shell’s proven fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground in order to avoid a dangerous global temperature increase of more than 2°C? Shell’s proved reserves are the company’s biggest asset against which it borrows money from banks and attracts investments from shareholders.

Most of the oil and gas majors are struggling to find enough new reserves to keep growing in the future. This is why Shell and all other major players in the industry have to go to more extreme lengths to find the fossil fuels that keep our lights on, cars on the road and their profits growing. Controversial and environmentally very suspect investments into Arctic oil drilling, US shale gas and Canadian tar sands have already tarnished the environmental credentials of Shell.

But Shell needs to find more oil and gas to keep its asset base growing and its profit potential intact. So it agreed to buy UK-based oil and gas exploration group BG Group for a staggering £47bn. To quote recent analysis, this “gives Shell a presence in the productive zone off the coast of Brazil, and will ensure that Shell’s own production is maintained over the medium term, taking away the requirement to make large discoveries to offset natural depletion”.

But now an entirely new threat hangs over Shell’s future viability as a leading fossil fuel company. A high-profile campaign has argued that most of the proven reserves by oil and gas majors are “stranded assets” – something Shell has denied in the past. This would render Shell’s acquisition of BG Group and its investments in the Arctic wasted capital.

[Read more…]

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Why Obama changed course on the ‘red line’ in Syria

Frontline: In August of 2013, a rebel-held suburb of Damascus was attacked with sarin gas — a nerve agent that causes lung muscle paralysis and results in death from suffocation.

The attack killed 1,400 men, women and children, and at the White House, officials asserted “with high confidence” that the government of Bashar al-Assad was responsible.

One year earlier, President Barack Obama had described Assad’s potential use of chemical weapons as “a red line” that would have “enormous consequences” and “change my calculus” on American military intervention in Syria’s civil war.

When Assad appeared to cross that line, Obama ordered the Pentagon to prepare to attack.

“Our finger was on the trigger,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tells veteran FRONTLINE correspondent Martin Smith in Tuesday’s new documentary, Obama at War. “We had everything in place and we were just waiting for instructions to proceed.”

But as FRONTLINE details in the below excerpt from Obama at War, the president had second thoughts. [Continue reading…]

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Jihadists vs. the Assad Regime: Syria’s rebel advance

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How ISIS’s win in Ramadi reveals new weapons, tactical sophistication and prowess

The Wall Street Journal reports: In late April, a commander for Islamic State said his forces were ready to launch an offensive to take Ramadi, and the group called for fighters to redeploy to Iraq from Syria.

Three weeks later, the jihadist group seized the capital of Anbar province after relentless waves of suicide bombings.

U.S. defense chief Ash Carter has blamed Ramadi’s fall mainly on Iraqi forces’ lack of will to fight. But Islamic State’s battlefield performance suggests the terrorist group’s tactical sophistication is growing—a development the Iraqis and the U.S.-led coalition have so far failed to counter, said Iraqi officials, former U.S. officials and military analysts studying the organization.

An examination of how Ramadi fell indicates that Islamic State commanders executed a complex battle plan that outwitted a greater force of Iraqi troops as well as the much-lauded, U.S.-trained special-operations force known as the Golden Division, which had been fighting for months to defend the city.

Islamic State commanders evaded surveillance and airstrikes to bring reinforcements to its front lines in western Iraq. The group displayed a high degree of operational security by silencing its social media and propaganda teams during the Ramadi surge.

The group also churned out dozens of formidable new weapons by converting captured U.S. military armored vehicles designed to be impervious to small-arms fire into megabombs with payloads equal to the force of the Oklahoma City bombing. [Continue reading…]

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For an ISIS fighter, a paid honeymoon in caliphate’s heart

The Associated Press reports: The honeymoon was a brief moment for love, away from the front lines of Syria’s war. In the capital of the Islamic State group’s self-proclaimed “caliphate,” Syrian fighter Abu Bilal al-Homsi was united with his Tunisian bride for the first time after months chatting online. They married, then passed the days dining on grilled meats in Raqqa’s restaurants, strolling along the Euphrates River and eating ice cream.

It was all made possible by the marriage bonus he received from the Islamic State group: $1,500 for him and his wife to get started on a new home, a family — and a honeymoon.

“It has everything one would want for a wedding,” al-Homsi said of Raqqa — a riverside provincial capital that in the 18 months since IS took control has seen militants beheading opponents and stoning accused adulteresses in its main square. Gunmen at checkpoints in the city scrutinize passers-by for signs of anything they see as a violation of Shariah, or Islamic law, as slight as a hint of hair gel or an improperly kept beard. In the homes of some of the IS commanders in the city are women and girls from the Yazidi religious sect, abducted in Iraq and now kept as sex slaves.

The Islamic State group is notorious for the atrocities it committed as it overran much of Syria and neighboring Iraq. But to its supporters, it is engaged in an ambitious project: building a new nation ruled by what radicals see as “God’s law,” made up of Muslims from around the world whose old nationalities have been erased and who have been united in the “caliphate.” [Continue reading…]

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Shakedown: Israel seeks funding surge in U.S. security support

DefenseNews reports: Israel is seeking a hefty surge in annual security assistance from Washington and has begun preliminary talks with the US administration on a long-term package that would provide up to $45 billion in grant aid through 2028.

In recent months, working-level bilateral groups have begun to assess Israel’s projected security needs in the context of a new 10-year foreign military financing (FMF) deal that will kick in once the current agreement expires in 2017.

Under the existing, $30 billion agreement signed in 2007, annual FMF grant aid to Israel grew from $2.4 billion to $3.1 billion minus, in recent years, rescissions of some $155 million due to a government mandated sequester.

Under the follow-on package, endorsed in principle by US President Barack Obama during a March 2013 visit to Tel Aviv, Israel wants “$4.2 billion to $4.5 billion” in annual FMF aid, a security source here said. [Continue reading…]

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