TBR News November 4, 2017

Nov 04 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., November 4, 2017:”I note that not only are the New York Times and the Washington putting up paywalls, now the television CNN is doing the same. The general public gets its news from the Internet, not print or TV reportage and media makes is money from the number of viewers or subscribers in advertising revenue. If a newspaper loses paid subscribers, their attraction as an advertising medium drops and advertisers rush to where the public looks. The major media used to be a place where one could find actual and important national and international news but now the bulk of them are trivial and always a day late in reporting events. Eventually, these old fashioned and outdated forms of information will wither on the vine and then we will see all the websites packed with useless ads for worthless products.”

 

Table of Contents

 

  • From Miami to Shanghai: 3C of warming will leave world cities below sea level
  • New Greenland maps show more glaciers at risk
  • Florida’s Sea Level Rose 6x Faster Than Average And It’s Not Due To Climate
  • Change A Broke, and Broken, Flood Insurance Program
  • Sayfullo Saipov had 90 Isis videos on his phone. Has the fight against online extremism failed?
  • Terrorism and Counterterrorism
  • The New York Attack, Trump’s Outbursts, and Misconceptions About Terrorism
  • One Solution to Terrorism: Night and Fog
  • Islamic State’ suffers major losses in Syria and Iran

 

From Miami to Shanghai: 3C of warming will leave world cities below sea level

An elevated level of climate change would lock in irreversible sea-level rises affecting hundreds of millions of people, Guardian data analysis shows

November 3,2017

by Jonathon Watts

The Guardian

Hundreds of millions of urban dwellers around the world face their cities being inundated by rising seawaters if latest UN warnings that the world is on course for 3C of global warming come true, according to a Guardian data analysis.

Famous beaches, commercial districts and swaths of farmland will be threatened at this elevated level of climate change, which the UN warned this week is a very real prospect unless nations reduce their carbon emissions.

Data from the Climate Central group of scientists analysed by Guardian journalists shows that 3C of global warming would ultimately lock in irreversible sea-level rises of perhaps two metres. Cities from Shanghai to Alexandria, and Rio to Osaka are among the worst affected. Miami would be inundated – as would the entire bottom third of the US state of Florida.

The Guardian has found, however, that local preparations for a 3C world are as patchy as international efforts to prevent it from happening. At six of the coastal regions most likely to be affected, government planners are only slowly coming to grips with the enormity of the task ahead – and in some cases have done nothing.

This comes ahead of the latest round of climate talks in Bonn next week, when negotiators will work on ways to monitor, fund and ratchet up national commitments to cut CO2 so that temperatures can rise on a safer path of between 1.5 and 2C, which is the goal of the Paris agreement reached in 2015.

The momentum for change is currently too slow, according to the UN Environment Programme. In its annual emissions gap report, released on Tuesday, the international body said government commitments were only a third of what was needed. Non-state actors such as cities, companies and citizens can only partly fill this void, which leaves warming on course to rise to 3C or beyond by the end of this century, the report said.

The UN’s environment chief, Erik Solheim, said progress in the year since the Paris agreement entered into force has been inadequate. “We still find ourselves in a situation where we are not doing nearly enough to save hundreds of millions of people from a miserable future,” he said.

Nature’s ability to help may also be diminishing. On Monday, the World Meteorological Organisation said concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose last year at a record speed to reach 403.3 parts per million – a level not seen since the Pliocene era three to five million years ago.

A 3C rise would lead to longer droughts, fiercer hurricanes and lock in sea-level rises that would redraw many coastlines. Depending on the speed at which icecaps and glaciers melt, this could take decades or more than a century. Colin Summerhayes of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge said three-degrees of warming would melt polar and glacier ice much further and faster than currently expected, potentially raising sea levels by two metres by 2100.

At least 275 million city dwellers live in vulnerable areas, the majority of them in Asian coastal megacities and industrial hubs such as Shanghai, Shenzhen, Bangkok and Tokyo.

Japan’s second biggest city, Osaka, is projected to lose its business and entertainments districts of Umeda and Namba unless global emissions are forced down or flood defences are built up. Officials are reluctantly accepting they must now put more effort into the latter.

“In the past our response was focused on reducing the causes of global warming, but given that climate change is inevitable, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we are now discussing how to respond to the natural disasters that will follow,” said Toshikazu Nakaaki of the Osaka municipal government’s environment bureau.

In Miami – which would be almost entirely below sea level even at 2C warming – the sense of urgency is evident at city hall, where commissioners are asking voters to approve a “Miami Forever” bond in the November ballot that includes $192m for upgrading pump stations, expanding drainage systems, elevating roads and building dykes.

Elsewhere, there is less money for adaptation and a weaker sense of urgency. In Rio de Janeiro, a 3C rise would flood famous beaches such as Copacabana, the waterfront domestic airport, and many of the sites for last year’s Olympics. But the cash-strapped city has been slow to prepare. A report compiled for Brazil’s presidency found “situations in which climate changes are not considered within the scope of planning”.

In Egypt, even a 0.5m sea-level rise is predicted to submerge beaches in Alexandria and displace 8 million people on the Nile Delta unless protective measures are taken, according to the IPCC. But local activists say the authorities see it as a distant problem. “As far as I’m concerned, this issue isn’t on the list of government priorities,” said Ahmed Hassan, of the Save Alexandria Initiative, a group that works to raise awareness of the effects of climate change on the city.

The impacts will also be felt on the economy and food production. Among the most vulnerable areas in the UK is Lincolnshire, where swaths of agricultural land are likely to be lost to the sea.

“We’re conscious that climate change is happening and perhaps faster than expected so we are trying to mitigate and adapt to protect people and property. We can’t stop it, but we can reduce the risk.” said Alison Baptiste, director of strategy and investment at the UK Environment Agency. She said the measures in place should protect most communities in the near and medium term, but 50 years from now the situation will become more challenging. “If climate change projections are accurate, we’re going to have to make some difficult decisions.”

Additional reporting by Justin McCurry, Dom Phillips and Ruth Michaelson

 

New Greenland maps show more glaciers at risk

November 2, 2017

by Carol Rasmussen

NASA

New maps of Greenland’s coastal seafloor and bedrock beneath its massive ice sheet show that two to four times as many coastal glaciers are at risk of accelerated melting as previously thought.

Researchers at the University of California at Irvine (UCI), NASA and 30 other institutions have published the most comprehensive, accurate and high-resolution relief maps ever made of Greenland’s bedrock and coastal seafloor. Among the many data sources incorporated into the new maps are data from NASA’s Ocean Melting Greenland (OMG) campaign.

Lead author Mathieu Morlighem of UCI had demonstrated in an earlier paper that data from OMG’s survey of the shape and depth, or bathymetry, of the seafloor in Greenland’s fjords improved scientists’ understanding not only of the coastline, but of the inland bedrock beneath glaciers that flow into the ocean. That’s because the bathymetry where a glacier meets the ocean limits the possibilities for the shape of bedrock farther upstream.

The nearer to the shoreline, the more valuable the bathymetry data are for understanding on-shore topography, Morlighem said. “What made OMG unique compared to other campaigns is that they got right into the fjords, as close as possible to the glacier fronts. That’s a big help for bedrock mapping.” Additionally, the OMG campaign surveyed large sections of the Greenland coast for the first time ever. In fjords for which there are no data, it’s difficult to estimate how deep the glaciers extend below sea level.

The OMG data are only one of many datasets Morlighem and his team used in the ice sheet mapper, which is named BedMachine. Another comprehensive source is NASA’s Operation IceBridge airborne surveys. IceBridge measures the ice sheet thickness directly along a plane’s flight path. This creates a set of long, narrow strips of data rather than a complete map of the ice sheet. Besides NASA, nearly 40 other international collaborators also contributed various types of survey data on different parts of Greenland.

No survey, not even OMG, covers every glacier on Greenland’s long, convoluted coastline. To infer the bed topography in sparsely studied areas, BedMachine averages between existing data points using physical principles such as the conservation of mass.

The new maps reveal that two to four times more oceanfront glaciers extend deeper than 600 feet (200 meters) below sea level than earlier maps showed. That’s bad news, because the top 600 feet of water around Greenland comes from the Arctic and is relatively cold. The water below it comes from farther south and is 6 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit (3 to 4 degrees Celsius) warmer than the water above. Deeper-seated glaciers are exposed to this warmer water, which melts them more rapidly.

Morlighem’s team used the maps to refine their estimate of Greenland’s total volume of ice and its potential to add to global sea level rise, if the ice were to melt completely — which is not expected to occur within the next few hundred years. The new estimate is higher by 2.76 inches (7 centimeters) for a total of 24.34 feet (7.42 meters).

OMG Principal Investigator Josh Willis of JPL, who was not involved in producing the maps, said, “These results suggest that Greenland’s ice is more threatened by changing climate than we had anticipated.”

On Oct. 23, the five-year OMG campaign completed its second annual set of airborne surveys to measure, for the first time, the amount that warm water around the island is contributing to the loss of the Greenland ice sheet. Besides the one-time bathymetry survey, OMG is collecting annual measurements of the changing height of the ice sheet and the ocean temperature and salinity in more than 200 fjord locations. Morlighem looks forward to improving BedMachine’s maps with data from the airborne surveys.

The maps and related research are in a paper titled “BedMachine v3: Complete bed topography and ocean bathymetry mapping of Greenland from multi-beam echo sounding combined with mass conservation” in Geophysical Research Letters.

 

Florida’s Sea Level Rose 6x Faster Than Average And It’s Not Due To Climate Change

August 15, 2017

by Trevor Nace

Forbes

If you’re living along the coast of Florida you experienced sea level rising six times faster than the global average and this was NOT a result of climate change. The rapid sea level rise along the US east coast from Cape Hatteras to Miami is the result of a localized sea level rise hot spot.

A new study, published in Geophysical Research Letters and undertaken by the University of Florida analyzed tidal and climate data for the southeastern seaboard of the United States. They found that between the years 2011 and 2015 sea level rose more than six times faster in the southeast United States as compared to global average sea level rise.

What is the cause of accelerated yet localized sea level rise? The answer is not climate change, but naturally-occurring climate variations superimposed on the background steady sea level rise due to a warming planet. While you may have heard of the gradual rise in sea levels globally over the past century, there appear to be rapid climate processes that affect localized sea levels on the year(s) time scale.

The graphs of sea level rise follow generally the graphs of global average temperature. This is because as the planet warms two things happen that increase sea levels. One is that there is a thermodynamic expansion of water. This is simple physics, as water warms, it expands. The second one is melting of land based ice, which then flows into oceans to increase sea level.

While the two aforementioned ways in which we see a gradual increase in sea level is impacting the coast of Florida, we see an additional two factors that have sped up sea level rise locally.

The combined effects of the recent El Niño and the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) drove a localized sea level increase in the southeastern seaboard of the US. These two processes are naturally occurring with no direct link to climate change.

During El Niño events, the amount of ocean water that is pushed up against the southwestern portion of the North Atlantic increases, causing localized increases in sea level along the southeastern US coast.

This is then concentrated by the NAO, which is a measure of atmospheric differences between Iceland and the Azores. Scientists have well documented a fluctuation in the modality of atmospheric pressures over Iceland and the Azores. It happened to be that the NAO exacerbated the localized increase in sea levels from El Niño over the southwest Atlantic. Specifically, a reduction in the atmospheric pressure caused by the NAO resulted in a localized rise in sea level.

While we’ve well documented the steady rise in sea levels due to climate change, scientists aren’t great at accurately predicting localized changes in sea level due to atmospheric processes. This means places like Florida, which is likely to be the hardest hit by rising oceans, must also manage localized hot spots in sea level rise. Which begs the question, why are businesses continuing to invest billions of dollars on borrowed time?

 

A Broke, and Broken, Flood Insurance Program

Now, an unusual coalition of insurers, environmentalists and fiscal conservatives

is seeking major changes in the federal plan as a deadline approaches.

November 4, 2017

by Mary Williams Walsh

New York Times

In August, when Hurricane Harvey was bearing down on Texas, David Clutter was in court, trying one more time to make his insurer pay his flood claim — from Hurricane Sandy, five years before.

Mr. Clutter’s insurer is the federal government. As it resists his claims, he has been forced to take out a third mortgage on his house in Long Beach, N.Y., to pay for repairs to make it habitable for his wife and three children. He owes more than the house is worth, and his flood-insurance pr

The government-run National Flood Insurance Program is, for now, virtually the only source of flood insurance for more than five million households in the United States. This hurricane season, as tens of thousands of Americans seek compensation for storm-inflicted water damage, they face a problem: The flood insurance program is broke and broken.

The program, administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has been in the red since Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans in 2005. It still has more than a thousand disputed claims left over from Sandy. And in October, it exhausted its $30 billion borrowing capacity and had to get a bailout just to keep paying current claims

Congress must decide by Dec. 8 whether to keep the program going. An unusual coalition of insurers, environmentalists and fiscal conservatives has joined the Trump administration in calling for fundamental changes in the program, including direct competition from private insurers. The fiscal conservatives note that the program was supposed to take the burden off taxpayers but has not, and environmentalists argue that it has become an enabler of construction on flood-prone coastlines, by charging premiums too low to reflect the true cost of building there.

The program has other troubles as well. It cannot force vulnerable households to buy insurance, even though they are required by law to have it. Its flood maps can’t keep up with new construction that can change an area’s flood risk. It has spent billions of dollars repairing houses that just flood again. Its records, for instance, show that a house in Spring, Tex., has been repaired 19 times, for a total of $912,732 — even though it is worth only $42,024.

And after really big floods, the program must rely on armies of subcontractors to determine payments, baffling and infuriating policyholders, like Mr. Clutter, who cannot figure out who is opposing their claims, or why.

Roy E. Wright, who has directed the flood insurance program for FEMA since June 2015, acknowledged in an interview on Friday that major changes were called for and said some were already in the works. The program’s rate-setting methods, for example, are 30 years old, he said, and new ones will be phased in over the next two years. But other changes — like cutting off coverage to homes that are repeatedly flooded — would require an act of Congress.

“The administration feels very strongly that there needs to be reform this year,” he said. “I believe strongly that we need to expand flood coverage in the United States, and the private insurers are part of that.”

The federal program was created to fill a void left after the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, when multiple levees failed, swamping an area bigger than West Virginia and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. Insurers, terrified of the never-ending claims they might have to pay, started to exclude flooding from homeowners’ insurance policies. For decades, your only hope if your home was damaged in a flood was disaster relief from the government.

Policymakers thought an insurance program would be better than ad hoc bailouts. If crafted properly, it would make developers and homeowners pay for the risks they took.

When Congress established the National Flood Insurance Program in 1968, it hoped to revive the private flood-insurance market. Initially about 130 insurers gave it a shot, pooling their capital with the government. But there were clashes, and eventually the government drove out the insurers and took over most operations.

Since 1983, Washington has set the insurance rates, mapped the floodplains, written the rules and borne all of the risk. The role of private insurers has been confined to marketing policies and processing claims, as government contractors.

That worked for a few decades. But now, relentless coastal development and the increasing frequency of megastorms and billion-dollar floods have changed the calculus.

“Put plainly, the N.F.I.P. is not designed to handle catastrophic losses like those caused by Harvey, Irma and Maria,” Mick Mulvaney, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said in a letter to members of Congress after the three huge hurricanes barreled into the United States this season.

Mr. Mulvaney called on Congress to forgive $16 billion of the program’s debt, which both houses agreed to do.

The program, however, needs more than a financial lifeline: Without major, long-term changes, it will just burn through the $16 billion in savings and be back for more.

The White House is hoping to lure companies back into the market, letting them try to turn a profit on underwriting flood policies instead of simply processing claims for the government.

One measure proposed by the Trump administration is for the government to stop writing coverage on newly built houses on floodplains, starting in 2021. New construction there is supposed to be flood-resistant, and if the government retreats, private insurers may step in. Or so the theory goes.

“The private market is anxious, willing and completely able to take everything except the severe repetitive-loss properties,” said Craig Poulton, chief executive of Poulton Associates, which underwrites American risks for Lloyd’s of London, the big international insurance marketplace.

“Severe repetitive-loss properties” is FEMA’s term for houses that are flooded again and again. There are tens of thousands of them. While they account for fewer than 1 percent of the government’s policies, they make up more than 10 percent of the insurance claims, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, which sued FEMA to get the data.

The Trump administration has also proposed creating a new category of properties that are at extreme risk of repeat flooding and that could have their insurance cut off the next time they flooded.

That might sound harsh. Environmental groups, though, argue it’s worse to repeatedly repair doomed houses on flood-prone sites as oceans warm and sea levels rise. The Natural Resources Defense Council argues that the flood-insurance program should buy such properties so the owners can move somewhere safer.

The program, however, has only limited authority to make such purchases; homeowners need to line up funding through other government agencies. As a result, such buyouts are rare.

“I have mounds and mounds of paper, and I’m still waiting,” said Olga McKissic of Louisville, Ky., who applied for a buyout in 2015 after her house flooded for the fifth time. “I want them to tear it down.”

Ms. McKissic even had her house classified as a severe repetitive-loss property, thinking FEMA would give it higher priority. But FEMA has not responded to her application. Instead, it doubled her premiums.

That’s what happens when there’s a monopoly, said Mr. Poulton, the Lloyd’s underwriter.

Over the years, he said, he has noticed that his customers are buying Lloyd’s earthquake insurance because it includes flood coverage. They do not like the government’s flood insurance because payouts are capped at $250,000 and have other limits.

Such as basements.

Matt Herr of Superior Flood in Brighton, Colo., another underwriter for Lloyd’s, recalled a client whose handicapped son lived in a “sunken living room,” eight inches lower than the rest of the house. When the neighborhood flooded, $22,000 of medical equipment was ruined. The government refused to pay, calling the living room a basement. Its policies exclude basements.

While the government program insures more than five million homeowners, that is just a small fraction of the number of people who live on floodplains.

Mr. Poulton researched the flood insurance program and eventually found a public report that explained how its pricing worked. The program, he learned, was not using the detailed, house-by-house information on flood risk that is available through satellite imagery and other sources.

That’s because Congress gave the program a legal mandate to work with communities, not individual households. So the program was surveying floodplains, then calculating an “average annual loss” for all the houses there. Its insurance rates were based on those averages.

“It undercharges 50 percent of its risks, and it overcharges 50 percent of its risks, on an equal weighting,” Mr. Poulton said

Offer a better deal to the households with a below-average risk of flooding — a policy whose price reflects their lower risk — and they will jump at the opportunity to save money on premiums, he said.

But the government does not readily divulge all of its historical claims data, so insurers cannot comb through them and analyze the risks.

“What we know is snippets,” said Martin Hartley, chief operating officer of Pure Insurance in White Plains, which offers supplementary flood insurance to homeowners who want more than the government’s $250,000 coverage.

Also, the government relies on mortgage lenders to enforce the rule requiring at-risk homeowners to buy flood insurance. Mr. Poulton said he found that FEMA officials had told lenders that, in effect, they shouldn’t trust private insurance.

He went to Washington to complain to program officials.

“We told them their guidelines were bad, bad for consumers,” he said. “We said: ‘They’re only good for you. You’ve got to change them.’ They said: ‘We don’t answer to you. We answer to Congress.’ We’ve been lobbying ever since.”

No one paid much attention until after Sandy, when the program fell deeper into debt with the Treasury. To help fill that hole, Congress in 2012 approved big increases in its premiums. But that caused an uproar when people got their bills. Two years later, Congress rescinded much of the increase.

Then came this season’s hurricanes and the $16 billion bailout.

The Office of Management and Budget sent Congress an updated list of proposals in October, including measures that would remove certain obstacles to private-sector competition. Its plan would open up the data trove to potential competitors and direct mortgage lenders to accept private flood-insurance policies. It would also revoke an agreement that the program’s contractors — including about 70 insurance companies — must currently sign, promising not to compete against the government program.

Some members of Congress — including Democrats like Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, whose states have significant flood exposure and bad memories of Hurricane Sandy — are resisting. They say bringing in private insurers would make the program’s troubles worse, because the insurers would cherry-pick the most profitable customers and leave the government with all the “severe repetitive-loss properties.”

Mr. Poulton did not dispute that. In fact, he said that was exactly what should happen.

“We need the N.F.I.P. to be a full participant in this as the insurer of last resort,” he said. That means it would take the high-risk properties that the private insurers did not want, acting like the state-run insurance pools for especially risky drivers.

Some lawyers for aggrieved policyholders think a shake-up might improve things, if it brought accountability.

August J. Matteis, who is representing Mr. Clutter in his lawsuit, said the insurance program had been so criticized by Congress for its borrowing that by the time Sandy blew in, it had instructed contractors to hold the line on claims. They did so with a vengeance. Thousands of people with flood damage from Sandy ended up disputing the government’s handling of their claims.

Long Beach, Mr. Clutter’s town, is on a barrier island off the southern shore of Long Island. When Sandy sent several feet of floodwater washing over it, the piers supporting the Clutter family’s foundation collapsed. Upstairs, floors buckled. Walls cracked.

Mr. Clutter called Wright National Flood Insurance, the Florida company that administers his policy. Wright sent an independent adjuster, who took photos with captions like “structural foundation wall has been washed in” and “piers have collapsed — no longer supporting risk.”

But then, Wright sent a structural engineer from U.S. Forensic of Louisiana who declared that Sandy had not caused the damage.

In 2015, Mr. Clutter happened to catch a “60 Minutes” report on the aftermath of Sandy. It included accusations that U.S. Forensic had falsified engineering reports on other people’s houses.

There were so many disputed claims and questionable inspections, in fact, that the government opened an unusual review process for Sandy victims. Mr. Clutter went through it, but said the government’s offer fell far short of his repair costs. He sued FEMA and Wright Flood Insurance in August.

Michael Sloane, Wright Flood’s executive vice president, said in an email that while the company could not comment on Mr. Clutter’s case, “we are always committed to working with our customers to keep the lines of communication open as we continue working toward resolution.”

U.S. Forensic did not respond to messages.

Mr. Wright, the program director, acknowledged the problems after Sandy but said corrective measures had been taken “so that it doesn’t happen again.”

Much of Long Beach has been rebuilt since Sandy. Small houses like Mr. Clutter’s are being torn down and replaced with bigger ones that sprawl across two lots. Mr. Clutter worries that if insurers, not the government, set the prices, premiums will soar.

“Then, what happens to me?” he asked. “I’m essentially being driven out of my home that I have three mortgages on.”

 

Sayfullo Saipov had 90 Isis videos on his phone. Has the fight against online extremism failed?

The Islamic State’s last stronghold on the ground may have fallen, but the New York truck attack shows its success at building a digital caliphate

November 4, 2017

by Olivia Solon in San Francisco

The Guardian

The huge cache of Isis propaganda videos found on the cellphone of the suspect charged in Tuesday’s terrorist attack in New York has raised questions over the success of efforts to tackle extremist content online.

Sayfullo Saipov, 29, who is accused of using a truck to mow down pedestrians and cyclists on Tuesday, killing eight and injuring 12, told prosecutors he was inspired to carry out the truck attack by Isis videos he had watched on his mobile phone, which was loaded with 90 videos and 3,800 images. Among the files were depictions of beheadings, and shootings, bomb-making instructions and several images of Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The source of Saipov’s propaganda is not clear at this point, but we know that Isis has a highly polished propaganda distribution network that feeds well-produced videos, magazines, sermons and photos across the internet. The propaganda machine takes advantage of social media networks like Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and YouTube, encrypted messaging apps like Telegram and file-sharing platforms like JustPaste.it.

The tech firms have struggled to balance their mission to support free speech with the need to curb the spread of terrorist content. Years of criticism over the way terrorist groups have used their platforms led Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft to create a joint forum to counter terrorism in June. The companies have also developed artificial intelligence tools to automatically detect and remove extremist content and launched efforts to provide an alternative narrative to people at risk of being radicalized.

However, some counterterrorism researchers are skeptical about the effectiveness of the alliance and shared many examples of live propaganda accounts on the open web including a Twitter account sharing download links for Isis’s online magazine Rumiyah, a Google Plus account explaining the ideal vehicle and venue for a truck attack and a Facebook account featuring an Isis flag in both the profile picture and cover photo.

“They are catching the top of the iceberg, but not going deep under the iceberg” said Eric Feinberg from cyber intelligence firm GIPEC, who studies the spread of extremist propaganda across platforms online. “I’m sitting here finding this stuff every day and what are they doing? They’re being reactionary.”

Without a coordinated approach between all of these companies, removing terrorist content will continue to be a game of “whack-a-mole”, he added.

Seamus Hughes, the deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, said that the propaganda was “not as abundant as it used to be”, but it’s still there and Isis has been very good at evolving its content strategy to evade detection.

He said that Facebook has been the most proactive in tackling the problem, not only taking down content but also launching counterspeech programmes. However, he notes that Google Plus is being used “especially by American jihadis”.

The big technology companies have a “moral and corporate responsibility” to tackle the problem, Hughes said, but ultimately it’s incumbent on governments.

Hughes added that one way technology companies can make a difference is by helping the smaller, less well-resourced companies such as Telegram and JustPaste.it – which don’t have large content moderation teams – to deal with extremist material.

Counterterrorism expert Michael Smith believes Saipov most likely gathered his material from a Telegram channel or Archive.org, the webpage archiving tool he describes as “a clearinghouse for jihadist propaganda”.

Smith, who has infiltrated many Isis Telegram channels and has spent years analyzing the organization’s propaganda, described this week’s attack as “absolutely consistent with everything Islamic State has been petitioning supporters in the US to do since 2014”.

The type of violent content found on Saipov’s phone is part of a strategy to de-sensitize would-be terrorists who don’t have any history of violent crime.

The Islamic State’s last stronghold on the ground might have fallen, but it has been far more successful at building a digital caliphate.

“This latest attack shows that the Islamic State’s power of persuasion has not been diminished,” Smith said.

 

Terrorism and Counterterrorism

November 4, 2017

by Christian Jürs

It has been very accurately said that one man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist.  It all depends on one’s point of view. In a historical context, Germany, Soviet Russia, Great Britain and the United States have been occupying powers and all have suffered the ravages of guerrilla warfare: Germany in Europe and Russia, Britain in half of the world, the Soviets in their own country and eastern Europe, and the United States in Southeast Asia. All of these powers dealt with their dissidents in the same way: extensive use of force and terror. Concentration camps have been called “detention” or “relocation centers” but in the final analysis, they are prisons where the politically dangerous are caged, often tortured, and left to the ravages of disease, hunger and neglect.

The Regional Interrogation Centers of the CIA in Vietnam differed little from their counterparts of the Gestapo or the NKVD. The aims of these entities was to elicit information and destroy the will to resist in the occupied countries. Extensive exposure of these methods have done absolutely nothing at all to eradicate them—witness the barbarity of the Serbs against their neighbors in Bosnia and Croatia.

A low-key controversy has been bubbling for a number of years concerning the deaths of a large number of German prisoners of war in the months following the end of the Second World War. Revisionists claim that after the collapse of Germany, huge numbers of prisoners were left in exposed, outdoor camps with only meager rations—certainly not enough for all of them—and the death tolls were tremendously high. Apologists for the captors claim that while there were a few deaths, due to natural causes, a pattern of deliberate starvation and neglect did not occur.

Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, has been singled out for blame in this matter. Although blame is difficult to place, it should be noted that Eisenhower despised the Germans, not just the defeated military but all Germans. Some apologists have credited Eisenhower’s loathing of Germans to his discovery of the horrors in the concentration camp system. However, Müller’s papers contain a thick dossier on Eisenhower that may offer a different reason for his attitudes and actions.

According to what appears to be a thoroughly researched study, one of many kept on Allied leaders both political and military, the Eisenhower family was Jewish and emigrated to the United States in the 19th century from the Saxon city of Pirna. If this is true, it would explain Eisenhower’s hatred of Germans.

 

The New York Attack, Trump’s Outbursts, and Misconceptions About Terrorism

November 2, 2017

by Paul Pillar

The National Interest

Donald Trump’s tweets in response to the terrorist attack along a bike path in Manhattan demonstrated some of what we already knew all too well about Trump, but they also reflected more widely shared and counterproductive American ways of thinking about counterterrorism.  Among the Trumpian habits exhibited is the inclination to use any occasion, no matter how solemn or tragic, to excoriate or smear political opponents.  In this case, instead of expressing solidarity with all citizens of his native New York City, Trump assailed Senator Chuck Schumer for sponsorship of a 27-year-old visa program that had bipartisan support and under which the Uzbek perpetrator of this week’s attack had entered the United States.

Whatever “extreme vetting” Trump may have in mind for governing legal immigration, it is unlikely it would have eliminated the offender in the Manhattan incident, Sayfullo Saipov.  When he came to the United States in 2010, Saipov was a hotel accountant showing no radical or violent streak.  It evidently was only after living in the United States and experiencing disappointment in finding desired employment that Saipov evolved into an extremist who, according to those who knew him, became heated when he discussed American policies toward Israel.

Donald Trump’s tweets in response to the terrorist attack along a bike path in Manhattan demonstrated some of what we already knew all too well about Trump, but they also reflected more widely shared and counterproductive American ways of thinking about counterterrorism.  Among the Trumpian habits exhibited is the inclination to use any occasion, no matter how solemn or tragic, to excoriate or smear political opponents.  In this case, instead of expressing solidarity with all citizens of his native New York City, Trump assailed Senator Chuck Schumer for sponsorship of a 27-year-old visa program that had bipartisan support and under which the Uzbek perpetrator of this week’s attack had entered the United States.

Whatever “extreme vetting” Trump may have in mind for governing legal immigration, it is unlikely it would have eliminated the offender in the Manhattan incident, Sayfullo Saipov.  When he came to the United States in 2010, Saipov was a hotel accountant showing no radical or violent streak.  It evidently was only after living in the United States and experiencing disappointment in finding desired employment that Saipov evolved into an extremist who, according to those who knew him, became heated when he discussed American policies toward Israel.

Saipov’s Uzbek origin also highlights how disconnected from actual patterns of terrorist threat have been the various versions of the Trump administration’s Muslim travel ban.  The arbitrary list of countries has never included Uzbekistan.  Perhaps Central Asia is just too far removed, compared to the Middle East, from the preoccupations and prejudices that underlay the devising of the ban for it to have made the cut.

Trump also quickly maligned the U.S. criminal justice system as a “joke” and “laughingstock” and called for the suspect to be sent to the military detention facility at Guantanamo, Cuba.  Such a blurt reflected complete ignorance of what has and has not worked in bringing terrorists to justice. Trump’s later backing away from his statement about using Guantanamo must have come from aides confronting him with how far his earlier statement was removed from reality.  Civilian federal courts have proven to be efficient and effective as well as fair in handling terrorism cases.  According to Stephen Vladeck, an expert on national security law at the University of Texas, prosecution of terrorist cases in those courts has resulted in more than 600 convictions since 2001 with almost no reversals upon appeal.  The Southern District of New York, which presumably would be the venue for a trial of Saipov, has an especially long and impressive record of handling even the most sensitive and difficult terrorism cases.

In contrast, the military tribunal system at Guantanamo is still having trouble getting its act together after years of fits and starts.  This very week, a trial there of accused perpetrators of the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 was thrown into disarray amid a dispute over legal representation of the defendants.  This spectacle featured an Air Force colonel (the trial judge) sentencing a Marine Corps brigadier general (the head of legal defense at Guantanamo) to 21 days confinement and a $1,000 fine for refusing to obey an order of the judge regarding configuration of the defense team.  The brigadier general—John Baker, the second-highest ranking lawyer in the Marine Corps—has been unsparing in his own criticism of the tribunal process at Guantanamo.  Last year he said, “Put simply, the military commissions in their current state are a farce.  Instead of being a beacon for the rule of law, the Guantanamo Bay military commissions have been characterized by delay, government misconduct and incompetence, and even more delay.”

As is true of so many other rhetorical excesses of Donald Trump, the rhetoric plays to misconceptions and prejudices that had already gained wider currency—which is why, of course, Trump uses such rhetoric and why it was effective enough to win him the presidency.  (Trump was not the only political figure who spoke favorably about sending Saipov to Guantanamo; so did Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC).)  The principal misconceptions and prejudices involving terrorism to which Trump’s rhetoric about the New York attack appeals include the following.

One is the notion that terrorist violence against Americans is overwhelmingly a problem with foreigners and not with other Americans.  This has led to conflation of immigration issues with counterterrorism issues, added respectability to a preoccupation with building walls, and diverted attention and resources from security measures that are not border security measures.

A related notion is that terrorism is overwhelmingly a problem with certain foreigners, and especially Muslim ones.  This does not square with the pattern of violence, and of political violence, in the United States since 9/11.

A further notion is that terrorism is a problem with a fixed set of bad guys, the elimination or exclusion of whom would solve the problem.  This ignores how once-peaceful people like Saipov can come to adopt extreme tactics such as political violence.  It also ignores the issues and grievances that may lead people to make that transition.

A broad, underlying misconception inheres in the “war on terror” label, with everything that implies regarding the militarization of counterterrorism.  This not only leads to anomalies, such as colonels trying to order generals what to do, in attempting to put justice into a military framework when it does not fit.  It also has led to military expeditions overseas that have stoked anti-U.S. terrorism more than they have diminished it, through the knock-on effects of collateral damage and perceived affronts to someone else’s homeland.

 

One Solution to Terrorism: Night and Fog

November 4, 2017

by Harry von Johnston, PhD

Directives for the prosecution of offenses committed within the occupied territories against the German State or the occupying power, of December 7th, 1941.

Within the occupied territories, communistic elements and other circles hostile to Germany have increased their efforts against the German State and the occupying powers since the Russian campaign started. The amount and the danger of these machinations oblige us to take severe measures as a determent. First of all the following directives are to be applied:

  1. Within the occupied territories, the adequate punishment for offenses committed against the German State or the occupying power which endanger their security or a state of readiness is on principle the death penalty.
  2. The offenses listed in paragraph I as a rule are to be dealt with in the occupied countries only if it is probable that sentence of death will be passed upon the offender, at least the principal offender, and if the trial and the execution can be completed in a very short time. Otherwise the offenders, at least the principal offenders, are to be taken to Germany.

III. Prisoners taken to Germany are subjected to military procedure only if particular military interests require this. In case German or foreign authorities inquire about such prisoners, they are to be told that they were arrested, but that the proceedings do not allow any further information.

  1. The Commanders in the occupied territories and the Court authorities within the framework of their jurisdiction, are personally responsible for the observance of this decree.
  2. The Chief of the High Command of the Armed Forces determines in which occupied territories this decree is to be applied. He is authorized to explain and to issue executive orders and supplements. The Reich Minister of Justice will issue executive orders within his own jurisdiction.

On December 7, 1941, Hitler issued Nacht und Nebel, the Night and Fog Decree.

This decree replaced the unsuccessful  German policy of taking hostages to undermine underground activities. Suspected underground agents and others would now vanish without a trace ‘into the night and fog’.

SS Reichsführer Himmler issued the following instructions to the Gestapo.

“After lengthy consideration, it is the will of the Führer that the measures taken against those who are guilty of offenses against the Reich or against the occupation forces in occupied areas should be altered. The Führer is of the opinion that in such cases penal servitude or even a hard labor sentence for life will be regarded as a sign of weakness. An effective and lasting deterrent can be achieved only by the death penalty or by taking measures which will leave the family and the population uncertain as to the fate of the offender. Deportation to Germany serves this purpose.”

Field Marshall Keitel issued a letter stating:

“Efficient and enduring intimidation can only be achieved either by capital punishment or by measures by which the relatives of the criminals do not know the fate of the criminal. The prisoners are, in future, to be transported to Germany secretly, and further treatment of the offenders will take place here; these measures will have a deterrent effect because – A. The prisoners will vanish without a trace. B. No information may be given as to their whereabouts or their fate.”

The subjects were mostly from France, Belgium and Holland. They were usually arrested in the middle of the night and quickly taken to prisons hundreds of miles away for questioning, eventually arriving at the concentration camps of Natzweiler or Gross-Rosen.

Even before the deportation of the mentally impaired, the Jews, the Gypsies, and so forth, the Nazis had been dealing severely with political prisoners. Most of the early prisoners were of two sorts: they were either prisoners of belief/political prisoners whom the Nazis deemed in need of “re-education” to Nazi thinking, or resistance leaders in occupied western Europe.

Up until the time of the “Night and Fog” decree, prisoners were handled by German soldiers in approximately the same way other countries did: according to national agreements and procedures such as the Geneva Convention. Hitler and his upper level staff, however, made a critical decision not to have to conform to what they considered unnecessary rules.

The Third Reich, after all, was not a party to the Geneva Convention, and so observed it only as needed to reduce tensions with other nations.

On December 7th, 1941, SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler issued the following instructions to the Gestapo: “After lengthy consideration, it is the will of the Führer that the measures taken against those who are guilty of offenses against the Reich or against the occupation forces in occupied areas should be altered. The Führer is of the opinion that in such cases penal servitude or even a hard labor sentence for life will be regarded as a sign of weakness. An effective and lasting deterrent can be achieved only by the death penalty or by taking measures which will leave the family and the population uncertain as to the fate of the offender. Deportation to Germany serves this purpose.”

Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel issued a letter stating: “Efficient and enduring intimidation can only be achieved either by capital punishment or by measures by which the relatives of the criminals do not know the fate of the criminal. The prisoners are, in future, to be transported to Germany secretly, and further treatment of the offenders will take place here; these measures will have a deterrent effect because – A. The prisoners will vanish without a trace. B. No information may be given as to their whereabouts or their fate.”

The Night and Fog prisoners were mostly from France, Belgium and the Netherlands. They were usually arrested in the middle of the night and quickly taken to prisons hundreds of miles away for questioning and torture, eventually arriving at the concentration camps of Natzweiler or Gross-Rosen, if they survived.

The 1955 film Night and Fog uses the term to illustrate one aspect of the concentration camp system as it was transformed into a system of labour and death camps.

The reasons for Nacht und Nebel were many:

  • First, distinct complaints by other governments or humanitarian organizations against the German government were made far more difficult because the exact cause of internment or death, indeed whether or not the event had even occurred, was obscured. It kept the Nazis from being held accountable.
  • The decree and hidden events afforded the Nazis the ability to act cruelly and unjustly without public outcry.
  • It allowed an across-the-board, silent veto of international treaties and conventions: one cannot apply the limits and terms of humane treatment in war if one cannot locate the victim or discern his destiny.
  • Additionally, it lessened the moral qualms and confrontations of the German public as well as that of servicemen, in an agreed and/or ignorant silence.

The result, even early in the war, was the facilitating of utter brutality and execution of political prisoners, especially Soviet military prisoners, who early in the war outnumbered the Jews in number of deaths even at Auschwitz. As the transports grew and Hitler’s troops moved across Europe, that ratio changed dramatically.

The Night and Fog Decree was carried out surreptitiously, but it set the background for orders that would follow. As the war continued, so did the openness of such decrees and orders. It is probably correct to surmise, from various writings, that in the beginning the German public knew only a little of the drastic plans Hitler had for a “New European Order”.

 

 

‘Islamic State’ suffers major losses in Syria and Iraq

The Syrian army retook the city of Deir el-Zour from the “Islamic State,” on a day the militants also lost al-Qaim in Iraq. The twin blow means the jihadis have lost almost all their urban strongholds in Syria and Iraq.

November 3, 2017

DW

Syrian government forces have taken full control of the city of Deir el-Zour from the “Islamic State” (IS) militant group, Syrian state television said on Friday, confirming a report a day earlier by the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“The city is completely liberated from terrorism,” the television report said.

“Regime forces and allied fighters … with Russian air support have full control of Deir el-Zour city,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said on Thursday.

A statement from the Syrian military also said the army was in full control of the city and was now removing booby traps and mines that the extremist group has left behind.

Strategic importance

Deir el-Zour is the capital of an oil-rich province of the same name and is the largest and most important city in eastern Syria.

It has been largely controlled by IS since 2014 except for one large pocket of government resistance.

The Syrian army reached the city in September, breaking a three-year siege by IS militants with the aid of Russian airstrikes and Iran-backed militia groups.

Key defeat

The city’s strategic importance to IS was due to its proximity to the Iraq border, where the group also controlled territory. Its recovery underscores the extent to which President Bashar al-Assad has re-established control over eastern Syria.

The city’s fall marks another key defeat for IS jihadis, who have in recent months lost most of the territory they seized in their 2014 advance across Syria and Iraq.

The regime offensive against the jihadi group has been waged largely on the western side of the Euphrates, which cuts diagonally across Deir el-Zour province.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-Arab alliance backed by a US-led coalition, is waging a second, separate offensive against the jihadis in the east of the province.

Iraqi forces retake al-Qaim

The so-called caliphate was dealt another blow on Friday when Iraqi forces recaptured the district of al-Qaim in Iraq, one of the last towns held by the jihadis in the country.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi congratulated Iraqi forces and hailed the “liberation of al-Qaim in record time.”

Al-Qaim, about 320 kilometers (200 miles) west of Baghdad in the Euphrates River Valley, sits along a key supply route used by the IS to move fighters and supplies between Syria and Iraq.

Having lost control of al-Qaim, IS fighters in Iraq now hold only the neighboring town of Rawa and surrounding pockets of barren desert along the Euphrates river.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 responses so far

  1. Again, with your nutty Guardian global warming fraud fake news: why do you so want global warming to be true? It is like a nutty religion. You are like the lemmings that believe in the nuttiest conspiracy theory du jour, although for thinking people the global warming fraud was exposed a long, long time ago. Greenland just had its coldest summer in recorded history; the oceans are not rising; the antarctic ice mass is greater than ever; most glaciers are growing and fraudulent manipulation of the data by the warmists continues and continues to be caught and exposed. Why do you seem incapable of thinking for yourself? You can’t resist reading and assimilating the latest fake news about nonexistent global warming. You are just like the kooks you like to lampoon.

  2. There is no question that the climate on this planet is in a warming state. No one, not even the crackpots that infest the internet, know. Hundreds of claims are made and none of the claims have any basis in reality. The sea levels are slowly rising across the planet, caused by the rapid melting of the polar ice caps but the lunatic fringe claims that the ice caps everywhere are growing as never before. Other nuts chime in with the stunning truth that all the coastal land in the world is sinking! California and Arizona have been enduring very hot summers that have beaten all former records. If you think this is propaganda, ask any person living in the state if it has been cooler. If it suddenly became very cold and snowed in July, believe it that the nut fringe would bray that it was actually warmer and people freezing to death in Duluth are figments of some insidious plot.

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