TBR News October 14, 2015

Oct 14 2015

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.D. October 14, 2015: “An Associated Press article Tuesday reveals that the Syrian people are putting up pictures of Vladimir Putin and are lionizing him in the train of his aggressive bombing of the rebels. The interviews were not just with Assad supporters, and the average Syrian citizen sees in Putin the chance to end the war and return to a stable society, even if it is not one that the U.S. would favor. As Putin suggests that that the U.S. (Pres. Obama) has mush for brains, the people under assault in the war zones are embracing Putin, despite the collateral damage from his attacks. This should be a lesson to Americans, whose planes often return to base without unloading in ordnance on targets for fear of injuring somebody. As you have pointed out, Putin has wrested the initiative from the Obama administration and outplays the U.S. at every turn. There are many Americans who understand what is going on, but none of them seem to be in the executive branch of the U.S. Government.”

Putin Says U.S. Fails to Cooperate in Syria

October 13, 2015

by Neil MacFarquhar   

New York Times

MOSCOW — President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia criticized the United States and others on Tuesday for what he said was their lack of cooperation with the Russian military campaign in Syria, suggesting that they had “mush for brains.”

Mr. Putin was responding to widespread accusations in the West that Russian warplanes were targeting practically every group opposed to the Syrian government except the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. He complained that while the Russian government had asked for the coordinates of the groups that should or should not be attacked, the United States had not responded to either request.

Recently, we have offered the Americans: ‘Give us objects that we shouldn’t target.’ Again, no answer,” he said. “It seems to me that some of our partners have mush for brains.”

In Washington, defense and military officials have privately described the reluctance to work with Russia as a trust issue. First, they fear that the Russians might use the coordinates to target the groups the Americans do not want attacked. Second, Syrian opposition groups are already suspicious that the United States is coordinating with Russia on the attacks, a perception the Pentagon does not want to feed, the officials said.

Mr. Putin, speaking at a forum for international investors, also said that Washington did not seem interested in a visit he had proposed by a high-level political and military delegation to coordinate actions in Syria. The Russian delegation would be led by the prime minister, Dmitri A. Medvedev, and include senior military and intelligence officials, he said.

Aside from propping up Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, Russia’s staunchest regional ally, the Russian government is believed to be motivated by the idea of ending its international isolation stemming from the Ukraine crisis. It also wants to be treated as an equal partner by the West in addressing the intractable problems facing Syria, which include the spread of the Islamic State extremist group and the need to shape a political transition to end the civil war that has killed at least 250,000 people and displaced millions.

Mr. Putin said the only coordination so far included basic military matters. Consultations on technical details like how to identify aircraft as friend or foe is “not enough,” he said — instead, the various forces inside Syria needed to be pushed to work together.

If we want to be effective, if we want to not simply shoot and make missile strikes and reach a political settlement, then we need to motivate the forces inside the country — and this conflict is complex and multifaceted — for joint work between various forces on Syria’s territory,” Mr. Putin said.

Mr. Putin’s remarks came hours after two mortar shells hit the grounds of the Russian Embassy in Damascus during a rally outside the walls by Syrians supportive of the Russian intervention.

One shell struck a sports field, and the other landed on the roof of a residential building, Sergey V. Lavrov, the foreign minister, told reporters. No one was injured, he said.

Evidently, this is a terrorist act, aimed to frighten the supporters of the fight against terror, so that they would not win in their struggle against extremists,” the foreign minister said as he prepared to meet the United Nations special envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, in Moscow. Opposition groups in exile have recently expressed hostility toward sitting down with Russia because of its bombing campaign.

Syrian insurgents based in the suburbs of Damascus periodically shell the city. Projectiles have struck near the Russian Embassy in the past. For more than four years, the government has held central Damascus while shelling the poorer towns ringing the city, where many residents were among the first to rebel against Mr. Assad.

Official Syrian news reports ignored the embassy attack, concentrating instead on the rally.

The mortar attack occurred hours after a call by Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front, for revenge attacks against Russia. In a video posted Monday on YouTube, the group’s commander, who goes by the pseudonym Abu Muhammed al-Jolani, urged jihadists from the Caucasus to kill one Russian for every Syrian who had died.

He said the horrors to be visited on the Russians would overwhelm the memories of what happened to them in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Also, Tuesday, a senior official from the Russian area of the Caucasus, the strip of land between the Black and Caspian Seas that also includes Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, was dismissive of the threat from the Nusra Front to carry out attacks against Russians in revenge for the campaign in Syria.

Jambulat Umarov, the foreign and information minister for Chechnya, also in the Caucasus, called the group “obsolete” and bragged that his region of Russia was the only place in the world that had gained the upper hand against Islamic militants.

Mr. Umarov told reporters at a news conference in Moscow that the threat smacked of a command from the American State Department, echoing a common refrain in Russia that the United States created various radical Islamic groups to pursue its own policy aims. Russia fought two wars against Islamic insurgents in Chechnya in the 1990s and won by pursuing a scorched-earth policy and by recruiting insurgents to its side.

Also on Tuesday, Russia announced that it was intensifying its airstrikes against Syrian insurgents. The Ministry of Defense said it had carried out 88 sorties in the last 24 hours against Islamic State targets, hitting 86, the highest number announced thus far.

Russia tends to lump all targets together as Islamic State, but so far the bulk of its attacks have been against groups that threaten the main central cities as well as the coastal strip that is the homeland of the Syrian elite.

Both Russia and the United States have said that the Islamic State is the target of their attacks in Syria. Russia also maintains that removing Mr. Assad now will bring chaos, a position that the West and regional states reject.

Anne Barnard contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon, and Helene Cooper from Washington.


Gone in 15 seconds: $1.2mn system disables drones simply by blocking radio signals

October 11, 2015


Engineers claim to have designed the first fully integrated system to detect, track and disrupt drones, regardless of their size. The Anti-UAV Defense System (AUDS) can spot a drone 8 km away and halt its flight in less than 15 seconds without bloodshed.

The AUDS system is said to be effective even against micro- and mini-drones at ranges of up to several kilometers. It detects a drone using an electronic scanning radar, tracks it with infrared and daylight cameras and then finally cuts short the flight using an inhibitor to block the radio signals that control it.

The AUDS has been developed and manufactured in the UK, with the production version available for £800,000 ($1.2 million). The system, designed for countering drones or remotely piloted aircraft systems in border sites or urban areas, can be operated from fixed locations and from mobile platforms. The AUDS units consist of an electronic scanning air security radar, a stabilised electro-optic director, infrared and daylight cameras, and a directional radio frequency inhibitor to track down, classify and neutralise drones.

Countering unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) has recently become a challenge for the military and security forces across the world, Graham Beall, managing director of one of the system’s developers, Chess Dynamics, said in a statement. According to Beall, in the near future drones are expected to be increasingly used for terrorism and espionage for one simple reason –  they can carry cameras, weapons, toxic chemicals and explosives.

AUDS was launched in May and developed by Blighter Surveillance Systems, Chess Dynamics and Enterprise Control Systems. It has already proved successful in counter-drone trials, detecting and disrupting a range of fixed and rotary wing drones.

A special quad-band inhibitor makes it possible to disrupt the different licensed telemetry bands of commercial drones, regardless of where on Earth they have been designed and licensed for use. Both the 433 and 915 MHz frequencies commonly used by drones can be disrupted, as can the 2.4 GHz control band and the global satellite (GNSS) bands, the engineers say.

The new optical disruptor can be meanwhile used for both pointing at a drone for identification and/or disrupting the automatic gain control settings in the drone’s camera system so that the operator loses visibility. The team has modularised the AUDS system to reduce the single lift weight down to 25 kg, with all the different elements (radar, cameras, and radio frequency inhibitor) clipping together.

“Carefully controlled disruption of these command links – and the use of the optical disruptor – significantly impairs the operator’s ability to control the drone and forms a key part of the spectrum of techniques used by the AUDS system to mitigate the malicious use of drones,” CEO of Enterprise Control Systems, Colin Bullock, said.

Antarctic ice is melting so fast the whole continent may be at risk by 2100

New research predicts a doubling of surface melting of the ice shelves by 2050, risking their collapse by the end of the century, say scientists

October 12 2015

Press Association

Antarctic ice is melting so fast that the stability of the whole continent could be at risk by 2100, scientists have warned.

Widespread collapse of Antarctic ice shelves – floating extensions of land ice projecting into the sea – could pave the way for dramatic rises in sea level.

The new research predicts a doubling of surface melting of the ice shelves by 2050. By the end of the century, the melting rate could surpass the point associated with ice shelf collapse, it is claimed.

Western Antarctic ice sheet collapse has already begun, scientists warn

If that happened a natural barrier to the flow of ice from glaciers and land-covering ice sheets into the oceans would be removed.

Lead scientist, Dr Luke Trusel, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, US, said: “Our results illustrate just how rapidly melting in Antarctica can intensify in a warming climate.

This has already occurred in places like the Antarctic Peninsula where we’ve observed warming and abrupt ice shelf collapses in the last few decades.

Our model projections show that similar levels of melt may occur across coastal Antarctica near the end of this century, raising concerns about future ice shelf stability.”

The study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, was based on satellite observations of ice surface melting and climate simulations up to the year 2100.

It showed that if greenhouse gas emissions continued at their present rate, the Antarctic ice shelves would be in danger of collapse by the century’s end.

Under a reduced-emission scenario, the ice melting was brought under control after 2050.

Co-author Dr Karen Frey, from Clark University in Massachusetts, said: “The data presented in this study clearly show that climate policy, and therefore the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions over the coming century, have an enormous control over the future fate of surface melting of Antarctic ice shelves, which we must consider when assessing their long-term stability and potential indirect contributions to sea level rise.”

Iraq using info from new intelligence center to bomb Islamic State: official

October 13, 2015

by Babak Dehghanpisheh      


BAGHDAD -Iraq has begun bombing Islamic State insurgents with help from a new intelligence center with staff from Russia, Iran and Syria, a senior parliamentary figure said on Tuesday about cooperation seen as a threat to U.S. interests in the region.

The center has been operational for about a week, and it provided intelligence for air strikes on a gathering of middle-level Islamic State figures, Hakim al Zamili, the head of parliament’s defense and security committee, told Reuters.

The new security apparatus based in Baghdad suggests the United States is losing clout in a strategic oil-producing Middle East, where it has been heavily invested for years.

Two weeks ago Russia started bombing anti-government rebels in neighboring Syria, including the ultra hardline Islamic State, to support its ally, President Bashar al-Assad, to the consternation of the West.

Iraqi officials, frustrated with the pace and depth of the U.S. military campaign against Islamic State, have said they will lean heavily on Washington’s former Cold War rival Russia in the battle against the Sunni Muslim jihadists.

Two Russian one-star generals are stationed at the intelligence center in Baghdad, according to an Iraqi official who asked not to be named.

Zamili, a leading Shi’ite Muslim politician, said each of the four member countries has six members in the intelligence sharing and security cooperation cell, which holds meetings in Baghdad’s fortified “Green Zone” that once housed the headquarters of the U.S. occupation.

We find it extremely useful,” the Iraqi official said. “The idea is to formalize the relationship with Iran, Russia and Syria. We wanted a full-blown military alliance.”

Iran, a longtime Middle East adversary of the United States, already boasts deep influence in Iraq. Iranian military advisers help direct Baghdad’s campaign against Islamic State, which aims to expand its self-proclaimed caliphate in the Middle East.

It is Russia’s participation in the intelligence hub that is causing the most Western anxiety.

Washington, with a history of close security links with Baghdad, now worries the intelligence center may foster closer Russian-Iraqi ties, particularly with respect to operations against Islamist militants, a U.S. security official said.

The United States believes the main point of the intelligence pact, which also covers operations in Syria, is to show that Russia is taking a greater role in the conflict in the neighboring country, said the official.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said he would welcome Russian air strikes against Islamic State on Iraqi soil.

The Baghdad government, and allied Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias who are leading the fight against Islamic State in Iraq, say the United States lacks the decisiveness and the readiness to supply weapons needed to eliminate militancy in the region. Washington denies such accusations.

U.S.-led air strikes on Islamic State militants who control a third of Iraq, have failed to turn the tide in Iraq’s conflict, which has sapped the OPEC oil producer’s finances and fueled sectarian bloodletting.

Iraqi warplanes bombed a convoy this week that was thought to be carrying Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, based on information from the center, said Zamili. Security officials later said Baghdadi had not been in the convoy.

“We can get a lot of use from Russian intelligence, even if they don’t do air strikes,” Zamili said.

Sami al-Askari, a former member of the Iraqi parliament and one-time senior adviser to ex-prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, said Iraq was aware of the sensitivities of the new arrangement.

The Iraqi government wants to do this in a way that doesn’t look like they’re pushing the Americans away,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

On Building Armies (and Watching Them Fail): Why Washington Can’t “Stand Up” Foreign Militaries

by Andrew J. Bacevich


First came Fallujah, then Mosul, and later Ramadi in Iraq.  Now, there is Kunduz, a provincial capital in northern Afghanistan.  In all four places, the same story has played out: in cities that newspaper reporters like to call “strategically important,” security forces trained and equipped by the U.S. military at great expense simply folded, abandoning their posts (and much of their U.S.-supplied weaponry) without even mounting serious resistance.  Called upon to fight, they fled.  In each case, the defending forces gave way before substantially outnumbered attackers, making the outcomes all the more ignominious.

Together, these setbacks have rendered a verdict on the now more-or-less nameless Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). Successive blitzkriegs by ISIS and the Taliban respectively did more than simply breach Iraqi and Afghan defenses. They also punched gaping holes in the strategy to which the United States had reverted in hopes of stemming the further erosion of its position in the Greater Middle East.

Recall that, when the United States launched its GWOT soon after 9/11, it did so pursuant to a grandiose agenda. U.S. forces were going to imprint onto others a specific and exalted set of values. During President George W. Bush’s first term, this “freedom agenda” formed the foundation, or at least the rationale, for U.S. policy.

The shooting would stop, Bush vowed, only when countries like Afghanistan had ceased to harbor anti-American terrorists and countries like Iraq had ceased to encourage them. Achieving this goal meant that the inhabitants of those countries would have to change. Afghans and Iraqis, followed in due course by Syrians, Libyans, Iranians, and sundry others would embrace democracy, respect human rights, and abide by the rule of law, or else. Through the concerted application of American power, they would become different — more like us and therefore more inclined to get along with us. A bit less Mecca and Medina, a bit more “we hold these truths” and “of the people, by the people.”

So Bush and others in his inner circle professed to believe.  At least some of them, probably including Bush himself, may actually have done so.

History, at least the bits and pieces to which Americans attend, seemed to endow such expectations with a modicum of plausibility. Had not such a transfer of values occurred after World War II when the defeated Axis Powers had hastily thrown in with the winning side? Had it not recurred as the Cold War was winding down, when previously committed communists succumbed to the allure of consumer goods and quarterly profit statements?

If the appropriate mix of coaching and coercion were administered, Afghans and Iraqis, too, would surely take the path once followed by good Germans and nimble Japanese, and subsequently by Czechs tired of repression and Chinese tired of want. Once liberated, grateful Afghans and Iraqis would align themselves with a conception of modernity that the United States had pioneered and now exemplified. For this transformation to occur, however, the accumulated debris of retrograde social conventions and political arrangements that had long retarded progress would have to be cleared away. This was what the invasions of Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom!) and Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom!) were meant to accomplish in one fell swoop by a military the likes of which had (to hear Washington tell it) never been seen in history. POW!

Standing Them Up As We Stand Down

Concealed within that oft-cited “freedom” — the all-purpose justification for deploying American power — were several shades of meaning. The term, in fact, requires decoding. Yet within the upper reaches of the American national security apparatus, one definition takes precedence over all others. In Washington, freedom has become a euphemism for dominion. Spreading freedom means positioning the United States to call the shots. Seen in this context, Washington’s expected victories in both Afghanistan and Iraq were meant to affirm and broaden its preeminence by incorporating large parts of the Islamic world into the American imperium. They would benefit, of course, but to an even greater extent, so would we.

Alas, liberating Afghans and Iraqis turned out to be a tad more complicated than the architects of Bush’s freedom (or dominion) agenda anticipated.  Well before Barack Obama succeeded Bush in January 2009, few observers — apart from a handful of ideologues and militarists — clung to the fairy tale of U.S. military might whipping the Greater Middle East into shape.  Brutally but efficiently, war had educated the educable.  As for the uneducable, they persisted in taking their cues from Fox News and the Weekly Standard.

Yet if the strategy of transformation via invasion and “nation building” had failed, there was a fallback position that seemed to be dictated by the logic of events. Together, Bush and Obama would lower expectations as to what the United States was going to achieve, even as they imposed new demands on the U.S. military, America’s go-to outfit in foreign policy, to get on with the job.

Rather than midwifing fundamental political and cultural change, the Pentagon was instead ordered to ramp up its already gargantuan efforts to create local militaries (and police forces) capable of maintaining order and national unity. President Bush provided a concise formulation of the new strategy: “As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” Under Obama, after his own stab at a “surge,” the dictum applied to Afghanistan as well. Nation-building had flopped. Building armies and police forces able to keep a lid on things now became the prevailing definition of success.

The United States had, of course, attempted this approach once before, with unhappy results.  This was in Vietnam.  There, efforts to destroy North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces intent on unifying their divided country had exhausted both the U.S. military and the patience of the American people. Responding to the logic of events, Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon had a tacitly agreed upon fallback position. As the prospects of American forces successfully eliminating threats to South Vietnamese security faded, the training and equipping of the South Vietnamese to defend themselves became priority number one.

Dubbed “Vietnamization,” this enterprise ended in abject failure with the fall of Saigon in 1975. Yet that failure raised important questions to which members of the national security elite might have attended: Given a weak state with dubious legitimacy, how feasible is it to expect outsiders to invest indigenous forces with genuine fighting power?  How do differences in culture or history or religion affect the prospects for doing so? Can skill ever make up for a deficit of will? Can hardware replace cohesion? Above all, if tasked with giving some version of Vietnamization another go, what did U.S. forces need to do differently to ensure a different result?

At the time, with general officers and civilian officials more inclined to forget Vietnam than contemplate its implications, these questions attracted little attention. Instead, military professionals devoted themselves to gearing up for the next fight, which they resolved would be different. No more Vietnams — and therefore no more Vietnamization.

After the Gulf War of 1991, basking in the ostensible success of Operation Desert Storm, the officer corps persuaded itself that it had once and for all banished its Vietnam-induced bad memories. As Commander-in-Chief George H.W. Bush so memorably put it, “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.”

In short, the Pentagon now had war figured out. Victory had become a foregone conclusion. As it happened, this self-congratulatory evaluation left U.S. troops ill-prepared for the difficulties awaiting them after 9/11 when interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq departed from the expected script, which posited short wars by a force beyond compare ending in decisive victories. What the troops got were two very long wars with no decision whatsoever. It was Vietnam on a smaller scale all over again — times two.

Vietnamization 2.0

For Bush in Iraq and Obama after a brief, half-hearted flirtation with counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, opting for a variant of Vietnamization proved to be a no-brainer. Doing so offered the prospect of an escape from all complexities. True enough, Plan A — we export freedom and democracy — had fallen short. But Plan B — they (with our help) restore some semblance of stability — could enable Washington to salvage at least partial success in both places. With the bar suitably lowered, a version of “Mission Accomplished” might still be within reach.

If Plan A had looked to U.S. troops to vanquish their adversaries outright, Plan B focused on prepping besieged allies to take over the fight. Winning outright was no longer the aim — given the inability of U.S. forces to do so, this was self-evidently not in the cards — but holding the enemy at bay was.

Although allied with the United States, only in the loosest sense did either Iraq or Afghanistan qualify as a nation-state. Only nominally and intermittently did governments in Baghdad and Kabul exercise a writ of authority commanding respect from the people known as Iraqis and Afghans. Yet in the Washington of George Bush and Barack Obama, a willing suspension of disbelief became the basis for policy. In distant lands where the concept of nationhood barely existed, the Pentagon set out to create a full-fledged national security apparatus capable of defending that aspiration as if it represented reality. From day one, this was a faith-based undertaking.

As with any Pentagon project undertaken on a crash basis, this one consumed resources on a gargantuan scale — $25 billion in Iraq and an even more staggering $65 billion in Afghanistan. “Standing up” the requisite forces involved the transfer of vast quantities of equipment and the creation of elaborate U.S. training missions. Iraqi and Afghan forces acquired all the paraphernalia of modern war — attack aircraft or helicopters, artillery and armored vehicles, night vision devices and drones. Needless to say, stateside defense contractors lined up in droves to cash in.

Based on their performance, the security forces on which the Pentagon has lavished years of attention remain visibly not up to the job. Meanwhile, ISIS warriors, without the benefit of expensive third-party mentoring, appear plenty willing to fight and die for their cause. Ditto Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. The beneficiaries of U.S. assistance? Not so much. Based on partial but considerable returns, Vietnamization 2.0 seems to be following an eerily familiar trajectory that should remind anyone of Vietnamization 1.0. Meanwhile, the questions that ought to have been addressed back when our South Vietnamese ally went down to defeat have returned with a vengeance.

The most important of those questions challenges the assumption that has informed U.S. policy in the Greater Middle East since the freedom agenda went south: that Washington has a particular knack for organizing, training, equipping, and motivating foreign armies. Based on the evidence piling up before our eyes, that assumption appears largely false. On this score, retired Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, a former military commander and U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, has rendered an authoritative judgment. “Our track record at building [foreign] security forces over the past 15 years is miserable,” he recently told the New York Times.  Just so.

Fighting the Wrong War

Some might argue that trying harder, investing more billions, sending yet more equipment for perhaps another 15 years will produce more favorable results. But this is akin to believing that, given sufficient time, the fruits of capitalism will ultimately trickle down to benefit the least among us or that the march of technology holds the key to maximizing human happiness. You can believe it if you want, but it’s a mug’s game.

Indeed, the United States would be better served if policymakers abandoned the pretense that the Pentagon possesses any gift whatsoever for “standing up” foreign military forces. Prudence might actually counsel that Washington assume instead, when it comes to organizing, training, equipping, and motivating foreign armies, that the United States is essentially clueless.

Exceptions may exist.  For example, U.S. efforts have probably helped boost the fighting power of the Kurdish peshmerga. Yet such exceptions are rare enough to prove the rule. Keep in mind that before American trainers and equipment ever showed up, Iraq’s Kurds already possessed the essential attributes of nationhood. Unlike Afghans and Iraqis, Kurds do not require tutoring in the imperative of collective self-defense.

What are the policy implications of giving up the illusion that the Pentagon knows how to build foreign armies? The largest is this: subletting war no longer figures as a plausible alternative to waging it directly. So where U.S. interests require that fighting be done, like it or not, we’re going to have to do that fighting ourselves. By extension, in circumstances where U.S. forces are demonstrably incapable of winning or where Americans balk at any further expenditure of American blood — today in the Greater Middle East both of these conditions apply — then perhaps we shouldn’t be there. To pretend otherwise is to throw good money after bad or, as a famous American general once put it, to wage (even if indirectly) “the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy.” This we have been doing now for several decades across much of the Islamic world.

In American politics, we await the officeholder or candidate willing to state the obvious and confront its implications

Spring coming earlier in US because of climate change, scientists say

Study predicts plants will start budding three weeks sooner by end of century as climate change exerts direct effect on seasonal calendar

October 14, 2015

by Suzanne Goldenberg US environment correspondent

The Guardian

Scientists have confirmed what gardeners have long suspected: spring is coming much earlier in the US, with plants projected to bud three weeks earlier by the end of the century because of climate change.

By 2100 plants will green up 22.3 days earlier in much of the country, with the biggest jump on spring occurring in the western US.

In the Pacific north-west the researchers expected an even shorter winter with spring kicking in up to 28.5 days earlier by the end of the century.

The findings, published on Wednesday in Environmental Research Letters, suggest even bigger shifts in the plant calendar due to climate change than had been expected.

Earlier this year another team of researchers suggested that spring was arriving as much as 14 days earlier in most parts of North America because of climate change.

The researchers from the Hawthorne Valley Farmscape Ecology Programme drew on thousands of records, from frog mating calls to bird migration patterns and tree and plant flowerings, to compare the shift in timing of natural events.

In some parts of the country, including Wisconsin, some flower species, such as wild geranium, were blooming 24 days earlier in 2012 than in 1945.

The newest group of researchers, from government scientific agencies as well as universities, combined historical records of lilac and honeysuckle growth with 19 climate models to project first leaf and first bud in the coming decades.

We know spring is getting earlier. But we provide actual evidence for how much earlier,” said Andrew Allstadt, an ecologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who was part of the research team.

The change would have far-reaching effects – both for farming and other industries and the natural world.

The timing of events is important,” Allstadt said. “If plants are shifting earlier in the year, there is a worry that the animals that depend on the plants won’t keep up with those shifts.”

Those living in warmer parts of the US, such as the south, are unlikely to see as big a difference in the arrival of spring, because it is already so warm.

But much of the country will see a shorter winter, Allstadt said.

The biggest factor triggering the first green shoots of spring was the slow build-up of milder weather over the course of the year – rather than a burst of above-average days in February or March, he said.

That was especially the case at higher altitudes and across the wind-swept Great Plains, he said.

The researchers did not find a rise in false springs, or hard frosts that could damage or kill off a new season’s growth.

FBI rescues 149 children, arrests 153 in operation targeting sex-traffickers

October 14, 2015


Working with state and local authorities, the FBI has rescued 149 sexually exploited children and arrested 153 pimps and sex traffickers in a coordinated action across 135 US cities dubbed ‘Operation Cross Country IX.’

The ninth Operation Cross Country effort took place from October 6-10, and was the largest such coordinated action against sex trafficking to date, the FBI said. The operation, part of the FBI’s Innocence Lost National Initiative, was aided by other federal law enforcement agencies and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

More than 500 law enforcement agents took part in the operation, which targeted frequent spots for child trafficking dealings, including casinos, hotels, and truck stops. The youngest of the 149 victims recovered was 12 years old. Three victims were transgender, and three were male.

Our mission is to protect the American people – especially our children – from harm,” said FBI Director James Comey. ”When kids are treated as a commodity in seedy hotels and on dark roadsides, we must rescue them from their nightmare and severely punish those responsible for that horror. We simply must continue to work with our partners to end the scourge of sex trafficking in our country.”

Of the 135 cities involved in this year’s Operation Cross Country, Denver had the most recovered victims, with 20 rescued, while seven pimps were arrested in Colorado’s largest city.

This is the second year in a row the local operation recovered more juveniles than any other city in the country,” said Denver FBI spokeswoman Deborah Sherman, according to KMGH.

Among the major cities involved in the sting, Detroit had the second-most victims recovered (19). Officials in Jacksonville, Florida, announced 25 arrests, according to WJXT.

Nearly 100 specialists from the FBI’s Office for Victim Assistance provided immediate services to recovered victims, including crisis counseling, food provisions, and medical attention, the FBI said.

Human trafficking is a monstrous and devastating crime that steals lives and degrades our nation,” said US Attorney General Loretta Lynch. “As a result of the FBI’s outstanding coordination and exemplary efforts alongside state and local partners during Operation Cross Country, more children will sleep safely tonight, and more wrongdoers will face the judgment of our criminal justice system.”

The Innocence Lost initiative has recovered around 4,800 children since 2003, resulting in more than 2,000 convictions of pimps, customers, and others involved in sex trafficking.

Ankara Bombing Sets Turkey Into Uncharted Waters

October 12, 2015

by Murtaza Hussain

The Intercept

The brazen act of terrorism that saw 128 people killed at a political rally in Ankara this weekend traces back at least somewhat to government missteps in feeding Syrian violence — violence that appears to have now migrated home.

The attack by two suicide bombers, whose victims had gathered in support of the opposition party HDP, or Peoples’ Democratic Party, has sent Turkey into uncharted territory. Unlike two bombings earlier this summer, which hit restive parts of the country, this one occurred near the heart of the capital city of Ankara. It was also the single deadliest terrorist incident in Turkish history.

The attack commenced a war of words between the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and the pro-Kurdish HDP, which in June stunned observers by winning more than 12 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections. HDP leader Selahattin Demirta accused the government of operating “a murderous mob state,” and further alleged that Turkish intelligence services may have had advance knowledge of the attack.

But no evidence has emerged that the AKP and the Turkish government were behind the attack or another bombing of an HDP event this past June. More plausible is the suggestion from Turkish officials that the militant group ISIL (Islamic State) is behind the attack, though some of those same officials had initially suggested that Kurdish separatist factions may have been responsible.

The Ankara bombing would be the most recent in a string of attacks by a group Turkey indirectly (if inadvertently) supported. Following a suicide bombing this July in the southern Turkish town of Suruç, the Turkish government began to permit U.S. air raids against ISIL to operate from Incirlik Air Base, near the Syrian border.

After this weekend’s bombing, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu declared that “these attacks will not turn Turkey into a Syria.” In many ways, however, spillover from the Syrian conflict is at the heart of Turkey’s increasingly fraught security situation.  This weekend’s attack, to a certain extent, is a result of both difficult circumstances and government missteps that have had the net result of compounding regional instability.

Since a popular uprising against the Syrian government began in 2011, the Turkish government has been forced to manage a difficult balancing act with regard to its southern neighbor. Prior to the uprising, Turkey had instituted a “zero problems” policy with regard to the other countries in its region, and maintained good relations with the Assad government. Once it began, Turkey initially maintained this posture, even offering to mediate between Bashar al Assad’s regime and the opposition. But after the Syrian military and intelligence agencies began to wage a brutal crackdown on protesters, Turkey’s position shifted, and the country began to support a wide range of militant opposition factions seeking to topple the regime. As part of this policy, Turkey loosened restrictions on its southern border, accepting hundreds of thousands of civilian refugees, but also allowing militant groups and foreign fighters to cross south and join the battle against the Syrian government.

Unfortunately, this strategy failed to achieve Turkey’s goal of toppling Assad and allowing a new government to come to power in Syria. While Turkey and other countries in the region had expected an international coalition to eventually intervene on behalf of the rebels, as NATO had intervened in Libya, such an intervention never materialized. Instead, the Syrian uprising has devolved into a grinding war of attrition, with millions of refugees fleeing the country and terrorist groups establishing themselves in contested areas.

In light of these circumstances, Turkey’s open border policies, as well as its singular focus on toppling Assad at any cost, has now shown itself to be disastrously misguided. Not only is Assad still in power, but some of the same groups that Turkey had once indirectly supported are now apparently conducting attacks against civilians in Turkish territory. As Turkey also confronts the growing authoritarianism of the ruling AKP government and a revived insurgency by the Kurdish independence group PKK, its stability looks increasingly threatened. Furthermore, while there is no evidence that the AKP government had foreknowledge of the bombing, the fact that its leaders had been openly inciting against the HDP in the weeks and months leading up to the attack has fed allegations that they bear responsibility for the bloodshed that has now come to pass.

This November, Turkey will hold another general election, after the June election failed to produce a viable governing coalition. The HDP party may actually end up benefiting from a wave of popular sympathy and outrage over the Ankara bombing; its members were the primary victims of the attack. “We won’t seek revenge,” HDP leader Demirtas said in a rally in central Ankara a day after the bombing. “Violence will breed more violence. We’ll seek justice in the election on Nov. 1. Shared life is possible among the oppressed and the abused.”

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