TBR News September 4, 2016

Sep 04 2016

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C.  September 3, 2016:  “Because of the upcoming holiday, we will be out of town until Tuesday, September 6, 2016.”

Flooding of Coast,Caused by GlobalWarming, Has Already Begun

Scientists’ warnings that the rise of thesea would eventually imperil the UnitedStates’ coastline are no longer theoretical.

September 3, 2016

by Justin Gilliss

New York Times

NORFOLK, Va. — Huge vertical rulers are sprouting beside low spots in the streets here, so people can judge if the tidal floods that increasingly inundate their roads are too deep to drive through.

Five hundred miles down the Atlantic Coast, the only road to Tybee Island, Ga., is disappearing beneath the sea several times a year, cutting the town off from the mainland.

And another 500 miles on, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., increased tidal flooding is forcing the city to spend millions fixing battered roads and drains — and, at times, to send out giant vacuum trucks to suck saltwater off the streets.

For decades, as the global warming created by human emissions caused land ice to melt and ocean water to expand, scientists warned that the accelerating rise of the sea would eventually imperil the United States’ coastline.

Now, those warnings are no longer theoretical: The inundation of the coast has begun. The sea has crept up to the point that a high tide and a brisk wind are all it takes to send water pouring into streets and homes.

Federal scientists have documented a sharp jump in this nuisance flooding — often called “sunny-day flooding” — along both the East Coast and the Gulf Coast in recent years. The sea is now so near the brim in many places that they believe the problem is likely to worsen quickly. Shifts in the Pacific Ocean mean that the West Coast, partly spared over the past two decades, may be hit hard, too.

These tidal floods are often just a foot or two deep, but they can stop traffic, swamp basements, damage cars, kill lawns and forests, and poison wells with salt. Moreover, the high seas interfere with the drainage of storm water.

In coastal regions, that compounds the damage from the increasingly heavy rains plaguing the country, like those that recently caused extensive flooding in Louisiana. Scientists say these rains are also a consequence of human greenhouse emissions.

“Once impacts become noticeable, they’re going to be upon you quickly,” said William V. Sweet, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Silver Spring, Md., who is among the leaders in research on coastal inundation. “It’s not a hundred years off — it’s now.”

Local governments, under pressure from annoyed citizens, are beginning to act. Elections are being won on promises to invest money to protect against flooding. Miami Beach is leading the way, increasing local fees to finance a $400 million plan that includes raising streets, installing pumps and elevating sea walls.

In many of the worst-hit cities, mayors of both parties are sounding an alarm.

“I’m a Republican, but I also realize, by any objective analysis, the sea level is rising,” said Jason Buelterman, the mayor of tiny Tybee Island, one of the first Georgia communities to adopt a detailed climate plan.

But the local leaders say they cannot tackle this problem alone. They are pleading with state and federal governments for guidance and help, including billions to pay for flood walls, pumps and road improvements that would buy them time.

Yet Congress has largely ignored these pleas, and has even tried to block plans by the military to head off future problems at the numerous bases imperiled by a rising sea. A Republican congressman from Colorado, Ken Buck, recently called one military proposal part of a “radical climate change agenda.”

The gridlock in Washington means the United States lacks not only a broad national policy on sea-level rise, it has something close to the opposite: The federal government spends billions of taxpayer dollars in ways that add to the risks, by subsidizing local governments and homeowners who build in imperiled locations along the coast.

As the problem worsens, experts are warning that national security is on the line. Naval bases, in particular, are threatened; they can hardly be moved away from the ocean, yet much of their land is at risk of disappearing within this century.

“It’s as if the country was being attacked along every border, simultaneously,” said Andrea Dutton, a climate scientist at the University of Florida and one of the world’s leading experts on rising seas. “It’s a slow, gradual attack, but it threatens the safety and security of the United States.”

‘We’re Living It’

One night eight years ago, Karen Speights, a Norfolk resident, was sitting at the dinner table with her mother, eating crab legs dipped in butter and a tangy sauce. She felt a tingle.

“Ma!” she cried. “My feet are wet!”

Her mother laughed, but then she felt it, too: a house that had not flooded since the family moved there in 1964 was soon awash in saltwater. Ms. Speights initially hoped that flood was a fluke. Instead, it turned out to be the first of three to hit their home in less than a decade. Nowadays, Ms. Speights, an administrative worker at a utility company, is wondering how to get her and her mother out of the neighborhood before the water comes again, without taking too much of a financial hit. And she pays more attention to problems that once seemed remote, like warnings from scientists about the rising sea.

“I believe it because we’re living it,” Ms. Speights said as she sat on her sofa, nodding toward the nearby tidal marsh that sent water into her living room. “The water has to be rising if we never flooded, and all of a sudden we’ve flooded three times in eight years.”

Because the land is sinking as the ocean rises, Norfolk and the metropolitan region surrounding it, known as Hampton Roads, are among the worst-hit parts of the United States. That local factor means, in essence, that the region is a few decades ahead in feeling the effects of sea-level rise, and illustrates what people along the rest of the American coast can expect.

The biggest problems involve frequent flooding of homes and roads. As the sea rises, hundreds of tidal creeks and marshes that thread through the region are bringing saltwater to people’s doorsteps.

This summer, on a driving tour of Norfolk and nearby towns, William A. Stiles Jr. pointed to the telltale signs that the ocean is gradually invading the region.

He spotted crusts of dried salt in the streets, and salt-loving marsh grasses that are taking over suburban yards. He pointed out trees killed by seawater. He stood next to one of the road signs that Norfolk has been forced to install in recent years, essentially huge vertical rulers so people know the depth of floodwaters at low-lying intersections.

“There’s just more and more visible impacts: water on the street, water that won’t clear from the ditch, these intense rain events, higher tides,” Mr. Stiles said.

“It’s beginning to catch the attention of citizens, restaurant owners, business people, politicians. There’s just much more of a conversation, and it’s not just in the politically safe places. It’s everywhere.”

Mr. Stiles, known as Skip, heads a local environmental group, Wetlands Watch. At his suggestion, students at two local universities began looking at the neighborhood where Ms. Speights lives, Chesterfield Heights. It has had little history of flooding, but that is starting to change as the water rises.

The plan the students developed has morphed into an ambitious program to safeguard the neighborhood, and another nearby, for decades. The Obama administration recently gave Virginia more than $100 million to carry the plan out. The administration has also enlisted one of the universities, Old Dominion in Norfolk, to spearhead a broad effort at better planning.

But the size of that grant illustrates the scope of the problem confronting the region, and the country: protecting a single neighborhood from rising water can easily cost tens of millions of dollars. Sea walls and streets may have to be raised, or movable gates built along waterways so they can be closed at times of high water.

While the Obama administration is trying to create a few showcase neighborhoods, there is no sign Congress is prepared to spend the money that cities and states say they need: tens of billions of dollars just to catch up to the current flooding problems, much less get ahead of them. Norfolk alone, a town of 250,000 people, has a wish list of $1.2 billion — or about $5,000 for every man, woman and child in the city.

As the national response lags, experts warn that the flooding is putting the country’s defense at risk.

Several studies have concluded that Naval Station Norfolk, the world’s largest naval base, is profoundly threatened by rising seas, as are other coastal bases. The Pentagon has managed to build floodgates and other protective measures at some facilities. But attempts by the military to develop broader climate change plans have met fierce resistance in Congress.

That was the case this summer, when an effort by the Pentagon to appoint officers to take charge of climate resilience led to a House vote prohibiting taxpayer money from being spent on the plan.

“When we distract our military with a radical climate change agenda, we detract from their main purpose of defending America from enemies” like the Islamic State, said Mr. Buck of Colorado, the Republican congressman who sponsored the measure. His amendment passed the House 216 to 205, though the Senate has yet to agree to it.

Many people in Congress, almost all of them Republicans, express doubt about climate science, with some of them promulgating conspiracy theories claiming that researchers have invented the issue to justify greater governmental control over people’s lives. So far, this ideological position has been immune to the rising evidence of harm from human-induced climate change.

The Obama administration has been pushing federal agencies, including the Pentagon, to take more aggressive steps. But without action in Congress, experts say these efforts fall far short of what is required.

“In the country, certainly in the Congress, it hasn’t really resonated — the billions and perhaps trillions of dollars that we would need to spend if we want to live on the coast like we’re living today,” said David W. Titley, a retired rear admiral who was the chief oceanographer of the Navy, and now heads a climate center at Pennsylvania State University.

“I haven’t seen any evidence that there is serious thought about this: What does a world of three, four, five feet of sea-level rise look like?”

Mounting Evidence

Deep in a thicket of trees on an out-of-the-way island in the Florida Keys, a diesel engine roared to life. Soon a drill bit was chewing through ancient limestone, pulling up evidence from the geological past that might shed light on the future of the planet.

On a sultry day in March, Dr. Dutton, the University of Florida scientist, stood watch over the drilling operation, inspecting her samples as they emerged from the ground. She spotted fossilized corals, proof that what is now the dry ground of Lignumvitae Key was once underwater.

With taxpayer funding from the National Science Foundation, Dr. Dutton is chasing what might be the most urgent question in climate science: How fast is the ocean going to rise?

“Is it going to happen in decades, or centuries, or a thousand years?” Dr. Dutton asked as she took a break to eat lunch on a tarpaulin spread under the trees. “This will give us an example to say, ‘Well, the last time this happened, here is how long it took.’”

The opponents of climate science in Congress, and the tiny group of climate researchers allied with them, have argued that the concerns of thousands of mainstream scientists about the future are based on unproven computer forecasts.

In reality, their concerns are based in large part on mounting evidence of what has happened in the past.

Through decades of research, it has become clear that human civilization, roughly 6,000 years old, developed during an unusually stable period for global sea levels. But over longer spans, coastlines have been much more dynamic.

During ice ages, caused by wobbles in the Earth’s orbit, sea levels dropped more than 400 feet as ice piled up on land. But during periods slightly warmer than today, the sea may have risen 70 or more feet above the current level.

Dr. Dutton and other leading scientists are focused on the last sea-level high point, which occurred between the last two ice ages, about 125,000 years ago.

After years of surveying ancient shorelines around the world, scientists determined that the sea level rose by something like 20 to 30 feet in that era, compared with today. But how long did it take to make that jump? That is the question Dr. Dutton, using improved research techniques, wants to answer.

Large parts of the Florida Keys are simply ancient coral reefs that grew during the period of high seas, and were exposed when the levels fell. Trees, roads and houses now sit atop the old reefs. By recovering samples, Dr. Dutton hopes to date a sequence of corals as they grew along with the rising sea, potentially revealing the rate at which the water rose.

The research, likely to take years, may supply a figure for how quickly the ocean was able to rise under past conditions, but not necessarily a maximum rate for the coming decades. The release of greenhouse gases from human activity is causing the planet to warm rapidly, perhaps faster than at any other time in the Earth’s history. The ice sheets in both Greenland and West Antarctica are beginning to melt into the sea at an accelerating pace.

Scientists had long hoped that any disintegration of the ice sheets would take thousands of years, but recent research suggests the breakup of West Antarctica could occur much faster. In the worst-case scenario, this research suggests, the rate of sea-level rise could reach a foot per decade by the 22nd century, about 10 times faster than today.

In 2013, scientists reached a consensus that three feet was the highest plausible rise by the year 2100. But now some of them are starting to say that six or seven feet may be possible. A rise that large over a span of decades would be an unparalleled national catastrophe, driving millions of people from their homes and most likely requiring the abandonment of entire cities.

In essence, by revealing how sensitive the ice sheets have been to past warming, Dr. Dutton’s research may answer the question of whether such a rapid jump is possible.

Along those parts of the United States coast that are sinking at a brisk clip, including southern Louisiana and the entire Chesapeake Bay region, including Norfolk, the situation will be worse than average. On the Pacific Coast, a climate pattern that had pushed billions of gallons of water toward Asia is now ending, so that in coming decades the sea is likely to rise quickly off states like Oregon and California.

Along the East Coast, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say that many communities have already, or will soon, pass a threshold where sunny-day flooding starts to happen much more often.

“When you look at the historical record, there’s no trend saying the flooding is going down,” said Dr. Sweet, the NOAA expert. “The trends are all very clear. They’re going up, and they’re going up in many of these areas in an accelerating fashion.”

Late last year, in Paris, nations reached a landmark global agreement to cut emissions. It is fragile, and might not survive if Donald J. Trump is elected president in November; he has pledged to scrap it.

But the air is already so full of greenhouse gases that most land ice on the planet has started to melt. So even if the deal survives, it will, at best, slow the rise of the sea and perhaps limit the ultimate increase. Many climate scientists, including Dr. Dutton, believe a rise of at least 15 or 20 feet has already become inevitable, over an unknown period.

Facing Hard Decisions

As Brad Tuckman walked the piece of land in Fort Lauderdale where he is building a grand new house, he pointed toward the canal that wraps around three sides of the property.

It is scenic, with yachts plying the water, yet as the sea has risen, street flooding in the area has become a recurring nuisance. So before starting construction, Mr. Tuckman said he spent nearly a half-million dollars to raise the sea wall and truck in dirt to elevate the land.

“The predictions of what’s going to happen over the next 20, 30, 40 years — it’s real,” said Mr. Tuckman, the founder of a company offering creative services to the retail industry.

In South Florida, among the worst-hit parts of the country for sunny-day flooding, people are not waiting for state or federal help. Those who can afford it are starting to act on their own. A company, Coastal Risk Consulting, has cropped up to advise them, and is offering its services nationally.

Cities and counties in the region have formed an alliance and enlisted professors to help them figure out what to do. They are hiring “chief resilience officers,” an idea pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation in New York, which is paying some of the salary cost.

In Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale, as well as in older Northern cities like Boston and New York, tidal marshes and creeks were filled in a century or more ago to make new land, and it is in these areas — “back bays,” as some of these spots are called — where the flooding is happening first.

That is because they remain the lowest spots in the landscape, vulnerable to the rising water nearby. Old drain pipes empty into the tidal creeks, and at high tide the water can back up through these pipes, bubbling into the streets seemingly from nowhere.

In Miami Beach, the city engineer, Bruce A. Mowry, has come up with a plan for combating the flooding. He rips up problematic streets, raises them with extra dirt and repaves them, installing new drains and giant pumps that can push water back into the bay. The approach has already been shown to work in several neighborhoods.

A controversy has erupted about whether Miami Beach is polluting Biscayne Bay with the water, but the city is pushing ahead. Miami Beach plans to spend at least $400 million on its plan by 2018, raising the money through fees imposed on homes and businesses.

The huge county government for the region, Miami-Dade County, is developing its own resilience strategy, one likely to cost billions. It has committed to rebuilding some of its decaying infrastructure, like a sewage plant, in a way that safeguards against sea-level rise and storm surges.

“I don’t see doom and gloom here; I see opportunity,” said Harvey Ruvin, the clerk of courts for Miami-Dade County, who has been a leading voice on the environment in Florida for a half-century, and who recently led a county task force on sea-level rise. “We’re talking about the most robust possible jobs program you can think of, and one that can’t be outsourced.”

Many of the Republican mayors in the region are on the same page as Democrats in requesting national and state action on climate change, as well as pushing local steps. James C. Cason, the Republican mayor of Coral Gables, has convened informational sessions that draw hundreds of residents, and he has received no complaints for his stance.

“I hope in coming years when we have to spend a lot of money, the citizens will still support it,” Mr. Cason said in an interview.

Still, his city, and others in South Florida, have some hard decisions to make.

Some property owners cannot afford to raise their sea walls, putting their neighborhoods at increased risk of flooding. Will they be held legally responsible when floods do occur? A strict policy could force some people from their homes. Conversely, should public money be spent to do the work, even if it largely benefits private property?

Just for streets, storm drains and the like, South Florida governments will need to raise billions, and they have yet to figure out how. Moreover, if the rise of the sea accelerates as much as some scientists fear, it is doubtful the cities will be able to keep up.

The region has one mayor, Philip K. Stoddard of South Miami, who is a scientist himself — he studies animal communication at Florida International University — and has been a close reader of scientific papers about climate change since the 1990s.

“I remember lying in bed at night thinking, ‘I hope this isn’t real,’” Dr. Stoddard, a Democrat, recalled. “I hope other data comes in that contradicts it. It took me several years to get my head around it and say, ‘Oh, God, it is real.’”

Now he is focused on easing the pain for South Miami, with a $50 million system of sewer pipes to replace septic tanks threatened by the rising water table.

“You can play it really badly and let unpleasant things happen earlier,” he said. “Or you can push them off by doing some infrastructure repairs and some thoughtful planning.”

He is, though, under no illusions about the long-term fate of the region he calls home.

“We’re putting enough heat in the ocean to send water over us, no question,” Dr. Stoddard said. “Ultimately, we give up and we leave. That’s how the story ends.”

Germany considering sending migrants back to Greece as Berlin can’t handle burden alone

September 4, 2016


Berlin is mooting the idea of sending migrants back to Greece for the first time in five years. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere says that Germany has done its bit to help refugees, but needed help from the rest of the bloc to take in migrants.

De Maiziere is adamant that the EU needs to adopt a common policy towards refugees and that Berlin is unable to handle the burden on its own. Under the Dublin regulations, migrants should be processed in the first member state they entered, which for many was Greece.

We have done a lot in Europe in order to improve the refugee situation in Greece,” de Maiziere told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper, as cited by Deutsche Welle. “This must have consequences that will enable refugees to be sent back to Greece according to the Dublin regulations.”

Germany has not sent migrants back to Greece since 2011 due to deficiencies in the Greek asylum processing system and the fact that the country is struggling to cope with the number of refugees already in Greece. There are currently 50,000 migrants in Greece who are waiting to be sent on to other EU countries.

More than one million refugees moved to Germany in 2015 under Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open doors policy. The number of migrants reaching Germany in 2016 has been stemmed, largely due to a number of countries in the south of Europe sealing their borders.

Merkel’s willingness to accept migrants has not been applauded by everyone in Germany, with sizable sections of the population growing increasingly disillusioned with the number of refugees the country has taken in.

In an interview with the Bild newspaper, Merkel strongly defended her decision to allow migrants to settle in Germany, despite her approval ratings dropping to a five-year low of 45 percent.

“We did not reduce benefits for anyone in Germany as a result of the aid for refugees. In fact, we actually saw social improvements in some areas,” Merkel said in the interview on Saturday, as cited by Reuters.

“We took nothing away from people here. We are still achieving our big goal of maintaining and improving the quality of life in Germany,” she added.

The German government has already repatriated 35,000 people in the first seven months of 2016, with not everyone arriving in the country deemed as deserving asylum status.

“It’s completely clear that a year like last year cannot be repeated, which is why we have taken the measures we have. But it was the right thing to do that we rose to this humanitarian responsibility and continue to do so,” Merkel said, adding that if she were faced with the same situation today, she would act no differently.

Merkel also faces a difficult task in trying to get each of the member EU states to take in quotas of migrants, with a number of Central European nations adamant that they will not be taking any refugees.

The ‘Visegrad group’, which includes Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, staunchly oppose any regulations on re-distribution of migrants across the EU.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been particular outspoken, saying his country “does not need a single migrant” and “every single migrant poses a public security and terrorism risk.”

The head of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party and former Polish PM Jaroslaw Kaczynski shared Orban’s view, saying that no refugees should be accepted.

In response, some German MEP’s have suggested fining countries that are not willing to give asylum to migrants.

“Cash payments to member states that do not abide by the European law and those countries that don’t provide enough assistance in accepting asylum seekers and registering must be slashed,” Inge Grassle, the head of Budgetary Control Committee of the EP told Die Welt in August.

Germany is the largest contributor to the EU treasury, last year paying in €14.3 billion (US$16 billion) more than it received from Brussels.

Thousands of Kurds in Germany rally against Turkey

Thousands of Kurds have rallied in Cologne against the Turkish government and military intervention in Syria. It is likely to further test relations between Germany and Turkey.

September 3, 2016


Nearly 30,000 Kurds rallied peacefully in Cologne against the Turkish government on Saturday, in a protest with clear signs events in Syria have inspired the Kurdish movement in Germany.

Under the banner of “Neither military coup nor dictatorship,” the rally took aim at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, only weeks after a pro-government Turkish rally was held in the same location against the failed July 15 military coup attempt.

Organized by the Kurdish organization NAV-DEM, the rally also slammed Turkey’s intervention in Syria, viewed by many Kurds as aimed at thwarting the political and military advances of the Syrian Kurds and not the “Islamic State” (IS).

Many people waved flags of imprisoned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan, who holds near God-like philosopher status among supporters. “We are here for the freedom of Ocalan and Kurdistan,” said Mustafa Durmaz, a Turkish Kurd from Sanliurfa, flag in hand.

Ocalan has been isolated since peace talks broke down last year. Some 50 Kurdish politicians and activists in Turkey will start an indefinite hunger strike this Monday until they hear word from him.

Police allowed flags and pictures of Ocalan so long as they were not superimposed on anything related to the PKK. Protesters appeared largely to heed the police warning, although some PKK symbols could be seen in the crowd. Dozens of people were dressed up in PKK guerrilla fighter outfits.

Asked by DW where the line would be drawn between “illegal propaganda” and free speech, one police officer shrugged, seemingly confused by the multitude of flags representing various Kurdish organizations, most of which align in some way with the PKK.

The PKK has long been dubbed a terrorist organization in Europe, but the line is often blurred and various Kurdish organizations sympathetic to the PKK are able to operate.

Yet, the overwhelming prevalence of Syrian Kurdish symbols was revealing. The Syrian Kurds have become the standard bearer of the Kurdish cause through their fight against IS and ability to establish self-governing areas in Syrian Kurdistan, referred to by Kurds as Rojava.

Kurds have rallied under the banner of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the most powerful Syrian Kurdish party, and its YPG militia. The PYD is the Syrian affiliate of the PKK, although the EU and United States don’t recognize it as a terrorist organization.

The PYD successes on the frontlines against IS have earned the organization respect and an alliance with the West.

“At this point, America needs us, we need them. Europe relies on us, we rely on them,” Salih Muslim, the head of the PYD, told DW.

Muslim said it was natural for Kurds in Turkey to show solidarity with their brethren in Syria, while pointing out that the demands of the PYD for greater rights and federalism were directed only towards Syria and his movement was not a threat to Turkey.

“Rather than supporting jihadists and executioners, Turkey should extend a hand to the secular Syrian Kurds as neighbors,” Sirri Sakik, a veteran Kurdish politician in Turkey, told DW. He added that Turkey needs a new democratic constitution that would recognize and grant rights to all groups, otherwise the country risked danger.

Muslim and Selahattin Demirtas, the co-chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the third largest party in the Turkish parliament, were the keynote speakers. The presence of the two leaders of the Kurdish movement in Syria and Turkey is telling of how intertwined the Kurdish issue has become regionally.

The demonstration in Cologne may add tension to already simmering ties between Germany and Turkey, which views the PYD as a terrorist organization on par with IS.

“We don’t believe there is any difference between a demonstration held by supporters of the PKK, an armed group that the European Union considers a terrorist organization, and IS, another group that’s considered a terrorist organization,” a Turkish official told DW, speaking on anonymity.

Turkey’s new sultan drives Uncle Sam, Ivan and Ali up the wall

September 1, 2016

by M.K. Bhadrakumar

Asia Times

Turkey’s display of strategic autonomy during its intervention in Syria has unnerved the U.S., Russia and Iran. Ankara can give three days’ notice to cancel access for the US to the Incirlik base. As the military balance changes, Iranian forces and Hezbollah have to get used to a superior military power with boots on the ground in Syria. Although Moscow has urged Ankara to undertake course correction, the future directions of the Turkish intervention in Syria remain unclear.

Like a slow motion movie, Turkey’s military intervention in Syria appears to have slowed down. The time-manipulation allows the startled viewers’ emotional and cognitive processing and initial arousal response to calm down.

Clearly, the US has been outmaneuvered. Washington all along wanted Turkey to be ‘proactive’ against the Islamic State (IS) but not this way. Washington faces a stark choice between its NATO ally or Syrian Kurds.

The alliance with Turkey by far outweighs and the logical thing would be to throw the Syrian Kurds under the bus.

Last week, the influential Washington-based neoconservative think-tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies brought out a report with a forward penned by former American ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman – Covering the Bases: Reassessing U.S. Military Deployments in Turkey After the July 2016 Attempted Coup d’Etat.

It examined the options available for Pentagon for relocating its base in Incirlik.

The report lists Turkey’s diabolic support for IS (and Hamas) and assesses the factors at work – fractures in the US-Turkey security relationship; plummeting trust; Turkey’s instability and unpredictability; security threats to estimated 3,000 US military personnel and sensitive hardware based in Turkey; and, “fundamental questions about Turkey’s basic foreign policy orientation.”

Edelman estimates: “The best outcome would clearly be for the U.S. to remain in Incirlik for reasons that include the effectiveness of the campaign against IS and the on-going need for U.S. extended nuclear deterrence in Europe. Yet, suggesting that the U.S. has alternatives may serve an important purpose. It can help Turkish officials recognize the importance of the U.S. connection to Turkey”.

It cannot be a coincidence that Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday in an interview that the allegations that Turkey is turning its back on the West by normalizing relations with Russia lack basis and that its relationship with Russia is “not an alternative to its partnership and alliance with the West.”

Indeed, the future directions of the Turkish intervention in Syria remain unclear – except that it is for the long haul. Turkey’s display of strategic autonomy has unnerved the three main protagonists – US, Russia and Iran.

In a series of statements, US conveyed that Turkish operations against Kurds are “unacceptable”. France has also echoed similar views.

On Wednesday, Moscow and Tehran calibrated their ‘distance’ from the Turkish intervention.

But their accent markedly varied.

Tehran was implicitly critical of Turkish intentions; whereas, Moscow didn’t cast aspersions on Turkish motivations.

Tehran said Turkey’s act of violating Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is “unacceptable”; whereas, Moscow wouldn’t make an issue of it. (Ankara had notified Damascus about its intervention using Russian channel.)

Tehran warned that Turkey’s “military presence on Syrian soil will further complicate the regional situation”, and explicitly demanded that Ankara should “immediately stop military actions.”

Moscow, on the other hand, urged Ankara to undertake course correction – one, “coordinate” with Damascus; two, adopt a “selective approach in choosing targets… for avoiding strikes on the sites of deployment of opposition and ethnic groups, including Syrian Kurds”, and, three, avoid unilateralism.

A sense of unease

Unlike Iran, Russia gave a measured response. In fact, on Sunday, Moscow decreed the lifting of the ban on chartered flights to Turkey carrying tourists; on Wednesday, Gazprom chief Aleksey Miller arrived in Istanbul to discuss resumption of work on the Turkish Stream gas pipeline project.

Again, Turkey’s Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci disclosed that the two countries have resumed talks on Free Trade Agreement, are discussing creation of a joint investment fund and working out use of national currencies in bilateral trade.

On Wednesday during a phone conversation, Cavusoglu agreed with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov to meet very shortly.

Evidently, Moscow takes a holistic view. The most critical factor for Russia will be Turkey’s role in the western alliance system. Turkey may play off Russia and US against each other, but the “unknown unknown” here is the nature of intelligence Putin would have shared with Erdogan regarding the July 15 coup attempt, and how far the latter feels indebted to the Kremlin.

Moscow weighs in that repair of Turkey-US relationship will take time and the extradition of Fetullah Gulen remains an Albatross on American neck. On the other hand, Moscow has had to reconcile with the idea of Turkish jets reappearing in Syrian skies and Turkish boots on the ground in northern Syria.

If Turkey manages to create a 3000-4000 sq. kilometre ‘buffer zone’ in Syria, the necessary underpinning for the EU-Turkey ‘one in, one out’ deal on Syrian refugees becomes available.

To be sure, Ankara’s display of strategic autonomy is already showing results. Both Obama and Putin plan to meet Erdogan during the G20 summit in Hangzhou (September 4-5). And the EU and NATO are scrambling, too.

European Union President Martin Schulz arrived in Turkey on Sept 1 and EU High Representative Federica Mogherini will follow next week. The NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will visit Turkey on Sept. 8.

Evidently, Washington and Brussels are closely coordinating. Incirlik’s role is particularly important. Indeed, in the event of the US being asked to vacate Incirlik – against its will, of course – there will be serious discontinuity in the NATO alliance and US-Turkey relations.

Curiously, there is no mechanism to expel a NATO member. Under the 1980 Defence and Economic Cooperation Agreement between the US and Turkey, Incirlik is defined as an “air operations and support base” to be used for “joint defense measures” between the two countries.

The DECA expressly disallows the US from using Incirlik for its own purposes. Turkey’s approval is necessary even with regard to the use of the base by the US for NATO missions. Turkey can give three days’ notice to cancel access for the US to the Incirlik base.

The fact remains that Turkey views with suspicion the activities of the US and the NATO out of Incirlik base, from where only the Turkish Air Force stationed alongside the western forces had plotted the coup attempt.

Embittered straggler

For the present, though, Iran seems to be the odd man out. The Iranian forces and Hezbollah have to get used to a superior military power with boots on the ground in Syria. The military balance changes.

The impact on Aleppo remains to be seen. Turkey has dispatched hundreds of rebel fighters in the past week and may carve out a ‘buffer zone’ from where it can breach the siege of Aleppo.

In political and diplomatic terms, too, neither Russia nor Turkey shares Iran’s view of the Syrian conflict in terms of the ‘axis of resistance’. Turkey doesn’t seem to be interested in a regional axis to address the Kurdistan question, either, as Tehran would have hoped for.

Iran’s diplomatic options are severely limited in the absence of a constructive engagement with the US. Tehran risks getting left behind as an embittered straggler dependent on Russia’s cooperation.

Russia and Turkey are far better placed. Putin is due to meet Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Salman in Hangzhou. The Russian Deputy Foreign Minister is currently visiting Israel. As for Turkey, its alliance with Qatar is flourishing and on Wednesday Erdogan signed the decree normalizing Israel ties.

In Turkey, a Chechen Commander Makes Plans for War in Syria

September 3, 2016

by Marcin Mamon

The Intercept

Rustam Azhiyev, better known as Abdul Hakim, rarely left his apartment building in the Basaksehir district of Istanbul. Originally from Chechnya, Hakim has spent almost his entire life at war, and he is now the head of Ajnad al Kavkaz, or Soldiers of the Caucasus, the largest of the Muslim factions from the former Soviet Union fighting in Syria.

It was the fall of 2015, and I wasn’t given our meeting location until I got in the taxi in Istanbul. “Basaksehir, where the big bazaar is located,” my contact told me in Russian over the phone. “You will find it for sure.”

I was supposed to call again when I got there and then wait, apparently long enough to make sure that I wasn’t being watched.

Istanbul is like a giant waiting hall in a train station. It’s easy to remain anonymous in that constant churn of people entering and exiting the city, and that’s what jihadis intent on going to Syria have done here. Thought the exact number is hard to know, there are thousands of Chechens believed to be living in Istanbul, and even more from Central Asia, including Uzbeks, Kazakhs, and Tajiks. And some of them are on their way to Syria, where they take up arms with factions fighting the Assad regime.

In the West, relatively little attention has been paid to the Chechens traveling to Syria; they were regarded until recently as just another small ethnic group among the foreign fighters. But the June bombing of the Istanbul airport, which was blamed on a Chechen mastermind, has brought new scrutiny to fighters from the Caucasus, and other militants from the former Soviet Union crossing through Turkey.

I had first met Abdul Hakim in 2014. We had been in contact through an intermediary for months before he agreed to speak to me in person. At that time, we met in Aksaray, a neighborhood in Istanbul known for being a hub for traders and migrants from the former Soviet Union. Chechens felt comfortable there — unnoticed among Russians, Central Asians, and other foreigners.

But by the fall of 2015, when he agreed to meet again, there were more police on the streets, and the Chechens preferred to avoid the center of the city. The fighters from the former Soviet Union passing through Istanbul have taken a liking to Basaksehir, an outlying district of the city.

When the taxi driver heard, “Basaksehir please,” the response was: “It’s very far away,” as if he feared his client couldn’t afford the bill. Tourists looking for the bustle of the Grand Bazaar and the sound of the muezzin don’t come to Basaksehir, which is filled with soulless apartment blocks, straight, wide streets, and modern shopping areas. There’s little greenery, much less trees. In the summer the heat is unbearable. In winter, it is difficult to find a place sheltered from the wind and driving rain.

The bazaar where I’m told to meet Hakim’s men turned out to be an ordinary shopping center. I finally saw them from a distance — three of them — walking through the rain at a slow pace.

The Chechens and other jihadis I met in Istanbul on their way to Syria, tried to keep a low profile, but they often had a specific look: young men with mustaches and beards trimmed short, and dressed as if they were going on an outdoor adventure. Among the over two dozen such fighters I met there, I noticed a particular style: they tended to favor loose sportswear, particularly Gortex, and lightweight sports shoes, which were ideal for sun-scorched deserts or walking across rubble in the streets of Syrian cities. Their favorite clothing brands were The North Face, Columbia, and the German clothing manufacturer “Jack Wolfskin.”

Hakim’s men took me to the seventh floor in a large anonymous apartment building with a single elevator. The area was closed and monitored, with a watchman at the gate. The view from the window was of another identical-looking apartment building and a playground for children.

The apartment itself was almost entirely unfurnished: no ornaments, pictures on the walls, or even flowers in pots. In one room was a sofa and coffee table. In the second, white walls, and some cushions and rugs on the ground. The windows had no curtains, and the glass was covered with dust and sand. A few men in their early 20s milled about, all from Chechnya. For them, Abdul Hakim, who is in his mid-30s, was almost a veteran.

Like other militants I had met in Syria and Turkey, Hakim likes to dress in outdoor clothing, particularly camouflage. His right hand is missing three fingers — the results of an injury while fighting in Chechnya.

“I am an Islamist,” Hakim said with a smile, knowing this statement would make an impression. “The goal is to establish the religion of Allah, and to live according to the precepts of Allah everywhere,” not only in Chechnya.

Hakim and his colleagues are part of a new generation of fighters. They aren’t like the militia their fathers fought in during the first Chechen war, nor like the fighters from the Free Syrian Army in the first years of the civil war in Syria. Those men dressed in whatever clothing they had at hand, not Western sports brands. Their weapons were often outdated, heavily used surplus equipment discarded by a professional army. For those men, war was a temporary condition. They defended their families, homes, towns, and villages, hoping that when things died down, they would return to their former lives.

These young people, in their 20s and 30s, are already professionals. They’ve grown up with war and don’t have any other life to go back to, nor do they expect their lives will ever change. There are largely better equipped than their fathers. Most spend their savings on the best in the wartime survival equipment, clothing, and weapons. They fight frequently on foreign soil.

Many of these younger men are known as “freelancers,” waging jihad from time to time. They join different groups; internationally and locally. They set aside money for a good weapon and ammunition. When they feel tired after a few months of combat — or they get sick — they go back to families they may have left behind in Turkey. They come back and earn some money, for example, by buying and selling weapons, and then return to Syria to fight.

Hakim is indignant that jihad is treated by the West as an evil that must be destroyed. If America and Russia have the right to send troops to Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Chechnya, Georgia, and Ukraine, then why, he asks rhetorically, is it wrong to carry out jihad around the world, especially if you’re not fighting for some fleeting interest, like money? “We went for jihad to defend our land, because enemies came to us,” he said.

The first war broke out in Chechnya in 1994 when Abdul Hakim was 12 years old. “I saw everything,” he said. “I saw how our nation was murdered, and not because we were terrorists. In the first war, there was no such thing as terrorism. I saw planes bombing villages, killing men and women.”

After the first war ended, and Chechnya was nominally independent, relative calm prevailed. There were murders, kidnappings, but at least there was no war. He lived in the countryside. Like most boys his age, he liked sports, particularly those that involved fighting. Before they went to the forests to fight, many young Chechens won prizes in wrestling, judo, or karate. Most recently, mixed martial arts has become popular in Chechnya. Hakim’s younger brother, Anzor Azhiev, is now one of the most famous mixed martial arts fighters in Poland.

In 1999, the second Chechen war began and Hakim’s friends from school went into battle. For more than two months they defended Grozny, the ruined capital of Chechnya. Then they fled to the mountains. Hakim joined them in 2000. Over time, however, the ranks of these fighters melted away. By 2007, only one or two friends from Abdul Hakim’s childhood were still alive.

In August 2009, Chechen militants were preparing a military operation to kill a traitor, when an explosion severely wounded Hakim’s hand and damaged his eyesight. Hakim escaped to Istanbul, and then was essentially trapped there; he couldn’t return to the Caucasus, because the Russian government wouldn’t allow him to come back, so he went on jihad to Syria.

He is now the “emir,” or leader, of Ajnad al Kavkaz, a militant faction of about 100 men — mostly Chechens — based in the Latakia mountains in Syria.

What most worried him these days was money, and that’s why he had come to Istanbul, straight from the Syrian front. “To solve their problems,” as he put it. His fighters in Syria needed to be fed, they needed weapons and ammunition, and he had to help the families of the dead and wounded. He’s responsible for the fate of those who fight, and for those who get caught and detained by Turkish authorities on the border with Syria.

He is resentful that most of the money for jihad goes to the Islamic State, and other factions. The Chechens get nothing, he says. He complains that the Islamic humanitarian organizations accused of supporting jihad don’t help the Chechens. “They just say they will help, they will do something, but it ends always with promises,” Hakim says.

In the fall of 2015, the Russians began to bomb Syria, and Abdul Hakim went from Syria back to Turkey, hoping to raise money. He mistakenly believed that it would be easier to get support for his faction when Russia joined the conflict. He was wrong, it was just worse. There were now terrorist attacks in Istanbul, Ankara and cities near the border, and to the east, the Turks were bombing the Kurds. There were more police on the streets, and meetings in central Istanbul were no longer possible.

Like other fighters in Syria, Hakim’s faction has no weapons to defend themselves against Russian air force strikes. Hakim claims he doesn’t care; he says that back in Chechnya, fighters coped with the Russians with even less equipment.

To be hunted by the Russians was expected; but what bothers Abdul Hakim is being called “terrorists,” an allegation that was made after the battle over Idlib, where his faction fought alongside Jabhat al-Nusra, which at the time was allied with al Qaeda, Jund al-Aqsa and other militants recognized as terrorists.

He still doesn’t understand why his small faction would be labeled as terrorists; they didn’t kill women, children, or the elderly. They fight only against the army of Assad, he says. “We want to overthrow tyranny,” he said. “That’s all.”

Abdul Hakim says his aim is to liberate Chechnya. He ultimately wants the Chechens to return from Syria to the Caucasus and rise again united against Russia. That goal is difficult, however, because Russia controls the border. Leaving is not hard, but Russia does not allow suspected militants to return. The exodus of fighters from Russia to Syria has had a clear benefit for the authorities there: Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria, especially since the announcement of Islamic State, militant activity in the Caucasus has decreased by nearly half, according to one estimate. For most, the trip to Syria is one-way.

In the West, experts debate the reasons foreign fighters join the Islamic State, or other jihadi movements in Syria. For the Chechens going to Syria, the goal is clear. Hakim believes sooner or later, there will be a global war with Russia, and that this conflict will allow him a chance to regain his homeland. He recalls the words of the first president of Chechnya, Dzhokhar Dudayev, who in the mid-1990s warned that the Russians would not stop in the Caucasus. But no one would listen to him then.

“Georgians thought that they would not come. … Ukrainians thought they would not come. Europeans have only now started to think about this,” Hakim said. “We hope the Russians come for you. We will be glad if they do. But then it will be too late. Then you will begin to look for us and we will say to you, ‘There are no people of the Caucusus anymore, just international terrorists.’”

Ireland to join Apple in fight against EU tax ruling

September 2, 2016

by Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries


Ireland’s cabinet agreed on Friday to join Apple in appealing against a multi-billion-euro back tax demand that the European Commission has imposed on the iPhone maker, despite misgivings among independents who back the fragile coalition.

The Commission’s ruling this week that the U.S. tech giant must pay up to 13 billion euros ($14.5 billion) to Dublin has angered Washington, which accuses the EU of trying to grab tax revenue that should go to the U.S. government.

With transatlantic tensions rising, the White House said President Barack Obama would raise the issue of tax avoidance by some multinational corporations at a summit of the G20 leading economies in China this weekend.

Paradoxically, Ireland is determined not to accept the tax windfall, which would be equivalent to what it spent last year on funding its struggling health service.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has insisted Dublin would fight any adverse ruling ever since the European Union began investigating Apple’s Irish tax affairs in 2014, arguing that it had to protect a tax regime that has attracted large numbers of multinational employers.

On Wednesday, he failed to persuade a group of independent lawmakers, whose support is vital for the minority government, to agree to fight the ruling by European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager that Apple’s low tax arrangements in Ireland constitute illegal state aid.

However, he won them over when the cabinet met again on Friday.

Noonan said the retroactive nature of the EU ruling was “little short of bizarre and outrageous”.

“How could any foreign direct investor come into Europe if they thought the valid arrangements they made under law could be overturned a generation later and they be liable to pay back money,” he said at a news conference.

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe said Dublin stood behind its corporate tax regime as a means of creating jobs.

“This ruling has seismic and entirely negative consequences for job creation in the future,” he said.

Apple, keen to defend its own interests, has already said it will lodge an appeal. For Fine Gael, the main Irish coalition party, a broader principle is at stake. It wants to take on Brussels to safeguard Ireland’s decades-old low corporate tax policy that has drawn in multinationals such as Apple, creating one in 10 jobs in what was once an impoverished country.


The Independent Alliance, a group of five lawmakers, fell in line after the coalition agreed to conduct a review of what tax multinationals pay and what should they pay.

Transport Minister Shane Ross, an Alliance member, defended Apple up to a point. “I think they were acting legally. What they were doing was making use of extraordinary loopholes that existed there,” he told reporters. “Multinationals provide absolutely vital jobs to the economy … (but) multinationals should pay a fair rate of tax in Ireland.”

A failure of the Alliance to come on board would have cast doubt on the government’s survival prospects. Dublin has just over two months to lodge an appeal to the EU’s General Court. If that fails, Dublin has said it plans to take the case to the European Court of Justice.

The issue goes to parliament on Wednesday next week, when lawmakers will be recalled from their summer break. The main opposition party, Fianna Fail, also favors challenging Brussels, so the government should easily win the Dail’s backing to fight what is by far the largest anti-competition measure imposed on a company by the EU.

Some Irish voters are astounded that the government might turn down the money, and the left-wing Sinn Fein party has led attacks from the opposition.

Apple was found to be holding over $181 billion in accumulated profits offshore, more than any U.S. company, in a study published last year by two left-leaning nonprofit groups, a policy critics say is designed to avoid paying U.S taxes.

But Apple chief executive Tim Cook has said part of the company’s 2014 tax bill would be paid next year when the company repatriates offshore profits to the United States


The U.S. government is keen to ensure that it, and not Ireland, gets the revenue.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said leaders of the G20 developed and emerging economies would tackle the wider issue when they meet in the Chinese city of Hangzhou on Sept. 4-5.

“The president will … lead the discussion at the G20 about combating tax avoidance strategies that are implemented by some multinational corporations,” Earnest said.

“We need to find a way to make the global system of taxation more fair – more fair to countries around the world, particularly countries like the United States.”

A number of G20 governments are worried about how multinationals move profits around so they end up getting taxed in a country that has very low corporate rates.

Last year the Organisation for Economic Co Operation and Development unveiled new measures to tackle corporate tax avoidance. A number of countries have moved to implement some of them measures, but the United States has not.

It needs to change its own tax rules which, for example, allow companies to build up tax-free profits offshore. However, Congress has struggled for years to agree such reforms.

($1 = 0.8937 euros)

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton and Tom Bergin)

North Dakota pipeline protest turns violent after cultural sites destroyed

Tribal officials say at least 30 people were pepper-sprayed after confronting construction crews for destroying burial and cultural sites near a reservation

September 4, 2016


Bismarck, North Dakota-A protest against a four-state, $3.8bn oil pipeline turned violent after tribal officials say construction crews destroyed American Indian burial and cultural sites on private land in southern North Dakota.

Morton County sheriff’s office spokeswoman Donnell Preskey said four private security guards and two guard dogs were injured after several hundred protesters confronted construction crews on Saturday afternoon at the site just outside the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

One of the security officers was taken to a Bismarck hospital for undisclosed injuries. The two guard dogs were taken to a Bismarck veterinary clinic, Preskey said.

Tribe spokesman Steve Sitting Bear said protesters reported that six people had been bitten by security dogs, including a young child. At least 30 people were pepper-sprayed, he said. Preskey said law enforcement authorities had no reports of protesters being injured.

There were no law enforcement personnel at the site when the incident occurred, Preskey said. The crowd dispersed when officers arrived and no one was arrested, she said.

The incident occurred within half a mile of an encampment where hundreds of people have gathered to join the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s protest of the oil pipeline that is slated to cross the Missouri River nearby.

The tribe is challenging the army corps of engineers’ decision to grant permits for Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners’ Dakota Access pipeline, which crosses the Dakotas and Iowa to Illinois, including near the reservation in southern North Dakota. A federal judge will rule before 9 September whether construction can be halted on the Dakota Access pipeline.

Energy Transfer Partners did not return phone calls and emails seeking comment.

The tribe fears the project will disturb sacred sites and impact drinking water for thousands of tribal members on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and millions farther downstream.

The protest on Saturday came one day after the tribe filed court papers saying it found several sites of “significant cultural and historic value” along the path of the proposed pipeline.

Tribal preservation officer Tim Mentz said in court documents that the tribe was only recently allowed to survey private land north of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. Mentz said researchers found burials rock piles called cairns and other sites of historic significance to Native Americans.

Standing Rock Sioux chairman David Archambault II said in a statement that construction crews removed topsoil across an area about 150ft wide stretching for two miles.

“This demolition is devastating,” Archambault said. “These grounds are the resting places of our ancestors. The ancient cairns and stone prayer rings there cannot be replaced. In one day, our sacred land has been turned into hollow ground.”

Preskey said the company filmed the confrontation by helicopter and turned the video over to authorities. Protesters also have posted some of the confrontation on social media.

Morton County sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said in a statement that “individuals crossed on to private property and accosted private security officers with wooden posts and flag poles”.

“Any suggestion that today’s event was a peaceful protest, is false,” his statement said.




























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