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TBR News December 17, 2017

Dec 17 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., December 17, 2017: “With the ongoing collapse of the American print and television media, the bulk of the population gets its free news from the Internet. This entity does indeed carry very important, accurate and informative material but it is also home to a legion of the unbalanced on the one hand and a massive amount of professional government propaganda on the other. Faked news ranges from the believable to the childish. And note that as well as government paid hack agencies, designed to spread official lies and disinformation, we have the conspiracy lunatics that pontificate endlessly on evil plots coupled with their own inaccurate and often poisonous inventions. It is not a secret in many circles that the CIA ran Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty out of their offices on the English Garden in Munich. These cost the American public millions of dollars that could have been spent elsewhere to better effect and they had no influence on their target audience. The CIA also had, has, a strong influence at ZDF, the German television network and news from any of these sources ought to be treated with utmost caution and skepticism. It is obvious that US allies are always praised for their kindness and forward-thinking actions. We love the wonderful Saudis who sell us oil and who started and financed the evil IS people and we equally fawn upon an Israel that steals land from the legitimate Arab owners and shoots very dead any of the ousted inhabitants who dare to object. If both Israel and Saudi Arabia vanished from the face of the earth due to some laudable action of God or more direct actions of Hezbollah, peace and quiet would descend on the tormented Middle East within a week.”

 

Table of Contents

  • NYT Prints Government-Funded Propaganda About Government-Funded Propaganda
  • More people than ever are defaulting on student loans — and it could put the US economy at risk
  • Erdogan says Turkey aims to open embassy in East Jerusalem
  • J20 Defendants Await Verdict in First Test of Government Attempt to Criminalize Protest Group as a Whole
  • WikiLeaks recognised as a ‘media organisation’ by UK tribunal
  • How long can Europe survive without Russian gas?
  • US wants to bury Russian gas pipeline project & force-feed its own LNG to Europe – PM Medvedev
  • Russia’s Vladimir Putin thanks Donald Trump for helping foil terror attack: Kremlin
  • How Trump can get tough on Ukraine corruption
  • The year is 2037. This is what happens when the hurricane hits Miami
  • New Greenland maps show more glaciers at risk

 

 

NYT Prints Government-Funded Propaganda About Government-Funded Propaganda

December 13, 2017

by Adam Johnson

fair.org

An op-ed by the president of the right-wing human rights group Freedom House, published in the New York Times Monday (12/11/17)—later boosted by New York Times chief White House correspondent Peter Baker—warned of the menace of “commentators, trolls, bots, false news sites and propaganda,” and their negative effects on democracy. Missing from its analysis was any account of how the government that funds their organization—86 percent of Freedom House’s budget comes from the US government, primarily the State Department and USAID—uses social media to stir unrest and undermine governments worldwide.

What the reader was left with was a very selective, curated impression that online social media manipulation is something done exclusively by brown and black people and those dastardly Slavs. The column condemns “surreptitious techniques pioneered in Moscow and Beijing to use the internet to drown out dissent and undermine free elections,” going on to cite online skullduggery in the Philippines, Kenya, Turkey, Mexico and Iran.

Missing from the piece by Freedom House’s Michael Abramowitz is any mention—much less discussion—of numerous reports detailing online manipulation by US and allied governments and Western PR firms.

No mention of the Defense Department’s $100 million program Operation Earnest Voice software that “creates fake online identities to spread pro-American propaganda.” No mention of the US Air Force’s 2010 solicitation of “persona management” software designed to create hundreds of sock puppets, “replete with background, history, supporting details and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographically consistent.” No mention of USAID (the same government agency, incidentally, that funds Freedom House) secretly creating an entire social media platform to “stir unrest” in Cuba. No mention of the US State Department’s newly-created $160 million Global Engagement Center, targeting English-language audiences with unattributed Facebook videos combating, in part, “Russia propaganda.”

Nor was there mention of the UK’s “team of Facebook warriors,” “skilled in psychological operations and use of social media to engage in unconventional warfare in the information age.” Or reference to the half-dozen reports of Israeli troll farms promoting pro-Israel propaganda online.

Though the op-ed had a particular focus on “governing parties” using covert online tools to “inflate their popular support and essentially endorse themselves”—warning that this “devastating new threat to democracy” is used to “undermine elections, political debate and virtually every other aspect of governing”—there was no acknowledgement of the fact that the Hillary Clinton campaign spent $1 million in the 2016 primary to promote its candidate using unattributed social media personas. Nor was there mention of a torrent of pro-Trump bots that infected the 2016 campaign on social media.

None of this merits mention, much less investigation. Instead, the piece primarily consists of little insight or larger discussion as to the scope of the problem. “The United States and other democracies” are positioned as the victims of online manipulation, never its author. Amidst platitudes about “the future of democracy” and “malevolent actors,” the West’s place as noble defenders of Real Information online is simply taken for granted, with, by implication, their ideological satellites—like Freedom House—as neutral arbiters of what is and isn’t propaganda, never practitioners of propaganda themselves.

The US Department of Defense admitted in 2011 that it runs fake social media accounts in Farsi; the vast majority of Farsi speakers live in Iran. What were these accounts doing? Did they influence any elections there? Does Freedom House ask the question, much less attempt to answer it? Of course not; Iran can only be guilty of “[manipulating] discussions…on social media,” never the victim of it.

Should the New York Times have disclosed that the author of a piece about government propaganda runs a group overwhelmingly funded by the US government? The reader could theoretically do research on their own time to find out who backs the benign-sounding “Freedom House” (who doesn’t love freedom?), but this is a fairly tall order for the average media consumer, doubly so when one considers the whole point of the piece is criticizing unattributed propaganda.

Also missing from Freedom House’s cartoon narrative of Good Western Democracies vs. Bad Governments in the Global South is the issue of sophistication. One of the reasons groups like Freedom House know about clandestine attempts by these governments and affiliated parties to influence online messaging is they’re mostly bad at it. Hacky, easily identifiable bots, sloppy knock-off websites, transparent “fake news.” The software solicited by the US Air Force in 2010, which would allow each user to control up to ten social media personas at once “without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries,” would presumably be much more difficult to detect.

Social media manipulation is a major problem in urgent need of robust discussion. But outlets like the New York Times—and others, such as Buzzfeed—that focus only on attempts by Official US Enemies, and never direct any criticism inwards, aren’t concerned with having an earnest discussion of the problem. They are, instead, using the specter of online manipulation to smear those in bad standing with the US State Department while deflecting any conversation about what the most powerful country in the history of the world may be up to online.

 

More people than ever are defaulting on student loans — and it could put the US economy at risk

December 14, 2017

by Matthew Michaels

Business Insider

Almost 5 million student loans have gone unpaid for a significant amount of time.

Federal and private loans are going into default, making it harder for loan holders to establish credit or buy cars and homes.

The federal government is on the hook for the money if defaulters can’t pay.

Approximately 4.6 million Americans have defaulted on federal student loans, according to The Wall Street Journal.

This figure includes an increase of 274,000 people over the last three months. At the end of the third quarter of the fiscal year, these nearly 5 million defaulters represent 22% of all Americans who were required to pay federal student loans.

When a debt hasn’t been paid for 90 days after a scheduled payment, the loan is considered delinquent. If delinquency continues, a loan is at risk of going into default, usually after about 270 days for federal loans. The Wall Street Journal reported defaulted student loans last quarter totaled $84 billion.

In addition to former students with federal loan payments, many are repaying private student loans or a combination of both. Those in debt from private loans typically have fewer avenues for forgiveness or repayment.

Letting a loan go into default has personal consequences — and economic ones

Personal consequences of defaulting on a loan are numerous and cumbersome. Federal Student Aid — an office of the Department of Education — lists penalties defaulters face including:

  • acceleration of interest payments
  • loss of eligibility for deferments or a repayment plan
  • lack of access to additional federal student aid
  • restricted access on your academic transcript
  • garnished wages
  • inability to buy or sell assets

Defaulting, especially on the scale of $84 billion, can also have repercussions for the entire economy. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has researched how student debt has depressed home purchasing by young adults, and found that as much as 35% of the decline in home ownership of people in their late 20s can be attributed to student loans. Defaults make it harder to take out credit or even own a credit card, stifling additional economic activity.

Even with a strong national economy and a low unemployment rate, loan defaults can weigh down the entire country. Permanently defaulted loans are ultimately the burden of taxpayers, and the federal budget will pay out if the loan program continues to lack revenue.

The US Department of Education announced on Monday that it would not be cancelling the debt of thousands of students who were victims of fraud by for-profit colleges. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has previously mentioned plans to scale down federal loan forgiveness presented by the Obama administration.

 

Erdogan says Turkey aims to open embassy in East Jerusalem

December 17, 2017

Reuters

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey intends to open an embassy in East Jerusalem, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday, days after leading calls at a summit of Muslim leaders for the world to recognize it as the capital of Palestine.

It was not clear how he would carry out the move, as Israel controls all of Jerusalem and calls the city its indivisible capital. Palestinians want the capital of a future state they seek to be in East Jerusalem, which Israel took in a 1967 war and later annexed in a move not recognized internationally.

The Muslim nation summit was a response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s Dec. 6 decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. His move broke with decades of U.S. policy and international consensus that the city’s status must be left to Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Erdogan said in a speech to members of his AK Party in the southern province of Karaman that Turkey’s consulate general in Jerusalem was already represented by an ambassador.

“God willing, the day is close when officially, with God’s permission, we will open our embassy there,” Erdogan said.

Jerusalem, revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, is home to Islam’s third holiest shrine as well as Judaism’s Western Wall – both in the eastern sector – and has been at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades.

Foreign embassies in Israel, including Turkey‘s, are located in Tel Aviv, reflecting Jerusalem’s unresolved status.

A communique issued after Wednesday’s summit of more than 50 Muslim countries, including U.S. allies, said they considered Trump’s move to be a declaration that Washington was withdrawing from its role “as sponsor of peace” in the Middle East.

Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Mark Heinrich

 

J20 Defendants Await Verdict in First Test of Government Attempt to Criminalize Protest Group as a Whole

December 17 2017

by Sam Adler-Bell

The Intercept

It’s been a bleak year for the 194 protestors, medics, and journalists facing multiple felony charges stemming from their arrest surrounding Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration on January 20, 2017. Vilified by much of the mainstream press and largely ignored by the liberal “Resistance” movement, the J20 defendants — as they’re collectively known — have huddled around each other and their tight network of supporters. On Friday, a jury began deliberations in the first J20 trial, of six defendants, on a raft of counts; a verdict could come as soon as Monday. Last Wednesday, however, there was a rare glimmer of hope: Before closing arguments, Judge Lynn Leibovitz of the D.C. Superior Court threw out the “inciting a riot” charge, a felony with a maximum ten year sentence.

Despite throwing out the incitement charges, Leibovitz declined to acquit the defendants on seven other charges, including five counts of felony property destruction, misdemeanor rioting, and misdemeanor conspiracy to riot. Those charges together carry a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison.

“It’s been a long month for these six defendants and their supporters,” said Sam Menefee-Libey of the Dead City Legal Posse, a group that organizes support and advocates for the J20 defendants. “We’re nervous, obviously, but we’re resolute. And the feeling of solidarity amongst everyone is powerful.”

What the acquittal means for the remaining 188 defendants is not yet clear. Prosecutors may have stronger evidence of incitement against other protestors, especially those who planned the action or who issued directions during the march. (Some of the organizers will go on trial early next year.) But this first failure is indicative of a larger problem with the government’s case: a lack of individualized evidence against the majority of those arrested.

Leibovitz’s unusual decision to grant the defense’s motion for a judgment of acquittal is a testament to the paltriness of the prosecution’s case for “incitement.” Such motions are practically a formality in criminal proceedings; judges almost always defer to the jury to decide on the sufficiency of the facts. In this case, Leibovitz concluded that “no reasonable juror” could find the prosecution’s evidence sufficient to establish the charge of incitement. “None of [the defendants] engaged in conduct that amounted to urging others,” Leibovitz said.

The prosecution’s case is built around hours upon hours of video captured by police body cameras, reporters, undercover cops, confiscated cellphones, and far-right groups, such as the media provocateurs of Project Veritas and the Oath Keepers militia. One of the defendants, independent journalist Alexei Wood, had his live-stream of the event used as evidence against himself and his co-defendants. In his video, Wood can be heard cheering while others graffiti walls and break windows. On Wednesday, Leibovitz decided that cheering isn’t enough to establish incitement. “Personal enthusiasm for the destruction,” Leibovitz said, “is qualitatively different from urging others to destroy.”

Only a tiny fraction of those arrested on January 20 could have personally engaged in acts of property destruction. The prosecution doesn’t dispute this fact. “We don’t believe the evidence is going to show that any of these six individuals personally took that crowbar or that hammer and hit the limo or personally bashed those windows of that Starbucks in,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff told the jury in her opening statement on November 20. “You don’t personally have to be the one that breaks the window to be guilty of rioting.”

Though it sometimes gets lost amid breathless reporting on masked anarchists, shattered glass, and burning limos, the real story of J20 is one of the state attempting to imprison almost two hundred people for criminal acts committed by a handful. The prosecution’s novel theory of group liability — in which anyone in proximity to criminal behavior during a protest can be held liable for those crimes — is a grave threat to the First Amendment, the right to assemble, and the right to protest, according to civil rights advocates. “The prosecution’s case is utterly bizarre and essentially rests on both guilt by association and criminalization of dissent,” said Chip Gibbons, the policy and legislative counsel for Defending Rights and Dissent.

Unable to marshal sufficient evidence against each individual arrested on January 20, the government has opted instead to criminalize the group as whole. “It’s the group that’s the danger,” Kerkhoff, the prosecutor, explained at a hearing in July, “the group that’s criminal.” In so doing, the government has criminalized the very things that constitute the march as a march: aesthetic unity, chanting anti-capitalist slogans, and moving together through the street — all of which are protected First Amendment activity.

The prosecution, of course, doesn’t see it that way. “We’ve been here for the last several weeks because these six defendants and their co-conspirators agreed to destroy your city,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Rizwan Qureshi at the trial. “And now they’re hiding behind the First Amendment.”

Despite being a positive development for the defendants in question, Leibovitz’s decision to dismiss the incitement charge leaves the state’s theory of liability largely intact. The prosecution has argued that by wearing black, meeting at a predefined location, moving as a cohesive unit, and remaining in the streets after property destruction began, the entire group aided and abetted the tiny fraction who smashed windows and turned over trash bins. In his closing argument Thursday, Qureshi likened the black bloc — the protest tactic used on January 20 — to a driver who waits outside while the “muscle” commits a robbery. “That’s exactly what this sea of black was,” he intoned. “It was the getaway car.”

“The J20 cases are unique in that many of the core issues are not centered around factual disputes,” Gibbons, the counsel for Defending Rights and Dissent, told The Intercept. The prosecution and defense agree on the essential facts: Property damage took place on January 20 and only a few people — none of whom stood trial last week — actually broke anything. “The dispute,” Gibbons said, “comes down to what the First Amendment does or doesn’t protect.”

In a jury trial, it’s up to judges to rule on the law and juries to rule on facts. But Leibovitz has so far declined to take up the defense’s constitutional challenges. In denying a defense motion to dismiss the charges in September, Leibovitz declared that she is constrained by the Supreme Court’s 1968 ruling in United States vs Matthews, which upheld the constitutionality of the D.C. Riot statute. So long as a defendant “willfully associates” with an “assemblage” causing or threatening tumult and violence, the court found in the Matthews case, they can be charged with rioting. (That ruling, I reported elsewhere, was based on a racially inflected distinction between rioting and legitimate protest.)

When, on Wednesday, defense attorney Jamie Heine reminded Leibovitz that wearing black and marching with a group of anarchists are both protected First Amendment activity, Leibovitz replied, with exasperation, “I’m really asking you to focus in on the facts, not just to state constitutional principles.” In a heated exchange over jury instructions, Leibovitz told the defense, not incorrectly, that it’s not the jury’s responsibility to “decide what the First Amendment allows and what it prohibits.” She added, “What they must decide is whether the defendants have committed the offenses charged.”

Meanwhile, many of the facts on which the prosecution bases its case are themselves absurd. “What do you need a medic with gauze for?” Qureshi asked of Brittne Lawson, an oncology nurse from Pittsburgh who attended the protest as a medic. “I thought this was a protest.” While organized medical volunteers have attended protests from the Arab Spring, to Occupy Wall Street, to Standing Rock, to Charlottesville, Qureshi saw something sinister in Lawson’s bag of medical supplies, which were entered into evidence.

“She wasn’t prepared for a march or a protest. She was prepared for war,” said Qureshi. “She was going to be there to help members who are in black, who get pepper-sprayed, who get hurt because they’re provoking the police, to mend them and then get them up on their way so they can continue their destruction.” (The nurses’ code of ethics binds registered nurses to serve all their patients regardless of the unique circumstances and maintains that treatment is not tantamount to endorsement.)

In an effort to impugn photojournalist Alexei Wood’s intentions at the march, Qureshi also questioned why a self-declared journalist would be knowledgeable about protest policing. “How is he an up-and-coming journalist and he’s talking about a kettle?” he asked, with folksy incredulity. “I didn’t know what a kettle was before this case. Did you?” (The admission was remarkable from a prosecutor representing the District of Columbia, which has settled numerous expensive class action lawsuits against protestors illegally kettled by its police department.)

The defense, too, is constrained by the Matthews precedent, trapped in the bizarro world of the government’s theory of group liability. Defense attorneys have spoken to the core First Amendment principles at stake in the case, but they’ve also spent time in court introducing doubt about whether their clients willfully associated with the so-called riot. Did they know there were windows breaking? Did they stay with the group the whole time? Did they wear black for tactical or purely aesthetic reasons? It is a sound legal strategy, given the circumstances, and thanks to the meagerness of the state’s evidence, Chip Gibbons of Defending Rights and Dissent told me, it may be enough to exonerate their clients.

One can’t help feeling that all this quibbling is beside the point. By allowing this prosecution to proceed, Leibovitz has implied that it’s acceptable for the police to indiscriminately mass arrest protestors without individualized probable cause, then proceed to prosecute them for in connection with criminal activity they themselves did not commit.

In a sense, the defendants have already been sentenced, to months if not years of waiting and wondering, shuttling back and forth between their homes and Washington for hearings. They’ve been sentenced to sleepless nights and anxious days, to threats of violence and doxing from far-right extremists. Some have lost jobs and strained relationships.

Brittne Lawson, the nurse, was forced to quit her job at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to deal with her charges. Rosa Roncales, a Henrico County, Virginia. firefighter, was reassigned to desk duty. Elizabeth Lagesse, a former graduate student, has put her life on hold and moved to D.C. to mitigate the costs of travel from her former home in Baltimore. At a press conference in November, Lagesse said that whether or not the prosecution’s case stands up in court, a “punishment has already been delivered.” It was, she said, “the stress, the disruption in their lives.” These consequences are “doing a lot of the job of suppressing speech, of suppressing dissent, of contaminating these people.”

Even if the jury somehow found the prosecution’s evidence sufficient, there may be a remaining source of hope for the defendants. Though jurors will be instructed to rule narrowly on the facts—not on the consequences the defendants may face or the constitutionality of the law — they’re ultimately empowered to decide on the basis of their values. When a jury encounters a plainly unjust law, it is their right to nullify the verdict, whether or not the facts of the case meet the offense charged.

“It’s a travesty this case ever made it to a jury,” said Menefee-Libey of the DC Legal Posse. “For now, all we can do is keep up the fight, no matter what happens. We’ll keep fighting until all of us are free.”

 

WikiLeaks recognised as a ‘media organisation’ by UK tribunal

Definition by the UK information tribunal may assist in Julian Assange’s defence against US extradition on grounds of press freedom

December 14, 2017

by Ewen MacAskill Defence correspondent

The Guardian

A British tribunal has recognised Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks as a “media organisation”, a point of contention with the United States, which is seeking to prosecute him and disputes his journalistic credentials.

The issue of whether Assange is a journalist and publisher would almost certainly be one of the main battlegrounds in the event of the US seeking his extradition from the UK.

The definition of WikiLeaks by the information tribunal, which is roughly equivalent to a court, could help Assange’s defence against extradition on press freedom grounds.

The US has been considering prosecution of Assange since 2010 when WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of confidential US defence and diplomatic documents. US attorney general Jeff Sessions said in April this year that the arrest of Assange is a priority for the US.

The director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, after leaks of emails from the US Democratic party and from Hillary Clinton, described WikiLeaks as “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia”. He added Assange is not covered by the US constitution, which protects journalists.

But the UK’s information tribunal, headed by judge Andrew Bartlett QC, in a summary and ruling published on Thursday on a freedom of information case, says explicitly: “WikiLeaks is a media organisation which publishes and comments upon censored or restricted official materials involving war, surveillance or corruption, which are leaked to it in a variety of different circumstances.”

The comment is made under a heading that says simply: “Facts”.

Assange remains holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he has been granted diplomatic asylum.

The tribunal’s definition of WikiLeaks comes in the 21-page summary into a freedom of information case heard in London in November. An Italian journalist, Stefania Maurizi, is seeking the release of documents relating to Assange, mainly in regard to extradition, and had lodged an appeal with the tribunal.

While the tribunal dismissed her appeal, it acknowledged there issues weighing in favour of public disclosure in relation to Assange. But it added these were outweighed by a need for confidentiality on the matter of extradition.

The UK Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the US justice department have refused to confirm or deny whether they have discussed extradition of Assange.

Maurizi, likely to take her appeal to a higher tribunal, welcomed Bartlett’s acceptance of WikiLeaks as a media organisation but argued the tribunal should have gone a step further by pushing the CPS to confirm whether the US has lodged an extradition request.

“If such a request were made, the UK would not be assisting the US to extradite a narco, a mafia boss, or a drug kingpin. It would being assisting the US to extradite a media publisher to prosecute him and his media organisation for their publications,” she said.

The tribunal also looked at the destruction by the CPS of emails relating to Assange. It said the deletion took place when a CPS lawyer retired and it had been believed all significant case papers were collated separately from his email account.

The tribunal said: “We conclude that there was nothing untoward in the deletion of the email account.”

Maurizi had put in FOI requests for information relating to communications between the UK and Sweden, where prosecutors were investigating sexual assault allegations against Assange which have since been dropped. Supporters of Assange feared that if he want to Sweden, the US would seek to extradite him from there.

Maurizi also pressed for disclosure of any communications by the CPS and the US to extradite Assange directly from the UK.

Estelle Dehon, who specialises in freedom of information and who represented Maurizi at the tribunal, said that while disappointed with the overall ruling, she welcomed some of the findings.

“Progress has been made because the tribunal accepted that the circumstances of the case raise issues of human rights and press freedom and also agreed that there is a significant public interest in disclosing the information, in particular to increase understanding of how the CPS handled the extradition process and its relationship with a foreign prosecuting authority, “ Dehon said.

 

 

How long can Europe survive without Russian gas?

December 16, 2017

RT

If Russian natural gas exports to Italy stop, the country will have only 15 days before an emergency situation, according to La Stampa. What is the scale of European dependence on the Russian gas? Can the US replace it?

“In Italy, the share of Russian gas imports is about 37 percent. In Germany, it is slightly less, about 28 percent. German companies can really do without Russian gas for a week longer than Italy,” Petr Pushkarev, Chief Analyst at TeleTrade told RT.com.

The question was first raised in La Stampa following the fatal explosion at the Austrian gas facility on Tuesday, which severely disrupted gas supplies in Europe.

Other countries in Europe are even more dependent on Russian gas than Italy or Germany, and will last even less than Italy’s two weeks, the analyst said.

“Dependence of Slovenia, Greece, and Hungary is at a level of 41 to 45 percent. Without gas from Russia, they will face a strong energy deficit in about 10 days,” Pushkarev said.

Czech Republic, Slovakia, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia are close to being almost 100 percent dependent on Russian gas, the analyst added.

The European Union has been working to unite gas pipelines from Europe, Asia, and Africa into the Trans-European Networks (TEN) to provide safe and secure supplies of gas to the continent, said Ivan Karyakin, investment analyst at Global FX.

The same strategy is followed by Russia’s Gazprom, which despite being a traditional supplier of pipeline gas to Europe has been developing liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities.

Europe is divided on the issue. Supporters of Russian gas in the EU are Austria, Hungary, Germany, and the opponents are the countries of Northern Europe, the Baltic States and some countries in the south.

If Gazprom implements all its pipeline projects, then the pipeline gas from Russia will firmly take its place in the energy system of Europe. Then, it will compete with LNG from the United States and Qatar, and the Russian gas has more chances to offer better prices,” Karyakin told RT.

This is why the new package of sanctions against Iran, North Korea, and Russia include sanctions against Russian gas supplies to Europe, the analyst stressed. In this case, Iran and North Korea are just a there to thwart the Russian Nord Stream 2 and other natural gas projects.

“Brussels surely understands that replacing the Russian pipeline gas with American LNG does not increase, but reduces the energy security of the EU. Most likely, it will not give up cooperation with Gazprom. But Gazprom will have to suffer, too, because of the sanctions and the US pressure. The whole struggle is ahead,” Karyakin said.

According to Pushkarev, developing LNG supplies from Qatar and the US is important for Europe, but only to have alternatives in case of an emergency like in Austria.

“LNG is expensive. It will cost consumers 50-70 percent more than pipeline gas, and it is simply not required in large volumes in the absence of technical problems. Therefore, Washington has zero chance to oust Russia from the European gas market,” Pushkarev said. This is why the US is putting pressure on Europe, he added.

Over the past year, the US has increased LNG supplies to Europe. However, it now has only six percent of European LNG imports, which doesn’t take into account natural gas supplies through pipelines.

Royal Dutch Shell and BP have confirmed Russia would continue to be Europe’s top gas supplier at least through 2035. The Russian share of the European gas market increased to 34 percent last year, according to Gazprom.

 

US wants to bury Russian gas pipeline project & force-feed its own LNG to Europe – PM Medvedev

September 21, 2017

RT

Washington intends to stop the construction of the extension of the Nord Stream pipeline from Russia to Germany, and become Europe’s key gas supplier, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned on Thursday.

The most pragmatic position is the position of the United States of America, which wants to bury this project with all sorts of legal decisions, instruments, sanctions, having an unambiguous impact on the European Union,” Medvedev said at a meeting with Finnish counterpart Juha Sipila.

Such pragmatism can be explained by the interests of the US Congress to force-feed American gas to Europe, ousting Russia, Medvedev said.

He said that Finland has taken a “very constructive position regarding Nord Stream 2,” by regarding it as a commercial project.

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline will double the delivery capacity of the existing Nord Stream pipeline from the current 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year. The pipeline has faced fierce opposition from the Baltic States and Poland.

Last month, the United States introduced a new round of restrictions on the Russian banking and energy sectors.

Washington is interested in increasing its share in the European gas market by delivering liquified natural gas (LNG).

Over the last year, the US has increased LNG supplies to Europe. However, it now has only six percent of European LNG imports, which doesn’t take into account natural gas supplies through pipelines.

According to Gazprom Russia had a 34 percent share of the European gas market last year.

 

Russia’s Vladimir Putin thanks Donald Trump for helping foil terror attack: Kremlin

Russia’s Vladimir Putin has thanked his US counterpart Donald Trump for giving intelligence to Russia’s security body on a terror cell in Russia, the Kremlin says. It is the second time they have spoken since Thursday.

December 17, 2017

DW

The White House on Sunday confirmed media reports from Russia that US President Donald Trump had spoken to Russia’s Vladimir Putin on Sunday.

It followed reports by Russia’s state news agency TASS that Putin had called Trump to thank him and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for providing information that helped thwart a planned attack by “Islamic State” (IS) assailants on St. Petersburg.

“The Russian president thanked his American colleague for the information passed on by the Central Intelligence Agency, which helped detain a group of terrorists preparing explosions in St. Petersburg’s Kazansky Cathedral and other busy sites in the city,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

According to Russian media, Putin also reassured Trump that Russia’s intelligence service would transmit any information pertaining to the attacks on the US to the White House, as it had done in the past.

Sunday’s call was the second time Trump and Putin had spoken in just four days. On Thursday, the White House said Trump and the Russian president had discussed ways to work together in addressing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Relations between Russia and the US remain tense. While Trump and Putin are believed to get along well, the FBI and an intelligence committee set up by the House of Representatives continue to investigate allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign team and Kremlin officials in the run-up to last year’s US presidential election.

Russia on high alert going into 2018

On Friday, Russia’s FSB security service said it had arrested seven members of an Islamist terror group planning “the killing of citizens” in a series of suicide attacks in Russia’s second city on December 16.

Among the targets was the city’s famous Kazansky Cathedral, a popular tourist site.

Police raided a St. Petersburg apartment where they uncovered a “large number of explosives used to make homemade bombs, automatic rifles, munitions and extremist literature,” the FSB said in a statement.

The arrests followed warnings raised by FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov, who said Russia was on high alert for the return of jihadis from Syria. Next year will be a crucial one for Russia, with the country having its presidential election in March, before hosting the FIFA World Cup in the summer.

Friday’s arrests were also reminiscent of last April’s terrorist attack in St. Petersburg, in which 15 people were killed in an explosion on a metro train. The assailant was identified as a 22-year old Kyrgyz-born man, although no group has claimed responsibility for the incident.

 

How Trump can get tough on Ukraine corruption

December 12, 2017

by Josh Cohen

Reuters

Ukraine’s Western allies may finally have run out of patience with Kiev’s unwillingness to fight the country’s endemic corruption. The United States, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund have all criticized the recent undermining of an independent corruption investigation by Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office – an organization itself accused of rampant fraud.

“Recent events – including the disruption of a high-level corruption investigation, the arrest of officials from the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), and the seizure of sensitive NABU files – raise concerns about Ukraine’s commitment to fighting corruption,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement on Dec. 4. “These actions undermine public trust and risk eroding international support for Ukraine.” The EU and the IMF expressed similar concerns.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is right to react angrily to the attacks on NABU. The agency was established with American support, and Washington has assigned FBI agents to NABU to help train its agents. To see the PGO undermine the FBI by leaking the names of NABU undercover agents – potentially putting them in danger – represents nothing less than Kiev sticking an ungrateful finger in America’s eye.

The war on NABU is simply the latest step by Ukraine’s corrupt old guard to destroy reformers’ anti-corruption accomplishments. That old guard also undermines other Ukrainian anti-corruption institutions created with Western support, as well as a law requiring all public officials to file a declaration disclosing their assets.

 

The year is 2037. This is what happens when the hurricane hits Miami

The climate is warming and the water is rising. In his new book, Jeff Goodell argues that sea-level rise will reshape our world in ways we can only begin to imagine

December 17, 2017

by Jeff Goodell

The Guardian

After the hurricane hit Miami in 2037, a foot of sand covered the famous bow-tie floor in the lobby of the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. A dead manatee floated in the pool where Elvis had once swum. Most of the damage came not from the hurricane’s 175-mile-an-hour winds, but from the twenty-foot storm surge that overwhelmed the low-lying city.

In South Beach, historic Art Deco buildings were swept off their foundations. Mansions on Star Island were flooded up to their cut-glass doorknobs. A seventeen-mile stretch of Highway A1A that ran along the famous beaches up to Fort Lauderdale disappeared into the Atlantic. The storm knocked out the wastewater-treatment plant on Virginia Key, forcing the city to dump hundreds of millions of gallons of raw sewage into Biscayne Bay.

Tampons and condoms littered the beaches, and the stench of human excrement stoked fears of cholera. More than three hundred people died, many of them swept away by the surging waters that submerged much of Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale; thirteen people were killed in traffic accidents as they scrambled to escape the city after the news spread—falsely, it turned out—that one of the nuclear reactors at Turkey Point, an aging power plant twenty-four miles south of Miami, had been destroyed by the surge and had sent a radioactive cloud floating over the city.

The president, of course, said that Miami would be back, that Americans did not give up, that the city would be rebuilt better and stronger than it had been before. But it was clear to those not fooling themselves that this storm was the beginning of the end of Miami as a booming twenty-first-century city.

All big hurricanes are disastrous. But this one was unexpectedly bad. With sea levels more than a foot higher than they’d been at the dawn of the century, much of South Florida was wet and vulnerable even before the storm hit.

Because of the higher water, the storm surge pushed deeper into the region than anyone had imagined it could, flowing up drainage canals and flooding homes and strip malls several miles from the coast. Despite newly elevated runways, Miami International Airport was shut down for ten days. Salt water shorted out underground electrical wiring, leaving parts of Miami-Dade County dark for weeks.

Municipal drinking-water wells were contaminated with salt water. In soggy neighborhoods, mosquitoes carrying Zika and dengue fever viruses hatched (injecting male mosquitoes with the Wolbachia bacteria, which public health officials had once hoped would inhibit the mosquitoes’ ability to transmit the viruses, had failed when the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry the diseases developed immunity to the bacteria).

In Homestead, a low-lying working-class city in southern Miami-Dade County which had been flattened by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, thousands of abandoned homes were bulldozed because they were deemed a public health hazard. In Miami Shores, developers approached city officials with proposals to buy out entire blocks of waterlogged apartments, then dredge the streets and turn them into canals lined with houseboats. But financing for these projects always fell through.

Before the storm hit, damage from rising seas had already pushed city and county budgets to the brink. State and federal money was scarce too, in part because Miami was seen by many Americans as a rich, self-indulgent city that had ignored decades of warnings about building too close to the water. Attempts had been made to armor the shore with seawalls and elevate buildings, but only a small percentage of the richest property owners took protective action. The beaches were mostly gone too.

The Feds decided they couldn’t afford to spend $100 million every few years to pump in fresh sand, and without replenishment, the ever-higher tides carried the beaches away.

By the late 2020s, the only beaches that remained were privately maintained oases of sand in front of expensive hotels. The hurricane took care of those, leaving the hotels and condo towers perched on limestone crags. Tourists disappeared.

After the hurricane, the city became a mecca for slumlords, spiritual healers, and lawyers. In the parts of the county that were still inhabitable, only the wealthiest could afford to insure their homes. Mortgages were nearly impossible to get, mostly because banks didn’t believe the homes would be there in thirty years.

Still, the waters kept rising, nearly a foot each decade. Each big storm devoured more of the coastline, pushing the water deeper and deeper into the city. The skyscrapers that had gone up during the boom years were gradually abandoned and used as staging grounds for drug runners and exotic-animal traffickers. Crocodiles nested in the ruins of the Frost Museum of Science. Still, the waters kept rising.

By the end of the twenty-first century, Miami became something else entirely: a popular diving spot where people could swim among sharks and barnacled SUVs and explore the wreckage of a great American city.

That is, of course, merely one possible vision of the future. There are brighter ways to imagine it—and darker ways. But I am a journalist, not a Hollywood screenwriter. In this book, I want to tell a true story about the future we are creating for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren. It begins with this: the climate is warming, the world’s great ice sheets are melting, and the water is rising. This is not a speculative idea, or the hypothesis of a few wacky scientists, or a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. Sea-level rise is one of the central facts of our time, as real as gravity. It will reshape our world in ways most of us can only dimly imagine.

My own interest in this story began with an actual hurricane. Shortly after Hurricane Sandy hit New York City in 2012, I visited the Lower East Side of Manhattan, one of the neighborhoods that had been hardest hit by flooding from the storm.

The water had receded by the time I arrived, but the neighborhood already smelled of mold and rot. The power was out, the shops were closed. I saw broken trees, abandoned cars, debris scattered everywhere, people hauling ruined furniture out of basement apartments. Dark waterlines were visible on many shop windows and doors. The surge in the East River had been more than nine feet high, overwhelming the seawall and inundating the low-lying parts of Lower Manhattan. As I walked around, watching people slowly put their lives back together, I wondered what would have happened if, instead of flooding the city and then receding in a few hours, the Atlantic Ocean had come in and stayed in.I have been writing about climate change for more than a decade, but seeing the flooding on the Lower East Side made it visceral for me (I hadn’t visited New Orleans until several years after Katrina hit—the TV images of the flooding there, catastrophic as they were, did not affect me as strongly as my walk through the Lower East Side). A year or so before Sandy hit, I had interviewed NASA scientist James Hansen, the godfather of climate change science, who told me that if nothing was done to slow the burning of fossil fuels, sea levels could be as much as ten feet higher by the end of the century. At the time, I didn’t grasp the full implications of this. After Sandy, I did.

Soon after my visit to Lower Manhattan, I found myself in Miami, learning about the porous limestone foundation the city is built on and the flatness of the topography. During high tide, I waded knee-deep through dark ocean water in several Miami Beach neighborhoods; I saw high water backing up into working-class neighborhoods far to the west, near the border of the Everglades. It didn’t take a lot of imagination to see that I was standing in a modern-day Atlantis-in-the-making. It became clear to me just how poorly our world is prepared to deal with the rising waters. Unlike, say, a global pandemic, sea-level rise is not a direct threat to human survival. Early humans had no problem adapting to rising seas—they just moved to higher ground. But in the modern world, that’s not so easy. There’s a terrible irony in the fact that it’s the very infrastructure of the Fossil Fuel Age—the housing developments on the coasts, the roads, the railroads, the tunnels, the airports—that makes us most vulnerable.

Rising and falling seas represent one of the ancient rhythms of the earth, the background track that has played during the entire four-billion-year life of the planet. Scientists have understood this for a long time. Even in relatively recent history, sea levels have fluctuated wildly, driven by wobbles in the Earth’s orbit that change the amount of sunlight hitting the planet. One hundred and twenty thousand years ago, during the last interglacial period, when the temperature of the Earth was very much like it is today, sea levels were twenty to thirty feet higher. Then, twenty thousand years ago, during the peak of the last ice age, sea levels were four hundred feet lower.

What’s different today is that humans are interfering with this natural rhythm by heating up the planet and melting the vast ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica. Until just a few decades ago, most scientists believed these ice sheets were so big and so indomitable that not even seven billion humans with all their fossil-fuel-burning toys could have much impact on them in the short term. Now they know better.

In the twentieth century, the oceans rose about six inches. But that was before the heat from burning fossil fuels had much impact on Greenland and Antarctica (about half of the recorded sea-level rise in the twentieth century came from the expansion of the warming oceans). Today, seas are rising at more than twice the rate they did in the last century. As warming of the Earth increases and the ice sheets begin to feel the heat, the rate of sea-level rise is likely to increase rapidly.

A 2017 report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the United States’ top climate science agency, says global sea-level rise could range from about one foot on the low end to more than eight feet by 2100. Depending on how much we heat up the planet, it will continue rising for centuries after that.

But if you live on the coast, what matters more than the height the seas rise to is the rate at which they rise. If the water rises slowly, it’s not such a big deal. People will have time to elevate roads and buildings and build seawalls. Or move away. It is likely to be disruptive but manageable. Unfortunately, Mother Nature is not always so docile. In the past, the seas have risen in dramatic pulses that coincide with the sudden collapse of ice sheets. After the end of the last ice age, there is evidence that the water rose about thirteen feet in a single century. If that were to occur again, it would be a catastrophe for coastal cities around the world, causing hundreds of millions of people to flee from the coastlines and submerging trillions of dollars’ worth of real estate and infrastructure.

The best way to save coastal cities is to quit burning fossil fuels (if you’re still questioning the link between human activity and climate change, you’re reading the wrong book). But even if we ban coal, gas, and oil tomorrow, we’re not going to be able to turn down the Earth’s thermostat immediately. A good fraction of the CO2 emitted today will stay in the atmosphere for thousands of years. That means that even if we did reduce CO2 tomorrow, we can’t shut off the warming from the CO2 we’ve already dumped into the air. “The climatic impacts of releasing fossil fuel CO2 to the atmosphere will last longer than Stonehenge,” scientist David Archer writes. “Longer than time capsules, longer than nuclear waste, far longer than the age of human civilization so far.”

For sea-level rise, the slow response of the Earth’s climate system has enormous long-term implications. Even if we replaced every SUV on the planet with a skateboard and every coal plant with a solar panel and could magically reduce global carbon pollution to zero by tomorrow, because of the heat that has already built up in the atmosphere and the oceans, the seas would not stop rising—at least until the Earth cooled off, which could take centuries.

However, if we don’t end the fossil fuel party, we’re headed for more than eight degrees Fahrenheit of warming—and with that, all bets are off. We could get four feet of sea-level rise by the end of the century—or we could get thirteen feet. The long-term consequences are even more alarming. If we burn all the known reserves of coal, oil, and gas on the planet, seas will likely rise by more than two hundred feet in the coming centuries, submerging virtually every major coastal city in the world.

The tricky thing about dealing with sea-level rise is that it’s impossible to witness by just hanging out at the beach for a few weeks. Even in the worst-case scenarios, the changes will occur over years and decades and centuries, not seconds and minutes and hours. It’s exactly the kind of threat that we humans are genetically ill equipped to deal with. We have evolved to defend ourselves from a guy with a knife or an animal with big teeth, but we are not wired to make decisions about barely perceptible threats that gradually accelerate over time.

One architect I met while researching this book joked that with enough money, you can engineer your way out of anything. I suppose it’s true. If you had enough money, you could raise or rebuild every street and building in Miami by ten feet and the city would be in pretty good shape for the next century or so. But we do not live in a world where money is no object, and one of the hard truths about sea-level rise is that rich cities and nations can afford to build seawalls, upgrade sewage systems, and elevate critical infrastructure.

Poor cities and nations cannot. But even for rich countries, the economic losses will be high. One recent study estimated that with six feet of sea-level rise, nearly $1 trillion worth of real estate in the United States will be underwater, including one in eight homes in Florida. If no significant action is taken, global damages from sea-level rise could reach $100 trillion a year by 2100.

But it is not just money that will be lost. Also gone will be the beach where you first kissed your boyfriend; the mangrove forests in Bangladesh where Bengal tigers thrive; the crocodile nests in Florida Bay; Facebook headquarters in Silicon Valley; St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice; Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina; America’s biggest naval base in Norfolk, Virginia; NASA’s Kennedy Space Center; graves on the Isle of the Dead in Tasmania; the slums of Jakarta, Indonesia; entire nations like the Maldives and the Marshall Islands; and, in the not-so-distant future, Mar-a-Lago, the summer White House of President Donald Trump. Globally, about 145 million people live three feet or less above the current sea level. As the waters rise, millions of these people will be displaced, many of them in poor countries, creating generations of climate refugees that will make today’s Syrian war refugee crisis look like a high school drama production.

The real x factor here is not the vagaries of climate science, but the complexity of human psychology. At what point will we take dramatic action to cut CO2 pollution? Will we spend billions on adaptive infrastructure to prepare cities for rising waters—or will we do nothing until it is too late? Will we welcome people who flee submerged coastlines and sinking islands—or will we imprison them?

No one knows how our economic and political system will deal with these challenges. The simple truth is, human beings have become a geological force on the planet, with the power to reshape the boundaries of the world in ways we didn’t intend and don’t entirely understand. Every day, little by little, the water is rising, washing away beaches, eroding coastlines, pushing into homes and shops and places of worship.

As our world floods, it is likely to cause immense suffering and devastation. It is also likely to bring people together and inspire creativity and camaraderie in ways that no one can foresee. Either way, the water is coming. As Hal Wanless, a geologist at the University of Miami, told me in his deep Old Testament voice as we drove toward the beach one day, “If you’re not building a boat, then you don’t understand what’s happening here.”

 

New Greenland maps show more glaciers at risk

November 2, 2017

by Carol Rasmussen

NASA’s Earth Science News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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