Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion 2014-11-28T08:42:13Z WordPress contributors <![CDATA[Crescent Dunes NV solar Plant Works Day & Night w/ Molten Salt Storage]]> 2014-11-28T06:46:52Z 2014-11-28T06:46:52Z Solar Reserve | —

“Take an exclusive look at this revolutionary solar energy plant that works day and night.This is the world’s first 110 MW solar thermal power plant with advanced molten salt energy storage, The Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project located in Tonopah, NV.”

Solar Reserve: “The Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project – a solar thermal power plant that works day and night.”

contributors <![CDATA[100K Homeless in Gaza face severe Flooding, Cold as UN Declares State of Emergency]]> 2014-11-28T06:30:03Z 2014-11-28T06:30:03Z BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — The UN’s Palestine refugee agency UNRWA on Thursday evening declared a state of emergency in Gaza City amid massive rains that have shut down normal life in parts of the besieged coastal enclave’s largest city.

A major storm over the past week has filled the streets of Gaza City with water and sewage, causing further misery for the more than 100,000 Palestinians left homeless — including nearly 30,000 still staying in emergency shelters — from Israel’s massive offensive over summer that also left nearly 2,200 dead.

UNRWA said in a statement that 63 schools across Gaza City and 43 schools across the Northern Gaza Strip governorate had been closed Thursday due to the flooding.

Hundreds of residents in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza City had also been evacuated due to the rise of a “storm water lagoon” that had flooded many homes in the area.

“The flooding is exacerbating the already dire humanitarian situation in Gaza caused by blockade and the unprecedented destruction from the latest Israeli offensive,” the UN agency said in a post on its Facebook.

The agency, which is already massively stretched due to the summer’s conflict, said that it was “providing emergency fuel to supply back-up generators for pumping stations, portable pumps, municipalities, water, sanitation and health facilities.”

It is also preparing to provide shelter for those displaced the storm “should the need arise.”

Gaza is prone to severe flooding and heavy rains in early Dec. 2013 led to the displacement of at least 40,000. The floods are exacerbated by a chronic lack of fuel that limits how much water can be pumped out of flood-stricken areas.

The fuel shortages are a result of the eight-year-old Israeli siege, which also limits the import of other kinds of machinery related to pumping and sewage management that could help Gazans combat the floods.

UNRWA said on Thursday that it had provided 60,000 liters of emergency fuel to pumping stations in Gaza in response to the floods.

The Israeli siege has compounded the difficulties faced by Palestinians in Gaza this year, as tens of thousands displaced by Israeli bombing over summer have been unable to rebuild.

Israel has largely maintained its restriction on imports of concrete and other rebuilding materials, slowing reconstruction.

Thursday marks the fourth straight day of unusually heavy rain across the region, causing temperatures to dip across Palestine.

The West Bank has also experienced flooding as a result of the storm, causing difficult driving conditions in many of the region’s hillier villages and cities.

The floods in the West Bank, where Israeli restrictions on import of machinery and other construction essentials are much lighter, have caused anger and annoyance among many.

Despite a slew of recent projects intended to improve urban infrastructure across the region, the continuing flooding suggests these have not borne fruit.

The general manager for projects in the Ministry of Local Government Muhyi al-Din al-Areda told Ma’an there had been negligence in the administration of projects responsible for constructing many streets where the problems were occurring.

Al-Areda added that the Ministries of Public Works and Local Government had allocated $3 million to develop municipalities and drainage.

Al-Areda said that the flooding had hit cities in the northern parts of the West Bank more severely than any other.

The worst hit has been Qalqiliya as it is surrounded on all sides by the Israeli separation wall, making water-pumping a complex and difficult task.

Rains are expected to end by Friday morning, with temperatures rising as well.

Mirrored from Ma’an News Network


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Floods bring fresh misery to war-shattered Gaza”

contributors <![CDATA[Christians of Syria’s Aleppo Hold out Despite Extremist Daesh/ISIL Threat]]> 2014-11-28T05:51:09Z 2014-11-28T05:51:09Z AFP | —

“Tens of thousands of Christians have fled homes in Syria’s war-wracked second city of Aleppo but many others are determined to hold out despite their dread of Islamic State jihadists.”

AFP: “Christians of Syria’s Aleppo hold out despite jihadist threat”

contributors <![CDATA[Rudy Giuliani Wants To Prosecute Ferguson Witnesses]]> 2014-11-28T05:35:10Z 2014-11-28T05:35:10Z The Young Turks | —

“Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani weighed in on the Ferguson grand jury decision Tuesday night and said that if it were his case, he would prosecute some witnesses to the police shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown for lying about what they saw.

In an appearance on Fox News’ “The Kelly File,” Giuliani speculated that Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, felt compelled to come forward and give a TV interview about what happened in the fatal Aug. 9 confrontation because “he was so offended by the lies that were being told.”*

Watch the full video on Talking Points Memo here:

The Young Turks hosts John Iadarola (, Steve Oh ( and Jimmy Dore ( break it down.

The Young Turks: “Rudy Giuliani Wants To Prosecute Ferguson Witnesses”

Juan Cole <![CDATA[Iran Leader Khamenei: We are not Opposed to Nuclear Talks, Will Accept Just Deal]]> 2014-11-28T08:42:13Z 2014-11-28T05:04:51Z By Juan Cole | —

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the clerical Leader of Iran, told an assemblage of volunteer paramilitary (Basij) forces on Thursday that he is not opposed to nuclear talks with the P5 +1 and would accept a just and reasonable deal. I said that a breakdown in the talks, which have been extended for a further 7 months, will not harm Iran. Rather, he said, it would hurt the USA.

BBC Monitoring translated him as saying,

“We are not opposed to the extension of the talks, for the same reason that we weren’t opposed to the talks in the first place. Of course we will accept any fair and reasonable agreement, but we know that it’s the US government that needs an agreement and will suffer if no agreement is reached. If these nuclear talks do not achieve any results, the Islamic Republic of Iran will not lose anything.”

The Basij consists of hundreds of thousands of volunteer paramilitary forces, and they are extremely conservative and mostly dislike foreigners. For Khamenei to tell them that he doesn’t oppose talks with the US or their extension would be like Sarah Palin telling a Tea Party audience she rather enjoys negotiation with Iran and could imagine going on doing so for some time. In other words, Khamenei’s speech is huge, and is a much bigger sign of support than it appears on the surface for the negotiations with the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.

Iran has a civilian nuclear enrichment program aiming at producing fuel for nuclear reactors so as to keep the country independent from the US-led international financial and economic system. Many outside observers allege that Iran must be seeking clandestinely to produce a nuclear warhead. There is, however, as of this point no evidence for any Iranian desire for a nuclear weapon. Khamenei has repeatedly given oral fatwas or considered legal opinions that making, stockpiling and using nucearl weapons is illegal in Islamic law. That Khamenei is anti-nuclear weaponry may help explain the tensions in Iran’s elite, which perhaps does want a weapon. Khamenei’s policy is to appease the hard liners with harsh rhetoric and to allow the scientific and security establishment in Iran to pursue making fuel for nuclear reactors. Centrifuge enrichment technology is dual use, so that this way of proceeding keeps the possibility alive for Iran hardliners that Khamenei or his successor might undo the fatwa against nuclear warheads.

Khamenei hinted at the reason for which a final deal was not reached last weekend:

“The main policy of the Islamic Republic is to confront arrogance and the arrogant US government, and there should not be any mistakes or misgivings about this. Of course, we do not have a problem with the American people. Our problem is with the US government’s bullying and excessive demands…”

I think it is likely a deal could be had within the next 7 months because whatever he says, Khamenei clearly wants one if he doesn’t think the offer is just too humiliating.


Related video:

RT “No Deal: Iran nuclear talks extended until July 1 ”

contributors <![CDATA[Americans ask Pres. Obama to show Thanksgiving Mercy to Gaza]]> 2014-11-27T07:26:56Z 2014-11-27T07:26:56Z PressTV | –

“President Obama pardoned two turkeys at the White House today, a tradition meant to illustrate the generosity and compassion of the Thanksgiving holiday. But for some, this time of year is more than a show of goodness.”

Americans ask Obama to show Thanksgiving Mercy to Gaza

contributors <![CDATA[Can the Police Phone-Track you without a Warrant?]]> 2014-11-27T07:20:21Z 2014-11-27T07:20:21Z Hanni Fakhoury and Jennifer Lynch (Electronic Frontier Foundation)

Once again, a federal court will decide whether police can track your movements over an extended period of time without a search warrant. Federal and state courts have divided over whether the Fourth Amendment requires police seek a search warrant to obtain historical cell site location information (CSLI)—the records of which cell phone towers your phone has connected to in the past. We’ve weighed in, filing a new amicus brief in one of the most important legal cases to watch in 2015.

In United States v. Davis, police obtained 67 days of cell site location information about Quartavious Davis without a search warrant and used it to pinpoint him at various robberies in Florida. When Davis’ case was on appeal before a three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, we joined a number of organizations and filed an amicus brief arguing that, because location information like CSLI reveals sensitive information about where a person has been, the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant. In June, the three judge panel agreed with us, finding Davis had a Fourth Amendment expectation of privacy in the location information generated by his cell phone and held police needed to get a warrant to access this information from the cell phone company.

The government was naturally unhappy with this ruling, as it conflicted with a 2013 decision from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which held police didn’t need a warrant to access this data. Additionally, the Davis panel decision got other federal judges questioning the government’s practices, so the government convinced all of the judges of the Eleventh Circuit to rehear the case en banc. With the full court now looking at the issue again, we filed a new amicus brief explaining why it’s reasonable for Americans generally and Floridians specifically to expect this sensitive location information is private and worthy of warrant protection.

A Pew Research Center study published last week showed that 82% of Americans consider the details of their physical location over time to be sensitive information—more sensitive than their relationship history, religious or political views, or the content of their text messages. It’s no surprise then that the last few months have seen a number of state courts and legislatures take steps to safeguard this data with warrant protection. That includes the Florida Supreme Court, which held last month police needed a warrant to track a person in real time via their cell phone.

As our brief in Davis makes clear, the fact that Florida has specifically promised its residents that their cell phone location records are private, and the fact that more and more Americans live in places that also protect this sensitive information, show it’s reasonable for people to expect CSLI is private, and it’s unreasonable for the government to argue otherwise.

Interestingly, immediately after the Davis panel issued its opinion, we wondered whether telephone providers would begin to demand law enforcement use a warrant to get location information. And while we don’t know if providers are demanding warrants, AT&T did file an amicus brief in this case suggesting that the “third party doctrine”—the idea that there’s no Fourth Amendment protection for information disclosed to third parties, like a cell phone provider—should not control the court’s analysis. We’ve been saying the same thing for years.

The fact that one of the largest cell phone companies in the U.S. decided to weigh in only bolsters our point about the need to protect this sensitive data with a warrant. Even the phone companies recognize that cell phones are an integral part of modern life, capable of revealing detailed sensitive information about where we go and with whom. If state courts, legislatures, and the phone companies can all see why this information is sensitive and worthy of legal protection, why can’t the government?

We expect oral argument before the Eleventh Circuit sometime in the spring of 2015.

Mirrored from Electronic Frontier Foundation


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CBS6 Albany: “Cell phone crime tracking: How far police can go”

contributors <![CDATA[Iraq Famine Threat? IS Daesh/ ISIL Stealing Wheat, Preventing Farmers from Providing Food?]]> 2014-11-27T07:06:22Z 2014-11-27T07:04:23Z JURF-AL-SAKHAR/DUBAI (IRIN) | — November is usually a busy month for farmers in the Iraqi town of Jurf al-Sakhar as they sow their seeds ahead of the bitter winter months. Yet this year fields lie unplanted and untethered goats and cows wander aimlessly among slayed palm trees.

Months of fighting have taken a heavy toll on the town, 60km south of Baghdad in Babil Governorate, leaving buildings in ruin and fields flooded or scorched – in many cases both.

The area has a ghostly emptiness. Although it was reclaimed from Islamist militants by Iraqi security forces in late October, many displaced residents have stayed away due to fears of landmines and other explosive remnants of war.

“I have lost everything,” Salih Al-Janabi, 56, a farmer from the area now based in neighbouring Musayib District, told IRIN. “I grew up on my farm, it is a part of my family. My palm trees were my children and now I don’t know when I can even go back.”

Across the country as the group calling itself Islamic State (IS) continues to hold large swathes of territory across central and northern Iraq, concern is growing not just about farmers’ lost livelihoods, but also the impact that uncollected harvests and the lack of winter planting will have on Iraq’s food security into next year and beyond.

“It is very difficult to make an estimation of how much farm land has been affected by this,” explained Alfredo Impiglia, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) emergency coordinator in Iraq.

“The situation is very dynamic. One day you have access to an area, the next day you can’t reach it any more,” he said.

Many farmers have deserted their land, fleeing both the cruelty of IS, as well as the fighting between militants and various Iraqi government forces, and they now make up some of the 2.1 million people the UN estimates has been displaced since January this year.

But many have also stayed behind and are trying to keep farming against the odds.

Large swathes of the governorates of Nineveh, which includes the city of Mosul, and Saleheddin, in northern Iraq, have been held by IS militants since June. Together the two provinces account for nearly one third of the national wheat and nearly 40 percent of national barley production, according to the Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture (GIEWS).

Officials say that a large number of silos – where farmers place their grain to be sold directly to the government at a subsidized rate – in Nineveh and Saleheddin are now in the hands of IS.

According to a statement by Iraq’s agriculture minister, Falah Hassan al-Zeidan, IS has appropriated more than one million tons of wheat and barley – approximately a quarter of overall national output – and taken it across the border to the Syrian cities of Raqqa and Deir al-Zor.

The Iraqi government has shut all its offices in Mosul, making it impossible to administer payments to farmers who had delivered crops to silos before IS’s advance, leaving many out of pocket and unable to afford seeds to plant for next year.

The suspension of government services in Mosul also cuts off farmers from access to centrally-subsidized seeds, fuel and fertilizer – upon which they rely to make harvesting profitable – and that is expected to affect their capacity to plant for the coming season.

According to FAO, in Nineveh only around 500,000 hectares of the usual 800,000 hectares of land is likely to be sown this winter and planting in Saleheddin is forecast to be down by as much as 30 percent.

In Kirkuk, Mahdi Mubarak, the director of the agricultural directorate in the governorate and a member of the local branch of the Agricultural Engineers Association, said more than 300,000 hectares had been appropriated by militants.

“This is a big loss for our production and this leads to a big impact on the agricultural system and Iraq’s economy,” he said. “Many farmers have been forced to leave their farms, either because of the damage to their lands or because of the lack of supplies, subsidies and government support.”

Farmers forced to sell at low prices

Omar Jassim Al-Jubori, the owner of a 250-hectare farm on the outskirts of Hawija, in Kirkuk Governorate, told IRIN how IS members were controlling the grain market and forcing farmers to sell at fixed prices, well below the usual government-subsidized rates.

“They have cut the price of wheat to 250,000 Iraqi dinars (IQD) [US$215] per ton from 750,000 IQD [$645], and now we can only sell corn for 125,000 IQD [$107] compared to 600,000 IQD [$516] previously,” he explained.

“I usually harvest 1.5 tons of wheat and more than three tons of corn during a season, but I have not been able to plant anything this year,” Al-Jubori said.

“Overall I’ve lost about 350 million IQD [$301,000] because of this invasion. We are suffering a lot. This is the worst ordeal we have ever faced.”

Jane Pearce, World Food Programme (WFP) country director in Iraq, said that while the loss of harvested grain was a big issue in terms of farmers’ livelihoods – agriculture is the second-largest employer and contributes 8 percent to the country’s GDP – it would not have a huge immediate impact on food security, because most of Iraq’s wheat and barley are low-grade and exported for cash.

However, she said: “What we are concerned about are the tomatoes, the cucumbers, the peppers, the aubergines, the fruit and vegetables that these people grow to eat.”

Referring specifically to people living inside IS-controlled areas, she asked: “How are they going to get seeds to plant again for next year? Will they have to rely on imported goods? What is this going to mean for the local economy?”

More dust storms?

A reduction in planting could have a negative ecological impact too, she warned.

“If people can remember the 2003 and 2010 dust storms that blighted the entire Middle East, that was partly because there was no planting in Iraq,” Pearce said. “Since then Iraq has managed to get a green belt going again, and that has kept the dust down and stopped the soil from becoming too saline… so there are other impacts of the current situation with IS.”

A new food voucher scheme has been launched in semi-autonomous Kurdistan to support displaced Iraqis fleeing violence and unrest.

WFP aims to reach 500,000 people with the vouchers, which allow families to choose their own food supplies from local shops rather than rely on fixed-content parcels distributed by aid agencies.

Each family receives one voucher per month worth 30,000 Iraqi dinars [US$26].
Jane Pearce, WFP Iraq country director, told IRIN: “The voucher scheme is good on all fronts because it cuts down on transport, on pollution; it contributes to the local economy, gives the beneficiaries choice and is the most dignified way of providing them assistance.”

WFP is rolling out the vouches in collaboration with several NGOs, including Action Against Hunger (ACF) and World Vision.

Since June, when Islamist militants took control of the Nineveh city of Mosul, WFP has delivered food assistance to more than 1.4 million people across Iraq’s 18 provinces.

In Nineveh and Dohuk, FAO assessments have picked up on an increase in cut-price livestock sales, which FAO’s Impiglia said was because farmers were no longer able to afford to feed and vaccinate their animals and were opting to sell them for cash instead.

“Prices are down by as much as 30 percent and we are analysing what implication this may have for food security down the line,” he said. “You can build up grain stock instantly, but animal herds take time to grow and this is something we are quite worried about.”

Seed distributions

In an attempt to protect next year’s grain harvest, FAO is working with a number of national and international NGOs, including the UK-based Islamic Relief, to distribute seeds and fertilizer to farmers cut off from their regular government supplies.

Some 20,000 small-scale farmers across Dohuk, Nineveh, Erbil and Diyala will be targeted and a further 7,500 herders will receive animal feed.

FAO also plans to give out vegetable seeds to families living in camps and other settlements in semi-autonomous Kurdistan so they can not only provide food but also generate some money.

In addition, the agency is setting up a “cash-for-work” scheme to create farm jobs for several thousand displaced people to give them income and provide a workforce to do jobs like cleaning out irrigation channels and thus improve the yield on still-functioning farms.

“Vegetables take a short time to grow so within a few months a family can have something to eat as well as something to sell at the local market for an income,” said Impiglia, who called on donors to support medium to long-term projects as well as basic humanitarian food aid.

“Everyone talks about giving out food parcels to IDPs [internally displaced persons], but they are not really thinking about producing food for tomorrow,” he said. “If we don’t plant seeds today, we cannot harvest tomorrow and next year there will be even more of a crisis than what we have today.”

Under the Strategic Response Plan for Iraq, launched in October, FAO appealed for $53million. To date it has received $15million, leaving a shortfall of $38million.

Mirrored from IRIN: Humanitarian News and Analysis


Related video added by Juan Cole:

URGENT: Winter clothes needed in Iraq | UNICEF