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Thursday, September 21

Matt Drudge gets to indulge his inner Graham Greene

Our Man in Havana
Our Man In Havana (1958) is a novel [and 1959 film] set in Cuba by the British author Graham Greene. He makes fun of intelligence services, especially the British MI6, and their willingness to believe reports from their local informants.

Our Man on the Internet

I wouldn't link to Media Matters if you paid me so you'll have to make do with the following blurb at the Daily Beast, which quotes the MM hit job, or today's Drudge Report. In brief:
The Drudge Report, the right-wing news-aggregator, has linked to Russian propaganda websites nearly 400 times since 2012, according to a new study by progressive watchdog group [Soros flunkies] Media Matters.
While the study found that Drudge promoted dozens of Russian propaganda articles each year, the number of linked articles increased to 79 at the start of the U.S. presidential race in 2015. The figure jumped in 2016 to 122 articles, which covered a wide range of U.S. and international topics that fit Kremlin interests. So far this year, Drudge has promoted only 45 Russian propaganda-outlet articles.
Matt is obviously having a good time with the story. So am I. But he forgot to set the briefcase on the bench. 


Wednesday, September 20

Mexico: "Hundreds of volunteers under the leadership of nobody in particular"

"Officials, overwhelmed by the number of Mexicans trying to help, redirected them to other zones."

"Mony de Swaan, a resident who was coordinating the relief center by the light of cellphones ..."

Thank you reporter Kirk Semple and The New York Times for highlighting the inspiring story of Mexicans' response to a devastating earthquake. 

Volunteers remove rubble from a collapsed building in Condesa. Photo: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

Rescue workers and volunteers searched for survivors in the Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City late Tuesday. Photo: Adriana Zehbrauskas/The New York Times

Mexico City Volunteers Venture Out in Force to Aid Quake Victims
By Kirk Semple
September 20, 2017
The New York Times

MEXICO CITY — They arrived alone, in pairs or in groups. Some brought supplies others might need: water, blankets, medicine, tools. Others came with nothing more than able hands and a sense of purpose.
And as midnight neared on Tuesday — hours after a powerful, deadly earthquake struck central Mexico — Parque España, the verdant refuge of dog-walkers and young lovers in the Condesa neighborhood of the capital, had become the venue for something else: a frenetic, impromptu relief center, where hundreds of volunteers, under the leadership of nobody in particular, had created an emergency distribution point for food and supplies.
“It’s very characteristic of the Mexican people: We stand together,” said Christian Piñeiro, 21, a medical student, who was helping a team of doctors hand out medication. Behind him, in the darkness, supplies were being frantically passed along bucket lines of volunteers that snaked from one side of the park to the other.
“Independent of the fact that there are gangs and crime,” Mr. Piñeiro continued, “the people unify against adversity.”
The earthquake killed more than 200 people in several states, flattened dozens of buildings in Mexico City alone and damaged thousands of others. Among the dead were more than two-dozen school children. The quake, which came two weeks after another devastating temblor off the country’s southern coast, was centered about 100 miles from the capital and was followed by at least 11 aftershocks.
Millions of people were left without electricity, and President Enrique Peña Nieto said emergency workers were being sent to affected areas.
Throughout much of Mexico City on Tuesday, nightfall brought an eerie quietude, as businesses closed early and people sought the succor of their families at home. But in the hardest hit neighborhoods, the landscape was different: blocks cast in darkness from power failures were punctuated by nodes of intense activity.
On another block in Condesa, a traffic circle had been converted into a small, noisy redistribution point. Trucks, cars, motorcycles arrived, a couple every minute, to drop off supplies, which were sorted, repackaged and sent back out into the city.
Many of the volunteers were from the surrounding blocks, while others had traveled from farther away. It was a scrum of hustle and loud voices; the energy belied the hour but underscored the urgency.
“We’re neighbors,” said Magdalena Camarillo, 27, an internet technology programmer, who was helping to receive and load packages.
It was as though the collective memory of the devastating 1985 earthquake seemed to animate the city: Back then, the authorities failed to act quickly and citizens took the lead in what is now considered the birth of civil society in Mexico.
“This is what I did 30 years ago, because it’s a way I know I can help,” said Marta García as she handed coffee and snacks to police officers, paramedics, volunteers and passers-by near a collapsed residential building in the Del Valle neighborhood.
The federal and local governments reacted much faster this time around, but as midnight neared, there was still a considerable sense of improvisation.
People milling near several affected sites in Del Valle were unsure where to leave the donated water, food, blankets and first aid kits. Officials, overwhelmed by the number of Mexicans trying to help, redirected them to other zones.
“Right now there really aren’t any instructions from the top down or anything,” said Monica Valerio, a teacher and the member of a cycling group that coordinated a rubble-clearing crew on social media. “There are more pairs of hands that we know what to do with, which is amazing, but we also need to find order among the mess to help more efficiently.”
On a grassy avenue in Condesa, hundreds more gathered in an effort to help clear the rubble of a collapsed eight-story apartment building. Under the glare of portable floodlights, in air thick with dust, the volunteers had formed long lines to pass five-gallon buckets full of crumbled concrete, twisted metal and splintered wood to waiting dump trucks.
Sirens whooped in the distance then faded. From time to time, a scrum of rescue workers in jumpsuits and hard hats would stride out of the darkness, moving briskly, then circumnavigate a cat’s-cradle of police tape and disappear around a corner.
In an Art Deco house on Laredo Street in Condesa that normally serves as an office building, an informal command center had been set up for the families of those trapped under the rubble of a building across the street.
Doctors and psychologists waited on call as relatives made their way inside to ask for information. Outside volunteers gathered medicine and water.
Mony de Swaan, a resident who was coordinating the center by the light of cellphones, said that as many as seven people remained trapped. With the help of the building’s doorman who had escaped, he had made a list of residents in the seven-story building.
A young woman approached the table. “My mother’s name is Mari,” she told Mr. de Swaan. “On the second floor.”
He answered her gently. “She is still inside,” he said. “On the second floor, Mari, Lorna and Consuelo are still inside.”
The missing woman, María Ignacia Cruz, had traveled every day from her home in a poor suburb to look after an elderly lady, said Ms. Cruz’s husband, Alberto Arrellano Nicolas, sitting almost mute with worry. His adult daughter and son sat on a sofa, talking quietly with a psychologist as they tried to hold back their tears.
On a darkened street in the Roma Norte neighborhood, away from the commotion of relief efforts, a group of neighbors gathered on the street, sitting on chairs and blankets. The authorities had barred them from returning home because their apartment building adjoined a damaged 
one, putting both structures at risk.
Others in the city, however, were simply too unnerved to return home, out of fear of aftershocks or hidden damage, choosing instead to seek shelter with relatives and friends elsewhere.
The earthquake terrified Silvia Bustamante, 65, too, but she was unwilling to abandon the apartment she has called home for 40 years. So she came up with a compromise: She pitched a tent in the lobby, a few feet from the sidewalk.
“We’re traumatized,” Ms. Bustamante said as she stood outside her building, watching the traffic of relief workers. “I dread the thought of being upstairs and not being able to get down in time.”
Her block lay in darkness. The lights of skyscrapers on the city’s main Reforma Avenue less than a mile away seemed a very distant reminder of normalcy.

"Scientists have run out of adjectives to describe Maria’s devastating power"

That's a first, when a storm can shut up scientists. 

This is a NOAA satellite photo of Maria from about five hours ago, after the storm had 'weakened' passing over Puerto Rico.   

Maria beats up U.S. Virgin islands. Meanwhile Jose ain't dead yet

From Associated Press 'live blogging' report 3:13 PM EDT, The Latest: US Virgin Islands: Maria Tears Away Roofs, Trees: 
No deaths or injuries reported on St. Croix from Hurricane Maria, but full assessment not yet completed.
In the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Jose's outer rainbands are approaching southern New England's coast. The hurricane center says dangerous surf and rip currents will affect much of the U.S. East Coast for days. Jose, a former hurricane, was about 140 miles (230 kilometers) south-southeast of Nantucket, Massachusetts with top sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph). ...


Maria knocks out all electricity in Puerto Rico "This is just the beginning"

Now comes the river and reservoir flooding and mudslides.

Also, little has been heard from Dominica since Prime Minister Skerrit announced that Maria had carried away the roof of his house; that's because the storm knocked out all phone service and electricity on the island. There's no running water available on the island, either.  

Two passages from a Reuters report updated about 30 minutes ago:
  • "Maria lost some of its power as it moved over land [in Puerto Rico], but its top winds were still 140 mph (220 kph) as it headed off the island, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Shortly before 11 a.m. ET (1500 GMT), the eye of the storm was about 15 miles (40 km) west of San Juan, the center said."
  • “When we are able to go outside, we are going to find our island destroyed,” Abner Gomez, the director of the island’s emergency management agency, known by its Spanish language acronym AEMEAD, was quoted as saying by El Nuevo Dia newspaper. “It’s a system that has destroyed everything in its path.”

Hurricane Maria Live Updates: Puerto Rico Loses Power, Officials Say

SAN JUAN, P.R. — Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico with a one-two punch of high winds and driving rain on Wednesday, and sent thousands of people scrambling to shelters.

Electricity was knocked out on the whole island, a spokeswoman for the Puerto Rico State Agency for Emergency and Disaster Management said. The authorities warned weary residents not to let down their guard, because flash flooding and mudslides could be more deadly than the initial winds.

The storm, now a category 3 system, brought new challenges to an island that has been groaning under the weight of a debt crisis that has crippled the public health and infrastructure systems and sent professionals fleeing to the mainland.

More than 500 shelters had been opened, according to the governor, Ricardo Rosselló, though he said he could not vouch for the storm-worthiness of all of those structures.

About 600 people took refuge in one of the biggest, the Robert Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, which was near the center of the storm. Witnesses said the stadium’s roof had come off and the shelter lacked electricity and hot water.

“It’s looking ugly, ugly, ugly over here,” Shania Vargas, a resident of Carolina who sheltered in the stadium, said over the phone. But in a video shared on Twitter by the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz,, she said, “As uncomfortable as we are, we are better off than any other place.”

Here’s the latest:

• The storm made landfall at Yabucoa in Puerto Rico’s southeast shortly after 6 a.m., with winds as strong as 155 m.p.h. It had crossed the United States Virgin Islands as a Category 5 storm, then weakened slightly but remained “extremely dangerous.”

• Governor Rosselló said that 11,000 people were reported to have gone to shelters, but that the real number was most likely higher.

• Hartley Henry, an adviser to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that there had been seven confirmed deaths from Hurricane Maria on that island. Two people were also killed on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, officials said.
Flooding is a major concern in Puerto Rico

“This is just the beginning,” Gov. Rossello said in an interview with El Nuevo Dia, the largest daily newspaper in Puerto Rico. “We know there are severe damages along different rivers and reservoirs, and water has overflowed from riverbanks, causing flooding,” he added.

The island had not seen a category 4 storm since 1932. As of 2 p.m., Maria’s core was offshore of the northwestern coast of Puerto Rico with 115 m.p.h. winds, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm was expected to produce “life-threatening flooding,” with 20 to 25 inches of rain falling in Puerto Rico through Friday and an additional five to 10 inches of rain in the Virgin Islands.

Forecasters warned that winds could strike with more force on the windward sides of hills and mountains and on high-rise buildings. Tornadoes were possible over Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and Maria was expected to remain a dangerous hurricane through Friday.

As the storm continued on its northwestward path, tropical storm conditions were expected to begin on the southern coast of the Dominican Republic Wednesday afternoon, worsening into hurricane conditions. The storm would move on to the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas Thursday morning, forecasters said.

Puerto Ricans woke up to strong winds

Residents of Puerto Rico braced for a more direct hit than from Irma, which killed three people there and knocked out power to many.

As the storm moved in, Jerika Llano, 27, took refuge with three family members in her concrete home in Bayamón, a town near the island’s capital. She said the wind was “blowing hard and screaming.”

“Almost all the trees have fallen, and I can see aluminum roofs flying,” she said. “The doors and gates vibrate because of the power of the gusts.”

In the town of Cataño in northern Puerto Rico, several houses lost their zinc roofs and the roof of a church was ripped apart, Felix Delgado Montalvo, the town’s mayor, said on a local radio station.

“My message now is not to leave your houses until the situation is over,” he told listeners.

Federal officials say they are prepared to help

President Trump said on Wednesday that he had “never seen” winds like the ones generated by Hurricane Maria as it made landfall in Puerto Rico.

“We have a big one going right now — I’ve never seen winds like this — in Puerto Rico,” he said as he entered a meeting in New York with King Abdullah II of Jordan. “You take a look at what’s happening there, and it’s just one after another.”

The king extended his “condolences” to residents in the path of the three storms that have hit the United States over the last several weeks, adding, “For us sitting on the outside, looking at how the Americans came together at a difficult time, is really an example to everybody else.”

On CNN, Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said that the agency was well positioned to help in Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands.

Mr. Long confirmed that both areas had fragile power systems. “It’s going to be a very frustrating event to get the power back on,” he said.

‘There was howling in every part of this house,’ said a St. Croix resident

Residents of the Virgin Islands, whose homes were damaged by Irmatwo weeks ago, had been urged to find new shelters to ride out Maria.

The storm began pounding the Virgin Islands on Tuesday evening, and a flash-flood alert was sent to residents’ cellphones at 10:05 p.m., Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp of the United States Virgin Islands said. He had warned that hurricane-strength winds were likely to batter the islands until Wednesday morning.

The core of the storm passed south of the Virgin Islands, with the outer eyewall lashing St. Croix.

“There was howling in every part of this house,” said Ernice Gilbert, a journalist who lives on the east side of the island. “In my area, the winds were ferocious. But the bulk of the winds were expected to hit strongest in the southwest.”

At one point, he said, the rafters of his house began “cracking,” and part of his wall had cracked. The strong winds forced him to barricade his doors with couches, Mr. Gilbert said.

“That was the scariest portion of the ordeal for me,” he said by telephone.

Maria had battered the island nation of Dominica a day earlier. Prime Minister Skerrit described the damage as “mind-boggling” and wrote on Facebook that he had to be rescued after winds ripped the roof off his official residence. But little information has emerged since then, with the storm having taken out phone and power lines on Dominica.

Luis Ferré-Sadurní reported from San Juan, and Austin Ramzy from Hong Kong. Jonah Engel Bromwich contributed reporting from New York.



A hurricane, an earthquake, a flooded supercity: When infrastructure is everything

As Puerto Rico is pounded by the worst hurricane to hit the island in more than 80 years, Mexicans frantically continue to dig through a collapsed school in a desperate attempt to find survivors of a powerful earthquake that struck yesterday. Meanwhile in India severe flooding from heavy rains brought the megacity of Mumbai, the country's financial hub, to a standstill yesterday for the second time in a month. 

Tracking back a few weeks America's fourth largest city, Houston, was brought to a standstill by catastrophic flooding from an extraordinarily destructive hurricane, and last week almost the entire American state of Florida was brought to a standstill by another extraordinary hurricane, which also wreaked destruction on island nations in the Caribbean.

The great good fortune is that the faultline slippage in Mexico's Puebla Earthquake, as it's been named, was 32 miles deep; if it had been shallow then today we'd be looking at a death toll in the many thousands instead of hundreds (about 230 at latest estimate).

In fact the most extraordinary aspect of the extraordinary natural events over the past few weeks has been the low death tolls. Some of this is simply good fortune, as with the Puebla Earthquake and Hurricane Irma's erratic course across the Caribbean and in Florida. Some of it is due to improved infrastructure and disaster preparedness in the wake of earlier severe natural events. 

And no small part of the low death toll in Houston was due to a rescue effort quickly mustered by a large volunteer force of civilians with boats -- an impromptu effort buttressed by the U.S. Coast Guard's numerous rescue operations by helicopter.

But the truth is that disaster from a powerful hurricane will strike Houston again and again in future. The only way to avoid this is not to have situated what became a large city smack dab in a floodplain in Hurricane Alley. Just as the only way for Mexico City to avoid disaster from future earthquakes is to relocate the capital to a far less seismically active region of the world.

Yet it's to Mumbai we must turn for the other side of being philosophical about humans building in the face of Nature's wrath. It's idiocy for urban sprawl to occur in low lying flood-prone regions that depend on 19th century drainage systems. 

And with earthquakes, no amount of disaster drills and rescue efforts can offset the fragility of structures built to 19th century codes. 

Granted, Mexico has made great improvements in its building modernization since the 1985 earthquake, which killed something like 10,000 people in Mexico City alone. But the number 1 point for earthquake preparedness in this era of urban megapopulations is "Modernize faster and better, you fools."

Same point applies to infrastructures built to offset the worst flooding from storms in today's large cities.


Bad optics

Tuesday, September 19

Guadeloupe also battered by Hurricane Maria

For damage to Dominica, see Maria caves in roof at Dominica PM's residence, devastates rest of island; Pundita, published 3:16 AM EDT today.

Hurricane Maria video update: powerful winds batter Guadeloupe as storm lashes Caribbean

[see website for very brief footage of the winds striking in the area of Guadeloupe's regional capital city]

HURRICANE MARIA has left a swath of devastation in the Caribbean with shocking video capturing the sheer force of the storm in Guadeloupe.
PUBLISHED: 09:26 - Sep 19, 2017 
[U.K.] Express


The path of the Category Four storm [upgraded again to Cat 5 at about 5 AM EDT today] also crashed into Basse-Terre, the capital of Guadeloupe just weeks after Hurricane Irma hit the Caribbean and United States. 

In the shocking footage, winds can be seen battering a car park in Basse-Terre with trees and lampposts shaking in the intense conditions.

The video, posted online from the French local authorities said: “Winds are extremely violent. Stay confined. Don't go out under any circumstances.”


From Wikipedia:
Guadeloupe (/ɡwɑːdəˈluːp/; French pronunciation: ​[ɡwadəlup]; Antillean Creole: Gwadloup) is an insular region of France located in the Leeward Islands, part of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. Administratively, it is an overseas region consisting of a single overseas department. With a land area of 1,628 square kilometres (629 square miles) and an estimated population of 400,132 as of January 2015, it is the largest and most populous European Union territory in North America.

Guadeloupe's two main islands are Basse-Terre to the west and Grande-Terre to the east, which are separated by a narrow strait that is crossed with bridges. They are often referred to as a single island. The department also includes the Dependencies of Guadeloupe, which include the smaller islands of Marie-Galante and La Désirade, and the Îles des Saintes.

Guadeloupe, like the other overseas departments, is an integral part of France. As a constituent territory of the European Union and the Eurozone, the euro is its official currency and any European Union citizen is free to settle and work there indefinitely. As an overseas department, however, it is not part of the Schengen Area. The prefecture (regional capital) of Guadeloupe is the city of Basse-Terre, which lies on the island of the same name. The official language is French and Antillean Creole is spoken virtually by the entire population except recent arrivals from metropolitan France.



Ustad Nusrat & Co., putting it all in context again for me

Jaani Door Gaye - Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Listening to this song always reminds me of a time in India when I was walking alone on a road. It was very hot and I was very thirsty. Then I saw by the road a tree with many branches and leaves; the tree was so huge it must have been hundreds of years old. Under the canopy of tree branches was a man selling green coconuts. He lopped the top off a coconut, plunked a straw in it, and wordlessly handed it to me. I drank and drank and drank. Then I paid him and continued on my journey, refreshed.

Well, onward.


Maria caves in roof at Dominica PM's residence, devastates rest of island

My notes from CNN Breaking News televised report (See CNN website for the report): 
Latest text CNN update, filed at 2:27 AM Sept. 19:

Dominica PM: Hurricane Maria 'devastates' island
By Euan McKirdy, Joe Sterling and Holly Yan, CNN

The Caribbean island of Dominica has been "devastated" by Hurricane Maria, the country's Prime Minister tells CNN.

The powerful storm, which made landfall Monday night, has since been downgraded to a Category 4 with sustained winds of 155 mph. After it passes over Dominica it is on course to score a direct hit on the US territory of Puerto Rico -- the first hurricane of its strength to do so in 85 years. [Another report cited 1928 as the last time a Cat 4 or 5 hit Puerto Rico.]  

"We're just waiting for daybreak to do an assessment of the damage," Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit told CNN's Rosemary Church.

"Our first order of business will be search and rescue to ensure we can account for every single citizen and residents who were on the island during this really devastating hurricane."

A statement from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said that its record-topping winds reached 160 miles per hour when it hit the island nation. In an update the Center said that reports "indicate significant damage to structures has occurred in Dominica."

Maria made landfall on Dominica late Monday, coming ashore at 9:15 p.m. ET. It was so powerful that it tore the roof off the Prime Minister's residence.

"Personally I was affected," Skerrit said. "The roof of the residence caved in because of the strength of the wind. But I was taken to safe ground by ... police officers, thank God.

"This hurricane stayed in the country for a very, very long time and (was) just unrelenting. I don't think there were very many roofs which would survive the hurricane."

In a Facebook post he added: "So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace. My greatest fear for the morning is that we will wake to news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as a result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains."

The storm will continue moving toward Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as a strong Category 4 or a Category 5 and is not expected to diminish [appreciably] in strength.

Relentless march

After Dominica, Puerto Rico is in Maria's sights. It is moving toward the island as an "extremely dangerous major hurricane, and a hurricane warning has been issued for that island," the hurricane center said.

Puerto Rico's governor, Ricardo Rosselló, has declared a state of emergency ahead of that landfall, which will likely happen Wednesday.

A hurricane warning from the NHC remains in effect for Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat, the US and British Virgin Islands as well as Puerto Rico, Culebra, and Vieques.

US President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration for the US territory for federal assistance to augment the territory's storm-response initiatives.

The ferocity of Maria bears striking similarities to Hurricane Andrew, the Category 5 hurricane which hit the Bahamas and Florida in 1992 [and was the most destructive hurricane to hit Florida since record-keeping began], says CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri. 

Both storms are compact, and Maria's wind speed comes close to that of Hurricane Andrew -- 165 mph -- when it hit southern Florida.



Maria now Cat 5. Nature takes command of U.S. news cycle again.

How did that storm grow so fast into a monster? I guess the meteorologists know, but within less than 24 hours Maria went from a tropical storm to a Category 4 hurricane and then leapfrogged last night into a Cat 5. [shaking her head]   

See CNN for latest update, filed at 1:12 AM EDT September 19.

Hurricane Maria packs a Category 5 punch toward Dominica
Approx 10:00 PM EDT September 18, 2017
By Holly Yan and Joe Sterling *
CNN via St. Louis Post-Dispatch

A "potentially catastrophic" Hurricane Maria is now a Category 5 storm, packing 160 miles per hour winds -- with even higher gusts -- as it nears Dominica and takes aim at the US territory of Puerto Rico.
"The extremely dangerous core of Maria is expected to pass over Dominica within the next hour or two," the National Hurricane Center said in its 8 p.m. ET advisory. "Maria is likely to affect Puerto Rico as an extremely dangerous major hurricane, and a hurricane warning has been issued for that island."
A US Air Force Reserve C-130 Hurricane Hunter data measured the intense storm, which heightens the chance of life-threatening storm surge and "hitting the Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico."
For the first time in 85 years, Puerto Rico is expected to suffer a direct landfall from such a strong hurricane. Puerto Rico's governor has declared a state of emergency ahead of that landfall, which will likely happen Wednesday.
The hurricane center statement said Maria was centered about 15 miles east-southeast of Dominica and 40 miles and 70 kilometers north of Martinique. The mammoth storm was moving west-northwest at 9 mph.
President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico for federal assistance to augment the territory's storm-response initiatives.
Track the storm here

Bracing for impact in Dominica

Dominica is a small island with a population of nearly 74,000 about halfway between Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago, according to the CIA World Factbook. It's nearly 290 square miles (751 square kilometers) and "slightly more than four times the size of Washington DC."
"The Dominican economy has been dependent on agriculture -- primarily bananas -- in years past, but increasingly has been driven by tourism as the government seeks to promote Dominica as an 'ecotourism' destination," the factbook said.
Hours before Maria's expected landfall on Dominica -- and just over week after the island was brushed by Irma -- Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit urged residents to take any belongings that could become dangerous projectiles indoors.
"The next few hours should be placed on cleaning up around the house and on your properties rather than stockpiling weeks of foods and other supplies," Skerrit said in a televised speech.
"This is not a system that will linger very long. Therefore, the goal must not be on stockpiling supplies but on mitigating damage caused by flying objects."

Puerto Rico braces

Puerto Rico sheltered many of the evacuees who fled Hurricane Irma's wrath in other Caribbean islands. Now those evacuees and native Puerto Ricans are bracing for another catastrophic hurricane.
The governor ordered evacuations ahead of Tuesday's deteriorating conditions.
"We want to alert the people of Puerto Rico that this is not an event like we've ever seen before," Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told reporters.
Puerto Rico housing authorities said there are 450 shelters able to take in 62,714 evacuees, and up to 125,428 in an emergency situation. But there are six fewer shelters available post-Irma, since some schools still have no electricity.

"We expect to feel storm winds, tropical storm winds, since Tuesday up until late on Thursday. That's about two-and-a-half days of tropical storm winds, and on Wednesday we will feel the brunt -- all of the island will feel the brunt of sustained category four or five winds, Rosselló said.
"This is an event that will be damaging to the infrastructure, that will be catastrophic, and our main focus -- our only focus right now -- should be to make sure we save lives."
Rosselló added that Maria's size means all of Puerto Rico will experience hurricane conditions.
"It is time to seek refuge with a family member, friend, or move to a state shelter because rescuers will not go out and risk their lives once winds reach 50 miles per hour."
If Maria strikes the island as forecast, it will be "more dangerous than Hugo and Georges," he said.
Hurricane Hugo killed five people in Puerto Rico in 1989, and Hurricane Georges caused more than $1.7 billion in damage to the island in 1998.

Hurricane and tropical storm warnings

The storm will affect parts of the Leeward Islands and the British and US Virgin Islands for next couple of days, the center said.
Other Leeward Islands are now under hurricane warnings, including Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat. The US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands are under warnings.
Trump issued an emergency declaration for the US Virgin Islands.
There are tropical storm warnings in effect for Antigua and Barbuda, Saba and St. Eustatius, St. Martin, Anguilla and St. Lucia.
The government of the Dominican Republic has issued a hurricane watch from Isla Saona to Puerto Plata, and a tropical storm watch west of Puerto Plata to the northern Dominican Republic-Haiti border.
The British Foreign Office said more than 1,300 troops are in the region, on affected islands or nearby locations, ready to help after Maria goes by. One military team has been deployed to the British Virgin Islands.
A British military reconaissance team is on standby to go to Montserrat and assess needs, the office said. The HMS Ocean is set to arrive in the area at week's end with 60 tons of government supplies.

Hurricane Jose

Another hurricane, Jose, is also churning in the Atlantic and has spawned tropical storm warnings for part of the US East Coast.
While forecasters don't anticipate Jose making landfall in the US, it's still expected to cause "dangerous surf and rip currents" along the East Coast in the next few days, the hurricane center said.
* CNN's Brandon Miller, Marilia Brocchetto, Judson Jones, Taylor Ward, Deborah Bloom, Leyla Santiago, Michael Holmes, Matt Wotus and Susannah Cullinane contributed to this report.
Here are my notes from NBC News and Associated Press/CBS News reports-updates, both filed around 5:15 PM EDT 9/18:
  • Maria grew from a tropical storm to Category 4 hurricane in less than 24 hours. Now approaching Category 5. 
  • Per National Hurricane Center update approx 5 PM 9/18 Maria an "extremely dangerous" storm with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph. It was centered about 15 miles east-southeast of Dominica -- or 40 miles east of Martinique -- and heading west-northwest at 9 mph late Monday afternoon.
  • Hurricane warnings posted for the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, Martinique and St. Lucia. A tropical storm warning was issued for Antigua and Barbuda, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten and Anguilla. On Wednesday Maria is expected to be near or over Puerto Rico.
  • Maria's projected path will take it near many of the islands already wrecked/battered by Hurricane Irma.
  • Defensive preparations underway across Caribbean countries. 
  • Puerto Rico has imposed rationing of basic supplies including water and baby formula.
  • Puerto Rico as with other islands damaged by Irma is facing double catastrophe. 85 percent of customers in the capital are still without electricity from Irma; 6,000 are still without drinking water.
  • Forecasters said Maria would dump up to 18 inches of rain across Puerto Rico and whip the U.S. territory with heavy winds for 12 to 24 hours.
  • Puerto Rico hasn't been struck by a Cat 4 or 5 hurricane since 1928.
5:11 PM EDT - September 18, 2017
NBC News *
Hurricane Maria was strengthening fast into a monster storm Monday as it barreled toward Puerto Rico and other Irma-battered Caribbean islands.
Maria grew — in less than 24 hours — from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane that the National Hurricane Center called an "extremely dangerous" system.
At 5 p.m. ET it was just 45 miles east-southeast of Dominica, an island of 72,000 people in the Lesser Antilles, and producing maximum sustained winds of 135 mph.
Maria could begin threatening the Virgin Islands on Tuesday evening and Puerto Rico by Wednesday morning, said the hurricane center, which issued hurricane warnings for Puerto Rico and its satellite islands of Culebra and Vieques.

Puerto Rico has not been hit by a Category 4 or 5 hurricane since 1928, NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins said.

Maria, however, could be "catastrophic" for Puerto Rico, which was largely spared by Hurricane Irma, Karins said. It passed 50 miles north of the island and caused only wave damage, but even that was enough to knock out power to about 1 million people.

"There's an excellent chance that Maria will be a major hurricane very close to Puerto Rico in 48 hours," he said, adding that it could also hit the Irma-devastated U.S. and British Virgin Islands.

"Maria is expected to produce total rain accumulations of 6 to 12 inches with isolated maximum amounts of 20 inches across the central and southern Leeward Islands, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, through Wednesday night," the hurricane center warned.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló warned Sunday the storm could bring more rain, wind and water than Irma, which killed three people there.
Rosselló said 46,000 people — or about 85 percent of customers in the metropolitan area of the capital, San Juan — remained without electricity. Another 6,000 were still without drinking water.
Help is already on the way. A ship from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] was expected to arrive early Tuesday with more than 1 million gallons of water and 111 generators, and the island is ready to house 67,000 people across 450 shelters, Rosselló said.
"The priority is to be prepared and save lives," he said.
Last updated 5:22 PM EDT 9/18
Associated Press/CBS News
Puerto Rico imposes rationing as Hurricane Maria approaches

MIAMI -- Puerto Rico has imposed a rationing of basic supplies including water and baby formula as Hurricane Maria approaches as a Category 5 storm.
Officials said Monday that the rationing is necessary to ensure everyone has access to basic items such as batteries, milk, canned foods, flashlights and other supplies. It does not apply to gasoline or other fuels.
Shelves at many stores were emptying out quickly as people rushed to finalize hurricane preparations.
Many posted desperate pleas on social media for help in finding certain items.
Some stores were already imposing their own rationing measures and stressed that more merchandise was scheduled to arrive on Monday to replenish shelves, officials said.
[Puerto Rican Governor] Rossello said officials had prepared about 450 shelters with a capacity for nearly 68,000 people -- or even 125,000 in an emergency. Schools were cancelled for Monday and government employees would work only a half day.


Monday, September 18

Shoe on other foot: third time in a week al Qaeda poobah assassinated in Idlib

Yes indeed, it's getting mighty dangerous to be an AQ leader in Idlib province. Note the old-fashioned way they're doing it; no messing around with fancy bombs and IEDs, no suicide belts. 

Another Al-Qaeda leader ripped apart by assassin gunfire in Idlib, third in 1 week
By Andrew Illingworth
August 18, 2017

BEIRUT, LEBANON (2:55 P.M.) – Another senior leader of the Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham terrorist group (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda) has been assassinated in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib.

Abu Yaser al-Shami, a chief of real estate for Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham, was killed last night as he was passing through the town of Harm in Idlib’s northern countryside.

According to reports, the jihadist leader’s car was lit up by a torrent of gunfire coming from multiple assailants, killing him instantly.

The assassins who carried out the attack remain unidentified, either as individuals or as a group. No faction, rebel or pro-government, has taken credit for the hit.

This is now the third time in one week that a high-ranking Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham leader has been killed in Idlib at the hands of unknown assailants.



Al Saud plans largest mass deportation in modern history

Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, appointed Saudi Arabia's heir apparent to the throne (Crown Prince) in June 2017

August 1, 2016
TEHRAN (FNA)- New Delhi started to sending food for more than 10,000 Indian laborers stranded in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait with no wages after losing their jobs, in what Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj called a "food crisis".

In a series of tweets, Swaraj said the migrant workers were facing "extreme hardship" and that two junior foreign ministers will be sent to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to take up the issue with authorities, Middle East Eye reported.

"Large numbers of Indians have lost their jobs in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The employers have not paid wages and closed down their factories," Swaraj said.

"As a result our brothers and sisters in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are facing extreme hardship. While the situation in Kuwait is manageable, matters are much worse in Saudi Arabia. "The number of Indian workers facing food crisis in Saudi Arabia is over ten thousand." ...

August 29, 2017 
John Batchelor's interview with Gregory Copley, Editor and Publisher, Defense & Foreign Affairs for the John Batchelor Show (below is my transcription of the interview; above link is for the podcast):   

JB: ... The imminent dislocation of millions of workers now in Saudi Arabia without nationality. The plan is overwhelming and will dislocate the whole of the region, not just the Gulf but into Africa and eventually into Asia Minor.  

Gregory, you say that there is a plan imminent in Saudi Arabia to expel the non-national workers -- how many, who are they and why this plan now; what does it achieve?

GC:  It's perhaps the most significant deliberate population transfer we've seen attempted for decades, perhaps almost since World War Two. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the son of the current king and heir designate ["MbS"] is planning under his Vision 2023 program to reduce the population of Saudi Arabia by at least 10 million; he probably will need to [expel] more than that. 

What he's trying to do is expel people from the kingdom who are foreign workers or illegal workers in the country.     

The population is currently estimated at about 32.28 million; it  would be more than that, it could be less -- we don't know; the census is unreliable. 

The suggestion is that under the census 8.5 million people were in the kingdom as foreign workers. The reality is that it's probably 2 to 3 times that number of people. So expelling 10 million people from the population in Saudi Arabia will not markedly impact the totality of the foreign workers there.

A lot of these workers come from the [Indian] subcontinent -- India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the like  -- and from the Philippines. But perhaps the dominant portion is from Yemen. Huge numbers, particularly the undocumented numbers, are from Ethiopia and  Eritrea. A lot of these people will not be easily able to return to their home countries.  

What we're seeing is an exodus that totally dwarfs the exodus coming from Syria, for example, during its current war. So this could have profound impacts on a lot of neighboring countries.  But it will also have an impact on the countries which provided legal workers because they've been sending home foreign exchange -- remittances from their salaries; this has been a huge amount of capital [for the legal workers' home countries].

But if MbS's plan works, it will save the Saudis $20-48 billion a year just in remittances sent out of the kingdom. Saudi Arabia is running at a really serious currency deficit at the moment. Its GDP has been dropping progressively since 2014 and is likely to go down even further in the coming decade as the petroleum and social and defense expenses continue to rise.

JB:  And how will [the Saudi government] do this? Is this a roundup, an expulsion? Are they giving [foreign workers] tickets home? Do they just deprive them of their residence cards so they can arrest them and deport them en masse?

GC:  It's been underway for some time, these deportations, particularly to the Horn of Africa countries -- Somalia, Somaliland, Eritrea, Ethiopia -- and it's been a very messy process. I believe most [deportees] have had to fund their own exits. But if MbS is going to get his way, I think the government will have to start airlifts by chartered Saudi aircraft to get [a large number of] people out of the kingdom.

It's not going to be easy. We're talking at least half a million Ethiopians. A couple days ago the Saudi government said they had 450,000 Ethiopians slated for deportation, but in fact it will go over a half billion [because] Ethiopian deportations have been underway for some time. 

Eritreans [face] an even more difficult situation. None of them want to go back to Eritrea because the country is in desperate straits economically right now. The government there is forcing men of all ages into conscription in the armed forces and keeping them there indefinitely. Reminiscent of the old Tsarist practice of conscripting people and keeping them for 20 to 40 years in the armed forces. That is what's going on now in Eritrea.

JB:  What will this large returning number do to Yemen or to Eritrea, which are volatile to begin with? Will it deepen the crisis at home, will it solve it; can the government refuse to accept its own nationals? I'm asking about Eritrea, Ethiopia and Yemen.

GC: I don't think these countries will refuse to accept their own nationals but the problem is that arrivals could face arrest and detention in Ethiopia or Eritrea. 

[Pundita note:  I am not sure why this would be so, unless it's that they left their countries illegally to work in Saudi Arabia and/or did not declare their foreign earnings to the home government.] 
In Yemen the situation is a lot more fluid because of the conflict [war]. And actually the Saudi deportation of Yemenis, literally pushing them across the border by land transportation, could have an even further damaging effect on Yemen's stability.

As we know Crown Prince Mohammad has now said he doesn't want to continue the war in Yemen. So, pushing [deportees in large numbers] back into Yemen might actually do more damage to the country than the Saudi bombing did.

But Yemen in any event is slated to polarize into its original two components -- south Yemen and north Yemen -- or even fracture even further into earlier incarnations with the Hadramaut sultanates and the like perhaps becoming sovereign again on the Indian Ocean side of Yemen.

JB: What about those remittances? [Being deprived of them] would damage the economies. These are fragile economies surrounding Saudi Arabia. Iraq's got a fragile economy, Jordan is fragile, certainly the Horn of Africa. Do we expect those governments to become unstable because the [remittance] money's not coming in anymore?          

GC:  It will certainly mean enormous difficulties for those countries, as it will for countries like the Philippines that have provided a lot of the household servants and workers in Saudi Arabia. This is going to have a really significant impact.

In 2016 we saw that remittances out of Saudi Arabia from foreign workers totaled about $40 billion. That's actually down a little bit from previous years. So [the loss of] $40 billion will have an impact on these countries. For example when you think that Ethiopia's total GDP is about $25 billion and worker remittances into the country are around $5-6 billion.  So you knock a billion or two off that, and you're really having a significant impact on the economy and GDP of a country like Ethiopia.

JB:  Now about Saudi Arabia. Losing this number of workers -- can it make up for the lost labor? The OECD is telling us right now there is a labor shortage around the world. Is Saudi Arabia going to force out the dependents of the foreign workers and keep the trained people?

GC: I think it will keep the highly trained people. But you've got a situation in Saudi Arabia where the country is becoming increasingly polarized between the higher income brackets and the foreign workers, who are becoming of some concern to Saudi Arabia's social fabric. [However, the government] will have to provide more social services for [foreign workers] in any event -- even the remaining ones; it will have to provide a lot more social services and infrastructure to sustain them. 

So the real thing is getting [the large number of foreign workers] out of the country before more [social] damage is created. The Saudis can't afford to keep them. They will have to learn to do without them as cheap labor. But I think that's also MbS's Vision 2030 program -- to make the country much more productive and self reliant, and less reliant on oil and gas revenues as well.

JB:  I'm speaking with Gregory Copley, the Editor and Publisher of Defense & Foreign Affairs. We're going to move from focusing on Saudi Arabia to the whole of the Arabian peninsula and then the Gulf, and then the entire region because of a new quadripartite strategic bloc just forming now. One of the players in the bloc is Russia. 


The next part of the discussion starts at the 11:35 minute mark on the Audioboom podcast.  



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