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Thursday, June 22

"Champs Elysees attacker had been in Turkey and had huge arsenal of weapons: official"

Reuters
June 22, 2017 - 10:27am EDT

The man behind this week's attempted attack in Paris's Champs Elysees avenue had been to Turkey several times in 2016 where authorities questioned him over large amounts of gold and jewelry in his possession, and he had a huge arsenal of weapons, said the Paris prosecutor.

Paris public prosecutor Francois Molins added at a news conference on Thursday that the attacker - whom he named as French national "Adam D" - had also wanted to go to Syria and had pledged allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

On June 19, the individual had rammed a car carrying weapons and explosives into a police van as it drove in a convoy down Paris's Champs Elysees, and subsequently died.

"The arsenal of weapons discovered in the vehicle highlights the scale of the terrorist act that was being prepared, which - if it had succeeded - would have had terrible consequences [for] human life," said Molins.

Molins said authorities had not yet identified the nature of orange smoke coming out of the car after the attack. In his car were an assault rifle, two pistols, ammunition and two large gas canisters, authorities had previously said.

Adam D was married to a Tunisian and had two children, added Molins.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Michel Rose)

[END REPORT]

Estimated 600 high-rises in England have flammable cladding. Grenfell Tower disaster fallout continues

Also from The Guardian:
Grenfell Tower: 16 council inspections failed to stop use of flammable cladding
Exclusive: Officials tasked with enforcing strict fire regulations didn’t prevent use of material effectively banned on tall buildings

Rehousing of Grenfell Tower families in luxury block receives mixed response
While some residents welcome the families to Kensington Row others are less positive with concerns over future property prices

Six hundred high-rises in England thought to have flammable cladding
By Peter Walker and Robert Booth
22 June 2017 - 5:30am EDT, updated 07.09am
Thee Guardian

Councils in England estimate that about 600 high-rise buildings have similar flammable exterior cladding to that used on Grenfell Tower.

The estimate, revealed by Downing Street, came as Theresa May told parliament that urgent tests were taking place around the country to see how many tower blocks might be at risk following the devastating fire in west London.

Making a statement to the Commons about the fire last week in which at least 79 people died, the prime minister said initial test results had shown other blocks had seemingly used flammable cladding.

Speaking after May’s statement, a No 10 spokeswoman said that after councils were told to provide the government with details of cladding, a “small number” of samples were tested, and three of these were found to be combustible.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) was coordinating the process and facilities to allow for 100 samples a day to be tested, the spokeswoman said.

“So far, three samples have been found to be combustible,” she said. “In terms of how many buildings and how many homes have this type of cladding, the estimate provided to us by councils is that there are approximately 600 high-rise buildings with similar cladding.

“We are in touch with all the local authorities to encourage them to urgently send us the samples and then we will carry out the checks that we need to see where we are with that.”

In blocks where the cladding was found to be combustible further tests would be done to ensure the building was safe and residents could be rehoused.

“Obviously nobody will be living in buildings that are unsafe. They will be rehoused if they need to be and landlords will be asked to provide alternative accommodation where that’s possible,” the spokeswoman said.

The Guardian has learned that the London borough of Camden will immediately remove cladding from five tower blocks because it is similar to that which burned rapidly on Grenfell Tower.

Following independent testing of cladding on the Chalcots estate by the Building Research Establishment, the council leader, Georgia Gould, revealed the outer cladding panels on the blocks were made up of aluminium panels with a polyethylene core.

“The panels that were fitted were not to the standard that we had commissioned,” said Gould. “In light of this, we will be informing the contractor that we will be taking urgent legal advice.”

She said: “Camden council has decided it will immediately begin preparing to remove these external cladding panels from the five tower blocks on the Chalcots estate. Camden council will do whatever it takes to ensure our residents are reassured about the safety of their homes.”

Speaking in the Commons, May had said that some people might need to be moved. She said: “We cannot and will not allow people to live in unsafe homes.”

Answering questions from MPs after the statement, May said she could not yet say whether the cladding used on Grenfell Tower complied with relevant fire and building regulations, in part because of possible criminal charges.

May said the fire service and the Building Research Establishment were looking into the matter of the cladding’s compliance.

“They have been looking at the cause of the fire and any contributory factors to the fire. They are testing the cladding on the building and they expect to make the results of this public, I think in the next 48 hours,” she said.

Pressed on whether she could say the Grenfell Tower cladding met fire regulations, she said: “This is part of the criminal investigation.”

One tower currently being tested as part of the nationwide checks is Clements Court, a 13-storey block of 78 flats in Hounslow, west London.

“We are still going through the testing,” a spokeswoman for Hounslow council said. “We haven’t been told how long it takes for the results. We are monitoring on a daily basis.” The tests were being carried out with the support of the DCLG, she said.

Describing the fire as “one of the most unimaginable tragedies our country has seen in many years”, May said it was correct that the chief executive of Kensington and Chelsea council, Nicholas Holgate, had resigned, because the authority had not coped with the fire aftermath.

In his response, the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, asked why the council’s political leaders were not “taking responsibility for this terrible event”.

Corbyn said the government must do more to assist “overstretched and understaffed” fire services, and asked whether cuts to councils meant many did not have the staff to carry out proper fire checks.

“From Hillsborough, to the child sex abuse scandal, to Grenfell Tower, the pattern is consistent: working-class people’s voices are ignored, their concerns dismissed by those in power,” he said.

“The Grenfell Tower residents and north Kensington community deserve answers, and thousands and thousands of people living in tower blocks around the country need very urgent reassurance.”

Harriet Harman, in whose south London constituency six people died in 2009 in the Lakanal House apartment block, said May should accept ministers did not act on the recommendations of the resulting inquest.

Harman said of the Grenfell Tower fire: “She said that it was an unimaginable tragedy and that those deaths should not have happened. They would not have happened if the government had acted on the Lakanal coroner’s inquest rulings.”

May concluded her statement with an impassioned pledge to pay more attention to the needs of poorer people in social housing.

“As we move forwards, we must recognise that for too long in this country, under governments of both colours, we simply haven’t given enough attention to social housing. And this itself is a symptom of a more fundamental issue,” she said.

“It shouldn’t take a disaster of this kind for us to remember that there are people in Britain today living lives that are so far removed from those that many here in Westminster enjoy.

“In this tower, just a few miles from the Houses of Parliament in the heart of our great city, people live a fundamentally different life, do not feel the state works for them and are therefore mistrustful of it.

“So, long after the TV cameras have gone and the world has moved on, let the legacy of this awful tragedy be that we resolve never to forget these people and instead gear our policies and our thinking towards making their lives better and bringing them into the political process.”
[END REPORT]

********

Wednesday, June 21

Where do we go from here?



"Bring down the government" - Day of Rage over Grenfell Tower issues


Inadvertently funny headline from RT: 

‘Day of Rage’ protesters target Queen’s Speech to ‘bring down the government’

Happily we learn from the report that the Queen didn't speak about bringing down the government.


"Get your skates on." More hilarity, this time deliberate,  about the Queen's impatience to get through the speech quickly so she can attend the Ascot races. And her consort is in the hospital. So, there was no shilly-shallying about today in Parliament. Plus the Beeb has a good analysis of the speech.

********

Historic heat wave in Asia, Middle East, Europe now hits US southwest

The last week of May 2017 and first week of June brought one the most extraordinary heatwaves in world history to Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

**
The oven is fueled by a persistent dome of high pressure parked over the western United States, the National Weather Service said. The system is expected to remain there at least through the weekend, with any cooling later this week expected to be "almost unnoticeable" ...

In conditions like that, everyday objects can become branding irons — "hot enough so that anybody touching something can get a second-degree burn in less than a second" ...

Paw protectors against the blazing-hot sidewalks in Tempe

Photo: Angie Wang for AP (via NBC News report below)

Here I'm featuring reports on both record-shattering heat waves:  

Can’t Take the Heat? Stay Out of the West
by ALEX JOHNSON, MIGUEL ALMAGUER and STEVEN LOUIE

June 20, 2017 - 9:06pm EDT
NBC News

LOS ANGELES — The heat smothering the western United States has become so extreme that the National Weather Service warned Tuesday of a major potential for heat-related illnesses "and even death."

Sidewalks and roadways buckled in Northern California, the water was too hot for horses to drink in Southern California and more than 40 flights were canceled in Phoenix as temperatures approached 120 degrees in parts of Arizona, California and Nevada.

Excessive heat warnings and advisories stretched the length of California, across all of Arizona, north into Utah and Nevada and east into New Mexico on Tuesday.

"We are talking really hot temperatures," said Domenica Davis, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel. "This is actually the peak of the heat that we're seeing in the desert Southwest, where we're talking all-time record highs that can be broken."

Records were smashed across Arizona. The high of 120 degrees in Yuma broke the previous record by 4 degrees. Highs of 119 in Phoenix and 116 in Tucson also set new marks, according to the National Weather Service.

Extreme temperatures in the Sacramento, California, area, where the high hit 105 on Tuesday and was expected to reach 108 on Wednesday, expanded moisture in the soil after an unusually wet winter, causing sidewalks and parts of U.S. Route 50 to break apart and sink.

The state Transportation Department said it had responded three times since Sunday to repair cracked pavement on Route 50, shutting down parts of the heavily traveled road for several hours at least twice.

We're having high temperatures and we're not even in summer yet," Gilbert Montessori-Chan, a spokesman for the Transportation Department, told NBC affiliate KCRA. "We don't know what Mother Nature will bring."

In Indio, in Southern California near Joshua Tree National Park, the water is so hot that some of the horses at Coachella Valley Horse Rescue can't drink it. Indio reached 118 degrees on Tuesday, breaking a record that had stood for 87 years.

Annette Garcia, the shelter's rescue director, told NBC station KMIR of Palm Springs that staffers have to go stall by stall dropping blocks of ice in the horses' drinking water.

[...]

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, more than 40 regional departures were canceled Tuesday. Bret Jensen, a spokesman for Boeing Co., told CNBC that the problem isn't with the airplanes themselves, it's with the air, which becomes too thin to provide lift for smaller jets.

The oven is fueled by a persistent dome of high pressure parked over the western United States, the National Weather Service said. The system is expected to remain there at least through the weekend, with any cooling later this week expected to be "almost unnoticeable," it said, warning of a "major potential for heat-related illness and even death" in the days to come.

In conditions like that, everyday objects can become branding irons — "hot enough so that anybody touching something can get a second-degree burn in less than a second," said Dr. Kevin Foster, director of the Arizona Burn Center at Maricopa Integrated Health System in Phoenix.

"Touching the silver handle to a car door or sitting down into black upholstery in a car or even touching the steering wheel in a car can cause burns," Foster told NBC News.

And if you want to use your garden hose to cool off? Think twice, Foster said.

"The hose itself can be very hot," he said. "And the water coming out of the hose can be close to boiling."

Alex Johnson reported from Los Angeles. Miguel Almaguer and Steven Louis reported from Phoenix

[END NBC REPORT]

Historic Heat Wave Sweeps Asia, the Middle East and Europe
Dr. Jeff Masters
June 6, 2017, 4:04 PM EDT
Weather Underground

The last week of May 2017 and first week of June brought one the most extraordinary heatwaves in world history to Asia, the Middle East and Europe. The mercury shot up to an astonishing 53.5°C (128.3°F) at Turbat, Pakistan on May 28, making it Earth’s hottest temperature ever recorded in the month of May—and one of Earth’s top-five hottest reliably-measured temperatures on record, for any month. Both Pakistan and Oman tied their all-time national heat records for any month during the heat wave, and all-time national heat records for the month of May were set in Iran, Norway and Austria. International weather records expert Maximiliano Herrera details the great heat wave in this guest post.

Middle East and Southwest Asia heat wave

During the last week of May, an impressive dome of overheated air with an isotherm of 35°C (95°F) at 850 hpa (approximately 5,000 feet) extended across the Strait of Hormuz near southern Iran and southwestern Pakistan. In places where this air was being forced downward, the extreme heat allowed for strong compressional warming that produced exceptional surface temperatures.
On May 28, after a minimum temperature of 34.5°C (94°F), the high temperature in the Western Pakistani town of Turbat reached 53.5°C (128.3°F) in mid-afternoon. This tied the all-time highest temperature ever recorded in Pakistan, and the world record of highest temperature for May--both set in Moen Jo Daro on May 26, 2010 (not May 27 as wrongly reported in some media.)
There is a controversy about the correct maximum temperature in Turbat, though. It was reported by the Pakistan Meteorological Department as 53.5°C (the precision of the thermometer is 0.5°C, like in most Pakistani stations), but the temperature was later rounded to 54.0°C (129.2°F.) If that is correct, it would tie the highest reliable temperature ever recorded in the planet, the 54.0°C reading set on July 21, 2016 in Mitribah, Kuwait. 
Regardless, the 53.5°C reading at Turbat on May 28, 2017, ranks as one of Earth’s top five hottest reliably-measured temperatures on record; see Wunderground weather historian Chris Burt’s July 22, 2016 post, Hottest Reliably Measured Air Temperatures on Earth, for more information. The World Meteorological Organization, which is currently checking the reliability of the Mitribah thermometer, will also carry out an investigation on the reliability of the Turbat reading--and to find out whether this rounding from 53.5°C to 54.0°C makes sense.
In nearby eastern Iran, the temperatures peaked at 52.8°C (127°F) at the military base of Konarak, and 52.6°C (126.7°F ) in the village of Renk, destroying the record of the highest temperature ever recorded in May in Iran (50.5°C in Bostan in May 1999), and approaching the highest reliable temperature ever recorded in Iran, 53°C.
In the following days, the intense heat moved down to Oman, where nearly half of the stations set their all-time highest temperatures. The most important of these records were the 50.8°C (123.4°Frecorded on May 30 at Qurayyat and on May 31 at Joba. These readings tie the national record of highest temperature ever recorded in Oman (previously set at Buraimi in July 1990 and at Sohar Majis in May 2009.)
In Saudi Arabia, after a wind shift, an exceptional value of 48°C (118.4°Fwas recorded in the port of Wejh (Al Wahj), tying the highest temperature ever recorded in the Northwestern coast of Saudi Arabia (facing the Red Sea); the same value was recorded in June 1978.

In the United Arab Emirates, the difference of temperature between the atmosphere and the sea, together with the intense sea breeze, caused impressive differences in weather. Coastal areas were affected by thick fog, and even mist, but temperatures were very high on the mountain peaks. At one point, the temperature of the weather station on the Burj Al Khalifa Building in Dubai (625 meters above sea level) was 15°C (27°F) higher than that of coastal Dubai.
[See website for Figure 1]

European heat wave

A dome of high pressure from Morocco extended over Western Europe beginning on May 24, then moved north and then east. As a result, monthly records of highest temperatures were widespread in Spain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Ireland, Norway, Germany and Austria. Very high temperatures were also set in the Alps, with an amazing 5.8°C (42.4°F) on May 27 on the top of Italy’s Col Major (elevation 4750 meters or 15,584 feet), just at the side of Mount Blanc. In particular, two national records for the month of May were broken: in Norway with 32.2°C (90°F) at Tinnsjø on May 27, and in Austria with 35.0°C (95°F) at Horn on May 31.

Vietnamese heat wave

An intense heat wave caused by downslope winds from the Laotian mountains towards the Vietnamese coast affected the area around Vietnam’s capital of Hanoi in early June, particularly between June 2 - 4. The central observatory of Lang on June 4 recorded 41.5°C (106.7°F), destroying its previous all-time record of 40.4°C, set in 1971. On June 4, the district of Ha Dong (which hosts an international weather station representative of Hanoi) recorded 42.5°C (108.5°F), by far the highest temperature ever recorded in the Hanoi area. (During the colonial times, unusually high values were recorded with stations affected by overexposure conditions, including the infamous record of 42.8°C in May 1926, which is believed to be unreliable--just like similar values recorded in Indochina in those years.) In the central area of Hanoi, near Hoan Kiem Lake, the humidity is usually higher than its surroundings, and the combination of temperatures as high as 41°C (105.8°F) with humidity values near 50% made the heat index an unbearable 55°C (131°F).

[END REPORT]
********

Saudi King appoints son Mohammad Bin Salman as New Crown Prince: UPDATED

UPDATE
A Reuters report published at 1:25am EDT today has an analysis of the elevation of MbS to Crown Prince, although more extensive analyses are sure to follow within the next few hours. While not entirely unexpected, the suddenness of the change, and at this very delicate juncture (given the Qatar situation), and the fact that MbN, the now-former Crown Prince, has been relieved of all his duties suggests a big shakeout in the kingdom -- and while Reuters doesn't say this, perhaps in the military as well.  

As to whether MbN and his faction were against the kingdom laying sanctions on Qatar -- I don't know, but if so that might explain the timing of the shakeout.

Keep in mind the shakeout is happening against the backdrop of the continuing slide in the price of oil.  

From the Reuters report:
...[MbS] has assumed a startling array of powers [even before he was elevated to Crown Prince].
He is Defence Minister, a role that in Saudi Arabia gives its incumbent command of one of the world's biggest arms budgets and makes him ultimately responsible for Saudi Arabia's unprecedented military adventure in Yemen.
He also heads the Council for Economic and Development Affairs (CEDA), a group of cabinet ministers who meet weekly and which oversees all elements of policy that touch on the economy or social issues like education, health and housing.
Prince Mohammed chairs the supreme board of Aramco, making him the first member of the ruling family to directly oversee the state oil company, long regarded as the preserve of commoner technocrats.

But perhaps most importantly, he also holds the critical position of gatekeeper to his father, King Salman, who in Saudi Arabia's absolute monarchy retains the final say in any major decision of state.
[...] 
END UPDATE

Sputnik
06:44 - 21.06.2017 (updated 07:07)

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has fired crown prince Muhammad Bin Nayef, replacing him with own son Mohammad Bin Salman, according to the king's decree.

Mohammad Bin Salman, 31, the deputy crown prince and Saudi Arabia's defense minister, was named the new crown prince instead of Muhammad Bin Nayef.
The Al-Arabiya broadcaster reported that Muhammad Bin Nayef has also lost the post of the interior minister. The post was filled with Prince Abdelaziz bin Saud bin Nayeff, according to media reports.
The news comes amid the ongoing standoff between a number of Gulf states and Qatar. On June 5, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing the latter of supporting terrorist organizations and destabilizing the situation in the Middle East.
Yemen, the Maldives, Mauritius, Mauritania and the eastern-based government in divided Libya also announced a break in relations with Doha, while Jordan and Djibouti said they would lower the level of diplomatic contacts with Qatar. Senegal, Chad  and Niger recalled their ambassadors from Doha.
MORE TO FOLLOW
[END REPORT]
********

Tuesday, June 20

Failed suicide bomb in Brussels train station

This time the authorities didn't drag their feet about labeling the attempt a terrorist attack. 
  
RT, 20 Jun, 2017 21:42
Belgian soldiers have “neutralized” a person wearing reportedly an explosive belt at Brussels Central Station. A spokesperson for the Belgian Federal prosecutor confirmed that the suspect is still at the scene but his condition is unknown.

"We do not know whether the man, whose identity we have yet to confirm, is alive or dead. However, this was a terrorist attack," Eric Van der Sijpt, spokesperson for the Belgian Federal prosecutor told reporters at a press conference at the scene.
Van der Sijpt confirmed that there were no other casualties in the attack.
Crisis Center Belgium have advised that a controlled explosion may be carried out on the scene by bomb disposal experts.
[...]
****
Suspect shot in Brussels Central Station terror attack
By Emanuella Grinberg and Nancy Coleman, CNN
Updated 6:09 PM ET, Tue June 20, 2017
CNN

A suspect was shot at Brussels Central Station Tuesday after a failed bombing that Belgian authorities are calling a terrorist attack.


The situation is under control following a "small explosion" in the station around 8:30 p.m., Belgium Prosecutor's Office spokesman Eric Van Der Sypt said in a news conference Tuesday.


"The suspect was neutralized by soldiers," Van Der Sypt said, characterizing the incident as a terror attack.

No civilians were injured in the attack, he said. Authorities do not know if the suspect is alive or dead.


The Belgian Foreign Ministry said the threat level remains at 3, which warns of a "possible and likely threat." The ministry added there is no indication of other incidents.


Belgian Army soldiers and police patrol Brussels Central Station after reports of explosions.


Central Station was evacuated and closed along with two other stations in the Belgian capital. Armed patrols, including a bomb disposal unit, surrounded the station.


A witness who was inside the station during the incident said he heard two explosions and then heard someone yell "Allahu Akbar" twice followed by heavy gunfire.


Sandor Moors said he was waiting on the train platform downstairs when he heard one bang followed by another and then the cries.


"There was a security announcement to leave the station. 

Military came down with heavy guns looking for someone."
After the gunfire he went upstairs looking for an escape. As he passed through what appeared to be gun smoke he said he saw a man with three bullet wounds.


"I don't know if he survived. He looked dead," Moors said.
Remy Bonnaffe said he was inside the station when an explosion went off, followed by a fire.


"The bang was very loud, it was like a very big firework that just went up in front of my nose," he said.


"The fire was very small. It was a very small explosion but a very loud bang."


Arash Aazami was walking into the train station when he saw people running out of the building. A restaurant next door let him and others inside as police secured the station.


"There's a lot of military here, but the situation seems to be contained," Aazami said. "There's no sign of panic."


CNN's Samantha Beech, Paul Cruickshank, Natalie Gallón, Julia Jones, Paul P. Murphy, Sebastian Shukla, and Donie Sullivan contributed to this report.

[...]

Monday, June 19

Chancellor Merkel's Munich Beer Tent Declaration

"As in the first half of the 20th century, the deepening rivalries between the imperialist powers over raw materials, markets and geostrategic influence are leading once again to a war between the great powers ..."

Naw.  Just nobody assassinate any archdukes right now and we'll be okay.  

Germany issues stinging rebuke of US sanctions against Russia
By Johannes Stern
17 June 2017
World Socialist Web Site
Germany’s Foreign Ministry published a sharply-worded press release Thursday from Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (Social Democrats, SPD) and Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern (Social Democrats, SPÖ) denouncing the United States’ foreign and economic policies.
Republicans and Democrats agreed almost unanimously, by 97 votes to 2, to impose new sanctions on Russia in the Senate on Wednesday. The Senate justified the measure as a punishment for Moscow’s alleged meddling in the US presidential election, the annexation of Crimea and its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The bipartisan bill was “the package of sanctions the Kremlin deserves for its actions,” said Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen.
Gabriel and Kern brusquely rejected the US Senate’s measure. The bill was really about “the sale of American liquefied gas and the sidelining of Russian gas supplies in the European market,” according to the two social democratic politicians. That emerges from the text “particularly explicitly.” The goal was “to secure jobs in the American oil and gas industries.”
The US and Europe had since 2014 “side by side and in close joint consultation answered Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which is illegal under international law, and its actions in eastern Ukraine. … But the threat to impose extraterritorial sanctions which violate international law on European companies participating in the expansion of European energy supplies” could not be tolerated. Europe’s energy provision was “a European affair, and not one for the United States of America!”
Gabriel and Kern went on to warn, “Instruments of political sanctions should not be connected with economic interests.” Threatening European companies “in US markets with punishments” if they participate in or finance projects like the Nord Stream II oil pipeline with Russia would introduce “an entirely new and extremely negative quality to European-American relations.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel explicitly backed her Foreign Minister on Friday. There was “very strong agreement in terms of content with Gabriel’s statement,” stated government spokesman Stefan Seibert. “It is, to put it mildly, an unconventional action by the US Senate.” It was troubling that European businesses were being targeted by sanctions to punish Russian behaviour. “That cannot be allowed,” added Seibert.
The bipartisan action by the US Senate and the sharp response from the German government make clear that the conflicts between the US and Germany are not simply intensifying as a result of President Donald Trump, but have deep objective roots. Twenty five years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the conflicts between the major imperialist powers, which resulted in two world wars during the 20th century, are erupting into the open once again.
Following the G7 summit three weeks ago, Merkel, in a speech delivered in a Munich beer tent, called into question the alliance with the United States, which formed the basis of Germany’s foreign policy in the post-war era. “The times in which we could completely depend upon others are long past,” she stated and advanced on this basis the demand, “We Euroepans really have to take our fate into our own hands” and “fight for our own future.”
The German government has since worked systematically to expand its global political and economic relations. After Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Berlin at the beginning of the month, and Merkel visited Argentina and Mexico last week, the government organised a major conference on Africa in Berlin earlier this week.
As Berlin moves to fulfil Gabriel’s pledge to “use the spaces vacated by America,” the tensions with Washington are rising. Already last week, Gabriel criticised the US-backed action taken by Saudi Arabia against Qatar, which is aimed above all at Iran. In a statement, Gabriel defended the emirate and warned against a “Trumpification” of relations in the region. The “latest gigantic arms deals between US President Trump and the Gulf monarchies” intensified “the danger of a new arms race.” This was “a completely wrong policy, and certainly not Germany’s policy.”
Gabriel’s statements against the United States have nothing to do with pacifism. He is not concerned with “peace,” but the enforcement of German imperialist interests, which are increasingly at odds with those of the United States. While the United States under Trump is ever more openly heading in the direction of war with Iran, the German government is striving for a further opening up of the country’s economy to secure new markets for German corporations in the Middle East and new investment opportunities for German capital.
The same applies to Russia. Although the German government supported the right-wing coup against Viktor Yanukovitch alongside the US in Ukraine in 2014, and stationed troops on the Russian border, it opposed open conflict with Russia over Ukraine. In his new book “Remeasurements,” Gabriel boasts that “with the Minsk Accord, France and Germany, on behalf of Europe, while not resolving an escalating conflict, curbed it significantly for the first time,” and had done so “without the United States.”
Washington, at that time, had been “close to…supplying weapons to Ukraine,” the Foreign Minister stated. “With the cynical idea that although Russia could not be defeated militarily, it would be pressurised into peace talks more rapidly if it paid a high ‘price in blood’. The war in Ukraine would have become a war over Ukraine.” But Europe was “grown up enough…to foresee this and to let Germany and France negotiate.”
Following Brexit, the election of Trump and the victory of pro-European President Emmanuel Macron, Berlin seemingly feels it is “grown up enough” to increasingly distance itself from the US and to press ahead with the construction of a European army under German leadership.
“Europe’s security is Europe’s own responsibility,” noted Gabriel in his book. “We must become capable of acting strategically in foreign and security policy, because we don’t do so enough. That includes us defining our European interests and articulating them independently of the US. This obstinacy requires to some extent an emancipation from the direction adopted in Washington.”
He goes on, “Whoever has their own goals also should develop their capabilities to achieve them. The EU needs to see itself as a greater security policy power. Our defence budgets must be adjusted accordingly. The armaments of the European armies need to be modernised, made operationally deployable and reoriented to military tasks.”
Gabriel’s declared goal is the building of a veritable European combat power capable of enforcing its global imperialist interests independently of NATO and the US, and, if necessary, against them. The issue is not “just to buy new weapons. It is about integrating the arms industry more in Europe and pooling forces. It is about creating a joint European security identity, which opens the way to a European army through ever more closely integrated structures.”
This policy, which is supported by all of Germany’s parties, from the CDU/CSU to the SPD, Greens and Left Party, has an irresistible logic. As in the first half of the 20th century, the deepening rivalries between the imperialist powers over raw materials, markets and geostrategic influence are leading once again to a war between the great powers, unless the working class intervenes on the basis of its own socialist strategy.
[END]
*********

Presumed attempted suicide attack on French police in Champs-Élysées; perp dead

Daily Mail:
"Terror returns to Paris"

The dramatic moment a known extremist is pulled out of a smoking car containing weapons and explosives after RAMMING a police van in a ‘terror attack’ on the Champs-Élysées before an officer checks him for a suicide bomb
  • Car burst into flames moments after impact in the Paris tourist hotspot which is the main shopping district
  • Driver, who police confirmed as dead, was carrying a gun when he crashed into the police van deliberately
  • Witness said he heard shots being fired and saw smoke coming from the car after the collision this afternoon 
  • People were seen fleeing the area as police officers armed with machine guns attempted to get them to safety
By Gareth Davies In London and Peter Allen In Paris for MailOnline
PUBLISHED: 10:12 EDT, 19 June 2017 | UPDATED: 12:45 EDT, 19 June 2017


A driver with a gun has died after ramming a police van on the Champs-Élysées in a car filled with weapons and a gas bomb.

His car burst into flames moments after impact having deliberately aimed at a line of police vans with a boot full of Kalashnikov rifles, handguns and gas bottles.

A police officer was videoed stripping clothes from the unconscious assailant to check for a suicide bomb as the assailant, who was a known extremist in France, lay dying in the street.

Witnesses in the capital said he heard shots being fired and smoke coming from the silver Renault Megane which was used by the 31-year-old perpetrator in what is being considered an attempted suicide attack, though nobody was injured.

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[Video/photos]

French anti-terrorism prosecutors opened an inquiry today after a suspected suicide attacker was seen targeting a line of police vans which were travelling up the Champs Elysee towards the Arc de Triomphe.

'There was a sudden impact, and then a fireball,' said an investigating source. 'A gas bomb was in the car.

'The man was very badly injured, and then pulled out of his damaged vehicle. He was badly injured in the collision and was taken away.

'He did not cause any injuries, but the collision was a deliberate act.'

An Interior Ministry source meanwhile said that the attacker 'is likely to have died following the attack'.

He added that 'numerous weapons were found in his car boot'.

The specialist anti-terrorism officers confirmed they had opened an inquiry into the kamikaze attack.

France's Interior Minister Gerard Collomb called the incident an attempted attack and said: 'Security forces have been targeted in France once again'.

The weapons and explosives found in the vehicle 'could potentially blow this car up,' he added.

Interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said bomb disposal experts were on the scene to 'ensure the vehicle poses no further danger'.

Video showed orange smoke pouring from the car after the impact.

No police or bystanders were injured in the incident near the Grand Palais exhibition hall.

Police have closed two of the Metro stations on the Champs-Elysees, the world-renowned avenue lined with shops and cinemas that is a major tourist draw in the French capital.

The incident came just two months after a policeman was shot and killed on the avenue, three days before the first round of France's presidential election.

[...]

It is understood the car crashed into a police van and that there were no casualties as video footage emerged of the aftermath.

People were seen fleeing the area as police officers armed with machine guns frantically cleared the tourist hotspot.

A witness, who was just 20 metres from the incident, said: 'Large bangs followed by what sounded like shots fired near a car with smoke coming out of it on Champs Elysees.'

He added that one person was on the ground and that everyone in the area was told to run.

A journalist who happened to be in the area at the time said the man deliberately crashed his car into the van causing his vehicle to be set alight.

Officers leapt into action and broke the car window to drag him from the flames.

[...]

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"Russia cuts deconfliction channel with Washington after US downs Syrian jet"

TASS
June 19, 14:23 UTC+3

Russia will regard any flights within the area of its air force group's operation in Syria as legitimate targets

MOSCOW, June 19. /TASS/. Moscow is terminating its communication channel with the United States under a memorandum for preventing incidents in Syria's skies, as a consequence for the US downing a Syrian Su-22 plane, Russia’s Defense Ministry reported on Monday.

As of June 19 this year, the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation has ended its interaction with the US side under a memorandum for preventing incidents and providing for safe flights during operations in Syria and demands that the US command carry out a careful investigation and report about its results and the measures taken," the statement reads.

"The shooting down of a Syrian Air Force jet in Syria’s airspace is a cynical violation of Syria’s sovereignty. The US’ repeated combat operations under the guise of ‘combating terrorism’ against the legitimate armed forces of a UN member-state are a flagrant violation of international law, in addition to being actual military aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic," the ministry said.

Russia will regard any flights within the area of its air force group's operation in Syria as legitimate targets, the ministry stressed.

"Any aircraft, including planes and drones of the international coalition, detected in the operation areas west of the Euphrates River by the Russian air forces will be followed by Russian ground-based air defense and air defense aircraft as air targets," the report said.

The ministry explained the reasons for suspending the memorandum. According to the ministry, at the moment the Syrian warplane was hit by the US fighter, Russia’s Aerospace Forces were carrying out missions in Syria’s airspace; 

"However, the coalition command did not use the existing communication line between the air commands of Al Udeid Air Base (Qatar) and Khmeimim Air Base to prevent incidents in Syria’s airspace."

"We consider the actions of the US command as a deliberate default on their obligations under the memorandum on on preventing incidents and providing for safe flights during operations in Syria signed on October 20, 2015," the Defense Ministry stressed.

On June 18, a US fighter jet from the international coalition shot down a Su-22 fighter of the Syrian Air Force using an air-to-air missile. The Syrian warplane was carrying out a combat mission to provide air cover for government troops units, which mounted an offensive against the Islamic State terror group (outlawed in Russia) near the populated locality of al-Rasafeh. The Syrian jet was destroyed by the attack. 

The pilot ejected over the area controlled by terrorists, his fate is unknown.

[END REPORT]

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"Transfer of German troops from Turkey's Incirlik to Jordan to start in July"

"German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has told German media that Bundeswehr troops will begin pulling out from a Turkish air base in July. The move comes amid strained relations between the two NATO allies."

See DW for the report, filed yesterday, and map showing location of the Jordanian base. 

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Portugal fire: "Many blamed depopulation of villages that left wooded areas untended."

Portugal's deadliest fire still rages after 62 people killed
Reuters
June 19, 2017 - 6:42am EDT
By Axel Bugge | PEDROGAO GRANDE, PORTUGAL
[See website for photos]

More than 1,000 firefighters were still battling Portugal's deadliest forest blaze on Monday after it killed at least 62 people over the weekend.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who on Sunday visited Pedrogao Grande, a mountainous area about 200 kilometers (125 miles) northeast of Lisbon, called it the biggest human tragedy in Portugal in living memory.

Welcome light rain that started on Monday morning brought only modest relief to the shocked population and exhausted firefighters. Water planes, including French and Spanish ones, resumed their missions after stopping overnight.

"There is still a lot of forest that can burn and the rain does not make much difference," said Rui Barreto, deputy chief firefighter at the makeshift emergency services headquarters in Pedrogao Grande as thunder rolled through the skies over the ash-covered town.

Firefighters said the weather conditions were still adverse in most areas where the flames were raging. Two army battalions were helping the emergency services.

Dozens of fire engines drove back and forth to fight the raging blaze in areas as far as 20km north of Pedrogao Grande. In a sign of help Portugal is receiving from its European neighbors, four Spanish fire engines were seen driving off from the headquarters.

At least half the victims died in their cars as they tried to flee along a local motorway while many other bodies were found next to the road, suggesting they had probably abandoned their vehicles in panic.

GOVERNMENT ASSURANCES

Despite government assurances that the first response by the emergency services was swift and adequate, many media and residents questioned the efficiency of the operation and the strategic planning in a country which is used to wooded areas burning every year.

"So what failed this Saturday? Everything, as it has failed for decades," read a headline in the daily Publico, which blamed a lack of coordination between services in charge of fire prevention and firefighting and poor forestry reserve planning.

Police said a lightning strike on a tree probably caused the blaze on Saturday in a region hit by an intense heat wave and dry, gusty winds, which fanned the flames.

The regional prosecutor still ordered a criminal investigation into the causes, which he said would be shelved if the police version of events is confirmed. Many forest fires in Portugal are caused by arson or carelessness.

A public petition circulating on the Internet demanding an investigation into possible failures by the authorities has gathered about 270 signatures.

Local residents said they had been without the support of firefighters for hours as their homes burned. Many blamed depopulation of villages that left wooded areas untended.

(Writing by Andrei Khalip, editing by Ed Osmond)

[END REPORT]

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79 now estimated dead in Grenfell Tower fire

The toll of presumed dead was revised around 10:30am. Here is the BBC report on the new figure. The latest Daily Mail report on the fire, which refers to the tower having 27 stories rather 24, contains several photographs of the charred inside of the building that were released by the Met police. The photos help explain why it's such slow work to find human remains.

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US escalates its war on Syria's military

With its shooting down of a Syrian warplane yesterday the United States is escalating its war on Syria's military, which heated up as the SAA began scoring major victories against Islamic State and al Qaeda front groups in Syria:
TEHRAN (FNA)- Damascus announced in a statement on Sunday that the US-led coalition has shot down one of its fighter jets during a mission in Raqqa countryside. According to the statement, the warplane was carrying out operations against ISIL in the countryside of Raqqa when it was targeted, leading to a crash and the loss of the pilot, who is currently missing.
The Syrian army backed by the country's air force continued its military operation in the Western part of Raqqa, after capturing ISIL's last bastion in Eastern Aleppo and has captured several districts in recent days.

... on May 18, the US-led coalition struck pro-Bashar Assad forces near al-Tanf in the area of an established de-confliction zone. The coalition air raids occurred near al-Tanf, where US and British special operations forces have been training militants near the border with Iraq and Jordan.
On June 6, the Pentagon announced the coalition conducted a strike on pro-Syrian government forces as they entered the de-confliction zone with Russia and posed threat to its personnel. The Syrian force was comprised of a tank, artillery, anti-aircraft weapons, armed technical vehicles and more than 60 soldiers. At least two Syrian servicemen were killed and more than 15 injured as a result of the attack.
On June 8, the US-led coalition bombed pro-Damascus forces near al-Tanf in the area of a de-confliction zone following an alleged attack by a combat drone resulting in no coalition forces' casualties. This was the third attack by the coalition on Damascus' allies in the area. The coalition targeted a drone and trucks with weapons.
Those weren't the first American-led attacks on Syria's military, the worst occurring on September 16 when the U.S. coalition committed a massacre of about 80 Syrian ground troops in Deir Ezzor as the troops were preparing a major assault on ISIL. This despite  pleas from the Russian military to the American command in the region to call off airstrikes on the troops. 

The American excuse for not doing so? Nobody at the phone to take the Russian call. The American excuse for shooting down the Syrian warplane yesterday is almost as thin:
"At 6:43 p.m., a Syrian regime SU-22 dropped bombs near SDF fighters south of Tabqah and, in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defense of Coalition partnered forces, was immediately shot down by a U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet," the [U.S. coalition] statement read.
The Coalition headquarters said it contacted Russian representatives to de-escalate the situation after the attack.
Here a sensible person would ask why the U.S. command didn't attempt to de-escalate the situation before shooting down the Syrian plane, that being what de-escalation is supposed to be about.

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Blame it on oligarchs? Why not stop buying from Amazon, you ninnies

"Indeed for most Americans the once-promising new economy has meant a descent, as one MIT economist recently put it, toward a precarious position usually associated with Third World countries."
The above quote is just one of the great one-liners from Joel Kotkin's June 19 piece for Daily Beast headlined Amazon Eats Up Whole Foods as the New Masters of the Universe Plunder America: "Unlike our old moguls, the new Masters don’t promise greater prosperity but a world where most people are to be satiated by a state-provided basic income and occasional ‘gig’ work."  

Posted in red letters above the headline is the ominous question: "Democracy or Oligarchy?" 

You really should read the entire thing but to convey the mood emanating from Kotkin's keyboard:
“We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” —Justice Louis Brandeis
With his $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has made clear his determination to dominate every facet of mass retailing, likely at the cost of massive layoffs in the $800 billion supermarket sector.
But this, if anything, understates the ambitions of America’s new ruling class, almost entirely based in San Francisco and Seattle, as it moves to take over industries from entertainment and transportation to energy and space exploration that once thrived and competed outside the reach of the oligarchy.
Brandeis posed his choice at a time when industrial moguls and allied Wall Street financiers dominated the American economy. Like the oligarchs of the past, today’s new Masters of the Universe are reshaping our society in ways that could, if unchallenged, undermine the foundations of our middle-class republic.
This new oligarchy has amassed wealth that would impress the likes of J.P. Morgan. Bezos’ net worth is a remarkable $84.7 billion; the Whole Foods acquisition makes him the world’s second richest man, up from the third richest last year. His $600 million gain in Amazon stock from the purchase is more than the combined winnings of Whole Foods’ 10 top shareholders.
The Emergence of Oligarchic America
 Founded two decades ago, Amazon revenue has grown eightfold in the last decade. Bezos now wants to “reorganize the world,” as one tech writer put it, “as an Amazon storefront.” He has done this by convincing investors that despite scant profits, the ample rewards of monopoly await. Kroger, or the corner-food store, enjoys no such luxury. With a seemingly endless supply of capital and the prospect of never-ending expansion, the Silicon Valley-Puget Sound oligarchy now accounts for six of the world’s 13 richest people, and virtually all billionaires who are not either very old or merely inheritors.
[...]
As far as I can see the new oligarchs aren't doing much more than transferring real-world routines and brick and mortar enterprises to the internet. They're more Masters of Marketing than Masters of the Universe. As such they can't be called robber barons because they're not thieving, they're selling. If the public keeps buying their sales pitches, whose fault is that?

The situation reminds me of complaints that China has taken over America's manufacturing sector -- as the complainers wheel their shopping carts around Wal-Mart. 

Or the ones who wring their hands about cyber theft of military secrets while they post top-secret stuff to the internet.

For crying out loud if you're worried about Amazon taking over the world, why not just stop buying so much stuff from the store?  But no no that's a common-sense approach, banned in the United States of America by people who can't think outside the viewpoint of politics.

So it doesn't take a crystal ball to gauge where Joel Kotkin's observations will be taken.

There's plenty more in his rant/report. Kotkin, according to his bio at Daily Beast, is "a Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University in Orange, CA and executive director of the Houston based Center for Opportunity Urbanism."

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More London Chaos: Van plows into pedestrians outside Finsbury Mosque

Quick-thinking bystanders tackled the perp when he ran from the van. Police were on the scene within seconds because a cruiser was in the neighborhood by chance. 

My condolences and prayers for swift recovery of the injured.

Finsbury Park: One killed and 10 injured after van ploughs into worshippers leaving mosque in Seven Sisters Road
By
TESS DE LA MARE, ALEXANDER BRITTON, JASON COLLIE
4-1/2 hours ago
Evening Standard (U.K.)

One man was killed and 10 others injured after a van was driven into worshippers near Finsbury Park mosque in a suspected terrorist attack.
Dozens of people had just finished prayers at the mosque when the vehicle crashed into pedestrians in Seven Sisters Road at about 12.15am on Monday.
One man has been arrested and the Metropolitan Police confirmed that one man died and that Counter Terrorism officers are investigating the attack.
Witnesses said people were also attacked by a knife-wielding man but the Met said there had been no reports of anyone suffering stab wounds.
Prime Minister Theresa May said it was being treated as "a potential terrorist attack" and that she would hold a Cobra committee emergency meeting later on Monday.
The nature of the attack drew immediate parallels with the London Bridge atrocity two weeks ago, in which eight innocent people were killed.
Bystanders wrestled a suspect to the floor ground. Officers on patrol nearby were at the scene within seconds and made one arrest.
A white man with black hair was seen being detained by police officers.
The victims are believed to be Muslims who had been breaking fast at a cafe next to the mosque following late-night prayers observed during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: "One man was pronounced dead at the scene. Officers are in the process of informing next of kin.
"A post mortem examination will be scheduled due course.
"Eight people injured were taken to three separate hospitals; two people were treated at the scene for minor injuries.
"At this stage there are no reports of any persons having suffered any knife injuries."
The spokesman continued: "The driver of the van - a man aged 48 - was found detained by members of public at the scene and then arrested by police in connection with the incident.
"He has been taken to hospital as a precaution, and will be taken into custody once discharged.
"He will also be subject of a mental health assessment in due course.
"A number police units are at, and managing the cordons around, the crime scene, including local officers and those from neighbouring boroughs - supported by armed officers and the Territorial Support Group.
"The investigation of the incident is being carried out by the Counter Terrorism Command.
"At this early stage of this investigation, no other suspects at the scene have been identified or reported to police, however the investigation continues."
The vehicle appears to have been rented from Pontaclun Van Hire, based in Wales.
The Muslim Council of Britain has confirmed that worshippers leaving Finsbury Park Mosque were targeted when a van ran into them, adding: "Our prayers are with the victims."
Footage shared on social media showed scenes of carnage, with bodies of several men laying on the pavement next to a cafe.
Mehdi, a 38-year-old worshipper, said: “There were loads of people coming out and the van took a left and went straight into them.
“I saw four of five people on the floor ground. At least one person was stabbed.
“The crowd caught a guy. He tried to do a London Bridge thing.
“The police were there almost instantly, passing in a car by chance. People were coming out of the mosque and they just drove through them.
"They drove through the crowds for a distance of nine metres.”
[...]
Hilary Briffa, who lives opposite the mosque, told the Standard: “I heard a lot of yelling and people running, then loads of police cars and helicopters and fire engines started showing up.
"The response time was really impressive."
[...]
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