Friday, September 30

Is it too late to write in this Minnesota mayor as a presidential candidate?

No joke: This politician has one of the highest approval ratings in the USA

Photo: Associated Press

Given the amount of time I spend at Sputnik I don't know how I missed this report when it was first published but better late than never:

Duke the Dog Elected as Mayor of Minnesota Town for Third Term
August 25, 2016

A Great Pyrenees called Duke has been re-elected as mayor of the northwestern Minnesota town of Cormorant, for a third consecutive term.

Duke became a mayor of Cormorant, population 1,000, two years ago. He defeated Richard Sherbrook, the owner of a local store, through write-in votes. Duke was 7 at the time and can now boast of being the first mayor in the US to have taken office at such a young age.

The dog won his third election in a row, held Saturday during the 6th Annual Cormorant Daze Festival. Duke attended the event wearing a patriotic star-spangled bandanna around his neck and a small black top hat.

"I don't know who would run against him, because he's done such great things for the community," Cormorant resident Karen Nelson told Detroit Lakes Online.

The four-legged reluctant politician reportedly has one of the highest approval ratings in the country, and humans in Cormorant believe that his election was foreordained. According to the dog's owner, David Rick, everybody in town voted for the snow-white pooch, "except for one vote for his girlfriend, Lassie."

Duke was unavailable for an interview, but his spokeshuman said he's fully prepared to take office for his third term.


But could he stand up to China's communist party?

Yeah I think so.


Thursday, September 29

Yemen's insane qat farming mirrored by California's almond farming boom

Yemen's qat farmers were my first thought after reading about new research on California almond farming, reported yesterday in Forbes by Mallory Pickett. Researchers at Eastern Kentucky University stumbled across the discovery that in California 23,000 acres of 'natural' land -- e.g., forests, wetlands and grasslands -- were converted to water hogging almond orchards during the years 2007-2014. 

It's even worse than it sounds once you drill down into the report, titled In The Midst Of Drought, California Farmers Used More Water For Almonds

Qat is a water-hogging cultivated plant that Yemenis love to chew for its mildly narcotic properties. Because large parts of the country are water-stressed, this means Yemenis are quite literally qat farming themselves to death -- or, as Foreign Affairs put it in 2013, they've chewed Yemen dry:
In little over a decade, Sana’a, Yemen, may become the world’s first capital to run out of water. Failed governance and environmental mismanagement share some of the blame for drying up the city. But there is also a more surprising culprit: a national addiction to qat, a narcotic that is incredibly water-intensive to cultivate.
If current trends continue, by 2025 the city’s projected 4.2 million inhabitants will become water refugees, forced to flee their barren home for wetter lands. In preparation, some officials have already considered relocating the capital to the coast. Others have proposed focusing on desalination and conservation to buy time.
As policymakers butt heads over the best course for Yemen, the dwindling water supply is already leading to instability: according to Al-Thawra, one of the country's leading newspapers, 70 to 80 percent of conflicts in Yemen’s rural regions are water-related.
And across the country, Yemen’s Interior Ministry estimates, water- and land-related disputes result in about 4,000 deaths each year -- 35 times the number of casualties in the deadliest al Qaeda attack in the country’s history.
The cultivation of qat, a mild narcotic plant that releases a stimulant when chewed, accounts for up to 40 percent of the water drawn from the Sana’a Basin each year, and that figure is rising. That is both because qat takes a lot of water to farm (much more than coffee, another plant that does well in Yemen’s fertile soil) and because cultivation of it increases by around 12 percent each year, according to Yemen’s Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources. 
Not only is the crop drying the Sana’a Basin, it has displaced over tens of thousands of hectares of vital crops -- fruits, vegetables, and coffee -- which has sent food prices soaring. 
Meanwhile, over in California:
What [geoscience researchers Watkins and Watson] found was shocking: based on their estimates, 23,000 acres of natural land have been converted to almond farms. 16,000 of those acres were land previously classified as wetlands. Additionally, some agricultural land has been converted from lower-water crops to almonds.
Overall almond acreage increased about 14% in California between 2007-2014, so Watson says based on that number you would expect about a 14% increase in irrigation needs for almonds. But because so much land was converted from natural land or lower-water crops, the irrigation increase for the almond industry was nearly twice that. 
Watson and Watkins calculated that the growth of almond farms caused a 27% increase in irrigation demands for almond farms between 2007-2014 — an increase that coincides with an historic drought in California, which started in 2011 and continues to plague the state.
Truly, a toxic brew of short-sightedness, insularity and greed is feeding and even creating droughts around the world in an era when humanity can least afford it. And the suicidal almond-farming boom shows that an advanced nation such as the USA is not exempt.

"These incursions often occur under the cover of Pakistani artillery fire"

Raids signal that India won’t tolerate more attacks in Kashmir
September 29, 2016 - 6:51 p.m. EDT
The Wall Street Journal

[emphasis mine]

India’s doctrine of “strategic restraint” toward Pakistan was tested again Wednesday, after the Indian Army responded to a Sept. 18 attack against an Indian base that killed 19 soldiers by conducting raids against terrorist facilities just inside Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. Islamabad has addressed the incidents with its usual mix of bluster and denial, but if it means to prevent an escalation of violence it needs to shut down the terrorist groups it continues to support.
That should start with Jaish-e-Mohammad (Army of Mohammed) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Pure), two major jihadist groups that operate openly in Pakistan and are prime suspects in these attacks. Both groups are supported by its military despite being on United Nations lists of terrorist organizations. Last month the U.S. Defense Department blocked $300 million in reimbursements to Pakistan because of its continuing tolerance of the Haqqani Network that operates in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Pakistani government insists it had nothing to do with the attack on Uri, as well as with a similar attack in Pathankot in January that killed another seven Indian soldiers. Pakistan’s military goes so far as to deny the raids took place and blamed India for an unprovoked artillery attack across the Line of Control that killed two Pakistani soldiers. Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif even accused India of staging the Uri attack and repeated past threats to use tactical nuclear weapons.
But as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi noted in a speech on Sunday, so far this year the Indian Army has thwarted 17 attempts by terrorists to cross the border from Pakistan, killing 110 of them. These incursions often occur under the cover of Pakistani artillery fire. New Delhi also presented evidence Tuesday that the Uri attackers crossed the border from the Pakistani city of Muzaffarabad. Two guides who assisted the infiltrators have been detained.
Mr. Modi has consistently offered closer economic and diplomatic ties to Pakistan as long as it stops supporting terrorism. Pakistan’s democratic government has also long been threatened by the very jihadist groups it helped unleash, particularly the Taliban. And Pakistan increasingly risks becoming a pariah state. Even China, Pakistan’s “all-weather friend” as both countries put it, will have limited patience if Islamic extremism spreads into its Muslim-majority northwest.
Pakistan remains trapped by a national identity based on fomenting religious-based insurgencies in Kashmir. The country needs a new vision centered on improving the lives of its people, and there is no shortage of potentially willing hands, including Mr. Modi’s, to help it move in that direction. What’s needed is political courage in Islamabad, before the crisis in Kashmir escalates.

"Islamic State Loses Control Of Iraqi Oil Fields"

By Lincoln Brown
Sep 28, 2016, 5:47 PM CDT

The Islamic State will have to turn to other means to finance terror activities now that it no longer controls oil wells in Iraq.

Iraq’s oil ministry announced that IS was driven out of Shirqat — an area near Kirkuk — by U.S. backed Iraqi forces last Thursday. In August, IS lost the Qayyara oilfield south of Mosul in a push by the government retake the city. While the Iraqi government has not captured the Najma oilfield, it is of no use to the Islamic State, because the group cannot access the fields due to government airstrikes.

According to Asim Jihad, “Najma has yet to be liberated because some sites are in the conflict zone. The reality is that it is extremely difficult to extract and smuggle oil while our forces are advancing towards Mosul...," Provincial security official Muthana Jbara noted. 

Without the income provided by the oilfields, the Islamic State will have to finance it activities through other means, such as increasing fines and taxes in the areas which it still controls.



"In escalation, India says it launches strikes on militants in Pakistan"

Thu Sep 29, 2016 | 5:38am EDT
By Sanjeev Miglani and Asad Hashim | NEW DELHI/ ISLAMABAD

India said on Thursday it had conducted "surgical strikes" on suspected militants preparing to infiltrate from Pakistan-ruled Kashmir, making its first direct military response to an attack on an army base it blames on Pakistan.

The cross-border action inflicted significant casualties, the Indian army's head of operations told reporters in New Delhi.

Pakistan said there had been no such targeted strikes, but that it had repulsed a raid by Indian troops and returned fire across the Line of Control, the de facto frontier that runs through the disputed territory of Kashmir.

The Indian announcement followed through on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's warning that those responsible "would not go unpunished" for a Sept. 18 attack on an Indian army base at Uri, near the frontier, that killed 18 soldiers.

The strikes also raised the possibility of a military escalation between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan that would wreck a 2003 Kashmir ceasefire.

Lt General Ranbir Singh, the Indian army's director general of military operations, said the strikes were launched on Wednesday based on "very specific and credible information that some terrorist units had positioned themselves...with an aim to carry out infiltration and terrorist strikes".

Singh said he had called his Pakistani counterpart to inform him of the operation.

"India is doing this only to please their media and public," Pakistani Defence Minister Khawaja Asif replied in a statement.

"If India tries to do this again we will respond forcefully."

Pakistan said two of its soldiers had been killed and nine wounded in firing across the de facto border in the Himalayan region.


The Indian action represents a departure from a traditional policy of strategic restraint in the face of what New Delhi sees as cross-border terrorist acts that it believes are sponsored by the Pakistani state.

"The bigger message is that Pakistan is now on notice that cross-border attacks would be part of our response if there are any more terrorist attacks," said former Indian air vice marshal Manmohan Bahadur.

It also comes at a particularly delicate time for Pakistan, with powerful Army Chief of Staff General Raheel Sharif due to retire shortly and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif still to decide on a successor.

The Pakistani premier condemned what he called India's "unprovoked and naked aggression" and called a cabinet meeting on Friday to discuss further steps.

The Indian stock market fell heavily on the announcement, with the benchmark NSE Index falling by up to 2 percent in Mumbai and a key "fear index" that measures volatility rising to a three-month high.

India announced its retaliation at a news conference in New Delhi that was hurriedly called, only to be delayed, as Modi chaired a meeting of his cabinet committee on security to be briefed on the operation.

"The prime minister is clear that this is exactly what we should have done," a senior government official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. "Informing the world about the surgical strike was important today."


Exchanges of fire took place in the Bhimber, Hot Spring, Kel and Lipa sectors in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and lasted about six hours, the Pakistani military said earlier.

An Indian army officer in Kashmir said there had been shelling from the Pakistani side of the border into the Nowgam district, near the Line of Control, and the exchange of fire was continuing.

There were no casualties or damage reported on the Indian side of the LoC.

Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir in full, but govern separate parts, and have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.

Tension between the South Asian rivals has been high since an Indian crackdown on dissent in Kashmir following the killing by security forces of Burhan Wani, a young separatist leader, in July.

They rose further when New Delhi blamed Pakistan for the Uri attack, which inflicted the heavies toll on the Indian army of any single incident in 14 years.

India has been ratcheting up pressure on Pakistan, seeking to diplomatically isolate it at the U.N. General Assembly in New York and winning expressions of condemnation from the United States, Britain and France over the attack.

China, another of the permanent members of the UN Security Council and a traditional ally of Pakistan, has urged dialogue between the two antagonists.

On Wednesday, officials from several countries said a November summit of a the South Asian regional group due to be held in Islamabad may be called off after India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan said they would not attend.

(Writing by Douglas Busvine; Additional reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in SRINAGAR, Rupam Jain in NEW DELHI, Drazen Jorgic and Mehreen Zahra-Malik in ISLAMABAD.; Editing by Nick Macfie)


Wednesday, September 28

Vacationing King of Morocco drains all the water from a French village in a single day

He actually drained the water from two villages but one he and his entourage drained in a single day. Moreover, as readers who've followed my posts on water know, when the well water gets very low it can become poisonous.

Granted, King Mohammed is obviously a water hog, but the report underscores that many parts of Europe are living on the knife's edge when it comes to water supply. They simply cannot afford huge numbers of immigrants (or tourists, for that matter) descending en masse on their water tables. Wake up, Europe.    

 King Mohammed VI of Morocco 

 Photo: Thierry Gouegnon / Reuters

His majesty's vacation cabin

Photo: Twitter 

Vacationing Moroccan king drains water supply from villages outside Paris
Published time: 1 Sep, 2016 

The residents of some villages near Paris, chosen as a place of recreation for the King of Morocco, are far from amused. The monarch, who brought up to 300 people with him, has drained their water supplies.

King Mohamed VI apparently loves pompous holidays – for his French vacations in the small village of Betz he brought a whole entourage of 300 people. Betz, some 40km from the French capital, has a population of around 1,000.

The vacationers who arrived August 24 drained all the water resources of a small village in a single day, according to French media. The water was necessary not only for consumption, but for keeping the garden and watering horses in the king’s huge castle (or, perhaps, oasis).

“We received a message from the water department which advised us from drinking tap water,”local resident Dimitri told Le Parisien.

However, Betz was not the only village to suffer – the Moroccan royals also drained the nearby village of Villiers-Saint-Genest, 4km away. The population there is some 350 people, about the size of the king’s entourage.

Village Mayor Thierry Tavernier told local media that water was “becoming increasingly scarce”in the area.

Saur group, which optimizes water resources, has been delivering bottled water to residents, mainly to schoolchildren and the elderly.

“It is clear that his [the king’s] presence accelerates the problem of water resources,” a Saur official told Le Parisien.

Social media users have expressed anger over the Royal oasis in deserted French villages. The hashtag # EaupourBetz (water for Betz) has recently appeared on Twitter. Some users called the Moroccan King simply “a thief” and ironically wrote: “Long live the King.”

“France is no longer an oasis,” joked @ marquis201789, while @ CamillePolloni added: “When the king is [in France], consumption [of water] is skyrocketing”.


Alrighty. Now let's take a look at the water situation in Morocco.

[flipping a pen in the air] All right let's just grit our teeth and read:
Morocco’s drought has probably wiped out half of its wheat harvest -- devastating a country where even the King has called on the nation to pray for rain.

The driest start to winter in two decades in the center of the country has decimated crops in Africa’s second-biggest wheat grower, where just 15 percent of fields are irrigated. Imports may double to a record next season to account for the reduced harvest, a Bloomberg survey of six analysts showed.
Moroccans consume more than three times as much wheat as the global average, eating it in everything from thick soups to filo-dough pastry. The grain is a staple in North Africa, where higher food costs and shortages in the past six years helped trigger unrest that led to the toppling of governments in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.
The drought evoked King Mohammed VI to lead rare national rain prayers after normal Friday worship for a second time in January.

“The harvest is going to be catastrophic,” said Abdelaziz Oumarrou, a 31-year-old farmer whose 5 hectares (12 acres) near the city of Midelt support his family of four.

“This kind of agriculture has no future. We have to change and start doing things such as irrigating.”
So you think you have start irrigating, eh? You frickin imbecile. Where do you think you've been living all these years? In the frickin tropics?

All right Pundita, just calm down. But realize all these imbeciles are heading our way. WHEN THEY COMPLETELY RUN OUT OF WATER in the Middle East the human locust swarm will descend on the USA. And Canada. Of course they can't descend on Mexico for any more than 15 minutes because the Mexican government just funnels the locust swarms to north of their border.

I'd advise that Modi refrain from weaponizing water

India could limit the water to which Pakistan has access without breaking the terms of the Indus Water Treaty, which both countries signed in 1960.
The agreement entitles India to 20 per cent of the water that flows through the Indus river, enough to irrigate 1.3m acres. Currently, however, the country is using enough to irrigate just 800,000 acres, according to reports sourced to Indian officials.
But while increasing its water usage might be a convenient and legal way to take revenge on Pakistan, it would not necessarily be easy. India lacks the facilities to store the extra water, and would have to build more if it wanted to maximise its usage.
The above is from the (UK) Financial Times report today, India sparks boycott of South Asia summit in Pakistan.  The boycott of a November meeting of South Asian countries was proposed by India and swiftly joined by Bhutan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

The proposed boycott is in response to an attack on a military base in the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir on September 18, near the town of Uri, that according to Wikipedia's article killed 19 Indian troops. It was the most deadly attack on Indian security forces in Kashmir in two decades. While no group has claimed responsibility there is evidence to suggest the attack was launched and overseen from Pakistan.

There's been tremendous outrage in India about the attack, in the manner of the final straw, and so Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his political party (BJP) have been under severe pressure to retaliate against Pakistan.

As a September 27 Wall Street Journal editorial
indicated, so far Modi has resisted calls for a military response. But he's been trying to find ways to retaliate that don't take the two nations to the brink of war. One of these ways has been the proposed boycott, which Quartz discusses in even greater detail than the FT report.

He's also considering a proposal to withhold water from Pakistan, as FT details. I find this confusing given India's famous water woes, which get a slight reprieve only during the monsoon season then settle back into crisis mode. So I don't understand why India had the water to spare in the first place. Nor do I understand why India would have to store that much 'extra' water to make use of it.

In any case it would be very wrong to retaliate against a civilian population for an attack on the military.

And it would be incredibly stupid to use water as a weapon against Pakistan because it sets a precedent that China could fashion in coming years into a very powerful weapon against India.

But as long as I've returned to the subject of India's water problems it's a good time for a brief review. From The Economist's May 14 explainer article, Why India has a water crisis:    
Using subsidised electricity, [Indian] farmers pump groundwater at will, drawing up more annually than China and America combined. A recent European Commission report counted more than 20m boreholes in India, up from tens of thousands in the 1960s.
The water table is falling on average by 0.3 meters and by as much as 4 meters in some places.
Water-starved regions often cultivate water-hungry crops like paddy, cotton and sugarcane.
Punjab in the north and Tamil Nadu and Karnataka in the south continue to squabble over the ownership of rivers.
The problem is not lack of adequate water, but its reckless overuse. China, with a larger population, uses 28% less fresh water than India.
An ambitious $165 billion water-diversion scheme for drought-prone regions is in the works. A total of 15,000 kilometres of artificial waterways are to link no fewer than 37 rivers. The rigged system is set to relocate 174 cubic kilometres of water, ostensibly enough to quench the thirst of 100 metropolises the size of Mumbai.
The Economist goes on to note that such schemes tend to miss the point:
In February, Narendra Modi, the prime minister, pledged to double farm incomes by 2022. But before grand projects and promises, small steps are needed. Rainwater harvesting, an age-old technique for capturing monsoon run-off, can provide the country with reliable water supplies throughout the year. Building check dams on riverbeds will improve groundwater levels. Farmers should be trained and encouraged to switch to drip irrigation.
And the government should set a better example as India awaits the rains: when a minister visited Latur last month, local officials wasted 10,000 litres of water scrubbing the helipad for his arrival.
Such wise advice is perpetually ignored by Indians -- and Pakistanis. And Iranians, and a host of other societies that still aren't serious about water conservation. [shrugging] What else to say?

As to the best way for India to respond to the Uri attack as it's been labeled --  well, let me think on it. A little music to think by......  

The horror story of how First Americans are still treated like children by US government

If  Americans among my readers can snatch 40 minutes out of their busy day, I enjoin you to listen to the podcast of John Batchelor's stunning discussion with Terry L. Anderson about the economic plight of America's Indians. Under John's questioning Terry dispells the myths and misperceptions about the first Americans that have kept them, generation after generation, in poverty. 

The really horrible part, from the point of view of capitalism, is that these Americans knew all about the market economy long before the European tribes discovered the concept.

The discussion is based on a 2013 book of essays by several contributors edited by Terry and Shawn Regan titled Unlocking the Wealth of Indian Nations. It's flying off the shelves at Amazon, surely because of John's interview, although Amazon assures that more copies are on the way. The book is a 'must read' for everyone who's ever asked, 'What's wrong with those people?'

What's wrong is that they've been very neatly excluded from the opportunities that are the right of every immigrant to this country. 

We yap a lot about equality in the USA. Yeah, well, how about spreading a little of the equality to the first immigrants to this land?


Tuesday, September 27

"Modi’s Restraint Toward Pakistan"

India’s leader offers entente but lays down markers on terrorism.

Sept. 27, 2016 6:58 p.m. ET
The Wall Street Journal - Editorial Board Editorial

Narendra Modi offered another olive branch to Pakistan Saturday, despite Islamabad’s continuing sponsorship of terrorist groups that carry out attacks in India. But it’s not clear how much longer the Indian Prime Minister can turn the other cheek if large-scale strikes continue.
On Sept. 18 insurgents attacked an Indian Army base near the town of Uri in Kashmir, killing 19 soldiers. There was no claim of responsibility, but authorities blamed Jaish-e-Mohammad, a group with past links to Pakistan’s government. In January a similar attack on an air base in Pathankot killed seven soldiers. Islamabad has denied responsibility for both incidents.
After the Uri attack, some in Mr. Modi’s own party urged him to retaliate militarily against Pakistan. Instead he delivered a speech addressed to the people of Pakistan. Turning around the threat of Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s to wage a 1,000-year war against India, Mr. Modi proposed the two nations join in a 1,000-year war against poverty, illiteracy and child mortality.

Mr. Modi was able to deflect war talk in part because his economic vision for India is bearing fruit, with the country’s 7% growth rate now the highest of any major economy. He enjoys an 81% approval rating according to Pew Research Center, which allows him to defy Hindu nationalists within his Bharatiya Janata Party. He also boosted defense spending, giving him political capital with hawks.
But even as Mr. Modi walked back threats of military action, he replaced them with a pledge to isolate Pakistan internationally if the military doesn’t stop supporting terrorist groups. He is considering the cancellation of the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, which protects Pakistan’s rights to the Indus River’s water. He could also withdraw most-favored-nation trading status, granted in 1996, that Pakistan has never reciprocated.
Mr. Modi’s cautious response to Uri is remarkable considering that before winning election in 2014 he castigated the previous Congress Party-led government for failing to take a tough response to Pakistan-backed terrorism. Since becoming Prime Minister he has pursued a two-pronged approach. He blamed the Pakistan military for terrorism, but has tried to forge personal ties with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He invited Mr. Sharif to his inauguration and even jetted in last year to wish him a happy birthday.
Most important, Mr. Modi refused to accept the line peddled by Islamabad and the Congress Party that terrorist attacks are the result of India’s mistreatment of its own Muslim minority. While the Indian military does have a record of heavy-handedness in Kashmir, the weight of evidence suggests that the Muslim insurgent movement there would have faded without Pakistani support.
India has always enjoyed the moral high ground on the terrorism issue, but past Congress and BJP governments lacked the courage to assert it forthrightly. That led to a policy of “strategic restraint,” which meant that Pakistan would never be held accountable for its terrorist proxies, no matter how heinous their attacks.
Mr. Modi is practicing restraint for now, but Islamabad can’t rely on that continuing. Mr. Modi’s offer of cooperation, if rejected, will become part of a case for making Pakistan even more of a pariah nation than it already is. If the military continues to send arms and fighters across the border, the Indian Prime Minister will have a strong justification to take action.

"Syrian Army seizes Aleppo’s central district from terrorists – state media"

"The source pointed out that an army unit destroyed command sites for terrorist organizations through detonating a tunnel in al-Izaa neighborhood along with all terrorists inside it."
-- From SANA's report today Updated-The army establishes control over new areas in Aleppo, Damascus countryside

Published time: 27 Sep, 2016 15:41 [local time]
Edited time: 27 Sep, 2016 20:40

Syrian government forces have re-captured Aleppo’s central district of al-Farafirah from terrorists, state outlet SANA reported, citing army sources.

According to SANA, the Syrian Army is now in control of al-Farafirah with sappers currently clearing the area from “mines and improvised explosive devices planted by terrorists.”

“The army retook control of the entire al-Farafirah district northwest of the Aleppo citadel after neutralizing many terrorists. Units are now demining the area,” AFP quoted a military source as saying.

After their retreat, the terrorists left munitions and weapons, including large-caliber machine guns, RIA Novosti reports, citing another source with knowledge of the matter.

“We have been able for the first time in several years to move the front in Aleppo,” the Russian news agency’s source said.

It added that the Syrian Army suffered no losses in the operation, which began in the early hours of Tuesday.

The district of Al-Farafirah is located north-west of Aleppo’s main historical landmark, the Citadel – a large medieval fortified palace in the center of the old city. Syrian troops are also demining in other districts in Aleppo, including that of al-Ramusi.

The area, liberated about three weeks ago, is considered extremely important since it is used by humanitarian convoys to deliver food and medicine to people in the war-ravaged city.

Aid delivery, in particular to the city of Aleppo, is one of the main parts of the agreement reached between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his US counterpart, John Kerry, on September 9 in Geneva.

The deal, however, suffered a major blow when a UN-led humanitarian convoy heading to Aleppo was attacked on September 19. One aid worker and 20 civilians died as a result, according to a Red Cross representative. It is still not clear who was behind the attack.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations said last week that they plan to resume aid convoys. Rights groups and the UN have repeatedly condemned the dire situation in Aleppo. It is estimated that nearly 250,000 people inside the city are short of food, medicine and other basics.

In July this year, the Russian Reconciliation Center in Syria and the country’s government established several corridors for civilians willing to escape Aleppo.

The plight of the population in the war-ravaged city has been worsened by the repeated shelling from terrorist groups in the past two weeks, according to the Russian military.

On September 19, Al-Nusra Front terrorists launched a massive advance on the Syrian Army and residential areas in southwest Aleppo, the Russian Defense Ministry said at the time. According to the ministry, terrorists used “mortars and missile systems.”


September 27, 2016 - 5:31 [local time]
Gov't Troops Launch Fresh Round of Offensive in Aleppo

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian Army and popular forces engaged in tough battle with Jeish al-Fatah in Aleppo's Southwestern districts and its Northern countryside, opposition sources said minutes ago, adding that Syrian fighter jets have been pounding militants' centers across the province round the clock since this morning.

"Syrian government forces stormed Jeish al-Fatah's positions in Housing Project 1070, near al-Ramouseh's Southern corridor, inflicting major casualties on the militants," the sources said, adding, "Should the Syrian soldiers capture the project 1070, they will enter simply the militant-held areas in all the Southern and Eastern parts of Aleppo city."

In the meantime, the Syrian army and Liwa al-Quds fighters have continued their attacks on Jeish al-Fatah's positions in the Handarat Palestinian Refugees Camp too," they added.

"The Syrian fighter jets have launched heavy air assaults on militants' positions in Dar al-Ezzah, Qabtan al-Jabal, Kafr Hamra, Anadan and Hayyan," the sources went on to say.

Earlier today, pro-government troops pushed terrorists back in a Central neighborhood Northwest of the 'Citadel of Aleppo'.

Syrian government forces, after hours of intense battle, inflicted a heavy death toll on the terrorists and seized full control over al-Farafareh neighborhood.

The Syrian army's engineering units have launched an operation to defuse mines and explosive devices planted by the militants in residential and shopping areas.



"Are India and Pakistan on the verge of a water war?"

By Amanda Hoover, Staff 
September 27, 2016
Christian Science Monitor

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said earlier this week that his nation may speed the construction of new hydropower plants along three rivers that flow into Pakistan – a move that would certainly be harmful for Pakistan.

Kashmiri boatmen extract sand from the Jhelum river in Srinagar, India, Sept. 26, 2016. The Indus Water Treaty regulates water flow of the Chenab, Jhelum, and Indus rivers.

Photo: Danish Islmall/Reuters

Rising tensions between India and Pakistan could spike into a “water war” if India fails to follow through on a treaty that regulates a river that flows between the two countries, a Pakistani official said Tuesday.
The divisions between the two nations have again mounted despite attempts to create pace. Many had hoped that 2016 would be a year of unity after Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi late last year, but old tensions have dashed some of those hopes.
The strain between the two nations spiked again earlier this month after 17 Indian soldiers died in the disputed Kashmir region. [Pundita note: I have read other accounts that put the toll at 19 soldiers] India alleges that Pakistan is responsible, and Mr. Modi is weighing retaliation through manipulating water flow on three rivers that connect the two countries to favor India.
Such a move could be seen as abridging the decades-old Indus Water Treaty, which has successfully regulated valuable water resources between the two nations for more than 50 years, by giving Pakistan exclusive control over the Indus River’s westward tributaries and relegating three others to India.
It's highly irresponsible on part of India to even consider revocation of the Indus Water Treaty," Sartaj Aziz, foreign policy adviser to Mr. Sharif, said Tuesday.
Modi is considering a push that would accelerate the construction of two hydropower plants, which could "maximize" the amount of the shared resource India would use.
Mr. Aziz called the plan a breach of the treaty and "an act of war or a hostile act against Pakistan."
"Threats of a water war are part of a military, economic and diplomatic campaign to build pressure on Pakistan," he added.
The 1960 treaty is renowned as one of the world’s greatest feats in water diplomacy and has prevailed through three wars. Some fear that extreme moves on the part of India to disregard the treaty’s provisions could have international backlash against the nation. 
"Scrapping the treaty would rather act against our own interests and international standing as it would cause anxiety among our other neighbours like Bangladesh and Nepal with which we have water-sharing treaties, apart from earning us a bad image in the global community," Uttam Sinha, a research fellow at New Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, told Quartz.
The World Bank, which negotiated the treaty, can do little to intervene other than call in neutral experts or appoint an arbitrator should India follow through with its threats – especially if Indian officials use provisions within the treaty to put pressure on Pakistan
Still, some say India doesn't have the infrastructure at the moment to carry out the plan, and can't pose an immediate problem to Pakistan's water supply.
"It has to raise its dam structures and that will take time," Ashok Swain, who teaches in the department of peace and conflict research at Uppsala University in Sweden, told Quartz. "There is also another angle to it. India, even if it wants to, cannot take the water out of Kashmir Valley. So, the water of the three rivers (Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab) will remain in their basin and India cannot divert that to other areas due to geographical reasons. India can stop the supply for some time, but cannot divert it."
Information from Reuters was used in this report.


See also:

With thousands of dams upstream, China has water as weapon against IndiaSeptember 23, 2016, New Indian Express

Pakistan, terrorists & China: Read how India's superspy Ajit Doval wants to tackle all 3; September 27, 2016, The Economic Times (India)

Modi’s Restraint Toward Pakistan; September 27, 2016, The Wall Street Journal


"10 Survival Myths That Could Get You Killed Instead Of Saving Your Life" UPDATED

Gee. I believed seven of those myths; the other three I didn't know about. But #9 is the one that really got to me. It's a good thing I never got caught in a riptide because it turns out the standard instruction for surviving one is not quite accurate -- at least the way it's generally explained.  So, thanks Boredom Therapy

Update: Or rather thanks Business Insider!. It seems BT copied the Business Insider article, written by Kevin Loria and Dragan Radovanovicwithout accreditation -- although they do credit BI for the illustrations.    

9. Swimming parallel to shore in a riptide
This is a confusing myth, because it is not entirely wrong. The thing about most riptides and undertows is that they come into shore at an angle. So, in many cases, swimming parallel to shore would actually be swimming against the current. The best way to think about it is to swim perpendicular to the current, which will help you conserve the most energy. If you can’t swim out of the riptide, don’t tire yourself out; just tread water until you can swim easily again.
Dragan Radovanovic/Busness Insider


China's dams in Tibet pose a grave threat to a large chunk of the human race

The stupidest thing Indians ever did was not throwing the British out of India at the outbreak of the conflict that came to be called the First World War. In the manner of falling dominos, foot-dragging and corruption within a number of raja families meant that when the British finally quit India they left behind an army that was incapable of confronting Mao's forces in Tibet. 

This has led to modern India and Southeast Asian mainland nations existing under the Damocles Sword of Chinese water policies...... 

New Indian Express
23 September 2016

NEW DELHI: With China having 87,000 dams, many in Tibet, with strategic benefit against India, experts on Friday urged the “down stream” Asian nations to unite and force Beijing to sign a trans-border water sharing treaty to counter its massive damming policies.

Tibet is source to ten major Asian rivers upon which 25 percent of the world population depends.

“Beside having environmental issues those dams in Tibet can be disastrous for us. They can unleash their fury during earthquake, accidents or by intentional destruction can easily be used against India during war,” Prof Milap Chandra Sharma, a glaciologist at JNU, told IANS here at an international seminar “Damming crisis in Tibet: Threat to water security in Asia”.

He further added that this is the “right time for India to raise the Tibet issue internationally”.

Part of the “Tibet’s Rivers, Asia’s Lifeline” campaign which started in March 2015 by “Students For a Free Tibet-India”, experts and activists from India, Thailand, Bangladesh and Tibet said that by either blocking or releasing water, Chinese dams in Tibet are already directly or indirectly effecting over 2 billion Asians who are dependent on those rivers.

"When it comes to diplomacy, China uses rivers as a bargain chip,” says Tanasak Phosrikun, a Mekong river activist from Thailand.

Activists say that China has built about seven dams on the upstream and total 21 dams on Mekong, 24 on Salween or Nu river, two on Indus and 11 on the Yarlung Tsangpo or Brahmaputra river.

“We don’t know if India would ever use water as a weapon against Pakistan but China would not hesitate doing that against India. It would be surely used as a weapon and that is another major reason for the downstream countries of the 10 Tibetan rivers to come together and force China into a water treaty,” said Tempa Gyaltsen, a researcher at Tibet Policy Institute, Central Tibetan Administration (Tibetan Government in exile).

He referred to the report which states that India’s water demand per capita would increase to 1.5 trillion cubic meters to the present 740 billion cubic meters.

“Zangmu Hydropower Dam on Brahmaputra river at a strategically important location, Lianghekou Damn on Yalong river and the under construction Suwalong dam on Salween and Mekong rivers are already affecting life and economy of millions of people in the downstream countries,” Tempa Gyaltsen said.

Adding that a lot of resources are being taken away from Tibet but none compensated for, he also referred to the incidents of catastrophe related to Chinese dams, including the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, and Shimantan Reservoir Dam in 1975.

“Most of those dams are in close proximity of many petroleum and mine projects in Tibetan platue. Many lakes get poisoned and international organisation have no access for environment assessment. Locals often protest there,” said Tibetan activist Jyotsana George, adding that Tibetans send the videos and pictures at the threat of their lives.

Tanasak Phosrikun highlighted crisis due to the Chinese dams on Mekong river having direct and indirect consequences over the people in Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia.

“The 4,900 km Mekong river feeds 70 million people. About 40 million are dependent on the fishery and many more to the agriculture at the bed. It has significant cultural identity and beliefs. This is being taken up by China,” Phosrikun said.

Fearing damage, China often opens its dams during heavy rains, leading to flash floods causing extreme scarcity of food and life security in the lower Mekong region.

Further pointing out the ladder streams constructed by China which blocks fishes, Phosrikun said that without democracy neither human rights nor environmental justice is possible.

“You don’t inherit rivers from your ancestors, you borrow them from your children,” said Phosrikun.


Chinese Communist Party's second invasion of Tibet

Arriving back at our hotel after 9pm, four of us walked straight out again and into a taxi. This time, our trip would be more eventful. A white SUV didn’t bother to hide that it was following us. After changing cars, like any well-trained operative in the movies, we thought the path was clear. But the famed security grid, which China’s police and armed forces have established across Tibet, soon caught up with us.
On the road out of town, a taxi drew level with our car, slowed down, looked in through the windows, then sped off. Just to be sure, it allowed us to overtake a few kilometres down the road, which permitted them another look.
Then came the road block. On the turn-off to the monastery, police had erected a checkpoint just for us. We were stopped and, after being forcefully told the monastery was closed, were sent back to town with an escort.
So we never did speak to the monks of Lamaling, but a sign board outside the temple indicated the type of ideological conformity demanded by China’s Communist Party.
Accompanying a photo of President Xi Jinping were extracts of a speech he had given on religion in April.

It said “religious doctrines must be merged with Chinese culture” and the country must “resolutely resist overseas infiltration through religious means”. 
The above is from Angus Grigg's China's New Invasion of Tibet (September 24. 2016), which reports on Beijing's push to blanket Tibet with Han Chinese tourists. Grigg leavens the topic with an account of his adventure after he tricked China's authorities into allowing him take a train ride from China into Tibet that's pretty much off-limits to foreigners -- especially foreign journalists.

Grigg is an award-winning journalist for Australia's Fiancial Review with 15 years experience as a journalist. He needed every bit of his experience to investigate first-hand what life is like today in Tibet for Tibetans:
Tibet is one of the most closed reporting zones in the world. It is more restricted even than the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, which at least has an Associated Press bureau these days. At best, 20 members of the foreign press corps are allowed to visit Tibet for a week each year, under the tight supervision of the Foreign Ministry. But an annual trip is not guaranteed and indeed, over the last decade, just four groups of China-based foreign journalists have been allowed into the province.
Once there, some independent reporting is permitted, although travel is highly restricted.
What Grigg observed in Tibet is that the Chinese government has been methodically destroying everything about Tibetan culture and replacing it with Han culture -- a process so well studied that it has a technical term: sinicization, "whereby non-Han Chinese societies come under the influence of Han Chinese state and society."

The influence is achieved in a variety of ways; Grigg makes passing mention of one that again has been well studied. From a review of Emily T. Yeh's 2013 book, Taming Tibet; Cornell University Press.
The master narrative of the PRC stresses generosity: the state and Han migrants selflessly provide development to the supposedly backward Tibetans, raising the living standards of the Han's "little brothers."
Arguing that development is in this context a form of "indebtedness engineering," Yeh depicts development as a hegemonic project that simultaneously recruits Tibetans to participate in their own marginalization while entrapping them in gratitude to the Chinese state.
The resulting transformations of the material landscape advance the project of state territorialization.
Which is to say that the tactics of Chinese colonizers make the old-time Western colonizers look like clumsy amateurs.


Syria: Haha! The ratline is running in reverse! Meanwhile FSA gets religion.

Well the Syrian Army is raining pamphlets again. [laughing] All right Pundita settle down. But I thought the border between Turkey and Syria had been sealed; obviously not for outbound traffic. Soon they're going to need to install traffic lights to prevent gridlock.

Syrian Army Urges Remaining Civilians to Leave Eastern Districts of Aleppo City
September 27, 2016 - 11:13 [local time]

TEHRAN (FNA) - The Syrian Army Command Center called on civilians to leave militant-held districts of Aleppo as soon as possible, vowing to launch a large-scale operation in the Eastern neighborhoods of the city to route out militancy.

The Syrian Army Commander Center in Aleppo said the government forces are getting ready to launch a large-scale operation in the Eastern districts of Aleppo, urging the remaining civilians near terrorist centers to move to safer districts or regions.

Meantime, Syrian army planes, for their part, have dropped thousand of surrender-now leaflets over the terrorist-held districts in Aleppo.

The General Staff of Syria's Armed Forces said on Sunday that the recent advances of the Syrian army and popular forces in Aleppo caused scores of terrorist groups' commanders and religious leaders to leave the militants alone in the battlefield and move to Turkey with a large amount of stolen funds.

"Religious and military leaders of Jeish al-Fatah coalition are fleeing the battlefields in Aleppo. It is a long time that they have been trapped in Aleppo districts. They are hopeless. They are fleeing to Turkey with the money they received from the backers of the terrorist groups and the money they took by force from civilians in Aleppo," the General Staff the Syrian Armed Forces said.

In the meantime, one of the commanders of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), in an audio file, disclosed that a number of commanders of the terrorist groups have left their forces alone and have escaped to Turkey.

"You commanders, who stole a large amount of people's money and fled the battlefields, you have been trading the Syrian people's blood," the audio file said, adding, "Where are the religious leaders of the militants fleeing now, those who once claimed they were close to the God?"



Monday, September 26

Awaiting Dalai Lama's death, Chinese vultures circle the skies over Dharamsala

"Dharamsala is a hill station in Himachal Pradesh, India, famed for its large Tibetan community centred around the activities of the Dalai Lama."

China prepares for Dalai Lama’s death by looking to its own top Tibetan cleric 
By Simon Denyer 
September 26,  2016 - 4:17am EDT
The Washington Post

In the contest for Tibetan hearts and minds, a 26-year-old Buddhist monk is emerging into the spotlight. He is the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama, and he is being groomed by the Communist Party to fill an important political and religious role in Tibet.
Obedient to the party and loyal to the Chinese state, the “Chinese Panchen” is being pushed forward as an alternative to the Dalai Lama, a man widely loved by Tibetans as their supreme religious leader but reviled by the Chinese Communist Party as a “wolf in monk’s clothing” trying to split Tibet from the motherland.
Experts are skeptical about whether ordinary Tibetans will accept this young man’s credentials: His status as the true reincarnation of the Panchen Lama — Tibetan Buddhism’s second-most-important living religious figure — is the subject of bitter controversy.
Yet there is no doubt that, with the Dalai Lama now 81, the contest for Tibet is entering a new phase, and decades of Communist Party preparation for the older monk’s eventual demise are gathering pace.
Officially at least, the Panchen Lama will become the most important religious figure in Tibet when the Dalai Lama dies — that is, until the older monk’s reincarnation is found. And he will also play a key role in the Chinese government’s efforts to install a new Dalai Lama who is more amenable to Communist Party rule than the current one.
In July, the young, bespectacled Gyaltsen Norbu, dressed in Tibetan religious finery, presided over an important and rare ritual inside Tibet before a large audience of laypeople, monks and nuns. Since then, he has been busy visiting monasteries, temples, schools and hospitals across the high plateau.
“An increasingly active Panchen Lama is expected to mitigate the Dalai’s influence,” announced the nationalistGlobal Times tabloid last month, citing speculation that this process was being encouraged to “prepare for a post-Dalai Lama era.”
Chinese state media said that 100,000 people had attended each day of the four-day gathering, called aKalachakra ceremony, braving rain and cold weather, and quoted monks praising the young man’s “attainments.”
But on a recent visit to Tibet, it was hard to find much enthusiasm for the Chinese Panchen Lama, as many people know him.
Indeed, mention the Panchen Lama to many Tibetans and they start talking about a 6-year-old boy, recognized by the Dalai Lama as the true reincarnation of the Panchen Lama in 1995, who immediately disappeared into Chinese custody and was referred to as the world’s youngest political prisoner.
His name is Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, and he has not been seen since, but a Tibetan official claimed last year that he was living a normal life and did not want to be disturbed.
In Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, a shop selling photographs of leading Tibetan religious figures contained none of the Chinese Panchen but several of a predecessor, the 10th Panchen Lama, who was vilified and imprisoned during China’s Cultural Revolution.
There were also many images of the Karmapa Lama, another important reincarnated lama, who was recognized by China before fleeing to join the Dalai Lama in exile in India in 2000 at age 14 — a decision that embarrassed Beijing but won him credibility among many Tibetans.
One shop worker said there simply wasn’t any demand for images of the Chinese Panchen, while another man dismissed him as a “Chinese Buddhism official.”
Similarly, images of the ninth and 10th Panchen Lamas were easy to find at the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibetan Buddhism’s holiest site, but images of the Chinese Panchen Lama — the 11th — were not on obvious display.
The Tibetan government-in-exile, representing refugees and based in the Indian hill town of Dharamsala, said Tibetans had been forced to attend the Panchen Lama’s Kalachakra, with “severe penalties” for failing to do so.
Sonam Dagpo, the exile administration’s international-relations secretary, called the Kalachakra a “political sham” and said it was ironic that it had been organized by a “self-declared atheist government” during some of the worst repression of religious freedom in Tibet.
But whatever Tibetans think of the Chinese Panchen, he will be thrust into the limelight after the Dalai Lama dies.
The ninth Panchen Lama, for example, was instrumental in the search for the boy who came to be recognized as the 14th and current incarnation of the Dalai Lama in the 1930s. The Dalai Lama in turn played a key role in identifying the 10th Panchen Lama in the 1950s.
The Dalai Lama said that he might decide not to reincarnate at all but that if he does, it would be in a babyborn outside China. Beijing almost certainly has other plans.
“Ultimately, China has made the necessary plans to find and choose a Dalai Lama of its own once the present Dalai Lama passes away,” said Elliot Sperling, a professor at Indiana University and an expert on Tibet. “And certainly the Chinese Panchen Lama will play a big role in that process.”
China’s enthronement of both the Karmapa Lama and the Panchen Lama can be seen as dress rehearsals for the eventual nomination of a new Dalai Lama, experts said. 
[Pundita note: The Chinese 'certified' the recognition of one claimant to the title of 17th Karmapa and Chinese officials attended the enthronement ceremony, but they did not enthrone him. That was done by ranking Tibetan officials in the Buddhist sect overseen by the Karmapa, which is the Karma Kagyu.] 
“In the case of the Chinese Panchen Lama, the authorities have found that they can indeed install a lama who is rejected by large segments of the Tibetan population, and maintain him in his position by simple coercion and state power,” Sperling said. “This is significant because they will certainly find little support for a Dalai Lama chosen by the Chinese state.”
Gyaltsen Norbu was born in Tibet in 1990 to parents who were Communist Party members. He has lived in Beijing, reportedly under “protective” guard, since being enthroned in 1995 as the Panchen Lama.
He has always stressed his loyalty to the Chinese state, declaring last year that “the lives of the masses are moving toward wealth and civilization” and that “the Tibetan future is bright like the endless light of the golden sun.”
He has praised the party for liberating Tibet from feudal serfdom when its troops moved into Lhasa in 1951. But he caused a stir when he expressed some concerns in a 2015 speech, complaining that official “quotas” for the number of monks allowed in the Tibetan Autonomous Region were too low and that there was “a danger of Buddhism existing in name only.”
The International Campaign for Tibet, a Washington-based advocacy group for Tibetan democracy and human rights, said those comments may have reflected concerns relayed to him by senior lamas during his visits to monasteries in Tibet.
Tsering Shakya, a Tibetan historian and scholar at the University of British Columbia, said the fact that the Panchen Lama does not live in his traditional seat in Tibet’s Tashi Lhunpo Monastery shows that monks there still do not accept him.