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Friday, November 24

Targeted Sinai mosque frequented by Egyptian security officers and their families

Up to 235 dead, scores wounded in terrorist massacre at Sinai mosque
Nov 24, 2017 @ 14:45

Debkafile

More than 285 were killed and scores injured when a suicide bomber detonated explosives Friday from inside the congregation of the Al Rawdah mosque at Bir Abed in northern Sinai, 40km west of El Arish. 

This mosque is frequented by Egyptian security officers posted in the region and their families. When worshippers, some of them injured, poured out of the mosque, they came under fire from ISIS gunmen riding off-road vehicles, who were waiting outside to shoot people trying to escape. 

The terrorists then turned their guns on the 50 or more ambulances evacuating the many injured and disappeared in the desert as Egyptian security vehicles arrived on the scene.

Egyptian president Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi called an urgent conference of security officials and announced three days of national mourning. 

In three years of battling relentless terrorist attacks by the Islamic State’s Sinai branch, the Al Rawdah mosque outrage is the most deadly Egypt has ever known. 

The site is esteemed as the birthplace of the cleric Sheikh Eid al-Jariri, who is considered the founder of the mystical Islamic branch of Sufism in the Sinai Peninsula. This form of Islam is considered heretical by some conservatives and extremists like the Islamic State group. 

The Tel Arish road to Rafah, the crossing point from Sinai into the Gaza Strip, was closed.

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

Sunday, November 19

At least 15 killed many injured in stampede for flour handouts in drought-stricken Morocco

 Overcrowded food distribution site today; photo from Al Arabiya English, posted 1:29 PM at Twitter via Wapo report below


I hate to say this but it might be too late to save that region of the world, which right now is dying because of the convergence of water and rain scarcity, increased temperatures, overpopulation, too many poorly-thought out dams, bad or virtually no water management practices in entire societies, bad farming practices, etc. etc. Not to overlook the increasing ferocity of the sandstorms -- now called 'dust' storms -- which are also contributing to the 'killer smog' effect in Pakistan and India.  

15 trampled to death in stampede for flour in drought-stricken Morocco
By Cleve R. Wootson Jr. 
November 19 at 5:41 PM ET
The Washington Post

They had traveled for miles to get to a remote village in drought-devastated Morocco for one reason: A local aid group was handing out flour.
The North African nation is in the grip of a severe drought, which is having a devastating effect on agriculture. And Sunday’s giveaway at the souk, or marketplace, was a chance for people to take food home to hungry families — if they could nab supplies before they ran out.
Videos and photos from the scene in Sidi Boulalam showed a press of people crowding the marketplace with no place to move.
It’s unclear what sparked the sudden stampede, but by the end, 15 people had been killed and many injured — a disaster in a small town sparked by a larger, ongoing disaster in the African nation.
A witness told Sky News that there were several hundred people at the annual charitable distribution.
“People shoved, they broke down the barriers,” the witness said. “The local authorities on the spot were overwhelmed. Even when there were people on the ground, people kept fighting for food.”
Just four officers were on site to control the chaos, according another witness, a teacher named Manar Khouda.
As news of the tragedy spread, King Mohammed VI gave instructions that “all measures be taken to help the victims and their families,” according to the Associated Press. Mohammed will also pay the cost of hospitalizing the wounded and burying the dead.
The Moroccan government has long been searching for answers to the country’s drought, which has decimated two straight harvests.
Last year, wheat and barley production in Morocco was at its lowest level in a decade, according to World Grain, an industry magazine. The shortage was due to “inadequate rainfall during the planting season and the shortage of rain during the critical months of February and March.”
Wheat is a staple in North Africa, and in Morocco, according to the magazine. The average Moroccan consumes more than 440 pounds of wheat every year, one of the highest per capita rates in the world. The country irrigates only about 10 percent of its land, leaving it susceptible to Mother Nature’s whims.
Last year, during earlier stages of the drought, the king tried an age-old practice in a bid to save Morocco’s crops: prayer.
On two Fridays in January, he led national rain prayers after normal worship ended.
But experts say the government needs agricultural solutions, not divine intervention: increased irrigation, better management of a growing population and improved purification of the water already in the country’s water pipes.
David Goeury, a geographer at Paris IV-La Sorbonne University, told the AP that a ban on water-intensive watermelon farming, for example, would help. Morocco is one of the region’s top exporters of the melon.
“The problem is that watermelon demands a lot of water and requires drilling. If the water table is overexploited, its water level will drop or the quality of the water will be altered because it will come into contact with saltwater,” Goeury said.
For now, the lack of water is having a ripple effect on the country’s gross domestic product and security. Water, the Associated Press wrote, “is becoming a threat to national stability in the kingdom, seen as a steady force in a restive region and key ally with the West in the fight against terrorism.”
Charafat Afailal, the secretary of state in charge of water, said change is needed — soon.
“The issue of water has always been a priority for Morocco, but today, after two years of drought, we have to move on to higher gear.”
[END REPORT]

********

For President Trump's information: Your friend the general misled you.

"As of now [March 2016], Syrian Su-24 and MiG-23’s are able to execute precision bombing missions by day or by night, at altitudes which are out of range of portable ground-air missiles. ... and therefore, for more than a year, the Syrian Arab Army has no further need of barrels of explosives dropped from helicopters, which in any case would have been destroyed by MANPADs."

President Donald Trump, from his interview with TIME magazine published May 11, 2017:
And the interesting thing is, a friend of mine who’s very much a warrior and a person over there, a general, said you know when they hit a barrel bomb right in the middle of a town, the kids are more brutally damaged, and people. [sic]
You have arms and legs and everything else laying all over the town where it is. A real problem too. But you know, it just seemed, when they start using gases, it’s something that is just terrible. But honestly barrel bombs are incredible when you see the damage done by these. …
My friend said to me that, he said you know it’s interesting, he said you hit them [referring to Trump's order of U.S. airstrikes on a Syrian airbase] because of the gases but the barrel bombs are worse. He said what they do to people is unbelievable. You have arms and legs laying two hundred yards away."
From The rebirth of the Syrian Arab Army by Valentin Vasilescu, published March 14, 2016 at Voltaire Network: 
[...]
AVIATION
Until the arrival of the Russian contingent, the Syrian planes were not equipped with high-precision guided weapons which could assure support for ground troops. They used mainly 57 mm calibre rockets and FAB-50 and FAB-100 bombs, launched in a dive at 1,500 to 3,000 metres. At that height, Syrian planes were vulnerable to fire from Islamist artillery, either 23 mm and 30 mm calibre, and also to portable ground-air missiles (MANPADs), which explains the numerous losses suffered by the Syrian aviation. 
During this time, 21 Su-24MK bombers from the Syrian Arab Army were updated in Russian aeronautical factory N° 514 ARZ in Rzhev, and re-configured to Su-24M2 standards, equipped with systems integrating navigation and precision weapons-guidance (PNS-M), the same as the Russian aviation from the air base at Hmeymim. In 2015, Russia had supplied the Syrian aviation with state-of-the-art motors and avionics in order to raise 64 MiG-23BN/MLD’s to the standard of their MiG-23-98’s.
These MiG-23’s have OLS-M LANTIRN-class equipment for night navigation, infra-red detection of terrestrial targets and the guidance systems for several types of smart weapons, such as those used by Russian bombers deployed in Syria. 
As of now, Syrian Su-24 and MiG-23’s are able to execute precision bombing missions by day or by night, at altitudes which are out of range of portable ground-air missiles. In particular, they used penetration bombs to destroy the underground headquarters that the jihadists had built in many different areas, and also to hit ground troops, and therefore, for more than a year, the Syrian Arab Army has no further need of barrels of explosives dropped from helicopters, which in any case would have been destroyed by MANPADs.
TIME did not nail down what President Trump meant by "over there," so it's not clear where, exactly, his friend the general was stationed -- in Syria, Iraq, Jordan, or somewhere else in the Middle East. Wherever he was, the general didn't seem to know that the use of 'barrel' bombs by the Syrian Air Force was in the past.  He would not have been alone in his ignorance. From Vanessa Beeley's 17 January 2017 report for 21st Century Wire, SYRIA: Consign “Barrel Bombs” to the Propaganda Graveyard:
... The “watchdog” that has been cited by The Independent is none other than the Syrian Network for Human Rights, a long term purveyor of the barrel bomb myth and one of the multitude of NGOs affiliated with the anti-Syria-war-propaganda-impresario, George Soros, ... The report documents that Syrian regime helicopters dropped 12,958 barrel bombs in 2016. ... 
As to the general's mention that barrel bombs cause limbs to be severed and scattered -- my understanding is that this occurs even with victims of suicide bombs that are packed with shrapnel, and with victims of the 'Hell' and 'Hellfire' improvised cannons used by opposition forces in Syria. Those are also packed with shrapnel, and are wildly inaccurate; they've killed many civilians.

So if the general was hearing accounts of scattered limbs since the Syrian Air Force had stopped using barrel bombs, perhaps his informants had confused the cannon fire with bombs dropped from helicopters. 

Or perhaps his informants didn't know what they were talking about, or were lying. 
   
No matter whether they're calling pipe bombs or barrel bombs, they are accurate when dropped from a low altitude, but the introduction of MANPADs forced the Syrian Air Force on many occasions to drop them from a higher altitude, thus sacrificing accuracy.  

Now just how and when did the 'Syrian rebels' get hold of MANPADs?

As early as July 2012 there were mainstream news reports that the 'Free Syrian Army' had acquired MANPADs, which might have precipitated or accelerated Russian contributions to the Syrian Air Force. From a Reuters report dated 31 July 2012, it was unclear at the time which government supplied the MANPADs; to my knowledge it remains unclear.

********

Property of the Crown

The “handover” (remise) of a dauphine was a ritual not unlike a real-estate closing, with a final inspection attended by representatives for each party to the sale. The initial report, however, had flagged some minor flaws that needed correction. So the Parisian dentist who invented braces was imported to straighten the archducal teeth; a dancing master taught Antoinette the distinctive, gliding shuffle of court ladies; and a French coiffeur, M. Larsenneur, artfully dissembled her unfashionably high forehead and the bald spots at her hairline.
The rather more glaring bald spots in her culture and education were confided for repair to the worldly Abbé de Vermond, who did what he could with a lazy pupil who had been both spoiled and neglected.
Once the makeover was complete, and the frugal Empress had stoically ponied up four hundred thousand livres (the yearly income of a great nobleman) for a trousseau worthy of her new in-laws, the Dauphine and her entourage set off for France. Envoys of Louis XV greeted her at the border, where she entered a pavilion built for the remise on a riverine island that straddled the frontier of the two kingdoms.

As a driving rainstorm rattled the flimsy roof, and the future Queen digested the import of a tapestry that depicted Medea slaughtering her children, her Austrian retinue solemnly stripped her before all assembled and bundled up the clothes and possessions, including her pug, named Mops, that were tainted with her foreignness.
Weeping and shivering, she became Crown property at the moment that her new ladies redressed her.
From The New Yorker, Dressed for ExcessMarie Antoinette, out of the closet by Judith Thurman; September 25, 2006. 

Thurman makes only a few remarks about Sofia Coppola's film Marie Antoinette (released October 20, 2006 in the USA) and instead deftly recounts anecdotes from the dauphine's life that effortlessly carry the reader through what is actually a very grim tale, one bound to end in a cruel way for Marie. 

Just how cruel can be understood by viewing Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution, aired on PBS television in 2006. The documentary is almost unbearable to watch when it details the vilification campaign launched against Marie by the more libelous among the French pamphleteers, who made today's purveyors of fake news look like models of integrity.   

But when all is said and done Marie's life was a parable about the risks of a person becoming the property of a Crown. When the Crown is no more, the property can be disposed of in any way the new masters see fit, as the end of Russia's Emperor Nicholas II also illustrates.

Thus, the survival rate for people who became property of the Crown was often measured in their ability to so terrify the Crown's subjects they'd never think of attempting  insurrection.  

Judith Thurman may have been pointing to the same unbudging reality about human nature when she noted:
Fargeon [Marie's parfumier] had been stirred, in 1789, by the Tennis Court Oath, and its promise of a new order. Though the vitriol aimed at the Queen distressed him, he was more of a republican than his wife, who fainted when she heard drunks in the Rue de Roule singing one of the more vile revolutionary songs. 

Fargeon explained the paradox of his feelings. Marie Antoinette, he said, was kind and bountiful to individuals, and nothing like her caricatures. Yet, as de Feydeau puts it, “her subjects were creatures of fiction to her.” One had to distinguish between the woman and the Queen, he concluded, as “every monarchy was, by nature, tyrannical.” This was his paraphrase of Saint-Just’s famous dictum: “No one reigns innocently.”

But what was true of the Queen was also true of her alchemist. He recognized the humanity of Marie Antoinette but categorically despised a whole class.

I can’t help thinking of Marie Antoinette as a prototype for Emma Bovary, another naïve young beauty who marries a boorish glutton, equally naïve, and lets herself be seduced by a marchand de mode.

The Bovarys, too, were a couple with no qualities beyond the ordinary, who were doomed to an extraordinary disgrace, and both stories have a brutal ending in which no justice is served.
That absence of catharsis marks the point at which tragedy loses its exaltation and becomes modern —not a tale foretold about the death of kings but the story of a futile downfall that might have been averted. And it was left to Flaubert to democratize the wisdom of Saint-Just. His works insist that no one is human innocently. ♦
*******

Wednesday, November 15

Sometimes it seems things will never change. Then one day they do. Afghans' new independence from Pakistan


PTI via The Hindu
"With Chabahar, Afghanistan is no longer dependent on Pakistan: Abdullah" 
November 15, 2017 - 14:07 IST

Afghanistan used to rely only on one transit road, which was through Karachi. That is not the case anymore,” says Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.

Afghanistan would no longer depend on Pakistan for transit trade with the opening of the strategic Chabahar Port, a top Afghan leader has said.
Chabahar Port, located in the Sistan-Balochistan province on the energy-rich Persian Gulf nation’s [Iran's] southern coast, lies outside the Persian Gulf and is easily accessed from India’s western coast, bypassing Pakistan.
The port is likely to ramp up trade between India, Afghanistan and Iran in the wake of Pakistan denying transit access to New Delhi for trade with the two countries.
India has been closely working with Afghanistan to create alternate and reliable access routes, bypassing Pakistan.
“Afghanistan used to rely only on one transit road, which was through Karachi. That is not the case anymore. [Now] its [also] through Chabahar,” Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah said.
As per the agreement signed between India and Iran in May last year, India is to equip and operate two berths in Chabahar Port Phase-I with capital investment of $85.21 million and annual revenue expenditure of $22.95 million on a ten-year lease.
Afghanistan in the near future would also have trade transit route through Central Asia that would connect the country with Europe.
“There are one or two agreements that we will be signing with neighbouring countries, including Uzbekistan, hopefully in a few days which will help transit,” he said in response to a question at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a top American think-tank.
Welcoming the new South Asia policy of U.S. President Donald Trump, Mr. Abdullah said he is today more hopeful than before that Afghanistan will succeed and will overcome the challenges that are ahead of it.
He said the aim is that those forces which are fighting against the government of Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan will be persuaded to come to the negotiating table.
Mr. Abdullah argued that it is important for the countries in the region to realise that terrorism is a common enemy for all of them.
If there is one lesson in the past two decades, it is that these terrorist groups have not served and will not serve the real interest of any country or state, he said.
“At the end of the day they have their own interests which is in destruction and terror and violence,” he added.
Mr. Abdullah said the majority of the people of Afghanistan are keen to see a peaceful process.
Acknowledging that there are challenges ahead of them, he said there are still groups who believe that they can win through methods of terror and violence.
“They receive support and they have sanctuaries. That remains to be a big challenge for us,” Mr. Abdullah said.
“But I have no doubt in my mind that there will be conditions and circumstances that more and more groups will be convinced that they need to join the peaceful process rather to continue an endless war,” he said.
[END REPORT]
********

Zimbabwe: If it looks like a coup and it quacks like a coup --

Soldiers in downtown Harare: Just think of us as traffic cops. The tank? 
The car was in the repair shop


What seems to be the non-coup coup in a nutshell:

93 year old President Mugabe and wife Grace, aka Gucci Grace for her spending habits: "She's become increasingly more desperate, she knew that once he died she would be kicked out. She had to be installed into some institutional place so that she could seize power."




The man President Mugabe sacked, presumably to make way for Mrs Mugabe. 
This annoyed the military.


CNN, 3:51 ET, 11/15:

Zimbabwe: Uncertainty over Mugabe's whereabouts as military denies coup

Political turmoil escalated in Zimbabwe overnight, raising the question of whether 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe remains in control of the country he's ruled for almost four decades -- or if he's been overthrown in a military coup.
As soldiers patrolled the streets, a military spokesman, in a live speech at 4 a.m. local time on state broadcaster ZBC, denied the country was in the grip of a coup, and announced Mugabe and his family were "safe."
"To both our people and the world beyond our borders, we wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover of government," Maj. Gen. S.B. Moyo said. [see video at CNN of his televised statement]
"What the Zimbabwe Defense Forces is doing is to pacify a degenerating political, social and economic situation in our country, which if not addressed may result in a violent conflict," he said. He urged the public to remain calm but "limit unnecessary movement."
In the hours before the announcement, eyewitnesses reported seeing around 100 troops on the streets of downtown Harare. The sudden appearance of soldiers in the capital comes amid rising political tensions in the wake of Mugabe's shock sacking of his deputy, powerful Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The military has been careful not to call their efforts a coup, but that appears to be what is actually unfolding, observers say.
"This a coup by any other name," Alex Magaisa, a former political aide to ex-Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, told CNN. "They might be trying to give a fig leaf to the notion that President Mugabe is still the leader. But de facto they are obviously the military force."

A Harare resident, who wished not to be named for security reasons, described the city as "very quiet" Wednesday, though shops were open and buses and taxis appeared to be running normally.
"Many people have just stayed home," she said. Police road blocks were in their usual spots and police were "acting normally."
The resident added that there was a sense of "excitement in the air" and that social media was humming over what might be happening.

Power struggle

Mnangagwa had previously been considered most likely to succeed Mugabe if the president stepped down or died in office. His sudden dismissal cleared the way for 93-year-old Mugabe to appoint his wife, Grace, to the position, prompting widespread discontent among formerly loyalist supporters.
Grace Mugabe has drawn the ire of Zimbabweans for appearing to be out of touch. She's been nicknamed "Gucci Grace" for her exorbitant shopping sprees abroad,trips which stand in stark contrast to the lives of those hit hard by the country's massive inflation and debt burdens.
Former deputy Mnangagwa enjoys strong support among the country's military and security establishment. A celebrated freedom fighter in the country's liberation wars, the 75-year-old has since gone into hiding and his whereabouts are unknown.
In the broadcast, Moyo spoke of targeting "criminals" around the president who are "committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice."
He also said the situation in the country "has moved to another level" and that he wished to assure the nation Mugabe and his family are safe and their security is "guaranteed."
"As soon as we accomplish our mission we expect situation to return to normalcy," Moyo said.
Chris Mutsvanga, a Mnangagwa ally who heads the influential Zimbabwe War Veterans' Association, and called the move a "bloodless coup" in a statement praising the military.
"We salute the patrIotic and gallant forces of the Zimbabwe for once again coming to the decisive rescue of the nation," the statement said. "The populace has long suffered under a self saving dictatorship that had become an oligarch with dynastic delusions."
Mutsvanga's group has been historically loyal to Mugabe but it is fiercely critical of Grace Mugabe, who is younger and does not have any connection to the efforts to liberate Zimbabwe.

'An appropriate response'

The early morning broadcast interruption came less than 48 hours after the nation's army commander, Constantino Chiwenga, held a press conference in which he threatened to intervene should his political allies continue to be sidelined.
State media did not cover the press conference at first, but was re-airing it on ZBC in the early hours of Wednesday, a sign that the military may have taken control of the station.
In response to the conference, Mugabe's political party, Zanu-PF, accused Chiwenga of "treasonable conduct."
Against a background of increasing uncertainty, the United States, Canada and United Kingdom both issued warnings to their citizens inside Zimbabwe.
A US embassy spokesman in Zimbabwe said the embassy would be minimally staffed and closed to the public on Wednesday.
The US State Department is encouraging Americans in the country to "shelter in place until further notice" due to reports of violence and ongoing political unrest, while the UK Foreign Office said it is "monitoring the situation closely" and advised people to avoid demonstrations and rallies.
The Dutch embassy told its citizens in Zimbabwe to stay indoors.
Moyo told members of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces that all leave was canceled and soldiers were expected to return to their barracks immediately and urged the country's other security services to cooperate for "the good of our country."
"Let it be clear that we intend to address the human security threats in our country. Therefore, any provocation will be met with an appropriate response," he said.
Magaisa, the former political aide, said the treatment of those being detained will be telling of what comes next.
"One hopes that Zimbabwe itself does not descend into martial law," he said.

Consolidation of power

Mugabe, the longest serving leader in Africa, came to power in the 1980s after Zimbabwe's liberation. He was initially revered as a Nelson Mandela-like independence advocate.
As that political momentum began to fade, Mugabe moved to quickly consolidate power using a combination of brutality and bribery, according to CNN's Robyn Curnow, who has reported from the region for years.
The tactic has been effective. Mugabe, who has held the presidency for more than two decades, remains the only leader many in the country have ever known.
"There has never been a coup. There has never been an attempted coup. Any threat to his power base has been by democratic opposition," Curnow said.
Many analysts believe that the move by the President to sack his vice president, which gives Grace Mugabe a clearer path to the presidency, was a risky one.
Grace Mugabe is much younger than her husband and does not enjoy popular support, nor does she have the backing of the liberation-era party stalwarts.
"She's become increasingly more desperate, she knew that once he died, she would be kicked out. She had to be installed into some institutional place so that she could seize power," Curnow said.
While Robert Mugabe and Grace Mugabe haven't responded directly to Chiwenga's remarks, the Zanu-PF Youth League, a key ally of Grace Mugabe, slammed what they said was overreach by the military into political issues.
"Defending the revolution and our leader and President is an ideal we live for, and, if need be, is a principle we are prepared to die for," Kudzai Chipanga, Zanu-PF's secretary of youth affairs, told reporters early Tuesday.
[END REPORT]
********

Caught red-handed!

Bless b's sharp eyes. From his November 13 report at Moon of Alabama, Yemen: Having Lost The War Saudis Try Genocide - Media Complicit. Watch carefully don't blink:
[...]
The above headlines are false. From the last headline, the Saudi government announced the reopening of some Yemeni ports and airports. All of these are in the south and under control of Saudi proxy forces who are fighting the Houthi-Saleh alliance in northwest Yemen. Some 70% of the population lives in the northwestern areas, which will continue to be under an extreme blockade.

The most important port in their area is Hodeida, which will stay closed. Back in March the U.S. Pentagon tried to get control of the port. But fighting for it would have destroyed the piers and thereby the supply route for some 20 million people. 

The most important airport is in Sanaa. The Saudi/U.S./UK alliance blocks even UN flights with medical supplies from using it.
Saudi Arabia reacting to UN famine warnings says ports in Yemen it controls will reopen for aid deliveries. Riyadh shut them down last week after a missile attack blamed on Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
The Saudis now "request" the UN to send an expert commission to Riyadh to "discuss" procedures for future control of the ports that are not held by its proxies. Such a process will take weeks if not months. The Saudis will, like the Pentagon earlier, demand total control over the ports which their opponents will of course not give. Any such fighting will only worsen the situation.

Thanks to local smugglers some food and other goods will still be able to pass through the blockade. But these will be way too few and too expensive for the vast majority of Yemenis. When the recent blockade was announced, food and gas prices in Yemen doubled overnight. Public service employees have not been paid for more than 15 months. People simply can no longer afford to keep their children alive:
In Sana’a, Nor Rashid sold her family’s cow to pay for the transport costs to get her four year-old daughter, who weighs 16lbs, to the city’s feeding centre in Al-Sabaeen hospital. She has other children who are also sick but she cannot afford to pay for the medical care if she brings them in for treatment too. “It’s because of the lack of government wages,” she said. “Usually we go to the person in the village with a wage to ask for help and borrow money if someone needs to go to the hospital. But since the wages stopped we have no support.”
The UN warns, rightly, that the blockade is causing a mass famine. This famine is not a side effect of the war - it is a weapon:
To starve Yemeni civilians is an overt act by Riyadh, enraged by a humiliating failure to achieve a Saudi military victory.
The media claim that only 10,000 civilians have been killed in the two and a half years of the war. The number is laughable. Neither the UN nor others have published any detailed account. The 10,000 number seems to be plucked from hot air.  Compare, for example, the dates and content of these two reports:

Al Jazeera - 31 Aug 2016UN: At least 10,000 killed in Yemen conflict
The United Nations has significantly revised the estimated death toll from Yemen's 18-month civil war to up to 10,000 people
...
Speaking from the capital Sanaa on Tuesday, Jamie McGoldrick, the UN humanitarian coordinator, said the new figure was based on official information from medical facilities in Yemen.
Al Jazeera - 17 Jan 2017Death toll in Yemen conflict passes 10,000
The United Nations' humanitarian aid official in Yemen has said that the civilian death toll in the nearly two-year conflict has reached 10,000, with 40,000 others wounded.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs' Jamie McGoldrick said that the figure is based on lists of victims gathered by health facilities ...
The same low number is claimed by the same official in August and in January while a devastating war has been ongoing throughout that time frame. That does not make sense. To provide a cynic laugh attack, or out of stupidity, the later Al Jazeera report says:
The announcement marks the first time a UN official has confirmed such a high death toll in Yemen.
[...] 
****
There's much more to b's report. Pundita readers have pretty strong stomachs, I think, so I'm hoping they'll read the rest of what he has to say. But even b, who has a very strong stomach, was grossed out by the news media's complicity, which is by no means limited to the 'western' media.   

********

Tuesday, November 14

Anti-Russian propaganda/counter-propaganda descending into madness

"US Defense Secretary James Mattis has recently claimed that Washington received a mandate to operate in Syria from no less than the UN itself. The problem is the UN never did any such thing as it does not even have any legal capacity to do so."(1)

"Russia's Ministry of Defence has posted what it called 'irrefutable proof' of the US aiding so-called Islamic State - but one of the images was actually taken from a video game. The ministry claimed the image showed an IS convoy leaving a Syrian town last week aided by US forces. Instead, it came from the smartphone game 'AC-130 Gunship Simulator: Special Ops Squadron.'(2)

"BuzzFeed News published a story Tuesday about wire transfers to Russian embassies in August 2016 that were accompanied by memos saying the funds were "to finance election campaign of 2016." The transfers, the outlet noted breathlessly, are being investigated by the FBI as possible attempts to influence the US presidential election. The only problem with this latest Russiagate screed? The Russian Duma election was scheduled for the following month, which the money was obviously intended to support."(3)

Russian propagandists. American propagandists. Gentlemen. Ladies. Transvestites: You people need to stop fooling around so much with the truth because you're driving yourselves and everyone else crazy. 
  
1) RT, November 14, 2017
2) BBC, November 14, 2017
3) Sputnik, November 15, 2017
   
********

Monday, November 13

Death toll from earthquake in Iran-Iraq border region now at least 210

Reuters report updated 10 minutes ago, cites at least 210 dead. Also from Reuters:
More than 142 of the victims were in Sarpol-e Zahab county in Kermanshah, about 15 km (10 miles) from the Iraq border. The main hospital of the capital of the county was severely damaged and could not treat hundreds of injured people who were taken there, the head of the Iranian emergency services, Pirhossein Koulivand said.
A hospital on the Iraqi side of the border in the affected region was also severely damaged. See the Reuters report for details.


CBS/Associated Press Last Updated Nov 13, 2017 2:06 AM EST
TEHRAN, Iran -- A powerful earthquake shook the Iran-Iraq border late Sunday, killing at least 207 people and injuring at least 1,686 in the mountainous region of Iran alone, Iranian state media said.
The Baghdad government didn't immediately give word on damage or casualties in that country.
But Iranian state TV said Iraqi officials reported at least seven people dead inside Iraq, along with more than 50 people injured in Sulaymaniyah province and about 150 in the town of Khanaquin.
The magnitude 7.3 quake was centered 19 miles outside the eastern Iraqi city of Halabja, according to the most recent measurements from the U.S. Geological Survey. It struck at a depth of 14.4 miles, a shallow depth that can result in broad damage. Magnitude 7 earthquakes in general are capable of widespread, heavy damage.
The quake was felt as far west as the Mediterranean coast. Its worst damage appeared to be in Iran's western Kermanshah province, which sits in the Zagros Mountains that divide Iran and Iraq. Residents in the rural area rely mainly on farming to make a living.


The shaker was also felt in parts of Turkey and Israel, the Reuters news agency reports. 
[Pundita note: From CNN report, below, shocks were also felt in Pakistan, Lebanon, and Kuwait; from Gulf News, the quake was also felt in UAE and "across the Middle East."] 


Electricity was cut off in several Iranian and Iraqi cities, Reuters says, adding that Iran's military was called on to help rescue efforts.

Iranian social media and news agencies showed images and videos of people fleeing their homes into the night. Some 50 aftershocks followed.

Iran's state-run IRNA news agency said rescue work was continuing overnight and would accelerate during the daytime.
"The night has made it difficult for helicopters to fly to the affected areas and some roads are also cut off... we are worried about remote villages," Reuters quotes Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli as saying in an interview on state television.
Officials expected the casualty toll to rise when search and rescue teams reached remote areas of Iran, Reuters noted.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei offered his condolences on Monday morning and urged rescuers and all government agencies to do all they could to help those affected, state media reported.

The semi-official ILNA news agency said at least 14 provinces in Iran had been affected by the earthquake.
Officials announced that schools in Kermanshah and Ilam provinces would be closed Monday because of the temblor.
Iran sits on many major fault lines and is prone to near-daily quakes. In 2003, a magnitude 6.6 earthquake flattened the historic city of Bam, killing 26,000 people. The last major casualty earthquake in Iran struck in East Azerbaijan province in August 2012, killing over 300 people.

CNN, 11/13 - 1:35am ET:

More than 200 people are dead and 1,700 injured after a powerful 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck the border region between Iran and Iraq.
Iran's Press TV says the highest number of casualties in the country occurred in the town of Sarpol-e Zahab, Kermanshah province.
Iran's semi-official Mehr news agency said 100 of the 207 reported dead were from that town alone.
While most of the deaths have been reported in Iran, the quake's epicenter was across the border in Iraq, about 350 kilometers (217 miles) north of Baghdad.
The quake crushed buildings in Darbandikhan, in northern Iraq, according to video from AFP. Dozens of people from the town were injured, according to Omar Ahmad, the governor of Sulaimaniya province. In nearby Halabja, at least four people were reported dead.
Iraq's Meteorological Organization issued a warning on Iraqi State TV urging citizens to stay away from buildings and to refrain from using elevators.
Shocks were also felt in Pakistan, Lebanon, Kuwait and Turkey, news agencies in those countries reported.
Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was closely following the situation of the country's citizens, a statement from his office said.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei sent a message of condolence, and urged military and civilian help to be dispatched to quake victims.
[END REPORT]

Sunday, November 12

"We changed our broadcast from leaving our town to defending our town"

The Battle of Koreatown,  Los Angeles - April 1992



India's amma canteens allow low income workers to eat well -- but no giveaways

Raju, a construction worker from Punjab, was introduced to the canteen by his co-workers. "I earn 400 rupees a day. Before these canteens came up, I used to spend at least 150 rupees on food per day. Now I spend only 20 rupees a day," he says.

Could we try something like this in the United States, I wonder?  I caution that these canteens are controversial -- something not mentioned in the glowing BBC report below. See the Wikipedia article for details about the subsidy program and complaints about it. In one sentence the biggest complaints are that corporations that subsidize the canteen food claim they are losing "massive" amounts of money, and pushcart food vendors can't compete with the very cheap meals sold by the canteens. That's right they can't, and it might also be argued that the canteens are a clever vote-buying scheme for Tamil Nadu's chief minister. But here's the bright side, from the Beeb report:
The canteens have helped poor and lower middle-class families massively slash their food bills and freed the womenfolk from the daily drudgery of cooking and cleaning.
And work in the canteens, which are run exclusively by women, provides employment for thousands of women.

I really like the part about greatly lowering food bills, and that the food isn't free, thus avoiding the welfare mentality that crippled entire generations in America. 

Maybe if the program spreads across India the canteens could be more profitable and the corporations could get some federal assistance with the subsidies. 

As for buying from the street vendors, it's like eating at fast food restaurants every day in the USA -- the expense piles up for low- and middle-income workers. On the other side, the vendors can and do offer food that isn't available on the no frills vegetarian canteen menu.  



Amma canteen: Where an Indian meal costs only seven cents
By Geeta Panday
4 July 2016
BBC

The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa's "amma canteens", which serve cheap meals to hundreds of thousands of people daily, have become immensely popular with the poor and the middle classes. The BBC's Geeta Pandey samples the treats at a canteen in Chennai (Madras).

It's just a few minutes after noon on a hot summer day as I join the queue of lunch-goers at the amma canteen in Pallavaram town, just outside the state capital, Chennai.

The menu today includes hot sambhar rice (rice cooked with lentils and spices) and curd rice (rice cooked in yogurt with curry leaves). The former is selling for five rupees (seven cents; five pence) a plate while the latter costs just three rupees - a fraction of what the dishes would cost in any other restaurant.

I'm famished so I buy a plate of each and move to one of the tables in the centre of the room to eat.

If you're after a fine dining experience, this place is not for you.

The heat and the humidity can be a bother and the sambhar rice is a bit too spicy for my north Indian palate.

But my fellow diners, men and women who include poor daily wage labourers, housemaids, college students, and middle-class office workers, are not complaining.

The portions are big and most describe the food as "delicious".

Lakshmi, who works in the neighbourhood as a housemaid, is a regular at this canteen.

"Earlier, my employers would give me leftovers, but now I come here for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. For less than 20 rupees, I can eat three meals here," she tells me.

"This food is really good. I like all the dishes. My stomach's full and I'm happy," she says, patting her belly.

Raju, a construction worker from Punjab, was introduced to the canteen by his co-workers.

"I earn 400 rupees a day. Before these canteens came up, I used to spend at least 150 rupees on food per day. Now I spend only 20 rupees a day," he says.

The canteens were first started in 2013 in Chennai by Ms Jayalalithaa, who is popularly called amma (mother) - hence the name amma canteen - with the aim to provide subsidised meals to the public.

Today, there are more than 300 such eateries in the state - at least half of them in Chennai alone. They serve simple breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of the week.

"The food is prepared hygienically, it's very well made and it's tasty," says CR Saraswathi, spokeswoman for Ms Jayalalithaa's All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) party.

"Our chief minister started these canteens to provide good, cheap food to the people. It has also generated employment for thousands of women. The canteens are run by women who cook, clean and serve."

And the scheme has served Ms Jayalalithaa well too.

The canteens have helped poor and lower middle-class families massively slash their food bills and freed the womenfolk from the daily drudgery of cooking and cleaning. And their gratitude has often translated into votes for Amma.

A year after the scheme was launched, Ms Jayalalithaa's party won 37 of the 39 seats in the 2014 parliamentary elections.

In April, her party was re-elected in the state assembly polls and analysts say the canteens are among the reasons for her victory.

At the canteen, I come across S Shweta and S Pavitra - two young women who work as salesgirls in a telephone showroom nearby.

This is their first visit to an amma canteen and to mark the occasion, they are taking a selfie with their plates of rice.

The photograph, they tell me, will be uploaded on their Facebook accounts.

"This is a great initiative. Where else can poor people eat a full meal for five rupees? We support amma," says Ms Shweta.

As the popular saying goes, the way to a man's - and presumably also a woman's - heart is through the stomach. And Ms Jayalalithaa knows it well.

What's on the menu?
  • Breakfast (served from 7am to 10am) - idli (steamed rice cakes) for one rupee or pongal rice (rice cooked with lentils and peppercorn) for five rupees
  • Lunch (served from 12 noon to 3pm) - sambhar rice (rice cooked with lentils and spices) or lemon rice or curry leaf rice for five rupees each and curd rice (rice cooked in yogurt with curry leaves) for three rupees
  • Dinner (served from 5pm to 7:30pm) - two rotis with daal (handmade bread with lentil soup) for three rupees.

This is the seventh article in a BBC series India on a plate, on the diversity and vibrancy of Indian food. Other stories in the series:
The Indian street food bringing theatre to your plate
Inside India's 'dying' Irani cafes
What Indians have done to world cuisine
The story of the samosa
Cooking the world's oldest-known curry
Why India is a nation of foodies
[END REPORT]
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