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Saturday, June 24

Europeans catch U.S. lawmakers with their hands in cookie jar

The situation has been building for a long time; it finally started to come to a head less than two weeks ago, when the U.S. Senate imposed additional sanctions against Russia in an amendment to a bill to impose sanctions on Iran. The new sanctions against Russia would hurt German and other European energy companies. The reaction from German and Austrian politicians was the strongest against the United States I've heard in my lifetime. Although the White House is trying to get the sanctions in the bill watered down, this hasn't mollified the Europeans.    

The Final Straw: Germany Mulling Over Sanctions -- This Time Against the US
June 24, 2017 - 12:32
Sputnik

[...]

In a joint statement, Germany's Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Austria's Chancellor Christian Kern slammed the decision by the US Senate to impose new sanctions on Moscow over its alleged interference in the US presidential election as well as the ongoing situations in Ukraine and Syria.
"Threatening German, Austrian and other European enterprises with penalties on the US market only because they take part in the gas supply projects such as the Nord Stream 2 together with Russia or finance them, is adding an absolutely new and highly negative aspect in relations between the US and Europe," the joint statement reads.
For his part, the leader of Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD), Martin Schulz, lambasted US senators' move and called upon German Chancellor Angela Merkel to oppose it.
"We have seen that the US is pursuing a course in energy policy that is dangerous and is directed against Germany," Schulz told the Federal Association of German Industry (BDI).
[...]
***
Lots more in the report.

********



Daylight gonna catch me up again

Around 1974-1975 a young aspiring songwriter named Harold Payne met Bobby Womack and together they created the song "Daylight." Released in 1975 with background vocals by the Pointer Sisters, the song became a hit and a perennial anthem for night people.

Harold Payne once recounted the story of how the song was created:
After receiving a call from [his brother] Larry Payne, Harold Payne flew from Los Angeles to San Francisco and met with Bobby Womack at the Wally Heider Recording Studios, where after hashing over musical ideas with Harold, Bobby devised a rhythm track. Harold then completed the lyric for "Daylight" at his home in Los Angeles, which he described as "a notorious party house."  
"The lyric took on the story of what went on at the house and it meshed well with what Bobby had in mind."
[Wikipedia] 
Thus launched a musical collaboration that spanned 37 years, right up until Bobby Womack's last album, in 2012.  He died in 2014, at the age of 70. 

"Daylight" Lyrics 
        
Well, look like I'm goin' again
I can't seem to believe myself
Here I go again, here I go again, here I go again
Listen to me now

It's five o'clock AM but the party is still going strong
There's a conversation over in the corner
Big cats all on the lawn *
And the FM music is groovin'
Folks getting down, getting down in their stocking feet
Sleepy eyes are peeping from the window across the street

And it looks like daylight gonna catch me up again
Most people are getting up when I'm just getting in
Oh it's the only only time, it seems to be the only time
That I can unwind

Swore to myself time and time and time again
That I would give up the nightlife, start layin' in
But it ain't easy, no no, sayin' no to my friends
‘Cause the real, cause the real set don't get started **
Till everyone else is in

And it looks like daylight gonna catch me up again
Most people are getting up when I'm just getting in
It's the only only only time when I can unwind
Daylight, daylight gonna catch me up again ...
- - - 

* Every website I've looked at that publishes the lyrics to the song has the lyric as, "Big Ed all on the lawn." So one website must have copied from another without anyone actually listening to the lyric. It's very clearly "Big cats all on the lawn." The big cats in this context are the professional musicians relaxing after a hard night's work at a club or recording session.

** The word "set" refers to a musical number or group of numbers. The "real" set, within the context of the rest of the lyrics, refers to the musical numbers played by musicians who gather to 'jam' -- improvise music together. These jams often happen in the wee hours, when professional musicians ("big cats") have finished their performances for pay and gather somewhere to exchange musical ideas and improvise. 

"The real set don't get started till everyone else is in;" i.e., not until all the professional musicians have arrived to jam.  


********

Friday, June 23

739,000+ Somalis displaced by drought since 11/16; 6.2m now food 'insecure'

This report isn't only about drought and displacement of human populations, it's also about the ongoing destruction of pastoralism, as huge numbers of livestock die from starvation and lack of water. 

There's a helpful interactive map accompanying the article below at the News Deeply website, which shows region-by-region "displacement flows" and "food insecurity" and its level of severity. A lot of information at a glance. 

Now is it possible for pastoralists to beat the devil by staying in place -- giving up, at least for a time, their nomadic way of life -- and growing their own grass for their livestock? It's being tried in Kenya. See this U.S. News & World Report article, which I'll also be featuring in a separate post.  
Amid Drought, Somali Pastoralists Watch Their ‘Sources of Life’ Perish
June 20, 2017
News Deeply/Refugees Deeply

With 17 million people crippled by drought in the Horn of Africa, Samuel Hall researchers and photographer Ashley Hamer explain the realities of climate-induced displacement in Somalia on World Refugee Day.

PUNTLAND, SOMALIA – “Our world of plenty today faces an unprecedented four famines,” anti-poverty group Oxfam said in late May, as the leaders met for the G7 summit in Sicily, which is once again the gateway for most refugees to Europe.

Along with northeastern Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen, Somalia is faced with a particularly dire situation, which highlights the growing nexus between climate change and displacement.

Somalia has consistently produced one of the largest refugee and internally displaced populations in the world, due to a combination of conflict, environmental degradation, drought and famine.

With over half of the country’s population experiencing food and water shortages, the Somali president declared the ongoing humanitarian crisis a “national disaster” in February.
Displaced by Drought

In April this year, while traveling through the Dangoroyo district in Eastern Puntland, an autonomous region in Somalia, our research team at Samuel Hall met Ahmed*, a pastoralist, though this job description barely applies to him these days.

Having been a herdsman all his life, Ahmed, who knows no other means of making a living, lost 90 percent of his 150 animals as a consequence of the current drought in the Horn of Africa.

“The drought forced me to move from the place where I lived and herded my livestock … just look at the scale of devastation and deprivation,” said Ahmed, who is the head of his household. “We are up against one of the worst situations I have witnessed or even heard of.”

The result of three years of failed rains, the current drought, deemed the worst to hit the region in decades, forcibly displaced Ahmed to a nearby village where he is barely surviving.

The scenes of helplessness among pastoralist families as they watch their sources of sustenance waste away reveal extraordinary suffering. In a country where livestock is the largest contributor of livelihoods that engages at least 65 percent of the population, the perishing of 80 percent of animals in the country has brought devastation.

Some people have lost every single animal, and there are reports of suicide among hopeless herders. The rapidly deteriorating situation is reminiscent of the 2011 drought in Somalia, which resulted in a famine that claimed 260,000 lives.

[...]

****
There's lots more in the report, and lots more reports about the refugee/migration crisis, at News Deeply  

********

Ethiopia: "Starvation looms as food runs out in drought"

by Chris Stein
June 22, 2017
Phys.Org

The Somali people of Ethiopia's southeast have a name for the drought that has killed livestock, dried up wells and forced hundreds of thousands into camps: sima, which means "equalised".

It's an appropriate name, they say, because this drought has left no person untouched, spared no corner of their arid region. And it has forced 7.8 million people across the whole of Ethiopia to rely on emergency food handouts to stay alive.

But by next month, that food will have run out, aid agencies say.

Droughts are common in Ethiopia, and in past years the government and international community have mounted impressive efforts to curb starvation.

This year though, Africa's second most-populous country is struggling to find the money for food aid, say aid agencies.

"We're looking at the food pipeline actually breaking, so the food is running out in about a month's time," said John Graham, country director for Save the Children. "After that, we don't know what's going to happen."

Distracted donors

Once a global byword for starvation and poverty after a famine in 1984-85 killed hundreds of thousands, Ethiopia has seen its economy grow rapidly in the last decade. Health indicators such as infant mortality and malaria deaths have also improved.

stronger economy allowed Ethiopia to spend an impressive $766 million (683 million euros) fighting one of its worst droughts in decades in 2015-16.

This year however, things are different.

Economic growth has slowed, due in part to protests spurred by long-simmering grievances against Ethiopia's one-party state.

Donors have also been distracted by other regional crises.

To the southeast, Somalia is suffering from severe drought, with warnings it could tip into famine.

Ethiopia's western neighbour, South Sudan, has suffered four months of famine, and extreme hunger is at its highest levels ever after more than three years of civil war.

Ethiopia by contrast has a strong central government and is relatively free from conflict.

But with the situation so desperate in the region, donors aren't responding to the country's emergency as they have in the past, said Mitiku Kassa, head of Ethiopia's National Disaster Risk Management Commission, Mitiku Kassa.

"They are stressed with the needs, especially from those countries which (have) declared famine," Mitiku said. "That is why it is underfunded."

'Skipping meals is common'

Even though Ethiopia has contributed $117 million of its own money this year and the international community $302 million, a funding gap of $481 million remains, according to the United Nations.

In the drought ravaged town of Warder, the hundreds of displaced families crowding a ramshackle camp say handouts of rice and sugar are becoming less frequent.

"Skipping meals is common," said Halimo Halim, a grandmother living with her children in a shelter made of sticks and pieces of plastic. "Skipping is the order of the day."

Families of nomadic herders such as Halimo's are central to the economy of Ethiopia's southeastern Somali region.

The drought has deprived goats, sheep and donkeys of water, killing them or making them so weak that by the time the rains come they perish in the cold.

Around 465,000 people who have lost their livestock have migrated to an estimated 250 camps in the region.

The settlements are often located near water sources, but that presents its own problems.

In Warder, workers are present around the clock at nearby wells to make sure people drawing water chlorinate it before they drink it, lest they contract "acute watery diarrhoea", which has broken out in the region.

Some aid workers say this is actually cholera, which Ethiopia has long been accused of covering up to protect its image.

Paying the bill

Aid agencies have turned to so-called "non-traditional" donors like the Gulf countries for funding.

At the same time they are keeping a nervous eye on budget negotiations in top funder the United States, where President Donald Trump has proposed slashing the aid budget.

But some humanitarians privately complain that the Ethiopian government isn't doing enough to call attention to its plight.

They argue that Addis Ababa does not want to distract from its development gains or resurrect the old image of Ethiopia as a place of mass starvation.

"There is no shortage of funds to combat drought," communications minister Negeri Lencho insisted earlier this month.

If the international community doesn't send more money, Mitiku said the government would be "forced" to tap its development budget for drought relief in July.

But with a lead time of about four months required to procure emergency food, the UN says that may be too late.

In Warder, those uprooted by drought, like Sanara Ahmed, are wondering how long they can survive on unreliable food handouts.

"Some support was there, but it cannot substitute for our dependability on our livelihood," Sanara said.

Thursday, June 22

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

Reuters
June 22, 2017 - 10:27am EDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[END REPORT]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

********

Wednesday, June 21

Where do we go from here?



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


Inadvertently funny headline from RT: 

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

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


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

********

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

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

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

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

Paw protectors against the blazing-hot sidewalks in Tempe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[END NBC REPORT]

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

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

Middle East and Southwest Asia heat wave

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

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

European heat wave

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

Vietnamese heat wave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mohammad Bin Salman, 31, the deputy crown prince and Saudi Arabia's defense minister, was named the new crown prince instead of Muhammad Bin Nayef.
The Al-Arabiya broadcaster reported that Muhammad Bin Nayef has also lost the post of the interior minister. The post was filled with Prince Abdelaziz bin Saud bin Nayeff, according to media reports.
The news comes amid the ongoing standoff between a number of Gulf states and Qatar. On June 5, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing the latter of supporting terrorist organizations and destabilizing the situation in the Middle East.
Yemen, the Maldives, Mauritius, Mauritania and the eastern-based government in divided Libya also announced a break in relations with Doha, while Jordan and Djibouti said they would lower the level of diplomatic contacts with Qatar. Senegal, Chad  and Niger recalled their ambassadors from Doha.
MORE TO FOLLOW
[END REPORT]
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Tuesday, June 20

Failed suicide bomb in Brussels train station

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


"There was a security announcement to leave the station. 

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

[...]

Monday, June 19

Chancellor Merkel's Munich Beer Tent Declaration

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

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

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

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

Daily Mail:
"Terror returns to Paris"

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


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

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

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

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

Scroll down for video 

[Video/photos]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

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

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

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

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

[...]

********

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

TASS
June 19, 14:23 UTC+3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[END REPORT]

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