Arizona’s Thirsty Desert Gets Unusual Amounts of Winter Rainfall

By Nidah Chatriwala

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As the holiday weekend gets closer, many are staying glued to their local weather forecast to prepare for change in their traveling plans. Arizona, a state that is assumed to be a desert region received an usual amount of rainfall causing canals to swell up and water filled up on golf courses turning it into a pond for ducks.

According to The Weather Channel, from late Thursday until 5 a.m. MST on Saturday, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport received 2.34 inches of rain. Friday’s rainfall total alone was 1.60 inches, making it the second wettest November day since 1895 in Phoenix. The wettest November day was in 1923 when 2.24 inches of rain was recorded on Nov. 10.

This winter storm caused many to miss out on college and high school sporting events disappointing athletes and fans. Some took advantage of this drenching rain and took to the outdoors. However, for some it wasn’t the best case scenario as still traffic and accidents ruined opportunity to enjoy the post-monsoon showers.

The Weather Channel reports, the record wettest calendar day in Phoenix is 2.24 inches on Nov. 10, 1923. The record wettest month of November there is 3.61 inches in 1905.

Aside from the massive rain, the northern part of the state received enough snow to create snow angels.

According to azcentral.com, Flagstaff got about 6.2 inches of snow since the storm started Thursday night. However, much of that melted off and only three inches was on the ground at the local airport Saturday morning.

The storm subsided by Sunday morning, but gloomy clouds remained in the sky causing a soft glow as the sunlight reflected upon them.

Arizonans definitely love rain and the thirsty soil of the Grand Canyon state is left craving for more.

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US Comedian Tells Tales from the Mosque

An American comedian who spent 30 days visiting Mosques across the US is bringing his stand-up show about the trip to Germany. Aman Ali spoke to The Local.

Aman Ali, a New Yorker of Indian heritage, said stopping at a different Mosque on each day of 2010’s holy month of Ramadan had given him a broad outlook on how Muslims were living in America.

His current tour – he has just performed in Copenhagen and is heading for Germany next week – was showing him interesting things about the differences between Muslim life on either side of the Atlantic.

“The big difference is that the American culture is one of immigration, it is very easy to immigrate and integrate,” he told The Local ahead of bringing his show “30 Mosques in 30 Days” to Germany.
“In Europe national identity is different. You go to parts of Europe and identity is more defined, like in Germany, Denmark, Sweden or Norway.

“Although, I was in the UK recently, and people are very open – and the favourite national dish is chicken tikka masala.”

He said the biggest eye-opener was that the idea that people were against or scared of Muslims was mostly simply not true.

“There is this illusion that there is opposition to Muslims, and Muslims think that everyone hates us. But in reality most people don’t care,” he said.

“I see people living peacefully and working closely together with their neighbours. In Europe perhaps not so much, but this is not necessarily due to racism. I think it is more to do with ignorance – if everyone comes from the same kind of background, they can end up ignorant of other backgrounds.”

This can lead to Muslims not making much of an effort to integrate, he said. “They then want to create a mini Somalia or Morocco or something,” he said.

“There is no problem with holding onto your own culture, but why not build Mosques that are Muslim and German in style? It is frustrating, these cultural bubbles, that is what generates a lot of the tension.

“We have our share of problems too, there is a lot cynicism, the feeling that things are getting worse and everyone hates us.”

He is happy to describe his show as stand-up story-telling – emphatically not a lecture.

“I want to create an honest dialogue. I just tell stories that I have heard along the way.”

Berlin, where his show is scheduled for Monday, is a particular treat for him.

“One of the reasons I am excited about coming to Germany is the vibrant Muslim arts culture here. It is very refreshing to see such a vibrant Muslim art scene.”

Aman Ali’s show in Berlin is on Monday at the Babylon Theatre, and in Magdeburg at the einewelt haus.

The Local/hc
The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Pakistan – USA Trade Relationship

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President PCC-USA Khalid Kazi and Annual Gala Chair Saeed Sheikh getting Congressional Proclamation from Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

PCC-USA has Played Critical Role: General Abbott – PCC-USA Annual Gala Brings Out Hundreds of Business Leaders

Sugar Land, Texas: “Our lives are not measured by the challenges we face. Instead, we get to define our lives by how we respond to the challenges we encounter. And that is to overcome these challenges, and do something worthwhile for our fellow human beings & serving the society & community in which we live in.”

These were the approximate sentiments’ and words of wisdom expressed, during the keynote speech at the 17th Annual award Gala of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce – USA (PCC-USA), by the Honorable 50th Attorney General of Texas Greg Abbott, at the picturesque ballroom of Sugar Land Marriott, this past Friday.

Ms. Cynthia Cisneros, Vice President Community Affairs at ABC News Houston, was the Emcee of the night, in coordination with Rashid Khokhar of PCC-USA.

Attorney General, who is referred to as General Abbott & a candidate for Governor of Texas (R); congratulated the volunteers of the Executive Team of PCC-USA for putting together the nice 17th Gala Dinner; and commended the role played by this esteemed organization with the signing of various important MoUs between Pakistani & USA entities.

“Today the trade between our State of Texas & Pakistan has reached $278 Million due to efforts of entities like PCC-USA. And then we have Syed Javaid Anwar of Mid Land Energy, who is a role model for all Americans, and what he has done can only be done in USA. He came to USA, worked hard at studies, graduated to work at Oil & Energy Company. Later on became entrepreneur in running the affairs of the company as its owner. Now a leading Oil & Energy firm; while By the Grace of God, Javaid not only provides several hundreds of employment to the Texans through his company, but is contributing as a philanthropist towards various educational institutes and other worthwhile causes. A Pakistani-American and a true American role model”: Added General Abbott.

King Fuels got the coveted award of PCC-USA Pakistani-American Business of the year award, which was accepted by their CEO Zaki Niazi. Best Professional of the Year Award went to Dr. Raza Pasha.

Earlier Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee in her expressive inspirational style commended PCC-USA for its endeavors to enhance trade between USA and Pakistan, gave the ideas as to how to invest in the energy sector of Pakistan, and that she has invited Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif to soon visit Houston. Also Honorable Consul General of Pakistan Afzaal Mahmood, President of PCC-USA Khaliz Kazi, Former President of PCC-USA Pervez Jamil Swati, and Coordinator of the Annual Gala Saeed Sheikh (former President of PCC-USA) also spoke on the occasion.

For more information on becoming member of tis viable organization that promotes & guides the Pakistani-American Entrepreneurs in doing business in USA & Pakistan; and brings many learning opportunities throughout the year, please visit the website http://PakistanChamberUSA.com/pccusa/; or visit PCC-USA at International Trade Center, 11110 Bellaire Blvd, Suite 202, Houston, TX 77072-2600, Phone #: 832.448.0520, Phone #: 832.607.8491 (General Secretary), E-Mail: Info@PakistanChamberUSA.com

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Community News (V15-I49)

Muslim students urge prayer space at Eastern Michigan University

The Eastern Michigan University doesn’t have a dedicated prayer/reflection room where students can perform their prayers. The Muslim students have to resort to praying in a tight space underneath a library staircase. They have now requested the authorities to open a multi-faith prayer room.

Fatma Jaber, a student senator in the Student Government, has written an op-ed in the Eastern Echo urging the authorities to be accomadating of student needs. “A designated space for prayer, meditation and reflection is an essential aspect of any well recognized and highly regarded university. This room is intended not only for Muslim students, but for all members of EMU, and its purpose is to give everyone a safe place to pray, reflect inwardly and meditate,” she writes.

Atlanta conference on Islamophobia attracts hundreds

ATLANTA,GA- The Islamic World International Conference held over the weekend in Atlanta attracted hundreds of participants. It was dedicated to sessions on how to deal with Islamophobia and other misunderstandings.

Participant Maryam Abdul-Karim told the 90.1 FM Radio Station: “We all have a responsibility and our responsibility is just to convey a message to people that yes we’re Muslim and we’re not going to stop being Muslim, but here’s how we effect society; not negatively but positively. Look at our doctors, look at our students, look at our political aspirations as a people. There is something we can bring to the table even in an Islamophobic society”.

Afghan woman Dr. Sakina Yaqoobi wins $1 million Opus prize

o-SAKENA-facebook_0FINALISTS FOR ONE OF the most prestigious faith-based humanitarian honors, the Opus Prize, received their awards at Georgetown after participating in a series of campus events and classes Nov. 12-13.

Sakena Yacoobi, founder and president of the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), won the 2013 Opus Prize for operating the largest Afghan nongovernmental organization.  AIL runs 52 centers in Afghanistan that provide literacy programs, higher education, arts and culture, healthcare and income generating activities.

“Dr. Sakena Yacoobi has demonstrated an inspiring commitment to the promotion of education and health services for women and children in Afghanistan,” Georgetown President John J. DeGioia said during the Nov. 13 award presentation. “She is an eminently deserving recipient of this faith-based humanitarian award – for her disproportionate contributions to the betterment of our global family.”

Yacoobi received $1 million with the honor, and the remaining two finalists each received a $75,000 prize.

Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association (CHA) in Washington, D.C., and theFahmina Institute, a nonprofit based in Cirebon, Indonesia, were among this year’s finalists.

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Advice Column: The Diet Soda Debate

By Noor H. Salem, TMO

blackbeanbrownies.wordpress.com

Question: Instead of drinking soda I go for zero calorie and diet sodas.  Is there a significant difference between regular soda and the diet one?

Answer:

Diet ColaWhile it may appear like diet soda is a good choice for those aiming for a healthy “diet”, it can actually be just as devastating to your health, if not more, than regular soda beverages.

Diet soda just like the regular version contains filtered water, hazardous coloring agents, carbonation, and of course instead of a ton of sugar, chemical sweeteners like aspartame or sucralose.

Whatever this lab made chemical based sweetener is, it’s unnatural. It does not grow on trees, and it doesn’t cultivate from underground. We were not made to eat and drink this stuff and our ancestors never did. Chemical sweeteners are linked to obesity, cancer, metabolic syndrome, and many other issues that go on inside our bodies while we are unaware.

The affects of all these chemical bursting foods are clearly all around us, with cancer being the new flu and obesity the common cold.

Instead of grabbing that deceiving can of soda next time you feel thirsty, hydrate with water, homemade iced tea, or fresh squeezed fruit juice. You’ll not only replenish your thirst, you’ll feel great afterwards. Rethink your drink, and keep “diet” soda out of your diet.

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ISPU Banquet and Fundraiser

By Adil James, TMO

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Imam Suhaib Webb addresses the ISPU audience.

Livonia–November 23–The ISPU held an extremely successful fundraiser this past Saturday evening at Burton Manor.  Several hundred audience members were present for the fundraiser, enjoying speeches by “celebrity imam” Suhaib Webb and ISPU founders and management.

The ISPU event was conducted on the theme of “Unmosqued, Reimagining Muslim Spaces.”  The purpose of the fundraiser was to emphasize ISPU’s focus, going forward–the ISPU representatives who spoke through the night described the painful process of self-evaluation by which they discussed ISPU’s strengths and weaknesses with many critics.

Interim Executive Director and rising star Farhan Latif spoke at length about this difficult process, describing over 300 hours comprising over 100 interviews to analyze the performance of the institution.

He spoke of grants to ISPU from prominent institutions such as Google, Oracle, the Kellogg Foundation, Pillars Fund, and the Proteus Foundation, all building on the donations from “grass-roots” ordinary Muslims of any amounts whether small or large.

And so at this time ISPU has begun the process of examining mosques throughout the United States to see important flaws and strengths of the Muslims’ most important and most central institutions.
At issue are treatment of women, treatment of children, and treatment of different ethnicities, notably convert Muslims, at American mosques.  Also at issue are whether Muslim mosques address or fail to address vital community issues such as divorce and even Islamophobia.

The first study in relation to “reimagining Muslim spaces” was one by Dr. Ihsan Bagby, on mosques around the country.

In line with this vitally important issue of the comfort of Muslim women in mosques was Hind Makki, who spoke at length of the growing literal marginalization of her own position in her home mosque, which progressed as the mosque developed in strength of numbers, the women’s position in the mosque migrating from the center out and down to a basement portion.

This raises the vital question of whether our community will be viable into the future if we marginalize vitally important sections of our own community.

Dr. Iltefat Hamzavi, “ISPU’s biggest fan,” the original founder of ISPU, spoke happily of its development to its current position, under the guidance of the many who have provided their service and volunteer work to the organization.

He mentioned a vitally important statistic, that 15-45% of self-identifying Muslims do not go to the mosque.  He wisely mentioned that Muslims shall have to make their own way through these difficult issues, but that we can seek to benefit by analyzing what has happened in this regard to other communities, such as Baptists, Jews, Catholics, and others.

Imam Suhaib Webb spoke at length on his work and the biography of his own conversion to Islam.

He emphasized the vital importance of reaching out and maintaining openness to Muslims and non-Muslims who might not be perfect but who have love or interest in Islam.

He spoke of having conducted 500 conversions in Boston at his mosque, and described in some detail his own progression from the point of deciding to convert to Islam with full faith lighting his face (despite his being in a van and on drugs at the time) through his first encounter with people at a mosque, to his studies abroad at Al-Azhar and elsewhere, and then coming back to the United States to serve as an imam to the Muslim community.

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Saudi Firm Al-Hokair Plans To List On Riyadh Bourse In 2014

By Dinesh Nair

DUBAI, Nov 26 (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hokair Group, one of the largest entertainment and hospitality firms in the Middle East, is planning to list on the Riyadh bourse early next year, two banking sources said.

Based on a potential valuation of about 13 times to its net profit, family-owned Al-Hokair could be valued at about $680 million, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity as the matter is not public.

Companies in Saudi Arabia typically offer 30 percent of their share capital in an IPO which means the company, whose hotel operations include Hilton and Holiday Inn hotels in the Middle East, could raise about $200 million in the offering.

Saudi Arabia, home to the largest stock market in the Gulf Arab region, is encouraging family-owned groups and diversified businesses in the kingdom to list on its stock market in a bid to reduce the bourse’s reliance on construction, petrochemicals and banking companies.

Set up in 1965, Al-Hokair is backed by Saudi private equity and investment firm Jadwa Investment Co. It is not related to Saudi Arabian retailer Fawaz Abdulaziz Alhokair.

Al-Hokair and Jadwa were not immediately available for comment.

Al-Hokair operates about 50 entertainment centres in Saudi Arabia such as Sparky’s Chain, Digital Land Chain and Metropolis Entertainment City. The company also owns or operates 33 hotels across the region, including leading international brands such as Hilton, Novotel and Holiday Inn, it said on its website.

“You are talking about a company that owns and operates leading hotel chains and has a leadership position in the entertainment business. Investors are looking for such names that helps them diversify their Saudi exposure,” one of the sources said.

The Riyadh bourse is not directly open to foreign investors and IPOs are marketed to local investors at a discount alone as part of plans by the state to share the kingdom’s wealth with its citizens.

Two of Saudi Arabia’s largest private hospital groups will seek to list their shares on the local bourse next year, Reuters reported earlier this month, aiming to capitalise on investor interest in the fast-growing healthcare sector.

IPO IN FEB/MARCH

Al-Hokair posted revenues of about 2 billion riyals ($533.28 million) in 2012 and net profit of about 200 million riyals ($53.33 million), the sources said.

The company has already filed an application with the Saudi market regulator, Capital Markets Authority (CMA), for the potential offering and expects to launch the IPO in February or March next year, the sources said.

Jadwa bought a 35 percent stake in the company in 2012, it said in its latest annual report. The investment was made through one of the firm’s funds.

The Riyadh-based firm also owns stakes in companies such as United Matbouli Group, a distributor of Samsung products in the kingdom and the Saudi Aramco Lubricating Oil Refining Co (Luberef).

It has appointed Saudi Fransi Capital, the investment banking arm of Banque Saudi Fransi to arrange the IPO, the sources said. Saudi Fransi Capital could not be reached for comment. ($1 = 3.7503 Saudi riyals) (Editing by Mark Potter and Susan Fenton)

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Ron Paul: ‘The Fed is a Reverse Robin Hood’

By Valentin Mândrăşescu

Paul PresidencyFormer Senator and one of the harshest critics of Federal Reserve, Ron Paul published a scathing critique of Janet Yellen, the next Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board Chairman. Ron Paul describes the Fed as “a reverse Robin Hood” that steals from the poor.

Writing on his personal blog, the “godfather of American libertarians”, castigated Ms. Yellen for her intention to continue the Fed’s “quantitative easing” policies, despite its failure to bring significant improvements to the economy, plagued by high levels of debt and low employment. His criticism centers on a few key issues: quantitative easing helps the big banks, hurts the broader economy and does nothing for the average American. According to Ron Paul, “ QE is such a blatant example of crony capitalism that it makes Solyndra look like a shining example of a pure free market!” Money supply manipulation and interest rate rigging create an environment in which a few well connected banks and individuals receive the newly created money “before general price increases have spread through the economy” giving them endless opportunities to increase their wealth, while the general public has to deal with higher prices and lower purchasing power of stagnant wages. The former Texas Senator, points out that the asymmetric and unfair repartition of wealth has become a tradition for the Federal Reserve. Ran Paul sees the Fed as a perpetrator of currency debasement. He argues that “since the Federal Reserve opened its doors one hundred years ago, the dollar has lost over 95 percent of its purchasing power —that’s right, today you need $23.70 to buy what one dollar bought in 1913!”

Sadly, Dr. Paul is a lone voice in the desert of American politics. He rightly points out that the Fed’s quantitative easing allows the government and the Congress to spend more, while enriching the banks. By doing so, the Fed aligns the interests of the government to the interests of Wall Street, hurting the interests of the general public. It is easy to criticize Ben Bernanke or Janet Yellen, but the problem is the system not the people who are running the system. Until the system that makes the Congress an accomplice of the private banks is broken, it doesn’t matter who is the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. One hundred years of Federal Reserve history prove this.

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Is India’s Potential Prime Minister Driven by Prejudice?

Narendra Modi’s use of the 2002 Gujarat violence in electoral campaigning is not an isolated case.

By Sarmila Bose

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Sectarian tensions in Gujarat state, like elsewhere in India, have been used for political gains [Reuters]

Since 2002, when violence against Muslims racked the state of Gujarat in India, its Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, has been tainted with the allegation of complicity in a pogrom. Riots had occurred in Gujarat before, but 2002 acquired a particularly dark reputation. Despite being elected thrice as chief minisiter of Gujarat, Modi was widely believed to have ruined his chances ever to lead the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the national level. But a decade later Modi is leading the BJP’s 2014 campaign as de facto prime-ministerial candidate.

Modi’s political rehabilitation was predictable. Gujarat enjoys a reputation for enterprise and commerce, independent of its politicians. While being vilified on human rights grounds, Modi focused on building an image of encouraging pro-business economic development. Money talks and public memory is short. Within a short time, for business it was business as usual in Gujarat. This may not have been sufficient to capture national leadership, but the failure of the incumbent Congress-led government and the lack of a rival within the BJP contributed to Modi’s success.

If Modi wins next year, would India have elected an allegedly murderous anti-Muslim bigot as its leader?

Sectarian beginning

I visited Gujarat in early 2002 amid the still smouldering violence, again mid-year and finally at the end of the year during the state election campaign. For a better understanding of what Modi’s rise means, we need to remember what his goals were in Gujarat in 2002, what his party represents, and the polarising electoral politics in India and other countries.

Modi’s campaign was unabashedly “communal” – he campaigned as though he was running against “Mian Musharraf”, the military ruler of neighbouring Pakistan, ignoring the Congress candidate who was actually his opponent. The manoeuvre blended aggressive Hindu nationalism with jingoistic patriotism for a potent, toxic mix.

When the Godhra train incident, in which dozens of Hindus were killed and which triggered the anti-Muslim violence, happened in February 2002, Modi had been chief minister of Gujarat for only about four months. He had been dispatched to replace the sitting BJP chief minister, to stem the slide in support. Before that Modi had been a party strategist, but had never been fielded in electoral politics and had no experience of governance. He had only a year to ensure BJP’s re-election. As he put it, he had come to play a “one-day match”.

Modi’s party has long been accused of whipping up religious conflicts to win votes. In his book The Politics of India since Independence, Paul Brass observed that in 1990-91 the BJP and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) played a significant role in deliberately instigated violence in north India. In 1990 BJP President L K Advani went on a “rathyatra” – a “chariot” procession – across several states, triggering riots in its wake. Using religious mobilisation for political ends, the BJP went from practically no presence in parliament in 1984 to becoming the second largest party by 1991.

However, the manipulation of incidents of violence for electoral gain is not unique to the BJP. Brass found that it is a central feature of Indian politics by the 1980s, with Indira Gandhi adept at the “politics of crisis”.

Riding to power on violence is also an established practice elsewhere. Paul Collier found that where the “bottom billion” lives, violence has been the predominant route to power, and democracy tended to increase political violence. Incumbents who wanted to remain in power found “scapegoating a minority” a strategy that “worked”. Steven Wilkinson has argued (in Votes and Violence: Electoral Competition and Ethnic Riots in India) that it was not institutional weakness that explained the variations in state response to riots in India, but instructions given by politicians whether or not to protect minorities. When multiple parties compete, minority votes have more value than where there are only two contenders, like Gujarat.

In 2002 I found Godhra itself subdued during the campaign, while the state election was fought in its name. T-shirts bearing a photo of the burnt-out train had the slogan (in Gujarati): “We won’t let our village become Godhra.” Godhra had become a concept, which had little to do with the neglected town.

To many people thronging to hear Modi during his campaign in 2002, he was a hero. Some told me that the previous chief minister had been too “soft”; in Modi they had found the “strong” leader they sought. The charismatic demagoguery of Modi was on full display in that campaign. It may not be obvious to those who have only heard him speak in slightly halting English, but in 2002 I found Modi to be an immensely effective orator in Gujarati. He played the crowds’ emotions skilfully, and stoked their prejudices with bone-chilling messages about “enemies of the state”. Modi’s campaign was unabashedly “communal” – he campaigned as though he was running against “Mian Musharraf”, the military ruler of neighbouring Pakistan, ignoring the Congress candidate who was actually his opponent. The manoeuvre blended aggressive Hindu nationalism with jingoistic patriotism for a potent, toxic mix.

Given his campaigning skills, it was astonishing that the BJP had not fielded him in elections before. If such a politician had chosen to work for all citizens, he could have done much good, and Muslims would have voted for him too. But in 2002 Modi was focused on winning the “one day match” he had come to play. To ensure sufficient consolidation of the Hindu vote, he seemed prepared to write-off the Muslim minority altogether. He did not need, or want, their votes.

Logically, if Modi let Muslims in his state die in 2002 to ensure victory through Hindu consolidation, he would protect them if he needs Muslim votes in multi-cornered contests, or if he is likely to win without resorting to polarisation.

National elections are a different game, with numerous parties and the high likelihood of another coalition. Modi has shifted focus to governance and development. However, as Christophe Jaffrelot detailed in his work on the Hindu nationalist movement, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), where Modi was “pracharak” (activist), was built on the stigmatisation of “others”. RSS leaders openly drew inspiration from European fascism.

A ‘common’ practice

Perhaps there is nothing special about Modi, except that he seems more capable, and more ruthless, than others. The use of violence for electoral gain is widespread in the world and in India.

The BJP was already in power in India from 1998 to 2004 and has been the main opposition since. Former BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had the image of everybody’s favourite uncle, even though he too had been an RSS “pracharak”. So had L K Advani, former deputy prime minister and home minister, who had undertaken the “rathayatra”. Gujarat was known for religious riots long before the BJP or Modi. The ugly truth about India’s democracy is that life is cheap here and Indian voters have long been used by politicians as expendable pawns in their battles for power.

Modi may have anti-Muslim prejudices, but that did not seem to be his primary motivation for failing to protect Muslims in 2002. Rather, it seemed to be his single-minded focus on winning by manipulating the Godhra incident and its violent aftermath to consolidate the Hindu vote. He seemed callously indifferent to the fate of the victims of this strategy. In this regard he has plenty of company in India and in other countries. Many politicians who practise the politics of hate do not necessarily hate any group personally as much as they incite their followers. Yogendra Yadav – an Indian political analyst who has entered politics – argues that while Modi is not the only one to indulge in authoritarianism or majoritarianism, multiple flaws of India’s democracy appear to converge in him.

Logically, if Modi let Muslims in his state die in 2002 to ensure victory through Hindu consolidation, he would protect them if he needs Muslim votes in multi-cornered contests, or if he is likely to win without resorting to polarisation. Equally, if sacrificing some other group might better serve his electoral purpose, perhaps they would be at risk rather than Muslims. The cold-blooded nature of these calculations is chilling. Repugnant when practised by run-of-the-mill politicians, it seems terrifying in the hands of a man of high-ability.

There is no effective humanist opposition to this phenomenon in Indian politics. The only bulwark might be the sheer heterogeneity of national politics in India. Modi’s rise may be a troubling prospect, but the problem is bigger than Modi.

Sarmila Bose is Senior Research Associate, Centre for International Studies, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford.

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US Sacrificed Mumbai to Keep Headley in Play

A valued CIA proxy planned the Mumbai attacks in which 166 people were killed, and more than 300 injured

Adrian Levy & Cathy Scott Clark

Levy and Scott-Clark are investigative journalists and authors of ‘The Siege’

APTOPIX India Shooting

Five years on, this is what we now know. A valued CIA proxy, who infiltrated the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), a banned Pakistani Islamist outfit, planned the Mumbai attacks in which 166 people were killed, and more than 300 injured. David Headley, an American citizen, conceived, scoped and ran supplies for the terrorist ‘swarm’ operation, so called because several independent units simultaneously hit their enemy in multiple locations, coming out of nowhere, multiplying fear and panic.

Headley selected Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, as the theatre of operations while acting as a ‘prized counter-terrorism asset’ for the United States, according to senior officers in the Joint Terrorism Task Force, who described his covert career as running for eleven years. When the LeT’s ten-man suicide squad sailed from a creek in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi, at dawn on 22 November 2008, they navigated towards a landing spot in Mumbai, marked on a GPS provided by the Washington DCborn maverick. Reaching the world’s fourth largest metropolis four nights later, LeT’s team fanned out, following routes plotted by Headley over an intense two-year period of surveillance . Shortly before 10pm, the gunmen shot dead tourists at the Leopold Cafe, massacred more than 60 Indian commuters at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) railway station, and then laid siege to a Jewish centre and two five-star hotels, including the luxurious Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai’s most famous landmark. Ten men would keep the mega-city burning for more than three days.

This month sees the fifth anniversary of the Mumbai attacks, and the most complete survey to date of former and serving intelligence agents, diplomats, police, and survivors from 12 countries, reveals that the CIA repeatedly tipped off their counterparts in India to an imminent attack, using intelligence derived from their prize asset Headley. What they did not reveal was that their source, a public school educated Pakistani-American dilettante and entrepreneur, was allowed to remain in place even as the attack was realized. His continuing proximity to the terrorist outfit would eventually lead to a showdown between Washington and New Delhi.

Researching ‘The Siege’, we learned that Indian intelligence agents accused their US counterparts of protecting Headley and leaving him in the field, despite the imminent threat to Mumbai. Irate Indian officials claimed that Headley’s Mumbai plot was allowed to run on by his US controllers, as to spool it in would have jeopardized his involvement in another critical US operation . Having infiltrated the LeT, Headley also won access to al-Qaida, making him the only US citizen in the field who might be able to reach Osama bin Laden.Three years before America’s most wanted terrorist was finally run to ground in Abbottabad, this was an opportunity that some in the US intelligence community were not willing to give up.[sic]

Phone and email intercepts seen by us confirm how Headley had become trusted by Ilyas Kashmiri, a former LeT commander and senior al-Qaida operative, who led an al-Qaida military affiliate, known as Brigade 313. Based in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, Ilyas Kashmiri was, at one point, considered as a potential successor to Osama bin Laden until his death in June 2011.

In 2009, several months after the Mumbai atrocity, agents from the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), India’s foreign intelligence agency, confronted the CIA with these claims, according to accounts seen by us. India is said to have accused the US of pursuing ‘a narrow self-interest’ and having some responsibility in the deaths in Mumbai.

However, the CIA stood firm, one senior agent claiming that ‘Indian incompetence’ was to blame for the attack. In 2006, the US had warned India that the LeT was forming a suicide squad to attack India from the sea. More than 25 increasingly detailed bulletins followed that named Mumbai as the prime objective, and identified several targets, including the Taj hotel. Additional bulletins suggested that a team of highly trained gunmen using AK47s and RDX, military-grade explosives, would seek to prolong the attack by taking hostages and establishing a stronghold, before a final shoot-out that they hoped would be broadcast live around the world on TV.

Some of these bulletins were eventually distilled into notices that reached the police patrolling Mumbai . However, the assessments were ‘ignored or downplayed’ until July 2008 when a senior police officer, a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) with responsibility for security in the district of South Mumbai where the Taj was located, took action . On 12 August 2008, DCP Vishwas Nangre Patil spent nine hours with the Taj’s security staff, writing a report to his seniors that concluded: ‘Overall, the [Taj] management has done very little to adapt the hotel to the changing security environment in the city.’ When a truck bomb devastated the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan, on 20 September 2008, Patil drew up an urgent list of enhanced security measures for the Taj, including snipers on the roof, blast barriers on the driveway and armed guards on all doors. Although security was tightened as a result, most of these measures were withdrawn again after DCP Patil went on leave in the second week of October 2008.

David Headley was a bizarre mix of Eastern and Western cultures and made for a near-perfect mole. His mother was Serrill Headley, a socialite and adventuress from Maryland, whose great-aunt had funded women’s rights and Albert Einstein’s research . His father was Syed Gilani, a renowned radio broadcaster and diplomat from Lahore, who had been seconded to Voice of America. When Headley was born in Washington DC in 1960, he was initially named Daood Saleem Gilani. Within a year, the family had relocated to Pakistan, where Gilani was brought up as a Muslim and schooled at an exclusive military academy. After his parents divorced and Serrill returned to the US to open a bar in Philadelphia, named, suitably, the Khyber Pass, Gilani, aged 17, rejoined her. He lived with her in a flat above the Khyber Pass — and soon immersed himself in the American way of life. Later he moved to the Upper West Side in New York, where he opened a video rental shop, Fliks.

By 1984, Gilani was a six-foot-two American boy, with a fair complexion, broad shoulders and an impressive mop of curly blond hair. Only his distinctively mismatched eyes — one blue one brown —hinted at his mixed heritage and muddled ancestry. Dressed in crumpled Armani jeans, a leather jacket slung over his shoulder, and a £10,000 Rolex Submariner poking out of his cuff, he was already looking for more lucrative opportunities than video rental. That year, he used his dual identities to smuggle half a kilogram of heroin from Pakistan’s tribal areas to New York, selling it through the video store. When German customs officers caught him four years later at Frankfurt airport en-route to Philadelphia, with two kilograms of heroin, Gilani informed on his co-conspirators to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). While, his accomplices were jailed for between eight and ten years, he became a paid DEA informer, infiltrating Pakistan’s drug syndicates . Some US agents warned that Gilani was too volatile to be trusted, and in 1997, he was arrested again in New York for trafficking. He offered another deal, suggesting he infiltrate Islamist radicals who were starting to worry the CIA and FBI.

A letter put before the court reveals prosecutors conceded that while Gilani might have supplied up to fifteen kilograms of heroin worth £947,000, he had also been ‘reliable and forthcoming’ with the agency about ‘a range of issues’ . Sentenced to fifteen months in the low-security Fort Dix prison, New Jersey, while his co-conspirator received four years in a high-security jail, he was freed after only nine months. In August 1999, one year after hundreds had been killed in simultaneous Al-Qaeda bomb attacks on American embassies in Africa, he returned to Pakistan, his ticket paid for by the US government.

By 2006, Daood had joined the inner circle of Lashkar-e-Toiba, which had been proscribed by the UN five years earlier. Coming up with the plan to attack Mumbai and launch LeT onto the international stage, he changed his name to David Headley and applied for a new US passport. He would use it to travel incognito to India on seven surveillance trips, selecting targets in Mumbai which he photographed using a camera he borrowed from his mother-in-law .

Headley was chaotic and his Mumbai plan was almost undermined by his private life. By 2008, he was married to three women, none of who knew of the others’ existence, two living apart in Pakistan and one in New York. The wife in the US, however, grew suspicious after he championed the 9/11 attackers, reporting him to the authorities. Shortly before the Mumbai operation, his cousin Alex Headley, a soldier in the US Army also considered reporting him after Headley announced that he was naming his newborn son Osama and described him as ‘my little terrorist’. His Pakistani half-brother Danyal Gilani, who worked as a press officer for the Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, disowned him.

Eventually, Headley’s mother informed on him to the FBI. Her son was only ever interested in himself, she warned, arguing that his selfishness was born out of his lack of a sense of self. None of the complainants heard anything back, with Serrill Headley, who died ten months before Mumbai, confiding in a friend that her son ‘must have worked for the US government’ .

Five years on, with American officials continuing to remain silent over Headley (and the conflict of interest that enabled him to run amok in the field), and with New Delhi still prevented from accessing him, the full truth about Washington’s culpability in 26/11 remains muddied. In India, where no postmortem of any depth has been carried out into Mumbai, the scale of the intelligence failings — the inability of IB and RAW to develop the leads passed them by the CIA and others — will also never be fully exposed.

Times of India

15-49

Obama’s Problems With Communication

By Abdulla Tarabishy, TMO

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U.S. President Barack Obama looks on while delivering remarks to workers on the economy at DreamWorks Animation in Glendale, California, November 26, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Reed

One of the most important skills that a leader can have is the ability to speak.  Whether elected or not; whether the leader is Kennedy or Hitler, the ability to speak eloquently and convincingly has been of utmost importance to any world leader.

For Obama in particular, speaking has always been a strength.  The president first truly arrived on the American political stage with an eloquent and heartfelt speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.  A virtually unknown Illinois senator, Obama captivated the crowd as he spoke of the importance of unity in America, and of his own journey to success.

As he campaigned for the presidency in 2008, Obama’s speeches were well received by Americans, and even his opponents grudgingly admitted that the senator was a talented orator.  As he was sworn into office, his speeches continued to inspire hope in Americans, and his approval rating began at 70%.  Nobody could have foreseen that as Obama’s presidency went on, his ability to communicate would become a liability, rather than the strength that they had once been.

I am not arguing that Obama is a bad speaker.  On the contrary, he is still a great orator with immense skill, though in some cases, that skill has itself declined, as I will explain later.  But Obama’s biggest weakness is his inability to explain, to convince people of his own views on policy.  He failed to convince Americans that military action in Syria was vital to their interests, and he has yet to persuade people that “Obamacare” will fix their healthcare system.

This ability of persuasion and oration was highly valued by the Ancient Greeks, and the Athenians were masters of the art. With a Persian invasion looming, the Greek leader Themistocles was able to convince the Athenian people to abandon their city, and allow it to be burned, in order to win the war at sea.

In the words of historian Tom Holland, “”What precise heights of oratory he attained, what stirring and memorable phrases he pronounced, we have no way of knowing…only by the effect it had on the assembly can we gauge what surely must have been its electric and vivifying quality.”

The fact that the Athenian people followed his proposal speaks for itself.  The ability of Themistocles to persuade people to support his policy was a skill that is also very important for leaders today, and it is a skill which Obama needs to improve.  In his speech about Syria, the president failed to truly explain the importance of military action to a war-weary population.  He did not successfully make the case to the American people, and so public opinion remained against war and thus Congress was pressured to reject his proposal.

Another aspect in which Obama needs to improve is his ability to empathize and understand people’s suffering, whether as small as glitches in the Healthcare.gov website, or as large as economic recession and poverty.  In this aspect too, we can learn much from the Ancient Greeks.

A generation after Themistocles, Pericles was the Athenian leader as they fought against the Spartans in the Peloponnesian War.  While the war was going badly and many Athenians were lost, Pericles delivered a funeral oration for those who had died in battle.

The speech, often compared to the Gettysburg Address, was a stirring reminder for the Athenians of why they were fighting that war.  Pericles reminded the people of the greatness of their country, and the honor in which the dead had lost their lives, saying of the soldiers that “Choosing to die resisting, rather than to live submitting, they fled only from dishonour…”

Once again, this demonstrates the power of a great speech in persuasion and unification.  These are skills that President Obama must improve in order to become a better and more popular leader.  He needs to appeal to the people’s suffering and to explain the importance of his policies in alleviating that suffering.

Today, Obama has transformed dramatically from the young senator who stood up at the DNC and gave an historic speech. He has lost much of that energy and hopefulness that he once projected.  When the president speaks today, he rarely uses his hands to gesture, and he is far more muted than he used to be.

In order to become a stronger president, Obama needs to improve his ability to communicate his vision to the people.  He must improve his expression of empathy with the American people.  In effect, he must learn from the Ancient Greeks.

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Tarek Mehanna Appeal Hearing

By Karin Friedemann, TMO

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Tarek Mahenna in court, artist’s rendering.

Observers at Tarek Mehanna’s appeal hearing heard from a panel of three judges on November 13, 2013. They filled the courthouse and two overflow rooms.

Judge Bruce Selya began the session with a disturbing comment reminiscent of Nazi German descriptions of its Jewish population as a disease: “Terrorism is the modern-day equivalent of the bubonic plague: it is an existential threat.”

Mehanna, a Massachusetts College of Pharmacy graduate and former teacher at Alhuda Academy in Worcester, was convicted in 2012 of conspiring to kill American soldiers and supporting Al Qaeda. Mehanna’s lawyers insist that he gave no tangible support to al-Qaida, and his online activities were protected free speech. This case has drawn widespread interest because of its implications on protected vs. unprotected speech in its connection to terrorism related charges.

In arguments before the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Mehanna’s lawyer, Sabin Willett, said prosecutors repeatedly showed images of the World Trade Center in flames, videos of beheadings, and repeatedly made references to Osama bin Laden in an attempt to prejudice the jury against Mehanna.

‘’The purpose of this evidence was to frighten the jury,’’ Willett said, ‘’and it worked.’’

Judges Howard, Selya and Thompson upheld Mehanna’s conviction and sentence of 17 1/2 years.

Prosecutors said during Mehanna’s trial that he traveled to Yemen in 2004 to for terrorist training with plans to attack American soldiers in Iraq, but that the plan failed.

Mehanna’s lawyers argued that he traveled to Yemen to pursue religious studies.

Prosecutors relied heavily on the well-known fraud “expert witness” Evan Kohlmann.

What is not being discussed is that in the past, especially while the US was fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, CIA-run “terror camps” were popular tourist attractions, similar to how nowadays Israel attracts Jewish tourists with the promise of rifle training. Mehanna reportedly expressed disappointment that such training camps no longer exist in Yemen.

Benjamin Wittes comments on Lawfare Blog. “The court of appeals held that the general guilty verdict could be sustained, even assuming for the sake of argument that the evidence of coordination with al Qaeda on Mehanna’s Internet activities had been inadequate to support that verdict–that is to say, even if Mehanna’s translation and advocacy were constitutionally protected… By eliminating Mehanna’s Internet activities altogether from the issues on appeal, the court thereby ensured that Mehanna will not be the important First Amendment precedent that many had thought it might be.”

US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, whose staff prosecuted Mehanna, hailed the ruling.

“We are gratified that the Court of Appeals carefully reviewed the case, found the evidence of the defendant’s guilt was more than sufficient to convict the defendant, and held that it was ‘confident’ that, in the court’s words, [Mehanna] ‘was fairly tried, justly convicted and lawfully sentenced,’ ” Ortiz said,citing the technical legality of the harsh conviction of the non-violent offender.
Judge Selya wrote in rejection of the appeal that Mehanna’s co-conspirators had “testified that the defendant persistently stated his belief that engaging in jihad was “a duty upon a Muslim if he’s capable of performing it,” and that this duty included committing violence.

Following United States intervention in Iraq, the defendant concluded “that America was at war with Islam,” and saw American “soldiers as being valid targets” by the attacked people. Mehanna took the position that “there was an obligation for Muslims to stand up and fight against invasion of Iraq.

“The fundamental problem with the [appellate] ruling is that it allows the government to prosecute unpopular political speech,” said Alex Abdo, staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Security Project.
Yet, beyond Mehanna’s religious belief in the concept of Jihad, or Just Warfare, he also claimed adherence to the doctrine of “aman,” which he describes as “a covenant to obey the law within a country that permits practice of the faith.” His adherence to aman would prohibit him personally from targeting American troops.

“The defendant’s position can be stated without much ceremony. He suggests… that although he may have sympathized with al-Qa’ida and spoken glowingly of the virtues of jihad, he nonetheless avoided crossing the line into criminal activity,” admits Selya.

However, Selya insists that: “Even if the government’s translation-as-material-support theory were factually insufficient, we would not reverse.”

Selya emotionally referred to the defendant’s flippant attitude regarding the “Texas BBQ” video — a phrase describing American soldiers being bombed in a widespread online video. Yet, this type of light-hearted style of murderous political commentary is very common among many Americans. One can only conclude that Mehanna is guilty of acting too American; too self-confident as a Muslim American, that he could joke about war.

Judge Selya concludes:

“We do not pretend to understand why the defendant chose to go down such a treacherous path. Nevertheless, the jury found that he knowingly and intentionally made that choice, and that finding is both supported by the clear weight of the evidence and untainted by legal error.”

It is truly unfortunate that an educated person such as Selya cannot even pretend to understand, let alone attempt to understand, why a Muslim American might sympathize with other Muslims globally, who are on the receiving end of drone attacks and worse. The court proceedings drew upon anti-Muslim prejudice not only in regards to the free speech issues but also regarding the question of who is allowed to travel abroad and for what reason.

In a world where armed, violent terrorists are trained by the US government – in Massachusetts – to send into other countries to influence political outcomes; in a world where youngsters go to Israeli terror camps to be trained in genocidal “fun,” I cannot think of anything more alarming than a judge who cannot “pretend to understand” the idea that any Muslim American might strive for freedom and equality – American style. Mehanna acted independently through free speech and free travel, without ever picking up a gun.

“The court’s likening of terrorism to ‘the modern-day equivalent of the bubonic plague’ is an example of the kind of sensational language that ensured a biased trial against Dr. Mehanna in the first place,” stated the Tarek Mehanna Support Committee. “The appeals court decision is outrageous, but we will continue to stand by Dr. Mehanna.”
“Tarek remains strong and unwavering in his iman,” reports Mehanna’s Facebook support page.

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Egypt Asks Turkish Ambassador to Leave over Support for Muslim Brotherhood

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Turkey’s Ambassador to Egypt Huseyin Avni Botsali attends a news conference by Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (not pictured) at the presidential palace in Cairo in this September 17, 2012 file photo. Egypt said it had asked Turkey’s ambassador Botsali to leave and accused Ankara of backing unnamed organisations bent on spreading instability – a likely reference to the Muslim Brotherhood of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi. To match story EGYPT-TURKEY/ REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Files

The Egyptian government has asked Turkey’s ambassador to leave in protest for its support of the Muslim Brotherhood, the party of the deposed president Mohamed Morsi.

Egypt’s military government accused Turkey of supporting organisations bent on spreading instability. Turkey has denounced removal of the elected Morsi as an “unacceptable coup”.

Since the coup in July, thousands of the new government’s opponents have been detained and hundreds killed by security forces.

Turkey was “attempting to influence public opinion against Egyptian interests, supported meetings of organisations that seek to create instability in the country,” said a foreign ministry spokesman, Badr Abdelatty, on Saturday.

Turkey’s ruling AK party has a similar background to the Muslim Brotherhood and both have endured a rivalry with their national armies.

Turkey and Egypt recalled their ambassadors in August after Turkey criticised Egypt’s new leaders over the overthrow of Morsi. Turkey’s ambassador returned weeks later, but Egypt had declined to return its envoy to Ankara.

Saturday’s decision comes after the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, renewed his criticism of Egypt’s new leaders. He dismissed the trial of Morsi on charges of inciting murder of his opponents while in office, which opened this month, and on Thursday described the situation in Egypt as a “humanitarian drama”.

The Egyptian foreign ministry said Turkey “has persisted in its unacceptable and unjustified positions by trying to turn the international community against Egyptian interests and by supporting meetings for groups that seek to create instability in the country and by making statements that can only be described as an offense to the popular will”.

Egyptian officials and media have repeatedly accused Muslim Brotherhood leaders of meeting in Turkey to plan protests and other ways to undermine the new government in Cairo.

In response to Egypt’s decision, the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, said: “I hope our relations will again get back to its track.”

But a Turkish foreign ministry spokesman said Ankara was in touch with the ambassador “and we will respond with reciprocal steps in coming hours”.

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U.N. Says Syria Combatants Stymie Aid Effort

By Stephanie Nebehay

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Abu Saleh, a 48-year-old man, walks as he holds a shovel in a cemetery in Deir al-Zor, eastern Syria, November 25, 2013. Abu Saleh left his job in the field of construction and became a grave digger. This grave is located in a garden that has been turned into a cemetery for the victims of the war and is now known as the “garden of the martyrs”. Picture taken November 25, 2013. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations says its aid convoys cannot reach around 250,000 people in areas besieged by Syrian government forces or rebels, despite “growing needs and intensifying conflict”.

The detailed assessment was included in a confidential paper that Valerie Amos, U.N. emergency relief coordinator, presented to a private, unannounced U.N. meeting in Geneva on Tuesday.

“The response is continuing but falling short, especially in besieged and hard-to-reach areas,” said the report, obtained by Reuters. “Besieged communities continue to be cut off.”

International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi announced on Monday that peace talks would be held on January 22, the first direct talks between the government of President Bashar al-Assad and opposition forces seeking to topple him.

The U.N. document entitled “Humanitarian Situation and Response in Syria” painted a grim picture, saying there were 900 armed clashes in Syria in October compared with 500 in May.

It describes a “dangerous and difficult environment for humanitarian workers” and says 12 U.N. staff and 32 volunteers or staff of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent have been killed since the conflict began in March 2011. Another 21 U.N. staff members remain in detention, it said, without giving details.

UNRWA, the U.N. agency helping Palestinian refugees, said on Tuesday that staffer Mohammad Suheil Yousef Awwad had been killed along with three passengers on November 24 when a mortar shell struck his vehicle in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.

The war has driven 6.5 million people from their homes in Syria and prompted another 2.2 million to flee abroad. The United Nations has not updated its estimated death toll since July when it said the conflict had killed 100,000.

Some 9.3 million Syrians inside the country need assistance, half of them children, the document said. An estimated 575,000 people are wounded or need life-saving care.

It said the government has denied permission in the past month for U.N. convoys or missions to areas besieged by Assad’s forces – including 7,000 people living in Mouadamiya and 160,000 in Eastern Ghouta, both outside Damascus, and 4,000 in Homs Old City. Some 25,000 are trapped by both sides in Yarmouk and 9,000 in Daraya, two areas just outside the capital.

Nor has access been permitted to Nubl and Zahra, two villages with a total of 45,000 people besieged by various rebel forces in the northern province of Aleppo, the document said.

In all, nine convoys were approved in November, including seven to Homs, up from a monthly three or four in recent months. “Approval procedure remains the same but changes promised,” the report said, referring to the lengthy quest for government permission to send relief convoys.

TURKEY IS “RED LINE”

The United Nations is only authorized to use official Syrian channels and border crossings agreed with Damascus to import relief goods, the U.N. paper said. These include the Latakia and Tartous sea ports in northern Syria and specified border crossings with Lebanon and Jordan.

“Turkey is a red line,” it said, referring to Syria’s northern neighbor used as a base by some Syrian rebels.

Disclosing a new aid crossing on Syria’s northeastern border with Iraq, it said: “The government of Syria (on November 20) approved transfer of supplies via Yarubiya crossing from Iraq with 48 hours notice.”

Overall, red tape has hampered aid flows, with lengthy waits for Syrian approval of visas for foreign aid workers, 25 of which have been pending for more than three months, it said.

Opposition activists say Assad’s forces are using siege and starvation as a military tactic in rebel-held areas around Damascus such as Mouadamiya and Ghouta, leading to cases of malnutrition and widespread hunger. Syria has accused rebels of using civilians in those areas as human shields.

In a rare show of unity, world powers called on Syria last month to allow cross-border aid deliveries and urged all combatants to agree humanitarian pauses in the fighting.

A Western diplomat, referring to the presidential statement adopted by the U.N. Security Council on October 2, said on Friday: “It was pretty specific, it did call on the regime to allow cross-border access. They are not doing that, particularly from Turkey.”

“On Mouadamiya, the key issue is permission from the regime to access it. The U.N. has convoys ready to deliver aid there.”

The Syrian government is obliged under international humanitarian law to facilitate humanitarian access, the diplomat said, speaking on condition he was not identified. The rebel siege of Nubl and Zahra, two pro-Assad Shi’ite villages in Aleppo province, also violates humanitarian law, he said.

A spokesman for Amos would confirm only that the unannounced talks were being held at the United Nations in Geneva and would not say which countries were attending what he called an internal meeting, or even whether Syrian officials were there.

“Valerie Amos is holding a meeting with some key member states on the humanitarian situation in Syria,” Jens Laerke, spokesman of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said in reply to a query.

(Editing by Alistair Lyon/Mark Heinrich)

15-49

Libyan Berbers Shut Gas Pipeline To Italy, Cut Major Income Source

By Ghaith Shennib and Ulf Laessing

TRIPOLI, Nov 11 (Reuters) – Protesters have shut Libya’s gas export pipeline to Italy, its only customer, demanding more rights for the Amazigh, or Berber, minority and depriving the weak government of a major source of income.

The closure worsens turmoil in Libya where Prime Minister Ali Zeidan warned on Sunday that the government might face budget problems next month after protesters cut oil production to a fraction of its capacity.

The North African country faces anarchy as the government has failed to rein in armed militias and radical Islamists who helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but kept their weapons.

Although the closure on Monday of the Greenstream pipeline will take several hours to register at the other end, it adds to Italy’s energy headaches after Ukraine halted gas imports from Russia, which could also impact supplies. Italy depends heavily on Russian gas.

Amazigh protesters last month seized the port at the Mellitah complex, some 100 km west of Tripoli, and have already shut down oil exports from there. The oil and gas complex is operated by Libya’s National Oil Corp and Italian energy company Eni.

“We tried to convince them not to close the pipeline, but it’s closed now,” Munir Abu Saud, head of the local oil workers’ union, told Reuters.

“Sadly, its true,” said a senior official at the Libyan oil ministry. Tripoli has seen its authority crumbling over its restive regions and fears an exodus of foreign oil companies and investment.

The Amazigh minority in September shut a pipeline feeding gas from Eni’s Wafa field to export facilities at Mellitah. Although this squeezed exports, much of the gas Libya sends to Italy comes from offshore fields.

A spokesman for the protesters camped out at the Mellitah complex said they had ordered the closure because Libya’s parliament and the government had not met their demands by Sunday. They had set several deadlines.

“This time it is for real because the General National Congress did not meet our demands,” the spokesman said.

MINORITY DEMANDS

The Amazigh protesters want their language guaranteed under Libya’s planned new constitution and a bigger say in a committee to be elected to draft the constitution. They say Berbers are treated as second-class citizens in the Arab country.

The GNC, which has been paralysed by political infighting, debated the issue on Sunday but has not yet found a solution, said GNC Spokesman Omar Humeidan.

“They want their language the become the official language…We would then have four official languages,” he said, referring to demands from the Amazigh and two other minorities to add their languages to Arabic, the only official one so far.

The closure of Mellitah adds to the woes of Zeidan who already faces autonomy demands from eastern Libya, where protesters have blocked most oil fields.

On Sunday, an autonomy movement escalated tensions with the Tripoli government by forming a regional oil company which plans to sell crude bypassing the oil ministry.

Gas flows on Greenstream were at 15.9 million cubic metres on Monday – for now the same amount requested by operators, data from gas grid operator Snam showed.

“At the moment we do not see supply problems for Italy,” Eni said in an emailed response.

Exports from Africa’s fourth-largest gas reserve holder to Italy have fallen since last year as production rates lag pre-civil war levels.

Libya’s 9.9 billion cubic metre/year Greenstream can meet up to 12.2 percent of Italy’s annual gas demand, although last year it accounted for just nine percent of imports, a share that has continued to drop this year. (Reporting by Ghaith Shennib, Ulf Laessing, Stephen Jewkes in Milan, Oleg Vukmanovic and Lin Noueihed in London; editing by William Hardy and David Evans)

15-49

Egypt to Have New Constitution

Referendum On Constitution In December

By Asma Alsharif

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Constituent Assembly spokesman Mohamed Salmawy speaks at news conference at the Shura Council in Cairo 9/22/13.     REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt will hold a referendum on an amended constitution in December, the group drafting it said on Tuesday, an important step in an army-backed roadmap meant to lead to elections.

Hours before the timing of the referendum was announced, protesters took to the streets in defiance of a law passed on Sunday requiring police approval for gatherings of more than 10 people. Police detained 28 people, the Interior Ministry said.

Egypt’s democratic credentials have been called into question since the military toppled the country’s first freely elected president, Islamist Mohamed Mursi, in July, following mass protests against his rule.

A committee of 50 members, with few Islamists, began work in September on amending the constitution that was approved in a referendum last year after being drafted by an Islamist-dominated assembly.

“The referendum will be held before the end of (December),” Mohamed Salmawy, spokesman of the constituent assembly, said. That contradicts comments made by Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi who said on Sunday the referendum would be held in the second half of January.

The new constitution will guarantee the right to protest and ensure that demonstrations can be held if protesters notify authorities, rather than wait to be granted permission, Salmawy said, in an apparent effort to ease tension over a new law restricting demonstrations.

Army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who ousted Mursi, has promised the roadmap will lead to free and fair elections.

But the plan has not stabilized Egypt, where protests and attacks by Islamist militants based in the unruly Sinai Peninsula have hammered investment and tourism.
Egypt has stumbled on its path to democracy since a popular uprising ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011, with the army ousting Mursi and security forces mounting one of the fiercest crackdowns on Islamists in decades.

Hundreds have been killed and the Brotherhood’s leadership has been arrested.

Khaled Dawoud, a prominent liberal political figure, criticized the government.

“They are making more enemies than friends especially among the young revolutionary Egyptian people who have been in the streets for the past three years,” he said.

Underscoring differences over the new law, ten members of the body have suspended their work in protest against the detentions, MENA reported. Beblawi promised to follow the results of the prosecutor’s investigations into the detentions, according to an emailed statement from the cabinet.

Human rights groups have condemned the law as a major blow to freedom in Egypt, the most populous Arab state and a U.S. ally that has experienced near relentless upheaval since autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak was toppled by a revolt in 2011.

“(The) new protest law gives security forces free rein,” Amnesty International said.

Skirmishes broke out between security forces and protesters in downtown Cairo and police fired teargas and water cannon to disperse the demonstrations. They were marking the death of a liberal activist killed in clashes with police two years ago and expressed anger against the protest law.

“DOWN WITH MILITARY RULE”

Hundreds assembled at the Press Syndicate and parliament. “Down, down with military rule,” they chanted.

In Cairo, female students at Al-Azhar University for Islamic learning, which follows the government line, stormed into a dean’s office and destroyed her desk.

The United States, which has partially frozen aid to Egypt, on Monday expressed concern over the new law and said it agreed with groups that argued it did not meet international standards and hampered the country’s move toward democracy.

A security official said Tuesday’s crowd had not obtained permission to protest and had ignored warnings to disperse.

The army-backed government has said it is not against peaceful protests but wants to restore order in the streets. It has also complained that protests often disrupt traffic. Some Egyptians cheered police as they broke up protests on Tuesday.

“We are implementing the new protest law that requires protesters to seek permission from the Interior Ministry three days before the protest,” a police official said.

The protest law will further squeeze members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who have said they will continue demonstrating against what they say is a military coup.

(Additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla and Ali Abdelaty; Writing by Shadia Nasralla; Editing by Michael Georgy and Ralph Boulton)

15-49

Pakistani Drone Protesters Block NATO Supply Route

By Riaz Khan

crowd

Supporters of Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party, headed by cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan, wave their party’s flag while burning a representation of a U.S. flag during a protest against U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013. Thousands of people protesting U.S. drone strikes blocked a road in northwest Pakistan on Saturday used to truck NATO troop supplies and equipment in and out of Afghanistan, the latest sign of rising tension caused by the attacks. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Thousands of people protesting U.S. drone strikes blocked a road in northwest Pakistan on Saturday used to truck NATO troop supplies and equipment in and out of Afghanistan, the latest sign of rising tension caused by the attacks.

The protest, led by Pakistani politician and cricket star Imran Khan, had more symbolic value than practical impact as there is normally little NATO supply traffic on the road on Saturdays. The blocked route in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province leads to one of two border crossings used to send supplies overland from Pakistan to neighboring Afghanistan.

Khan, whose Tehreek-e-Insaf party runs the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, called on federal officials to take a firmer stance to force the U.S. to end drone attacks and block NATO supplies across the country.

“We will put pressure on America, and our protest will continue if drone attacks are not stopped,” Khan told the protesters.

The demonstrators dispersed after Khan’s speech, but his party put out a statement saying they will begin stopping trucks from carrying NATO supplies through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa indefinitely beginning Sunday night. That could spark a clash with the federal government.

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad declined to comment. The U.S. leads the coalition of NATO troops battling the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Drone strikes have been a growing source of friction between Islamabad and Washington. Khan and other officials regularly denounce the attacks as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, although the country’s government is known to have supported some of the strikes in the past. The tension has further complicated a relationship that Washington views as vital to fight al-Qaida and the Taliban, as well as negotiate peace in Afghanistan.

The protest comes only two days after a rare U.S. drone strike outside of Pakistan’s remote tribal region killed five people, including at least three Afghan militants, at an Islamic seminary in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The attack outraged Pakistani officials, as did one on Nov. 1 that killed the former leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, a day before the Pakistani government said it was going to invite him to hold peace talks.

Khan pushed the Pakistani government block NATO supplies after the strike on Mehsud, but it has shown little interest in doing so. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been a vocal critic of drone strikes, but he has also said he values the country’s relationship with the U.S.

Sharif pushed President Barack Obama to end drone strikes in a visit to Washington in October, but the U.S. government has shown no indication that it intends to stop.

When Khan failed to persuade the Pakistani government to block NATO supplies earlier this month, he announced that he would hold a protest to do so himself.

Around 10,000 people participated in Saturday’s protest. The protesters included members of Khan’s party and two other parties that are coalition partners in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government. They shouted anti-U.S. slogans, such as “Down with America” and “Stop drone attacks.”

“I am participating in today’s sit-in to convey a message to America that we hate them since they are killing our people in drone attacks,” university student Hussain Shah said. “America must stop drone attacks for peace in our country.”

The federal information minister, Pervez Rashid, said the federal government’s anti-drone stance was clear and accused Khan of “playing politics” on the issue.

Drone strikes are widely unpopular with Pakistan’s public, both because they are seen as violating the nation’s sovereignty and are believed to kill too many innocent civilians. Human rights organizations have said hundreds of civilians have died in the attacks, although the U.S. insists the number is much lower.

The land routes through Pakistan from the southern port city of Karachi to Torkham and another border crossing in southwest Baluchistan province have been key to getting supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan. They now increasingly are being used to ship equipment out of Afghanistan as the U.S. seeks to withdraw most of its combat troops from the country by the end of 2014.

The routes have been closed in the past. The Pakistani government blocked the routes for seven months following U.S. airstrikes that accidentally killed two dozen soldiers on the Afghan border in November 2011. Pakistan finally reopened the routes after the U.S. apologized.

Also Saturday, militants kidnapped four school teachers who were working on a polio vaccination drive in Khyber’s Sipah village, local government official Khurshid Khan said. Negotiations are underway for their release, he said.

Militants have killed more than a dozen polio workers and police protecting them over the last year. They claim the workers are spies and the vaccination is meant to make Muslim children sterile.
Associated Press writers Munir Ahmed, Zarar Khan and Sebastian Abbot in Islambad contributed to this report.

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Ahmed Malik: Cadet of the Month

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Ahmed Malik (left) receives MMA cadet of the month award.

HARLINGEN, Texas — Marine Military Academy (MMA), a college preparatory boarding school, has  named post-graduate Ahmed Malik of Missouri City, Texas, the Cadet of the Month for Fox Company for October 2013.

The cadet who receives this esteemed award is nominated by his drill instructor for his exemplary attitude, conduct, academic performance and involvement at MMA.

In addition to the recognition he received on Nov. 1 in front of the MMA Corps of Cadets, Malik will be treated to a special dinner on Nov. 8 hosted by the MMA superintendent and his wife.

After he graduates from MMA, Malik plans to attend Texas Tech University in Lubbock. He intends on becoming a commercial pilot. He is the son of Lubna and Pervaiz Malik.

Marine Military Academy is a college-preparatory boarding school for young men in Grades 8-12 with an optional post-graduate year.

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Afghans Approve US Deal

Despite growing public opposition, thousands of Afghan tribal elders and other leaders have reached an accord recommending the country’s president to sign a security deal with the United States.

PressTV

2013-11-26T111743Z_1_CBRE9AP0VDM00_RTROPTP_4_INTERNATIONAL-US-AFGHANISTAN-USA

Afghan President Hamid Karzai leaves after the last day of the Loya Jirga, in Kabul November 24, 2013. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

The Grand Council of Afghanistan, Loya Jirga, endorsed the Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States on Sunday.

“Given the current situation… and Afghanistan’s need… the contents of this agreement as a whole is endorsed by the members of this Loya Jirga,” said Fazul Karim Imaq, a deputy of the Loya Jirga, reading a declaration reached at the end of the four-day meeting of Loya Jirga’s assembly of 50 committees in Kabul.

“The Loya Jirga requests the president to sign the agreement before the end of 2013,” Imaq stated.

Now the deal has to be approved by the parliament to take effect.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in an address to the opening session of the four-day meeting on November 21 that the deal would not be signed until after the presidential election of April 2014.

The White House reacted to statements and said Karzai’s failure to sign the deal by the end of 2013 would prevent Washington and its allies from planning for the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

The security deal with the United States allows US troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

The issue of whether or not to grant legal immunity to American forces was a sticking point in the deal. Kabul considers the immunity a violation of its sovereignty.
Some members of the Grand Council called for an extra US military base to be added in the province of Bamiyan.

Meanwhile, protests were held while the Loya Jirga meeting was underway. Several huge protests have been held in Kabul and other major cities in protest at the deal.

Afghans say the deal between Washington and Kabul will pave the way for a prolonged US military presence in the country.

The United States has more than 43,000 troops in Afghanistan.

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Electricity!!

IMG

An electrical grid is an interconnected network for delivering electricity from suppliers to consumers. It consists of generating stations that produce electrical power, high-voltage transmission lines that carry power from distant sources to demand centers, and distribution lines that connect individual customers.[1]

Power stations may be located near a fuel source, at a dam site, or to take advantage of renewable energy sources, and are often located away from heavily populated areas. They are usually quite large to take advantage of the economies of scale. The electric power which is generated is stepped up to a higher voltage-at which it connects to the transmission network.

The transmission network will move the power long distances, sometimes across international boundaries, until it reaches its wholesale customer (usually the company that owns the local distribution network).

On arrival at a substation, the power will be stepped down from a transmission level voltage to a distribution level voltage. As it exits the substation, it enters the distribution wiring. Finally, upon arrival at the service location, the power is stepped down again from the distribution voltage to the required service voltage(s).
 
Since its inception in the Industrial Age, the electrical grid has evolved from an insular system that serviced a particular geographic area to a wider, expansive network that incorporated multiple areas. At one point, all energy was produced near the device or service requiring that energy. In the early 19th century, electricity was a novel invention that competed with steam, hydraulics, direct heating and cooling, light, and most notably gas. During this period, gas production and delivery had become the first centralized element in the modern energy industry. It was first produced on customer’s premises but later evolved into large gasifiers that enjoyed economies of scale. Virtually every city in the U.S. and Europe had town gas piped through their municipalities as it was a dominant form of household energy use. By the mid-19th century, electric arc lighting soon became advantageous compared to volatile gas lamps since gas lamps produced poor light, tremendous wasted heat which made rooms hot and smoky, and noxious elements in the form of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Modeled after the gas lighting industry, the first electric utility systems supplied energy through virtual mains to light filtration as opposed to gas burners. With this, electric utilities also took advantage of economies of scale and moved to centralized power generation, distribution, and system management.

With the realization of long distance power transmission it was possible to interconnect different central stations to balance loads and improve load factors. Interconnection became increasingly desirable as electrification grew rapidly in the early years of the 20th century. Like telegraphy before it, wired electricity was often carried on and through the circuits of colonial rule.[3]

Charles Merz, of the Merz & McLellan consulting partnership, built the Neptune Bank Power Station near Newcastle upon Tyne in 1901,[4] and by 1912 had developed into the largest integrated power system in Europe.[5] In 1905 he tried to influence Parliament to unify the variety of voltages and frequencies in the country’s electricity supply industry, but it was not until World War I that Parliament began to take this idea seriously, appointing him head of a Parliamentary Committee to address the problem. In 1916 Merz pointed out that the UK could use its small size to its advantage, by creating a dense distribution grid to feed its industries efficiently. His findings led to the Williamson Report of 1918, which in turn created the Electricity Supply Bill of 1919. The bill was the first step towards an integrated electricity system.

The more significant Electricity (Supply) Act of 1926 led to the setting up of the National Grid.[6] The Central Electricity Board standardised the nation’s electricity supply and established the first synchronised AC grid, running at 132 kilovolts and 50 Hertz. This started operating as a national system, the National Grid, in 1938.

In the United States in the 1920s, utilities joined together establishing a wider utility grid as joint-operations saw the benefits of sharing peak load coverage and backup power. Also, electric utilities were easily financed by Wall Street private investors who backed many of their ventures. In 1934, with the passage of the Public Utility Holding Company Act (USA), electric utilities were recognized as public goods of importance along with gas, water, and telephone companies and thereby were given outlined restrictions and regulatory oversight of their operations. This ushered in the Golden Age of Regulation for more than 60 years. However, with the successful deregulation of airlines and telecommunication industries in late 1970s, the Energy Policy Act (EPAct) of 1992 advocated deregulation of electric utilities by creating wholesale electric markets. It required transmission line owners to allow electric generation companies open access to their network

As the 21st century progresses, the electric utility industry seeks to take advantage of novel approaches to meet growing energy demand. Utilities are under pressure to evolve their classic topologies to accommodate distributed generation. As generation becomes more common from rooftop solar and wind generators, the differences between distribution and transmission grids will continue to blur. Also, demand response is a grid management technique where retail or wholesale customers are requested either electronically or manually to reduce their load. Currently, transmission grid operators use demand response to request load reduction from major energy users such as industrial plants.[10]

With everything interconnected, and open competition occurring in a free market economy, it starts to make sense to allow and even encourage distributed generation (DG). Smaller generators, usually not owned by the utility, can be brought on-line to help supply the need for power. The smaller generation facility might be a home-owner with excess power from their solar panel or wind turbine. It might be a small office with a diesel generator. These resources can be brought on-line either at the utility’s behest, or by owner of the generation in an effort to sell electricity. Many small generators are allowed to sell electricity back to the grid for the same price they would pay to buy it. Furthermore, numerous efforts are underway to develop a “smart grid”. In the U.S., the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and Title XIII of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 are providing funding to encourage smart grid development. The hope is to enable utilities to better predict their needs, and in some cases involve consumers in some form of time-of-use based tariff. Funds have also been allocated to develop more robust energy control technologies.[11][12]

Various planned and proposed systems to dramatically increase transmission capacity are known as super, or mega grids. The promised benefits include enabling the renewable energy industry to sell electricity to distant markets, the ability to increase usage of intermittent energy sources by balancing them across vast geological regions, and the removal of congestion that prevents electricity markets from flourishing. Local opposition to siting new lines and the significant cost of these projects are major obstacles to super grids. One study for a European super grid estimates that as much as 750 GW of extra transmission capacity would be required- capacity that would be accommodated in increments of 5 GW HVDC lines. A recent proposal by Transcanada priced a 1,600-km, 3-GW HVDC line at $3 billion USD and would require a corridor 60 meters wide. In India, a recent 6 GW, 1,850-km proposal was priced at $790 million and would require a 69 meter wide right of way. With 750 GW of new HVDC transmission capacity required for a European super grid, the land and money needed for new transmission lines would be considerable…