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More Than 3,000 People Have Been Sentenced to Death in Iraq for Alleged Terror Links

21 March, by Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Susannah Geroge / AP[ —]

(BAGHDAD) — Iraq has detained or imprisoned at least 19,000 people accused of connections to the Islamic State group or other terror-related offenses, and sentenced more than 3,000 of them to death, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.

The mass incarceration and speed of guilty verdicts raise concerns over potential miscarriages of justice — and worries that jailed militants are recruiting within the general prison population to build new extremist networks.

The AP count is based partially on an analysis of a spreadsheet listing all 27,849 people imprisoned in Iraq as of late January, provided by an official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Thousands more also are believed to be held in detention by other bodies, including the Federal Police, military intelligence and Kurdish forces. Those exact figures could not be immediately obtained.

The AP determined that 8,861 of the prisoners listed in the spreadsheet were convicted of terrorism-related charges since the beginning of 2013 — arrests overwhelmingly likely to be linked to the Islamic State group, according to an intelligence figure in Baghdad.

In addition, another 11,000 people currently are being detained by the intelligence branch of the Interior Ministry, undergoing interrogation or awaiting trial, a second intelligence official said. Both intelligence officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the press.

“There’s been great overcrowding … Iraq needs a large number of investigators and judges to resolve this issue,” Fadhel al-Gharwari, a member of Iraqi’s parliament-appointed human rights commission, told the AP.

Al-Gharwari said many legal proceedings have been delayed because the country lacks the resources to respond to the spike in incarcerations.

Large numbers of Iraqis were detained during the 2000s, when the U.S. and Iraqi governments were battling Sunni militants, including al-Qaida, and Shiite militias. In 2007, at the height of the fighting, the U.S. military held 25,000 detainees. The spreadsheet obtained by the AP showed that about 6,000 people arrested on terror charges before 2013 still are serving those sentences.

But the current wave of detentions has hit the Iraqi justice system much harder because past arrests were spread out over a much longer period and the largest numbers of detainees were held by the American military, with only a portion sent to Iraqi courts and the rest released.

Human Rights Watch warned in November that the broad use of terrorism laws meant those with minimal connections to the Islamic State group are caught up in prosecutions alongside those behind the worst abuses. The group estimated a similar number of detainees and prisoners — about 20,000 in all.

“Based on all my meetings with senior government officials, I get the sense that no one — perhaps not even the prime minster himself — knows the full number of detainees,” said Belkis Wille, the organization’s senior Iraq researcher.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is running to retain his position in national elections slated for May, has repeatedly called for accelerated death sentences for those charged with terrorism.

The spreadsheet analyzed by the AP showed that 3,130 prisoners have been sentenced to death on terrorism charges since 2013.

Since 2014, about 250 executions of convicted IS members have been carried out, according to the Baghdad-based intelligence official. About 100 of those took place last year, a sign of the accelerating pace of hangings.

The United Nations has warned that fast-tracking executions puts innocent people at greater risk of being convicted and executed, “resulting in gross, irreversible miscarriages of justice.”

The rising number of those detained and imprisoned reflects the more than four-year fight against the Islamic State group, which first formed in 2013 and conquered nearly a third of Iraq and neighboring Syria the next year.

Iraqi and Kurdish forces, backed by a U.S.-led coalition, eventually rolled the group back on both sides of the border, regaining nearly all of the territory by the end of last year.

Throughout the fighting, Iraq has pushed thousands of IS suspects through trials in counterterrorism courts. Trials witnessed by the AP and human rights groups often took no longer than 30 minutes.

The vast majority were convicted under Iraq’s Terrorism Law, which has been criticized as overly broad.

Asked about the process, Saad al-Hadithi, a government spokesman, said, “The government is intent that every criminal and terrorist receive just punishment.”

The largest concentration of those with IS-related convictions is in Nasiriyah Central Prison, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad, a sprawling maximum-security complex housing more than 6,000 people accused of terrorism-related offenses.

Cells designed to hold two prisoners now hold six, according to a prison official who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. The official said overcrowding makes it difficult to segregate prisoners charged with terrorism and that an inadequate number of guards means IS members are openly promoting their ideology inside the prison.

Though prisoners at Nasiriyah were banned last year from giving sermons and recruiting fellow inmates, the official said he still witnesses prisoners circulating extremist religious teachings.

In wards holding mostly terror-related convicts, high-ranking IS members have banned prisoners from watching television. Many refuse to eat meat from the cafeteria, believing it hasn’t been prepared according to religious guidelines, the prison official said.

The relative free rein for extremists is reminiscent of Bucca Prison, a now-closed facility that the U.S. military ran in southern Iraq in the 2000s.

The facility proved a petri dish where militant detainees mingled — including the man who now leads the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who spent nearly five years there, joining with other militants who became prominent in the group.

Iraqi officials say they have taken steps to prevent a repeat of the Bucca phenomenon.

“We will never allow Bucca to happen again,” said an Interior Ministry officer overseeing the detention of IS suspects in the Mosul area, also speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

“The Americans freed their captives; under Iraq, they will all receive the death penalty,” he said.

Cellphone signal jammers are installed at prisons holding IS suspects. But in Nasiriyah, the prison official said inmates appear to remain in contact with the outside.

He recounted how just days after a guard disciplined a senior IS member in the prison, the man threatened the guard’s family, listing the names and ages of his children.

The imprisonments hit hard among Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority, threatening to worsen tensions with the Shiite-dominated government. The community was both the pool that IS drew recruits from and the population most brutally victimized by its rule.

Mass incarcerations under former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki led to widespread resentment among Sunnis, helping fuel the growth of IS.

The head of the International Red Cross, an organization that regularly visits prison and detention facilities in Iraq, warned that mass detentions often incite future cycles of violence.

“It’s the tortures, the ill treatments, the continuous long-term bad conditions in detentions which have radicalized a lot of actors which we find again as armed actors on the battlefield,” ICRC President Peter Maurer said during a recent visit to Iraq.

Today Is the Start of Nowruz. Here Are a Few Festive Ways to Celebrate the Persian New Year

21 March, by Eli Meixler[ —]

March 21 marks the first day of Spring, but for millions of people across the Middle East, Central Asia, the Caucasus and beyond, it’s also the start of Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Today, Google celebrates this holiday of rebirth and renewal with a special Doodle.

Nowruz, which means “new day” in Persian, has been celebrated for more than 3,000 years, and traditionally begins the very moment that the sun crosses the equator on the vernal equinox, according to Google. The holiday has roots in the ancient Zoroastrian religion and marks the first day of the official Iranian calendar. It ushers in a celebratory period of two weeks, in which families clean their homes, visit relatives, and share festive meals and gifts.

Nowruz is also observed with cultural events and ceremonies, including street performances of music, poetry and dance. Families enjoy traditional foods, such as reshteh polow, a dish of toasted rice and noodles with lamb, dates and raisins.

The holiday is also frequently marked with sports competitions including wrestling and horse racing in Uzbekistan, and Kokboru (also a horse-mounted sport) in Kyrgyzstan. In Iran, families traditionally lay out a “haft-seen,” or a selection of seven symbolic items each beginning with the letter “s,” including fried fruit, sprouts or grasses, and spices, according to Vox.

Nowruz was recognized by the U.N. in 2009 as a tradition of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which “promotes values of peace and solidarity between generations and within families as well as reconciliation and neighborliness,” according to the U.N.

Happy Nowruz to all!

See the 25 New Entries to the National Recording Registry

21 March, by Mahita Gajanan[ —]

The Library of Congress has added Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine’s “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” and Run-DMC’s “Raising Hell” to the National Recording Registry, as part of 25 new entries this year.

Newcomers to the National Recording Registry also include the soundtrack to The Sound of Music and radio recordings covering the birth of the United Nations. The Library of Congress selects 25 new titles each year to add to a growing list of recordings honored for their “cultural, historic and aesthetic importance to the American soundscape.”

The recordings selected this year span spoken-word and musical sounds recorded from 1911 to 1996, and include Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors,” Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose” and The Temptations’ “My Girl,” which was co-written by Smokey Robinson.

“I’m totally overwhelmed by ‘My Girl’ receiving such an honor,” Robinson said in a statement. “As a songwriter, it has become my international anthem. People in countries where English is not the primary language know and sing ‘My Girl’ when I perform it.”

The new selections bring the total number of titles in the National Recording Registry to 500. See the full list of recordings named to the registry below.

“Dream Melody Intermezzo: Naughty Marietta” (single), Victor Herbert and his Orchestra (1911)

Standing Rock Preservation Recordings, George Herzog and Members of the Yanktoni Tribe (1928)

“Lamento Borincano” (single), Canario y Su Grupo (1930)

“Sitting on Top of the World” (single), Mississippi Sheiks (1930)

The Complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas (album), Artur Schnabel (1932-1935)

“If I Didn’t Care” (single), The Ink Spots (1939)

Proceedings of the United Nations Conference on International Organization (4/25/45-6/26/45)

“Folk Songs of the Hills” (album), Merle Travis (1946)

“How I Got Over” (single), Clara Ward and the Ward Singers (1950)

“(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” (single), Bill Haley and His Comets (1954)

“Calypso” (album), Harry Belafonte (1956) album.

“I Left My Heart in San Francisco” (single), Tony Bennett (1962)

“King Biscuit Time” (radio), Sonny Boy Williamson II and others (1965)

“My Girl” (single), The Temptations (1964

“The Sound of Music” (soundtrack), Various (1965)

“Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” (single), Arlo Guthrie (1967)

“New Sounds in Electronic Music” (album), Steve Reich, Richard Maxfield, Pauline Oliveros (1967)

“An Evening with Groucho” (album), Groucho Marx (1972)

“Rumours,” (album), Fleetwood Mac (1977)

“The Gambler” (single), Kenny Rogers (1978)

“Le Freak” (single), Chic (1978)

“Footloose” (single), Kenny Loggins (1984) remake released in 2011.

“Raising Hell” (album), Run-DMC (1986)

“Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” (single), Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine (1987)

“Yo-Yo Ma Premieres Concertos for Violoncello and Orchestra” (album), Various (1996)

EPA Chief Scott Pruitt Spent Almost $68,000 on Seven Months of Travel, Report Says

21 March, by Laignee Barron[ —]

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt racked up almost $68,000 in first-class and other travel expenses since last August, documents submitted to Congress and obtained by the Washington Post revealed.

The expense sheet includes dozens of first class flights — both domestic and overseas — as well as costly stays at hotels in Paris, New York City and Morocco.

The figure does not include additional travel costs for Pruitt’s personal security detail.

Accounting for the documents submitted to Congress, the EPA cited additional security protocols in place for Pruitt, who has received numerous threats since taking office in Feb. 2017.

Pruitt’s chief security official reportedly advised the administrator to fly first class to separate himself from the general public.

This is not the first time Pruitt’s expenses have caused a stir. Redesigns at the EPA headquarters have raised eyebrows, including the installation of a $25,000 soundproof phone booth in Pruitt’s office, according to the Post.

In June 2017, Pruitt and his aides spent $120,000 on two weeks of travel, records obtained by the Post and the Environmental Integrity Project show.

Over four days in December, Pruitt’s travel vouchers reportedly amounted to $17,631, a sum not inclusive of the additional and undisclosed fees for his security aides.

When requesting Pruitt submit records of his travel expenses to prove all trips were in line with federal regulations, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chair Trey Gowdy noted that a waiver to skip coach class must be submitted for each flight.

“Clearly, federal regulations prohibit a blanket waiver to fly first class except to accommodate disabilities or special needs,” he wrote.

The committee told the Post it is in the process of reviewing Pruitt’s documents.

The Israeli Military Has Admitted to Striking a Suspected Syrian Nuclear Reactor in 2007

21 March, by Aron Heller / AP[ —]

(TEL AVIV, Israel) — The Israeli military confirmed Wednesday it carried out the 2007 airstrike in Syria that destroyed what was believed to be a nuclear reactor, lifting the veil of secrecy over one of its most daring and mysterious operations in recent memory.

Although Israel was widely believed to have been behind the Sept. 6, 2007, airstrike, it has never before commented publicly on it.

In a lengthy release, the military revealed that eight F-15 fighter jets carried out the top-secret airstrikes against the facility in the Deir el-Zour region, 450 kilometers (about 300 miles) northwest of Damascus, destroying a site that had been in development for years and was scheduled to go into operation at the end of that year.

Israel’s involvement has been one of its most closely held secrets, and it was not immediately clear why Israel decided to go public now. The military would not comment on its reasoning, but the move could be related to the upcoming memoir of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who ordered the strike and has hinted about it for years, or it could be meant as a warning to archenemy Iran, which is active in Syria.

Israel and Syria have always been bitter enemies. Throughout Syria’s seven-year civil war, Israel has carried out well over 100 airstrikes, most believed to have been aimed at suspected weapons shipments destined for the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militant group. Both Iran and Hezbollah are allied with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

At the time of the 2007 strike, Syria accused Israel of invading its airspace, but gave no further details about the target.

The pre-mission briefing, made public Wednesday, stated that the operation should not be attributed to Israel so as to minimize the potential for an all-out war. It was ordered to be kept secret until further notice.

The strike was reminiscent of an Israeli attack against a reactor that was under construction in Iraq in 1981. The strike was later credited with preventing Saddam Hussein from acquiring weapons of mass destruction that could have been used in the Gulf War a decade later.

“The message from the 2007 attack on the reactor is that Israel will not tolerate construction that can pose an existential threat,” military chief Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said in Wednesday’s statement. “This was the message in 1981, this is the message in 2007 and this is the future message to our enemies.”

Eisenkot, who at the time commanded Israel’s northern front along the Lebanese and Syrian borders, said it marked Israel’s most comprehensive attack in Syria since the 1973 Mideast war, and that everyone involved knew it could spark a new one. He said only a handful of top commanders were aware of the plans for Operation “Outside The Box.”

The military said the F-15s took off from two bases in southern Israel at 10:30 p.m. on Sept. 5 and returned four hours later. Wednesday’s announcement also indicated the Syrian reactor was much closer to completion than previously reported.

From Israel’s perspective, the strike was an astounding success since it not only destroyed the site, but prevented further escalation and strengthened its deterrence in the region.

Air force commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin said the current turmoil in Syria has further vindicated the strike, particularly since the reactor was in an area later captured by Islamic State militants.

“Imagine what situation we would be in today if there was a nuclear reactor in Syria,” Norkin said. “In historic hindsight, I think Israel’s decision to destroy the reactor is one of the most important decisions taken here in the last 70 years.”

Uzi Rabi, an expert on Iran at Tel Aviv University, said Israel’s surprising confirmation might be meant as a “warning sign” to Iran as it builds up its military presence in Syria. Israel has warned against the establishment of a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria, particularly areas close to Israel.

Last month, Israel shot down an Iranian drone that entered its airspace, triggering a clash in which an Israeli warplane crashed after being struck by Syrian anti-aircraft fire. Israel responded by bombing Syrian anti-aircraft batteries.

The military said it began obtaining information regarding foreign experts helping Syria develop the Deir el-Zour site in late 2004. Later it discovered that North Korea was helping Syria build a reactor to manufacture plutonium.

In his memoir, “Decision Points,” former President George W. Bush said the target was believed to be a Syrian nuclear reactor being built with North Korean assistance. He said Israel first asked the U.S. to bomb the site and then carried out an attack itself when Washington declined.

The strike came about a year after Israel’s inconclusive war against Hezbollah, in which Lebanese guerrillas battled Israel’s powerful army to a stalemate. The poor performance raised questions about Israel’s deterrent capabilities.

“Prime Minister Olmert’s execution of the strike made up for the confidence I had lost in the Israelis during the Lebanon war,” Bush wrote, adding that the Israeli leader rejected a suggestion to go public with the operation.

“Olmert told me he wanted total secrecy. He wanted to avoid anything that might back Syria into a corner and force Assad to retaliate. This was his operation, and I felt an obligation to respect his wishes,” Bush wrote.

Olmert has skirted around the issue, and military censors, for years, repeatedly saying that according to foreign sources Israel had been involved. After Bush’s account was published in 2010, Olmert said: “I don’t want (to), and I can’t deny it.”

Olmert, who was prime minister from 2006 until 2009 and was recently released from prison after serving time for corruption, is expected to delve more deeply into the issue in his upcoming book.

Stormy Daniels Took a Lie Detector Test About Her Alleged Affair With Donald Trump. She Passed

https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/20/politics/stormy-daniels-polygraph-donald-trump/index.htmlplay episode download
21 March, by Alexia Fernandez / People[ —]

Stormy Daniels passed a lie detector test that focused on her alleged sexual encounter with President Donald Trump in July 2006.

In a polygraph report obtained by CNN, Ron Slay, the polygraph examiner who administered the test to Daniels in May 2011, said she was “truthful about having unprotected vaginal intercourse with Donald Trump in July 2006.”

The lie detector test focused on three “relevant” questions about Daniels’ alleged encounter, asking her “Around July 2006, did you have vaginal intercourse with Donald Trump?,” “Around July 2006, did you have unprotected sex with Donald Trump?” and “Did Trump say you would get on The Apprentice?”

Daniels answered yes to all three questions. In the report, Slay said the last question pertaining to the president’s promise that Daniels would appear on The Apprenticewas “inconclusive.”

White House representatives did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

Her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, reportedly paid $25,000 to buy the rights to a video of the porn star taking the polygraph test, according to The Wall Street Journal, who first reported the news.

He told CNN in a statement that he bought the video “to ensure that it would be maintained and kept safely during the litigation and not be altered or destroyed. We did so after learning that various parties, including mainstream media organization, were attempting to acquire the video and the file and either destroy it or use it for nefarious means.”

According to WSJ, Daniels took the polygraph test as part of an agreement to sell her story to Life & Style magazine. The publication said Daniels would have been paid $15,000 had the interview been published.

In a statement obtained by PEOPLE, Avenatti says, “There is no question Ms. Clifford is telling the truth. The American people will come to their own conclusion this Sunday after watching 60 Minutes.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Avenatti shared a photo of Daniels taking the lie detector test on Twitter, writing, “Hmmmmm…….. #basta #searchforthetruth #whosenext? #buckle-up.”

Daniels also took to social media Tuesday, addressing those who criticized her on Twitter.

To one commenter who said she should “just disappear,” Daniels replied: “Technically I didn’t sleep with the POTUS 12 years ago. There was no sleeping (hehe) and he was just a goofy reality TV star. But I digress…People DO care that he lied about it, had me bullied, broke laws to cover it up, etc. And PS…I am NOT going anywhere. xoxoxo”

Trump’s lawyer has threatened to sue Daniels for allegedly violating a nondisclosure agreement 20 times, according to The Washington Post.

Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney, claimed he had the right to sue Daniels for $20 million in damages in court documents filed Friday, according to the newspaper.

WSJ reported that Cohen arranged a $130,000 payment to Daniels a month before the 2016 election so she would keep quiet about an alleged sexual encounter she had with Trump in July 2006 — less than four months after Trump’s wife, Melania, gave birth to their son, Barron, now 11.

Cohen and the White House have denied the allegation of an affair, with a Trump official telling the Wall Street Journal in January: “These are old, recycled reports, which were published and strongly denied prior to the election.”

Cohen initially denied paying Daniels, but later admitted to it calling it a “private transaction” and said it didn’t violate any campaign finance laws. A recent Wall Street Journal report said Cohen later complained to friends that he hadn’t been reimbursed for the payment.

Daniels is still fighting to tell her story. The New York Times reported this month that Daniels’ lawyer sent a letter to Cohen offering to return the $130,000 payment in exchange for dissolving a so-called “hush agreement.”

She is set to appear on 60 Minutes this Sunday with contributor Anderson Cooper.

This article originally appeared on people.com.

South Korean K-Pop Stars Plan to Perform in Pyongyang for the First Time in More Than a Decade

21 March, by Laignee Barron[ —]

After North Korea sent a musical delegation to the Winter Olympics, Seoul will respond in kind with a show of its own. Around 160 musicians, including several high-profile K-pop stars, will visit Pyongyang on March 31 — the first South Korean performers to head north on the peninsula since 2005, Reuters reports.

The upcoming, four-day lineup will feature K-pop sensation Red Velvet, a five-member all-girl group, and singers Baek Ji Young and Lee Sun Hee. Pop singer Cho Yong Pil will also perform. He was the last South Korean singer to grace Pyongyang’s stage in 2005, according to Reuters.

“Our first task will be to instill the same awe in North Korean audiences as we do our South Korean ones, and make sure nothing is awkward,” Yoon Sang, a singer and record producer who will direct the upcoming concerts, told Reuters.

The South Korean ensemble will put on two shows, one in the East Pyongyang Grand Theater, and one in the Ryukyung Chung Ju-yung Gymnasium, a facility built by both North and South Korea and named after Hyundai founder Chung Ju-yung.

The South’s musical envoy comes amid an attempt to thaw relations in part by renewing cultural exchanges in the wake of talks along the Koreas’ shared border in January. The upcoming concerts will reciprocate the 140-member orchestra troupe the North sent to Seoul and Gangneung at the start of the Winter Olympics. That posse was led by Hyon Song Wol, a singer in North Korea’s all-female Moranbong Band, and a rising political star in Kim Jong Un’s regime.

Here’s How Cheap Oil Is Pushing Saudi Arabia to Reform

21 March, by Justin Worland[ —]

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s tour of the U.S. seems perfectly tailored to put a new face on the world’s deeply conservative oil-rich kingdom. After meeting with President Donald Trump, the 32-year-old reformer is expected to make stops in Silicon Valley to meet tech executives and Hollywood to talk to the entertainment industry while also touting his country’s softening of some conservative policies that subjugate women.

The sharp turn for Saudi Arabia is the result of more than just Salman’s enlightenment. A slew of pressures in the energy industry including a sustained period of low oil prices, increased competition from the U.S. as a result of fracking and a long-term shift away from fossil fuels to combat climate change have shifted the dynamic and left the country facing pressure to reshape itself.

“Everybody knows that the writing is on the wall,” says Jean-François Seznec, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council who studies the oil industry in the Persian Gulf region. “There will always be a need for crude oil, but crude oil cannot carry the country alone.”

That represents a sharp change. In the past century, leaders of the country turned the kingdom itself into the region’s richest country by exploiting vast oil reserves that fed the world’s addiction to the fossil fuel. The government then used the seemingly endless stream of revenue from selling oil to keep the people happy with public spending.

The most urgent concern is the low price of oil, or at least that was the biggest threat when bin Salman took over the day-to-day job of running the country last year. Oil traded at around $46 per barrel at the time. Today, the price has risen significantly to around $64, but that still falls short of what independent analysts believe is the country’s $70 per barrel breakeven point, according to an IMF report. That shortfall makes a difference over a sustained period of time with the country facing a $52 billion budget deficit in 2018 and oil currently making up more than 60% of the country’s budget.

Oil prices may rebound, and the country has led other OPEC nations in cutting production in hopes of pushing up prices. But as prices rise the country will face unprecedented competition from oil producers in the U.S. New technology — namely fracking and horizontal drilling — has opened parts of the country to oil development that have long thought to be uneconomic. A forecast from the International Energy Agency released earlier this month suggests that U.S. oil production will meet 80% of new global demand for the fuel source in the next three years.

In the longer term, Saudi Arabia faces the prospect of what the energy experts have termed the “energy transition.” Renewables, battery storage and energy efficiency will play a more prominent role in the global energy mix both because countries want to address climate change and because those resources can increasingly compete with the costs of fossil fuels. Most significantly for oil producers, hundreds of millions of electric vehicles will roll out of factories in the coming decades cutting demand for oil to power vehicles. About a fifth of global oil demand goes to passenger vehicles and the transportation sector broadly uses more than 50% of global oil demand.

“When you put it all together, it really meant that now is a time when economic reform, which has always been pressing, is more of a national emergency,” says Amy Jaffe, director of the program on energy security and climate change at the Council on Foreign Relations.

That reform has taken several forms. One of the country’s most significant changes is the promised initial public offering for Saudi Aramco, the country’s state-owned oil company. The company is valued in the trillions of dollars and the offering could generate $100 billion for the cash-starved kingdom. That money will then allow the country to diversify so it is no longer as dependent on the fluctuations of the oil industry.

The country’s sweeping social changes — allowing women to drive and reducing the authority of religious police, to name two major ones — can also be linked to the struggles in the oil industry. It’s easier to operate a repressive government if the people rely on the government’s support and do not pay taxes. But when the largesse dries up — as it has in recent years — people get restless without reform.

“The reality of lower oil prices has made it more urgent for oil exporters to move away from a focus on redistributing oil receipts through public sector spending and energy subsidies,” wrote International Monetary Fund analysts in a report last fall.

It’s a concept Tom Friedman described as “the first law of petropolitics” in a 2006 article in Foreign Policy. Friedman found a correlation between oil prices and political freedom. Lower prices mean governments grant a higher degree of freedom while higher prices mean further repression. “One can actually correlate rises and falls in the price of oil with rises and falls in the pace of freedom,” he wrote. “The connection is very real.”

That does not mean Saudi Arabia has given up on its vast oil resources entirely. Amin Nasser, the CEO of Saudi Aramco, told industry executives gathered at the CERAWeek conference in Houston that “the market fundamentals remain healthy” for oil even if the future looks different than today. Nasser says his company will increasingly focus on petrochemicals to build products from oil pipelines to skyscrapers.

But Nasser’s public confidence belies the seriousness of the issue. “If they’re talking about it,” says Jaffe, “they’re worried about it.”

An Explosion at a Goodwill Store in Austin Was Not Related to Package Bombs, Authorities Say

21 March, by Paul J. Weber and Will Weissert / AP[ —]

(AUSTIN, Texas) — Emergency teams rushed Tuesday night to another reported explosion in Austin — this one at a Goodwill store — but police and federal authorities said the blast wasn’t related to recent bombings that have killed and injured people and caused panic across Texas’ capital for weeks.

Police and emergency response teams said an “incendiary device” exploded, injuring a man in his 30s. Nearby stores, shopping centers and restaurants were evacuated. But police and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said a short time later that it was unrelated to the previous blasts.

Gary Davis, president and CEO of Goodwill Texas, stood outside a police barrier huddling with other Goodwill employees. He said the device was contained in a bag and detonated when a worker moved it.

“We put all the donations we get in a big cardboard box. He pulled something out in a bag, completely normal, and the device went off,” Davis said.

He added: “In this town, if an incendiary device goes off, everybody just scatters and panics. We’re all on edge.”

That incident came as investigators who have pursued a suspected serial bomber terrorizing Austin for weeks uncovered what seemed like valuable new leads.

Even before the report of Tuesday night’s explosion, it had already been a busy day. Before dawn, a bomb inside a package exploded around 1 a.m. as it passed along a conveyer belt at a FedEx shipping center near San Antonio, causing minor injuries to a worker. The Austin Police Department, the FBI and other federal agencies confirmed that the package center blast was related to four previous ones that killed two people and seriously injured four others.

That explosion occurred at a FedEx facility in Schertz, northeast of San Antonio and about 60 miles (95 kilometers) southwest of Austin.

Later in the morning, police sent a bomb squad to a FedEx facility outside the Austin airport to check on a suspicious package that was reported. Federal agencies and police later said that package had indeed contained an explosive that was successfully intercepted and that it, too, was tied to the other bombings.

Authorities also closed off an Austin-area FedEx store where they believe the bomb that exploded was shipped to the distribution center. They roped off a large area around the shopping center in the enclave of Sunset Valley and were collecting evidence, including surveillance camera footage.

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, a Republican from Austin who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said that investigators have obtained surveillance videos that “could possibly” show a suspect, but are still poring through video.

“I hope his biggest mistake was going through FedEx,” McCaul, who has spoken to federal investigators and Austin police Chief Brian Manley, said of the bomber in a phone interview.

He added that the person responsible for the bombings had previously been “very sophisticated in going around surveillance cameras.”

“They’ve got a couple of videos that could possibly be the person but they’re not sure at this point,” McCaul said.

Before it exploded, the package had been sent from Austin and was addressed to a home in Austin, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said.

In a statement, FedEx officials said the same person responsible for sending the package also shipped a second parcel that has been secured and turned over to law enforcement. A company spokeswoman refused to say if that second package might have been linked to the one reported at the distribution center near the airport.

The Schertz blast came less than two days after a bombing wounded two men Sunday night in a quiet Austin neighborhood about 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the FedEx store. It was triggered by a nearly invisible tripwire, suggesting a “higher level of sophistication” than agents saw in three package bombs previously left on doorsteps, according to Fred Milanowski, the agent in charge of the Houston division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

A criminologist at the University of Alabama said if a single perpetrator is behind the blasts, changing the means of delivery increases the bomber’s chance of getting caught.

“I think it would suggest that the bomber is trying to stay unpredictable,” Adam Lankford said. “But it also increases the likelihood that he would make a mistake.”

Authorities have not identified the two men who were hurt Sunday, saying only that they are in their 20s and white. But William Grote told The Associated Press that his grandson was one of them and that he had what appeared to be nails embedded in his knees.

In Washington, President Donald Trump said the assailant behind the bombing is “very sick.”

During an Oval Office meeting Tuesday with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the president said, “This is obviously a very sick individual or individuals,” and authorities are “working to get to the bottom of it.”

Despite bombing tactics that have now shifted, investigators have repeated prior warnings about not touching unexpected packages and urged people to be wary of any stray object left in public. Austin police say they have now responded to more than 1,200 reports of suspicious packages in a little more than a week — without finding anything dangerous.

A Fox News Contributor Has Just Quit, Calling the Network a ‘Propaganda Machine’

https://www.buzzfeed.com/tomnamako/ralph-peters?utm_term=.hjBnXvkea#.hpBgX8w60play episode download
21 March, by Derek Lawrence / Entertainment Weekly[ —]

Lt. Col. Ralph Peters is leaving his post at Fox News, saying he’s “ashamed” to be part of a “propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration.”

In an email to colleagues, which was obtained by BuzzFeed, the longtime contributor shared why he’ll no longer appear on the network.

“Four decades ago, I took an oath as a newly commissioned officer,” he wrote. “I swore to ‘support and defend the Constitution,’ and that oath did not expire when I took off my uniform. Today, I feel that Fox News is assaulting our constitutional order and the rule of law, while fostering corrosive and unjustified paranoia among viewers. Over my decade with Fox, I long was proud of the association. Now I am ashamed.”

He continued, “In my view, Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration. When prime-time hosts — who have never served our country in any capacity — dismiss facts and empirical reality to launch profoundly dishonest assaults on the FBI, the Justice Department, the courts, the intelligence community (in which I served), and, not least, a model public servant and genuine war hero such as Robert Mueller — all the while scaremongering with lurid warnings of ‘deep-state’ machinations — I cannot be part of the same organization, even at a remove. To me, Fox News is now wittingly harming our system of government for profit.”

Peters, who was suspended in 2015 for calling then-President Barack Obama a “total p—y,” also criticized the network for “advancing” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s agenda.

In a statement, Fox News responded to Peters’ comments: “Ralph Peters is entitled to his opinion despite the fact that he’s choosing to use it as a weapon in order to gain attention. We are extremely proud of our top-rated primetime hosts and all of our opinion programming.”

This article was originally published on EW.com.

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