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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Chutzpah!! #Iran foreign min goes all-out against #SaudiArabia as fomenter of extremism

Mohammad Javad Zarif: Let Us Rid the World of Wahhabism - NYTimes.com
In today's NYTimes: 

Mohammad Javad Zarif: Let Us Rid the World of Wahhabism

Tehran — Public relations firms with no qualms about taking tainted petrodollars are experiencing a bonanza. Their latest project has been to persuade us that the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, is no more. As a Nusra spokesman told CNN, the rebranded rebel group, supposedly separated from its parent terrorist organization, has become "moderate."

Thus is fanaticism from the Dark Ages sold as a bright vision for the 21st century. The problem for the P.R. firms' wealthy, often Saudi, clients, who have lavishly funded Nusra, is that the evidence of their ruinous policies can't be photoshopped out of existence. If anyone had any doubt, the recent video images of other "moderates" beheading a 12-year-old boy were a horrifying reality check.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, militant Wahhabism has undergone a series of face-lifts, but underneath, the ideology remains the same — whether it's the Taliban, the various incarnations of Al Qaeda or the so-called Islamic State, which is neither Islamic nor a state. But the millions of people faced with the Nusra Front's tyranny are not buying the fiction of this disaffiliation. Past experience of such attempts at whitewashing points to the real aim: to enable the covert flow of petrodollars to extremist groups in Syria to become overt, and even to lure Western governments into supporting these "moderates." The fact that Nusra still dominates the rebel alliance in Aleppo flouts the public relations message.

Saudi Arabia's effort to persuade its Western patrons to back its shortsighted tactics is based on the false premise that plunging the Arab world into further chaos will somehow damage Iran. The fanciful notions that regional instability will help to "contain" Iran, and that supposed rivalries between Sunni and Shiite Muslims are fueling conflicts, are contradicted by the reality that the worst bloodshed in the region is caused by Wahhabists fighting fellow Arabs and murdering fellow Sunnis.

While these extremists, with the backing of their wealthy sponsors, have targeted Christians, Jews, Yazidis, Shiites and other "heretics," it is their fellow Sunni Arabs who have been most beleaguered by this exported doctrine of hate. Indeed, it is not the supposed ancient sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites but the contest between Wahhabism and mainstream Islam that will have the most profound consequences for the region and beyond.

While the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq set in motion the fighting we see today, the key driver of violence has been this extremist ideology promoted by Saudi Arabia — even if it was invisible to Western eyes until the tragedy of 9/11.

The princes in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, have been desperate to revive the regional status quo of the days of Saddam Hussein's rule in Iraq, when a surrogate repressive despot, eliciting wealth and material support from fellow Arabs and a gullible West, countered the so-called Iranian threat. There is only one problem: Mr. Hussein is long dead, and the clock cannot be turned back.

The sooner Saudi Arabia's rulers come to terms with this, the better for all. The new realities in our region can accommodate even Riyadh, should the Saudis choose to change their ways.

What would change mean? Over the past three decades, Riyadh has spent tens of billions of dollars exporting Wahhabism through thousands of mosques and madrasas across the world. From Asia to Africa, from Europe to the Americas, this theological perversion has wrought havoc. As one former extremist in Kosovo told The Times, "The Saudis completely changed Islam here with their money."

Though it has attracted only a minute proportion of Muslims, Wahhabism has been devastating in its impact. Virtually every terrorist group abusing the name of Islam — from Al Qaeda and its offshoots in Syria to Boko Haram in Nigeria — has been inspired by this death cult.

So far, the Saudis have succeeded in inducing their allies to go along with their folly, whether in Syria or Yemen, by playing the "Iran card." That will surely change, as the realization grows that Riyadh's persistent sponsorship of extremism repudiates its claim to be a force for stability.

The world cannot afford to sit by and witness Wahhabists targeting not only Christians, Jews and Shiites but also Sunnis. With a large section of the Middle East in turmoil, there is a grave danger that the few remaining pockets of stability will be undermined by this clash of Wahhabism and mainstream Sunni Islam.

There needs to be coordinated action at the United Nations to cut off the funding for ideologies of hate and extremism, and a willingness from the international community to investigate the channels that supply the cash and the arms. In 2013, Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, proposed an initiative called World Against Violent Extremism, or WAVE. The United Nations should build on that framework to foster greater dialogue between religions and sects to counter this dangerous medieval fanaticism.

The attacks in Nice, Paris and Brussels should convince the West that the toxic threat of Wahhabism cannot be ignored. After a year of almost weekly tragic news, the international community needs to do more than express outrage, sorrow and condolences; concrete action against extremism is needed.

Though much of the violence committed in the name of Islam can be traced to Wahhabism, I by no means suggest that Saudi Arabia cannot be part of the solution. Quite the reverse: We invite Saudi rulers to put aside the rhetoric of blame and fear, and join hands with the rest of the community of nations to eliminate the scourge of terrorism and violence that threatens us all.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

31 INCREDIBLE FACTS ABOUT #GOLD

No metal can claim a legacy comparable to gold.

From VisualCapitalist.com:

Gold has been used to show affectionate love, but it has also represented power, status, and riches for the greatest kings of antiquity. Gold’s history is truly legendary, ripe with colorful tales and anecdotes from people ranging from William Shakespeare to Christopher Columbus. 

But gold doesn’t just “talk the talk”. 

Gold also walks the walk, because its grandeur is backed up by impressive chemical properties and uses. As we documented in our extensive Gold Series, it’s been used as a monetary metal for thousands of years by ancient civilizations such as the Lydians, Greeks, Chinese, and Romans. It’s the most malleable and ductile metal, and it doesn’t tarnish or corrode. Over time, these properties have helped people to associate gold with concepts such as immortality or royalty.

Even today, people are still finding new uses for gold that are impressive in their own right. For example, scientists recently discovered a gold alloy that is four times tougher than titanium.

Without further ado, here are 31 incredible facts about gold.

31 INCREDIBLE FACTS ABOUT GOLD

The following infographic puts the rich history of gold into perspective.


See the post online at Visual Capitalist here: http://www.visualcapitalist.com/31-incredible-facts-about-gold/ 


Monday, August 1, 2016

#Israel Proves the #Desalination Era Is Here #WaterDiplomacy

Israel Proves the Desalination Era Is Here - Scientific American
Israel now gets 55% of its domestic water from desalination, and that has helped to turn one of the world's driest countries into the unlikeliest of water giants. 

From Scientific American: 

Israel Proves the Desalination Era Is Here

From Ensia (find the original story here); reprinted with permission.

July 19, 2016 — Ten miles south of Tel Aviv, I stand on a catwalk over two concrete reservoirs the size of football fields and watch water pour into them from a massive pipe emerging from the sand. The pipe is so large I could walk through it standing upright, were it not full of Mediterranean seawater pumped from an intake a mile offshore.

"Now, that's a pump!" Edo Bar-Zeev shouts to me over the din of the motors, grinning with undisguised awe at the scene before us. The reservoirs beneath us contain several feet of sand through which the seawater filters before making its way to a vast metal hangar, where it is transformed into enough drinking water to supply 1.5 million people.

We are standing above the new Sorek desalination plant, the largest reverse-osmosis desal facility in the world, and we are staring at Israel's salvation. Just a few years ago, in the depths of its worst drought in at least 900 years, Israel was running out of water. Now it has a surplus. That remarkable turnaround was accomplished through national campaigns to conserve and reuse Israel's meager water resources, but the biggest impact came from a new wave of desalination plants.

Bar-Zeev, who recently joined Israel's Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research after completing his postdoc work at Yale University, is an expert on biofouling, which has always been an Achilles' heel of desalination and one of the reasons it has been considered a last resort. Desal works by pushing saltwater into membranes containing microscopic pores. The water gets through, while the larger salt molecules are left behind. But microorganisms in seawater quickly colonize the membranes and block the pores, and controlling them requires periodic costly and chemical-intensive cleaning. But Bar-Zeev and colleagues developed a chemical-free system using porous lava stone to capture the microorganisms before they reach the membranes. It's just one of many breakthroughs in membrane technology that have made desalination much more efficient. Israel now gets 55 percent of its domestic water from desalination, and that has helped to turn one of the world's driest countries into the unlikeliest of water giants.

Driven by necessity, Israel is learning to squeeze more out of a drop of water than any country on Earth, and much of that learning is happening at the Zuckerberg Institute, where researchers have pioneered new techniques in drip irrigation, water treatment and desalination. They have developed resilient well systems for African villages and biological digesters than can halve the water usage of most homes.

Bar-Zeev believes that Israel's solutions can help its parched neighbors, too — and in the process, bring together old enemies in common cause.The institute's original mission was to improve life in Israel's bone-dry Negev Desert, but the lessons look increasingly applicable to the entire Fertile Crescent. "The Middle East is drying up," says Osnat Gillor, a professor at the Zuckerberg Institute who studies the use of recycled wastewater on crops. "The only country that isn't suffering acute water stress is Israel."

That water stress has been a major factor in the turmoil tearing apart the Middle East, but Bar-Zeev believes that Israel's solutions can help its parched neighbors, too — and in the process, bring together old enemies in common cause.

Bar-Zeev acknowledges that water will likely be a source of conflict in the Middle East in the future. "But I believe water can be a bridge, through joint ventures," he says. "And one of those ventures is desalination."

Driven to Desperation

In 2008, Israel teetered on the edge of catastrophe. A decade-long drought had scorched the Fertile Crescent, and Israel's largest source of freshwater, the Sea of Galilee, had dropped to within inches of the "black line" at which irreversible salt infiltration would flood the lake and ruin it forever. Water restrictions were imposed, and many farmers lost a year's crops.

Their counterparts in Syria fared much worse. As the drought intensified and the water table plunged, Syria's farmers chased it, drilling wells 100, 200, then 500 meters (300, 700, then 1,600 feet) down in a literal race to the bottom. Eventually, the wells ran dry and Syria's farmland collapsed in an epic dust storm. More than a million farmers joined massive shantytowns on the outskirts of Aleppo, Homs, Damascus and other cities in a futile attempt to find work and purpose.

Water is driving the entire region to desperate acts.And that, according to the authors of "Climate Change in the Fertile Crescent and Implications of the Recent Syrian Drought," a 2015 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was the tinder that burned Syria to the ground. "The rapidly growing urban peripheries of Syria," they wrote, "marked by illegal settlements, overcrowding, poor infrastructure, unemployment, and crime, were neglected by the Assad government and became the heart of the developing unrest."

Similar stories are playing out across the Middle East, where drought and agricultural collapse have produced a lost generation with no prospects and simmering resentments. Iran, Iraq and Jordan all face water catastrophes. Water is driving the entire region to desperate acts.

More Water Than Needs

Except Israel. Amazingly, Israel has more water than it needs. The turnaround started in 2007, when low-flow toilets and showerheads were installed nationwide and the national water authority built innovative water treatment systems that recapture 86 percent of the water that goes down the drain and use it for irrigation — vastly more than the second-most-efficient country in the world, Spain, which recycles 19 percent.

But even with those measures, Israel still needed about 1.9 billion cubic meters (2.5 billion cubic yards) of freshwater per year and was getting just 1.4 billion cubic meters (1.8 billion cubic yards) from natural sources. That 500-million-cubic-meter (650-million-cubic-yard) shortfall was why the Sea of Galilee was draining like an unplugged tub and why the country was about to lose its farms.

The country faces a previously unfathomable question: What to do with its extra water?Enter desalination. The Ashkelon plant, in 2005, provided 127 million cubic meters (166 million cubic yards) of water. Hadera, in 2009, put out another 140 million cubic meters (183 million cubic yards). And now Sorek, 150 million cubic meters (196 million cubic yards). All told, desal plants can provide some 600 million cubic meters (785 million cubic yards) of water a year, and more are on the way.

The Sea of Galilee is fuller. Israel's farms are thriving. And the country faces a previously unfathomable question: What to do with its extra water?

Water Diplomacy

Inside Sorek, 50,000 membranes enclosed in vertical white cylinders, each 4 feet high and 16 inches wide, are whirring like jet engines. The whole thing feels like a throbbing spaceship about to blast off. The cylinders contain sheets of plastic membranes wrapped around a central pipe, and the membranes are stippled with pores less than a hundredth the diameter of a human hair. Water shoots into the cylinders at a pressure of 70 atmospheres and is pushed through the membranes, while the remaining brine is returned to the sea.

Desalination used to be an expensive energy hog, but the kind of advanced technologies being employed at Sorek have been a game changer. Water produced by desalination costs just a third of what it did in the 1990s. Sorek can produce a thousand liters of drinking water for 58 cents. Israeli households pay about US$30 a month for their water — similar to households in most U.S. cities, and far less than Las Vegas (US$47) or Los Angeles (US$58).

The International Desalination Association claims that 300 million people get water from desalination, and that number is quickly rising. IDE, the Israeli company that built Ashkelon, Hadera and Sorek, recently finished the Carlsbad desalination plant in Southern California, a close cousin of its Israel plants, and it has many more in the works. Worldwide, the equivalent of six additional Sorek plants are coming online every year. The desalination era is here.

What excites Bar-Zeev the most is the opportunity for water diplomacy.What excites Bar-Zeev the most is the opportunity for water diplomacy. Israel supplies the West Bank with water, as required by the 1995 Oslo II Accords, but the Palestinians still receive far less than they need. Water has been entangled with other negotiations in the ill-fated peace process, but now that more is at hand, many observers see the opportunity to depoliticize it. Bar-Zeev has ambitious plans for a Water Knows No Boundaries conference in 2018, which will bring together water scientists from Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza for a meeting of the minds.

Even more ambitious is the US$900 million Red Sea–Dead Sea Canal, a joint venture between Israel and Jordan to build a large desalination plant on the Red Sea, where they share a border, and divide the water among Israelis, Jordanians and the Palestinians. The brine discharge from the plant will be piped 100 miles north through Jordan to replenish the Dead Sea, which has been dropping a meter per year since the two countries began diverting the only river that feeds it in the 1960s. By 2020, these old foes will be drinking from the same tap.

On the far end of the Sorek plant, Bar-Zeev and I get to share a tap as well. Branching off from the main line where the Sorek water enters the Israeli grid is a simple spigot, a paper cup dispenser beside it. I open the tap and drink cup after cup of what was the Mediterranean Sea 40 minutes ago. It tastes cold, clear and miraculous.

The contrasts couldn't be starker. A few miles from here, water disappeared and civilization crumbled. Here, a galvanized civilization created water from nothingness. As Bar-Zeev and I drink deep, and the climate sizzles, I wonder which of these stories will be the exception, and which the rule. View Ensia homepage


Thursday, April 21, 2016

"1.2 billion opportunities" #Africa

But slow growth, ballooning deficits and #debt that has increased 18x in 7 years, will make the path to prosperity fraught with pitfalls. 

1.2 billion opportunities

THE ECONOMIST
Apr 21
FOR A LOOK at the African boom at its peak, do as a multitude of foreign investors have done and fly into Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast. Visitors arrive in an air-conditioned hall where a French-style café sells beers, snacks and magazines. There is advertising everywhere, for mobile-phone companies, first-class airline tickets and a new Burger King. The taxi into the city smoothly crosses over a six-lane toll bridge. On the way to the Plateau, the city's commercial core, cranes, new buildings and billboards jostle for space on the skyline. In the lagoon, red earth piles up where yet another new bridge is under construction. 
Just five years ago, Ivory Coast seemed like a lost cause. Having been defeated in an election at the end of 2010, the then president, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to leave office. The victorious opposition leader and now president, Alassane Ouattara, mounted a military offensive to force Mr Gbagbo out. French troops seized the airport to evacuate their citizens (the country used to be a French colony). Protesters were gunned down by troops, foreign businesses were looted and human-rights activists gave warning about mass graves being dug.
Ivory Coast still has problems, as shown by a terrorist attack in March that killed 22 people. But its economy is the second-fastest-growing in Africa (after Ethiopia, which is much poorer), expanding by almost 9% per year. Foreign investment is pouring in. As well as the Burger King, Abidjan now has a Carrefour supermarket, a new Heineken brewery, a Paul bakery and plenty of new infrastructure. Sharp-suited, French-educated ministers explain in perfect English what they are doing to "open up", "improve the ease of doing business" and "sustainably grow the middle class". Expensive hotels, such as the reopened $300-a-night Ivoire, are booked up; their bars are full of affluent people striking deals. The country's three port terminals, the biggest of which is being expanded by Bolloré, a French industrial firm, are working at full capacity, importing cars and electronics and exporting cocoa, coffee and cashew nuts.
This is the Africa of business magazines and bank ads: a continent that is rising at a prodigious pace and creating profitable new markets for multinational firms. But Abidjan also has plenty of reminders that it has been here before. For all of the new buildings springing up, its impressive skyline is still dominated by crumbling 1960s and 1970s concrete modernism. The roads may be new, but the orange taxis that ply them are still ancient fume-spewing Toyota Corollas, remnants of an earlier boom. For the two decades after independence from France in 1960, Ivory Coast enjoyed an economic miracle. Then, quite suddenly, the price of cocoa and coffee plunged and the boom faded as quickly as it had begun.
Reasons to worry
The deepest fear of today's investors in Africa is that it may be happening again. In Ivory Coast's neighbour, Ghana, thousands of government workers have been marching in the streets in the past few months to protest against their rising cost of living. Ghana relies on oil and gold, both of which have fallen in price, as well as cocoa. That, plus prodigious government borrowing, has caused a crisis. One US dollar now buys 4 cedi, the local currency; in 2012, it bought not quite two. Growth has halved since 2014, and Ghana is running a budget deficit of 9% of GDP and a current-account deficit of 13%.
According to the World Bank, in the year to April last year the terms of trade deteriorated in 36 out of 48 sub-Saharan African countries as the price of their commodity exports fell relative to the cost of their imports, mostly manufactured goods. Those 36 countries account for 80% of the continent's population and 70% of its GDP. Eight countries, including two giants, Angola and Nigeria, derive more than 90% of their export revenues from oil, which has recently plummeted far below the price needed to draw in new investors. Growth across sub-Saharan Africa dropped to 3.7% in 2015, far below East Asia's 6.4% and nowhere near enough to create enough jobs for the continent with the world's youngest and fastest-growing population. The World Bank expects it to tick up again, but only to 4.8% in 2017.
Countries that happily borrowed from international investors over the past few years have now found themselves shut out of the markets. The stock of outstanding sovereign bonds in the region had risen from less than $1 billion in 2009 to over $18 billion in 2014. If growth continues at a decent clip, that should be manageable. But if it stops, interest rates of 10% or more on dollar-denominated bonds will make refinancing difficult.
The continent's two biggest economies, Nigeria and South Africa, are already in deep distress. The reasons are different, but both have suffered from commodity-price falls as well as from atrocious economic management. The IMF, although loathed in much of Africa, is back, providing a $ 1billion loan to Ghana and preparing another for Zambia. Some fear a return to 2000, when this newspaper described Africa as the "hopeless continent".
Yet despite that, Nairobi's thriving malls and Abidjan's humming ports show that there are plenty of reasons to stay optimistic. The economic conditions have got worse, but this is a very different continent from two decades ago, when troops from eight African countries were fighting in Congo alone. Wars still rage in South Sudan, Somalia, Mali and northern Nigeria, and violence bubbles in places like eastern Congo, the Central African Republic and Burundi. But broadly speaking, most of sub-Saharan Africa is now peaceful. Elections seem increasingly less likely to result in strife, even if they still generally return incumbents, and more and more often for unconstitutional third terms. The governments that come to power are still often corrupt and inefficient, but far less brazenly so than those of cold war despots such as Mobutu Sese Seko of Congo or Jean-Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Republic.
Africa's 1.2 billion people also hold plenty of promise. They are young: south of the Sahara, their median age is below 25 everywhere except in South Africa. They are better educated than ever before: literacy rates among the young now exceed 70% everywhere other than in a band of desert countries across the Sahara. They are richer: in sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion of people living on less than $1.90 a day fell from 56% in 1990 to 35% in 2015, according to the World Bank. And diseases that have ravaged life expectancy and productivity are being defeated—gradually for HIV and AIDS, but spectacularly for malaria. Some of the gains may seem modest, but given that living standards across Africa declined during the 30 years after independence they are sufficiently established to prove lasting.
And for all that oil and metals have come to dominate economies such as Nigeria's and Congo's, the boom broadened beyond natural resources. Mobile telephones have transformed commerce across Africa, and now smartphones and feature phones (which are halfway between dumb and smart) are taking hold. In 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, 27% of Nigerians owned a smartphone. In many African countries 4G mobile-phone infrastructure is the only thing that works well, but it works at least as well as in much richer countries, and a lot can be built on it. What began with mobile-money systems such as Kenya's M-Pesa is now branching into bank accounts, savings accounts, loans and insurance. That in turn is helping people rise out of poverty and invest in their future.
This special report will argue that despite some deep and entrenched problems, African businesses offer hope too. It is clearly risky to make sweeping judgments about an entire continent with 54 countries and 2,000 languages. This report draws on visits to various countries in sub-Saharan Africa, but four in particular: South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Ivory Coast, all coastal, urbanised and relatively rich. They certainly do not represent the whole of Africa, but your correspondent picked them because they each illustrate a different aspect of business across Africa as a whole. The businesses covered have not yet transformed the continent, but they show that African firms are capable of extraordinary innovation—if only they can be set free.
See the article on The Economist here:
Economist – Apr 14, 09:00
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