Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Russian Military Surge In Syria, U.S., Offers Theories On A321 Crash

Russian military surge in Syria: More helicopters, first “volunteer” combatants

After the downing of the Russian airliner over Sinai on Oct. 31, Moscow moved into positon to lead the offensive against the Islamic State in Syria. The Russian air force transferred a large number of assault helicopters out of its enclave in Latakia province over to two Syrian air bases east of Homs on the front lines against ISIS. 

From the T4 (Tiyas) and Shayrat Airbases, the Russian command will lead the battle against the Islamic State over Homs, a city of one million inhabitants and the hub of central-eastern Syria. As the Russians move over from air strikes to the offensive against ISIS, they know their combat helicopters are now exposed to being shot down.

Homs came under direct threat on Nov. 1, when Islamic State forces captured the village of Mahin south of the city, cutting down the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Syrian army and Hizballah forces standing in their path and inflicting heavy casualties. Control of Mahin opened the way for ISIS and Syrian rebels to reach the southern suburbs of Homs and seize control of the strategic M5 Highway linking the city to Damascus.

Another group of Russian combat helicopters is now deployed at Hama Military Airport to block off the offensive ISIS and the Nusra Front are preparing to launch in the northern Idlib Province. There too jihadist forces have made advances. On Nov. 5, they snatched from the Syrian army the strategic town of Morek which commands the routes from the north to central Syria.

According to intelligence reports from southern Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, more Russian combat helicopter units are under orders to stand ready for transfer to Syria. Moscow is evidently preparing to take over from the Iranians, the Syrians and Hizballah the heavy-lifting of the war to stop further ISIS advances. More helicopters are needed to support this offensive if it is to go forward on all fronts.

Other intelligence sources report Russian “volunteer” units getting organized for departure to Syria from southern Russia and eastern Ukraine, detached from fighting alongside pro-Moscow separatists.

Their arrival in Syria would deepen Russia’s military intervention in the Syrian conflict and also mark its first participation in ground combat, contradicting President Vladimir Putin’s earlier pledge against putting Russian boots on the ground in Syria.

While intensifying the war on ISIS, the Kremlin is also pushing forward its plan for a political solution of the Syrian crisis, to be discussed at the forthcoming multinational conference in Vienna.

Despite not being asked for their help in the official probe led by Russian and Egyptian officials, the US and UK have launched their own "investigation" into the crash of Metrojet Flight 9268 in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. The latest from unnamed US officials? The A321 was brought down by a "military-grade" explosive.

Immediately following the tragedy that left 224 people dead, the Egyptian government, in conjunction with Moscow, launched an investigation to uncover the cause of the tragedy. As analysts sift through the evidence, they have urged foreign governments to refrain from jumping to conclusions.
But that hasn’t stopped officials in London and Washington. Both have expressed their belief that the aircraft was brought down by the self-proclaimed Islamic State terrorist group. These assumptions are based on intelligence, and neither government has been granted access to physical evidence.

In the latest claim, two American officials speaking on condition of anonymity have proposed that it must have been a “military-grade” explosive placed in the cargo hold of the A321. They say something like C4 would be required to have caused the tragedy.
This was echoed by British officials.
"You only need a couple of pounds of explosives and a timer and you are there," British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond told reporters on Tuesday. "We are not talking about schoolboy physics."

The IS affiliate in Sinai has been known to carry out attacks with C4 in the past. Earlier this year, the Egyptian military recovered large stockpiles of the explosive material during raids of militant compounds.
On Monday, Hammond had given indications of his faith in the official investigation.
"The definitive answer to whether or not it was a bomb will come from a forensic examination of the wreckage," he told reporters. "That is clearly not under our control. The Egyptians, the Russians are in a much stronger position to answer that question."
The Airbus A321 operated by Russian airline crashed in Sinai on October 31. All 224 people on board were killed, in what has become the largest civil aviation disaster in Russian history.

The sun will go into "hibernation" mode around 2030, and it has already started to get sleepy. At the Royal Astronomical Society's annual meeting in July, Professor Valentina Zharkova of Northumbria University in the UK confirmed it - the sun will begin its Maunder Minimum (Grand Solar Minimum) in 15 years. Other scientists had suggested years ago that this change was imminent, but Zharkova's model is said to have near-perfect accuracy.

So what is a "solar minimum"?

Our sun doesn't maintain a constant intensity. Instead, it cycles in spans of approximately 11 years. When it's at its maximum, it has the highest number of sunspots on its surface in that particular cycle. When it's at its minimum, it has almost none. When there are more sunspots, the sun is brighter. When there are fewer, the sun radiates less heat toward Earth.

But that's not the only cooling effect of a solar minimum. A dim sun doesn't deflect cosmic rays away from Earth as efficiently as a bright sun. So, when these rays enter our atmosphere, they seed clouds, which in turn cool our planet even more and increase precipitation in the form of rain, snow and hail. 

Solar cycles

Since the early 1800s we have enjoyed healthy solar cycles and the rich agriculture and mild northern temperatures that they guarantee. During the Middle Ages, however, Earth felt the impact of four solar minimums over the course of 400 years.

The last Maunder Minimum and its accompanying mini-Ice Age saw the most consistent cold, continuing into the early 1800s.

The last time we became concerned about cooler temperatures - possibly dangerously cooler - was in the 1970s. Global temperatures have declined since the 1940s, as measured by Pacific Decadal Oscillation. The PDO Index is a recurring pattern of ocean-atmosphere climate variability centred over the Pacific Ocean. Determined by deep currents, it is said to shift between warm and cool modes. Some scientists worried that it might stay cool and drag down the Atlantic Decadal Oscillation with it, spurring a new Ice Age. The fear was exacerbated by the fact that Earth has been in the current inter-glacial period for 10,000 years (depending on how the starting point is gauged).

If Earth were to enter the next Ice Age too quickly, glaciers could advance much further south, rainforests could turn into savannah, and sea levels could drop dramatically, causing havoc.

The BBC, all three major American TV networks, Time magazine and the New York Times all ran feature stories highlighting the scare. Fortunately, by 1978 the PDO Index shifted back to warm and the fear abated.

Climate science vs the sceptics  

By the 1990s the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had formed the "97 per cent consensus". The consensus was that Earth was warming more than it should, not just due to natural causes but also human activity. This was termed Anthropogenic Global Warming. The culprit was identified as carbon dioxide generated from the burning of fossil fuels.

CO2 is a greenhouse gas and its increase in the atmosphere could be dangerous, the panel claimed. Some of these scientists, particularly those working at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Britain's Meteorological Office, have gone so far as to declare CO2 as the primary driver of climate on Earth. This modern "climate science" has stirred unprecedented controversy in the field. Sceptics, clinging to more traditional approaches, say the science has been corrupted by the billions of dollars in government funding for climate-change research and agencies and industries that claim to be "fighting climate change". The counter-argument is that the sceptics are backed by the oil, gas and coal industries or are affiliated with conservative political groups. 

Around 2000, the PDO Index started to blow cold again, possibly causing global warming to "pause", as the mainstream scientists describe it. IPCC-affiliated scientists as well as Nasa and the NOAA attribute the pause to other factors. This is when the plot thickens.

Solar cycle 24 - two cycles prior the cycle that's expected to bottom out into a Maunder Minimum - was weak. In 2013-14 it reached its maximum far below average. Meanwhile extreme cold-weather anomalies have occurred around the world. Last year "polar vortices" slammed into the central US and Siberia as a third hovered over the Atlantic. All 50 US states, including Hawaii, had temperatures below freezing for the first time in recorded history. Snowfall records were broken in cities in the US, Canada, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, Japan and elsewhere. Southern American states and central Mexico, where snow is rare, got heavy snow, as did the Middle East.

On Monday, a federal judge ordered a halt to the NSA’s bulk metadata collection program in a reiteration and confirmation of a previous ruling that found the practice “unconstitutional” — and even “Orwellian.”
“This court simply cannot, and will not, allow the government to trump the Constitution merely because it suits the exigencies of the moment,” stated Washington, D.C. District Court Judge Richard Leon in his mordant 43-page ruling.
Edward Snowden immediately hailed the decision, pointing out significant passages from the court to his millions of Twitter followers. Of particular importance — and, indeed, at the heart of both known and potentially unknown domestic spy programs — remains the impossible reckoning between Fourth Amendment protections and the government’s claims of a national security imperative.

“Moved by whatever momentary evil has aroused their fears, officials — perhaps even supported by a majority of citizens — may be tempted to conduct searches that sacrifice the liberty of each citizen to assuage the perceived evil. But the Fourth Amendment rests on the principle that a true balance between the individual and society depends on the recognition of ‘the right to be let [sic] alone — the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men,’” the ruling stated, with emphasis added by Snowden.

Though Leon’s judgment arrives mere weeks before metadata collection would naturally end under the USA Patriot Act’s Section 215 upon implementation of the newly passed USA Freedom Act, he emphasized potential implications of any undue delay in bringing such spying to a close, stating:

“In my December 2013 Opinion, I stayed my order pending appeal in light of the national security interests at stake and the novelty of the constitutional issues raised. I did so with the optimistic hope that the appeals process would move expeditiously. However, because it has been almost two years since I first found that the NSA’s Bulk Telephony Metadata Program likely violates the Constitution and because of the loss of constitutional freedoms for even one day is a significant harm […] I will not do that today.”

In other words, the judge harshly repudiated the government’s already poorly disguised emphasis on national security to justify bulk collection as wholly secondary to the individual’s right to privacy under the Constitution. Leon’s 2013 ruling was struck down in August this year, when an appeals court found the plaintiff in Klayman v. Obama had not established the legal standing necessary to dispute the constitutionality of the NSA program. Once amended appropriately, the judge was able to make a ruling on the original case and issue an injunction to halt bulk collection.

In this ruling, Leon sharply admonished the appeals court for its reversal, saying:

“Because the loss of constitutional freedoms is an ‘irreparable injury’ of the highest order, and relief to the two named plaintiffs would not undermine national security interests, I found that a preliminary injunction was not merely warranted — it was required.” [emphasis by the judge]

Seemingly irritated at the insult of the government maintaining its position on the necessity of bulk collection while ignoring the preceding twenty-two months to find less invasive means to achieve the same goal, Leon searingly stated:

“To say the least, it is difficult to give meaningful weight to a risk of harm created, in significant part, by the Government’s own recalcitrance.”

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