The General’s Death Upsets Iran’s Plan

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Qassem Soleimani, who was Iran’s most hyped general, loved publishing “selfies” showing himself close to battlegrounds in the Middle East. He was never present anywhere near a battle but was always to come after the dust had settled, to take “selfies” and claim the credit. (Photo by Mehdi Ghasemi/ISNA/AFP via Getty Images)

While analysts and policymakers are busy speculating on ways that Tehran’s ruling mullahs might avenge the killing of their most hyped general, the real question that needs considering may be elsewhere.

The question is: what effect Soleimani’s death might have on the power struggle that, though currently put on hold, is certain to resume with greater vigor in Tehran.

Tehran’s propaganda tries to sell Soleimani as a kind of superman who, almost single-handedly, brought Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and parts of Afghanistan and Yemen under Iranian control while driving Americans out of the Middle East and crushing ISIS’s so-called Caliphate which tried to rival the Islamic Republic in Tehran. Soleimani himself did a lot to promote that image and, doing that, received much help from Western, especially American, and Israeli media that bought the bundle of goods from Tehran.

Facts, however, offer a different portrait of the late general. Soleimani joined the Islamic revolution in 1980, aged 27, at a time that the mullahs were busy putting together a praetorian guard to protect their new regime. A few months later, the ragtag army that Soleimani had joined was sent to help the remnants of a heavily purged national army fight an invading Iraqi force. With over 8,000 officers and NCOs of the national army purged by Khomeini, the new regime offered a fast track to people like Soleimani who had joined the military with no proper training and often little or no formal education. Thus, just three years after he had joined the military, young Soleimani found himself in command of a division of raw recruits. Under his command, Iranian forces suffered three of their biggest defeats in operations Al-Fajr 8, and Karbala I and Karbala II. Mohsen Reza’i, then chief of the Revolutionary Guard, describes the three battles as “a string of catastrophes” for Iranian forces.

However, Soleimani, who was to demonstrate his genius for networking and self-promotion, scored one lasting victory when he attached himself to Ali Khamenei, the mullah who was to become the Islamic Republic’s “Supreme Guide”.

Khamenei started as Deputy Defense Minister and rose to become President of the Islamic Republic. Soleimani, mocked as “the mullah’s bag-carrier”, was always at his side. In the 1990s, as Khamenei slowly built himself as the sole arbiter of Iran’s fate, Soleimani seized the opportunity to secure a fiefdom for himself.

That came in the shape of the project to “export” the Iranian Revolution to other Muslim countries. Initially, exporting the revolution, mentioned in the regime’s constitution as a sacred duty, had been regarded as a matter of propaganda and organizing sympathizers in Arab countries through outfits named Hezbollah. The task was handled by a special office in the Foreign Ministry headed by Ayatollah Hadi Khosroshahian. Partly thanks to lobbying by Soleimani, the task was taken away from the Foreign Ministry and handed over to the Revolutionary Guard. But even then Soleimani didn’t get the top job, which went to then Col. Ismail Qaani, the man who has now succeeded Soleimani as Commander of the Quds Force. Soleimani’s next move was to dislodge Qaani and get the top job himself. (Qaani was named as deputy). Even that configuration would not satisfy Soleimani, who had bigger ambitions. As long as he was part of the IRGC’s chain of command, he had to obey rules set by superiors whom he despised.

Thanks to Khamenei’s support, he succeeded in securing his independent fiefdom in the shape of the Quds Force which, though formally part of the IRGC, has its own separate budget and chain of command and is answerable to no one but Khamenei.

Next, Soleimani seized control of Tehran’s foreign policy in Arab countries, Afghanistan, North Korea, and South America and, in some sensitive areas, even Russia. The Islamic Republic’s presidents and foreign ministers have never had tête-à-tête talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Soleimani had.

It became a matter of routine for Soleimani to appoint Iran’s ambassadors to Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Doha and several other Arab capitals.

A dramatic illustration of Soleimani’s “independence” came when he shipped Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad to Tehran in a special airplane without even telling the Iranian president, let alone the foreign minister, who were also excluded from the Syrian’s audience with Khamenei.

A control freak, Soleimani insisted on deciding even the smallest details himself. In his one, and now final, interview, last November, the general talks of how Lebanese Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah had to clear every move with him.

Inside Iran, Soleimani built a state within the state. According to the Islamic Customs Office, the Quds Force operates 25 jetties in five of Iran’s biggest ports for its “imports and exports” with no intervention by the relevant authorities. A levy on imports of foreign cars is reserved for a special fund, controlled by the Quds Force, to cover expenditures in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and help pro-Iran Palestinian groups.

Soleimani had his own network of lobbyists in many Arab countries and some Western democracies. Hundreds of Iranian and Arab militants have enrolled in Western universities with scholarships from the Quds Force.

The Quds Force has registered vast tracts of public land in its name, claiming the need for future housing for its personnel. It also runs two dozen companies and banks, several shipping lines and an airline.

Soleimani, who loved making and publishing “selfies” showing himself close to battlegrounds in the Middle East, was never present anywhere near a battle but was always to come after the dust had settled, to take “selfies” and claim the credit.

A master of self-promotion, Soleimani received the rank of major-general without having risen through the hierarchy of the top brass like the other 12 men on the list. (After death, he has been promoted to Lt. General).

Some analysts in Tehran believe that Khamenei was planning to promote Soleimani further by making him President of the Islamic Republic in 2021. An image-building campaign started last year, as Soleimani was marketed as “the Sufi commander”, a label given to Safavid kings in the 16th century.

A committee of exiled Iranians in Florida also started campaigning to draft Soleimani as president.

If that was Khamenei’s game plan, there is no doubt that Soleimani’s demise will lead to more uncertainty regarding the future course of Iranian politics.

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. He is the Chairman of Gatestone Europe.

This article was originally published by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.

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‘Death to America’: We will take hard and definitive revenge ― Iranians chant

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Iran is considering 13 scenarios to avenge the killing of a top Iranian military commander in Iraq by a U.S. drone attack, a senior Tehran official said on Tuesday as the general’s body was brought to his hometown for burial.

In Washington, the U.S. defense secretary denied reports the U.S. military was preparing to withdraw from Iraq, where Tehran has vied with Washington for influence over nearly two decades of war and unrest.

The killing of General Qassem Soleimani, who was responsible for building up Tehran’s network of proxy forces across the Middle East, has prompted mass mourning in Iran.

U.S. and Iranian warnings of new strikes and retaliation have also stoked concerns about a broader Middle East conflict and led to calls in the U.S. Congress for legislation to stop U.S. President Donald Trump going to war with Iran.

“We will take revenge, hard and definitive revenge,” the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, General Hossein Salami, told tens of thousands of mourners in Soleimani’s hometown of Kerman.

Many chanted “Death to America” and waved the Iranian flag.

READ ALSO: Iran threatens to ‘unleash Hezbollah’ in Israel and Dubai

Soleimani’s body has been taken through Iraqi and Iranian cities since Friday’s strike, with huge crowds of mourners filling the streets.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and military commanders have said Iranian retaliation for the U.S. action on Friday would match the scale of Soleimani’s killing but that it would be at a time and place of Tehran’s choosing.

Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, said 13 “revenge scenarios” were being considered, Fars news agency reported. Even the weakest option would prove “a historic nightmare for the Americans,” he said.

Iran, whose southern coast stretches along a Gulf oil shipping route that includes the narrow Stait of Hormuz, has allied forces across the Middle East through which it could act. Representatives from those forces, including the Palestinian group Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, attended the funeral.

Despite its strident rhetoric, analysts say Iran will want to avoid any conventional conflict with the United States but assymetric strikes, such as sabotage or other more limited military actions, are more likely.

Trump has promised strikes on 52 Iranian targets, including cultural sites, if Iran retaliates, although U.S. officials sought to downplay his reference to cultural targets.

Reuters and other media reported on Monday that the U.S. military had sent a letter to Iraqi officials informing them that U.S. troops would be repositioned in preparation to leave.

“In order to conduct this test, Coalition Forces are required to take certain measures to ensure that the movement out of Iraq is conducted in a safe and efficient manner,” it said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said there had been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq.

“I don’t know what that letter is,” he said.

U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the letter was a “poorly worded” draft document meant only to underscore increased movement by U.S. forces.

The letter, addressed to the Iraqi Defence Ministry’s Combined Joint Operations and confirmed as authentic by an Iraqi military source, had caused confusion about the future of the roughly 5,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq, where there has been a U.S. military presence since Saddam Hussein was toppled in a 2003 invasion.

On Sunday, Iraq’s parliament, dominated by lawmakers representing Muslim Shi’ite groups, passed a resolution calling for all foreign troops to leave the country.

Iraq’s caretaker Prime Minister Abdel Abdul Mahdi told the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad on Monday that both sides needed to work together to implement the parliamentary resolution.

Friction between Iran and the United States has risen since Washington withdrew in 2018 from a nuclear deal between Tehran and other world powers.

The United States has imposed economic sanctions on Iran and Tehran said on Sunday it was dropping all limitations on uranium enrichment, its latest step back from commitments under the deal.

The U.S. administration has denied a visa to allow Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to attend a U.N. Security Council meeting in New York on Thursday, a U.S. official said.

“The United States will get the decisive, definite answer for its arrogance at the time and place when it will feel the most pain,” Zarif said in a speech broadcast on state television.

Trump’s U.S. political rivals have challenged his decision to order the killing of Soleimani and its timing in a U.S. election year. His administration said Soleimani was planning new attacks on U.S. interests but has offered no evidence.

U.S. general Milley said the threat from Soleimani was imminent. “We would have been culpably negligent to the American people had we not made the decision we made,” he said.

Trump administration officials will provide a classified briefing for U.S. senators on Wednesday on events in Iraq after some lawmakers accused the White House of risking a broad conflict without a strategy.

Reuters/NAN

The post ‘Death to America’: We will take hard and definitive revenge ― Iranians chant appeared first on Vanguard News.

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2 arrested as assailants attack Maersk MD, stab wife to death inside Ikoyi residence » Top News » Tribune Online

THE police in Lagos State have arrested two people, including an estate electrician who attacked the Managing Director of Maersk Line Shipping Company, Gildas Tohouo, and his wife at their Lugard Road, Ikoyi residence on Sunday night.

Tohouo, a Cameroonian, sustained serious injuries in the attack, while his wife, a Hungary national, died before she could be taken to the hospital.

The electrician, in his confessional statement to the police, confessed to have carried out the attack, while blaming his action for Tohouo’s refusal to give him money after he had begged him on several occasions.

Tohouo and his wife were, on Sunday night, stabbed by the electrician, who had invited one of his friends for a robbery operation at the couple’s house.

The two suspects were identified as Ade Akanbi and Olamide Goke, while the police confirmed they had also recovered the two knives used during the attack.

A police source, who pleaded anonymity, while speaking with the Nigerian Tribune, said the electrician had lied to the man’s family that he wanted to carry out electrical repairs in the couple’s home following a power outage.

ALSO READ:

The police source said: “It happened around 11:30 p.m after the family had entertained some guests during a get together in
their home.”

“The electrician took advantage of the power outage to gain entrance into the compound.

“The electrician confessed to the crime, saying he only wanted to rob the couple after he had been begging the man for money but he refused.”

The state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Bala Elkana, confirmed the arrest of two suspects.

Elkana said the state Commissioner of Police also visited the scene of the incident after the crime occurred.

Maersk, in a statement signed by Richard Smith on Monday, said: “We are very sorry to confirm that a colleague and his family have been attacked in their residence in Lagos, Nigeria during the evening
of December 8.

“Tragically, the wife of our colleague passed away at the scene; our colleague is in the hospital, where
his condition is critical but stable. The three children are all safe and accounted for.

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Collapses: The Venice Biennale and the End of History | Art Practical

Collapses: The Venice Biennale and the End of History

The 2019 Venice Biennale feels like the end of everything: the end of art tourism, the end of vacations, the end of the beach and the climate of pleasure. With bad news about the climate crisis worsening every day, the nationalistic turn of governments from the U.S. to Britain to Italy to India and Brazil, it’s unclear whether the liberal ideology that produces world-scale cultural events like the Biennale can hold much longer, or whether the economic or ecological structures of global tourism can continue to support it. The liberal democratic order of free markets and free will is undermined around the globe by violent nationalism and economic protectionism. The Biennale exhibition, May You Live in Interesting Times, offers little but a hollow scream in opposition. The whole thing feels a bit like buyer’s remorse, a magnum opus from a lapsed believer in Francis Fukuyama’s promise that we’d reached the End of History.1

Arthur Jafa

Joint Italy-EU military vessel with helicopter, Piraeus Port, Greece, August 2019. Photo: Anuradha Vikram

Both the main exhibitions and the various national pavilions feature more women and artists of color this year than any previous. Diversity is manifest with respect to types of work, interests, materials, biographies, and ages of the artists on view. Curator Ralph Rugoff states that “[the artists’] work grows out of a practice of entertaining multiple perspectives: of holding in mind seemingly contradictory notions, and juggling diverse ways of making sense of the world.”2 Diversity and multiplicity appear here to be set up as counternarratives to universalism, the ideology that has historically governed the international contemporary art discourse. But is this in fact the case? Fukuyama says, “The spectacular abundance of advanced liberal economies and the infinitely diverse consumer culture made possible by them seem to both foster and preserve liberalism in the political sphere.” If, as Fukuyama suggests, there are  “fundamental ‘contradictions’ of human life that cannot be resolved in the context of modern liberalism, that would be resolvable by an alternative political-economic structure,”3 diversity is not one of those contradictions. Rather, pluralism reinforces the “common ideological heritage of mankind,”4 while fascism’s resurgence around the globe and the popular embrace of nationalist identity are more of a contradiction in light of the realities of international markets. This is the turn of events that market utopians like Fukuyama failed to anticipate.

Rugoff never comes off as a utopian, given his pervasive air of weary detachment. Rather, the exhibition transmits how it feels to watch the ascent of Donald Trump and the unfolding catastrophe of Brexit from the “all-knowing,” cool remove of the contemporary art insider—omniscient, yet impotent, and unable to divest from toxic habits. George Condo, Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, Christian Marclay, and Arthur Jafa channel an anxiety bordering on panic. Construction, shipping, air travel, commerce, monuments, the body, gender—all once fixed as concepts in the Western imagination, with clearly associated positive values, are now invoked by artists such as Yin Xiuzhen, Nicole Eisenman, Slavs and Tatars, and Martine Gutierrez as hazardous, unstable, and volatile. Nowhere is this instability more evident than in the work of Mari Katayama, a Japanese artist whose self-portraiture tableaus tease the boundary between agency and objectification. These artists, more than the comparably straightforward representation advanced by artists like Zanele Muholi, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, or Gauri Gill, capture the zeitgeist of not just the show but the present time. Our historical moment is monumentally catastrophic, and the usual serious response to extremism doesn’t seem to be working. Instead, the images range from abject to absurd.

astronaut

Indios antropófagos: A Butterfly Garden in the (Urban) Jungle. Peru Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2019. Photo: Anuradha Vikram

Especially relevant are the artists who toy with the fetishization of Indigenous bodies and cultures for Western consumption. Within the main exhibition curated by Rugoff, Gutierrez situates her U.S.-born Latinx, trans body within a series of photographic landscapes, Body in Thrall, that challenge touristic notions of indigeneity, cultural authenticity, and romanticized poverty around non-white people. She occupies diverse personas, from a film noir femme fatale to the terrifying Aztec deity Tlazolteotl, “Eater of Filth,” always negotiating the high fashion aesthetics of desire with a subversive decolonial aggression. Similar themes and tactics appear in Indios antropófagos in the Peruvian Pavilion, curated by Gustavo Buntinx, in which historical artifacts from the Spanish colonial era and large mosaic tile works by Christian Bendayán depicting frolicking Indigenous youth come together in a scathing critique of cultural tourism. In the French Pavilion, curated by Martha Kirszenbaum, artist Laure Prouvost references the oceans and the sea life projected to die out by 2048, only 29 years into the future, with a number of glass animals seemingly cast into the sea floor, strewn across a landscape of refuse and discarded technologies.

Back in the real world, there’s no way to excise or sequester the beautiful parts into a future that can outlast the very real catastrophes happening now. The overwhelmingly urgent need for a complete lifestyle change played in my head over the week following my visit to the Biennale, as I recuperated from a difficult personal and professional year on a seven-day Greek Islands cruise with my young children, partner, and parents. Looking over the waters where thousands of migrants have drowned, from the top deck of a massive, yet outdated, luxury vessel, I considered how the looming climate crisis creates a condition of simultaneous enjoyment of the modern world that is all around us, and a mourning for its obvious and inevitable loss. Is this the end of curating? The traditional role of the curator as guardian of the world’s collected treasures seems as irrelevant as the contemporary job of mounting resource-heavy exhibitions for an international crowd of jet-setters. Conceptualism has begun to rot from the head, as when Rugoff controversially chose to include Christoph Büchel’s installation of a salvaged boat that, in 2015, sank in the Mediterranean with more than 800 people aboard. I reflected on this watery tomb, recommissioned as a tourist attraction, while looking out across Piraeus port. In the distance, a military troop (jointly operated by Italy and the European Union) performed exercises atop a warship in a city where anti-immigrant attacks are on the rise. In the seventeenth century, the Venetians gained and lost control of Athens in a rivalry with the Ottomans. Today, it seems the EU’s primary objective in the Mediterranean is to sever thousands of years of interconnection between these three regions. Two years ago, the regenerative promise of art as a universal cultural good was undermined when documenta 14 recreated the financial dynamics of German austerity policies in Athens, Greece afresh. Debts went unpaid, workers uncompensated, all in the name of “fiscal responsibility” that nearly shuttered the sixty-year-old event for good. What better outcome ought we to expect this year from an art event born out of universal nationalism?

Christine Wertheim

Halil Altindere, Space Refugee, 2016. May You Live in Interesting Times, Venice Biennale 2019. Photo: Anuradha Vikram

An explicitly utopian impulse is fugitive in May You Live in Interesting Times, but it manifests in the intersection of art, science, and technology. Margaret and Christine Wertheim’s Crochet Coral Reef raises awareness about preservation of the oceans through a crowdsourcing practice that combines mathematical learning with environmentalism and craft. Tavares Strachan’s meditation on African American astronaut Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr., locates metaphysical discourse about the afterlife within a scientific conversation about space travel—where elsewhere Halil Altindere complicates this view with the tale of Syrian cosmonaut Muhammed Ahmed Faris and his persecution by the state. Ryoji Ikeda bathes us in cleansing white light and describes a massive, thunderous universe of data that takes breathtaking shape before our eyes. Hito Steyerl’s This is the Future is a post-internet pastorale in which computer vision is applied to the Venetian landscape to depict a state of perpetual, dreamlike futurity in which the present persistently refuses to resolve into view. The protagonist of Steyerl’s installation seeks out a garden that she had previously hidden in the future in order to protect it from the ravages of the present.

The song of the Lithuanian Pavilion Sun & Sea (Marina) still rings in my ears:

“When my body dies, I will remain,
In an empty planet without birds, animals and corals.
Yet with the press of a single button,
I will remake this world again”

The finale of Sun & Sea (Marina) details the 3D printing of facsimiles of species in widespread collapse, taking comfort in their simulated resurrection as one would in the cold rays of a dying sun.

Greek Islands

Sun & Sea (Marina), Lithuanian Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2019. Photo: Anuradha Vikram

The gentle tenor of the apocalyptic visions in Sun & Sea (Marina) perfectly encapsulates the feeling of living at the outside edge of the story of the human species on planet Earth, with the knowledge that history as we know it may well be about to end because our species is one of millions undergoing collapse. The emptiness of our endeavors is invoked by Shilpa Gupta, whose wildly swinging metal gate hammers an effigy of national borders into a gallery wall. Otobong Nkanga’s drawings in acrylic on crayon reference the mechanical, industrialized nature of exploitation in the 21st century. Unlike the bees, whose society is organized around abundance, we humans have engineered systems to maximize our suffering. If humankind can truly lay claim to a common ideological heritage, as Fukuyama once argued, we have only ourselves to blame for our impending end.

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8 Reasons How Sage X3 can Spice Up the Food and Beverage Industries in Africa

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How Fossil Fuel Companies Are Killing Plastic Recycling

So many things we buy come packaged in plastic containers or wrappers that are meant to be used once, thrown away and forgotten ― but they don’t break down and can linger in the environment long after we’re gone. It’s tempting to think that we can recycle this problem away, that if we’re more diligent about placing discarded bottles and bags into the curbside bin, we’ll somehow make up for all the trash overflowing landfills, choking waterways and killing marine life.

For decades, big petrochemical companies responsible for extracting and processing the fossil fuels that make plastics have egged on consumers, reassuring them that recycling was the answer to our trash crisis. Just last month, Royal Dutch Shell executive Hilary Mercer told The New York Times that the production of new plastics was not the problem contributing to millions of tons of plastic waste piling up in landfills and drifting in oceans. Instead, she suggested, the problem is one of improper waste disposal. Better recycling, she implied, is the solution.

“We passionately believe in recycling,” Mercer told the Times.

But plastic recycling is in trouble. Too much of the indestructible material exists in the world, more than our current recycling networks can handle. And the very same companies that say recycling is the answer are about to unleash a tidal wave of fresh plastics that will drown recyclers struggling to stay afloat.   

“We’ve been trained [to think] that we can purchase endlessly and recycle everything,” said Genevieve Abedon, a policy advocate at the environmental nonprofit Californians Against Waste. “There is no way that recycling can keep up.” 

Big oil, natural gas and chemical companies have poured an estimated $200 billion into more than 300 petrochemical expansion projects across America from 2010 to 2018, according to the American Chemistry Council. Fossil fuel giants ExxonMobil and Shell, as well as plastic makers like SABIC and Formosa Plastics, are building and expanding at least five ethane cracker plants in Appalachia and along the Gulf of Mexico. The facilities will turn ethane, a byproduct of natural gas fracking, into polyethylene pellets, which can be made into a variety of products, including milk jugs, shampoo bottles, food packaging and the air pillows that protect your Amazon orders.

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Many consumer goods companies would rather purchase newly made plastic resin pellets than those made from recycled materials.

Already, over 350 million metric tons of new plastics are produced worldwide annually. In the next decade, production will jump 40%, spurred in part by the new manufacturing plants, according to an analysis by The Guardian. 

Current rates of recycling are dismal. In Europe, about 30% of plastics are recycled, but the U.S. recycles only 9.1%, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s about all our networks can manage without significant improvements and investments in recycling technologies and infrastructure.

Recycling will suffer when the new manufacturing plants begin pumping out more virgin plastic, said Ted Siegler, a resource economist at waste management company DSM Environmental Services Inc., based in Vermont. 

“They will hurt recycling,” he said.

The Making Of A Recycling Emergency

In theory, more plastics should be good for recyclers. But the industry is already in the midst of a crisis.

America has grown accustomed to shipping low-value trash overseas for recycling. This practice began on a large scale in the early 2000s. Last year, that system fell apart, leaving recyclers scrambling and consumers confused.

The country never developed recycling networks that would handle all kinds of plastics, according to Heidi Sanborn, executive director of the nonprofit National Stewardship Action Council. Instead, local recyclers process only the stuff they can make money off of. Most high-value plastics, like soda bottles (which come stamped with a “1” symbol) and milk cartons or shampoo bottles (which bear a “2” stamp), are pulled out and recycled domestically. Everything else ― that’s anything stamped with the numbers 3 through 7 ― remains unsorted and gets shipped as “mixed plastics” to other countries, where they can still turn a profit. (Things like potato chip bags and candy bar wrappers are practically worthless and aren’t considered recyclable. People still try to mix them in with their household paper and plastic, much to the consternation of recyclers.) 

“We did the world a disservice by not doing our due diligence and saying it’s worth paying American citizens to do the work and keep the jobs and the recycling infrastructure solid at home,” Sanborn said.

Plenty of other countries export their recyclables as well. Until recently, China had been the world’s largest buyer of recyclables, taking 40% of America’s scrap paper and plastic. At the end of 2017, however, China blocked shipments of foreign recyclables, causing mixed plastics (numbers 3 to 7) and paper to pile up at ports around the world. Prices for these scrap materials tanked, wiping out what little value the plastics had to begin with.

In the wake of China’s ban, with no place for mixed paper and plastics to go, curbside collection programs from Maine to Michigan to Florida were suspended. Reports have emerged from cities and towns across the country about collected recyclables ending up in landfills and incinerators.

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Recyclers across America have had to cancel service or scale back after China’s clampdown on imports of contaminated foreign waste. Some have had to send recyclables to landfills. 

The latest big blow to recycling came in early August with the closure of rePlanet, California’s largest chain of recycling centers where consumers could return empty containers and redeem bottle deposits. Even though plastic bottles still have some value in the States, it’s not what it was before the China ban.

“The scrap value of recycled materials has dropped across the board for every material, some much worse than others,” explained Martin Bourque, who heads up the Berkeley, California-based Ecology Center, home to one of the country’s oldest curbside recycling programs. 

For recyclers like rePlanet, which made money only on the materials it sold, low scrap prices make it difficult to cover operating costs. In rePlanet’s case, there were other factors at play: For one, a state-run mechanism designed to help recyclers ride out hard times didn’t adapt quickly enough to save the company. 

But there was another problem, too: Consumer goods companies don’t necessarily want to source recycled plastics for their products, not when they can save money by purchasing freshly made plastic.  

“It’s so much cheaper to buy new, virgin resin,” Bourque said. 

A Glut Of Virgin Plastics

Since oil and natural gas are the raw materials for making plastic, the price of virgin plastic is tied to oil and natural gas prices, which are currently low. Natural gas, in particular, is now very cheap due to the fracking boom in the U.S. Remember the ethane crackers getting built in Appalachia and the Gulf of Mexico? They will only make virgin plastic cheaper, according to Siegler. 

“All the new plants that are coming online are just going to continue to drive the price of virgin plastics down, which will encourage consumption on new plastic and discourage recycling,” Siegler told HuffPost.

Some contend that virgin plastic prices are already artificially low. 

“The government has intervened and subsidized virgin materials extraction and made it impossible for recycling to compete,” said Sanborn. 

Companies that are building new plastic manufacturing plants are getting help from the government, too. Oil and gas giant Shell is building a massive complex in Pennsylvania that will open in 2020 and produce 1.6 million metric tons of polyethylene every year. The plant will also receive $1.65 billion in tax breaks over 25 years. A Shell official told the Northeast U.S. & Canada Petrochemical Construction Conference in 2016 that without this fiscal package, the company may not have gone ahead with the project. (The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

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Part of a petrochemical plant being built on the Ohio River in Monaca, Pennsylvania, for the Royal Dutch Shell company. The plant, which is capable of producing 1.6 million tons of raw plastic annually, is expected to begin operations by 2021.

Recycling efforts, from collection to sorting to reprocessing, have not received comparable subsidies, Sanborn said.

Some of the big fossil fuel and chemical corporations are funneling money into projects meant to improve recycling ― though not nearly as much cash is going toward this effort. In January, 28 oil and gas, chemical and plastics companies, including Exxon, Shell, SABIC and Formosa, formed the Alliance to End Plastic Waste and collectively pledged $1.5 billion over five years for improving recycling infrastructure. That amount is far short of what’s needed to see real change start to ripple across the recycling industry, Siegler says. 

Petrochemical companies, if they wanted to, would need to make investments of up to $20 billion every year for a decade to make sure that 50% of global plastics get recycled or reused, according to a McKinsey analysis. The Alliance said in a statement to HuffPost that it hopes its initial investment will encourage governments, banks and other big corporations to spend more on recycling. 

Where Do We Go From Here?

Conservationists still believe that recycling is a worthwhile endeavor, just not a silver bullet to fixing our plastic waste crisis.

Recycling definitely has to be a part of the solution,” Genevieve Abedon, of Californians Against Waste, told HuffPost.

Siegler years ago proposed a plastic tax to pay for much-needed recycling infrastructure. Charging plastic producers just a penny a pound ― roughly a 1% tax, since most resins cost a dollar a pound ― would raise $4 billion to $5 billion per year, Siegler estimated. 

“The price of plastic is too low,” he told HuffPost. “It doesn’t reflect the environmental damage associated with plastic.” 

His idea has not caught on.

A landmark pair of bills in the California Legislature would help recyclers compete with virgin plastic producers by boosting demand for recycled plastic. The measures seek to force manufacturers to use more recycled materials in their plastic products.

“If we can increase the demand for recycled plastic, investment will then flow through the whole recycling chain,” said Kara Pochiro, of the Association of Plastic Recyclers.

Though the bills failed to pass before the end of the legislative session, they’ll be eligible for a vote again next year. 

Consumer goods companies could make a big difference by signing long-term contracts with recyclers for material, Pochiro says. This would help insulate recycling companies from fluctuations in the commodity market and potentially stop more collapses like that of rePlanet. 

Last November, beverage maker Nestle Waters North America signed a multiyear contract with CarbonLITE, a company that recycles and produces food-grade PET plastic. With this guaranteed demand, CarbonLITE is now building a new facility in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, that is expected to recycle more than 2 billion used bottles every year. 

There are things that shoppers can do, too. 

“Buy recycled,” Pochiro recommended. 

Sanborn said that consumers who don’t like the plastic packaging they receive with their products should lay it all out on the floor, take a photo of the plastic, upload it to social media, tag the company that sent it to them and complain. 

“Be really loud and squeaky. The squeaky wheels get greased,” she said. 

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North now offers Focals smart glasses fittings and purchases via app

North’s Focals smart glasses are the first in the category to even approach mainstream appeal, but to date, the only way to get a pair has been to go into a physical North showroom and get a custom fitting, then return once they’re ready for a pickup and final adjustment. Now, North has released its Showroom app, which makes Focals available across the U.S. and Canada without an in-person appointment.

This approach reduces considerable friction, and it’s able to do so thanks to technology available on board the iPhone X or later — essentially the same tech that makes Face ID possible. People can go through the sizing and fitting process using these later model iPhones (and you can borrow a friend’s if you’re on Android or an older iOS device) and then North takes those measurements and can produce either prescription or non-prescription Focals, shipped directly to your door after a few weeks.

The Showroom app also includes an AR-powered virtual try-on feature for making sure you like the look of the frames, and for picking out your favorite color. Once the Focals show up at your door, the final fitting process is also something you can do at home, guided by the app’s directions for getting the fit just right.

Should you still want to hit an actual physical showroom, North’s still going to be operating its Brooklyn and Toronto storefronts, and will be operating pop-ups across North America as well.

Focals began shipping earlier this year, bringing practical smart notification, guidance and other software experiences to your field of view via a tiny projector and in-lens transparent display. North, which previously existed as Thalmic Labs and created the Myo gesture control armband, recognized that they were building control devices optimized for exactly this kind of application, but also found that no one was yet getting wearable tech like smart glasses right. Last year, Thalmic Labs pivoted to become North and focus on Focals as a result.

Since launching its smart glasses to consumers, it’s been iterating the software to consistently add new features, and making them more accessible to customers. An early price drop significantly lessened sticker shock, and now removing the requirement to actually visit a location in person to both order and collect the glasses should help expand their customer base further still.

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Men in California oversaw a romance scam that targeted women worldwide, feds say

feds say - CNN

(CNN)In March 2016, a man claiming to be a US Army captain stationed in Syria reached out to a Japanese woman on an international site for digital pen pals.

But in reality, Garcia did not exist. It was all an international online scam ran by two Nigerian men in the Los Angeles area with the help of associates in their home country and other nations, federal officials say.
And Thursday, US prosecutors charged 80 people — mostly Nigerians — in the widespread conspiracy that defrauded at least $6 million from businesses and vulnerable elderly women.
    Of those, 17 people have been arrested in the US so far and federal investigators are trying to track down the rest in Nigeria and other nations.
    “We believe this is one of the largest cases of its kind in US history,” US Attorney Nick Hanna said.

    A plan to smuggle diamonds

    The whirlwind online romance between FK and Garcia was all conducted on a Yahoo email address with no phone calls. Garcia told FK he wasn’t allowed to use a phone in Syria, according to federal authorities.
    Demands for money started after he told her he’d found a bag of diamonds in Syria and needed her help to smuggle it out of the war-torn nation. He said he was injured and could not do it himself — and introduced her to associates he said would help facilitate the transfer, court documents allege. One said he was a Red Cross diplomat who could get the diamonds shipped to FK, court documents show.
    Shortly after, another man who claimed to work for a shipping company asked FK for money to ensure the package was not inspected at customs, the complaint alleges. Requests for additional money kept coming, with the fraudsters citing different reasons each time on why the package was stuck at customs.
    “FK estimates that she made 35 to 40 payments over the 10 months that she had a relationship with Garcia. During that time, the fraudster(s) emailed her as many as 10 to 15 times each day, and Garcia was asking her to make the payments, so she kept paying to accounts in Turkey, the UK and the US,” the federal criminal complaint says.
    The loss of money has left FK angry and depressed, authorities said. “She began crying when discussing the way that these losses have affected her,” the criminal complaint says.

    17 arrested and dozens on the run

    The scams were not just limited to romance, Hanna said. They included business schemes where fraudsters hack escrow company email systems, impersonate employees and direct payments that funnel money back to themselves.
    “In some cases, the victims thought they were communicating with US servicemen stationed overseas, when in fact, they were emailing with con men,” Hanna said. “Some of the victims in this case lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in this way.”
    Of the 80 people charged, federal authorities arrested 14 people mostly in Los Angeles, the local US Attorney’s Office said Thursday. At least three other defendants were already in custody. The remaining suspects live in other countries, mainly in Nigeria, and investigators said they’ll work with the respective governments to extradite them.

    How the scam worked

    Investigators detailed an intricate scam traced to two key suspects who oversaw the fraudulent transfer of at least $6 million and the attempted theft of an additional $40 million.
    Once co-conspirators based in Nigeria, the United States and other countries persuaded victims to send money under false pretenses, the two Nigerian men who lived in Southern California coordinated the receipt of funds, the indictment says.
    The two men provided bank and money-service accounts that received funds obtained from victims and also ran the extensive money-laundering network, the complaint alleges.
    The two men were arrested Thursday. All defendants will face charges of conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to launder money, and aggravated identity theft. Some also will face fraud and money laundering charges.
      Paul Delacourt of the FBI’s Los Angeles warned people to be careful as romance scams escalate nationwide. The Federal Trade Commission has said scams that prey on vulnerable people cost Americans more money than any other fraud reported to the agency last year. More than 21,000 people were conned into sending $143 million in such schemes in 2018 alone, it reported.
      “Billions of dollars are lost annually, and we urge citizens to be aware of these sophisticated financial schemes to protect themselves or their businesses from becoming unsuspecting victims,” Delacourt said.

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      Samsungs New Galaxy Note Now Comes in Two Different Sizes

      When Samsung first introduced the Galaxy Note smartphone back in 2011, it stood out because of two key features: a stylus pen and a screen so large that the phone was dubbed a “phablet.” Somewhere between a phone and a tablet, the Note was derided at the time for being comically huge.

      Smash cut to present day, and millions of people have grown comfortable with phone displays larger than 5.5 inches. The Galaxy Note, despite its ever-increasing size, no longer seems to stand out. And the growth of smartphones, in general, is slowing.

      Samsung’s response to the industry’s stagnation: How about two Galaxy Notes? How about three?

      Earlier today, the company revealed its new Galaxy Note10 smartphone. It’s the second flagship phone launch of the year for Samsung, which typically releases a new Galaxy S phone in February and its Galaxy Note phone in late summer. This year, the Galaxy Note10 is both larger and smaller: One version of the phone has a plus-size 6.8-inch display, while the other has a 6.3-inch screen—and is almost the exact same size as the Galaxy S10 from earlier this year. Both Galaxy Notes work with a stylus pen, called the S Pen, and both phones are supposed to be vehicles for what Samsung considers to be its latest innovations in mobile.

      They’re expensive, as flagship smartphones are these days: The Galaxy Note10 starts at $950, while the larger Galaxy Note10+ starts at $1,100. That means the Galaxy S10 smartphone is slightly less expensive—ranging from $900 to $1,000—but not by much. (The iPhone XS also has a base price of $1,000.) Both new Notes will be available starting August 23.

      Later this month, the Galaxy Note10 will also be available as a 5G phone through Verizon Wireless, but neither Samsung nor Verizon have released pricing details for this faster version of the phone.

      Samsung’s second flagship phone announcement this year also comes just as analysts are forecasting a decline in smartphone sales in 2019. According to research firm Gartner, worldwide sales will experience a 2.5 percent decline from last year, with Japan, Western Europe, and North America showing the greatest slumps.

      “To me, Samsung’s approach is all about segmentation,” says Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. “The smartphone industry has slowed down in terms of growth, and the best way to keep revenues high and give people what they want is to segment out different versions of the same product, the way the auto industry has done.”

      Big Time

      Samsung positions its Galaxy Note line as ultra-premium phones, with ultra-loyal customers who come back year after year. It’s the phone for creative professionals, hyper-productive multitaskers, and gamers, according to Samsung. All external signs point to the new Galaxy Note10 fitting that description, though I haven’t had the chance to review the phones yet.

      Last year’s Galaxy Note 9 had a 6.4-inch display; the Note10+ now has a 6.8-inch display, while the Note10 has a 6.3-inch screen. The latter has about the same body size as the Galaxy S10, but with slightly more screen. This is partly due to its new bezel-less design and its tiny, hole-punch camera on the front of the phone.

      The corners of the Galaxy Note phones are still hard angles, unlike the soft, rounded edges of the Galaxy S line. Samsung says it has also redesigned the Galaxy Note10 phones with “symmetry” in mind, so that they feel more balanced when you hold them, even if the actual weight difference from last year’s Note9 to this year’s Note10 is mere grams.

      The new phones have aluminum chassis, with glass backs (Corning’s Gorilla Glass 6). Because Samsung likes to follow trends and also get a little weird, the new phone colors are explicitly iridescent, building on the prismatic color tones introduced with the Galaxy S10. There’s Aura Glow—a silverish, iridescent finish so reflective that you can check your teeth for food by just looking at the back of the phone. There’s also Aura Black, Aura Blue, and Aura White, which is creamier than the Prism White on the S10.

      The new Galaxy Note10 phones charge via a USB-C port, which also serves as an audio port. Yup: No 3.5mm headphone jack on the Galaxy Note10. Wireless charging is also an option with these Qi-compatible phones, but if you opt to charge by plugging in, Samsung is promising super fast charging—you can achieve a full day’s worth of battery life after charging the Galaxy Note10 for just 30 minutes, the company claims.

      The screen on the Galaxy Note10 is what you might expect from a Samsung display. There are incredibly minor differences between this high-resolution display and the one on the Galaxy S10, but, it’s still what Samsung calls “Dynamic AMOLED,” with support for the HDR10+ display standard and a reduction in potentially harmful blue light. The Galaxy Note 10 also has an in-display fingerprint sensor, something we’ve seen on previous high-end smartphones.

      The front-facing camera, as previously mentioned, is a tiny lens and a 10-megapixel sensor placed inside a hole punched into the top-center of the display. The kind of rear camera you’ll get depends on whether you go with the Galaxy Note10+ or the regular Galaxy Note10. The former has a quadruple-lens camera on the back of the phone, with an extra depth lens, while the latter includes three lenses. Samsung is boasting ultra-wide image capture, an improved night mode, and even the ability to shoot super slow-mo video. And an extra microphone added to this year’s phone helps support directional audio capture, while software reduces background noise.

      The new phones ship with Google’sAndroid 9 Pie OS, and are running on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 mobile chip, a 7-nanometer, 64-bit octa-core processor. This chip can also be integrated with a Qualcomm X50 5G modem, making that upgrade to a 5G version of the Galaxy Note10+ possible—whenever 5G networks are fully operational, of course.

      Play Pen

      Given the size of the “regular” Galaxy Note10, it’s natural to wonder what exactly sets this phone apart from other Samsung handsets. And the most obvious answer is the stylus pen. The S Pen is getting an upgrade again. Last year, the Pen became a Bluetooth-equipped remote control: You could open your camera app, position the phone, and use the S Pen in your hand as a wireless shutter button, tricking your colleagues into accidentally taking selfies as they peered at your new phone (not that I did that). This year, the S Pen is getting gesture control, thanks to a new accelerometer and gyroscope inside the stylus.

      Samsung calls these “Air” actions, but you can essentially control your phone’s screen, and certain apps running on it, by holding down the side button on the S Pen and swiping it through the air. During a brief demo, I was able to change music playlists and manipulate the phone’s native camera app just by swiping the Pen in the air. I could draw a circle in the air to digitally zoom in while using the camera, and reverse circle to zoom out.

      This isn’t entirely limited the Galaxy Note10; it also works on Samsung’s new Tab S6 tablet. But Samsung—like Google—seems to believe there’s a lot of potential for gesture control, and plans to allow game developers to take advantage of the stylus actions too.

      There are other new things you can do with the S Pen too, like edit videos with it (which sounds terribly onerous) or convert your hand-written notes to text and export it directly to Microsoft Word. For people who rarely use the S Pen, Samsung is attempting to differentiate the Galaxy Note10 by shipping it with more base storage and RAM, including an advanced vapor chamber cooling system, and optimizing the software in certain ways.

      In the Spotlight

      Samsung is coming off the heels of an embarrassing foldable phone launch, the thing that was supposed to further solidify the Korean electronics company as the bearer of whiz-bang innovation in an increasingly boring mobile market. And, of course, it was just a few Notes ago that Samsung ended up in a literal firestorm of quality assurance issues around lithium ion batteries. So at this particular moment in time, with this particular phone line, Samsung still has something to prove.

      Samsung insists it’s moving the needle again with the Galaxy Note10, that it’s pushing boundaries, and that Note10 customers will be able to “do things with this device that they can’t do anywhere else,” as Suzanne De Silva, Samsung’s head of mobile product strategy and marketing, said in a briefing with WIRED a week before the phone’s unveiling. Certain elements of this are true, although in many ways the biggest leaps with this phone—the support for 5G, the gesture controls, even new built-in AR applications—are still a long way from being embraced by the masses.


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