Archive for March, 2015

China-Led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) Snags Volunteers from Around The Globe — Massive Embarrassment for Obama

March 31, 2015


From the BBC

Taiwan and Norway are to join the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

They become the last countries to apply to the China-led bank before the Tuesday deadline.

They join more than 40 members, including Australia, South Korea, Britain, France, and Germany that have signed up to the development bank.

The US and Japan have refused to join, with both countries worried about standards of governance.

There are also concerns over whether loans will carry adequate environmental, labour and social safeguards.

The AIIB will help finance construction of roads, ports, railways and other infrastructure projects in Asia.

It was launched with 21 members in October, and will have an initial capital of around $50bn, with China expected to be the biggest stakeholder.

The Beijing ceremony to launch the AIIB in October
The original 21 members launched the AIIB in Beijing in October


The US has asked that the bank should work in partnership with existing institutions such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Many believe the US’s real concern is that the AIIB will undercut the IMF and World bank and increase China’s influence in the region.

The ADB is traditionally headed by a Japanese official, while the IMF and World Bank are dominated by the US.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that Japan is still seeking answers about how the AIIB would be governed.

He said: “As of today, Japan will not join AIIB and a clear explanation has not been received from China.”

Founding members who apply before the Tuesday deadline will have the right to create the bank’s governance and operational rules.

Countries that join after the deadline will have voting rights, but less say in making the rules.


Both Taiwan and Norway’s applications have political complications.

Taiwan is applying as a country although China has, since 1949, recognised it only as part of its own territory.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Taiwan’s application should respect China’s requirement that the island not be identified as a separate country.

Beijing cut all high-level ties with Oslo after the Nobel Peace Prize went to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010.

However, Norway’s Foreign Minister Boerge Brende said: “Norway is a substantial contributor to global development efforts, and wishes to join countries from Asia and other parts of the world in further refining the structure and mission of the AIIB,”

The total number of founding members will be confirmed on 15 April.


China’s new development bank is becoming a massive embarrassment for Obama

By Mike Bird

China’s new development bank, which was announced just five months ago, is becoming a massive headache for the US.

Try as it might, the US government can’t persuade its allies to stop joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

The bank will be a bit like the World Bank, providing loans to developing countries in Asia for infrastructure projects.

Unlike the World Bank, China will hold the reins of the AIIB. The US administration is publicly worried that the institution will not meet high governance standards, but it really seems opposed to the move because it signals a growing Chinese influence in the region and in global politics.

The US has already endured a series of embarrassments over the bank. It might have been expected that some European countries with a cooler relationship with the US would join, which they did. India and Singapore, however, were quick to sign up despite having decent relationships with the US. And several other countries have started joining, leaving the US almost completely isolated in its position.

Britain is one of the US’ closest allies, but the government has been pursuing an unashamedly warmer relationship with China for several years and was one of the first countries to say it wanted a role in the AIIB.

The front page of the Financial Times the next day, in which anonymous White House sources attacked the British government for “constant accommodation” of China, might have been intended as a warning to others, but it doesn’t seem to have worked.

South Korea has applied, and America’s other major allies in the region, Japan and Australia, have been warming to the idea of joining.

Tuesday, however, brought the most embarrassing event of all. Taiwan, which has no formal relationship with mainland China, is a former enemy of China, and basically survived the 20th century with its independence only through assistance from the United States, applied to join the AIIB.

The infrastructure bank isn’t going to be a massive boom for the UK economy, or even for nearer nations like Japan, and the US will not retaliate. The point is that the UK is willing to take a very modest improvement in economic and political ties with China in exchange for a small deterioration in ties with the US. Pretty much every country has decided that this is the right move.

The AIIB is a part of the wider “new Silk Road” initiative by China to deepen trade and investment both in the rest of Asia and the wider world. According to Barclays, it could actually be a positive thing for the region’s stability:

We believe through the building of interdependent relationships based on shared economic interests, this New Silk Road plan should deepen political linkages, improve mutual understanding and foster long-term stability in the region. The agreement to set up the AIIB by countries that have territorial disputes with China suggests potentially lower geopolitical risks and lower probability for military conflicts, in our view.

But the move goes beyond that — it’s a major PR push for China, which the American administration has positioned itself opposite from. So far, that strategy is failing spectacularly for the US.

Read more:


Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gets Iran’s nuclear negotiations into overtime

March 31, 2015


Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gets Iran’s nuclear negotiations into overtime

The Associated Press

Wrapping up six days of marathon nuclear talks with mixed results, Iran and six world powers prepared Tuesday to issue a general statement agreeing to continue talks in a new phase aimed at reaching a final agreement to control Iran’s nuclear ambitions by the end of June, officials told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Foreign ministers and delegates on Tuesday in Lausanne, Switzerland, ahead of a deadline on negotiations to limit Iran’s nuclear program. Credit Fabrice Coffrini/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Officials had set a deadline of March 31 for a framework agreement, and later softened that wording to a framework understanding, between Iran and the so-called P5+1 nations — the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

(AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool)

And after intense negotiations, obstacles remained on uranium enrichment, where stockpiles of enriched uranium should be stored, limits on Iran’s nuclear research and development and the timing and scope of sanctions relief among other issues.

The joint statement is to be accompanied by additional documents that outline more detailed understandings, allowing the sides to claim enough progress has been made thus far to merit a new round, the officials said. Iran has not yet signed off on the documents, one official said, meaning any understanding remains unclear.

The talks have already been extended twice as part of more than a decade of diplomatic attempts to curb Tehran’s nuclear advance.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the talks on the record.

If the parties agree only to a broad framework that leaves key details unresolved, President Barack Obama could face stiff opposition from members of Congress who want to move forward with new Iran sanctions legislation. Lawmakers had agreed to hold off on such a measure through March while the parties negotiated.

Obama has warned that passing new sanctions during the talks could upend the sensitive discussions.

The softening of the language from a framework “agreement” to a framework “understanding” appeared due in part to opposition to a two-stage agreement from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Earlier this year, he demanded only one deal that nails down specifics and does not permit the other side to “make things difficult” by giving it wiggle room on interpretations.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who left Lausanne Monday, was heading back to the Swiss city, also indicating that an end to the talks was near.

Sergei Lavrov

Mr Lavrov said on Monday that he would only return to the talks if a deal was likely

In Moscow, he told reporters: “Prospects for this round of negotiations were not bad, and I would even say good.”

Some of the P5+1’s foreign ministers joined Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the talks over the weekend in an intense effort to reach a political understanding on terms that would curb Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

Kerry and others said the sides have made some progress, with Iran considering demands for further cuts to its uranium enrichment program but pushing back on how long it must limit technology it could use to make atomic arms. In addition to sticking points on research and development, differences remain on the timing and scope of sanctions removal, the officials said.

Ayatollah Khamenei. (photo credit:AYATOLLAH KHAMENEI TWITTER

The Obama administration says any deal will stretch the time Iran needs to make a nuclear weapon from the present two to three months to at least a year. But critics object that it would keep Tehran’s nuclear technology intact.

Officials in Lausanne said the sides were advancing on limits to aspects of Iran’s program to enrich uranium, which can be used to make the core of a nuclear warhead.

Uranium enrichment has been the chief concern for more than a decade. But Western officials say the main obstacles to a deal are no longer enrichment-related but instead the type and length of restrictions on Tehran’s research and development of advanced centrifuges and the pace of sanctions-lifting.

Over the past weeks, Iran has moved from demanding that it be allowed to keep nearly 10,000 centrifuges enriching uranium, to agreeing to 6,000, plus another 480 centrifuges in the underground facility in Fordo that the Iranians say would be used only to enrich other elements used for peaceful purposes. The officials said Tehran now may be ready to accept even fewer.

Tehran says it wants to enrich only for energy, science, industry and medicine. But many countries fear Iran could use the technology to make weapons-grade uranium.


Netanyahu catches Obama in Iran-nuclear flip-flop

March 31, 2015


PM points out elements “apparently” in nuclear deal that Obama said last year are things that Iran does not need in order to have a peaceful program.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pre-election flip flop on a two state solution, which he later walked-back, will pale in comparison to a US presidential zig-zag if Netanyahu reported accurately to the Knesset on Tuesday on what will be in the nuclear accord being negotiated in Lausanne.

“The biggest threat to our security and our future was and remains Iran’s attempts to arm with nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said
at the ceremonial opening of the 20th Knesset just hours before the self-imposed deadline for reaching a framework deal between the world powers and Iran.

“The agreement being put together in Lausanne paves the way for that result. Apparently it will leave in Iran’s hands underground facilities, the [hard-water] reactor at Arak, advanced centrifuges. All those things that only a few months ago we were told, rightfully so, that they were not vital to a peaceful nuclear program.”

It was US President Barack Obama who said that each of those elements was not needed for a peaceful program.

Obama, during a question-and answer session at the Saban Forum at the Brookings Institution in Washington in December 2012, said the following:

“In terms of specifics, we know that they don’t need to have an underground, fortified facility like Fordow in order to have a peaceful nuclear program.

“They certainly don’t need a heavy-water reactor at Arak in order to have a peaceful nuclear program.  They don’t need some of the advanced centrifuges that they currently possess in order to have a limited, peaceful nuclear program,” Obama said at the time.

Netanyahu chose his words carefully, saying these elements will “apparently” be in the agreement, since the details of the deal are still being worked out, and have not been released.


Commentary By William Kristol


On Tuesday I spent some time with the reelected prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. I think he was happy to take a short break from his Herculean labors of putting together a government and dealing with controversies galore. So we engaged in some small talk and exchanged compliments and stories about our parents. I particularly enjoyed his fascinating account of his father’s work with the great Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky in the last year of Jabotinsky’s life, and his father’s subsequent efforts to rally support in the United States during World War II for European Jewry and for the creation of the state of Israel. His failure on the first front and his success in the second is a useful reminder of the extent to which, in politics, tragedy and triumph are not alternatives but cousins.

Speaking of triumphs, I did of course congratulate the prime minister on his reelection victory. But he had no interest in dwelling on that, and, indeed, his manner was in no way triumphalist or even exuberant. The prime minister was sober, and he was alarmed.

The main cause of his alarm wasn’t the host of attacks that have recently been launched against Israel by the administration in Washington. He simply expressed confidence in the underlying strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship and refused to engage, even in this private setting, in any reciprocal attacks on his American counterparts.

No, what alarmed the prime minister was Iran. The progress of the Iranian regime toward nuclear weapons is the threat, as he sees it, to the well-being of Israel, the overall success of American foreign policy, and any hopes for peace and stability in the Middle East. The nuclear arms deal the Obama administration seeks with Iran would secure Iran’s path to nuclear weapons capability and would strengthen a regime that not only proclaims death to Israel and death to America but shows by its behavior that it means both statements. And this is to say nothing of the likelihood of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East to follow.

The prime minister made his points without hyperbole or bravado. None of them was new, as he himself stressed. After all, he has been as clear and outspoken as anyone could be about the threat of a bad deal, including in his remarks earlier this month to the United States Congress. His private arguments very much reflected his public ones, and the arguments other critics of the deal have been making. Indeed, on a couple of occasions the prime minister interrupted himself to say, “but of course you understand this point, you’ve published these arguments.” And so we and others have. It’s not as if scholars at the American Enterprise Institute and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Council on Foreign Relations and the Hudson Institute—to say nothing of senators and congressmen and former secretaries of state—haven’t explained that we are heading towards a bad deal with a bad regime.

It’s a bad deal for all the reasons experts have pointed out. It won’t disassemble Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, while it does disassemble the sanctions regime that finally had started to bite and that holds the best hope of peacefully stopping Iran’s nuclear program. It doesn’t deal with Iran’s weapons programs or force Iran to come clean about its military agenda. It has limits on inspections and verification, and a time limit on the restrictions on Iran’s capabilities to boot. It demands no promise of any change in Iranian behavior. So it’s a bad deal with a bad regime, one that is a leading sponsor of terror, an aggressor in the region, an enemy of the United States, and committed to the destruction of Israel. And it’s a bad deal that will strengthen a bad regime, that will encourage bad regimes elsewhere in the world to redouble their murderous pursuits, and thus will make war—no, wars—more likely.

I walked back to my hotel after the hour-and-a-half discussion thinking this was perhaps the most soberly alarming conversation I have ever had with a political leader in a position of responsibility. And in pondering the path of the Obama administration, I couldn’t get out of my mind Winston Churchill’s admonition to Neville Chamberlain after Munich: “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war.”

The next day, in my hotel room in Jerusalem taking a break from preparing the class I was here to teach, I read about Tuesday night’s Simon Wiesenthal Center annual gala tribute dinner at the Beverly Hilton hotel. The news from the dinner was the speech by Harvey Weinstein, recipient of the Center’s Humanitarian Award.

Weinstein spoke colorfully about the need to fight anti-Semitism: “We’re gonna have to get as organized as the mafia. We better stand up and kick these guys in the ass. .  .  . We just can’t take it anymore [from] these crazy bastards.” He went on:

I think it’s time that we, as Jews, get together with the Muslims who are honorable and peaceful—but we [also] have to go and protect ourselves. .  .  . There’s gotta be a way to fight back. While we must be understanding of our Arab brothers and our Islamic brothers, we also have to understand that these crazy bastards [Arab and Islamic extremists] are also killing their own—they’re killing neighbors, they’re killing people from all sorts of different races.

These seemed to me perhaps useful things to be said to a Hollywood audience—especially when said by a liberal who was a strong and vocal supporter of President Obama in both 2008 and 2012.

But reading about these remarks in Jerusalem, one couldn’t help but be put off, even embarrassed, by the bravado and tough talk. Fighting anti-Semitism is of course a good thing. But all the deplorable kinds of anti-Semitism Weinstein is going to spend time fighting pale in importance next to the prospect of an anti-Semitic Iranian regime getting nuclear weapons with the acquiescence of the United States. And about that, Weinstein has been, so far as I know, silent. And Weinstein’s friends in American politics have mostly been silent.

Perhaps Weinstein will call Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid, and persuade them to act to block a bad deal with the Iranian regime. Perhaps Weinstein will call his friend President Obama and ask him to stop participating in the delegitimization of Israel as he contributes to the legitimization of Iran. Perhaps Weinstein will even ask him to put the threat of military force back on the table.

But counting on prominent and wealthy Jewish liberals to speak up against their friends in the face of existential threats to the Jewish people has never been a good bet. Benzion Netanyahu saw this up close in June 1940, when mainstream American Jewish leaders boycotted his mentor Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s speech in New York when Jabotinsky sounded the alarm about what was happening in Europe.

Now his son, Benjamin Netanyahu, is sounding the alarm about what is happening today. He has made the case, in my view irrefutably, that no friend of Israel can support the forthcoming deal with the Iranian regime. Nor is such a deal in any way in the broader American national interest. Yet a misguided American administration is on a path to choosing dishonor and setting the stage for future wars. It is up to American leaders in both parties and all walks of life to do their best to avert this outcome. And if it is left to Israel to act, the least Americans can do is support our democratic ally, just as the least Americans could honorably do in 1940 was support Britain as, in her finest hour, she stood and fought alone.

China’s new reclaimed islands in South China Sea ‘causing concern’, says US admiral

March 31, 2015

US admiral warns of international concern over large-scale building in South China Sea


A Chinese vessel expands structures and land on Johnson Reef in the Spratly Islands chain in the South China Sea, in a photo released by the Philippines last year. Photo: AP

China’s creation of more than 4 sq km of artificial islands in the South China Sea is increasing tensions with the US and its allies, according to Pacific Fleet Commander Harry Harris.

“What’s drawing a lot of concern … is the unprecedented land reclamation … by China,” Admiral Harris said in Canberra yesterday. “China is building artificial land by pumping sand onto live coral reefs … and paving over them with concrete.”

China, alongside a number of Southeast Asian nations, contests parts of the waters that house some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. The Philippines has accused China of undertaking large-scale reclamation work on contested reefs.

Disputes over the sea, with China claiming about 80 per cent under a nine-dash line drawn on a 1940s map, have escalated as the nation expands its military’s reach to back its territorial interests and challenges decades of US Navy dominance in the Pacific. The tensions risk overshadowing trade and investment ties with Southeast Asia.

The United States urged all claimants to comply with the 2002 Declaration of Conduct between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, in which the parties committed to “exercise self-restraint in … activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability”, Harris said. “How China proceeds will be a key indicator of whether the region is heading towards confrontation or cooperation.”


Satellite image analysis South China Sea reclamation in Spratly Islands

Recent photographs of the reefs and islands in the South China Sea show extensive Chinese construction. Ownership of the islands is a matter before the Permanent

China’s reclamation work in the South China Sea might create inhabited islands that declare allegiance to Beijing, bringing its military ever closer to the Philippines, President Benigno Aquino said last week. If the reefs were built up enough, “somebody might say ‘we’re a new country'”.

“At some point … will that be the basis of a new claim, right of self-determination, we want to be part of China?” Aquino said. “One of these islands, the Mischief Reef, is very close to Palawan. Suddenly we’re a hop, skip and a jump from their various weapons of war.”

China is building mall-like structures on the Spratly islands, with some reaching several storeys high on the Cuarteron and Gaven reefs, Philippine defence spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said last month.

Harris said he was hopeful China would contribute to stability in the Asia-Pacific region, but added: “Hope is not a strategy.”

Poachers In Africa Targets For High-Tech Drones: Can They Stop Illegal Trade in Elephants, Rhinos and Other Species — Plus Vietnam’s Smugglers

March 31, 2015

It is twilight, between 6:30 PM and 8:30 PM; a team of poachers feigns a distressed vehicle on a roadside near an animal reserve somewhere in southern Africa. Having scouted the animal earlier in the day, or having been tipped off by a corrupt official or willing tribesman, they quickly move into action. They kill, cut off horns and tusks, and rapidly leave the area, all under the cover of darkness. Poachers operate under the cover of night–rangers haven’t had an effective way to anticipate where attacks are likely to occur across the vast land areas that need protecting–until now.

Air Shepherd, a new initiative of the Lindbergh Foundation is bringing together technology partners: Peace Parks Foundation (PPF), UAV and Drone Solutions (UDS) and the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), for an innovative new approach to successfully stop poaching of elephants and rhinos in southern Africa.

Aerial View of Elephants (credit: Air Shepherd)

Exponential Loss
Africa is loosing about 7% of its elephant population to poaching annually, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, nearly 40,000 elephants were killed by poachers last year alone. Elephant births occur at a rate of only 5% annually–this means, more elephants are being killed than are being born. At this rate, based on current animal population rates from the African Elephant Database (AED), all elephants in the wild will be dead in approximately ten years.

The situation is equally dire for rhinos, according to data published by the South African Department of Environmental Affairs (2015) an astounding 1,215 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa in 2014–that’s 3 rhinos per day–one rhino every eight hours.

The Western black rhino was declared extinct by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) in 2011 with poaching indicated as the primary cause. The IUCN has recently placed all five remaining rhinos species on the RED LIST of threatened species. Three out of five rhino species are classified as critically endangered due to poaching. As with elephants, we will soon reach a tipping point with rhinos as well–where deaths outpace births.

(source: Save the Rhino)

Exponential Demand
The demand for ivory is a new phenomenon that has grown exponentially over the last ten years. Tusks can be worth $150,000 or more and an average rhino horn (1-3 kg each, depending on the species) can garner over a quarter million dollars. The price per kilogram on the black market has soared to as much as $65,000 per kilogram, or nearly $30,000 per pound, making it more valuable per ounce than gold, platinum or cocaine.

Since 2000, the burgeoning middle class in China has been driving the demand for ivory carvings and trinkets to symbolize their newfound wealth. Likewise, Vietnam is leading the demand for rhino horn, where it is being ground into a powder as an additive for cocktails, touted as cure for cancer and hangovers, and to increase virility. In a survey carried out by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, they identified that these consumers are motivated primarily by image and status among their peers.

Elephant tusks/rhino horns flow from East Africa to Asia (source: UNODC)

The illegal wildlife trade is emerging as one of the world’s most lucrative criminal activities. Well-organized syndicates operating as transnational criminal networks linked to poaching often participate in other illegal activities, including trafficking of narcotics and weapons–some with ties to terrorist networks.

According to a report by Chatham House, smuggling of endangered species and their products mainly from sub-Saharan Africa by international organized crime rings and armed groups is now worth as much as $10 billion annually.

The methods currently being employed to stop elephant and rhino poaching are simply not enough to combat the problem.

Drones and Data make the Difference
Tom Snitch, Ph.D., at the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computing has developed breakthrough technology, APE (Anti-Poaching Engine), that uses sophisticated predictive analytic software (originally developed for the military to predict insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan) along with high-resolution satellite imagery, intricate mathematics and complex algorithms to determine exactly where animals and poachers are likely to be on a given night.

Snitch makes the analogy that rhinos are to US troops as poachers are to terroristic bombers saying, “we used UAVs in Baghdad to find IED bombers and now we are using UAVs to find poachers in South Africa”.


Mobile Aerial Command with UAVs (credit: UDS)

The UAVs operated by UDS, are equipped with infrared cameras and GPS to identify animals and poachers with thermal imaging–they can literally see any heat image moving across the plains at night in real time. The drones are battery powered–almost completely silent and nearly invisible, providing operators with the critical intelligence necessary to rapidly deploy rangers to the location of the poacher before he kills.

“We don’t necessarily look for poachers, but we really need to know where the animals are. With this knowledge, we can fly UAVs in the African night sky with infrared cameras to alert us to where the poachers are coming from to attack the prey.” said Snitch.

Mathematics and Migration Models
According to Snitch, he mathematically recreates what the environment was like on nights that experienced poaching in order to identify patterns of behavior. A massive amount of data is collected such as, weather conditions, wind speeds, moon phases, criminal events, ranger patrol patterns, and animal migration models; and superimposed on high-resolution satellite imagery of the area to create “maps”.

These maps help to determine UAV flight paths, “the algorithms tell us precisely where the UAVs should look for rhinos and poachers and the model strategically places the rangers very near the animals” says, Snitch. APE has been predicting where poaching is likely to happen with more than 90% accuracy.

UMIACS Anti-Poaching Engine (source: UMIACS)

UAVs transmit infrared images in real-time to operators in mobile command units– rangers that have been pre-positioned are vectored to precise locations when poachers are identified. “In short, our team has created the world’s most sophisticated model of poaching behavior,” said Tom Snitch, “we have completed analytical studies of how animals, poachers, rangers and UAVs simultaneously move through space and time.

In tests conducted in association with Peace Parks Foundation over the last 24 months, in over 650 missions flown, and over 1000 flight-hours, no animals were killed while drones were in flight according to Air Shepherd officials.

“We have the distinct potential of being able to turn the tables on this threatening trend in a very short time,” said John Petersen, chairman Lindbergh Foundation, “once we have these teams in the field, our experience says that the killing starts to rapidly grind to a stop.”

SANParks (South African National Parks) announced Thursday that these UAV solutions are an integral part of the current strategy to combat rhino poaching in the Kruger National Park.

The Lindbergh Foundation aims to raise $500,000 through Indiegogo to fully implement the Air Shepherd program for one year at Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife (Ezemvelo) with future plans to expand into seven additional African countries that have indicated an interest in implementing the program. With 40% of the goal already raised, the campaign runs until April 11th so there is still time to support this incredible initiative.

View the campaign video here:

About the Lindbergh Foundation
In 1977, the 50th Anniversary year of Charles Lindbergh’s epic New York-to-Paris flight, friends of the Lindbergh’s at The Explorers Club in New York City conceived the idea and General James H. Doolittle and Astronaut Neil Armstrong led a national campaign that resulted in the establishment of the Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation.

For decades, the Lindbergh Foundation has been a leader in encouraging the use of technology to protect the environment. The foundation focuses on technological breakthroughs to address aviation-environmental issues.

A 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, the Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation is supported by contributions from individuals, companies, foundations, and other organizations. Contributions to the Lindbergh Foundation are tax-deductible.


In Vietnam, Rampant Wildlife Smuggling Prompts Little Concern

The New York Times

U MINH, Vietnam — Luc Van Ho slips through a tangled thicket of jungle, graceful as a dancer. A blanket of dried bamboo and melaleuca leaves on the forest floor barely crackles beneath his bare feet. Only the smell of cigarette smoke betrays his presence.

A hunter, Mr. Luc, 45, set out at dawn from his family’s bamboo-thatched home in Vietnam’s U Minh forest to check a half dozen homemade traps rigged along animal trails in the underbrush and on canal banks frequented by snakes and turtles.

He stops at a snare trap made of wood and bicycle brake wire, nearly invisible beneath leaves. The trap is empty, not unusual.

Read it all:


Germanwings Crash: Insurance firms setting aside $300 million

March 31, 2015

By John Bacon
USA Today

p.m. EDT March 31, 2015

Insurance firms are setting aside $300 million to deal with costs relating to the crash of a Germanwings Airbus A320 in the French Alps last week, Lufthansa confirmed Tuesday.

The funds would cover compensation claims by the families of the 150 people killed when Flight 9525 slammed into a steep ravine less than an hour after departing Barcelona on March 24. The lost Airbus A320, personnel and other costs also are included in the figure, said Lufthansa, the parent company of Germanwings.

Munich-based Allianz, Europe’s largest insurance group, heads the consortium of insurance companies involved. Allianz declined comment.

The report came as families and loved ones continued to make the pilgrimage to a small memorial near the crash site, which is virtually inaccessible except by helicopter. Thomas Winkelmann, CEO of Germanwings, on Tuesday called the crash “one of the biggest national tragedies we have ever faced” and thanked rescue teams for their efforts.

“The first images of the crash site clearly indicated the magnitude of the tragedy,” Winkelmann said. “Every conceivable effort has been made to recover the victims, provide aid and assistance to the families and determine the cause of this accident.”

Crash investigators have focused their review on co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, who German prosecutors said was treated for suicidal tendencies years ago and more recently was deemed “unable to fly.”

The Düsseldorf-bound flight’s voice recorder indicates that when pilot Patrick Sonderheimer left Lubitz alone in the cockpit, Lubitz began an unscheduled descent. Minutes later, Sonderheimer is heard frantically banging on the cockpit door — screaming “For God’s sake, open the door!” — in an ill-fated effort to gain entry and take back control of the plane.

Shortly after, the plane crashed.

U.S. aviation regulations require that more than one person always be in the cockpit. Since the crash, several airlines and nations have adopted similar requirements.


Heavy clashes on Saudi-Yemen border; Hadi government pleads for troops

March 31, 2015

A Yemeni soldier on Tuesday amid the rubble of houses after a Saudi airstrike in Sana, the capital. Credit Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

(Reuters) – Saudi troops clashed with Yemeni Houthi fighters on Tuesday in the heaviest exchange of cross-border fire since the start of a Saudi-led air offensive last week, while Yemen’s foreign minister called for a rapid Arab intervention on the ground.

Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition of Arab states in a six-day-old air campaign against the Shi’ite Houthis, who emerged as the most powerful force in the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country when they seized Yemen’s capital last year.

The Saudis say their aim is to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi who left the country last week. The Houthis are allied with Saudi Arabia’s regional foe Iran, and backed by army units loyal to long-term ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was toppled three years ago after “Arab Spring” demonstrations.

The conflict has brought civil war to a country already on the verge of chaos and forced Washington to evacuate its personnel from one of the main battlefields in the secret U.S. drone war against al Qaeda.

Residents and tribal sources in north Yemen reported artillery and rocket exchanges along several stretches of the Saudi border. Explosions and heavy gunfire were heard and Saudi helicopters flew overhead, they said.

In the southern port of Aden, Houthi fighters and allied army units pressed an offensive against forces loyal to Hadi, trying to capture the last remaining major stronghold of the absent president’s forces.

At least 36 people were killed when Houthi forces shelled Hadi loyalists in Aden. Jets from the Saudi-led coalition bombed Houthi positions near the airport.

Hadi’s rump government, now based in Saudi Arabia, is calling for Riyadh to escalate the air war into an invasion.

Asked by an interviewer on pan-Arab television channel al-Arabiya Hadath whether he sought an Arab ground intervention, Yemeni foreign minister Riyadh Yasseen responded: “Yes, we are asking for that, and as soon as possible, in order to save our infrastructure and save Yemenis under siege in many cities.”

Saudi authorities say they have gathered troops along the border in preparation for any possible ground offensive, but have given no timetable to send them in. Pakistan has also said it is sending troops to support Saudi Arabia.

In the southern city of Dhalea, residents reported heavy fighting, with southern secessionist fighters trading artillery fire with Houthis backed up by army units loyal to Saleh.

Repeated air strikes hit Houthi and allied positions, including an ammunition store at a military base causing huge explosions. An eyewitness said nine southern fighters were killed, along with around 30 Houthi and allied fighters.

In the central town of Yarim, an air strike hit a fuel tanker, killing at least 10 people, residents said.


The Houthi fighters are drawn from a Zaidi Shi’ite minority that ruled a thousand-year kingdom in Yemen until 1962. They are backed by military units still loyal to Saleh, himself a member of the Zaidi sect who fought to crush the Houthis while in power but has now allied with them.

Tension in the border area has mounted since an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition killed at least 40 people at the Mazraq camp for displaced people near Haradh on Monday.

Saudi Arabia has a history of wielding influence in its poorer neighbor and fought a brief and indecisive ground conflict against the Houthis in the border area in 2009 while supporting then-leader Saleh.

The civil war comes after years of unrest and disintegrating central authority in a country also dealing with a southern secessionist movement, tribal discontent and al Qaeda’s most potent regional branch.

Saleh’s decision to ally with the Houthis tips the regional balance of power away from Saudi Arabia and towards Iran, a feud also being played out on battlefields in Syria and Iraq. The crisis is the first big foreign policy test for Saudi Arabia’s new king, Salman, and kin he has elevated to top posts.

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian called the Saudi strikes a “strategic mistake”. He said Tehran had a proposal to end the conflict and was trying to reach out to Riyadh. He gave no details.

“Iran and Saudi Arabia can cooperate to solve the Yemeni crisis,” he said in Kuwait. “We recommend all parties in Yemen return to calm and dialogue.”

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said the operation would continue until it achieves its aims of restoring security and unity to Yemen.

“We are not the ones calling for war. But if you bang the drums of war, we are ready for it,” he told the kingdom’s Shura Council advisory body.

While the strikes have not halted Houthi gains, the Saudi-led coalition says it has succeeded in closing off Yemeni airspace to Houthi supporters and imposing a naval blockade.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said one of its planes was prevented from delivering medical supplies in Sanaa, and called for “the urgent removal of obstacles to the delivery to Yemen of vital medical supplies needed to treat casualties”.

It also called on all combatants to allow humanitarian workers to operate safely. A Yemeni Red Crescent volunteer was shot dead on Monday in Dhalea while evacuating wounded people.

(Additional reporting by Noah Browning and William Maclean in Dubai, Angus McDowall in Riyadh, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Peter Graff)



U.N. Warns of ‘Total Collapse’ in Yemen as Houthis Continue Offensive

GENEVA — The United Nations’ human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, warned on Tuesday that Yemen was on the brink of collapse, as his office said that heavy fighting in the southern port city of Aden had left its streets lined with bodies and its hospitals full of corpses.

Fierce clashes erupted on Monday as Shiite Houthi rebels, who are allied with Iran, pressed on with an offensive in Aden against fighters loyal to President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the exiled Yemeni leader, who is backed by Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Arab states.

“The situation in Yemen is extremely alarming, with dozens of civilians killed over the past four days,” Mr. al-Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement. “The country seems to be on the verge of total collapse.”

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Hong Kong’s Asia Television (ATV) Will Go To Ricky Wong In Stock Sale

March 31, 2015

By Patrick Frater

Shareholders controlling majority interests in Asia Television (ATV), Hong Kong’s nearly bankrupt second free-to-air TV broadcaster have agreed to sell their shares to telecoms tycoon Ricky Wong, according to reports.

The stakes were reportedly sold by mainland Chinese businessman Wong Ching and Wong Ben-koon. Wong Ching controlled 52% of ATV through Wong Ben-koon, a relative of his wife.

In February the High Court ordered the sale of a 10.75% stake in ATV, but outside bidders were hesitant, without the sale of a further 40% stake from Wong Ching.

The stake news has yet to be confirmed by the companies and financial details are unclear.
If confirmed, the news is a victory for persistence by Ricky Wong. He was very briefly chief executive of ATV in 2008, but exited after 12 days, having being caught in a dispute with then chairman Linus Cheung over restructuring plans. And in 2013 Wong was rebuffed in a bid to get a free to air license for his specially formed HKTV company.

With ATV perilously close to financial ruin, any deal will need the approval of the High Court, which had previously appointed administrators to sell a share stake. A change of ownership will also need the approval of the Communications Authority, which on Tuesday evening said that it had not yet been notified.

The Executive Council, roughly equivalent to a cabinet of ministers, said that it would hold a special meeting tomorrow (April 1) to discuss the matter.

ATV has endured a highly public meltdown over the past several months, following a dispute between shareholders and a succession of financial losses. In recent months staff have not been paid, which prompted news room staff to threaten to quit. If the company were unable to comply with its obligations on news reporting that would in turn mean that ATV is in breach of the terms of its operating license and could be closed down by government.

In addition to staff wages, the company needed to raise cash to pay its license fee and a penalty imposed by the government, amounting to a combined US$1.32 million (HK$10.2 million), that was payable in two instalments, in February and earlier this month.

US Admiral sounds the alarm of China’s intentions in South China Sea

March 31, 2015

By Asia Pacific editor for Fairfax Media

A powerful American naval officer has fired a warning at China for rapidly building “a Great Wall” of artificial islands across hotly-contested waters.

Admiral Harry Harris, soon to take charge of Pacific Command, told a dinner at the Australian War Memorial on Tuesday night that the string of new islands posed a serious threat to stability in the South China Sea.

He said the artificial expanse was “roughly the size of Canberra’s Black Mountain Nature Reserve” and that they stretched across some of the world’s busiest sea lanes.

Those sea lanes carry around 60 per cent of Australian trade, posing a major strategic conundrum for the Abbott government.

The comments by Admiral Harris are by far the most strident and colourful on the subject by a senior American leader.

They show the US pushing back against China’s assertive president, Xi Jinping, who had been seen to be “winning” a contest for maritime dominance at the expense of its neighbours.

His  speech also poses a major test for Australia as it endeavours to engage in good relations with its major trading partner, China, while “hedging” against security risks by drawing closer to the US and other partners in the region.

One of the new islands in question is a runway and port-shaped structure extended more than 3km, over previously submerged coral reef, which analysts say could mark a tipping point in China’s ability to project air power thousands of kilometres from its coastal waters.

“China is creating a great wall of sand with dredges and bulldozers over the course of months,” said Admiral Harris, who is currently commander of the US Pacific Fleet.

“When one looks at China’s pattern of provocative actions towards smaller claimant states, the lack of clarity on its sweeping nine-dash line claim that is inconsistent with international law, and the deep asymmetry between China’s capabilities and those of its smaller neighbours – well, it’s no surprise that the scope and pace of building man-made islands raises serious questions about Chinese intentions,” he said.

China has repeatedly rejected regional concerns, saying the constructions are “necessarily” and are taking place on Chinese territory.

Michael Wesley, director of the Asia Pacific school at the Australian National University, said the speech shows how the US has been stung by claims that it “capitulated” to early rounds of Chinese coercion at the expense of an ally, the Philippines.

“This marks a real ramping up of US determination and resolve in the region, reflecting a realisation that China is determined to play hard ball in the South China Sea,” said Professor Wesley.

He said Australia could not  avoid being affected “given that 60 per cent of its trade goes through the South China Sea”.

Professor Wesley said the strident American rhetoric marked a “dangerous escalation”.

However Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has treated the South China Sea as a top-line strategic challenge, is likely to welcome the US intervention as a means of showing support for regional allies and partners and discouraging future Chinese misbehaviour.

Earlier this month, Mr Abbott signed a landmark security co-operation agreement with Vietnam, Australia’s former wartime enemy, to “support freedom of navigation by air and by sea in the South China Sea”.


Satellite image analysis South China Sea reclamation in Spratly Islands

Recent photographs of the reefs and islands in the South China Sea show extensive Chinese construction. Ownership of the islands is a matter before the Permanent

“We both deplore any unilateral change to the status quo,” said Mr Abbott, without mentioning China by name.

It followed similar arrangements India and Japan and a series of lower-level co-operation moves with south-east Asian nations.

Admiral Harris warned in his speech to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute about the increasing potential for “miscalculation” between regional players.

He urged China and other nations to conform to a China-ASEAN code of conduct, which commits nations to exercise self-restraint.

“How China proceeds will be a key indicator of whether the region is heading towards confrontation or co-operation,” he said.


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Philippines Awaits U.N. Arbitration Court For Timetable With China

March 31, 2015

By Louis Bacani ( |

Aerial surveillance images obtained by The STAR show Mabini Reef in March last year (left), with only one building that served as a temporary shelter for workers. The image on the right, taken recently, shows more structures and trees planted on the reef.

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang said Tuesday that the country will follow the timetable set by the United Nations (UN) arbitral tribunal handling its case against China despite the Asian giant’s relentless reclamation work on disputed territories.

“Having filed our case before the arbitral tribunal, we abide by the rules and regulations that are provided and specified under those rules,” Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a press briefing.

“Having submitted to the jurisdiction of the arbitral tribunal, we will follow their timetable,” he added.

Lacierda, however, refused to comment when asked if the national government would push for the fast-tracking of the arbitration proceedings.

According to reports, the Armed Forces of the Philippines called on the UN earlier today to expedite the arbitration proceedings amid China’s continuing reclamation efforts in several areas inside Manila’s exclusive economic zone.

The Department of Foreign Affairs had said that China is trying to alter the maritime features in the West Philippine Sea to affect the case filed by Manila against its sweeping nine-dash line claim.

Maintaining that it has “indisputable sovereignty” over the entire South China Sea, Beijing has refused to participate in the arbitration proceedings initiated by Manila.

The island nation, on the other hand, is still hoping for a favorable ruling on the maritime case.

“Certainly, we would hope for a resolution of the case and a resolution in our favor as we believe that we have a strong case against China in their nine-dash line theory,” Lacierda said.

READ: Philippines says China rushing construction in disputed sea


March 31, 2015

The Philippine government is yielding to the United Nations to set the pace of the country’s arbitration case against China, following reports that Beijing has continued its reclamation work on disputed areas in the South China Sea.

At a press briefing Tuesday, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said that the Philippines follow the UN arbitral tribunal’s timetable on the case it filed against China over maritime jurisdiction of parts of the South China Sea that Manila calls the West Philippine Sea.

“The international arbitration mechanism has its own rules and regulations. Having filed our case before the arbitral tribunal, we abide by the rules and regulations that are provided and specified under those rules,” Lacierda said.

He nevertheless expressed confidence that the arbitration court will rule in favor of the Philippines.

“Certainly, we hope for the resolution of the case, the resolution in our favor, as we believe that we have a strong case against China and their nine-dash line theory. But again, having submitted to the jurisdiction of the arbitral tribunal, we will follow their timetable,” Lacierda said.

Satellite image analysis South China Sea reclamation in Spratly Islands

Recent photographs of the reefs and islands in the South China Sea show extensive Chinese construction. Ownership of the islands is a matter before the Permanent

He deferred comment when asked if the Philippine government is doing everything to expedite its arbitration case against China, saying the Department of Foreign Affairs is in a better position to discuss the matter.

Earlier in the day, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) called on the UN to fast track the arbitration proceedings, so that the military can focus on its other duties, particularly fighting terrorism.

AFP chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. earlier revealed that China continues to build structures in Areas One, Five and Seven on the West Philippine Sea where the Mabini Reef (Johnson South Reef), Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef) and Kennan Reef (Chigua Reef) are located.

The Philippines has been locked in a territorial dispute with China over portions of the South China Sea.

China uses the “nine-dash line” to claim ownership of almost the entire South China Sea, while the Philippines uses the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as basis for its claim.

Beijing earlier rejected international arbitration proceedings to settle its territorial dispute with the Philippines, insisting instead on bilateral talks. —KBK, GMA News


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Satellite image analysis South China Sea reclamation in Spratly Islands

Warships from China are frequently seen near the disputed islands.

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Police in Manila face anti-China protesters last year.

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(Contains links to several related articles)


Reclamation: China has already turned a worthless piece of coral into an island big enough for an airstrip at Fiery Cross reef in the South China Sea
Screenshot of a Chinese Coast Guard vessel ramming a Vietnamese vessel in May 2014

China says it owns all the South China Sea north of the “nine dash line” shown above

China claims ownership of about 90% of the South China Sea. Most of China’s neighbors believe otherwise.

The chart below shows the area declared by China on 1 January 2014 as “an area under China’s jurisdiction.” China says “foreign fishing vessels” can only enter and work in this area with prior approval from China. Vietnam, the Philippines and others have said they will not comply with China’s law. Experts say, this could be the geographic area that China could declare an air defense identification zone (ADIZ).