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Thu, 20 Feb 2020
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Major win for Saudi women as courts scrap 'secret divorce' and will enforce split even if husbands don't show up

saudi women
© REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser
Saudi Arabia will now terminate marriages even if either spouse fails to show in court, ending a long tradition which favored men in terms of alimony, child custody and visitation while also ending so-called 'secret divorce.'

Prior to this upcoming amendment to the law, husbands could refuse a divorce via a 'no-show' at the court hearing, regardless of whether they lived with their wife or not. The married woman was essentially bound to the marriage regardless of whether the husband had moved on and potentially even started another family.

"The judiciary will keep pace with the social changes taking place in the Kingdom and some of the existing laws will change," Saudi Minister of Justice Dr. Walid bin Muhammad al-Samani said, referencing the Kingdom's Vision 2030 programme, which includes an attempt to implement a number of social and economic reforms.

Comment: Now if they can just stop cutting off heads and hands they might just enter civilized society.


Russian oil & gas firms plan to invest $20 BILLION in Iraq's energy industry

oil fields
© Reuters / Alaa Al-Marjani
Russian oil and gas companies could triple their investments in Iraq in the near future, Yury Fyodorov, first deputy chairman of the Economic Policy Committee at the Russian Federation Council, has announced.

The companies may spend up to $20 billion on oil projects in Iraq, Fyodorov said at a meeting with Iraqi Ambassador to Russia Abdul-Rahman Al-Husseini, according to Russian media.

"Today, our leading oil and gas companies such as Lukoil, Bashneft, Gazprom Neft are actively working in your country. The total investment has exceeded $10 billion," the official said on Monday. He added that other companies, such as Zarubezhneft, Tatneft, and Rosneftegaz are also interested in working in Iraq.

Red Flag

'Perfect metaphor': Sign collapses as Iowa Democratic Chair explains caucus disaster

Iowa Caucus sign
A podium sign collapsed on Monday as Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price answered questions about last week's disastrous Iowa Caucus.

After being asked about "mathematical rounding errors" and the validity of the caucus results, Price's Iowa Democratic Party podium sign fell onto the ground.

Despite the hiccup, Price ignored the sign and continued with his answer.


Two US soldiers killed by roadside bomb in Afghanistan, two more injured - Taliban claims it

Comment: This happened a month ago, but we missed it at the time because all attention was on the US troops injured (killed?) during the Iranian airstrikes on the Ain Asad Airbase in Iraq...

us troops killed afghanistan
© US Army
82nd Airborne Division Paratroopers Pfc. Miguel Villalon and Staff Sgt. Ian McLaughlin were killed, Jan. 11, 2020, in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Two American service members were killed and two others were wounded Saturday morning by an improvised explosive device (IED) blast in southern Afghanistan, according to the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan.

The two soldiers killed were identified on Sunday as Staff Sgt. Ian Paul McLaughlin of Newport News, Virginia, and Pfc. Miguel Angel Villalon of Joliet, Illinois. The two paratroopers were assigned to Company B, 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, according to a news release.

"These paratroopers represent the very best of our Nation and our Army. Three time volunteers, they went when our Nation called and paid the ultimate sacrifice," Col. Art Sellers, commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division said in the news release. "They will be honored, mourned, but never forgotten and we are committed to taking care of their families for life."

Comment: More American blood on Trump's hands.

The candidate Trump promised time and again in 2016 "to end the war in Afghanistan and bring all our boys home."

We are now in 2020, and there are more US troops in Afghanistan than in 2016.

Three more US troops were killed in Kenya during the same week last month.

Over a hundred US troops were injured by Iranian airstrikes during the same week last month.

A US soldier was killed during an 'accident' near Deir-ez-Zor in Syria at the end of the month.

An unknown number of CIA officers were killed when their spy plane was shot down over Afghanistan at the end of January.

And two more US troops were killed in action in Afghanistan this past weekend.


11 things you really need to stop recycling

Since most of us were kids we've heard the phrase Reduce, Reuse, Recycle repeated ad nauseam everywhere from on TV to ads plastered on the sides of buses, on recycling bins, on coloring pages, and a host of other places.

However, over the years it seems something was lost in translation. With less focus placed on reducing and reusing, our recycling bins are overflowing week after week. Sure, it might be better to have an overflowing recycling bin than it is to have an overflowing trash bin, but how much better is it really?

At the same time we're finally seeing an increase of recycling outside of the home at places like schools, gas stations, airports, etc. we're also seeing a dramatic cutting back of the acceptance of recyclables created in the United States. China recently started restricting the import of recyclable waste including mixed paper and most plastics. The news of this happening was the first time that many people in the United States became aware that a lot of our recycling isn't actually recycled here. For an act billed as a necessity to saving the environment, the fact that it uses an overwhelming amount of time and resources including fuel to ship it overseas is a little concerning.

But more than that, recycling is only a thing because recyclables are valuable. According to a press release, "The global waste management market size is expected to reach $484.9 billion by 2025." This means that when you toss something into your recycling bin and it is not able to turn a profit it won't be recycled. Unfortunately this isn't rare.


India: 2 of 3 confirmed coronavirus patients have RECOVERED from deadly illness

coronavirus india recovery
© Reuters / ANI
Hospital staff wearing masks walk in Hyderabad, India.
After declaring a regional health emergency over the novel coronavirus, two of the three confirmed patients in India's state of Kerala - the only known cases in the country - seem to have recovered from the illness.

The two patients tested negative for the virus in subsequent blood tests and may be soon released from hospital once given the approval of health officials in New Delhi. The only confirmed case remains at Kanhangad district hospital in Kasaragod. All three are medical students who were diagnosed with the disease after visiting China.


People 2

UK home ownership among people aged 35-44 has plunged as wages continue to stagnate and house prices soar

estate agents
© Tim Ireland/PA
Rising house prices and sluggish wage growth have left many middle-aged people priced out of the property market.
Home ownership has collapsed for adults in their prime working age, according to official figures that show those in their mid-30s to mid-40s are three times more likely to rent than 20 years ago.

In a reflection of surging house prices and a lost decade for wage growth since the financial crisis, the Office for National Statistics found that a third of 35- to 44-year-olds in England were renting from a private landlord in 2017, compared with fewer than one in 10 in 1997.

The government statistics agency said home ownership had become increasingly concentrated among people over the age of 65. Almost three-quarters of adults in the generation that includes baby boomers born after the second world war own their own homes outright, up from just over half in 1993.

Comment: The future for Brits is looking pretty dire:

Eye 1

Four Chinese military hackers charged with massive 2017 Equifax breach

The defendants stole the personal information of nearly 150 million Americans in one of the largest data breaches in history, the Justice Department said.

Attorney General William Barr
© Win McNamee / Getty Images
Attorney General William Barr during a press conference on the shooting at the Pensacola naval base, in Washington on Jan. 13, 2020.
Four Chinese military hackers were charged with hacking into the Equifax credit reporting company in 2017 and stealing the personal information of nearly 150 million Americans, the Department of Justice said Monday.

The nine-count indictment says that the four officers exploited a vulnerability in Equifax's online dispute portal to conduct surveillance on the company's network and then steal login credentials in what was one of the largest data breaches in history. The hackers managed to spend several weeks inside Equifax's network collecting data, storing it in output files and ultimately downloading it onto computers outside the United States — all while avoiding detection, the indictment says.

Blue Planet

China dismisses coronavirus bioweapon rumors, infection rates fall for 4th day

© China Daily via Reuters
Medical workers in protective suits attend to novel coronavirus patients at the ICU in Wuhan, Hubei province, China
As the death toll from the novel coronavirus outbreak soared to over 900 people worldwide, the Chinese ambassador to the US has cautioned against fueling panic and spreading dangerous rumors about the virus' unknown origins.

With China's Hubei Province, the epicenter of the lethal viral outbreak, reporting 91 deaths and some 2,618 additional cases of infection throughout Sunday - the global toll now stands at over 40,000 cases with at least 904 fatalities.

Asked about the situation and speculation surrounding the 2019-nCoV origins and spread earlier in the day, Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai told CBS it would be "absolutely crazy" to believe unsubstantiated rumors online while the entire global scientific community that is working day and night on the issue has yet to come a conclusion.

Comment: An app has been created that claims to be able to predict potential contact with the virus:
A mobile application developed by the Chinese government and a state-run tech company is reported to warn users when they are at imminent risk of contracting the killer coronavirus, which has claimed more than 900 lives.

The "close contact detector" has become available to Chinese users, requiring only their name, phone number and ID for installation, Xinhua reported on Monday. The app then lets the user know if they have been in contact with someone infected by the deadly 2019-nCoV virus.

Qihoo 360, China's biggest cybersecurity company, has also come up with an application that lets users check if they traveled by plane or train with someone who caught the virus.

Search engine Baidu has released an add-on for its Baidu Map app, which locates confirmed and suspected cases in cities that have been put on lockdown. The map also shows real-time data on the coronavirus, including traffic updates and epidemic control checkpoints.
Moon of Alabama provides some recent transmission and related coronavirus data:
Caixin reports (machine translation):
In general, with the increase in isolation and treatment work, the number of new suspected cases nationwide has decreased, and the number of new confirmed cases outside Hubei has fallen for 4 consecutive days. The situation of the new coronavirus epidemic situation may have improved. On the 7th, the first confirmed case appeared in only one city, and the number of newly cured cases exceeded the number of new deaths for 9 consecutive days, indicating that the epidemic was under control.
The graphic below shows the newly suspected cases per day (yellow) and the number of newly confirmed cases per day (red).

© Dxy - bigger
Graphic updated with February 8 data


Data source: National Health Commission of China
The new cases per day number in China stabilized at around 8,000 per day and is now sinking.

The epidemic is still a local Chinese affair. Of 34,956 global cases 34,664 are in China.

Of the 32.000 current confirmed cases 25.000 are in Hubei province. The provincial capital Wuhan alone has 13,600 cases.

Health services and personal in Wuhan were extremely stressed (recommended) during January. The death rate there (blue) topped at 5% of the cases before it came down below 3%. The death rate of nCoV19 cases in all of China (yellow) is now about 2%. The rest-of-the-globe rate (grey), with probably too few total cases to be meaningful, is at 0.17%.

A number of anti-virus medications are now being tested on the current cases. Some combinations seem to help which will further lower the death rate.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that 88% of those who died were over 60 years old. 76% of the dead were men and 70% of the dead had underlying diseases.

China's economy is severely effected by the epidemic.

After the Lunar New Year on January 25 property sales stayed at zero instead of increasing towards their normal height.

Road congestion is at a record low.

The Chinese authorities will soon have to balance public safety with the necessity of economic activities. They are likely to stay cautious. They will want to make sure that the epidemic is under total control before allowing a return to normal life.

Further shutdowns of factories and curfews will interrupt supply chains and will affect the global economy. This will likely speed up the 'decoupling' from China which the U.S. under Trump promotes.
See also:


The nightmare of airport facial recognition

Biometrics Roadmap

TSA Biometrics Roadmap, September 2018. Note that face ID will be used for all air travelers and that all use of physical ID credentials is “phasing out” in favor of facial recognition and digital tokens on mobile devices.
The ACLU has released an important white paper on airport facial recognition by ACLU senior policy analyst Jay Stanley. Citing some of our previous reporting and analysis, the ACLU white paper focuses, appropriately, not so much on the details of current use of facial recognition at airports, but on where governments and the aviation industry — who share a an explicitly-recognized interest in common use of facial recognition — say it will lead if we don't stop them.

IATA airline vision

IATA airline vision for shared use of facial recognition by governments, airlines, and airports
Driving the dystopian trend called out in the ACLU white paper is the malign convergence of interest between governments that want to use facial recognition and other techniques of compelled and automated identification for surveillance and control of travelers' movements, and airlines, airports, and other businesses that want to share use of the same identification systems and data for business process automation and commercial tracking and profiling of travel customers.

Comment: See also: