Saturday, December 15, 2018

Saudi Arabia's Tilt to Russia

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries likes to look united.

That’s evident when OPEC leaders meet in Vienna at the end of each year to decide how much oil its members will aim to produce the next year. There is always a show of togetherness and the appearance of the quasi-cartel’s ability to move markets.

But the truth is, OPEC is in the midst of a major crisis made more evident by Qatar’s announcement that it would be leaving OPEC, partly to protest Saudi dominance over the group.
My research has taken me through the history of oil, particularly the relationship between oil revenues, economic development and the geopolitical balance of power in the 1960s and 1970s. I believe that rather than the arbiter of global energy, OPEC has often been held back by division, disagreement and divergent interests.

This weakness helps explain why OPEC has struggled to move markets in effective ways since the 2014 collapse of oil prices. The latest production cuts, which were bigger than expected but followed considerable acrimony, are further proof that OPEC’s disunity remains intact.

Early days: Divided and powerless

OPEC was formed from frustration. In the 1950s, the world was awash in oil as small nations in the Middle East and Latin America discovered enormous deposits.
To gain access to those deposits, the major oil companies, known as the “Seven Sisters,” signed concessionary agreements with local governments. This arrangement gave the companies control over the oil – they set production levels and prices – while governments simply collected a check.

In February 1959, amid an oil glut, the Seven Sisters decided that a price correction was necessary. Acting unilaterally, they cut the price of oil, from US$2.08 to $1.80 by August 1960.

That may sound odd today, but back then oil prices didn’t always follow market forces and were typically set by the companies.

The cuts meant a significant loss of revenue for the oil-producing states. In protest, the oil ministers of Iraq, Iran, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait met in Baghdad that September and formed OPEC to achieve a more equitable arrangement with the Seven Sisters. Algeria, Qatar, Indonesia and Libya joined later.

But the big oil exporters like Iran and Saudi Arabia could do little to coerce the companies. Oil was abundant, and the companies could successfully exclude any country from the market, as they did with Iran in 1951. OPEC did not possess enough market share or unity to pressure the companies into surrendering control over price.

A new balance of power

OPEC couldn’t agree on a consistent policy among its members. Saudi Arabia wanted to keep production levels low and prices consistent. Iran wanted prices pushed as high as possible in order to maximize revenue.

According to Ian Skeet, a scholar and an oil consultant, the shah of Iran sought a separate agreement that sabotaged an attempt to extract more favorable terms from the Seven Sisters in 1963.

During the 1960s, OPEC failed to form a united front.

Nevertheless, things were changing. Demand for oil shot up and U.S. production stagnated. The Seven Sisters’ power was undermined by international competitors drilling new fields in North Africa, where Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi threatened to shut off supply if he didn’t get higher prices.

Oil giants faced more pressure to deliver better terms to producing governments.
These conditions, while not the result of OPEC’s actions, gave it an opportunity to upset the balance of power.

Embargo, revolution and crisis

This shift accelerated in the 1970s as war broke out between Israel and its Arab neighbors in October 1973.

To punish the U.S. for supporting the Jewish state, Arab oil producers (not all OPEC members, as popularly believed) cut production and declared an embargo against the United States.

OPEC also demanded a higher oil price. After rejecting a small gesture from the Seven Sisters, OPEC announced it would double the price to $5 – then hiked it again to $11.65.

How did the balance of power seem to shift so suddenly? Among other reasons, oil companies could not agree among themselves on a new oil price and they were tempted by the big profits that would result. OPEC seized control of the market largely due to circumstances beyond its control.

Despite its victory, OPEC had come no closer to resolving its internal divisions. This became evident when the next energy crisis hit, in 1979, when Iran’s revolution broke out.
Global oil markets panicked. Iranian production fell. And other OPEC members sold their own oil at costly premiums, sending the price even higher.

Saudi Arabia tried to impose a quota system. Most members ignored their quotas or overproduced.

Meanwhile, oil-importing countries like the U.S. and the U.K. sought improve fuel efficiency and invested in domestic oil production in places like Alaska the North Sea. By 1985, OPEC’s share of the global market had fallen below 30 percent.

By 1986, Saudi Arabia had had enough. Without warning, its production shot up by more than 2 million barrels per day, flooding the market and pushing the average price down to $18 per barrel, about $39 today, according to oil company records.

This move indicated Saudi willingness to use its massive reserves to “correct” the market and push out high-cost producers, even at the cost of its OPEC allies.

Russia’s new role

As OPEC’s fortunes have oscillated with increasing volatility since the 1986 shock, cooperation has remained elusive.

In 2014, oil prices began to decline, due to increasing U.S. production. To squeeze out American drillers, Saudi Arabia pumped more oil, sending prices to historic inflation-adjusted lows in early 2016.

But the move backfired: U.S. producers held on, while OPEC members like Venezuela endured enormous economic pain.

To gain leverage, Saudi Arabia has partnered with Russia, a major oil exporter that doesn’t belong to OPEC, forming what some analysts have called OPEC+. The two countries now coordinate their production cuts to stabilize prices.

OPEC+ minus one

Not all OPEC members are happy about this arrangement, including Qatar, a small Persian Gulf state. It has been at odds with Saudi Arabia since 2017. In December 2018, Qatar announced it would be leaving OPEC to concentrate on liquefied natural gas exports.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump was imploring OPEC to pump more oil rather than less of it, to keep gasoline prices low.

When OPEC+ met in Vienna it didn’t buckle. But the deal it reached followed considerable disagreement, which laid bare divisions within the group over how much oil output it should cut. In the end, Russia and Saudi Arabia agreed to do most of the cutting required to slash oil production by 1.2 million barrels per day. And Iran did not pledge any cuts at all.

The overall cut was bigger than expected. But Iran’s defiance, Qatar’s departure and the fight over cuts underscores what has been true from the very beginning: OPEC projects unity, but behind the scenes the group struggles with division, disunity and differing interests.

Portions of this article appeared in a related article first published on June 2, 2016.

Gregory Brew, Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Presidential History, Southern Methodist University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Weekly Headlines - 14 Dec 2018

Headlines of note compiled by for 14 Dec 2018. Click on a headline to read more.

Reuters >> The suspected gunman who killed three people at a Christmas market in the French city of Strasbourg was shot dead on Thursday in a brief gun battle with police after being on the run for 48 hours, police sources said.

Reuters >> Canadian ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig, who was detained in Beijing earlier this week in the wake of Canada’s arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer at the request of the US, is a fluent Mandarin speaker with a great love of China who was working without diplomatic immunity on matters related to conflict resolution…

Reuters >> Hundreds of lawyers and doctors in Tunisia protested on Wednesday against a new law that will force them to disclose their salaries as part of a government bid to raise taxes.

Reuters >> Worshippers at a church in the Netherlands that have been holding round-the-clock prayer services for more than six weeks to prevent an Armenian family from being deported are hoping for a Christmas miracle.

Reuters >> There will be no meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin while Russia still holds Ukrainian ships and sailors seized near Crimea, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said on Thursday.

Reuters >> Nayib Bukele, the former mayor of El Salvador's capital, has maintained his wide lead in the run-up to the Feb. 3, 2019, presidential election in the crime-ridden Central American country, according to a new poll released on Thursday.

Reuters >> European Union leaders offered Ukraine more aid at a summit on Thursday after Russia's seized its ships off Crimea but calls to punish Moscow with more sanctions went unheeded for now as Berlin and Paris try to secure the release of captured sailors.

Reuters >> Iraq has increased production at its southern Halfaya oilfield by 100,000 barrels per day to a total of 370,000 bpd, an oil official told Reuters Wednesday. Halfaya, operated by PetroChina, is Maysan province's largest field.
Reuters >> Egypt's El Sewedy Electric and Arab Contractors will be involved in building a $3 billion hydroelectric plant in Tanzania that is to more than double the country's power generation capacity, the Tanzanian energy minister said.

AP >> Daesh’s (ISIS) deliberate destruction of agriculture in northern Iraq has hindered the return of hundreds of thousands of residents, Amnesty International said in a report released Thursday. The rights group said Daesh militants burnt or chopped down orchards and sabotaged wells.

VOA >> On Thursday the euro eased after the European Central Bank formally ended its bond purchasing scheme. In the United States, the S&P and Nasdaq finished in the red while the Dow closed well off its session highs as cautious trade optimism faded.  

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Weekly Headlines - 7 Dec 2018

Headlines of note compiled by for 7 Dec 2018. Click on a headline to read more.

Reuters >> The French government hinted at more concessions to 'yellow vest' protesters on Thursday in a bid to head off another wave of violence in the capital over living costs and regain the initiative after weeks of civil unrest.

Reuters >> Hackers behind a massive breach at hotel group Marriott International Inc left clues suggesting they were working for a Chinese government intelligence gathering operation, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Reuters >> India's toxic air claimed 1.24 million lives in 2017, or 12.5 percent of total deaths recorded that year, according to a study published in Lancet Planetary Health on Thursday.

Reuters >> A top aide to Saudi Arabia's crown prince, fired for his role in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, personally oversaw the torture of at least one detained female activist earlier this year, two sources with knowledge of the matter said.

Reuters >> Indian advertisers wanting to run political ads on Facebook will have to confirm their identity and location to help prevent abuse of the system in the build-up to national elections, the company said on Thursday.

Reuters >> European Union governments that refuse to host refugees could instead pay to be excused from the bloc's system of sharing out migrants, France and Germany proposed on Thursday as they sought to end a long-running EU feud over migration.

Reuters >> Libya's electoral commission has asked the government for $28.7 million, saying that without funding to boost its "zero" budget it cannot make plans to prepare for a vote on a new constitution and later elections.

Reuters >> The U.S. military said on Thursday it carried out an “extraordinary” flight over Ukraine under the Open Skies Treaty to reaffirm its commitment to the country after Russia seized three Ukrainian naval vessels off Crimea.  
Reuters >> U.N. talks on disputed Western Sahara ended on Thursday without a breakthrough, but all sides agreed to meet again in early 2019, U.N. envoy Horst Koehler said.

Reuters >> Parliament's vote on Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal will go ahead on Dec. 11, her office said on Thursday, rejecting suggestions from lawmakers that she should seek ways to avoid a defeat so big it might bring down the government.

AFP >> Syrian President Bashar Assad announced Thursday a budget for 2019 of almost $9 billion, of which around a third has been allocated to investment projects including in areas ravaged by the war.   

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Grotesque as a Tool of Manipulation

We are living in an era of visual excesses driven by digital networks. Videos showing hostage beheadings by terrorists, a photograph of a model’s emaciated body to denounce anorexia in the fashion industry or, more recently, the image of a dying polar bear to call the attention to the consequences of climate change. These stories and images represent a kind of grotesque that claims to be accurate representations of our realities.

Every day, the media gives us a dosage of these grotesque images and stories — grotesque because they are shocking, disgusting or horrific. Sometimes, the grotesque is linked to the exhibition of bodily functions or a deteriorating or dead body.

Art, literature, theatre and cinema have always used the grotesque to capture the attention of the public.

I call this grotesque transparency: the strategic use of realistic grotesque images to achieve the goal of causing people to feel terror, raising public awareness about an environmental crisis or denouncing the questionable behaviour of an elected official.

Distortion and transparency

This communication strategy is somewhat paradoxical because it conveys something repulsive that could also be considered to be an exact representation of the situation (think of the image of a dying patient suffering from lung cancer on a cigarette package). The realism of the image is enhanced by its disturbing effect.

This becomes problematic for two reasons. First, it reveals something to make us believe that we are seeing the “real thing” but it is used as a way to divert our attention or hide other things. Second, it is used to justify violence (consider ISIS carefully staged executions of hostages), trivialize moral dilemmas (how far a government or a corporation can go to make the public aware of a disease or prevent it?) or even legitimize questionable acts because they are considered to be “authentic.” Followers of populist politicians — either Trump or Hugo Ch├ívez — praise them because they are “real.”

Understanding the politics of emotions

The increase of the grotesque in the media can help us understand the politics of emotions associated with the rise of populism in different countries. For example, the video (originally recorded in 2005 and revealed in 2016) of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s dismissive remarks regarding women.

The objective of those who leaked the video was to denounce the questionable behaviour of Trump in relation to women. Certainly, the public disclosure of Trump’s infamous conversation with Billy Bush contributed to the polarization of the electoral campaign.

Despite Trump’s remarks in the video about his treatment of women, there was scant impact on the support he received from some women voters, particularly white women who favoured Trump over Hillary Clinton (52 to 45 per cent in favour of Trump).

Another case that illustrates this strategy was the video showing the late mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, smoking crack. Ford consistently denied the existence of a video and that he had used crack cocaine. Several members of Toronto City Council — and the editorial boards of the National Post, the Toronto Sun and the Toronto Star — called for him to step down.

Even after police confirmed the existence of a video showing the mayor smoking crack and making homophobic and racist remarks, Ford announced he would not resign from office. More interestingly, after the police confirmed the authenticity of the video, Ford’s approval rating rose slightly from 39 to 44 per cent, a sign again of the paradoxical impact of such disturbing disclosure.

Undermining the hero

The revelation of the horrific or disgusting has also been used to rewrite history. On July 15, 2010, in the middle of the night, Hugo Chávez, then president of Venezuela, announced via Twitter that the remains of popular hero Simón Bolívar had been exhumed to find the “true cause” of his death more than 200 years ago.

A few hours later, a video showing the opening of the sarcophagus containing Bolívar’s skeleton was broadcast on all of the country’s television channels. Bolívar’s traditional image is one of a hero on horseback during the War of Independence. To publicly show his remains had precisely the effect of distorting the dead hero’s image.

This strategy reinforces the impression of “authenticity,” a trait exploited by populist politicians. Such troubling images or stories could translate into active public support. Or, at the very least, result in complacent attitudes towards the behaviour of the public figure.

Algorithms desensitize us

We can expect an increase of such representations because of the increase of horrific and disgusting videos and photos. It is simple to distribute these images through social networks to capture the attention of desensitized audiences.

The development of a critical eye towards what looks “realistically” transparent — particularly in an era where the manipulation of the visually truthful is becoming very sophisticated — is more necessary than ever.

We need an ethic of seeing that puts back human dignity at the centre of the question: what are the limits of the visible? This ethic of seeing should translate into using reason to interpret what we view.

This will provide us with the rational and emotional skills to temper the passionate impulses associated with these disrupting images.

Isaac Nahon-Serfaty, Associate Professor, University of Ottawa
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Weekly Headlines - 30 Nov 2018

Headlines of note compiled by for 30 Nov 2018. Click on a headline to read more.

Reuters >> Ukraine's border service said on Thursday it would only allow Ukrainian citizens to travel to Crimea following the imposition of martial law until Dec 26.

Reuters >> German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the West was imposing sanctions on Russia to stand up for international law and added that she would address the Sea of Azov issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin at an upcoming G20 summit.

AFP >> Chinese university professor He Jiankui claims to have created the world’s first genetically-edited babies, in a potentially ground-breaking and controversial medical first. He posted a video on YouTube saying that the twin girls, born a few weeks ago, had had their DNA altered to prevent them from contracting HIV.

Arab News >> Saudi Arabia has pledged on Wednesday $50 million to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), which has been hit by the withdrawal of all US funding, an official said.

Reuters >> Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro said on Thursday that he and U.S. national security adviser John Bolton talked about improving trade ties between the two most populous countries in the Americas, as well as discussing Cuba and Israel during a one-hour meeting in Rio de Janeiro.

Reuters >> The main challenger in Nigeria's election next year aims to outflank President Muhammadu Buhari by campaigning in a sometimes neglected part of the country where the incumbent is deeply unpopular: the southeast.

VOA >> China's science ministry on Thursday ordered that anyone conducting research in gene editing halt their activities. The order came as organizers of a biomedical conference where a Chinese scientist defended his claim that he has created the world's first genetically-edited babies denounced his work as irresponsible.

VOA >> U.S. Republican Congressman Christopher Smith, who co-chairs a Congressional Commission on China, is calling on President Donald Trump to raise the issue of China's mass internment of Muslim ethnic minorities when he meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping later this week.

NPR >> For the second time in three years, life expectancy in the U.S. has ticked downward. In three reports issued Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laid out a series of statistics that revealed some troubling trend lines — including rapidly increasing rates of death from drug overdoses and suicide.

VOA >> Britain’s ambassador to Yemen said Thursday he has spoken with representatives from the country’s warring sides and that he expects them to attend peace talks that are to begin next week in Stockholm. However, overnight fighting cast a cloud on efforts to establish a cease-fire in the war-torn Arab country.

AFP >> Russia Thursday called for changes to a U.N. measure allowing cross-border deliveries of aid to Syrians in rebel-held areas. The Security Council will decide in the coming weeks whether to renew 2014 provisions authorizing aid convoys to cross into Syria from Turkey and Jordan, without the approval of Damascus.  

Friday, November 23, 2018

Blockchain and Trust in the Food Industry

By Nir Kshetri, University of North Carolina – Greensboro (Source: The Conversation)

When a Chinese consumer buys a package labeled “Australian beef,” there’s only a 50-50 chance the meat inside is, in fact, Australian beef. It could just as easily contain rat, dog, horse or camel meat – or a mixture of them all. It’s gross and dangerous, but also costly.

Fraud in the global food industry is a multi-billion-dollar problem that has lingered for years, duping consumers and even making them ill. Food manufacturers around the world are concerned – as many as 39 percent of them are worried that their products could be easily counterfeited, and 40 percent say food fraud is hard to detect.

In researching blockchain for more than three years, I have become convinced that this technology’s potential to prevent fraud and strengthen security could fight agricultural fraud and improve food safety. Many companies agree, and are already running various tests, including tracking wine from grape to bottle and even following individual coffee beans through international trade.

Tracing food items

An early trial of a blockchain system to track food from farm to consumer was in 2016, when Walmart collected information about pork being raised in China, where consumers are rightly skeptical about sellers’ claims of what their food is and where it’s from. Employees at a pork farm scanned images of farm inspection reports and livestock health certificates, storing them in a secure online database where the records could not be deleted or modified – only added to.

As the animals moved from farm to slaughter to processing, packaging and then to stores, the drivers of the freight trucks played a key role. At each step, they would collect documents detailing the shipment, storage temperature and other inspections and safety reports, and official stamps as authorities reviewed them – just as they did normally. In Walmart’s test, however, the drivers would photograph those documents and upload them to the blockchain-based database. The company controlled the computers running the database, but government agencies’ systems could also be involved, to further ensure data integrity.

As the pork was packaged for sale, a sticker was put on each container, displaying a smartphone-readable code that would link to that meat’s record on the blockchain. Consumers could scan the code right in the store and assure themselves that they were buying exactly what they thought they were. More recent advances in the technology of the stickers themselves have made them more secure and counterfeit-resistant.

Walmart did similar tests on mangoes imported to the U.S. from Latin America. The company found that it took only 2.2 seconds for consumers to find out an individual fruit’s weight, variety, growing location, time it was harvested, date it passed through U.S. customs, when and where it was sliced, which cold-storage facility the sliced mango was held in and for how long it waited before being delivered to a store.

Preventing counterfeiting

Beyond tracking products’ origins, blockchain systems are helping ensure cheap plonk isn’t sold in bottles promising expensive wines. Some counterfeiters get their hands on empty wine bottles with top-quality labels, refill them with cheaper wine and reap fraudulent profits.

In December 2016, wine expert Maureen Downey debuted a blockchain system that gives each bottle a unique digital identity combining more than 90 pieces of data about its production, ownership and storage history – including high-resolution photographs and data from the glass and cork. As the bottle moves from winery to distributors and resellers, the data are updated, and can easily be checked by warehouses, retailers and even auction houses.

More recently, Downey’s system has been updated to fight even more sophisticated wine counterfeiters, who have reverse-engineered a wine-preservation system to extract wine without opening the bottle. The upgraded protection embeds a small microchip above the top of a wine’s cork, so if someone removes the capsule wrapper or pierces the chip, it will be unreadable.

Ensuring living wages

Consumers are worried not only about contaminated or counterfeit food products. Many consumers say they prefer products that are environmentally friendly and contribute to improved living and working conditions of small farmers and workers. Middlemen siphon off a lot of the money. In the US$200 billion global coffee industry, for instance, only 10 percent stays in producing countries.

Global sales of products approved by Fairtrade, a major certifier of products that respect environmental and human-rights concerns, reached $9.6 billion in 2017. But Fairtrade and other programs like it have not substantially improved poor people’s lives. A study of small farms growing flowers, coffee and tea in Ethiopia and Uganda indicated that areas dominated by Fairtrade producers paid lower wages compared to farms that were larger, commercial and not Fairtrade-certified.

Colorado-based Coda Coffee seeks to ensure fair payments by using a blockchain system to track its coffee from African farms to U.S. coffee shops. The system includes a camera that takes a three-dimensional scan of each bean’s outer fruit, called a cherry, paying farmers more if they supply bigger and riper cherries and recording the amount paid in a blockchain database for consumers to inspect later.

The bean’s record is updated as it is processed, packed, blended with other beans, roasted and ground, letting consumers know who did what to the bean and how much they got paid. Wholesalers and roasters can learn about where it came from and how it was handled, and evaluate the resulting taste, informing future purchasing decisions.
These are far from the only examplescountless others around the world are underway.

Ensuring data integrity

Blockchain systems are secure, but their data – like other databases – are only as accurate as what is entered. Fraudsters may try to counterfeit certifications of organic processes or farm inspections.
In addition, most of the food products in developing economies like Africa and China are produced on very small farms that don’t have access to technology or internet connectivity.

Blockchain systems can also be expensive, which is part of why early trials have involved high-end beef, wine and coffee.

The research already happening holds the promise of developing cheaper systems that are easier to use and trust – for farmers, food processing plants and customers alike.

Nir Kshetri, Professor of Management, University of North Carolina – Greensboro

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Weekly Headlines - 22 Nov 2018

Would you be interested in more than these weekly headlines? If a paid curated news service with non-mainstream analysis by interests you kindly take this survey (the link will be active until Nov 24 insha Allah). Thanks.

Headlines of note compiled by for 16 Nov 2018. Click on a headline to read more.

Reuters >> Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Argentina next week amid tensions between Ankara and Riyadh, the Turkish presidential spokesman said Thursday.

AFP >> Nearly eight years into the Syrian war, Selim still refuses to perform his military service, just like many fellow Druze from Sweida province rejecting the regime's conscription call. The Sweida region south of Damascus is the Syrian heartland of the country's Druze minority which follows a secretive offshoot of Islam.

Reuters >> An estimated 85,000 children under five may have died from extreme hunger in Yemen since a Saudi-led coalition intervened in the civil war in 2015, an aid agency said on Wednesday, as the UN special envoy arrived in Yemen to pursue peace talks.

Jordan Times >> Saudi Chief of Staff Gen Fayyad Ruwaili on Wednesday attended a military counterterrorism exercise, which was held at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Centre. The drill focused on tactics used by the King Abdullah Special Operations Group to clear the village from terrorists.

Reuters >> U.S. President Donald Trump hinted on Thursday he may visit Afghanistan, scene of one of America's longest wars but a country he has yet to visit almost two years into his presidency.

Reuters >> Attacks blamed on Islamic State West Africa have killed around 100 soldiers in northeast Nigeria since Sunday, five security sources said on Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Reuters >> Britain and the European Union agreed a draft text setting out a close post-Brexit relationship, officials said, though wrangling with Spain over control of Gibraltar must still be settled before EU leaders meet on Sunday.

Reuters >> France said on Thursday it had imposed sanctions, including travel bans, on 18 Saudi citizens linked to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and warned that more could follow depending on results of the current investigation.  

Reuters >> Iraq plans to launch a reconstruction agency to focus on projects such as a deep water port and a rail network, Iraq's president said on Thursday, as the country seeks to put years of turmoil behind it.

NPR >> Igor Korobov, the head of Russian military intelligence, known as the GRU, has died amid mounting accusations that his agency, was behind subversive cyber-attacks on Western countries. Korobov took charge of the GRU in January 2016 after his predecessor, Igor Sergun, died at age 58 under unclear circumstances.

AFP >> Michael Ron David Kadar, a 20-year-old Israeli-American convicted of making more than 2,000 threats against U.S. Jewish institutions, airlines, police stations and even a professional basketball team's plane was sentenced to 10 years in prison Thursday by an Israeli court.