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Monthly Archives: December 2015

Boomer alert: A look back at the trends of 2015

Lloyd Alter on snowboard

I fell down and I can’t get up! Not. (Photo: Emma Alter)

A few years ago I pitched the idea of a blog dedicated to baby boomers, a fit and active generation usually treated by blogs as being ready for the nursing home. But when I tried to find fit and active boomers to contribute to it, they acted as if I was trying to make them join a club that they wanted no part of. In fact, studies have shown that most baby boomers look in the mirror and see someone 20 years younger (particularly men). Many don’t want to admit their age or, as is also said about children, to act their age.

I hope and believe that this is changing. It’s one reason that I asked to cover this topic on MNN over the last year, to talk about the issues that face baby boomers, many of whom are still looking after their own parents and supporting children and grandchildren, all at the same time. Here are my favorite posts on the subject from 2015:

When do you get to say ‘I’m too old for this’?

Lloyd Alter in rain

I’m too old for cycling in the rain. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

This post really is a synopsis of the whole year, the question of when do you get to say you’re too old. Certainly as a 63 year old, I’m feeling the effects of aging; you can see it in my eyes and hear it when I talk. I thought it last spring when I did a 50K bike ride in the rain and last winter when I was on my snowboard. So this year I have a better bike with more gears, and I’m buying new bindings for my snowboard so that I don’t have to get down on my rear end every time I get off the chair lift. That’s why they make these things. (Read more: When do you get to say ‘I’m too old for this’?)

Latest hearables give me new super powers

apple watch

Hearables and wearables together at last. (Photo: ReSound GN)

It’s like my hearables, as I like to call hearing aids. Boomers are embarrassed to admit that they need them and put it off, instead of turning them into the coolest tool, the best wearable on the market. They give me super powers that normal people don’t have.They connect to my iPhone, turning them into a fitness app, podcast player and Google map reader, but there’s much more. If they are an embarrassment, they are an embarrassment of riches. Read how the latest hearables give me new super powers. And then read about the ones that are even newer. They connect to my Apple Watch and do wonderful things.

I can imagine people being afraid of wearing them to work because they think that they make them look old; that is a big deal in the workplace today. In fact they offer real advantages to the older worker that the kids don’t have. Like the volume control on your head if you are working in crowded spaces, that you can turn it up when you want to hear everything going on around you. You’re not old, you’re bionic. Enhanced even. You are totally wired and they are not. Forget stigma, these are cool tools that give you an edge.

(Read more: New hearables sound better than headphones)

Boomer alert: Smartphones keep your brain young

man using tablet

Keep using that tablet! It will keep you young. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

The late Nora Ephron nailed it:

I am living in the Google years, no question of that. And there are advantages to it. When you forget something, you can whip out your iPhone and go to Google. The Senior Moment has become the Google moment, and it has a much nicer, hipper, younger, more contemporary sound, doesn’t it? By handling the obligations of the search mechanism, you almost prove you can keep up.

It’s better than that. In fact, studies are showing that the use of smartphones and computers is having a significant effect in keeping cognitive functioning going in older people, making a difference of as much as four to eight years. So the next time my daughter tells me to put down my phone and talk to her, I have an answer. (Read more: Smartphones keep your brain young)

Boomer alert: Exercise keeps your brain young

lloyd alter rowing

The author, doing his best to prevent cognitive decline. (Photo: Kelly Rossiter)

Or, put down your phone and get out and exercise. Everybody knows that this is good for your body, but new research shows that it’s good for the brain too, probably because your brain gets more blood. “The message is pretty clear: If you’re a boomer still trying to compete in the workplace or a senior trying to keep up, sudoku and Scrabble are fine, but remember that physical exercise is as important as mental exercise.” (Read more: Exercise keeps your brain young)

Boomer alert: You need better lighting to compensate for aging eyes

Hue light fixture

Our Hue light fixture, set for my wife, not me. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

Most people have thermostat wars. In our house we have lighting wars, especially since we converted all our bulbs to LEDs and our main fixtures to Hue RGB LEDs, which we can control on our phones. I am always turning up the light to the absolutely highest level and sitting right under the fixture; my wife keeps changing it to a more pleasing color temperature and lower intensity. Because it turns out, as you get older, that your eyes need a lot more light — by age 65 the amount of light is reduced to 33 percent compared to young people.

Fortunately, we are living in the best of times to deal with this, with LED lights that are adjustable, bright and don’t use very much power. I bought a cheap light meter app for my iPhone and have been measuring light levels where I am comfortable reading and where I find it too low, and am adding fixtures when I need them. Of all the problems that baby boomers face as they age, this is about the easiest and cheapest to solve, and you might even save money while you do it. Don’t fight it, bright it. (Read more: Hey boomers: You need better lighting to compensate for aging eyes)

Robots and virtual reality may transform life for aging boomers

kitchen future

Aging boomers will have robots and Roombas, right? (Photo: RCA)

Better lightbulbs and smartphones are not the only things making it easier for boomers; new technology could revolutionize their lives, if they can afford it. From self-driving cars to smart carpets to robots, our technology will follow us and take care of us. We might not ever have to get out of our Barcaloungers at all, as we put on our Oculus Rift headsets and tour the world. “Using video game technology, retirees can tour a Paris museum or feel the bumps of a jeep ride on African safari, all from their favourite chair.” Really! (Read more: Robots and virtual reality may transform life for aging boomers)

Are older cyclists endangering themselves?

copenhagen cyclists

There’s safety in numbers, not clothing (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

Are boomers taking their lives in their hands by getting on bikes? More and more of them are, and there has been an increase in the number of accidents. But in fact, if you look at the rate of accidents, it’s going down. That’s because so many more people are on bikes, getting exercise, which is healthy, not dangerous. We need more boomers on bikes, not fewer. (Read more: Are older cyclists endangering themselves?)

9 ways to redesign (and rethink) retirement

cherry blossoms

We need walkable cities, preferably with cherry blossoms. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

I get in a lot of trouble for this, but if you look up any article about aging in place, it talks about people designing houses with big halls, wide garages that can accommodate big vans and giant bathrooms. Look at Houzz on aging in place and you will see 156,825 photos of bathrooms as big as some tiny houses. It’s what I call Senior Sprawl. But we have to design communities, not houses. We have to make it possible for people to walk to stores instead of having to fire up a giant van. “Isolation kills. Lack of exercise kills. Yet we seem to be designing our cities to maximize both. It’s time for a redesign.”

And that is just one of the issues. (Read more: 9 ways to redesign retirement)

In praise of the college town

Food trucks

Yummy food trucks gather in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

If I were going to move out of my walkable neighborhood, or cash out of my valuable downtown property, I would head for a college town; you can usually find a good cappuccino, a second-run movie house, a decent bookstore and as I found in Durham, North Carolina, food trucks galore. If the university has a medical school, so much the better. It always was a thing, but is becoming more popular than ever. (Read more: In praise of the college town)

It won’t be pretty when boomers lose their cars

mother in law's house

My mother-in-law’s house with that rusting Saturn in the driveway. (Photo: Google Maps)

Those boomers are going to need walkable communities, because a lot of us are going to have to hang up the keys at some point. And the fact is, if you don’t have a car in the suburbs, you are totally screwed. Many baby boomers are going through this now, taking care of seriously old parents. Many are also setting themselves up for the same problem in the not-too-distant future. (Read more: It won’t be pretty when boomers lose their cars)

Who will save our digital memories?

family photo

My mother-in-law photobombs family, circa 1935. (Photo: McLean family)

Finally, this is not just for boomers but something everyone should think about: In this era where we write everything on the computer and take our photos with digital cameras, what happens to it all? I have lost a few years of writing for a website that closed, and a few years of photos when I didn’t archive them properly. The records of my architectural career are shredded or on unreadable 5″ floppy disks. I now back everything up to the cloud, but it is like a storage locker in the sky:

I suppose that some day, I won’t make the monthly payment, my kids won’t know the password or maybe not care about it, and there will be a digital version of “Storage Wars” where they try and sell the contents of my locker and if that doesn’t work, dump it out into the virtual street.

Something to think about. (Read more: Who will save our digital memories?)

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2015 Retrospective: The year in Tesla Motors and Elon Musk

Elon Musk and Tesla 2015

CC BY 2.0 Flickr

How productive was Tony Stark Elon Musk this year?

Life is never boring in Elon Musk world. The man and his company, Tesla Motors, are always working on something new. No need to wait years, or even months, between new projects and features — they roll out almost daily. Now that we are reaching the end of 2015, let’s take a moment to look back at what were the major Musk/Tesla stories of the year (and we won’t even cover SpaceX…):Tesla Snakebot autochargerTwitter/Tesla/Screen capture

First in January, Musk tweeted that they were working on a new charger that would automatically plug itself, looking a bit like a “solid metal snake”:
Tesla Dual Drive and AutopilotTesla/Screen capture

 

The best description by those who rode it was “like a rollercoaster”. See for yourself.

Apple vs. Tesla logosApple/Tesla/Promo image

February 2015 saw a lot of interest in rumors (which became more confirmed over time) that Apple was working on an electric car, and that the fruit company and Tesla were in competition for engineers. I wrote two pieces on this, one about Apple vs. Tesla, and one explaining 9 reasons why I think Apple might eventually buy Tesla.

Tesla Model S Consumer Reports top pick 2015CR/Screen capture

2015 was also the second year in a row when Consumer Reports named the Tesla Model S the “Best Overall Car”, though that honor was mitigated later in the year whenCR pulled its “recommended” stamp of approval from the EV because of potential reliability issue (especially with early models, Tesla says that they have corrected a lot of problems over time, and that the defects are covered under warranty).

Still, the Model S was so good during CR’s testing that it “broke” their rating system with a score of 103%

 

The year was also one in which the Supercharger Network grew like weeds, now only in the U.S. but worldwide:

Tesla Supercharger Stations mapTesla/Screen capture

In the fall the company passed a milestone: 500 Supercharger stations, with over 2,800 individual Superchargers.

It was also a great year for so-called ‘destination charging‘ (slower charging at restaurants, hotels, stores), with over 1,100 of those now around the US and Canada:

Tesla Destination charging mapTesla/Screen capture

Another revelation that came out this year, in a biography of Elon Musk, is that Tesla was almost sold to Google for $6 billion in 2013.

Tesla and Google logosTesla/Google/Promo image

Whether that would’ve been good or bad is debatable…

Tesla Powerwall home batteryTesla/Promo image

One of the biggest pieces of Tesla news of the year interestingly didn’t even have to do with electric vehicles. It was about static battery storage for homes, businesses, and utilities: The Tesla Powerwall, as wells as the unveiling of the Tesla Energy Division at the company, made big waves by promising to help make intermittent renewable energy like solar and wind easier to integrate into the power grid.

Tesla Powerwall battery specsTesla/Screen capture

The Model S received a bunch of upgrades this year. The entry model got upgraded from a 60kWh to a 70kWh battery, the top-of-the-line one was boosted to 90kWh and a ‘Ludicrous’ acceleration mode was added.

Ludicrous speedSpaceballs/Screen capture

But the most innovative change to the Model S was no doubt the Autopilot feature, which was added to existing car by a software update.

Tesla AutopilotTesla Motors/Promo image

But most impressive is probably the team who drove a Tesla across the U.S., from coast to coast, in 57 hours using the Autopilot.

Tesla Model X© Tesla

Another big piece of Tesla news was the launch (finally!) of the Model X electric crossover. It’ll take some time before the more affordable versions of it start shipping (only the fully equipped models are being made at first), but at least Tesla is not a one-car company anymore.

Tesla Model X© Tesla

 

What’s probably most impressive about the Gigafactory, apart from its massive scale (it could be the biggest building on Earth once completed, producing as many batteries as the whole world did in 2013), is that it’ll produce as much renewable energy as it uses. This net zero energy approach is something that all factories should aim for…

Tesla GigafactoryTesla/Promo image

Musk made an important speech in Paris during the climate negotiations, calling for a carbon tax as the most effective way to rapidly make progress.

And to end our retrospective on something a bit lighter, here’s what Elon Musk did for his birthday this year:

Elon Musk wing walking at 130 MPHInstagram/Screen capture

Elon Musk and Talulah Riley on the wing of a planeInstagram/Maye Musk/Screen capture

 

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Nativity Taken Down To Make Way For Atheists In Capitol

nativity1Christmas is a part of America. And Christmas is a Christian celebration, first and foremost. By forcing Nebraska to remove a Christian symbol of what Christmas is about, atheists are doing themselves no favors. They call it “separation of Church and State”, this crusade to remove God from the United States. However, there is no “separation” defined in the Constitution, only a statement that the Government will not pass a law favoring one religion over another. Displaying a Nativity is not passing a law, it is recognizing the place that Christianity has in the psyche of America.

An atheist group has forced Nebraska to remove a nativity from its state capitol and replace it with an atheist display.

The nativity is allowed to stay up until Dec. 18 when it must be taken down so that an atheist display can be put up. The atheist display will feature a small model church and model capitol building with a large wall between them to symbolize the separation of church and state, The Lincoln Journal Star reports. The atheist display will be up through Christmas, but not the nativity.

The Christian legal group, The Thomas More Society, sponsored a nativity last year, which raised questions about a possible violation of the Establishment Clause. This year, though, the Lincoln Atheists group preempted the Christians by reserving all the available space in August.

“They have proved our point that all speech is welcome, except Christian,” Martin Cannon, an attorney with the Thomas More Society in Omaha, which sponsors the Nativity scene, told the Journal Star. “We would have shared our space with them, but they are not willing to do the same.”

They say their intent was not to block out Christians, though they only held this event this year, a year after the nativity went up last December and made headlines. The atheists will host several groups in an event they’ve called “Reason This Season.” The Thomas More Society is involved in several nativity disputes around the country.

“The nativity displays represent a constitutionally protected expression by private citizens in traditional or designated public forums, where the sole role of the government is that of a viewpoint-neutral gatekeeper assuring open access for all citizens to have their ‘say,’” ”Tom Brejcha, Thomas More Society president and chief counsel said in a statement. “If the First Amendment entitles you to get up on your soapbox and plead for a candidate or advocate a political point of view in a public forum, then equally you may get on the soapbox and proclaim the joyous, hopeful message of the Christ Child!”

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Donald Trump proposes ‘closing the Internet’ as a way to fight terrorism

Politicians here in the US aren’t generally known for embracing modern technology. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) publicly boasted this year that he’s never sent an email. Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and John McCain (R-AZ) said they only check it every few months. From the “series of tubes” meme to Representative Jim Barton’s (R-TX) proposal that the FCC be given the power to shut down social media sites if terrorists are found to use them, there’s no shortage of tech-ignorant politicians.

Donald Trump, however, may be in a class of his own. In a speech in South Carolina yesterday, the Republican presidential candidate laid out one facet of his plan for preventing homegrown terrorism and radicalization:

“We’re losing a lot of people because of the Internet and we have to do something. We have to go see Bill Gates and a lot of different people that really understand what’s happening. We have to talk to them, maybe in certain areas closing that Internet up in some way.

“Somebody will say, ‘oh, freedom of speech, freedom of speech.’ These are foolish people… we’ve got to maybe do something with the Internet because they are recruiting by the thousands, they are leaving our country and then when they come back, we take them back. Oh come on back. Where were you? ‘Oh I was fighting for Isis.’ Oh come on back, enjoy yourself.”

It’s worth noting that Trump’s claim that “thousands” of Americans have joined Daesh (often referred to as ISIS or ISIL) is a significant exaggeration. In July 2015, FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress that roughly 200 Americans had attempted to join the terrorist organization. The majority of Westerners who have fought in Syria have been European citizens, with an estimated 4,000 Europeans joining the war thus far.

The larger issue, of course, is Trump’s assertion that we can “close up the Internet” with or without Bill Gates’ assistance. There is no magical method of separating lawless and lawful behavior at such scales, at least not without fundamentally overhauling both the US constitution and the Internet itself.

Emperor Ballpatine

If we’re going to get Bill Gates in on this, can we also get Emperor Ballpatine?

Trump has based his campaign on big ideas, not specific policy recommendations. His campaign rhetoric hammers broad themes and promises to look into and deal with various problems, but doesn’t offer much in the way of concrete proposals. What’s striking about this particular one, however, is that there’s no way to read that sentence that doesn’t conflict with the fundamental structure of the Internet — and of American law. Does he mean closing the Internet to individuals? To organizations? To traffic from other countries? Should social media sites like Facebook and YouTube be responsible for actively policing every post and comment for anything that might be deemed subversive? If they found such content, what steps would be taken to “close down” the people who made the statements in the first place?

What’s particularly frustrating about these types of proposals is that the same politicians who call for policies that would effectively destroy the modern Internet will stand up and praise the innovation and drive of firms like Google, Amazon, and Facebook. The idea that the structure and design of the former is partly responsible for the success of the latter is rarely given a passing thought.

We need candidates who understand the modern Internet, at least superficially. Hopefully that’s something everyone can agree on, no matter where you land on the political spectrum.

 

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Three food companies with a climate footprint bigger than the Netherlands

Analysis of the carbon emissions of global food giants Cargill, Tyson and Yara puts agribusiness in the spotlight at UN climate talks in Paris
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They may not be household names but collectively global food companies Cargill, Tyson and Yara have a bigger climate footprint than the Netherlands, Vietnam or Columbia, according to a new analysis.

The startling revelation from the NGO Global Justice Now comes at a time when fossil fuel companies such as Shell and BP continue to dominate discussions about climate change. Far less attention has been paid to the agri-food sector, despite as much as 29% of global emissions being associated with food production.

At present food companies only report their direct emissions, which include their own energy use but often exclude the vast majority of indirect emissions from their supply chains.

US animal feed manufacturer Cargill, for example, declares its official annual emissions as 15m tonnes. If it included the emissions arising from growing feed crops and their use by livestock then its climate impact, according to Global Justice Now’s new findings, would be an estimated 145m tonnes.
Likewise, Tyson, the largest beef producer in the US, declares its emissions at 5m tonnes but does not include emissions related to the rearing of livestock. If it did its climate emissions would be 34m tonnes, suggests the analysis. The report found Yara, one of the world’s fertiliser producers, has a climate impact of nearly 75m tonnes, when emissions relating to the use of its fertilisers are taken into account, rather than the 12.5m tonnes that it declares.

The result is millions of tonnes of climate emissions that are otherwise being hidden from public knowledge. In the case of Cargill, its undeclared climate emissions of 130m tonnes are comparable to the combined national emissions of Denmark, Bulgaria and Sweden.

“They shouldn’t be able to indulge themselves in the fiction that they are not culpable for these indirect climate impacts,” says Alex Scrivener, policy officer at Global Justice Now and co-author of the analysis, who adds that Yara, Tyson and Cargill are just the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to evaluating the climate emissions produced by agri-food companies.

Campaigners have been particularly critical of Yara and Tyson for their membership of a two different climate-smart agriculture initiatives – the Global Alliance on Climate Smart Agriculture and World Business Council for Sustainable Development. The term itself – climate-smart agriculture – has been accused of being almost meaningless.

“We now know the big oil and coal companies are creating environmental havoc, but agribusiness still gets away with painting itself as the ‘solution to climate change’ despite causing huge damage to the climate,” says Scrivener.
Food and drink companies found to be ignoring biggest impact on climate
Read more
To be taken seriously food companies need to move away from headline-grabbing projects that only focus on one part of their supply chain, says environmental non-profit CDP.

“We prefer big targets that cover the true scope of their operations and supply chain rather than niche projects they market the heck out of to give the impression they are doing more than they are,” says CDP’s head of supply chains Dexter Galvin. “They talk about getting their own house in order but most have outsourced their emissions to their supply chain.”

In response to the analysis, the companies say they are not ignoring their indirect emissions but that it is unlikely that they will start reporting on it soon.

Cargill says it is working to reduce emissions across its supply chains but that “measuring that progress in a quantifiable way is a separate challenge; admittedly, it’s something we – and many others – are still trying to figure out.”

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Tyson says the farmers raising its livestock operate independently and, as such, it would be a difficult to report these emissions. Yara says it is helping to reduce emissions through sharing knowledge on more efficient farming techniques and supporting research to reduce emissions from fertiliser application.

“Obviously companies aren’t as responsible for indirect emissions as they are for direct emissions. But I think most people would recognise that, at the very least, companies need to be aware of the impact of their supply chain and end use of their products, and make this information public,” says Scrivener.

While the focus of the findings were on global agri-food businesses, Tara Garnett, coordinator of the food climate research network at Oxford University, says the responsibility for climate emissions lies across the food chain with consumers who eat the food and supermarkets who sell it, as well as manufacturers like Cargill and Tyson who produce it.

More analysis Topics
Food COP 21: UN climate change conference | Paris Greenhouse gas emissions Climate change Global climate talks Agriculture

 

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Syrian infighting poses challenge for Turkey, US

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A militiaman of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Tel Tawil village, northeast Syria, fires an anti-aircraft weapon in the direction of Islamic State fighters. (photo credit:RODI SAID / REUTERS)

 

BEIRUT – Groups that have received support from the United States or its allies have turned their guns on each other in a northern corner of Syria, highlighting the difficulties of mobilizing forces on the ground against Islamic State.

As they fought among themselves before reaching a tenuous ceasefire on Thursday, Islamic State meanwhile edged closer to the town of Azaz that was the focal point of the clashes near the border with Turkey.

Combatants on one side are part of a new US-backed alliance that includes a powerful Kurdish militia, and to which Washington recently sent military aid to fight Islamic State.

Their opponents in the flare-up include rebels who are widely seen as backed by Turkey and who have also received support in a US-backed aid program.

Despite the ceasefire, reached after at least a week of fighting in which neither side appeared to have made big gains, trust remains low: each side blamed the other for the start of fighting and said it expected to be attacked again. A monitoring group reported there had still been some firing.

The fighting is likely to increase concern in Turkey about growing Kurdish sway near its border.

It also poses a new challenge for the US-led coalition which, after more than a year of bombing Islamic State in Syria, is trying to draw on Syrian groups to fight on the ground but finding many have little more in common than a mutual enemy.

Azaz controls access to the city of Aleppo from the nearby border with Turkey. It also lies in an area coveted by Islamic State, which advanced to within 10 km (six miles) of the town on Tuesday and took another nearby village later in the week.

The fighting pitched factions of the Free Syrian Army, supported by Turkey and known collectively as the Levant Front, against the YPG and Jaysh al-Thuwwar – both part of the Democratic Forces of Syria alliance backed by Washington.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that monitors the conflict in Syria, said Levant Front was supported in the fighting by the Ahrar al-Sham Islamist group and the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.

Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said the rebels had received “new support, which is coming in continuously” from Turkey, a US ally in the fight against Islamic State.

“Turkish groups against US groups – it’s odd,” he said.

Although the YPG has been the most effective partner on the ground for the United States in the fight against Islamic State, Turkey does not want to see its influence expand further, even if the group is fighting Islamic State.

The United States and Turkey have for months been talking of a joint effort to clear Islamic State from the remaining part of the frontier, but there has been no sign of progress.

LONG-STANDING SUSPICION

The clashes were in villages between predominantly Arab Azaz and the majority-Kurdish town of Afrin further southwest. A few dozen people were killed, including 13 civilians, and small tracts of territory have changed hands.

The insurgents blamed the Kurdish forces and their allies for trying to advance. But a Democratic Forces of Syria spokesman said Islamist groups had attacked first under the pretext that his group was a front for the Kurds.

In Aleppo city, insurgents shelled a Kurdish-inhabited area, and the YPG fired from there at the rebel supply route that leads from Aleppo to Azaz and Turkey, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The rivalry is stoked by long-standing rebel suspicion of the Kurdish agenda.

“The Levant Front and the others are in dispute over who should control the Azaz area, and so you have this fighting between them, and the Jaysh al-Thuwwar and the (YPG),” said a rebel leader familiar with the situation. “This is strife between Jaysh al-Thuwwar and the Kurds, with the FSA factions.”

Levant Front commander Abu Ahmad al Jazrawi said he hoped Thursday’s ceasefire would hold. But if the YPG and their allies “try another time to raid our areas we will not hesitate to attack them again,” he warned.

The spokesman for the Democratic Forces of Syria said most of the fighting on its side was being done by non-Kurdish forces, though YPG fighters were reinforcing them from nearby Afrin.

A Levant Front fighter told Reuters the fighting began when the YPG and Jaysh al-Thuwwar seized three villages in the Azaz area. “They cut our main supply route,” he said. “We then succeeded in evicting these forces.”

Rebels say the YPG has been emboldened by Russian air strikes in Syria that have mostly hit groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad, and are not targeting the Kurds, whose fight with Islamic State has been praised by President Vladimir Putin.

The Syrian Kurds, who have established their own government in areas of northern Syria they control, have been accused by President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents of cooperating with him during the 4-1/2-year-old conflict – a charge they deny.

The spokesman for the Democratic Forces of Syria blamed the flare-up on Ahrar al-Sham and the Nusra Front, which he said had initiated hostilities against Jaysh al-Thuwwar positions on the pretext that it was a front for the Kurds.

“Ahrar al-Sham and the Levant Front were dragged behind the lie of the Nusra Front,” said Talal Ali Selo, the spokesman, an ethnic Turkmen who is a member of Jaysh al-Thuwwar. The YPG were involved in the fighting on their side, he said.

Selo said he did not trust those groups to keep the peace.

“In my personal opinion, they will not remain committed” to the ceasefire, he said.

The Observatory reported even after it was signed that there was firing in the area, and one rebel group that had been involved in fighting said it was not party to the truce.

NEW US STRATEGY

The Democratic Forces of Syria alliance, unveiled on Oct. 12, comprises the YPG, Arabs and groups representing other ethnicities. The United States promptly air dropped ammunition to members of the alliance to press the war against Islamic State in northern and eastern Syria, an overhaul of US policy after it abandoned a program to train and equip rebels to fight IS.

The YPG is the strongest element of the coalition, having cleared IS from swathes of eastern Syria with the help of US-led air strikes earlier this year.

The Syrian Kurds already control an uninterrupted 400 km (250 mile) stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border. Turkey’s fear is that they aim to link that territory with Afrin by seizing the territory north of Aleppo. Ankara is fighting an insurgency against Kurdish PKK fighters in its southeast.

The border territory on the Syrian side is currently controlled by a mix of rebels and Islamic State, and was the area where Turkey and the United States had been working on plans to crush IS.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Nov. 17 the United States was starting an operation with Turkey to finish securing the northern Syrian border – an apparent reference to the area north of Aleppo.

In Aleppo, insurgents shelled the YPG-controlled Sheikh Maqsoud neighbourhood, and the YPG opened fire from there on the main road that runs north of the city towards Azaz, the Observatory said.

Abdulrahman said there was no definitive death toll for all the clashes, but that at least 15 rebel fighters and eight on the Kurdish side had died a few days ago, as well as several civilians in Sheikh Maqsoud.

 

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Russia presents proof of Turkey’s role in ISIS oil trade

The Russian Defense Ministry has released evidence which it says unmasks vast illegal oil trade by Islamic State and points to Turkey as the main destination for the smuggled petrol, implicating its leadership in aiding the terrorists.

READ MORE: Map, images from Russian military show main routes of ISIS oil smuggling to Turkey

The Russian Defense Ministry held a major briefing on new findings concerning IS funding in Moscow on Wednesday.

According to Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov, Russia is aware of three main oil smuggling routes to Turkey.

“Today, we are presenting only some of the facts that confirm that a whole team of bandits and Turkish elites stealing oil from their neighbors is operating in the region,” Antonov said, adding that this oil “in large quantities” enters the territory of Turkey via “live oil pipelines,” consisting of thousands of oil trucks.

The routes of alleged oil smuggling from Syria and Iraq to Turkey © syria.mil.ru

Antonov added that Turkey is the main buyer of smuggled oil coming from Iraq and Syria.

According to our data, the top political leadership of the country – President Erdogan and his family – is involved in this criminal business.”

READ MORE: Russia says Turkey’s Erdogan & family involved in illegal ISIS oil trade

However, since the start of Russia’s anti-terrorist operation in Syria on September 30, the income of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) militants from illegal oil smuggling has been significantly reduced, the ministry said.

The income of this terrorist organization was about $3 million per day. After two months of Russian airstrikes their income was about $1.5 million a day,” Lieutenant-General Sergey Rudskoy said.

At the briefing the ministry presented photos of oil trucks, videos of airstrikes on IS oil storage facilities and maps detailing the movement of smuggled oil. More evidence is to be published on the ministry’s website in the coming says, Rudskoy said.

The US-led coalition is not bombing IS oil trucks, Rudskoy said.

READ MORE: US-led coalition not striking ISIS oil trucks despite evidence – Russia’s General Staff

For the past two months, Russia’s airstrikes hit 32 oil complexes, 11 refineries, 23 oil pumping stations, Rudskoy said, adding that the Russian military had also destroyed 1,080 trucks carrying oil products.

“These [airstrikes] helped reduce the trade of the oil illegally extracted on the Syrian territory by almost 50 percent.”

Up to 2,000 fighters, 120 tons of ammunition and 250 vehicles have been delivered to Islamic State and Al-Nusra militants from Turkish territory, chief of National Centre for State Defense Control Lt.Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev said.

According to reliable intelligence reports, the Turkish side has been taking such actions for a long time and on a regular basis. And most importantly, it is not planning to stop them.”

“One thing is clear. The role that Turkey is playing in this area is in many ways destructive and it’s affecting the European security, it’s affecting its neighbors. Ultimately it’s affecting its own society,” Uzi Arad, former head of research at Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency told RT.

Responding to the Russian allegations, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that nobody had a right to“slander” Turkey by accusing it of buying oil from Islamic State.

Speaking at a university in the Qatari capital, Doha, on Wednesday, Erdogan once again claimed that he would resign if such accusations were proven to be true and stressed that he did not want Turkey’s relations with Russia to deteriorate further.

Following Russian accusations, the US has again defended Turkey, denying any ties between Ankara and Islamic State.

“We flatly reject any notion that the Turks are somehow working with ISIL. Preposterous. And really very, kind of ridiculous,”Steve Warren, Pentagon spokesman, said.
He called Turkey “a great partner” to Washington in fighting against IS terrorists in Syrian and Iraq.

“They’re hosting our aircraft. They’re conducting strikes. They’re supporting the moderate Syrian opposition,” Warren explained.

Iraq will immediately file a protest in the UN Security Council if claims that Turkey is illegally purchasing oil from Islamic State terrorists are confirmed, the Iraqi Defense Ministry said.

“If the Iraqi government receives enough evidence and details, without any hesitation it will file a protest at the UN Security Council and all other relevant international bodies,” Naseer Nuri, ministry’s spokesman, told Sputnik.

According to Nuri, certain “general information about the smuggling of Iraqi oil by trucks to certain countries, including Turkey” is already available.

“This oil is used to fund Daesh (IS)”, he added.

 

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