By Michelle Moghtader DUBAI (Reuters) - As a child, Mohammad Rahmanpour spent his summers swimming in Lake Orumieh in northwestern Iran - then the largest in the Middle East. In less than two decades, the saltwater lake has almost disappeared, leaving behind a hole in the ground. "My friends and I would go on the top of trees in our neighborhood. We could see the lake clearly from that point," said the 32 year-old farmer who grows wheat and beets. "Now, there is no water left and our whole ecosystem is messed up," he told Reuters by telephone from his home, which once stood one km (half a mile) from the lakeshore. Water shortages have long been a problem for countries across the Middle East, where a high birth rate, rising consumption and poor management has strained already scarce resources. But Iran has fared among the worst. The country of 76 million has survived an eight-year war with Iraq, U.S. sanctions imposed over its disputed nuclear program and violence on its borders. But experts say the main threat it faces today is dwindling water resources that have prompted some cities to consider rationing. "Water scarcity poses the most severe human security challenge in Iran today," said Gary Lewis, United Nations Resident Coordinator for Iran. Excessive damming of rivers, bad irrigation practices, drought and climate change have all contributed to Iran's water crisis. On top of this, low water prices encourage wasteful consumption while some farmers and organizations have been accused on stealing precious supplies for their own purposes. Such factors have combined to drain Lake Orumieh, a UNESCO biosphere reserve that was home to about 200 bird species and 40 kinds of reptile. A few decades ago the lake measured 140 km by 55 km (90 by 35 miles) but now only five percent of its water remains. "How it happened so fast is an ecological disaster of monumental proportions," said Lewis. Over the past few months, 12 major cities including Tehran and Shiraz have threatened to implement water rationing should residents fail to cut their use. The Ministry of Energy has called on people to reduce consumption by 20 to 30 percent, but this has fallen on deaf ears. Water usage increased 10 percent in cities such as Tehran between May and the start of summer in June, the state news agency IRNA quoted city officials as saying. A PIONEER SEEKS HELP The cause of the crisis is not in residential use; agriculture accounts for about 90 percent of water consumption, with much of it being used inefficiently. Iran takes pride in being founder of a sophisticated irrigation system during the first millennium BC. Tunnels called qanats carry water from aquifers in the hills to the fields below, and remain in use today. "If you linked all of these intricate tunnels, it would stretch around the earth nearly eight times," said Lewis. But outside the tunnels, much irrigation water is lost to evaporation, leakage and theft, while farmers persist in using chemical fertilisers which require use of much more water than organic fertilisers. Government figures show that only a third of agricultural water use is efficient, say U.N. officials. This inefficient management stretches across Iran and other countries in the region, including neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan where wars make it difficult to tackle environmental issues. Major rivers in the cities of Isfahan and Shiraz, and on Iran's border with Afghanistan, have dried up. The depletion of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Iraq has contributed to other environmental problems such as dust and sand storms. Historically, the seasonal Sistan wind in eastern Iran and western Afghanistan would cause 120 days of sand and dust storms each year. But due to the drying conditions, their frequency has increased to 220 days, say U.N. experts, leading to respiratory and eye problems among residents. SOLUTIONS President Hassan Rouhani has identified water as a national security issue, but experts say some solutions offered by government officials may be too costly. "Transferring water from the Caspian Sea to Lake Orumieh doesn't really make sense," said Ali Nazaridoust of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). With government policies mired in bureaucracy, the U.N. has offered to help. In 2012, the world body launched a pilot program to work with farmers near Lake Orumieh. Farmers learned how to make compost, switched to organic-based fertilisers and attended weekly classes on water management which led to a 35 percent drop in consumption. The new techniques have also allowed farmers to reduce costs and increase variety of crops from just wheat and beets to add maize, squash, onions and tomatoes. "It wasn't difficult," said Rahmanpour, who participated in the pilot program, but he added that some of the farmers had trouble believing the change would make any difference. "They thought the U.N. was just talk. But, we tested them out and they help our land and provide benefits for our soil," he said. Improved soil conditions will help to prevent salt particles from the dried out basin being blown to adjacent crop lands, slowly degrading the quality of farmers' soil. The U.N. has since expanded the program to 41 other villages with about 13,000 farmers benefiting from it. In May, the Japanese government donated $1 million to save Lake Orumieh. "God willing, not just my children, but I will see Lake Orumieh filled again," said Rahmanpour. (Editing by Sami Aboudi, David Stamp and Peter Graff)
- LA Times
'So sorry to hear about your dogs,; actor Danny Trejo tweeted in support of his 'Machete Kills' costar Lady Gaga, whose dog walker was shot this week.
- The Independent
Controversial congresswoman previously said the Republican party belong to former president
- The Independent
Biden raises human rights in call with Saudi king as intelligence officials to release report on Khashoggi killing
President Joe Biden has spoken with King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia ahead of the release of a report from US intelligence officials that is expected to reveal that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved and likely ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. A White House report of their phone call on Thursday did not disclose whether they discussed the findings in the report. The leaders “discussed regional security, including the renewed diplomatic efforts led by the United Nations and the United States to end the war in Yemen, and the US commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian-aligned groups,” according to a readout of their call.
- Business Insider
Donald Trump Jr. gives fiery CPAC speech full of grievances against anti-Trump Republicans, big tech, and the mainstream media
Trump Jr. ranted about Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, saying her "politics are only slightly less popular than her father is at a quail hunt."
- Miami Herald
Visitors hiking the Mahogany Hammock Trail in Everglades National Park earlier this month spotted an unfamiliar snake. It turned out to be a brand new invasive species.
- Miami Herald
Two commercial fisherman from the mainland were jailed Thursday after police said they were caught in the Keys with a haul of illegal seafood that started with 100 undersized wrung lobster tails.
Residents of an Indian slum thought they were getting vaccinated like everyone else but were unknowingly part of a clinical trial
After a white van advertised COVID-19 vaccines to a central-Indian slum, many of its residents feel duped after finding out they were in a trial.
- Business Insider
Ted Cruz rants about comedians, late night TV, and mask-wearing before shouting at people to 'just have fun' in wild CPAC speech
"Orlando is awesome. It's not as nice as Cancun, but it's nice," Cruz said, referring to the scandal he sparked by leaving Texas for Mexico.
Ben Affleck says his divorce from Jennifer Garner and other 'life experience' shaped him into a better actor
In a new interview as part of The Hollywood Reporter's Actor Roundtable series, Affleck spoke about Garner and the three kids they share.
- Fort Worth Star-Telegram
The House is expected to pass a stimulus deal with $1,400 checks on Friday.
- NBC News
Family members told officers the man and woman were quarantining in their home in the St. Louis area.
Asian Man in Critical Condition After Being Stabbed in the Back With a Butcher Knife in NY Chinatown
An Asian man is in critical condition after getting stabbed by a butcher knife in New York's Chinatown on Thursday evening. The 36-year-old local resident was attacked around 6:15 p.m. near the federal courthouse, near the corner of Worth Street and Baxter street next to the Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. Courthouse, reports PIX11. Call came in at 6:20 for report of a stabbing at Baxter Street and Worth Street.
Former Sen. Kelly Loeffler is out as owner of WNBA team, and the new owners include former star player who retired to fight for social justice
One month after WNBA players helped oust Kelly Loeffler from the Senate, the league announced that it had approved sale of the franchise she co-owned.
- Business Insider
Ted Cruz's colleagues mocked him by putting memes of his Cancun trip in the Senate gym locker room: 'Bienvenido de Nuevo, Ted!'
Those who turned up to the Senate gym Wednesday morning were welcomed by color printouts of Cruz's Cancun trip that read "Bienvenido de Nuevo, Ted!"
- The Guardian
Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled provision in $1.9tn Covid stimulus bill did not qualify for budget reconciliation Ilhan Omar tweeted: ‘What’s a Democratic majority if we can’t pass our priority bills? This is unacceptable.’ Photograph: Leah Millis/Reuters The progressive Democrat Ilhan Omar has called for the firing of the government official who effectively blocked the party’s plans to raise the minimum wage. Democratic plans to include a gradual raise to $15 in Joe Biden’s $1.9tn coronavirus stimulus bill were effectively ended on Thursday when the Senate parliamentarian ruled it should not be part of the package. The decision by Elizabeth MacDonough, who has held the non-partisan position since 2012, dashed hopes of including the raise in the bill – the first increase in over a decade. “Abolish the filibuster. Replace the parliamentarian,” Omar said in a tweet. “What’s a Democratic majority if we can’t pass our priority bills? This is unacceptable.” Abolish the filibuster.Replace the parliamentarian.What’s a Democratic majority if we can’t pass our priority bills? This is unacceptable.— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 26, 2021 Biden campaigned on a pledge to increase the minimum wage to $15. Low-wage workers and unions have campaigned for a rise since 2012, and its inclusion in the coronavirus stimulus bill had been seen as a major victory. While the proposal faced universal opposition by Republican senators and skepticism from some Democrats, Senator Bernie Sanders and others were confident that it could be pushed through with a simple majority in the Senate, where the Democrats hold a slim majority. In order to achieve this, the proposal would have to be passed by “budget reconciliation” – a mechanism that allows legislation to bypass the 60% vote bills need to get through the Senate. Late on Thursday, MacDonough ruled that the wage increase did not meet the standards for budget reconciliation. The parliamentarian acts as an impartial judge and has only been removed from office once. MacDonough is well respected by many members of both parties, and the Biden administration seems unlikely to push for her removal. Other progressive Democrats have proposed a less drastic solution – overruling her. “The Senate parliamentarian issues an advisory opinion,” congresswoman Pramila Jayapal said in a tweet. “The VP can overrule them – as has been done before. We should do EVERYTHING we can to keep our promise, deliver a $15 minimum wage, and give 27 million workers a raise.” Sanders, one of the most ardent supporters of a minimum-wage increase, has proposed an alternative plan – imposing penalties and incentives to push companies toward higher wages. “I will be working with my colleagues in the Senate to move forward with an amendment to take tax deductions away from large, profitable corporations that don’t pay workers at least $15 an hour, and to provide small businesses with the incentives they need to raise wages,” Sanders said in a statement. “That amendment must be included in this reconciliation bill.” Sanders’ comments come after a Senate hearing on Thursday where he lambasted the low wages paid by McDonald’s, Walmart and others. Sanders pointed to a government report that found nearly half of workers who make less than $15 an hour rely on public assistance programs that cost taxpayers $107bn each year. The American people are “sick and tired” of subsidizing “starvation wages” at these companies, Sanders said.
- Business Insider
Merkel says she won't take AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine because she's too old, as 1.4 million jabs are left unused
The German chancellor said she wasn't eligible because the vaccine isn't approved for people over 65 in Germany.
Prince Harry says his relationship with Meghan Markle 'went from 0 to 60' in their first 2 months of dating
The Duke of Sussex reflected on his relationship with Meghan Markle during an appearance on "The Late Late Show with James Corden."
Prince Harry says 99-year-old Prince Philip just slams his laptop shut instead of hanging up at the end of Zoom calls
The prince told James Corden that he'd had a few Zoom calls with his grandparents where they got to see Archie running around.
- The Daily Beast
Joe Raedle/GettyDays after Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) ditched Texas during a deadly winter storm for the sandy beaches of Mexico, the Republican made light of the scandal in a bizarre speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando.“I gotta say, Orlando is awesome. It’s not as nice as Cancun, but it’s nice,” Cruz quipped in his speech, titled “Bill of Rights, Liberty, and Cancel Culture.”The joke, which comes as Texas is still reeling from the unprecedented storm that left millions of residents without power and killed at least 30, was just one of many odd remarks the lawmaker made during his speech.Last week, photos emerged of Cruz boarding a Feb. 17 flight to Mexico as his state literally froze and millions of Texans were left in the dark and without drinkable water. After getting caught, Cruz booked a return flight to the U.S. on Feb. 18 and insisted he was merely trying to “be a good dad” by accompanying his daughters on a trip to Mexico. Texts from his wife to friends suggested the entire family had planned to stay in Mexico until Feb. 21.During Cruz’s CPAC speech, which at times seemed more like a comedy routine, Cruz also took aim at those who exposed his trip—namely the media—and questioned the validity of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has killed over 500,000 Americans.Cruz Admits Tone-Deaf Cancun Vacay Was ‘a Mistake’ Over Literal Calls to Resign“This is just dumb,” Cruz said, pretending not to understand the importance of wearing a mask to curtail the spread of COVID-19. “We’re gonna wear masks for the next 300 years. And by the way, not just one mask—two, three, four—you can’t have too many masks! How much virtue do you wanna signal?”Likening the Republican party to the “rebel alliance” in Star Wars, Cruz then went after Democrats and the media, claiming they “are convinced that political theater helps them.”“The media desperately, desperately wants a Republican civil war,” he said. “Liberty is under assault and what are we going to do? I will tell you: We will fight!”He then insisted that people should “lighten up”—before making a transphobic joke about a New York Times story that said 60 percent of women named Karen voted for Biden.“I’m willing to believe 80 percent of men named Karen voted for Joe Biden,” he said as the crowd burst into applause and cheers.Toward the end of his speech, as the crowd of conservatives began to chant “freedom,” Cruz insisted that his close ally, former President Donald Trump, would make a valiant return.“Let me tell you this right now, Donald J. Trump ain’t going anywhere,” he said.Before walking off the stage, the embattled Republican screeched to the crowd: “FREEDOM!”Read more at The Daily Beast.Got a tip? Send it to The Daily Beast hereGet our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.
- Miami Herald
A United Airlines flight out of Southwest Florida International Airport ran into some trouble Monday afternoon, but it had nothing to do with mechanical issues or lack of face masks.