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« Reply #2970 on: Jan 14, 2019, 05:06 AM »

This Robot Is Delivering Coral Babies to the Great Barrier Reef

By Marlene Cimons

The climate is changing faster than many species can adapt, so scientists are trying to speed up evolution by fostering the spread of creatures who can take the heat. Think of it as natural selection with a little boost from humans—or, in some cases, robots.

To that end, Australian scientists Peter Harrison and Matthew Dunbabin recently teamed up for a world-first field experiment. A robot Dunbabin designed carried coral larvae that Harrison had gathered and dispersed them on part of the Great Barrier Reef. What makes these larvae unique and the groundbreaking experiment especially promising is that the they are heat-tolerant, meaning they not only can survive, but flourish, in warmer waters.

QUT's LarvalBot makes first delivery of coral babies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1qtR2OAVDM

Harrison had collected the larvae from corals that had survived deadly marine heat waves in 2016, 2017 and 2018. "These surviving larvae are likely to have greater ability to withstand heat stress as they survive and grow," Harrison said, meaning they could thrive in a warmer world.

Pollution from fossil fuels is heating up the planet, rendering ocean waters inhospitable for coral. Even in the more optimistic scenarios, virtually all of the world's reefs could be eradicated by mid-century. Ensuring the survival of these natural treasures will depend on cultivating more heat-tolerant corals. That's where the robot, called "LarvalBot," comes in.

"I first thought about the larval restoration concept some decades ago when I was part of the team that discovered the mass coral spawning phenomenon on the Great Barrier Reef in the early 1980s," said Harrison, director of the Marine Ecology Research Centre at Southern Cross University. "Literally billions of coral larvae are produced during mass spawning events from healthy corals, but as coral cover and health have declined to the point where too few larvae are produced from remaining remnant coral populations, we now need to intervene to give nature a helping hand."

Harrison had already developed techniques for mass spawn capture and larval rearing, but "one aspect that I still wanted to develop further was a more efficient larval delivery process onto the damaged reef areas, and so the LarvalBot concept developed from discussions with Matt."

The robot has the capacity to carry around 100,000 microscopic coral larvae per mission, and Dunbabin expects to scale up to millions. The robot gently releases the larvae onto damaged reef areas allowing them to settle and, over time, develop into full-grown corals.

"We call this the 'Swiss-army-knife' of underwater robots, as it was designed to do multiple tasks with customizable payloads, such as photo surveys, water quality monitoring, marine pest surveillance and control, and now coral larvae dispersal," said Dunbabin, a robotics professor at the Queensland University of Technology.

"Using an iPad to program the mission, a signal is sent to deliver the larvae and it is gently pushed out by LarvalBot," said Dunbabin. " It's like spreading fertilizer on your lawn. The robot is very smart, and as it glides along, we target where the larvae need to be distributed so new colonies can form and new coral communities can develop." The robot has an onboard vision system that allows it to "see" its way through reef environments, he explained.

"We will be monitoring the survival and growth of juvenile corals as they appear on the reef," Harrison said. "We should start to see juvenile corals after about 9 months when they grow large enough to become visible on the reef."

Later this spring, the researchers plan to send the robot with more larvae to degraded reefs in the Philippines, then will aim for an even larger project on the Great Barrier Reef in late 2019.

One of the advantages of the robot is that it can also monitor the growth of coral reefs, which will help scientists understand how they respond to the larval delivery. This will be critical to scaling up the process. "We need to learn how to restore corals and reefs at larger scales very quickly," Harrison said. "During my lifetime I've witnessed continual degradation of reefs around the world, including parts of the Great Barrier Reef. This is incredibly sad and frustrating."

Dunbabin agreed. "Coral reefs are spectacular! Even now when I jump in the water and see all the fish and colors, I still am in awe of these eco-cities of connected life," he said. "I can't help but feel I need to do something to help restore them to what they were."

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« Reply #2971 on: Jan 14, 2019, 05:09 AM »

The Youth Have Seen Enough

By Rex Weyler

The world's youth have finally seen and heard enough from the deplorable political process, from compromised delegates, corrupted political appointees, and criminal corporations who sabotage these critical international discussions.

The truth of our ecological crisis is not difficult to see. Fragile ecosystems are unraveling all around us. We have been warned by scientists for two centuries: by the 1972 "Limits to Growth" study, William Catton's 1980 book Overshoot, by reliable scientists, and by millions of ecology activists. We were warned by the 2009 Nature article, "Planetary Boundaries" showing that humanity has breached seven critical tipping points; and by the 2012, Nature article, "Approaching a State Shift in Earth's Biosphere," by 22 international scientists warning of an "irreversible" planetary-scale transition, "unknown in human experience."

And yet, politicians and delegates travel around the world, stay in luxury hotels and dither about our children's future, as carbon emissions rise, species blink from existence, rivers run dry and ancient forests burn. It is no wonder, and a welcome sight, that the world's youth have seen enough and are not impressed.

Thirty Years of Pep Talks

On Dec. 12 2018, at the COP 24 UN climate conference in Katowice, Poland, Swedish student Greta Thunberg finally said what the politicized delegates have failed to say. Thunberg is a direct descendant of Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius, who predicted global heating from carbon emissions in 1896.

During this year's heat wave and wildfires in Sweden, Thunberg gained world attention by staging a school strike outside the Swedish Riksdag, holding a sign that read, "Skolstrejk för klimatet" (school strike for climate). She demanded that the Swedish government reduce carbon emissions. Her actions inspired student strikes in over 270 cities around the world.

Greta Thunberg full speech at UN Climate Change COP24 Conference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFkQSGyeCWg

Speaking on behalf of Climate Justice Now, Thunberg chastised the delegates and member nations for failing to take action appropriate to the climate crisis: "Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We can't solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis. We need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground."

Thunberg pointed out that "if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, maybe we should change the system itself," and she spoke directly to the errors and injustice of our economic system. "Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few."

She exposed the errors of convenient but false solutions that have displaced the genuine solutions to climate change and ecological collapse. "You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular," she said. "You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake."

"We've had thirty years of pep-talking and selling positive ideas," she said in Stockholm prior to departing for Poland, "And I'm sorry, but it doesn't work. Because if it would have, the emissions would have gone down by now—they haven't."

Meanwhile, outside the conference, 330 organizations from 129 countries presented six "People's Demands for Climate Justice," beginning with "Keep fossil fuels in the ground and end subsidies to fossil fuel industry."

The youth leaders urged nations to "reject false solutions"—techno-fixes and offsetting schemes—in favor of "real solutions that are just, feasible, and essential." They particularly called out corporations and rich nations, who use the excuse of carbon sinks to seize indigenous land.

They called on the rich nations, whose historical carbon emissions have caused the climate crisis, to accept their fair share of climate reparation costs by honoring their Green Climate Fund obligations.

Finally, the coalition demanded that UN conferences end "corporate interference" and sabotage of the climate talks. Extraction corporations "have been getting massively wealthy," said Sriram Madhusoodanan from Corporate Accountability. "They're in these talks, blocking real solutions and advancing false solutions that will continue to propagate their business model."

Why Thunberg Is Correct

Thunberg is correct about years, decades, of pep-talks and positive ideas that have failed to reduce carbon emissions. Scientists have known about the threat of global heating since Thunberg's ancestor, Arrhenius calculated the impact in the nineteenth century. The modern world has been meeting about the crisis for almost forty years, since the first World Climate Conference in Geneva in 1979. Since then, human carbon emissions have doubled from about 5 gigatonnes of carbon per year (GtC/yr) to 2018's record-breaking 10.88 GtC/yr. Meanwhile, CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has grown by 22 percent, from 337 parts per million (ppm) in 1979 to over 412 ppm today. These results represent an enormous failure on the part of world governments.

She is also correct about the unfulfilled promise of "green growth," a notion made popular in 2012, at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, by the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, both dedicated to industrial growth.

However, recent studies show that "green" or "sustainable" growth are delusions. In 2018, anthropologist Jason Hickel reviewed recent data and wrote in Foreign Policy that "green growth ... is based more on wishful thinking than on evidence." A 2012 study by German resource economist Monika Dittrich and colleagues showed that even under optimum conditions, decoupling economic growth from resource use has not occurred. The United Nations Environment Programme came to similar conclusions in 2016 and 2017 studies. They predicted that by 2050, with continued growth, resource use would double to 180 billion metric tons per year (Gt/y). Ecological footprint data shows that a sustainable level of resource use is about 50 Gt/y, a limit breached in 2000.

Studies have consistently and rigidly linked economic growth to energy. In a 2012 paper, "No way out? The double-bind in seeking global prosperity alongside mitigated climate change," T. J. Garrett, at the University of Utah, performed the calculations and determined that every single dollar (U.S. dollar, 1990) of global economic growth in recent decades required approximately 9.7 milliwatts of energy. "Global CO2 emission rates," wrote Garrett, "cannot be decoupled from wealth through efficiency gains."

Wealthy nations, such as the UK and U.S., have claimed to "decouple" energy use from GDP, but only because they have exported energy-intensive industries and now import finished goods—cars, computers, trinkets—which represent massive embedded energy.

Based on recent data, Thunberg is entirely correct that "green growth" is a delusion.

Pull the Break

Finally, Thunberg is correct that the only paths out of our predicament require that we "change the system itself." Global heating, biodiversity loss, environmental toxins, nutrient cycle disruption and all other ecological challenges arise as symptoms of a single, larger biophysical reality. Humanity is in a state of ecological overshoot. There is no way to grow out of overshoot. All genuine solutions to overshoot require that the species contract, not grow. As Thunberg says, it is time to face these facts, to slow down, and to "pull the emergency brake" on economic growth.

This is the reality that the climate conference delegates are too scared to voice. Our status quo economic system—industrial capitalism—requires growth to survive. Without endless economic growth, the $250 trillion global debt to bankers and investors cannot be paid. As Thunberg says, "Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people .. can live in luxury." The biosphere is being sacrificed so bankers can receive their interest payments, to keep stock prices up and to avoid facing reality.

The current system is biased for the rich to get richer, as multitudes suffer, as the ecosystem collapses, and as other species disappear. Economist Jeremy Grantham concurs in "The Race for our Lives," when he states that "capitalism and mainstream economics simply cannot deal with these problems." Corporate sabotage of the climate talks is not new. In the 1920s and 30s, Standard Oil, General Motors and Firestone Tires acquired and sabotaged public transportation throughout North America for the purpose of replacing efficient public transport with gas-guzzling cars. Today in Nigeria, Ecuador, Canada, in the Arctic, around the world and at these UN conferences, oil companies are still sabotaging the public interest for profits.

It gives us some measure of hope that young leaders appear to be among the few who have the courage and insight to speak the truth. Greta Thunberg closed her short talk by announcing, "We have not come here to beg world leaders to care … We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not."

Her speech stands as one of the most hopeful moments for ecological realism in recent years.

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« Reply #2972 on: Jan 14, 2019, 05:12 AM »

Climate Change Is an Existential Crisis—It Should Be ​the Top Political Issue, Too


Global warming isn't a partisan issue—or it shouldn't be. The many experts issuing dire warnings about the implications of climate disruption work under political systems ranging from liberal democracies to autocratic dictatorships, for institutions including the U.S. Department of Defense, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and numerous business organizations and universities.

In 1988, when NASA scientist James Hansen reported to Congress that evidence for human-caused global warming was near undeniable, conservative politicians including the UK's Margaret Thatcher, U.S. President George H.W. Bush and Canada's Brian Mulroney agreed that action was needed. In my home province of British Columbia, a right-leaning government, the British Columbia Liberal Party, introduced a carbon tax in 2008.

Now, as the evidence compels us to increasingly urgent action—the latest IPCC report says we have about 12 years to get emissions under control or face catastrophe—politicians from parties that once cared about the future are lining up to downplay or deny human-caused climate disruption and are hindering plans to address it.

The U.S. offers a sad example. When confronted with a detailed report compiled by more than 300 scientists and endorsed by a dozen different agencies, including NASA, NOAA and the defense department, that warned climate change threatens the American economy, way of life and human health, the president responded, "I don't believe it."

Here in Canada, politicians claim to take climate change seriously but reject plans to mitigate it without offering better alternatives. Some provincial and federal leaders are governing or building campaigns around rejection of carbon pricing, a proven tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It's interesting, because carbon pricing is a market-based strategy, whereas the kind of government regulation that would be required in its absence is something conservative thinkers usually reject.

To be fair, few politicians are emerging as climate heroes, regardless of where they sit on the political spectrum. Our federal government has some good climate policies, including carbon pricing, but is still pushing for pipelines and oil sands expansion. It's even watered down carbon-pricing plans to appease industry.

Alberta's NDP government has likewise implemented some good policies and encouraged clean energy development, but by promoting pipelines and the fossil fuel industry to appease a bitumen-beholden voting base that likely won't support it anyway, the party is alienating young people and others who care about climate and the future.

It bewilders me that so many people are opposed to environmental protection, to ensuring Earth remains habitable for humans and other life. It doesn't take much to see that we've screwed up in many ways. Climate disruption, species extinction, plastic pollution and contaminated water and air are all symptoms of our wasteful, consumer-driven lives, in which profit is elevated above all else. Prioritizing a relatively recent economic system designed when conditions were much different over the very things that keep us healthy and alive is suicidal.

We can't stop using fossil fuels or shut down the oil sands overnight. But if we don't start somewhere, we'll get nowhere. I and others have been writing and talking about global warming for decades, while emissions continued to rise, oil and gas development expanded and global temperatures kept climbing. There's little evidence that governments are treating the climate emergency as seriously as is warranted, preferring to focus on short-term economic gains and election cycles instead.
As we head into an election year in Canada, we must ensure that climate and the environment are priorities for all parties. This costly crisis will bring devastation to economies, food production, human health and much more if we fail to put everything we can into resolving it.

We've seen major national and international efforts to confront serious threats before, regardless of the money and resources needed to do so—from defeating the Nazis in the Second World War to investing in science during the space race. These paid off in many ways, accomplishing their stated purposes and spurring numerous beneficial inventions and technologies.

Now, as humanity faces an existential crisis, we must do everything we can to push those who would represent us to truly act in our interests rather than kowtowing to a dying industry. Climate change should be the top issue in this year's federal election and all others.

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« Reply #2973 on: Jan 14, 2019, 05:24 AM »

The Indian village where child sexual exploitation is the norm

Poverty and caste discrimination mean that children in Sagar Gram are being groomed by their own families for abuse

Michael Safi in Sagar Gram
Mon 14 Jan 2019 06.00 GMT

Many families in India still mourn the birth of a girl. But when Leena was born, people celebrated.

Sagar Gram, her village in central India, is unique that way. Girls outnumber boys. When a woman marries, it is the groom’s family that pays the dowry. Women are Sagar Gram’s breadwinners. When they are deemed old enough, perhaps at the age of 11, most are expected to start doing sex work.

India officially abolished caste discrimination almost 70 years ago. But millennia of tradition is not easily erased. For most Indians, caste still has a defining influence on who they marry and what they eat. It also traps millions in abusive work. The exploited and trafficked children of Sagar Gram, and dozens of other villages across India’s hinterland, are one of its most disturbing manifestations.

“It is caste and gender slavery,” says Ashif Shaikh of Jan Sahas, an advocacy group that works with members of India’s lowest castes, communities that used to be called “untouchables”.

“We estimate there are 100,000 women and girls in this situation. But there are likely more we haven’t identified. It’s an invisible issue.”

Girls in Sagar Gram grow up hearing a story. Sometime in the misty past of Hindu myth, a king fell in love with a dancer. His enraged queen issued the woman with a challenge: if she could walk a tightrope across a river, she could join the royal family, and permanently raise the status of her caste.

As the woman neared the opposite bank of the river, a step from success, the queen suddenly cut the rope. “Up until now, we lured your men through dancing,” the woman told the queen. “From now on, we will take your men from you with our bodies.”

Leena, 22, remembers learning about the woman. She remembers the awe she felt when the older girls from her caste, the Bacchara, suddenly had enough money for makeup and nice clothing. She remembers what the adults in her village told her when she was 15, and her family was having money problems.

“Your parents are going through such a hard time,” they told her. “How can you go to school? You need to be working.”

That was when she started. “The rest of the girls in my village were doing it, so I felt like I had to do it as well,” she says. “It was my responsibility.”

Girls in Sagar Gram, which lies next to a highway, are groomed for this life virtually from birth. Parents decide which of their daughters will fetch the best price. Older girls teach them how to attract customers from passing trucks and cars. The younger ones sometimes stow under beds, observing the others at work.

Sex was nonetheless a mystery to Heena. “When I was young, the most important thing was seeing the money the customer was offering,” she says. “I didn’t understand what they were doing to me. I only saw that money was coming in.”

Her virginity was prized. She made 5,000 rupees (£55) on the first night. Her price declined after that. Another Bacchara woman, aged 29, says the most she can make for an encounter is 200 rupees. She might see five or six men in a day.

India’s preference for male children has created a deep gender imbalance. Among the Baccharas of Sagar Gram village, however, the problem cuts the other way: there are 3,595 women in the district compared with 2,770 men, according to the most recent census.

Yet, visiting the village at dusk, few women or girls can be seen. “They’ve all gone to hotels or to stop cars,” an older man says, gesturing at the nearby highway. Every few hundred metres along the road, girls are reclined on rope beds, waving at any vehicle that slows.

The legal age of consent in India is 18. Madhya Pradesh, the state in which Sagar Gram is situated, recently passed the death penalty for anyone who rapes a child under 12, also increasing jail terms for adults who have sex with someone under 18. Police say seven people were arrested for child sexual exploitation offences in Sagar Gram in the past year, five of them women who sold their underage daughters. The law is clear, but does little to sway social custom and economic distress.

“It’s a traditional business,” says deputy superintendent Nagendra Singh Sikarwar, at the nearby Jeeran police station. “Even girls we try to rehabilitate come back to it. The main issue is we don’t have alternative jobs for them. And so their families are keen that they continue the work.”

Most Bacchara men do not work. Only the lowest paid or most degrading jobs are available to them anyway. So they rely on their children. They wait on their porches with the rest of the family while their daughters are inside with customers.

One villager, Balram Chauhan, should be a rich man. He has five daughters. But he is struggling: Chauhan, 52, is the only father in the village who refuses to force his children into sex work.

“To be exposed to such violence and mental and physical abuse,” he mutters. “How could any parent willingly send them off?”

His mother was a prostitute. Despite his efforts, so were four of his sisters. “From the moment I understood what they were doing I tried to stop them,” he says. “But my parents were against me. They said it was a culture that had been going on for years. Who was I to stop it?”

Trying to break this cycle has been a lifelong struggle. His parents sabotaged his efforts to train as a health worker, Chauhan says. When he married off his two daughters to spare them from a life of prostitution, his family cut him off.

'When you rescue a trafficked child it's like saving a life'..Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/nov/26/rescue-trafficked-children-like-saving-life-old-delhi-india-railway-system

He cannot move his family outside of a Bacchara village: nobody would rent property to someone from his caste. The “higher” caste communities nearby consider his very presence polluting. So he has opened a small shop in Sagar Gram selling biscuits and confectionery, trying to eke out enough to pay for his daughters’ education.

“A lot of people here bad-mouth my daughters,” he says. “If they see them speaking on a cellphone, 10 people come to my shop and tell me: ‘Your daughter is chatting to so-and-so.’ They try to say they have loose characters.

“If I had one daughter, I could handle it. But when there are five …” he trails off. “It’s a difficult thing.”

Additional reporting by Kakoli Bhattarcharya

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« Reply #2974 on: Jan 14, 2019, 05:29 AM »

Thailand: biggest democracy protests in years held as military junta delays elections

Demonstrators gather in cities across country as military government looks set to push back voting for a fifth time

Hannah Ellis-Petersen in Bangkok
Mon 14 Jan 2019 06.13 GMT

Tensions continue to mount in Thailand as the ruling military junta has signalled that the long postponed elections will be delayed yet again, the fifth delay in less than five years.

On Sunday, in one of the biggest pro-democracy protests in Thailand in over four years, hundreds of people took to the streets for the third time in a week to criticise the military government for appearing to renege on assurances the election would finally happen on 24 February.

It is the fifth time the military junta, which took over in a bloodless coup in 2014, has delayed elections and prevented the country’s return to democracy. Known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), it has repeatedly declared the country is “not ready” for elections but the most recent delay has been attributed to concerns it would interfere with the upcoming coronation of the new king.

Over the weekend about 200 demonstrators gathered at Bangkok’s Ratchaprasong Intersection – the symbolic spot where dozens of pro-democracy demonstrators were killed in an army assault in 2010 – carrying banners demanding an election by next month, while smaller groups gathered in other cities across Thailand.

The army’s commander in chief, General Apirat Kongsompong, publicly condemned the protesters, saying they were “bent on causing trouble”.

“They are being told to think this way, ordered to behave this way, thinking in one single mode without taking into consideration other factors which are reasonable and without looking at the constitution,” Aparit, who is also secretary general of the NCPO, told a media conference.

While many in Thailand are sceptical about the promised elections ever taking place, the February date seemed almost secure after a promising announcement by the election commission late last year. The ban on political activity and gatherings of more than five people was also lifted in late December, the strongest indicator that elections would go ahead.

But election hopes were dashed again in early January when the military failed to issue the awaited official decree, which formalises the election date. Days later, deputy prime minister Wissanu Krea-ngam indicated the poll would be postponed because it could interfere with rituals and preparations for the coronation of Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn, which will be held on 4-6 May.

The election commission has not yet formally announced the postponement but the ongoing delay in the decree now makes it highly likely.

Thailand’s last official election was eight years ago, in 2011, and occurred following months of pro-democracy protests by activists known as the “red shirts”, and saw the election of Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand’s first female prime minister and the sister of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Another poll was held again in 2014, but it was later invalidated by the constitutional court, and the military took power in a coup shortly after.

According to Thailand’s new constitution, which skews the political system heavily in favour of maintaining military power, an election must happen by 9 May.

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« Reply #2975 on: Jan 14, 2019, 05:31 AM »

Macron seeks to turn 'anger into solutions' in open letter to France

French president wants 2,300-word missive to spark national debate about policy reform

Kim Willsher in Paris
14 Jan 2019 22.04 GMT

Emmanuel Macron has launched a two-month “great national debate” in France with a 2,330-word open letter to the country.

The French president hopes the nationwide public consultation will take the sting out of the widespread public anger behind the rise of the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) movement and the civil unrest across France.

In the letter, Macron said he was open to ideas and suggestions but insisted the government would not go back on previous reforms or key measures in his 2017 election campaign.

“No questions are banned,” Macron writes. “We won’t agree on everything, that’s normal, that’s democracy. But at least we’ll show that we are a people who are not afraid to speak, to exchange views and debate. And perhaps we’ll discover that we might even agree, despite our different persuasions, more often than we think.”

Macron has been rocked by the ferocity of almost two months of angry protests by gilets jaunes. On Saturday a ninth weekend of demonstrations took place across France.

The letter, to be published in French newspapers on Monday, marks the start of a nationwide consultation in which citizens are invited to give their views on four central themes: taxation; the organisation of the state and its public administration; ecological transition; and citizenship and democracy.

Macron’s missive asks a number of questions, including: what taxes should be reduced?; what spending cuts might be a priority?; is there too much administration?; how can the people be given a greater say in running the country?

Macron said the proposals collected during the debate would build a new “contract for the nation”, influence political policymaking and establish France’s stance on national, European and international issues.

“This is how I intend, with you, to transform anger into solutions,” he wrote.

Accepting that everyone wanted taxes that were “fairer and more efficient”, he warned against unrealistic expectations, adding there could be no drop in taxation without cuts in public spending.

Macron and his centrist administration have been under intense pressure since November when public anger over an eco-tax on petrol and diesel sparked the gilets jaunes movement. Although the tax was dropped, protests have widened to adopt a wide range of anti-government grievances.

Outside the cities, gilets jaunes continue to picket roundabouts around the country with ad hoc protests calling for a drop in taxes on food and essential goods, lower social charges and increased spending power.

On Saturday there were further clashes between police and protesters in many French cities, with accusations of violence from both sides.

In the letter, Macron wrote that he would accept “no form of violence” including “pressure and insults” against “elected representatives, media journalists, state institutions or public servants”.

“If everyone is being aggressive to everyone else, society falls apart,” he wrote.

Macron wrote that he would give his conclusions within a month of the end of the consultation process on 15 March. The letter ends: “In confidence. Emmanuel Macron”.

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« Reply #2976 on: Jan 14, 2019, 05:35 AM »

In China, they’re closing churches, jailing pastors – and even rewriting scripture

China’s Communist party is intensifying religious persecution as Christianity’s popularity grows. A new state translation of the Bible will establish a ‘correct understanding’ of the text

Lily Kuo in Chengdu
14 Jan 2019 08.00 GMT

In late October, the pastor of one of China’s best-known underground churches asked this of his congregation: had they successfully spread the gospel throughout their city? “If tomorrow morning the Early Rain Covenant Church suddenly disappeared from the city of Chengdu, if each of us vanished into thin air, would this city be any different? Would anyone miss us?” said Wang Yi, leaning over his pulpit and pausing to let the question weigh on his audience. “I don’t know.”

Almost three months later, Wang’s hypothetical scenario is being put to the test. The church in south-west China has been shuttered and Wang and his wife, Jiang Rong, remain in detention after police arrested more than 100 Early Rain church members in December. Many of those who haven’t been detained are in hiding. Others have been sent away from Chengdu and barred from returning. Some, including Wang’s mother and his young son, are under close surveillance. Wang and his wife are being charged for “inciting subversion”, a crime that carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.

Now the hall Wang preached from sits empty, the pulpit and cross that once hung behind him both gone. Prayer cushions have been replaced by a ping-pong table and a film of dust. New tenants, a construction company and a business association, occupy the three floors the church once rented. Plainclothes police stand outside, turning away those looking for the church.

One of the officers told the Observer: “I have to tell you to leave and watch until you get in a car and go.”
Wang Yi, pastor of the Early Rain church, who was arrested and detained three months ago, along with his wife.

Early Rain is the latest victim of what Chinese Christians and rights activists say is the worst crackdown on religion since the country’s Cultural Revolution, when Mao Zedong’s government vowed to eradicate religion.

Researchers say the current drive, fuelled by government unease over the growing number of Christians and their potential links to the west, is aimed not so much at destroying Christianity but bringing it to heel.

“The government has orchestrated a campaign to ‘sinicise’ Christianity, to turn Christianity into a fully domesticated religion that would do the bidding of the party,” said Lian Xi, a professor at Duke University in North Carolina, who focuses on Christianity in modern China.

Over the past year, local governments have shut hundreds of unofficial congregations or “house churches” that operate outside the government-approved church network, including Early Rain. A statement signed by 500 house church leaders in November says authorities have removed crosses from buildings, forced churches to hang the Chinese flag and sing patriotic songs, and bar minors from attending.

Churchgoers say the situation will get worse as the campaign reaches more of the country. Another church in Chengdu was placed under investigation last week. Less than a week after the mass arrest of Early Rain members, police raided a children’s Sunday school at a church in Guangzhou. Officials have also banned the 1,500-member Zion church in Beijing after its pastor refused to install CCTV.

In November the Guangzhou Bible Reformed Church was shut for the second time in three months. “The Chinese Communist party (CCP) wants to be the God of China and the Chinese people. But according to the Bible only God is God. The government is scared of the churches,” said Huang Xiaoning, the church’s pastor. Local governments have also shut the state-approved “sanzi” churches. Sunday schools and youth ministries have been banned. One of the first signs of a crackdown was when authorities forcibly removed more than 1,000 crosses from sanzi churches in Zhejiang province between 2014 and 2016.

“The goal of the crackdown is not to eradicate religions,” said Ying Fuk Tsang, director of the Christian Study Centre on Chinese Religion and Culture at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “President Xi Jinping is trying to establish a new order on religion, suppressing its blistering development. [The government] aims to regulate the ‘religious market’ as a whole.”

While the CCP is officially atheist, Christianity is one of five religions sanctioned by the government and religious freedom has been enshrined in the constitution since the 1980s. For decades, authorities tolerated the house churches, which refused to register with government bodies that required church leaders to adapt teachings to follow party doctrine.

As China experienced an explosion in the number of religious believers, the government has grown wary of Christianity and Islam in particular, with their overseas links. In Xinjiang, a surveillance and internment system has been built for Muslim minorities, notably the Uighurs.

Xi has called for the country to guard against “infiltration” through religion and extremist ideology.

“What happens in Xinjiang and what happens to house churches is connected,” said Eva Pils, a professor of law at King’s College London, focusing on human rights. “Those kinds of new attitudes have translated into different types of measures against Christians, which amount to intensified persecution of religious groups.”

There are at least 60 million Christians in China, spanning rural and urban areas. Congregation-based churches can organise large groups across the country and some have links with Christian groups abroad.

Pastors such as Wang of Early Rain are especially alarming for authorities. Under Wang, a legal scholar and public intellectual, the church has advocated for parents of children killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake – deaths many critics say were caused by poor government-run construction – or for families of those affected by faulty vaccines. Every year the church commemorates victims of the 4 June protests in 1989, which were forcibly put down by the Chinese military.

“Early Rain church is one of the few who dare to face what is wrong in society,” said one member. “Most churches don’t dare talk about this, but we obey strictly obey the Bible, and we don’t avoid anything.”

Wang and Early Rain belong to what some see as a new generation of Christians that has emerged alongside a growing civil rights movement. Increasingly, activist church leaders have taken inspiration from the democratising role the church played in eastern European countries in the Soviet bloc or South Korea under martial law, according to Lian. Several of China’s most active human rights lawyers are Christians.

“They have come to see the political potential of Christianity as a force for change,” said Lian. “What really makes the government nervous is Christianity’s claim to universal rights and values.”

As of 2018, the government has implemented sweeping rules on religious practices, adding more requirements for religious groups and barring unapproved organisations from engaging in any religious activity. But the campaign is not just about managing behaviour. One of the goals of a government work plan for “promoting Chinese Christianity” between 2018 and 2022 is “thought reform”. The plan calls for “retranslating and annotating” the Bible, to find commonalities with socialism and establish a “correct understanding” of the text.

“Ten years ago, we used to be able to say the party was not really interested in what people believed internally,” said Pils. “Xi Jinping’s response is much more invasive and it is in some ways returning to Mao-era attempts to control hearts and minds.”

Bibles, sales of which have always been controlled in China, are no longer available for sale online, a loophole that had existed for years. In December, Christmas celebrations were banned in several schools and cities across China.

“Last year’s crackdown is the worst in three decades,” said Bob Fu, the founder of ChinaAid, a Christian advocacy group based in the US.

In Chengdu, Early Rain has not vanished. Before the raid, a plan was in place to preserve the church, with those who were not arrested expected to keep it running, holding meetings wherever they could. Slowly, more Early Rain members are being released. As of 9 January, at least 25 were still in detention.

They maintain contact through encrypted platforms. On New Year’s Eve, 300 people joined an online service, some from their homes, others from cars or workplaces, to pray for 2019. Others gather in small groups in restaurants and parks. One member, a student who was sent back to Guangzhou, said he preaches the gospel to the police who monitor him.

The church continues to send out daily scripture and posts videos of sermons. In one, pastor Wang alludes to the coming crackdown: “In this war, in Xinjiang, in Shanghai, in Beijing, in Chengdu, the rulers have chosen an enemy that can never be imprisoned – the soul of man. Therefore they are doomed to lose this war.”

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Top Democratic committee lawyers to consider subpoenaing Trump’s Russian translator from Putin meeting

Raw Story

According to ABC News reporter Tara Palmeri, lawyers for the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees will meet Monday to discuss whether they’ll subpoena the translator from the Helsinki meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“NEW: intel & foreign affairs committee lawyers meeting tomorrow to evaluate subpoenaing Trump’s interpreters at meetings w/ Putin when no aides present. Many Dems were opposed b/c it’s an unprecedented step that could impact future diplomacy. Now warming to it due to WaPo report,” Palmeri tweeted Sunday.

    NEW: intel & foreign affairs committee lawyers meeting tomorrow to evaluate subpoenaing Trump's interpreters at meetings w/ Putin when no aides present. Many Dems were opposed b/c it's an unprecedented step that could impact future diplomacy. Now warming to it due to WaPo report

    — Tara Palmeri (@tarapalmeri) January 13, 2019

It’s unclear if President Donald Trump will attempt to declare executive privilege, but such proclamations are isolated to “functions or decision-making processes of the executive branch, according to Cornell Law School. It does not exclude information on facts or past events that already took place.

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti explained to former FBI Special Agent Asha Rangappa in a Twitter exchange that Putin’s “presence destroys any privilege claim.”

“Because the conversation she translated was a conversation with Putin,” lawyer George Conway agreed.

    If anyone could have listened to the meeting between Trump and Putin, I'm sure Trump won't mind if Congress subpoenas the interpreter to determine exactly what happened. https://t.co/vAKWOGvW3s

    — Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) January 13, 2019

    No, because the conversation she translated was a conversation with Putin.

    — George Conway (@gtconway3d) January 13, 2019

    Correct. His presence destroys any privilege claim.

    — Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) January 13, 2019


‘The president and his campaign were compromised by Russia’: Politico reporter

Raw Story

In a panel discussion, Former Assistant US attorney Elie Honig and Garrett Graff, author of The Threat Matrix warned that the intelligence community likely feared whether the president was compromised by Russia.

“The common theme with the reports is obstruction,” said Honig. “Efforts to keep the truth from coming to light. The New York Times tells us about the efforts to — the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation because they believed in fear that [President Donald] Trump fired [former FBI director James] Comey to prevent him from digging into the Russia case.”

He went on to recall that Trump’s attorney general nominee, William Barr, called the obstruction of justice investigation “asinine” and “fatally misconceived.” Honig encouraged one of the new members to “dig into that” and discover what the source of that belief is.

Graff suspected that the notes Trump took away from the Helsinki meeting are probably something Robert Mueller is interested in.

“But I think the bigger thing is Eli is saying the pattern, and again, you look at the interview that the president did last night,” Graff said. “If I was being accused of being a Russian agent, I would be much more annoyed about being accused of being a Russian agent than I would be the investigation itself. That’s not what we’re seeing from the president. It would be easy for him to deny this. What we have to almost assume at this point is that the president in his campaign were compromised by Russia in some meaningful way that is not yet clear.”

Graff said that the evidence Americans are seeing is creating a pattern with the president’s behavior.

“You know, this is a president who in many ways has gone out of his way to continue to be soft on Russia and Vladimir Putin,” Graff said. “To continue to be complementary to Vladimir Putin. Up to and including that astounding Helsinki summit which was the subject of part of the Washington Post report where the president met privately with Putin and then basically came out on the stage with Vladimir Putin and complimented Putin and questioned the American intelligence community.”


Russian banker and spy infiltrated the NRA with the Kremlin’s blessing: report

Raw Story

A Russian bank official kept the Kremlin updated on efforts to cultivate ties to the NRA in hopes of influencing U.S. politics, according to an intelligence report.

Alexander Torshin, who was then deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, and his protegée Maria Butina aggressively courted NRA leaders, and they kept senior Russian government officials updated on their efforts, reported The Daily Beast.

The website reviewed a U.S. intelligence report showing that Torshin briefed Kremlin officials and recommended they participate in his influence operation.

“This reporting indicates that Alexander Torshin was working with the blessing of the Kremlin, at a minimum,” one European intelligence official told the website. “The NRA is quite powerful, so when you look to influence U.S. politics, you should consider them as a convenient target.”

The 30-year-old Butina pleaded guilty last month to conspiring to act as a foreign agent under the direction of a Russian official identified as Torshin, who recently retired from the Central Bank of Russia.

The newly revealed intelligence report is based on conversations from 2015, before NRA leaders visited Moscow on a trip organized by Torshin and Butina.

The report shows Torshin suggested Russian officials reach out to American political figures through the NRA due to its strong influence, and the banker urged someone from President Vladimir Putin’s executive office to meet with the group.

“My assessment of what was happening with Torshin and Butina and the NRA was that the Russians decided, a good period of time before 2016, to run an influence operation here in the U.S. with a couple of different goals,” said Steve Hall, who oversaw the CIA’s Russia operations. “The obvious goal was the one the intelligence community assessed back in 2016, which was to help Donald Trump win and increase the likelihood that Hillary Clinton would lose. In addition, they wanted to create as much chaos in our democracy as possible.”


Trump is the best friend Russia has ever had: presidential historian

Raw Story

Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley discounted President Donald Trump’s frequent excuse that he can’t be colluding with Russia because he’s so hard on them. In a Sunday panel discussion, Brinkley called the president the best friend Russia has ever had.

In a telephone interview with Fox News host Jeanie Pirro, Trump said he’s been “tougher on Russia than anybody else, any other — probably any other president, period. But certainly the last three or four presidents, modern-day presidents. Nobody has been as tough as I have, from any standpoint.”

Brinkley found it absurd.

“It’s wildly inaccurate,” Brinkley called Trump’s assessment. “He’s the best friend that Russia has had. And I’m talking about even, you know, for decades. Look at what’s happened in the last couple of years since Trump has been president. It’s a gift to Putin, the United States now pulling out of Syria. The undermining of our NATO alliance. The pulling out of the climate accord and making Russia look good on the issue of climate and the United States not in the game at all.”

It’s why he and others think that something is “amiss,” he said. “There is too much Russia going on, and not enough Americanism. And so I’m deeply concerned that these stories that have just come out are only adding to this narrative that Donald Trump seems to be beholden to Putin. We don’t know whether it’s because of financial dealings in the 1980s or about collusion in the 2016 election, or whether there’s some secret tape they have.”

Whatever the reason, Brinkley said that it seems like Russia is blackmailing Trump.


Russians nervous as Mueller’s investigation creeps ever closer to involvement with Trump: ex-DOD official

Raw Story

During an MSNBC panel discussion on Donald Trump’s close relationship with Russia — that also delved into the GOP going along with the president — a former Defense Department official pointed out that Russia is likely unnerved at special counsel Robert Mueller’s success at linking them to the Trump campaign.

Speaking with AM Joy host Joy Reid, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia Evelyn Farkas said the Kremlin is watching the investigation revelations with great concern.

“The talking points coming out of Moscow have been eerily similar to talking points from the White House,” Farkas began. “I mean, they will deny that they interfered because they don’t mind lying. Right now they are not denying, they are focused on saying, ‘We’re a scapegoat. there is anti-Russian sentiment — President Trump understands what’s in the U.S. interest,’ which is, of course, is a lie.”

“The Russians are probably very nervous right now because they are starting to see, as we are starting to see, that the Mueller investigation has a lot of information,” she claimed. “And they have a lot of really good details about what the Russians have done to the United States and what Americans have done to work with them to help them.”

Watch the video via MSNBC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0RqLMgMIWA


Top Intel Democrat drops bombshell: ‘We’ve interviewed more witnesses than Mueller — and we have an important story to tell’

Raw Story

Speaking with CNN host Jake Tapper on Sunday morning, a senior Democratic member on the Senate Intelligence committee admitted that his panel has interviewed “more witnesses than special counsel Robert Mueller” before hinting, “we have a story to tell.”

Asked whether he thinks that President Donald Trump is a Russian asset, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) sidestepped the question — and refused to say whether his committee had been briefed on the FBI investigation that was revealed last Friday by the New York Times, but made the case that he believes Trump is somehow compromised by Russia.

“The defining question of our investigation and the Mueller investigation is: Was there collusion?” Warner explained. “I’m not going to talk about what we may have been briefed in the gang of eight when these investigations opened. But I do think it’s curious that throughout that whole summer, when these investigations started, you had Vladimir Putin policies almost being parrotted by Donald Trump. You had Trump say only nice things about Putin — he never spoke ill about Russia.”

Pressed about what his committee’s investigation has uncovered, Warner again demurred before offering a hint of what is to come.

“What I was saying was, subsequent to that briefing, there was of enough concern that the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a bipartisan fashion, and the House Intelligence Committee, in a slightly less bipartisan fashion, launched investigations,” he recalled. “Our investigation is almost — it’s not quite two years in, but we have literally spoken to hundreds of witnesses. We may have spoken to even more witnesses than Mueller and we have a very important story to tell to the American public.”

You can watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOGovpQe4H8


Trump losing battle to avoid blame for shutdown as day 23 rolls on

    Poll shows 53% of Americans blame Trump and Republicans
    Was Comey FDR Trump tweet linked to ‘insider threat’ memo?

Martin Pengelly in New York and agencies
14 Jan 2019 20.36 GMT

Donald Trump is losing the battle to avoid blame for the government shutdown, according to a new poll. The president has reportedly told advisers he thinks the 23-day partial closure of the US government, the longest ever, is a win for him.

Around the US, about 800,000 federal workers face increasing hardship without pay and government departments are underfunded and understaffed. Vital services including airport security and nutritional aid to poorer Americans are under increasing strain.

On Sunday the president remained in a drastically understaffed White House, tweeting criticism of Democrats and inflammatory messages about migrants and crime, in one case apparently taken directly from Fox News.

ABC News and the Washington Post released a poll that followed trends when it showed 53% of respondents saying Trump and Republicans in Congress were to blame for the shutdown, with 29% blaming Democrats and 13% a combination. Support for building a border wall, the issue at the heart of the shutdown, increased to 42%, from 34% in January 2018. Among Republicans, 87% supported a wall.
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Trump promised a wall on the southern border throughout his presidential campaign. He also promised Mexico would pay for it, which he now says will happen through savings from a new trade deal, a claim fact checkers doubt. He has demanded $5.7bn from Congress, which Democrats refuse to give. Senate Republicans will not pass legislation sent by House Democrats to reopen the government without wall funding, as Trump would not sign it.

On Sunday, the Virginia Democratic senator Mark Warner told CNN’s State of the Union: “More border security? Let’s have at it. But while we’re opening the debate, let’s open the government.”

    More border security? Let’s have at it. But while we’re opening the debate, let’s open the government
    Senator Mark Warner

The Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson, who chairs the Senate homeland security committee, told the same show Democrats should “stop being hypocrites and put their money where their mouth is and fund border barriers. They work”.

On Saturday night, Trump spoke to Fox host Jeannine Pirro by phone. Asked why he had yet to declare a national emergency, to build the wall with funds from military, disaster relief or other budgets, a step Democrats oppose but may be unable to stop, he said he was giving Congress a chance to “act responsibly”. But he also said he had “no idea” whether he will get a deal with House speaker Nancy Pelosi, who opposes funding an “ineffective, wasteful wall” she has also called “immoral”.

On Sunday the president first made an unlikely claim, that “many Hispanics will be coming over to the Republican side” because Democrats do not want to discuss reform to the status of undocumented migrants brought to the US children. The Dreamers issue was at the heart of a shutdown last year in which Trump’s demands for wall spending capsized a potential deal.

An ally of the president, South Carolina Republican senator Lindsey ' i love being Trump's drag queen' Graham, told Fox News Sunday he encouraged Trump in a telephone conversation that morning to reopen government for a short period, in which he could to try to negotiate a deal, perhaps involving the Dreamers issue.

The Delaware Democratic senator Chris Coons told Fox Graham’s idea was a “great place to start” and Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No2 Democrat in the Senate, told ABC’s This Week Trump could “open up this government tomorrow”, as “one phone call from majority leader Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell can get it started.”

But Graham said Trump wanted a deal first. The South Carolinian previously encouraged Trump to declare a national emergency, which the president has not done.

“I’m in the White House, waiting,” the president wrote on Twitter. “The Democrats are everywhere but Washington as people await their pay. They are having fun and not even talking!”

In fact Congress was not sitting and many legislators left Washington ahead of a snowstorm. In his Fox interview, Trump said “most” Democrats were “watching a certain musical in a very nice location”.

Host Jeanine Pirro said: “Of course, in Puerto Rico watching Hamilton.”

“Frankly,” Trump said, “it’s ridiculous. The whole thing is ridiculous.”

Around 30 congressional Democrats, Pelosi among them, were expected to visit Puerto Rico as the star and creator of Hamilton, Lin Manuel Miranda, opens the show there. The trips have a political dimension: highlighting recovery work after Hurricane Maria, Trump’s response to which is a continuing source of controversy. Miranda’s father Luis Miranda, a Democratic consultant, told CBS News the politicians would “get to experience first hand the needs of the island, so that they go back and sort of fight Trump and the Republicans.”

Regarding the national emergency idea, officials have explored diverting money from accounts including $13.9bn given to the Army Corps of Engineers after last year’s hurricanes and floods. Other possibilities included asset forfeiture funds, money seized from criminals.

Some outside advisers to Trump say an emergency declaration would allow him to claim he was the one to act to reopen the government. Legal challenges would send the matter to court, but that would allow the president to continue to excite his supporters while not actually closing the government or starting wall construction.

Some Republicans, though, believe such a declaration would usurp congressional power. Johnson told CNN he would “hate to see” an emergency declaration, “because if we do it we would go to court and we would not be building a wall”.

Senators, naturally, see their chamber as key to ending the impasse. Durbin told ABC he thought the shutdown would end “when the Senate Republicans say ‘We’ve had enough. We’re not going to stand here and be blamed for this.’”

Pelosi has argued that Trump is trying to steer attention away from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and other White House problems.

“This is a big diversion, and he’s a master of diversion,” she told reporters.

Trump’s volcanic reaction to reports this weekend in the New York Times and Washington Post suggested he might be losing that mastery.

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Trump Confronts the Prospect of a ‘Nonstop Political War’ for Survival

By Peter Baker
NY Times
Jan. 14, 2019

WASHINGTON — So it has come to this: The president of the United States was asked over the weekend whether he is a Russian agent. And he refused to directly answer.

The question, which came from a friendly interviewer, not one of the “fake media” journalists he disparages, was “the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked,” he declared. But it is a question that has hung over his presidency now for two years.

If the now 23-day government shutdown standoff between Mr. Trump and Congress has seemed ugly, it may eventually seem tame by comparison with what is to come. The border wall fight is just the preliminary skirmish in this new era of divided government. The real battle has yet to begin.

With Democrats now in charge of the House, the special counsel believed to be wrapping up his investigation, news media outlets competing for scoops and the first articles of impeachment already filed, Mr. Trump faces the prospect of an all-out political war for survival that may make the still-unresolved partial government shutdown pale by comparison.

The last few days have offered plenty of foreshadowing. The newly empowered Democrats summoned the president’s longtime personal lawyer to testify after he implicated Mr. Trump in an illegal scheme to arrange hush payments before the 2016 election for women who claimed to have had affairs with him. Legal papers disclosed that Mr. Trump’s onetime campaign chairman shared polling data with an associate tied by prosecutors to Russian intelligence.

New reports over the weekend added to the sense of siege at the White House. The New York Times reported that after Mr. Trump fired the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, in 2017, the bureau opened an investigation into whether the president was working for the Russians. And The Washington Post reported that Mr. Trump has gone out of his way as president to hide the details of his discussions with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia even from members of his own administration.

What all this adds up to remains unclear. Whether it will lead to a full-blown impeachment inquiry in the House has yet to be decided. But it underscores the chance that with candidates already lining up to take him on in 2020, Washington will spend the months to come debating the future of Mr. Trump’s presidency and the direction of the country.

“The reality,” said Andy Surabian, a Republican strategist and former special assistant to Mr. Trump, is “that the next two years are going to be nonstop political war.”

The White House has begun recruiting soldiers. The new White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, has hired 17 new lawyers, according to The Post, as he prepares for a barrage of subpoenas from House Democratic committee chairmen.

But Mr. Trump’s inner circle has shrunk, and he has fewer advisers around him whom he trusts. His White House chief of staff is still serving in an acting capacity, and the West Wing is depleted by the shutdown. As he himself wrote on Twitter this weekend, “There’s almost nobody in the W.H. but me.”

Mr. Surabian said the rest of the party must recognize the threat and rally behind the president. “Republicans need to understand that Democrats in Congress, beholden to the ‘resistance,’ aren’t interested in bipartisanship, they’re out for blood,” he said. “It’s a war we can win,” he added, “but only with fortitude, unity, coherent messaging and a willingness to fight back.”

Democrats, for their part, say they are out for accountability, not blood, intent on forcing a president who went largely unchecked by a Republican Congress during his first two years in office to come clean on the many scandals that have erupted involving his business, taxes, campaign and administration.

They plan to get started in the coming days. On Tuesday, they will grill former Attorney General William P. Barr, who has been nominated by Mr. Trump to assume his old office again, about his approach to the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. Mr. Barr wrote a private memo last year criticizing Mr. Mueller’s investigation, and Democrats will use his confirmation hearings to press him on whether the special counsel will be allowed to finish his work and report it to Congress.

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic minority leader, also plans to force a vote in the Senate this week on the Trump administration’s plans to lifts sanctions on the companies of Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to Mr. Putin’s government, if he reduces his ownership stakes. Democrats plan to use the issue to argue that Mr. Trump has been soft on Russia.

Even committees that are not usually in the investigation business are jumping into the fray. Representative Eliot L. Engel, Democrat of New York and the new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The New Yorker last week that he was eliminating the subcommittee on terrorism in favor of a subcommittee aimed at investigating Mr. Trump’s foreign policy.

Lost in all this may be any chance of bipartisan policymaking. At stake in the current fight is just $5.7 billion for Mr. Trump’s promised border wall, roughly one-eighth of one percent of the total federal budget. If one-eighth of one percent of the total budget can prompt the longest government shutdown in American history, then the potential for further clashes over the remaining 99.87 percent seems considerable. On issues like health care, taxes, climate change, guns and national security, the two sides start this era of divided government far apart.

A spotlight on the people reshaping our politics. A conversation with voters across the country. And a guiding hand through the endless news cycle, telling you what you really need to know.

“That’s the flashing yellow light here,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, a former top White House aide to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. “If you can’t do Government 101, what makes you think you’re going to do Advanced Placement Government like finding the money for an infrastructure bill?”

Julian Epstein, who was the counsel for Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee during Mr. Clinton’s impeachment fight 20 years ago, said big issues like a shrinking middle class largely untrained for the 21st-century economy would go unaddressed during the battles to come.

“The political class is now addicted to Manichaean conflict as a way of life,” Mr. Epstein said. “It’s become the mother’s milk — for base voters in both parties who together make up a minority share of voters, for cable television and for social media.”

Given the investigations, Mr. Trump may prefer a battle over the wall as more favorable ground to fight even with 800,000 federal workers furloughed or forced to work without pay. Polls suggest he is not winning with the broader public but has rallied his base in the fight.

More Americans blame Mr. Trump for the government shutdown than blame Democrats, and most oppose a border wall, according to a new survey by The Post and ABC News. But support for a wall has grown over the last year from 34 percent to 42 percent, fueled largely by Republicans, while opposition has slipped from 63 percent to 54 percent.

Negotiations have broken down. While Mr. Trump had gambled that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, would back down, she has made clear that she has no interest in compromise, and left town over the weekend. She and Mr. Schumer have insisted that Mr. Trump reopen the government while negotiations over a border wall proceed, which the president has refused to do. Mr. Trump walked out of their talks last week after he asked Ms. Pelosi if she would support his wall if he reopened the government and she said no.

“It’s all about their own sense of strength,” said John Feehery, a former senior House Republican aide. “Pelosi wants to be validated. She wants to be seen as a strong leader. Trump feels like he has to govern through strength. This is strength versus strength. Unfortunately, the people in the middle are the government workers who can’t afford to lose a paycheck.”

Instead of talks to end the shutdown, the president spent at least part of his weekend defending himself against the suspicions about his affinity for Mr. Putin. He insisted that he has actually been tougher on Russia than his predecessors and that the F.B.I. was led by “losers that tried to do a number on your President.”

He picked up the telephone on Saturday night to call into the Fox News show hosted by Jeanine Pirro, who participated in a campaign rally with him last fall. She asked him about the F.B.I. investigation reported by The Times with a tone of scorn.

“I’m going to ask you, are you now or have you ever worked for Russia, Mr. President?” Ms. Pirro asked.

“I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked,” he answered. “I think it’s the most insulting article I’ve ever had written. And if you read the article, you’d see that they found absolutely nothing.”

She then cited the Post article about his efforts to conceal details of his private meetings with Mr. Putin. “We had a great conversation,” he said. “We were talking about Israel and securing Israel and lots of other things, and it was a great conversation. I’m not keeping anything under wraps. I couldn’t care less.”

Ms. Pirro expressed sympathy for the battles he was waging.

“You’ve got such fight in you, it’s unbelievable,” she said.

“Well,” he answered, “I guess I have good genes.”


Here are 18 reasons Trump could be a Russian asset

Lawmakers stick to their spin, despite new questions about Trump and Russia

Republicans pushed the narrative that Trump had been tougher on Russia than Obama, while Democrats called for the Mueller investigation to be protected.

By Max Boot
WA Post
January 13 at 3:24 PM

On Friday, the New York Times reported that “in the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests.” That investigation may well be continuing under the auspices of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. We don’t know what Mueller has learned. But we can look at the key, publicly available evidence that both supports and undercuts this explosive allegation.

Here is some of the evidence suggesting “Individual 1” could be a Russian “asset”:

— Trump has a long financial history with Russia. As summarized by Jonathan Chait in an invaluable New York magazine article: “From 2003 to 2017, people from the former USSR made 86 all-cash purchases — a red flag of potential money laundering — of Trump properties, totaling $109 million. In 2010, the private-wealth division of Deutsche Bank also loaned him hundreds of millions of dollars during the same period it was laundering billions in Russian money. ‘Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,’ said Donald Jr. in 2008. ‘We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia,’ boasted Eric Trump in 2014.” According to Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s guilty plea of lying to Congress, Trump was even pursuing his dream of building a Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign with the help of a Vladimir Putin aide. These are the kind of financial entanglements that intelligence services such as the FSB typically use to ensnare foreigners, and they could leave Trump vulnerable to blackmail.

— The Russians interfered in the 2016 U.S. election to help elect Trump president.

— Trump encouraged the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails on July 27, 2016 (“Russia, if you’re listening”), on the very day that Russian intelligence hackers tried to attack Clinton’s personal and campaign servers.

— There were, according to the Moscow Project, “101 contacts between Trump’s team and Russia linked operatives,” and “the Trump team tried to cover up every single one of them.” The most infamous of these contacts was the June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower between the Trump campaign high command and a Kremlin emissary promising dirt on Clinton. Donald Trump Jr.’s reaction to the offer of Russian assistance? “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

— The Trump campaign was full of individuals, such as Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and Michael Flynn, with suspiciously close links to Moscow.

— Manafort, who ran the Trump campaign for free and was heavily in debt to a Russian oligarch, now admits to offering his Russian business partner, who is suspected of links to Russian intelligence, polling data that could have been used to target the Russian social media campaign on behalf of Trump.

— Trump associate Roger Stone, who was in contact with Russian conduit WikiLeaks, reportedly knew in advance that the Russians had hacked Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails. (Stone has denied it .)

— Once in office, Trump fired Comey to stop the investigation of the “Russia thing” — and then bragged about having done so to the Russian ambassador and foreign minister while also sharing with them top-secret information. Later, Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions because he would not end the special counsel investigation that resulted after the firing of Comey. As Lawfare editor Benjamin Wittes argues, “the obstruction was the collusion” — Trump has been effectively protecting the Russians by trying to impede the investigation of their attack on the United States.

— Trump has refused to consistently acknowledge that Russia interfered in the U.S. election or mobilize a government-wide effort to stop future interference. He has accepted Putin’s protestations that the Russians did not meddle in the election over the “high confidence” assessment of the U.S. intelligence community that they did.

— Like no previous president, Trump attacks and undermines the Justice Department and the FBI (“a cancer in our country”) — two institutions that stand on the front lines of combatting Russian espionage and influence operations in the United States.

— Again, like no previous president, Trump attacks and undermines the European Union and NATO — he has suggested that France should leave the E.U. and that the United States should leave NATO, reportedly saying, “NATO is as bad as NAFTA.” The E.U. and NATO are the two major obstacles to Russian designs in Europe.

— Trump supports populist, pro-Russian leaders in Europe, such as Viktor Orban in Hungary and Marine Le Pen in France, just as the Russians do.

— Trump has praised Putin (“a strong leader”) while trashing just about everyone else from grade-B Hollywood celebrities to leaders of allied nations. Trump even praised Putin for expelling U.S. diplomats and, notwithstanding instruction from his aides (“DO NOT CONGRATULATE”), congratulated Putin on winning a rigged reelection.

— Trump was utterly supine in his meetings with Putin, principally in Hamburg and Helsinki. Even more suspicious, according to a Post article on Saturday, Trump “has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with . . . Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials . . . Several officials said they were never able to get a reliable readout of the president’s two-hour meeting in Helsinki.”

— Trump defends the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and repeats other pro-Russian talking points.

— Trump is pulling U.S. troops out of Syria, handing that country to Russia and its ally Iran.

— Trump has effectively done nothing in response to the Russian attack on Ukrainian ships in international waters, thereby encouraging greater Russian aggression.

— Trump is sowing chaos in the government, most recently with a record-breaking partial government shutdown and “acting” appointees in key posts such as the Defense Department and Justice Department, thus furthering a Russian objective of undermining its chief adversary.

Now that we’ve listed 18 reasons Trump could be a Russian asset, let’s look at the exculpatory evidence. . .

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I can’t think of anything that would exonerate Trump aside from the difficulty of grasping what once would have seemed unimaginable: that a president of the United States could actually have been compromised by a hostile foreign power.

In his own defense, Trump claims he has been tougher on Russia “than any other President,” but literally in the next sentence he says, “getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing.” When the United States actually has taken steps to get tough with Russia in the past two years, it has usually been the work of Congress (the 2017 Russia sanctions bill) or Trump aides (expelling 60 Russian diplomats). The Post reports that Trump was “furious” when his administration was portrayed as being tough on Russia, and NBC News reports that he instructed subordinates never to publicly discuss plans to sell weapons to Ukraine.

This is hardly a “beyond a reasonable doubt” case that Trump is a Russian agent — certainly not in the way that Robert Hanssen or Aldrich Ames were. But it is a strong, circumstantial case that Trump is, as former acting CIA director Michael Morell and former CIA director Michael V. Hayden warned during the 2016 campaign, “an unwitting agent of the Russian federation” (Morell) or a “useful fool” who is “manipulated by Moscow” (Hayden). If Trump isn’t actually a Russian agent, he is doing a pretty good imitation of one.

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« Reply #2979 on: Jan 14, 2019, 06:49 AM »

Fox News sent Trump into ‘full-on panic’ by asking him about Russia: MSNBC’s Morning Joe and Mika

Travis Gettys
Raw Story
14 Jan 2019 at 07:02 ET                  

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski agreed President Donald Trump sounded panicked when he was asked by Fox News host Jeanine Pirro whether he had ever worked for Russia.

The “Morning Joe” hosts were stunned by this weekend’s reports that the FBI had opened a counterintelligence investigation to determine whether the president was acting as a Russian agent, and they said Trump had not really denied it.

“On Saturday the president was asked point blank, have you ever worked for Russia?” Brzezinski said. “Nowhere in his 354-word answer did he say the word no.”

Scarborough said the president’s frantic response to Pirro’s question betrayed his fear.

“You don’t have to be a pop psychiatrist to listen to Donald Trump’s voice on Fox News this weekend, and he was in a full-on panic,” Scarborough said. “Full-on panic, talking a hundred miles an hour. In that clip so he had to trash his own U.S. intel agencies — but, boy, he was in full panic mode.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zc5HZIiY4E


Leaked transcripts reveal FBI feared Trump could have fired Comey ‘at the behest’ of Russia

Brad Reed
Raw Story
14 Jan 2019 at 07:10 ET                  

CNN has obtained a series of transcripts of closed-door meetings between members of Congress and FBI officials that reveal the FBI feared that Trump could have fired the bureau’s former director “at the behest of the Russian government.”

During an interview with lawmakers, then-FBI general counsel James Baker outlined multiple scenarios that the FBI was examining with regard to President Donald Trump’s relationship with the Russian government.

One the “one extreme,” said Baker, was the possibility that Trump was completely innocent and all of his campaign’s connections with Russia were completely coincidental.

The other extreme possibility, explained Baker, was that Trump was “acting at the behest of and somehow following directions” from Russia and “somehow executing their will.”

Baker went on to explain why the FBI thought this topic was worthy of investigation.

“If the President of the United States fired Jim Comey at the behest of the Russian government, that would be unlawful and unconstitutional,” he said.

At this point, Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) asked Baker if he believed Trump had fired Comey under orders from the Kremlin.

“I don’t know,” Baker replied.

Read the whole report here: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/01/14/politics/trump-fbi-debate-investigation/index.html


‘Dozens of flashing red lights’: Military expert says it would have been a ‘scandal’ if FBI did not investigate Trump’s ties to Russia

Travis Gettys
Raw Story
14 Jan 2019 at 07:56 ET                   

A conservative military expert told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that the FBI had no choice but to open a counterintelligence investigation of President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.

Tom Nichols, a professor at the Naval War College in Rhode Island, said an abundance of evidence suggested the president might have been compromised by Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.

“My personal feeling, it’s always just my personal view here, this is primarily about his financial dealings that are deeply entangled or seem to be deeply entangled with the Russians for a long time, and that he fears the exposure of that information. At the very least, that’s how he’s acting.”

Nichols said it would have been a scandal if the FBI did not investigate whether Trump was acting against U.S. interests on behalf of Russia.

“The president’s apologists and enablers and defenders are rushing to say this is the FBI, it’s a vendetta, there’s no way can you do this,” he said. “But if you have this much information about any American entangled this deeply with Russia, it practically would have been malpractice for the FBI not to look into this, with dozens of flashing red lights with the president himself bragging about firing the FBI director.”

“At some point either they’re a law enforcement counterintelligence agency or they’re not,” Nichols added. “I’d say it would have been a scandal if they hadn’t looked into it.”


‘This is jaw-dropping’: CNN’s Camerota stunned that Trump’s own officials have no idea what he told Putin

Brad Reed
Raw Story
14 Jan 2019 at 07:52 ET                   

CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on Monday reacted with shock to bombshell reports that dropped over the weekend about President Donald Trump’s dealings with Russia.

Camerota was particularly stunned by a Washington Post report detailing the extreme measures Trump took to keep his 2018 Helsinki meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin a secret even from his own national security officials.

“Of all of the suspicious things that have piled up over the past two years, this reporting in the Washington Post is beyond head-scratching,” she said. “This is really sort of a jaw-dropping moment. People in President Trump’s own administration don’t know what he discussed with Vladimir Putin!”

Camerota went on to cite reports claiming that multiple administration officials asked Trump’s interpreter for details of the meeting, only to be told that the president had issued orders to not discuss the meeting with anyone. Additionally, the interpreter told officials that Trump had confiscated all notes taken during the meeting.

“It’s unprecedented,” she marveled. “He’s discussing things with Vladimir Putin that he does not want other people in his administration, and certainly not the American people, to know anything about.”

Contributor Joe Lockhart agreed with Camerota’s assessment and said the only remaining question to answer is “whether the president acted as a foreign agent or is he just a rube?”

Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t97YCFm_yzQ

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« Reply #2980 on: Jan 15, 2019, 05:11 AM »

Here are 20 of the world’s weirdest religious beliefs

Valerie Tarico - COMMENTARY
15 Jan 2019 at 08:50 ET                   

We find it easy to dismiss the fantastical beliefs of people in other times and places, but those that we’ve been exposed to since childhood seem not so far out. Virgin birth? Water turning into wine? A fig tree shriveling on the spot? Dead people getting up out of their graves and walking around?

All of the following beliefs are found in respected religions today. They have been long taught by religions that either are considered part of the American mainstream or are home grown, made in the U.S.A., produced here and exported. Some of these beliefs are ensconced in sacred texts. Others are simply traditional. All, at one time or another, have had the sanction of the highest church authorities, and many still do.

How many of them can you match up with a familiar religious tradition? (The answers are at the bottom.)

1.      The foreskin of [a holy one] may lie safeguarded in reliquaries made of gold and crystal and inlayed with gems–or it may have ascended into the heavens all by itself. (2)

2.      A race of giants once roamed the earth, the result of women and demi-gods interbreeding. (1, 6). They lived at the same time as fire breathing dragons. (1)

3.      Evil spirits can take control of pigs. (1)

4.      A talking donkey scolded a prophet. (1, 3)

5.      A righteous man can control his wife’s access to eternal paradise. (6)

6.      Brown skin is a punishment for disobeying God. (6)

7.      A prophet once traveled between two cities on a miniature flying horse with the face of a woman and the tail of a peacock. (4)

8.      [The Holy One] forbids a cat or dog receiving a blood transfusion and forbids blood meal being used as garden fertilizer. (7)

9.      Sacred underwear protects believers from spiritual contamination and, according to some adherents, from fire and speeding bullets (6)

10.  When certain rites are performed beforehand, bread turns into human flesh after it is swallowed. (2)

11.  Invisible supernatural beings reveal themselves in mundane objects like oozing paint or cooking food. (2)

12.  In the end times, [the Holy One’s] chosen people will be gathered together in Jackson County, Missouri. (6)

13.  Believers can drink poison or get bit by snakes without being harmed. (1)

14.  Sprinkling water on a newborn, if done correctly, can keep the baby from eons of suffering should he or she die prematurely. (2)

15.  Waving a chicken over your head can take away your sins. (3)

16.  [A holy one] climbed a mountain and could see the whole earth from the mountain peak. (1, 2)

17.  Putting a dirty milk glass and a plate from a roast beef sandwich in the same dishwasher can contaminate your soul. (3)

18.  There will be an afterlife in which exactly 144,000 people get to live eternally in Paradise. (Cool

19.  Each human being contains many alien spirits that were trapped in volcanos by hydrogen bombs. (5)

20.  [A supernatural being] cares tremendously what you do with your penis. 1,2,3,4,6,7,8.

Key:  1-Evangelical or “Bible Believing” Christianity, 2-Catholic Christianity, 3-Judaism, 4-Islam, 5-Scientology, 6-Mormonism 7-Christian Science 8-Jehovah’s Witness

Each of these beliefs is remarkable in its own way. But the composite goes beyond remarkable to revealing. What it reveals is an underlying belief that is something like this:

The process that produced this world and human life is best unveiled not by the scientific method but by the musings of iron age herdsmen (1,2,3,4,7,8) or science fiction writers (5), or con artists (6) whose theories are best judged by examining only assertions that cannot be falsified.

Underlying that belief is a sort of rational swiss cheese that is going to keep cognitive scientists investigating and arguing for decades.

We humans are astoundingly susceptible to handed down nonsense. Human children are dependent on their parents for a decade or even two, which is why nature made children credulous. When parents say, eat your peas, they’re good for you, kids may argue about the eat your peas part but they don’t usually question the factual assertion about nutrition. When parents sayNoah put all of the animals into the ark, it is the rare child who asks, Why didn’t the lion eat the guinea pigs?

Even as adults, we simply can’t afford to research everything we hear and read, and so, unless something isn’t working for us, we tend to accept what we are told by trusted authority figures. We go with the flow. Religion exploits this tendency by, among other things, establishing hierarchy and by ensuring that believers are in a certain mindset when they encounter religious ideas. A friend once gave me a button that said, Don’t pray in my school and I won’t think in your church. I didn’t really want to wear a button that said “I’m an arrogant jerk,” but the reality is that even the best of churches aren’t optimized for critical thinking. Quite the opposite. The pacing, the music, the lighting—all are designed for assent and emotion, for a right brain aesthetic experience, for the dominance of what Nobel prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman has called System 1 thinking, meaning intuition and gut feel rather than rational, slow, linear analysis.

Some of our ancestors were doing the best they could to understand the world around them but had a very limited set of tools at their disposal. It would appear that others were simply making stuff up. Mormonism and Scientology appear to fall in the latter camp.  But when it comes to religious credulity, the difference matters surprisingly little. For example, Mormonism is more easily debunked than most other religions, both because of its recency and because it makes so many historically or scientifically wild claims, and yet it is also one of the fastest growing religions in the world proportional to its membership. Wild claims matter less than whether a religion has certain viral characteristics.

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« Reply #2981 on: Jan 15, 2019, 05:13 AM »

Wind and Solar Are the Final Nails in Coal’s Coffin

By Jeff Turrentine

During the 2016 campaign and in various postelection rallies, President Trump promised to save America's flagging coal industry and put the nation's coal miners "back to work." While Trump continues to labor under the delusion that easing emissions standards will somehow resuscitate the coal industry, his administration's own numbers tell a different story. In fact, more U.S. coal plants have been deactivated in the first two years of Donald Trump's presidency than were taken offline during President Obama's entire first term. Domestic coal use in 2018 was also the lowest it's been since Jimmy Carter was in office.

Cheap natural gas is one reason for coal's demise, but the more interesting—and much more important—part of the story is the role that renewables, specifically wind and solar, are playing in the protracted fade-out of our dirtiest fuel. As for job creation, the 2018 U.S. Energy and Employment Report found that there are three times as many Americans now working in clean energy jobs as there are in the fossil fuel industry. For quite some time, conventional wisdom has held that renewables pose a serious threat to the future of coal. Now it seems clear the future has arrived.

Just ask the people in my home state of Texas, of all places. In a just-published report, scientists at Rice University in Houston conclude that the state could quit coal cold-turkey today and still have energy to spare—all thanks to recent advances in renewables. As one of the coauthors told the Houston Chronicle, "There is nowhere else in the world better positioned to operate without coal than Texas is. Wind and solar are easily capable of picking up the slack."

The authors acknowledge that Texas is uniquely equipped to be in this enviable position. Ample winds along its Gulf Coast and in its western plains have helped make Texas the country's largest producer of wind energy. And its famed size and sunshine have made it one of the fastest-growing states in terms of solar capacity, which industry analysts predict will reach 3,000 megawatts next year—up from just 15 megawatts in 2010.

Where does all of this progress leave coal? Out in the cold. The state's coal-fired power plants are shutting down or being seasonally mothballed at rates never witnessed before. And according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which provides electric power to more than 23 million Texans, future energy projects in the state are trending—mightily—in favor of wind and solar. One recent chart released by the consortium predicts that these two renewables will generate 86 percent of the megawattage of those future projects. How much coal is in that queue? Precisely 0 percent.

Texas isn't jumping on the renewables bandwagon out of some official commitment to curb climate change, or because it's suddenly turned its back on the fossil fuel industry that helped make it an international economic powerhouse. Texas is joining the club for the same reason that so many other states are joining: It makes sound economic sense. As Dan Cohan, one of the Rice study's coauthors, puts it, "It's the cheapest way to do things, whether or not you care about the environment." The new year brought with it a Wall Street Journal story that pithily sums up where things are headed nationally. Under the headline Utilities Speed Up Closure of Coal-Fired Power Plants, the article traces the phenomenon in large part to the "more economic alternatives" now provided by wind and solar.

As environmentalists, we'd love for governments, utilities and energy companies to put climate and air quality at the very top of their priority lists. Happily, more and more are doing just that. But as pragmatists, we should acknowledge that money, in the form of savings and/or profits, is going to be the determining factor in the growth of renewables. The good news is that climate advocacy and renewable technology have combined in such a way as to take the still-young clean energy sector to the next level. As it gets bigger, its products and its infrastructure will get cheaper. And as they get cheaper, dirty coal will look more and more like a loser—even to those who were perfectly fine with it before.

Here's the thing: As disingenuous as President Trump has shown himself to be, I do believe he's sincere in his desire to save the coal industry, even if it's just to shore up votes in Appalachian swing states and appease the corporate fat cats to whom he's indebted.

The only problem? He can't do it. It's too late.

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« Reply #2982 on: Jan 15, 2019, 05:17 AM »

Warning: A ‘Shrinking Window’ of Usable Groundwater

By Tara Lohan

We're living beyond our means when it comes to groundwater. That's probably not news to everyone, but new research suggests that, deep underground in a number of key aquifers in some parts of the U.S., we may have much less water than previously thought.

"We found that the average depth of water resources across the country was about half of what people had previously estimated," said Jennifer McIntosh, a distinguished scholar and professor of hydrology and atmospheric sciences at the University of Arizona.

McIntosh and her colleagues—who published a new study about these aquifers in November in Environmental Research Letters—took a different approach to assessing groundwater than other research, which has used satellites to measure changes in groundwater storage. For example, a 2015 study looked at 37 major aquifers across the world and found some were being depleted faster than they were being replenished, including in California's agriculturally intensive Central Valley.

McIntosh says those previous studies revealed a lot about how we're depleting water resources from the top down through extraction, such as pumping for agriculture and water supplies, especially in places like California.

But McIntosh and three other researchers wanted to look at groundwater from a different perspective: They examined how we're using water resources from the bottom up.

The study may help close the gap about what we know and don't know regarding how much water is available deep underground, as well as its quality.

It also rings some alarm bells.

A Different Approach

Instead of examining how fast water tables were falling, as in previous studies, the researchers looked at water chemistry to determine how deep underground you could drill for freshwater or brackish water before that water became too salty to use.

"We looked at the bottom limit of groundwater resources," said McIntosh.

The researchers used information from the U.S. Geological Survey on the quality of groundwater across the country and looked specifically at salinity—how salty the water is. "We looked basin by basin at how that depth of fresh and brackish water changes across the United States," said McIntosh.

The results were about half as much usable water as previous estimates. That means that deep groundwater reserves are not nearly as plentiful as we'd thought in some places.

That's important because when shallow groundwater reserves become depleted or polluted, the strategy so far has been to drill deeper and deeper wells to keep the water flowing.

But we may not always be able to drill our way out of water shortages. "Tapping into these deep waters works for now, but the long-term prospects for using these waters are quite concerning," said the report's lead author, Grant Ferguson, an associate professor in the department of Civil and Geological Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan.

The problem isn't evenly distributed across the country. While a number of aquifers in the West have deep freshwater reserves, the water in parts of the eastern and central U.S. becomes salty at much shallower depths. "Drilling deeper water wells to address groundwater depletion issues represents no more than a stopgap measure in these areas," the researchers concluded in their paper. One area of particular concern the researchers noted was in the Anadarko and Sedgwick basins underlying parts of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, which has particularly shallow freshwater reserves.

Depth to water with total dissolved solids (a) <3000 and (b) <10 000 mg l−1 based on median values in 100 m bins. (c) TDS distribution relative to the 50th and 95th percentile of water well depths

Oil and Water

The study looked at a total of 28 sedimentary basins across the U.S. that were chosen because they're known to contain oil and gas reserves.

The researchers found that the oil and gas industry uses fresh and brackish water, both of which are drawn from the bottom up. And that's another element of the research that could raise concern.

In some cases the industry pumps out brackish water as part of its drilling operations. Industry waste is then injected back underground into deep aquifers. As a result, water reserves are depleted from pumping and possibly contaminated during re-injection, the researchers found.

Deep groundwater resources can be threatened by oil and gas production or injection wells.

The depth between oil and gas activities and drinking water reserves varied greatly across the country. Wyoming and the Michigan basin were two places where oil and gas activities are relatively shallow and in close proximity to fresh and brackish water, which could increase the chances of contamination of water resources. Water contamination from oil and gas activity has already been documented in Pavillion, Wyoming.

The authors suggest that carefully monitoring for potential contamination or overexploitation of water reserves may be crucial in these areas with minimal separation between groundwater and oil and gas wells used for either production or disposal.

The Future Is … Saltier

While brackish water can be used for some types of agriculture and by oil and gas activities, it hasn't been used much yet for drinking because it requires desalination (although not as intensively as seawater). But as water resources become more constrained, particularly in the arid West where some communities and farms rely exclusively on groundwater, brackish water may be a more valuable future resource and a larger part of the water supply.

"I think of it in terms of water security. Both fresh and brackish aquifers are part of our potential water source into the future," said McIntosh.

But further utilizing these deep-water resources will have "all kinds of policy and economic consequences because they aren't going to be replenished as quickly as other waters" closer to the surface, said Ferguson. And that may mean better monitoring of oil and gas activity is needed in those regions, along with a possible rethinking of how we permit and manage drilling into those deep waters. "That would change the nature of how we're using water in a lot of places," he said.

While this research adds to our growing knowledge of groundwater resources, there is still a lot we don't know about the chemistry of these deep aquifers beyond just salinity, said McIntosh. Addressing that knowledge gap, she said, will be important as we work to match water resources to our varying needs for drinking, industry and agriculture.

"This 'bottom up' approach is a novel one and will find great utility, but it does depend upon the availability of deep groundwater data," said Michael Campana, a professor and hydrogeologist at Oregon State University who did not participate in the study. And the deeper we go, the less data we have, said Ferguson.

Both the researchers and outside experts suggest that more research is needed. This is particularly true in areas not associated with oil and gas activity that weren't part of the study, Campana points out. But the authors say their results may still show the need for important changes on policy or behavioral levels regarding how we use our nation's groundwater.

"There was this idea that deeper groundwater would be more pristine, and it is to a point, but there are all kinds of natural salinity and hydrocarbon problems once you get into deeper and deeper groundwater systems," said Ferguson. "So we're working with that idea that maybe the window of freshwater is not as big as we thought and it's probably getting even smaller in a lot of areas."

In an age of climate change, that's something that may play out sooner rather than later.

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« Reply #2983 on: Jan 15, 2019, 05:19 AM »

A jellyfish ‘epidemic’ has Australian scientists wondering whether climate change is to be blamed

Jellyfish at the Houston Zoo. In Queensland, Australia, thousands of jellyfish stings were recorded last week.

By Rick Noack

MELBOURNE, Australia — Authorities in Queensland, Australia, were forced to close beaches across the region over the weekend amid what local officials said was a jellyfish “epidemic.” Thousands of stings were recorded in Queensland last week, according to rescue organizations.

While the vast majority of those stings were not life-threatening and were caused by “bluebottle colonies,” researchers say the number of more serious injuries from less common jellyfish is also at above-average levels.

Some researchers also say this jellyfish infestation could be one more thing to blame on climate change.

“Unlike other species, jellyfish are stimulated by just about any change to the ecosystem. So, it’s reasonable to say that the jellyfish might potentially be responding to the warmer-than-usual weather,” said marine life researcher Lisa Gershwin, who works with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, which is Australia’s national science agency.

While researchers are still examining how much recent heat waves may have contributed to the current jellyfish bloom off Australia’s coasts, they can already say with certainty how they got to the beaches: strong and unusual winds pushing toward Queensland.

Gershwin and other scientists say that the surge in stings is unlikely to be coincidental. “Jellyfish are demanding our attention right now and we should be giving it to them. Those stings are an indication that something is wrong with our oceans — and we’re silly that we’re not listening,” Gershwin said.

While some scientists have been more careful about linking climate change and jellyfish blooms, given a lack of long-term data so far, most researchers agree that jellyfish populations respond positively to a number of human-induced changes, including pollution, overfishing and warmer water. “All of this takes out their predators and competitors, so they’re the ‘last men standing,’” Gershwin said.

For some less common species, that’s also true for any contact with humans. While an Irukandji variety of jellyfish can cause hours-long body pain and potential strokes, the number of deaths is relatively low. By 2017, there had been only two recorded fatalities in Queensland, according to the Department of Health there. Far more dangerous are box jellyfish, which have caused more than 70 fatalities across Australia.

Even though there is no definite way to predict future fatalities caused by jellyfish blooms, Australian researchers are concerned that the numbers could rise significantly.

Australian environmental activists say that their own government shares some of the blame, pointing at the lack of a coordinated effort to target plastic pollution in the waters around the Australian coastline, for example. In October, the conservative governing party faced additional criticism after it rejected calls to abandon coal power by 2050.

While Australia’s current government does not appear in a rush to tackle some of those factors, other nations such as China have a far bigger carbon and plastic waste footprint, and it’s unlikely that this will change anytime soon. Combined, that makes for some pessimistic predictions.

Jellyfish “are bad for the environment; they’re bad for humans. Having more jellyfish isn’t something good — but I’d say we’re on track to that,” Gershwin said.

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« Reply #2984 on: Jan 15, 2019, 05:30 AM »

Destroy ‘period huts’ or forget state support: Nepal moves to end practice

After the custom of consigning menstruating women to outdoor sheds claimed three more lives, a new system of penalties offers hope of change

Rojita Adhikari in Kathmandu
15 Jan 2019 07.00 GMT

Chhaupadi, the practice of banishing girls and women to a hut or shed when they have their periods, is common in Dilu Bhandari’s village in Nepal.

But two months ago Bhandari, a 26-year-old mother of four, watched as her husband destroyed the tiny hut in which she had previously been sent to live once a month. The family had been told by local authorities that if she continued to observe the custom, they would no longer receive state food support. Forced to choose between a food allowance for her twin boys and abandoning the traditional practice, the choice was effectively made for them.

The withdrawal of state support services is one of the penalties being brought into force as the country tries to tackle chhaupadi, which was banned by the supreme court in 2005 and criminalised by the government last year. Forcing a menstruating women into a “period hut” is now punishable with three months in prison and a 3,000 rupee (£33) fine.

Reports nonetheless emerge each year of women dying in huts from snake bites, smoke inhalation or fire. The practice has also been linked to death and illness among mothers and newborn babies.

Only this week, a woman and her two sons suffocated to death in a windowless hut while practising chhaupadi in the country’s Bajura district.

But local authorities in some of Nepal’s more remote regions, particularly in the west of the country, where the practice is still common, are determined to act.

“It’s been a year and we are trying to make people aware about chhaupadi,” says Janak Bhandari, ward president for Bhandari’s village in Achham district. “When someone comes to my office to get government services and facilities, like nutrition allowance, old age allowance, birth registration, citizenship recommendation, loan recommendation etc, we ask them first whether they are practicing chhaupadi. If they say yes, we ask them to destroy the hut and come again to claim government benefits and use facilities.”

Bhandari says there has been a 20% drop in the number of women sleeping in huts during their periods.

In Dadeldhura district, meanwhile, local government support is now denied to families who keep their daughters out of school during menstruation. The chairperson of the district’s Bhageshwor rural municipality, Kaushila Bhatta, says: “In our area, many girls are not allowed to go to school during their menstruation, which is putting our girls behind. We decided to cut off government services and facilities to those families who stopped their girls going to school during their period.

“This ill-practice has to end soon and we are working on this.”

Ramaroshan rural municipality in Achham district is running a major awareness programme under the banner “Inside chhaupadi, outside god”.

The vice-chairwoman of the municipality, Saraswati Rawal, said: “We are building a big temple in the middle of a village and have asked people to keep their gods respectfully at the temple and let woman and girls stay at home during their period.”

In some parts of Nepal, people think they will be punished by God if women enter the home during menstruation.

“Here, we solved our problem,” says Rawal. “Keep god at the temple, let woman stay at home then god will be happy and women will be safe too.”

Rawal says that, since the campaign started five months ago, between up to 20% fewer women stay in huts.

But Pasupati Kunwar, who runs Sama Bikash Nepal, an organisation that champions marginalised women, says progress has been slow.

“Almost 95% of people used to practise chhaupadi when I started a campaign against it 10 years ago,” she says. “But now I can say it’s 60%.”

Kunwar says the authorities need to look at people’s living arrangements, particularly those who share their homes with animals. “They keep animals on the first floor and the second floor is for them, for god, eating and sleeping. Lack of space leads woman to go to huts during menstruations. The government needs to come up with a solution to this,” she says.

Tham Maya Thapa, Nepal’s minister for women, children and senior citizens, believes it will take time to end a custom so deeply entrenched in Nepalese society. “The practice of chhaupadi has been going on for hundreds of years,” she says. “The tradition is not easy to break in one or two years.

“Since last August, it’s a crime to force a menstruating woman into seclusion, punishable by up to three months in jail and a fine. But law and rule always don’t work to break such a long-running tradition.”

After Dilu Bhandari was told she couldn’t get food benefits, she went home and told her husband and her mother-in-law. “I was so surprised and angry at that time. I thought: ‘What kind of rule is this?’ You know how important it is to get nutritional food for us, as we are very poor. My husband works as a labourer and I’m a housewife. We don’t earn enough money to buy it.”

After the chhaupadi hut was destroyed, Bhandari started staying on the second floor of their house during her period.

Dilu’s mother-in-law was not happy at first. She worried that God would be angry and punish them. “But nothing bad has happened to us yet,” says Dilu.

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