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« Reply #3480 on: Aug 16, 2019, 03:40 AM »

Fracking causes massive surge in methane emissions

Fermin Koop byFermin Koop
August 16, 2019

Among greenhouse gasses, methane is now the second most important one causing climate change. Its expansion in the last few years can be linked to the larger development of shale gas and shale oil, according to a new study based on chemical fingerprints.

The research, published in the journal Biogeosciences, reports that methane released from the exploitation of shale gas and oil a different carbon-13/carbon-12 ratio than conventional natural gas and other fossil fuels such as coal, which serves as a chemical signature of sorts.

This carbon-13 signature means that since the use of high-volume hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking) shale gas has greatly contributed to the global release of methane into the atmosphere, according to the paper’s author, Robert Howarth.

The level of methane in the atmosphere had previously risen during the last two decades of the 20th century but tapered in the first decade of the 21st century. Then, they increased dramatically from 2008–14 due to global human-caused methane emissions in the last 11 years.

    “This recent increase in methane is massive,” Howarth said. “It’s globally significant. It’s contributed to some of the increase in global warming we’ve seen, and shale gas is a major player.”

While it increased in the atmosphere, the carbon composition of the methane has also changed. Methane from biological sources such as cows and wetlands have low carbon-13 content — compared to methane from most fossil fuels. Previous studies erroneously concluded that biological sources are the cause of the rising methane, Howarth said.

Abouttwo-thirds of all new gas production over the last decade has been shale gasproduced in the United States and Canada. Global shale-gas production hasexploded 14-fold, from 31 billion cubic meters per year in 2005 to 435 billioncubic meters per year in 2015.

Unlike carbon dioxide, the climate system responds quickly to changes in methane emissions and reducing methane emissions could provide an opportunity to immediately slow the rate of global warming and meet the goal of the Paris Agreement to limit the temperature increase to 2ºC.

    “If we can stop pouring methane into the atmosphere, it will dissipate,” Howarth said. “It goes away pretty quickly, compared to carbon dioxide. It’s the low-hanging fruit to slow global warming.”

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« Reply #3481 on: Aug 16, 2019, 03:41 AM »

Change diets to save the tropical forests, researchers say


If the consumption of meat and dairy doesn’t fall, at least one-quarter of the world’s tropical lands could disappear by the end of the century, according to new research which studied the impacts of consumption trends on biodiverse regions across the globe.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology estimate that large swathes of natural land could potentially vanish if the demand for animal products continues to grow. The study was published in the Global Environmental Change journal.

About 9% of natural land — 95% of which is in the tropics — could go within 80 years unless global dietary habits change, the scientists said, looking at consumption and agriculture patterns.

    “Reducing meat and dairy consumption will have positive effects on greenhouse gas emissions and human health. It will also help biodiversity, which must be conserved to ensure the world’s growing population is fed. Changing our diets will lead to a more sustainable future and complement food security goals while addressing global food inequalities,” lead author Dr Roslyn Henry said.

As incomes increase across the globe, consumption has shifted from staples such as starchy roots and pulses to meat, milk, and refined sugars. Meat and dairy products are associated with higher land and water use and higher greenhouse gas emissions than any other foods.

By replacing animal products with plant-based alternatives, the researchers predict that the global demand for agricultural land could be reduced by 11%. Industrial feed systems also reduce agricultural expansion but may increase environmental degradation due to agricultural pollutants such as fertilizer, they said.

The study comes only a week after a report on land use by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which identified reducing meat consumption and changing diets to plant-based as an important focus for climate change mitigation.

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« Reply #3482 on: Aug 16, 2019, 03:46 AM »

9-year-old girl sues German boys choir over gender bias

New Europe

BERLIN  — A 9-year-old girl is suing a centuries-old Berlin boys choir, arguing that her bid to join was only rejected because of her gender, in a case that has sparked debate over equal rights versus artistic freedom.

The State and Cathedral Choir is one of the most renowned boys choirs in Germany, founded in 1465 by Fredrick II of Brandenburg. Over its 554 years, it has never admitted any girls. The girl, whose identity was not revealed to protect her privacy, auditioned with the choir in March and was rejected, according to the Berlin administrative court that is to rule on the suit Friday.

The choir contends the girl's rejection was "not predominantly about her gender" and she would have been asked to join if she had displayed extraordinary talent and motivation and "if her voice had matched the desired sound characteristics of a boys choir," the court said.

The choir also expressed doubt it would have been able to work with the girl's parents. The girl's mother, who brought the complaint on her daughter's behalf, argues the choir's rejection is discriminatory "in an impermissible way" and violates her right to equal opportunities from an institution receiving state funds, the court said.

The case has elicited strong feelings, with many weighing in on the side of the choir, arguing that it's less about talent than about tone, and that mixing the choir would bring an end to a traditional sound.

Writing for the influential Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, society columnist Hannah Bethke said "nobody has said girls can't sing as well." "But the timbre is different, and judging that should be left to the musicians and the musicologists," she wrote this week. "Anyone who wants to enforce a misunderstood gender equality here sacrifices a cultural asset."

Berlin musicologist Ann-Christine Mecke told public ZDF television that the voices of the singers should be seen as instruments "with specific sound characteristics." The difference between boys' voices and girls' voices is audible and measurable, she said. It is, however, "smaller than many claim" and Mecke said she hoped the case would lead to more opportunities for girls and a "more objective" consideration of boys' and girls' voices with "fewer clichés and myths."

Abbie Conant, an American trombonist who faced discrimination as a woman when she first started playing with the Munich Philharmonic in 1980, said that multiple studies show "even professional musicians cannot reliably hear the difference between a boys and a girls choir singing the same repertoire."

Conant, who left the Philharmonic in 1993 and now teaches at Germany's Trossingen University of Music, told the AP that boys choirs in other countries, like Britain, had already opened up to both sexes without legal fights.

"Boys choirs do not stem from a musical tradition, but from antiquated religious traditions that insist women must remain silent in church," she said in a statement she wrote in support of the girl's bid.

"Why would an enlightened society such as we have in Germany want to continue this kind of discriminatory tradition? Boys in cute little outfits with sweet, high voices are a pleasure, but so are girls with cute little outfits and sweet, high voices."

Attorney Susann Braecklein said her client, who has sung with different children's choirs in the past, applied to the choir in 2016 and 2018 and was rejected both times without being given an audition.

In December, the girl was told in writing by the dean of the music faculty at the University of the Arts, of which the choir is a part, that "a girl will never sing in a boys choir," Braecklein said in a statement.

Despite the rejection, the girl was invited for an audition in March, only to be rejected again and then to be told she didn't have the motivation and talent needed to join the boys choir, Braecklein said.

The choir refused to comment on the case. Some 250 boys and young men aged between 5 and 25 belong to the State and Cathedral Choir's 11 different choir groups. They perform in the city's landmark cathedral and have toured across Europe, the United States, Japan, Russia and Israel.

Boys between 5 and 7 without musical experience and experienced older boys can audition and will receive qualified training free of charge if they're accepted, according to the choir's website.

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« Reply #3483 on: Aug 16, 2019, 03:53 AM »

What's next as Labour Party seeks to stop a no-deal Brexit?

New Europe

LONDON  — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he will lead the country out of the European Union in 11 weeks, with or without a divorce deal — but an awful lot of U.K. lawmakers want to stop him.

The stage is set for a high-stakes battle over the country's future, with public opinion, parliamentary procedure and the law all part of the arsenal. A look at where things stand and what might happen next:

BRITAIN EYES DESTINATION NO-DEAL Johnson became prime minister last month on a promise to take Britain out of the EU on the scheduled date of Oct. 31, "come what may." He says he wants to leave the bloc with a deal, but only if the EU makes big changes to the divorce agreement it struck with his predecessor, Theresa May. The EU says it won't renegotiate, so chances of the U.K. crashing out without a deal are rising.

By law, unless something dramatic happens, Britain will cease to be a member of the EU at 11 p.m. London time on Oct. 31. Johnson's strategy is to stand firm and hope the bloc blinks, while ramping up plans to leave without an agreement by hiring more border officials, stockpiling medicines and preparing for backlogs of trucks around the major Channel port of Dover.

Many economists and businesses say a no-deal Brexit will cause economic turmoil, and Johnson's critics accuse him of steering the country off a cliff. Former Treasury chief Philip Hammond, who quit just before Johnson took office, said the British government appeared to be setting "the bar for negotiations so high that we inevitably leave without a deal."


Parliament has already voted several times — although non-bindingly — against a no-deal Brexit. But lawmakers can't agree on what should happen instead. Some want to leave the bloc with a deal, others to remain in the EU.

Parliament is on a summer break until Sept. 3 but opposition legislators and Conservative lawmakers who are against a no-deal Brexit are holding talks in hope of reaching a common strategy.

Lawmakers have two routes to stopping a no-deal Brexit — replacing Johnson's government or passing a law that bans leaving the EU without a deal.


Lawmakers are expected to try to oust Johnson once Parliament returns. Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, says he plans to call a no-confidence vote in Johnson's government "at the earliest opportunity when we can be confident of success."

Johnson's Conservative government is vulnerable. A recent loss in a special election reduced its working majority to just one vote. Several Conservative lawmakers apprehensive about the damage a disruptive Brexit could do say they would be prepared to bring down a Conservative government to stop a no-deal exit from happening.

But winning a no-confidence vote would not by itself alter Britain's course toward Brexit. There would then be a 14-day period in which either Johnson or another politician could try to secure the confidence of Parliament by winning a new vote.

Whoever succeeded could then form a new government. If no one can win a vote within the 14 days, a national election would be scheduled.


It's unclear who, if anyone, could win the support of a majority of British lawmakers, a notably fractious bunch.

Corbyn, who heads the biggest opposition party, has written to leaders of other groups proposing a Corbyn-led "temporary government" that would seek to delay Brexit day and call a national election.

The idea got a mixed reception.

Liz Saville Roberts, leader of the Welsh party Plaid Cymru, said she welcomed "the fact that at last Jeremy Corbyn is reaching out." But Jo Swinson, leader of the centrist Liberal Democrats, said the idea was "nonsense" because Corbyn was a divisive figure.

The reactions highlight the problem facing the pro-EU forces. The smaller opposition parties agree on the need to avoid a no-deal Brexit, but don't want to put Corbyn — a staunch socialist with little enthusiasm for the EU — in power. Labour, meanwhile, is likely to oppose a politician from any other party heading a national unity government.

If the opposition remains divided, Johnson could wait out the 14 days then call an election as required, but for a date after Oct. 31. That would mean Britain would leave the EU on a no-deal basis during the campaign period.



Parliament's other route is to pass a law banning Britain from leaving without a deal and requiring the government to ask the EU for a further delay to Brexit.

This could be tricky, because the government controls the parliamentary timetable and there are limited chances for the opposition to introduce legislation. Johnson's allies have also suggested he could suspend Parliament in the fall if it tries to obstruct Brexit.

But lawmakers have an ally in Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow, who has said he will "fight with every breath in my body" to ensure that Parliament gets its say on such a momentous topic as Brexit.

The EU has said it will only agree to delay Brexit again if there is a strong reason, such as a British election or a new Brexit referendum. There's support in Parliament for either of those options — but, again, it's not clear whether there is majority backing for a single course of action.

Because Queen Elizabeth II formally appoints British prime ministers, political crises always bring a flurry of speculation about whether the monarch — who is supposed to remain above politics — will get dragged into the Brexit fray.

That chatter increased after Labour economy spokesman John McDonnell said he'd be "sending Jeremy Corbyn in a cab to Buckingham Palace to say we're taking over" if Johnson lost a vote of no confidence.

But it's extremely unlikely the queen would play an active role in deciding who governs. Monarchs once had the power to dismiss British governments but that hasn't happened since 1834.

These days the queen rubber-stamps decisions made by politicians — and those politicians have to sort out the country's political crises.

"The queen acts on the advice of her prime minister and will keep out of things," said constitutional expert Vernon Bogdanor.

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« Reply #3484 on: Aug 16, 2019, 04:03 AM »

Ethiopians face beatings and bullets as Saudi ‘deportation machine’ cranks up

Saudi Arabia denies claims that staff at detention facilities treat violent abuse of undocumented migrants ‘like a sport’

Tom Gardner
Fri 16 Aug 2019 07.00 BST

When police arrested Tayib Mohammed at the southern border of Saudi Arabia, they seized all his worldly possessions and set them on fire.

The 45-year-old undocumented Ethiopian migrant was trying to cross from Yemen after a five-day trek through the bush. “They told me to undress,” he recalled several weeks later in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, wearing sandals and pyjamas. “They took away everything I had – phone, clothes, money. They burned them in front of me.”

Tayib is one of roughly 10,000 Ethiopians deported every month from Saudi Arabia since 2017, when authorities there stepped up a hardline campaign to remove undocumented immigrants. Roughly 300,000 have returned since March of that year, according to the latest International Organization for Migration (IOM) figures, with special flights loaded with deportees arriving at Addis Ababa airport each week.

The number of Ethiopians living in Saudi Arabia is unknown, but before the start of the campaign there were thought to be about half a million, often working low-skilled and poorly paid jobs in construction and domestic service. Most reach the kingdom via the perilous Red Sea crossing from Djibouti to wartorn Yemen, which gets little international attention but receives a much higher number of undocumented migrants than the Mediterranean crossing to Europe. Most are escaping poverty and unemployment back home.

Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians were deported in a chaotic previous crackdown conducted between 2013 and 2014. Though the numbers are higher this time, the situation has gone largely unnoticed.

“They’ve systematised the deportation machine now,” said Adam Coogle of Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Deportees like Tayib return empty-handed and report serious abuses by Saudi police and prison guards. A few have returned in such poor health that they died shortly after arriving at the airport in Addis Ababa. Some had untreated bullet wounds.

Saudi Arabia is one of few countries not to have ratified the main international treaties relevant to immigration detention. According to the Geneva-based Global Detention Project, the line between immigration detention and criminal incarceration in Saudi Arabia is often unclear.

There is no independent oversight of detention practices, and the last prison visit conducted by an independent human rights organisation was by HRW in 2006. Coogle says there are at least 10 facilities, including prisons, used for immigrant detention inside Saudi Arabia, but the precise figure is not known.

“They are treated like animals in these prisons,” said one aid worker.

Saudi Arabia’s ministry of media denied the allegations. An official told the Guardian that “no patient is deported until after their treatment and recovery” and that “no offender is deported by force”.

“All procedures for dealing with cases of illness, childcare, and deportation of offenders are carried out with the oversight of the diplomatic missions of their respective countries,” the official added.

Tayib said that in the first facility, where he stayed for five days, he received no food or water in the first 24 hours. When he and other inmates started complaining, some were taken outside and beaten. When food eventually arrived it consisted of only a plate of rice between six of them.

Beatings, he said, were commonplace: “Even without you saying or doing anything, they beat you. We didn’t know the reason. They punched us with their hands and when they got tired they would start kicking. It’s like a sport.”

Other former detainees told the Guardian similar stories, as did those interviewed by HRW for a new report.

The most notorious detention facility is in Al Dayer, in southern Saudi Arabia’s Jizan region. “These are some of the worst conditions I’ve ever heard of – really the whole nine yards,” said Coogle.

Former detainees reported abuses such as chaining inmates together; cells with overflowing toilets, forcing inmates to sit in faeces and urine; food thrown through cell windows so that inmates fight over scraps; prohibiting Muslims from praying, and tearing crosses off the necklaces of Christian inmates; and an absence of clean water or sanitation.

Former detainee Abdulrahim Sofian told the Guardian that guards trod on his back as a form of punishment, and repeatedly called him and other detainees “dogs” or “animals”.

Like Tayib, his possessions, including clothes, were confiscated: “We left everything there,” he said, wearing an Ethiopian Airlines blanket as a shawl.

Saudi authorities are also accused of detaining and deporting minors, despite the country having signed and ratified the convention on the rights of the child, which indicates that children should not be detained on account of their migration status.

“Children are among the several thousands of people arriving each week from Saudi Arabia and we are particularly worried about them as they require special protection and social assistance,” said Mohamed Morchid, country director for Médecins Sans Frontières in Ethiopia.

The Saudi ministry of media denied the allegation: “Children are not deported except with their parents, and children are not subject to any penalty.

“Children whose parents are not known are kept in social care facilities with Saudi children.”

IOM figures show that 6% of those returned since March 2017 were minors, though aid workers said the prevalence of false documentation means the true figure may be higher. The Guardian spoke to two deportees who said they were 15 years old, though the laissez-passer documents (“safe conduct” passes) granted by the Saudi authorities claimed they were adults.

There are very few organisations in the capital able to take care of minors, which means the majority end up on the streets shortly after arriving back in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia has drawn close to Saudi Arabia since Abiy Ahmed made the kingdom his first overseas visit – and accepted offers of financial aid – after he became prime minister last year.

“It is clear the Ethiopian government doesn’t want to make any issue with the Saudis about this,” said one aid worker.

Berhanu Aberra, director for overseas employment at Ethiopia’s ministry of labour and social affairs, said his government was working “with the respective Saudi bodies to respect and protect the dignity, rights and safety of our citizens” and to ensure all are “treated safely until back home”.

The Ethiopian government has also spoken warmly of Saudi Arabia as a partner, noting that it is paying for transport for deportees.

But aid agencies said they need more support.

The IOM has estimated that $23.8m (£19.6m) is needed to assist returnees with reintegration efforts. Last year, Saudi Arabia reportedly promised $30m to help but this has not yet materialised. The EU has refused to offer funding to assist with returns to Ethiopia from the Gulf.

Meanwhile, despite the dangers, migrants from Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa continue to make the journey to Saudi Arabia in persistently large numbers.

Danielle Botti of the Mixed Migration Centre said the number of arrivals in Yemen in April and May – at least 18,000 a month – were the highest recorded since 2006. The MMC estimates that more than 10% of these could be making repeat journeys.

“What they need is social support,” said one aid worker. “Because otherwise they go again and again.”

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« Reply #3485 on: Aug 16, 2019, 04:08 AM »

Pacific islands will survive climate crisis because they 'pick our fruit', Australia's deputy PM says

Exclusive: Michael McCormack says island nations want Australia to shut down industry ‘so they can survive’

Ben Smee
Fri 16 Aug 2019 10.29 BST

Pacific island nations affected by the climate crisis will continue to survive “because many of their workers come here to pick our fruit”, Australia’s deputy prime minister has said.

Michael McCormack’s comments were made after critical talks at the Pacific Islands Forum that almost collapsed over Australia’s positions on coal and climate change.

Fears are growing the situation might come at a diplomatic cost for Australia in a region where China has become increasingly influential.

McCormack, who has been the acting prime minister while Scott Morrison attended the forum in low-lying Tuvalu, attended a business function in Wagga Wagga on Friday.

“I also get a little bit annoyed when we have people in those sorts of countries pointing the finger at Australia and say we should be shutting down all our resources sector so that, you know, they will continue to survive,” he said.

“They will continue to survive, there’s no question they’ll continue to survive and they’ll continue to survive on large aid assistance from Australia.

“They’ll continue to survive because many of their workers come here and pick our fruit, pick our fruit grown with hard Australian enterprise and endeavour and we welcome them and we always will.

“But the fact is we’re not going to be hijacked into doing something that will shut down an industry that provides tens of thousands of jobs, that provides two-thirds of our energy needs ... and I’m only talking coal, let alone all of our other resources.”

The acting opposition leader, Richard Marles, said on Friday evening: “These are ignorant comments from the acting prime minister and he should know better”.

On Friday afternoon, before McCormack’s comments were made public, the former prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, told ABC Radio National that Australia must show respect to the Pacific and its concerns about the impact of global heating.

“Climate change and the consequences of it are an existential matter for the Pacific,” Turnbull said.

“If you are a Pacific islander and your home is going to be washed away by rising sea levels caused by global warming then this is not a political issue, it’s an existential one.

“So it’s critically important that we show respect to the Pacific islanders and that we are seen to be helping climate change, both in reducing our emissions as part of a global effort, and of course as we do providing them with substantial resources to adapt to climate change.”

McCormack’s comments were made in response to a question from Trudi Beck, a local general practitioner who has been campaigning in Wagga Wagga for action on climate change.

Beck’s Friday protests, on the lawn outside McCormack’s electorate office, have become increasingly prominent. Last month, Guardian Australia reported comments McCormack made to Beck disputing evidence of global heating.

Beck questioned McCormack at the function on Friday and said she felt “embarrassed” by Australia’s lack of urgency during Pacific talks.

“I’ve never been embarrassed to be Australian and I never will,” McCormack responded.

“I’m proud of the fact that we’ve just given another $500m to our Pacific island neighbour friends.

“The fact is we went to our election with our policies writ large. So we will put our policies in place. What we won’t do is we won’t listen to the Bob Browns of the world and say we should be shutting down our resources sector. We won’t say that we should be ashamed of those people who wear hi-vis vests.

“I will always be a proud Australian who will defend those industries and we will not be de-industrialising Australia.”

McCormack’s comments are not the first time a senior member of the government has been recorded making controversial remarks about the impact of climate change in the Pacific. In 2015, the then immigration minister, Peter Dutton, was caught by a live microphone joking with Morrison and the then prime minister, Tony Abbott, about rising sea levels.

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« Reply #3486 on: Aug 16, 2019, 04:20 AM »

08/16/2019 10:29 AM

White Terror: Donald Trump and the Ideology of Racist Hate

By Anna Clauß, Roman Höfner, Juan Moreno, Martin Schlak and René Pfister

The massacre in El Paso is the consequence of growing racist extremism in the United States. As president, Donald Trump's task should be that of uniting the country, but he himself has contributed to the climate of hate.

It's a warm summer evening not long after the massacres in El Paso and Dayton and several hundred demonstrators have gathered on an arterial in Fairfax, Virginia, and are holding candles. Behind them is a blue building of steel and glass that is visible from the highway out of town. High up on the facade are five words in red lettering: National Rifle Association of America.

Inside, nobody seems particularly interested in the protesters. The lights are still on in some of the offices, but it's quiet otherwise. NRA employees, the most powerful weapons lobby in the world, know the drill: Every time a gunman mows down some people in the latest mass killing, the protesters show up. Following the two massacres that took place in the first weekend of August, the NRA posted a brief note on its website, saying that its "deepest sympathies" were with the victims and their families, but the organization would continue defending the right of Americans to bear arms. Six lines for 31 deaths. Plenty.

On the street down below, a woman begins singing "We Shall Not Be Moved," a song from the Civil Rights movement. Then, the Rev. David Miller steps onto a small, improvised podium. He's a muscular man in a dark gray, collared shirt. Empty phrases are no longer enough, he says. "The time for thoughts and prayers has come to an end. The time for us to act is now!"

"Amen," the crowd responds, "Amen! Amen!" The reverend seems to feed off the passion of those surrounding him on this evening. There are schoolchildren, university students and a Democratic lawmaker in the audience. One of the signs reads: "Our blood, your hands." Many marchers are holding pictures of those who died in the El Paso bloodbath.

There have been so many massacres, the reverend says. But after the attack on the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012, in which 26 people died, 20 of them children, he says he actually thought that things would finally change. He thought the same after the massacre in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, with 17 deaths. But even the protests by the students who survived in Parkland didn't result in any changes to U.S. gun laws. Now, though, the reverend says, we have really reached a decisive moment. "Now, the tanker is beginning to turn." He stops for a moment and looks at the evening sky: "At least I hope so."

There has been no lack this week of warnings to finally come to reason in the face of ongoing hate and violence in the U.S. In 2019 alone, some 250 people have already been killed in mass shootings in America.

Spreading a Racist Ideology

The phrase "mass shooting" doesn't adequately describe the massacre carried out by Patrick Wood Crusius in El Paso, just as it is insufficient in other such bloodbaths. The suspected shooter was angry, but he didn't choose his victims at random. He drove 10 hours from a Dallas suburb to the Mexican border, where the Latino share of the population is particularly high. The target of his attack was a Walmart, which does excellent business on cross-border traffic.

Crusius didn't just want to kill people, he wanted to send a political message. And he had a role model: the gunman from Christchurch, who killed 51 people in two New Zealand mosques earlier this year -- and who invoked the right-wing extremist Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in Oslo and on the island of Utoya in 2011.

Crusius' assault was intended as a terrorist attack. He wanted to frighten all those who aren't white, and he wanted to spread his racist ideology. In the four-page manifesto posted online shortly before he opened fire, he wrote that he was "simply trying to defend my country from a supposed ethnic and cultural replacement brought on by an invasion." The theory of cultural replacement is one that has been circulating for some time among right-wing extremists in the United States.

Following the Islamist terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush launched two wars that would cost the lives of thousands of soldiers. He also created the Department of Homeland Security, which employs 240,000 people and has a budget of at least $40 billion (35.7 billion euros) per year. It's mission was primarily that of protecting the U.S. from foreign terrorists, but now, it has become increasingly clear that a perhaps more dangerous threat is developing. And it is coming from what seems to be an extremely unlikely source: quiet, leafy suburbs like Allen, Texas, where Crusius lived and became radicalized -- until he ultimately packed an assault rifle into his car and headed for the Mexican border.

Holger Esser couldn't believe it when he heard the news from El Paso. The software engineer from the German town of Düren has lived in the U.S. for 20 years and he lived on the same street as Crusius. They would say hello to each other when Esser took his dog Millie for her morning walk. Esser never really thought much about Crusius, a quiet, inconspicuous young man in his early 20s who went to nearby Collin College. He parked his Honda Civic in front of his grandparents' place, where he lived most of the time.

'Rotting From the Inside Out'

"I was shocked just like everyone was when I heard about the shooting. I knew the grandparents -- nice, friendly people," Esser says. Larry and Cynthia Brown, regular churchgoers according to Esser, live seven houses down from Esser. The two of them, he says, took in their grandson Patrick around two years ago, shortly after he graduated from high school. In his senior yearbook, it says that Crusius finds the "world of law enforcement" to be quite fascinating. Former classmates have described him as a quiet loner who was avoided by many and made fun of by some.

Esser has read Crusius' manifesto, saying he wanted to understand what was going on inside his neighbor's head. "When you live here, how can you seriously be worried that Mexicans are going to take your job?" Esser asks. Homes in the area cost up to a million dollars and those who live here have come pretty close to achieving the American dream. It's a place of two-car garages with a third car parked out front and perfectly tended front yards. But Crusius apparently saw it as a world that was approaching collapse: "America is rotting from the inside out, and peaceful means to stop this seem to be nearly impossible," he wrote in his manifesto.

Terror attacks perpetrated by whites against the country's minorities have plagued the United States from the very beginning. In 1787, the country agreed on the first democratic constitution in the modern era, but the document was only able to find support from all 13 founding colonies because it bowed to pressure from the southern states and allowed them to continue their brutal system of slavery. It was only in 1865, with the North's victory over the South in the Civil War, that slavery was abolished. Yet it was only just over a week ago that police on horseback in the Texan city of Galveston led a black suspect on a leash through town -- almost as though the abolishment of slavery had never taken place. The image triggered widespread anger and the police department was forced to apologize.

Right-wing terror in the U.S. has a long history. Up until the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, Timothy McVeigh held the dark record for the bloodiest terrorist attack in U.S. history. An eager consumer of right-wing conspiracy theories, McVeigh set off a bomb in 1995 at a federal administration building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people. The nongovernmental organization ADL has calculated that in the last 10 years, three quarters of all murders motivated by extremist ideologies have been committed by right-wing extremists.

Just how clear-and-present the danger is, was demonstrated in August 2017 when racists paraded through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, while chanting: "Jews will not replace us!" One woman died when a Hitler-admirer sped his car into a group of counterdemonstrators. Donald Trump, though, didn't find it necessary to assign blame, instead saying that there were "some very fine people on both sides."

Fine Nazis? Charlottesville made it clearer than ever that Trump willingly flirts with the extreme right fringe of the American political spectrum and that he is unwilling to criticize those who praise him. The result is that many white racists feel they have found an ally in Donald Trump.

Relying on Divisiveness
The president did read out a speech on the El Paso mass shooting, saying on Monday, fully 48 hours after the attacks: "In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy."

But can Trump, whose political survival depends on divisiveness, suddenly play the role of reconciler? If he took his role seriously and meant what he said about mourning the victims, then he would push Republicans in Congress to finally pass stronger gun laws.

There is little to indicate, however, that the president is even considering a change to his political approach. His predecessor Barack Obama had one of the greatest moments of his presidency in summer 2015 when he sang "Amazing Grace" during the services for the victims of the church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, before then reading the names of the victims.

When Trump visited Dayton and El Paso last Wednesday to visit with those wounded in the attacks and with first responders, he took advantage of a break between appointments to make fun of his Democratic challenger Joe Biden. "Watching Sleepy Joe Biden making a speech. Sooo Boring! The LameStream Media will die in the ratings and clicks with this guy," he tweeted, showing about as much respect as a loud belch at a funeral. Just a few moments earlier, he had said: "I think my rhetoric brings people together."

Nothing is sacred anymore in the Trump era. The president has lied so often and contaminated the country with malice and ridicule to such a degree that serious political discourse is no longer possible. Facts and measured consideration are becoming rare. The only thing that matters is attention, spin and slogans. And it would seem that the suspect from El Paso was paying close attention to the new rules of the Trump Era.

Before Crusius jumped into action, he thought carefully about the media coverage it would generate. He wrote that he developed his opinions long before Trump. "I know that the media will probably call me a white supremacist anyway and blame Trump's rhetoric. The media is infamous for fake news. Their reaction to this attack will likely just confirm that."

Nothing can be further from the truth than calling Crusius a mentally ill loner as Trump decided to do. Crusius precisely planned his attack along with the message he wanted the attack to send. Because of the high birthrate among Latinos, he wrote, the U.S. was in danger of becoming a "one-party country" and believed that a conspiracy was behind it.

One could point to the French author Renaud Camus as being the intellectual father of Crusius' manifesto, a man who once tried to make a living from writing homoerotic literature. On several occasions, Camus has sought to distance himself from violence that has been committed in the name of his ideas, but he has never renounced the ideas themselves. His book "Le Grand Remplacement" comes to the absurd conclusion that "European native peoples" are intentionally being replaced by immigrants from outside of Europe.

No Single Explanation

In reference to Camus, the Christchurch attacker called his manifesto "The Great Replacement." It begins with the words: "It's the birthrates. It's the birthrates. It's the birthrates." Crusius wrote: "Actually, the Hispanic community was not my target before I read The Great Replacement."

Renaud Camus picked up an idea prevalent among the new right which no longer focuses first and foremost on the alleged superiority of the white race. The justification for their actions has become a kind of self-defense against the presumed takeover of their country by immigrants. Crusius wrote that he wanted America to be divided up so that each race would have its own territory.

Some Democratic presidential candidates only needed a day before accusing Trump of being partly to blame for the terrorist attack. The authenticity of the manifesto hadn't even been confirmed before Cory Booker, a Senator from New Jersey who is making a run for the White House, said: "I believe this president is responsible."

When somebody leaves behind all civilizational inhibitions and opens fire on families who are buying school supplies for their children at the end of summer vacation, there can be no single explanation. But Trump has created a climate of malice and anger and has repeatedly used the word "invasion" when discussing immigration, a word that also found its way into Crusius' manifesto. Indeed, Trump began his political career with the conspiracy theory that Obama wasn't actually born in the United States.

Whether Trump is a convinced racist or not is ultimately of almost no importance. But he has decided to serve the basest instincts of his political supporters. It was a nadir of recent American history when Trump stood silently at a mid-July campaign appearance in North Carolina as the crowd chanted: "Send her back!" The reference was to U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar, who was born in Somalia and came to the U.S. as a child. Earlier, Trump had suggested that she and three other Congresswoman -- none of them white -- go back to their home countries even though all of them are Americans.

For that reason, it is tough to imagine Trump being the one to take on the kind of white terrorism that even the FBI is warning of. Indeed, it is likely he has no intention of doing so since it would ruin his re-election strategy, which depends on fomenting acrimony and ill will.

Trump is also well aware that white Americans, in particular, are heavily invested in their right to own firearms, no matter how powerful. If reason held sway in Washington, then a path would quickly be found to slow down the epidemic of violence. Almost everyone who is driven by dark thoughts can just walk into the closest gun shop and launch their own personal civil war.

"If as many whites as blacks were killed by firearms, then something would happen very quickly," says David Hemenway, 74, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. Hardly anybody knows as much about the American obsession with guns as Hemenway, who has studied the issue for 30 years. The right to bear arms was ratified as the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution over 200 years ago, on Dec. 15, 1791. Many view it as being sacred. Even Hemenway doesn't demand that firearms be banned, but he does believe that sensible regulations would be a huge step for the country.

'No Political Appetite'

An important first step, he argues, should be banning large-capacity magazines, a demand that was also made by the students of Parkland after the massacre there. At both recent mass shootings, the attackers used weapons that had originally been designed for the military and the Dayton shooter had a weapon whose magazine could hold up to 100 cartridges. "Nobody needs these weapons for self-defense," Hemenway says. "Their only purpose is to kill many people quickly." Last week, though, Trump said that there was "no political appetite" in Congress for an assault weapons ban -- as though he had no recourse to try to convince Republicans otherwise.

Trump will also have a problem with regulating the internet platforms where Crusius and his ilk become radicalized. The infamous forum 8chan, where Crusius and many before him disseminated their manifestos, was taken offline soon after the recent attacks -- but only because its provider pulled the plug. In closed groups on the messaging app Telegram, Crusius is still being celebrated. "Today will go down in history as a turning point in the self-confidence of the white race," wrote one user after the El Paso massacre.

"We must recognize that the internet has provided a dangerous avenue to radicalize disturbed minds and perform demented acts," Trump said on the Monday after the attacks. He seems to believe that the many mass shootings in the U.S. are due to mental illness and not because of lax gun laws and a growing right-wing extremist fringe.

Plus, Trump said last Wednesday, the attacker from Dayton, Connor Betts, is a fan of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and not from the right wing. It is true that Betts did post such tweets on Twitter, but the FBI has found that his sympathies lay primarily with a number of different violent ideologies. Investigators are also looking into possible connections with so-called incels ("involuntary celibates"), who harbor a radical hatred of women. In contrast to Crusius, Betts did not offer a political justification for his deed and his motive remains unclear. His own sister is among the nine he killed in the attack.

After El Paso, many members of minority communities are afraid. Not only do they feel that the president isn't protecting them, they have the impression that he has declared open season on them. Trump has left little doubt that he sees himself primarily as the president of the whites, and especially of the 30 percent of voters who will definitely vote for him next fall no matter what.

But can Trump win re-election if he only appeals to white voters and their prejudices? Whites only make up two-thirds of the U.S. population, and many of them hate Trump. Meanwhile, 18 percent of the electorate is Latino, and 13 percent is black. Trump's victory in 2016 was largely a function of the peculiarities of the Electoral College, which gives more leverage to less populated states in the Midwest where more whites live. He won even though Hillary Clinton received almost 3 million more votes than he did.

A 'Hater' and an 'Idiot'

The American political landscape is changing, and behind that shift is not some conspiracy, but simple demographics. Nowhere can that be seen more clearly than in Texas, the state in which Crusius lived. For the last several decades, Texas has been a Republican and NRA stronghold, the home of rednecks in cowboy boots, as the cliche would have it. Increasingly, though, reality looks quite a bit different. Today, 41.5 percent of Texans are white with no familial roots in Latin America. But the Latinos are quickly catching up and already make up a 39.6 percent share of the Texan population.

In the 2018 midterm elections, 64 percent of Hispanics in Texas cast their ballots for the Democratic Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke, a native of El Paso. He ultimately lost a close race, but Texan Hispanics were a significant factor in the Republicans losing their majority in the House of Representatives. Indeed, if the Republicans lose their Texan stronghold, it could have serious consequences for the party. With 38 electoral votes, it is a key stepping stone to the presidency -- and should it fall into the hands of the Democrats, their path to the White House would be much more direct. The demographic shift evident in Texas can also be seen in states like Arizona and Georgia, both of which are becoming more Democratic even as traditionally working-class states in the Midwest are beginning to lean more Republican. The question is which trend will develop more quickly ahead of the 2020 elections.

Raul Arenas is standing in his house in El Paso and shaking his head. No, he says, there is no way he will be voting for Donald Trump. He is a "hater" and an "idiot," he says. "The nicest thing you can say about our president is that he is childish." Arenas has been a U.S. citizen for around 30 years. He entered the country illegally as a 19-year-old from the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez, which is visible from the El Paso Walmart's parking lot.

He bought a fake Green Card, found a job and then applied for citizenship five years later. He has three children, all of whom were born in the U.S. and are thus citizens. They all got good grades and went on to college. These days, Arenas has his own roofing company in El Paso and has done very well for himself. His own private invasion was clearly beneficial to the U.S.

"The real invaders of Texas," Arenas says laughing, are the whites. They came to Texas in the 19th century, he says, and pushed out the Mexicans. But Arenas isn't in the mood for polemics. He prefers to leave that up to the president.


Trump claims ‘the European Union is worse than China’ — despite violent crackdown on Hong Kong protesters

on August 16, 2019
Raw Story
By Bob Brigham

President Donald Trump attacked the European Union for being “worse” than the Peoples’ Republic of China during a 2020 re-election rally in Manchester, New Hampshire on Thursday.

Trump lashed out at America’s European allies while attempting to argue that his trade war with China was a success.

“By the way, The European Union is worse than China, just smaller,” Trump argued.

“It treats us horribly — barriers, tariffs, taxes, — and we let them come in. It is worse than China,” he repeated.

Trump then decided to note that he was of European descent.

“Many of us come from there. I do. That is what it has got going. That is about it,” he said.

“They treat us really badly and many others, many, many others,” Trump argued.


‘It will be bad’: Columnist says Trump has a ‘dream team’ of incompetence that will make any recession worse

on August 16, 2019
By Matthew Chapman

On Thursday, the Washington Post‘s Catherine Rampell wrote a dire column warning that, if a recession happens on President Donald Trump’s watch, it is likely to be particularly bad — because his team is doesn’t have the knowledge or competence to guide America through an economic downturn.

“Trump seems to be worried about getting blamed for what is coming. For months, he has been setting up the Federal Reserve as a scapegoat — including for market swings caused by his own foolish trade wars. When stocks go up, Trump claims full credit; when they go down, it’s the Fed’s fault. Personal responsibility and all that,” wrote Rampell. “My view on what he (and the rest of us) should be fixed on is slightly different. If indeed we have a downturn, Trump might or might not be the cause; the exact triggers of recession are often hard to pinpoint. But you know what would unequivocally be his fault, rather than fickle fortune? A badly mismanaged recession. Which seems inevitable if, indeed, recession strikes.”

Among Trump’s economic team, Rampell noted, is National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow, whose sole skill of communicating to financial markets “has been rendered moot … by Trump’s inability to settle on any consistent message worthy of communicating,” and trade adviser Peter Navarro, who “could not name a single other economist who agreed with his views on trade” and “suggested the Wall Street Journal editorial page sounded communist.”

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is little better, wrote Rampell. “Bankrolling ‘Suicide Squad’ and other movies — whatever their artistic merits — and earning the coveted title of greatest sycophant in Cabinet history bear little relevance to rescuing the world from economic crisis.” Furthermore Mnuchin’s department is hamstrung by critical vacancies, and his head of the Council of Economic Advisers doesn’t have a background in economics.

And as if that weren’t enough, wrote Rampell, Trump has critically undermined the Fed’s power to move markets by bullying them over interest rates, and his gigantic tax cut for billionaires leaves little room for fiscal stimulus.

“Trump — like the rest of us — had better hope and pray that we don’t have a recession anytime soon,” concluded Rampell. “Because if we do, it’s gonna be bad.”


Trump shot down in court — judge rules detained kids deserve toothbrushes and soap

on August 16, 2019
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams

“The government of the United States of America was fighting against having to provide toothbrushes, soap, and showers to children.”

Rights groups expressed relief on Thursday after a federal court dismissed a Trump administration appeal which argued that safe and sanitary conditions for detained immigrant children does not include providing basic hygiene necessities such as toothbrushes, soap, showers, and towels.

That the court decision was necessary underscores the cruelty of the Trump White House, said observers.

“The government of the United States of America was fighting against having to provide toothbrushes, soap, and showers to children,” tweeted Andy Donohue, managing editor of Reveal.

Others expressed similar dismay:

    How is it possible that the courts have to force our government to give children in their captivity soap and water? What kind of morality is in charge in this country that it would EVEN OCCUR to someone not to give kids basics like this? It’s indefensible. https://t.co/eeED7aIYTR

    — Felicia Day (@feliciaday) August 15, 2019

    Sad that i have to cheer for this https://t.co/13KAYrW84N

    — Ludovic (@LudovicSpeaks) August 15, 2019

In its opinion (pdf), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals strongly rejected the Trump administration’s argument that certain basic necessities may not be required in some circumstances.

“Assuring that children eat enough edible food, drink clean water, are housed in hygienic facilities with sanitary bathrooms, have soap and toothpaste, and are not sleep-deprived,” the ruling stated, “are without doubt essential to the children’s safety.”

Aura Bogado, immigration reporter for Reveal, called the decision a “big win for children and their advocates.”

    🚨 GOOD NEWS: The 9th circuit dismissed the government’s appeal that safe and sanitary conditions for migrant children doesn’t include things like toothbrushes, soap and showers. https://t.co/kIEAnexthD

    — RAICES (@RAICESTEXAS) August 15, 2019

The court’s ruling comes just weeks after Justice Department attorney Sarah Fabian stood before Ninth Circuit judges and argued that the Trump administration should not necessarily be required to provide detained immigrant children with toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, and other items.

Fabian’s remarks quickly went viral and sparked widespread outrage.

    A Trump official tried to argue that detained children don’t need soap, toothbrushes, or beds to be ‘safe and sanitary’ while in Border Patrol custody pic.twitter.com/sRFPZsDbwy

    — NowThis (@nowthisnews) June 21, 2019


Fox News poll shows even voters who approve of Trump would prefer a Democrat in 2020

on August 16, 2019
Raw Story
By Bob Brigham

Even voters who approve of President Donald Trump would prefer a Democrat win the White House in the 2020 election, according to a new Fox News poll.

“Each of the Democratic candidates tested in the poll beats Donald Trump in possible 2020 matchups — and each makes gains compared to July,” Fox reported.

The poll showed Trump trailing former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA).

“Trump trails Biden by 12 points (50-38 percent), Sanders by 9 (48-39), and Warren by 7 (46-39). Those leads are outside the poll’s margin of error. This is the first Fox News Poll to show a lead for Warren outside the margin of error,” Fox noted.

The poll also showed 43 percent of voters approve of Trump, while 56 percent disapprove. With Trump only getting to 39 percent in head-to-head matchups, that means one in ten voters who approve of Trump would prefer a Democrat.

“I can’t stress this enough: This Fox News poll is yet another poll where Donald Trump is pulling a lower level of support against the potential Democrats than his job approval. Trump’s approval in the poll is 43 percent, yet he can’t crack 39 percent against anyone,” Josh Jordan wrote on Twitter. “That’s a big problem. I ran out of characters, but was making the point this is a big problem for Trump.”

“If he polls 4 percent under his approval, he’s going to need 50 percent job approval on election day to have a chance… and that seems unlikely at this point,” he added.

Trump has never had a polling average above 50 percent.

NBC News reporter Benjy Sarlin also noted bad news for Trump in the Fox News poll.

“He’s losing 43-10 among voters who dislike both him and Biden. The ‘I hate em both!’ vote was a big swing group in 2016,” Sarlin noted.

    I ran out of characters, but was making the point this is a big problem for Trump.

    If he polls 4% under his approval, he's going to need 50% job approval on election day to have a chance… and that seems unlikely at this point.

    — Josh Jordan (@NumbersMuncher) August 15, 2019

    Related: He’s losing 43-10 among voters who dislike both him and Biden. The “I hate em both!” vote was a big swing group in 2016. https://t.co/cgv5UyFhE5

    — Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) August 15, 2019

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« Reply #3487 on: Aug 17, 2019, 04:29 AM »

Neanderthals had to deal with an ear problem we still struggle with today

Mike Wehner

You might not think we have much in common with a race of ancient people that died out tens of thousands of years ago, but modern humans actually share a number of similarities with neanderthals. The latest example of this comes from a new study published in PLOS ONE, and it reveals that Neanderthals had to deal with an ear problem that some of us still grapple with today.

External auditory exostoses is a condition in which “dense bony growths” form in the ear canal. It’s commonly referred to as “surfer’s ear” because it’s believed that water and/or cold temperatures can play a role in the formation of the growths. In the study, researchers found that Neanderthals were particularly susceptible to this unfortunate condition.

For the study, a team of researchers studied the preserved remains of 77 ancient humans, a number of which were Neanderthals. Upon examining the ear canals of each individual, the team found that exostoses occurred at a similar rate in early modern humans as we see in humans today, but the rate was much higher in the Neanderthal remains.

Roughly half of the 23 Neanderthal individuals being studied showed signs of exostoses ranging from “mild to severe.” That’s roughly twice the frequency of “surfer’s ear” cases as was observed in the remains of early modern humans.

The researchers attempted to draw a link between the prevalence of the bony growths and Neanderthal specimens that lived close to water in or near colder climates, but no firm correlation has been established. It’s likely, the authors believe, that a number of factors contributed to the elevated rate of these growths in Neanderthals, and that environmental factors like exposure to water during foraging played a significant role.

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« Reply #3488 on: Aug 17, 2019, 04:31 AM »

Pacific summit ends in tears as Australia dilutes climate warning, dismaying at-risk islanders

on August 17, 2019
By Agence France-Presse

A Pacific summit has descended into tears, recriminations and shouting between pro-coal Australia and low-lying island nations facing an existential threat from climate change.

The annual Pacific Island Forum wrapped up in Tuvalu late Thursday with Australia and the group’s 17 other members sharply at odds, potentially undermining Canberra’s efforts to curb China’s growing influence in the region.

“There were serious arguments and even shouting, crying, people, leaders were shedding tears,” Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga told Australia’s national broadcaster ABC after the summit broke up with a communique with “watered down” language on global warming.

The group had gathered in Funafuti hoping to issue a compelling global call to action from nations on the frontline of climate change ahead of UN talks in New York next month.

    “If you save Tuvalu, you save the Pacific, and you save the world” the message from the children of Tuvalu and their Prime Minister is clear ahead of the retreat at the #PIF2019. The 2019 PIF Communique is expected this evening #BluePacific #Tuvalu pic.twitter.com/RvkzRxO2Qp

    — PacificIslands Forum (@ForumSEC) August 14, 2019

But Sopoaga conceded that a climate statement and communique released in the early hours of Friday morning after 12 hours of tense negotiations fell short of expectations.

“I think we can say we should’ve done more work for our people,” he told reporters.

The joint statements refer to a climate crisis and reiterate previous warnings that global warming is the most serious threat facing the Pacific.

“The time to act is now,” the leaders said.

But there was no direct mention of ending coal-fired power, while calls to limit temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius and achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2050 were couched as suggestions rather than demands.

“We came together in a nation that risks disappearing to the seas, but unfortunately, we settled for the status quo in our communique,” Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama tweeted.

“Watered-down climate language has real consequences like water-logged homes, schools, communities, and ancestral burial grounds.”

‘Strong exchange’

Sopoaga said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was behind the compromised language.

“We expressed very strongly during our exchange, between me and Scott, I said: ‘You are concerned about saving your economy in Australia… I am concerned about saving my people in Tuvalu’,” he said.

    #PIF2019: We came together in a nation that risks disappearing to the seas, but unfortunately, we settled for the status quo in our communique. Watered-down climate language has real consequences –– like water-logged homes, schools, communities, and ancestral burial grounds. pic.twitter.com/6pTyjZs1rS

    — Frank Bainimarama (@FijiPM) August 15, 2019

Morrison, who has long championed Australia’s lucrative coal industry, concedes climate change is real but insists it can be managed in a way that does not hurt the economy.

He denied differences with Pacific Island leaders over climate would damage Australia’s “Pacific step-up”, a push to restore Canberra’s leadership credentials in the region and push back against Beijing’s diplomatic inroads.

“We showed up, we’re stepping up, and it’s getting on,” the Australian leader said.

Australia, the largest and wealthiest Pacific Island Forum member, fears that China’s long-term plan is to establish a military base in the Pacific.

Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuilaepa Malielegaoi said this week that Pacific leaders would not turn away a generous aid donor.

“Their enemies (Australia and its allies) are not our enemies,” he said.

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« Reply #3489 on: Aug 17, 2019, 04:33 AM »

Microplastics ‘significantly contaminating the air’, scientists warn

Discovery of pollution in snowfall from the Arctic to the Alps leads to call for urgent research on potential human health impacts

Damian Carrington Environment editor
17 Aug 2019 19.00 BST

Abundant levels of microplastic pollution have been found in snow from the Arctic to the Alps, according to a study that has prompted scientists to warn of significant contamination of the atmosphere and demand urgent research into the potential health impacts on people.

Snow captures particles from the air as it falls and samples from ice floes on the ocean between Greenland and Svalbard contained an average of 1,760 microplastic particles per litre, the research found. Even more – 24,600 per litre on average – were found at European locations. The work shows transport by winds is a key factor in microplastics contamination across the globe.

The scientists called for research on the effect of airborne microplastics on human health, pointing to an earlier study that found the particles in cancerous human lung tissue. In June, another study showed people eat at least 50,000 microplastic particles per year.

Many millions of tonnes of plastic are discarded into the environment every year and are broken down into small particles and fibres that do not biodegrade. These particles, known as microplastics, have now been found everywhere from high mountains to deep oceans and can carry toxic chemicals and harmful microbes.

The latest study was led by Dr Melanie Bergmann of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany. She said: “We really need research on the human health aspect. There are so many studies being published now on microplastics but nothing on human health, and that is really strange in my opinion.” Bergmann added that microplastics should be included in air pollutant monitoring schemes.

Bergmann had previously found 12,000 microplastic particles per litre in samples of Arctic sea ice: “So we asked where does it all come from?” Some is carried from populated regions by ocean currents, but analysis of snow samples shows much is blown by the wind.

“Microplastic concentrations in snow were very high, indicating significant contamination of the atmosphere,” concluded the study published in the journal Science Advances.

“It basically gets everywhere with the wind,” said Bergmann. Pollen and dust from the Sahara are already known to be blown over long distances. As well as the Arctic ice floes, the team’s 22 samples included snow from Svalbard, an island well north of the Arctic circle, the German and Swiss Alps and the city of Bremen.

The team found that the smallest particles were the most abundant, but their equipment could not detect particles smaller than 11 microns.

“I am convinced there are many more particles in the smaller size range beyond our detection limit,” said Bergmann. “The worry with smaller particles is they can be taken up by a greater range of organisms and, if they reach nano-scale, they could penetrate cell membranes and translocate into organs much more easily than the larger fraction.”

Microplastics from polymer-based protective coatings on vehicles, buildings and ships were the most common of those frequently found by the researchers, followed by rubber, polyethylene and polyamides including nylon.

The researchers cite a 1998 study as the only assessment of microplastic in human lungs. It found inhaled fibres were present in cancerous lung specimens and concluded: “These bioresistant and biopersistent plastic fibres are candidate agents contributing to the risk of lung cancer.”

The European commission’s chief scientific advisers said in a report in April: “The evidence [on the environmental and health risks of microplastics] provides grounds for genuine concern and for precaution to be exercised.”

Scientists not involved in the latest study expressed concern that supposedly pristine ecosystems such as the Arctic were contaminated.

“The work is very important because it strengthens the argument for much more stringent regulations on the plastics industry and forcing the governments of the world to address the issue of plastic pollution,” said Steve Allen, at the EcoLab research institute in France. “With [microplastics] pouring into our environment, it is highly likely we will only find out the safe levels after we have exceeded them.”

An earlier study published by Allen in April found significant microplastic quantities falling from the air in the Pyrenees, also implicating wind as a transport mechanism. The Bergmann-led research, however, is the first to look the contamination of snow.

Just two previous studies have looked at the presence of microplastics in the air, one in Paris, France, and another in Dongguan, China. Both found a steady fall of particles. Other recent research has found microplastics raining down on the Rockies in North America and in farmland soils near Shanghai in China.

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« Reply #3490 on: Aug 17, 2019, 04:35 AM »

Norway halts Amazon fund donation in dispute with Brazil

International concerns grow over deforestation surge since Jair Bolsonaro took power

Daniel Boffey in Brussels
17 Aug 2019 12.08 BST

Norway has followed Germany in suspending donations to the Brazilian government’s Amazon Fund after a surge in deforestation in the South American rainforest. The move has triggered a caustic attack from the country’s rightwing president.

Jair Bolsonaro, whose move to meddle in the environmental organisation’s governance led to Norway’s decision, reacted by suggesting that Europe was not in a position to lecture his administration.

“Isn’t Norway that country that kills whales up there in the north pole?”, the Brazilian president said. “Take that money and help Angela Merkel reforest Germany.”

After weeks of tense negotiations with Norway and Germany, the Bolsonaro government unilaterally closed the Amazon Fund’s steering committee on Thursday. The fund has been central to international efforts to curb deforestation although its impact is contested.

Brazil’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles, said the Amazon Fund had been suspended while its rules were under discussion.

In response, Ola Elvestuen, his Norwegian counterpart, said an expected payment of about $33.27m (£27.36m) would not take place as Brazil had, in effect, broken the terms of its deal. Norway has been the fund’s biggest donor, and has given about $1.2bn (£985m) over the past decade.

“He cannot do that without Norway and Germany’s agreement,” Elvestuen said. “What Brazil has shown is that it no longer wants to stop deforestation.”

This week Berlin had said it would withhold an expected payment of about $39m. Norway and Germany questioned an initial proposal from the Brazilian government for the fund’s steering committee to be reduced in size, and had warned against any weakening of the structures of the fund.

Grave concerns about the rate of deforestation since Bolsonaro took power have been repeatedly voiced by the Norwegian government and others.

According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, the government agency that monitors deforestation, the rate increased by 278% in the year to July, resulting in the destruction of about 870 square miles.

Bolsanaro has dismissed the figures, insisting the country “will truly take off once we manage to sensibly extract the riches” in the rainforest, of which 60% is in Brazil.

The surge of destruction has continued. Last Saturday, farmers in the Amazon declared a “fire day” and coordinated a massive burnoff of trees to clear land for crops. According to the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, they felt encouraged to take this action because the president had signalled his willingness to open up previously protected land.

Near Altamira, the number of fires increased last weekend by more than 900% over the previous worst day this year. In Novo Progresso, the rise was by more than 500%. The forest protection agency, Ibama, has reportedly had to halt operations in Novo Progresso because it no longer has the full backing of the police and national guard.

The former army captain was elected with the support of the mining and agricultural sectors. During a visit to the Amazon last year, he told the Guardian that as president he would target “cowardly” environmental NGOs who were “sticking their noses” into Brazil’s domestic affairs.

But the new government’s attitude to the Amazon could have wider repercussions. In June, a free trade deal was struck between the EU and Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, known as the Mercosur bloc.

Green campaigners claim the deal pays “lip service” to international goals to combat climate warming, and that it will lead to a surge in Brazilian cattle ranching, which many believe is responsible for growing levels of deforestation.

The trade deal will require ratification by the parliaments of its member states as well as the European parliament.

Last month the Irish parliament backed a symbolic motion instructing the government to “immediately begin building a coalition across the EU to ensure that this deal is rejected”. The motion highlighted concerns about the growing damage to the Amazon.

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« Reply #3491 on: Aug 17, 2019, 04:37 AM »

El Salvador rape victim who suffered stillbirth faces murder retrial

Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz gave birth in a toilet and was initially jailed for 33 months before successful appeal

Nina Lakhani
17 Aug 2019 12.50 BST

A rape victim who delivered a stillborn baby as a teenager is facing decades in prison for aggravated homicide as prosecutors in El Salvador seek to prove she deliberately induced an abortion.

On Thursday, Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz, 21, from a poor rural family in Cojutepeque, will go on trial for the second time in a case that highlights the aggressive criminal persecution of Salvadoran women who suffer obstetric complications.

It is also the first trial since President Nayib Bukele was elected in June, six months after observing of the case involving Imelda Cortez – who was charged with attempted murder after giving birth to her abuser’s baby – that no woman should be jailed for suffering an obstetric emergency.
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Hernández says she was raped in 2015, during her first year of college. On 6 April 2016, Hernandez, aged 18, entered the outside latrine at her family home suffering diarrhoea and severe abdominal pain. She gave birth to a stillborn boy, and lost consciousness due to heavy bleeding.

Hernández was found passed out and covered in blood by her mother, a domestic worker, who took her to the nearest public hospital without realising her daughter had suffered an obstetric emergency.

At the emergency room, medical staff called police and prosecutors. Three days later, she was transferred to the women’s prison to await trial for deliberately killing her unborn baby.

Hernández has always insisted that she did not know she was pregnant, and occasionally menstruated after being raped.

The medical coroner recorded aspiration pneumonia as the cause of death, having discovered meconium, faecal matter, in the baby’s lungs and stomach.

Despite the autopsy results, in July 2017 Hernández was sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated homicide.

She was freed in February, however, after serving 33 months in an overcrowded jail, when an appeal judge quashed the conviction on the grounds that the evidence presented at trial did not prove Hernández intended – directly or indirectly – to harm the foetus.

Prosecutors will now retry Hernández on the same charge.

“Why? Because in El Salvador all women are considered second-class citizens, and poor vulnerable women like Evelyn, third-class citizens, so the full weight of the justice system is thrown at them regardless of the evidence,” said Paula Avila-Guillen, director of Latin America initiatives at the New York-based Women’s Equality Centre.

El Salvador is a deeply conservative country of 6 million people, where church leaders hold significant sway over public opinion and policies.

Abortion has been illegal in all circumstances since 1998, when legislators from across the political spectrum voted to strip women of their reproductive rights without any public debate or medical consultation about the consequences.

Dozens of women have since been prosecuted for homicide and manslaughter after suffering an obstetric emergency like a miscarriage or still birth.

Like Hernández, the vast majority are poor single rural-dwellers convicted on tenuous evidence. In many cases, the women were survivors of sexual violence and did not realise they were pregnant.

Violence against women is endemic in El Salvador, with one woman killed every 15 hours, according to figures collected by Ormusa, a gender crime observatory. In 2018, 60% of recorded sexual violence cases involved girls aged 12 to 17.

In recent years, public opinion on abortion has shifted. But despite growing support for allowing access to abortion in circumstances such as rape, incest or if the woman’s life is at risk, hopes of change were dashed in 2018 when a legislative bill to ease restrictions failed at the last hurdle.

“It was the best window of opportunity for reform,” said former legislator Johnny Wright, who sponsored the initiative. “We had the votes, we had international support, we had members of government openly making the case for reform … but as word spread, so did lobbying which got to those worried about re-election.”

Hernández’s trial will test Bukele’s commitment to tackling the ever increasing miscarriages of justice.

Wright, leader of new political party Nuestro Tiempo (Our Time) and one of the country’s few openly pro-choice politicians, believes the president, who is anti-choice, should use his popularity to swing the debate toward decriminalisation.

“Why does our political and justice system keep persecuting these women? Maybe the cruel punishment of certain women reflects the violent nature of our society … it’s a matter of injustice and inequality, and the president should show leadership and make a public statement about this matter.”
Women in San Salvador demonstrate in support of Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz

The chances of legal reform are, however, slim, given that rightwing anti-choice party Arena and its allies hold a majority in the legislature.

Campaigners nonetheless hope Bukele will create a committee to review the legality of all cases involving women jailed for abortion-related offences – as recommended by the UN human rights high commissioner in 2017.

In the past decade, 41 women have been freed as a result of dogged campaigning by domestic and international human rights groups, including six – Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, Mayra Figueroa, Elsy Rivera, Katherine Mazariego, Maria Lopez and Imelda Cortez – in 2018.

A further 16 women known to activists are serving up to 35 years in jail; at least five others, including Hernández, are being prosecuted.

At an earlier court appearance, Hernández, who pleaded not guilty for the second time, said: “I trust God that I will be fine. I know that good things are coming for me, I am innocent.”

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« Reply #3492 on: Aug 17, 2019, 04:47 AM »

Xinjiang activist freed in Kazakh court after agreeing to stop campaigning

Serikzhan Bilash, who fought for victims of China’s internment camps, pleaded guilty in return for freedom

Agence France-Presse
Sat 17 Aug 2019 02.15 BST

A rights activist in Kazakhstan who faced seven years imprisonment over his outspoken opposition to neighbouring China was unexpectedly freed on Friday as public and international pressure over his case mounted.

Serikzhan Bilash, whose activism in defence of Muslim and Turkic minorities in Chinese region of Xinjiang earned him global media attention, told AFP he struck a plea bargain with the court that allowed him freedom but will end his activism.

“I had to end my activism against China. It was that or seven years in jail. I had no choice,” Bilash said at a restaurant where he held a celebratory midnight feast with his family and about 40 supporters.

Bilash agreed to accept guilt over inter-ethnic incitement charges triggered by his call for an “information Jihad” against the Chinese authorities over their policies in Xinjiang earlier this year.

He will also be unable to leave the city of Almaty – Kazakhstan’s largest – for the next three months under the terms of his deal, he said, while noting he expected his supporters to continue taking the work of his informal Atajurt activist group forward.

“I had to do this for my family and my children,” he told supporters.

His release capped a dramatic night in Almaty, where some 200 hundred supporters surrounded the court where Bilash appeared and chanted for his freedom.

His lawyer Aiman Umarova had sounded the alarm earlier in the evening as she was unable to make contact with Bilash, who had arrived at the courthouse before her and was immediately taken in by authorities.

Umarova refused to sign the plea bargain, insisting on her client’s innocence, meaning Bilash had to find another lawyer to sign off on the deal.

“I refuse to put my name to any deal that was signed under pressure,” Umarova said.

Bilash had previously been held under house arrest after being detained and flown to the capital, Nur-Sultan, in March.

Critics connected his arrest to pressure from Kazakhstan’s economically powerful neighbour, China. Kazakhstan, an oil-rich, landlocked country of 18 million people has positioned itself as the “buckle” in President Xi Jinping’s flagship Belt and Road international infrastructure drive.

An estimated one million ethnic Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities are thought to have been sent to “vocational education centres” in Xingjiang, which numerous studies and reports say are harsh internment camps.

In July, Chinese officials claimed most people sent to detention centres in Xinjiang had “returned to society”, but the US state department said there was no evidence to support this.

With a population of at least 1.5 million, Kazakhs are the second-largest Turkic group in Xinjiang after the Uighurs.

In July a court in Nur-Sultan ruled to transfer his case to Almaty, where the family of Bilash – an ethnic Kazakh who was born in Xinjiang but obtained Kazakh citizenship as an adult – are based.

Fiery orator Bilash had told the court Beijing was perpetrating a “genocide” against Turkic minorities in Xinjiang.

Kazakhs living in Kazakhstan have used Bilash’s group Atajurt to appeal to the Kazakh government to lobby China for their relatives’ release.

Kazakhstan’s foreign ministry has engaged in quiet diplomacy with major trade partner China on Xinjiang but has been reluctant to promote its efforts given sensitivities over the region.

Last year the ministry said China had allowed 2,500 ethnic Kazakhs to leave the country and enter Kazakhstan “as a kind gesture” but refused requests for further information.

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« Reply #3493 on: Aug 17, 2019, 04:49 AM »

Putin's 20 years in power producing new generation of protesters

New wave of protest leaders were children when Russian president first came to power in 1999
Andrew Roth

Andrew Roth in Moscow
17 Aug 2019 09.25 BST

The young face of Moscow’s protests, a 21-year-old libertarian with 123,000 followers on YouTube, appeared in court on a television screen this week.

Yegor Zhukov, a political science student at Russia’s prestigious Higher School of Economics, faces eight years in prison over controversial “mass unrest” charges. The Kremlin’s critics think the charges are a scare tactic to crush Russia’s largest protests in years, set to continue for their fourth weekend on Saturday.

From a jail cell, Zhukov unleashed a broadside at the political system pieced together by Vladimir Putin, who was confirmed as prime minister for the first time 20 years ago on Friday.

“I want to thank our government for the enormous amount of work it does every day to discredit itself,” said Zhukov by video link on Thursday. “Truly, it’s hard to find anyone who has done more to increase the numbers of the opposition than the Russian government.”

Like many protesters, Zhukov was a child in 1999 when a 46-year-old Putin was named the country’s next prime minister, launching a generation of rule under the former intelligence officer. For many, Putin has become synonymous with the state, less politician than historical figure, and an arbiter of conflicts.
Vladimir Putin: 20 years in power - in pictures

Just in the past year, despite his attempts to install reliable allies across the country, protests have broken out over multiple rubbish dumps, a church in Yekaterinburg, internal borders in the North Caucasus, and now city council elections in the capital.

Putin has not been the main focus of ire of these latest protests, which were prompted by the disqualification of independent candidates such as Zhukov from a low-level election.

But the officials he installed have.

They include the Moscow mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, who served as Putin’s chief of staff, and Russian elections commissioner, Ella Pamfilova, who Putin appointed in 2016 to return trust to Russia’s voting system.

In fact, as Lyubov Sobol, another protest leader, pointed out this week, the leading curator of Russian politics, Putin’s first deputy chief of staff Sergei Kiriyenko, and Moscow’s elections commission head, have also been in government for decades, holdovers from the difficult 1990s.

“It’s all his system, isn’t it?” Mikhail Kostomarov, a 24-year-old protester, said of Putin last week.

Since the last large round of protests in 2011-12, Muscovites have largely been won over by a campaign of urban improvements in exchange for political choice, an update on Putin’s own bargain that offered Russians economic stability above all.

But that system seems to have calcified, failing to mollify a core group of protesters or keep up with the hopes of a younger generation of Russians.

“The pace of life has caught up with the pace of this president,” said Konstantin Gaaze, a political analyst. “The gap between what happens in politics and real life is growing. There is a kind of fatigue.”

Cautionary tales about life before Putin carry less weight with young people. In a piece for the website Meduza this week, the sociologist Olga Zeveleva called warnings about the lawless 1990s “one of the Putin administration’s foundational myths”, and one that fails to resonate with protesters born in the 2000s.

The Kremlin – and Putin – also appear out of touch on a cultural level. While Moscow protested last week, Putin was riding motorcycles with an ageing biker gang, the Night Wolves, whom he has tried to sell as positive role models for young people. The Kremlin’s stable of entertainers lacks young stars, particularly those on social media sites such as YouTube.

“People like [blogger Yury] Dud can speak to young people,” said Gaaze, referring to a popular sports journalist and interviewer who attended last week’s protest. “Who does the Kremlin have now besides rapper Timati?” Oxxxymiron, another popular hip-hop artist, joined the protests last week, and on Thursday offered to post bail at Zhukov’s hearing.

The Kremlin has responded by saying it has paid little attention to the protests. “We do not agree with those who call what is happening a political crisis,” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, said.

That may be true. According to insiders, Putin is not receiving daily updates on the protests as he did in 2011-12 when demonstrations attracted more than 100,000 people.

But it also risks Putin seeming indifferent to what is happening in the country.

“His only plan is to hold on to power and to deal with geopolitics,” said Sobol, the protest leader who was also a candidate for the city council. “It seems like what’s happening inside of Russia doesn’t bother him and he doesn’t think about Russia’s economic growth.”

The protests are an irritant, but have little chance of toppling the Kremlin. Still, they are widely viewed as mismanaged by the authorities, which have turned an obscure election into an opposition cause célèbre. And they come as Putin’s ratings have reached historic lows, largely due to stagnant wages and a decision last year to raise the pension age.

“You can’t say his ratings have collapsed,” said Gaaze. “It’s more correct to speak about an erosion of his rating. But it will continue.”

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« Reply #3494 on: Aug 17, 2019, 04:54 AM »

In Modi’s move on Kashmir, a road map for his ‘new India’

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Thursday before his address marking India's Independence Day. (Manish Swarup/AP)

By Joanna Slater
WA Post
August 17 2019

NEW DELHI — Standing before the deep-red ramparts of a centuries-old fort, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed this country of more than 1.3 billion people on its Independence Day and called on them to join him in building a “new India.”

Modi is the most dominant Indian leader in nearly five decades, flush with a landslide reelection victory in May that left his opponents in disarray. He has long embraced a brand of nationalism that views India as a fundamentally Hindu country rather than a secular republic, wooing voters with a mixture of hope and fear common to right-leaning populist leaders around the globe — a group that includes President Trump.

If there was any question about the seriousness of Modi’s intent to transform the world’s largest democracy, such doubts vanished last week. That is when the Modi government discarded seven decades of history and stripped Indian-controlled Kashmir — the country’s only Muslim-majority state — of its autonomy and statehood. The move ratcheted up tensions with Pakistan, India’s nuclear-armed neighbor, which also claims the disputed Himalayan region.

The change in status for Kashmir may be just the start. Stripping the region of its autonomy is one of several key, long-held demands of Hindu nationalists. They believe this year’s thumping election victory for Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has paved the way for them to implement an agenda that emphasizes Hindu primacy in India, a diverse democracy that is also home to nearly 200 million Muslims.

What’s more, the way Modi executed the decision on Kashmir indicates what his “new India” might look like. For his supporters, the step shows Modi to be a leader of courage and ambition, unfettered by precedent and guided by a direct understanding of the popular will.

“The work that was not done in the last 70 years has been accomplished within 70 days after this new government came to power,” Modi said in his address Thursday, speaking in front of a billowing, oversize Indian flag on a podium garlanded with jasmine flowers. “I have come to accomplish the task assigned to me by my countrymen. I work selflessly.”

Modi has said the change in Kashmir will deepen national unity and improve development in the strife-torn region, which has witnessed an armed insurgency against Indian rule since 1989. But fearing violent unrest in response to last week’s decision, the government has instituted an unprecedented clampdown there — cutting all phone lines, shutting down Internet access, severely restricting residents’ movement and imprisoning hundreds of local politicians and party workers.

Indian paramilitary soldiers stand guard Thursday during the lockdown in Srinagar. (Dar Yasin/AP)

For his critics, Modi’s move on Kashmir is proof of his anti-democratic and majoritarian impulses. They say he imposed radical change on Kashmiris without consulting them or their leaders in a manner that may contravene the constitution.

“This is not just about Kashmir — it’s about the future of India,” said Sumantra Bose, a political scientist at the London School of Economics and the author of two books on Kashmir. Modi and his party are using Kashmir as a means by which to “advance their broader and ultimate agenda of turning India into a Hindu republic in all but name,” Bose said.

India became an independent nation 72 years ago. Pakistan, which was created at the same stroke of midnight, declared itself to be a home for the Muslims of the subcontinent. But India’s founders had a contrasting goal — to build a secular republic where people of all faiths were equal citizens.

The dispute over Kashmir has festered ever since. Last month, Trump offered to act as a mediator between India and Pakistan on the question of Kashmir, a proposal swiftly rejected by India.

For Hindu nationalists, there are two major items on the to-do list in addition to eliminating Kashmir’s unique status.

The first is the construction of a grand temple to the Hindu god Ram at the contested site of a former mosque in the town of Ayodhya. The country’s Supreme Court is hearing a case on the land dispute there and could deliver a verdict later this year. The second priority is instituting a law that applies to all citizens in matters such as divorce and inheritance. Different communities have their own such laws, with some arguing they are an expression of religious freedom.

On the Ram temple issue, the BJP is optimistic that the court will deliver a verdict on the land dispute within two months, said Sudhanshu Trivedi, a party spokesman. But he said that building the temple would not proceed immediately and that a “positive atmosphere” between Hindus and Muslims should be created first.   

Modi and his powerful right-hand man, Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah, also have announced other moves that critics say target religious minorities. The BJP may reintroduce a citizenship bill that will give refugee status to Hindus and Christians — but not Muslims — who enter India from neighboring countries. Shah has also indicated he wants to conduct a nationwide exercise to register citizens in order to identify migrants who have entered the country illegally, many of them Muslims.

A model of a proposed Ram temple, shown last year, that Hindu groups want to build at a disputed religious site in Ayodhya. (Pawan Kumar/Reuters)

Eradicating Kashmir’s unique status within India has been a long-held dream of Hindu nationalists. “The State of Jammu & Kashmir, with its oppressive Muslim-majority character, has been a headache for our country ever since Independence,” reads a mission statement of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist group that is the ideological parent of the BJP.

The state’s distinct status was guaranteed by a clause in the constitution known as Article 370. It was a crucial element of the negotiations that followed Kashmir’s entry to India after the country became independent in 1947. While the scope of the clause had narrowed over the subsequent decades, it still allowed Kashmir to opt out of certain federal laws and to enact regulations preventing nonresidents from buying land.

Modi’s move to end Article 370 is broadly popular in India, and some opposition parties have supported it. In the rest of the country, the seemingly never-ending violence in Kashmir is a source of frustration and fatigue, wrote Ashok Malik, a former adviser to India’s president. Indians are also concerned by the plight of Kashmiri Hindus who fled after facing violence when the insurgency began.

But observers were still surprised by the radical nature of last week’s moves. Modi not only rolled back Article 370 but also split off the mountainous region of Ladakh into a separate territory. He then stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its status as a state, downgrading it to a “union territory,” something that has never been done in India’s history. The new status will give Delhi more power over Kashmir’s affairs.

The significance of these measures “cannot be overestimated,” said A.G. Noorani, a lawyer and constitutional expert. “To say Kashmir is now a colony is not an exaggeration.” Noorani said the government’s moves were a legal “sleight of hand” that violated the constitution and would be challenged before India’s Supreme Court.

Trivedi, the BJP spokesman, said that stripping Kashmir of its statehood was necessary to “take full control of the security apparatus” at a sensitive juncture: The government anticipates that militants in Afghanistan will turn more attention to Kashmir if peace talks between the Taliban and the United States are concluded. Such control over Kashmir will be necessary “for a year or two at least,” Trivedi said.

Kashmiri residents in Srinagar leave their house Wednesday during restrictions. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

In Kashmir, where the clampdown on movement and communication entered its 11th day on Thursday, there is no illusion about the degree of control India intends to assert. Gun-wielding police and paramilitary forces were deployed in heavy numbers and traffic was forbidden on the road that leads to the stadium where the Indian flag was hoisted on Independence Day in the Kashmiri capital of Srinagar.

As the rest of the country celebrates, “Kashmiris have been caged like animals and deprived of basic human rights,” wrote Iltija Mufti, the daughter of Kashmir’s former chief minister, in an open letter to Shah, India’s home minister. Her mother, Mehbooba Mufti, has been detained and held incommunicado since Aug. 5. Iltija Mufti said she has been prevented from leaving her home and threatened for speaking out about the plight of Kashmiris.

Experts say that it will take months or years to gauge the impact of such a radical departure from decades of Indian policy. Navnita Chadha Behera, a political scientist and expert on Kashmir at Delhi University, said she particularly worried that anger and frustration among Kashmiri youths could produce an upsurge in violence.

“Predicting the future in Kashmir is a hazardous task,” she said. “Kashmir being what it is, it makes all your calculations go haywire.”

Ishfaq Naseem in Srinagar and Niha Masih in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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