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« Reply #3540 on: Sep 13, 2019, 04:25 AM »

Biden clashes with Warren and Sanders in lively Democratic debate

Healthcare opened up clear differences between frontrunners but Donald Trump was the key target amid a more conciliatory tone

Lauren Gambino in Houston
Fri 13 Sep 2019 05.07 BST

Confrontation erupted on the debate stage as energized frontrunner Joe Biden verbally sparred with progressives Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, revealing deep divisions over healthcare, immigration, foreign policy and how far left the party should move.

But the debate also took a more conciliatory tone than previous ones as rival candidates praised each other and concentrated much of their fire in the direction of Donald Trump.

Round three of the presidential debates, held on Thursday at Texas Southern University, a historically black college in Houston, featured all of the top contenders for the party’s nomination on a single stage for the first time. The sprawling metropolis, one of the most diverse cities in America, reflected the diversity of the Democratic field, which featured women, people of color and a gay man.

Over the course of three hours, Democrats debated a central question animating the primary contest: do they want to return to an era of politics that existed before the Trump presidency or do they favor policies that go far beyond the last administration?

“I stand with Barack Obama, all eight years, the good, bad and indifferent,” Biden said, defending himself against an attack on his record.

The ABC News debate opened with a clash over healthcare, one of the sharpest differences among the candidates and a top priority for Democratic voters.

Wrapping himself in Obama’s legacy, the former vice-president confronted his progressive challengers over the cost of Medicare for All, which would cover every American under a government health plan and essentially eliminate private insurance, accusing Warren of not being forthcoming about whether the plan would raise taxes on the middle class.

“I know the senator says she’s for Bernie,” he said of Warren’s support for Sanders’ Medicare for All healthcare plan. “Well, I’m for Barack. I think the Obamacare worked.”

Biden, sandwiched between Sanders and Warren on the stage, suggested that her plan to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans by 2% falls short of the estimated $30tn it would cost to implement a Medicare for All system. Warren shot back: “I’ve never actually met anybody who likes their health insurance company.”

The former vice-president also challenged Sanders’ proposal to force employers to effectively pay out union members for any savings from a shift to a single-payer health system. “For a socialist, you’ve got a lot more confidence in corporate America than I do,” he said.

A highly anticipated showdown between Biden and Warren, who is steadily gaining on him in the polls, never fully materialized into open warfare. By contrast, Sanders came prepared to draw sharp contrasts with Biden on trade and foreign policy. The Vermont Senator slammed Biden for his vote in favor of the Iraq war. “The truth is, the big mistake, the huge mistake, and one of the big differences between you and me, I never believed what Cheney and Bush said about Iraq,” said Sanders, who opposed it.

But overall the conversation broadened away from the dynamic of the top three, leading to one of the sharpest skirmishes of the evening between Biden and former housing and urban development secretary Julián Castro.

In a testy back-and-forth, Castro, 44, alluded to voter concerns about Biden’s age when he continued to press the former vice-president about whether he had forgotten a piece of his healthcare plan. If elected, Biden would be the oldest first-term president at 78.

“Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?” Castro asked, eliciting gasps from the audience. Castro, who also served the Obama administration, boasted: “I’m fulfilling the legacy of Barack Obama and you’re not.”

As they sparred, Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, appealed for unity.

“This is why the presidential debates are becoming unwatchable,” he said. “This reminds everybody of what they cannot stand about Washington.”

“That’s called an election,” Castro snapped back. “This is what we’re here for.”

Questions about gun violence, immigration and trade with China also revealed a difference of opinion and a hefty dose of criticism of Trump. The California senator Kamala Harris accused the president of using “hate, intimidation, fear”, to divide the country. The New Jersey senator Cory Booker called Trump “racist”.

Former Texas representative Beto O’Rourke and Castro, the two Texans in the race, spoke emotionally about the mass shootings that rocked the state last month. In El Paso, 22 people, many of them Latino, were killed at a Walmart by a gunman who invoked Trump’s language in describing the motivation for his attack. Weeks later, a gunman killed seven people during a shooting spree between the Texas cities of Odessa and Midland.

“A few weeks ago, a shooter drove 10 hours, inspired by this president, to kill people who look like me,” Castro said. He called white supremacy a “growing threat to this country”.

1:42..Beto O'Rourke on gun control: 'Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15' – video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QR4mNrW0AlE

O’Rourke did not shy away from saying he would require citizens to turn in their military-style weapons, despite Republicans’ frequent accusations that Democrats are coming to take Americans’ guns.

“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AK-47,” O’Rourke said in one of the biggest lines of the night. O’Rourke was also the recipient of praise from other candidates on the stage – including Biden and Castro – for his actions in dealing with the tragedy in his native El Paso.

Both Warren and Biden are leading contenders for the Democratic nomination, but they represent dueling visions for the party. Biden is a relative moderate with plans that would build on the work of the Obama administration and Warren is a progressive who has called for “big, structural change” through an expanding portfolio of detailed policy plans.

There were also moments of levity in Houston. Harris erupted in laughter after drawing a comparison between Trump and the “really small dude” behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz.

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang, the only non-politician on stage, surprised his rivals – and viewers – when he announced a plan to give away $1,000 a month to 10 families over the next year, a gambit aimed at promoting his universal basic income signature campaign proposal.

“That was original,” Buttigieg said. “I’ll give you that,” he told Yang.

Later in the evening, in a moment that would have been unlikely even just a decade ago, Buttigieg spoke movingly about his decision to come out publicly as gay in 2015.

“I came back from the deployment and realized that you only get to live one life and I was not interested in not knowing what it was like to be in love any longer. So I just came out,” he said.

“What happened was that when I trusted voters to judge me based on the job that I did for them, they decided to trust me and they re-elected me with 80% of the vote.”


Democratic debate: the five key takeaways

Biden was Biden but despite a smaller field sparks failed to fly with Warren, while O’Rourke had a good night – as did Obama

Joan E Greve
Fri 13 Sep 2019 05.49 BST

The Democratic debate in Houston was a mix of smackdown, backslapping and policy gab-fest as the 10 top-tier candidates faced off against each other while at least 10 others were only able to watch from the sidelines, having failed to qualify.

Over almost three hours of verbal sparring the rivals for the Democratic nomination and the right to try to wrest the White House away from Donald Trump battled each other on a range of issues from healthcare to gun rights to the climate crisis.

It was a long night that frequently dove into the weeds of candidates’ specific proposals with a couple of explosive moments thrown in along the way.

Here are five of the night’s key takeaways:

Joe Biden was solid(ish) if uninspired

Joe Biden turned in an overall solid performance that was a far cry from his disastrous first debate. But the former vice-president’s reference to a “record player” prompted, along with many Twitter jokes, yet another moment of: “What is he talking about?” The debate’s most divisive moment came when the ex-Obama cabinet official Julián Castro accused Biden of flip-flopping on healthcare by repeatedly asking him: “Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?” The question elicited gasps from the audience and brought to mind Biden’s repeated gaffes in recent weeks. He has, for example, mixed up the locations of recent mass shootings and misidentified the state he was campaigning in. (Though it later appeared Castro had mischaracterized Biden’s original comments.)

Warren v Biden: never really happened

The biggest question going into Houston was whether Biden and the Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, who were meeting on a debate stage for the first time, would go after each other. The answer turned out to be: not so much. With the exception of Biden’s fumbled reference to “the senator to my left” at the beginning of the debate, the pair focused on defending their proposals more than anything else. Meanwhile, the other top-polling progressive candidate, the Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, inserted himself into many of the night’s most policy-driven discussions on healthcare and foreign policy, though he was hampered by a raspy voice caused by a cold.

A narrowed field improves debate

The narrowed debate field undeniably changed the dynamics of the event as so many of the also-rans were denied the oxygen of publicity their campaigns desperately need. Without the 10 additional minor candidates spread across two nights, there appeared to be fewer desperate attempts for attention and more calls to unify as one Democratic field and not attack each other. Though that suggestion didn’t sit well with the sharp-elbowed Castro, who told the South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg at one point: “That’s called an election.”

Beto breaks out

Of the lower-polling candidates, the former Texas congresswoman Beto O’Rourke appeared to have the most standout moments. His answers about gun control, coming just a month after the mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso, attracted enthusiastic applause from the audience, and O’Rourke’s campaign said it had the best hour of fundraising this quarter during the debate.

Obama wins debate?

One clear winner of tonight’s debate: Barack Obama. Candidates such as California senator Kamala Harris and Castro started several answers by applauding the work done by the former president’s administration – which was quite a contrast from the second debate, after which Biden complained that some of his opponents were disparaging Obama’s legacy.


My AR-15 is 'ready for you', Texas lawmaker tells Beto O'Rourke

Twitter takes down Republican Briscoe Cain’s tweet within hours because it violates rules on ‘threats of violence’

Lois Beckett
Fri 13 Sep 2019 07.06 BST

1:42..Beto O'Rourke on gun control: 'Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15' – video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QR4mNrW0AlE

A Republican state lawmaker from Texas has caused outcry for tweeting “My AR is ready for you Robert Francis” after Democratic presidential candidate Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke pledged to ban and confiscate AR-15 military-style rifles.

Within hours, Twitter took down Briscoe Cain’s post, which O’Rourke’s campaign labeled a “death threat”. “It violates our rules for threats of violence,” a company spokesperson said late Thursday night.

    Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke)

    This is a death threat, Representative. Clearly, you shouldn't own an AR-15—and neither should anyone else. pic.twitter.com/jsiZmwjMDs
    September 13, 2019

Earlier, Cain, a 34-year-old “conservative Republican” lawyer who represents a district outside of Houston, Texas, had mocked Twitter users who called his comment a threat of violence. “You’re an idiot,” he told one commenter. When O’Rourke called the tweet a death threat, and said it proved that neither Cain nor anyone else should own an AR-15, Cain responded, “You’re a child, Robert Francis.”

O’Rourke endorsed a ban on the possession of certain military-style rifles shortly after the mass shooting last month in his home town of El Paso, Texas, in which 22 people died and dozens were injured. He has specifically called for a mandatory government buyback of AR-15s, following Australia’s gun control model.

Cain, who did not respond to an emailed request for comment, appeared to defend his tweet as simply a version of a popular slogan among American gun rights activists – “Come and take it” – which generically dares any politician to try to confiscate their guns.

In response to thousands of people responding with anger and concern that he was threatening violence against a presidential candidate, the millennial Republican wrote, “I get ratioed in the reg”, meaning that his tweets are regularly overwhelmed with a large ratio of disapproving comments.

The Twitter policy that Cain violated, according to a Twitter spokesperson, was the rule that “You may not threaten violence against an individual or a group of people.”

The rest of Cain’s Twitter account, including his response calling O’Rourke a child for labeling the tweet a “death threat”, remained online Thursday night.

The O’Rourke campaign reported the tweet to the FBI, a campaign spokesperson told the Guardian. The campaign declined to offer any additional comment, including any response to Twitter’s decision to take down Cain’s original tweet.

Spokespeople for the FBI’s Houston bureau did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday night.

Some Twitter users noted that Robert Francis was also the name of Robert F. Kennedy, who was shot dead while running for the Democratic nomination for president in 1968.

    𝐁𝐫𝐢𝐬𝐜𝐨𝐞 𝐂𝐚𝐢𝐧 (@BriscoeCain)

    You’re a child Robert Francis https://t.co/rU3WoYQFQV
    September 13, 2019

In 2018, Cain appeared to bring a gun to a Democratic convention in Forth Worth, Texas, as part of a disruptive prank in which he handed out gun control signs.


Longtime Fox News producer: ‘I can’t tell you how unpopular Trump is here’

on September 13, 2019
By Dana Kennedy, DCReport @ RawStory

Does Fox News need President Donald Trump? Or does President Trump need Fox News? If former Fox News strongman and Trump supporter, the late Roger Ailes, were still running the network, those questions might never come up.

But as Trump himself tweeted in June after Fox reported that Trump was trailing five presidential candidates in the polls, “Something weird is going on at Fox News.”

True enough – and Trump seems unable to stop it. And it’s not just that his longtime ally Rupert Murdoch turned the leadership of Fox over to his son Lachlan last year. “I can’t tell you how unpopular Trump is here,” a longtime Fox News producer told DCReport, “and people are getting bolder about saying so.”

The soap opera within a soap opera at Fox News isn’t hurting ratings. Far from it. Even though Trump began criticizing Fox back in January, which in turn kicked up bitter in-fighting between Fox’s on-air talent and producers, FNC was the most-watched basic cable network in America for the 34th week in a row the week of Aug. 26, TVNewser reported.

Compared with the same week one year ago, Fox was up 6% but MSNBC and CNN were down 24% and 21%, respectively.

“Trump’s base has been with Fox News longer than they’ve been with Trump,” veteran TV critic Bruce Fretts (TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly), told DCReport.

‘Loyal to Fox, Not Trump’

“They’re still probably going to vote for Trump but their real loyalty is to Fox. Trump still needs Fox to speak to his base. So he’s got to either bite the bullet and say these are my guys—or totally shoot himself in the foot.”

But for now, Trump’s strategy is to increase the potshots at his once-favorite network.

“Sharpiegate,” the inane media storm over an actual hurricane that Trump furiously insisted all week could have hit Alabama, is the latest presidential debacle to further divide not just the country–but the once-faithful at Fox.

In recent months, longtime FNC anchors Shepard Smith and Neil Cavuto have broken rank spectacularly with what Smith calls “Trumplandia” while Fox’s pro-Trump (and prime-time) stalwarts, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, the network’s biggest moneymakers, along with Jeanine Pirro and Lou Dobbs, have defiantly backed him.

At the end of August, even Fox’s longtime political analyst and frequent Trump supporter Brit Hume fired back at Trump after Trump ripped the network for hiring left-wing panelists like former DNC chair Donna Brazile and Juan Williams.

“The New Fox News is letting millions of GREAT people down!” Trump tweeted. “We have to start looking for a new News Outlet. Fox isn’t working for us anymore!”

Tweeted Hume in response, “Fox News isn’t supposed to work for you.”

Last week, Fox’s White House correspondent John Roberts got dragged into the middle when he was summoned to the Oval Office after his afternoon live shot. According to an internal Fox email from Roberts that was obtained by CNN, Trump wanted Roberts to acknowledge that the original forecasts for Hurricane Dorian “had Alabama in the warning cone.” CNN also quoted a White House aide privy to the meeting saying that Trump called Roberts in to “hit back at Shepard Smith.”

Doctored Hurricane Map

Earlier that same day, a visibly disgusted Smith lit into Trump over both his refusal to admit he was wrong about Alabama being in the path of Dorian–and for whipping out a clearly doctored hurricane map during a White House briefing Tuesday.

“Why would the president of the United States do this?” Smith said. “He decries fake news that isn’t and disseminates fake news that is. Think China pays the tariffs. The wall is going up. Historic inauguration crowds. The Russia probe was a witch hunt. You need an ID to buy cereal. Noise from windmills causes cancer. It’s endless!”

Smith may not be Fox News’ highest-rated personality but he is among the most respected at the network and his relentless fact-checking of Trump carries considerable weight.

“There’s a real downside to being in the tank for Trump,” said Fretts. “Fox News went all-in on him at first. They thought hey, this guy we propped up got elected—and we can exploit this power. Then Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and Bill Shine were brought down but it was too late. They had created a monster. And now those with some integrity at the network, like Shep and Cavuto, are distancing themselves bigtime and calling Trump out.”

Last spring, Trump began threatening to look for “another network” and repeatedly cited One America News Network, a relatively tiny right-wing news network based out of San Diego possibly best-known for hiring a young Tomi Lahren to host a talk show right out of college.

OANN, launched in 2013, has been relentless in their favorable coverage of Trump. The Washington Post reported in 2017 that “On One America newscasts, the Trump administration is a juggernaut of progress, a shining success with a daily drumbeat of achievements.”

Oddly, Charles Herring, president of OANN, was less than effusive when discussing Trump in both a telephone conversation and email with DCReport.

“Since 2015, before Mr. Trump announced that he was running for President, the network has been aware that Mr. Trump is an avid viewer,” Herring said.

“Our mission has not changed since the inception of the network and has not been influenced by our Presidents since launch. One America News Network appreciates the support from all of our viewers.”

Editor’s Note: Dana Kennedy is a former Fox News anchor, as well as a former reporter for MSNBC, CNN and ABC News.


Air Force reveals ‘a far higher figure’ of lodging crews at Trump’s Turnberry resort in Scotland: report

Raw Story

The scandal over the U.S. military staying at President Donald Trump’s Turnberry resort in Scotland is far larger than initially reported.

“The U.S. Air Force has lodged crews at President Donald Trump’s Scotland resort up to 40 times since 2015, a figure that is far higher than previously known,” Politico reported Thursday.

The new number is a result of the Air Force’s preliminary review.

“The figure does not indicate how many of the stays have occurred since Trump became president. But the Air Force has significantly ramped up its overnight stops in Scotland under Trump after signing a contract with the Prestwick Airport — situated 20-plus miles from Turnberry — in the waning months of the Obama administration. Since 2015, the service has lodged crews in the area 659 times, meaning up to 6 percent of those stays were at Turnberry,” Politico reported.

“The figure also does not account for the total number of people the Air Force has put up at Trump Turnberry during those roughly 40 stays. POLITICO previously reported that Air Force crews of five to nearly 40 people have lodged at Trump’s waterside property over at least four stays since September 2018,” the publication noted.


‘The optics are terrible’: Watergate prosecutor blasts AG Bill Barr for destroying DOJ’s credibility

Raw Story

Attorney General William Barr was harshly criticized on MSNBC for harming the credibility of the Department of Justice.

“Breaking news tonight,” MSNBC’s Ari Melber reported. “New signs of a last-minute push by Donald Trump’s Justice Department to indict James Comey’s former deputy at the FBI, the man that took over the Russia probe after [James] Comey’s surprise firing by Donald Trump.”

“This is a bombshell from The Washington Post. The D.O.J. Has authorized prosecutors to indict his top former FBI official, Andrew McCabe over a technicality over statements he made to other D.O.J. officials and investigative colleagues as they probed his contacts with the press.”

“This kind of an indictment would mark the type of politicized retaliation or criminalization of public service critics were warning about in the Trump era,” Melber noted.

For analysis, Melber interviewed former Watergate prosecutor Nick Ackerman.

“Can you think of an example in U.S. history where a president’s administration indicted the person who ran the FBI or an investigation touching on the president?” Melber asked.

“Never,” Ackerman replied.

“I mean, Nixon didn’t even try this,” Melber noted.

“He was not that stupid,” Ackerman replied.

Melber asked if it was an abuse of power.

“It certainly reeks of that,” Ackerman replied. “The optics are terrible.”


‘Decades of progress are at stake’ as Trump reaches 150 lifetime judicial appointments and right-wing court takeover accelerates

on September 13, 2019
By Common Dreams

“Every network should be covering this. Trump’s dangerous takeover of our courts will last a generation.”

The Republican-controlled Senate quietly confirmed four more of President Donald Trump’s lifetime federal judicial nominees on Wednesday, bringing the total number of conservative judges successfully appointed by the administration to over 150.

It is a milestone that, according to rights groups, marks the extent to which Trump and Senate Majority Leader Moscow Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell (R-Ky.) have flooded the nation’s courts with disproportionately young and unqualified right-wing judges who could reshape the judiciary for decades to come.

“Trump’s dangerous takeover of our courts will last a generation. All who care about our civil rights being protected must speak out and demand better.”

—Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

“Every network should be covering this,” tweeted the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Trump’s dangerous takeover of our courts will last a generation. All who care about our civil rights being protected must speak out and demand better.”

Sen. Miss Lindsey 'i love being Trump's cumslut' Graham (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, reacted gleefully on Wednesday to the president’s achievement, calling the appointment of over 150 federal judges “historic.”

“These conservative judicial appointments will impact our nation for years to come,” said Graham.

Bloomberg Law reported Wednesday that 19 of Trump’s lifetime judicial nominees are awaiting votes and more judges are making their way through the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Many have disturbing civil rights records,” Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference, said of the judges the Senate has confirmed thus far. “Dozens wouldn’t affirm Brown v. Board. They’re overwhelmingly white and male. Decades of progress are at stake. We must keep fighting.”

    BREAKING: The Senate just confirmed Trump’s 150th LIFETIME federal judge.

    Trump is taking over our courts with anti-civil rights nominees who represent a gigantic setback for judicial diversity.

    We can’t win if we don’t fight – and we must keep fighting to #StopTrumpsTakeover. pic.twitter.com/4cFb0e1dVL

    — The Leadership Conference (@civilrightsorg) September 11, 2019

While the Senate’s latest torrent of votes on Trump judges drew relatively little coverage from the national media, more than 150 people gathered inside the Senate building on Wednesday to condemn the president’s court takeover.

The demonstration largely focused on Steven Menashi, Trump’s nominee for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Menashi’s confirmation hearing on Wednesdasy, which came just two days after his name was submitted to the Senate, was repeatedly interrupted by loud shouts from the Senate hallways.

    Protesters just erupted into loud shouting: “Title IX is on the line! Title IX is on the line!”

    They can definitely hear this in the hearing. pic.twitter.com/y9Q6bkikOe

    — Jennifer Bendery (@jbendery) September 11, 2019

HuffPost reported Tuesday that Menashi, currently a White House legal aide, is one of Trump’s “most controversial judicial nominees to date… with a long record of opposing and undermining equality for communities of color, women, and LGBTQ people.”

“His civil rights record is terrible,” Gupta said of Menashi. “If confirmed, he’d sit in Thurgood Marshall’s former seat and preside in the Thurgood Marshall Courthouse. He must be stopped.”

A coalition of progressive advocacy groups on Tuesday delivered 110,000 petition signatures demanding that the Senate reject Menashi, who repeatedly declined to answer basic questions during his confirmation hearing, angering both Democrats and Republicans.

“Menashi has stripped protections for sexual assault survivors, advocated for ethnonationalism, and helped Trump and Stephen Miller with their anti-immigrant agenda,” Christopher Kang, chief counsel at Demand Justice, said in a statement. “It’s not enough to simply oppose a nominee like this—Democrats must join us in sounding the alarm and not allowing Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham to push this nomination through under the radar.”

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« Reply #3541 on: Sep 14, 2019, 04:30 AM »

Scientists Find the Skull of Humanity’s Ancestor, on a Computer

By comparing fossils and CT scans, researchers say they have reconstructed the skull of the last common forebear of modern humans

By Carl Zimmer
NY Times

A single new fossil can change the way we think about human origins, but discovering it — deep in a cave or buried in rock — remains a daunting struggle for hammer-wielding paleoanthropologists.

“It can take years and luck to find the right one,” said Aurélien Mounier, a paleoanthropologist at the French National Museum of Natural History.

Now researchers like Dr. Mounier are using computers and mathematical techniques to reconstruct the appearance of fossils they have yet to find. On Tuesday, Dr. Mounier and Marta Mirazón Lahr, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Cambridge in Britain, unveiled a virtual skull belonging to the last common ancestor of all modern humans, who lived in Africa about 300,000 years ago.

The rendering of this ancestral skull, described in the journal Nature Research, is strikingly similar to fossils of about the same age found in East Africa and South Africa. The scientists propose that modern humanity arose through a merging of populations in these two regions.

“We’re starting to look at the paleontological record in a different way,” Dr. Mounier said. “We’re more aware of a lot of diversity and complexity.”

The ancestry of all living humans can be traced to Africa. Studies of DNA indicate our common ancestors lived somewhere on the continent between 260,000 and 350,000 years ago.

But how those early humans evolved is an enduring puzzle. The fossil record in Africa from that period doesn’t offer easy answers. Over the decades, researchers have found just a few remains, with a strange mixture of traits.

In 1986, for example, paleoanthropologists discovered a fossil in Kenya between 270,000 and 300,000 years old. They called it “archaic Homo sapiens.” Other experts argued it belonged to another species altogether. And others have simply thrown up their hands.

Two years ago, a team of scientists working in Morocco offered a major new clue. They discovered a set of fossil remains, about 315,000 years old, that belonged to Homo sapiens — the oldest remains of our species yet found.

But these humans were different from modern humans in some important ways. They lacked chins, for example, and had a long, low braincases.

Dr. Mounier and Dr. Lahr aimed to understand how enigmatic fossils from around Africa are related to modern humans. The researchers developed mathematical techniques to compare the structure of the skulls, searching for evolutionary links.

The first challenge was the fact that people today do not share perfectly identical skulls. From person to person, there is a lot of variation. Populations have slightly different skull shapes on average, but those averages can be misleading.

“We know that within a population, there can be much more variation than between two populations,” Dr. Mounier said. “We’re all very similar, and yet we’re all very diverse.”

No one person’s skull can stand in for everyone’s. So Dr. Mounier and Dr. Lahr worked their way backward from this modern diversity to what they believe was the skull of a common ancestor.

They took CT scans of 260 skulls of people from a wide range of populations — from the inhabitants of African rainforests to Pacific islands to the coasts of Greenland. They also scanned 100,000-year-old skulls found in Israel that are clearly similar to those of living humans.

The researchers also picked out a selection of extinct human relatives, such as Neanderthals, to study in the same way.

Then the scientists placed all of these living and extinct individuals on an evolutionary tree. In doing so, they were able to trace the evolution of skulls along each of the branches, arriving at a picture of the skull of the common ancestor of living humans.

“More or less, it’s quite a modern human,” Dr. Mounier said of the skull. “But it doesn’t really correspond to any current population — it’s something different.”

The rendering of this ancestral skull shows the same vaulted braincase that we have today. But it also has heavier brow ridges and a protruding lower face.

Dr. Mounier and Dr. Lahr compared their ancestral skull with real African fossil skulls from the same period. The researchers found a number of differences — so many, in fact, that they think the fossils belong not to a single population, but to three.

The Moroccan fossil belongs to one population. Another fossil, found in Tanzania, represents the second. The third population includes two fossils from two sites that are thousands of miles apart: South Africa and Kenya. This third population, the researchers concluded, most closely resembles the ancestor of modern humans.

The evolutionary lineage that gave rise to modern humans produced a number of populations across Africa around 350,000 years ago, Dr. Mounier and Dr. Lahr speculate. These humans all had big brains and made increasingly sophisticated tools.

But there were clear differences in their anatomy. In Morocco, for example, early Homo sapiens had a very Neanderthal-like appearance. “It’s clearly not the closest candidate to play a role in the evolution of modern humans,” Dr. Mounier said.

The populations from which the Moroccan and Tanzanian fossils come from may have died out without contributing to the gene pool of living humans.

But other groups may have come into contact from time to time and interbred. That’s what may have happened to ancient humans in East and South Africa. “The idea is that they merged to eventually form our species,” Dr. Mounier said.

Katerina Harvati, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Tübingen in Germany who was not involved in the new study, called it “a really great way to test hypotheses about the fossil record.”

But she cautioned that any reconstruction of our common ancestor depends on the skulls scientists examine. Along with the fossils from Israel, she would like to see other fossils of modern humans added to the analysis.

The additional data might alter the virtual skull — and perhaps even theories about our origins.

Dr. Mounier sees the new study as a framework for studying human origins, not the last word. “There are a lot of things we can do, even without new fossils,” he said.

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« Reply #3542 on: Sep 14, 2019, 04:32 AM »

Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg protests at White House

on September 14, 2019
By Agence France-Presse

Teen climate champion Greta Thunberg brought her global environmental message to the heart of the US government on Friday, telling her legion of supporters outside the White House: “Never give up.”

The 16-year-old Swede, who has inspired youngsters across the world with her urgent call to arms, demanded action from the world’s number one economy and its notoriously climate change skeptical president as part of a demonstration kicking off two weeks of protest.

Thunberg joined a few hundred people who shouted slogans and sang, but was careful to stay near the back, avoiding the limelight and questions from the media before finally addressing her supporters.

“Never give up — we will continue,” she said in a speech thanking the crowd and rallying the wider teen environment movement to keep up the pressure on polluters.

“I’m just going to say I’m so incredibly grateful for every single one of you, I’m so proud of you to have come here,” she said.

Thunberg isn’t as well known in the United States as in Europe, but her six-day stay in the capital Washington will nonetheless be marked by high profile honors.

On Monday, Amnesty International will present her its highest honor for human rights work and she will testify before Congress on September 18 on the invitation of House Democrats.

On Wednesday she was a guest on The Daily Show in New York, where she called again on young people to mobilize and to stop man-made global warming, since older generations have failed to act.

“We in a way feel like it is a direct threat, others feel like, ‘I won’t be alive then anyway, so screw it,'” she said.

Thunberg, who was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at the age of 12, arrived in the US on August 28 on a zero-emissions yacht.

She rose to fame after she began sitting outside the Swedish parliament in August last year to get members to act on climate change.

She was quickly joined by other students around the world, as word of her strike spread through the media, and the “Fridays for future” movement was born.

New York authorities have given their blessing for the next strike on September 20, in which students from the city’s 1,700 schools will participate.

“New York City stands with our young people. They’re our conscience. We support the 9/20 #ClimateStrike,” Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio wrote on Twitter.

– UN summits –

A growing number of Americans are describing climate change as a “crisis,” and two-thirds believe the president is doing too little to tackle the problem, a new poll published by the Washington Post said Friday.

The poll found that about eight in 10 Americans believe human activity is fueling climate change, and roughly half believe urgent action is needed over the next decade to avert disaster.

But President Donald Trump’s administration remains deaf to these demands.

Since taking power in 2017, the president has pursued an aggressive policy of deregulation of everything from traffic pollution to coal-fired plants, drilling offshore and in the wilderness, and the maintenance of clean waterways.

The president’s Republican Party and has even come out strongly in favor of energy inefficient light bulbs.

Many of the rollbacks have been challenged in court and are not yet in effect, but it represents a 180-degree shift in direction over his predecessor, Barack Obama.

American policies will undoubtedly come under fire when the UN holds a series of high level climate meetings in New York over the coming weeks.

But the US is far from alone, with experts deeming the climate commitments from nearly every country to fall far short of what is required.

A Youth Climate Summit will take place at the UN on September 21, followed by the UN Climate Action Summit on September 23 convened by the Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to find ways for countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.

Guterres has called on leaders to reduce these emissions by 45 percent over the next decade, and to net zero emissions by 2050.

Thunberg will be ever present throughout these events, whether marching on the streets or in rooms filled with powerful global leaders, who have done little so far to impress her.

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« Reply #3543 on: Sep 14, 2019, 04:34 AM »

Brazil environment minister to meet US climate denier group before UN summit

    Ricardo Salles to meet Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI)
    Critics say Bolsonaro lacks commitment to fight climate crisis

Dom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro
14 Sep 2019 08.00 BST

Brazil’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles, will meet a rightwing US advocacy group that denies climate change, just four days before the United Nations Climate Action Summit.

Salles will meet representatives from the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) at the headquarters of the US Environmental Protection Agency on 19 September, Brazil’s Folha de S Paulo newspaper revealed.

The meeting was immediately condemned by environmentalists, who said it showed that the government of the far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, had no commitment to fighting the climate crisis.
'Chaos, chaos, chaos': a journey through Bolsonaro's Amazon inferno
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News of the meeting emerged a day after Brazil’s foreign minister questioned the scientific proof for global warming in a convoluted speech in Washington. Addressing the Heritage Foundation, Ernesto Araújo said “there is no climate catastrophe” and described efforts to fight climate change as a plot to destroy national sovereignty.

Brazil is doubling down on its efforts to convince the world the Amazon is in safe hands, despite soaring deforestation and a huge spike in seasonal fires that provoked an international crisis. Bolsonaro is due to address the UN general assembly on 24 September.

“This is a government that makes efforts to deny the problems, not to face them,” said Marcio Astrini, director of public policy at Greenpeace Brasil.

A spokesman for Salles said he could not confirm nor deny the meeting and a spokeswoman for the Competitive Enterprise Institute did not respond to requests for comment.

The CEI’s director for energy and environment, Myron Ebell, led Donald Trump’s transition team at the Environmental Protection Agency. His biography quotes Business Insider, which said: “Myron Ebell may be enemy #1 to the current climate change community.”

“Climate change does not endanger the survival of civilization or the habitability of the planet. So-called climate solutions are bureaucratic power grabs and corporate welfare schemes with no detectable climate-related benefits,” read a June article on the CEI site.

Before Salles took office in December, a São Paulo judge found he had altered plans for an environmentally protected area in order to favour businesses while state environment secretary. Salles denied the accusations and is appealing against the ruling.

In July he said that Brazil was not far from “zero illegal deforestation”. Satellite date from Brazil’s Space Research Institute calculated a 278% increase in deforestation in July. The institute’s director was fired after Bolsonaro described the data as “lies”. Its data showed more than 30,000 fires in the Amazon in August, the highest since 2010.

In a recent interview with the far-right Canadian YouTuber Stefan Molyneux, Salles hailed Brazil’s conservation record.

The minister argued that a primary cause of deforestation was the lack of proper documentation for Amazon land, despite widespread evidence that much degradation takes place in protected areas and indigenous reserves and has been partly fuelled by Bolsonaro’s attacks on environment agencies and protection.

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« Reply #3544 on: Sep 14, 2019, 04:36 AM »

Trump opens protected Alaskan Arctic refuge to oil drillers

The Bureau of Land Management will offer leases to the 1.6m-acre coastal plain which is home to threatened polar bears

Emily Holden in Washington
14 Sep 2019 00.41 BST

The Trump administration is finalizing plans to allow oil and gas drilling in a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that has been protected for decades.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will offer leases on essentially the entire 1.6m-acre coastal plain, which includes places where threatened polar bears have dens and porcupine caribou visit for calving. Drilling operations are expected to be problematic for Indigenous populations, many of which rely on subsistence hunting and fishing.

The Democrat-controlled House just hours earlier passed legislation to protect the area, but Republicans in the majority in the Senate are highly unlikely to approve the bill.

The Alaska Wilderness League’s executive director Adam Kolton said that “to no one’s surprise, the administration chose the most aggressive leasing alternative, not even pretending that this is about restraint or meaningful protection”.

“With an eye on developing the entirety of the fragile coastal plain, the administration has been riding roughshod over science, silencing dissent and shutting out entire Indigenous communities,” Kolton said.

The environmentally-sensitive area of Alaska’s Arctic was forbidden for drilling until a change by Congress in an unrelated 2017 tax bill, which Kolton called a “sham of a vote”.

BLM on Thursday issued its final environmental impact statement for the project and said it aims to start granting leases by the end of the year.

The bureau estimates oil extracted and burned from the area could put the equivalent of between 0.7 million and 5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere each year. At the maximum, that would be the same as roughly a million more cars on the road annually.

In reviews of a draft impact statement, the US Fish and Wildlife Service said the BLM underestimated the climate impacts of the oil leases.

Parts of BLM’s final statement suggest – contrary to evidence – that the current rapid heating of the earth is cyclical rather than human-made.

“Much attention in recent decades has focused on the potential climate change effects of GHGs greenhouse gasses, especially carbon dioxide (CO2), which has been increasing in concentration in the global atmosphere since the end of the last ice age,” the document said.

Global scientists, however, have concluded that human actions, including burning fossil fuels, are the primary driver of the 1C temperature increase observed since industrialization.

In other sections, the document notes that fossil fuels contribute to greenhouse gases that heat the planet.

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« Reply #3545 on: Sep 14, 2019, 04:49 AM »

Kenyan schoolgirl, 14, kills herself after alleged period shaming by teacher

Teenager who had her first period during school lesson was reportedly branded ‘dirty’ and expelled from classroom

Ginger Hervey in Nairobi
14 Sep 2019 09.00 BST

A 14-year-old schoolgirl in Kenya took her own life after a teacher allegedly embarrassed her for having her period in class.

The girl’s death has prompted protests from female parliamentarians and reignited a national conversation about “period shaming” and access to menstrual products.

The girl’s mother said her daughter was found dead last Friday after she got her period during class and stained her clothes. Her teacher allegedly called her “dirty” and expelled her from the classroom in Kabiangek, west of Nairobi.

It was the girl’s first period, her mother told local media, and she did not have a sanitary pad.

The incident has cast a spotlight on a 2017 law requiring Kenya’s government to distribute free sanitary pads to all schoolgirls. Poor implementation of the law is the subject of a parliamentary investigation.

On Wednesday, female MPs “laid siege” to the education ministry to protest about the girl’s death and discuss the programme, MP Esther Passaris wrote on Twitter.

More than 200 parents also protested outside the school in Kabiangek this week, local media reported, condemning both the teacher’s handling of the incident and alleged lack of action by authorities. Alex Shikondi, the regional police chief, said the girl’s death was under investigation.

Police used tear gas to disperse the protesters and arrested at least five people after they pulled down the school’s gate, according to Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper. The school has been temporarily closed.

Access to menstrual products is a huge problem across sub-Saharan Africa, where an inability to afford sanitary products prompts many girls to avoid school during their periods. A 2014 Unesco report estimated that one in 10 girls miss school during menstruation, which means they miss out on 20% of their schooling each year.

Kenya is considered a leader in addressing this problem.

In 2004, it scrapped a tax on menstrual products. Similar “tampon taxes”, as they have been styled, have sparked protests in the UK and still exist in many US states.

In 2017, Kenya passed a law requiring the government to give free pads to all schoolgirls.
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But there are concerns about whether the $4.5m (£3.6m) set aside for the programme has improved access to sanitary products and increased school attendance.

George Magoha, the country’s education cabinet secretary, told local media last month that a random sampling of schoolgirls indicated they had not received pads. Passaris said Magoha told female MPs on Wednesday that the programme has problems with budgetary constraints and procurement.

Passaris added that the project’s budget would need to be “at least 10 times” larger if it were to provide free sanitary towels for all of Kenya’s schoolgirls.

The education ministry and Teachers Service Commission of Kenya are conducting their own investigation into the schoolgirl’s death, said Passaris, with a report scheduled for publication in the coming weeks.

“We had a candid discussion about sanitary towels, the little girl who died, and the investigation that is ensuing,” she said. “We need to make it so that girls aren’t ashamed of their periods, and I don’t think we’ve won that battle yet.”

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« Reply #3546 on: Sep 14, 2019, 05:00 AM »

Hong Kong enters 15th week of mass protests as unrest continues

Pro-democracy demonstrators clash with Beijing supporters as riot police subdue protesters

Lily Kuo in Hong Kong
Sat 14 Sep 2019 11.10 BST

Rival groups of demonstrators clashed in Hong Kong and police made arrests in another weekend of mass protests after months of political unrest.

Dozens of pro-Beijing protesters waved Chinese flags and chanted “support the police” at a mall in Kowloon Bay on Saturday, as pro-democracy demonstrators gathered, clad in black and wearing masks. After a standoff, members of the two sides began to fight, throwing punches and hitting each other with umbrellas before police separated them. At least one man was seen bleeding from the head.

Riot police shut off entrances to the mall after the fight and police were seen subduing several protesters. Hundreds of anti-government protesters in masks and all-black outfits were also marching in Tin Shui Wai, a neighbourhood in Hong Kong’s New Territories, defying a police ban on the planned event.

Saturday marks the 15th consecutive weekend of mass protests in Hong Kong, where demonstrations against the government have deeply divided society. The protests, triggered by an extradition bill that would allow suspects to be sent to mainland China, has turned into a broader pro-democracy movement.

Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, has said that she will permanently withdraw the bill, but protesters have vowed to continue until all their demands are met. On Friday, thousands of protesters marked the mid-autumn festival by forming human chains across the city. Hundreds hiked to several peaks where they shined lanterns and torches.

As Hong Kong enters its fourth month of mass protests, tensions between supporters and critics of the pro-democracy movement have escalated. Earlier on Saturday, scuffles broke out between a group of pro-government demonstrators in blue T-shirts and protesters near a church in Fortress Hill, where a “Lennon wall”, a mural dedicated to the protests, was torn down.

More than 100 secondary school students gathered in central Hong Kong, where they sang Glory to Hong Kong, a song that has become the unofficial anthem of the protests, and stuck signs and posted messages along a wall.

“I’m showing up to support the younger generation,” said Cheng, 21, a university student attending the rally of secondary students. “Just because one demand was fulfilled doesn’t mean we should back down. We should keep fighting for all five of the demands.”

He said: “There are a lot less people and less people showing up to these kinds of protests and gathering, and I hope Hong Kong people will still remember what happened within these three months.”

During the past week, demonstrators have gathered in malls across the city to sing the anthem, in a departure from previous weeks of violent street battles with police.

Observers believe authorities are eager to stop the protests before 1 October, when China celebrates its national day, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

Many protesters believe it is a key date to apply more pressure on the government. One group has raised more than HK$8m (£820,000) to place adverts in the main newspapers on that day.

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« Reply #3547 on: Sep 14, 2019, 05:03 AM »

Cameron accuses Johnson and Gove of behaving appallingly over Brexit

Former PM tells Times he worries desperately about Britain’s future

    Cameron suspected Cummings of ‘dripping poison’ into Gove’s ear
    For the Record: signs of trouble before David Cameron book hits shelves
    Who’s to blame for the mess we’re in? Don’t look at me!

Kate Proctor
14 Sep 2019 17.47 BST

David Cameron has revealed Brexit makes him depressed and accused Michael Gove and Boris Johnson of “trashing the government” with their campaign to leave the EU, in a candid interview ahead of the release of his memoirs.

In an interview (£) with the Times before For The Record hits bookshop shelves, the former prime minister explained how he thinks about losing the referendum “every single day” and what the consequences will be.

He also says a second referendum may be necessary to break the deadlock, criticises Johnson’s move to prorogue parliament and accuses him of “sharp practices” in stripping 21 Tory MPs of the whip for rebelling.

In the interview, part of a publicity drive to launch the book, Cameron says the campaign left him feeling like he was caught “in a quagmire”. In his book he calls his former friend Gove “mendacious” and says he and Johnson, now prime minister, behaved “appallingly”.

His harsh appraisal of his former colleagues comes amid a crisis for the Tories in which long-standing members have criticised the party for its perceived lurch to the right and its take-over by no-deal Brexiters.

Speaking from his London home, Cameron told his interviewer, Andrew Billen, that the 2016 referendum turned into a “terrible Tory psychodrama” and his message was unable to cut through.

“I think about this every day. Every single day I think about it, the referendum and the fact that we lost and the consequences and the things that could have been done differently, and I worry desperately about what is going to happen next.

“I think we can get to a situation where we leave but we are friends, neighbours and partners. We can get there, but I would love to fast-forward to that moment because it’s a painful memory for the country and it’s painful to watch.”

Asked if he found sleeping hard, he said: “I worry about it a lot. I worry about it a lot.”

Cameron said he had been under political pressure to hold a referendum in 2016 because there had been a series of treaties and the “issue was not going to go away”, adding he thought about it more than any other decision he made in government.

He reserved his most stinging criticism for his former Tory colleagues Gove and Johnson, who were instrumental in the Vote Leave campaign. He said the pair “left the truth at home,” when it came to the claims they made during the referendum campaign, including the £350m-a-week figure on the side of the Vote Leave bus.

“I loved the explaining and arguing and that side of politics, persuasion, but then, as it went on, I just felt more and more bogged down. It turned into this terrible Tory psychodrama and I couldn’t seem to get through. What Boris and Michael Gove were doing was more exciting than the issues I was trying to get across. I felt like I was in a sort of quagmire by the end,” he said.

“Boris had never argued for leaving the EU, right? Michael was a very strong Eurosceptic, but someone whom I’d known as this liberal, compassionate, rational Conservative ended up making arguments about Turkey [joining] and being swamped and what have you. They were trashing the government of which they were a part, effectively.”

In the interview, Cameron said Gove’s threat of Turkey joining the EU and sparking mass migration was “ridiculous” and accused him of creating a false narrative.

“There was a moment when I think it was Penny Mordaunt said on a Sunday morning show: ‘We have no power to stop Turkey joining the EU’. It’s just not true.”

His friendship with Gove has not recovered and they do not speak regularly.

He revealed he offered Johnson a top-five cabinet job, potentially defence secretary, if he would have agreed to back him in his campaign to remain in the EU.

Criticising Johnson’s claim that a no-deal Brexit was a “million to one” chance he said he thought that prediction was “a little bit off”.

Cameron also joined his fellow former prime ministers John Major, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair in mooting the idea of a second Brexit referendum, to “unblock” parliament.

He has deep concerns about Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament.

“I wanted him to get a deal from the EU that would have passed in the House of Commons. If that was to happen, I would have been elated. But clearly, while he started off down that road, the strategy has morphed into something quite different,” he wrote to Billen after the interview had taken place and Johnson had made his dramatic move.

“Taking the whip from hard-working Conservative MPs and sharp practices using prorogation of parliament have rebounded. I didn’t support either of those things. Neither do I think no-deal Brexit is a good idea.”

On the infamous moment he was caught on microphone humming a tune after resigning, and for which he was heavily criticised for giving the impression he was happy to leave Downing Street and “swanning off”, he said he had been worried about the door of No 10 not opening.

He said he had been caught out before with the door remaining closed while the cameras were on him and he was trying to calm himself down.

HarperCollins reportedly paid £800,000 for the rights to publish his memoirs. Cameron reveals in the interview that the book was not, as was widely believed, written in his £25,000 shepherd’s hut in the garden of his Oxfordshire home but was mostly worked on at his other home in west London.

He has also personally recorded an audiobook version.

Profits are going to charities connected with the armed forces, disabled children and Alzheimer’s disease.


Hopes of clean break with EU are nonsense, says ex-Brexit official

A no-deal exit would trigger complex negotiations, argues former top DexEU civil servant

Heather Stewart Political editor
Sat 14 Sep 2019 06.00 BST

Claiming a no-deal Brexit represents a clean break with the European Union is “nonsensical”, according to Philip Rycroft, the former permanent secretary at the Department for Exiting the EU.

Boris Johnson has promised to extricate the UK from the EU on 31 October “come what may” – and has hinted that he could try to get around legislation mandating him to request a Brexit delay.

The Brexit party leader, Nigel Farage, whose party trounced the Tories in May’s European elections, has been urging the PM to deliver a “clean break Brexit” by leaving without a deal.

But Rycroft, who was the most senior civil servant at DexEU until March this year, told the Guardian a no-deal Brexit would mark the beginning of a complex series of negotiations.

“It is not a clean break: what it does is it takes us legally out of the EU. But what it can’t do is undo all of the very close economic ties that we have with the EU, on which so much of our trade as a country depends. And nor would we want to undo all of the close security ties that we have with the EU,” he said.

“And because of the importance of those ties both for the EU and the UK, it will remain hugely important to have those expressed through a formal relationship. In other words, we’re going to have to negotiate – and that negotiation on the future relationship starts with citizens, money and the border on the island of Ireland.

“So the notion that no deal somehow means that we can turn our backs on the EU and break all our ties is just nonsensical.”

Rycroft spent part of his career at the Scottish Office and in the Scottish Executive before working in Nick Clegg’s office during the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government, and helping to coordinate Whitehall’s approach to devolution from the Cabinet Office.

He gave a speech on Monday warning that politicians should be thinking carefully about how to protect the union with Scotland and Northern Ireland after Brexit – deal or no deal.

“Clearly at the moment, political time has collapsed: everything has become very short term, everyone’s worrying about what’s happening not even next week but tomorrow,” he said. “In those circumstances it’s very different to be lifting their eyes to a more distant horizon. How do we manage as a country, if and when we come out of the EU?”

After this week’s renewed clashes between Johnson’s government and rebel MPs and the judiciary, Rycroft said it may be time to think about whether Britain’s constitution is working – a question also raised by the Speaker, John Bercow, on Thursday.

“We don’t have a written constitution: it relies on convention and precedent, and the spirit within which those conventions and precedents are regarded. And if those conventions and precedents are ignored, overturned, challenged – then the lack of a codified constitution becomes an issue,” he said.

“I would agree with those who would say in these circumstances, it may not be that you’d need a written constitution as a whole, but as a minimum, some of the procedures, not least in the Houses of Parliament, are going to have to be codified for clarity on what the rules are. There is no doubt in my mind that we have reached that point.”

Rycroft is about to take up a post at the University of Cambridge as a distinguished honorary researcher at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy and the department for politics and internal studies.

He warned against the growing tendency in public debate to denigrate civil servants and blame them for the failings of their political masters.

“Civil servants do their job for governments of the day, delivering the policies of the government of the day, and that’s just as true for Brexit as for anything else.” He said claims his erstwhile colleague Olly Robbins had sought to stymie the government’s negotiating efforts were “complete nonsense”.

Robbins left Whitehall as Johnson took over and it emerged recently that he had taken a job at the investment bank Goldman Sachs.

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« Reply #3548 on: Sep 14, 2019, 05:08 AM »

'The poor are punished': Dorian lays bare inequality in the Bahamas

The tourist destination relies on a life support system of fishermen, hotel workers and laborers. They’ve been hardest hit

David Smith in Marsh Harbour, Abaco, the Bahamas
Sat 14 Sep 2019 07.00 BST

Holidaymakers queuing at immigration at the Bahamas’ Nassau airport are still serenaded by three pink-shirted men playing jovial music. They are still sunbathing on the beaches and still swimming in the sea. It is as if nothing has changed in paradise.

Yet 40 minutes away by plane, on the Abaco Islands, heaven turns to hell. The Mudd, a shantytown that was home to the Bahamas’ biggest Haitian immigrant community, has been obliterated by Hurricane Dorian as if by a massive bomb.

On Thursday a bare, crooked tree reminiscent of a desert wasteland was one of the few things still standing. Every dwelling had been destroyed. Cars were overturned. The ground was a wasteland strewn with blankets, clothes, fridges, shoes, rusty nails, splintered plywood, toilets and toothbrushes. The size of several football pitches, the Mudd was peopleless; no one knows how many died here and how many evacuated.

Natural disasters often expose the gap between the haves and have nots and Dorian was no different. While the Bahamas has a reputation as one of the most desirable tourist destinations on earth, its luxury hotels and homes depend on a life support system of fishermen, hotel workers and laborers. Once again, it is the poorest who have been hardest hit when catastrophe strikes.

“We’ve brought this on ourselves,” was one opinion conveyed anonymously to the Guardian. “It’s all fine when you’re living in paradise and a Haitian comes and mows your lawn. We’ve just created our own structure and there hasn’t been any attempt to integrate.”

Haitians have lived in the Bahamas for centuries but face poverty and prejudice, for reasons including religious beliefs that can include voodoo. A 2008 article in the College of the Bahamas Research Journal, entitled the Stigma of Being ‘Haitian’ in the Bahamas, noted that “Bahamians have long ‘looked-down’ on Haitians as not being social equals”.

The Mudd was built by thousands of Haitian immigrants over decades in Marsh Harbour on Abaco. But it was wiped out in hours, its flimsy wooden structures standing little chance against the wrath of Dorian. American emergency workers have found five bodies in the debris and expect more to come.

Others fled and are unaccounted for. Some have evacuated by boat to Nassau. Some sought refuge in places such as the pink-walled New Haitian Mission Baptist church. At one point 210 Haitians gathered on its bare concrete floor, without electricity or running water. Now there are 45, including two children.

Charles Ilfrenord, its pastor, who moved from Haiti 35 years ago but still has family there, said: “Plenty of people died in the Mudd. I think more than 1,000.”

Jean Claude Timothy, 41, a builder and electrician who lived next to the Mudd, recalled helping his wife and children into the attic of their house as water rose 25ft high. “A trailer knocked the roof right off. I had to swim to get a boat to put my family in. We pulled it slowly down the road for a half a mile.”

The family were temporarily blinded by fumes from a nearby oil and diesel plant, Timothy added, but they found shelter in a government building.

Timothy’s wife, 31-year-old Kenya, and their four children were evacuated by a boat that was taking women and children only. Timothy is now sleeping rough in a roofless building and struggling for food. “We’re just waiting for jobs and for something to do,” he said.

“Everybody’s been hit, the rich and the poor, but for the rich it’s less severe because they live in better buildings. The people you work for for years don’t send a private plane for you. You worked for them for years but they don’t give you any food, any vacation pay.”

Tourism employs about half the Bahamian workforce and accounts for around half GDP. Abaco is renowned for its marinas, golf courses and all-inclusive resorts. Even now, a leaflet at Nassau airport advertises the Abaco Beach Resort, including “a boating paradise unlike any other”. Glen Kelly, its harbour master, told the Washington Post: “I’ll put it as raw as I can. We’ve always depended on Haitian labour, legal or illegal, to maintain this place. Now it’s a question of whether they’ll be back.”

Paradise comes at a social, economic and moral cost. The Bahamas has the second highest economic and social inequality in the Caribbean, according to the Latin American Economic Outlook 2019 Report. An editorial in the Nassau Guardian newspaper in 2017 warned: “Economic inequality is killing the Bahamas.” As Hurricane Dorian approached, affluent people were able to get out early whereas the poor had to remain and try to ride it out.

Lydia Ruth Hill, 38, a vacation planner and property manager, was one of only seven people who stayed behind in a neighborhood of more than 200. She had no sleep for 48 hours as she searched for missing people in the rubble; two of her relatives are still unaccounted for. She is now setting up a recovery command center but is inundated with messages from those who left and are worried about their possessions.

“The night before last I answered 400 and some emails of people requesting me to send them stuff – ‘get the guns out of my safe, get my Rolex watch’ – or empty their fridges, when mine’s got rotten stuff in it right now, or care for their pet when mine are dead because I lost my house and everything, and less than 20% supporting us to say what can we try to help you with?

“They were just really inconsiderate requests when we were on survival mode here and then people mouthing off at us when we said that we don’t have time to do that. At that point I was still trying to get critical care people off the island.”

Nearly two weeks after Dorian made landfall, at least 50 deaths have been reported, more than 1,300 people are missing and an estimated 15,000 are without food or shelter. Many in the underclass lost everything.

Earl Arthurs, the operations specialist for the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, said: “Any disaster, the poor people will be the ones that are punished. A poor person owns a small house and it’s not insured so when the hurricane comes and it’s washed away, that’s it. A rich person owns a nice mansion and it gets totaled but he gets money to build a new one. So that’s a big difference.

“Some of these people are living from hand to mouth, weekly pay cheque, so when something like this happens and they cannot work, they will definitely be dependent on government for support.”

There are concerns that undocumented Haitian immigrants may be reluctant to seek government aid lest they be penalized and deported. Arthurs said: “In every country, including the United States, people are scared to come out and register during crisis time, because after the crisis is finished they fear that they probably have enough information on them to go and pick them up and deport them.”

Paul Taylor, the operations response manager of Team Rubicon UK, an NGO working with partners to coordinate and distribute aid, added: “As ever, there are people who do the work that the rich people don’t want to do and here that’s the Haitian community. There are lot of illegals here as well.

“I think the issue now is what happens to people who don’t have any status here, who might be quite concerned about that. You’ve got to evacuate people from the islands – big reconstruction job – but where do those people go?”

The government of the Bahamas denies that Haitians will be treated differently.

Jack Thompson, a National Emergency Management Agency representative, said: “People are people. All peoples need help, whatever their status. The prime minister was very clear in his remarks that we’re going to help all persons here, irrespective of their nationality or status. There’s no room for differentiating when you’re in disaster.”
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« Reply #3549 on: Sep 14, 2019, 05:16 AM »

‘Only the weak fear competition’: GOP rivals unite to rip Trump in scathing Washington Post op-ed

We are Trump’s Republican challengers. Canceling GOP primaries is a critical mistake.

WA Post

Mark Sanford was governor of South Carolina from 2003 to 2011. Joe Walsh represented Illinois’s 8th Congressional District in the House of Representatives from 2011 to 2013. Bill Weld was governor of Massachusetts from 1991 to 1997. All three are seeking the Republican presidential nomination.

The three of us are running for the Republican nomination for president in a race that will inevitably highlight differences among us on matters of policy, style and background. But we are brought together not by what divides us but by what unites us: a shared conviction that the United States needs a strong center-right party guided by basic values that are rooted in the best of the American spirit.

A president always defines his or her party, and today the Republican Party has taken a wrong turn, led by a serial self-promoter who has abandoned the bedrock principles of the GOP. In the Trump era, personal responsibility, fiscal sanity and rule of law have been overtaken by a preference for alienating our allies while embracing terrorists and dictators, attacking the free press and pitting everyday Americans against one another.

No surprise, then, that the latest disgrace, courtesy of Team Trump, is an effort to eliminate any threats to the president’s political power in 2020. Republicans have long held primaries and caucuses to bring out the best our party has to offer. Our political system assumes an incumbent president will make his case in front of voters to prove that he or she deserves to be nominated for a second term. But now, the Republican parties of four states — Arizona, Kansas, Nevada and South Carolina — have canceled their nominating contests. By this design, the incumbent will be crowned winner of these states’ primary delegates. There is little confusion about who has been pushing for this outcome.

What does this say about the Republican Party? If a party stands for nothing but reelection, it indeed stands for nothing. Our next nominee must compete in the marketplace of ideas, values and leadership. Each of us believes we can best lead the party. So does the incumbent. Let us each take our case to the public. The saying “may the best man win” is a quintessential value that the Republican Party must honor if we are to command the respect of the American people. Cowards run from fights. Warriors stand and fight for what they believe. The United States respects warriors. Only the weak fear competition.

Across the aisle, the Democratic primary challengers are still engaged in a heated competition of debates, caucuses and primaries to give their voters in every corner of our country a chance to select the best nominee. Do Republicans really want to be the party with a nominating process that more resembles Russia or China than our American tradition? Under this president, the meaning of truth has been challenged as never before. Under this president, the federal deficit has topped the $1 trillion mark. Do we as Republicans accept all this as inevitable? Are we to leave it to the Democrats to make the case for principles and values that, a few years ago, every Republican would have agreed formed the foundations of our party?

It would be a critical mistake to allow the Democratic Party to dominate the national conversation during primary and caucus season. Millions of voters looking for a conservative alternative to the status quo deserve a chance to hear alternate ideas aired on the national stage. Let us argue over the best way to maximize opportunities in our communities for everyday Americans while the Democrats debate the merits of government intervention. Let us spend the next six months attempting to draw new voters to our party instead of demanding fealty to a preordained choice. If we believe our party represents the best hope for the United States’ future, let us take our message to the public and prove we are right.

Trump loyalists in the four states that have canceled their primaries and caucuses claim that President Trump will win by a landslide, and that it is therefore a waste of money to invest in holding primaries or caucuses. But since when do we use poll numbers as our basis for deciding whether to give voters an opportunity to choose their leaders, much less their presidents? Answer: We don’t.

Besides, the litigation costs these four state parties will likely be forced to take on in defending legal challenges to the cancellations will almost certainly exceed the cost of holding the primaries and caucuses themselves.

In the United States, citizens choose their leaders. The primary nomination process is the only opportunity for Republicans to have a voice in deciding who will represent our party. Let those voices be heard.


Trump provoked ‘stunned silence’ by shouting ‘where’s my favorite dictator’ at meeting with Egyptian officials: report

Published 14 hours ago

on September 13, 2019

By Bob Brigham

President Donald Trump shocked onlookers at the G7 meeting when he praised the president of Egypt as a dictator.

“Inside a room of the ornately decorated Hotel du Palais during last month’s Group of Seven summit in Biarritz, France, President Trump awaited a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi,” The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

“Mr. Trump looked over a gathering of American and Egyptian officials and called out in a loud voice: ‘Where’s my favorite dictator?’ Several people who were in the room at the time said they heard the question,” the newspaper reported.

The paper could not determine if Sisi heard the remark.

“Even if lighthearted, Mr. Trump’s quip drew attention to an uncomfortable facet of the U.S.-Egypt relationship,” The Journal reported. “Mr. Sisi has drawn criticism for his authoritarian rule since taking power following a 2013 coup. Under Mr. Sisi, Egyptian authorities have been accused of detaining thousands of political opponents, of torturing and killing prisoners and of stymying political opposition, according to reports by the United Nations, U.S. State Department and nongovernmental groups.”

The paper said Steve Mnuchin, John Bolton and Larry Kudlow were in attendance.

“Within minutes of the quip, Mr. Sisi met Mr. Trump and reporters were allowed in. Mr. Trump, among other comments, celebrated his relationship with Mr. Sisi, noting that the two leaders had begun talking with each other soon after Mr. Trump won the presidential election in 2016,” the paper noted.


Air Force fears it could be forced to evacuate an entire base after Trump cuts funds to pay for his wall

on September 14, 2019
Raw Story
By Brad Reed

An internal report from the United States Air Force claims that it could be forced to evacuate an entire base in Alaska because President Donald Trump cut crucial funding to pay for his long-promised border wall.

NBC News reports that the Air Force has written a report detailing the importance of dozens of projects that have seen their funding cut to finance Trump’s wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Among the projects is a boiler replacement at Eielsen Air Force Base in Alaska, which the report says is in “imminent” danger of failing. According to NBC News, the boiler in question “provides all electrical power and steam heat for the base” and the Air Force would have to evacuate the entire base if it went down.

After this evacuation, the Air Force projects that the base “would freeze and require millions of dollars of repair to return to usable conditions.”

Additionally, the report finds that Trump’s cuts will have a negative impact on NATO-related military operations intended to deter Russian aggression in Europe.

“Projects to upgrade airfields in Germany, Luxembourg, Great Britain, Hungary and Slovakia have been shelved, leaving the bases unable to support U.S. and NATO airplanes,” NBC News reports. “Construction of storage facilities and fuel supply has also been postponed, ‘directly limiting theater presence and impairing mission capability and readiness’ and support to Operation Atlantic Resolve within Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, the report says.


‘Barr politicizes everything’: Ex prosecutors rip Trump’s AG for honoring Brett Kavanaugh lawyers

on September 14, 2019
Raw Story
By Bob Brigham

Attorney General William Barr was blasted by former DOJ prosecutors after announcing a controversial choice of recipients of the Department of Justice’s distinguished service award.

“The Justice Department will present one of its most prestigious awards to the lawyers who worked on the highly contentious Supreme Court nomination process of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh,” Katie Benner reported for The New York Times on Friday evening. “Next month, Attorney General William P. Barr will present the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service to those who worked ‘to support the nomination’ of the judge, according to an email reviewed by The New York Times.”

“Typically, the distinguished service honor, the department’s second-highest, is given to employees who worked on significant prosecutions, rather than on judicial nomination processes,” Benner reported.

That decision was blasted by former federal prosecutors.

“What a joke,” tweeted former Assistant U.S. Attorney Elie Honig, who served in the Southern District of New York for eight years and is a CNN legal analyst.

“This prestigious award typically goes to prosecutors who make the biggest cases against terrorists, corrupt politicians, drug cartels, organized crime enterprises, etc.” Honig explained. “And now AG Barr is using it to honor… Team Kavanaugh.”

That view was shared by Mimi Rocah, a legal analyst at rival network MSNBC.

“Barr politicizes everything. Even prestigious awards,” explained Rocah, who also served as a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York.

“My 11-year old daughter managed these words ‘So, basically he gave the award to some people who got some guy he supported a job,'” Rocah noted.

Jaimie Nawady, who was also an SDNY prosecutor, had harsh words.

“Astonishing and wrong. This is not the purpose of DOJ awards. There is no precedent for this,” Nawady said.

“When they go low … they go even lower!” former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade tweeted.

“Rule of leadership – reward what you value. This award shows us what Barr values,” McQuade noted.

Former federal prosecutor Cynthia Alksne also blasted Barr’s actions during a Friday evening interview with MSNBC’s Brian Williams.


GOP lawmakers across the country are destroying democracy

on September 14, 2019

By Sophia Tesfaye, Salon
- Commentary

A change is coming in 2020. Gerrymandered maps are being struck down by courts across the country, and the 2018 midterm elections point to massive turnout in the next election. Republicans, clearly running scared, are preparing for the course correction by breaking, bending and reshaping the rules in an obvious attempt to make a mockery of the democratic process.

This article first appeared in Salon.

From Oregon to North Carolina, GOP lawmakers have used every dirty trick they can to seize power and undermine the power Democrats even after they win elections. They have taken Grover Norquist’s goal — to turn the tone in state capitals toward bitterness and partisanship — to heart in a major way.

“Our goal is to inflict pain. It is not enough to win. It has to be a painful, devastating defeat. Like when the king would take his opponent’s head and spike it on a pole for everyone to see,” Norquist infamously said in the National Review. Except for the shock election of Donald Trump to the presidency, however, Republicans haven’t had the best record of winning of late. Based on their behavior while losing, it seems that the revised Republican goal goes beyond pain to utter destruction.

Take for instance the extreme and ridiculous proposal by a Texas Republican state lawmaker to abolish the state capital of Austin. Apparently upset that the progressive city approved $150,000 in grants to organizations like Planned Parenthood, GOP state Rep. Briscoe Cain called for direct retaliation against the city of more than 950,000 people, saying the Republican-controlled state legislature should get “supreme authority over mayor and council.”

    It’s past time that the #txlege abolish the City of Austin and make it a capital district like that of D.C. (residents retain state lege districts; Lege gets supreme authority over mayor and council) https://t.co/aGfcvfXqZJ

    — (@BriscoeCain) September 11, 2019

Briscoe’s nonsensical proposal came on the same day that Republicans in North Carolina lied to their Democratic colleagues to kill a state budget proposal expanding Medicaid coverage to low-income patients. While at least one Democratic lawmaker was distracted by a 9/11 memorial service, House Republicans rushed to override a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, thereby denying increased health insurance access to thousands of people.

Republicans had promised Democrats they would hold no substantive votes during the 9/11 ceremony, with the GOP rules chair confirming to reporter Laura Leslie that there would be no vote. House Speaker Tim Moore admitted he held the vote to override Cooper’s veto — while many Democrats were absent — simply because the opportunity to break the Democrats’ firewall presented itself.

“This is a travesty of the process and you know it,” Democratic state Rep. Deb Butler complained on the House floor, as the GOP Speaker repeatedly tried cutting her mike. She kept switching mikes and turning them back on. “The trickery that is being evidenced this morning is tantamount to a criminal offense.”

As their 9/11 chicanery makes clear, North Carolina Republicans are some of the worst bad-faith actors in the nation. The Republican-led state legislature led an unprecedented effort to strip Cooper of his powers before he even took office, after an election in which the GOP lost its supermajority in the House and Senate. That was a particularly anti-democratic move, but it is hardly unique to the Tar Heel State.

It’s a replica of efforts by Republicans in Wisconsin in the aftermath of former Gov. Scott Walker’s 2018 defeat, when they attempted to remove Gov.-elect Tony Evers’ power to approve major actions by the attorney general and hand that authority instead to Republican lawmakers. Republicans in Michigan also suddenly wanted to limit the incoming governor’s power after Democrats swept every statewide office in last year’s midterms.

In Florida, when voters overwhelmingly voted to restore voting rights to 1.4 million former convicted felons, Republican lawmakers circumvented the will of the people with a bill that effectively blocked most of them all over again.

And when Republicans didn’t change the rules in response to recent Democratic electoral victories, they ran away and brought the government to a standstill. Republican senators in Oregon fled the state to prevent Democrats from voting on an expansive cap-and-trade bill to limit greenhouse gas emissions earlier this year.

Throughout the country — such as in Tennessee, which has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country — Republicans have tried to block electoral change by imposing egregious restrictions on voter registration drives.

David Frum told us years ago that if conservatives can’t win at the ballot box, they won’t abandon conservatism — they will abandon democracy. Their calls for civility are actually demands for servility. Democrats must understand that, and fight back, before it is too late.

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« Reply #3550 on: Sep 15, 2019, 07:58 AM »

How Moscow Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell Made Himself King of the Senate

His powers don’t come from the Constitution. Or even any legislation.

by Kim Wehle
September 15, 2019 12:44 pm
The Bulwark

Congress returns this week from its extended recess facing three different but equally massive tasks: It must fund the government by the end of the month; consider substantive legislation on a host of pressing issues, such as gun control and trade; and hold oversight (and maybe even impeachment) hearings on the lengthy menu of recklessness served up by the current president of the United States.

Meanwhile, populist sentiment continues to stoke anger and hatred among increasingly polarized voters who face a spectrum of daunting life challenges that the current government refuses to fix.

Voters are pointing fingers, variously, at House Democrats, Republican senators, federal agencies, the federal judiciary, their  state and local counterparts, and of course Donald J. Trump himself. As we approach the November 2020 election, many people believe that the very future of democracy hangs in the balance.

Missing from this conversation is a very troubling constitutional anathema: Much of the logjam in government falls at the feet of a single man whose power does not stem from the Constitution at all. As Senate Majority Leader, Moscow Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess'  McConnell has repeatedly and single-handedly flouted the will of the people and the prerogatives of his governmental counterparts otherwise mandated by the U.S. Constitution. 

Here’s just a sampling: McConnell blocked legislation that would make Election Day a national holiday so that people could more easily participate in their democracy (calling the proposal a “Democratic power grab”); he blocked legislation that would address Russian interference in the 2016 election and shore up election security for 2020 (calling one bill to address Moscow’s nefariousness “highly partisan”); in the wake of multiple mass shootings, he held up Senate debate on reasonable gun legislation that would impose—at a minimum—background checks that nearly 90 percent of the U.S. population supports; and he has stymied legislation aimed at lowering the cost of prescription drugs and enhancing protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

None of this is new. Most infamously, Moscow Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell blocked President Barack Obama’s express power under Article II of the Constitution to appoint Supreme Court justices with the advice and consent of the Senate. Nothing in the Constitution authorizes the Senate Majority Leader to thwart the president’s appointment power by refusing to trigger the advice and consent process in the first place (though neither does anything explicitly prevent McConnell from doing what he did).

Keep in mind that in a representative democracy of 327 million people, McConnell is a single senator from a single state. What this means is that a relative handful of Kentuckians hold the rest of America by the throat. This is not democracy.

The role of Senate Majority Leader is nowhere in the Constitution, which provides only that “each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings.”

Moscow Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell’s power is not set forth in a statute passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by a president, either.

The power instead comes from rules of internal Senate procedure, which give McConnell the authority to raise measures for Senate floor consideration. The Senate website explains that the “standing rules” are merely “a body of precedents created by rulings of presiding officers or by votes of the Senate, a variety of established and customary practices, and ad hoc arrangements the Senate makes to meet specific parliamentary and political circumstances.”

Yet in the hands of an obstructionist-in-chief like McConnell, these “ad hoc arrangements” have functioned to override the constitutional prerogatives of a sitting president and the rest of Congress. In short, McConnell can stop any congressional action in its tracks by refusing to bring it to the Senate floor. In a country founded on the violent and sacrificial rejection of a monarchy, Moscow Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell has crowned himself the King of the Senate.

This constitutional blind spot in government by “We the People” must be fixed. McConnell has way too much power, and as long as he remains at the helm, senators won’t even get the chance to consider rule changes that would enhance the voice of the people.

Kentucky voters: America needs your help.

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« Reply #3551 on: Sep 16, 2019, 03:08 AM »

Blind CEO develops smart cane that can use Google Maps to navigate surroundings

A remarkable technology that enables the blind to use navigation apps with ease.

Tibi Puiu

Who needs to ask for directions nowadays, when you have realtime information about all nearby shops, bus stops, or grocery stores right at your fingertips? It’s so easy to plan a trip using just about any online maps service. You just plug a destination and you get all the steps you need to make and how long this would all take.

Visually impaired people, however, have extremely limited access to this kind of facility and, for the most part, have to rely on navigating their surroundings the same way they have for ages — using a walking cane.

Turkish engineers at the Young Guru Academy (YGA) and WeWALK want to change all that. The startup has developed a smart cane that uses ultrasonic sensors which relay warnings of nearby obstacles through vibrations in the handle.

The cane can be paired via Bluetooth with the WeWALK app on a smartphone to offer navigation instructions. Touchpad controls integrated into the cane allows the wearer to control their smartphone without having to take it out of their pockets, thus leaving one hand free for other tasks like carrying groceries.

Built-in speakers also enable the cane to inform users of nearby sites of interest, such as stores or bus stops that they might not be aware of. The cane comes with native integration for Voice Assistant and Google Maps.

This kind of technology could finally enable visually impaired people to have a taste of the GPS-based navigation apps that we’ve all come to take for granted. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are 39 million people worldwide who are blind and a quarter billion who are visually impaired.

WeWALK was founded by Kursat Ceylan, who has been blind since birth.

    “As a blind person, when I am at the Metro station I don’t know which is my exit … I don’t know which bus is approaching … [or] which stores are around me. That kind of information can be provided with the WeWalk,” he told CNN.

This is clearly some very exciting technology with real potential to improve people’s lives. The biggest challenge lies in pushing this product to the mass market — and the cost is a big obstacle, for the moment. The smart cane is currently priced at $500, something that most people who would benefit from it cannot afford. As the product is scaled, the developers hope that their smart cane will reach more people.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uUkpnjcb1DY

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« Reply #3552 on: Sep 16, 2019, 03:11 AM »

Duh ..............

Americans are waking up': two thirds say climate crisis must be addressed

Major CBS News poll released as part of Covering Climate Now, a collaboration of more than 250 news outlets around the world to strengthen coverage of the climate story
Oliver Milman in New York
16 Sep 2019 13.15 BST

Two-thirds of Americans believe climate change is either a crisis or a serious problem, with a majority wanting immediate action to address global heating and its damaging consequences, major new polling has found.

Amid a Democratic primary shaped by unprecedented alarm over the climate crisis and an insurgent youth climate movement that is sweeping the world, the polling shows substantial if uneven support for tackling the issue.

More than a quarter of Americans questioned in the new CBS News poll consider climate change a “crisis”, with a further 36% defining it as a “serious problem”. Two in 10 respondents said it was a minor problem, with just 16% considering it not worrisome at all.

More than half of polled Americans said they wanted the climate crisis to be confronted right away, with smaller groups happy to wait a few more years and just 18% rejecting any need to act.

“Americans are finally beginning waking up to the existential threat that the climate emergency poses to our society,” said Margaret Klein Salamon, a clinical psychologist and founder of the Climate Mobilization Project. “This is huge progress for our movement – and it’s young people that have been primarily responsible for that.”

But while nearly all of those questioned accept that the climate is changing, there appears to be lingering confusion over why and scientists’ confidence over the causes.

There is a consensus among climate scientists that the world is heating up due to human activities such as burning fossil fuels for electricity generation and transportation, as well as cutting down forests. However, just 44% of poll respondents said human activity was a major contributor to climate change. More than a quarter said our impact was minor or nonexistent.

There is an even starker split on the findings of climate scientists. According to the CBS poll, 52% of Americans say “scientists agree that humans are a main cause” of the climate crisis, with 48% claiming there is disagreement among experts.

“This remains a vitally important misunderstanding – if you believe global warming is just a natural cycle, you’re unlikely to support policies intended to reduce carbon pollution, like regulations and taxes,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, which has made similar findings in its own, long-running polling.

“These results also again confirm a long-standing problem, which is that many Americans still believe scientists themselves are uncertain whether human-caused global warming is happening.

“Our own and others’ research has repeatedly found that this is a critical misunderstanding, promoted by the fossil fuel industry for decades, in order to sow doubt, increase public uncertainty and thus keep people stuck in the status quo, in a ‘wait and see’ mode.”

Similar to previous polls, the CBS research finds sharp ideological differences in attitudes to the climate crisis. While nearly seven in 10 Democratic voters understand that humans significantly influence the climate and 80% want immediate action, just 20% of Republicans think humans are a primary cause and barely a quarter want rapid action.

On the science, nearly three-quarters of Democrats said almost all experts agree that humans are driving climate change, with just 29% of Republicans saying the same.

Age is another key variable. While 70% of 18- to 29-year-olds think climate change is a serious problem or crisis, just 58% over 65 concur. Younger people are far more likely to consider it a personal responsibility to address the climate crisis and to believe that a transition to 100% renewable energy is viable.

Young people have been galvanized by climate science being taught in schools as well as a spreading global activist movement spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who started a wave of school walkouts to demand action. Thunberg recently arrived in the US on a solar-powered yacht, ahead of a major United Nations climate summit in New York on 23 September.

This generational divide even cuts across party affiliation, with two-thirds of Republican voters aged under 45 considering it their duty to address the climate crisis, according to the CBS poll. Just 38% of Republicans aged over 45 feel the same.

“Younger Republicans are much more convinced climate change is a crisis and are supportive of action than older Republicans – which has big implications for the future of the party,” said Leiserowitz.

Around three-quarters of all respondents said they understand that climate change is melting the Arctic, raising sea levels and causing warmer summers. A further two-thirds accept that hurricanes will be made more severe by global heating. Hurricane Dorian, which recently devastated parts of the Bahamas, made 38% of Americans more concerned about the climate crisis, with 56% unswayed.

Leiserowitz said that the relationship between extreme weather events and concern over climate change is a complex one, with people already worried the most likely to say that their alarm has increased when a major storm or flood hits.

Regardless of concern over climate change there appears to be skepticism among Americans about how much humans can do about it. Just 19% said humans can stop rising temperatures and the associated impacts, with nearly half thinking it possible to slow but not stop the changes and 23% refusing to believe humans can do anything at all.

This may well influence the views of leading presidential contenders’ climate plans. Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders, for example, has proposed a rapid remodeling of society where planet-warming emissions from transport and power generation are eradicated within just 11 years.

“By saying we should merely slow and not reverse global warming, we are passively accepting the deaths of billions of people,” said Margaret Klein Salamon, of the Climate Mobilization Project.

“The only thing that can protect us is an all-out, all-hands on deck mobilization, like we did during the second world war. Avoiding the collapse of civilization and restoring a safe climate should be every government’s top priority – at the national, state, and local levels.”

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« Reply #3553 on: Sep 16, 2019, 03:13 AM »

The world has a third pole – and it's melting quickly

An IPCC report says two-thirds of glaciers on the largest ice sheet after the Arctic and Antarctic are set to disappear in 80 years

Gaia Vince
16 Sep 2019 10.30 BST

Many moons ago in Tibet, the Second Buddha transformed a fierce nyen (a malevolent mountain demon) into a neri (the holiest protective warrior god) called Khawa Karpo, who took up residence in the sacred mountain bearing his name. Khawa Karpo is the tallest of the Meili mountain range, piercing the sky at 6,740 metres (22,112ft) above sea level. Local Tibetan communities believe that conquering Khawa Karpo is an act of sacrilege and would cause the deity to abandon his mountain home. Nevertheless, there have been several failed attempts by outsiders – the best known by an international team of 17, all of whom died in an avalanche during their ascent on 3 January 1991. After much local petitioning, in 2001 Beijing passed a law banning mountaineering there.

However, Khawa Karpo continues to be affronted more insidiously. Over the past two decades, the Mingyong glacier at the foot of the mountain has dramatically receded. Villagers blame disrespectful human behaviour, including an inadequacy of prayer, greater material greed and an increase in pollution from tourism. People have started to avoid eating garlic and onions, burning meat, breaking vows or fighting for fear of unleashing the wrath of the deity. Mingyong is one of the world’s fastest shrinking glaciers, but locals cannot believe it will die because their own existence is intertwined with it. Yet its disappearance is almost inevitable.

Khawa Karpo lies at the world’s “third pole”. This is how glaciologists refer to the Tibetan plateau, home to the vast Hindu Kush-Himalaya ice sheet, because it contains the largest amount of snow and ice after the Arctic and Antarctic – about 15% of the global total. However, a quarter of its ice has been lost since 1970. This month, in a long-awaited special report on the cryosphere by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), scientists will warn that up to two-thirds of the region’s remaining glaciers are on track to disappear by the end of the century. It is expected a third of the ice will be lost in that time even if the internationally agreed target of limiting global warming by 1.5C above pre-industrial levels is adhered to.

Whether we are Buddhists or not, our lives affect, and are affected by, these tropical glaciers that span eight countries. This frozen “water tower of Asia” is the source of 10 of the world’s largest rivers, including the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Yellow, Mekong and Indus, whose flows support at least 1.6 billion people directly – in drinking water, agriculture, hydropower and livelihoods – and many more indirectly, in buying a T-shirt made from cotton grown in China, for example, or rice from India.

Joseph Shea, a glaciologist at the University of Northern British Columbia, calls the loss “depressing and fear-inducing. It changes the nature of the mountains in a very visible and profound way.”

Yet the fast-changing conditions at the third pole have not received the same attention as those at the north and south poles. The IPCC’s fourth assessment report in 2007 contained the erroneous prediction that all Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035. This statement turned out to have been based on anecdote rather than scientific evidence and, perhaps out of embarrassment, the third pole has been given less attention in subsequent IPCC reports.

There is also a dearth of research compared to the other poles, and what hydrological data exists has been jealously guarded by the Indian government and other interested parties. The Tibetan plateau is a vast and impractical place for glaciologists to work in and confounding factors make measurements hard to obtain. Scientists are forbidden by locals, for instance, to step out on to the Mingyong glacier, meaning they have had to use repeat photography to measure the ice retreat.

In the face of these problems, satellites have proved invaluable, allowing scientists to watch glacial shrinkage in real time. This summer, Columbia University researchers also used declassified spy-satellite images from the cold war to show that third pole ice loss has accelerated over this century and is now roughly double the melt rate of 1975 to 2000, when temperatures were on average 1C lower. Glaciers in the region are currently losing about half a vertical metre of ice per year because of anthropogenic global heating, the researchers concluded. Glacial melt here carries significant risk of death and injury – far more than in the sparsely populated Arctic and Antarctic – from glacial lake outbursts (when a lake forms and suddenly spills over its banks in a devastating flood) and landslides caused by destabilised rock. Whole villages have been washed away and these events are becoming increasingly regular, even if monitoring and rescue systems have improved. Satellite data shows that numbers and sizes of such risky lakes in the region are growing. Last October and November, on three separate occasions, debris blocked the flow of the Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet, threatening India and Bangladesh downstream with flooding and causing thousands to be evacuated.

One reason for the rapid ice loss is that the Tibetan plateau, like the other two poles, is warming at a rate up to three times as fast as the global average, by 0.3C per decade. In the case of the third pole, this is because of its elevation, which means it absorbs energy from rising, warm, moisture-laden air. Even if average global temperatures stay below 1.5C, the region will experience more than 2C of warming; if emissions are not reduced, the rise will be 5C, according to a report released earlier this year by more than 200 scientists for the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). Winter snowfall is already decreasing and there are, on average, four fewer cold nights and seven more warm nights per year than 40 years ago. Models also indicate a strengthening of the south-east monsoon, with heavy and unpredictable downpours. “This is the climate crisis you haven’t heard of,” said ICIMOD’s chief scientist, Philippus Wester.

There is another culprit besides our CO2 emissions in this warming story, and it’s all too evident on the dirty surface of the Mingyong glacier: black carbon, or soot. A 2013 study found that black carbon is responsible for 1.1 watts per square metre of the Earth’s surface of extra energy being stored in the atmosphere (CO2 is responsible for an estimated 1.56 watts per square metre). Black carbon has multiple climate effects, changing clouds and monsoon circulation as well as accelerating ice melt. Air pollution from the Indo-Gangetic Plains – one of the world’s most polluted regions – deposits this black dust on glaciers, darkening their surface and hastening melt. While soot landing on dark rock has little effect on its temperature, snow and glaciers are particularly vulnerable because they are so white and reflective. As glaciers melt, the surrounding rock crumbles in landslides, covering the ice with dark material that speeds melt in a runaway cycle. The Everest base camp, for instance, at 5,300 metres, is now rubble and debris as the Khumbu glacier has retreated to the icefall.

The immense upland of the third pole is one of the most ecologically diverse and vulnerable regions on Earth. People have only attempted to conquer these mountains in the last century, yet in that time humans have subdued the glaciers and changed the face of this wilderness with pollution and other activities. Researchers are now beginning to understand the scale of human effects on the region – some have experienced it directly: many of the 300 IPCC cryosphere report authors meeting in the Nepalese capital in July were forced to take shelter or divert to other airports because of a freak monsoon.

But aAside from such inconveniences, what do these changes mean for the 240 million people living in the mountains? Well, in many areas, it has been welcomed. Warmer, more pleasant winters have made life easier. The higher temperatures have boosted agriculture – people can grow a greater variety of crops and benefit from more than one harvest per year, and that improves livelihoods. This may be responsible for the so-called Karakoram anomaly, in which a few glaciers in the Pakistani Karakoram range are advancing in opposition to the general trend. Climatologists believe that the sudden and massive growth of irrigated agriculture in the local area, coupled with unusual topographical features, has produced an increase in snowfall on the glaciers which currently more than compensates for their melting.

Elsewhere, any increase in precipitation is not enough to counter the rate of ice melt and places that are wholly reliant on meltwater for irrigation are feeling the effects soonest. “Springs have dried drastically in the past 10 years without meltwater and because infrastructure has cut off discharge,” says Aditi Mukherji, one of the authors of the IPCC report.

Known as high-altitude deserts, places such as Ladakh in north-eastern India and parts of Tibet have already lost many of their lower-altitude glaciers and with them their seasonal irrigation flows, which is affecting agriculture and electricity production from hydroelectric dams. In some places, communities are trying to geoengineer artificial glaciers that divert runoff from higher glaciers towards shaded, protected locations where it can freeze over winter to provide meltwater for irrigation in the spring.

Only a few of the major Asian rivers are heavily reliant on glacial runoff – the Yangtze and Yellow rivers are showing reduced water levels because of diminished meltwater and the Indus (40% glacier-fed) and Yarkand (60% glacier-fed) are particularly vulnerable. So although mountain communities are suffering from glacial disappearance, those downstream are currently less affected because rainfall makes a much larger contribution to rivers such as the Ganges and Mekong as they descend into populated basins. Upstream-downstream conflict over extractions, dam-building and diversions has so far largely been averted through water-sharing treaties between nations, but as the climate becomes less predictable and scarcity increases, the risk of unrest within – let alone between – nations grows.

Towards the end of this century, pre-monsoon water-flow levels in all these rivers will drastically reduce without glacier buffers, affecting agricultural output as well as hydropower generation, and these stresses will be compounded by an increase in the number and severity of devastating flash floods. “The impact on local water resources will be huge, especially in the Indus Valley. We expect to see migration out of dry, high-altitude areas first but populations across the region will be affected,” says Shea, also an author on the ICIMOD report.

As the third pole’s vast frozen reserves of fresh water make their way down to the oceans, they are contributing to sea-level rise that is already making life difficult in the heavily populated low-lying deltas and bays of Asia, from Bangladesh to Vietnam. What is more, they are releasing dangerous pollutants. Glaciers are time capsules, built snowflake by snowflake from the skies of the past and, as they melt, they deliver back into circulation the constituents of that archived air. Dangerous pesticides such as DDT (widely used for three decades before being banned in 1972) and perfluoroalkyl acids are now being washed downstream in meltwater and accumulating in sediments and in the food chain.

Ultimately the future of this vast region, its people, ice sheets and arteries depends – just as Khawa Karpo’s devotees believe – on us: on reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. As Mukherji says, many of the glaciers that haven’t yet melted have effectively “disappeared because in the dense air pollution, you can no longer see them”.

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« Reply #3554 on: Sep 16, 2019, 03:15 AM »

Deforestation damage goes far beyond the Amazon

West Africa and Congo basin are hotspots for forest loss but receive lower global attention

    World losing forest the size of UK each year, report finds

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent
16 Sep 2019 14.39 BST

The burning of the Amazon has caused alarm around the world, from the Vatican to the G7, and there are fears that unless the fires are stopped swiftly the forests could reach a point of no return in the loss of wildlife and biodiversity.

Forest loss has also been happening in other areas of the world but has received a lower level of global attention.

Africa is of particular concern. According to a report on the New York Declaration on Forests, signed in 2014 with the aim of halting deforestation globally by 2030, the new hotspots of increasing forest loss are in west Africa and the Congo basin.

While the greatest losses of forests by area in the years 2014-18 occurred in tropical Latin America, the greatest rate of increase was in Africa, where deforestation rates leapt from less than 2m hectares a year on average from 2001 to 2013, to more than 4m a year from 2014 to 2018. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo rates of deforestation have doubled in the past five years.

Charlotte Streck, co-founder and director of Climate Focus, the thinktank that coordinated the report from 25 forest organisations, said: “Deforestation has increased rapidly in Africa, coming from a relatively low level to begin with, but it is rising very quickly but very quietly.”

Government policy is a key factor. In Brazil the rate of forest loss declined sharply in the mid 2000s after laws were passed and stronger policies put in place to discourage illegal logging and regulate the expansion of cattle ranches and soya plantations. But the signalling of approval for agricultural takeover of the Amazon by the country’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has led to the massive fires.

In Africa much of the demand for logging comes from China, which has taken a strategic interest in the continent, buying land and doing resource deals with governments in exchange for internal investment and development cash.

“African timber is exported to China, and this is one of the three dominant causes of deforestation. China could act on illegal timber and be very effective, for instance if the Chinese government put in a requirement on tracing timber and forest goods,” said Streck.

Globally much of the economic pressure that drives deforestation comes from consumers’ increasingly unhealthy eating habits. Demand for meat drives demand for cheap animal feed, and soya grown on recently deforested land is a key part of intensive factory farming. “Eating less meat makes a difference,” said Streck.

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