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Feb 21, 2020, 07:14 PM
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Author Topic: ENVIRONMENT, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CULTURE  (Read 18445 times)
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« Reply #15 on: Feb 14, 2020, 04:35 AM »

UK to lead global fight against illegal logging and deforestation

Plan to form coalition of developing countries at COP 26 to help support efforts

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent
14 Feb 2020 07.00 GMT

The UK is to spearhead a major global crackdown on illegal timber and deforestation, with plans to form a coalition of developing countries against the trade as part of its hosting of crunch UN climate talks this year.

Deforestation is a leading factor in rising global greenhouse gas emissions, but many developing nations lack the means and institutions to combat illegal logging and regulate forest industries. The Department for International Development (DfID) will shortly lay out plans to help countries strengthen the rule of law, support the trade in responsible forestry and provide on-the-ground assistance to stamp out illegal logging.

“The illegal timber trade robs the earth of trees, which not only help stop climate change, they also play a critically important role in maintaining the world’s threatened biodiversity,” said Zac Goldsmith, a minister for international development. “This is a huge success story for the UK and for the world, and sets the scene for what we hope will be a successful year of international cooperation in the run-up to COP 26.”

The UK will need to form a global coalition of developing countries to put pressure on leading economies to act swiftly on carbon, if this year’s UN climate talks are to succeed. The UK will host the COP 26 talks in Glasgow in November, but the government has faced a troubled start to its presidency, with the abrupt sacking of the intended president, the former energy minister Claire O’Neill, and delays in setting out a clear plan.

All countries are expected to come forward with tougher plans to reduce global emissions as part of COP 26, and experts have said this will only happen if the UK takes the lead in forming a coalition of small and big developing countries, including forested African nations and Indonesia, as well as major economies such as the US, China, India and the EU.

Offering assistance to developing countries, in the form of finance and technical expertise, will be vital to that effort.

Lord Goldsmith, who is rated by Ladbrokes as favourite to take over the reins of COP 26 in Boris Johnson’s expected reshuffle, pointed to some notable victories against deforestation so far. He said targeted intervention by the UK had recently led to an “extremely important” prosecution of a major illegal trading operator in Indonesia, and had encouraged China to strengthen its legal commitments to ending the trade.

“These are vital steps towards making sure there is no safe harbour for illegal timber anywhere in the world,” he said. “The UK will continue to work with China, Indonesia and our other international partners to protect the world’s forests for future generations.”

The new project, still in the planning stages, will build on the government’s forests governance, markets and climate programme, the focus of which includes strengthening the rule of law in affected countries in the developing world, influencing international partners to increase their efforts, supporting responsible trade and helping stakeholders on the ground to act.

The DfID also helps developing countries to access new technology in the fight against deforestation, including electronic wood tracking, which marks trees with digital barcodes that officials can scan at each stage of the supply chain, and a GPS-enabled smartphone app, to enable local communities to monitor and report illegal logging in real time.

In 2005, only about a fifth of Indonesia’s timber trade was legal. But today, after interventions by the UK and other partners, 100% of exports are sourced from independently audited factories and forests.

In Liberia, the programme helped forest communities to negotiate fair contracts with logging companies to stop illegal deforestation, and a new land rights act was signed into law which for the first time recognised women’s rights to land.

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« Reply #16 on: Feb 14, 2020, 04:38 AM »

'I've lost friends': the young climate strikers forced to go it alone

Activism can be lonely in rural areas, but social media lets lone children’s voices be amplified

Jessica Murray
14 Feb 2020 13.07 GMT

In a remote village in north Norfolk, nine-year-old Amelia Bradbury has been standing alone outside her school gates every Friday for months. Like hundreds of thousands of young people across the world, she is following Greta Thunberg’s lead and campaigning for action on the climate crisis – but, far from any of the big city demonstrations, she’s having to go it alone.

“I was quite scared the first time because no one was doing it with me,” says Amelia. “But I’m doing this because I care about something. I really want people to listen to me and to make a difference.”

She holds a handmade sign reading: “I’m striking for our nature”, and it is her passion for wildlife and the outdoors that keeps her going each week. On the weekends she volunteers for Norfolk Wildlife Trust with her family and enjoys birdwatching.

Nevertheless, there are times when striking alone can be difficult. “It is quite hard in the cold, especially when it’s freezing,” she says. A few of her friends at school are interested, but their parents are not so sure – with only one person, it is hard to get the ball rolling.

Although there are young people from all walks of life striking alone, it’s often those in rural areas who struggle to make themselves, and the issues they most care about, heard. Holly Gillibrand, 14, in Fort William has been striking for more than a year: “The bigger towns and cities get all this media attention, obviously, because a lot of people turn up.

“But I think the media tend to forget about the people in the rural places around Scotland and the rest of the UK. We have a different perspective on things and our voices deserve to be put out there just as much as anyone else’s.”

But social media has provided a platform for rural voices to be amplified. In November Amelia’s father uploaded a video of her to Twitter after the prime minister, Boris Johnson, failed to show up to the climate leadership debate before the election. In it she said: “Tomorrow I’m going to be standing outside in the rain and you couldn’t be bothered to turn up in a warm studio to debate the other leaders. How pathetic are you?”

It generated more than 1,000 retweets and praise from the wildlife presenter Chris Packham. “It was a bit crazy but I feel really proud because it shows that people notice and care,” Amelia says.

It was the power of social media that inspired Anna Kernahan, 17, Grace Maddrell, 14, and Helen Jackson, 21, to set up Solo But Not Alone, a Twitter page dedicated to sharing the stories of solo climate strikers.

“People will say: ‘Oh, you’re not alone,’ but it’s hard to see that when you are sitting there at the strike and there’s no one else around you, everyone’s walking past,” says Anna. She strikes alone in Belfast from 12pm to 3pm every Friday, often reading a book or catching up on homework. Although she struggles to get friends to join her, she has one powerful supporter to keep her going – Greta Thunberg.

“My phone crashes whenever she retweets me because she gets so many likes,” says Anna.

Within weeks of setting up Solo But Not Alone at the end of 2019, the trio had hundreds of followers, and have been able to profile solo strikers across the globe.

It has helped them connect with people such as Mulindwa Moses, a 23-year-old climate activist from Uganda who strikes alone on the roadside. At one point he did it for 55 days consecutively, but now just strikes on Fridays and Saturdays, raising awareness for the Save Congo Rainforest and Two Trees a Week campaigns.

Moses was inspired to take action after speaking to people who had lost family members in landslides and floods, which he later found were being caused by the climate crisis. “There are literally no reports about the climate and ecological crisis in the media, which has kept the population ignorant, and leaders are taking advantage of this to not take action,” Mulindwa says.

Living in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, he strikes alone not because he lives in an isolated area, but because of his country’s lack of tolerance for climate activism.

“Being a climate activist in Uganda is very hard,” Mulindwa says. “You cannot hold a strike with large numbers to create awareness because the government [does not] allow it, and I have lost friends, who say they can no longer associate with me because I stand on the side of roads holding signs and spend most of my time planting trees.”

But like other solo climate strikers around the world, his loneliness is eased by the support he receives from fellow climate activists online. Anna says: “We really want to make sure that even if only one person is striking, their voice is heard and it is loud.”

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« Reply #17 on: Feb 14, 2020, 04:48 AM »

Coronavirus outbreak: senior US official accuses China of lack of transparency

Top White House official Larry Kudlow questions approach of Politburo as China brings in ‘wartime’ measures in more cities 

Lily Kuo and agencies
Fri 14 Feb 2020 08.28 GMT

A senior White House official has called on Beijing to be more transparent over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak as Chinese authorities expanded “wartime” measures to limit its spread.

“We are a little disappointed that we haven’t been invited in and we’re a little disappointed in the lack of transparency coming from the Chinese,” said Larry Kudlow, the director of the US National Economic Council.

His comments came after Chinese authorities said they had altered how they count cases, resulting in confusion amid dramatic changes to the reported figures for two days in a row, and dampening hopes that the outbreak may peak later this month.

On Thursday, Hubei officials reported a large spike in cases after including those confirmed by CT scans, not just lab tests. The revision added 254 deaths to the overall Chinese toll.

Then on Friday, China added 121 new deaths – but also removed 108 fatalities from the total, due to what China’s National Health Commission said were “duplicate statistics”.

In its latest update, the commission reported 121 new deaths and 5,090 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of people infected to more than 64,000 worldwide, with 63,851 of the cases in China.

The death toll stands at 1,383 – with three of those deaths outside of mainland China, one in Hong Kong, one in Japan and one in the Philippines.

The commission did not give further explanation of the double-counted cases on Friday.

“Based on the current trend in confirmed cases, this appears to be a clear indication that while the Chinese authorities are doing their best to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the fairly drastic measures they have implemented to date would appear to have been too little, too late,” said Adam Kamradt-Scott, an infectious diseases expert at the Centre for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney.

Chinese authorities also announced that 1,716 health workers had been infected as of 11 February. Six had died. Officials on Friday, responding to questions about how those cases are counted, said that when asymptomatic patients show symptoms during quarantine they would be included as confirmed.

While public health experts have greeted the change in reporting – in order to capture more cases and get more patients needed treatment – positively, others say it raises more questions about the data. The change in diagnostic criteria has been applied only to Hubei province.

“Is the politburo really being honest with us?” Kudlow asked, referring to communist China’s top leadership body. Kudlow said President Xi Jinping had assured Donald Trump that Beijing would accept US help, but “they won’t let us”.

“I don’t know what their motives are. I do know that apparently more and more people are suffering over there,” he said.

At a meeting of senior leaders in Beijing on Thursday, officials called for other areas to “adopt quarantine and rescue measures equal to that of Wuhan”, which has been under lockdown for the past three weeks. The meeting, chaired by the Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, called on Wuhan to speed up classifying and quarantining residents suspected or confirmed of contracting the virus.

In Huanggang, one of the worst-hit areas outside of Wuhan with more than 2,000 cases and at least 59 deaths, authorities issued an emergency measures for 14 days, “fully sealing” all residential areas and banning vehicles, except for those for emergency, medical or official purposes.

Checkpoints would be set up and public security deployed to enforce the measures. Local district committees are to organise residents’ food and supplies. “All residents must not enter or leave their communities without authorisation,” the notice said.

In Dawu county in central Hubei, home to more than 600,000 people, officials also issued an emergency notice on Thursday afternoon that residential areas and buildings would be sealed and vehicles banned. Those who violate the rules “will be detained, according to wartime regulations”. “In extraordinary times, extraordinary actions are needed,” the notice said.

In Zhangwan district in Shiyan city, authorities placed similar restrictions and said public security would help enforce the measures. Gucheng county and Yunmeng county also implemented the same measures for a period of 14 days.

On Friday, China’s ministry of finance said the country was earmarking 80.5bn yuan (£8.5bn) for fighting the epidemic. So far, about half of that has been spent.

Researchers at China National Biotech, a state-owned company, said that human antibodies from survivors had helped patients who were critically ill, prompting calls for recovered patients to donate blood plasma.

    Michael Smith (@MikeSmithAFR)

    I have been put under Home quarantine for 14 days after returning to Shanghai. For my neighbours, only 1 person per household is allowed out once a day. Some renters are being denied access to their homes. This is a city increasingly in lockdown. #coronavirus pic.twitter.com/UMEmbTa8PN
    February 14, 2020

The next few weeks are critical for judging whether quarantine measures have worked, and as residents return to work in major cities. Officials said this year would not see a “peak” in return journeys after the lunar new year holiday and that all parts of the country should “continue protection and control measures”.

Containing the coronavirus in Wuhan, where the virus emerged in December, is still of “utmost importance” in order to achieve “economic and societal development” this year, officials said.

Outside China, one person died in Japan from the virus on Thursday night. Japan’s health ministry said a woman in her 80s living in Kanagawa prefecture, west of Tokyo, had died. She had been transferred between hospitals as her condition worsened and she was confirmed to have had the coronavirus after her death.

Her death brings to three the number of fatalities from the virus outside mainland China.

Meanwhile, the US state department expressed deep concern about North Korea’s vulnerability to the outbreak. The statement comes as Pyongyang scrambles to strengthen quarantine and preventive measures.

North Korea has yet to report a case of the virus, but state media reports have hinted that an uncertain number of people have been quarantined after showing symptoms. Experts say an epidemic in North Korea could be dire because of its chronic lack of medical supplies and poor healthcare infrastructure.

Passengers on a cruise ship that spent two weeks at sea after being turned away by five countries over coronavirus fears started disembarking in Cambodia on Friday.

The MS Westerdam, carrying 1,455 passengers and 802 crew, docked in the Cambodian port town of Sihanoukville on Thursday. The Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen, greeted the passengers with handshakes and bouquets of roses as they stepped off the ship and boarded a waiting bus.

Additional reporting by Pei Wu Lin


Huge rise in coronavirus cases casts doubt over scale of epidemic

China reports 13,332 additional cases due to a change in how authorities are counting them   

Sarah Boseley and Lily Kuo
14 Feb 2020 19.22 GMT

The true scale of the epidemic caused by the new coronavirus in Hubei province has been thrown into doubt after the Chinese authorities reported more than 13,300 extra cases going back over an unknown number of days or weeks.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said the huge jump in cases in Hubei, bringing the total to more than 60,000 worldwide, was due to a change in the way Chinese authorities was counting them.

Cases where doctors have seen chest infection on a CT scan are now being classed as coronavirus rather than just those confirmed by a lab test result, leading to a 254 rise in deaths to a total of 1,370 since the outbreak began. All but two of the deaths have been in China.

In addition to the 13,332 extra cases, Chinese authorities on Thursday reported a further 1,820 laboratory-confirmed cases.

The WHO is now working hard to try to get further details of when the extra cases of what is now being called Covid-19 occurred, to have a true picture of how the epidemic has been developing in Wuhan and other cities in Hubei.

“Most of these [additional] cases relate to a period going back days or weeks,” said Dr Michael Ryan, the WHO’s head of emergencies. “It is retrospective reporting. It is largely due to how cases are being diagnosed and reported.”

On the positive side, it meant Hubei’s doctors would be able to report cases more quickly because they no longer have to wait for lab confirmation, said Ryan.

The political fallout from the outbreak also escalated on Thursday with the firing of Hubei’s party chief, the party chief of Wuhan and the head of China’s Hong Kong and Macau affairs office. Ying Yong, the new party chief of Hubei, came up through the ranks in Zhejiang – where President Xi Jinping, previously served as party secretary – and was also part of anti-corruption campaigns, the president’s signature initiative.

“This is clearly Xi’s move,” said Dali Yang, a professor of political science focusing on China at the University of Chicago. “The stakes are high and he needed time to find the right people for the positions to salvage the Hubei, Wuhan situation.”

On Wednesday, the state-run China Daily reported that a powerful Beijing official parachuted into Wuhan to supervise the fight against the virus had reprimanded local officials for failing to organise treatment quickly enough for people reporting to hospitals with symptoms.

Thursday’s jump in infections may have been another impetus for the purges. “I suspect Xi would have wanted the personnel change to project a sense that he is in control of the situation. The bad numbers undermine that message,” said Sam Crane, who teaches Chinese politics and ancient philosophy at Williams College in the US.

Prof Paul Hunter, a coronavirus expert from the University of East Anglia, said cases that in the past would only have been considered suspect would now fell into the confirmed bracket. Many would-be Covid-19 cases that would have been confirmed if lab tests had been done, but the figures would also include some people who had pneumonia not caused by the coronavirus.

“The issue remains how are we going to be able to say what is happening with the trajectory of the outbreak when the cases definitions change midway through the epidemic?” Hunter said. “Will the figures be backdated? Also, what about cases that have a clinical diagnosis but negative lab tests, are they included in the confirmed cases or not?

“I have no problem with people using different case definitions but please be consistent or if you do change, run both in parallel for a few days so that no one believes the epidemic has suddenly got a lot worse. I suspect but can’t be certain that the underlying trend is still downwards.”

The rest of China is only reporting confirmed cases of Covid-19 infection. So are the 24 countries that have declared cases, which so far number 447 outside of China with two deaths – in the Philippines and Japan. “We are not seeing a dramatic increase outside of China,” said Ryan. The largest cluster was the 218 confirmed cases on the Japanese cruise ship Diamond Princess.

Nor, he said, are they seeing any significant shift in the pattern of mortality or severe illness. Those who were severely ill tended to be male and over 40 – and the more severe, the older they are, with the most dangerous cases in the 60s, 70s and 80s, Ryan said.

He suggested the best hope in the near future lay in the trials of existing antiviral drugs, which include some that are in use against Aids and HIV. Trials have started in China and it is hoped they will be extended to countries such as Singapore and Japan, both of which have significant numbers of cases. “You can imagine being a frontline clinician at the moment. Knowing which drug works would be a magical gift,” said Ryan.

The change in China to include what are known as “probable cases” appeared aimed at heading off complaints about the availability of tests and treatment for residents, as well as questions about whether officials have been underreporting cases.

The shortage of the testing kits has meant many sick residents have been unable to seek treatment, with hospital admission contingent on the test result. Health workers have been calling for authorities to broaden the parameters for diagnosing in order to treat more patients. Some have also questioned the reliability of the tests.

The crisis has also deepened in Hong Kong, where the education minister announced that schools would remain closed until at least the middle of March. They have been closed since the start of the lunar new year at the end of January.

In Vietnam, the authorities announced the lockdown of the commune of Son Loi, a farming region about 25 miles from Hanoi, for 20 days. Checkpoints were set up around the commune and health officials wearing protective suits sprayed disinfectant on vehicles.

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« Reply #18 on: Feb 14, 2020, 04:51 AM »

Wave of violence leaves journalists in Somalia 'under siege', says Amnesty

Shootings, beatings and arbitrary arrests condemned as election candidates urged to protect freedom of expression

Kaamil Ahmed
Fri 14 Feb 2020 07.00 GMT

The increasingly hostile environment in Somalia has left journalists living in fear of both the government and militant groups, according to Amnesty International.

At least eight journalists have been killed since President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed came to power in 2017, while others have survived assassination attempts or been targeted for arrests and censorship, the rights group has said.

“Somali journalists are under siege. From barely surviving explosive-wired cars to being shot, beaten up and arbitrarily arrested, journalists are working in horrifying conditions,” Deprose Muchena, Amnesty’s director for east Africa, said in an statement.

The group claimed a “surge” in violence and intimidation under the current president, known as Farmajo.

Amnesty accused the government of not investigating attacks on journalists and censoring critical reports. Five journalists had been killed in attacks by the militant group al-Shabaab, while two others died at the hands of unidentified assailants, said Amnesty.

Bashiir Maxmud, a Mogadishu-based journalist, said he had received personal threats by telephone demanding he did not air sensitive stories or write about them on Twitter.

“I dared to ignore them and endanger myself to let my people have news from a reliable source,” he said.

Maxmud described the conditions as like working next to a “ticking timebomb”.

“They cannot independently air news for fear of being attacked by the terror groups or the government itself,” he said.

To circumvent censorship, Somali journalists have used social media to post their work. However, the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) has warned of increased arrests for critical social media posts.

The organisation announced on Tuesday that journalist Hussein Ali Gesey was detained and threatened by authorities for a Facebook post criticising the security situation in the south-western town of Dinsoor.

According to the SJS, founded in May last year, 53 journalists were arrested in 2019.

At least 68 journalists have been killed in Somalia since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Most died in targeted murders while others were caught in attacks while on assignment.

In July 2019, Somali reporter Mohamed Sahal Omar and Canadian-Somali journalist Hodan Nalayeh were killed when gunmen attacked a hotel in the port city of Kismayo ahead of local elections.

“We, the journalists working in Somalia and specifically in Mogadishu, take risks working in a city where our colleagues are killed and maimed, and of course many others left the country,” said Maxmud.

Farmajo’s government has also been criticised for proposing a media bill “which seeks to muzzle freedom of expression rights, both offline and online”, according to the African Freedom of Expression Exchange.

Press freedom advocates Reporters Sans Frontières said the law’s “draconian provisions” involved a register of journalists, a government-appointed regulatory board and a restrictive media code.

Amnesty called on candidates in Somalia’s forthcoming elections to protect freedom of expression in the country.

“President Farmajo must take immediate steps to ensure prompt, thorough, independent and effective investigations into myriad allegations of violations of human rights and media freedom. Those suspected to be responsible must be brought to justice in fair trials,” said Muchena.

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« Reply #19 on: Feb 14, 2020, 04:53 AM »

Five Star's Luigi Di Maio calls on Italians to protest against his government

Italian foreign minister’s move is sign of turmoil between coalition partners M5S and PD

Angela Giuffrida in Rome
Fri 14 Feb 2020 05.00 GMT

The Italian foreign minister and former leader of the Five Star Movement (M5S) is calling for protests this weekend against the government he sits in, as Italy appears set for another period of political instability.

Luigi Di Maio said the Italian people “must peacefully demonstrate” in Rome on Saturday against a system that “wants to cancel our laws”.

The uneasy coalition between the anti-establishment M5S and the centre-left Democratic party (PD) was formed last year to prevent elections that could have brought Matteo Salvini’s far-right League to power, but has been seriously weakened by dwindling support for M5S and a steady exodus of its elected representatives.

The appeal to protest was ramped after Matteo Renzi, the former prime minister who leads Italia Viva, a PD splinter group that is part of the government coalition, on Tuesday threatened a no-confidence vote on the M5S justice minister, Alfonso Bonafede, in a row over justice reforms.

M5S, founded by the comedian Beppe Grillo, was phenomenal in opposition, enabling it to come first in national elections in March 2018 with 33% of the vote. But it has been less successful at governing, with Salvini capitalising on the party’s inexperience to double support for the League while the two parties were in coalition.

M5S lost over half of its voters since 2018 with bruising defeats in recent regional elections in Emilia-Romagna and Calabria testament to just how bad things have become.

Jacopo Iacoboni, author of The Experiment, a book about M5S, said Di Maio’s call to protest was an attempt to remind the party of its earliest ideals.

Di Maio, who quit as party leader in January amid party turmoil, claims the government is planning to backtrack on a policy to reduce the pensions of former MPs. Curtailing parliamentary privileges was an M5S rallying cry and among the first policies approved during its short-lived alliance with the League.

He said the government is conspiring to abolish the universal basic income, another key M5S policy that was rolled out last year after a fierce budget battle with the EU.

“Di Maio is aiming to reaffirm that M5S remains strictly devoted to its main historical issues,” Iacoboni said. “By doing so, he is not helping his own government at all. However, the idea is not so much to produce a real crisis, but to make his people feel alive and what remains of M5S voters to feel comfortable with their own political history.”

Nicola Zingaretti, who leads PD, called Saturday’s protest “a mistake” and invited Di Maio to “look to the future”.

But nostalgia is motivating the 33-year-old as he tries to revive the angry spirit of a movement that drew swaths of supporters to Italy’s piazzas when it burst on to the scene in 2009, eventually becoming the country’s most powerful political force.

M5S, however, seized power by breaking its rule to never form a coalition. Its tie-up with the League sullied its image among some voters and marked the beginning of discontent within the party, while the subsequent alliance with PD is seen as a betrayal of its origins.

More than 20 M5S MPs have either left the party or been kicked out since it entered government. Gregorio De Falco was the first to be ejected after he voted against Salvini’s draconian anti-immigration bill.

“They lost their ideals,” said De Falco, who is now among other M5S rebels in parliament’s “mixed group”.
Italy’s progressives had lost hope. The Sardines movement is starting to restore it.

A sign that popular measures do not necessarily retain voter loyalty can be gleaned from the basic income. Take-up of the allowance, which Di Maio said would lift millions of people out of poverty, has been the biggest in Calabria, where M5S has lost supporters to the League and its allies. Meanwhile, part of the initiative that was intended to help claimants find jobs has not been implemented.

“The battle over a single law didn’t paid off,” said De Falco.

The PD-M5S coalition’s survival is now hinged on M5S – its largest party – stabilising itself. Vito Crimi, an M5S senator, is at the helm until a new leader is elected in March.

Salvatore Capasso, a former M5S voter who receives about €500 a month from the basic income, said he was sceptical that the protest would be successful.

“I voted for them as they seemed like people who could change the country,” he said. “The income helps but they didn’t keep the promise of helping people find stable jobs. It was a mistake to join with Salvini, and even more so, with PD.”

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« Reply #20 on: Feb 14, 2020, 05:06 AM »

William Barr says Trump's tweets 'make it impossible to do my job'

Attorney general says he will not be ‘bullied’ over decisions but some observers question his motives

Joan E Greve and Maanvi Singh
Fri 14 Feb 2020 00.58 GMT

The US attorney general, William Barr, publicly rebuked Donald Trump on Thursday, saying that the president’s tweets about the case of Roger Stone “make it impossible for me to do my job” and that he would not be “bullied or influenced” over justice department decisions.

In an interview with ABC News, the attorney general acknowledged his comments could leave him open to backlash from the president, who is notoriously intolerant of criticism from his aides. But Barr said he was determined to lead the justice department without being influence by outside forces, including the president.

“I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,” Barr told ABC.

The attorney general emphasized Trump “has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case”, but he acknowledged the president’s comments undercut his authority.

Despite Barr insisting he will not be “bullied” by Trump on justice department matters, some commentators were skeptical that Barr was actually trying to distance himself from the president.

An Obama-era justice department official, Matthew Miller, wrote on Twitter: “Don’t be fooled by this one, people. Barr is telling the president that his impulsiveness is making it politically harder for him to deliver the results he wants. If Trump would just shut up, Barr could take care of him much more effectively.”

“The best indicator of future performance is past performance,” wrote the US congresswoman Val Demings, of Florida. “Attorney General Barr’s past performance was to mislead the American people (about the Mueller Report) in order to cover up wrongdoing by the president. Why shouldn’t we believe that’s exactly what he’s doing now?”

    ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics)

    EXCLUSIVE: Attorney General Bill Barr: If the president "were to say ‘go investigate somebody’...and you sense it’s because they’re a political opponent, then an attorney general shouldn’t carry that out, wouldn’t carry that out." https://t.co/lBtFOWpLkC pic.twitter.com/YcJ0GruGeB
    February 13, 2020

In his interview with ABC, Barr added that public statements and tweets about the department and its pending cases “make it impossible for me to do my job and to assure the courts and the prosecutors in the department that we’re doing our work with integrity”.

He added: “I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody ... whether it’s Congress, a newspaper editorial board, or the president. I’m gonna do what I think is right. And you know … I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.”

The White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, responded by saying the president “wasn’t bothered” by Barr’s comments: “Barr has the right, just like any American citizen, to publicly offer his opinions. President Trump uses social media very effectively to fight for the American people against injustices in our country.”

    ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics)

    NEW: White House press sec. Stephanie Grisham says President Trump "wasn’t bothered" by Attorney General Bill Barr's comments to @ABC News. https://t.co/crNbWi6YpG pic.twitter.com/eK4dd9BdZ0
    February 13, 2020

The attorney general’s remarkable rebuke comes amid an intensifying fallout over the Stone case, after the justice department overruled its own prosecutors who had recommended that Stone, a longtime Trump ally and confidant, be sentenced to seven to nine years in prison. The four prosecutors on the case subsequently resigned in protest.

The department has insisted the decision to undo the sentencing recommendation was made on Monday night before Trump’s tweet calling the recommended sentence “very horrible and unfair”.

Barr, a Trump loyalist, is also under fire for the reversal, which has drawn fierce condemnation from former justice department figures and leading Democrats who have warned of an “abuse of power”.

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, speaking on Fox News, said the president should heed Barr’s advice. “I think the president should listen,” McConnell told the host Bret Baier. “If the attorney general says it’s getting in the way of doing his job, the president should listen to the attorney general.”

Barr is not the only high-profile figure to have criticized Trump this week. On Wednesday, the former White House chief of staff John Kelly spoke out against the treatment of the fired impeachment inquiry witness Alexander Vindman.

Stone was convicted in November of tampering with a witness and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 election. He is scheduled to be sentenced next week.

Agencies contributed reportin


The New York City bar goes after William Barr

Jennifer Rubin
Opinion writer
Wa Post
February 14, 2020

In a rare act of public challenge to the Trump administration, the New York City bar has written a remarkable letter to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz as well as the chairs and ranking minority-party members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees — Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Rep. Douglas A. Collins (R-Ga.), Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). The letter begins:

    We write to express our deep concerns about the impartial administration of justice in connection with the prosecution of Roger Stone in federal court in Washington, D.C., and to call for immediate investigations by Congress and by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General. Recent actions by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, a component of the United States Department of Justice, raise serious questions about whether the Department of Justice is making prosecutorial decisions based not on neutral principles but in order to protect President Trump’s supporters and friends. In our criminal justice system, a single standard must apply to all who are accused or convicted of violating the law — unequal treatment based on political influence is to be deplored in all cases but is especially dangerous if it emanates from the presidency.

The letter recounts the facts surrounding Stone’s crime and conviction, the sentencing recommendation and revision, and Trump’s public intervention. The letter bats down the notion that this is any way normal. The bar writes: “The Department of Justice is not in the habit of taking one position in court and then, without explanation, taking a startling different position on the very next day. ... We would applaud a generalized initiative by the Department of Justice that encourages judges to depart from those recommendations when justice requires. But this is not what the Department of Justice has done here.”

Instead, the bar says this appears “from all external circumstances to be an instance of President Trump and Attorney General [William P.] Barr acting in concert to protect Stone from punishment.” The letter argues that “the mere fact and timing of the Department of Justice decision to overrule the prosecutors who handled the case — just hours after President Trump’s tweet — is itself suggestive of improper influence. Even this appearance of improper influence is detrimental to the fair administration of justice, the rule of law and the public’s trust in the justice system.” And, of course, by weighing in with a congratulatory tweet, we know Trump viewed this as a political act.

The bar makes clear that this action is part of a pattern:

    The City Bar has previously criticized the Attorney General for his failure to recuse himself from the Department of Justice’s review of the whistleblower complaint, in which the Attorney General was himself mentioned during the Trump-Zelensky phone call of July 25, 2019. We also have also called for congressional investigation of several public pronouncements by the Attorney General that we believe were inconsistent with the independence required of his office. The present case raises more direct, and more serious, questions concerning the role of presidential influence in prosecuting individual criminal cases. All prior Presidents, at least since Watergate, made it a practice to decline to comment on ongoing cases being handled by the Department of Justice. This practice protected the criminal justice system from improper presidential influence. ... [If departure from the practice] is tolerated, it will undermine the rule of law on which our nation was founded and on which we rely as a foundation of our democracy.

The letter then calls for “Congress and the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General to begin immediate investigations into these unusual and troubling events.”

The state bar is the entity with the real muscle, as it has the power to discipline and ultimately to disbar members. But this is yet another flare sent up to the legal profession, Justice Department and courts that Trump’s conduct is intolerable and must be resisted.

If Barr is impervious to professional sanction, then perhaps this sort of statement will empower Barr’s subordinates to refuse his dictates and the courts to hold the line against political corruption of our legal system. You can expect former Justice Department employees, some who have individually spoken out, to make a joint showing of opposition to Barr’s actions and to support Justice Department staff members who choose to defy his political orders.


An emboldened Trump now freely admits he sent Giuliani to dig up dirt on Bidens – after lying for months he had not

on February 14, 2020
By David Badash, The New Civil Rights Movement

President Donald Trump has just admitted he sent his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to Ukraine to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and Biden’s son Hunter. This is the first time Trump has made this admission, previously he has denied directing the former NYC mayor and at times even distancing himself from him.

Trump made the admission in a podcast to Geraldo Rivera, who asked: “Was it strange to send Rudy Giuliani to Ukraine, your personal lawyer? Are you sorry you did that?”

“No, not at all,” Trump replied, as CNN reports, before detailing his though process and reasons for turning outside the government and established processes.
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“Here’s my choice: I deal with the Comeys of the world, or I deal with Rudy,” Trump said, calling his attorney a “crime fighter.”

Trump explained that he has “a very bad taste” of the US intelligence community, because of the Russia investigation, so he turned to Giuliani.

“So when you tell me, why did I use Rudy, and one of the things about Rudy, number one, he was the best prosecutor, you know, one of the best prosecutors, and the best mayor,” Trump said. “But also, other presidents had them. FDR had a lawyer who was practically, you know, was totally involved with government. Eisenhower had a lawyer. They all had lawyers.”

As recently as November, as the impeachment inquiry was expanding, Trump was asked if he has told Giuliani to go to Ukraine to dig up dirt.

“No, I didn’t direct him,” Trump lied.


Trump raged and swore at aides because his enemies aren’t being prosecuted: report

on February 14, 2020
Raw Story
By Roxanne Cooper

There are two key ways a president can abuse the Justice Department and federal prosecutorial powers: he can protect his friends, and he can go after his enemies.

In recent days and months, especially with developments around the Michael Flynn and Roger Stone cases, observers have been deeply concerned that President Donald Trump is engaging in the first kind of abuse. But according to a new report from the Washington Post, what Trump really cares about — and what he is really furious hasn’t happened yet — is the prosecution of his enemies.

The report explained:
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    Behind that public fight, according to people familiar with the discussions, is a deeper tension between Trump and Barr’s Justice Department over the lack of criminal charges against former FBI director James B. Comey and those close to him.

    The flare-up over the Stone case comes against a backdrop of growing behind-the-scenes anger from the president toward the Justice Department — more about whom the department has not charged with crimes than about whom it has charged, according to people familiar with the discussions

    Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz referred Comey’s handling of the memos to prosecutors for possible criminal prosecution, but lawyers quickly determined it was not a close call and did not seek to build a case.

    That sent Trump into a rage, according to people briefed on his comments. He complained so loudly and swore so frequently in the Oval Office that some of his aides discussed it for days, these people said. Trump repeatedly said that Comey deserved to be charged, according to their account.    

    “Can you [expletive] believe they didn’t charge him?” Trump said on the night of the decision, these people said.

It’s not just Comey. The report noted that Trump has also been eager to see charges against Comey’s former deputy, Andrew McCabe. And Trump also reportedly became enraged when the Washington Post reported in January that U.S. Attorney John Huber’s investigation into vague allegations about Hillary Clinton came up dry. (Trump had asked former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to look into Clinton, according to former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.)

The Post continued:

    Separately, Barr has tapped U.S. Attorney John Durham in Connecticut to investigate whether any crimes were committed by FBI and CIA officials in the pursuit of allegations in 2016 that Russia interfered in the election to benefit Trump’s campaign.    

    After learning that the Huber investigation is not likely to produce charges, Trump has become more insistent that Durham finish his work soon, according to people familiar with the discussions. Trump, these people said, wants to be able to use whatever Durham finds as a cudgel in his reelection campaign.    

    All of that frustration has fed into the public fight over the Stone case.

What’s not clear from the report is how much Trump has directly expressed this anger and desire for prosecutions to Barr himself. On Thursday, Barr claimed in an interview with ABC News that Trump hasn’t asked him to do anything in a criminal case. It’s not clear if that’s true — but even if Trump hasn’t made his demands explicit to Barr, there’s no doubt the attorney general knows what’s expected of him.


Top federal judge issues rare statement after Trump goes after Roger Stone court case

on February 13, 2020
By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

After President Donald Trump’s attacks on Judge Amy Berman Jackson overseeing the criminal case against his ally Roger Stone, the chief judge in the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. spoke out Thursday against undue influence.

“Public criticism or pressure is not a factor” in sentencing decisions, Chief Judge Beryl Howell said in a statement.

Trump had lashed out at District Judge Jackson in a recent tweet, falsely accusing her on Tuesday of having put Paul Manafort — the president’s former campaign manager — in solitary confinement.
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That attack came after Trump had expressed outrage that the U.S. Justice Department recommended Stone receive a sentence of up to nine years. In a move dictated by Attorney General Bill Barr, the department subsequently amended its sentencing memo and called for a more limited sentence. These moves drew widespread criticism as it appeared that the president or his appointees were directly intervening in a criminal case to benefit his friend.

Howell seems to have been concerned that the outrage around the sentencing could influence the public perception of the integrity of Jackson’s sentencing decision, which is still forthcoming.

“The Judges of this Court base their sentencing decisions on careful consideration of the actual record in the case before them; the applicable sentencing guidelines and statutory factors; the submissions of the parties, the Probation Office and victims; and their own judgment and experience,” Howell said.


John Bolton backs up John Kelly in Twitter fight with Donald Trump

on February 14, 2020
Raw Story
By Sarah K. Burris

Former national security adviser John Bolton backed up former White House chief of staff John Kelly in a tweet on Thursday.

Thursday morning, Kelly spoke out in support of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, which earned him the ire of President Donald Trump.

    ….which he actually has a military and legal obligation to do. His incredible wife, Karen, who I have a lot of respect for, once pulled me aside & said strongly that “John respects you greatly. When we are no longer here, he will only speak well of you.” Wrong!

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 13, 2020

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Bolton responded by saying that he knows Kelly to be “an honorable man.”

“John and I have disagreed at times, as is commonplace at senior government levels, but he has always served his country faithfully. Conservatives especially have a responsibility to reject baseless attacks upon him,” he tweeted.

    John Kelly is an honorable man. John and I have disagreed at times, as is commonplace at senior government levels, but he has always served his country faithfully. Conservatives especially have a responsibility to reject baseless attacks upon him.

    — John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) February 13, 2020

Vindman responded to Trump’s attacks in a statement from his attorney.


John Kelly just made these 4 incredible assertions about Trump — and it’s already getting under his skin

on February 14, 2020
By Alex Henderson, AlterNet

Three years after he was sworn in as president of the United States, one thing that is painfully obvious about Donald J. Trump is that he insists on having unquestioning loyalists in his administration and has zero tolerance for those who aren’t. That’s why Attorney General William Barr, White House Adviser Kellyanne Conway, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are still in his good graces and why former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former National Security Adviser John Bolton, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former Defense Secretary James Mattis are all gone. Another major departure from the Trump Administration was that of Marine Corps veteran John F. Kelly, who served as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) before becoming White House chief of staff in July 2017 and remaining in that position until early January 2019.

Like Bolton, Tillerson and Mattis, Kelly grew incredibly frustrated with Trump; nonetheless, Kelly mostly held his tongue after leaving the White House. But the retired Marine Corps general, during a 75-minute speech and Q&A session at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, New Jersey on Wednesday night, February 12, spoke candidly and frankly about Trump. And Kelly wasn’t shy about criticizing the president, who is angrily lashing out at him on Twitter.

The morning after Kelly’s Morristown appearance, Peter Nicholas covered the event in The Atlantic. Trump, on Twitter, boasted about firing Kelly and posted, “When I terminated John Kelly, which I couldn’t do fast enough, he knew full well that he was way over his head. Being Chief of Staff just wasn’t for him. He came in with a bang, went out with a whimper, but like so many X’s, he misses the action & just can’t keep his mouth shut, which he actually has a military and legal obligation to do.”

    When I terminated John Kelly, which I couldn’t do fast enough, he knew full well that he was way over his head. Being Chief of Staff just wasn’t for him. He came in with a bang, went out with a whimper, but like so many X’s, he misses the action & just can’t keep his mouth shut,.

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 13, 2020

    ….which he actually has a military and legal obligation to do. His incredible wife, Karen, who I have a lot of respect for, once pulled me aside & said strongly that “John respects you greatly. When we are no longer here, he will only speak well of you.” Wrong!

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 13, 2020

In other words, Kelly is really getting to Trump.

Here are some of the most riveting moments from the event, which was presented by New Jersey’s Drew University.

1. Kelly defended Alexander Vindman’s actions in Ukraine scandal

On Friday, February 7, Trump fired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman from the National Security Council (NSC) — an obvious act of revenge against Vindman for testifying during House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. But Kelly defended Vindman, referencing Trump’s now-infamous July 25 phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The 69-year-old Kelly told the crowd, “Through the Obama Administration up until that phone call, the policy of the U.S. was militarily to support Ukraine in their defensive fight against…. the Russians. And so, when the president said that continued support would be based on X, that essentially changed. And that’s what (Vindman) was most interested in.”

Kelly said of Vindman, “He did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave. He went and told his boss what he just heard.”

2. Kelly asserted that Vindman was right to disobey ‘an illegal order’

On July 25, Trump asked Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden — and House Democrats, during Trump’s impeachment trial, asserted that Trump made that investigation a condition of military aid to Ukraine (which Trump withheld). Kelly told the crowd in New Jersey that when Vindman heard Trump tell Zelensky that he wanted the Bidens investigated, that was like hearing “an illegal order.”

Kelly explained, “We teach them, ‘Don’t follow an illegal order. And if you’re ever given one, you’ll raise it to whoever gives it to you that this is an illegal order — and then tell your boss.’”

3. Kelly stressed that Trump will never convince Kim Jong Un to ‘give his nuclear weapons up’

Trump once mocked Kim Jong Un, as “Little Rocket Man,” but that was before he met with North Korea’s communist dictator and insisted that he would be able to persuade him to swear off all nuclear weapons. Kelly didn’t mince words in New Jersey, where he told the crowd that Jong Un “will never give his nuclear weapons up. Again, President Trump tried — that’s one way to put it — but it didn’t work. I’m an optimist most of the time, but I’m also a realist. And I never did think Kim would do anything other than play us for a while, and he did that fairly effectively.”

4. Kelly criticized Trump for intervening in Eddie Gallagher case

Eddie Gallagher is the U.S. Navy SEAL who was charged with murder in connection with the death of a fighter for ISIS (Islamic State, Iraq and Syria). Gallagher was acquitted of murder in a military court, but was convicted of posing with the ISIS member’s dead body. Trump intervened in the case, opposing the U.S. Navy’s decision to oust Gallagher — and Kelly asserted that Trump should have stayed out of it and let the Navy deal with Gallagher as it saw fit.

“The idea that the commander in chief intervened there, in my opinion, was exactly the wrong thing to do,” Kelly told the crowd in Morristown. “Had I been there, I think I could have prevented it.


Moscow Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell confirms he will ram through a Supreme Court confirmation just before the election if it opens up

on February 14, 2020
Raw Story
By Matthew Chapman

On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell (R-KY) confirmed on Fox News that he will force through a Supreme Court confirmation if a seat becomes vacant between now and the election in November.

“If you’re asking me a hypothetical about whether this Republican Senate would confirm a member of the Supreme Court due to a vacancy created this year — yeah, we would fill it,” he said.

This is a complete reversal of McConnell’s attitude after Justice Antonin Scalia died four years ago to the day. At that time, he said President Barack Obama had no right to make a nomination in an election year, and the American people should decide the next justice in the presidential election — and he falsely claimed that Vice President Joe Biden had already set such a precedent.

He claims this situation is different because in now, the White House and the Senate are the same party — another new rule he apparently invented out of thin air.

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« Last Edit: Feb 14, 2020, 06:55 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #21 on: Feb 14, 2020, 05:30 AM »

Of course ..... and the Repiglicans cheer on .......

U.S. Readied Sanctions on Russian Oligarch’s Associates—Then Mysteriously Backed Off

“Somebody overruled Treasury, essentially,” one sanctions expert said. “That’s the most likely scenario.”

Betsy Swan
Political Reporter
Published Feb. 14, 2020
Daily Beast

Something strange happened in mid-December involving Oleg Deripaska, the Russian oligarch.

Late last year, the U.S. government signaled that it was about to level a new round of sanctions targeting people and entities linked to Deripaska, according to two Western officials with knowledge of the communication. Back in April 2018, the U.S. sanctioned the oligarch, who once lent millions of dollars to convicted Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort as part of a decades-long relationship between the two men. Over the following months, Deripaska’s allies made a deal with Treasury to limit Deripaska’s control over the companies in exchange for sanctions relief. Then Treasury lifted the sanctions on the companies—though the sanctions on the oligarch himself are still in place. In the year since then, it’s been all quiet on the Deripaska sanctions front.

Until December, that is. What’s strange is that despite the signal, Treasury didn’t follow through and the sanctions—which would have targeted the unnamed people and entities because of their proximity to Deripaska—didn’t materialize. It’s been two months since the U.S. indicated that the new sanctions were about to come out, and there’s been no movement from Treasury on the oligarch. The two months of inaction has stirred suspicions of political interference in the sanctions process.

A Treasury Department spokesperson declined to comment for this story, and the White House did not respond to requests for comment. A State Department spokesperson said Foggy Bottom does not preview specific sanctions actions and would not confirm or deny whether any specific person or entity was being considered for sanctions.

“We have and will continue to impose costs on Russia until it ceases its reckless behavior,” the spokesperson added.

Brian O’Toole, formerly a senior official at OFAC, said the apparent freeze on pending Deripaska sanctions may be a case of political meddling. If Treasury canceled the sanctions because officials there thought Russian authorities were getting in line and rendering them unnecessary, then that could explain the pause, he said.

“If there was no such promise made or no such deal that was struck, then I think the pulling of the action suggests that there was a political decision to pull it, not a technocratic decision,” O’Toole added. “Somebody overruled OFAC, essentially—that’s the most likely scenario.”

And Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat who has focused on Deripaska, said the news concerned him.

“In the latest episode of the sordid spectacle of Trump helping Putin, attempted constraint of a Putin buddy has apparently once again been thwarted,” he said in a statement. “In previous episodes, Trump granted special treatment for Deripaska. A strong bipartisan House vote resolved no way. Trump sycophant McConnell blocks the resolution shortly before the announcement of a new Russian aluminum plant in Kentucky. A year later, even the Trump Treasury Department apparently recognized the wrongdoing, but doing wrong to benefit Putin is always right in the Trump Administration.”

Deripaska, a Russian aluminum magnate with an estimated net worth of $4.5 billion, entered the Treasury Department’s crosshairs in the wake of the Kremlin’s campaign to shape American opinion about the 2016 election.

Manafort and Deripaska have known each other for more than a decade. Manafort said he represented Deripaska “on business and personal matters,” per a statement to CNN. In 2005, according to the AP, Manafort pitched Deripaska on a public relations campaign that would “greatly benefit the Putin government.”

“Treasury’s communication about plans for additional sanctions likely indicates that as of mid-December, the department felt the current measures aren’t doing enough to change the oligarch’s behavior.”

The relationship grew complicated when, per 2014 Cayman Island court documents, Manafort came to owe Deripaska $19 million. Despite that, they appear to have kept an open communication channel during the 2016 presidential campaign. Manafort’s spokesperson confirmed that he and an associate discussed sharing updates on the campaign with Deripaska during his time as chairman.

“If he needs briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote in one email.

On April 6, 2018, the department announced sanctions on Deripaska and En+ Group, a holding company that controlled Deripaska’s Russian aluminum giant, Rusal. At the time of the sanctions, Deripaska was the majority shareholder of En+.

The sanctions sent global aluminum markets into a tailspin, and many of America’s Western European allies—including Ireland and Sweden—panicked about the impact sanctions would have. Then a mad scramble commenced to find a way to punish Deripaska without upending a major sector of the global economy. Lord Gregory Barker, the chairman of the board of En+, negotiated a deal with Treasury that purported to limit Deripaska’s control of Rusal and EN+ in exchange for sanctions relief. Treasury signed on, and Deripaska began to unwind himself from En+.

But the deal immediately drew criticism. A document reviewed by The New York Times indicated that the agreement would let Deripaska and his allies maintain control of En+ while also letting him get out of nine figures’ worth of debt.

On top of that, Rusal—the aluminum company that En+ controls—picked up a new board chairman as part of the deal for sanctions relief. Its pick was a French national named Jean-Pierre Thomas who regularly appeared on Russian state TV and defended Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, as The Daily Beast first reported.

The addition of Thomas was viewed as an apparent effort by Rusal to poke the U.S. in the eye; Treasury specifically said Russia’s enabling of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons attacks on civilians was part of the reason for the new sanctions. Thomas, however, had pushed conspiracy theories trying to exonerate Assad from responsibility for those very chemical weapons attacks. Two weeks after The Daily Beast story ran, he was kicked off Rusal’s board at the orders of Treasury, per the company.

Treasury’s communication about plans for additional sanctions likely indicates that as of mid-December, the department felt the current measures aren’t doing enough to change the oligarch’s behavior. It’s unclear if the two months that followed got Treasury officials to change their minds or if intervention from some outside force kept them from following through.

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« Reply #22 on: Feb 14, 2020, 06:18 AM »

And the Repiglicans cheer on .........

‘Republicans own this — but do they care?’ MSNBC’s Mika says Trump already committing new impeachable acts

on February 14, 2020
Raw Story
By Travis Gettys

MSNBC’ Mika Brzezinski said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) nailed his ominous prediction about President Donald Trump’s acquittal during the Senate impeachment trial.

The “Morning Joe” co-host rolled a clip of the House impeachment manager warning Senate Republicans that an emboldened Trump might leverage official acts for domestic political gain, just as he had with Ukraine’s military aid in exchange for dirt on Joe Biden.

“If this Senate were to say that’s acceptable, then precisely as was outlined in that question could take place all across America in the context of the next election and any election,” Jeffries said two weeks ago. “Grants allocated to cities or towns or municipalities across the country, but the president could say, ‘You’re not going to get that money, Mr. Mayor, Mrs. County-Executive, Mrs. Town Supervisor, unless you endorse me for re-election.’ The president could say that to any governor of our 50 states. That’s unacceptable. That cannot be allowed to happen in our democratic republic.”

However, as Brzezinski said, that’s exactly what has already happened, when Trump tweeted out a message to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo that appeared to dangle a policy change on Global Entry for the state’s residents in exchange for ending investigations into the president’s personal businesses there.

    I’m seeing Governor Cuomo today at The White House. He must understand that National Security far exceeds politics. New York must stop all of its unnecessary lawsuits & harrassment, start cleaning itself up, and lowering taxes. Build relationships, but don’t bring Fredo!

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 13, 2020

Chuck Rosenberg — a former U.S. attorney, senior FBI official and acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration — found the president’s tweet disgusting.

“There is a rank inconsistency within it,” Rosenberg said. “First he says national security is much more important than politics, and in the very next sentence, there’s the rank politics, right? The very next sentence after talking about the primacy of national security there comes the threat. If he doesn’t get what he wants, a cessation to the lawsuits that have been filed against him and his organizations by New York state, then he’s going to exact revenge.”

“Mr. Jeffries was spot-on,” he added. “I give him credit for that, but this has been a pattern we’ve seen over and over and over again, and I think it’s deeply disturbing.”

Brzezinski said the impeachment acquittal had emboldened the president to offer quid pro quo in plain sight on his Twitter feed, and she shamed Republicans who overcame their concerns about Ukraine and voted to acquit.

“He’s doing it again, in plain sight,” she said. “The Republicans own this, but do they care?”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69Ce4kjzPHI&feature=emb_title

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« Reply #23 on: Feb 14, 2020, 10:34 AM »

‘Moral degenerate’ Trump is ‘unfit for command’ — and military leaders know it: historian

on February 14, 2020
Raw Story
By Brad Reed

Rice University history professor Douglas Brinkley told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Friday that he’s never seen so many former military leaders all come out en masse to question a president’s fitness for office.

While discussing the latest remarks from Ret. Gen. John Kelly, who previously served as Trump’s chief of staff, Brinkley said it was surprising to see so many former military leaders speak out against the president.

“What is unique here, these are people that know Donald Trump well, saying he’s unfit for command,” Brinkley said. “Ret. Adm. William McRaven is perhaps the greatest Navy SEAL in U.S. history, and he’s saying I feel embarrassed for our children that we’re allowing a president like Donald Trump to run shotgun over the U.S. armed forces.”

Sciutto then noted that these retired military leaders aren’t just saying that Trump is erratic and temperamental, but are also saying that he lacks the moral character to lead the country.

“We have never had something like this, they’re saying the character of President Trump is unfit, that he’s a moral degenerate,” he said. “Gen. Kelly who knows him well being White House chief of staff, famously said, ‘If I leave… this president is going to be impeached.’ Meaning he doesn’t understand limits of executive power, he’s going to abuse his power.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XnWYBpIfDSM&feature=emb_title

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« Reply #24 on: Feb 15, 2020, 05:09 AM »

New Li-ion battery design can charge electric cars to 80% in less than 10 minutes

This could finally bring EVs into the mainstream.

Tibi Puiu

One of the biggest hurdles that keep electric vehicles (EVs) from really taking off is autonomy. Thanks to rapid advances in battery technology, you can now drive some EVs for hundreds of kilometers at a time. This is more than enough for driving in a city or short and medium-sized commutes, but for other applications, that kind of mileage just doesn’t cut it. Ideally, you’d want to recharge your vehicle as fast as it would take to fill the tank of a conventional gasoline or diesel vehicle — and this may be arriving sooner than you’d think.

Many leave their electric vehicle charging overnight. A standard 120 Volt electrical outlet provides enough power to charge 2-5 miles of range per hour, while a 240 Volt outlet can provide 10-20 miles. Tesla’s Supercharger (480 Volt direct current) uses high-power circuits at public charging stations to replenish up to 170 miles of range in just 30 minutes. However, you can’t just keep raising the power to increase charging speed. At some point, there’s a physical threshold where too much power, too fast will cause the battery to lose performance.

The reason why manufacturers haven’t been able to increase charging speed is due to metallic lithium that forms around the anode, damaging the battery when too much energy is forced in.

But engineers at Penn State University may have found a workaround. The team, led by Xiao-Guang Yang, heated a standard battery pack — made of cells and modules currently used by operational electric vehicles — to around 60°C (140°F) and maintained this temperature during charging. In such conditions, the batteries were charged to 80% of their capacity in less than 10 minutes, adding roughly 200 miles of range.

Although there was heating involved, the battery’s performance wasn’t affected. The results suggest that the batteries retained 91.7% of their capacity after 2,500 charge-discharge cycles, which translates to roughly 500,000 miles of operation.

According to the researchers, the key to this kind of rapid charging lies in swift heating. This was achieved using a nickel foil wrapped around the batteries, which raised the temperature of the batteries from room temperature to 60°C (140°F) in only 30 seconds. At this temperature, lithium doesn’t form on the anode. The downside is that it can also degrade the battery — but this is only a problem if the heating is applied for too long. At ten minutes per charge, the high temperature isn’t an issue. At least, Wang says, the benefits of a short burst of high temperature far outweigh the negative consequences.

In the future, manufacturers might employ this technique in their latest batteries. The engineering challenge lies in maintaining a high temperature under various environmental conditions. Additionally, you’d also need a fast-charging infrastructure because the power involved can’t be feasibly generated at home. All of these are doable, though.

Wang and colleagues now hope to work on a design that might charge 80% of a battery in only five minutes.

The findings were described in the journal Joule.

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« Reply #25 on: Feb 15, 2020, 05:13 AM »

Earth just had hottest January since records began, data shows

    Average global temperature 2.5F above 20th-century average
    Antarctic has begun February with several temperature spikes

Oliver Milman
15 Feb 2020 17.42 GMT

Last month was the hottest January on record over the world’s land and ocean surfaces, with average temperatures exceeding anything in the 141 years of data held by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The record temperatures in January follow an exceptionally warm 2019, which has been ranked as the second hottest year for the planet’s surface since reliable measurements started. The past five years and the past decade are the hottest in 150 years of record-keeping, an indication of the gathering pace of the climate crisis.

According to Noaa, the average global land and ocean surface temperature last month was 2.5F (or 1.14C) above the 20th-century average. This measurement marginally surpassed the previous January record, set in 2016.

A pulse of unusual warmth was felt across much of Russia, Scandinavia and eastern Canada, where temperatures were an incredible 9F (5C) above average, or higher. The Swedish town of Örebro reached 10.3C, its hottest January temperature since 1858, while Boston experienced its hottest ever January day, at 23C (74F).

Meanwhile, the Antarctic has begun February with several temperature spikes. The southern polar continent broke 20C (68F) for the first time in its history on 9 February, following another previous high of 18.3C just three days previously. Scientists called the readings “incredible and abnormal”.

Noaa said the four warmest Januaries on record have occurred since 2016, while the 10 warmest Januaries have taken place since 2002.

The world’s governments agreed in 2015 to keep the global temperature increase to well below 2C, compared with the pre-industrial era, in order to stave off disastrous flooding, food insecurity, heatwaves and mass displacement of people.

However, planet-warming emissions from human activity are not showing any sign of decline, let alone the deep cuts needed to meet the 2C goal and address the climate crisis. According to scientists, the world must halve its emissions by 2030 to stand any chance of avoiding disastrous climate breakdown.

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« Reply #26 on: Feb 15, 2020, 05:15 AM »

School climate strikers join Valentine's Day protests across world

In UK, students march on first anniversary of nationwide protests by young people

    Greta Thunberg hails school climate strikes

Jonathan Watts and Jessica Murray
15 Feb 2020 15.28 GMT

Striking students have joined Valentine’s Day rallies across the world as the protest movement attempts to ratchet up pressure on governments and companies before crunch UN climate talks in Glasgow later this year.

In London, the young demonstrators held banners proclaiming “Roses are red, violets are blue, our Earth is burning and soon we will too” and “Climate change is worse than homework” as they marched through Parliament Square on Friday to mark the first anniversary of nationwide climate strikes in the UK.

Students in Durham, Glasgow, Brighton and dozens of other cities also braved often wet and cold condition to march through the streets chanting, “What do we want? Climate justice. When do we want it? Now.”

Greta Thunberg, who initiated the movement as a solitary striker in Stockholm in August 2018, said climate strikes were planned in 2,000 cities across the world on Friday, and that bigger actions were planned for the coming months.

In many countries, the protests have expanded to include local environmental concerns, new strategies and stronger emphasis on global climate justice.

In India on Friday, strikers turned their focus on government plans to deforest swathes of the Aravallis mountain range, which is a conservation area that provides freshwater and oxygen for Delhi and other cities. Some carried banners in English reading: “I love Aravallis”, “Our green lungs” and “Protectors are turning destroyers”.

In Sydney, climate strikers demonstrated with banners that depicted the devastating bushfires and blamed the government of Scott Morrison for the “climate chaos” that has hit Australia. In the Philippines, climate strikers organised an educational storytelling campaign to raise public awareness.

In Scotland, Holly Gillibrand, who was one of the first strikers in the UK when she started a vigil outside Lochaber high school in Fort William in the Highlands, said the growth of the movement had been incredible.

“When I began striking over a year ago, Greta Thunberg and Fridays for Future [campaign] were not well known at all and I was one of very few strikers in the UK, but since then, everything has changed. The movement has gone from one person to 7.5 million.

“Even if we still aren’t getting the radical action we need from governments, politicians are feeling the pressure to act and we just need to keep pushing, keep shouting, keep rebelling until they do.” Holly continued her strike on Friday, with a hot chocolate to help get her through the wet weather.

Among those striking for the first time on Friday was a group in Rwanda, where protesters tweeted Timages of themselves holding signs that said: “Rwanda stand for climate.”

Friday’s action was not intended as a mega-strike like those in September, when more than 6 million people took part, but it showed how the campaign has evolved.

Maryam Grassly, 17, who was among the hundreds of strikers in central London, said: “The most enthusiastic and passionate people have stayed on, and more people have got involved and been inspired by it, but at the same time we’ve lost the people who didn’t really care.”

But in her mind there was no question about the relevance of the protest. “When the election happened and Boris [Johnson] got voted in I just kind of gave up on the world, I thought that’s it,” she said. “We’ve got the climate emergency and net zero by 2050 but nothing is happening as fast as it should be.” Similarly she was “excited but worried” about the UK hosting Cop26 later this year, saying the previous conference of the parties in Madrid did not go well.

But the protesters were still hopeful about the difference they have made over the past few months.

Maude Brown, 17, said: “I’ve been very concerned about the issue for almost a decade, I was taught about it in year 4, and no one really cared then so I’m happy that everyone is concerned about it now. I think as more politicians from our generation come in we can make a lot of change in the future.”

Most of the strikers were teenagers, but there were some younger children too. Claire Bullivant, from Essex, has been bringing her children Imogen, 12, Max, 9 and Theodore, 5, to the strikes for a few months.

“I just think it’s so important to get them involved and to support them because they’re so aware of what’s happening in the world, and they see it in the news, and we don’t want to sit back and do nothing,” Bullivant said.

While her daughter’s school has been supportive of her decision to take time off for the strikes, her sons’ school has been less so, but Bullivant said the time off was “totally justified”.

“It’s educational, it’s empowering to be part of a community and show that they’re trying to make a difference to the world, I just don’t think you can underestimate experiences like this,” she said.

Asked why she was so keen to get involved, Imogen said: “If we don’t save the Earth there’s not going to be anywhere else for us to live.”

A year ago, the size of the protests in the UK took police by surprise, as thousands defied their teachers to skip school and join the still nascent movement. The students are now backed by longer established environmental organisations, including Global Justice Now, Greenpeace and the Green party. Among those at Friday’s march in London was a trade union climate bloc.

Friends of the Earth are backing the school climate strikers, who it credits for shifting public opinion. There is still a long way to go, but with technology developments and strong policies, the group said there was cause for hope. “Huge change is possible. In 2019, the UK went coal-free for 19 days. That’s the longest break since the 1880s, and something that would have been unthinkable a few decades ago,” it said.

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« Reply #27 on: Feb 15, 2020, 05:18 AM »

Mass melting of Antarctic ice sheet led to three metre sea level rise 120,000 years ago

Cause of rise was ocean warming of less than 2C, which has major implications for future, researchers warn

Lisa Cox

Mass melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet, driven by warmer ocean temperatures, was a major cause of extreme sea level rise more than 100,000 years ago, according to new research.

A research team, led by scientists at the University of New South Wales, examined the cause of high sea levels during a period known as the last interglacial, which occurred 129,000-116,000 years ago.

Their study finds that melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet caused a sea-level rise of more than three metres and it took less than 2C of ocean warming for that to occur.

The authors say their findings could have “major implications” for the future given the ocean warming and ice melt currently occurring in Antarctica.

The study’s lead author Chris Turney is a climate change and earth scientist at UNSW.

He said the West Antarctic was particularly vulnerable to ocean warming because it sits mostly on the sea bed, rather than on land.

“This has been a big concern and is what the concern is in the present day,” Turney said.

“So the question is how much could fall into the ocean and this is where the last interglacial [period] is so important.”

The paper says ocean temperatures during the last interglacial were likely up to 2C warmer than they are today and global sea levels were 6-9 metres higher.

To trace Antarctica’s potential contribution to this sea-level rise, the scientists travelled to West Antarctica to the Patriot Hills Blue Ice Area, which is on the periphery of the West Antarctic ice sheet.

Blue ice areas are created by katabatic winds. When these winds blow over mountains, they remove snow and ice, allowing ancient ice to come to the surface.

A lot of Antarctic research involves deep ice core drilling to study years of climate history.

In this study, the researchers used what they called “horizontal ice core” analysis, which involved simply walking across the valley towards the mountain.

“As you walk towards the mountain, you walk over increasingly older ice,” Turney said.

They used some shallow drilling to take ice samples from the surface. Through isotope measurements, they found a gap in the ice sheet record immediately prior to the last interglacial.

Turney said this gap coincided with an extreme rise in sea level and suggested a period in which there was no ice accumulating in that valley.

“It means that a large part of the west Antarctic almost certainly disappeared in the last interglacial. It melted. It flowed rapidly into the ocean,” he said.

He said the research also suggested this mass melting happened quite early during the ocean warming “somewhere between zero and 2C”.

Countries have signed on to the Paris agreement which aims to keep global heating below 2C.

Turney said the current summer in Australia alone had shown the dangers of a warming world just at 1C.

He said the team’s research could be used to focus on which sections of West Antarctica are most vulnerable to the current climate crisis.

“What these results suggest, or show, is that when people talk about a 2C warmer world as a good thing, actually what it shows is we don’t want to get close to 2C,” he said.

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« Reply #28 on: Feb 15, 2020, 05:20 AM »

‘The English have landed’: France finally starts lifting menstrual taboo

on February 15, 2020
By Agence France-Presse

The French are world-leaders when it comes to coining euphemisms for women’s periods, including one derived from the Battle of Waterloo. Spurred on by a new generation of female activists, they are finally coming to terms with a natural and inevitable aspect of women’s lives – and looking for ways to improve their wellbeing.

If you think bees are dying by the millions because of pesticides and climate change, think again – women’s menstrual blood is to blame.

At least that’s what Pliny the Elder wrote in his “Natural History” some 2,000 years ago, one in a long list of wild myths that have linked women’s periods to just about every calamity, from blighted crops to mayonnaise turned sour.

Pliny’s infamous assertion resurfaced this week in a 107-page report on how to lift “menstrual taboos”, co-authored by two members of France’s National Assembly. Informed by the work of feminist campaigners and advocacy groups, the report details 47 recommendations to ensure menstruation is better understood and is no longer “a cause of anguish and suffering” for women.

“Periods have long been a taboo subject because they were seen as dirty and impure,” says Laëtitia Romeiro Dias, a lawmaker from the ruling LREM party who co-authored the report with her colleague Bénédicte Taurine, of the opposition La France insoumise, a leftwing party.

“A refusal to talk openly about the subject has enabled all sorts of misconceptions to be passed on from one generation to another,” she adds. “This ignorance has to stop”

Call it menstrual blood, period

According to a 2016 survey carried out in 190 different countries, the French make greater use of slang terms and euphemisms when referring to periods than any other people. They also have some of the most colourful expressions, such as “Les Anglais ont débarqué” (“The English have landed”), a reference to the British redcoats who fought off Napoleon’s army at the Battle of Waterloo.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upUdlN7TM_Y&feature=emb_title

Though often quaint and humorous, euphemisms also reflect a historic failure to speak openly about a natural and inevitable aspect of women’s lives. In France and elsewhere, this failure continues to affect the wellbeing of schoolgirls and women, breeding shame, illness and injustice.

In their report, Romeiro Dias and Taurine stress that “deconstructing the taboo” of periods necessarily involves changing the way it is approached at school, both when and how.

French pupils are first taught about periods in secondary school, aged 13 or thereabouts. That’s too late, says Romeiro Dias.

“Girls are going through puberty earlier than ever before. It’s not uncommon for them to get their first period at 10, while still at primary school,” she explains. “If it happens to you and no-one has talked about it before, it’s scary. There’s blood, you don’t know why, and you think you’re sick.”

The lawmaker also regrets the fact that menstruation is taught “in correlation with sexuality”.

“When you first get your period, you shouldn’t be hearing that you might get pregnant,” she argues. “The questions asked should be, ‘Does it hurt, is it serious, what hygienic and protective habits must we adopt?’”

A failure to get the right message across can lead to serious risks for women’s health, the report notes, pointing to the threat of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), a rare infection with life-threatening consequences.

In an interview with French daily Le Parisien last month, a 36-year old mother-of-three explained how an infection caused by her menstrual cup spread to her internal organs and ultimately resulted in her losing both her feet and parts of her fingers. The woman, a nurse, blamed the packaging of the menstrual cup, saying it did not make it clear when the cup should be removed before it could trigger TSS.

French health authorities have announced further research on the toxicity of certain substances found in tampons, pads and cups. Existing studies have determined that menstrual cups are safe and effective, though warning that they should not be used for extensive periods, just like tampons.

“The packaging for such products is often very detailed and scientific, and therefore unreadable,” Romeiro Dias says. “Instructions need to be a lot clearer given how important a public health issue this is.”

‘Women keep quiet and use old newspapers’

Several of the lawmakers’ proposals focus on improving access to menstrual protection for women who live in poverty and are in a vulnerable situation, and who are reluctant to seek the help of charities.

Picking up on the report, two junior ministers announced on Wednesday that menstrual protection would be distributed freely, during a one-year trial, to women in need. Gender Equality Minister Marlène Schiappa and her colleague Christelle Dubos, who holds the health and solidarity portfolio, said the scheme would start with a budget of one million euros. It is expected to focus on schools, hospitals, shelters and prisons.

The ministers’ announcement was hailed as a victory by charities.

“We’re talking about basic necessities here, which are still luxury items for many women,” says Nadège Passereau of ADSF, a women’s health charity and advocacy group that distributes sanitary kits to women in need.

“Such products are currently only available in homeless shelters, where women are often reluctant to ask for them,” Passereau adds. “One mustn’t forget all of this was taboo for a long time. It’s only recently that we’ve started to talk about sanitary pads. Women keep quiet and use old newspapers, which further undermines their dignity and threatens their health, exposing them to yeast infections, fibroids and, ultimately, sterility.”

Passereau, whose charity distributes 12,000 packets of sanitary pads each year, says growing awareness of the issue has helped better address women’s specific needs.

“We now know that sanitary pads must be included in the kits distributed at shelters – and not just razors, as used to be the case when people associated homelessness with males only,” she explains.

The private sector has also come on board, she notes, pointing to brands that help collect tampons and pads for donation. One local start-up, Marguerite et Cie, has placed solidarity at the very heart of its business model: for every item sold another is donated to ADSF – and its products are organic too.

‘You don’t seriously think we’ll pay to stick chlorine in our pussies?’

Passereau credits a new generation of social-media-savvy campaigners with helping to bring about a radical change in attitudes to menstruation in recent years, a phenomenon sometimes referred to as period activism.

Tara Heuzé-Sarmini, the founder of Règles élémentaires, another charity that looks after women in menstrual poverty, says she first developed an awareness of the issue a few years ago while studying at a British university and witnessing collections of tampons, pads and other sanitary products – a practice she helped introduce back home with her charity, founded in 2015.

France was behind the curve at the time, but it soon caught up, spurred on by a high-profile row over the so-called “Tampon Tax”, which forced the government to lower the tax on tampons and bring it in line with other essential products.

“Ever since then, there has been a huge mobilisation on social media,” says Heuzé-Sarmini, describing the topic as “highly Instagrammable”.

In one popular Instagram post that caused a stir last year, 20-year-old Paris student Irene posted a picture of herself without menstrual protection, bleeding on her leggings. Demanding free sanitary protection for all women, the post read: “We pay the price of oppression, the price of misogyny, the price of inequality; you don’t seriously think we’ll also pay to stick chlorine in our pussies while you continue to stigmatise and demonise our blood [?]”

Weeks later, a YouGov/HuffPost survey found that young adults in France were overwhelmingly in favour of free sanitation as well as paid leave from work for women who experience painful periods, something only a handful of countries currently allow.

Règles élémentaires says women spend on average between €8,000 and 23,000 on menstrual products in their lifetime – a financial burden that leaves an estimated 1.7 million women in France living in “menstrual poverty”, many of them cash-strapped students.

In this respect, the government’s promise to experiment with free distributions marks an important first step, says Heuzé-Sarmini, though more needs to be done.

“It was our first priority, now we want three more measures,” she explains. “We want vouchers or pre-paid cards for women in need, so that they can make their own, intimate choices. We want health insurance to reimburse sanitary products, as is already the case for some students. And we want distributors in all public and private spaces, from schools to office buildings, to make sanitary products as readily available as condoms.”

Only then, she adds, when sanitation is available to all, in broad daylight, will menstruation finally cease to be a taboo subject.

Photo: © Jacques Demarthon, AFP

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« Reply #29 on: Feb 15, 2020, 05:30 AM »

'I'm over it': will disillusioned voters spell trouble for Jacinda Ardern?

With seven months to go, the internationally acclaimed PM must tackle queries over whether she has done enough at home

Eleanor Ainge Roy in Dunedin
Sat 15 Feb 2020 00.15 GMT

It’s time for morning tea at the Allen Bryant retirement home in Hokitika, New Zealand, and a rattling tea cart is doing the rounds as the 50 residents talk politics. The South Island district is a Labour party stronghold, and the party was born up the road at the Blackball pub 100 years ago.

The residents who live at the home in the West Coast region are overwhelmingly Labour supporters, with backgrounds in mining and lifetime union affiliation. It was on the west coast that the party celebrated its centenary. And it is here that it is beginning to alienate its once-loyal fans.

Denis Pfahlert, 92, has voted Labour all his life and says the government has made the mistake of politicians the world over – it has over-promised and under-delivered. With the next election just seven months away, some members of Labour’s loyal base are questioning the government’s ability to improve the status quo.

“Have you ever known politicians to keep their promises? I’ve been around a long time and I haven’t,” Pfahlert says. “And this government’s turning out no different. She [Jacinda Ardern] is doing her best but all politicians talk too big, from Trump to Boris Johnson. Of course they disappoint us.”
‘I feel disillusioned’

Three years ago, Ardern was elected on a promise to “transform” New Zealand in the most exciting vote the country had seen in decades. The feminist credentials and strong social conscience of Ardern, a progressive young leader who emerged during a turbulent period in global history, appealed to voters after nine years of conservative leadership by John Key, an ex-Merrill Lynch financier who had a fondness for tugging women’s ponytails.

Ardern’s Labour coalition government promised to combat growing inequality, tackle climate change and address the housing crisis.

On the personal front, Ardern offered an alternative image for modern-day politics. Becoming pregnant with her first child while in office, the PM has led a top-down reform of working conditions for parents, including boosts to baby grants and extensions to paid parental leave. Her government passed a zero-carbon act with bipartisan support, and introduced 10 days of paid leave for people escaping domestic violence, as well as making strangulation – a strong predictor of later homicide – a separate offence.

Following her now-famous response to the Christchurch terrorist attacks on 15 March, Ardern peaked in the polls with 51% approval as prime minister. Wearing a hijab, she was unwavering in her rejection of the gunman’s white supremacist ideology and quick to enact legislation banning assault and semi-automatic rifles just six weeks after the attack.

But in the months after Christchurch, Ardern’s popularity slipped, and confidence in Labour’s victory at September’s general election is being questioned. The latest Colmar Brunton poll has National polling ahead of Labour at 46%, with Ardern’s party at 41%. The prime minister has also slipped as preferred leader from her peak post-Christchurch and now stands at 42%, though this still puts her streets ahead of her rivals.

Anu Kaloti, 51, of Auckland, campaigns on behalf of migrant workers and says the government needs to be given some leeway after “the mess” of nine years of National party rule. However, she is disappointed by its performance and says Ardern’s status as an international humanitarian is not translating into better lives for Kiwis at home.

“After 15 March she has become an icon internationally, and that’s all very well, we feel proud of that, but what kind of delivery are we getting domestically?” Kaloti says. “I feel disillusioned. While it looks really good internationally, I’m seeing that as good marketing. We need more at home. There’s responsibilities here.”

‘They’re all just the same in the end’

Political commentator Bryce Edwards believes the Labour coalition government has not proved to voters that it is radically different from the previous National party government, despite its promises.

“Delivery has been the biggest issue for this government. They have failed on delivering on their big promises of inequality and housing,” Edwards says. “Labour may struggle to mobilise their fanbase come the next election; people are beginning to suspect this government is more interested in style over substance. And the gloss has definitely come off Ardern.”

Moreen Price, 85, also of Hokitika, doesn’t plan to vote in the election. Although she likes Ardern personally – “she’s really nice, she’s open, she seems to get on with everybody” – she hasn’t seen any change under Labour. “I don’t think they Labour are trying to be different. They’re all just the same in the end. They promise things but they never fulfil them. I’m over it, really.”

While Ardern’s global appeal – and her personal appeal inside New Zealand – has not wavered, it has been a brutal few months domestically for her party. A sexual assault scandal in the Labour party tarnished the prime minister’s image as a champion of women’s rights and the #MeToo movement and ate away at her most prized asset, trust.

Before that, the government was struggling to contain a housing crisis. Edwards, like most commentators, cites the government’s failure to address the affordability crunch as among its biggest problems. It has halted the sale of public housing and banned foreign buyers, but the wait for a state house is at a record high and tens of millions of dollars are being spent on emergency motel rooms to house the growing homeless population.

    The government simply haven’t shown up on Māori issues.
    Morgan Godfery, Indigenous commentator

The government’s flagship housing policy, KiwiBuild, has been a disaster, with just 286 affordable homes built in over a year when the target was 100,000 in a decade, and many sit empty and unsold in wealthy resort towns where there was no demand for them.

Restrictive and time-consuming building regulations, the high cost of land and a shortage of skilled labourers also contributed to the failure of the scheme. The high cost of the homes billed as “affordable” also turned off people, with two-bedroom homes going for upwards of NZ$500,000.

The housing minister, Megan Woods, described KiwiBuild’s agenda as “overly ambitious”, a charge that is increasingly being levelled at the government across its key portfolios.

The government has a record number of Māori MPs in its ranks, but the Indigenous political commentator Morgan Godfery says it – and Ardern – have let down the country’s Indigenous people, who are over-represented in poor socio-economic outcomes and account for more than 50% of the prison population, despite accounting for only 14% of the general population.

“The government simply haven’t shown up on Māori issues; they have been absent,” Godfery says. “Ardern’s rhetoric is very hard to match with her actions.”
What is the alternative?

Ardern’s winning card, however, may be the striking unpopularity of her opponent, the leader of the National party, Simon Bridges.

Godfery describes Bridges as “no match” for Ardern, while Edwards says the National party leader is developing distinctly “Trumpian” overtones in his combative, adversarial style of politics. Bridges consistently polls far below Ardern, frequently polling less than 10% as preferred PM. His most recent ranking in the Colmar Brunton poll was 11%, to Ardern’s 42%.

Political commentator Ben Thomas says Ardern’s dip in popularity is not surprising, and her biggest advantage remains her sustained popularity over Bridges. “Labour will expect that her popularity over Bridges to pay off during the campaign when they’re put head to head for six weeks.

“Her real concern will be the erosion of her personal advantages, for example her focus on positivity and kindness, if New Zealand First continues to be surrounded by controversy into the campaign and she’s seen as condoning it or not being able to manage it,” he said, referring to Labour’s coalition partner.

Pfahlert in Hokitika expresses a sentiment common across all sides of the political spectrum when he describes Bridges simply as “hopeless”. “He hasn’t got a clue – he just reacts.” And although Ardern has disappointed him, he thinks she might deserve another chance – and that giving Labour a second term in office may help the party deliver.

In 2017, after taking power, Ardern declared that “New Zealanders have voted against the status quo”. She will hope that this time around at the ballot box, she has done enough to convince them to accept it.

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