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Author Topic: ENVIRONMENT, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CULTURE  (Read 44935 times)
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Rad
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« on: Oct 20, 2019, 04:50 AM »

We will be posting in this thread a variety of interesting stories about our environment, cultures around the world, and the current news of the day.
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« Reply #1 on: May 23, 2020, 04:05 AM »

Researchers are working on a face mask that lights up when it detects coronavirus

By Andy Meek
BGR
5/23/2020

    One of the keys to keeping the spread of coronavirus under control as states and cities move to reopen gradually in the coming days will be whether their populations largely embrace the wearing of face masks when they venture out into public.
    Along those lines, one group of researchers is testing whether they can develop a face mask that does more than simply cover your face — it would actually alert you to the presence of coronavirus.
    
With the coronavirus crisis set to enter a new chapter, as states and locales around the US begin a gradual process of opening back up again while trying to strike a balance between that and living with the COVID-19 virus, face masks are being regarded as a key piece of what comes next.

If you live in some of the states and areas of the country where people are gradually being allowed to go back out into public again — and assuming you actually want to — you will increasingly see signs posted by businesses that mandate face masks and social distancing if you come inside. In fact, a group of some 100 medical professionals that includes Nobel prize winners has signed on to an open letter urging the mandating of face masks for everyone who goes out in public or to their job. Uber drivers and employees now have to wear face masks, and Apple has been working to make it easier to use iOS and Face ID while wearing a face mask. Meanwhile, there’s a new kind of face mask in the works that’s vastly different than the kind most people are wearing right now — and might even have the potential to save your life.

Researchers affiliated with MIT and Harvard are reportedly working on a face mask that will not only protect other people from your germs, in the event that you have coronavirus but don’t realize it. This mask would also have sensors and an ability to light up when it detects the presence of coronavirus, alerting you to the danger you pose to yourself and to other people.

According to Business Insider, bioengineers at both institutions have been working for the last six years on sensors that can detect other viruses (Ebola and Zika). What they’re doing now is adapting all that research and those sensors to detect the presence of coronavirus whenever the wearer of the mask breathes, sneezes, or coughs into it.

That work is proceeding down two tracks at the moment — testing a mask with a sensor inside it and testing the use of sensors that can be attached to over-the-counter masks. Early testing has shown promise, and the team is looking at potentially demonstrating how this all works in a matter of weeks.

“Once we’re in that stage, then it would be a matter (of) setting up trials with individuals expected to be infected to see if it would work in a real-world setting,” MIT researcher Jim Collins told BI.

Covid 19 Live

https://ncov2019.live/data


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« Reply #2 on: May 23, 2020, 04:09 AM »


'It's good for the soul': the mini rewilders restoring UK woodland

By buying and managing small wooded plots, enthusiasts are bringing biodiversity back to the countryside
The age of extinction is supported by

Patrick Greenfield and Phoebe Weston
Guardian
Sat 23 May 2020 09.30 BST

Tamara and Steve Davey cannot help but grin at the suggestion they are “miniature rewilders”. Standing proudly in the weak sunlight on the fringes of Dartmoor national park, the full-time grandmother and taxi company owner delight in their eight-acre woodland.

Robins, tits and siskins chortle in the trees. Nightjars are welcome visitors in the summer. Seven bat species have been recorded in their small plot. There’s a badger’s sett somewhere in the hillside scrub. And the couple feel at peace.

“It’s good for the soul,” says Tamara, speaking before the coronavirus lockdown. “It’s one of the best things we’ve ever done,” Steve agrees. “If we can make a difference and help what’s here, I’ll be happy.”
Woodland owners Steve and Tamara Davey.

The Daveys are not wealthy landowners planning to rewild vast parts of the countryside. But the couple, along with thousands of small do-it-yourself woodland owners, could play a vital role in restoring parts of the UK to nature and increasing the rare forests that cover just 13% of the country.

Nearly three-quarters of the 3.19m hectares (7.88m acres) of remaining woodland in the UK is privately owned, with more than 90% of plots in England smaller than 10 hectares (about 25 acres). Standing in the Daveys’ small wood, it is hard not to get carried away by visions of what might happen if a nation of gardeners turned their hands to forestry.

“Being among it and just listening to the sounds of nature is priceless, really. And you’re expanding your knowledge. You’re learning about different things all the time,” Steve says, expressing his love for summer evenings in the forest after a day driving his taxi. “We didn’t have any formal qualifications in land management or forestry. I’ve had a keen interest in wildlife all my life but, yeah, it’s enriching.”
The Daveys, like many woodland owners, are replacing fast-growing conifers trees with diverse native species to support wildlife.

The couple bought their piece of land through Woodlands.co.uk, which sells all kinds of plots – from one acre to more than 20 – at about £10,000 an acre, from the Highlands to rural Cornwall. Many owners buy their land to help promote biodiversity and reverse the effects of poor woodland management. The Daveys are no different.

Six years before they purchased their plot in 2018, the woodland was clear-felled and replaced with more than 2,000 non-native Sitka spruce, which are commonly grown in commercial plantations in the UK and are poor for biodiversity. Tamara and Steve have begun the daunting task of replacing the fast-growing conifer with sweet chestnuts, birches, oaks and native hedging to support wildlife, adding the occasional pool and clearing for bats and amphibians.

“In providing new habitats and new species, I think that’s achievable. The insects, the invertebrates, they’ve got to be catered for. If you haven’t got those, then the whole ecosystem is not so healthy. Having the grass areas, the ponds, they’ll create a huge amount of wildlife,” says Steve.

After the second world war, agriculture became more intensive and the widespread availability of plastic meant that less wood was needed to make furniture and tools. Many woodlands that were previously looked after were left to their own devices and now it is estimated that just over 40% of UK woodland is either unmanaged or undermanaged.

Management often mimics natural processes such as storm damage, which creates areas of wildlife-rich dead wood. Coppicing – cutting back trees to ground level on a five- to 20-year cycle – allows light to reach the forest floor. Before humans, large grazing animals such as bison would have browsed forests to maintain areas of low growth. This mix of dead wood, healthy trees, saplings and open spaces creates a rich mosaic of habitats.

    We’re not owners, we’re custodians of this bit of ground and these trees
    Tony Upson

“A well-managed woodland is more likely to have greater biodiversity than an unmanaged woodland. The basic principle is that allowing light in attracts all sorts of tiers of biodiversity,” says author Robert Penn, who bought a cottage enclosed by trees on the edge of the Black Mountains in Wales 17 years ago.

The 2.5-acre wood was previously owned by a couple who had little interest in woodland management and it had grown dark and unwieldy. Unlike the Daveys’ wood, Penn’s plot was mainly native trees that had been left to run wild.

He opened up his tiny woodland by coppicing and thinning out weaker trees to let in the light. Woodland flowers – which can lie dormant for decades – started to flourish and the plot is now peppered with wood anemones, stitchwort, celandine, primroses and wild garlic.

These spaces also provide sanctuary from the modern world. “The woodland is absolutely fundamental to my existence,” says Penn, who is patron of the Small Woods Association. “This morning, for instance, I was in my woodland and it was incredibly beautiful – wildflowers are just starting to come up, trees are about to bud, the wood is absolutely packed with birds. It’s splendid.”

Several wildlife trusts in the UK have reported increased interest in people wanting to buy land for tree planting, landowners wanting advice on carbon offsetting and communities starting tree-planting schemes. Aside from the wildlife benefits, small woods provide important ecosystem services such as reducing air pollution, locking carbon into the soil and temperature regulation. These benefits are worth hundreds of millions of pounds, according to analysis by the Office for National Statistics.

Penn’s one tip to fellow forest owners is to be patient, because managing woodland is a long-term project. “It was five years before I felt the wood was genuinely my own … and a decade later I’m absolutely confident I’m doing the right thing and I take immeasurable pleasure out of the whole thing.”
Tony and Julie Upson, who own 4.5 acres of ancient semi-natural woodland in West Sussex.

In Tortington, West Sussex, Julie and Tony Upson manage 4.5 acres of ancient semi-natural woodland. Hazel trees dominate but a majestic veteran yew stands proudly and the former palliative care nurse and city law firm facilities manager are trying to encourage the heather back on a former heath.

The couple adore the dormice that live in their woodland and credit their small forest with giving them a vibrant retirement where they spend lots of time together and bond with a community of other foresters.

“We do wish we’d done this earlier but we didn’t have the money,” Julie says, adding that the forest helped her cope with cancer treatment.

“It does give you the opportunity for unusual birthday presents. I bought Julie an axe one year and her friend thought it was a really bizarre present!” says Tony.

To others who might want to turn their hands to managing woodland for biodiversity, the couple have one message: “Go for it.”

“We’re not owners, we’re custodians of this bit of ground and these trees. Everything we do is not for us, it’s for future generations and for the planet,” says Tony.


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« Reply #3 on: May 23, 2020, 04:11 AM »


Could a green new deal turn South Korea from climate villain to model?

Country’s youngest MP is on a mission, inspired by Greta Thunberg, as climate moves up political agenda

Jonathan Watts
Guardian
Sat 23 May 2020 08.00 BST

A year ago, Soyoung Lee was one of a crowd of climate activists demonstrating on the streets of Seoul in a campaign inspired by the global school strike founder Greta Thunberg.

Today, the 35-year-old lawyer is the youngest member of the South Korean parliament and a driving force in the government’s green new deal, which aims to create millions of jobs in renewable energy and help the economy recover from the coronavirus lockdown.

Lee’s transformation highlights how much progress the global wave of youth climate activism has made in a remarkably short space of time. It also raises hopes that South Korea – a country long considered one of the world’s worst climate villains – will set a global example by accelerating the shift away from fossil fuels.

Lee was invited to stand as a candidate for the president Moon Jae-in’s Democracy party in last month’s legislative elections. She proposed a green new deal in the campaign manifesto as a way to appeal to young voters.

“I was the first to suggest that,” she said. “I want to decarbonise Korean society. This is my personal mission. That is why I went into politics.”

Winning her seat in a landslide, she is now part of a ruling coalition with a huge majority to push through any measures it chooses.

The government’s priority is to boost the economy after the Covid-19 crisis. South Korea has won praise around the world for its handling of the health pandemic, but its powerful industrial conglomerates have taken a big hit from the downturn in global trade.

Many business leaders and veteran ministers want recovery to focus purely on digital technology. But civil society and lawmakers like Lee have persuaded the president that it is possible to create jobs and raise climate ambitions.

“It’s clear the green new deal is the way for us to go,” Moon announced this week. “It’s necessary to lay out a grand plan for the green new deal to harmonise with the establishment of digital infrastructure.”

For the president, the priority is job creation and demonstrating to the world that South Korea is a responsible member of the international community.

Recent history gives cause for scepticism. This high-tech nation has a low-grade energy supply. After the 2008-09 financial crisis, the government promised a “green growth” strategy, but the plans for more river protection and bike lanes were an excuse for construction companies to pour more concrete than ever.

In the years since, coal use and carbon emissions have surged. The country is calculated to have $106bn of fossil fuel assets incompatible with the Paris climate agreement – more than any other nation. In 2016, activists described South Korea as the world’s biggest carbon villain.

Analysts say this time is different because the president has already set a goal of raising the share of electricity coming from renewables from 3% to 20% by the end of the decade. That will require an investment of about 100tn Korean won (£66bn).

Byunghwa Han, a senior analyst at Eugene Investment and Securities and a longtime advocate of renewables, said the political stars were now finally aligned.

“I am very optimistic. This is the best opportunity in Korea since I have been involved in this field since 2008,” he said. “The government is very ambitious about the green new deal and, with a strong majority in the national assembly, the president can enact policies with no roadblocks.”

Lee vowed to prevent a repeat of the last greenwashing project. “Today is totally different. In our green new deal, the starting point is the reduction of emissions,” she said. “We need to legislate measures for a 2050 net zero goal, phase out coal earlier and enhance our ambitions for renewable energy.”

The central test of the government’s convictions will be cuts to domestic coal consumption and overseas financing of coal projects. South Korea plans to generate 30% of its electricity from this dirtiest of fossil fuels by 2030. Lee says this would make it impossible to reach the net zero goal by 2050.

South Korea could make a still greater contribution to global climate efforts if it halted support for coal plants in south-east Asia. It is one of only three nations – along with China and Japan – that still provide loans for such projects, which are blackballed by most nations and a growing number of international financial institutions.

“If we stop this funding, it will show the transition in our country and across the global community,” Lee said. “We need to give up on sectors that make short-term profit.”

The companies that have the most to lose, including the power utility Kepco and the heavy engineering conglomerate Doosan, are already pushing back. Local media report heated disputes among ministers, who say coal is important for developing nations.

Lee argues South Korea will have more stranded assets the longer it delays transition away from fossil fuels. “It makes economic sense to change. These kinds of businesses will not be viable in the future.”

In the coming weeks, the green new deal will dominate discussions of the new session of the national assembly, another sign of how far the climate has moved up the political agenda.

Lee credits the school strike movement for raising awareness. She has campaigned for decarbonisation for many years and worked as a lawyer on climate litigation suits, but she says there was little public support until recently.

“I was a minority in civil society, but the global school strikes sparked a lot of activism in Korea,” she said. “Greta Thunberg inspired Korean youth. Last October we had a climate emergency demonstration with 5,000 people. That was the biggest so far. There was also a big one in May. I join them them all the time.”

Her journey from the streets and the courtroom to the corridors of power is a sign of how Generation Greta is coming of age. Lee says there is still a long way to go.

She estimates that just 10 of the 300 legislators are seriously committed to climate issues. “It is definitely still not mainstream,” she said. “But the green new deal is now at the centre of political discussion for the first time. We need to see whether this means a sudden revolutionary change or the start of something incremental.

“I am not going to be over optimistic about securing a tremendous budget with huge goals. But it is important that the government is setting targets and moving in the right direction.There is a lot of value in that. We will do our best to make South Korea a model in this, as it has been in its handling of Covid.”


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« Reply #4 on: May 23, 2020, 04:14 AM »


Humanity must take this chance to find a new 'normal' – and safeguard our planet

Climate risks and opportunities need to be incorporated into the financial system as well as public policymaking and infrastructure 

Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Ibrahim Thiaw, Patricia Espinosa Cantellano
Guardian
23 May 2020 07.30 BST

There is a lot of talk about getting back to normal after the Covid-19 crisis is over. And yet normal – business as usual – is what has made our planet and our societies vulnerable to crises in the first place.

Normal means cutting down huge swathes of forest to plant crops. Normal means overgrazing livestock, destroying natural ecosystems at the expense of habitats for wild animals. Normal is driving climate change, which increases stress in wild species and their habitats and makes people more susceptible to zoonotic diseases (which spread from animals to humans).

A sound future can be built on a social contract for nature that will lead to a new normal that puts us in harmony with the environment, one that minimises the outbreak of zoonotic epidemics, revives a profitable economy and ensures that ecosystem services are available for everyone.

Scientists estimate that at least six out of every 10 known infectious diseases in people have spread from animals. More importantly, three out of every four new or emerging infectious diseases affecting humans come from animals. Zoonosis has its roots in elements from our current model of development, particularly in agriculture and mining, and in the way we develop roads and plan urban growth.

Vast changes in land use and the loss of habitat from these practices have put people and livestock into closer contact with wild species. They have exposed our societies to diseases for which no immunity has yet developed.

More than 70% of the ice-free land surface has been altered significantly already. By 2050, land-use change will affect 90% of the Earth’s land systems if we continue with business as usual, according to the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. If we carry on the same path, a future pandemic could be even more deadly and costly in terms of lives and livelihoods.

We can, however, create a new normal with the kind of transformative changes that will enable us to re-craft our relationship with land, biodiversity and the climate system.

Some of those changes have already been highlighted in international agreements on climate, biodiversity and land degradation. These include, among others, the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification’s 2018-2030 Strategic Framework and the 2030 Agenda, a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.

Achieving the targets in these agreements will help communities to both “recover better” from Covid-19 and build a clean, green, healthy, safe and just future for all people.

In his recent speech to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, UN secretary-general António Guterres shared six climate-related actions to help nations green their recovery and invest in a more sustainable and resilient future.

This vision of protecting the long-term health of our natural world is vital.

Nature provides “ecosystem services” that are essential for life. Food. Water. Pollination. The very air we breathe. Ecosystem services are worth at least $125tn (£102tn) per year. This is about 1.5 times the gross domestic product of all countries, according to the WWF and Axa Report Into the Wild: integrating nature into investment strategies.

Investing in land-based ecosystem services, for instance, could save up to $50bn, according to the report. The associated cost of doing nothing could be equal to 7% of global GDP by 2050.

In the new normal, climate risks and opportunities need to be incorporated into the financial system as well as all aspects of public policymaking and infrastructure.

Whatever choices we make now to help the economy recover will lock in future economic growth and development paths. Building back better, stronger and smarter means embarking on a journey where we create the conditions for nature to take care of us; a new social contract for nature.

Battling Covid-19 is often compared to fighting a war. After wars, successful leaders reimagined and built better futures for their people. The first opportunity we have to do this together is when heads of state and government meet in September at the UN Biodiversity Summit in New York.

This is the moment to set the world on the road to a more ambitious and secure future: the moment to act on a social contract for nature that recasts our fate to a healthier, more prosperous one for people and planet for generations to come. Our children deserve nothing less.

• Elizabeth Maruma Mrema is acting executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, Ibrahim Thiaw is executive secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, and Patricia Espinosa Cantellano is executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change


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« Reply #5 on: May 23, 2020, 04:17 AM »


Pregnant inmates languish in US prisons despite promises of release

Those who are incarcerated are ‘much more likely’ to get Covid-19 – and loved ones don’t understand why their pregnant family members are still locked up
 
Alexandra Villarreal in New York
Guardian
23 May 2020 11.00 BST

Virginia’s 19-year-old daughter had been incarcerated for months in New York, at Bedford Hills correctional facility, where dozens of people had tested positive for Covid-19 and one woman has died from the disease.

The teen was almost 39 weeks pregnant as she languished in government custody amid the pandemic in early May. At the time, Virginia believed she would not be allowed to be with her during labor, to hold her child’s hand.

Her voice betrayed hints of panic when she described the dangers surrounding her daughter, who was 18 years old when she arrived at prison for non-violent offenses.

“It’s very hard to know that your child has asthma and is pregnant, and there’s a coronavirus with many cases in her prison,” Virginia said then. “I’m very upset. I just want some answers. I just want my daughter home.”

The virus’s lightning-fast spread in the US’s prisons, jails and detention centers has become a tragic reality, as lock-ups likened to petri dishes have spawned thousands of confirmed infections. There is no indication that pregnant women are especially vulnerable to Covid-19, but those who are incarcerated are “much more likely” to get the disease and have higher rates of underlying conditions that put them at risk, warned Carolyn Sufrin, an OB-GYN and researcher at Johns Hopkins University.

“The idea that it’s appropriate to put a woman who is pregnant and not a clear and present danger to society in a cage is, I think … a particularly poignant illustration of how cavalier we’ve become in locking people up,” said Clark Neily, vice-president for criminal justice at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute.

Some advocates have called for pregnant prisoners to be released, often with caveats around their offense or the time left on their sentences. But these criteria are often unnecessarily exclusive, other advocates say, because they force a false binary between “violent” and “non-violent” convictions that doesn’t align with legal reality in the US, especially for women.

“There are charges that are listed as being violent, and yet they’re not,” said Kimberly Haven, coalition and policy director for Reproductive Justice Inside.

In New York, the state that has been hardest hit by the virus, an aide to the governor announced they would free some pregnant prisoners. The state has let out a dozen pregnant and postpartum women who were “within six months” of release and “were not committed on a violent felony or sex offense”, according to an official at New York’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

But other prisoners have not yet been released, sparking advocates’ condemnation and upsetting loved ones such as Virginia, who don’t understand why their family members are still locked up.

The department official said eligible people would continue to be reviewed, but there were four pregnant and eight postpartum individuals currently incarcerated, “who do not meet the criteria”.

Nationwide, practices around letting out pregnant prisoners have been similarly ambiguous and uneven at best.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has “released or transferred to the community every pregnant inmate that is eligible for such placement”, a spokesperson said. Since 26 March, 23 women have been transferred through a community residential program, furlough or home confinement, among other forms of release.

The Guardian also contacted all 50 states for information on whether they are letting out pregnant people directly because of coronavirus. Among the 37 states that meaningfully replied, the majority had not let out any expectant mothers (though some had none to begin with in their prisons). Only one state prison system, North Dakota, had released all seven of its pregnant residents.

Neily said part of the problem is it’s “unclear whose responsibility it is” to decide “who really deserves to stay in what has now become one of the most deadly environments on the planet”.

Altogether, about 60 pregnant people have been released from state prison facilities because of the pandemic, in New York, Illinois, Connecticut, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, North Dakota, Vermont and Washington state, according to The Guardian’s survey.

Hundreds of others are still reportedly incarcerated, though this is likely to be an undercount; although data is scarce, past estimates have put the number of women who are pregnant when admitted to prison or jail in the thousands annually.

A wild west

Under normal circumstances, the US’s correctional facilities are already a wild west for expectant mothers, thanks in part to the lack of mandatory healthcare standards.

“There are some prisons and jails that provide a reasonable quality and level of pregnancy care. However, there are many prisons and jails that do not,” said Sufrin, author of Jailcare: Finding the Safety Net for Women Behind Bars.

Twelve state prison systems don’t detail explicit policies on medical exams as an integral part of prenatal care, according to a report published last December by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI). Likewise, many are silent on other urgent health concerns such as high-risk pregnancies, nutrition and the grotesque yet well-documented use of restraints.

    We went looking for evidence that states are thinking about how to take care of pregnant women. And we found that they’re not
    Wanda Bertram

“We went looking for evidence that states are thinking about how to take care of pregnant women. And we found that they’re not, by and large,” said Wanda Bertram, a spokeswoman for PPI.

Now add a pandemic. The public health emergency has already proved deadly for one new mother, who was transferred from jail to a federal prison medical facility in Texas on 20 March. Andrea Circle Bear died last month after testing positive for Covid-19 and having her baby while on a ventilator.

In a rare moment of political consensus, Americans across the ideological spectrum condemned the systemic failings that preceded Circle Bear’s death. Their outcry arose amid a larger bipartisan battle for criminal justice reform; for years now, decarceration has been one of the few platforms that has generally appealed to a large swath of the country.

“The pandemic shows exactly why it’s counterproductive to have mass incarceration,” said Inimai M Chettiar, the legislative and policy director at Justice Action Network. “When people don’t need to be in prison, things get worse. They don’t get better.”

Shavon Ferrell, who completed her prison time at Logan correctional center in Illinois this month, feels the system was actively stacked against her. She returned to the state facility from a transitional center in mid-March after a subchorionic hemorrhage that was causing heavy bleeding.

Given her medical condition during pregnancy, she initially assumed she would be one of the first people to get out amid the public health crisis, partially because she wasn’t receiving the medical care she felt she needed. During two months at Logan, she had a single ultrasound, and she said one of the phrases she heard most often was “there is nothing that we can really do for you”.

“I have a child that I want in this world, that I feel is not safe. And you guys are taking all these risks and playing with fire by keeping all of us pregnant women here,” she remembers telling the warden.

Regardless, she stayed behind bars, even though Illinois had let out other pregnant women and the prison where she was being held has confirmed Covid-19 cases.

    It’s a sad situation to be pregnant and be incarcerated anyways. During the pandemic, it’s even worse
    Shavon Ferrell

“I felt like nobody was helping me get out of there,” Ferrell said. “It’s a sad situation to be pregnant and be incarcerated anyways. During the pandemic, it’s even worse.”

At 7.40am on 15 May, Virginia’s daughter gave birth to a baby girl. When the time came, Virginia was there to cut her daughter’s umbilical cord.

But, even as other pregnant and postpartum women get released, her daughter has returned to Bedford Hills, now accompanied by a newborn. Because of the public health crisis, their family won’t be able to visit until at least next month. Virginia’s husband wasn’t allowed to see his granddaughter.

Overwhelmed by emotion, Virginia’s voice wavered between joy, pride, sadness and desperation. “I love her so much,” she wailed. “I want my daughter to come home.”


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« Reply #6 on: May 23, 2020, 04:25 AM »


Coronavirus latest: at a glance

A summary of the biggest developments in the global coronavirus outbreak   

Christine Kearney
Guardian
Sat 23 May 2020 06.26 BST

Key developments in the global coronavirus outbreak today include:

China reports no new cases for the first time in pandemic

China recorded no new confirmed Covid-19 cases on the mainland for 22 May, the first time it had seen no daily rise since the pandemic began in the central city of Wuhan late last year. It has seen a sharp fall in locally transmitted cases since March as major restrictions on people movement helped it to take control of the epidemic in many parts of the country.

Global known death toll passes 338,000

According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, at least 5,211,172 people have become infected, while at least 338,225 have died around the world. The figures, which are based on official releases and media reports, are likely to significantly underestimate the true scale of the pandemic.

Trump tells governor to reopen places of worship

Donald Trump declared churches, mosques and synagogues “essential services” and threatened to override governors who refuse to reopen them this weekend – a power he does not possess. “The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now. For this weekend. If they don’t do it, I will override the governors. In America we need more prayer, not less,” Trump said at a two-minute press conference without taking questions from media.

Mexico deaths surge

Mexico has recorded another single-day record for Covid-19 deaths, with 62,527 total cases since the pandemic began. On Friday the health ministry said 479 more deaths had been recorded, along with 2,960 new infections. The previous daily peak of 424 fatalities was reported by authorities on 20 May. There have been 6,989 deaths in total.

Ramadan travel bans under strain in Indonesia

Indonesians are turning to smugglers and bogus travel documents to get around bans on an annual end-of-Ramadan exodus that could send coronavirus cases skyrocketing in the world’s biggest Muslim majority nation, AFP reports. Thousands are using any trick in the book to reach their home towns in time for celebrations at the end of Islam’s holy fasting month this weekend, a festival known as Eid al-Fitr.
Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings under pressure

In the UK, Boris Johnson’s key adviser Dominic Cummings is facing calls to resign after police spoke to him about breaching the government’s lockdown rules. He was seen in Durham, 264 miles from his London home, despite having had symptoms of coronavirus.

Officers approached him days after he was seen rushing out of Downing Street when the prime minister tested positive for the virus at the end of March, a joint investigation by the Guardian and the Mirror found.

Sydney taxi drivers get free sanitising trial

In Australia, thousands of people in Sydney have had their vehicles sanitised for free in a trial launched and funded by the state government in April. Point-to-point vehicles were eligible, including all taxis, ride share and hire vehicles. The trial included disinfecting outside and inside door handles, boot handle, window controls, the steering wheel, and other areas. It is not a car wash service. Spot cleaning in between sanitisation is also required by drivers.


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« Reply #7 on: May 23, 2020, 04:30 AM »


Record virus infections, deaths are ravaging Latin America

AFP
5/23/2020

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) — A surging coronavirus is ravaging parts of Latin America, setting records for cases and deaths Friday in some countries in the world's most unequal region even as the pandemic's march slows in much of Europe, Asia and the United States.

Latin America's two largest nations — Mexico and Brazil — reported record numbers of infections and deaths almost daily this week, fueling criticism of their presidents, who have slow-walked shutdowns in an attempt to limit economic damage.

Brazil reported more than 330,000 confirmed cases as of Friday, surpassing Russia to become the nation with the second-highest number of infections, behind only the U.S., according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. Brazil also has recorded more than 21,000 deaths, though experts believe the true numbers are higher.

The virus “does not forgive," Uber driver Bruno Almeida de Mello said at the burial of his grandmother Vandelma Rosa, 66, in Rio de Janeiro. “It does not choose race or if you are rich or poor, black or white. It’s a cruel disease.”

De Mello said his grandmother’s death certificate reads “suspected of COVID-19,” but the hospital didn’t have the tests necessary to confirm it. That means her death was not counted in the official toll.

Experts said the surging deaths across Latin America showed the limits of government action in a region where millions have informal jobs and many police forces are weak or corrupt and unable to enforce restrictions. Infections also rose and intensive-care units were swamped in Peru, Chile and Ecuador, countries lauded for imposing early and aggressive business shutdowns and quarantines.

Even in countries where cases are rising, many governments say they need to focus on jobs that are vanishing as quickly as the virus spreads. In the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, unemployment is soaring. The chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve has estimated that as many as 1 in 4 Americans could be jobless. In China, analysts estimate around a third of the urban workforce is unemployed.

In the U.S., public health officials are warning people to follow social distancing and other anti-virus measures as they head into a three-day holiday weekend that honors the country's military dead. Millions are expected to emerge from lockdowns and head to beaches and parks, raising concerns about new outbreaks.

Meanwhile, the virus is roaring through other countries far more ill-equipped to handle the pandemic, with scientists worried that new cases will fan the embers of a second global wave of infections. India saw its biggest single-day spike since the pandemic began, and Pakistan and Russia recorded their highest death tolls. Most new Indian cases are in Bihar, where thousands returned home from jobs in cities.

Russian state news agencies reported the authoritarian leader of the southern region of Chechnya was taken to a Moscow hospital with suspected COVID-19 symptoms. Ramzan Kadyrov has run predominantly Muslim Chechnya with an iron fist since 2007 and the Kremlin has relied on him to keep the North Caucasus region stable after two devastating separatist wars. The Chechen parliament speaker denied the reports, which cited an unidentified medical source.

Some Latin American leaders have downplayed the severity of the virus. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has pushed back against state governors who tried to impose limits on people's movements and commerce. Opposition lawmakers and other detractors have called for Bolsonaro’s impeachment and have alleged criminal mishandling of the response to the virus.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador continued to travel the country after its first confirmed case. He let his health advisers take the lead on the crisis but kept insisting Mexico's strong family bonds and work ethic would pull it through.

Mexico reported its highest one-day death toll so far, with 479 new fatalities Friday, up from the previous high Wednesday of 424. It also reported 2,960 new cases, capping a week in which daily confirmed infections have hit close to that number. However, the Health Department acknowledges that the real number is probably several times higher because of Mexico’s abysmally low testing rate.

At the San Cristobal Mauseleum in the Mexico City suburb of Ecatepec, manager Armando Sepulveda said his business has doubled in recent weeks. “The crematoriums are saturated,” Sepulveda said. “All of the ovens don’t have that capacity.”

He said families scour the city “in desperation” looking for help with funeral services because hospitals cannot hold the dead for long. The Mexican government has moved to restart the economy, allow mining, construction and parts of the North American automotive supply chain to resume operations this week. Analysts predict a massive contraction in an economy that had already entered a recession before the pandemic.

The virus reaches from megacities deep into the Amazon jungle. The Colombian town of Leticia, which lies along the Amazon River at the border of Brazil and Peru, has nearly 1,300 cases. Residents reeling from the illness and a loss of income are placing red cloth flags outside homes with tin roofs to show they are going hungry.

Colombian authorities suggest Brazil is to blame for a sudden rise in infections, and President Iván Duque has militarized the shared border. Colombia's Ministry of Health reported its biggest daily increases Friday, with 801 new confirmed infections and 30 deaths. Nearly 20,000 people have been diagnosed with the virus in a country that has been locked down for nearly two months.

In Chile, more than 90% of intensive care beds were full last week in the capital, Santiago. Ecuador’s government instituted a 2 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew and other measures in March, but cases have swamped medical and mortuary services in the city of Guayaquil and now in the capital, Quito. Hundreds of people can be seen violating the curfew in Ecuador, many selling goods on the streets to earn enough to buy food.

News outlets showed images of patients slumped in wheelchairs receiving oxygen in Peru, where there are only 2.5 intensive-care beds per 100,000 people, one quarter of the global standard. The country had almost 109,000 confirmed cases and more than 3,100 dead as of Thursday night. Doctors say most of the patients are shopkeepers, taxi drivers or street vendors.

Sherman reported from Mexico City. Associated Press writers Michael Biesecker in Washington; Franklin Briceño in Lima, Peru; Gonzalo Solano in Quito, Ecuador; Eva Vergara in Santiago, Chile; and Christine Armario in Bogota, Colombia, contributed.


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« Reply #8 on: May 23, 2020, 04:32 AM »


Investigators build a case for IS crimes against Yazidis

AFP
5/23/2020

QASR AL-MIHRAB, Iraq (AFP) — He was burly, with piercing blue eyes, and it was clear he was in charge when he entered the Galaxy, a wedding hall-turned-slave pen in the Iraqi city of Mosul. Dozens of Yazidi women and girls huddled on the floor, newly abducted by Islamic State group militants.

He walked among them, beating them at the slightest sign of resistance. At one point, he dragged a girl out of the hall by her hair, clearly picking her for himself, a Yazidi woman — who was 14 when the incident occurred in 2014 — recounted to The Associated Press.

This was Hajji Abdullah, a religious judge at the time and labeled one of the architects of the militant group’s enslavement of Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority, who rose to become deputy to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He’s believed to be the late al-Baghdadi’s successor, identified only by the pseudonym Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi.

A group of investigators with the Commission for International Justice and Accountability is amassing evidence, hoping to prosecute IS figures for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide -- including Hajji Abdullah.

Hajji Abdullah was previously accused of involvement in the slave trade, most notably in a wanted poster circulated by the U.S. setting a $5 million bounty on his head. But his prominence in the creation and oversight of the slave trade has never been spotlighted.

“IS fighters didn’t take it upon themselves to rape these women and girls. There was a carefully executed plan to enslave, sell, and rape Yazidi women presided over by the highest levels of the IS leadership,” said Bill Wiley, executive director and founder of CIJA. “And in doing so, they were going to eradicate the Yazidi group by ensuring there were no more Yazidi children born.”

CIJA shared some of its findings with The Associated Press. The group, through IS documents and interviews with survivors and insiders, identified 49 prominent IS figures who built and managed the slave trade, as well as nearly 170 slave owners, including Western, Asian, African and Arab fighters. These also include top financiers, military commanders, local governors and women traders, many of them from the region neighboring the Yazidi community’s villages.

The AP also put together findings from IS’s own literature, along with interviews with IS members, former slaves and rescuers, to establish how slavery was strictly mapped out from the earliest days, devolving into a free-for-all with fighters enriching themselves by selling Yazidi women as the group’s power began to disintegrate.

CIJA’s focus now is to build cases that courts can use to try IS members for crimes against humanity or genocide. Countries can prosecute militants for individual rapes or torture or for membership in a terrorist group. But to prove higher charges, they would need the contextual evidence that CIJA provides, showing the crimes were part of a greater structure.

“Practically every Daesh prosecution that has ever happened anywhere in the world is a material support case, a membership case,” Wiley said, using an Arabic name for the group. “Prosecuting high crimes could serve as a counter-radicalization tool for IS supporters.”

In the first prosecution on charges of genocide against the Yazidis last month, a German court brought an Iraqi national to trial for enslaving a Yazidi woman and her 5-year-old, who was chained and left to die of thirst. Meanwhile, a U.N. investigative team said it has collected evidence from Iraq, including 2 million call records, that can strengthen cases of prosecution for crimes against the Yazidis.

CIJA is sharing its findings from Iraq with the U.N. team and is pursuing more evidence from Syria, where IS made its last stand. The Syrian Kurdish authority holds perhaps the largest trove of material from the group, as well as some 10,000 of its members, including 2,000 foreign fighters, in detention.

Investigators’ steep challenge: documenting crimes committed over the course of four years against millions of people in different countries, while many IS members remain at large. In the Iraqi city of Mosul, for instance, the crimes took place among a population of nearly 2 million people over three years, including enslavement, attacks on dissidents, destruction of cultural and religious sites and training children in jihad.

The Islamic State group’s narrative is that slavery is a justifiable consequence of battle during its brutal capture of Sinjar, a region west of Mosul, as part of its attempt to establish a so-called caliphate.

But the AP determined, based on CIJA's investigation and its own reporting, that the highest levels of leadership were directly involved in organizing an enslavement machine that became central to the group’s structure and identity. Governing institutions were enlisted, from the IS “cabinet” that constructed the slave system, the security agencies that enforced it, the bureaucrats and Islamic courts that supervised it, and propaganda arms that justified it.

Even as their caliphate collapsed around them, the militants made keeping their grip on slaves a priority. When slave markets proliferated out of the leadership’s reach, internal documents show IS officials struggled to impose control with a stream of edicts that were widely ignored.

A SYSTEM OF SLAVERY IS launched its attack on the heartland of the Yazidi community at the foot of Sinjar Mountain in August 2014. It's unclear if Sinjar was attacked for its strategic location between IS holdings in Iraq and in Syria or with the specific aim of subjugating the Yazidis, an ancient sect considered heretics by the militants.

In any case, the results were devastating: During the week-long assault, IS killed hundreds of Yazidis and abducted 6,417, more than half of them women and girls. Most of the captured adult men were likely eventually killed. Hajji Abdullah, an ethnic Turkman from Tal Afar, an area near Sinjar, was believed to be the highest IS judicial official in the area and so stepped in to play a key role in distributing slaves.

The women and children — their husbands and fathers butchered or missing — had to learn to navigate the perverse rules of a world where they were considered commodities for rape and servitude. “For five years I lived with them. They beat me and sold me and did everything to me,” said the woman who witnessed Hajji Abdullah’s casual cruelty in the Galaxy wedding hall. She dug her nails into her arms as she spoke, her skinny frame carrying more memories than her years are meant to handle. The AP is not identifying her because she was a victim of rape.

Now 19, she said she was raped by nearly a dozen owners, including al-Baghdadi, who owned her for months before he “gifted” her to one of his aides. The woman was rescued in a U.S-led operation in May 2019. She spoke to the AP in a northern Iraqi town full of Yazidi refugees, including freed women and girls who underwent similar horrors.

When Yazidis were seized, top IS commanders registered them, photographed the women and children and categorized them into married, unmarried and girls. Initially, the thousands of captured women and children were handed out as gifts to fighters who took part in the Sinjar offensive, in line with the group’s policy on the “spoils of war.” Under early IS rules, war booty was distributed equally among the soldiers after the state took 20%, known as the “khums.”

According to survivors and CIJA, some fighters came to detention centers with pieces of paper signed by Hajji Abdullah confirming their participation in the Sinjar attack and entitling them to a slave. Women and girls also would be picked out to be raped by fighters, then returned to detention.

By early 2015, the remaining women were transferred to the Syrian city of Raqqa, the caliphate’s capital, and then distributed across IS-controlled areas, CIJA and survivors of slavery accounts showed.

The IS propaganda machine was mobilized to justify its revival of slavery. Articles, sermons and fatwas interpreting Islamic law were issued outlining how taking slaves was in accordance with Islam. Islamic Shariah law traditionally allowed and regulated slavery, just as many societies did throughout history, but almost all Muslim clerics now say slavery is no longer permissible.

IS operated centralized slave markets in Mosul, Raqqa and other cities. At the market in the Syrian city of Palmyra, women walked a runway for IS members to bid on. Others, like the one in al-Shadadi, distributed women to militants by lottery.

A June 2015 notification reviewed by the AP called on IS fighters in Syria’s Homs province to register for an upcoming slave market, or “Souk al-Nakhassa,” giving those on the front lines a 10 day-notice to attend. Participants were told to enter bids in a sealed envelope.

The Soldiers’ Department, or Diwan al-Jund, recorded fighters who owned slaves, usually referred to by the Arabic word “sabaya.” For a time, IS paid fighters a stipend of about $50 per slave and $35 per child — equivalent to the stipend for a wife. The stipend eventually stopped, apparently because military defeats hurt revenues and because owning a sabaya became a sign of wealth and privilege.

Managing the robust system turned out to be more complicated than the leadership planned. And chaos abounded. Slaves meant to be a reward to fighters were resold for personal profit, and some IS members made tens of thousands of dollars ransoming captives back to their families. Violence and abuse by owners led to rising reports of suicides and escapes among captives.

That prompted a flurry of regulations on ownership and sales, uncovered by CIJA and Syria expert and independent researcher Aymenn Tamimi. As early as March 2015, IS officials in Syria’s Aleppo province banned posting pictures of Yazidi women on social media, trying to crack down on electronic markets that rescuers and smugglers often infiltrated to extract captives.

The CIJA archive contains a copy of an edict by the Department of War Spoils that banned separating enslaved women from their children, with a handwritten note ordering it distributed to all departments and provinces — a signal that earlier decrees had failed to stop the practice.

In July 2015, the Delegated Committee — effectively the cabinet — ordered all slave sales to be registered by Islamic courts, seeking to end sales among fighters. It also required the finance minister of each IS province to keep track of women between transactions.

The rules got only tighter as the leadership’s frustration over violations grew. One directive set punishments for selling Yazidis to “commoners” -- anyone not a fighter or senior IS official -- and for ransoming them to their families. CIJA documented cases of senior officials dismissed from their jobs or punished with lashes for making exorbitant sums by flouting the rules.

Another document explained that only al-Baghdadi was in charge of setting policy on slaves and their distribution. A February 2016 edict required the Delegated Committee’s approval for any senior figure to own slaves — a suggestion that even top officials were abusing the sales process.

Captured IS militants offered a glimpse into the resistance the leadership faced in enforcing its rules. In the eyes of some in the rank-and-file, what they saw as their right under Islamic law could not be restricted.

Abu Hareth, an Iraqi IS preacher held in a Baghdad prison, told the AP that many fighters didn’t feel compelled to register sales in courts. “You have a product and you are allowed to trade in it,” he said.

Abdul-Rahman al-Shmary, a 24-year old Saudi who traded in slaves and is held in a Syrian Kurdish-run prison, dismissed the rules as rooted not in Islamic law but in the leadership’s need for control. “It was about power and not for God’s sake,” he said.

Abu Adel al-Jazrawi, a Saudi who worked in the group’s War Spoils department and is now imprisoned in eastern Syria, put it bluntly: “Slaves were just the means for high officials to get rich.” TALOO'S JOURNEY

Laila Taloo’s 2 1/2-year ordeal in captivity underscores how IS members continually ignored the rules. “They explained everything as permissible. They called it Islamic law. They raped women, even young girls,” said the 33-year old Taloo, who was owned by eight men, all of whom raped her. She asked that her name be used because she is publicly campaigning for justice for Yazidis.

After Taloo, her husband, young son and newborn daughter were abducted in 2014 and she and her husband were forced to convert to Islam, which should have spared them from being enslaved or killed. But conversion meant nothing. “What is this all for? They never had a second thought about killing or slaughtering or taking women,” Taloo said.

The family was taken to the Iraqi village of Qasr Mihrab, along with nearly 2,000 other converted Yazidis. At one point, the militants gathered all the adult men and took them away. Their bodies were never found but are believed to have been thrown into a nearby sinkhole, where bones still can be seen. CIJA found that Hajji Abdullah was among the senior IS officials involved in the execution of the men.

Taloo was first sold to an Iraqi doctor, who three days later gifted her to a friend. Despite the rules mandating sales through courts, she was thrown into a world of informal slave markets run out of homes.

Her third owner, an Iraqi surgeon, woke her one night and had her dress and put on makeup so four Saudi men could inspect her. One didn’t like her ankles; another, a member of the IS religious police, paid nearly $6,000 for her.

That owner posted pictures of his slaves online and, every day, they were paraded before potential buyers. “It was like a fashion show. We would walk up and down a room filled with men who are checking us out,” Taloo said.

With each owner, she fought to keep her children safe. One man took photos of her then-2-year-old daughter, threatening to sell her to an Iraqi woman who couldn’t have children. IS was known to separate children from their mothers, using them as household slaves or child soldiers, changing their names and forcing them to convert to Islam.

One owner forced Taloo to have a baby then changed his mind and forced her to have an abortion. He also forced her to remove a tattoo she engraved on her skin carrying her husband’s name. Another owner forced her to use contraceptives. A third owner got her pregnant and she forced her own abortion.

Eventually, to free a relative, Taloo married a militant who turned out to be a senior IS operative. His long stints on the battlefield enabled her to escape: She paid a smuggler $19,500 she got from her family for passage out of IS-held territory with her children and sister-in-law.

Today, Taloo still visits the sinkhole where her husband is believed to be buried, and for the first time last year she visited the house in Qasr al-Mihrab, where her family was held captive. The house owners, who had fled the IS takeover, have now returned, unknowingly living among Taloo’s cherished memories of her family that was.

THE RESCUERS As their territory steadily diminished and defeat loomed, IS continued to crack down on members who, desperate for money, sought to sell slaves back to their families for large sums. Some fighters who did so were reportedly killed, survivors of IS slavery said.

Some 3,500 slaves have been freed from IS’ clutches in recent years, most of them ransomed by their families. But more than 2,900 Yazidis remain unaccounted for, including some 1,300 women and children, according to the Yazidi abductees office in Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region.

Most are believed dead, but hundreds of women and children likely remain held by militants, said Bahzad Farhan and Ali Khanasouri, two Yazidis who work as rescuers tracking down the enslaved. For years, the two have followed slave markets on social media, contacting smugglers and searching out IS militants willing to ransom their captives to their families. Working separately, they have secured freedom for dozens of women and children.

Sitting under the shade of a tree at Lalish, the holiest Yazidi shrine in Iraq’s Dohuk province, Khanasouri recounted how he managed to escape after being among about 250 people kidnapped by IS in his hometown five years ago.

With the help of a Tunisian IS member he encountered in captivity, he has developed a network of insiders and confederates in his quest to rescue as many fellow Yazidis as possible. As IS crumbled, the rescue business was brisk as captors scrambled for money, “looking for buyers,” Khanasouri said. Now, with militants scattered — some hiding in deserts and caves or in sleeper cells — finding sellers is harder.

Wielding his phone, Khanasouri shows maps of likely locations of IS safehouses in Iraq’s western deserts, where he is certain surviving women are still held. Other women are hiding, either by choice or coercion, among IS families housed at the al-Hol camp in Syria, run by Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Some captives have accepted their new identities, particularly Yazidi children who grew up under IS, Farhan said. Some women with children born to IS fathers don't want to return home because their Yazidi community has shunned the newborns.

Khanasouri and Farhan have extended their search beyond the areas that IS once controlled, finding traces of women and children smuggled out by their captors who fled as far afield as Iran and Turkey. A Yazidi freed slave lost custody in a Turkish court of her nephew and niece who were found in an orphanage in Turkey.

At times, they said, Syrian opposition fighters have refused to return enslaved girls they come across in their territory. One Yazidi girl, forced to convert to Islam and six months pregnant, was found in the northwest Syrian town of Azaz when fighters captured a Saudi IS militant transporting her. One of Farhan’s contacts, an opposition fighter, offered to bring the girl back to her family. But his commanders stopped the transfer.

“They said, `She is now a Muslim girl, why are you sending her back to the infidels?’” Farhan said.


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« Reply #9 on: May 23, 2020, 04:51 AM »


Lucifer-In-Chief Trump orders governors to allow places of worship to reopen so he can get reelected

President declares churches, mosques and synagogues ‘essential services’ but has no authority to order a reopening

David Smith in Washington
Guardian
23 May 2020 21.01 BST

Donald Trump has declared churches, mosques and synagogues “essential services” and threatened to override governors who refuse to reopen them this weekend – a power he does not possess.

“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential, but have left out churches and other houses of worship,” the president told reporters at the White House on Friday. “It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.”

Trump added: “The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now. For this weekend. If they don’t do it, I will override the governors. In America we need more prayer, not less.”

After his two-minute statement, the president left the briefing room podium without taking questions.

His remarks sowed confusion because the federal government does not have the constitutional right to unilaterally order individual states to reopen businesses, churches or schools. But they did seem likely to play well with his support base: Trump won four in five Christian evangelical voters in the 2016 presidential election.

Earlier this week the Centers for Disease Control published a 60-page plan for restaurants, schools, childcare programs, mass transport and other businesses about reopening. But it omitted details about houses of worship and faith-based organisations.

There has been friction between Trump and state governors during the coronavirus pandemic. Last month the president claimed he had “total” authority over reopening plans but then appeared to backpedal from that position.

At Friday’s briefing, the White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, deflected questions about Trump’s threat to override governors and clashed with reporters.

“Boy, it’s interesting to be in a room that desperately wants to see these churches and houses of worship stay closed,” she said sardonically.

Jeff Mason of Reuters replied: “Kayleigh, I object to that. I go to church. I’m dying to go back to church. The question that we’re asking you, and would like to have asked the president and Dr Birx, is is it safe?”

**********

No masks allowed: stores turn customers away in US culture war

Shops around the US make headlines for denying entry to those wearing masks as protesters argue against preventative measures in the name of freedom

Poppy Noor
Guardian
Fri 22 May 2020 19.35 BST

Shoppers wear masks at the Galleria Dallas mall in Texas on 4 May. Photograph: LM Otero/AP

In the last few weeks a spate of American stores have made headlines after putting up signs telling customers who wear masks they will be denied entry. On Thursday, Vice reported on a Kentucky convenience store that put up a sign reading: “NO Face Masks allowed in store. Lower your mask or go somewhere else. Stop listening to [Kentucky governor Andy] Beshear, he’s a dumbass.”

Another sign was posted by a Californian construction store earlier this month encouraging hugs but not masks. In Illinois, a gas station employee who put up a similar sign has since defended herself, arguing that mask-wearing made it hard to differentiate between adults and children when selling booze and cigarettes.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump finally caved and wore a face mask yesterday – something he didn’t want to “give the press the pleasure of seeing”. But while it is gratifying to see the emperor finally forced to wear clothes, you’ve got to wonder to what extent the virus will spread thanks to the actions of citizens insisting on protecting their “freedom” over the right of others not to get sick.

Anti-lockdown protesters have argued that it is anti-American for the government to curtail people’s freedoms in order to reduce deaths as a result of Covid-19. Meanwhile, store owners tell customers what they can and cannot wear before entering, and customers cough in the faces of workers in the name of freedom.

    Anand Giridharadas (@AnandWrites)

    A misbegotten, warped freedom obsession is killing us. pic.twitter.com/KbYaTVtR0O
    May 22, 2020

“I work for Costco and I am asking this customer to put on a mask because that is company policy,” says a Costco employee in one video. “And I’m not doing it because I woke up in a free country,” replies the man filming him.

“A warped freedom obsession is killing us,” said the writer Anand Giridharadas, in reference to those coughing in the faces of others in the name of freedom. It is, of course, a minority of people willfully misinterpreting what freedom means – freedom to choose, until the choice is one that they do not like; meanwhile, most Americans don’t want to return to business as usual during this pandemic.

In Franklin D Roosevelt’s famous 1941 Four Freedoms speech, he detailed that, yes, Americans are owed a right to freedom of speech and expression and to worship whom they please – but he also mentioned the freedom from fear. This was in the context of the US joining forces with Britain in the second world war; Roosevelt was telling Americans that this was a fight for freedom. As America finds itself at war with a deadly pandemic, that’s a message worth considering.

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GOP betting 2020 election success on selling ‘crazy talk’ and conspiracy theories to voters: columnist

Raw Story
5/23/2020
By Tom Boggioni

Surveying the expanding 2020 election campaigns that are managing to cut through the wall-to-wall coverage of the coronavirus pandemic that has brought the U.S. — and the world at large — to a standstill, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson claimed that Republicans appear to be going all-in on pushing conspiracy theories to retain the White House and their Senate majority status.

According to the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, “Senate Republicans have made their choice: They’re putting on their tinfoil hats and staking their political future on transparent lies and wild conspiracy theories. The onetime ‘Party of Lincoln’ threatens to become the ‘Party of Q.'”

Of note, Robinson points out, is the GOP’s Senate nominee in Oregon, Jo Rae Perkins, who is an adherent of QAnon conspiracy theories as Republican leaders stand by.

Perkins “….avidly promotes the absurd and wholly fictitious QAnon story line. Adherents see President Trump as a heroic warrior fighting to save America and the world from an evil cabal of ‘globalist,’ sex-trafficking ‘elites’ who include moles within the government known as the ‘deep state.’ The supposed proof? Enigmatic posts on anonymous message boards from a ‘Q Clearance Patriot’ who claims to have the inside dope on a coming ‘Storm’ that will wash away this faction and purify the country.”

“Reality check: No, it’s not,” Robinson wrote. “It’s crazy talk, on the level of the paranoid speculation in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Dr. Strangelove’ that Russians were using fluoride to taint Americans’ ‘precious bodily fluids.'”

It would be one thing, the columnist notes, if it was just one fringe candidate promoting a conspiracy theories to a gullible public, but some of Perkins’ theories are already being tossed about in Congress.

“Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), for example, complained last year that there are ‘Republican senators up here whose allegiance is more to the deep state than it is to the president.’ At the time, Paul was arguing that the Senate should be holding hearings about Trump’s claim that the whole investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election was nothing but a conspiracy to destroy Trump’s presidency,” Robinson wrote. “If paranoid rants like this were just electoral performance art, that would be deplorable enough. But Republicans are using the power of their office to grant wishes to fantasists such as Paul, and to bolster conspiracy-minded voters who crave the feeling that they’re always on the brink of a major revelation.”

According to the columnist, the GOP is already on the ropes when it comes to the November election, and lawmakers may be looking for a lifeline — hence appealing to a fringe element of the electorate.

“Polls show Trump trailing badly against presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Trump, who fancies himself a marketing genius, has so damaged the Republican brand that the party is in danger of losing Senate seats in Montana, Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina and Maine — for starters. Even in South Carolina, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham is having to look over his shoulder at Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison, who outraised him last quarter. The GOP’s 53-to-47 majority is in real peril of being erased,” Robinson explained.

“Republicans could have decided to cut Trump loose and try to save themselves — and, in the end, perhaps some will take that route. But Trump has so remade the Republican base in his own image, including by providing encouragement to a near-cult, that, as Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the party whip, told Politico: ‘I just think that everybody realizes that our fortunes sort of rise or fall together.'” He wrote before warning, “An actor killed President Abraham Lincoln. A different kind of fiction may kill his party.

****************

Betsy DeVos openly admits she’s ‘absolutely’ using the pandemic to impose her ‘faith-based schools’ agenda

on May 23, 2020
By Igor Derysh, Salon

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos admitted that she was trying to use the ongoing coronavirus crisis to push through her private school choice agenda during a Tuesday radio interview.DeVos made the comments during an interview with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, on his Sirius XM show. The interview was first flagged by the nonprofit education news outlet Chalkbeat.

Dolan asked the secretary whether she was trying to “utilize this particular crisis to ensure that justice is finally done to our kids and the parents who choose to send them to faith-based schools.”
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“Am I correct in understanding what your agenda is?” he asked.

“Yes, absolutely,” DeVos replied. “For more than three decades, that has been something that I’ve been passionate about. This whole pandemic has brought into clear focus that everyone has been impacted, and we shouldn’t be thinking about students that are in public schools versus private schools.”

Department of Education spokeswoman Angela Morabito said in a statement to Chalkbeat that DeVos “is helping Catholic schools just as she is helping all schools; this does not mean she is favoring any one type of school over another.”

“There is no question that this crisis has impacted all students — no matter what kind of school they’re enrolled in,” she added.

DeVos’ comments came as she defended her decision to redirect coronavirus relief funds away from public schools with high numbers of impoverished students to private schools which tend to serve wealthy students. Congress allocated about $13.5 billion to help schools, most of which was intended to go to schools based on a formula that determines how many poor children they serve.

The formula has long allocated some of the funding for poor children who attend private schools, The Washington Post reported. But DeVos said states should calculate how many total students private schools serve rather than just the number of poor students. As a result, millions in aid will be redirected away from schools with high poverty rates to private schools which may not have many poor students.

The move drew criticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

“My sense was that the money should have been distributed in the same way we distribute Title I money,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Education Committee who is typically a DeVos ally, told reporters Wednesday. “I think that’s what most of Congress was expecting.”

Democrats also decried the decision.

“The guidance seeks to repurpose hundreds-of-millions of taxpayer dollars intended for public school students to provide services for private school students, in contravention of both the plain reading of the statute and the intent of Congress,” House Education Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., House Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLaura, D-Ct., and Senate Education ranking member Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a letter to DeVos on Tuesday.

“Given that the guidance contradicts the clear requirements of the CARES Act, it will cause confusion among states and local education agencies that will be uncertain of how to comply with both the department’s guidance and the plain language of the CARES Act,” the lawmakers urged, asking her to “immediately revise” the guidance.

But DeVos defended the decision Thursday to reporters.

“It’s our interpretation that [the funding] is meant literally for all students, and that includes students no matter where they’re learning,” she said.

The Democrats’ warning has proven right, however, as states are already dealing with confusion sparked by the policy.

The Education Law Center said DeVos’ policy was a “patent misreading” of the federal law and could redirect $800,000 in aid from Newark Public Schools in New Jersey to private school students. Tennessee’s education chief said she plans to follow DeVos’ guidance, but other school leaders argue that it is not legally binding and should be ignored.

Indiana’s schools chief Jennifer McCormick said that  the state would ignore the guidance after consulting with the state’s attorney general.

“I will not play political agenda games with relief funds,” she said.

Scott told NPR that “there is rightfully pushback” on the decision.

“The actions of the Department of Education have left states and districts stuck between compliance with the law,” he said, “and adhering to ideologically motivated guidance.”

**************

Bill Barr’s DOJ gets involved in GOP lawmaker’s suit to gut Illinois’ stay-at-home order

Raw Story
5/23/2020
By Matthew Chapman

On Friday, The Daily Beast reported that the Department of Justice has filed a statement of interest in a lawsuit filed by a GOP legislator challenging the stay-at-home order issued by Gov. J. B. Pritzker (D-IL).

“After Pritzker, an outspoken Trump critic, moved to have the lawsuit filed by state Rep. Darren Bailey heard in federal court earlier this week, Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said in a statement that ‘the Governor of Illinois owes it to the people of Illinois to allow his state’s courts to adjudicate the question of whether Illinois law authorizes orders he issued to respond to COVID-19,'” reported Allison Quinn.

Bailey is arguing in court that the orders “are invalid because they go beyond the scope of 30 days approved by the state legislature,” according to the report.

Bailey attracted national attention earlier this week after the Illinois House of Representatives ejected him from a legislative session for refusing to wear a face mask.

**********

DOJ’s new attack on public health orders is ‘deviant and inappropriate’: Law professor

Raw Story
5/23/2020
By Matthew Chapman

On Friday, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division filed a statement of interest in a lawsuit filed by a Republican state legislator in Illinois, trying to strike down Gov. J. B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home orders. The DOJ’s filing both praises the legislator’s “strong case” against the governor and urges federal courts to return the matter to state courts, where judges had been more friendly to the GOP’s claims.

Georgetown University Law professor Marty Lederman was astonished by the filing — and took to Twitter to emphasize how unusual and outrageous the DOJ’s actions were in this case:
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    It’s virtually impossible to convey just how deviant and inappropriate it is for the DOJ Civil Rights Division to file a brief such as this, most of which is on a pure question of state statutory law. /1https://t.co/TBbvO0LPcJ

    — Marty Lederman (@marty_lederman) May 22, 2020

    To do so now, in order to help stymie a state’s efforts to stop the spread of a deadly contagion, is as brazen as anything I’ve seen since DOJ argued that the 2017 Congress & President Trump enacted a mandate to purchase health insurance. /2

    — Marty Lederman (@marty_lederman) May 22, 2020

    I suppose that in the absence of all that citizenship information, they can’t enforce the Voting Rights Act, and therefore they must have been sittin’ around looking for something, anything, to do, when finally some visionary piped up: … /3

    — Marty Lederman (@marty_lederman) May 22, 2020

    “Hey, have you guys heard about how the Illinois Governor is construing section 3305/2(a)(2) of title 20 of the Illinois Compiled Statues? We’d better get right on that, stat!” /4

    — Marty Lederman (@marty_lederman) May 22, 2020

**************

Trump administration withdraws approval for homeless shelters in Sacramento, across California

2020/5/23
The Sacramento Bee

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Trump administration has yanked approval for major homeless shelter projects it previously approved in Sacramento and San Francisco.

The move undermines a critical component of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to shelter the homeless on state land and throws nearly two dozen potential shelter projects across the state into question, according to letters the Federal Highway Administration sent the California Department of Transportation earlier this month.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said the city must find a way to still open a 100-bed shelter near X Street and Alhambra Boulevard it planned to open in early fall.

“We need this project,” Steinberg said. “The (Trump) administration often accuses California of standing in the way of building more housing, especially for vulnerable people. Why is the federal government standing in the way of such an important project?”

Steinberg has raised the issue with White House officials and is hopeful federal approval will be restored, said Mary Lynne Vellinga, Steinberg’s spokeswoman.

City Councilman Jay Schenirer, who represents the area and proposed the project more than a year ago, agreed.

“This is just ridiculous,” Schenirer said. “We are trying to meet a challenge with our unsheltered population, we have a community that is supportive, we have the funding to do it and we can put 100 unsheltered folks under a roof with services.”

Vincent Mammano, California division director for the Federal Highway Administration, sent a letter to Caltrans officials May 7 informing them the federal government was withdrawing approval for the Sacramento shelter as well as a 200-bed shelter planned to open this spring in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood. The letter also says the agency is reviewing approvals for two other shelters in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood as well as one in Los Angeles’ San Pedro neighborhood. Caltrans “improperly issued” the National Environmental Policy Act determination for those sites, the letter says.

After questions surfaced about the San Francisco and Los Angeles locations, the agency reexamined its approval of the Sacramento site, a May 14 letter from FHA to Caltrans said.

Although the site is actually a vacant lot located underneath portions of Highway 50 and Highway 99, it’s considered in the “highway right of way,” according to the letter. FHA has a policy to use the “right of way” exclusively for transportation uses “in order to ensure traffic can flow as safely and efficiently as possibly,” with rare exceptions, the letter said.

In addition, when the agency sells or leases “right of way” land, it wants to get fair market value for it in order to use that money for other highway projects, the letter said.

That policy directly contradicts a new California state law that allows cities to lease properties from Caltrans for $1 per month for emergency shelters or feeding programs, which is what Sacramento was planning to do.

The move could also nix other homeless projects planned on Caltrans-controlled property across the state.

“Caltrans is using or planning to use its highway (right of way) for temporary homeless facilities in nearly two dozen locations throughout the State,” the May 14 highway administration letter reads. “In looking at these locations together, it appears that Caltrans is looking to dispose of its highway (right of way) for less than (fair market value) on a programmatic basis.”

Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin refuted that claim in a letter he sent FHA Monday. He pointed to several state and federal laws that he said allow the projects to move forward, and urged the federal officials to restore approval.

The administrations “unexpected revocations of the right of way use approvals have created a highly unfortunate situation for all parties,” Omishakin wrote in the letter. “Caltrans has already executed agreements with our local public partners. These local partners have already entered into third-party construction contracts and expended significant funds in furtherance of the leases.”

The federal government’s move to block the shelters contradicts actions Newsom and state leaders have taken to make state land available for homeless shelters.

In February, Newsom released a list of 286 state-owned properties suitable for homeless shelters. That list included many Caltrans properties, including the Sacramento site under Highway 50.

Newsom’s office declined a request for comment other than to provide the letter from Caltrans.

City officials “remain optimistic” the site can be used for the project, city spokesman Tim Swanson said. The city has already spent $650,000 on paving, permitting and design work, Swanson said.

The Sacramento City Council was set to approve the construction contract at its meeting Tuesday, but the item was pulled from the agenda at the last minute.

Philip Mangano, former homelessness czar for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, said he is also optimistic the shelters will still be able to open, but called the highway administration move “counterproductive.”

“It doesn’t make sense,” said Mangano, a member of Newsom’s homelessness task force that Steinberg co-chairs. “Making these decisions inside the beltway in Washington is a little tone deaf to what’s occurring on the ground in California.”

There are an estimated 5,570 homeless people living in Sacramento County, a January 2019 count estimated, most of them are sleeping outdoors in the city of Sacramento.

California’s homeless crisis has grown even worse amid the coronavirus crisis, Mangano said.

County, city and nonprofit officials have moved more than 500 homeless people into motel rooms and trailers to prevent the spread of the highly-contagious virus, said Sacramento County spokeswoman Janna Haynes. As of Tuesday, 433 people were staying in motels and two were in medical trailers at Cal Expo, Haynes said.

President Donald Trump has long criticized California’s liberal policies and sought to embarrass the leaders of the state’s large cities about their growing homelessness crisis. But Trump and Newsom have been praising each other lately for coronavirus response, Mangano pointed out.

During a visit to Los Angeles last year, Trump stressed that he wanted to get the homeless off the streets and even discussed moving them into government-backed facilities, The Washington Post reported.

Despite the FHA letters, San Francisco is moving forward with its Bayview shelter under state approval, said San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s spokesman Jeff Cretan.

“Like cities across California, San Francisco needs more housing and shelter for people living on our streets,” Cretan said in a statement. “We are moving forward with building a Navigation Center that will provide 200 beds and critical services in the Bayview neighborhood, which is a part of our city that has been disproportionately impacted by homelessness. People need help, and we need to put vacant land in our City to use.

In L.A., the 100-bed shelter on Caltrans property is still set to open this summer, said Alex Comisar, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s spokesman.

“Mayor Garcetti is grateful to our state and federal partners for making additional Caltrans property available to us for bridge housing, and we are moving full steam ahead on our Beacon project in San Pedro,” Comisar said in a statement. “The mayor will continue working to make more land available for housing, and calls on Washington to make sure the path is clear for the use of these designated Caltrans properties across the state.”

There are other shelters operating on Caltrans-controlled property in the state. San Francisco’s 186-bed Division Street shelter, located in the middle of a freeway on/off ramp, is a former Caltrans storage lot. Sacramento is looking to model the W/X shelters after that shelter, which is located in a semi-permanent tent-like Sprung structure officials call a “navigation center.”

Sacramento homeless guests would receive a bed, meals, showers, as well as help finding housing, medical and mental health services, and help getting government documents like state IDs. Guests would not be screened for drugs and alcohol and would be allowed to bring their pets, partners and possessions.

Meanwhile, a similar large shelter for women on city-owned land in Sacramento’s Meadowview neighborhood is set to open in late June and is being constructed this month, officials said. The city also has a large shelter at the Capitol Park Hotel downtown, but its capacity has been decreased amid the virus and it’s set to close in October.

The W/X site, next to Bob’s Glass in North Oak Park, has been vacant “forever,” Schenirer said.

It could remain that way.

*************

GOP ‘plot to gut Social Security behind closed doors’ gains steam in Senate Covid-19 talks

on May 23, 2020
By Common Dreams

A proposal by Sen. Mitt Romney to establish congressional committees with the specific goal of crafting legislative “solutions” for America’s federal trust fund programs has reportedly resurfaced in GOP talks over the next Covid-19 stimulus package, sparking alarm among progressive advocates who warn the Utah Republican’s bill is nothing but a stealth attack on Social Security and Medicare.

Politico‘s Burgess Everett reported Wednesday that Romney’s TRUST Act, first introduced last October with the backing of a bipartisan group of senators, “is getting a positive reception from Senate Republicans” in coronavirus relief discussions, which are still in their early stages. The legislation, Everett noted, “could become part of the mix” for the next Covid-19 stimulus as Republicans once again claim to be concerned about the growing budget deficit.

Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), told Common Dreams in an interview that he is not at all surprised to see Romney’s bill crop up again and said it should be diligently opposed.

NCPSSM vocally condemned the TRUST Act when it was unveiled last year, warning that—if passed—the measure “would likely result in cuts to the earned benefits of seniors, people with disabilities, and survivors.”

Richtman noted that in a House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee roundtable discussion this week, the idea of establishing commissions to study possible changes to Social Security—though not Romney’s bill specifically—was floated by GOP members, an indication that the New Deal-era program is very much on the minds, and potentially in the crosshairs, of Republican lawmakers.

“Social Security is the piggy bank that Republicans seem to go to whenever it dawns on them that we’ve gotta do something about the debt,” Richtman said, “notwithstanding the fact that they passed a huge tax cut that added trillions to the debt and benefited mostly wealthy individuals and corporations.”

Speaking to Politico this week, two Republican congressmen—Reps. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) and Steve Womack (R-Ark.)—cited the coronavirus pandemic’s possible effects on Social Security to call for a commission to study the program and recommend reforms. Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), meanwhile, is pushing for an expansion of benefits funded by lifting the payroll tax cap, which would make wealthier Americans pay more.

“I don’t know when we’re going to decide to take up the issue,” said Womack. “I hope and I pray that it’s not when we have no other real options other than something draconian like big cuts.”

Richtman warned that in the near future the public is likely “going to start hearing more and more” GOP proposals to cut Social Security under the guise of “entitlement reform” as the party suddenly rediscovers its concern for the mounting deficit.

“Obviously this is a way to push in cuts to Social Security and Medicare without leaving fingerprints, or not many fingerprints,” Richtman said of the TRUST Act.

Romney’s legislation—which currently has 10 Senate co-sponsors, including five Democrats—would give the Treasury Department 45 days to present Congress with a report on the federal government’s “endangered” trust funds. Congress would then establish one “rescue committee” per trust fund with a “mandate to draft legislation that restores solvency and otherwise improves each trust fund program.”

“If a Rescue Committee reports a qualifying bill for its trust fund program, it would receive expedited consideration in both chambers,” according to a summary of Romney’s bill. “While 60 votes would be required to invoke cloture for final passage in the Senate, only a simple majority would be needed for the motion to proceed, which would be privileged.”

The Utah Republican’s role as lead sponsor of the TRUST Act was sufficient reason for activists to raise serious concerns about the bill’s intentions when it was first unveiled last year.

During his 2012 presidential run, Romney proposed raising the Social Security retirement age and privatizing Medicare. Romney’s running mate, former House Speaker Paul Ryan, was long considered the poster child for Republican efforts to gut what’s left of America’s social safety net.

Romney’s bill was endorsed by former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson and former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, the leaders of the notorious Obama-era commission that—among other sweeping changes—recommended raising Social Security’s eligibility age and slashing benefits.

“The last thing seniors need is for Mitt Romney to get his hands on Social Security,” Richtman said in October.

Social Security Works, a progressive advocacy group, warned in a tweet on Wednesday that the TRUST Act is “a plot to gut Social Security behind closed doors.” The group told Common Dreams that it is closely monitoring Senate talks and actions related Romney’s bill.

Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, said in an emailed statement to Common Dreams that “at a time when current Republican policy is to let seniors die of Covid-19 by the tens of thousands without lifting a finger to help, it is beyond shameful that Mitt Romney’s focus is to rob those same older Americans of their earned Social Security and Medicare benefits.”

“Romney’s TRUST Act would create a fast-track, closed door commission to cut Social Security and Medicare,” Lawson said. “If Republicans cared about the American people, especially seniors, they’d be passing legislation to get PPE to essential workers, help the unemployed, and rush assistance to the nursing homes that are turning into death traps.”

“Instead,” Lawson added, “they are focused on using this pandemic as an excuse to gut our most popular and effective government programs.”


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NYT prints names of 1,000 COVID-19 fatalities on the front page — 1% of US coronavirus deaths

on May 24, 2020
Raw Story
By Bob Brigham

America’s COVID-19 death toll was put into context on the cover of Sunday’s New York Times.

The banner headline reads, “U.S. deaths near 100,000, an incalculable loss.”

“They were not simply names on a list. They were us,” the subhead reads.

“Numbers alone cannot possibly measure the impact of the coronavirus on America, whether it is the number of patients treated, jobs interrupted or lives cut short. As the country nears a grim milestone of 100,000 deaths attributed to the virus, The New York Times scoured obituaries and death notices of the victims. The 1,000 people here reflect just 1 percent of the toll,” the newspaper explained. “None were mere numbers.”

The front page featured short obituaries covering all six columns.
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    The front page of The New York Times for May 24, 2020 pic.twitter.com/Mp4figjnQe

    — The New York Times (@nytimes) May 23, 2020

************

Biden campaign hits Trump for America’s coronavirus death toll: ‘The president is playing golf’

on May 23, 2020
Raw Story
By Bob Brigham

President Donald Trump spent his 185th day at a golf course on Saturday as America’s COVID-19 fatalities approached 100,000.

While Trump may have taken the day off, the 2020 campaigns remained in high gear.

The Trump campaign on Saturday released a new ad criticizing Biden for being a “racist” and “lying” — despite the fact those are two of the biggest criticisms of the president.

Meanwhile, Biden’s 2020 campaign released a new ad featuring footage of Trump’s golf outing.

“Nearly 100,000 Americans have died,” the ad notes. “The death toll is still rising.”

“The president is playing golf,” the ad concludes.

    Nearly 100,000 lives have been lost, and tens of millions are out of work.

    Meanwhile, the president spent his day golfing. pic.twitter.com/H1BVNtgVjA

    — Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) May 24, 2020

Watch: https://twitter.com/JoeBiden/status/1264374557860716544

*************

Joe Scarborough calls out ‘unmoored’ Trump over his Saturday night flurry of tweets smearing his critics

on May 24, 2020
Raw Story
By Tom Boggioni

A very somber Joe Scarborough, in a rare Sunday morning appearance on MSNBC, called out Donald Trump for his ugly Twitter attacks on his critics, saying the president is causing some to believe he has become “unmoored” by the pressure of the job.

During a special pandemic edition of “Morning Joe,” the MSNBC host skipped over the personal attacks the president made against him on Saturday — accusing him of murder — to talk about Trump’s demeanor as the death toll from the pandemic crisis hits 100,000.

“The president criticized Barack Obama, of course, for golfing, has golfed so much more than Barack Obama this far in and did it again yesterday in the midst of this crisis,. Also insulted his last opponent, re-tweeting something that called her a, quote, a ‘skank,'” the MSNBC host explained. “The constant attacks for Nancy Pelosi, at Nancy Pelosi even though America, for the most part, has come together to bend the curve.”

“This president does not seem to be anything resembling a president that wants to bring the country together,” he continued. “More and more people are concerned that he’s unmoored. And more, I think, tragically, unmoved by the nearly 100,000 dead Americans.”

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

**********

Lucifer-In-Chief Trump labeled a ‘national mental health crisis’ after how he spent Saturday during the pandemic

on May 24, 2020
Raw Story
By Bob Brigham

President Donald Trump received harsh criticism for how he spent his Saturday, as coronavirus deaths approach 100,000.

“As Americans die, Trump spends his time golfing, attacking Joe Scarborough and fighting with Jeff Sessions for recusing himself. What a tragedy for the country to be held hostage by a malignancy like this,” journalist Steven Beschloss tweeted on Saturday.

His message was seen by Dr. Bandy Lee, a forensic psychiatrist at Yale School of Medicine.
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“This is why we have called Donald Trump, above all, to be a ‘national mental health crisis’ whose severest effects are yet to come,” Dr. Lee warned.

    This is why we have called Donald Trump, above all, to be a “national mental health crisis” whose severest effects are yet to come. https://t.co/khyqhZX880

    — Bandy X Lee, MD, MDiv (@BandyXLee1) May 24, 2020

***********

Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell slammed by NYT for fleeing DC for vacation while millions are out of work

on May 24 2020
Raw Story
By Bob Brigham

Senate Majority Leader Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell (R-KY) and his Republican caucus were the focus of a highly-critical New York Times editorial.

“After three weeks in session, the United States Senate emptied out again on Friday, as lawmakers fled Washington for the Memorial Day recess. They left without even pretending to tackle the next round of coronavirus relief,” the newspaper noted. “This is how the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, wants it.”

“The Democratic-led House passed a $3 trillion relief package on May 15. That bill was imperfect but it was something. Mr. McConnell, on the other hand, has repeatedly said he’s in no hurry for the Senate to offer its own proposal. He has put talks on an indefinite pause, saying he wants to see how the economy responds to previous relief measures,” the paper reported. “The Senate may get around to putting together a plan when it reconvenes next month. Or perhaps it will in July.”

“This course of inaction is unsustainable,” The Times warned, noting that new jobless claims of almost 39 million Americans with unemployment approaching 20 percent.

“Behind these numbers are real people suffering significant hardship,” the paper reminded. “With unemployment predicted to stay high through 2021, lawmakers need to do more to help those Americans whose jobs have vanished, many never to return.”

The editorial board concluded, “it’s time for Mr. McConnell to stop his foot-dragging and get serious about making America work again.”

This was not the first time McConnell has received criticism for vacationing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March, the Senate went on a three-week vacation after passing an earlier coronavirus relief bill.

*************

America begins to unlock for summer – but is it inviting a disastrous second wave?

Covid-19 deaths are still rising, but there are signs of quarantine fatigue – and experts warn relaxing the rules too soon could have devastating consequences  

Amanda Holpuch and Nina Lakhani in New York and Khushbu Shah in Atlanta
Guardian
24 May 2020 11.00 BST

Monday is Memorial Day – the traditional start of the American summer. Shutters are going up, doors are being unlocked, barriers removed. Every state is relaxing quarantine rules to some extent, betting that the country finally has Covid-19 under control.

There are signs that for some Americans quarantine fatigue is overcoming fear of infection. With the economy reeling, others have dismissed the pandemic as a political plot – for them relaxing quarantine rules can’t come soon enough. But people on the front line are worried, and experts warn the outbreak has proved a “trust-destroying disaster” that could have devastating consequences.

On Friday, White House coronavirus taskforce member Dr Anthony Fauci said new localized outbreaks were “inevitable” as mitigation measures are relaxed. He said a full-blown second wave could be avoided if the holy grail of containment measures – testing, quarantine and contact tracing – continued to be adhered to.

Fauci said he was hopeful that the US would be ready, though a recent study by Harvard University found that only nine states were conducting, or near to conducting, the minimum recommended testing. Hours after Fauci spoke, Donald Trump ignored health guidance and ordered houses of worship to open for in-person services at the weekend.

These disparate responses to the pandemic are not just happening in the White House, but across America.

After 51 days on lockdown, Minnesota ended its statewide stay-at-home order on Monday. A new order, dubbed Stay Safe MN, will allow more flexibility and social interaction amid the pandemic.

For nurses in Minneapolis, it’s too soon. In emotional testimony at the state capitol last week, they told lawmakers they feared that a surge in cases would cost more lives, including those of health workers.

    It is going to get worse here before it gets better. That is guaranteed
    Tim Walz

A surge of Covid-19 infections would exhaust the state’s personal protection equipment (PPE) supplies, warned Mary Turner, a critical care nurse at North Memorial Health hospital and president of the Minnesota Nurses Association.

“We are approaching the surge point very fast,” Turner said.

About 17,700 cases have been reported in the state, and 777 deaths. It is far from the worst outbreak in the US – but numbers are still rising. In the meantime, hospitals have been reusing N95 masks that technically expired in 2001 and 2002. Supplies of gowns ran so short last month that some local hospitals ordered rain ponchos as a backup.

Even Minnesota’s governor, Tim Walz, believes worse is to come. “It is going to get worse here before it gets better. That is an absolute guarantee,” Walz, a Democrat, told reporters as he outlined his cautious reopening plan.

Social scientists at Northwestern University have surveyed 200 people a day since mid-March, and have found that unlike in other disasters, the US is not unifying in response to this crisis.

“It has been a solidarity- and trust-destroying disaster,” said Beth Redbird, the primary researcher. “We usually see disasters as unifying. They bring us together, they unite us, they increase support for our neighbors, to help each other out. But while we see anecdotal stories of that in the press, we haven’t actually seen a lot of data supporting that that’s what’s going on.”

The majority of Americans still seem to oppose Trump’s attempts to downplay the crisis. Northwestern’s surveys last week showed 64% of people are still in support of stay-at-home orders, and they are mostly avoiding seeing friends and eating out at restaurants.

But while Northwestern’s survey found 86% said they trusted scientists to tell them what to eat for a healthy diet, those who said they trust a scientist to tell them how Covid-19 works was only at 55%.
‘Like adding kindling to embers’

We have been here before. The threats of a second wave were borne out in the 1918 influenza pandemic, in which a third of the world’s population were infected with the virus.

The spread was successfully curtailed in San Francisco thanks to the prompt implementation of mitigation measures including a city-wide shutdown and requirement to wear masks in public.

As the infection rate dwindled, city leaders relaxed the lockdown measures in November 1918; bars, restaurants and sports arenas reopened, and people poured out onto the streets in celebration, tossing their masks in the process. A month later, the second wave hit San Francisco, but this time much of the public – including the Anti-Mask League – resisted public health mandates. The city ended up with nearly 45,000 cases and over 3,200 reported deaths. San Francisco ended up being one of the country’s worst-hit major cities.

Stephen Morse, director of the infectious disease epidemiology program at Columbia University medical center, said as long as the virus is circulating in humans, there will be flare-ups as soon as it’s introduced to a street, town or county with enough susceptible people.

“It’s like adding kindling to embers,” said Morse.

Whether these inevitable localized outbreaks are contained or will multiply depends on the golden trio of testing, quarantine and contact tracing. If enough places implement these measures comprehensively, the chain of transmission could be broken, and the flare-ups snuffed out.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen next, we have to proceed with caution and we could get lucky,” Morse said. “The big fear is that with the virus still in circulation, if we allow it to have unfettered access to people, then we certainly have the makings of a second pandemic of even larger proportions.”

It’s not all about timing. The country’s patchwork response to the outbreak has also played an important role – and will likely continue to do so.

“For the first time in my lifetime, there’s been an almost total lack of global coordination and US federal leadership, whose confusing and contradictory messages have been counterproductive and very destructive,” Morse said.

‘To think the virus has changed is a fantasy’

It’s unclear whether the US has even fully emerged from the first wave, but the virus remains as infectious and lethal as it was when it emerged.

And the conditions that have left low-income groups, communities of colour and Native Americans the hardest-hit remain, with infections and complications including death.

“To think the virus must have changed just because we’re tired of being at home is almost a fantasy,” said Chandra Ford, founding director of the center for the study of racism, social justice and health at UCLA’s Jonathan and Karin Fielding school of public health.

Ford warned subsequent outbreaks are likely to disproportionately affect these same communities.

“The US response to the pandemic at the federal level has lacked a meaningful public health response,” said Ford. “So it’s not surprising that the push to reopen isn’t driven by public health indicators. In fact, it appears to be driven against public health indicators, in the interest of political or economic gains.”

From the beginning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most basic guidelines to stem the spread of Covid-19 ran up against some fundamental injustices in the US system. Workers are not guaranteed paid sick leave and healthcare is not universal.

    Mistrust of healthcare providers and public health messages will fuel the pandemic itself
    Chandra Ford

Prisons, meatpacking plants and nursing homes have seen a disproportionate amount of cases. In New York City, the impact has overwhelmingly been felt in poorer communities where mostly immigrants and people of color live.

“Historical and current experiences of discrimination and medical racism provide fodder for people to be willing to accept explanations that are not true,” Ford said. “Trust matters tremendously. Mistrust of healthcare providers and public health messages will fuel the pandemic itself and disparities in the pandemic.”

In Georgia, one of the first states to start reopening, even business owners are worried.

Brian Maloof, owner of the Atlanta’s famous Manuel’s Tavern, said: “The attitude is that it’s too early to open with the population density. This is where the predominance of the cases are.”

He lives in the outskirts of the city and said there, parking lots are jammed with cars and people are packing into shopping malls and restaurants. He doesn’t expect the same crush of people inside the city. Maloof said: “There is a tremendous amount of fear here in Atlanta.”


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« Reply #11 on: May 25, 2020, 03:09 AM »

New study may change our understanding of the coronavirus’ origins

By Chris Smith
5/25/2020
BGR

    The origin of the novel coronavirus pandemic is still unknown because the world lacks data about Patient Zero, the first patient who got the virus.
    New research indicates that COVID-19 may have been spreading in France in mid-November when some patients already had atypical pneumonia that’s consistent with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.
    The data might back up other findings that say the virus may have jumped to humans as early as October.
  
The novel coronavirus wasn’t made in a lab, but that doesn’t mean China has been forthcoming with information about the origin of the virus. After all this time, it’s still unclear when the first COVID-19 patients appeared, as that information hasn’t been made public. But we’re getting more and more evidence that outbreaks in Europe and the US started even earlier than officials thought. The latest proof comes from France, a country that already obtained evidence that said a COVID-19 patient was admitted to a hospital in Paris in late December at a time when no one knew about the disease. That patient had not traveled to China or anywhere else. The doctors who tested his samples months after his hospital visit were unable to explain where he got the virus from. And now, new evidence says the virus may have been circulating in France as early as mid-November, more than a month before the first confirmed case in Paris.

Just like the doctors from Paris who started looking at past cases to discover patients who exhibited COVID-19-like symptoms, a team of researchers in the northeastern French city of Colmar started looking at X-ray results that would be consistent with CT imagery of confirmed COVID-19 patients. The team identified two X-rays from November 16th and 18th that showed symptoms consistent with atypical pneumonia that often presents with COVID-19 cases.

“This fits a pattern we’re seeing with coronavirus — especially early coronavirus infection where you’re seeing some abnormalities in some parts of the lungs but not abnormalities everywhere,” Dr. Vin Gupta told NBC News after analyzing the images obtained from the French doctors.

Image Source: Courtesy Albert Schweitzer Hospital via NBC NewsA scan of a suspected COVID-19 patient in France from mid-November 2019.

The X-ray results might not be enough to confirm a COVID-19 diagnosis for those patients. However, doctors can trace them back to the patients and conduct additional interviews as well as antibody testing that could prove the diagnosis and establish how they got the infection. Then again, it’s always possible that these patients could have contracted COVID-19 in the months following those initial hospital visits.

France is still searching for Patient Zero, information that could help authorities map the exact path of the infection and adapt their strategies for dealing with the virus going forward.

“We can only manage the future if we understand the past,” Albert Schweitzer Hospital radiologist Dr. Michael Schmitt told NBC. “Today, we clearly do not understand this outbreak.” Schmitt and his team will now analyze X-ray scans from October after already having looked at 2,500 chest X-rays taken from November 1st to April. Aside from the two November cases, the team discovered 12 patients in December and 16 in January that are suspected of having been infected.

The patients who came to the hospital in mid-November could have been infected up to two weeks before their admission. That means they could have come in contact with a COVID-19 carrier as early as late November or even late October. A recent study that looked at the various SARS-CoV-2 strains circulating in the wild concluded that “phylogenetic estimates support that the COVID-2 pandemic started sometime around October 6th, 2019–December 11th, 2019, which corresponds to the time of the host-jump into humans.”

Recent reports also showed that US intelligence agencies collected raw data that hinted at a public health crisis in Wuhan, China as early as November. News of the novel infectious disease reached the public in late December, which is when the public first learned about new atypical pneumonia cases popping up in patients in Wuhan.

************

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https://ncov2019.live/data


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« Reply #12 on: May 25, 2020, 03:12 AM »


'Many will starve': locusts devour crops and livelihoods in Pakistan

Farmers faced with worst plague in recent history say they have been left to fend for themselves

Hannah Ellis-Petersen and Shah Meer Baloch
Guardian
Mon 25 May 2020 05.00 BST

Mir Gul Muhammad, a farmer in Balochistan province, was blunt. “The worst that we have ever seen, ever, in our whole life,” he said of the swarms of locusts that descended on his village of Gharok.

“I cultivated around 50 acres of cotton crops and all of them have been eaten and destroyed by locusts,” he said. “Besides cotton, my other crops – onion, chilli and tomato – have been affected badly too. It is a loss of around 10m rupees [£51,000]. As a farmer, it will take years to recover from this loss.”

Farmers across Pakistan are suffering the worst plague of locusts in recent history, which has caused billions of dollars in damage and led to fears of long-term food shortages.

The Pakistani government declared a national emergency this year after the locusts began to decimate winter crops. The first swarm came from the United Arab Emirates in mid-2019, and in the next few weeks time a new infestation is expected to arrive from Iran.

Muhammad said he had no means of dealing with locusts and that the government was in “deep slumber” about farmers’ plight. “The government is not doing anything. It’s a helpless situation,” he said.

One of the worst hit provinces is Sindh, where Moti Lal said his livelihood was destroyed last week in one fell swoop.

“All my green crops, such as wheat and mustard, were attacked and ruined by locusts,” he said. “We had borrowed 40,000 rupees [£400] through micro-financing schemes to invest in farming. Now, all that amount is gone.”

Pakistan will incur losses of about £2bn in winter crops, such as wheat, and a further £2.3bn in the summer crops being planted now, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

This will be economically devastating for a country where agriculture accounts for 20% of GDP and 65% of the population live and work in agricultural areas. Pakistan is already suffering from crippling inflation, which is now at a 12-year high, and the unprecedented economic burden imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The cost of flour and vegetables had already risen 15% this year, and the locust infestation could make even basic food staples unaffordable.

Ismail Rahoo, state minister of agriculture for Sindh, described the plague as a “dangerous and catastrophic threat to the economy, agriculture and food security in Pakistan”.

“This year it will be ten times worse than last year. They are attacking from three sides,” he said. “The locusts and their eggs have now covered 50,000 square kilometres of farmland. We are expecting them to infest more than 5m hectares. And they are not just attacking Sindh province, but also the agricultural areas of Punjab and Balochistan.”

Heavy rains on the Arabian peninsula in 2019 triggered explosive growth in the locust population, and they began causing problems in India, Pakistan and a number of African countries last year. The second generation is 20 times bigger. Locusts move in swarms of up to 50 million, can travel 90 miles a day, and lay as many as 1,000 eggs per square metre of land.

Rahoo said the federal government had ignored various requests to spray pesticide from the air, something he said the Sindh state government did not have the resources to do.

Muhammad Akram Dashti, a senator from Balochistan, gave a speech in parliament in May 2019 urging the federal government to start preparing for the locust plague that had just emerged in his province.

“It could have been prevented,” he said. “I raised this issue when it was confined to a division of Balochistan province. It’s the responsibility of federal government to help farmers against such destruction, but the federal government didn’t take it seriously. I requested for spraying of crops times and again. Nothing happened.”

Now, he says, it is too late. ‘“Many people will starve,” he said.


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« Reply #13 on: May 25, 2020, 03:14 AM »


Britain's largest solar farm poised to begin development in Kent

Cleve Hill, the £450m project producing 350MW, expected to receive go-ahead this week

Jillian Ambrose
Guardian
25 May 2020 11.04 BST

Britain’s largest solar farm, capable of generating enough clean electricity to power 91,000 homes, is poised to receive the greenlight from ministers this week.

The subsidy-free renewables park is expected to reach a capacity of 350MW by installing 880,000 solar panels – some as tall as buses – across 364 hectares (900 acres) of farmland in the Kent countryside.

The project is expected to be constructed one mile north-east of Faversham close to the village of Graveney and may also include one of the largest energy storage installations in the world.

The developers expect to receive a development consent order for the £450m project from the business secretary, Alok Sharma, on Thursday almost three years after talks began with local stakeholders over plans for the park.

Once it has the final g0-ahead from the government the developers hope to begin building the Cleve Hill solar farm from early next year, and begin generating clean electricity by 2023.

Renewable energy is considered a crucial element in the UK’s plans to end its contribution to the climate crisis by building a carbon neutral economy by 2050, and it could also help spur economic growth in the wake of the coronavirus.

The UK’s growing fleet of solar panels has produced record levels of clean electricity in recent weeks, reaching fresh highs of 9.68GW last month and helping the UK energy system to its longest stretch without coal-fired power since the Industrial Revolution.

The renewables industry believes the UK’s solar power capacity could rise to 27GW by 2030 after the UK government dropped a block which prevented solar farms and onshore wind projects from competing in subsidy contract auctions.

A boom in battery projects could mean the electricity generated by solar panels during the day could help to keep lights on at night too, helping to cut carbon emissions and domestic energy bills.

The development partners behind the scheme, Wirsol Energy and Hive Energy, believe the project could help cut the UK’s carbon emissions by 68,000 tonnes a year while generating £1m of revenue for the Kent and Swale councils every year.

But local activists have voiced concerns that the scale of the solar park, which is the equivalent of 600 football fields, could do more harm than good for the local area.

Helen Whately, the Conservative MP for Faversham and Mid Kent, said the scale of the development would have a “devastating” impact by “industrialising” the countryside.

“We’re not talking about a few fields - this would destroy an entire landscape. I want to see us reach net-zero by 2050, but this should not come at any cost,” she told the Sunday Telegraph earlier this month.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England in Kent has also warned that the proposed battery storage facilities are five times the size of some of the largest storage projects in the world, which could raise the risk of explosions and fire.

The developers have rebutted claims from its critics that the project has failed to give due consideration to the safety concerns of local residents, or the impact of the local environment.

Cleve Hill won the support of the Planning Inspectorate earlier this month after putting forward plans to preserve native woodland and scrub within the bounds of the site by hosting a habitat management area of more than 138 hectares – including a new bat roost.

The planning will include footpaths for ramblers, and a buffer zone of at least 63 metres between the solar park and the Saxon Shore Way.

A spokeswoman for the project said the developers had responded to concerns over the scale of the project’s battery storage ambitions “in great detail” during the examination process with the Planning Inspectorate.

She added that safety considerations had been discussed “in great length” with the supply chain, the Health and Safety Executive and Kent Fire and Rescue Service.


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« Reply #14 on: May 25, 2020, 03:16 AM »


Entire Western Australia coast to be battered by 'once-in-a-decade' storm

Ex-Tropical Cyclone Mangga expected to bring 100km/h winds, heavy rain and massive waves along a 3,000km stretch of coast

Ben Smee and agencies
Guardian
25 May 2020 00.47 BST

A massive “once-in-a-decade” storm is expected to hit Australia’s entire west coast on Sunday and Monday, bringing potentially dangerous conditions and prompting authorities to place defence force units on standby.

The Bureau of Meteorology said the storm – the remnants of Tropical Cyclone Mangga combined with a cold front – represented an “unusually widespread severe weather event”.

    Bureau of Meteorology, Western Australia (@BOM_WA)

    Prepare for an unusually widespread severe weather event along the west coast. Heavy rain and very gusty winds likely with dangerous surf and storm tides. By Sun night, severe weather will be confined to the SW of WA, easing during Mon. Latest warnings - https://t.co/X0UmpCmgQa pic.twitter.com/H8lTPQiTD7
    May 23, 2020

Warnings were issued for damaging winds up to 100km/h, heavy rain and massive waves from Albany to the Kimberley Coast – a distance of about 3,000km.

The Western Australia Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) acting assistant commissioner Jon Broomhall told reporters people should be securing homes and property.

“So it’s a once-in-a-decade-type system and it’s from a different angle,” Broomhall said.

“Normally our storms come from the south-west and this will come from the north-west so it will test people’s buildings, sheds and all those unsecured items, so we’re asking people to secure property and make sure everything loose is tied down.”

DEFS warns the “unusual weather” could cause significant damage to homes and make travel dangerous.

A “take action now” alert was issued on Sunday for most of the state, including Perth and the Great Southern region, as well as parts of the Pilbara in WA’s north and the Goldfields in the south-east.

Residents were warned to unplug electrical appliances, avoid using landline phones if there was lightning, close curtains and blinds, and stay away from windows.

Anyone stuck outside was urged to find safe shelter away from trees, powerlines, storm water drains and streams.

Motorists were warned to watch for hazards, such as debris, and to not drive into water of unknown depth and current.

“We haven’t yet requested interstate assistance, we’ll wait and see what the impact is, but we have had discussions already with the Australian defence force locally for what they can help us with.”

The Bureau of Meteorology said strong and squally winds would hit the state’s north on Sunday morning, then move south to Perth and Albany in the afternoon and evening.

Residents in coastal areas from as far north as Exmouth and south to Augusta were specifically warned of the potential of a dangerous storm tide.

Peak wave heights in excess of eight metres were predicted for the south-west coast on Monday, causing significant beach erosion.

“This is a rare event for WA due to the extent of the area affected and the possibility of multiple areas of dangerous weather,” the Bureau of Meteorology said.

“A similar event to this one occurred in June 2012, which led to over 600 calls for assistance and over 170,000 homes losing power.”


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