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Fighting mosquitoes with mosquitoes: Biological weapons target Zika virus

Los Angeles Times
09 Feb 2016 at 09:33 ET   

 JOHANNESBURG — As mosquitoes buzzed about on her veranda one recent evening, Maureen Coetzee didn't reach for bug spray or a swatter. She dashed inside, grabbed a device resembling a drinking straw and sucked four mosquitoes into a specimen jar.

She quickly identified them as Aedes aegypti, the villain in the Zika crisis a continent away.

The next day, in her laboratory at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, Coetzee peered at her new captives as they squatted in their containers.

To her delight, one had laid eggs, meaning she could breed them.

Coetzee has devoted her life to understanding mosquitoes — in order to kill them.

No other animal has done so much harm to the human race. Each year, they infect millions of people with malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever and other viruses and parasites, killing at least 600,000, the vast majority of them children in Africa. The World Bank estimates that they cost afflicted African countries 1.3 percent of gross domestic product each year.

Which raises the question: Why not try to wipe mosquitoes off the planet?

Coetzee and other scientists said that would be extreme, given that only about 150 of the 3,500 species of mosquitoes are carriers of deadly pathogens. It would also be wildly impractical to try infiltrating every mosquito breeding ground.

But more thorough control may be possible through a combination of methods. After decades of fighting mosquitoes — and mostly losing — technology is bringing new biological weapons to the battle.

Coetzee, an entomologist at the University of Witwatersrand and international expert on mosquito control, is conducting research on an anti-malaria strategy that involves breeding male mosquitoes, sterilizing them with radiation and releasing them into the wild.

The concept was pioneered in the 1950s when U.S. scientists used it to eradicate the screwworm fly. Applied to mosquitoes, it relies on two basic facts: They mate only once, and only females bite.

The strategy depends on releasing enough mosquitoes to crowd wild males out of the mating game, letting the current generation die out without reproducing. The life span of a mosquito is two to four weeks. Coetzee said that effective control would require releasing millions monthly during malaria season across vast areas.

One advantage of the strategy over other methods is that it allows targeting of individual species of mosquitoes. "It makes sense to target only those mosquitoes that are involved in transmission of disease," Coetzee explained.

Though she and other scientists have no qualms about trying to eliminate those species, even that goal is "highly unlikely," she said.

The four species that transmit malaria in Africa breed in rain pools. "If you think about the whole of Africa, you are never going to get to every rain pool," she said. "Inevitably you will have pockets of mosquitoes."

"There's no silver bullet," she said.

In the long history of the world's battle against mosquitoes, a central lesson has emerged: Never back off. The moment that authorities scale back control measures or lose track of mosquito population trends, the insects bounce back with a vengeance, and outbreaks of deadly disease inevitably follow.

"Progress on every front and at every level is fragile," a South African Medical Journal reported in a 2013 article on malaria. "Malaria is a disease that can take full advantage of any lapse in investment, vigilance and control."

In the 1950s, the World Health Organization launched a malaria eradication campaign that used the insecticide DDT to kill mosquitoes in the United States, Europe, Asia and South America. Malaria seemed to disappear. In South Africa, which conducted its own campaign, government medical research authorities ordered the country's foremost mosquito expert, Botha De Meillon, to abandon his study of mosquitoes because the malaria problem had been solved.

Malaria, of course, came roaring back.

In 1962, biologist Rachel Carson's book "Silent Spring" argued that DDT was damaging the environment, especially bird populations, sparking a political movement that led the U.S. to ban the insecticide a decade later. Other countries followed suit, eliminating a powerful if controversial tool for mosquito control.

In 2004, an international agreement, the Stockholm Convention, banned DDT except in certain cases for control of malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

Though other insecticides are widely used, they too have their limits.

Mosquito populations have grown increasingly resistant, a global problem that Coetzee places on par with the rise of bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

Another problem with insecticides is that mosquito breeding sites are easy to miss, said Laith Yakob, a vector control expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. For example, Aedes aegypti, which carries the Zika virus, is especially hard to reach because it often breeds in houses and can reproduce in thimble-sized pools of water.

"Any of them can be viable breeding sites, and imagining that citywide, it would be impossible to eliminate all breeding sites," he said. "And even if you did, the next time it rained, they would be back."

That's where newer technologies can help.

One of the newest is a variation of the sterilized male strategy. It involves genetically modifying male mosquitoes so their offspring are programmed to die before they mature and are able to reproduce.

Some scientists believe genetic modification is better than sterilization, because dousing mosquitoes with radiation could leave them less vibrant and hurt their ability to compete with their wild counterparts when it comes to mating.

In the months before the Zika outbreak in the Americas, a British company announced that it had conducted a successful trial in the Brazilian city of Piracicaba, cutting the number of mosquito larvae by 82 percent.

The company, Oxitec, which bills itself as the world's only genetically modified insect firm, announced last month that it planned to build a facility in Brazil soon to produce genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in batches large enough to protect a town of 300,000.

The mosquitoes are puffed out the window of an SUV in bursts of 1,000, and can be directed at hot spots or blanket an entire town. "A male will always find a female," Oxitec Chief Executive Hadyn Parry said. "A male will find its way into a house."

Like the sterile insect method, the approach is best used in conjunction with other methods, such as insecticides.

"For us it's a numbers game," Parry said. "We need to outnumber the wild males, so the lower the population you have to start with, the quicker and easier it is to get rid of it."

But the company faces strong opposition from groups like the Britain-based group Gene Watch, which argues genetically modified mosquitoes have no proven benefits and that killing one species may result in another more invasive species filling the vacuum.

Back in Coetzee's laboratory, thousands of mosquito eggs sat in a tub of water. They were already hatching into the larvae of a species that carries malaria. Gauze-topped vessels lined the walls, some splattered with guinea pig blood that females were fed and had excreted. The males feed on sugar water.

"They're intriguing little organisms," said Coetzee, who has been studying mosquitoes for more than 40 years.

"Three and a half thousand species is a lot of variation and some of them are very beautiful," she said.

To illustrate her point, she took a mosquito she had caught and pinned to a board decades ago and placed it under a microscope: Toxorhynchites brevipalpis, better known as the elephant mosquito. It has a wingspan of almost an inch and a striking blue thorax flecked with gold and fuzzy antennae.

It lives off nectar and doesn't bite humans.

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U.S. News

Michigan state board approves petition to recall Rick Snyder — but not because of Flint

Arturo Garcia
Raw Story
08 Feb 2016 at 22:38 ET      

While the Michigan state Board of Canvassers approved a petition on Monday seeking to recall Gov. Rick Snyder (R), the petition is not connected to the ongoing water crisis in Flint.

According to, the petition that was approved is related to the governor’s creation of the State School Reform/Redesign Office. The board rejected nine petitions related to the issues in Flint because of spelling errors, on top of another 12 it has rejected since last November.

For instance, one petition seeking to oust Snyder for declaring a state of emergency in Genesee County and Flint was rejected because “Genesee” was misspelled as “Genesse.” Another petition was rejected for misspelling the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act.

More than 100 people attended the board’s meeting on Monday, with several of them criticizing the group for rejecting the Flint-related petitions over the mistakes.

“You are playing with semantics and in the meantime my family and members of my family have been poisoned,” said Dorothy Batchelder, who said that more than 30 of her relatives live in Flint.

Board member Julie Matuzak said spelling errors put petitions at risk of being challenged and overturned in court.

“Words do matter, and spelling does matter,” she said. “And when a person signs a recall petition they have a right to expect that their signature will count for something.”

Supporters of the petition approved on Monday must now collect 789,133 within a 60-day period. It is valid for 180 days after Monday. If the petition garners the necessary amount of signatures, it would be put in a ballot for voters around the state.


Family sues Flint officials after 2-year-old girl poisoned by lead-contaminated water

Detroit Free Press
09 Feb 2016 at 09:32 ET  

 DETROIT — The family of a 2-year-old girl who has tested positive for lead poisoning after drinking the tap water in her home has filed a lawsuit against the state of Michigan and Flint.

Luke Waid, the father of 2-year-old Sophia Rodriguez-Waid, said he is concerned about the consequences the lead will have on his daughter's brain development and his family's health after they ingested the contaminated water. Blood lead levels of five or greater are considered to be toxic. Sophia's blood lead levels tested at 14, according to the family.

Lead exposure in children under 6 can damage organs, slow development, lead to learning and behavioral problems, and more.

A Detroit-based law firm, McKeen & Associates, and two New York law firms, Napoli Shknolnik PLLC and Slater Slater Schulman LLP, will represent the family in the lawsuit, which was filed Monday in federal court. Shknolnik has managed more than 150 lead poisoning cases and Schulman has expertise in lead poisoning cases.

According to the law firms, this is the first individual, non-class-action lawsuit brought against the city of Flint and state of Michigan on behalf of victims of the lead poisoning of Flint's water supply.

"Even when these officials knew of a lead problem, they failed to act, thus resulting in an epidemic of lead poisoning," said Brian McKeen, managing partner of McKeen & Associates, at a Monday press conference. "This child is but one of literally thousands of Flint residents who've been affected. ... They, like any parent have suffered tremendous anguish knowing that their child has been poisoned and faces an uncertain medical and developmental future."

The lawsuit is the latest in a flurry announced over the past several weeks.

Southfield lawyer Geoffrey Fieger filed a $100 million lawsuit Feb. 2 against McLaren Flint Hospital and the State of Michigan, saying they did nothing to combat an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease that killed at least one person during the Flint water crisis. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of four Genesee County residents who contracted the disease, including the family of Debra Kidd, who died in August, seven days after entering the emergency room with a headache, according to the suit.

Flint's drinking water became contaminated with lead in April 2014 after the city, while under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager, switched its source to the Flint River as a temporary cost-cutting move and the state Department of Environmental Quality failed to require the addition of needed corrosion-control chemicals. As a result, corrosive water caused lead to leach from pipes, joints and fixtures, causing many citizens to receive water with unsafe lead levels. The state has told residents not to drink the water without filtering and says it is treating all Flint children as having been exposed to unsafe levels of lead.

The FBI is now investigating the contamination of Flint's drinking water amid a growing public outcry. Last week, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver called for the immediate removal of the city's lead-contaminated pipes from the water distribution system. U.S. Rep. Candice Miller proposed an emergency $1 billion grant to be authorized through the Environmental Protection Agency and two Democratic U.S. senators and U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., proposed up to $400 million in dollar-for-dollar matching funds from the state to do much the same thing.

The U.S. attorney's office announced Jan. 5 that it was assisting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in a Flint drinking water investigation and Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman, said federal prosecutors are "working with a multiagency investigation team on the Flint water contamination matter, including the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, EPA's Office of Inspector General, and EPA's Criminal Investigation Division.


This study shows how the media fuels support for anti-Muslim discrimination — and even war

Bobby Azarian, Raw Story
09 Feb 2016 at 08:48 ET                  

Since the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, news stories with negative portrayals of Muslims have dominated the media: . This negative coverage is made more problematic when right-wing news channels fail to explicitly distinguish between radical Islam and the interpretation of Islam that is accepted by the overwhelming majority of Muslims, who do not support terror. In fact—maybe unsurprisingly—at least one empirical study has shown that Fox News watchers are significantly more likely to have negative views of Muslims.

At the same time, anti-Muslim sentiment appears to be increasing across America. At Donald Trump rallies, we have seen overt hostility towards Muslim attendees. Most of us needn’t look further than our social media newsfeeds to see evidence of a growing animosity towards people of Islamic faith, especially amongst more conservative friends or unstable, mildly racist uncles. In accordance with these observations, a new study has found that short-term exposure to news that portrays Muslims in a negative way actually causes viewers to support policies that harm Muslims internationally and domestically.

The study’s clever design broke participants into three groups, where each group was shown a 2-3 minute news clip from YouTube that portrayed Muslims in different ways. The news clip featured either a negative story, a neutral story, or a positive story about Muslims. The negative story involved an attempted terror attack on Fort Dix, in which six Muslim males were captured after their plot to kill as many American soldiers as possible was discovered and thwarted. The neutral news story discussed how a football practice schedule was changed due to Ramadan, a holy month in which Muslims fast during daylight. The positive news clip featured an Islamic leader urging the Muslim community to come together to help non-Muslim citizens during Christmas. After the news clip was presented, each group was given surveys that assessed their support for military action against Muslim countries, as well as their support for civil restrictions against Muslim Americans.

What the study found was that the participants who viewed the negative news clip perceived Muslims as more aggressive, and as a result were more supportive of attacks on Muslim nations. With this in mind, it is easy to see why Republican presidential candidates like Ted Cruz, who has suggested that we “carpet bomb” areas of the Middle East—which would undoubtedly kill a significant number of civilians—are receiving widespread support from viewers of right-wing news outlets.

Additionally, and perhaps more disturbingly, those who watched the negative news clip were in favor of restricting the civil rights of Muslim Americans, which once again can help explain the changes in popularity of certain Republican presidential candidates. For example, when Donald Trump stated that if elected president he would ban all Muslims from entering the country, he received a dramatic rise in the polls. Similarly, neurosurgeon Ben Carson saw his only significant boost in the polls immediately after he stated that he believed no Muslim should ever be elected president. This recent study is significant because it provides convincing evidence that the negative news stories that are commonly broadcast by the media have real and harmful effects on Muslims at home and abroad, and that politicians are actively exploiting the fears they promote.

However, this study also yielded findings that are more optimistic. The group of people that viewed the positive news clip about Muslims were significantly less likely to be in favor of military action against Muslim nations, and less willing to restrict American Muslims’ rights.

So how can we use this information to improve the situation? For a starter, the media could make a conscious effort to bring some balance to news stories involving Muslims. Although it is an undeniable fact that radical Islam is igniting terrorism around the world at an alarming right, the authors of the study suggest that journalists could also run segments where they speak to Muslim Americans about their opposition to terrorist attacks. Additionally, the media could seek out positive stories regarding Muslims in America. For example, a Muslim organization called “Who Is Hussain?” donated 30,000 bottles of water to the Red Cross in Flint, Michigan in an effort to alleviate the terrible water contamination crisis that the city is currently undergoing. Unfortunately, media coverage of this type is rare because violent stories that elicit fear are simply better for ratings.

Some may claim that intentionally seeking out positive stories about Muslims in order to balance out the negative ones would be distorting the reality of the situation. However, given the fact that the overwhelming majority of Muslims, especially Muslim Americans, are peaceful and opposed to ISIS, such an effort would actually lead to reporting that is more representative of the real world.

Some public figures and commentators who are otherwise liberal in their views, like Bill Maher and Sam Harris, believe that we must be able to openly and harshly criticize Islam, as it is their opinion that the religion is a fundamentally violent and destructive ideology. Whether or not that is true, Maher and Harris need to be practical about the reality of the situation, and realize that focusing only on the negative aspects of Islam can and will lead to public support for policies that harm innocent Muslims—moderates who vehemently oppose the ideology of groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. So in our quest for truth we must be honest and critical of ideas, but also mindful of the potentially dangerous effects of our language. Achieving the appropriate nuance may not be an easy task, but it is something we should strive for. Additionally, balanced reporting will also help protect against the rise of politicians and presidential candidates who exploit voters’ fears purely as a strategy to win elections.


Americans Are Running Away From Corporate Media

By The Daily Take Team, The Thom Hartmann Program | Op-Ed

Win or lose, last night was a great night for Bernie Sanders and his supporters.

Bernie pointed out in his speech last night that the people of Iowa sent a profound message to the rest of the country by turning out in droves to support Bernie's vision for a "political revolution."

He's right: The people of Iowa have sent a profound message to the political and media establishment in this country.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

So how did Bernie Sanders go from polling at around 5 percent in Iowa when he announced his candidacy to only losing because of a series of coin tosses? It's because people are actually able to hear his message - whether the establishment wants them to or not. It's because he talks about the issues that impact the people who used to make up the middle class in this country. And because it resonates with people who have never participated in an election - people who look at our bought-off politicians and have been disgusted with politics in the US.

The truth is, Bernie Sanders wouldn't be neck and neck with Hillary Clinton right now if people were forced to depend on the major corporate news networks. They wouldn't even know who he is except for the fact that he's over 70 years old and a self-described "democratic socialist."

But thanks to the internet and social media, it's probably the first US election ever that voters can completely go around the corporate media to learn about the issues that they care about and where the candidates stand on them.

Bernie Sanders received less than 10 minutes of coverage between CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News and ABC World News, combined up until December. And it hasn't been just a blackout on Bernie; it's a blackout on the issues that American voters care about.

The corporate media refuse to talk about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. They refuse to talk about Citizens United or the corrupting influence of money in politics. They refuse to talk about the fact that the Koch brothers' network of political operatives is bigger than the entire Republican party - or that they'll spend millions this year on political ads for the corporate media to air and thus profit from. And they refuse to talk about net neutrality or any of the attempts by the major internet providers and media conglomerates to force legislation to give them monopolistic control over the internet.

Fortunately - and largely because net neutrality is still in place - people in this country have more access to the internet than ever, and they can still learn about these issues on their own. Thanks to "new media" outlets that stand outside the corporate status quo - people can find out about issues that the corporate media simply refuses to talk about.

Thanks to outlets like Truthout, The Intercept, Vice Media, Salon, AlterNet, Free Speech TV and RTTV - among many others - people can seek out and learn about the candidates that the corporate media deems "fringe" - like Bernie Sanders.

Internet forums and discussion boards like Reddit and Democratic Underground serve as great places for people to share news stories and political speeches that might not make it onto the 24 hour networks - and to discuss those stories and speeches.

Thanks to YouTube, we can actually look back and find videos of the candidates and what they said about particular issues in the past. We can find news reports that in the past would have been consigned to the dustbin of history, and we can leave comments and have discussions with others.

A lot of these things were around in 2008, but now more people have access to the internet than ever before and that means that more people than ever before can educate themselves about the issues that they care about. We can make our own decisions based on what we've read, rather than just trusting what we saw on the 6:00 news on the local Fox affiliate.

It's not perfect. The internet is full of half-truths and outright lies. It's full of people who just want to provoke arguments and insult people who disagree with them. But it's also provided an outlet for new media and a platform for honest discussion, and its wrested control away from the major mainstream corporate networks and newspapers.

And just like Bernie said last night: The caucus results have sent a profound message to the corporate media.

It's not just that the political establishment and media establishment were wrong about Bernie's viability as a candidate - it's that the establishment media isn't in the driver's seat of US politics anymore, and that's a really good thing for our democracy.


‘He’s possessed by a demon’: Man attempts exorcism on Ted Cruz during campaign event

David Edwards
Raw Story
08 Feb 2016 at 15:13 ET                  

Two men with mirrors and a wooden cross interrupted a campaign event in Raymond, New Hampshire to perform an exorcism on Ted Cruz on Monday, saying that the Republican presidential candidate was “possessed by a demon.”

According to The Dallas Morning News, Cruz had just finished his stump speech when the men began shouting at the candidate.

“Ted Cruz look in the mirror and let the evil spirit depart!” one man exclaimed. “He’s possessed by a demon!”

As the crowd booed, Cruz suggested that the “very confused fellow” was part of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ campaign.

“He’s possessed by a demon!” the man yelled. “The demon has to leave. That’s why the body is so disgusting to look at!”

A second man holding a mirror urged Cruz to look at himself so “the evil can confront itself.”

“Evil body! Evil spirit. Look yourself in the mirror!” the man said.

As the men were being removed from the building by police officers, Cruz noted that the interruption was an “odd thing.”

“Usually lefties don’t believe in God,” Cruz quipped.

The men, who declined to give their names, later explained to reporters why they had heckled the Texas Senator.

“We just had to get rid of the evil spirit. I hope it works,” one man remarked, motioning that he was sick to his stomach. “He’s very hard to be in the same room with. We had to exorcise some sort of disgusting evil spirit. There’s a reason that the body is so haggard and disgusting, and the face, and it’s all so weathered and gross and hard to look at.”

“And it’s because he’s possessed by a demon. Being in the room with evil so close, it’s just hard to even comprehend. The evil is so deep rooted and maybe if it had to confront itself,” the man added.


Fox News On Suicide Watch After Marco Rubio Implodes At Debate

By Jason Easley

Fox News is on the verge of suicide after Marco Rubio completely self-destructed at the latest Republican presidential debate. The depression and gloom over the Fox News anchors could not be contained.
Fox News On Suicide Watch After Marco Rubio Implodes At Debate

Fox News is on the verge of suicide after Marco Rubio completely self-destructed at the latest Republican presidential debate. The depression and gloom over the Fox News anchors could not be contained.

Chris Christie made Marco Rubio look like a robot who circuits were fried at the ABC Republican debate. Even after Christie called out Rubio for repeating the same talking point about President Obama over and over again, the Rubio bot couldn’t depart from his script. By the fifth time, that Rubio had repeated the same talking point, the debate audience turned on him and booed. Rubio’s performance was an unmitigated disaster, and Fox News could not hide their sorrow.

Video of sad Fox News:

Brit Hume sounded like he might cry as he talked about the debate hurt Marco Rubio in New Hampshire and beyond after he had been, “so fluid a coherent.” Apparently, coherence is the new gold standard for Republican presidential candidates. Fox News just wants a candidate who can speak in sentences and make sense.

To the surprise of no one, former Meet The Press moderator David Gregory is working for Fox News during the election. Gregory accused Rubio of trying to look like a general election candidate. A.B. Stoddard also sounded glum as she discussed how Rubio knew what attack was coming but fell into Christie’s trap. Steve Hayes was almost wailing that beyond his early implosion, Rubio had a really good debate.

There can be no doubt who Fox News is supporting in the Republican primary. Fox will do anything to get rid of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. The fact that the on-air talent on Fox sounded massively depressed after Rubio fell apart made it clear that Fox is far from neutral in this election.

Fox News desperately wants a sane nominee, and they have convinced themselves that Marco Rubio is the Republican Party’s last best hope in their effort to defeat Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Republicans are admitting that their party has no hope of winning if they nominate Trump or Cruz.

It is time to take away the shoelaces and belt buckles from the staff at Fox News because these people are clinically depressed over the demise of Marco Rubio.


Trump repeats crowd member's 'pussy' insult as New Hampshire votes

On the eve of the primary, Donald Trump repeated an offensive remark from a member of the crowd about Ted Cruz’s position on waterboarding

Tuesday 9 February 2016 09.10 GMT

Donald Trump used his final rally before Tuesday’s New Hampshire presidential primary to sling a litany of insults at his rivals, raising eyebrows when he repeated an offensive remark from a member in the crowd who shouted that Ted Cruz’s position on waterboarding made him “a pussy”.

As voters began to brave the New England snow, the echo from a rumbustious Trump rally was still rippling across the state.

Voting began shortly after midnight in a handful of remote New Hampshire hamlets and was due to end at 8pm. If the polls are correct, in the Democratic race, senator Bernie Sanders, from neighbouring Vermont, is expected to comfortably hold off Hillary Clinton, while presidential ambitions hang in the balance for many in a crowded Republican field.

Trump, who seeks to put a chastening defeat in Iowa behind him, is a clear favorite in what appears to be a Republican battle for second place. There is no evangelical wave here to lift the Iowa victor Ted Cruz and the so-called establishment candidates are struggling to break out.

Jeb Bush and John Kasich have seen an apparent lift in their support in the closing days, whilst Marco Rubio does not seem to have gained momentum from a third-place finish in Iowa. His debate-night foe Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor who exposed Rubio’s learned-by-rote lack of spontaneity, goes into election day in dire need of a strong showing to lend any purpose to his campaign.

BUt it was Trump, the Republican frontrunner for the White House making the headlines again in the final pitches. He mocked Jeb Bush and said Marco Rubio was “sweating like a dog” during this weekend’s debate. Turning to Cruz, his reiteration of a vulgarity shouted by a female supporter in the Verizon Center on Monday evening was likely the first time in American history that a major presidential candidate used a phrase widely considered obscene in a televised rally, let alone used the word to refer to his nearest competitor for public office.

Trump was berating Cruz for giving an equivocal answer during the debate on Saturday, when multiple candidates were pressed on whether waterboarding constituted torture and whether any of them would bring it back. Trump had reiterated that night that he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding”, but on Monday he went after the Texas senator as weak.

“The other night in the debate,” he told thousands in Manchester, “they asked Ted Cruz a serious question: what do you think of waterboarding? Is it OK? I thought he’d say absolutely, and he didn’t. And he said, well, he’s concerned because some people –”

A woman near the front of the crowd interrupted. “He’s a pussy!”

Trump admonished her for saying “a terrible thing”.

“You know what she just said?” he asked. “Shout it out, because I don’t want to say it.”

“You’re not allowed to say that,” he continued. “I never expect to hear that from you again.”

Trump paused, looked out at his election-eve audience and leaned into the microphone: “She said he’s a pussy.”

The audience cheered – shouting “Trump! Trump!” – before he gave the woman a mock admonishment and returned to his rambling, more than 45-minute speech. “For the press,” he said, looking up at the television cameras, “this is a serious reprimand.”

During the debate, Cruz had given a hesitant answer on waterboarding as the Texas senator tries to maintain his national security bona fides while appealing to former supporters of libertarian icon Rand Paul.
Ted Cruz and Donald Trump weigh in on waterboarding at the Republican debate.

Cruz insisted waterboarding is not torture so much as enhanced interrogation, then added: “I would not bring it back in any sort of widespread use.”

At a December rally in Michigan, he said of Hillary Clinton that she was “schlonged” during her 2008 Democratic primary loss to Barack Obama. Trump has had other brushes with vulgarity in the course of the campaign as well, pledging to “bomb the shit out of Isis” and implying that he received tough questioning from Fox News host Megyn Kelly in the first Republican debate because she was menstruating.

But the use of the phrase “pussy” on air and onstage marked a dramatic change from Trump’s more passive tone in recent weeks. He was significantly more mellow on the campaign trail one night before the Iowa caucuses, replacing his standard stumpspeech with question-and-answer sessions led by moderators like the evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr.

After a week of trying to soften his imagefor social conservatives in the midwest, he has returned to his openly confrontational style in New Hampshire, where voters are far more moderate and blue collar.

In a statement, Cruz spokesperson Catherine Frazier told the Guardian this was “just the latest episode of the reality show that Donald has made the 2016 campaign – let’s not forget who whipped who in Iowa”.

In addition to insulting Cruz, Bush and Rubio, the frontrunner jokingly dismissed his own voters. “I don’t really care if you get hurt or not, I want you to last until tomorrow,” he said of those struggling with the snowstorm gripping New Hampshire. In January he said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

He was, however, impressed with the size of the crowd, despite snow falling across New Hampshire hours before voting opened in a state where he has led in every poll since July.

He said there was “I won’t mention names, how many people are at the other candidates [rallies]?”

But he did name names, and talked some more about the weather. “Global warming? We got a blizzard outside! There’s no warming.”


Clinton, Sanders and the changing face of the Democratic Party

The Conversation
09 Feb 2016 at 08:00 ET                  

Last week’s debate in New Hampshire between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders over who is the “real progressive” said a lot about how they and the Democratic Party have changed over the past half-century.

When Clinton and Sanders first came of age politically during the mid-1960s, neither was a natural fit for the Democrats as the party was then.

Taking a look at how these two very different people and the party they now want to lead have evolved can help clarify the philosophical divide on display in the Democratic Party today.

Hillary: from midwest Republican to moderate liberal

In the mid-1960s, Hillary Clinton wasn’t even a Democrat. She was the child of upper middle-class Republicans living in Park Ridge, Illinois, a Chicago suburb.

That world, like the surrounding Du Page County of which Park Ridge was a part, was strongly Republican then. To most people living there, the Democrats were the party of Mayor Richard Daley Sr., a big-city machine politician whose somewhat corrupt organization mostly championed the interests of working and lower middle-class whites living inside Chicago’s city limits.

The twin upheavals of the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement transformed both Hillary Clinton and the Democrats over the following 10 years. By the mid-1970s, she had become a liberal Democrat of the Great Society/George McGovern variety who embraced such new liberal causes as the civil rights movement, détente with the Soviet Union, feminism and environmentalism.

As the country moved to the right in the later 1970s and ‘80’s, Hillary Clinton became a more moderately liberal Democrat, somewhat more skeptical of big, expensive government programs, tougher on crime and more supportive of military strength as a way to deter aggression. This is the position she and her husband Bill have adhered to ever since.

Bernie: from Brooklyn socialist to independent

Bernie Sanders’ road to where he is today, politically speaking, was even stranger.

He grew up in a tightly knit Brooklyn neighborhood where the immigrant Jewish socialist tradition was still strongly felt. The residents there had mostly embraced Franklin Roosevelt during the 1930s, but tended to be New Deal Democratic voters of the most left wing sort. For them, Progressive Party candidate Henry Wallace, who opposed a confrontational stance toward the Soviet Union, better reflected in 1948 what the New Deal stood for than did Democrat Harry Truman.

Having grown up in that radical milieu during the 1940s and ‘50’s, Bernie Sanders appears to have moved easily into the New Left in the 1960s and ’70’s, which the Democrats disdained as too “conservative.”

Lots of New Leftists like Sanders moved to Vermont in the 1970s and built their own “democratic socialist” movement there, as they called it. That base of support lifted Bernie Sanders (running as an independent) to three major public offices in Vermont: mayor of Burlington, congressman and then senator.

Serving in the U.S. House and Senate obliged Sanders to form some kind of relationship with the Democratic Party (lest he be shut out of the committee seniority system there), and so he chose to caucus with them while remaining officially an independent. Only when he decided to run for the Democratic presidential nomination did he register as a Democrat.

‘The party that never dies’

That both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were able to find a home in today’s Democratic Party not only reflects the more fluid nature of American political allegiance when compared with the electorate of such similar nations as Britain and Canada. It also says volumes about the shape-shifting nature over time of the Democratic Party.

Political scientists have dubbed the Democrats “the party that never dies,” because it has enjoyed a continuous existence since its founding in the late 1820s, even though what the party has stood for and who votes for it have changed greatly since then. The Democrats have used the word “progressive” since the early years of the 20th century. Indeed, Woodrow Wilson in the election of 1912 famously described himself as “a Progressive with the brakes on.”

When Clinton and Sanders were coming of age politically 50 years ago, the Democrats were basically the party of the cities and South, a somewhat bipolar coalition forged during the Roosevelt presidency.

Since then, the Democrats have become the party of the country’s big metro regions, cities and their suburbs.

There has also been a change in the class background of the party’s electoral support.

Unlike 50 years ago, when the Democrats were much more a party of workers and the lower middle class, today’s party enjoys less of that kind of support, especially from the males in those groups.

Upper middle-class suburban liberals of the 1970s variety and aging New Leftists who see the Democrats – as disappointing as they are in some ways – as infinitely preferable to today’s Republicans are the relative newcomers to the Democratic fold.

More than one ‘real progressive’

Keeping all that in mind helps explain the Clinton-Sanders dispute over who is the real “progressive” in this year’s race for the Democratic nomination. Who is the person most able to bring about social change – and what kind of change?

To Hillary Clinton, the term “progressive” is synonymous with moderately liberal middle-class reformer, of which she is a leading example.

To Bernie Sanders, “progressive” evokes the spirit of the left wing of the New Deal coalition.

This reminds us that “progressive” is a word that means different things to different people, and that has been true for a long time.

David Stebenne, Professor of History and Law Faculty, The Ohio State University

 on: Today at 07:30 AM 
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Wanted: home for giant rabbit that could grow to 1.2m long

Scottish SPCA seeks home for ‘mischievous’ continental giant rabbit Atlas – but be warned, he still has growing to do

Meet Atlas the homeless giant rabbit who could grow to 1.2m: <iframe src="" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Guardian staff
Tuesday 9 February 2016 02.28 GMT

A giant rabbit that has grown too large for its owners to handle is looking for a new home.

Staff at the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) have appealed for help finding a new owner for Atlas, a seven-month-old continental giant rabbit that is the size of a dog.

While he is exceptionally cute, Atlas is not your average pet. He will need an oversized hutch and lots of room to roam. He also has a colossal appetite. Fully grown continental giant rabbits, which can measure up to 1.2 metres long (4ft), munch through a bale of hay a week and up to 2,000 carrots and 700 apples a year.

In a statement, Anna O’Donnell, manager of the Cardonald SCPA Centre said Atlas was currently the size of a West Highland White Terrier, but will get bigger.

Due to his breed and size, animal welfare officials are looking for a specific type of home for him.

    — SCOTTISH SPCA (@ScottishSPCA)
    February 8, 2016

    Atlas, our larger than life rabbit, needs a new home!

“A standard rabbit hutch won’t do so his new owner will need plenty of space for him,” O’Donnell said.

“Atlas needs an owner with the knowledge to properly care for him, so ideally someone who has kept a continental giant before.”

Continental giants are the largest breed of rabbit on the planet.

Luckily Atlas is friendly and loves cuddles.

“Atlas is also an inquisitive boy who makes everyone laugh with his mischievous character,” she said.

The largest rabbit in the world is Darius, another continental giant, who weighs in at 22kg – roughly the same as a six-year-old child:


Rabbit Island: a Japanese holiday resort for bunnies

Okunoshima, an island where Japan produced poison gas during the second world war, is now a haven for friendly rabbits. Plus three more animal islands

Monday 2 June 2014 12.40 BST

As islands that are occupied by wild animals go, Okunoshima, better known as Usaga Jima or Rabbit Island, is probably the cutest.

Situated in the East Sea/Inland Sea of Japan, the small island is occupied by hundreds of wild rabbits that roam the forests and paths, chase tourists, appear in viral videos and just generally lounge around. They also provide a much needed counterbalance to the island's otherwise dark history – as the production site for Japan's chemical weapons during the second world war.

Of course, Japan being the birthplace of kawaii – the distinct cultural appreciation of all things cute – the bounding herds of friendly rabbits are a much bigger attraction than the Poison Gas Museum. But although the source of the rabbits remains a mystery, it may be that the origins of the island's fluffy residents is intertwined with its history as manufacturer of chemical weapons.

Between 1929-1945, the Japanese army secretly produced over 6,000 tons of poison gas on Okunoshima, which was removed from maps of the area and chosen because of its discreet location and distance from civilian populations. At the time, an unfortunate colony of rabbits was brought to the island in order to test the effects of the poison.

While some claim the rabbits that live there now are relatives of the test bunnies that were freed by the workers at the end of the war, others are less convinced; it has been reported that all the rabbits were killed when the factory ceased production. The other theory is that eight rabbits were brought to the island by schoolchildren in 1971, where they bred (presumably like rabbits) until they reached their current population, which is potentially in the thousands. And with the island being a predator-free zone – dogs and cats are banned – if the number of rabbits hasn't hit the thousands yet, it's inevitable it will do soon.

Now the island, a short ferry ride from the mainland, is a popular tourist resort with a small golf course, camping grounds and beautiful beaches. Tours are also given of the now derelict poison gas facilities, while ruins of military outposts are dotted around the island.

In some ways the allure of the bunnies is similar to that of Japan's and, more recently, England's cat cafes. Most apartments in Japan forbid pets, so an opportunity to enjoy the company of a furry friend is a welcome one.

Visitors to Okunoshima can buy food for the remarkably tame rabbits, who became an online hit this February when this video of a woman being chased by a "stampede" of rabbits was posted online.

Click to watch:

Pig Island, The Bahamas

Firstly; yes, pigs can swim. Secondly; there's a place in the Bahamas where you can swim with them. As if the tropical island didn't have enough going for it, there's a beach on the uninhabited Big Major Cay where you can paddle among these swimming swine. Rumour has it that the pigs were dropped on the island by a group of sailors who planned to return and eat them, but luckily for the pigs they never did and the animals have survived to this day. Another, more cynical, version of the story is that the pigs were put there deliberately as a tourist attraction – but who cares about that when you're swimming with pigs!

Click to watch:

Assateague, Virginia, US

The rural island of Assateague, on the Virginia coast, is home to a herd of around 300 feral horses, believed by some to have made their way to the island after surviving a shipwreck, although there are no records to confirm this. Another theory is that settlers brought them here in the 17th century to get round a tax that farmers were required to pay for keeping livestock on the mainland. Still, the tax-free horses – made famous by Marguerite Henry's children's book Misty of Chincoteague – are a popular sight among visitors who drop by the island to see the wildlife and tour the waterways by kayak.
Monkey Island, Puerto Rico

To many, Monkey Island is among the greatest computer games of the 90s. But for those who know about Cayo Santiago, off the coast of Puerto Rico, Monkey Island is a far more literal proposition. The island, which is only 600 metres long by 400 wide, has a population of almost 1,000 Rhesus monkeys, and is used as a research area for students and academics doing field studies into the primates. The original population was first established on the island in 1938, and is renowned as one of the leading research sites of its kind in the world.

 on: Today at 07:18 AM 
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Swine flu spreading across eastern Europe and Middle East

3,000 people a day in Ukraine are being hospitalised with H1N1 virus as scientists investigate why flu strain is hitting those in younger age groups hardest


Swine flu has killed 183 people in Ukraine this winter and is spreading rapidly across eastern Europe and the Middle East. At least 107 people have died in Russia after contracting the disease, 18 in Armenia and 10 in Georgia, according to government figures.

In the Middle East, 112 deaths from the virus have been reported in Iran and there are unconfirmed reports of dozens more deaths in areas of Syria and Iraq occupied by Islamic State.

Rates of severe H1N1 infection have spiked within the EU. Hospitals in eight countries have recorded an increase in the number of cases requiring intensive care over the past three weeks, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“Western European countries are also reporting severe cases associated with H1N1,” said Dr Caroline Brown, programme manager for influenza at the WHO in Europe. “It’s all over the region at the moment.”

Unlike other strains of the flu virus, which are most dangerous for older people, H1N1 can be life-threatening for healthy people under the age of 65. Symptoms can appear similar to the common cold and include fever, fatigue, coughing and a sore throat – but the disease can quickly lead to pneumonia if left untreated. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the 2009-10 global H1N1 pandemic caused an estimated 284,000 deaths worldwide.

Vaccination programmes and residual immunity were thought to have kept the virus under control. Experts are struggling to determine why the latest outbreak is proving so aggressive.

“The information we have so far shows the virus hasn’t changed in any significant way to make us suspect it would be causing more severe disease,” Brown said.

In Ukraine, the health ministry says 3,000 people a day are now being hospitalised with flu. More than 3.2 million people have been diagnosed since 1 October 2015 – 63% of whom are under the age of 17.

“Because of what’s happening this flu season we’re looking very carefully at this younger age group that is affected,” Brown added. “We think the data shows that most of the people severely affected have underlying conditions.”

Schools in the country are closed for a third consecutive week and all public-facing workers have been ordered to wear surgical masks in an effort to hamper transmission of the highly contagious illness.

The WHO has deployed an epidemiologist from Public Health England, Sophie Newitt, to support Kiev’s response to the outbreak, but the Ukrainian healthcare system – handicapped by war, economic crisis and years of mismanagement – is struggling to cope.

Countries where the H1N1 virus is circulating, including Ukraine, can expect an increase in the level of severe disease and death in high-risk groups, according to the WHO The vaccine for the 2015–16 season in the northern hemisphere includes H1N1, H3N2 and B virus strains – closely related to those circulating among people. The vaccine is therefore expected to provide good protection

But less than 1% of Ukraine’s 45 million inhabitants have been vaccinated against the flu, and potentially life-saving treatments are in short supply. State hospitals usually dispatch patients to private pharmacies to buy medicine, but, despite a recent donation from Lithuania, there is a nationwide shortage of the anti-viral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza.

“Last Sunday my sister complained that she had difficulty breathing,” said Svetlana Yatsenko, whose 44-year-old sister, Tanya Polonsky, was diagnosed with H1N1. “The clinic took x-rays and said she had pneumonia. They took her by ambulance to the hospital, where we were given a list of the drugs we had to buy, including Tamiflu. We were only able to find them on Wednesday, but by then Tanya was already in intensive care. She died shortly afterwards. She left behind her six-year-old son.”

Access to medical care is even more limited in the country’s war-torn eastern regions. Kremlin-backed rebels have banned several international aid organisations from the territory under their control and heavy fighting has destroyed much of the medical infrastructure.

Hundreds of doctors, nurses and paramedics fled the area during 22 months of fighting, which has left more than 9,000 people dead and 2.7 million displaced. Others simply left after months without pay, cut off from the government in Kiev by trenches and checkpoints.

 on: Today at 07:14 AM 
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US Forest Service stretched to breaking point after record year for wildfires

‘Climate change is real and it is with us,’ says top government official after 10.1m acres of forest went up in flames in 2015, costing 65% of the agency’s budget

Oliver Milman in New York


The US Forest Service has warned it is at the “tipping point” of a crisis in dealing with escalating wildfires and diseases that are ravaging America’s increasingly fragile forest ecosystems.

The federal agency, which manages 193m acres (78m hectares) of forest, will plead once again for more funding from Congress, in the wake of a devastating 2015 that saw record swaths of forest engulfed in flames.

A total of 10.1m acres were burned last year, a figure that is double the typical losses seen 30 years ago. During this time, the average fire season in the US has lengthened by 78 days, with scientists predicting that the amount of forest razed by fire will double by 2050.

Climate change-driven drought, wildfire and invasive diseases are stretching the US Forest Service to breaking point, the agency has warned. It spent about 65% of its $5bn budget dealing with wildfires last year and is requesting that fire be treated like other natural disasters so that it is able to access more money to keep pace.

“We are seeing real challenges on the ground – climate change is real and it is with us,” Robert Bonnie, under secretary for natural resources and environment at the US Department of Agriculture, told the Guardian. “The whole US Forest Service is shifting to becoming an agency dominated by wildfires. We really are at a tipping point. The current situation is not sustainable.”

Bonnie said the growing conflagration of America’s forests means the US Forest Service has had to divert resources from other areas, such as the kind of forest restoration that helps prevent future wildfires. Attempts to remedy this situation with a new disaster fund were dashed when it was not included in the federal budget in December.

“We will keep on this and try again this year,” he said. “There are clear challenges that are hard to argue with. Fighting catastrophic fires is becoming even more dangerous because there are more homes and people in our forest areas. If we don’t deal with this, the trends are going to look very bad indeed.”

Last year, Washington state endured its largest wildfires on record, with three people dying and more than 100 homes lost. The blazes were declared a national emergency, with the smoke causing a haze to settle over Seattle for several days. Nationally, 13 firefighters died tackling various wildfires last year.
A red turpentine beetle, a type of bark beetle, pictured near San Francisco.

Major wildfires are just one of several threats to the US’s ailing forest system. A report released by the US Forest Service last week found that worsening drought conditions will increase the risk of tree and shrub death as well as unleash outbreaks of insect infestation. More than 20m acres of forest in the US west has already been affected by bark beetles that thrive in dry, warm conditions.

“Droughts are predicted to accelerate the pace of invasion by some nonnative plant species into rangelands and grasslands,” the report states. “Drought can also promote plant invasion indirectly by modifying the environment to favor nonnative species. Indirect effects of drought on forests can be widespread and devastating.”

California is currently enduring its worst drought in 1,200 years, while the national climate change assessment, released in 2014, stated that “widespread drought is projected to become more common over most of the central and southern United States” if greenhouse gas emissions are not significantly curtailed.

“We are seeing significant problems with forest health across the country, with acute problems in the west,” said Bonnie. “The warmer temperatures are putting trees under stress. We have changed the ecosystems so they are more susceptible to disease and catastrophic fire, as well as raised the temperature around them. This is a real challenge for us.”

 on: Today at 07:11 AM 
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Global initiative introduces first proposal to reduce airplane pollution

International Civil Aviation Organisation plan of 4% fuel reduction of new aircraft starting in 2028 not enough to halt emissions, environmental groups say


Governments proposed for the first time on Monday to reduce climate pollution from airplanes, plugging one of the biggest loopholes in last December’s landmark Paris agreement.

The global initiative was a first attempt to halt carbon emissions from air travel – one of the fastest growing sources of climate pollution.

In a call with reporters, White House officials described the standards as “a huge deal”, noting that the aviation authority has also proposed an aspirational goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2020.

But campaign groups, specifically the International Council on Clean Transportation, said the proposed standards were a missed opportunity and would have little real effect in curbing emissions.

The standards proposed at an expert meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (Icao) in Montreal would apply to all new commercial and business aircraft delivered after 1 January 2028.

But they exclude aircraft that are already in use, and as most airlines have lifetimes of 20-30 years, it will take decades to cover the current fleet.

In addition, the standards would on average require only a 4% reduction in the cruise fuel consumption of new aircraft, compared to 2015.

The proposals will be put to countries for formal adoption next year.

Icao said the standard was aimed at larger aircraft, which were responsible for the vast majority of global aviation emissions.

“The goal of this process is ultimately to ensure that when the next generation of aircraft types enter service, there will be guaranteed reductions in international CO2 emissions,” Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, president of the Icao council said.

“We also recognize that the projected doubling of global passengers and flights by 2030 must be managed responsibly and sustainably.”

The exclusion of high-polluting industries such as international aviation and shipping was seen as a major weakness of the historic agreement reached last December.

Currently, air travel and shipping together account for about 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but are projected to account for about 30% by 2050. But emerging economies had balked at the idea of including shipping and aviation in the Paris agreement, and so negotiators left them out of the deal.

White House officials said they were satisfied with the proposed standard – given the range of countries’ positions. The European Union and some emerging economics had been reluctant to take stronger action. “This is a really a strong result,” the officials said. “It’s the first ever CO2 standards for aircraft covering existing aircraft.”

But campaign groups suggested the Icao recommendations would do very little to rein in emissions – and in some cases lagged behind technology that was already in use.

According to an analysis by the International Council on Clean Transportation, some of the top performing commercial aircraft were already achieving the standard – with room to spare. By 2020, eight years before the proposed standards were even due to come into effect, the average aircraft would already be 10% more efficient than the Icao standard.

“Given the substantial lead time for the standards, along with anticipated fuel efficiency gains for new aircraft types already in development by manufacturers, the standards will serve primarily to prevent backsliding in emissions,” ICCT said in a statement. “Additional action would be required for the standard to reduce emissions below business as usual.”

Vera Pardee, an attorney for the Centre for Biological Diversity, said the proposed standard put an additional burden on the Obama administration to make good on earlier promises to cut aviation emissions.

The Environmental Protection Agency had been waiting for Icao to bring in its standards before moving to cut emissions from the domestic airline industry.

However, the White House would not say whether the EPA would propose those new domestic standards before Barack Obama leaves the White House.

 on: Today at 07:10 AM 
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Arctic shipping passage 'still decades away'

Ordinary merchant ships will not be able to take an ice-free shortcut from China to Europe until at least 2040, report predicts

Tuesday 9 February 2016 09.30 GMT

It will be decades before big cargo ships link China and northern Europe by taking a shortcut through the Arctic Ocean, a report predicts.

Climate change, retreating summer ice and the prospect of shorter journey times and 40% lower fuel costs has led Russia, European governments and some industries to expect a major ice-free shipping lane to open above Russia, allowing regular, year-long trade between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans within a few years.

But, says the Arctic Institute in a new paper, low bunker fuel prices, a short sailing season and continuing treacherous ice conditions in the Arctic even in summer months means it could be 2040 at the earliest before it is commercially viable for ordinary merchant ships to pass through what is known as the northern sea route.

Until then it will remain cheaper to send trade between Europe and the east via the Suez canal, it says.

The conclusions of the report were backed this month by the powerful Danish Shipowners’ Association, which includes 40 major shipping companies such as Maersk, the world’s largest. Denmark has the eighth largest fleet in the world and would stand to gain the most in Europe if the northern sea route opened.

“We have gone from hyper-optimism to total realism. The world economy was developed on the basis of a high oil price. The northern sea route seemed viable [a few years ago] but now it’s not the case. The route has vast potential but it will take a long time to open up,” said Anne H. Steffensen, director of the association at a meeting of Arctic country ministers and industry in Tromsø.

Russia has tried to open up the Arctic to international traffic by offering icebreaker service and better port facilities. But cargo in transit along the northern sea route dropped from 1.3m tonnes in 2013 to 300,000 tonnes in 2014. Last year only 100,000 tonnes was transported between Asia and Europe on the route. However, there was a big rise in the number of vessels going to and from Russian Arctic ports.

The Arctic Institute report, which compares the costs of building ice-reinforced ships suitable for the northern sea route, to existing costs of using the Suez canal, includes fuel prices, wait times, lengths of journey, canal fees and different sea conditions. It concludes that trade is unlikely to open up the northern route for decades.

It expects the Arctic sea ice to be too thick and treacherous for many years, requiring expensive ice breakers and strengthened hulls.

“The Arctic navigation season is currently too short and ice conditions are too unpredictable for liner shipping to be feasible. Arctic liner shipping will only become a viable alternative to the contemporary shipping lanes if global warming continues to melt the ice cover along the North-west passage and the Northern sea route.

“It is highly unlikely that large-scale containerised cargo transports will appear in the near future. The question then arises: when, if ever, will the ice conditions allow for continuous and economically feasible container transport along the route?”

The greatest potential for the use of ice-reinforced container ships was found if the speed of global warming increased and the price of fuel is high. But even in this scenario, the cost per container was about 10% higher than going via the Suez canal route.

Scientists have predicted that ordinary vessels would be able travel easily along the northern sea route, and moderately ice-strengthened ships should be able to pass over the pole itself by 2050.

Russian authorities still sees a bright future for shipping along its northern shoreline, but not as a busy international shipping route. “It is 100% sure that the northern sea route will be no alternative to the Suez Canal,” Russia’s deputy minister of transport, Viktor Olersky, told the Arctic Circle 2015 assembly.

Unusually high temperatures in January led to January seeing the lowest recorded extent of sea ice in the satellite record. The ice extent averaged 13.53 million square kilometres (5.2 million square miles), which is 1.04 million sq km (402,000 sq m) below the 1981 to 2010 average, according to the US government’s National Snow and Ice Data Centre.


Ships to sail directly over the north pole by 2050, scientists say

Melting sea ice will allow ice-strengthened vessels to sail directly over the pole, and normal ships to take the 'northern sea route'


Ships should be able to sail directly over the north pole by the middle of this century, considerably reducing the costs of trade between Europe and China but posing new economic, strategic and environmental challenges for governments, according to scientists.

The dramatic reduction in the thickness and extent of late summer sea ice that has taken place in each of the last seven years has already made it possible for some ice-strengthened ships to travel across the north of Russia via the "northern sea route". Last year a total of 46 ships made the trans-Arctic passage, mostly escorted at considerable cost by Russian icebreakers.

But by 2050, say Laurence C. Smith and Scott R. Stephenson at the University of California in the journal PNAS on Monday, ordinary vessels should be able to travel easily along the northern sea route, and moderately ice-strengthened ships should be able to take the shortest possible route between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, passing over the pole itself. The easiest time would be in September, when annual sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean is at its lowest extent.

The scientists took two classes of vessels and then simulated whether they would be able to steam through the sea ice expected in seven different climate models. In each case they found that the sea routes opened up considerably after 2049.

"The emergence of a … corridor directly over the north pole indicates that sea ice will become sufficiently thin such that a critical technical threshold is surpassed, and the shortest great circle route thus becomes feasible, for ships with moderate ice-breaking capability," says the paper.

"The prospect of common open water ships, which comprise the vast majority of the global fleet, entering the Arctic Ocean in late summer, and even its remote central basin by moderately ice-strengthened vessels heightens the urgency for a mandatory International Maritime Organisation regulatory framework to ensure adequate environmental protections, vessel safety standards, and search-and-rescue capability," it adds.

The northern sea route has been shown to save a medium-sized bulk carrier 18 days and 580 tonnes of bunker fuel on a journey between northern Norway and China. Shipowners have said it can save them €180,000-€300,000 on each voyage. A direct route over the pole could save up to 40% more fuel and time.

 on: Today at 07:04 AM 
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Air pollution raises risk of death 'for decades after exposure'

Longest-running study to date analyses long-term mortality risks of Britons exposed to historic particulate pollution
High pollution levels were recorded in London in late January.


Air pollution raises the risk of death for many decades after exposure, according to the longest-running study to date.

The analysis of 368,000 British people over 38 years also showed that those living in the most polluted places have a 14% higher risk of dying than those in the least polluted areas. Those exposed to particulate air pollution were more likely to die from respiratory problems, like pneumonia, emphysema and bronchitis, and also from cardiovascular problems, like heart attacks.

“What this study shows is that the [health] effects of air pollution persist for a very long time,” said Dr Anna Hansell, at Imperial College London, who led the new study. “There is an imperative that, because the effects are so long-lasting, we really ought to act on it. We have to think about what we are doing to the long-term health of the population.”

Many Britons are currently exposed to illegal levels of air pollution, with 29,000 premature deaths a year - or 5% of all deaths - blamed on air pollution. The UK government lost a supreme court legal battle in 2015 and was forced to produce an action plan.

If successful, this will cut air pollution to legal levels by 2020 in most cities and 2025 in London. The impact on children, whose lungs can be stunted for life, has been of particular concern to experts.

The new research, which is published in the journal Thorax on Tuesday, selected individuals at random from anonymised Office of National Statistics data and tracked them via the national censuses in 1971, 1981, 1991 and 2001. The study also estimated their exposure over time to particulate air pollution, which is produced mainly by the burning of fossil fuels in power stations and by vehicles.

“We found a statistically significant association between [air pollution] exposure in 1971 and mortality in 2002-09,” said Hansell. The risk of death rises by 2% for each extra unit of pollution (10 micrograms of particulates per cubic metre) a person was exposed to in 1971.”

Hansell added: “The more recent exposures appear to be the more harmful to health.” For each extra unit of pollution exposure in 2001, the risk of death in 2002-09 rises by 24%. Hansell said this gave another urgent reason to reduce air pollution, as cuts now would improve health in the next few years as well as in the long term.

The reason the risk of death falls with time since the exposure is probably because the health impacts of air pollution fade over time, said Hansell, although the different mix of pollutants today compared to 1971 might be more toxic.

The researchers found that the 36,800 people exposed to the highest levels of air pollution had a 14% greater risk of dying than those exposed to the lowest levels of air pollution. By coincidence, that applied to exposure in both 1971 and in 2001, although overall particulate pollution levels have fallen significantly - about 80% - in the decades between.

Gary Fuller, an air pollution expert at King’s College London and not part of the new new study, said: “It feeds into the developing body of evidence about air pollution affecting us throughout the course of our lives. It increases the imperative for action to reduce the way in which the air that we breathe today can compromise our health and our children’s health later in life.”

The research did not assess the impact of nitrogen dioxide, a toxic pollutant present at very high levels in some of the UK’s cities, which is linked to the failure of car manufacturers including Volkswagen to produce cars with emissions below official limits in real driving conditions.

Hansell said: “It’s important to remember that the effects of air pollution are small compared to other risk factors. Your risk of dying early is much more dependent on other aspects of your lifestyle, like whether you smoke, how much you exercise and whether you are overweight.”

In the study, those who died in accidents or could not be traced in later censuses were excluded. The researchers adjusted the data for the effect of age, sex, and social deprivation. They also accounted for lung cancer deaths, which are strongly related to smoking, but this made little difference to the conclusions.

 on: Today at 07:00 AM 
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A penguin's best friend: guard dogs needed to save Middle Island colony from foxes

Crowdfunding drive launched to buy and train two maremma dogs to scare off foxes which constantly attack penguins on island off Warrnambool


Two new guard dogs are being urgently sought to help protect one of the last colonies of little penguins on Australia’s coastline.

A coalition of conservationists, academics and Warrnambool city council are crowdfunding to raise money to buy and train two maremma dogs to guard a group of penguins that are under constant threat from foxes.

The colony of little penguins on Middle Island, off the coastal town of Warrnambool in Victoria, was virtually wiped out by foxes in the 1990s and early 2000s. In one attack 360 of the diminutive birds were killed; the local newspaper described it as a “massacre”.

The ongoing threat prompted a local chicken farmer to suggest using maremmas to guard the penguins. The working dogs, usually deployed to protect livestock, were sent to Middle Island in 2006.

Conservationists hailed the world-first initiative as a stunning success: no penguins were lost to foxes after the maremmas arrived. The penguin colony, which dwindled to just four identified individuals, has rebounded to 150 birds.

The concept has since been expanded. Zoos Victoria use maremmas to guard vulnerable bandicoots.

“The colony really was on its last legs and just one more fox attack would’ve finished it off – it really was a smorgasbord for foxes there,” Peter Abbott, manager of tourism services at the council, told Guardian Australia.

“The dogs protect the penguins and allow their numbers to naturally rebound. They’ve worked very well but it’s run on the smell of an oily rag – we don’t get state or federal funding.”

Eudy and Tula, the Middle Island guard dogs, are now eight years old and project leaders are planning their retirement. A crowd-funding campaign has been launched to raise $25,000 to buy and train two puppies to replace Eudy and Tula.

“The dogs are lined up with the breeders but we need to buy them and they will need a couple of years to train so they know what they are doing,” Abbott said.

“There are ups and downs in the process. This is a world first, so we are kind of writing the manual as we go. These dogs are normally used for chickens, after all.”

The maremmas are sent to Middle Island over the warmer months when a sandbar – which gives foxes access – appears. Volunteers feed and check on the dogs each day.

The dogs are introduced to the penguins and become friends with them. They then bark at anyone or anything that approaches the penguins.

“We train them that the island is theirs – 90% of their work is through barking,” Abbott said. “But if they did get on to a fox they’d kill it.”

The fundraising drive comes as a new film about the guard dogs, called Oddball – after the first maremma to be used on the island – opens. Eudy and Tula were used as “stunt doubles” on the production.

“Now that the movie is out we will need to remind them that they are working dogs and not movie stars,” Abbott said.

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Victoria zoos train Maremma bodyguards in bid to save bandicoots

Maremma dogs have protected a colony of little penguins and conservationists hope their next mission will be as successful

    Maremma dogs trained as bandicoot bodyguards – in pictures -


Teams of highly trained dogs will be deployed as “bodyguards” for bandicoots threatened by feral cats and foxes, in an initiative which could help reverse the precipitous decline in several other Australian native species.

Zoos Victoria is to run an extensive trial to determine whether groups of Maremma dogs can become trusted allies to the eastern barred bandicoot, which has been virtually wiped out in Australia.

The small marsupial is extinct in the wild on mainland Australia, with a modest population remaining in Tasmania. A captive population of around 400 bandicoots is spread across four breeding sites in Australia.

Feral cats and foxes have preyed upon the bandicoots with disastrous results. Previous attempts to breed them in fenced areas have had limited success.

Zoos Victoria will take on a full-time dog trainer to work with seven Maremma puppies. The dogs, which like to work in pairs, will be sent to three different test sites in Victoria to see if they can effectively protect bandicoots without the need for fences. The spare Maremma puppy will be used by Zoos Victoria as a fundraising ambassador.

Maremma dogs, a type of sheepdog that originated in Italy, have been used for centuries to guard livestock. But they have also recently been used in more unusual conservation efforts.

In 2006, the dogs were introduced to Middle Island in Victoria, to help protect a colony of little penguins. Foxes had wreaked havoc on the island, reducing the 1,500-strong colony to less than 10 by killing swaths of the penguins.

However, the introduction of Oddball, a Maremma dog that previously guarded chickens, provided the penguins with some canine muscle. Oddball, who was later joined by other dogs, chased away the foxes and penguin numbers subsequently revived.

Maremma dogs are considered ideal for conservation work because they can bond to an array of other creatures while also viewing feral pests as mortal enemies. The dogs have formed friendships with sheep, goats, chickens and gannets in the past. In controlled experiments, sheep that heard dingo calls instinctively ran behind the dogs for protection.

In the first trial in Tiverton in western Victoria, bandicoots will be bred in a fenced area while a further 50 will be bred in an unfenced area guarded by a pair of dogs. Zoos Victoria will socialise the dogs with the bandicoots and teach them to guard the area, over an intensive two-year training period.

If successful, further dogs will be dragooned to create the fighting extinction dog squad, which will bravely battle feral pests that threaten an array of native species. Animals that could benefit from this approach include wallabies, mice and even the kiwi in New Zealand.

Rachel Lowry, director of wildlife conservation at Zoos Victoria, told Guardian Australia that the dogs could prove crucial in helping preserve bandicoot numbers.

“We really want to get the numbers up to 2,500 in the next five years and if this works we will well and truly be able to do that,” she said.

“Maremmas are a beautiful dog breed, very intelligent. I’d expect them to protect the bandicoots as they did with the penguins. I think they will get on well, but I’ve been advised they like the company of a flock, so we’ll be putting in some sheep with them. Bandicoots are small, run fast and are active at night, so they aren’t as good company.”

Lowry said there was an “endless list” of species that could benefit from guardian dogs if the trials proved fruitful.

“We are desperate for apex predators in Australia because at the moment feral cats and foxes are dominant,” she said. “At the moment, if someone leaves a gate open or a fence is damaged by a kangaroo, foxes can get in and all our breeding work is lost.

“But if you put in a dog, it puts fear into the feral predator because they sense the presence of another apex predator. The potential for this is really exciting.

“The other benefit is that this apex predator is a dog, which we love and are used to having in our homes. It would be a bit more politically difficult to do this with dingoes.”

Beate Sexton, a Maremma owner and dog trainer, said: ‘Maremma aren’t antagonistic to other animals at all. Predators will stalk an animal and fixate on it, whereas a Maremma will avert its gaze, even with people.

“I think they can make a fantastic guardian for animals in need of their protection. This trial is a very good step, I think.”

The initiative will cost $580,000 over five years, and Zoos Victoria is seeking external donations to help fully fund the project.

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