India cash crisis: 100,000 villages promised electronic payment machines
Every village will get two point-of-sale machines, promises finance minister in bid to ease anger at sudden removal of 500- and 1,000-rupee notes
Friday 9 December 2016 02.58 GMT
Tens of thousands of Indian villages will soon be equipped with card-swiping machines to boost cashless payments, the finance minister promised on Thursday, a month after the government banned high-value banknotes.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi sparked chaos with his shock announcement last month that all 500- and 1,000-rupee notes – which make up 85% of bills in circulation – would cease to be legal tender.
The move triggered a chronic shortage of cash with people queuing for hours outside banks across the country to get rid of their old notes.
Cash accounts for 90% of transactions in India where millions rely heavily on notes for their daily purchases. People living in rural areas and individuals without bank accounts have been particularly hard hit.
To ease frustrations and speed up the switch to cashless spending, finance minister Arun Jaitley announced measures to promote the so-called demonetisation drive, including card-swiping machines for villages.
“There will be two point-of-sale machines provided to every village which has a population up to 10,000, and 100,000 villages will be selected for this purpose,” Jaitley said at a media conference. “This will benefit farmers covering a total population of nearly 750 million,” he said.
The sweeping abolition was meant to bring billions in so-called “black”, or undeclared, money back into the formal system.
Many have been left without enough cash to buy food or daily essentials, while farmers have been unable to buy seeds and small traders say business has fallen off a cliff.
Nonetheless, Modi has repeatedly defended the scheme, accusing its detractors of being tax evaders and repeatedly urging all Indians to switch to non-cash payment methods.
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Romania set to go to polls as anti-graft party eyes kingmaker role
Centre-left PSD set to fall short of majority, with Union Save Romania poised to step in as junior partner in new coalition
Jon Henley European affairs correspondent and Kit Gillet in Bucharest
Friday 9 December 2016 10.32 GMT
Romanians go to the polls on Sunday to elect a new government in one of the EU’s poorest and most corrupt states, with the centre-left PSD party set to win most seats but fall short of a majority, leaving it vulnerable to a rival coalition involving a new anti-graft party.
After a year of cautious caretaker rule by technocrats since massive street protests over the deaths of 64 people in a Bucharest nightclub fire forced the former PSD regime from power, the dominant party of Romanian politics has topped all recent polls.
But a new party, the Union Save Romania, founded barely six months ago to fight the corruption, cronyism and inefficiency endemic in Romanian public life since the overthrow of the Ceausescu dictatorship in 1989, could spoil the celebrations.
Polls have credited the USR, led by mathematician and former civic activist Nicusor Dan, with between 8% and 19% of the vote – which, together with the centre-right PNL, on 18-27%, could make it the junior partner in a new coalition, perhaps built around the outgoing caretaker prime minister, Dacian Ciolos.
A survey last week put the Social Democrats – who have governed the country in assorted coalitions for 17 of the 27 years since the fall of communism – on 43% of the national vote, with their liberal ALDE allies on 6%.
PSD, which has promised to boost social spending and reintroduce progressive taxation in place of the unpopular flat rate income tax, won more than half the posts in June’s mayoral elections in towns and villages around the country, and has a clear organisational advantage.
“They are an extremely powerful political machine,” said one analyst, Cristian Patrasconiu. “They have half the mayors in Romania, three-quarters of the county councils, and a robust structure of power across the country.”
PSD had already begun reversing hugely unpopular austerity programmes before it was forced to resign in October last year after being blamed for the years of official graft and inaction that many Romanians felt lay behind the nightclub fire.
Romania, an enthusiastic EU member for a decade and a major recipient of EU funds, remains one of Europe’s most corrupt countries: a report by the IPP thinktank last week found that of the 588 MPs elected at the last poll in 2012, 89 – or 15% – were either under investigation for graft, had already been convicted, or chose to step down for other positions.
Whichever party wins on Sunday must walk a budgetary tightrope. Romania’s economy is growing strongly at about 5% year-on-year, but average take-home pay is dramatically low at barely €420 (£353) a month.
The incoming government will need to find a way to balance an urgent need for investment in the country’s neglected infrastructure against huge popular pressure for increases to wages and pensions.
Ciolos, the former EU agriculture commissioner who has led the country’s technocratic government for the past 12 months, told Reuters last month the new government should first approve a new public sector wage scheme aimed at evening out major inequalities and raising average wages by 34%.
Other top priorities are encouraging young Romanian medical graduates to stay in the country (there are now more Romanian doctors in France than in Romania), and encouraging teachers and other public sector employees to move to some of the country’s most disadvantaged areas, Ciolos said.
The PSD leader, Liviu Dragnea, has said he plans to prepare 200 state-owned companies for privatisation, boost the national minimum wage, introduce tax incentives for families whose children attend school regularly, and invest heavily in the national health service, including a big new teaching hospital in Bucharest and eight new regional centres.
But Ciolos warned all parties against making unsustainable promises that he said would inevitably end up increasing voter resentment and fuelling populism. “Many parties are making some of the same economic policy proposals and promises they made four, eight years ago that have not been enforced,” he said.
“It is clear they are unrealistic proposals that aim to get people’s attention and votes. In the future, parties need to do more to boost the trust of voters who want Romanian society and institutions to reform.”
Dan, a 46-year-old mathematician and conservation-activist-turned-party-leader, hopes Sunday’s parliamentary elections will represent a turning point for the country’s political scene.
Polls suggest his USR party could take a significant share of the vote, its message of greater governmental accountability and transparency striking a chord in a country beset by political scandals, corruption and a lack of confidence in traditional parties.
The party is tiny - it has just 15 paid staff and a few thousand volunteers – but has big ambitions. “We believe we can be kingmakers,” Dan told the Guardian recently. “If not, we will be the opposition.”
The mathematics researcher at the Romanian Academy, whose profile has risen on the back of regular TV and media appearances, has twice run for mayor of Bucharest. In 2012, Dan stood as an independent on a narrow platform of preserving historic buildings and defending green spaces from urban developers, winning 8.5% of the vote. This year, as the head of a party he founded called Union to Save Bucharest, and running on a broader anti-corruption platform, he finished second with more than 30% of the vote.
The USR, its candidates made up of academics, people from the private sector and a handful of former ministers, hope to provide a strong new political voice. “This is the first authentic grassroots movement that has the chance to breach parliament,” said Tudor Benga, an e-commerce entrepreneur and USR candidate for the Transylvanian city of Brasov.
“They can get seats,” said Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, a Romanian political scientist, who thinks 10% is an attainable target. “There is sheer desperation among many voters. People don’t know USR, but there is an anti-system mood in Romania and people are willing to overlook the makeshift nature of the party.”
The party says it intends to back Cioloș, the independent politician who took over as interim prime minister in November 2015, and the party’s success in part depends on this gamble. “We could have a selfish approach, saying we are against all other political parties, that they are all corrupt and the same, which they’re not, and we could probably get more seats,” said Dan, who balances charisma with the cautious studiousness of an academic. Supporting Cioloș would lead to the best outcome for Romania, he added.
“We can’t compete with the main parties at the level of structure, that’s obvious, but there has been a wait for a change in society, and I think we are the party people have been waiting for,” he said. Kit Gillet
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'Lost' Austrian film predicting rise of nazism restored and relaunched
City Without Jews premiered in Vienna in 1924. Now the original version, lost for 90 years, has been saved from decay
Philip Oltermann in Vienna
Friday 9 December 2016 07.00 GMT
It is the end of the first world war, inflation is soaring and the inhabitants of a German-speaking city are starting to turn on each other. Politicians are quick to find a scapegoat: “The people,” the chancellor announces, “demand the expulsion of all Jews.”
What may sound like a snippet from a history book about the Third Reich is in fact the synopsis of a film produced at a time when the Nazi party was still banned and Adolf Hitler was putting the finishing touches to Mein Kampf in a Munich prison cell.
Based on a dystopian novel by the Jewish publicist Hugo Bettauer, Die Stadt ohne Juden (“The City Without Jews”) originally premiered in Vienna in July 1924, but the original version vanished in the war years and was considered lost for more than 90 years.
Now, thanks to a chance discovery in a Parisian flea market and the biggest crowdfunding campaign to date in Austria’s culture sector, the silent film is set to be digitally restored and re-released in its original form for the first time, with a premiere including a new live score scheduled at Vienna’s concert hall for autumn 2017.
The Austrian Film Archive, which organised the crowdfunding campaign, managed to reach its target of €75,500 on Tuesday, four days before Saturday’s deadline. A spokesperson for the organisation said a major donation from an anonymous Jewish foundation in the US after Donald Trump’s election victory and a doubling of daily donations after the defeat of a rightwing populist candidate in the Austrian presidential election had boosted its cause.
The film shows not just the economic circumstances that led to a flaring up of political antisemitism, but also satirically plays through the consequences of a rapid exodus of the Jewish population of Vienna, called “Utopia” in the film.
Initially, the city’s “Aryan” population celebrate the departure of their Jewish neighbours with fireworks. But Utopia’s cultural life soon falls into neglect: cafes turn into beer halls, shops sell basic folk costumes rather than urban fashion, and foreign countries cut off their trade links.
“Strangely,” one political adviser tells the mayor, “our currency is still worth absolutely nothing.” Soon, posters start appearing around the city: “You’ve thrown out our prosperity with the Jews.”
A damaged and incomplete version of the film, possibly censored or self-censored, had been discovered by archivists at the Dutch film museum in 1991. According to Nikolaus Wostry, director of collections at the Austrian Film Archive, the new edit – which was found by a collector at a Paris flea market in October 2015 – not only politicises the film’s message and contains its original ending but also adds a number of detailed scenes exploring the different social spheres of Jewish life in Vienna.
“The message we want to send out is that this is not just a film about the past, but an anti-Nazi statement,” Wostry told the Guardian.
“Back when The City Without Jews was made, we had a very similar situation to the one we are in now. At the end of the first world war, a lot of people had been displaced by Russian forces in the north of the empire and were migrating south to Vienna, especially Jews from Bukovina and Galicia. Antisemitic feelings got a massive boost through this refugee crisis and all parties started to make politics with it.”
After the second world war, when Austria had to redefine itself as a nation, Jewish Vienna played an important part. Wostry said: “We became the nation of Schnitzler, Freud and Schönberg. But Austria never actually tried to bring back Jews that were driven out. There’s a great paradox at the heart of this nation.”
In the film, Utopia’s fictional chancellor eventually decides to invite the Jewish population back into the city. Real life did not offer such a happy ending. Oskar Helmer, Austria’s postwar interior minister, did little to hide his belief that questions over reparation payments and restitution of Jewish property should be drawn out as long as possible.
Bettauer, the author of the novel that inspired the film, was assassinated in his office by an ex-member of the then banned Nazi party only months after the film’s premiere.
History also had in store a number of cruel twists for the film’s lead actors. Johannes Riemann, who plays the film’s Jewish protagonist, Leo Strakosch, later joined the Nazi party and in 1944 performed at a variety evening at the Auschwitz concentration camp, while star actor Hans Moser, who plays one of the film’s most rabid antisemites, had to emigrate from Austria because he refused to divorce his Jewish wife.
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Transgender children: the parents and doctors on the frontline
Tim Adams reports on the controversial issues surrounding trans children seeking medical help
Poppy, aged nine, hopes to use hormone blockers
12/9/2016 09.00 GMT
In 1989, when the Gender Identity Development Service (Gids) at London’s Tavistock Clinic opened, it received two referrals in its first year of operation. As Dr Polly Carmichael, current director of the service, observes, it was considered a career-limiting option for a clinical psychologist to specialise in the field of gender identity in young people – there weren’t enough patients. That is not how it has turned out. Last year, 1,400 children under 18 were referred to Gids, double the number the year before. Of these 1,400, nearly 300 were under the age of 12, with some as young as three years old.
The reasons for this exponential increase are obviously complex. One factor seems to be a huge shift in awareness of transgender individuals in wider culture. The attention paid to Caitlyn Jenner in America, and Kellie Maloney here; a transgender actor, Riley Carter Millington, playing a transgender role in EastEnders; the historic tragedy of the story told in The Danish Girl and the many public controversies about respect for trans rights have all informed this awareness.
It is never just a phase. if these kids do go through puberty, 29% self harm
It has helped to open up a space for greater acceptance and understanding, particularly in schools, but also for highly emotive and polarised debate about how best to help young people who believe they need to transition. At the sharpest end of this debate are the parents whose children are identifying themselves as transgender well before puberty, and sometimes living outwardly as the other sex. These children – and their parents – are more aware than ever that there are choices available to them to correct what they believe to be the error in their bodies. It can seem these choices are binary, the ultimate either/or, but the decisions parents have to make about intervening in their children’s biology are anything but clear-cut.
A couple of weeks ago I sat in on a day’s conference organised by Mermaids, a charitable support group for parents of children who identify as trans. The charity has been much in the news in recent weeks, in part because it has featured in the widely reported custody battle heard at the High Court that involved a boy of seven allowed to live “in stealth” as a girl, because his mother had become convinced those were his wishes. The judge in the case, Mr Justice Hayden, ruled that the boy should live with his father, and that the mother “had caused significant emotional harm to her son in her active determination that he should be a girl”. Mermaids had supported the mother in her belief that her son identified as transgender for two years and described the ruling as a “huge injustice and transphobic practice” which had been “devastating for the child”.
In another case it was reported that a family was taking legal action against a local authority for backing their 14-year-old daughter’s adoption of a boy’s name as a step towards changing her gender. The mother of the girl said she believed her daughter was too young to make her own decision. “The rights of parents in the UK are being eroded,” she claimed, “especially those who have traditional Christian values. It is leaving parents to feel fearful, vulnerable and intimidated.”
I went along to the Mermaids conference in part to try to make sense of some of these issues for myself. It seems to me unquestionably a wonderful thing that young people faced with some of the trauma of these feelings about who they are can find tolerant space in which to experiment with different expressions of their gender and be protected in law from discrimination. But as a parent, too, I find it hard to get rid of the feeling that the more choices you give to younger children, the more they are likely to adopt them for a variety of psychological reasons. Is a six-year-old, or an eight-year-old, or a 10-year-old, or a 12-year-old, really able to make informed enough decisions about the consequences of a complete shift in their gender involving deed poll name change and living “in stealth”? Are we formed in our gender identities before puberty or by puberty? And can the longer-term psychological consequences of these decisions possibly be known?
The Mermaids conference was addressed by Dr Norman Spack, a paediatric endocrinologist at the Children’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts and the guiding light of the British charity. Spack, 73, is an evangelist for what some parents of transgender children see as a revolution in the medical treatment of their kids. He sees gender through the lens of his own specialism – hormones – and has devoted his working life to having other people view this question in the same way. He dislikes the term “reassignment”. “We don’t reassign a person’s gender,” he says, “we just acknowledge what it really is and fix it.” At one point in his talk, Spack led his audience in an impromptu rendition of “The Times They are a-Changin” in honour of Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize – but also to highlight the generational shift in attitudes toward gender identity that we are witnessing: “Come senators, congressmen please heed the call… There’s a battle outside raging…”
These kids are desperate. they won’t have a bath or shower naked
In Spack’s view, and that of most of his audience, the times are not changing nearly fast enough for some children. Spack is a vocal, TED-talking advocate for early medical intervention in gender identity cases. He proposes following the model inspired by clinics in the Netherlands, in which children identifying as transgender are routinely given hormone-blocking drugs after the onset of puberty, and then move on to high doses of hormones to change their sex, and then later perhaps consider surgery. The most controversial part of this protocol is the age at which children are given the cross-sex hormones, the effects of which can be irreversible and may lead to a loss of fertility. The NHS guidelines currently state that no children be given this hormone treatment until they are around 16. Spack sees the age as arbitrary, and often cruel. “Why wait?” he asks.
In an arena of enormous doubt, this kind of certainty is seductive. Looking around the room at the conference, attended by many parents faced with these questions, you can sense heartfelt relief among some that there is an “answer” to their anxieties. As someone not faced with these anxieties, that relief seems open to the supplementary question of how a parent or child can honestly be certain this is what they want before the child has reached maturity.
Spack has no doubts. Genuine gender dysphoria is easily recognised, he believes. It is never just a phase, or a dressing-up box. “These kids don’t miss an opportunity to say, ‘This is who I am,’” he argues. “They have a fantasy that they are going to get the puberty they want, not the one they are programmed for. Tomboys don’t have that, boys who seem a bit feminine don’t have that. If these kids do go through puberty, 29% self harm.” Subsequently, he argues, up to 50% die prematurely of “psychosocial” causes, including addiction and suicide. Spack has, he says, put “about 200 children” on to hormone blockers at the onset of puberty. Of these, 100% have gone on to take cross-sex hormones because “no one changes their mind”. At which point, I think: no one?
Among Spack’s highest-profile patients is a young British woman, Jackie Green, whose mother, Susie Green, is the CEO of Mermaids. Jackie had a desperate time in her teens – attempting to kill herself seven times – as her male hormones threatened to give her an identity she loathed, and her parents looked anywhere for help. Frustrated by what they saw as the slow process of the Tavistock, which has a perceived “monopoly” on gender-identity referrals in England and Wales, Susie Green contacted Dr Spack and took her daughter to his clinic in Boston. So outwardly successful was his treatment that Jackie was subsequently a finalist in the Miss England beauty competition.
Other Mermaids parents addressed the room with unhappier stories. Several criticised NHS provision, particularly for its rigid rule against giving children the cross-sex hormone before 16, and for the waiting times for a consultation at the Tavistock. Some parents had gone down the route of self-medication for their children, buying blockers and hormones from India or wherever, over the internet, for fear they would miss the “window” when transition was possible. Some turned to a GP in Wales, Dr Helen Webberley, who has a controversial private practice to address this sudden need.
Once you medicalise identity, then you only look for medical solutions
Webberley made headlines in the summer for “prescribing sex hormones to a 12-year-old”. She came to the stage at the Mermaids conference tearful – along with most of the room – about some of the stories she had just heard (in particular that of a trans girl who had been self-harming through school, only to be made the “prom queen” when she left). I spoke to Webberley after her speech, which had ended with her embracing Spack. Her clinic has been running for nearly two years. It started with a website, just to see what the response would be. She was immediately overwhelmed with emails and letters. “These people are so desperate,” she says, “and they spend a lot of time on the internet. I think that is how it snowballed. At long last there was a doctor willing to help.”
Webberley has had 500 young patients, 50 of whom have “gone on to treatment”. She has 3,500 adult patients. Most of her consultation is through Skype and email, though she has a face-to-face meeting with children and their parents before prescribing drugs. She shares Spack’s sense of urgent mission: “It is radical, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong.”
Webberley’s is dismayed by the fact that her work has been subject of criticism from senior psychiatrists at the flagship UK hospital for transgender provision at Charing Cross. She is due to meet NHS commissioners, though the service she offers is not through the NHS (patients who go on to treatment pay a £150 flat fee and then £20 per month for her consultative advice). “They want to try to stop me from what I am doing because it is embarrassing for them,” she says. “I do put my career on the line to do this. But these kids are desperate. They won’t have a bath or a shower naked. They will change their pants in the dark. They want a puberty blocker so they don’t grow breasts, or so their voices don’t break. And then you have to wait your 18 weeks to get to the Tavistock or whatever.”
While I am talking to Webberley it is hard not to get caught up in her passion for her cause, her conviction that she is doing her best by the families who come to her. When I come away, though, doubts resurface. Can these kinds of psychological diagnoses really be so clear that you can base them on late-night emails?
When I subsequently speak to Dr Polly Carmichael and members of her multidisciplinary team at the Tavistock, it is clear they do not share the conviction that diagnosis for prepubertal children can be so straightforward. Carmichael says that because the treatment pathway identified by Spack is relatively new, “We don’t honestly know and, in fact, you can’t know the longer-term outcomes of these decisions.” The only proper longitudinal study has been from the Dutch clinics which pioneered this work, but even that is based on a mixed cohort of children at different stages of puberty who were given the blocker. The Tavistock is soon to begin publishing its own research into a more homogenous group of children who have been given hormone blockers starting in 2011. “We have to move forward on the evidence base while respecting that individuals will have very strong beliefs in what is right and wrong,” Carmichael says.
The Tavistock approach itself is too radical for some. After a long period of assessment and counselling, it moves a proportion of its young patients on to blockers and some on to cross-sex hormones at 16 but, Carmichael argues, to ever think of gender dysphoria only as something to be “fixed” by hormone treatment is really “a medicalisation of the complexities of identity and once you have done that, you look only for medical solutions”. The Tavistock offers a team that includes endocrinologists as well as psychologists, psychotherapists, family therapists, psychiatrists and others.
Since the spike in referrals, the clinic is finding different patterns in the young people they see. While the younger children “are often presenting in a binary way”, thinking that their only solution is a change of hormones and a change of sex (some very young children, Carmichael says, come armed with ideas not only about what surgery they need but which surgeons they would like to perform it) older teenagers are often thinking “in a more diverse way” about their identity and the fluidity of their gender, and can be supported to explore expressions of who they are that for some may not involve medical intervention.“We are trying to treat whole young people,” she says. “For example we have had a couple of young people who have, after a lot of discussion, decided to reject a binary approach because they want to preserve their fertility. This is not to say that their cross-gender identification has changed, just that they have chosen to prioritise retaining fertility over achieving a more consistently male or female physical presentation.”
Carmichael is caught between entrenched voices who, on the one hand, believe hormone treatment of trans-identifying children misguided in any case and, on the other, see it as the only way forward. She tries, courageously it seems to me, to defend the complexities of the middle ground. “People start to think if you have these feelings at a certain age then this is the only path to follow,” she say. “And that isn’t the case. Every young person who comes to us has different needs.”
That fact is reinforced by the two mothers who, through the Mermaids charity, have spoken to the Observer for this feature and whose stories appear on these pages. Some readers will find the parents’ acceptance of their child’s determination to choose their gender identity as a cause for celebration, others will retain doubts that these questions can be resolved with the kind of clarity that Lucy and Claire express in relation to their nine-year-olds. Such complexities will be further explored, no doubt, in the reaction to a Channel 4 documentary that will air later this week, the first time a broadcaster has been allowed access to the work of Gids. The programme, one of three on the Tavistock, examines the lives of two children attending the clinic for assessment. Watching, it is impossible not to empathise with the unbelievably hard choices faced on all sides. But also, hopefully, to believe that with the right support, there are now ways forward for these children that even a generation ago would have been hard to imagine.
I realised that Josh might not just be a tomboy when he was six and his teacher said he didn’t quite know his place in the world. I believe in being honest with my children so when Josh started asking me last year if there were operations where women could cut off their boobs I said yes, but told him it was very painful and difficult. Really, I was hoping to put him off the idea, but he carried on asking
Our GP referred us to the Tavistock clinic. I’m glad we’re in the system now as when Josh starts puberty hopefully there will be hormone blockers available if he wants to use them.
You can’t discipline this out of a child. It’s not them being naughty
It was at the end of last year, during the Christmas holidays, that Josh asked me if he could start using another name instead of his birth-name – Lexie.
For the first few months after his transition I told Josh repeatedly he could go back to being Lexie any time he liked, but he’s never shown the desire to change his mind.
At first his behaviour became quite challenging. He could be awkward and difficult, but I think he was just testing the boundaries of his new identity. When he realised all the normal rules still applied, he settled down. I think now that he’s more confident since his transition - at first he was very worried he would never be a proper boy, but I tried to keep reassuring him that it’s much more about how you present yourself than what’s in your pants.
School has been very supportive - the other children simply accept that he’s a boy.
The practicalities have been harder. I still say, ‘Morning, girls’ and then have to correct myself to ‘Morning, kids’, and getting used to male pronouns has been difficult, too. I do worry about the future and that the road we’re going down is only going to get tougher, but wanting to change gender isn’t something you can discipline out of a child - it’s not them being naughty or misbehaving, it’s something deep inside. Jenna Sloan
When Poppy was five she saved up her pocket money to buy a dress, which she loved. We enrolled her into a drama club as it was a safe place for her to be able to dress up how she wanted and express herself, but as she grew older it became increasingly difficult to treat her as a boy, when she was clearly a girl.
She grew her hair longer and adopted a feminine voice. I didn’t know whether I should be correcting the checkout assistant who told me, ‘Your daughter is so helpful.’
Phoebe, my older daughter, came out as gay when she was 15, and I recognised the same signs in Poppy, the stress of not being able to live as who you really are. She would drop coins into the well at the bottom of our garden and wish to become a girl, and by the time she was seven she started telling me she was in the wrong body.
She would drop coins into the well in the garden and wish to be a girl
There was no question of me not letting her do this - it was simply what had to happen. As a parent I can put my foot down and say, ‘No, you can’t wear your sandals in the rain,’ but I can’t put my foot down and not allow my child to be herself. I did lots of research and the self-harming and suicide rates for young people who are trans and unsupported at home are frighteningly high, so all we could do was be led by her and support her in becoming a happy and confident girl.
Poppy went back to school this year as a girl, using her new name. The change was remarkable – her confidence blossomed and her school work has improved. The school asked speakers from organisations supporting young trans people to come in and talk to staff and pupils about what was happening. It has taken her dad time to get his head around it. He was brought up as a Muslim in Senegal. But he says: ‘God gave me a daughter and I love her.’
My main fear now is that if we don’t get medical support she’ll start puberty as a boy. I think that would be intolerable for her.
Poppy wrote a story recently where she compared her transition to a trapped
bird being set free and finally learning to sing. Jenna Sloan
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Congolese rape survivor finds justice elusive: ‘I'm afraid my father will find me’
Eve was repeatedly raped by her father. Her long, lonely battle for redress exposes deep flaws in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s legal framework
Ruth Maclean in Goma
Friday 9 December 2016 07.00 GMT
When Eve* walked into the courtroom to face her father, who had raped her since she was 13, his family was waiting. As she made her way to her seat, they got up and stood in her path. They scratched her, yanked her long hair back, and hit her.
A relative, Lydia*, who had also been repeatedly raped by Eve’s father, had agreed to testify on her behalf. That gave her courage.
When it was Eve’s turn to give evidence, her father’s relatives – who were her relatives too, but were there to support the richer, more powerful party to the case – began to shout over her. “They were yelling at me, insulting me,” she said. “The lawyers had to calm them down.” Finally, they were brought to order and Eve was able to tell the court her story.
The first time her father raped her she had not met him many times. Until that point, Eve had lived with another relative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Eve’s family were not well-off, but she was a happy little girl. Then, her father came back.
“It started with [Lydia],” she said. “She told me she had to have sex with [my father] and I had to do it too, and he would give us everything we wanted. I was scared. They did it in front of me. When they finished, my father started touching me. I was very scared and felt weak. He made me lie on the bed and began doing that to me. I started bleeding.” That was the beginning of an ordeal that would go on for five years.
Thousands of girls and women are raped each year in DRC. In the east, a region that has been at war on and off since 1996, many of the rapists are armed rebels, soldiers and police officers, using sexual violence as a weapon to keep local communities subdued.
Respect for elders, however, is still a cornerstone of Congolese society. So Eve was unusual in that she stood up to her father from the beginning. “I asked him: ‘Why do you do this to your own daughter?’ He said he was scared of catching diseases from other girls. I told him I would tell [someone]. He ordered me not to, and he bought [me and Lydia] phones and clothes.”
For a few years, Eve’s father carried on raping her intermittently. Then, one day, he told Eve he was taking her back to his home to go to school. The rapes became much more frequent.
“If I could find a way to escape, I would, but if not, he just did it,” she said. “It carried on like that. Then, one day, I said I couldn’t continue. When I refused he would beat me. People wondered why he beat me so much.”
Eve thought about trying to tell her relatives, but something happened that made her change her mind. Her father was raping another young relative, who told her family what had happened. “They talked about it,” Eve said. “But then they calmed things down and blamed my [relative], not my father, because she was younger.”
Women and girls are often blamed for “seducing” their rapists. In a recent survey (pdf), more than 80% of men and women thought that some women “ask to be raped” by the way they dressed or behaved. Very often, rape survivors are abandoned by their families, which in the Congolese context of poverty and war, where family and community are the only support systems, means they are left to starve.
Escape finally came when Eve’s father beat her in public. A staff member at her school noticed her crying and, after years of abuse, Eve told someone her story.
Her father was arrested and imprisoned and Eve had to decide whether to press charges. Despite getting no support from her family, she decided to take him to court.
The country’s legal framework has been strengthened in recent years, but the system is notoriously ineffective. Officials are paid off, and a weak jail system means many prisoners escape or pay their way out.
Successful prosecutions are few and far between. Most sexual violence survivors do not even try to pursue their rapists through the courts, according to Julienne Lusenge, a grassroots women’s rights activist who founded Sofepadi, an organisation that helps rape survivors. “Not all women go to the authorities,” she said. “Some women come for medical help. Others don’t come at all. They don’t think it’s worth it because it takes so long and there aren’t any reparations, and they risk being ostracised by their families and societies.”
According to Lusenge, some people live hundreds of kilometres from their nearest court. Mobile hearings, where a court visits a village for a few days to hear local cases out in the open – so that villagers see justice working in person and witness their neighbours being publicly punished – have been shown to work well.
“It’s not just about sentencing, it’s about education,” said Charles-Guy Makongo, director of the American Bar Association (ABA) in DRC. “It creates positive fear in a community, where people will understand they’re not allowed to rape.” But mobile hearings are difficult to organise and expensive. Moreover, because they are funded by NGOs and the UN rather than the government, they are not sustainable.
There is no such thing as legal aid, and bringing a case costs upwards of $300 (£240) – an unimaginable sum for women unable to afford $10 for a sack of flour.
Amid these obstacles to justice, impunity reigns.
Eve was fortunate that the magistrate referred her to the ABA, which provided a lawyer. The ABA is one of a few organisations helping rape survivors to get justice in the DRC. It has provided legal counsel to roughly 21,500 survivors, of whom about half have filed cases. Of these, about 2,000 have gone to trial, with 1,300 convictions so far.
While Eve’s testimony was powerful, her father’s was weak: he often contradicted himself, denying things he had already admitted to the magistrate. She felt sure she would win. She knew not to hope for reparations, as they are seldom paid in DRC. But she hoped to be able to get on with her life. She dreamed of training to be a lawyer, and helping other girls in her position.
The trial proceedings ended, but there was no verdict. For months she heard nothing, and presumed her father was still in prison. She then got a phone call from her father. “Wherever you are, I will kill you,” he said.
The ABA told her he had been acquitted. He may have paid off court officials.
“I’m disappointed with the Congolese justice system,” Eve said. “My case was a clear case. I can’t understand how he got out of prison. Instead of giving rights to the person who needs it, they give them to the person in the wrong – to the rapist.”
Nadine Saiba, a lawyer at the ABA, agreed: “We have stories upon stories, but this one just revolts you. All this for money.”
Receiving this blow after a long, lonely fight for justice made Eve even more determined to become a lawyer. “Seeing the work the ABA has done for me, I want to do it for others,” she said.
A local organisation is considering giving her a bursary to study law. Even if the bursary comes through, though, it will not cover the cost of the first year, which at roughly $1,500, would be unaffordable for Eve, who has gone into hiding. “I know I am a strong woman,” she said. “I told my secret because I had courage. But I am still afraid that my father will come back and find me.”
He has fled abroad, but she believes that one day, he will be brought to justice. “Even if he denies it now, one day he’ll accept his crime, that he did these things. The ABA will support me and it will end. It can’t stay like this. I have confidence in the God I pray to.”
*Names changed to protect identities
on: Today at 06:21 AM
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Underground coal gasification will not go ahead in UK
Government says it will not support highly polluting method of releasing gas from coal seams
Demonstrators protest against underground coal gasification in Scotland
Thursday 8 December 2016 16.06 GMT
A highly polluting method of extracting gas has been effectively killed off in the UK after the government said it would not support the technology.
Underground coal gasification (UCG), which involves injecting oxygen and steam underground to release gas from coal seams, would massively increase UK carbon emissions if exploited, according to a government-commissioned report.
The review by consultants Atkins said if power stations used gas from the method, it would be 40-100% dirtier in terms of CO2 emissions than burning gas from the North Sea and imports. Exploiting all the UK’s coal reserves would release the equivalent of 24 years of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
As a result, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said the government was “minded to not support” the technique. Underground coal gasification has proved controversial elsewhere in the world, particularly over its environmental impact in Australia, and Scotland banned it in October.
It is considered very unlikely that the technique would take off in the UK without any financial or legislative support.
Cluff Natural Resources had been one of the biggest advocates for UCG in the UK, saying it would explore outside of Scotland after the government there indicated it was considering a ban. The company said it was disappointed at the stance the UK government had taken but it was no longer looking at gasification.
“Given our former interest in UCG we are obviously disappointed that the government has taken this view. However over the last 18 months Cluff Natural Resources has completed the transformation of its business away from UCG and for the last year we have been entirely focused on the exploration and appraisal of our exciting portfolio of conventional oil and gas assets in the North Sea,” it said in a statement.
The Atkins review, published on Thursday (pdf), found that burning gas to make electricity from UCG would result in emissions of 570-785g CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour, compared to 400g for natural gas normally.
A government spokesman said: “The Atkins report finds that emissions from underground coal gasification would be too high to be consistent with our commitment to a low-carbon future. We are therefore minded to not support the development of this technology in the UK.”
Jonathan Marshall, an energy analyst at the ECIU thinktank, said while the government turning its back on the technology should be welcomed, it was unlikely to have a huge impact as UCG was relatively “small fry”.
“UCG was a bit of a non-starter in the UK. It was not a suitable technology to provide power for replacing the coal power that is going offline, as the emissions were too high and it was too expensive,” he said.
on: Today at 06:19 AM
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Great Barrier Reef not likely to survive if warming trend continues, says report
Report projects by 2050 more than 98% of coral reefs will be afflicted by ‘bleaching-level thermal stress’ each year
Friday 9 December 2016 06.46 GMT
The Great Barrier Reef will not survive coral bleaching if current sea temperature trends continue, according to a new report charting increases over the past three decades which blames manmade climate change for the problem.
The study found thermal stress to coral reef areas was three times more likely when its investigation finished in 2012 compared with when it began in 1985, forecasting “more frequent and more severe” bleaching through the middle of this century.
Led by researchers at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and published in Scientific Reports journal, the report projects that by 2050 more than 98% of coral reefs around the world will be afflicted by “bleaching-level thermal stress” each year.
“The likelihood of the reef being able to survive through that is extremely low,” the report’s co-author, Scott Heron of the NOAA, told Guardian Australia. “If annual severe bleaching was happening across 98% of global reefs, it is very unlikely the Great Barrier Reef would be maintained.”
The report found 97% of 60,000 coral reef locations risked bleaching across the timeframe studied, with “drastic increases” expected to follow. “Coral bleaching events have become and will continue to become more frequent and severe,” it reads.
Heron said that for any part of the Great Barrier Reef to remain it would need to “get lucky”, but the chances of a positive outcome were remote. “If a piano is going to fall on you, it is going to fall on you irrespective of how healthy you are,” he said.
Since the conclusion of the investigation, the planet has experienced the longest bleaching event on record.
“Scientifically the facts are clear, that the level of warming we are seeing is a direct result of human activities globally,” Heron said, speaking to the report finding that the “main driver” of stress to coral reefs were high sea temperatures. “The increase in prolonged high temperature events on coral reefs is a stark example of the effects of climate change.”
The researchers observed that “summer-like” water temperatures had increased decade to decade with a “corresponding shortening” of the respite period experienced during winter, with reefs “among the most sensitive of all ecosystems to climate change”.
For the Great Barrier Reef, which a poll found two-thirds of Australians want to see declared a national emergency, its southern reaches have not been as significantly affected by thermal stress as it has further north. According to Heron, this is a positive in the short term, but it would be wrong to assume it would remain this way.
“I think it is wonderful to point out that there are parts of the Great Barrier Reef that escaped the impacts of bleaching for all of the industries who use the resources of the reef,” he said. “But to say that is representative of the entire reef is a complete falsehood.”
Asked whether the domestic politics of emissions reduction, highlighted this week in Canberra, frustrated the efforts of the scientific community, Heron remained upbeat that necessity would ultimately drive the public policy solutions at home and abroad.
“I still have hope that they will respond with appropriate urgent action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and concentrations in the atmosphere,” he said.
“We are on an upward trajectory at an upward rate and we are already halfway towards the threshold that has been defined as being a limit that we really cannot reach.”
on: Today at 06:17 AM
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Black swan becomes black sheep in the mob
Langstone Harbour, Hampshire The black swan shrank back as the mute swans stomped up the mud bank towards us and jostled for a handout
Friday 9 December 2016 05.30 GMT
The tide was out and as I approached the mill outflow I could see a black swan hunkered down on the exposed shingle. Native to Australia, black swans were introduced to Britain in 1791 as ornamental birds in captive wildfowl collections. Due to inevitable escapees and deliberate releases, sightings in the wild are widespread. Now, the number of breeding sites are increasing at such a rate that Cygnus atratus may be on the brink of establishing a self-sustaining population.
This was the fifth black swan to visit the creek in a fortnight and, as they often pair up during the winter months, it is likely that these birds were roaming in search of a mate. This swan didn’t sport the jet black velvet lustre of mature adult plumage – its sooty feathers had a charcoal grey cast and were fringed with taupe, which gave it an almost scaly appearance.
The swan’s greater wing coverts and tertials were broad and curled, so that when closed its wings were ruffled like a rah-rah skirt. The white flight feathers were almost completely concealed, leaving a narrow ribbon above the flank, and the dull tips suggested that this was a young adult, less than three years old. The sexes look similar, but this animal had the shorter, curvier, bill of a female.
She shuffled towards me, her garnet-coloured eyes fixed on the bag swinging in my hand. I crouched down and offered her a palmful of food. She lunged for the pellets, her waxy vermillion bill snapping with such force that they spilled across the ground.
Black swans have a reputation for dominant, aggressive, behaviour, but she shrank back as the resident mute swans stomped up the mud bank towards us, their eight well-grown cygnets waddling in their wake.
As the mob of mute swans clustered round me and jostled for a handout, the black swan inched forward to pluck a fallen pellet from between the stones. The mute cob turned on her and hissed a warning, his neck arched into an S shape, like a rearing cobra preparing to strike.
Black swans have been known to hybridise with mute swans, but it looked as though this Juliet was going to have to fly farther afield to find her Romeo.
on: Today at 06:14 AM
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We are to blame for the decline of giraffes. And only we can save them
Deforestation, civil wars and hunting have put giraffes on the vulnerable species list. Now we must show these creatures the other side of human nature
Thursday 8 December 2016 14.04 GMT
Imagine entering a museum of the future. Imagine walking across its great marble floors, dodging the schoolchildren and parents with buggies, past the toilets and the gift shop and down the corridor marked Mammals. Imagine marvelling at the bones and fossil teeth of mammoths, sabre-toothed tigers and giant ground sloths. Now, pause. You are in shadow. You are in the shadow of an enormous towering skeleton of an extinct creature which stands almost 20ft high, with a long neck upon which a horny skull sits, within which would have been a tongue almost as long as a human arm. “On whose watch did such a creature face extinction?” those future museum visitors might ask.
Our watch. For today is the day giraffes first became listed as a threatened species, the day we learned from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature that giraffes are to be listed as “vulnerable” in their international Red List update. The day we learned that their downward spiral had begun. And the day we have to start doing something more to help.
According to the IUCN, giraffe populations have fallen from about 157,000 in 1985 to 97,500 today – a population drop of almost 40%. But the causes of these declines are nothing new: they include the conversion of grasslands to farmland, deforestation and the impact of civil wars, not forgetting the occasional crazed American tourist with a big gun fetish. Giraffes are now split across Africa into discreet populations that no longer mix – they are nine isolated islands of life being increasingly squeezed from all sides.
At this point, it would be tempting to consider their conservation to be an African problem, yet to do so would be a mistake. Mammoths, sabre-tooths and giant ground sloths (all non-African) will have gone through similar such declines – isolated into breeding pockets, which were squashed, one by one, by encroaching threats like climate change, range competition and, in some cases, hunting from early humans. Nine small puddles will evaporate far more quickly than one big puddle, and so it is with life. It is the historic “death-by-a-thousand-cuts”, writ large. Giraffes are just one striking addition to what is fast becoming a global phenomenon. It is the threat of fragmentation.
Giraffes faing extinction, warn experts – video report: <iframe src="https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/environment/video/2016/dec/08/giraffes-facing-extinction-warn-experts-video-report" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
This year’s IUCN Red List does not only include giraffes; there are a host of creatures threatened by similar fragmentation. They include the African grey parrot and the spectacular sunset lorikeet and the eastern gorilla, as well as (my personal favourite) the geometric tortoise. And fragmentation is a UK issue too. Recent research into common toads offers a striking example of its effects. Isolated by roads and other infrastructure, there is no hope for these charismatic amphibians should their breeding ponds be removed, trashed or left for dead, and so it is that they have faced a two-thirds population decline in the same 30 years that giraffe numbers have dwindled.
But this is a day for us to consider giraffes. Theirs is a story, quite frankly, that few conservationists (including me) saw coming. I am the first to admit that yesterday, before the IUCN update, I had giraffes pegged as beautiful food for lions. Now they, like so many others, have become more; they have become food for thought.
Can we put a good spin on this? Is there anything positive one can say? I believe, yes. For today’s world has something in it that the Pleistocene epoch never had. Today’s world contains perhaps the biggest, most spectacular thing that natural selection is capable of producing: coordinated minds that seek to save things other than themselves – the minds of humans, when we’re at our best.
Perhaps it is through creatures like these that coordinated action can unite the interests of countries over continents
At this very moment, government representatives across the world are gathered at the UN Biodiversity Summit and they will be asked to coordinate actions to save species such as these. They will look at how they can work together, alongside a great number of conservation organisations, to meet the needs of their people and their wildlife. And what could crystallise united action more than a threatened mammalian dinosaur, with long curly eyelashes and an inquisitive innocence that could tug at the heartstrings of even the most cold-hearted?
As sections of societies across Europe and the US appear increasingly to idolise isolationism, perhaps it is through fragmented creatures like these that coordinated action can unite the interests of countries and peoples over whole continents. Maybe, it will be through strange creatures like these that we can show off that which shows the human species at its most special. Future generations that visit museums will be the judge of our success. Or they will instead lament our failure, stood forever in the shadow of our mistakes.
on: Today at 06:10 AM
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SunPower cuts jobs: Will Trump’s policies undercut renewables?
The solar company's plans to lay off a quarter of its workforce come as the energy industry braces for a new energy regime under President-elect Trump.
By Christina Beck, Staff December 9, 2016
SanJose-based solar power company SunPower announced plans to lay off a quarter of its employees on Wednesday, just months after letting 15 percent of its workforce go in August.
SunPower executives say that their decision is part of the company’s long-term economic plan to help position itself for the future, citing challenging industry conditions and demand decline in China.
The move comes as the entire energy industry prepares for a possible shift in national focus under the incoming administration of president-elect Donald Trump, who campaigned on restoring jobs in the coal industry – a significant reversal of the Obama administration's push to cut back on fossil fuels and bolster renewables.
Industry experts are conflicted about the implications of federal level policy changes on the industry, although they are confident that solar isn’t going anywhere.
“We are concerned about the future of solar power,” says Susan Boucher of New England Clean Energy in a phone interview with The Christian Science Monitor. “That said, solar is very popular, and it is here to stay.”
While part of the solar industry's current problem is that the energy industry has engaged in a campaign against solar, according to Ms. Boucher, another, somewhat counterintuitive factor is the industry's massive expansion. As such, market prices are being driven down by the amount of competition among solar energy providers.
SunPower, which grew from 35 employees to 8,000 in the past 13 years, says that its announcement on Wednesday is primarily motivated by a desire to combat short-term market conditions.
"We believe these actions, which are fully supported by our board of directors, are important to position the company for sustained profitability through the current industry transition,” said SunPower CEO Tom Werner in a press release. “With solar at grid parity in many markets, we believe the long-term industry opportunity has never been greater."
"This comprehensive restructuring program will enable us to successfully navigate the current challenging industry conditions while positioning us for success over the long term," SunPower chief financial officer Chuck Boynton added.
Yet as Mr. Trump continues to promise deregulation of energy industries, including the coal industry, discusses tax breaks that could hurt clean energy, and nominates individuals such as future Environmental Protection Agency head and anti-regulation crusader Scott Pruitt, is the solar industry concerned?
Not really, according to some solar industry leaders.
"I’m as optimistic as ever about home solar because demand comes directly from consumers," said Lynn Jurich, chief executive officer and co-founder of Sunrun solar company, the largest dedicated residential solar company in the United States by email. "It harnesses Americans' collective desire for more innovation, jobs, and choice, and on top of that, it saves consumers money and cleans up our air. That's why recent polling shows that 85% of the public, including 84% of Republican voters, support rooftop solar."
In 2015, a Gallup poll found that 79 percent of respondents believed that the United States should put more emphasis on solar power resources than it was doing already.
“Solar power is here to stay,” says New England Clean Energy’s Boucher.
In Massachusetts, Boucher says, solar energy exploded in popularity due to incentives offered by the state. In neighboring New Hampshire, which offers fewer incentives for solar business, the industry has not experienced nearly the same level of growth.
In the past two terms of his presidency, President Obama has backed clean energy, both through the Clean Power Plan, and through granting stimulus money to solar companies.
In 2011, The Christian Science Monitor’s Mark Clayton reported on the difference that Department of Energy investment made to the burgeoning industry:
In the past two years the Energy Department has offered over $12 billion in loan guarantees for 16 solar projects – about two thirds of the recipients are power plants, the rest are solar manufacturers – with stimulus funds from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act .
Friday the DOE once again hammered home its view that solar’s promise is real, with a $150 million loan guarantee to 1366 Technologies, a Lexington, Mass. -based solar wafer manufacturing company that has a great new technology – but no manufacturing plant. Now it will.
At the current rates of declining cost, the DOE and others project, solar will be competitive with coal in 2020.
At that point, the DOE website says, there will be “rapid, large-scale adoption of solar electricity across the United States.”
Yet federal solar investment doesn't have a perfect track record – critics cite Mr. Obama's disastrous multi-million dollar investment into failed Silicon Valley solar company Solyndra.
Policy can be incredibly important in the solar industry, Boucher says. But industry experts don’t seem too worried.
“The truth is that the low cost of Natural Gas has decimated the coal industry, not the regulations,” New England Clean Energy CEO Mark Durrenberger tells the Monitor by email. “Even if Trump were to 'deregulate' coal, the economics of coal are are far worse than natural gas. On top of that, it is almost as hard to get a coal plant built in this nation as it is to get a nuclear plant built. Local objection in these cases is quite powerful.”
“As costs continue to drop, solar becomes even more and more attractive relative to traditional fossil fuel generated electricity. It, of course, has the added benefit that it is non-polluting.