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 21 
 on: Today at 05:08 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
May 5, 2016

Curiosity rover continues up Mt. Sharp despite tire damage

by Brett Smith
Red Orbit

Despite significant tire damage, NASA’s Curiosity rover is expected to be able to complete its scientific mission on Mars, officials from the space agency said in a recent statement.

About the size of an SUV, Curiosity rides along on six aluminum wheels. While years of driving around the Red Planet have done significant damage to the wheels, the rover should be able to reach its goal of climbing Mount Sharp in search of signs that Mars could have hosted life.

"Cracks and punctures have been gradually accumulating at the pace we anticipated, based on testing we performed at JPL," said Steve Lee, Curiosity’s control systems manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California. "Given our longevity projections, I am confident these wheels will get us to the destinations on Mount Sharp that have been in our plans since before landing.”

Punctures to the wheels, which are about half as thick as a dime, first started appearing in 2013. NASA navigators then made the decision to roll over smoother terrain where possible. The space agency also began additional testing of its wheel technology.

Tests of Curiosity’s wheels back here on Earth showed they hit about 60 percent of their lifetime when three of their 19 treads, also known as grousers, have broken. Regular periodic photos of the wheels show none of the grousers have broken yet, and therefore, NASA officials said, the rover should be able to reach three locations on Mount Sharp that are crucial to its mission.

"At a current odometry of 7.9 miles since its August 2012 landing, Curiosity's wheels are projected to have more than enough life remaining to investigate the hematite, clay and sulfate units ahead, even in the unlikely case that up to three grousers break soon," NASA officials said. "The driving distance to the start of the sulfate-rich layers is roughly 4.7 miles from the rover's current location.”

The sites targeted by the rover are either rich in sulfates, clay minerals or hematite, an iron-oxide mineral, geology that can deliver details on Mars' past habitability. For instance, clay minerals typically form in liquid water with a near-neutral pH, and therefore might be good signs of past conditions that were ideal for life, mission researchers have said.

 22 
 on: Today at 05:06 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
May 5, 2016

Ancient volcanoes erupted under Martian ice sheets, study finds

by Chuck Bednar
Red Orbit

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter revealed more of the Red Planet’s secrets, having found evidence that volcanic eruptions took place beneath an ice sheet located far from currently frozen regions on Mars several billion years ago, the agency announced on Tuesday.

Using the orbiter’s mineral-mapping spectrometer, Purdue University scientist Sheridan Ackiss and colleagues analyzed the surface composition in an area of Mars called “Sisyphi Montes” and found that the unusual, flat-topped mountains located there were strikingly similar to Earth-based volcanoes that had erupted beneath a layer of frozen water.

The discovery suggests there had once been an extensive ice sheet on Mars and the environmental conditions may have contained the perfect combination of moisture and heat for flowing water, allowing microbial organisms to survive and thrive there.

“Rocks tell stories. Studying the rocks can show how the volcano formed or how it was changed over time. I wanted to learn what story the rocks on these volcanoes were telling,” Ackiss said in a statement, adding that the discovery of minerals like zeolites, sulfates, and clays are the same as those found following subglacial volcanic activity here on Earth.

Located in the southern portion of Mars, far from any frozen areas currently found on the planet, Sisyphi Montes is mountain range located in the Sisyphi Planum region. The range has a diameter of 124 miles (200 km) and was named in 1985.

More to the point, some of the flat-topped peaks in the region were found to contain the various minerals that have been linked to subglacial volcanism on Earth. The orbiter’s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) detected those zeolites, clays and sulfates by imaging the region at a resolution of about 60 feet (18 meters) per pixel.

The mountain range extends from approximately 55 degrees to 75 degrees south latitude, NASA said, and CRISM’s high-resolution observations have revealed that some sites have shapes and compositions that are consistent with volcanic eruptions beneath ice sheets located roughly 1,000 miles (1,600 km) away from the planet’s current south pole.

Earlier this week, researchers discovered that boiling water may have carved the dark streaks on the slopes of the Red Planet, suggesting that Mars may still contain liquid H2O, but that it could also have less liquid water than previously believed.

Based on the amount of water thought to be needed to create these streaks, as well as the fact that said water would be short-lived, the authors of the study believe that it would make the current Mars a less-than-ideal environment for microbes.

 23 
 on: May 04, 2016, 05:53 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
The lunacy that is America now

America's Trump nightmare has arrived

‘It’s been an unbelievable day and evening and year’, Trump said at the beginning of his acceptance speech. Unbelievable is one word for it

Wednesday 4 May 2016 04.00 BST
AFP

Donald Trump could actually be the next president. Just let that sink in.

This is a man who actively demeans women, has encouraged violence at his campaign rallies, would ban all Muslims from entering the US and recently seemed undisturbed by an endorsement from a leader of the Ku Klux Klan. And yet Trump, a political outsider, is poised to grasp the highest office in the land.

It was never supposed to happen. But here we are. Tonight in Indiana, in the primary that nobody thought would matter, the thing that nobody thought possible a year ago, is really coming to pass. Donald Trump is going to clinch the Republican nomination. He is really winning, like he always says. Only it’s not a joke or catchy mantra – it’s reality.

And even he seems to understand how absurd that is. “It’s been an unbelievable day and evening and year,” Trump said at the beginning of his acceptance speech.

Unbelievable is one word for it.

After the race was called from Trump on Tuesday night, Ted Cruz, the only thing standing between him and the nomination, suspended his campaign.

This was never supposed to happen. Early polling had showed a tight race between Trump and Cruz. And Cruz had thrown everything he had at the contest, from money, to a newsy presidential pick and a non-aggression pact with John Kasich. Even up until tonight’s election, insiders continued to insist that delegate math would protect the party from Trump’s nomination.

But suddenly with Cruz’s announcement, the specter of a contested convention fell away and the Republican primary was a one-man show. A big, orange, frightening one-man show.

Beaming at his audience on stage in the Trump Tower, he heaped lavish praise on people he’s disparaged the most, from women – he’s called them “dogs” and “fat pigs” – to Cruz himself, whom he recently declared “everyone hates.”

“He is a tough smart competitor”, Trump said of Cruz. Nevermind what’s honest, Trump has never been concerned with that.

The relationship between the two men has always been politically transparent, and tonight was no exception. After all, Trump will need to win over Cruz’s evangelical base if he’s ever going to beat Hillary Clinton in a general election. So with Cruz out of the race, he went from being Trump’s Opponent-in-Chief to being his Ally-in-Chief.

And he does have some support in such shenanigans. No sooner had Cruz stepped aside then Republican chairman Reince Priebus tried to get out ahead of the narrative by calling for the party to unite behind Trump. “@realDonaldTrump will be presumptive @GOP nominee, we all need to unite and focus on defeating @HillaryClinton #NeverClinton”, he tweeted. And some like Alabama’s Jeff Sessions have long said Trump’s just what the party need.

Not everyone’s on-board (Cruz, in one of his last acts as a presidential candidate, nuked the billionaire real estate mogul as a “pathological liar”), but it doesn’t matter anymore.

With all 57 of Indiana’s delegates under his belt, Trump has a breezy path to the 1,237 count he needs to steer clear of a contested convention in Cleveland this summer. And he doesn’t have an opponent in sight.

Indiana was the moment when Cruz said that, if Trump wins again, “America will plunge into the abyss.” Maybe he was right – November is still a long way off.

Meanwhile the new normal in America is a strange reality indeed. Donald Trump is winning and nobody – not Ted Cruz nor the entire Republican party working in concert (remember the #NeverTrump crusade?), can stop him.

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

Donald Trump's path to Republican nomination cleared as Ted Cruz quits

Texas senator quits presidential race after losing to Donald Trump in Indiana, while Bernie Sanders beats Hillary Clinton

Ben Jacobs in Indianapolis, Dan Roberts in Washington and Ed Pilkington in New York
AFP
Wednesday 4 May 2016 09.46 BST

Ted Cruz suspended his US presidential campaign on Tuesday after a crushing defeat in Indiana’s primary, leaving the way clear for Donald Trump to become the Republican nominee.

The Texas senator was the last remaining competitor to Trump with a clear shot at the nomination. However, after staking his campaign on a win in Indiana, Cruz suffered an overwhelming loss in the Hoosier State.

In an inclusive victory speech in which he tried to heal some of the open wounds of the past year and begin the long and very difficult process of unifying the party, Trump had kind words for his vanquished rival.

“I don’t know if he likes me or doesn’t like me,” Trump said of his rival. “But he is one hell of a competitor. He has an amazing future.”

In the Democratic race, Bernie Sanders pulled off a shock victory, beating Hillary Clinton by 52.5% to 47.5%, with 97.9% reporting.

“The Clinton campaign thinks this campaign is over,” he said. “They’re wrong.”

Cruz leaves the Republican race having won 565 delegates and 11 states, including the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses in January. Despite successfully building a strong base among evangelicals and social conservatives, he was unable to expand his following and to pivot to the unpredictable Trump, who repeatedly bashed him as “Lyin’ Ted”.

In an emotional address, Cruz told a room of supporters in Indianapolis: “From the beginning I’ve said I will continue on as long as there is a viable path to victory – tonight I am sorry to say it appears that math has been foreclosed.”

As an emotional crowd shouted “no, no,” Cruz told attendees: “Together we left it out on the field. We gave it everything we got. But the voters chose another path, and so with a heavy heart but with boundless optimism for the long-term future of our nation we are suspending our campaign.”

Cruz repeatedly referenced his idol Ronald Reagan’s unsuccessful attempt to wrest the Republican nomination from Gerald Ford in 1976, ending by promising: “There is no substitute for the America we will restore as the shining city on the hill for generations to come,” a reference to Reagan’s farewell address.

The Republican party elite, which has battled over the prospect of a Trump nomination, began to rally round him. Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, declared that Trump was the “presumptive nominee” and called on supporters to unite against Hillary Clinton.

Cruz’s exit leaves John Kasich the only remaining candidate in the race against Trump. In a statement, the Ohio governor’s chief strategist, John Weaver, told the Guardian: “The senator ran on strong conservative principles and his views are part of the broad Republican party. Donald Trump’s mad hatter ramblings are outside the conservative reform movement and we will continue onward to deny him the nomination.”

Kasich did not compete in Indiana as a result of a pact with Cruz and has so far only won his home state of Ohio. In a memo sent out earlier Tuesday night, Kasich vowed to stay in “unless a candidate reaches 1,237 bound delegates before the Convention”.
Victory speech

Trump celebrated victory at his looming Fifth Avenue tower in New York, marking the seminal moment in which he was transformed from a maverick and implausible candidate into presumptive Republican nominee.

He delivered his victory speech from a podium poignantly positioned just in front of the escalator in his midtown Manhattan skyscraper where he had launched his unlikely bid for the White House 10 months ago.

Flanked by his wife Melania and children, with his controversial campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and convention manager Paul Manafort close by, he made soothing noises towards the Republican National Committee and its chairman Reince Preibus. “It’s not an easy job dealing with 17 egos,” he said, referring to the initial crowded pack of Republican presidential hopefuls, before adding: “I guess he’s now down to one ego.”

Trump effectively takes the nomination with a personal rating among voters stuck in the doldrums, with 67% of Americans thinking of him unfavorably. That makes him the least well-regarded presidential nominee of either main party since at least 1984 – and the hostility shown towards him by leaders of the Republican party is unprecedented.

But none of those hard facts appeared to take any shine off Trump’s moment of victory. “We want to bring unity to the Republican party. We have to bring unity,” he said.

Trump glossed over his terrible poll ratings among female voters by saying: “Women. I love winning with women.” He similarly shrugged off similar evidence of the major problem he faces with Hispanic voters and African Americans.

“We are going to win, we are going to win in November. And we are going to win big,” he said.

Recognizing the shift in gear that faces the Trump campaign, he put a marker in the sand. “Now we are going after Hillary Clinton,” Trump said. “She will not be a great president, she will not be a good president, she will be a poor president.”

He indicated that he intended to go after Clinton on the issue of trade and the loss of American jobs to foreign countries. “She doesn’t understand trade and her husband signed perhaps in the history of the world the single worst trade deal, Nafta.”

He also highlighted Clinton’s comments on the coal industry and the need to restrict it in the fight against climate change. “Hillary Clinton talked about the miners as though they were just numbers, and she said she wanted the mines closed and she would never let them work again. Let me tell you, the mines are going to start to work again.”

The Sanders campaign hopes his victory in Indiana will mark one last turning point in a Democratic race characterised by a series of surprise comebacks that have prolonged Clinton’s otherwise relentless path toward the nomination.

He is well placed to pull off similar wins in West Virginia on 10 May and Oregon on 17 May, before a final showdown next month in California, whose 546 delegates present the biggest prize of the contest.

But even though Sanders has pledged to keep competing until the party convention in Philadelphia this July, he has acknowledged that catching up with Clinton is an “uphill struggle”.

Before Indiana, the former secretary of state was nearly 300 pledged delegates ahead of her Vermont rival and within 200 delegates of crossing the finish line including the controversial superdelegates – party figures who are able to vote independently of election results and overwhelmingly back Clinton.

Nonetheless, the Sanders team will view the Indiana result as an important vindication of their decision to keep pressuring superdelegates to change their minds.

‘Abyss’

Trump’s victory in Indiana ended the best hope of blocking a presidential nomination Cruz had claimed will plunge America into the political “abyss”.

The Texas senator’s decision to drop out had been the subject of debate with the campaign but some Cruz aides urging that he still had a better chance of being the nominee after his loss in Indiana than he did when he declared in March.

Then Cruz was considered a conservative gadfly who would have to claw and fight rivals to be the favorite among even his Tea Party base but Cruz fended off rival after rival to win the Iowa caucuses and become the conservative standard-bearer in the field.

Despite a day of dire warnings from Trump’s conservative rival, the New York businessman was declared victor by the Associated Press within seconds of polls closing.

Cruz, whose campaign had built a formidable grassroots operation, with volunteers knocking on 70,000 doors in Indiana in the three days before the primary and making 100,000 calls on the day before the election, but it was all for all naught. As one top aide said of the campaign as a whole: “Sometimes you can make all the right moves and still lose.”

With 97.9% reporting, Trump had won 53.3% of the vote in Indiana, with Cruz getting 36.6% and Kasich 7.6%. Trump now has 1,047 pledged delegates as well, of the 1,237 he needs to be the party’s nominee.

Trump now looks almost certain to inherit a party he has left bitterly divided through a brand of politics defined by innuendo, race-baiting and outright demagoguery.

His latest sally came in a telephone interview with Fox News on Tuesday, in which the Republican frontrunner alleged that Ted Cruz’s father, Rafael, had met with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to the assassination of John F Kennedy and implied that Rafael Cruz was somehow involved.

Trump had previously threatened to “spill the beans” about Cruz’s wife and has spread a variety of clearly false stories, starting from his June announcement speech that Mexico was deliberately sending rapists into the United States and including the repeated claim that American general John Pershing committed war crimes in the Philippines. The latter story appears to have originated via an internet hoax spread by email.

Cruz’s campaign-ending loss in Indiana came after a significant investment of resources by anti-Trump forces in the state. Cruz and anti-Trump Super Pacs spent $6m in the state on television advertising while Trump spent less than a million.

Further, in a vain attempt for a boost in the Hoosier State, Cruz unveiled former rival Carly Fiorina as his running mate if he receives the nomination and was able to cajole the state’s sitting governor, Mike Pence, into an endorsement. In contrast, Trump was endorsed in the state by a number of prominent former college basketball coaches, led by legendary Indiana University coach Bobby Knight.

With his loss on Tuesday night, Cruz had not won a primary election for over a month since his April 5 win in Wisconsin. Despite Cruz doing well in delegate selection contests in Colorado and Wyoming, Trump won seven consecutive primaries and over 200 delegates over the last two weeks.

Earlier, Trump had called for Cruz to drop out of the race in a tweet: “Lyin’ Ted Cruz consistently said that he will, and must, win Indiana. If he doesn’t he should drop out of the race-stop wasting time & money.”

Cruz took his advice.

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

Bernie Sanders pulls off shock victory over Hillary Clinton in Indiana

Despite trailing behind Hillary Clinton in polls, Sanders once again proved his appeal to disaffected midwest voters by pulling off his 18th victory of 2016

Dan Roberts in Washington and Ben Jacobs in Indianapolis
AFP
Wednesday 4 May 2016 07.12 BST   

Bernie Sanders threw a last-minute hurdle in front of Hillary Clinton’s march toward the Democratic party nomination on Tuesday by clinching a surprise victory in the Indiana primary.

Despite trailing by an average of seven points in opinion polls and losing a string of bigger, more diverse states on the east coast, Sanders once again proved his appeal to disaffected midwest voters by pulling off his 18th victory of 2016, according to Associated Press projections.

Sanders seemed on track to win a narrow majority of the 83 delegates on offer. With 93% reporting, Sanders had 52.7% of the vote to Clinton’s 47.3%.

Sanders said: “The Clinton campaign thinks this campaign is over. They’re wrong. Maybe it’s over for the insiders and the party establishment, but the voters in Indiana had a different idea.”

His success in Indiana was overshadowed by Ted Cruz’s decision to drop out of the Republican race, leaving the path to victory clear for Donald Trump.

The Sanders campaign hopes that Indiana will mark one last turning point in a Democratic race characterised by a series of surprise comebacks that have prolonged Clinton’s otherwise relentless path toward the nomination.

He is well placed to pull off similar wins in West Virginia on 10 May and Oregon on 17 May, before a final showdown next month in California, whose 546 delegates present the biggest prize of the contest.

But even though Sanders has pledged to keep competing until the party convention in Philadelphia this July, he has acknowledged that catching up with Clinton is an “uphill struggle”.

“We are in this campaign to win and we’re going to fight until the last vote is cast. There is nothing I would like more than to take on and defeat Donald Trump, someone who must never become president of this country,” he said on Tuesday night, calling for a debate with Clinton in California.

Before Indiana, the former secretary of state was nearly 300 pledged delegates ahead of her Vermont rival and within 200 delegates of crossing the finish line including the controversial superdelegates – party figures who are able to vote independently of election results and overwhelmingly back Clinton.

Nonetheless, the Sanders team will view the Indiana result as an important vindication of their decision to keep pressuring superdelegates to change their minds.

“We always thought Indiana was a state that would absolutely be willing to listen to this message,” Pete D’Alessandro, a top Sanders operative who is overseeing his efforts in Indiana, told the Guardian in advance of the result. “Because Nafta and these terrible trade agreements have just devastated the state over the past generation.” Crediting a long active volunteer effort, he expressed confidence that Sanders would do well.

After trailing behind Clinton when votes first started to be announced in Indiana, Sanders was speaking to a rally in neighbouring Kentucky at the moment he first took the lead.

“A lot has happened over the course of the last year,” he told cheering supporters at the rally in Louisville.

“When we started this campaign, we were 60 points behind Secretary Clinton; some of the [national] polls now even have us ahead.”

Whatever happens at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia in July, Sanders is increasingly focusing on how far he has come rather than how far he still has to go and the unlikely prospect he catches up in the nomination race.

“In primary after primary, caucus after caucus, we end up winning the votes of people 45 years or younger,” said Sanders in Kentucky, which votes on 17 May.

“That is important because it tells me that the ideas we are fighting for are the ideas that are the future of America and the future of the Democratic party.”

Sanders also does well in states like Indiana that have open primaries, something he says shows his ability to win over independent voters who might be more tempted to vote for Trump.

“The issue of wealth and income equality is the great moral issue of our time, the great economic issue of our time and the great political issue of our time and together we will address that issue,” he added.

Nonetheless, Clinton advisers have been downplaying expectations for some of the remaining states in recent days and do not believe the small number of net delegates that Sanders can pick up will make any difference at all to the eventual result.

On Tuesday night she ignored her Democratic opponent in favour of an attack on the man she called “the presumptive Republican nominee”.

“Chip in now if you agree we can’t let him become president,” she urged her supporters.

 24 
 on: May 04, 2016, 05:43 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
'We'll cut off your head': open season for LGBT attacks in Kyrgyzstan

Closer ties with Russia and strict new laws mean gay people live in fear as violence goes unpunished. Coda Story reports

Andrew North in Bishkek, for Coda Story
AFP
Wednesday 4 May 2016 10.16 BST   

From behind two heavy metal doors, Nika, a gay man who recently set up a small LGBT support group in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, gingerly opens the door. “This is how we live now,” he says.

Two years ago, the Kyrgyz parliament followed the lead of its powerful neighbour Russia and introduced a series of amendments outlawing the promotion of same-sex relationships. Popularly known as the “anti-gay propaganda law” it has unleashed a campaign of violence and intimidation against the LGBT community, with a near 300% increase in reported attacks since the legislation was announced.

Some people have been assaulted, including one gay man who was beaten unconscious and gang-raped this year. Several sources also claim lesbians have been subjected to “corrective rapes”, but many attacks go unreported to the police.

Now, activists have gone underground after the Bishkek office of one LGBT group was firebombed. “I get phone calls and text messages saying things like ‘you’re ruining this country’,” says Nika. “The new law encouraged everyone to go after us, without fear of being punished.”

The police are often accused of being at the forefront, with many activists detailing instances of officers threatening to expose their sexual identity unless they pay bribes.

Nika shows us into his living room where his other guests are already seated around a coffee table. It is a friends’ get-together – except they say this is now the only safe way they can meet because of the spate of homophobic attacks. “If I could afford it, I would leave tomorrow,” says Sergo, one of his guests.

Leaning east

It was never easy being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in Kyrgyzstan’s patriarchal, Muslim-majority society. Nonetheless, in a region where the Soviet past hangs heavily and ossified dictatorship is the norm, the smallest of the Central Asian “Stans” was seen as a relative beacon of tolerance and democracy. And while there were occasional attacks in the past, the LGBT community was mostly left to itself. Until recently there were even several gay clubs in Bishkek.

But over the past few years, internal and external forces have “dragged the LGBT community into a battle for Kyrgyz identity,” says Medet Tiulegenov, chair of international and comparative politics at the American University in Bishkek.

Poor and landlocked, Kyrgyzstan has been a geopolitical and economic supplicant ever since it became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union, always vulnerable to bigger powers. While the US needed the Manas airbase outside Bishkek after 2001 to ferry troops in and out of Afghanistan, the Kyrgyz government tilted westwards. But the Kremlin proved the greater force, unhappy at an American presence in its backyard, and successfully pressed Bishkek to close the base.

    Since winning power in 2011, President Atambayev has cemented his shift away from the west towards Russia

Since winning power in 2011, President Almazbek Atambayev has cemented this shift away from the west towards Russia. “We cannot have a separate future,” he declared when president Vladimir Putin visited in 2012.

Atambayev has been an assiduous courtier, extending Russia’s lease on its own military base outside Bishkek, before enthusiastically copying anti-western legislation in the Kremlin’s legal arsenal. First came a virtual clone of Moscow’s offensive on NGOs, with legislation demanding all groups receiving external funding declare themselves as “foreign agents”, targeted at human rights groups, including those advocating for the LGBT community.

Then, in March 2014, MPs from the ruling coalition announced the “anti-gay propaganda” measures, with even harsher penalties on paper than the Russian version. They were necessary to “protect the rights of the majority rather than of the minority,” said one of the co-sponsors, Talantbek Uzakbaev, a member of the pro-Russian Dignity party. “We cannot tolerate gay propaganda.”

These moves have had enthusiastic support from powerful nationalist and religious constituencies at home – both Muslim and Orthodox Christian. Self-styled nationalist groups like Kyrk-Choro (Kyrgyz Knights) are thought to have been at the forefront of assaults on both the LGBT community and sex workers – with its leader claiming he has official backing. In effect, being anti-western and homophobic have become two ends of the same bone in a Kyrgyz version of dog-whistle politics. “Being anti-LGBT has been very profitable for the nationalists,” says Tiulgenov.

In the meantime, homophobic violence has risen. It’s impossible to get definite figures but staff at one Bishkek LGBT activist group – who asked to remain anonymous – said they’ve been helping the victims of 5 or 6 attacks a month in the past year, nearly three times the rate of two years ago. But, says Amir, one of the group’s activists, “these are only the ones we know about”.

Victimisation

The television in the corner competes with the dinner chat as Nika’s guests tuck into a selection of local dishes. There are nine men and women, from a mix of ethnic Kyrgyz, ethnic Russian and other backgrounds. The conversation is all in Russian, one of Kyrgyzstan’s two official languages – one of many ways Moscow can be sure of maintaining its influence here.

For the LGBT community, this closeness with Russia further amplifies their troubles. Russian TV channels, with their explicit anti-western, homophobic bias, have a solid audience. “It makes me feel guilty about being gay when I hear some Russian programmes,” says Nika. Local media outlets tied to the government and nationalist groups take a similar line, helping stoke an atmosphere of permissive victimisation. “‘Look there’s the faggot’ another student shouted out when he saw me in my university café,” says Ilya, another dinner guest.

    The liberal sector in society is coming under increasing stress
    Medet Tiulegenov

And it’s political suicide to come to the LGBT community’s defence, say analysts. Yet more than two years since the Kyrgyz parliament first introduced the “anti-gay propaganda” measures amid a flurry of pro-Russian rhetoric, it has stalled on actually making it law. MPs gave the bill large majorities on its initial two readings, but no date has been set for the necessary third reading, and it would still need the president’s signature afterwards.

There’s similar uncertainty over the “foreign agents” bill targeting NGOs, which was first introduced in 2013 – no one knows if or when parliament will debate them again.

Even so, the police have reportedly been using the anti-gay propaganda legislation to justify going after LGBT individuals and then extorting bribes. “They say they are enforcing the law,” says Pasha, a gay man who was forced to hand over 4,000 Kyrgyz Som (about £41) – a large sum in a country with an average wage of less than £200 per month.

Some Kyrgyz journalists have reportedly resorted to self-censoring stories on homophobic attacks, or anything to do with the LGBT community, in case they are accused of publishing “pro-gay” propaganda. “The liberal sector in society is coming under increasing stress,” says Tiulgenov.

Despite repeated requests to talk to Kyrgyz MPs and other officials about their Russian-inspired legislative plans, all said they were too busy, or never returned any calls.

‘We’ll cut your head off’

Viktor had been receiving threatening text messages for several months, but one evening this January, walking home from work, he was ambushed and beaten to the ground. “I didn’t hear anything because I had my headphones on,” he says. They kicked him unconscious, and when Viktor came round he found he had been driven to a wooded area, and his attackers were tearing off his clothes. Then they took turns to rape him. “One held my head down so I couldn’t see their faces,” he says.

“From the moment the bill was first discussed, Kyrgyz society took it as permission for extermination,” says Viktor. “Some don’t even understand what it says, but they take it as a call to hunt.” Yet after past experiences of harassment, he never considered going to the police. “They would just say ‘we don’t take cases from gays’.”

Several sources told of cases of lesbians being subjected to sexual attacks too. “Sometimes it’s the brothers who do it,” claims one LGBT activist. Some lesbians are forced into marriage; many are reported to have fled Kyrgyzstan for good. Speaking through intermediaries, three victims of corrective rape said they were too scared to talk to journalists about their experiences, and activists believe many more such attacks are never reported.

But some people are trying to take a stand. In May last year activists from a Bishkek activist group called Labrys and several other LGBT advocacy organisations were gathering at a restaurant for the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia when they were attacked by a mob.

They stormed the restaurant, chanting abuse, and one woman was injured. Though it was frightening, compared to other recent anti-LGBT violence it was a relatively minor incident. But this time activists called the police.

With so many eyewitnesses, the activists believe the police had no choice but to open a case, and two suspected members of Kyrk-Choro have been charged with hooliganism and property damage. To no one’s surprise, there’s been little progress since and though the lawyers hold little hope of winning they say this is part of a much wider battle.

“The LGBT community is not the only target,” says one of the Labrys activists. “Some of the nationalists who attack us also say all the Russians should leave [Kyrgzstan]. And tomorrow someone else will be the target.”

Some names have been changed

A version of this article first appeared on Coda Story. Read more from their investigation into the new east’s LGBT crisis here, or follow them on Twitter

 25 
 on: May 04, 2016, 05:39 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Delhi schools ordered to close early for summer as temperatures soar

All schools in the Indian capital have been told to take ‘mandatory summer vacation’ as heatwave continues

Vidhi Doshi in Mumbai
AFP
Wednesday 4 May 2016 11.49 BST

All schools in Delhi have been ordered to take a “mandatory summer vacation” from 11 May amid a heatwave that has swept the city.

Officials say temperatures will continue to rise in the coming weeks, after reaching 44C (111F) on Monday – the hottest day of the year so far.

Schools in other parts of India have already been forced to close because of heatwaves and a drought that has affected 330 million people across India.

Delhi’s state-run schools finish for the summer on 10 May anyway, but private and municipal schools’ term dates vary. Many schools’ end-of-term tests will now need to be rescheduled.

Nav Bharti public school was due to break up for the summer on 18 May. Its headteacher, Sanjay Bhartiya, said the government’s decision would cause a scheduling nightmare. “We had cycle tests and unit tests scheduled for the second week of May, so now all our schedule will be disturbed,” he said.

“We are going to follow the government’s order, there is no alternative right now. But in the school calendar, one week matters a lot. We understand the government’s concern over the heatwave but this abrupt decision will definitely affect us.”

Madhulika Sen, headteacher at Tagore International school, Vasant Vihar, which will lose three working days because of the government’s order, was less forgiving. “Where the temperature is concerned, the government schools have no infrastructure – no fans, no back up for electricity, drinking water. They can’t handle the heatwave, so it makes sense for the government schools to be closed.”

“But I don’t know why private schools have been affected because we have all the infrastructure – many schools even have air conditioning. The government just doesn’t want to make it sound as though children in government schools are finishing earlier than private school students,” she said.

For some though, the decision is a practical one. Madhuri Singh, the founder of a school comparison who has two children, said: “The most important thing is health. Distances in Delhi are huge, and kids can spend an hour or more travelling to school.

“Over a period of time, the climate is changing, and perhaps it is time to look at how the school year can be restructured around that change.”

Extreme weather is becoming increasingly common in India. Last year, hundreds of people died in floods in the southern city of Chennai.

The heatwave is adding to the woes of millions of people who are suffering from drought. Weak monsoons for the last two years have forced hundreds of migrants to leave their ancestral lands in search of water in the cities. Rural parts of the country have been hit the worst, with farmers suffering from poor harvests and no clean water to drink or wash.

The scarcity of water has caused political tensions, with states in northern India battling over control of rivers. Armed guards have been deployed at dams to protect what is becoming an increasingly precious resource.

Earlier this year, rioters in the state of Haryana cut off the water supply to Delhi until the government met their demands to change their caste status.

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, has promised long-term solutions to drought during election rallies, but so far, government efforts to provide relief to the millions of people in drought-hit regions have been slow and ineffective.

 26 
 on: May 04, 2016, 05:37 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
The time has come to turn up the heat on those who are wrecking planet Earth

Bill McKibben

Break free and join the biggest global action against fossil fuel companies the world has ever seen
Hundreds of environmental activists invaded the UK’s largest opencast coal mine in south Wales on Tuesday.

AFP
Tuesday 3 May 2016 15.43 BST

An interesting question is, what are you waiting for?

Global warming is the biggest problem we’ve ever faced as a civilisation — certainly you want to act to slow it down, but perhaps you’ve been waiting for just the right moment.

The moment when, oh, marine biologists across the Pacific begin weeping in their scuba masks as they dive on reefs bleached of life in a matter of days. The moment when drought in India gets deep enough that there are armed guards on dams to prevent the theft of water. The moment when we record the hottest month ever measured on the planet, and then smash that record the next month, and then smash that record the next month? The moment when scientists reassessing the stability of the Antarctic ice sheet have what one calls an ‘OMG moment’ and start talking about massive sea level rise in the next 30 years?

That would be this moment—the moment when 135 children have drowned in Thailand trying to cool off from the worst heatwave on record there. The moment when, in a matter of months, we’ve recorded the highest windspeeds ever measured in the western and southern hemispheres.

For years people have patiently and gently tried to nudge us onto a new path for dealing with our climate and energy troubles—we’ve had international conferences and countless symposia and lots and lots and lots of websites. And it’s sort of worked—the world met in Paris last December and announced it would like to hold temperature increases to 1.5C or less. Celebration ensued. But what also ensued was February, when the planet’s temperature first broke through that 1.5C barrier. And as people looked past the rhetoric, they saw that the promises made in Paris would add up to a world 3.5C warmer—an impossible world. The world we’re starting to see take shape around us.

So there’s a need to push harder. A need, as it were, to break free from some of the dogma that’s surrounded this issue for a very long time. Yes, we need to have “everyone work together.” Yes, we need a “multi-faceted, global effort.” But you know what we really need? We need to keep oil and gas and coal in the ground, keep it from being burned and adding its freight of carbon to the global total.

Which is why, from one end of the planet to the other, people are taking greater risks this month. In one of the biggest coordinated civil disobedience actions the world has ever seen, frontline communities and climate scientists and indigenous people and faith leaders and just plain people who actually give a damn will be sitting down and sitting in and standing pat—blocking, at least for a few hours, those places where the coal and oil and gas currently reside, in the hopes of helping keep them there.

In Australia they’ll be taking to kayaks at the world’s largest coal port in Newcastle, and in Brazil it’s the fracking onslaught they’re opposing. In Vancouver they’ll be surrounding a new proposed oil terminal on the coast, and in Indonesia they’ll be outside the presidential palace in Jakarta. Coal will be the target in the Philippines and Turkey and the UK; oil in Nigeria; gas in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado—on and on around the planet, a swell of people saying the time has come.

The time has come to turn up the heat on the small band of companies and people still willing to get rich off fossil fuel, even though it’s now utterly clear they’re breaking the planet.

The time has come to show that we understand we’re in this together across borders and boundaries.

The time has come to take action commensurate with the scale of the problem. Yes, risking arrest is harder than signing a Facebook petition. But experience has shown it can often work—that’s what kicked the fight against the Keystone pipeline into high gear, turning it into the highest profile defeat of the oil industry in a generation. That’s what made it impossible for Shell to keep drilling in the Arctic, and for Adani to find the funds they need to build Earth’s biggest coal mine.

Not everyone can do it—there are regimes that are too authoritarian for anyone to dare even peaceful civil disobedience of this kind. But for those of us who still live in places theoretically committed to freedom, it’s time to put that privilege to use. The planet is well outside its comfort zone—that’s what it means when whole ecosystems are obliterated in a matter of days. Which means its time for us to be there too.

 27 
 on: May 04, 2016, 05:35 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Global water shortages to deliver 'severe hit' to economies, World Bank warns

The Middle East, north Africa, central Asia and south Asia due to suffer biggest economic hit from water scarcity as climate change takes hold, report finds

Suzanne Goldenberg
AFP
Tuesday 3 May 2016 20.00 BST

Water shortages will deliver a “severe hit” to the economies of the Middle East, central Asia, and Africa by the middle of the century, taking double digits off their GDP, the World Bank warned on Tuesday.

By 2050, growing demand for cities and for agriculture would put water in short supply in regions where it is now plentiful – and worsen shortages across a vast swath of Africa and Asia, spurring conflict and migration, the bank said.

Water shortages could strip off 14% of GDP in the Middle East and nearly 12% of GDP in the Sahel – without a radical shift in management, according to the bank’s projections.

Central Asia could lose close to 11% of GDP and east Asia about 7% under business-as-usual water management policies, according to a new report.

Taking into account all regions, the mid-range toll of water shortages on GDP was about 6%.

“There is a severe hit on GDP,” said Richard Damania, lead environmental economist for the Bank and author of High and Dry: Climate Change, Water and the Economy.

Governments have grown increasingly concerned about the threat to water supply because of a combination of climate change and increasing demand.

Barack Obama invited business leaders to the White House last March for a business summit aimed at protecting California from the next drought – by mobilising investment in data and other technologies that would promote more efficient use of water.

The biggest economic hit due to water deficits were expected to occur in the Middle East, north Africa, central Asia, and parts of south Asia, the report found. There would be virtually no impact on the economies of North America and western Europe.

Much of the world faces a hotter and drier future under climate change, according to scientists. Rainfall – including the monsoons that fortify agriculture in south Asia – will become more unpredictable. Storm surges could contaminate freshwater reservoirs.

But there will also be pressure on water supply from rising populations – especially in cities – and increased demand from agriculture. “It turns out that economic growth is a thirsty business,” Damania said.

Some cities could see water availability drop by two-thirds by 2050, the report found. Water shortages could have rebounding effects on food production, public health, and household incomes – with families forced to pay more for a basic necessity.

But, the report said, encouraging more efficient use of water could make a big difference in the mid-century economic scenarios for regions threatened by water shortages.

In some countries, about two-thirds of water is lost to old and leaky pipes.

Good water management policies would add more than 11% to the GDP of central Asian countries and blunt the impact of water shortages in the Middle East, the report found.

 28 
 on: May 04, 2016, 05:31 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Crows swoop on puppy, carrying it away from back garden

Owner heard four-month-old chihuahua ‘screaming’ before she disappeared from outside her Melbourne home

Elle Hunt
AFP
Wednesday 4 May 2016 10.12 BST

The owner of a chihuahua puppy remains hopeful the dog is still alive after it was snatched from her backyard and carried away by crows.

Four-month-old Fudge, who was small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, was swooped upon by crows while outside her owner Heather Sinden’s home in Melbourne’s outer east on Wednesday afternoon.

Sinden’s daughter Melinda Pride told the Lilydale & Yarra Valley Leader that the dog spent most of its time indoors but had been let outside to urinate.

Her mother had seen the crows at the Astor Court address and “was quite concerned”, said Pride.

“Then she heard [Fudge] screaming and she was gone.”

    — Leader Newspapers (@LeaderOnline)
    May 4, 2016

    BREAKING: Woman collapses in shock as this pup snatched by a crow from backyard. #findfudge https://t.co/FNvgboFL6v pic.twitter.com/of3iehssSk

Sinden – who has lung cancer, and was given the puppy for companionship two months ago – “collapsed from shock”, said Pride.

“Mum was only saying a week or so ago ‘if anything happens to this little dog I don’t know what I’ll do’ ... she was very attached to the little dog.”

Pride was hopeful that Fudge landed safely.

In an interview on local radio, she said members of the community were scouring the area for Fudge.

“We’ve had people walking around everywhere; it’s just amazing the feedback we’re getting ... people are going to parks and everything, trying to find her, but there’s no sign of her at all.

“We’re just hoping that she may fall from the bird and land safely enough for her to be okay,” Pride said.

Calls for Fudge’s safe return have also been made on social media, with Chihuahua Rescue Australia sharing the story on its Facebook page.

The thread below the post revealed a precedent for chihuahuas being carried away by birds of prey in Australia.

“I have eagles that hang around our house and I have a three-month-old chihuahua; I’m always on the lookout for those buggers,” commented Mandy Knox.

Lauren Jackson’s story had a happy ending, with her chihuahua picked up by a crow while at the park – then dropped about 500 metres away.

Chihuahua Rescue Australia founder and president, Natalie Brabham, said she had warned chihuahua owners about the risk, especially if they live in a rural area.

“There are hawks, eagles – you hear stories in the US frequently about chihuahuas taken by wedge-tailed eagles, bald eagles, even crows.”

She said she had trained her own chihuahua, Valentine, to dislike birds: “He will always bark when they come on to the property. I have that fear ... we have magpies in Victoria that swoop.”

Brabham said that at four months old Fudge could weigh as little as 700g, and that her chances of survival depended on whether she’d been dropped, and where.

A “small puppy police patrol” coordinated by Chihuahua Rescue Australia was in the area looking for her. “Hopefully we can use social media and people-power to look for her ... time is of the essence if she has been dropped and she is injured.”

Crows are known to be extremely intelligent and are the only non-primate species known to create tools, such as sticks and hooks which they use to get grubs from logs and branches.

A study of wild New Caledonian crows by the University of Auckland two years ago found the birds to be as good at reasoning as a seven-year-old child, with some understanding of causal relationships.

 29 
 on: May 04, 2016, 05:28 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Celebrity ape selfies harming efforts to curb wildlife trafficking, UN body warns

Instagram snaps of celebs such as Paris Hilton and James Rodriguez posing with orangutans and chimpanzees is endangering the survival of the great apes

Arthur Neslen
AFP
Wednesday 4 May 2016 07.00 BST 

Instagram snaps of celebrities including Paris Hilton and James Rodriguez posing with apes in the Gulf are damaging efforts to clamp down on wildlife trafficking and endangering the survival of some species, a UN body has warned.

New research by the UN’s great apes survival partnership (Grasp) points to an alarming rise in trafficking of orangutans, chimpanzees, gorillas and bonobos stolen from the wild, mostly to feed demand from a boom in macabre Chinese circuses.

But an increasing number are also finding their way to the private gardens and restaurants of the Gulf elite, and Grasp fears that the trade is being accelerated by celebrity endorsements.

Doug Cress, the programme’s coordinator, told the Guardian: “The paparazzi shots of Paris Hilton and football star James Rodriguez and others cuddling baby orangutans at private zoos in Dubai are incredibly damaging to conservation efforts, and Grasp calls on celebrities to avoid such photo opportunities.”

Photos of Paris Hilton with a dressed-up baby orangutan at the Saif Belhasas private zoo in Dubai began circulating in 2014. “She’s the cutest little girl in the world,” Hilton reportedly said of the ape.

Last December, the Real Madrid star James Rodriguez uploaded a photo of himself with an orangutan in Dubai to his Instagram account, despite strong condemnation by Grasp.

The rapper Kid Ink also posted an Instagram shot of himself with an orangutan dressed in baby clothes in Dubai two months ago, as did Khloe Kardashian.

None of the celebrities’ agents responded to emailed requests for comment.

Cress said: “These pictures are seen by hundreds of millions of fans, and it sends the message that posing with great apes – all of which are obtained through illegal means, and face miserable lives once they grow too big and strong to hold – is okay as long as it’s cute. But it’s not. It’s illegal, and it contributes to the destruction of already endangered species.”

Grasp says that United Arab Emirates permitting records show that no import licenses for baby orangutans were issued that could match with the apes visible in the celebrity photographs.

Research that Grasp will publish later this year shows that 49 chimpanzees have been recovered since January 2014, a figure indicating that a minimum of 490 chimpanzees were killed during smuggling operations in this period.

Because fully-grown apes cannot be easily trafficked, smugglers prefer to steal babies from the wild. For every one baby chimpanzee taken, an average of 10 will be killed trying to defend it.

But Grasp sees even this figure as the tip of the iceberg. “We’re just getting a fraction of the total,” said Cress.

The proliferation of seizures in the Middle East is “extremely worrying” to the group, suggesting that regional instability is making the area an increasingly attractive transit zone for smugglers moving their cargo to Asia. A Grasp investigation is planned into the area’s trade dynamics.

Iraqi Kurdistan and Armenia are thought to be hotspots for the wildlife black market, while Libya has been a stopover for trafficked apes on the way to Egypt, since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

The road from Alexandria to Cairo has long been considered a “swinging door” out of Africa for animals being moved east, and some Red Sea Coast hotels are believed to act as holding centres.

“Wealthy and untouchable people in Egypt own those hotels and have private zoos for guests which flush animals through at all times – and apes are a huge piece of that traffic,” Cress said. “It is hard to close down because elites in the Mideast are hard to reach. It is not a public opinion thing. It is about reaching a select number of people who control the power.”

The role played by Middle East elites in illegal trafficking is a growing concern for Grasp, but the end destination for stolen animals is usually the far east. In China, around a thousand theme parks for the country’s emerging middle class have opened since 2000.

“Most of the apes there quickly end up riding bicycles and shooting each other with toy guns,” Cress said. “The orangutans are used in boxing shows for cheap laughs. It is like cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers. They just clobber each other.”

With live gorilla’s each in China selling for $42,000 – and chimpanzees for $26,000 – corruption linked to the ape trade has become widespread.

Last October, Guinea’s chief wildlife officer and Cites representative, Ansoumane Doumbouya, was arrested for allegedly trafficking the animals he was supposed to be protecting.

Often animals are recovered by accident – one crate subdivided into six boxes and marked as carrying dogs – was sent back to Nairobi from Cairo, after fingers were seen peeping out of its slats. The traumatised baby chimps inside were eventually found going round and round on the airport carousel.

In the past seven years, there were just 27 arrests around the world for trafficking in apes. A quarter of the cases were never prosecuted.

 30 
 on: May 04, 2016, 05:27 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
'A silent catastrophe': Chilean fishermen protest failure to mitigate toxic 'red tide'

Thousands of fishermen are protesting the government’s failure to mitigate effects of a poisonous ‘red tide’ agal bloom scientists call largest in history

Reuters in Santiago
AFP
Wednesday 4 May 2016 00.38 BST

Thousands of Chilean fishermen have blocked roads with barricades in the region of Los Lagos, saying government efforts to mitigate the economic effects of a harmful algal bloom have been insufficient.

For the last four weeks, the southern-central region of Los Lagos has been plagued by what scientists say is the biggest “red tide” in its history.

The red tide – an algal bloom that turns the sea water red – is a common, naturally recurring phenomenon in southern Chile, though the extent of the current outbreak is unprecedented.

Scientists point to an unusually strong El Niño weather pattern this year as a key factor.

It makes the mussels, hake, and other fish that residents pull from the ocean essentially poisonous, heaping economic pressure on a region with tens of thousands of artisanal fishermen.

In one instance, protesters took over a principal access ramp to the island of Chiloé.

The government has offered to pay each affected family 100,000 pesos ($151) each in compensation, an amount fishermen have widely rejected as insufficient.

“What the government announced is not going to work for us,” said fisherwoman Doris Santana.

“In no way can we live on 100,000 pesos.”

Artisanal fishing unions have blamed the size of the red tide on pollution by Chile’s farmed salmon industry, which is active in the Los Lagos region.

However, Chile’s Sernapesca fisheries body as well as many scientists have rejected that explanation, pointing to natural factors such as the cyclical El Niño weather pattern, which warms part of the Pacific Ocean and has also caused heavy rain and flooding elsewhere in the region.

“What we are having here is a silent catastrophe, one that affects a lot of people and a vast territory,” said Leonardo de la Prida Sanhueza, the regional governor.

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