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Feb 25, 2018, 10:12 PM
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 on: Feb 22, 2018, 06:36 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Myanmar government 'bulldozing Rohingya mass grave to hide evidence'

Rights group says site of massacre in Rakhine state is being flattened on government orders after exposés of two other mass graves

Emanuel Stoakes
22 Feb 2018 14.10 GMT

The government of Myanmar is bulldozing over the site of a Rohingya mass grave in an effort to destroy evidence of a massacre committed last year by the military, according to a rights monitoring group.

The claim follows investigations conducted by the Associated Press and Reuters news agencies, which revealed evidence of other mass graves.

The Arakan Project, which uses on-the-ground networks to document abuses against the Rohingya community in western Rakhine state, Myanmar, provided the Guardian with a video of the grave site before its destruction. The footage shows half-buried tarpaulin bags in a forest clearing, with a decaying leg visibly protruding from one of the bags.

Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, said the bulldozing appears to be part of an effort to hide evidence of the grave permanently following the exposés that appeared in the press.

“Two of the mass graves sites we know about have appeared in the media, but on Thursday one of the other mass grave sites was bulldozed. This means that evidence of the killings is being destroyed,” she said.

“Private companies are doing the bulldozing. They come from central Myanmar, not Rakhine,” she said. “It’s clear this is happening under the orders of government.”

The reported site of the mass grave, in Maung Nu, Buthidaung township, in northern Rakhine state, was the location of a massacre that rights groups report took place in August last year. Human Rights Watch said survivors had told them the army had “beaten, sexually assaulted, stabbed, and shot villagers who had gathered for safety in a residential compound” in the village. Dozens were said to have been killed. Satellite imagery obtained by Human Rights Watch showed that Maung Nu had been razed in the aftermath.

The Rohingya are a largely stateless Muslim minority primarily located in Rakhine. Rights organisations say they have suffered decades of systematic persecution and three “ethnic cleansing” campaigns since 2012, a charge the government denies. The group are not recognised by the government as a native minority of Myanmar and are often referred to as “Bengalis” in official discourse, a term implying that they are foreigners.

Thousands of Rohingya are estimated to have been killed during a military crackdown which began in August 2017, following an attack on security outposts by an insurgent group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa). Nearly 700,000 Rohingya fled to nearby Bangladesh during the violence.

Last week, Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, said the crisis had the “hallmarks of genocide”.

The government of Myanmar has denied claims that the military conducted ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya. An army investigation into its own conduct during the 2017 crackdown exonerated itself of any blame. However, in a surprise move last month, the military admitted that Rohingya found in a mass grave at the village of Inn Din had been killed by its soldiers.

A UN fact-finding mission has been denied access to Myanmar while the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights has been barred from entering the country.

“We’ve heard about the allegations of the destruction at Maung Nu and we’re concerned that this could be part of broader efforts to conceal the atrocities committed by Burmese security forces,” Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director, told the Guardian.

Other parts of Rakhine state appear to have been bulldozed, according to an AFP report last week, which contained aerial photography showing former Rohingya villages completely flattened. The bulldozing appeared to target villages that had been razed during the military crackdown last year, the report said.

“The bulldozers are destroying not just parts of some villages that were burned but also parts where houses were abandoned but still intact,” Lewa observed.

When asked about the reported bulldozing of Rohingya villages, government spokesman Zaw Htay objected to use of the word Rohingya, saying: “No Rohingya – Bengali, please.”

He followed this by saying, “Local government is clearing that area. No villagers there. No housing. Only plain land.”

“We have to construct new villages there,” he said, for the “resettlement” of returning Rohingya.

When asked about reports of the destruction of the mass grave, he said: “I want to know what evidence you are talking about? Was it Arsa terrorist group? Bengali people around the world?

“Please give me the reliable, concrete, strong primary evidence, please – not based on the talking story of Bengali people around the world, Bengali lobbyists,” he added.

 on: Feb 22, 2018, 06:33 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
GOP senator issues dire warning about Trump triggering ‘one of the worst catastrophes in history’

Noor Al-Sibai
Raw Story
22 Feb 2018 at 14:40 ET                   

During a weekend meeting, a Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee warned that President Donald Trump’s increasingly hostile stance towards North Korea may have historically catastrophic results.

The Intercept reported Wednesday that Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) told the Munich Security Conference that Trump has “at his fingertips” the ability to trigger “one of the worst catastrophic events in the history of our civilization.”

Trump, the Idaho Republican warned, is poised to start a “very, very brief” offensive war with North Korea to prevent their leader from “developing the capacity to deliver a nuclear warhead to the U.S. via an intercontinental ballistic missile,” the Intercept noted.

Rather than utilizing diplomatic measures, the president may cause “mass casualties the likes of which the planet has never seen,” Risch continued.

“There is no more dangerous place on the earth than the Korean peninsula right now,” the senator told the German conference. “The president of the United States has said, and he is committed to, seeing that Kim Jong-un is not able to marry together a delivery system with a nuclear weapon that he can deliver to the United States.”

The report went on to note that Risch is likely to become the chair of the Senate’s foreign relations oversight panel if Republicans maintain control of the Senate and the current chairman, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), retires.


US hate groups proliferate in Trump’s first year, watchdog says

21 Feb 2018 at 14:46 ET                   

The number of U.S. hate groups expanded last year under President Donald Trump, fueled by his immigration stance and the perception that he sympathized with those espousing white supremacy, the Southern Poverty Law Center said on Wednesday

There were 954 hate groups in the country in 2017, marking a 4 percent increase over the previous year when the number rose 2.8 percent, the civil rights watchdog said in its annual census of such groups.

Since 2014, the number has jumped 20 percent, it said.

Among the more than 600 white supremacist groups, neo-Nazi organizations rose to 121 from 99. Anti-Muslim groups increased for a third year in a row, to 114 from 101 in 2016, the report said.

Last year brought “a substantial emboldening of the radical right, and that is largely due to the actions of President Trump, who’s tweeted out hate materials and made light of the threats to our society posed by hate groups,” Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, told reporters.

Trump, who took office in January 2017, was elected in November of the previous year. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, founded in 1971, defines hate groups as organizations with beliefs or practices that demonize a class of people.

In the past, some groups have criticized the Alabama-based organization’s findings, with skeptics saying it has mislabeled legitimate organizations as “hate groups.”

In August, Trump came under fire for saying “both sides” were to blame for violence at a white supremacist rally in Virginia where a counter-protester was killed.

The Republican president was also criticized for a string of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim comments, including using a vulgar term to describe Haiti and African countries last month.

In a backlash to Trump, the number of black nationalist groups such as the Nation of Islam increased by 20 percent last year, to 233, the non-profit’s report said. It added two male supremacy groups to its census for the first time.

A separate investigation by the group showed that people linked to the alt-right killed 43 people in the last four years, including 17 in 2017. The alt-right movement believes that white identity is under attack by multicultural forces.

The report identified 689 groups associated with the anti-government “Patriot” movement, with about 40 percent of them armed militias.

SPLC acknowledged that its report likely failed to capture the full extent of hate-group activity. It said many of them, especially from the alt-right, operate mainly online.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Frank McGurty and Tom Brown)


MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle connects the dots in latest Mueller indictment to tie Trump directly to Putin

David Ferguson
Raw Story
22 Feb 2018 at 12:45 ET                   

On Wednesday, MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle laid out how special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is becoming “clearer by the indictment.”

Tuesday’s guilty plea by Dutch attorney Alex van der Zwaan, she said, reveals direct connections between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Van der Zwaan, 33, is married to the daughter of Russian oligarch German Khan, a close Putin confederate and ally. He formerly worked at law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, which lobbied U.S. officials on behalf of exiled Ukrainian ex-president Viktor Yanukovych — at the request of former Trump 2016 campaign manager Paul Manafort.

“I want to bring your attention to the men outlined in red,” Ruhle said, indicating George Papadopoulos, Mike Flynn, van der Zwaan and Rick Gates. The Los Angeles Times reported over the weekend that Gates will soon join the other three men in entering guilty pleas to Mueller’s investigation.

Van der Zwaan’s father in law, German Khan is the head of Russia’s Alfabank, which was named in the Steele dossier as a major launderer of Russian mob money.

Flynn, Ruhle said, lied about his contacts with Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak, “but we don’t even need to go that far. Flynn attended a paid speaking event in Russia without getting permission from the proper authorities.”

At that engagement — also attended by the Green Party’s Jill Stein — Flynn sat at the same table as Pres. Putin.

Watch the video: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6f3j2j


Trump's solution to school shootings: arm teachers with guns

‘It is the gun, it’s the person behind the gun and it’s about helping people before they ever reach that point,’ said a mother whose son died at Sandy Hook elementary

David Smith in Washington
22 Feb 2018 22.39 GMT

Donald Trump has said he will consider a proposal to arm school teachers in an attempt to prevent mass shootings, a move certain to prove fiercely divisive.

The US president, holding a listening session at the White House with survivors of last week’s Florida school shooting and others affected by gun violence, claimed that allowing airline pilots to carry and conceal guns had demonstrated the measure could be a success.

“It only works when you have people very adept at using firearms, of which you have many,” Trump said during an emotionally searing session that, extraordinarily, was broadcast live on national television. “It would be teachers and coaches.”

Referring to Aaron Feis, a football coach who used his body as a shield to protect a student during the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, the president continued: “If the coach had a firearm in his locker when he ran at this guy – that coach was very brave, saved a lot of lives, I suspect.

“But if he had a firearm, he wouldn’t have had to run, he would have shot him, and that would have been the end of it. This would only obviously be for people who are very adept at handling a gun. It’s called concealed carry, where a teacher would have a concealed gun on them. They’d go for special training and they would be there and you would no longer have a gun-free zone. Gun-free zone to a maniac, because they’re all cowards, a gun-free zone is: ‘Let’s go in and let’s attack, because bullets aren’t coming back at us’.”

Trump added: “An attack has lasted, on average, about three minutes. It takes five to eight minutes for responders, for the police to come in, so the attack is over. If you had a teacher who was adept at firearms, they could very well end the attack very quickly.”

Knowledge of this would act as a deterrent to a would-be attacker, Trump claimed. “You know, a lot of people don’t understand that airline pilots now, a lot of them carry guns, and I have to say that things have changed a lot. People aren’t attacking the way they would routinely attack and maybe you would have the same situation in schools.”

The president asked for a show of hands in the room over the proposal: some were in favour, others were against. “We can understand both sides and certainly it’s controversial,” he acknowledged, promising to discuss it seriously.

It emerged after the shooting at Parkland that there was an armed security guard on site but he did not get the chance to engage the gunman, Nikolas Cruz, on the sprawling campus. In May 2016, during the presidential election, Trump tweeted: “Crooked Hillary [Clinton] said that I want guns brought into the school classroom. Wrong!”

Nicole Hockley, whose six-year-old son Dylan died at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, spoke out against the idea of arming teachers. “It’s not personally something that I support. Rather than arming them with a firearm, I would rather arm them with the knowledge of how to prevent these acts from happening in the first place,” she told Trump.

Safety assessments programmes and interventions for troubled children are vital, she added. “Let’s talk about prevention. There is so much that we can do to help people before it reaches that point, and I urge you please stay focused on that as well. It is the gun, it’s the person behind the gun and it’s about helping people before they ever reach that point.”

Earlier during the session in the state dining room, where some speakers were tearful but composed as they recalled their experiences, Hockley also issued a challenge to the president. “This is not difficult,” she told him. “These deaths are preventable. And I implore you: consider your own children. You don’t want to be me. No parent does.”

During the meeting Trump also asserted that he would be “very strong” on background checks for gun buyers as well as mental health issues. He sat in the middle of a semi-circle listening intently as six survivors of last week’s shooting and bereaved parents from Parkland, Columbine, and Sandy Hook took turns to address him.

    Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)

    Crooked Hillary said that I want guns brought into the school classroom. Wrong!
    May 22, 2016

Sam Zeif, 18, a Parkland student whose text messages with his brother during last week’s shooting went viral, fought back tears as he told Trump: “I turned 18 the day after. Woke up to the news that my best friend was gone. I don’t understand why I can still go in a store and buy a weapon of war, an AR. I was reading today that a person 20 years old walked into a store and bought an AR-15 in five minutes with an expired ID. How is it that easy to buy this type of weapon? How are we not stopping this after Columbine, after Sandy Hook, sitting with a mother that lost her son? It’s still happening.”

Andrew Pollack, whose 18-year-old daughter Meadow was killed at Stoneman Douglas, reflected the candid anger of many when he took the microphone. “We’re here because my daughter has no voice – she was murdered last week, shot nine times,” he said. “How many schools, how many children have to get shot? It stops here, with this administration and me.”

Pollack, his voice rising with raw emotion, added: “It should have been one school shooting, and we should have fixed it, and I’m pissed because my daughter, I’m not going to see again.”


'I hear you' - Trump uses cue card to remind him to listen to shooting survivors

The US president was pictured holding a briefing note that appeared to be a reminder for him to show empathy to school shooting survivors visiting the White House

Martin Belam
Thu 22 Feb 2018 09.44 GMT

Briefing notes captured by photographers at US president Donald Trump’s White House listening session with survivors of gun violence show that he needed to be reminded to say “I hear you”.

Close-up pictures of the note revealed that it had five points, of which the first was a reminder to ask the question: “What would you most want me to know about your experience”. The second question listed is “What can we do to make you feel safe?”

The president’s note also prompted Trump to ask survivors for their ideas, or what resources they think might be needed.

But it is the final note - “I hear you” - that has attracted the most criticism, with the implication that without a prompt the president would be unable to show sympathy towards those affected by school shootings, some of whom had travelled from Florida for the occasion.

The meeting at the White House was attended by survivors of last week’s Florida school shooting. At the meeting, Trump suggested that he would consider arming teachers as a measure against school shootings. “It only works when you have people very adept at using firearms, of which you have many. It would be teachers and coaches.”

During the election campaign in 2016, Trump tweeted that opponent Hilary Clinton was lying when she suggested that Trump would put more guns in schools.

    Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)

    Crooked Hillary said that I want guns brought into the school classroom. Wrong!
    May 22, 2016

The close-up photograph of the note also revealed that Donald Trump was wearing a shirt with “45” embroidered onto the cuff.

Trump did not appear to directly use any of the questions or phrases on the card at the meeting, but did thank those who had attended. “Thank you for pouring out your hearts,” Trump said “because the world is watching and we’re going to come up with a solution.”

 on: Feb 22, 2018, 06:18 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Al-Shabaab plundering starving Somali villages of cash and children

Defectors reveal crippling extortion by Islamist terror group and ‘brainwashing’ of boys, as it suffers apparent crisis of morale

Jason Burke Africa correspondent
22 Feb 2018 05.00 GMT

Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia are extorting huge sums from starving communities and forcibly recruiting hundreds of children as soldiers and suicide bombers as the terror group endures financial pressures and an apparent crisis of morale.

Intelligence documents, transcripts of interrogations with recent defectors and interviews conducted by the Guardian with inhabitants of areas in the swath of central and southern Somalia controlled by al-Shabaab have shone a light on the severity of its harsh rule – but also revealed significant support in some areas.

Systematic human rights abuses on a par with those committed by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are being conducted by the al-Qaida-affiliated Islamist militants as the west largely looks away because most analysts do not see the group as posing a threat to Europe, the UK or the US.

The group has put to death dozens of “criminals”, inflicted brutal punishments on gay people, conducted forced marriages, and used civilian populations as human shields.

In one 2017 incident investigated by the Guardian, a man was stoned to death for adultery. In another, four men and a 16-year-old boy were shot dead by a firing squad after being accused of spying for the Somali authorities. In a third, a 20-year-old man and a 15-year-old boy were killed in a public square after being found guilty by a religious court of homosexuality.

Last year at least five people were lashed publicly after being accused of “immoral or improper behaviour”. They included a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old who were given 100 lashes each for “fornication”.

UN officials said they had received reports of stonings for adultery. The former al-Shabaab leader, Hassan Dahir Aweys, who defected in 2013, described the group’s aim as “Islamic government without the interference of the western powers in Somalia”.

Al-Shabaab, which once controlled much of south and central Somalia, including the capital Mogadishu, was forced to retreat to rural areas by a military force drawn from regional armies seven years ago. Since then it has proved resilient, and remains one of the most lethal terrorist organisations in the world, but appears to be suffering a crisis of morale and financial pressure, prompting the drive to squeeze revenue out of poor rural communities.

One recent defector from central Somalia told government interrogators that the group forces “Muslims to pay for pretty much everything except entering the mosque”. Another said that al-Shabaab’s “finance ministry” – part of the extensive parallel government it has set up – is “hated”.

    Al-Shabaab used to demand money or children from clans: now they demand both

The former mid-ranking commander, who defected four months ago, described how wells were taxed at $20,000 (£14,000) per month and a fee of $3.50 levied at water holes for every camel drinking there. One small town in Bai province was forced to pay an annual collective tax of a thousand camels, each worth $500, and several thousand goats, he said.

In addition, trucks using roads in territory controlled by al-Shabaab have to pay $1,800 each trip. Five percent of all land sales is taken as tax, and arbitrary levies of up to $100,000 imposed on communities for “educational purposes”, the defector said. There is also evidence that the movement is suffering from manpower shortages.

A third defector said al-Shabaab now insisted that all male children attend its boarding schools from the age of about eight. The children train as fighters and join fighting units in their mid-teens.

“By that age they are fully indoctrinated. They are no longer under the influence of their parents,” said Mohamed Mubarak, research director of the Horn Institute for Security and Strategic Policy thinktank.

According to Somali authorities, troops stormed a school run by al-Shabaab in January and rescued 32 children who had been taken as recruits to be “brainwashed” to be suicide bombers. “Al-Shabaab used to demand money or children from clans: now they demand both,” the defector said.

Al-Shabaab has also told people they will be punished – possibly put to death as spies – if they have any contact with humanitarian agencies.

Somalia has been hit by a series of droughts, and only a massive aid effort averted the deaths of hundreds of thousands last year.

A new military campaign launched by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and supported by the US has seen intensive drone strikes on al-Shabaab targets, putting the militants under significant pressure. Fears of spies have led to a series of internal purges. Suspected agents are jailed and brutally tortured.

    Al-Shabaab cuts thieves’ hands and kills looters . Everyone is scared of them

“Distrust is so high that when they go into battle, everyone is afraid of being shot in the back by his comrade,” one of the defectors said. “When soldiers get leave, half come back. Al-Shabaab now send patrols to collect people who have fled home. They stay in jail until they agree to rejoin.”

Abdirahman Mohamed Hussein, a government official overseeing humanitarian aid in southern central Somalia, told the Guardian that extremists used local populations as human shields. “They do not want people to move out because they are worried that there could be an airstrike if the civilians leave,” Hussein said.

Al-Shabaab also imposes tight restrictions on media, the defectors said. “Most people only listen to al-Shabaab radio stations or get news from al-Shabaab lectures which go on for hours and which cover religion and which all must attend,” one said. Another said some people risked harsh punishments to listen in secret toVoice of America and the BBC.

“Life is really tough in al-Shabaab-controlled areas. There is no food, no aid and children are being taken,” said Mubarak, the thinktank director. “Al-Shabaab are still trying to portray themselves as defenders of Somali identity. The message has a lot of sympathy but is not translating into active support.”

The draconian punishment, seizures, taxes and abductions run counter to the strategic guidance issued by al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has called for affiliates of the veteran group to build consensus and support among local communities. Their practices do, however, recall those of Isis.

Al-Shabaab also manipulates rivalries between clans and tribes, and benefits from the failures of local authorities to provide basic services. Several interviewees said they preferred using al-Shabaab’s justice system, and that the group had brought security.

In once case in May last year, two clan elders in Beledweyne in Hiran region agreed to seek al-Shabaab justice to settle a case of rape. The attacker was found guilty and stoned to death.

“We decided to go to the al-Shabaab court because the judge rules under the Islamic law and there is no nepotism and corruption,” said Abdurahman Guled Nur, a relative of the rape victim, in a telephone interview. “If we went to a government court, there would be no justice because the rapist could have paid some cash to the court and he would be freed.”

Mohamed Hussein, a farmer in Barire, a town 40 miles south of Mogadishu that has seen fierce fighting, returned home when al-Shabaab took control of the area in early October. “When the government soldiers were here, there was looting, illegal roadblocks and killing,” he said. “But al-Shabaab cuts thieves’ hands and kills looters. The Islamic court gives harsh sentences for the criminals, so everyone is scared of them. That way we are in peace under al-Shabaab. If you do not have any issue with al-Shabaab, they leave you alone.”

Additional reporting by Abdalle Mumin

 on: Feb 22, 2018, 06:15 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Emmanuel Macron unveils plans to crack down on immigration

Activists say proposals to speed up requests threaten rights of asylum seekers in France

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
22 Feb 2018 16.33 GMT

Tough proposals to crack down on immigration and asylum in France have been unveiled by Emmanuel Macron’s government amid complaints from human rights groups and street protests by some public agents in charge of asylum procedures.

The legislation is aimed at speeding up the process for asylum requests and for expelling migrants who aren unable to claim asylum. It would also double to 90 days the time a person without papers can be kept in a holding centre.

The bill, which criminalises illegal border crossing, has sparked anger from charities who called it oppressive.

The plan, to be debated in parliament in April, will reduce the consideration period for an application for asylum to a maximum of six months, down from about a year including appeal. Human rights activists say this will make it more difficult for asylum seekers to defend their rights.

The interior minister, Gérard Collomb, insisted the plan was balanced and in line with European procedures.

The bill is proving to be one of the most divisive of Macron’s presidency. His centrist parliamentary majority is made up of MPs with roots in both the left and right. Until now they have been firmly united but cracks have shown over immigration. Some on the left of Macron’s party have expressed concern.

Workers at France’s refugee protection office, Ofpra, went on strike to protest against the bill, branding it “an unequivocal departure from France’s tradition of asylum”. There were concerns it was being pushed through too fast with an eye on public opinion.

Polls have consistently shown a majority of French people believe there are too many migrants in France.

While campaigning to be president, the pro-business Macron won over the left with promises of a more humane asylum policy. He paid homage to Angela Merkel, saying she saved Europe’s “collective dignity” by opening Germany’s doors to refugees in 2015. In power, Macron’s slogan on immigration has shifted to “Humane and firm.”

A set of interior ministry orders in December sparked criticism after regional authorities were instructed to set up “mobile teams” to run immigration checks in homeless centres to ascertain the status of migrants.

More than 100,000 people applied for asylum in France last year, up 17% from the year before. About 36% of applicants were granted refugee status.

 on: Feb 22, 2018, 06:10 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Atia Abawi: 'There were lifejackets everywhere. People died trying to live'

Her own experiences as a refugee did little to prepare the Afghan-American young adult novelist for the disturbing realities that greeted her in Lesbos while writing her new book about people fleeing Syria

Peter Beaumont
22 Feb 2018 10.00 GMT

Atia Abawi, a young adult novelist, was working on a very different book when an epiphany occurred.

Sitting in her apartment with her young son, she was watching news reports of Syrian refugees on the deadly smuggling routes to Europe. Suddenly, she knew she had to write about that experience instead.

It would not be just any story of the flight from war in Syria. It would take as its subject matter one of the conflict’s darkest episodes: Raqqa under the brief-lived but blood-drenched Islamic State caliphate, where public executions were commonplace.

In a sector of publishing dominated by dystopian fantasies like The Hunger Games, her subject matter for A Land of Permanent Goodbyes would be the most real and sinister of dystopias. She would tell the story of Tareq, a young Syrian whose family escapes Isis-held Raqqa – where he witnesses a beheading – and subsequently travels through Turkey and Greece.

It is a theme with which Abawi is intimately familiar, both personally and professionally.

A dual Afghan-American citizen, she was born a refugee in Germany after her parents fled the civil war in Afghanistan in 1981. She went on to become an award-winning journalist, herself working in Afghanistan for four years.

“I was originally researching a book on the Israel-Palestine conflict,” says Abawi, speaking from Los Angeles, where she is currently on a book tour. “I was watching the news, holding my son and watching other women with their children on the highways of Europe, feeling uncomfortable while I was in my cosy apartment.

“I thought, here were families risking everything to save their children – and it made me think about my own parents, who did the same. I could see my parents in those Syrians who had had normal, happy lives turned upside down.”

Calling her publisher, she said she wanted to abandon the book she was working on and travel to Greece and Turkey to write about these refugees; to explain to a young audience what it was to live through the worst of conflicts and risk everything to escape.

The sensitivity of the subject – and her own engagement with it – meant she was concerned it should ring true to any Syrian refugee who read the book. To check it passed muster, she asked a doctor from Raqaa – and activist with campaign group Raqaa is being Slaughtered Silently – to cast an over the story.

    I was lucky that my parents made that hard decision. It wasn’t a decision about self, but to save the family
    Atia Abawi

“He’s in Serbia now. He was my eyes and ears on the journey to escape Raqaa. I’d seen lots of videos from inside Raqaa. But I had described it as a virtual ghost town. One of the points he made was how that was wrong, how people were still walking around. How the checkpoints worked on the road to Aleppo, and who manned them.”

The awareness of displacement for a child, as Abawi admits, is often complicated. The choices that her parents made, and their own emotions about those choices, are things she has only come to appreciate fully with age and after becoming a parent herself.

“Growing up [in Virginia] you saw their struggles but you didn’t understand it.

“I asked my mum about how she was treated in Germany. There were people who welcomed us when she would take me in a stroller with my brother to buy ice cream. But there were others who would spit in our direction and say, ‘Damned foreigners’. Later, in America, as I got older, I remember the side glances you would get in a shop for speaking a foreign language. Thinking you are some kind of criminal or ‘other’.”

The result, she explains, is not a sense of belonging in two places – America and Afghanistan – but the opposite. “Technically, I’m a dual citizen of Afghanistan and the US – but I say I am a ‘dual foreigner’ in both.”

If the images on television were unsettling, the reality on the Greek island of Lesbos was even more disturbing.

“What was striking about the island were the lifejackets – thousands and thousands strewn everywhere in makeshift dumps. And most of them fake. You could count all the human lives. The little ones with Spider-Man figures and flowers. All those parents who took the risk. Seeing the graveyards, with their dirt mounds and little mounds. How people died in hope of trying to live.”

Although Abawi concedes her choice of subject is a “difficult” one in a literary field that has rarely dealt with conflict in the Middle East – despite the success of young adult writers who have set novels in wartime, like Michael Morpurgo and John Boyne – she believes dealing with Syria and the Syrian refugee experience is important.

“What I love about young adult is that you are aiming both at young people as well as adults. Hopefully, their parents will pick it up as well. A young adult novel can give something past a glimpse in a 700-word article or a news clip. Give a sense of the truth and humanity behind the refugee experience.

“I have been lucky to get good reviews so far, but I was nervous about how readers would respond. I was hoping to open people’s eyes, not least because there are so few young adult books whose subject matter is realistic international fiction.”

She was also acutely conscious as she was writing – at the end of the Trump election campaign – of how profound the issue of refugees was rapidly becoming, not only in the US but also in Europe.

“To be honest, a lot people who voted for Tump were voting directly against everything that was me. It was an important moment for me. I thought the world was becoming more open-minded with social media. I thought we can humanise the other. Now I realise how far we have to go.”

There was one reader whose reaction she was especially keen to garner: her own mother, who made the same decision that Tareq’s family makes.

“I think it is different for everyone. I was lucky that my parents made that hard decision. It wasn’t a decision about self, but to save the family. They had waited a couple of years after the war had started in 1979.

“My mother approached dad and said, ‘We have got to leave.’ And he said, ‘No. I need to stay in my country.’ She said, ‘I am going with my son and unborn child.’ And so my dad agreed, telling the then-communist regime that they were just going on vacation.

“When she started reading the manuscript, my mum kept having to put it down because she was crying. I think, as I get older, I get it.”

 on: Feb 22, 2018, 06:05 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

‘We lose 1,400 girls a year. Who will our boys marry?’: Armenia's quandary

Sex selection may have been outlawed, but a shortage of women threatens the very survival of a country where boys are traditionally seen as an investment and girls as a loss

Suzanne Moore in Yerevan
Thu 22 Feb 2018 07.00 GMT

Sometimes it seems there are so many ways to destroy women that the methods become invisible to us. There are some women you will never see because they will never be born.

Amartya Sen talked of “missing women” in his famous 1990 essay because of technologies that enable prenatal sex selection.

Most people are aware this happens in China and India, but I am in Armenia, talking to a nervy woman in her early 30s. We are in the eastern region of Gavar, which is second only to China in the number of female foetuses that are aborted. Here, 120 boys are born for every 100 girls.

The woman, who has two young daughters, tells me her girls say: “Let’s go to church to light a candle to get a little brother.” They want a boy, she wants a boy, her husband wants a boy. This is why she has had nine or 10 abortions – she is not sure exactly, and is vague about a “vascular condition”, given as a reason to terminate the pregnancies.

She droops slightly when asked for more detail. “If I get pregnant again and it’s a girl …” She trails off. She is not sure what she will do. She has heard of doctors in the capital, Yerevan, who could help her. Sex selection, for that is what we are talking about, became illegal in Armenia in 2016.

The woman says that if she gets rid of the next baby, she will not be sad. “My husband will be sad. He accuses me of eliminating all these children.” He is away for more than half the year working in Russia, as many Armenians are. “But,” she says defiantly, “in some years my girls will leave. I will be all by myself.”

This is one part of what propels prenatal sex selection – a need to ensure the family lineage, and the belief that boys will provide in old age. Girls grow up, marry and leave. They move in with the husband’s family. Boys are an investment. Girls are a loss. This I hear repeated over and over again. It is hard to reconcile with the modern women – doctors, journalists and politicians – who are everywhere in Yerevan. Some of the biggest pressures on women to have sons come from other women: mothers–in–law.

Dr Hrachya Khalafyan, who runs the Sevan medical centre in Yerevan, was shocked when he first heard about Armenia’s sex imbalance. “We all were,” says Sevan, who instructs his staff that there can be no terminations on these grounds.

    If the trends are not reversed, Armenia will have lost almost 93,000 women by 2060

Where once they used to have seven or eight children, women in Armenia today give birth just once, on average. In the past, if the last child was a girl, she might be called the Armenian word for “Enough”, as if no one could be bothered to name her. Doctors now encourage women to celebrate carrying a girl, yet I hear the stories of what happens in “other places” where women are not allowed to be told the sex of their child at the 12-week scan. There are ways to find out, apparently, such as the pocket in which the doctor puts their pen – left for a girl, right for a boy.

Armenia really needs its missing women. “We lose 1,400 girls a year. In the long term who will our boys marry? How will we consolidate the Armenian nation? We are only 3 million people. We have no right to such losses. There will be no mothers to give birth to girls,” says Khalafyan.

The sex imbalance

“Son preference” is a euphemism, maybe, but a necessary one. Sex selective abortion has been steadily growing across the Caucuses and Asia (Armenia has the third highest rate in the world, behind China and Azerbaijan) and it will continue to happen as fertility levels drop. When green campaigners talk of population growth being the world’s biggest problem, they need also to factor in gender. When people have fewer children, they want boys.

Data collected in Armenia in 2010 started to bring home the sex imbalance: there were 115-120 boys being born for every 100 girls. Anecdotally, people talked of school dances in which boys were forced to dance with one another as there were so few girls.

In 2011, the UN population fund began its advocacy work around sex selection, and in 2017 it launched a global programme to prevent gender-biased sex selection. After initial resistance, the Armenian government backs the UNFPA campaign. The country is already seeing results. In 2014, the ratio was 114 boys for 100 girls; last year, the figure stood at 110 boys for every 100 girls.

Efforts by the UNFPA and humanitarian agencies such as Save the Children are proving successful because they look at the specific conditions that lead to pre-natal sex selection: contraception, emigration, men as the key breadwinners, inheritance, family lineage and conflict.

Conflict was an issue raised by the headteacher of a school in Gavar, where the classes have more boys than girls. Araxia Verdanyan says the impact of the war hangs over its people. Armenia is at war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. “Our soldiers are killed on a daily basis. We need girls to reproduce. We need boys to defend the border,” she says. Here a boy child is always another soldier.

Ministers explain the political strategy to raise the profile of girls. Contraception and health are promoted as priorities. All key professionals are trained in giving a positive message about girls. And a woman has three days to change her mind after she has requested an abortion at 12 weeks.

I go to a puppet show, Ne’s Journey, performed by the Armenian Center of International Union of Puppeteers, in a high school where national folk tales are given a twist. It is the girl’s wisdom that saves the day. Girls defeat the demons and save themselves, too. The charismatic puppet master, Armen Safaryan, tells his young audience: “God decides whether we are girls or boys. Respect and love are contagious. I speak from travel and experience, and I treat men and women as the same. We are just beginning and we need our girls. We must end this murder.”
‘The word is your weapon’

Some of the most impressive work I see being done is in a seminary, by an amazing psychologist called Inga Harutyunyan. In a classroom in the Gevorkian seminary in Vagharshapat, in the complex of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, eager young priests are trained. These are highly educated young men.

Harutyunyan has established a relationship with the church. Privately, she tells me about ancient Armenian matriarchies and goddesses. But the key is in the way she talks to the priests. “You are clergymen,” she tells them. “The word is your weapon,” and then she gives them texts from the Bible that emphasise respect for women.

Getting the church on side, along with the government and civil society is quite something. This is the strategy in Armenia: to work with everyone; not to alienate any group, but to promote the value of girls and women right across the culture. And it’s working.

Vahan Asatryan, of the International Centre for Human Development, says fertility rates are the key issue.

“We are not ‘girl averse’, as they are in India,” says Vahan Asatryan, a researcher at the International Centre for Human Development. He suggests the answer to ending sex selection lies in looking at the issue in specific contexts. How it works in Nepal, for instance, is different from what’s happening in Vietnam.

He talks about fertility rates as the big issue. Everyone stresses this is about not being for or against abortion. Abortion, he repeats, is simply the mechanism by which sex selection happens. The right to abortion is an achievement of civilisation. Armenia allows termination up to 12 weeks without restrictions.

The introduction of ultrasound in the mid-90s has exacerbated sex selection across all the former Soviet republics, however.

The key to change is situating this debate at the very heart of Armenian society, to ensure the survival of the nation.

If the trends are not reversed, Armenia will have lost almost 93,000 women by 2060. That’s an awful lot of potential mothers. Everyone talks of extending choice and opportunity for women. Interestingly, “no one is blamed for what is happening … Everyone is part of the solution,” says Asatryan.

“We can’t change gender stereotypes in two years, but we can look at the data. We can talk about human rights.”

At a conference to advance gender equality and combat prenatal sex selection in Tsaghkadzor, a ski resort, community workers, activists and doctors from across the country share their experiences. Many men blame women for the sex of their own children, not realising that the Y chromosome responsible for the male sex is transferred from the man’s genome.

I have coffee with Margaret, a young women who works with children with disabilities. She believes everyone has a right to life.

She loves all children, she explains. She tells the women she works with: “You know when you want your husband to buy you an expensive handbag and you persuade him to? Well surely you can do that with a baby? Talk to him, tell him you want to have a girl. Persuade him. Tell him you want her to live.”

 on: Feb 22, 2018, 06:01 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

'I want to empower Afghan women': female prosecutor on a lonely mission

Zainab Fayez, the sole woman in Kandahar’s attorney-general’s office, wants greater equality in the Afghan justice system

Haroon Janjua
2/22/ 2018 07.00 GMT

Zainab Fayez, the only woman serving as a prosecutor in Afghanistan’s southern province of Kandahar, has resolved 50 cases of abuse against women, and helped detain 21 men accused of violence against women, including police officials, over the past year. But she still longs to see other women join her in the legal profession.

“My aim is to see the next generation of Afghan women empowered,” said the 28-year-old, who has worked in Kandahar’s attorney-general’s office for the past two years. “In Kandahar, it is very hard for a woman to work alone in an office, which is predominantly occupied by male staff members and where women as workers are taboo.

“In Afghanistan’s justice system, women’s participation is necessary and we need to work hard to provide a good foundation for the next generation of women. I am ready to make any kind of sacrifice for this cause.”

A graduate from the Sharia faculty of Kabul university, Fayez is proud of her work towards the elimination of violence against women – despite the challenges.

The United Nations says Afghanistan’s court system is failing to provide adequate access to women who are victims of violence.

Orzala Ashraf Nemat, a leading women’s rights activist who worked directly on cases of violence against women between 1999-2007 in Afghanistan and in refugee camps in Pakistan, said attitudes needed to change. For instance, there is a “notion that mediation is anti-women, but it’s also a lasting, long-term solution to domestic violence,” she said.

And, “we should get rid of ideas such as that rape victims should marry their rapists.”

Despite her own success in resolving dozens of cases related to women’s rights violations, mainly involving domestic violence, in Kandahar province, Fayez said many more cases remained unresolved because women did not report them.

The Afghan judicial system badly needs more female professionals in order to instil confidence in women so they feel free to discuss their concerns with female staff, she said.

In Kandahar, the crucible of the Taliban’s rise to power in the 1990s, Taliban gunmen shot dead a leading women’s rights campaigner in April 2009, and Afghanistan drew international condemnation for a law that critics said legalised rape in marriage.

As a woman, Fayez is on her own in Kandahar as she deals with issues such as child marriage, domestic violence, sexual assault, the denial of inheritance rights and access to education. If more female prosecutors were working alongside her, she said, the impact would be much greater in achieving justice for women.

A fellow female prosecutor, Maria Bashir, based more than 500km away in western Herat province, was presented with the International Women of Courage award for her work promoting women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Fayez, who is married and has a one-year-old son and three-year-old daughter, travels 12km every day to reach her office. Her husband Fakhruddin said he supports his wife in a society where it is taboo for women to hold jobs. “We need to break stereotypes for the empowerment of Afghan women,” he said.

A report from the International Development Law Organisation said women in Afghanistan often lack access to opportunities to gain legal qualifications and for professional development, in comparison with their male counterparts, resulting in a discrepancy between the number of women who graduate from the law and Sharia faculties and those actually employed in the justice sector.

“In Afghanistan, female prosecutors, as well as female service providers and responders [are] needed across the whole social service sector,” said Hadia Nusrat, a gender expert working for women’s rights in Kabul and Islamabad. “The resistance to women taking up jobs involving interaction with the public requires innovative support mechanisms and political commitment … to ensure that Afghans transition to peace and stability with equity and dignity through the main workforce largely comprising women and youth.”

There has been an influx into Kandahar of Afghan girls who lived in Pakistan and have a good education, but they are not aware of Afghan law or the justice system. Amid increasing economic insecurity and unemployment, some women may be more fearful of alienating men who are usually the sole breadwinners, or of taking action that might lead to men’s imprisonment.

For women like “Gula”, a victim of domestic violence who approached the Kandahar attorney-general’s office seeking legal assistance against her husband, having access to a female prosecutor let her talk freely and frankly about the psychological trauma she had experienced.

Another victim of domestic violence, “Sabira”, who also sought legal help, said: “Sharing problems with female staff that could not be shared with male officials is amazing. There should be more female staff at Kandahar’s attorney-general’s office so that more women are able to discuss their problems and seek justice.”

Activist Pashtana Durrani said: “Afghan women are unaware of their rights [and] the majority are not educated. Women in Kandahar are facing an extreme level of discrimination in pursuing their careers either from the Taliban, who don’t let women work, or from men who are brainwashed that women should stay at home.”

A story shared by Human Rights Watch recently indicates how far Afghanistan needs to travel before women can begin to have confidence that the justice system will work for them – a nurse who came across two girls aged six and seven showing signs of severe sexual assault, and reported this to the district prosecutor’s office, was reprimanded by the judge and threatened with imprisonment for false reporting, despite the fact the girls’ attacker – a 17-year-old boy – was ultimately convicted of sexual assault.

Women in Afghanistan only stand a chance of getting justice when Fayez’s dreams have come true, and there are many more women working in the legal profession.

 on: Feb 22, 2018, 05:56 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
As Trump Neglects Climate Threats, Cities Move Forward

By Katherine Levine Einstein, David Glick and Maxwell Palmer

Despite almost universal scientific consensus that climate change poses a growing threat, President Donald Trump's recent infrastructure plan makes no mention of the need to build resilience to rising global temperatures. Instead, it actually seeks to weaken environmental reviews as a way of speeding up the infrastructure permitting process.

This proposal flies in the face of scientific evidence on climate change. It also contradicts the priorities of many local leaders who view climate change as a growing concern.

During the summer of 2017, we asked a nationally representative sample of 115 U.S. mayors about climate change as part of the annual Menino Survey of Mayors. Mayors overwhelmingly believe that climate change is a result of human activities. Only 16 percent of those we polled attributed rising global temperatures to "natural changes in the environment that are not due to human activities."

Perhaps even more strikingly, two-thirds of mayors agreed that cities should play a role in reducing the effects of climate change—even if it means making fiscal sacrifices.

Cleaner, Smarter Cities

In our survey, mayors highlighted a number of environmental initiatives that they were interested in pursuing. Over one-third prioritized reducing the number of vehicles on the road and making city assets, such as buildings and vehicles, more energy-efficient.

Other popular programs included shifting toward green and alternative energy sources; promoting energy efficiency in private buildings; reducing risks of damage from flooding; and installing smart traffic lights that can change their own timing in response to traffic conditions. Many mayors are already implementing these initiatives in their communities.

When we asked mayors what would be required for a "serious and sustained effort to make a meaningful impact in my city" in combating climate change, they identified multiple programs. Large majorities agreed that significantly reducing their cities' greenhouse gas emissions would involve steps such as requiring residents to change their driving patterns, increasing residential density, reallocating financial resources and updating building codes and municipal facilities.

Interestingly, mayors largely did not think that such initiatives would require imposing costly new regulations on the private sector. Only 25 percent of mayors said such action was integral to addressing climate change.

Climate Politics Is National and Local

Mirroring national opinion, mayors' views on climate change and environmental policy were sharply divided along partisan lines. While 95 percent of the Democratic mayors we surveyed believed that climate change was a consequence of human activities, only 50 percent of Republican mayors shared that view. And a mere 25 percent of Republican mayors believe that mitigating climate change necessitated fiscal sacrifices, compared with 80 percent of Democrats.

Interestingly, Republican views appear to have become more negative over time. When we surveyed mayors in 2014, just over one-third of Republicans did not believe that their cities should make significant financial expenditures to prepare for and mitigate impacts of climate change. By 2017, that figure had risen to 50 percent. This shift suggests that Republicans are increasingly opposed to major policy initiatives targeting climate change, even at the local level.

However, despite these partisan differences, there was considerable consensus about making sustainability investments in cities, albeit perhaps for different motives. Democrats were were more likely to highlight green and alternative energy sources, and Republicans were more inclined towards smart traffic lights, but there was significant support across party lines for these kinds of improvements.

Mayors were asked how strongly they agreed with this statement: Cities should play a strong role in reducing the effects of climate change, even if it means sacrificing revenues and/or expending financial resources.

A Missed Opportunity

President Trump's strongest support in the 2016 election came from rural areas, and urban leaders have strongly opposed many of his administration's proposals. We asked mayors about their ability to combat federal initiatives across an array of policies. Mayors identified two areas—policing and climate change—as opportunities where cities could do "a lot" to counteract Trump administration policies.

Indeed, mayors have already banded together to send a strong political signal nationally, and perhaps even globally, on climate change. After President Trump abandoned the Paris agreement, many mayors publicly repudiated Trump and signed local commitments to pursue the accord's goals. A large number of mayors have also more formally allied and joined city-to-city networks and compacts around climate change and other issues. Mayors see political value in these kinds of commitments. As one mayor put it, compacts "increase political voice … it gives more clout to an issue when mayors unite around common issues."

Almost two-thirds of the U.S. population lives in cities or incorporated places. While mayors and local governments cannot comprehensively tackle climate change alone, their sizable political and economic clout may make them an important force in national and global sustainability initiatives. In our view, by not proposing substantial investment in infrastructure—including climate resilience in cities—the Trump administration is missing an opportunity to build better relationships with cities through steps that would benefit millions of Americans.


The Dirty Little Deals That Would Foul the Environment

FEB. 22 2018
Ny Times

Here’s a warning to the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, and other environmentally inclined Senate Democrats, like Sheldon Whitehouse and Ed Markey: A legislative minefield lies dead ahead, pocked with destructive amendments of Republican origin hostile to clean air, clean water, endangered species and fragile landscapes. And here’s a plea: Stop these measures from becoming law.

Following its approval of the big budget deal on Feb. 9, Congress began writing the dozen appropriations bills that direct federal dollars to specific agencies. These bills are likely to be incorporated in one giant omnibus spending measure to be negotiated over the next few weeks by House and Senate leaders in advance of the March 23 expiration of the continuing budget resolution that has kept the government going.

Given its urgency, the bill is fertile ground for the kind of mischief the Republicans in particular have been notorious for over the years — loading up must-pass bills like this one with provisions, known as riders, that in most cases could not survive on their own and thus need protective cover. In years past, such riders were usually inserted at the last minute on the House or Senate floor. Here they are in plain sight, having been approved in earlier votes or endorsed by powerful committee chairmen or chairwomen who will do their level best to make sure they are included in the final bill. Mr. Schumer can prevent that from happening. The Democrats are effectively 49 in number, the Republicans 51. By holding his party together, he can deny the Republicans the 60 votes they need to overcome a filibuster — ensuring a clean bill, and a cleaner environment.

Public interest groups have counted nearly 90 of these riders, but here are several of the worst:

Clean water In 2015, the Obama administration adopted a landmark rule intended to clarify and broaden protections for smaller streams and wetlands vital to the country’s drinking water and wildlife. Although the bill simply reaffirmed the reach of the original 1972 Clean Water Act, developers and big farmers complained to Scott Pruitt, the industry-friendly head of the Environmental Protection Agency, who has begun the lengthy process of replacing the rule with something more favorable to commercial interests. That’s not fast enough for the leaders of three separate appropriations panels — in the House, the interior and environment subcommittee and the energy and water development subcommittee; and in the Senate, the interior and environment subcommittee — who are pushing nearly identical riders that would kill the rule right away, without consulting the public or conducting the scientific analysis required by law.

Methane emissions As part of its larger strategy to combat climate change, the Obama administration approved two rules to minimize emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The E.P.A. would regulate emissions from new oil and gas wells; the Interior Department would require oil and gas companies to control venting and flaring from existing wells on public lands. Efforts to delay (and ultimately rewrite) both rules have been thwarted by the courts. Here again, Congress comes to the rescue with two riders (both approved in earlier House floor votes) that would kill both rules, at great cost to the climate and to clean air.

Sage grouse Of a handful of riders aimed at removing safeguards for endangered species, the most infuriating are roughly identical riders in the House and the Senate that would deny endangered species protections to a Western bird called the sage grouse, whose numbers are declining. The Obama administration worked long and hard with various stakeholders — state governments, ranchers, even the oil and gas companies — to give the bird a chance, and keep it off the endangered species list, by banning commercial activities on hundreds of thousands of acres of prime sage grouse habitat; it was a remarkable achievement in the annals of conservation. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke thinks the plan is much too nice to the bird and much too mean to the oil and gas companies, and he wants to roll it back. If he does, the bird’s last line of defense would be the Endangered Species Act, whose protections would, under this rider, no longer be available to it.

Alaska wild lands Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska and chairwoman of the Senate interior and environment appropriations subcommittee, managed to sneak a hugely controversial amendment into last year’s big tax bill opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. Her amendment would never have passed as a stand-alone measure. Now she wants more. One amendment she seeks would weaken protections against the clear-cutting of old growth trees in the Tongass National Forest. Another would exempt forests throughout Alaska from one of the most significant forest conservation measures of the last century, the Clinton-era “roadless rule” forbidding road building and, by extension, logging, mining and other commercial activity on roughly 50 million acres of wild national forests. The idea was to preserve undeveloped public lands and protect water supplies, wildlife and other natural values. Mr. Schumer should draw a firm line against both her amendments.

Anything President Barack Obama did to preserve natural resources is fair game for this administration, as well as among the administration’s allies in Congress. In the wheeling and dealing now underway, Mr. Schumer and his fellow Democrats cannot bargain away the environment.

 on: Feb 22, 2018, 05:46 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Air pollution: UK government loses third court case as plans ruled 'unlawful'

High court says approach to tackling pollution in 45 local authority areas is ‘not sufficient’ and orders urgent changes

Fiona Harvey, environment correspondent
22 Feb 2018 17.04 GMT

For the third time, the UK government has been slammed by the courts for failing to produce an adequate plan to tackle the growing problem of air pollution, in a landmark judgment that will force ministers back to the drawing board in their efforts to clean up dirty urban air.

The high court ruled that the government’s current policy on air pollution was “unlawful”, and ordered changes. Air pollution has become a leading test case for environmental legal activism in the UK, as scientists have found as many as 40,000 people a year are dying from dirty air across the country.

As a result of Wednesday’s judgment, clean air in the UK will be overseen by the courts, rather than ministers, in a “wholly exceptional” ruling in which the government was roundly defeated.

Anna Heslop, lawyer with ClientEarth, the activist organisation that brought the case and which has pursued the government on the issue for several years, said: “The judge has effectively allowed us to bring this matter straight back to court without delay if the government continues to fall short of its duties. We are extremely grateful for this because it means we will be able to monitor the government’s actions even more effectively and hold them to account.”

Mr Justice Garnham, who heard the case, said: “The history of this litigation shows that good faith, hard work and sincere promises are not enough and it seems court must keep the pressure on to ensure compliance is actually achieved.” He noted a “real risk” from air pollution, said the government’s plans were “seriously flawed” and commended ClientEarth as a “valuable monitor of the government’s efforts”.

He said the approach to tackling pollution in 45 local authority areas was “not sufficient”. The court previously heard that, eight years after the UK was found to be in breach of legal limits on the pollutant, levels were still too high in 37 out of 43 zones across the country.

A spokesperson for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “The judge found that our modelling [of air pollution] is compliant [with regulations] and that our approach to areas with major air quality problems is ‘sensible, rational and lawful’. The court has also asked us to go further in areas with less severe air quality problems. We had previously considered that it was sufficient to take a pragmatic, less formal approach to such areas. However, in view of the court’s judgment, we are happy to take a more formal line with them. We have already delivered significant improvements in air quality since 2010 and we will continue to implement our £3.5bn air quality plan.”

This is the third time that activist lawyers have won a legal judgment against the government on the issue, and it will force urgent changes to policy on air quality. As a result of the ruling, if ministers fail to remedy the situation, lawyers have “exceptional” leave to bring a judicial review without seeking further permission.

Effectively, this means the courts will have the powers to pass judgment on whether the government’s actions meet its obligations on air pollution under UK and EU law.

Air quality has been an increasing problem in the UK, with EU-set limits on key pollutants breached frequently over the last decade. But ministers have been slow to get to grips with the problem, which has been caused in part by the rise in the number of diesel vehicles on the roads, and increasing urbanisation.

Measures such as “clean air zones” have been promised in some cities, and welcomed by campaigners, but they are not being implemented widely or swiftly enough to prevent the government’s own commitments on clean air from being breached. Air pollution is thought to cause and contribute to as many as 40,000 thousands of deaths a year in the UK already, especially among vulnerable people such as those with existing respiratory problems, but perhaps even worse are the unknown effects on young children, whose lung capacity can be permanently stunted, and their health permanently damaged, by exposure to the pollutants at a young age.

Pollutants include tiny particles, for instance those called PM10 and PM2.5, which can come from diesel exhausts and from the interaction of airborne pollutants, as well as irritant gases such as nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, ozone and ammonia. Wednesday’s court case centred on nitrogen dioxide.

Mary Creagh, the Labour MP who chairs the influential environmental audit committee in the House of Commons, said: “Millions of people in the UK live with illegally high levels of air pollution. Ministers’ shambolic attempts to tackle this means this is the third time the courts have ordered the government to come up with a new plan. The government must now use every tool in the box to clean up our choking cities.”

“Inaction from governments and local authorities simply cannot continue,” said Tompion Platt, head of policy and communications at the pressure group Living Streets. “Making it possible for people to switch to more efficient, healthy and clean forms of transportation is the best way to make the UK’s air breathable for us all.”

ClientEarth won two previous rulings against ministers over the levels, forcing the government to draw up new plans last year for reducing nitrogen dioxide, much of which comes from vehicles, to within legal limits.

 on: Feb 22, 2018, 05:44 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Climate change 'will push European cities towards breaking point'

Study highlights urgent need to adapt urban areas to cope with floods, droughts and heatwaves

Tom White
22 Feb 2018 00.01 GMT

Major British towns and cities, including Glasgow, Wrexham, Aberdeen and Chester, could be much more severely affected by climate change than previously thought, according to new research.

The study, by Newcastle University, analysed changes in flooding, droughts and heatwaves for every European city using all climate models.

Looking at the impact by the year 2050-2100, the team produced results for three possible outcomes – low, medium and high-impact scenarios.

But even the most optimistic case showed 85% of UK cities with a river, including London, would face increased flooding.

In the high-impact scenario, some cities and towns in the UK and Ireland could see the amount of water per flood as much as double. The worst affected is Cork, which could see 115% more water per flooding, while Wrexham, Carlisle, Glasgow, and Chester could all see increases of more than 75%.

The increase in severity in the predicted impact has come after the team, in a first of its kind, examined all three climate hazards together in the largest study of its kind ever undertaken.

After around three years of analysing the information across hundreds of cities in Europe, they found every outcome was worse than previously thought.

Wrexham, Carlisle, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Derry and Chester were the worst-hit UK towns and cities for river flooding, with Dublin, Cork and Waterford the worst in Ireland.

All 571 cities studied saw a worsening in heatwaves and the high-impact scenario predicted southern Europe experiencing droughts 14 times worse than today.

The lead author, Selma Guerreiro, said: “Although southern European regions are adapted to cope with droughts, this level of change could be beyond breaking point.

“Furthermore, most cities have considerable changes in more than one hazard, which highlights the substantial challenge cities face in managing climate risks.”

While southern European cities saw the biggest increase in the number of heatwave days, central European cities saw the greatest increase in temperature during heatwaves – ranging between 2C to 7C for the low scenario and 8C to 14C for the high scenario.

A co-author, Prof Richard Dawson, said: “The research highlights the urgent need to design and adapt our cities to cope with these future conditions.

“We are already seeing at first hand the implications of extreme weather events in our capital cities.

“In Paris, the Seine rose more than four metres above its normal water level. And as Cape Town prepares for its taps to run dry, this analysis highlights that such climate events are feasible in European cities too.”

Published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the research found the European capitals worst hit by flooding would be Dublin, Helsinki, Riga, Vilnius and Zagreb.

Under the high-impact scenario, several European cities saw more than 80% increases on peak river flows.

Stockholm and Rome could see the greatest increase in number of heatwave days, while Prague and Vienna could see the greatest increase in maximum temperatures during heatwaves.

Lisbon and Madrid are in the top capital cities for increases in frequency and magnitude of droughts, while Athens, Nicosia, Valletta and Sofia might experience the worst increases in both drought and heatwaves.

Next month the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is holding its first cities and climate change science conference, after recognising the important role cites must play in tackling climate change.

Over 75% of the population of the EU currently lives in urban areas, and this percentage is expected to grow to 82% by 2050.

And already the impact is being felt, as between 1998-2009 floods in Europe caused 1,126 deaths and at least €52bn in insured economic losses.

Dawson, who sits on the scientific steering committee for the conference, said: “A key objective for this conference is to bring together and catalyse action from researchers, policymakers and industry to address the urgent issue of preparing our cities, their population, buildings and infrastructure for climate change.”

The team used projections from all available models associated with the high emission scenario RCP8.5, which implies a 2.6C to 4.8C increase in global temperature.

They found the British Isles have some of the worst overall flood projections, with the high scenario predicting half of UK cities could see at least a 50% increase on peak river flows.

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