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 on: Sep 24, 2016, 06:10 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Political violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – in pictures

Guardian
9/24/2016

Police and demonstrators have clashed in the DRC in the latest round of violence sparked by an ongoing political crisis in the troubled central African state. President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled since 2001, is banned under the constitution from running again but has given no inclination he will stand down in December

Friday 23 September 2016

Click to view: https://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2016/sep/23/political-violence-in-the-democratic-republic-of-the-congo-in-pictures

 82 
 on: Sep 24, 2016, 06:07 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
America's war: The killing of Jaiden Dixon and Tyler Dunn

On Saturday 23 November 2013, 10 children died after being shot. It was just another day in America. In an exclusive extract from his new book, Gary Younge chronicles two short lives

Guardian
Saturday 24 September 2016 08.00 BST   

The most common adjective employed by weather reporters on Saturday 23 November 2013 was “treacherous”. But in reality there was not a hint of betrayal about it. The day was every bit as foul as one would expect the week before Thanksgiving. A Nordic outbreak of snow, rain and high winds barrelled through the desert states and northern plains towards the midwest.

There was precious little in the news to distract anyone from the weather. A poll gave Barack Obama his lowest approval ratings in years. The same day, he announced a tentative deal with Iran over its nuclear programme. That night, Fox News was the most popular cable news channel; The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was the highest-grossing movie.

It was just another day in America. And as befits an unremarkable Saturday, 10 children and teens were killed by gunfire. They died in altercations at gas stations, accidents in bedrooms, standing on stairwells and walking down the street, in gangland hits and by mistaken identity. Like the weather, none of them would make the national news because, like the weather, their deaths did not disturb the accepted order of things. Every day, on average, seven children and teens are killed by guns in America. Firearms are the leading cause of death among black children under 19, and the second greatest cause of death for all children of the same age, after car accidents.

Kids killed by guns: America’s daily nightmare..Video by Laurence Topham: <iframe src="https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/global/video/2016/sep/23/kids-killed-by-guns-americas-daily-nightmare-video" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

I picked this day at random, and spent two years trying to find out who these children were. I searched for their parents, pastors, baseball coaches, and scoured their Facebook and Twitter feeds. The youngest child was nine, the oldest 19.

Four years ago, for a moment, there was considerable interest in the fact that large numbers of Americans were being fatally shot. On 14 December 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot his mother, then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School and shot 20 small children and six staff dead. Mass shootings comprise a small proportion of gun violence, but they disturb America’s self-image in a way that the daily torrent of gun deaths does not. “Seeing the massacre of so many innocent children … it’s changed America,” said the Democrat senator Joe Manchin, who championed a tepid gun-control bill. “We’ve never seen this happen.”

The truth is, it’s happening every day, only most do not see it; 23 November 2013 was just one of those days. Here are two of the boys’ (they were all boys) stories.

School mornings in Nicole Fitzpatrick’s home followed a predictable routine. As soon as her three sons – Jarid, 17, Jordin, 16, and Jaiden, nine – heard her footsteps, they would pull the covers over their heads because they knew what was coming: the lights. The older two would take this as a cue for the inevitable and get up. But Jaiden would try to string it out. He would climb into his mother’s bed. Then came the cajoling. “I’d tickle him,” Nicole says. “I’d pull him by his ankle.” They had a deal. If he could get himself ready – “all the way ready: socks, shoes, shirt, everything” – the rest of the morning was his. “He could play Minecraft, watch Duck Dynasty.”

It was Friday 22 November, the 50th anniversary of John F Kennedy’s assassination, and the papers were full of nostalgia for the nation’s lost innocence. They might have found it on Nicole’s street in Grove City, a dependably humdrum suburb of Columbus, crowned “best hometown” in central Ohio that year. It was its dependability that convinced people to stay. Nicole went to school with the parents of the children her kids went to school with.

Jaiden was ready that morning with time to spare. When Nicole threw him his socks, he threw them back, telling her he wanted to try out as a pitcher for his baseball team. He was playing on his Xbox when, shortly after 7.30am, the doorbell rang. This was not part of the routine, but nor was it out of the ordinary. The teenage girls at the end of the road would pop around if they were short of sugar or needed a lift.

    Slowly, curiously, Jaiden walked around the door. That’s when Nicole heard the 'pop'

Jaiden opened the door gingerly, hiding behind it, poised to jump out and shout, “Boo!” when one of the girls showed her face. But nobody stepped forward. Time was suspended as the minor commotion of an unexpected visitor failed to materialise. Nicole craned her neck into the cleft of silence to find out who it was. She looked to Jarid; Jarid shrugged.

Slowly, curiously, Jaiden walked around the door. That’s when Nicole heard the “pop”. Her first thought was, “Why are these girls popping a balloon? What are they trying to do, scare me to death?” But then she saw Jaiden’s head snap back, first once, then twice, before he hit the floor. “It was just real quiet. It was like everything stopped. And I remember staring at Jarid.” She knew what had happened. It was Danny.

Danny Thornton was Jarid’s father. Nicole had met him years earlier at Sears, where he made keys. She was 19; he was 28. “We were never really together,” she says. “It was a back-and-forth kind of thing.” She hadn’t seen him since July. He’d found her over a year earlier, in January 2012, when he was in need of help. “He was getting ready to be evicted, and we decided to let him stay. He could spend time with Jarid and keep him under control, and I could help him get a job.”

While he was staying, Danny got to know Jaiden. He took him bowling. He told Nicole that Jaiden made him laugh, even that he preferred him to his own son.

But Nicole needed her room back. That made Danny angry, and he didn’t deal with anger well. His criminal history included charges of felonious assault, domestic violence, attempted possession of drugs and carrying a concealed weapon. He was also a semi-pro, super-middleweight boxer, 5ft 11in and around 160lb, who favoured the southpaw stance: right hand and right foot forward, leading with right jabs, and following up with a left cross, right hook. “He moved all his stuff out,” Nicole says. “I don’t know where. I didn’t care.”

What she also didn’t know for some time was that, as he was packing, he told Jarid, “I have no problem making you an orphan. I’m not going to be living out of my car at 47. I have no problem shooting your mom and shooting your brothers.” He’d end his life in a shootout with the cops, he said.

Danny had talked to her about shooting other people. “He had twins. He was pissed off with the mom for filing child support on him. And he talked about if he knew where she lived, he’d shoot her and shoot the babies,” Nicole’s best friend, Amy Sanders, tells me. “He had a list – an actual, physical list – of people he wanted to kill. Nicole always thought if she was nice to him, she wouldn’t be on his list. And unfortunately she was the first one.”

Jarid didn’t tell his mother what Danny had said until September. “I stopped dead in my tracks,” Nicole says. “I said, ‘Jarid, he’s going to kill me.’ And Jarid said, ‘He’s just blowing off steam.’ I was petrified.” But time passed, and she began to wonder if Jarid was right.

Then Danny’s mobile phone subscription expired. Nicole had been paying it, but Christmas was approaching and she couldn’t afford it. On 20 November she wrote a text telling him his contract was up: “The phone’s yours. You can go and turn it on at any provider.” The message sat on her phone for a while, unsent. “I knew what he was capable of,” she says. “But I had to look out for my kids. I had to look out for me.” She pressed send.

He replied within an hour: “What fucking took you so long?”

Nicole forwarded the message to Amy. “I swear he’s gonna kill me one day,” Nicole texted. “In two years, when nobody suspects him.”

Two days later, this was the man who sped away in a blue Toyota, leaving Jaiden with a bullet in his skull. “And I struggle to try and understand,” Nicole says. “Did he shoot whoever answered the door, or was Jaiden his target? Because, honestly, he could have stepped one foot in that house and shot me, shot Jarid, shot Jordin.” Jarid fled the house, asking a neighbour to call 911. Once he got hold of the emergency services, he could barely make himself understood.

“Sir, please calm down so I can understand what you’re saying,” the operator says. “We’ve got to learn what’s going on.”

“My dad just shot my baby brother,” Jarid replies.

“Who shot him?”

“Danny Thornton. D-a-n-n-y T-h-o-r-n-t-o-n.” There is desperation and the occasional expletive interspersed with formal niceties: “Sir”, “Ma’am”, “fuck”, “please God”.

“C’mon, Jaiden. C’mon, baby.”

Nicole did her best to focus. She put one hand over the wound and the other on the back of Jaiden’s head, where she could feel the bullet. She scooped him up, then laid him back down. Still unconscious, Jaiden lifted his left arm three or four inches off the ground and let it fall.

“I freaked out,” Nicole says. “I said, ‘He’s still alive. He’s still OK.’ I was thinking, this is what they do on TV. CPR. Mouth to mouth. And all it was, was just gurgle…”

The emergency services arrived and took over. Nicole felt there was still hope. “I hugged the boys and was saying, ‘Be strong. We’ll get to the hospital and get him fixed.’ I kept thinking, ‘Just get him to surgery, get the bullet out.’”

With Danny’s whereabouts still unknown, the suburb’s security apparatus curled into a tight foetal ball. Within five minutes of the first 911 call, Highland Park Elementary, just one block away, went into lockdown. School hadn’t started, so the police diverted buses and told parents arriving in cars to take their children home.

But Danny was long gone, heading eastbound on Interstate 270 to Groveport, 20 minutes away, where his ex-partner, Vicki Vertin, with whom he had an 18-year-old daughter, worked as a dental hygienist. Vicki came out to meet him in the lobby. She hadn’t seen Danny for 12 years, but still lived in fear of his temper. He was wearing a grey hoodie and had his hands in the front pocket. “Haven’t seen you in a while,” Vicki told him. Danny took out his gun and shot her in the stomach.

By now, the 911 dispatch office was in overdrive. Calls were pouring in. One of Vicki’s co-workers was on the line. It took them six minutes to link the two shootings. Two of Danny’s friends also called the police. He’d told them that he’d “killed two people and that he’s not going back to jail”, and “he will not go down without a fight with police”. More schools went into lockdown. Vicki’s family were taken to a protective room.

Nicole, meanwhile, had arrived at the hospital. Detectives pulled her aside to ask if she had any idea where Danny would be going. That was when she found out he’d shot somebody else.

An hour and 45 minutes after he shot Vicki, Danny was traced to a Walmart parking lot. It was 9.46am. A shootout ensued in which one policeman was injured and Danny finally got his wish: suicide by cop.

    I keep replaying seeing him falling to the ground. I keep replaying: ‘I should have done this, I should have done that'

Vicki’s first thought when she woke from surgery was that he could still be out there. ‘“Did they get him?” she asked her dad. “No,” he replied. She tried to get out of bed: “Oh my God, he’s coming back.” Her father clarified: Danny had been shot dead. It was the first time in years she’d felt safe.

Across town, Nicole was told that Jaiden wouldn’t make it. The neurologist told her that Jaiden’s CT scan was one of the worst she’d ever seen. The bullet had taken a path straight to the back of his brain, where it had ricocheted, causing irreparable damage. They put Jaiden on a ventilator while a decision was made about organ donation. “I don’t remember feeling anything,” Nicole says. “All I remember is having this image of him in his shoes. He’d just put his shoes on, and his T-shirt was on the floor. And now he’s in a hospital gown with a thing down his throat. All in about an hour or so.”

Jaiden was pronounced dead at 3.47pm the next day. Until they wheeled him away to the operating room, Nicole kept it together, but witnessing that was too much to bear. “I couldn’t see the doors close,” she says. “It was almost like they were taking him to have his tonsils out.” She had been up for 45 hours. “I just remember breaking down and crying, and then somebody put me in a wheelchair and took me out. I didn’t go back to the hospital at all.”

The fog did not clear until the viewing. “It was maybe a week after he died,” she recalls. “He was lying in his casket. And because I’d been able to touch him so much at the hospital, I went right up and kissed him, and I grabbed his hand and it was cold as stone and hard. That was when the reality hit me: Oh my God. My baby’s gone.”

Nicole’s world is now divided into before and after. “It was like, before I was in a theatre watching this movie, and since then it’s been like walking into a parking lot and trying to adjust to the bright lights from being so engrossed in this movie for so long.”

It’s not as though the movie was necessarily uplifting. As a single mother of three, she remembers being exhausted, overwhelmed and, at times, very down. “There were nights when I would come home and just order pizza because I didn’t feel like cooking. And I would stare at the TV, and Jaiden would be out or upstairs or whatever. And I wish I’d gone and played with them.”

The first time I met Nicole was in her office, four months after Jaiden’s death. It was her birthday, but she hadn’t let on to her co-workers and had no plans. She was wearing a hoodie bearing Jaiden’s name and face and the word legendary. Her friend had set up a website so they could sell them to raise funds. But she found it difficult to see his face. “I have school pictures in the living room over the mantel. I catch myself diverting my attention so that I don’t have to look.” She was in therapy, but struggling with the advice. “They keep saying that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. They keep saying, ‘It’ll get better.’ But I’m kind of at the point where I don’t see it.”

Five months later, she still couldn’t see it. We had dinner at the Longhorn Steakhouse and went back to her house to meet friends. If anything, she was in a darker place. Most evenings she stayed up late to avoid going to sleep. Her mind kept whirring – an apparently endless loop of what-ifs and horror sequences. “I keep replaying seeing him falling to the ground. I keep replaying: ‘I should have done this, I should have done that. I should have opened the door.’”

In the reception area of St Joseph’s Cemetery, where Jaiden is buried, a range of pamphlets is assembled to assist the bereaved: Losing Your Mom, Losing Your Dad, Talking With Your Kids About Funerals, Grieving The Death Of A Grown Son Or Daughter, to name but a few. There is pretty much every permutation of grief but one – a pamphlet entitled Losing Your Young Child. Because that’s not supposed to happen.

Sanilac County has a lower population density than Finland and is slightly less racially diverse than Norway (it is over 95% white). According to Michigan’s department of agriculture, Sanilac leads the state in the acreage devoted to soy, corn, wheat, dairy farms and general cattle operations. Straight roads lead past silos, Dutch barns, grazing livestock and fallow fields, interspersed with the occasional township and homestead.

Marlette, population 1,879, is Sanilac’s third-biggest town and a 25-minute drive from the county seat of Sandusky. The shiny blue water tower bearing the town’s name announces itself from afar to the left, while McDonald’s golden arches peer over the trees to the right. Brittany Dunn, 20, wouldn’t be anywhere else. “I’d rather live here than in the city,” she says.

“It’s more laid-back,” agrees her grandmother, Janet Allen.

I am sitting in a pizzeria with four generations of the Dunn family: Janet, Lora Dunn Bartz (Janet’s daughter), Brittany (Lora’s daughter) and Ciannah (Brittany’s seven-month-old baby), as well as Thomas Bartz, Lora’s husband.

This vast expanse of land was Tyler Dunn’s playground. To a city dweller like me, the 11-year-old sounds like a character from Mark Twain. He loved trapping animals, hunting, catching fish in the creek behind the house, four-wheeling and dirt-biking in the summer, sledding in the winter. The Dunns lived three miles down a dirt road off Highway 53. Several miles from the nearest traffic light, even streetlight, and surrounded by fields, he was safe to do his own thing.

That year, deer hunting season started on 15 November, pheasant shooting on the 20th. “Tradition here is that the opening day you can just about close all the schools, because the kids are going hunting,” Sanilac County sheriff Garry Biniecki tells me. But with the exception of Tyler, hunting season didn’t particularly excite the Dunns. None of his immediate family hunted, and although Tyler enjoyed field sports, there is little evidence he was particularly good at them. One winter, Brittany’s boyfriend took Tyler trapping, but for more regular hunting trips Tyler turned to his friend Brandon.

Brandon (not his real name) lived about a mile away, on a dirt road off Tyler’s. Brandon, who was 12, would sometimes pick up Tyler on his go-kart, and they would roam the neighbourhood. They had been friends since kindergarten, but weren’t inseparable. Once, Lora told Tyler he could no longer play with Brandon after Brandon abandoned him in town and went off with another friend.

Brandon was living with his father Jerry, who owned a trucking company. Jerry often took his son hunting and occasionally trucking, too. If Tyler was over, Jerry would take them both. Jerry’s truck runs, ferrying milk and topsoil around the midwest, usually took him away for 11 hours at a time. He’d give the boys some money to help him out. Sometimes Jerry would have them sit up front; at other times, they’d be in the back playing video games. Tyler loved it.

On Thursday 21 November, Jerry had taken the boys hunting. Tyler had slept over on Friday night, and on Saturday afternoon the boys were scheduled to accompany Jerry in the truck down to Springfield, Ohio, 260 miles south and back. Lora dropped Tyler’s bike off at the house around 2pm, but the boys never used it because it was too cold: –8C, with winds of over 25 miles an hour.

Shortly before Jerry was about to leave, the boys said they wanted to stay home. He left them to it. He made this trip as often as three times a week, and Brandon took care of himself fine. Lora didn’t know that by the time she dropped the bike off, Jerry was already gone. “Tyler knew he wasn’t allowed there unless there was supervision,” she says. But he didn’t call, and nor did Jerry. Lora went out with Thomas to celebrate a girlfriend’s birthday 90 minutes away in Union Lake. Jerry checked in with the boys a few times. The last time Brandon called Jerry was around 6.30pm, to ask if he could order pizza.

Almost two hours later, Brandon walked out of the house with his hands up, wearing red shorts with no shirt or socks, the police telling him to keep his hands where they could see them. He had just called 911 and told them he had shot Tyler.

“Do you have any weapons?” the policeman yelled.

“No,” Brandon said. “It’s on the kitchen floor.”

    I would want eye for eye. Brandon needs to be gone. I don’t think he should be able to live his life

A policeman walked Brandon to his car as he pleaded: “It was an accident. I didn’t know the gun was loaded.”

An officer went inside, where he found a lever-action rifle on the kitchen floor and Tyler on the dining-room floor, in a Mountain Dew T-shirt and sweatpants, with a large pool of blood surrounding his head. There was a huge wound on the left side of his head. The policeman found no pulse, called dispatch, and told them Tyler was dead. As he left, he saw a shotgun lying on the living room couch and four holes in the dining-room window.

Nobody but Brandon will ever know for sure what happened that night, Sheriff Biniecki says. Brandon claims they were playing Xbox when he got a rifle out of Jerry’s closet to show Tyler. He asked Tyler to hold it while he went to get his milkshake from the bedroom. He came back and took the rifle from Tyler, who passed it to him butt first, the muzzle pointing in Tyler’s direction. Brandon was resting it against the wall when the gun got caught on his pocket and went off.

Brandon sat in the car while police combed the house. He’d been crying and was visibly shaken. When they searched him, they found two 12-gauge Remington buckshot shells and a mobile phone. There was blood on his hands and on the phone. When asked how he’d come by the shells, Brandon said he’d found them earlier that day and stuck them in his pocket for safekeeping.

Inside the property, the police found a veritable arsenal. In Brandon’s room was a Remington 1100 shotgun, loaded and perched against the dresser with one round in the chamber and four in reserve. There were two more single-shot shotguns near the closet. In the top dresser drawer, there was some marijuana in tin foil and two rolled joints. When asked later how many guns he had in the house, Jerry couldn’t remember. First he said seven or eight, then between five and 10.

Brandon didn’t know Tyler’s address, but he could describe his house. The police went there to find only his sisters at home, who told them to call their grandmother. Janet came shortly after midnight and was told the news. She called Lora. There was no reply: she’d left her phone in the car to charge. When she came out, she saw several missed calls and dialled Janet.

“Are you on your way home?” her mother asked.

“No – why?” Lora replied.

“I think you need to come home.”

She wouldn’t explain why, but that didn’t unduly concern Lora. She assumed her daughters had thrown a party and got caught.

Night falls heavy in Sanilac County, cloaking the land in uncluttered darkness. On dirt roads with no street lamps for miles, the flashing lights of stationary police vehicles announce themselves with the force of a lighthouse. On the way to her mother’s house, Lora saw the lights on Brandon’s road and drove towards them.

She called her mother. “Mom, do you have Tyler?”

“I think you’d better just come here,” Janet said.

“And then she put the police officer on the phone,” Lora recalls.

“Don’t go there. Just come here,” she told her, and Lora obliged.

“There’s been an accident,” the policewoman said when she got to the house.

“OK,” Lora said.

“Your son’s in Lapeer county hospital.”

“OK,” Lora said. “Why didn’t you tell me, because I just came through Lapeer?”

“No, Lora,” the policewoman said. “He’s been shot and killed.”

While Lora was halfway home, Jerry was at the sheriff’s office in Sandusky. It was 2am. He had been called and asked to pick Brandon up. The police asked him whether there were any custody issues between him and Brandon’s mother, Connie, and whether he often left his son alone. Asked if any of his weapons were loaded, he said they might have been. Finally, they asked if Brandon had taken hunter safety classes. Jerry said he was doing the apprenticeship programme, in which a child aged 10 or more can hunt for two years without a safety certificate if with an adult. Beyond that, he had given basic instructions. “I told him to hold the gun with the barrel pointing in the air. Never to point the gun at anyone, and never put any shells in the gun unless you are outside.”

How the gun got into Brandon’s bedroom was a mystery to Jerry. He thought it had originally been in the living room and didn’t remember moving it. All the guns were his, apart from the 20-gauge, which he’d bought Brandon. He said the .30-30 rifle that killed Tyler had been in his closet the whole time; he’d put three rounds in it a year earlier and not touched it since. It was only then that Jerry was told why Brandon was there.

    Guns were more available in Brandon and Tyler’s world than for any of the day’s other victims

Had Brandon not shot Tyler, a handful of minor episodes relating to his behaviour would probably never have amounted to anything. But he did, and over the next few days police interviews provided hints that, even if this was not an expected turn of events, it was always a possibility.

In her police interview, Connie said she had always been nervous about the number of guns Jerry had in the house, and assumed they were loaded. And then there were the incidents at school: the day before hunting season began, Brandon had boasted that he had pointed a 20-gauge at a boy’s stomach while it was loaded without the safety on. He also joked that the boy should put antlers on his head and run around so Brandon could shoot him. The child who overheard them thought they were “goofing around” about the antlers; he also thought “they were serious” about aiming at the boy’s stomach.

Guns were more available in Brandon and Tyler’s world than for any of the day’s other victims. In much of rural America, guns are an everyday part of life, for recreational and practical reasons. “Being a rural community, we have problems with everything from skunks to critters,” Sheriff Biniecki explains. “It’s not uncommon for a farmer to have a firearm handy.”

With so many guns around, the potential for calamity is ever present. A few weeks earlier, two local men said they were shot at by a duck hunter. Five days after Tyler was shot, a 16-year-old shot himself in the foot while hunting 20 minutes away. Although Biniecki treats each gun death as its own discrete tragedy, one nonetheless detects in his voice a weary familiarity with cases such as Tyler’s. The key to preventing accidents, he says, is education and parental responsibility. “I think we need to use the opportunity to further educate parents that if you do have a gun, unload it and put it away. Teach your kids the safety rules. And then, over time, don’t get lax with it, because children are always curious. Put those two things together and bad things can happen.”

In January 2013, in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, Barack Obama started a second term that became increasingly strident in its advocacy for gun control. He sought to shift the climate of caution by issuing “a presidential memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence”.

But the problem has been ongoing. On 14 November 2013, nine days before Tyler was shot, Obama nominated Vivek Murthy for surgeon general. Republican legislators focused on Murthy’s support for an assault-weapons ban and a tweet he’d sent in 2012, after the mass shootings at a cinema in Aurora, Colorado. “Tired of politicians playing politics w/guns, putting lives at risk b/c they’re scared of NRA. Guns are a health care issue. #DebateHealth,” he wrote. It took more than a year for him to be confirmed by the narrowest of margins, after the National Rifle Association rallied its members.

On 20 February 2014, Jerry and Brandon appeared in district court. Jerry was a three-time felon, previously convicted, among other things, of dealing drugs and operating a vehicle while impaired.

In the US, felons are not allowed to have guns, so Jerry was charged with possession, a crime carrying a maximum of five years in prison. For leaving two boys alone with loaded guns that ended in the death of one of them, he was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a 90-day misdemeanour. He was released on $2,500 bail. Brandon was arraigned in juvenile court and charged with careless discharge of a firearm, causing death, which carries a maximum two-year sentence. On 10 April, Brandon pleaded guilty; on 5 May, Jerry pleaded no contest.

At a hearing on 1 May, Lora told me, Connie wept as her son stood in grey sweatpants and a hoodie, and the judge placed him in “intense probation” at her home. The next day he was sentenced. There were 29 terms to his probation. He was sent to a junior detention facility for 10 days, with a further 20 days to be enforced if he failed to comply with the other 28 restrictions (including a 7pm-to-7am curfew, participation in anger-management classes, random drug and alcohol testing, paying for Tyler’s cremation, and a minimum of 10 written assignments). The probation would be reviewed every 30 days, said the prosecutor, who expected it to last until Brandon was 18 or 19. Six weeks later, the judge sentenced Jerry to a year for weapons-firearms possession and 90 days for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Tyler’s family believes they both got off too lightly – particularly Brandon, who they are convinced shot Tyler on purpose. To them, the story doesn’t hang together. Lora doesn’t buy the idea that the latch got caught on his shorts: “I believe his finger was on the trigger.”

Over pizza with Brittany, her mother, stepfather and grandmother, I ask what would constitute justice.

Brittany pauses. “I would want eye for eye.”

“You mean you want Brandon executed?” I ask.

She nods. “Brandon needs to be gone. I don’t think he should be able to live his life.”

I look around the table. “Does everyone agree?”

They all nod.

“And Jerry?”

“He should have time for what he did,” Lora says.

“He should probably sit inside for the rest of his life,” Brittany adds. “He had a role in it, but he technically didn’t pull the trigger.”

According to the Sanilac County News, Lora has since filed suit against both Brandon and Jerry, seeking more than $25,000. I ask her if Jerry or Connie have reached out to them. She says they have had no contact since Jerry’s girlfriend came over, a few days after, to return Tyler’s effects. Would they have liked to? “It would have been nice for them to say something. Put a card in my mailbox or something.”

“Even at the court they could have turned around,” Janet said.

“Yeah, when he stood up in front of the judge and said it wasn’t his fault,” Lora recalls.

“Well,” Janet says, “it wasn’t his fault. Because he wasn’t home.”

***

This is not a story about gun control. It is a story made possible by the absence of gun control. Americans are no more violent than anybody else. What makes their society more deadly is the widespread availability of firearms. To defend this by way of the second amendment – the right to bear arms – has about the same relevance as seeking to understand the roots of modern terrorism through readings of the Qur’an. To base an argument on an ancient text is effectively to abdicate your responsibility to understand the present. Adopted in 1791, the second amendment states: “A well–regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” These 27 words have been elevated to the level of scripture, inscribed on a blood-soaked pedestal thwarting all debate, more than 200 years after its passing.

None of the family members I spoke to raised the second amendment. Almost all believed guns were too readily available; none believed there was anything that could be done. But when I told them of other families who had lost children that day, they seemed shocked. It was as though they had lost a loved one in a war, unaware that the same war was simultaneously claiming other lives – indeed, unaware that a war was taking place. As though it were happening only to them, when in fact it was happening to America. Every day.

• This is an edited extract from Another Day In The Death Of America, published next week by Guardian Faber at £16.99. Order a copy for £12.50 from the guardian Bookshop.

• Another Day In The Death Of America is published by Nation Books on 4 October in north America. To pre-order a copy for $16.89, go to barnesandnoble.com

 83 
 on: Sep 24, 2016, 06:00 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
China should be proud of Wang Quanzhang - instead it persecutes him

The human rights lawyer has been detained on baseless charges. Beijing should drop them and uphold the rule of law

Michael Caster and Peter Dahlin
AFP
Friday 23 September 2016 01.40 BST
   
Last July, the Chinese government launched its most widespread crackdown on rule of law advocates in decades, detaining some 300 rights defenders. Some have been held incommunicado since, with lawyers and family members trying to visit them in detention being told to look elsewhere.

Meanwhile, state media has been given exclusive access to parade many activists as criminals on television before their trial.

One of the key targets of the crackdown is lawyer Wang Quanzhang.

Wang has drawn the ire of the government many times for his defence of villagers against corrupt local officials, Falun Gong practitioners and fellow rights activists such as Ni Yulan whose treatment in police custody in 2010 left her confined to a wheelchair.

In 2013, Wang was detained during trial for refusing a judge’s illegal demand. This was perhaps the first instance of a rights lawyer being held under a process called judicial detention. Hauling away a lawyer in the middle of defending his client aptly illustrates the barriers to legal aid in China.

Following his release, Wang characteristically treated the incident as a learning opportunity and wrote a legal manual on judicial detention for rights defenders. Wang often devoted as much time to assisting other lawyers as he did defending the rights of those who few others dared to represent.

For this he has suffered in secret detention for over a year and now faces a show trial on charges of subverting state power.

Having known Wang for many years and worked together at China Action until early 2014, we can say he is one of the bravest people we will ever meet. His commitment to the rule of law is unimpeachable. The charges are baseless.

State security has explained that Wang’s crime was defending ‘evil cult’ Falun Gong practitioners and using social media to highlight abuses against his clients. It didn’t seem to matter that these actions aren’t illegal, that Wang has broken no laws.

The lack of actual evidence has been highlighted several times since January. Beginning in March, police and state security have tried to pressure Wang’s wife, Li Wenzu, his parents, and even a fellow lawyer to record video accusations against him. They failed.

The authorities tried coercing responses through threats and promises of lightening his sentence, while the detention centre denied his lawyers and tearful family any contact on the pretext of having no record of him.

Li Wenzu has not been spared. She has been harassed and on several occasions detained, a tactic of political violence designed to scare her into betraying her husband or to intimidate Wang into cooperating.

Such lawlessness and abuse of power only reinforces the hollowness of his impending trial.

In early August, the court claimed Wang had given up his right to counsel and preferred a court appointed lawyer, an absurdity for anyone who knows him. Since 2012, Wang has arranged with a trusted colleague to represent him if detained or arrested, a sad necessity in China that most rights lawyers eventually need their own defence lawyers.

Wang has told us many times since 2010 that under no circumstances would he ever accept a court appointed lawyer. It seems no sham trial is complete without a sham lawyer.

At trial, imaginary “hostile foreign forces” will likely be blamed for Wang’s equally imaginary crimes, as we have seen with recent show trials and a slew of anti-Western propaganda videos.

    At trial, imaginary ‘hostile foreign forces’ will likely be blamed for Wang’s equally imaginary crimes

Wang’s work with China Action has been used against him, despite our not having worked together since 2014. It seems irrelevant that our work focused on strengthening Chinese law, because the “crimes” for which he stands accused are meaningless unless the implementation of Chinese law itself is seen as subverting state power.

If the government is serious about there being room for the rule of law in China, it must immediately release Wang Quanzhang and dismiss all charges against him. We hope it is. For rights defenders like Wang and his colleagues – who any nation should be proud to have as citizens – a conviction will reaffirm that it is not.

Michael Caster and Peter Dahlin are co-founders of the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group (China Action), which existed in China from 2009 until the beginning of 2016, when it was targeted by the Chinese government.

 84 
 on: Sep 24, 2016, 05:57 AM 
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Bumps stop bruises as safety project cuts accidents on deadly Bangladesh highway

A pilot scheme introducing speed bumps and other basic safety measures to the Dhaka-Sylhet N2 highway has shown how simple infrastructure can save lives

Annie Kelly
AFP
Friday 23 September 2016 07.00 BST

A pilot project that installed basic road safety infrastructure such as bus stops and speed bumps on one of the world’s most dangerous highways has cut road deaths by more than 60% in the first year, according to a study.

The initial results from Safe Crossings, a Dutch NGO focusing on preventing global road deaths, showed that the number of accidents on three stretches of the N2 highway between Dhaka and Sylhet in Bangladesh fell from a previous annual average of 110 to 42 in the year after the safety measures were implemented.

According to figures from Safe Crossings, the number of fatalities decreased from 12 to three, while the number of injuries dropped from 240 to 77. Almost 100% of local people surveyed said they thought the road was safer than it had been before.

Jasper Vet, one of the founders of Safe Crossing, says the results should send a loud message to governments, banks and development funders that small investments in basic road safety measures could save hundreds of lives every year.

“The idea that all these people are dying pointlessly, that families are being destroyed by losing loved ones or having to deal with disabilities or serious injuries because we’re not taking action on this, is hard to accept when you look at the results of the N2 project,” says Vet.

Every year, hundreds of people die and thousands more are injured on the N2 highway. Road fatalities and serious injuries spiked after the road was made into a high-speed highway with £169m of World Bank funding in 2005.

According to Bangladeshi government figures from 2012, 180 people die on the N2 annually, although this figure is disputed by road safety experts, who believe it to be about four times higher. Thousands more are injured, often seriously.

The carnage on the N2 is replicated across Bangladesh, where the World Health Organisation believes more than 21,000 people are killed each year on the roads, costing the country 1.6% of its GDP.

While the high accident rate is largely attributed to dangerous driving and unsafe vehicles, the absence of basic road safety infrastructure – including footbridges, speed bumps and partition barriers – on many of the country’s fastest and recently renovated highways is a significant contributory factor. Road safety features were neither included in the loan package from the World Bank nor added on by the government.

“What we call vulnerable road users – by which we mean people on bicycles, passengers in rickshaws or buses, and the large number of people walking on the side of the road, often trying to get to work or to school – have had absolutely no protection at all from the dangerous vehicles driving at high-speed since the N2 was renovated,” says Vet.

“The problem is that there isn’t enough accurate data on road fatalities and the link between high fatalities and a lack of road safety features, which means that even the most basic safety features are left out because they are considered too expensive or ‘add-ons’ to road development projects.”

In 2014, Safe Crossings partnered with the Centre for Injury Prevention, Health Development and Research (CIPRB) in Bangladesh to launch road safety work on three of the most dangerous sections of the N2: the project cost €120,000 (£103,000). Through surveys conducted with people who use and live close to the N2, Safe Crossings identified a series of danger spots along the road where people were most likely to be killed or injured. The organisation developed a plan to make those sections of road safer, working with international and local road safety groups and local and national government agencies to build road safety structures on the renovated highway.

“We didn’t have enough funding to do a large-scale project, but that wasn’t the point anyway,” says Vet. “What we were trying to do was show that building safe roads that don’t put the lives of thousands of people at risk every year is actually pretty easy and cost-effective.”

Safe Crossings built rumble-strips to warn drivers they were entering a village and should reduce their speed, and speed bumps to ensure this happened. Pedestrian crossings were painted on to the road where people were most likely to cross. Bus bays were built at the side of the highways to end the practice of buses stopping on the road, thus reducing the amount of overtaking – known to be one of the biggest causes of fatalities and injuries. Strips of reflective paint on the side of roads near villages were used to give drivers the impression the roads were narrower than they really were, encouraging drivers to reduce their speed.

At the same time, staff from the CIPRB began visiting villages and communities along the N2. “This project is different from all the road safety work we have done before because we worked very actively with local communities [affected by the N2],” says Dr Md Mazharul Hoque, from the CIPRB.

“In each village, we have helped set up a road safety committee and we combined infrastructure work with safety and awareness campaigns for those using the road, and with local schools. Without community involvement and people being aware of the dangers of the road, engineering interventions won’t be as effective. The immediate visibility of local support was also really important in helping local authorities understand the need to invest in road safety in these rural highways.”

Safe Crossings and the CIPRB are hoping the results of the pilot will encourage the Bangladeshi government to roll out similar initiatives on a national scale.

 85 
 on: Sep 24, 2016, 05:53 AM 
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Canadian town steams over Nestlé bid to control local spring water well

Activists in Centre Wellington plan to block Ontario pump tests after bottled-water makers overtook community’s attempt to secure long-term water source

Ashifa Kassam in Toronto
AFP
Saturday 24 September 2016 11.00 BST

A small town in Ontario, Canada, has prompted fresh scrutiny of the bottled-water industry after its attempt secure a long-term water supply through the purchase of a well was outbid by the food and drinks multinational Nestlé.

When authorities in Centre Wellington, population of about 30,000, learned that Nestlé had put a bid on a spring water well in their region, they scrambled over the summer to counter with a competing bid. The goal was to safeguard a water supply for the township’s fast-growing population, Kelly Linton, the mayor, told the Guardian. “By 2041, we’ll be closer to 50,000 so protecting our water sources is critical to us.”

Using a numbered company, the municipality submitted what Linton described as an “aggressive bid” for the five-hectare site. “We put in more money than they did and we removed all conditions.” He declined to specify the exact amount of the bid.

An agreement forged with Nestlé after its initial bid, made 18 months earlier, gave the company the right to respond. “They had the opportunity to match our offer and that’s how we lost on that on that one,” said Linton.

The news was met with disappointment in the community. “As you can appreciate we aren’t going to be outbidding Nestlé,” he said. “As a small town we’re using taxpayer dollars, so we have to be good stewards of that.”

Nestlé Canada currently has permits that allow it to extract up to 4.7m litres of water a day from sources in Ontario. On its website, the company noted that its latest acquisition – the well also sought by Centre Wellington – would be a source to supplement other operations in the region, as well as support future business growth.

In a statement to the Guardian, Nestlé Waters Canada said it wasn’t aware that the counter-offer was from the township of Centre Wellington until well after the purchase was made.

Ontario’s ministry of the environment and climate change has yet to approve their application to carry out a pump test, said the company. “Any decision whether to draw from the source will not be made until we have conducted testing, validated by a third party, on the quality and quantity of the water. Nestlé wants to ensure there is no negative impact on the watershed and surrounding ecosystem.”

The company, added the statement, would continue its “ongoing dialogue” with the community of Centre Wellington.

Wellington Water Watchers, a volunteer-run organisation dedicated to the protection of water resources, said it would seek to block the company as it moves forward with its plans. “We are fighting tooth and nail to not allow that pump test to go ahead,” said Mike Nagy of the group.

The water in the well is artisanal spring water, he said, making it particularly valuable to consumers outside of Canada.

The failed bid comes amid growing calls for the Ontario government to reevaluate how it grants permits to the bottled-water industry. Last month, after a severe drought triggered questions about the millions of litres a day of water being sold to bottled-water companies in the province, Kathleen Wynne, Ontario’s premier, promised a government review into the practice.

Government policies, she noted, had failed to keep up with the times. “Thirty years ago, we wouldn’t have envisioned an industry that took water and put it in plastic bottles so that people could carry it around,” she said.

On Friday, she reiterated her view that bottled water companies should be considered differently from other industries that use water, such as mining or construction. “I think we have to look very closely at what those companies are paying, what they’re allowed to take, and that’s exactly the work the ministry of environment and climate change is doing right now,” she told reporters.

The province currently charges C$3.71 for every million litres of water, along with a permit fee of up to C$3,000 depending on the risk of environmental impact.

Nagy, whose organisation is calling for an eventual ban on permits for the bottled-water industry, cautioned that price shouldn’t be the only focus of the government’s review. “If I stood on top of an aquifer and threw $100 bills on the ground, it’s not going to create anymore water,” he said. “All the levy and charges in the world will not create more water.”

 86 
 on: Sep 24, 2016, 05:51 AM 
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‘I am Lake Urmia’: a social media campaign takes on the environment in Iran

Lake Urmia’s grim destiny reflects a wider trend of enviromental problems in Iran, including an over-reliance on dams, extreme weather patterns, climatic changes, poor irrigation practices and unregulated use of water

Shirin Hakim and Kaveh Madani for Tehran Bureau
AFP
Friday 23 September 2016 13.46 BST
   
Long tucked away behind the mountains of northwest Iran, Lake Urmia is becoming a national symbol of environmental degradation that is eliciting public sensitivity and awareness. Launched at the end of August, the ‘I am Lake Urmia’ campaign is a grassroots effort to collect a million signatures to push the United Nations to discuss ways to revive this salt lake, which has lost 90% of its surface area since the 1970s.

The “I am Lake Urmia” hashtag (من_دریاچه_ارومیه_هستم#) is slowly trending across social media platforms. Actor Reza Kianian was one of the first to take up the call, using Instagram to ask fellow Iranians to take responsibility for the lake. In his post Kianian stressed, “If we save our lake, we will save ourselves”, reminding Iranians of their social responsibility for creating a more sustainable future. Kianian’s plea has echoed across popular apps like Instagram and on the newly formed “I am Lake Urmia” Telegram channel.

This is not the first effort to bring national and international attention to Lake Urmia. Iranian politicians including President Hassan Rouhani, Iranian parliamentary deputies, and even Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio have made Lake Urmia part of their public advocacy. DiCaprio’s Instagram post on the lake in May resulted in 328,000 likes and made him an overnight superhero among Iranians, illustrating the way social media can help collaboration on topics that defy borders.

Travel to the basin of Lake Urmia and you will find an area facing a high risk of salt storms. The shrinking of the lake has diminished a fragile ecosystem, with the gradual disappearance of native wildlife including the brine shrimp Artemia and migratory birds like flamingos and pelicans.

Such degradation threatens dire economic consequences. A once flourishing tourism industry, where visitors bathed in salty water rather like the Dead Sea, is curtailed. Many people living near the lake fear they may be forced to leave due to eye problems, respiratory diseases and other health problems caused by dust and salt particles blowing in the air.

Twenty years ago, some local farmers referred to the lake as a tumour, viewing the seeping of its uniquely saline water as a threat to their farmlands. Today, their wish is to revitalise this desiccating lake and prevent salt storms that are diminishing soil fertility and threatening their livelihoods. The shift in perspective highlights the co-dependency we all share with our environment, and shows all too clearly the repercussions of environmental neglect.

Iran suffers from “hydraulic mission” syndrome, a state of mind in which a country tries to manipulate domestic water resources to meet demand through short-sighted measures based on technology and large-scale engineering. The dream of human dominance over nature has led to a nightmare of unforeseen consequences, reminding us that we must learn to live in tune with nature to sustain ourselves.

Dams, in particular, have become idolised as symbols of development, political strength and international prowess. One of the main factors contributing to the state of Lake Urmia is the interference in the natural flow of water into the lake by over 50 dams. The damage has been compounded by unregulated withdrawal of water, water-intensive irrigation and the unsustainable use of fertilisers.

President Rouhani made promises about restoring Lake Urmia during his election campaign, and his administration has allocated $5 billion to improve infrastructure and water conservation in the area. Nevertheless, the major proposals under consideration are still structural. While dam construction is now prohibited, the government’s restoration task force has shown interest in transferring water from other river basins, upstream dredging, and connecting inflowing rivers to maximise the inflow. But without policy reforms and institutional changes - including phasing out water intensive crops, conservation methods in irrigation and wider changes in the behaviour of farmers and other water consumers - restoration efforts will be successful only with an unusually wet period in the years to come.

Collaborations with international partners to restore water levels in Lake Urmia are limited but underway. Most notably, the United Nations Development Programme, Iran’s Department of Environment and the Japanese government have established joint projects that involve educating local farmers on sustainable agriculture practices and reducing water consumption through improved efficiency; and supplying improved, safer fertilisers and pesticides. Over the past few months, the lake has shown some signs of recovery, but this is due more to more frequent rainfall rather than the restoration efforts.

Lake Urmia’s grim destiny unfortunately reflects a wider trend. Several bodies of water in Iran (including Gav-Khuni wetland near Isfahan, the Hamoun wetlands near Afghanistan, Bakhtegan lake in Fars province, and the Shadegan wetland and Hour-Al-Azim in Khuzestan, and Hour-Al-Azim) have been heavily impacted or dried up entirely in light of weak infrastructure, over-reliance on dams, extreme weather patterns, climatic changes, poor irrigation practices and unregulated use of water.

In the story of Lake Urmia lie invaluable lessons. Iranians have paid for their unsustainable development and have lost many invaluable ecosystems. On the positive side, however, awareness of our interdependence with nature has been sharpened by air pollution in major cities, dust storms, soil erosion, desertification and land subsidence due to extraction of groundwater.

Iran may now be reaching a tipping point. With the better understanding of our interconnectivity worldwide today, preserving the environment is a collective goal that everyone irrespective of age, race, or background can share. No matter where we are, or who we are, we can’t save ourselves if we don’t care for our environment. We are all Lake Urmia.

Shirin Hakim is a doctoral researcher at the Centre for Environmental Policy of Imperial College, London, working on environmental issues in Iran. Kaveh Madani is a water management expert and reader of systems analysis and policy at the Centre for Environmental Policy of Imperial College, London

 87 
 on: Sep 24, 2016, 05:48 AM 
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Existing coal, oil and gas fields will blow carbon budget – study

Expansion of fossil fuel extraction amounts to ‘climate denial’, says thinktank Oil Change International, but observers argue some additional oil and gas could be safe. Climate Home reports

Karl Mathiesen for Climate Home, part of the Guardian Environment Network
Guardian
Friday 23 September 2016 13.53 BST

The world’s working coal mines and oil and gas fields contain enough carbon to push the world beyond the threshold for catastrophic climate change, according to a report released on Thursday.

If all the existing fuel were to be burned, projects currently operating or under construction could be expected to release 942Gt CO2, said the report by US-based thinktank Oil Change International (OCI).

This exceeds the carbon limits that would most likely warm the world 1.5C and even over 2C above the pre-industrial average. These were limits agreed at last year’s climate conference in Paris.

It has been established for some time that the enormous unworked reserves claimed by fossil fuel companies contain vastly too much carbon to ever be burned safely. But OCI said that this was the first time an analysis had been done of how much greenhouse gas is stored in projects already working or under construction.

Founder of 350.org and climate campaign Bill McKibben said the report “change[d] our understanding of where we stand. Profoundly”.

It means that even if not a single new coal mine, oil or gas field were opened up, the carbon budget would be at risk, said OCI’s executive director Stephen Kretzmann.

Projected investment in new extraction sites and infrastructure over the next 20 years adds up to a staggering US$14tn, the report found.

“Continued expansion of the fossil fuel industry is now quite clearly and quantifiably climate denial,” said Kretzmann.

The OCI report said existing oil and gas fields alone would exceed the carbon budget for 1.5C – which is a limit some small island states say would finish them and scientists believe would wipe out most coral reefs.

James Leaton, research director at the Carbon Tracker thinktank which did much to popularise the concept of “unburnable carbon”, said research by Carbon Tracker in 2015 showed coal demand was declining so quickly that current reserves would be enough. But the picture was less clear for oil and gas.

“There is clearly no need for new coal mines to be developed if we are to stay within a 2C carbon budget,” said Leaton. “Because oil and gas production declines over time in any particular well, this may fall faster than the level of oil and gas demand in [a 2C scenario], in which case some new production would be needed. Depending on how much carbon budget you allocate to each fossil fuel, and the speed of the energy transition assumed, the window for new oil and gas will also start to close.”

In the UK, the government has committed to opening its shale gas resources to fracking. Ken Cronin, chief executive of the industry body UK Onshore Oil and Gas, said: “This report needs to look more deeply into the use of gas in a modern energy mix, looking at areas such as reformation of methane into hydrogen and carbon capture and storage, particularly for heating systems and potentially transport. The simple fact is that the best way to combat climate change is to remove coal ASAP and to do that you need to replace much of the coal capacity with gas.”

The OCI report did not take into account carbon capture and storage (CCS), which it argued is still at an “uncertain” stage of development. The International Energy Agency reported last week that CCS, which is fitted to emissions sources to trap carbon, was being rolled out at a rate of just one project every year.

Study author Greg Muttitt said it was imperative for governments to focus on shutting down new mines and fields before a sod was turned.

“Once an extraction operation is underway, it creates an incentive to continue so as to recoup investment and create profit, ensuring the product – the fossil fuels – are extracted and burned. These incentives are powerful, and the industry will do whatever it takes to protect their investments and keep drilling,” he said.

    — Bill McKibben (@billmckibben)
    September 22, 2016

    There is new carbon math coming tomorrow that will change our understanding of where we stand. Profoundly.

Ben Caldecott, director of the Sustainable Finance Programme at the University of Oxford Smith School said: “One direct implication of meeting climate targets are stranded upstream fossil fuel assets. These stranded assets need to be managed, particularly in terms of the communities that could be negatively impacted. Policymakers need to proactively manage these impacts to ensure a ‘just transition’.”

The report expands on a call made by former Kiribati president Anote Tong last year to stop opening new coal mines. China, the US and Indonesia, the world’s largest, third- and fifth-largest coal producers, have banned any new coal mines. In the US, the moratorium is only on public land.

But in Australia’s Galilee basin, there are nine proposed coal mines with a total lifetime emissions of 24Gt CO2. This includes the massive Adani Carmichael mine, which the Australian government has approved. The Australian Department of Environment would not comment on whether it had assessed the impact of the Carmichael mine on the global carbon budget.

 88 
 on: Sep 24, 2016, 05:46 AM 
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Dutch parliament votes to close down country's coal industry

Non-binding vote for 55% cut in CO2 emissions will require closure of remaining five plants and ensure country meets its Paris climate commitments

Arthur Neslen
AFP
Friday 23 September 2016 13.55 BST

The Dutch parliament has voted for a 55% cut in CO2 emissions by 2030, which would require the closure of all the country’s coal-fired power plants.

The unexpected vote on Thursday night by 77 to 72 would bring the Netherlands clearly into line with the Paris climate agreement, with some of the most ambitious climate policies in Europe.

It is not binding on the government, but the Liberal and Labour parties say they will now push for speedy implementation of the motion.

Five Dutch coal-fired power stations were closed last year but the country still has another five plants in operation. Three of these came online in 2015, and have been blamed for a 5% rise in the country’s emissions last year.

The Dutch Liberal MP and vice president of the parliament, Stientje van Veldhoven, told the Guardian: “Closing down big coal plants – even if they were recently opened – is by far the most cost effective way to achieve the goals of the Paris agreement, and all countries will need to take such far-reaching measures. We cannot continue to use coal as the cheapest source of energy when it is the most expensive from a climate perspective.”

A court in the Netherlands last year ordered prime minister Mark Rutte’s government to cut its emissions by a quarter by 2020, citing the severity of the global warming threat which the Netherlands has recognised in international treaties.

Dennis van Berkel, legal counsel for Urgenda, the group which brought the case, described the vote as “an enormous leap for climate policy in the Netherlands”. The vote also calls for a 25% emissions cut by 2020.

The country’s centre-right coalition government is pursuing a twin-track response of appealing the ruling to the country’s higher court, while preparing a climate package for early November.

This could include limited coal plant closures, more funding for projects involving renewable energy, carbon capture and storage, and geothermal heating.

Some environmentalists fear that the final package will involve a coalition deal that renders the parliamentary vote obsolete. The issue has been a divisive one in the Netherlands, with the Labour party, a coalition partner in Rutte’s government, backing the opposition in yesterday’s vote.

The Dutch environment ministry was not immediately available to comment on the vote. However, the economic minister Henk Kamp spoke out earlier this month against any mothballing of the three new plants built by EOn, RWE and Engie.

“They are the cleanest (coal plants) in Europe,” he said. “We’d be crazy if we shut them.”

In March, the Netherlands will elect a new government, with Geert Wilders’ far-right, populist and anti-immigrant Freedom Party leading many opinion polls. Wilders has previously spoken dismissively of “the sinister green-windmill subsidy complex”.

Willem Wiskerke, a spokesman for Greenpeace Netherlands said: “He is a climate denier like Donald Trump, nothing more, nothing less, a rightwing, fact-free populist who denies the climate crisis and will not put any effort into solving it.”

While yesterday’s coal-crushing vote is not formally binding, van Veldhoven said she was optimistic that quick action to force a decision this autumn would tip the government’s hand, before next year’s elections.

“It is our clear political statement so this is what they must do,” she said. “It is a motion, not a law, so there is some room for manoeuvre. But having one coalition partner support it is always a good guarantee that an adopted motion will be enforced.”

Following passage of any new law, EU Emissions Trading System permits would also have to be reduced, to prevent a freak surplus lowering the price of carbon allowances, van Veldhoven said.

The parliamentary vote follows a recent report by the consultancy CE Delft, which found that the cheapest way to meet the Netherlands’ climate commitments would be to close one or two new coal stations. The paper, which was commissioned by Eneco, a Dutch green power company, estimated this would cost the average household €30 (£26) a year, but save them €80 a year on energy bills.

However, the Dutch government’s economic ministry has tallied the bill for closing all of the country’s coal plants by 2020 at €7bn. While this would have little effect on energy security and cut Holland’s emissions by 31%, the CO2 savings would fall to just 9% due to a rise in coal-produced power imports, the report said.

 89 
 on: Sep 24, 2016, 05:44 AM 
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Panda falls from tree before being ambushed in Chinese reserve – video

Guardian
9/24/2016

A panda falls from a tree before having its sticks stolen by other pandas at Wolong Giant Panda Nature reserve in Sichuan on Tuesday. The footage, posted on China Central Television’s Facebook page, shows the panda falling after a branch snaps, narrowly missing the other pandas. Looking dazed after its fall, the panda then tries to fight off a playful ambush from the others

Click to watch: https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2016/sep/22/panda-falls-from-tree-before-being-ambushed-in-chinese-reserve-video

 90 
 on: Sep 24, 2016, 05:41 AM 
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Wildlife trade summit is a 'do or die' moment for endangered animals

Conservationists urge countries to give imperilled species the highest level of protection at the global Cites summit opening on Saturday to prevent them becoming extinct in the wild

Damian Carrington
AFP
Friday 23 September 2016 16.25 BST

A global wildlife summit opening on Saturday is a “do or die” moment for endangered animals around the world, say conservationists, from iconic species such as elephants and lions to lesser known, but equally troubled, creatures such as devil rays and the psychedelic rock gecko.

The summit in Johannesburg brings together 181 nations to crack down on wildlife trafficking, currently a $20bn-a-year criminal enterprise, and to ensure the legal trade in food, skins, pets and traditional remedies does not threaten the survival of species. The member nations of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) will vote on proposals to toughen or loosen trade bans and regulations for over 500 species.

A total trade ban is being sought for pangolins, an exotic scaled creature, which is now the world’s most trafficked mammal, while more protection for sharks, parrots and frogs are also on the table. The most controversial proposals are for elephants: some southern African nations want to overturn the ban on selling ivory while a rival proposal from 29 other African countries aims to make protections even tougher.

Pangolins: the world's most illegally traded mammal – in pictures: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2015/mar/16/pangolins-worlds-most-illegally-traded-mammal-in-pictures

“With so many of our wild animal and plant species facing serious threats from rapacious poaching and commercial trade, this Cites meeting represents a ‘do or die’ moment,” said Teresa Telecky, wildlife director of the Humane Society International. “Either countries do the right thing and give these imperilled species the highest level of protection possible against unsustainable exploitation, or we risk seeing them die out altogether in the wild.”

The proposals are based on scientific evidence, but national political agendas loom large too. “The stakes are high for so many species and we must make certain that sound science and the precautionary principle are deciding factors and not short-term political or economic interests,” said Azzedine Downes, president of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

Others are concerned that high-profile rows over the elephant proposals, which could all fail to pass, will distract from work on enforcement to end the scourge of poaching. Over 140,000 of Africa’s savannah elephants were killed for their ivory between 2007 and 2014, wiping out almost a third of their population. Elephants are still being killed every 15 minutes on average.

Nations where poaching, trafficking or illegal sales take place should have submitted action plans but Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gabon and Nigeria have not, and could face sanctions on all their wildlife-related trade.

“We are concerned that the summit is likely to be a rerun of the old pattern, with proposals and counter-proposals on legal international ivory trade diverting attention from the real issues,” said WWF in statement. Swaziland has also proposed to legalise the sale of horn from rhino, whose populations have plummeted, but will face fierce opposition.

The species being evaluated for protection at Cites span the land, ocean and skies. African lions ought to get the strongest protection, according to scientists at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) while Jan Creamer, president of Animal Defenders International, said the big cat’s survival was at stake: “It is clear that we are at risk of being the generation that allowed a magnificent species to disappear from the wild.”

Pangolins, whose scales are sold in China and Vietnam as a supposed medicine, could also get stronger protection. More than a million have been taken from the wild in the past decade, according to WildAid, decimating Asian populations. As a result, poaching has also ramped up in Africa and in June over 11 tonnes of pangolin scales were seized in Hong Kong in just two shipments from Africa. “We could very soon see this amazing species disappear, if the unsustainable trade continues,” says Mark Hofberg, IFAW’s pangolin expert.

In the seas, stricter protection is on the table for silky and thresher sharks, both heavily hit by the fin trade, and for devil rays, whose gills are sold in China. “Devil rays grow very slowly and produce just one pup about every two years, making them intrinsically susceptible to overfishing,” said Sebastián Pardo, at Simon Fraser University in Canada.

The nautilus could also get its first trade protections, as it is being overfished for its beautiful shells which are used for jewellery and ornaments. Many turtle species are eaten in Asia and have suffered heavily as a result, and flapshell and softshell turtle proposals will be voted on during the two-week summit.

In the air, African grey parrots, which are extraordinary vocal mimics, may get the highest level of protection. Scientists estimate that two to three million African greys were captured from the wild between 1975 and 2013, and despite successful captive breeding, populations have decreased by between 50% and 90% and in some places they are locally extinct.

There are many proposals for better protection for reptiles and amphibians. “A lot of lizards and frogs are traded illegally,” said John Scanlon, secretary general of Cites. “They are being taken primarily for the illegal pet trade, and primarily to Europe. We need to get this under control, as these animals are also a critical part of the ecosystem.”

The psychedelic rock gecko, found only in Vietnam, is in line for better protection along with others including the Hong Kong warty newt and both the tomato frog and the false tomato frog.

Cites, which began in 1975, is increasingly regulating the timber trade too and could introduce protection for the entire genus of rosewood species. The market for luxury furniture made from the wood has exploded in recent years, with the rosewood trade soaring by 65 times between 2005 and 2014, and is now worth over $2bn a year.

Some species are already protected, but remain prone to illegal logging. With Asian rosewood numbers crashing, the focus of loggers has increasingly moved to Africa and central America, where they “capitalise on unstable situations in fragile states, moving swiftly from country to country creating devastating ‘boom-and-bust cycles’,” according the Forest Trends group.

A minority of the Cites proposals are to loosen restrictions on the international trade in species that have recovered from previously precarious positions. The total bans protecting the peregrine falcon and the Cape mountain zebra may be lifted.

“The recovery of species like the peregrine falcon shows that Cites can work and that populations can bounce back thanks to trade bans and conservation efforts,” said Ginette Hemley, head of WWF’s delegation to Cites. “If the world takes decisive action in Johannesburg, we can look forward to more success stories in the future.”

Scanlon said: “We have made significant progress since the last Cites summit in 2013, politically, financially and technically. More governments are taking action and increasing the penalties for wildlife crime, which can be seen as low-risk for criminal and terrorist groups.

“This is not purely about wildlife, it’s also about the impact on local people and communities, security and on national economies,” he said. “We haven’t got there yet but, if we persist, we will win.”

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