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Author Topic: ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CULTURE  (Read 1346952 times)
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Rad
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« on: Nov 22, 2015, 09:31 AM »

All,

We are going to restart our thread on the climate, our environment, and the consequences of global warming that we had to remove because of being threatened by The Guardian with legal actions because we had dared to post some of their articles on this subject in that thread.

This restart happened in 2015 and has been posting and accumulating articles since that time. Over time this has taken up lot's and lot's of space on our server that became way to much. So we will be now be adjusting how long we store articles posted to it to one year at most.

God Bless, Rad
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« Reply #1 on: Nov 24, 2017, 06:06 AM »

Uma Thurman breaks Harvey Weinstein silence, saying #metoo

Actor who worked on seven films with disgraced mogul says she is taking pleasure in his downfall
Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, which was produced by Harvey Weinstein’s company.

Bonnie Malkin
Guardian
Friday 24 November 2017 07.57 GMT

Uma Thurman has broken her silence on Harvey Weinstein, saying of the ongoing stream of allegations against him: “I’m glad it’s going slowly – you don’t deserve a bullet.”

The actor, who worked on seven films with Weinstein including Pulp Fiction and the Kill Bill movies, posted a picture of herself as The Bride from Kill Bill.

In the post, ostensibly about Thanksgiving, she said she was “grateful today, to be alive, for all those I love, and for all those who have the courage to stand up for others”.

Referring to a video interview from October in which she said she was too angry to discuss the Weinstein scandal, she seemed to confirm she had been a victim of sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood.

“I said I was angry recently, and I have a few reasons, #metoo, in case you couldn’t tell by the look on my face.”

In words reminiscent of the revenge thriller, in which Thurman played a woman bent on avenging her unborn child and methodically torturing and murdering her abusers, she went on to say she was pleased to witness Weinstein’s downfall.

“I feel it’s important to take your time, be fair, be exact, so … Happy Thanksgiving Everyone! (Except you Harvey, and all your wicked conspirators – I’m glad it’s going slowly – you don’t deserve a bullet).”

The post ended with the words “stay tuned”, suggesting Thurman plans to reveal more soon.

The statement comes weeks after Thurman was first asked about Weinstein by Access Hollywood. Her rage is obvious in the footage.

“I don’t have a tidy soundbite for you, because I have learned, I am not a child. And I have learned that when I’ve spoken in anger, I usually regret the way I express myself,” she said.

“So, I’ve been waiting to feel less angry, and when I’m ready, I’ll say what I have to say.”

Thurman’s statement on Thursday was applauded by actor Rose McGowan, one of the first and most vocal Weinstein accusers. McGowan tweeted: “Hi Uma. Welcome.”


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« Reply #2 on: Nov 24, 2017, 06:10 AM »

'Facing disaster': children starve in siege of Syria's former breadbasket

With a political breakthrough unlikely at upcoming talks, people in eastern Ghouta face shortages of food, fuel and medicine

Kareem Shaheen and Patrick Wintour
Guardian
Friday 24 November 2017 05.00 GMT

The sight of a woman weeping as she drags her malnourished children into a clinic is not rare in eastern Ghouta, which is under siege by forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad.

But when one mother told Abdel Hamid, a doctor, that she had fed her four starving children newspaper cutouts softened with water to stop them from screaming into the night, even he was stunned.

“I could try to describe to you how terrible the conditions are in which we are living, but the reality would still be worse,” said Abdel Hamid, who did not give his full name.

More than 400,000 people still live in the region bordering Damascus that was once a breadbasket for the capital city, but has endured many of the horrors of Syria’s six-year war.

The siege of eastern Ghouta, which suffered in the deadly 2013 sarin gas attack that nearly provoked a US intervention in the war, has continued for years with conditions getting steadily worse. Siege Watch, a project that tracks blockades in Syria, has said the area is “on the brink of disaster”.

The lack of fuel will leave many more people struggling to survive in the cold as winter sets in. Airstrikes have continued, with rescue workers saying 181 targeted eastern Ghouta this week.

The region had long been porous, with smugglers able to maintain supply lines for some foodstuffs and goods. This ended in April after a major government offensive in the area that tightened the blockade. Aid workers and residents report that malnourishment among children is rife and there is an acute shortage of medicine and supplies. Most of the food that can be found is too expensive and airstrikes and shelling continue to devastate towns with limited supplies of electricity and clean drinking water.

“Fridges don’t exist as part of our life,” said Abdel Hamid. “Actually, anything that needs electricity is not used. Thank God we don’t have cholera yet.”

Eastern Ghouta is supposed to be covered under a de-escalation agreement brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran to reduce conflict across Syria in order to pave the way for talks on a political settlement. The Syrian opposition is in disarray and forces loyal to the president, Assad, have maintained their military momentum with the aid of allies in Moscow and Tehran, and thousands of Shia militia fighters from Iraq and Lebanon, are inching closer to a military victory in the six-year war.

Earlier this month, a report by Amnesty International concluded that the Assad regime had committed crimes against humanity through its systematic use of “surrender or starve” sieges.

On Thursday, the main Syrian opposition group, meeting in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, said it continued to reject any role for Assad at the start of a UN-sponsored interim period leading to a political transition. This position reduces the chances of a political breakthrough at the latest round of the UN peace talks in Geneva on Tuesday. The president’s future has for years been the repeated stumbling block in negotiations towards an agreement.

The lack of progress on peace talks will perpetuate the suffering of civilians in eastern Ghouta. The Assad regime’s siege and infighting between local rebel groups has further complicated aid deliveries, which are either routinely denied or allowed in in fits and starts. A Red Cross and Red Crescent joint convoy to the town of Douma 11 days ago was the first in three months, and only provided supplies for 21,500 people.

Doctors and aid workers say medicine for chronic illnesses such as diabetes is severely lacking, medical equipment needs repairs and they are unable to provide regular and routine vaccinations for children.

Cases of tuberculosis, brucellosis, hepatitis and measles have been reported, as well as cases of moderate and severe malnutrition, in addition to some cases of dwarfism, where children are developmentally stunted due to a lack of nutrition, meaning a child of five would remain at the height of a two-year-old.

The crisis gained worldwide attention when images surfaced in October of a one-month-old baby who died from malnourishment, whose mother was unable to breastfeed her because she was also underfed.

Residents often have to rely on wells for unfiltered and untreated drinking water that is brought up from the ground using manual pumps. Most families make do with one meal a day, and 1kg (2.2lb) of bread had risen in price last week to the equivalent of about $5.50 (£4.10), with few locals having the means to pay for whatever foodstuffs are on the market.

Ingy Sedky, the International Committee of the Red Cross spokeswoman in Syria, said: “Be it in eastern Ghouta or elsewhere in Syria, irregularity of access can make the humanitarian situation deteriorate very quickly.

“No matter how much food we can bring in one convoy, it will not sustain the population for more than a month. This is why humanitarian organisations should be able to have access on a regular basis.”

The UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, described the siege of eastern Ghouta as an “outrage” last month.

Elizabeth Hoff, the World Health Organization representative in Syria, said: “The situation is heartbreaking. For months, the people of eastern Ghouta have been subjected to sustained deprivation, restrictions on humanitarian access and serious human rights violations.

“We have now reached a critical point where the lives of hundreds of people, including many children, are at stake. If they do not immediately get the medical care they urgently need, they will most likely die.”


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« Reply #3 on: Nov 24, 2017, 06:12 AM »

Myanmar signs pact with Bangladesh over Rohingya repatriation

Working group will be set up within three weeks but rights groups raise concerns about where returnees will be resettled

Oliver Holmes and agencies
11/24/2017

Myanmar and Bangladesh have signed an initial deal for the possible repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled violence in Rakhine state.

More than 620,000 Rohingya have crossed the border into Bangladesh since August, running from a military crackdown that Washington said this week clearly constituted ethnic cleansing.

Rights groups have raised concerns over the repatriation process, including where the persecuted minority will be resettled since hundreds of their villages have been razed, and how their safety will be ensured in a country with raging anti-Muslim sentiment. Some aid workers fear they could be forcibly interned.

The signing took place after a meeting between Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and the Bangladeshi foreign minister, Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw.

In brief remarks to the press,Mahmood Ali said: “This is a primary step. [They] will take back [Rohingya]. Now we have to start working.”

A joint working group will be set up within three weeks and an arrangement for repatriation “will be concluded in a speedy manner”, the Bangladeshi foreign affairs ministry said in a statement. The return of the refugees should start within two months, it added.

Myanmar said the deal was based on a 1992/93 repatriation pact between the two countries that followed a previous spasm of violence.

Myint Kyaing, the permanent secretary of Myanmar’s ministry of labour, immigration and population, said his country would accept people with identity documents issued by governments in the past.

Refugees would have to fill in forms with names of family members, previous addresses in Myanmar, birth dates and a statement of voluntary return.

“We are ready to take them back as soon as possible after Bangladesh sends the forms back to us,” he said.

The requirements for identification documents has been a contentious issue for the stateless Rohingya. Amnesty International released a report this week accusing Myanmar of effectively denying citizenship to Rohingya on the basis of their ethnicity, including engaging “in an active policy of depriving Rohingya of vital identity and residency documentation”. This includes blocking newborn babies from household lists, it said.

The London-based rights group said this week that Rohingya lived under state-sponsored, institutionalised discrimination that amounted to apartheid.

Bangladesh has been overwhelmed by the influx of people, with crowded refugee camps growing drastically in the southern Cox’s Bazar region.

Myanmar will hope to ease growing international pressure by striking the agreement. Pope Francis, who has spoken about his sympathy for the plight of the Rohingya, is due to visit both countries next week.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s office released a statement on Thursday appearing to condemn western countries and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation for having “portrayed the matter as an international issue by passing resolutions at the UN human rights council and the general assembly of the United Nations”.

The statement said Myanmar’s “principled position” was that “issues that emerge between neighbouring countries must be resolved amicably through bilateral negotiations”.

“The present arrangement, which had been agreed to by both countries based on their friendly and good neighbourly relations demonstrate the steadfast position of Myanmar and is a win-win situation for both countries,” it said.

The Rohingya have been the target of communal violence in mainly Buddhist Myanmar for years. The governmentseverely restricts their movement and access to basic services.

The latest unrest erupted after Rohingya rebels attacked police posts on 25 August. The army backlash inflicted violence across northern Rakhine, with refugees recounting scenes of soldiers and Buddhist mobs slaughtering villagers and burning down entire communities.

The military denies all allegations but has restricted access to the conflict zone. The Myanmar government has blocked visas for a UN-fact finding mission tasked with investigating allegations of military abuse.

Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.


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« Reply #4 on: Nov 24, 2017, 06:15 AM »

Slovenia PM facing impeachment over support for refugee

Miro Cerar accused of seeking to interfere with judiciary after he voiced support for Syrian man, Ahmad Shamieh, who is facing deportation

Daniel Boffey in Brussels
Guardian
11/24/2017

The prime minister of Slovenia, Miro Cerar, one of the few liberal leaders in central and eastern Europe, is facing impeachment over his support for a Syrian asylum seeker who is facing deportation.

Should the country’s rightwing opposition party be successful in their motion, Cerar, the leader of the centrist moderate party, could be dismissed from office by the Slovenian MPs, although government sources insist the prime minister has enough support in parliament to vote down the motion.

The future of Ahmad Shamieh, a 60-year-old man who arrived in Slovenia in 2015, where he learned the language and became an example of successful refugee integration, has nevertheless become a key dividing line in the country’s politics, whatever the outcome of the impeachment process.

Government sources claim the opposition to Cerar’s support of Shamieh is a “staged case” designed to destabilise the government in the run-up to national elections next year.

Many tens of thousands of refugees have passed through Slovenia since the refugee crisis began, leading Cerar to claim two years ago that without action to control Europe’s frontiers, the EU would collapse as individual member states took unilateral action. The issue of immigration remains highly controversial in the country.

Shamieh’s case took hold of the public imagination when his asylum claim was rejected this summer by the Slovenian courts, which ordered that he should be deported in order to make his application for asylum in Croatia, his first port of call in the EU after leaving Syria.

Two prominent MPs, Jan Škoberne, from the leftwing SD party in the coalition government, and Mihe Kordiš, an MP from the leftwing opposition Levica party, took Shamieh to Slovenia’s parliament building to prevent the police from taking him away.

When pushed in a press conference last week on his own response to the case, Cerar, who has been prime minister since 2014, suggested that he also wanted to find a way to grant Shamieh residence on the grounds of his integration into Slovenian society.

His response prompted claims from rightwingers in the Slovenian parliament that Cerar, a constitutional lawyer, had sought to interfere in the affairs of the independent judiciary.

On 15 November the opposition Slovenian Democratic party (SDS), led by Janez Janša, a rightwing former prime minister, announced they would seek to impeach Cerar.

Janša, who was sentenced to two years in prison on corruption charges in 2013, only for the case to be later dismissed by the constitutional court, has previously accused Cerar of being anti-Slovenian, for putting foreigners first.

While other eastern European states have boycotted an EU scheme to disperse refugees, Slovenia has taken in 335 people from Greece and Italy out of its EU quota of 567.

Cerar has 30 days to answer the charges before a vote in parliament, where the opposition will require a two-thirds majority to carry the motion and force a public court hearing.

Only three impeachment motions have been submitted to parliament in the history of the country, founded in 1991 from former Yugoslavia, but none as yet have received a sufficient backing to proceed to the constitutional court.

In the course of events, Shamieh has suffered a nervous breakdown and is currently in a psychiatric hospital.

He is still expected to be deported to Croatia once he is better, where he will be able to apply to return to Slovenia. Senior Slovenian government sources said, however, that Shamieh’s ill-health may also offer him a right to appeal to the Slovenian court.

Slovenian government sources further claimed that the issue had been politicised by both the left and the right to destabilise Cerar’s government in the lead-up to next’s years parliamentary elections.

“It is a tragic case,” said one source. “Left and right have used him for their own purposes and the government was squeezed in between. This is a staged affair.”


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« Reply #5 on: Nov 24, 2017, 06:29 AM »

Michael Flynn breaks ties with Trump's lawyers over Russia investigation – reports

Move suggests former national security adviser could be seeking a deal with special counsel Robert Mueller over election interference

Associated Press
Friday 24 November 2017 07.59 GMT

A lawyer for former national security adviser Michael Flynn has told President Donald Trump’s legal team that they are no longer communicating with them about the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference.

The decision could be a sign that Flynn is moving to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation or to negotiate a deal for himself.

The decision was communicated this week, said a person familiar with the decision who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The New York Times first reported the decision.

In large criminal investigations, defense lawyers routinely share information with each other. But it can become unethical to continue such communication if one of the potential targets is looking to negotiate a deal with prosecutors.

Lawyers for Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr, declined to comment on Thursday. Flynn’s son has also come under investigation from Mueller’s team of prosecutors.

Flynn was forced to resign as national security adviser in February after White House officials concluded he had misled them about the nature of his contacts during the transition period with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

He was interviewed by the FBI in January about his communications with the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. The deputy attorney general at the time, Sally Yates, soon advised White House officials that their public assertions that Flynn had not discussed sanctions with Kislyak were incorrect and that Flynn was therefore in a compromised position.

Flynn was facing a justice department investigation over his foreign business dealings even before Mueller was appointed as special counsel in May to investigate potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. Mueller has since taken over that investigation.

Flynn, a prominent Trump backer on the campaign trail, has been a key figure in Mueller’s investigation and of particular interest to Trump. The former FBI director James Comey, for instance, said Trump had encouraged him to end an FBI investigation into Flynn during a private Oval Office meeting in February.

Mueller announced his first charges in the investigation last month, including the guilty plea of a foreign policy adviser to the campaign, George Papadopoulos, and the indictments of the former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and a business associate, Rick Gates.

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Mueller set a legal trap to prevent Trump from pardoning Flynn: ex-prosecutor

Travis Gettys
Raw Story
24 Nov 2017 at 07:32 ET                  

A former federal prosecutor explained why President Donald Trump should be worried about Mike Flynn’s possible cooperation with the special counsel — and why he may not be able to pardon his former national security adviser.

Flynn’s lawyers notified the president’s legal team Wednesday that they would no longer share information about the case, according to a New York Times report, and former prosecutor Renato Mariotti broke down what that means.

“Defense attorneys representing individuals that are under investigation typically agree to share information with each other about what they’ve learned from the government,” Mariotti tweeted.

“The government tries to reveal as little as possible about what it’s doing to the defense,” he added, “so defense attorneys try to glean as much as they can from their brief conversations with prosecutors and from the questions their clients are asked during interviews.”

    3/ The government tries to reveal as little as possible about what it's doing to the defense, so defense attorneys try to glean as much as they can from their brief conversations with prosecutors and from the questions their clients are asked during interviews.

    — Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) November 24, 2017

Mariotti, who’s running for Illinois attorney general, said those “nuggets of information are valuable” and usually provide the basis of news reports on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump campaign ties to Russia.

Defense attorneys representing clients in the same investigation usually enter into a joint defense agreement, which can be formal or informal, he explained, and makes their statements to one another privileged.

This week’s news indicate Flynn and his lawyers no longer believe Trump will pardon the disgraced national security adviser or his son Mike Flynn Jr., or that they believe the father-son duo could be convicted of state crimes beyond the reach of a pardon, Mariotti tweeted.

“A deal for Flynn would likely mean that Mueller would accept a guilty plea to a single felony charge and would potentially recommend a reduced sentence depending on the extent of his cooperation,” Mariotti said. “It is unlikely to result in complete immunity.”

The former prosecutor said cooperating witnesses are required to answer all questions on all subjects related to the investigation, so Flynn could lengthen the special counsel probe.

“Trump lawyer Ty Cobb’s prediction that the entire investigation could wrap up shortly after the new year is looking worse by the minute,” Mariotti said.

But what about a pardon, which presidents have great leeway to do?

“One answer could be that a pardon of Flynn could be used by Mueller as evidence of Trump’s ‘corrupt intent’ to prove obstruction, because it could indicate Trump’s strong desire to relieve Flynn of criminal liability,” Mariotti said.

According to former FBI director James Comey, the president asked him to wind down the investigation of Flynn’s ties to Russia, saying his former national security adviser was a “good guy.”

That could form the basis of an obstruction of justice charge against the president during an impeachment proceeding.

*****

Full list of impeachment articles against Trump

Newsweek
24 Nov 2017 at 10:18 ET  

While President Barack Obama managed to make it through eight years in the White House with little more than an outlandish sniff of an idea of being impeached, President Donald Trump so far has been formally accused of an impeachable offense for every month of his presidency.

Related:  Trump impeachment articles introduced by six Democrats calling for hearings to begin immediately

More Democrats are now agreeing that the remedy to a controversial and historically unpopular president is to remove him from office. The good news for Trump is that, with Republicans controlling the House of Representatives, where a majority vote is required to impeach, the president is under no immediate threat.

The accusations against him, though, are continuing to fly. Here’s a full list of the impeachment articles filed thus far by Democrats in the House of Representatives.

Representative Brad Sherman, July 12

Obstruction of Justice

Two months after Trump fired James Comey as FBI director, California Democrat Sherman became the first member to introduce an article of impeachment. The official reason given for the dismissal of Comey was dissatisfaction with his investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. However, Trump swiftly undermined that rationale when stating in an interview with NBC News that the Russia investigation, which Comey was leading, was very much on his mind. The article of impeachment had just one co-sponsor, Texas Representative Al Green, who would soon make his own move for impeachment.

Green, October 11

Inciting White Supremacy, Sexism, Bigotry, Hatred, Xenophobia, Race Baiting and Racism
Green had long been one Trump’s fiercest critics, even before making official his efforts to remove the president. When unveiling articles of impeachment last month, he stressed his belief that the writers of the Constitution did not intend for a crime to have to be committed in order for a president to be removed from office. As evidence that Trump had fostered a climate of division and prejudice, Green cited comments calling a NFL protester an “SOB,” his reaction to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, his bans on travelers from some Muslim-majority nations entering the U.S. and on transgender people serving in the military, as well as his unfounded claim that Obama wiretapped his phones during the 2016 campaign.

Associating the Majesty of the Presidency with causes Rooted in White Supremacy, Bigotry, Racism, Anti-Semitism, White Nationalism and Neo-Nazism

Green’s second article of impeachment came as a reaction to Trump’s controversial response to deadly violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, when a counterprotester was killed. Trump blamed "both sides" and added that there were "very fine people" in each faction.

Perfidy

The third impeachment article accused Trump of deceit in claiming that three million to five million people voted illegally in the 2016 election. Trump made the unsubstantiated claim after losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by more than three million votes. He subsequently set up a voter fraud commission to investigate. The commission itself was then  investigated by the Government Accountability Office.

Encouraging Law Enforcement Officials to Violate the Constitutional Rights of Suspects in Their Care, Custody and Control

Green’s final impeachment article centered on comments Trump made in a July address to law enforcement officials, in which he appeared to encourage police violence.

“When you see these towns and when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough, and I said, ‘Please don’t be too nice,’“ Trump said.

“Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over, like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody, don’t hit their head, I said, ‘You can take the hand away, OK?’”

Representatives Steve Cohen, Luis Gutiérrez, Al Green, Adriano Espaillat, Marcia Fudge and John Yarmuth, November 15

Obstruction of Justice

Democrats made their biggest push yet for impeachment when six members of the House unveiled five articles of impeachment last week. Announcing the move, Steve Cohen of Tennessee began, as Sherman had done before, by accusing Trump of obstruction of justice in his ousting of Comey. The matter has also played an increasing role in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause

The Constitution bars federal officials from receiving payments from foreign officials, something Trump has been accused of breaching since before he even took office. Many of the complaints have centered on the Trump Organization’s hotels and golf resorts around the globe. Multiple lawsuits have been filed accusing Trump of violating the clause.

Violation of the Domestic Emoluments Clause

The domestic emoluments clause prohibits a sitting president from accepting compensation beyond that of his salary. Trump’s new hotel in Washington, D.C., which has hosted multiple foreign dignitaries and government officials, has been a particular source of controversy.

Undermining the Federal Judiciary

Trump has made multiple comments criticizing judges, particularly over their halting of his multiple executive orders banning travel from Muslim-majority countries.

    The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!
    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 4, 2017  

Undermining the Freedom of the Press

Not only have Trump’s attacks on the mainstream media and cries of “fake news” become daily occurrences during his presidency, he is also reported to have once told Comey to jail journalists who published government leaks.

Trump’s actions against the judiciary and the press, Cohen said, represent a “pattern of behavior of belittling and questioning these institutions that are so important for our democracy.”

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

Scary, judgmental old men

By Michael Gerson Opinion writer
November 24 2017
WA Post

Even in a political season of routine marvels, few developments are more spectacularly incongruous than this: The United States has seen a swift, dramatic shift in attitudes toward sexual harassment with Donald Trump as president.

It is sometimes assumed (including by me) that the presidency sets a moral tone for the nation, influencing what society considers normal and acceptable in a kind of trickle-down ethics. But the sexual harassment revolution emerged from society in spite of — or even in defiance of — a president who has boasted of exploiting women and who stands accused of harassing more than a dozen.

This is a reminder that the moral dynamics of a nation are complex, which should come as no surprise to conservatives (at least of the Burkean variety). This is a big country, capable of making up its own collective mind. Politics reaches only the light zone of a deep ocean. It is a sign of hope that moral and ethical standards can assert themselves largely unaided by political, entertainment and media leaders — except when they serve as cautionary tales of egregious behavior.

We are seeing an example of how social change often (and increasingly) takes place. Advocates of a cause can push for a long time with little apparent effect. Then, in a historical blink, what seemed incredible becomes inevitable. Over a period of years, this is what happened with the same-sex marriage movement. A type of inclusion that initially appeared radical and frightening became an obvious form of fairness to a majority of Americans. Politicians, including President Barack Obama, were left catching up to the new social consensus.

Over a period of weeks, this is the story of the revolt against sexual harassment. What seemed for generations the prerogative of powerful men has been fully revealed as a pernicious form of dehumanization. Men such as Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein and Charlie Rose have been exposed at their moments of maximum cruelty and creepiness — just as their alleged victims (on credible testimony) experienced them. An ethical light switch was flipped. Moral outrage — the appropriate response — now seems obvious.

Such rapid shifts in social norms should be encouraging to social reformers of various stripes. Attitudes and beliefs do not move on a linear trajectory. A period of lightning clarity can change the assumptions and direction of a culture. The movement against capital punishment, for example, may be reaching such a point. Advocates of gun control, in contrast, seem to have an endless wait. But the record of our times counsels against despair.

On sexual harassment, our country is now in a much better ethical place. And how we got here is instructive. Conservatives have sometimes predicted that moral relativism would render Americans broadly incapable of moral judgment. But people, at some deep level, know that rules and norms are needed. They understand that character — rooted in empathy and respect for the rights and dignity of others — is essential in every realm of life, including the workplace.

And where did this urgent assertion of moral principle come from? Not from the advocates of “family values.” On the contrary, James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family (now under much better management), chose to side with GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama against his highly credible accusers. “I have been dismayed and troubled,” Dobson said, “about the way he and his wife Kayla have been personally attacked by the Washington establishment.”

It is as if Dobson set out to justify every feminist critique of the religious right. Instead of standing against injustice and exploitation — as the Christian gospel demands — Dobson sided with patriarchal oppression in the cause of political power. This is beyond hypocrisy. It is the solidarity of scary, judgmental old men. It is the ideology of white male dominance dressed up as religion.

This is how low some religious conservatives have sunk: They have left me sounding like an English professor at Sarah Lawrence College.

Conservatives need to be clear and honest in this circumstance. The strong, moral commitment to the dignity of women and children recently asserting itself in our common life has mainly come from feminism, not the “family values” movement. In this case, religious conservatives have largely been bystanders or obstacles. This indicates a group of people for whom the dignity of girls and women has become secondary to other political goals.

We are a nation with vast resources of moral renewal. It is a shame and a scandal that so many religious conservatives have made themselves irrelevant to that task.


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« Reply #6 on: Nov 24, 2017, 07:07 AM »


Irish government faces crisis at crunch time for Brexit

AP
11/24/2017

LONDON (AP) — Ireland's main opposition party filed a no-confidence motion in the deputy prime minister Friday, a move that brings the government to the verge of collapse three weeks before a crucial European Union summit on Brexit.

The Fianna Fail party is calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Leo Varadkar's deputy, Frances Fitzgerald, over her involvement in a long-running police scandal. Opposition leaders accuse a previous government, in which Fitzgerald was justice minister, of failing to defend a whistleblower exposing corruption in Ireland's police force.

Varadkar's Fine Gael party is standing by Fitzgerald, but his minority government relies on support from Fianna Fail to govern. If it loses a confidence vote, Ireland faces a snap election. Ireland's parliament is due to debate the no-confidence motion on Tuesday, unless Fitzgerald resigns.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said Fianna Fail was "behaving recklessly" at a crucial time for the country. "Ireland does not need an election right now," Coveney said at an EU meeting in Brussels.

He said "there are some really, really serious issues for the government to manage in the national interest." EU leaders will decide at a Dec. 14-15 summit whether there has been enough progress in Brexit talks to start discussions over Britain's future relations with the bloc.

Ireland says the EU will block those talks if Britain does not spell out how it can keep the Ireland-Northern Ireland border free of customs posts and other barriers after Brexit. The 310 mile (500 kilometer) frontier will be the U.K.'s only land border with an EU country. Any hurdles to the movement of people or goods could have serious implications for the economies on both sides, and for Northern Ireland's peace process.


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 SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/24/2017 02:39 PM

Germany, Democracy and the World: The End of the End of History

A DER SPIEGEL Editorial by Klaus Brinkbäumer

The collapse of coalition talks in Berlin are far from a national crisis. But it is symptomatic. It is time for German politicians to realize what is at stake for their country and the rest of the Western world.

Sometimes we in the West forget that our view of the world is just one among many that are possible. And that neither our understanding of human rights nor our adherence to liberal democracy are attractive across the globe. Is the Western way of life morally superior? And even if it were, is it the most constructive or effective way of organizing human societies?

We in the West also tend to interpret history to reflect positively on ourselves. Were the many centuries during which Europe or the United States were at the center of global events not inevitable? Were they not based on the Enlightenment and the Renaissance, on our engineering prowess, on our technological preeminence? Was it not based on our overall brilliance? After the collapse of communism in 1989, Francis Fukuyama wrote "The End of History," by which he meant the triumph of Western values. Soon the entire world would be democratized, the victorious political order seemed clear.

How absurd that worldview seems now, in November 2017.

Since September 2001, the West has made a number of missteps. There were the aimless interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. There was the self-inflicted economic crisis of 2008, which was actually not a global disaster but a trans-Atlantic one, as China, Indonesia and India all continued to grow. For too many years we have clearly demonstrated to non-democratic states that democracy may no longer be reliable and is far too fragile: It installs incompetent leaders like Donald Trump in power and leads to blunders like Brexit. It has long been clear that democracy is slow, but now it's obvious that it also makes terrible mistakes. What country would look to today's United States as an example?

Which brings us to Germany, that stable center of Europe.

It must first be said that the government crisis, which has arisen out of the failed coalition talks, is not a crisis of state - at least not yet. A caretaker government is in office, the federal president is exhibiting prudence, the country's economy is robust, and the system is working as it should. Even the chancellor - whose enthusiasm for political communication is limited at best and whose 12 years of leadership have brought the country to where it finds itself today - is proceeding carefully and maturely.

The Social Democrats, meanwhile, twice hastily - indeed, childishly - rejected the idea of joining Merkel in a coalition. There is now no safe way back. Joining a grand coalition would marginalize the party; in four years, it could plunge to just 15 percent. Therefore, rapid new elections are the only thing that makes sense. Hopefully they will result in a clear governing mandate and to a greater sense of urgency and responsibility in the ensuing coalition talks.

Complacent Prosperity

That, in fact, is the most disturbing thing about the way Christian Lindner of the Free Democrats backed out of the talks, about the constant complaining from the Bavarian conservatives, about the weeks of haggling over details without any sense of the bigger picture. This irreverence. The prioritization of the individual over the common good. This desolate narcissism born of complacent prosperity.

In truth, the domination of the world by Europe and the United States has only lasted two centuries. Before that, China was already an economic leader. And the history of the rise of the West cannot really be attributed to but a single cause. This ascent was helped along by genocide and slavery; colonialism allowed Europe to plunder ideas. It was in China that the technologies for iron and steel production were first invented, as well as paper currency, gun powder and the compass.

In human history, there has hardly ever been such a rapid rise - which really is just a return to form - as that of China over the past 30 years. The country has long since begun financing other states without paying attention to issues like democracy and human rights: The old "Washington Consensus," is being replaced by the "Beijing Consensus." The Chinese model fascinates those that wish to replicate it because the party appears so resolute and closed while the society is so young, vibrant and hungry for start-ups. Western societies on the other hand are aging. Many citizens see their wages stagnating, while education, homes and healthcare are becoming unaffordable. The old maxim that rising GDP translates into prosperity for all is being exposed as a fallacy.

The idea that democracy was somehow the endpoint of development was megalomaniac. As long as there is something to redistribute, every system has it easy. But in the past 11 years, freedom around the world has receded. Of 195 states only 87 are still free, 59 are partially free and 49 are not free at all according to the NGO Freedom House. Turkey and Russia have turned their backs on the group of democracies while Poland and Hungary look to be not far behind. Meanwhile, the United States is foundering. One would hope that should be enough to focus minds in Berlin. There is, after all, a lot at stake.

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 SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/24/2017 05:45 PM

Collapse: Germany Seeks to Pick Up the Pieces

With coalition talks having collapsed, the country and the continent are now wondering what happens next. Blame is being heaped on the FDP, but the party could end up suffering mightily. Germany and Europe, meanwhile, are the biggest losers. By DER SPIEGEL Staff

Christian Lindner isn't one to follow his gut on an important decision. First, he has to have the right slogan to go with it.

Last Sunday, the leader of the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), flanked by a group of party loyalists, read out a lengthy statement in Berlin. He spoke of the "countless contradictions and open questions," that still remained between the FDP and the other three parties that had been involved in Germany's coalition negotiations. He complained that the weeks of talks between his party and the Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) and the Greens, had neither created a "common basis of trust" nor achieved "any further movement."

And then, just before he disappeared into the Berlin night, he uttered a phrase that he had allegedly only formulated a few hours earlier with his negotiating team: "It is better not to govern than to govern badly." The party then posted those words online as a graphic image. Oddly, though, the graphic had already been produced three days earlier, on the Thursday that had been the original deadline for the end of the coalition talks.

Marketing first is Lindner's mantra, even when - like last Sunday - it leads to a government crisis of a kind never seen in Germany's postwar history. Eight weeks after the national election, voters still don't know what the next government will look like. Germany, which is so often regarded as an "anchor of stability" in Europe, will for months be a country marked by instability and chaos. And Lindner has ensured that the FDP, for decades a constant presence in German governments, won't be in power for quite some time to come.

With his slickly-staged withdrawal from the talks, under the spotlights in late-night Berlin, Lindner wants to achieve more than the "trend reversal" he mentions in his tweets. No, the FDP boss hopes to turn his party into a middle-class protest movement of the kind led by Emmanuel Macron in France and Sebastian Kurz in Austria. He has long-since sought to establish a similar cult of personality and he copies their rhetorical attacks against the elites, the media and the so-called ruling establishment. And like Kurz and Macron, he wants to reinvent the political order, which means shaking up the FDP's own political position, placing them to the right of Chancellor Merkel's CDU on some issues. One of those is refugee policy, on which the FDP has sounded more like the CSU, a party that has at times bordered on the reactionary. When it comes to Europe, the party has become extremely skeptical of the common currency.

Lindner wants to turn the FDP into a political movement, one centered on himself and with the ambition of achieving reliable double-digit support in future elections. Ulf Poschart, editor-in-chief of the conservative daily Die Welt, even gushed recently that the FDP could finally grow out of its role as junior coalition partner and ultimately lay claim to the Chancellery. Under Lindner's leadership, of course.

At What Price?

In the meantime, the political establishment has been left to clean up the mess that Lindner left behind. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier now faces the task of facilitating the formation of a government, preferably without having to resort to new elections. The Christian Democrats will have to decide whether Merkel will continue to lead them while the SPD has to reflect on whether they are willing to enter another alliance with the CDU and CSU and, if so, at what price. Would Merkel or Martin Schulz have to give way to make another such alliance happen?

Another few years of a grand coalition, devoid of passion or ideas, would then, according to Lindner's calculations, allow him to reap the benefits in opposition.

Still, even if Lindner hopes to profit from widespread voter frustration in Germany, it's not clear that he can pull it off. The way he walked out of the talks was so transparently staged and so poorly justified that his grand masterplan might just be a roadmap to nowhere. That at least is how many voters see it. In one survey, 55 percent blamed the FDP for the collapse of the coalition talks while only 8 percent thought the party would benefit most from fresh elections. The FDP may be less "en marche" than "en retour."

Lindner knows the risks and he is prepared to take them. He is a political gambler who plays for the highest stakes, just like the former SPD chancellor, Gerhard Schröder. The difference is that Schröder risked his party to help reform the country. With Lindner, however, the wellbeing of the party comes first, and then the country.

So, it's little wonder that Lindner's main priority in the coalition talks was to make sure that the FDP would no longer be taken for granted by the CDU merely as an appendage, a willing junior partner to the Merkel power machine. From the very beginning, Lindner was one of the most critical of the "Jamaica" coalition, so named because the colors associated with the parties involved are the same as those on the Jamaican flag. He insisted that the chances of reaching a deal were only 50:50.

And that remained the case even toward the end of last week, when it became clear that the FDP would achieve many of its most important demands, while the Greens and the CSU were even coming closer to an agreement on refugees. But even on Saturday, Lindner was still saying he doubted Jamaica would work.

By then, if not before, the Greens had begun to fear that the FDP was preparing to let the talks collapse. It was the elephant in the room, even as the subgroups continued their work. They kept discussing climate and transportation policy, as if nothing had happened, as if they could still find a solution. But all the delegations involved were now looking for signs that their counterparts were losing their nerve. And such was the level of distrust when Sunday began, the day of reckoning.

Open to Compromise

The day started with Lindner asking to speak separately with the conservatives. He held a rolled-up copy of the Bild am Sonntag newspaper in his hand, featuring quotes from senior Green party negotiator Jürgen Trittin, who accused the FDP of wanting to send weapons to Yemen.

Nevertheless, compromises were achieved as the day progressed. The solidarity tax, which goes to aid the reconstruction of eastern Germany, was largely scrapped in accordance with the wishes of the FDP. And an agreement was also found on data protection once Merkel made it clear Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, of the CDU, that he had little choice but to relent to the demands being made by the FDP and Greens.

The Greens proved more open to compromise than the FDP or the conservatives had expected. They accepted that some North African states should be considered safe countries of origin, which would allow Germany to send failed asylum seekers back. The Greens were also prepared to accept restrictions to the family reunification of refugees already in Germany and they even were willing to give up their opposition to transit zones. Indeed, some conservatives began wondering whether the Greens would support the deal once it was submitted to the party for approval.

Nevertheless, everything seemed to be going in the right direction as the parties returned to the smaller negotiating groups. There are differing accounts of how those later talks went. According to Lindner, Merkel reneged on some important compromises. Yet the Merkel camp insists nothing essential had changed.

Whatever the case, the FDP had run out of patience. Lindner and his team worked on their statement, key elements of which had been prepared long in advance. At 11 p.m. the parties met again, with each party asked if they wished to continue. Horst Seehofer, the leader of the CSU, was the first to outline his view on the state of the negotiations. He said that while there were outstanding points, there was scope for agreement. "For the CSU, I can say that we can envisage a Jamaica coalition," he said.

Lindner then replied that he didn't see any prospect of an agreement. Politicians from the other parties tried to change his mind, with Alexander Dobrindt of the CSU having a go, followed by Cem Özdemir, co-leader of the Greens. Then Katrin Göring-Eckhardt, the other Green party leader, said that she shared Lindner's view that there was no basis for trust. She argued, however, that trust could develop by governing together.

Merkel was clearly annoyed and addressed Lindner harshly. One "cannot simply say, it's not working," she said. One "has to say why it is not working." So, she insisted: "What is the reason then?" The FDP boss countered: "I don't see where we can implement the basic concepts of innovation, competitiveness and modernization in a Jamaica coalition."

A Difficult Situation

There was back and forth for a few minutes and then Merkel suddenly looked at her mobile phone. She saw that the FDP had already issued a press release announcing the collapse of the talks. At that point the CSU also had no interest in continuing the talks, and Seehofer said: "It's 11:26 p.m. I'm noting the time because this is now a development that will have meaning far beyond Germany and Europe and whose result we cannot foresee."

And that was the end of the Jamaican dream. Everyone shook hands and the FDP team left the room. The Greens and conservatives stayed behind and watched Lindner read out his statement on television. There was much shaking of heads. Then they discussed what this would mean for Germany. Someone mentioned Lebanon and the crisis concerning its prime minister, who had apparently been detained during a state visit to Saudi Arabia. "Who is going to deal with that now?" one of those present asked.

Everyone was aware that the end of the coalition talks places Germany in a difficult situation. The old coalition of conservatives and Social Democrats is staying in office as a caretaker government, but it no longer has the backing of parliament. All important decisions are on hold, not just in Berlin, but also in Brussels. And there are important decisions to be made, from the Brexit negotiations to the planned reform of the euro zone. The EU will find it difficult to act as long as there is no new government in Berlin. As a result, the pressure is growing on the SPD both at home and abroad to rethink its flat refusal to re-enter a coalition with the conservatives.

President Steinmeier - who now, according to the German constitution, has the responsibility of guiding the process toward choosing the next chancellor - is one of those putting the most pressure on the Social Democrats. He himself is a former SPD minister, though his membership in the party is now on hold for the duration of his term as president. He would like to avoid new elections, saying the responsibility for forming a new government "cannot simply be handed back to the voters." Steinmeier plans a process that involves a series of one-on-one meetings with party leaders.

The Social Democrats were as surprised as anyone by the collapse of the coalition talks. No one expected it - or prepared for it. And it has focused the spotlight on the party's ongoing leadership debate.

SPD leader Martin Schulz is determined to stick to his rejection of a repeat of his party's outgoing coalition with the conservatives, a constellation known as a grand coalition. He prefers new elections and pushed through his decision with the party leadership at a meeting on Monday. The SPD executive then rushed to put that position in writing to avoid any impression of doubt within the party. "We believe it is important that the citizens are given the opportunity to reappraise the situation," the executive announced in a statement that had begun circulating publicly even before the meeting had come to an end.

Schulz is backed by leading party figures like floor leader Andrea Nahles and deputy leader Olaf Scholz. All three see another grand coalition as dangerous for the party. They know how unpopular it is with the party grassroots, a position that was reiterated in recent weeks at a number of regional conferences. Everywhere, the message was the same: No new partnership with the conservatives!

At the same time, all three are aware that the SPD could end up the biggest loser if an impression develops that the party is avoiding responsibility. That is why it is no longer taboo at party headquarters to discuss a change in strategy. Nahles has adopted a new formulation when enunciating her party's position: The SPD, she says, will of course enter discussions with Merkel, but it refuses to act merely as a tool for the chancellor to stay in power.

At the Mercy of a Gambler
This careful shift is likely a reaction to the horror among many Social Democrats at the prospect of new elections. No one knows what kind of campaign the party could run to have any real shot at power. And after new elections, wouldn't the party face the question of a grand coalition again anyway?

"Making any kind of rushed decisions now won't help at all," warned Johannes Kahr, head of the party's conservative wing. "There will now be a lot of discussions. And we should be open going into those talks. Before we go to the voters, we should exhaust all options," he said. "I don't see any article in the constitution that stipulates there must be fresh elections if the leader of the FDP breaks off coalition talks," said Achim Post, head of the SPD group in the North Rhine-Westphalia parliament. "It's the opposite: parties and parliamentary groups have a duty, particularly in a difficult situation, to carefully take things step by step."

And Martin Rabanus, the spokesman for the pragmatic wing in the party, the so-called Networkers, said: "New elections are not the right way. I am against the grand coalition, but we should calmly allow the president to hold talks and look at whether there are ways to avoid new elections."

It could be a difficult few weeks for Schulz and Nahles. That much was clear on Monday afternoon during a meeting of the parliamentary group when it became clear that the SPD representatives were not happy with the fact that they had not been consulted on the party leadership's statement about elections.

More than 40 Bundestag members spoke up during the meeting, around half of them addressed the party leaders' plans. Schulz in particular came under fire. Florian Post, a representative from Bavaria, complained that ever since the election, the SPD has been consumed by personnel debates. "If we run another campaign as great as the one last summer, we could end up below 20.5 percent not above 20.5 percent," he said, targeting Schulz. His comments were met with laughter, while Schulz was left reeling.

All But Certain

At the end of the three-hour meeting, Anette Kramme, a state secretary in the Labor Ministry, wanted to know who exactly would lead the party into a new election. It was a telling question: If Schulz's position as party leader was secure, the question would never have been asked. Schulz responded that he would be availing of his nomination right when the time came, so long as he was reelected SPD leader at the party conference in December.

That had long appeared all but certain. However, in the light of the great unrest within the SPD the conference could take on a new dynamic. That is Schulz's dilemma. If he succeeds in his push for new elections then the issue of his leadership comes back into play. And that could be difficult as no one really sees him running for chancellor again.

One way out for Schulz could be to make extremely tough demands on Merkel in any coalition talks. However, that is not so easy since the SPD has already pushed through so many of its key reforms, such as a minimum wage and reducing the retirement age to 63.

A failed Jamaica coalition, the prospect of difficult new elections. For the chancellor, the end of the talks on Sunday marked a turning point. For the first time since taking office in 2005, she has no parliamentary majority, and for the first time, she faces the prospect of having no willing partner to form a government. Could Merkel accept a third option: a minority government?

On Monday, she discussed that option with her team in the Chancellery. Merkel said she was against having to find majorities for every piece of legislation, sometimes with the backing of the SPD, sometimes with the Jamaica parties and sometimes perhaps even the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany. Such a situation was too unstable, she felt, particularly due to the current situation in Europe. They decided not to make that assessment public in order to avoid accusations from the SPD that Merkel was only interested in new elections.

Merkel has sought to use the Lindner chaos for her own purposes. In an interview with public broadcaster ZDF, she said that in the event of new elections, she would again offer her services as her party's candidate for chancellor. She was a woman who "has responsibility and is also ready to continue bearing responsibility," she said. Nobody in her party objected, which doesn't mean that dissatisfaction among the party ranks has disappeared. It's just that there's no one to take her place.

Keeping Silent

In a telephone conference with party leadership, Merkel listed where the CDU had pushed through its policies in the coalition talks, from refugee policy to the dismantling of the solidarity tax. Many speakers praised the way she led the talks. Even one of her fiercest critics, Jens Spahn, who is sometimes mentioned as a possible successor, praised her. And she was applauded by the parliamentary group. It's clear that for now her enemies in the party are keeping silent.

Even the weak election result in September is no longer a major theme in the party. In fact, a number of conferences that were scheduled to discuss it have now been cancelled. It's also unclear if the party conference in mid-December will go ahead as planned. It may be postponed, depending on how events unfold. The party leadership is meeting on Sunday and Merkel is to ask for their backing as she moves ahead.

At the CDU party headquarters in Berlin, thoughts are already turning to what positions to take during an election campaign. Merkel's reputation as an imaginative negotiator, one who can always find a way to bring the sides together in the end, has taken a hit.

However, the fact that the two sister parties, the CDU and the CSU, were not driven apart during the negotiations is being regarded as a success. And that could be an advantage should a new campaign be in the offing.

Ultimately, Merkel believes, the result could be a run-back of her current "grand coalition" with the Social Democrats - a government she could have had without new elections. It is also one that would intensify the ongoing debate among conservatives regarding what exactly they stand for after well over a decade of Merkel's leadership. And it would play into the hands of the AfD. The chancellor doesn't see a way out of this dilemma.

Many CDU leaders currently feel more closely aligned with the Greens than they do with the FDP, but are nevertheless wary of seeking to set up a conservative-Green minority government. The CSU would almost certainly make such a constellation difficult at best. As such, conservative parliamentarians are discussing a potential alternative scenario. Why not just go ahead with a chancellor vote in the Bundestag? There is a good chance, they believe, that Merkel would come away with an absolute majority, particularly since many SPD lawmakers are eager to avoid new elections out of fear of losing their seats. Plus, there are plenty of Green parliamentarians who want to see Merkel remain chancellor. The downside of such a scenario, however, is clear: Merkel would have to assemble a different majority every time she wanted to push a law through parliament.

Plenty of Questions

Conservatives from Merkel's wing of the party, meanwhile, have been generous in their praise of the conscientious role played by the Greens during the coalition negotiations. But it seems fair to doubt whether the grassroots of the Green party are open to such praise. Many believe the party leadership made too many compromises during the negotiations, with Greenpeace openly criticizing such conciliatoriness. The party is set to discuss the issue on Saturday in addition to settling on a strategy should new elections be called.

There are plenty of questions to address, including whether the party is still behind the two lead candidates Katrin Göring-Eckardt and Cem Özdemir. But the Greens also haven't yet had an opportunity to analyze and draw lessons from its own election results in September. "If we look closely at the result, we only received 0.5 percentage points more than four years ago, and back then, pretty much the entire party leadership had to step down," says a member of the federal leadership committee. The member says that the party can't simply carry on as though things had been perfect this time around - even if the party exhibited disciplined solidarity during the coalition talks.

Indeed, leadership questions will likely be almost impossible to avoid on Saturday, given that many Greens would like to clear a path for Robert Habeck to a party leadership position. Habeck was a key player during the coalition negotiations, but he is currently the environment minister of Schleswig-Holstein and party rules prevent those holding state offices from taking a federal leadership position in the party. Given the amount of grassroots support Habeck has, though, that rule may now be abandoned.

All of this is taking place because Christian Lindner would rather take his chances in opposition than assume the responsibilities associated with being in government. It is a risky bet, but can it succeed? The initial public reactions can't have been encouraging, but that doesn't necessarily mean much. Lindner's withdrawal from the coalition talks appears to be part of a long-term strategy: The ascent of the party to a position where it can operate at eye level with the conservatives.

Lindner likes to see himself as a risk-loving gambler and his political career is full of audacious decisions that paid off, beginning with his fortuitous choice as a 19-year-old to stand for election to party leadership in the FDP state chapter in North Rhine-Westphalia. No less daring was his takeover of the federal party leadership after the FDP's disastrous showing in 2013 elections. When it became apparent that the FDP would lose all its seats in the federal parliament that year, Lindner writes in his book "Schattenjahre" (Shadow Years), he made his decision without extensive thought. In the shower, he writes, he decided "to go for it."

'All In'

In his description of this moment, he uncoincidentally uses a term from the world of poker: "all-in." Risking everything at once.

Yet Lindner is also an expert at making an early exit and has a dependable instinct for knowing when a cause has been lost. When a company that he helped found in 2000 faced bankruptcy, he managed to sell his stake just in time. And when the FDP, under the leadership of Philipp Rösler, began struggling mightily in 2011, Lindner resigned as general secretary to watch the party's rapid decline from the sidelines in North Rhine-Westphalia. It was his way of protecting himself from the collapse.

Indeed, after the 2013 election day debacle, Lindner was the only remaining leadership figure in the party, with virtually all other senior members leaving politics. It was a blank slate, putting Lindner in a perfect position to reshape the FDP according to his own whims. And soon he had amassed more power within the party than any FDP leader before him.

Lindner reorganized the tradition-rich party in accordance with the principles of modern-day business management. He brought in consultants to help the party better understand its image problem and to reorient itself. Relying on colorful graphs and charts, new positions were created and then filled.

Initially, however, significant changes had no effect whatsoever. For more than two years, the FDP limped along with public approval ratings hovering between 3 and 4 percent, sometimes even relegated to the "other" category in opinion polls. But that changed with the arrival of the refugee crisis.

Nothing helped the FDP get back on its feet more than Merkel's handling of the refugee question in 2015. She opened up the flank that Lindner so badly needed to sharpen his party's profile. He went hard after Angela Merkel, but he was even more unrelenting in his attacks on the right-wing populists from the AfD - effectively positioning the FDP on the right wing of the conservatives while maintaining the necessary distance from the far right. He provided a political home to those conservatives who were disappointed with Merkel's refugee policies but who didn't want to go so far as to vote for the AfD. By the beginning of 2016, the FDP was polling above 5 percent.

In a speech held in January 2017, Lindner took a stab at analyzing Donald Trump's election victory in the U.S. The new president, he said, had taken on the establishment, "which has forgotten the broad majority of society." In Germany, he concluded, the situation isn't much different, with conservatives, the SPD and the Greens all neglecting the center. "This center of society," Lindner said, "must once again be offered a political home among the responsible parties." His FDP, Lindner suggested, was exactly what they were looking for.

A Reasonable Alternative

But Lindner was also able to take advantage of a second development: Merkel's sliding popularity. The more support the chancellor lost as a result of the refugee crisis, the better the FDP felt. The party, after all, had paid mightily for its role as junior coalition partner in Merkel's second government from 2009 to 2013, with many coming away with the feeling that the chancellor had taken advantage of the FDP's good faith. Lindner never forgot that feeling of humiliation at the hands of a conservative party that watched indifferently as the FDP slid beneath the 5-percent hurdle even as Merkel herself almost won an absolute majority. He also found Merkel's leadership style to be patronizing. He believes that, during her coalition with the FDP, she acted as "a kind of legal guardian to a pubescent FDP."

Lindner has positioned his party as a kind of reasonable alternative to the Alternative for Germany, a place for voters to go who have been left behind by Merkel's leftward shift. That includes the conservative economic wing, a group that isn't fond of what they see as the Greens' environmental condescension. He also hopes to attract that group of voters who are frustrated with the "establishment" and who believe Merkel opened up Germany's borders without sufficient legal basis.

One of Lindner's strategies for attracting such voters is euro-skepticism. During the coalition negotiations, he repeatedly quoted the new government in the Netherlands, under the leadership of Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his right-wing liberal party VVD. The coalition agreement between the VVD and several other parties is called "Confidence in the Future" and in the introduction to the Europe section, it says that "the EU has laid down rules that needlessly curtail member states' own responsibility." Lindner clearly sees the VVD and its leader Rutte as an example to be aspired to. Rutte, after all, has managed to transform the VVD - which has spent much of its existence as a junior coalition partner in governments led by other parties - into the country's strongest party.

Lindner's calculation is a simple one. He believes that no matter what comes next - whether it is a grand coalition or new elections - voters will reward the FDP for its fidelity to its principles and refusal to compromise. No matter what happens, Lindner is confident that his youth and relatively brief time on the national political stage gives him an advantage when compared to Merkel.

'Good For Our Country'

Still, even as Merkel's primary message is one of stability and continuity, Lindner relies on provocation. He claims to be catering to the needs of a neglected political center. In reality, however, he is deepening the societal divide he insists he is healing. It is a strategy that could very well blow up in his face. By walking out of coalition negotiations in the middle of the night, the FDP became the instant scapegoat for the failure of those talks. That could ultimately frighten away voters who saw the FDP as a clear alternative in the political center. "I don't understand Lindner's decision," says Gerhart Baum, a former FDP politician who was interior minister in the cabinet of Chancellor Helmut Schmidt from 1978 to 1982. "The (Jamaica) alliance could have been an interesting one." Baum says he doesn't know the details behind the collapse of the negotiations, but says "I know that it was possible to put something together that would have been good for our country."

The German economy is also broadly displeased with Lindner's decision to turn his back on the talks, particularly in the digital sector, where many of his supporters are to be found. "A Jamaica coalition would have been a great opportunity for the younger generation," says Florian Nöll, head of the German Startups Association. "Instead, we are now continuing to lose time." When compared to other countries, Germany's startup scene is far behind when it comes to access to capital and workers, Nöll claims. Bernhard Rohleder, head of the Federal Association for Information Technology, had likewise been hoping to see the FDP in government. "That opportunity has now been wasted."

There are, though, competing interpretations within the business community. BASF Supervisory Board Chairman Jürgen Hambrecht, who is an FDP member, defended Lindner's decision by saying: "Assignments of guilt from other parties are inappropriate." Daniel Zimmer, the former head of the Monopolies Commission in Germany, says the most important thing is that the FDP is back in parliament.

The most important question for the party, though, is whether it will play much of a role on the long term if it isn't prepared to go into government. Had Lindner dared to take the plunge, the FDP could have proved itself as a pro-business party with an environmental conscience, particularly if the party had been given the prestigious Finance Ministry portfolio.

But Lindner isn't the type for a traditional cabinet career. He doesn't want to be seen as the people's economist but as the people's voice - one who would rather stay out of government if it doesn't promise rapid success. His favored path to power, after all, doesn't lead through the ministries, but through the market square.

By Benedikt Becker, Christiane Hoffmann, Veit Medick, Ann-Katrin Müller, Ralf Neukirch, Michael Sauga, Jan Schulte and Gerald Traufetter

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SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/24/2017 12:11 PM

Hello? Anybody Home? Germany's Voice Suddenly Missing in Brussels

By Peter Müller

After the German election, French President Emmanuel Macron laid out his vision for far-reaching EU reforms. But with coalition talks having collapsed in Germany, Berlin suddenly has no voice. Some in Brussels are yearning for a return of the SPD.

European Union Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger wanted to know what is going on in Germany. To find out, he set up a number of meetings in Berlin this week, including one in the Chancellery. He also arranged to chat with Christian Lindner, the head of the Free Democrats (FDP) and the man who unexpectedly turned his back on German coalition talks in Berlin last Sunday night.

The reason for Oettinger's interest in the political developments in Germany is simple. He has been assigned with writing a draft EU budget for the next 10 years and his due date is next May. He is currently traveling from capital to capital on the Continent to determine how member states envision EU spending for the period from 2018 to 2027.

But the German voice, which generally carries significant weight when it comes to budgetary questions,is silent these days. "The long process of assembling a government is weakening Germany's influence in Brussels," says Oettinger. "German influence on important issues is currently undiscernible."

The failure of German coalition negotiations in Berlin has caught the European Union completely off guard. Ahead of elections in France and the Netherlands earlier this year, there had been widespread concern about the rise of the right wing and potential difficulties when it came to assembling a governing coalition in those countries. Few such concerns were voiced ahead of Germany's general election on Sept. 24. Everyone assumed that Germany was solid.

Now, though, French President Emmanuel Macron has taken center stage in the EU with his ambitious reform proposals while European Council President Donald Tusk has already come up with a detailed timeline for transforming Macron's vision into concrete policy decisions. And suddenly, Germany has vanished. "You're ruining our entire presidency," complained Kaja Tael, Estonia's permanent representative in Brussels. Estonia currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.

On the Wane

On Monday afternoon, just a few hours after the collapse of coalition talks was announced in Berlin, the European General Affairs Council met in Brussels. The General Affairs Council is made up of the European affairs ministers from EU member states and they were meeting to decide where to relocate the two EU agencies that have to move out of London as a result of Brexit. Some EU observers believe that the council's decision to relocate the European Banking Authority (EBA) to Paris instead of Frankfurt is an early sign that German influence is on the wane.

Outside the room, Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra joked that his country needed seven months to assemble a new government earlier this year, so the Germans still have five months left. But inside, the mood was more serious. Michael Roth, state minister in the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, did what he could to assuage the concerns of his EU counterparts. "Our neighbors are very concerned," he said. "It's quite distressing: The election of Macron opened the door wide to changes in the EU. But nobody is walking through."

The EU is particularly impatient for German input on questions pertaining to economic and currency union. Macron would like to see the creation of a budget to help countries that run into trouble through no fault of their own. But it remains unclear how large that fund should be and who will control it, the European Commission or the individual member states. To be sure, the draft coalition agreement that had been on the table before talks were broken off wouldn't have provided a clear answer on those issues either. But now, some in the EU are growing concerned that new elections in Germany - which wouldn't take place before early 2018, if that is the path that Berlin ends up choosing - would strengthen the FDP, which has shown significant skepticism regarding many of the reforms Macron has proposed. A poll released on Thursday found that the FDP is up to 12 percent support, up 1.3 percentage points from its result in the Sept. 24 general elections.

Even More Precarious

Time, though, is growing short. Council President Tusk had been hoping to discuss central questions regarding economic and currency union at the EU summit in mid-December. But with Merkel now merely the head of a caretaker government, doing so makes little sense. European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has taken the opportunity to warn smaller EU member states that they shouldn't wait around for the German-French "motor" to rumble to life again. "Perhaps the other EU members should use the situation in Germany as an opportunity to think themselves about what EU reforms they would like to introduce," she told DER SPIEGEL in an interview.

The situation will become even more precarious early next year when the negotiations on future EU spending become more concrete. One issue that needs to be address is how to fill the revenues gap that will be created once the British leave the EU. More importantly, though, Budget Commissioner Oettinger would like to change the focus of EU spending to focus more on education and digital issues. But if the Germans want to exert influence on budgetary decision, they have to hurry, Oettinger warns. "I need clarity by next February at the latest," he says.

Oettinger's favored scenario, a preference he shares with many in Brussels, would be for German Social Democrats to seriously consider joining another coalition with Merkel. The party ruled out such a scenario immediately following the Sept. 24 election and did so once again after coalition negotiations collapsed last Sunday night. But with pressure mounting on the party to reconsider, the SPD met late into the night on Thursday night and emerged saying the party is now open to at least preliminary talks. It is a decision that Macron, too, will no doubt welcome: He believes that the SPD is more open to his EU plans than Merkel is.

Oettinger, meanwhile, says he has had positive experiences with SPD ministers in Brussels. "From the perspective of Germany's negotiating position in Europe, the SPD should reconsider whether it might want to return to a governing coalition after all," he says.


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« Reply #8 on: Nov 25, 2017, 05:59 AM »

Skull found in China could re-write 'out of Africa' theory of human evolution

The beginning of modern humans could be a far more complex, spread out thing than we ever thought before

Andrew Griffin
Independent
11/25/2017

A skull found in China could re-write our entire understanding of human evolution.

That's according to scientists who have examined the important, ancient head and say that it proves the existing theory of how humans came to be is wrong.

Most anthropologists believe that our species came about in Africa around 200,000 years ago – and that one group left around 80,000 years later before spreading across the world. But instead of humans purely coming out of Africa, the new research suggests that important characteristics of humans actually developed in east Asia.

In fact there might have been times of intense intermingling as those early humans in Asia moved out of and back into Africa, with no single event when modern humans came into being. That means that modern humans are made up of the DNA of ancestors from both Asia and Africa, if the researchers are correct.

The story is a development of a theory that has been widely dismissed by mainstream academics for decades, some of whom suggest that it is being made up to emphasise the role of China. But if the new claims are true, it might prove that the long-ridiculed theory is actually true.
 
The important head, known as the Dali skull, was found 40 years ago in China. It was once a member of the early species – and our ancestor – the Homo erectus. It is surprisingly intact, with scientists still able to see the face and brain case as it would have been when its owner was living around 260,000 years ago.

It has strange similarities too with modern Homo sapiens. And the new research suggests that it has far more than expected in common with specimens found in morocco.

Taken together, the research suggests that humans might not have evolved in Africa and then left, as has long been thought to be the case, researchers Xinzhi Wu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Sheela Athreya of Texas A&M University told the New Scientist. The similarities suggest that the early modern humans might not have been isolated in one place as their characteristics evolved, the scientists say, instead sharing characteristics across the world.

Instead, at some times there might have been important genetic flow between those early humans in Africa and others in places like China, they write in a recent paper, "resulting in contributions being made in different capacities to different regions at different times".

The scientists now hope to do even more detailed comparisons of the Dali skull with those found in Morocco, to understand how the specimen found in China is similar to and different from other examples of early humans.


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« Reply #9 on: Nov 25, 2017, 06:07 AM »

God is not a man, says Church Of Sweden

Newsweek
25 Nov 2017 at 14:21 ET   

God is not a man, according to The Church of Sweden.

Sweden’s national Evangelical Lutheran church is urging its clergy to stop gendering their almighty creator by using terms like “he” and "lord.” It's updated its official handbook to reflect the changes, which will go into effect on May 20th during the Christian holiday of Pentecost.

"Theologically, we know that God is beyond our gender determinations, God is not human," explained Archbishop Antje Jackelen, the female head of the church.

The change was approved by the church's 251-member decision-making body Thursday after days of careful deliberation, but there are still some vocal critics.

"It really isn't smart if the Church of Sweden becomes known as a church that does not respect the common theology heritage," said Christer Pahlmblad, an associate theology professor at Sweden's Lund University. The move undermines “the doctrine of the Trinity and the community with the other Christian churches," he claimed.

Most Christian churches accept that God does not have a gender, but still refer to the supreme spiritual deity with male pronouns. Even the Catholic Church catechism is confused on the topic, "God is neither man nor woman: he is God," it says.

In recent years, official bibles have attempted to amend patriarchal language. In the King James Bible "What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?" has turned into, "What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?"

The majority of Christian groups believe that God is triune and exists as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In the old testament, the Holy Spirit is referred to as a woman.

According to the Church of Sweden’s updated handbook, God will now be referred to as both mother and father. An example of an updated prayer, according to the church, would read as  “God, Holy Trinity, Father and Mother, Son – Sister and Brother, and Spirit – Lifeguard and Inspirator, lead us to your depths of wealth, wisdom and knowledge.”


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« Reply #10 on: Nov 25, 2017, 06:10 AM »

A Radiation Cloud, and a Mystery, From Russia

By ANDREW E. KRAMER and WILLIAM J. BROAD
NOV. 25, 2017
NY Times

MOSCOW — When a container of radioactive waste exploded at the Mayak factory 60 years ago, in one of the worst accidents of the nuclear age, the episode was so shrouded in secrecy that even residents of nearby towns had little clue of the danger.

That secrecy proved deadly.

Among the estimated 272,000 people who were exposed was a newborn girl who withered and died from radiation sickness. Taisia A. Fomina, a friend of the family’s, recalled that the girl’s father, ignorant of the danger, welded a bed frame from irradiated metal recycled from the nuclear plant. The child was poisoned as she slept.

Residents learned of the radiation risk only a year after the accident, said Ms. Fomina, now 84. “Some rumors went around town that something blew up at the factory, but we didn’t know what,” she added. “Of course, they didn’t tell us.”

Now, another possible accident at Mayak, a plant at the heart of Russia’s nuclear program, and the paucity of information coming out about it, is again raising alarms.

Last month, French and German radiation safety officials identified the southern Ural Mountain region, home of Mayak, as the likely source of a cloud of a radioactive isotope, ruthenium 106, that they detected wafting over Europe. The plant at Mayak reprocesses spent fuel and produces isotopes.

Ruthenium 106, which is obtained from spent fuel, is used mostly in medicine. It is considered not particularly dangerous because of its short half-life, 373 days, and harmless at the low concentrations that have turned up in Europe.

But mystery lingers around the cloud all the same.

The German Federal Office for Radiation Protection reported the radiation cloud, and on Oct. 9 pinpointed its likely origin as the southern Ural Mountains in Russia or Kazakhstan. That’s near the closed town called Ozersk but known as Chelyabinsk-40 when Ms. Fomina worked there from 1954-60. The agency said the cause of the cloud is “not clear.”

French authorities mapped wind patterns and reached the same conclusion: the contamination was floating in from somewhere near Mayak, a region of cedar forests, lakes and swamps about 1,000 miles east of Moscow.

The French nuclear safety institute, which tracked the cloud, said that if the accident had occurred in France, measures would have been taken to protect the local population within a few miles, and precautions enacted over longer distances to halt the sale of contaminated crops. But the concentrations in the air over Europe, the institute said in a Nov. 9 report, “are of no consequence for human health and for the environment.”

Puzzlingly, on Oct. 9, regional authorities in the Chelyabinsk region, home of the plant, issued a statement saying that the Russian state nuclear corporation, Rosatom, had regularly tested the air and that “the radiation background in the region is within norms.”

A string of official denials followed. The press offices of several Russian nuclear plants issued statements denying any accidents or leaks and asserting that they had detected no elevated levels of ruthenium 106 in the air. One spokesman, for a plant in Smolensk, told RIA, a state news agency, “this is a rare element and we would have noticed it.”

Rosatom, which runs the Mayak site, announced on Oct. 11 that, “the radiation condition around all nuclear objects in the Russian Federation are within norms, and correspond to background radiation levels.” The press office of the Ministry of Emergency Situations said on Oct. 13 that “no radiation cloud was found over the territory of the Ural Mountains.”

Then this month, the statements suddenly shifted. The agency responsible for monitoring radiation in Russia, Roshydromet, said it had in fact found in late September and early October what it called “extremely high” levels of ruthenium 106 at two monitoring sites near Mayak.

“The cover-up is more interesting than the accident,” said Frank N. von Hippel, a physicist at Princeton who advised the Clinton White House and who has repeatedly visited Russian nuclear sites.

“I think they’re probably more worried about upsetting the locals than the world,” Dr. von Hippel said. “This could be very disruptive politically of the calm that Putin has imposed on the place. The environmentalists are the most likely ignition point for any unrest.”

The Roshydromet statement about the ruthenium 106 levels was undated. Officials at the agency pointed it out on their website on Friday to a researcher from Greenpeace, Rashid R. Alimov, in response to a question about the radiation cloud posed by the conservation group last week.

The agency then published a statement saying that “the discovery of even insignificant concentrations of radioactive isotopes on Russian territory speaks to the high effectiveness” of the Russian monitoring system. Environmental organizations, the statement said, were publicizing the incident to raise money.

“The heightened attention to this monitoring was created by some conservation organizations in the period of their budget formation for next year, with the goal of ‘elevating’ their importance in the eyes of the public,” it said.

Mr. Alimov said, “They say we were worsening the situation, driving everybody into a panic.” In fact, he said, Greenpeace has emphasized that the now dissipating cloud over Europe is harmless, though it may have posed dangers near the source.

What is worrisome, Mr. Alimov said, is the Russian government’s apparent reluctance to publicize information about a radiation leak, and a potential health hazard.

Officials at Mayak denied in interviews with the newspaper Kommersant that the plant was the source of the leak. Rosatom, the nuclear company, did not return calls to the press office.

Stepan Kalmykov, a chemistry professor at Moscow State University, told N+1, an online news portal, that while posing no health hazard, the leak clearly raised other worries in Russia and beyond. “Somewhere, apparently, the process broke down,” he said, “and nobody can guarantee that at the same place a more serious and more dangerous accident will not happen.”

The ruthenium cloud is not an indication of a reactor meltdown, which would spew a bouquet of many different isotopes, not just the one, said Vitaly G. Fedchenko, senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. “The release would have to come from a container or a place where already separated ruthenium isotope is stored,” he said.

Scientists say the ruthenium 106 release appears to be over. While European authorities have traced the cloud back to a region around the Mayak plant, the precise source has not been determined. It might have spilled in a transportation accident. “The problem is, we don’t know,” Mr. Fedchenko said.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, coming on the heels of the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986, the framers of Russia’s new Constitution prohibited the classification of information about the environment, though that provision has been flouted before. The Mayak spill in 1957 is often compared in its severity with the two worst power plant meltdowns, at Chernobyl and at Fukushima, Japan.

In Chelyabinsk-40, residents were left largely in the dark, and the scope of the disaster was suppressed for decades. The source of the radiation that killed the daughter of Ms. Fomina’s friend — the radioactive bed — was discovered only after a teenage girl living in an apartment one floor lower also died. Three years later, the infant’s mother also died.

“People just didn’t know,” Ms. Fomina said. “Radiation doesn’t smell.”


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« Reply #11 on: Nov 25, 2017, 06:15 AM »


Chocolate Makers Agree to Stop Cutting Down Forests in West Africa for Cocoa

By Mike Gaworecki
Ecowatch
11/25/2017

At COP23, the UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany that wrapped up last week, top cocoa-producing countries in West Africa announced new commitments to end the massive deforestation for cocoa that is occurring within their borders.

Ivory Coast and Ghana are the number one and number two cocoa-producing nations on Earth, respectively. Together, they produce about two-thirds of the world's cocoa, but that production has been tied to high rates of deforestation as well as child labor and other human rights abuses.

The so-called "Frameworks for Action" that were announced by the two countries last Thursday not only aim to halt the clearing of forests for cocoa production, especially in national parks and other protected areas, but to restore forest areas that have already been cleared or degraded. They also include commitments to developing alternative livelihoods and crop diversification strategies for cocoa farmers who will be impacted by the conservation plans. (Ivory Coast's action plan can be seen here; Ghana's here).

While halting deforestation is key to meeting the goals of the Paris climate agreement, recent research has shown that rehabilitating degraded forests is just as important if we are to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius.

A number of major players in the chocolate and cocoa industry have already signed on to the Frameworks, including Barry Callebaut, Cargill, Godiva, Hershey, Mars, Mondelez International, Nestlé, Olam, Sainsbury's and more.

According to an investigation by the Washington, DC-based NGO Mighty Earth, much of the cocoa purchased from producers in Ivory Coast and Ghana by these chocolate companies is grown illegally in national parks and other protected areas. In several national parks, the group's investigators found, 90 percent or more of the land has been converted to cocoa production operations.

"Less than four percent of Ivory Coast remains densely forested, and the chocolate companies' laissez-faire approach to sourcing has driven extensive deforestation in Ghana as well," Mighty Earth reported. Aside from destroying habitat relied on by wildlife, this deforestation has also pushed protected species like chimpanzees, elephants, leopards and pygmy hippos into increasingly smaller forest fragments, where they are far easier to hunt and thus more likely to be killed by poachers.

"The ancient forests of our nation, once a paradise for wildlife like chimpanzees, leopards, hippopotamus, and elephants, have been degraded and deforested to the point that they're almost entirely gone. This deforestation is due principally to the cultivation of cocoa," Kouamé Soulago Fernand, the general secretary of ROSCIDET, a network of environmental and sustainable development NGOs in Ivory Coast, said in a statement.

"Our country has become dependent on a cocoa industry that destroys forests and the whole range of ecosystem services they offer the country. We must achieve a sustainable cocoa industry that respects forests and that actually benefits communities and the country's economy. The big chocolate companies must make financial and technical contributions to support the government's conservation efforts."

The new zero deforestation commitments made by Ivory Coast, Ghana and major chocolate companies could have implications outside of West Africa. The destruction of the two countries' rainforests has pushed them to the brink of exhaustion in terms of agricultural viability, leading the chocolate industry to begin considering expansion opportunities in other rainforest regions, such as Africa's Congo Basin, the Amazon in South America and the Paradise Forests of Southeast Asia.

"As an immediate next step, the chocolate industry must announce that it will extend its commitment to No Deforestation Cocoa to chocolate production around the world," Mighty Earth said in a statement. "It's great that the industry is taking steps to protect chimpanzee habitat in Ivory Coast, but that doesn't mean anyone wants to eat a chocolate bar that killed an orangutan in Indonesia or a sloth in Peru."

The announcement of the Frameworks for Action comes after the UK's Prince Charles met with leading chocolate industry companies earlier this year to urge them to root deforestation out of their supply chains. The companies pledged at the time to come up with a plan they could announce publicly when the climate talks in Bonn kicked off in November.

"Prince Charles' longstanding and profound commitment to rainforest conservation has translated into an initiative that may be remembered years from now as the moment West Africa's forests began to grow back," Mighty Earth noted.

But the group warned that the Frameworks represent the beginning of efforts to solve the deforestation crisis in Ivory Coast and Ghana, not the end goal. "There is a lot of work indeed to be done before consumers can feel good again about consuming some of their favorite chocolate brands," Mighty Earth said in a statement. "But consumers and West Africans can at least know that the chocolate industry and their governments are finally setting about the task in a serious way."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

Click to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhs8O2QaGs0


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« Reply #12 on: Nov 25, 2017, 06:17 AM »


Victory: Concerned Citizens and Environmental Groups Stop Oil Train in Its Tracks

A coalition of concerned citizens, environmental groups, and health and safety advocates successfully challenged the approval of a massive refinery and rail project that will further harm air quality in the San Joaquin Valley and subject residents in several states to the catastrophic risks of a derailment involving scores of tanker cars filled with explosive Bakken crude oil.

The Alon Bakersfield Refinery Crude Flexibility Project, approved by the Kern County Board of Supervisors, would have enabled the refinery to unload crude from more than 200 tanker train cars per day, allowing it to import up to 63.1 million barrels of crude oil per year. A lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Association of Irritated Residents, Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club claimed that Kern County's certification of an environmental impact report (EIR) failed to meet its legal duty to fully assess the project's risks and disclose them to the public. The court agreed.

Bakken crude emits high levels of volatile organic compound emissions that lead to ozone pollution, which in turn causes respiratory illnesses such as asthma. Already one in six children in the Valley will be diagnosed with asthma before age 18.

The crude oil being transported to the Alon Bakersfield Refinery from the Bakken formation in North Dakota poses a higher risk of explosion in the event of a rail accident than heavier crudes. Kern County's EIR underestimated the likelihood of release of hazardous materials by rail accident by fivefold. It also wrongly ignored the air pollution from rail transportation. The county's EIR was set aside requiring a new one to be drafted and certified.

"We have the worst air quality in the nation," Tom Franz, president of the Association of Irritated Residents, said. "It is not fair for Alon to go through a permit process that did not reveal all of the impacts related to the transportation of crude oil by rail into Kern County."

"Kern County already boasts some of the worst air quality in the nation. This proposal would have only made it worse," said Earthjustice Attorney Elizabeth Forsyth. "The People of Kern County deserve better than to have their air further degraded, and to be placed at greater risk of danger and tragedy due to an accident from a dangerous method of crude oil transportation."

"We're glad the court saw through the county's attempt to minimize the incredible risks this crude-by-rail terminal poses to nearby communities, from explosions to hazardous chemical spills," said Maya Golden-Krasner, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

In 2013, a derailment and subsequent explosion of a train carrying Bakken crude oil in Lac Megantic, Quebec, destroyed much of downtown and killed 47 people.


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« Reply #13 on: Nov 25, 2017, 06:21 AM »

World’s biggest sovereign wealth fund proposes ditching oil and gas holdings

Energy industry jolted by advice to Norwegian government from its central bank, which runs $1tn fund
a north sea gas rig

Adam Vaughan
Guardian
11/25/2017

The Norwegian central bank, which runs the country’s sovereign wealth fund – the world’s biggest – has told its government it should dump its shares in oil and gas companies, in a move that could have significant consequences for the sector.

Norges Bank, which manages Norway’s $1tn fund, said ministers should take the step to avoid the fund’s value being hit by a permanent fall in the oil price.

The fund was built on the back of Norway’s hydrocarbon wealth, and around 300bn krone (£27.73bn), or 6%, is invested in oil and gas companies.

The recommendation by Norway’s central bank pushed down shares in European oil companies. Europe’s index of oil and gas shares hit its lowest level since mid-October on the news and was trading down 0.39% by late afternoon.

“The return on oil and gas stocks has been significantly lower than in the broad equity market in periods of falling oil prices,” the bank explained in a statement.

“Therefore, it is the bank’s assessment that the government’s wealth can be made less vulnerable to a permanent drop in oil prices if the GPFG [sovereign wealth fund] is not invested in oil and gas stocks.”

The Norwegian government said it would consider the proposal, but a decision should not be expected until next year and a “thorough assessment” was required.

“The issues raised by Norges Bank are complex and multifaceted,” the finance ministry said.

The bank did not set a deadline for when the fund should drop its oil and gas holdings. However, it made clear that its recommendation involved divesting from existing oil and gas shares as well as ruling out future investments.

The fund’s biggest oil and gas holding at the end of 2016 was $5.36bn in Anglo Dutch firm Shell, followed by $3.06bn in ExxonMobil, $2.04bn in fellow US oil firm Chevron, $2.02bn in the UK’s BP, and $2.01bn in France’s Total. It also has shares worth more than $1bn in oil services firm Schlumberger and Italy’s Eni.

The central bank’s move was welcomed by Paul Fisher, former deputy head of the Bank of England’s Prudential Regulation Authority and senior associate at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

“It is not surprising that we see the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund managers no longer prepared to take the increasing risk associated with oil and gas assets, which do not have a long-term future,” he said.

Greenpeace Norway welcomed the central bank’s intervention, but said Norway must now also cease exploring for oil in the Arctic.

“Norway is already heavily invested in oil and gas resources, so selling off the oil fund’s fossil stocks will clearly help reduce our financial carbon risk,” said Truls Gulowsen, head of the group.

Norway’s largest private pension by value said that if the fund did ditch oil and gas stocks, the action could influence other investors.

Jan Erik Saugestad, chief executive of Storebrand Asset Management, said: “From a financial point of view this makes perfect sense, and we have been arguing for this for many years. This is a rational move given the overall exposure the Norwegian economy has towards oil.”

Bill McKibben, co-founder of climate group 350.org, said the move was “as astonishing as the moment when the Rockefellers divested the world’s oldest oil fortune”.

McKibben was referring to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s decision to divest from fossil fuels in 2014.

The oil price fell below $30 a barrel in January 2016 during a two-year slump, but has since recovered to just over $60 in recent weeks on geopolitical uncertainty and expectations that major oil-producers will extend production curbs.


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« Reply #14 on: Nov 25, 2017, 06:24 AM »

The sugar industry knew about negative health effects — but swept it under the rug

ZME Science
25 Nov 2017 at 00:25 ET

A worldwide obesity crisis might have been averted had we known about sugar's negative health effects sooner. As it turns out, the sugar industry researched and learned about these effects decades ago, but decided to keep them hidden and lobby against said effects.

‘Big sugar'

Back in the 1960s, the leading school of thought was that fat is the main culprit for obesity, heart disease, and cancer. But another theory was starting to catch on: one that blamed sugar. The sugar industry downplayed this as much as possible, and in 1965, an industry group, the Sugar Research Foundation, carried out a review to assess the health effects of sugar. Now, a new investigation published in the journal PLOS Biology discovered that the sugar industry funded its own research project, but never disclosed the findings - because it made them look bad. The study reads:

    "In 1965, the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) secretly funded a review in the New England Journal of Medicine that discounted evidence linking sucrose consumption to blood lipid levels and hence coronary heart disease (CHD). SRF subsequently funded animal research to evaluate sucrose's CHD risks."

There were two unpublished studies, called Project 259, funded by the sugar lobby in the late 1960s. Both were rat study and involved feeding rats extra sugar and studying the health effects. Both studies, as they were on the verge of linking sugar with bladder cancer and coronary heart disease, were stopped. Although the study authors asked to continue, all funding was stopped and the project was dropped.

    "The sugar industry has maintained a very sophisticated program of manipulating scientific discussion around their product to steer discussion away from adverse health effects and to make it as easy as possible for them to continue their position that all calories are equal and there's nothing particularly bad about sugar," said Stanton A. Glantz of the University of California at San Francisco, one of the PLOS Biology study's authors.

So for some 50 years, the sugar industry has known about these effects. Yet when a study last year found that mice on sugar-heavy diets were more likely to develop breast cancer, the Sugar Association – one of the biggest sugar lobbying groups in the US – called it "sensationalised."  It's the same kind of manipulation we're used to seeing from the tobacco and fossil fuel industry. Similarly, Exxon, the world's largest oil company, knew about the effects fossil fuels have on climate change since the 70s, but lied and lobbied nonetheless.

Sugar is now the main culprit behind the obesity pandemic. Mankind needs to drastically cut its sugar input, be it in sweets or sodas - regardless of what the industry lobby says.

Journal Reference: Cristin E. Kearns, Dorie Apollonio, Stanton A. Glantz. Sugar industry sponsorship of germ-free rodent studies linking sucrose to hyperlipidemia and cancer: An historical analysis of internal documents. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.2003460

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