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« on: Nov 22, 2015, 09:31 AM »


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
« Last Edit: Oct 14, 2018, 09:05 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: Feb 12, 2018, 06:05 AM »

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

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

Peter Beaumont
12 Feb 2018 10.00 GMT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    A Land of Permanent Goodbyes by Atia Abawi is published by Penguin Random House

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« Reply #2 on: Feb 12, 2018, 06:09 AM »

Leave us alone': India's villagers rebel against urbanisation

Gujarat, one of the fastest urbanising states in India, seems to be doing so against the wishes of its people

Raksha Kumar in Ahmedabad
13 Feb 2018 07.30 GMT

As you move west from the crowded old neighbourhoods of inner-city Ahmedabad, the roads broaden, buildings rise taller and BMWs line the streets. Old-timers here remember watching these wealthy, modern neighbourhoods engulf the countryside – the lush fields of wheat and corn that are now gone.

Those who live in villages on the city’s fringes today fear that the same will happen to them.

“Leave us alone,” says Lalji Bhai Thakor of Bhavanpur, a village about 15km west of Ahmedabad. “We are happy with our agriculture and do not want a large city in place of our homes.”

They may have no choice. The story of modern India has been clear: industrialise, or perish. The government says agriculture has not done enough to generate employment, and has pushed industry as a more lucrative alternative.

That means cities. Since 2012, when current prime minister Narendra Modi was chief minister of Gujarat – of which Ahmedabad is the biggest city – the state government has tried to expand the areas of land under the control of 12 cities to swallow up some 800 villages.

Villages near Morbi-Wankaner, Surat and Himmatnagar have protested against their inclusion into urban development authorities. In September 2015, after demonstrations, 42 villages managed to get themselves removed from the Junagadh Urban Development Authority; but in other parts of Gujarat, including Ahmedabad, villagers continue to protest to little avail.

The government proposes to develop 40% of villages’ land, paving roads and building hospitals, schools and housing colonies. In turn, it says this will lead the remaining 60% to appreciate in value. “And that is supposed to compensate for the 40% we initially give up,” says Thakor.

Like many farmers in the 68 villages around Ahmedabad, he is not thrilled to give up nearly half of his land for the mere promise of a better future. “More importantly, we don’t think this is a better future.”

    If we will end up being daily wage workers in cities, it will hit our dignity the most
    Lalji Bhai Thakor

About 100,000 farmers in different parts of the state have met to strategise ways to oppose cities’ expansion. Some have even launched challenges in the Gujarat high court.

“We suspect this is a large land scam,” says Jassu Ba, 70, from Nasmed village. “Why do they need so much land to pave roads? A fraction of it should suffice.”

Many villagers grow groundnuts, cotton, wheat, rice and cumin; losing nearly half their land would split up large holdings, posing a risk to their agricultural industry. “Farming small tracts of lands is a disaster,” says Dara Singh, the village council head of Nasmed. “Crops will not grow well on smaller tracts, and we cannot sustain ourselves with that.”

They also fear that large-scale urbanisation will further rob them of water. Most parts of northern and central Gujarat are irrigated by the Narmada river, but last month the state government said farmers would only be supplied until March, blaming insufficient rainfall. This has forced farmers to rely heavily on groundwater. “If they pour concrete everywhere, there will not be any groundwater,” says Singh.

In November, the current chief minister of Gujarat, Vijay Rupani, tweeted that the state had India’s lowest unemployment rate – 0.9%, against the national average of 5%. The implication was clear: Gujarat’s success was down to it being an industrial and urban state.

But these numbers are contested, and young people in particular question the quality of that employment. “We have no skills to work in an urban setting,” says Thakor. “If we will end up being daily wage workers in cities, it will hit our dignity the most.”

Persis Ginwalla, an activist with the non-profit farmers’ advocacy group Jameen Adhikar Andolan Gujarat in Ahmedabad, sees underemployment as a natural consequence of rapid urbanisation. “Industries and urban centres need disposable low-wage workers, and those displaced from their villages provide for just that.”

Figures from the 2011 census suggest a massive rural-urban migration in Gujarat, with 42 out of every 100 people in the state living in cities. The national average is 31.

As a result, many cities are expanding at a rapid rate and in an unplanned fashion, with water and housing supply proving particularly problematic.

A senior official at the ministry of urban development, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, says people are flocking to cities from villages because they want “a comfortable life”. Cities had “better schools, better hospitals, roads, connectivity – therefore, people prefer to move to cities,” he says. “We are just offering to build cities where they live.”

Dara Singh, of Nasmed village, scoffs in response. Its land was incorporated into the Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority (Auda) in 2009: “If the official is to be believed, we should have our fancy roads and sprawling houses by now. Look around – what do you see apart from open drains and mud roads?”

Spurred on by successes in other parts of the state, Singh and others in Nasmed have renewed their fight to be removed from Auda.

The state election result in December was also interpreted as an indication that the people of Gujarat are turning against urbanisation. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a narrow victory with merely a tiny fraction of the rural vote. Analysts say that if elections were held only in rural areas of Gujarat, the BJP would have suffered a crushing defeat.

The government is disallowing its citizens from leading better lives in villages, instead forcing them into cities where the quality of life is lower, argues Sagar Rabari, the secretary of Khedut Samaj, an Ahmedabad-based farmers’ organisation. “At this point we are not raising larger questions like global warming and food security,” he says. “We are merely questioning the wisdom of herding people into cities like they were cattle.

“Or worse,” he adds, “bringing dysfunctional cities to where they live.”

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« Reply #3 on: Feb 12, 2018, 06:14 AM »

As West Fears the Rise of Autocrats, Hungary Shows What’s Possible

FEB. 12, 2018
NY Times
BUDAPEST — The senior leaders of Fidesz gathered on the banks of the Danube, in a building known as the Hungarian White House, stunned by the scale of their good fortune. Their right-wing party had won unexpectedly sweeping political power in national elections. The question was how to use it.

Several men urged caution. But Viktor Orban, the prime minister-elect, disagreed. The voting result, Mr. Orban continued, had given him the right to carry out a radical overhaul of the country’s Constitution.

Mr. Orban won the argument.

The private meetings, recounted by two people who were in the room and by a third who was briefed on the discussions at the time, occurred in early May 2010. Nearly eight years later, Mr. Orban has remade Hungary’s political system into what one critic calls “a new thing under the sun.” Once praised by watchdog groups as a leading democracy of post-Soviet Eastern Europe, Hungary is now considered a democracy in sharp, worrisome decline.

Through legislative fiat and force of will, Mr. Orban has transformed the country into a political greenhouse for an odd kind of soft autocracy, combining crony capitalism and far-right rhetoric with a single-party political culture. He has done this even as Hungary remains a member of the European Union and receives billions of dollars in funding from the bloc. European Union officials did little as Mr. Orban transformed Hungary into what he calls an “illiberal democracy.”

Now Mr. Orban is directly challenging the countries that have long dominated the European bloc, predicting that 2018 will be “a year of great battles.” At home, he is pushing new legislation, this time to place financial penalties on civil society groups that help migrants. His domestic political standing is largely unchallenged, partly because of changes he has made to the electoral system; he is almost certain to win another term in April elections.

In the European Union’s political hierarchy, Mr. Orban has often been cast as an unruly outsider — a loud, populist voice peripheral to the mainstream, and peripheral to real power. But he is now possibly the bloc’s greatest political challenge. He is arguing that Europe’s postwar liberal consensus “is now at an end” — and his vision is being emulated in Poland, while his influence is felt elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe.

“Viktor Orban has demonstrated that in Europe things are possible,” the leader of Poland’s governing Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said in 2016. “You have given an example, and we are learning from your example.”

Mr. Orban is emblematic of a strongman age. He has courted President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and praised President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. In 2016, he became the first Western leader to endorse the Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump. Although Mr. Orban lacks the global profile of those leaders, what he is doing in Europe is seen as part of a broader decline of democracy in the world.

“What makes this place so important and interesting is that something new is taking place,” said Michael Ignatieff, the president and rector of Central European University, an American college in Budapest that Mr. Orban has tried to close.

“Orban has pioneered a new model of single-party rule that has spread through Eastern Europe, which is unlikely to spread west because civil society, independent institutions and the rule of law is too strong in Western Europe,” said Mr. Ignatieff, who is also a human rights scholar and a former leader of the Liberal Party in Canada. He added, however, that it “could break the E.U. apart if this conflict between liberal democracy in the West and single-party states in the East can’t be resolved.”

Zoltan Kovacs, the Hungarian government spokesman, and the only current official who agreed to speak on the record for this article, defended Mr. Orban’s actions as a determined effort “to get rid of the remnants of communism that are still with us, not only in terms of institutions but in terms of mentality.”

Mr. Orban is undeniably popular with many Hungarians, and recent polls show that roughly 50 percent of decided voters support Fidesz. A weak, divided opposition helps him, as does a pliant news media. In a small nation troubled by historical anxieties, he also has positioned himself as a buffer against what he portrays as modern-day threats: such as European Union bureaucrats; or George Soros, the liberal Hungarian-American philanthropist; or, above all, migrants who seek to settle in the country.

“Migration fits into a wider agenda about the protection of the Hungarian people,” said Andras Biro-Nagy, a politics lecturer at Corvinus University of Budapest. “He’s protecting us from everything.”

To understand how Mr. Orban has reshaped Hungary, start with the private meetings in 2010. Fidesz had just won national elections by a margin that qualified the party for more than two-thirds of the seats in Parliament, even though it had only won a slim majority of votes. Party leaders had a mandate. But to what extent could they legitimately wield it?

Weeks later, Mr. Orban and his lieutenants began a legislative assault on the Hungarian Constitution, curbing civil society and, to less fanfare, diverting billions of euros in European Union and federal money toward loyal allies.

First, he moved simultaneously to curb the Hungarian media and the judiciary. Next came the erosion of the country’s checks and balances, which has helped Mr. Orban share the spoils of power with close friends and important businessmen.

And then, came the electoral process. The restructuring of Hungary’s election system, including a redrawing the electoral map, has helped him remain in power, even as his party has won fewer votes.

“The election law does not correspond to democratic features,” said Imre Voros, a founding member of the Hungarian constitutional court, “and Hungary is therefore not a democratic country.”

Sworn into office on May 29, 2010, Mr. Orban re-engineered Hungary’s institutional framework so swiftly that even Fidesz lawmakers were stunned. During the next five years, Fidesz used its two-thirds majority in Parliament to pass more than 1,000 laws, many of them enacted after a few hours of debate — and often presented by low-ranking lawmakers who had neither written nor read them.

Gergely Barandy, a Socialist lawmaker, recalled being asked by a Fidesz counterpart in October 2011 about a proposal to bar criminal suspects from speaking to a lawyer for the first 48 hours of their detention.

Mr. Barandy said a shocked Fidesz lawmaker had asked him, “Have you seen this bill?”

“Yes, I did see it,” Mr. Barandy said he replied. “But did you know you were the one who introduced it?”

The new laws represented an assault on a Hungarian democracy that Freedom House, a watchdog group that measures democracy around the world, had rated as one of the strongest in post-Soviet Eastern Europe.

Two media laws created a chill for independent journalists pursuing stories that displeased the government. The laws allowed Mr. Orban to appoint his own candidates to lead the country’s two main media regulators, while simultaneously giving those regulators more power to fine and punish independent news outlets. (Most of those outlets have subsequently been bought by allies of Mr. Orban.)

But the country’s state-run news outlets were also under threat. Soon after Mr. Orban took power, several new managers appeared in the newsroom of Hungarian public radio. “These guys were not exactly journalists,” said Attila Mong, then a popular public radio host. “They were more like propagandists.”

Mr. Mong said that, before the 2010 elections, he had felt free to cover politics as he saw fit. That changed after the new managers arrived and the new laws took effect.

“There was this fear in the newsroom that we didn’t have before,” Mr. Mong said. Around 1,000 employees were pushed out at public broadcasters — about a third of the total staff. Mr. Mong, who held a minute’s silence on air in protest, was one of them.

Two decades earlier, the founders of Hungary’s post-Communist democracy created nonpartisan government monitors to keep the country’s leader in check. Seeking to dismantle this system, Mr. Orban put ex-Fidesz politicians in charge at several institutions, including the State Audit Office, which monitors government expenditures, and the State Prosecution Service, which oversees criminal prosecutions. His supporters also now control the board overseeing the National Fiscal Council, an independent body scrutinizing economic policy.

The National Fiscal Council, which angered Mr. Orban by expressing mild concern about his first budget in October 2010, is now “completely irrelevant,” said Balazs Romhanyi, who was chief of staff at the council before being fired in December 2010. “Their mandate and their tools are designed to have zero effect.”

Yet it is Hungary’s judiciary that has perhaps been most affected. During the country’s democratic transition, a Constitutional Court was created to protect fundamental rights and uphold rule of law. Judges had to be nominated by a committee staffed by representatives of all the parties in Parliament — ensuring that all judges were chosen by consensus.

But Fidesz voted to give itself complete power in choosing the candidates. Eight years later, the court is made up entirely of judges appointed during Fidesz’s tenure. Two were previously Fidesz lawmakers. A third was once a top aide to Mr. Orban. And the vast majority have usually voted with the government, according to research published by the University of Wisconsin.

The government has been undeterred by the occasional disagreement. When the Constitutional Court struck down Fidesz laws that, among other things, criminalized homelessness, Parliament amended the Constitution to include most of the laws that the court had rejected.

Homelessness is once again a crime in Hungary.

“It was incredibly unscrupulous, and the kind of thing you see in Azerbaijan,” said Judge Laszlo Kiss, one of the last constitutional judges to have been appointed before Mr. Orban came to power. (He retired in 2016.)

At the same time, Mr. Orban’s party has taken aim at the broader judiciary, giving one of his oldest friends, Tunde Hando, the overall say over which judges get appointed to senior positions.

Numerous judges were appointed before Mr. Orban took office, but his tightening grip on the judiciary has placed them under heavy political pressure, said Judge Peter Szepeshazi, one of the few judges to publicly criticize the system.

“It’s not a totalitarian system,” Judge Szepeshazi said. “But it’s very autocratic.”

In 2012, a Fidesz mayor in the town of Szekszard privately told his councilors that their town was among several that would be installing new streetlights, paid for by European Union funds. Nothing would be made public about the tender process for more than a year. But the mayor said he was already in contact with one potential bidder. The company was new to the lighting business. But it was part-owned by Mr. Orban’s son-in-law, Istvan Tiborcz.

Ultimately, the company got the contract.

Akos Hadhazy, one of the councilors, thought something was fishy. “A company belonging to the prime minister’s son-in-law was already meeting with mayors about a future public procurement before an E.U. grant was even announced — and then he ended up as the main contractor,” said Mr. Hadhazy, who recorded the meeting. “This has more than just a bad smell. We can see that the system is rotting.”

Crony capitalism, critics argue, has become rampant. Five associates of Mr. Orban have particularly benefited: Mr. Tiborcz; Lorinc Meszaros, the mayor of Mr. Orban’s childhood village; Arpad Habony, one of Mr. Orban’s closest advisers; Istvan Garancsi, who watches soccer games with Mr. Orban; and Lajos Simicska, one of Mr. Orban’s oldest friends. Between 2010 and 2016 alone, these five men won roughly 5 percent of government and European Union contracts, a total of $2.5 billion, according to an analysis by the Corruption Research Center Budapest.

Mr. Simicska, however, had a falling out with Mr. Orban in 2015, and he stopped winning government contracts around that time. Mr. Meszaros, a former gas-fitter with little previous business experience, has since won many more public procurements. Since the start of 2018, Mr. Meszaros’s company has already won more than $400 million in European Union contracts.

Mr. Orban’s critics say that such cronyism is possible because of the erosion of Hungary’s democratic checks and balances. The country’s chief prosecutor, Peter Polt, is supposed to be an independent official, but “seems to be a friend of the Orban government,” said Miklos Ligeti, a former prosecutor who is now head of legal research at the Hungarian branch of Transparency International, a global anticorruption watchdog.

‘Dance of the Peacock’

Mr. Orban has been able to accrue so much power in Budapest partly because he met little effective opposition from Brussels, the seat of the European Union, which was founded on the principles of rule of law and liberal democracy.

Mr. Orban’s constitutional overhaul quickly drew the eye of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm. The European justice commissioner at the time, Viviane Reding, did win some concessions from Mr. Orban on certain issues, but most of the commission’s rulings had little practical effect on the overall picture.

The main problem was that the founders of the European Union never considered the possibility that a member state would backslide, and did not create procedures to deal conclusively with such an event, Ms. Reding said.

“We never thought that someone would go the other way,” Ms. Reding said. “It was unthinkable.”

The so-called nuclear option — the suspension of Hungary’s voting rights — was considered too drastic for the situation. Mr. Orban has subsequently claimed to have tricked European officials into believing that he had made substantive changes, even though they were largely cosmetic, a tactic he has publicly described as the “dance of the peacock.”

Europe’s main alliance of center-right parties, the European People’s Party, which relied on Fidesz’s votes in the European Parliament, did not offer much resistance, either. And leaders of the alliance feared that expelling Mr. Orban could tilt power in the European Parliament toward center-left parties.

“The seat difference between us and the Socialists is not monumental,” said Frank Engel, a lawmaker with the European People’s Party.

Faced with minimal resistance in Brussels, Mr. Orban’s next test is in the Hungarian general election in April. He is expected to win easily, despite the possibility that Fidesz could win fewer votes than in any election in 20 years. That’s what happened in 2014: Fidesz formed a second supermajority in Parliament, even though it had won more votes in not only the 2010 election, but also in the elections the party lost in 2002 and 2006.

Fidesz officials attributed this awkward fact to lower turnout, to the popularity of their nationalist policies and to the weakness of the opposition. But the opposition, as well as several analysts and academics, argued that the constitutional changes had gamed the electoral system through gerrymandering.

Voting districts that had historically leaned to the left were reshaped to include around 5,000 more voters than districts that traditionally leaned right, according to an analysis by polling specialists at Political Capital, a Hungarian think tank. This meant that leftist parties needed more votes to win a seat than Fidesz did.

The new system still allowed parties that won no voting districts to enter Parliament via a system of proportional representation. But even that system, which had previously given a leg up to smaller parties, was amended to favor parties that had won more constituencies — another boost to Fidesz.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m traveling in a time machine and going back to the ’60s,” said Zoltan Illes, a Fidesz lawmaker from 2010 to 2014, who has since become a critic of the government.

“All the characteristics and features on the surface are of democracy,” he added. “But behind it there is only one party and only one truth.”

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« Reply #4 on: Feb 12, 2018, 06:17 AM »

Poland’s Jews fear for future under new Holocaust law

Behind the new law denying Polish complicity in Nazi atrocities, many fear there lies a growing strain of antisemitism

Christian Davies in Warsaw
12 Feb 2018 23.12 GMT

Even on a clear day, history hangs over Warsaw like smog. Flattened during the Nazi German wartime occupation and rebuilt during communist rule, what Poland’s capital may lack in architectural charm it makes up for with a litany of monuments, statues, plaques and shrines dedicated to collective suffering and individual sacrifice.

One lesser-known memorial is a small plaque on the wall of the Warszawa Gdańska railway station, a nondescript socialist-era building on the north side of the city. It was from here that many Poles of Jewish origin departed in the wake of the “anti-Zionist campaign” in March 1968, when cold war politics and a power struggle within the Polish Communist party led to an antisemitic propaganda campaign forcing thousands of Polish Jews to leave the country.

“Loyalty to socialist Poland and imperialist Israel is not possible simultaneously,” prime minister Józef Cyrankiewicz had declared in 1968. “Whoever wants to face these consequences in the form of emigration will not encounter any obstacle.” The plaque bears a tribute from the Polish-Jewish writer Henryk Grynberg: “For those who emigrated from Poland after March 1968 with a one-way ticket. They left behind more than they had possessed.”

In a few weeks’ time, Poland’s Jewish community will mark the 50th anniversary of the events of March 1968. They will do so in the wake of arguably the most serious crisis in Polish-Jewish relations since the fall of communism in 1989, after the passage of controversial legislation criminalising the attribution to the Polish state or Polish nation of complicity in the crimes committed by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.
A crowd surround a dead man on the street in the Warsaw ghetto around 1940.

Although popular at home, the legislation signed last week by President Andrzej Duda has proved a diplomatic and public relations catastrophe abroad, as scholars, Holocaust survivors and friendly governments alike have lined up to voice their criticism and concerns about a potentially chilling effect on the study and understanding of the Holocaust.

The ensuing controversy has sparked a war of words between Polish and Israeli politicians, and an outpouring of antisemitic rhetoric in Poland as nationalist and pro-government media seek to portray the country as under attack from an international anti-Polish campaign orchestrated by foreign powers and Jewish advocacy groups abroad.

Ruling party officials have claimed the row has been confected by Jewish advocacy groups seeking compensation for property restitution claims. An editorial on the rightwing TV Republika website described the crisis as “a big test of loyalty for the Polish Jews whose organisations are linked personally and institutionally with American Jews”, and accused them of “too rarely and too weakly defending Poland and the Poles in the international arena”.

“They want to break us – it’s about sovereignty, truth and money,” read the cover of Sieci, a weekly that has close ties to Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party.

Speaking to the Observer, members of the Polish-Jewish community and activists involved in Polish-Jewish dialogue and reconciliation have expressed their shock and dismay at this deterioration in public discourse. While stressing that the present crisis is not comparable to that of March 1968, many said that, with their loyalties once again being called into question, the echoes of the rhetoric of the “anti-Zionist campaign” were too uncomfortable to ignore.

“We are receiving antisemitic, anti-Jewish statements on a daily basis,” said Anna Chipczyńska, president of the Jewish Community of Warsaw. “Members of the community feel that their loyalty is being questioned, that people are expecting them to take a side. Some of them also indicate the silence of friends and work colleagues in the face of these attacks, and this really hurts them.”

“In 1968 they talked about an international Zionist conspiracy; now they talk about an international anti-Polish conspiracy,” said Jan Gebert, who wrote an open letter to Polish parliamentarians on behalf of Polish Jews, expressing concern that the legislation would criminalise giving testimony about Poles who blackmailed or murdered Jews during the Holocaust. “When you’ve grown up in Polish culture, you understand that there is no fundamental difference between these two things.”

Speaking from his office in the neo-romanesque Nożyk Synagogue, Warsaw’s only Jewish place of worship to have survived the war physically intact, Poland’s chief rabbi Michael Schudrich acknowledged that the rhetoric of recent days had left some questioning their future.

“In the last week I’ve heard more young Jews think about leaving Poland than I have ever before,” he said. “They say, literally: ‘Rabbi, is it time to leave?’ That’s a challenge for the Polish government: some of their citizens no longer feel comfortable living in their country.”

Schudrich, a New Yorker with Polish roots, is credited with playing a key role in Poland’s “Jewish revival” of recent decades, having served as the country’s chief rabbi since 2004. He was also at pains to warn that inflammatory rhetoric and exaggerated claims, especially in Israel, as regards the true extent of Polish complicity in the Holocaust were helping to fuel a vicious cycle of mutual recrimination.

“What has been very disappointing to me is that we’ve re-entered a kind of a mindset where too many people are not listening to each other. Where we have been successful over the past 25 years is to have an increasing sensitivity to what hurts the other side, and what I’m seeing now is a complete lack of sensitivity, both from the Polish to the Jewish and from the Jewish to the Polish side.”

It is a point echoed by Professor Dariusz Stola, director of the Polin Museum of Polish Jews, which opened in 2013 and is seen by many as a crowning achievement of Polish-Jewish dialogue and reconciliation. “Those who condemn Poles en masse are the best friends and allies of Polish antisemites – they feed each other.”

Sitting in his office in the museum’s iron- and copper-clad structure on a site in the former Warsaw ghetto, on a street named after Mordechai Anielewicz, a leader of the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising, Stola argued that the recent deterioration in Polish-Jewish relations illustrates a wider deterioration in Polish society.

“It is a sign of a deterioration in the capacity to talk, and the ability to talk is the essence of democracy. If you cannot talk, you cannot reach an agreement; you can only force a solution. The erosion of language is the erosion of democracy and the path to violence.”

The question being discussed now is whether the present crisis can be resolved before the achievements of recent decades are undone entirely.

“A lot of people on the Jewish side are now saying that this was not an honest process – they feel tricked,” said Agnieszka Markiewicz, director of the Warsaw office of the American Jewish Committee, an advocacy group, and a former director of external relations at the Forum for Dialogue, a Warsaw-based NGO focusing on Polish-Jewish reconciliation.

“But it was not a trick! It was real. Poland did immense work, but now there is a risk that it will be treated as a kind of cover-up.”

“It’s a sin to let what’s happened in the last week undermine or destroy everything that we’ve built in the last 25 years, and we cannot permit that to happen,” said Schudrich.

But asked what he tells those who ask him about whether they should leave the country, the chief rabbi signalled that the legislation at the centre of the present controversy had forced him to reflect on his own future as well.

“I tell them it’s time to fight. But if it comes a time in this country where I cannot say what the truth is without fear of being imprisoned, I will leave. That time hasn’t come, and I will fight with all my heart and all my soul to make sure it doesn’t come to that.

“But I’m not hanging around here if I can’t say what the truth is.”

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« Reply #5 on: Feb 12, 2018, 06:19 AM »

French far-right icon Jean-Marie Le Pen gets mixed ruling

New Europe

PARIS  — A French appeals court on Friday upheld the far-right National Front's decision to expel party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen over anti-Semitic remarks, but also confirmed a lower court's ruling that maintains his status as honorary party president for life.

The decision of the Versailles appeals court, both a stinging defeat and a partial victory for the 89-year-old Le Pen, portends a new showdown with his daughter, former French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.

The father and daughter have waged a bitter power struggle over National Front's image since he named her to succeed him in 2011. The elder Le Pen, who has been convicted multiple times for racism and anti-Semitism, now bemoans fundamental decisions she made.

The enmity could worsen with the approach of the anti-immigration party's congress in March. Members will be asked to vote on doing away with the rank of honorary president-for-life, a strategy to bypass the courts and to make Jean-Marie Le Pen's removal definitive.

The party said in a statement that Jean-Marie Le Pen "has no right to take part in the March congress" because only dues-paying members can participate. Marine Le Pen and party decision-makers expelled the elder Le Pen in 2015 for a series of remarks considered a liability to the party's image, including repeating a remark that Nazi gas chambers were a "detail" in World War II history.

Jean-Marie Le Pen sued — his lawyer said the decision to expel him was made by an "execution squad" — but a lower court in 2016 confirmed the ouster. In the appeals court ruling Friday, the judge echoed the lower court's arguments that the National Front was justified in removing Le Pen as a rank-and-file member because of damage he caused to the party.

However, the court also ordered the party to pay Le Pen 25,000 euros ($31,000) in damages and interest. It said fines were appropriate as well since Le Pen was blocked from high-level party functions he had been entitled to attend as honorary president.

Jean-Marie Le Pen's lawyer welcomed that part of the decision as a victory, according to French media reports. It may be short-lived. If the honorary president-for-life designation is eliminated at the March 10-11 congress in Lille, it would break Le Pen's last link to the party he founded in 1972. It was not known if he plans to try to attend the gathering.

Party members also are expected to vote on renaming the National Front in a final break with the party's past. Jean-Marie Le Pen said in a Tweet last month that long-time party followers would see a name change as "veritable treason." toward decades of party followers.

At the time of the anti-Semitic remarks, Marine Le Pen was in the midst of an image cleanup campaign ahead of the 2017 presidential race, and she and her cohorts felt her father's verbal provocations would tarnish her.

Marine Le Pen placed second in the first round of last year's French presidential election, but suffered a resounding loss to Emmanuel Macron in the runoff. Neither Le Pen was present for Friday's ruling.

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« Reply #6 on: Feb 12, 2018, 06:23 AM »

A student called Kevin holds the fate of the Merkel coalition

Inspired by Jeremy Corbyn – and named after Kevin Keegan – Kevin Kühnert, 28, wants German left to shun coalition

Kate Connolly
12 Feb 2018 22.00 GMT

He has been described as the babyface politician who holds Angela Merkel’s future in his hands. Some describe him as a “kamikaze” social democrat; others the biggest political talent since Gerhard Schröder.

Kevin Kühnert, a 28-year-old student from Berlin who heads the youth wing of the Social Democrats, is the most talked-about politician in Germany. If he succeeds in his plan to scotch the idea of a Grand Coalition, the fragile construct agreed on last week by Merkel’s conservatives and the left-of-centre SPD, he will simply be the man who turned German politics upside down.

Although presented to the public last Wednesday more or less as a foregone conclusion, the Grand Coalition deal is far from done. Over the next few weeks, the drama surrounding Germany’s most drawn-out coalition talks is set to continue as the SPD’s 464,000 members are invited to vote on the so-called GroKo. Kühnert is the leading face of the #NoGroKo movement, on a mission to prevent what he thinks would be a disaster for both his party and for German democracy. If he succeeds he would make history and potentially bring Merkel’s 12-year reign as Europe’s longest-serving leader crashing down.

“I believe for the SPD to enter yet another coalition with the conservatives [having been in one for eight of the past 12 years] would be very dangerous,” he said in an exclusive interview a day after the putative deal was announced. Merkel ceded key ministry posts to the SPD – including finance, foreign and labour – following marathon talks, and members of the SPD leadership, including its then chief, Martin Schulz, were ecstatic. But not Kühnert, who had earlier tweeted he was “aghast” at the outcome.

“Of course, finance is an absolutely key post in any cabinet,” he said. “But, at the end of the day, the chancellor is still a Christian Democrat and no decision she doesn’t want will get past her or her ministers.”

He accused the SPD negotiators, including Schulz, and his successor as party leader, Andrea Nahles, of being “far too timid in their demands” and not pushing for any truly leftwing policies, such as reducing the taxes of the lower paid and increasing those of the rich. A finance minister, even if he were from the SPD, would fail to push through any of the party’s key principles, he argued. “At the end of the day, it’ll be a Social Democratic finance minister who will be responsible for the fact that the gap between the poor and rich in Germany is only going to get wider because the issue of taxes was barely discussed during the negotiations.”

Kühnert burst on to the political stage following the collapse of the so-called Jamaica coalition talks last month, when the Greens, pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and Merkel’s conservative CDU-CSU alliance abandoned the idea of forming a coalition. Initially determined that the party, having polled a historical low of 20.5%, could only find its place in opposition, Schulz about-turned and said the SPD was up for negotiations after all.

“We were adamant we didn’t have the mandate to go into government again,” Kühnert said. “Consider too that the coalition as a whole had lost 14% support. The SPD received a lot of recognition when we said we see our role in the next four years as being in opposition. Now I’m afraid that analysis appears to be passé, and I think that’s a huge mistake.”

He is also furious about a lot else when we meet, including the fact that Horst Seehofer of the Christian Social Union, sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democrats, and a staunch opponent to her controversial refugee policies, is set to become interior minister with greater responsibilities. Seehofer calls Hungary’s autocratic leader Viktor Orbán a “friend” and has invited him to speak at party events. “Such a person cannot possibly be the SPD’s political partner,” said Kühnert. “It’s a gruesome concept”. He would simply like to see his party renew itself in opposition.

Sitting in the party’s headquarters, surrounded by portraits of the SPD’s most famous leaders, including Helmut Schmidt and Willy Brandt, Kühnert is aware he is now considered a future leader of the SPD. He also carries an awareness of his party’s historical obligations – Otto Wels, the SPD leader who stood up to the Nazis in a speech to parliament in 1933, is among the portraits – which is why he believes the SPD should be sitting as the main opposition in the Bundestag, rather than the far-right Alternative für Deutschland.

“We have warned against leaving the opposition leadership to the AfD,” he said. “I believe the SPD, in particular, has a historical responsibility not to let that happen.” Last week the SPD saw itself slip down the poll rankings further to 17%, only marginally above the AfD’s 15%. “I fear it’ll only get worse,” Kühnert said.

Last month, at a special party conference in Bonn, at which around 600 SPD delegates narrowly voted in favour of proceeding with the GroKo talks, Kühnert gave a speech stating that anything the CDU and SPD once had in common had been exhausted. “If we were a pub, you might say the CDU is putting its beers on our tab,” he said, coining a phrase which has since been quoted everywhere.

Since the Bonn conference, 25,000 new members have joined the party to enable them to vote, most of them presumed to wish to call time on CDU relations. “We have been inundated with mails and tweets and messages of support from people wanting to help us out,” Kühnert said. “The rise in membership is phenomenal.”

He admits that he greeted Schulz, the former European parliament president, when he was voted the party leader a year ago with 100% support. “I was electrified by the thought that the SPD could become an independent political force again,” he said. That hope was dashed by the election results.

Now, rather than the Schulz Effekt, it is the Kühnert Effekt that everyone talks about. He agrees that, for a party seeking to redefine itself, the rise of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour has been an inspiration, even more so the performance of Bernie Sanders in the US presidential race. “They have served to prove that social democracy is not a lost cause,” he said.

Regardless of what happens on 4 March, when the results of the postal vote will be announced, Kühnert’s star is unlikely to wane soon. Looking younger than his years, he has a penchant for black-hooded parkas and watching football and curling. A staple on chat shows, he cannot walk down the street without someone asking for a selfie with the man determined to say no to Merkel.

Kevin Kühnert is credited not only with putting the wind up Angela Merkel, but also with rehabilitating the name Kevin, which has a reputation in Germany of belonging to less able children and uncultivated parents.

His parents named him after footballer Kevin Keegan, who played for Hamburg SV between 1977 and 1980. Thousands of Germans have been named after him. But the real Kevin wave came a year after Kühnert’s birth, after the release of the 1990 US film Home Alone – in German Kevin: Allein zu Haus – in which Macaulay Culkin plays Kevin McCallister. Kevin Costner’s fame added to the hype in the 1990s.

A Berlin duo released the song Kevins: “You know things are on the up when we get our first chancellor called Kevin.”

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« Reply #7 on: Feb 12, 2018, 06:41 AM »

Trump thinks White House staffer accused of beating wives is guilty — but he’s defending him anyway: report

Brad Reed
Raw Story
12 Feb 2018 at 17:27 ET                   

President Donald Trump’s staunch defense of former White House staff secretary Rob Porter drew widespread disgust last week — however, a new report claims that Trump is defending Porter even though he privately believes that he’s guilty.

Sources tell Axios’ Jonathan Swan that Trump “has told multiple people that he believes the accusations about Porter, and finds him ‘sick.'”

As Swan notes, however, this completely contradicts the president’s public comments on the Porter scandal. On Friday, Trump said he felt sad that Porter had to resign while adding that he wished Porter well in any future career. The president has also pointed out that Porter has claimed to be completely innocent — just as he did when he defended accused child molester Roy Moore last year.

During his statement, the president made no mention of the multiple women who have accused Porter of beating them.

“This is the strongest indicator yet that Trump will reflexively defend his male allies from any and all accusations, even when he thinks those accusations are true,” writes Swan. “Trump tells friends that he deplores the #MeToo movement and believes it unfairly exposes CEOs to lawsuits from their female employees. The fact that women frequently face sexual predation in the workplace doesn’t impact his view on this.”


Trump decries lack of ‘due process’ for men accused of sexual harassment, abuse

President Trump wished former White House aide Rob Porter “a wonderful career” on Feb. 9, saying Porter “says he's innocent.” (The Washington Post)

By Anne Gearan and Katie Zezima
February 12 2018
WA Post

President Trump on Saturday appeared to side with men accused of domestic abuse or sexual misconduct, following a week of turmoil surrounding allegations of spousal abuse against two male aides that brought the national #MeToo movement inside the White House.

In a tweet, Trump questioned whether “due process” is being given to those accused of wrongdoing and expressed sympathy for their damaged careers and sullied reputations.

“Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,” Trump tweeted Saturday morning. “Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused — life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”

The brief message, which made no mention of the accusers, marks the president’s most pointed response to the ongoing national reckoning with sexual harassment and abuse and put him seemingly at odds with a movement that in recent months has led to the downfall of several powerful men accused of abhorrent behavior.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a leader in the effort to combat sexual harassment in Congress, said her stomach turned when she saw Trump’s tweet Saturday morning.

“The new mantra is ‘We believe the women,’ and he is frozen in ‘I believe the men,’ ” Speier said in an interview. “He’s beyond rehabilitation in my view.”

White House spokesmen did not respond to a request for comment about which cases Trump was referring to and whether he also thinks that the lives of accusers can be shattered and destroyed.

But Saturday’s tweet follows spousal abuse allegations against two Trump aides that roiled the White House over the past week. Both men left their posts despite denying the claims by ex-wives of physical and emotional abuse.

Trump did not mention the aides by name, and he did not specify what kind of “allegation” he meant. But the tweet seemed to respond directly to the departure Wednesday of staff secretary Rob Porter, whose two former wives publicly detailed abuse, as well as the departure Friday of speechwriter David Sorensen, whose ex-wife made similar claims.

Trump stressed to reporters Friday that Porter claims innocence, and he added that he hopes Porter “will have a great career ahead of him.”

Trump’s statement Saturday also comes as some discomfort has begun to be expressed about the possibility that innocent people or complicated situations are getting swept up in the #MeToo movement — a sentiment he appeared to seize upon.

White House confirmed that speechwriter David Sorensen has resigned, becoming the second aide to leave the administration this week amid allegations. (Reuters)

Republican strategist Katie Packer Beeson, who penned a column set to run Monday in U.S. News and World Report that she titled “Has the #MeToo movement gone #too far?,” said she agrees with the premise of Trump’s tweet but argued that the president is conflating two things; she said she does not think the sentiment applies to Porter and Sorensen, who have credible allegations made against them.

“I also think that in Donald Trump’s very glossy world, wife beaters don’t look like Rob Porter,” she said. “Wife beaters look like big, hairy, sweaty men in tank tops, covered in tattoos who stumble home drunk and beat their wives. They don’t look like fashion models. He can’t accept that somebody like that might have a huge character flaw.”

Advocates for abuse victims say that false allegations are rare but do occur. They say it also is not uncommon for men to assert that wives or partners falsely claim abuse to gain leverage in divorce or custody matters.

“It’s unfortunate that the president’s instinct never seems to be to side with victims. False allegations are rare, and due process is important, but in the wake of #MeToo, more survivors are feeling empowered to speak publicly,” said Jodi Omear, a spokeswoman for the abuse victim advocacy group RAINN.

Trump has previously said little about the #MeToo movement, which has led to a reexamination of power dynamics and expectations for men and women in the workplace. Casino mogul Steve Wynn, a prominent Republican donor and Trump friend, is among the latest powerful men to lose their jobs over allegations of sexual misconduct. Wynn denies committing any harassment or abuse.

Trump was asked by reporters in November about the movement and responded, “Women are very special. I think it’s a very special time, a lot of things are coming out, and I think that’s good for our society, and I think it’s very, very good for women, and I’m very happy a lot of these things are coming out. I’m very happy it’s being exposed.”

But Trump’s sympathetic response Saturday fits a pattern in which he has defended other men accused of harassment or abuse while casting doubt on accusers — including when allegations have been made against him.

Trump has denied accusations from more than a dozen women that he has sexually abused them or behaved inappropriately. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has deflected questions about the intersection between that history and the current climate of exposing past behavior by saying that voters were satisfied with Trump’s denials.

Jessica Leeds, who alleges that Trump put his hand up her skirt during an airplane flight in the 1980s, said in an interview that Trump never acknowledges the women who make these accusations.

“He is saying that these are all allegations and isn’t it a shame that it’s ruining the life of somebody — without, of course, making any acknowledgment that the sexual abuse or aggression ruined the life of the other person,” she said. “Women remember what happened to them, what they had on, how they got out of it. They remember in graphic detail if they were 8 years old or 50 years old. Men, it’s a matter of them scratching an itch.”

Trump and his allies rarely draw distinctions among the women and their accounts, although Trump made an exception in responding to accusations from Leeds.

“Believe me, she would not be my first choice, that I can tell you,” Trump said during a campaign rally in North Carolina just before the election.

Days later, during a campaign speech near Gettysburg, Pa., Trump said: “Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign. Total fabrication. The events never happened. Never. All of these liars will be sued after the election is over.” Trump never sued any of the women.

As a candidate, Trump acknowledged that he had made lewd comments about grabbing women’s crotches after The Washington Post reported on a recording of Trump making these claims. “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump said on a hot mic before recording a segment of “Access Hollywood” in 2005.

Trump denied making any such assaults and dismissed the recording as “locker room” talk.

Among the other men he has publicly defended or sympathized with are conservative media titan Roger Ailes and former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, both accused of serial abuse of women in the workplace. After Ailes was ousted as chief executive of Fox News in 2016, Trump questioned the motives of some of Ailes’s accusers. Ailes denied the allegations.

In April last year, Trump said that O’Reilly — who had paid millions of dollars in settlements to five women — was “a good person” and should not have settled.

“I don’t think Bill did anything wrong,” Trump said.

Trump said much the same about Porter, a top aide who spent a lot of time with the president in his role as staff secretary, in remarks to reporters Friday.

“We certainly wish him well. It’s obviously a tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him,” Trump said. “He says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent, but you’ll have to talk to him about that.”

Trump had a similar response to allegations that Senate candidate Roy Moore in Alabama had preyed on girls as young as 14 when he was in his 30s.

“He totally denies it,” Trump said of Moore after The Post first reported the allegations. “He says it didn’t happen.”

But Trump’s inclination to sympathize with men whose professional lives may be harmed by accusations is not often extended to Democrats and their supporters.

In November, Trump mocked Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) after he was accused of forcibly kissing and groping a woman 11 years ago.

“The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words,” Trump wrote on Twitter, adding in a second tweet that the previous week, Franken had been “lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women.”

In October 2017, soon after Democratic mega-donor Harvey Weinstein’s company fired him, Trump was asked by reporters about the allegations against him and responded: “I’ve known Harvey Weinstein for a long time. I’m not at all surprised to see it.” He was then asked about his own behavior and responded: “That’s locker room. That’s locker room.”

Trump’s response to the Porter case also contrasts with Vice President Pence’s strongly worded reaction to the allegations.

“I was appalled when I learned of the allegations against Rob Porter,” Pence said in an NBC interview Friday from South Korea, where he was attending the Opening Ceremonies of the Winter Olympics. “There is no tolerance in this White House and no place in America for domestic abuse.”

Speier said it fell to Pence to clean up for his boss.

“I think his tweet shows utter contempt for women, and it’s incomprehensible to me that he has not been able to come out and say how vile domestic violence is and how it has no place in society and especially not in the White House,” Speier said of Trump. “Not one word about that.”

Republican congressional leaders Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Rep. Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Rep. Steve Scalise (La.) did not comment Saturday on Trump’s tweet or their view of whether Trump is appropriately handling issues of sexual harassment and abuse.

Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who has said Trump should resign over the abuse allegations against him, said through a spokesman that Trump “has shown through words and actions that he doesn’t value women.”

“The lives of survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse are being shattered every day,” Gillibrand added. “If he wants due process for the over dozen sexual assault allegations against him, let’s have congressional hearings tomorrow.”

Jenna Johnson and Philip Rucker contributed to this report.


Why domestic abusers thrive in Trump's White House

Jessica Valenti

The White House knew for quite some time about Rob Porter’s history of domestic violence but continued to rally behind him

12 Feb 2018 13.56 GMT

It’s no secret that Trump respects men who keep women in their place: “You have to treat ’em like shit.” Perhaps that’s why top White House staffer Rob Porter got a hero’s goodbye this week, even as a picture of his ex-wife’s battered face was splashed across the news.

Porter, accused of assaulting both of his ex-wives and a former girlfriend, gave his resignation but “was not pressured to do so”, according to press secretary Sarah Sanders. In fact, Sanders lauded Porter as having the full confidence of the president and Gen John Kelly, and took the time to read Porter’s statement, in which he called the accusations “vile” and a “smear campaign”.

This came less than a day after Kelly called Porter “a man of true integrity and honor” in response to the allegations. So much for women being “sacred”. As it turns out, the White House knew for quite some time about Porter’s history of domestic violence – he couldn’t get security clearance because of it – but continued to rally behind him. In fact, Kelly promoted Porter soon after finding out about the abuse.

The only reason Porter left at all was because the picture of his ex’s bruised face surfaced. Given that Trump has been shopping around the theory that the Access Hollywood tape of him bragging about grabbing women’s genitals isn’t really him, I almost expected the White House to call the picture “fake news”.

Porter did find the time, however, to insist he was the one that took the picture – as if that somehow excuses him from punching his wife in the face. (For a history of how the Polaroid changed how we treat domestic violence, watch this incredible Ted Talk.)

The truth is that Porter’s history of abuse allegations is less of an anomaly than a feature of this administration. Former chief strategist Steve Bannon was charged with domestic violence and battery in 1996 after his then wife called 911; police noted at the time that she had marks on her wrists and neck that supported her account of being assaulted. The charges were dismissed when his wife failed to appear in court.

Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, was accused of sexual assault in 2017 and was charged with battery in 2016 after forcibly grabbing a female reporter. And Trump’s choice for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, withdrew his name for consideration after domestic violence accusations surfaced – his ex-wife told her story dressed in disguise on the Oprah Winfrey show in 1990.

At this point perhaps it’s easier if we just sort out which of the president’s men hasn’t been accused of beating women.

Even then, it’s not great. Trump endorsed accused child molester Roy Moore for Senate, and is longtime friends with former RNC finance chair Steve Wynn – accused of harassment and sexual assault by dozens of women. And, of course, there’s Trump himself; the president has been accused many times over of offenses ranging from groping to a gruesome account of rape from his ex-wife, Ivana.

This is an administration overflowing with men who hurt women. Even so, we can’t become jaded as to how incredibly remarkable this all is. The White House, knowing that Porter abused multiple women, called him a man of integrity. They looked at a picture of his battered wife and defended him, still. He left the administration not in shame or disgrace, but honored.

“You have to treat ’em like shit” is no longer an embarrassing old Trump quote. It’s a mandate.

    Jessica Valenti is a Guardian columnist


Bullies, posers and bad boys’: Trump’s ‘best people’ smacked down in scathing editorial

Tom Boggioni
Raw Story
12 Feb 2018 at 10:42 ET                   

Writing for CNN, Michael D’Antonio — author of the book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” — claims there should be no surprise at revelations that two White House staffers have been dismissed over credible allegations of sexual abuse in their pasts, saying those type of people appeal to President Donald Trump.

“It’s time to ask a simple question: How many appalling characters must be wrung out of the West Wing before we recognize that the problem is the man at the top, who sets the tone for the workplace culture?” D’Antonio began before adding the President’s comments on Porter manifest the long held belief that “Decades of this practice trained many people to accept ‘Trump being Trump,’ which meant they discounted his racist, sexist comments and tweets. More importantly, the more Trump got away with his outrageous behavior, the more he came to regard this trait as something positive — and he brought into his inner circle men with the same bully-boy ways.”

“In staffing his campaign for president and later his administration, Trump either attracted or sought out men with attitudes similar to his own. In this crowd it was okay to be overly aggressive, or burdened with a sketchy background, just as long as you were truly useful to the President and didn’t upstage him,” he continued before ticking off Trump acolytes known of their bulling ways including, Steve Bannon, Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and Sebastian Gorka.

And now Robert Porter has been exposed by a former wife who shared pictures of her bruised face and who was defended by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

“As sensible people responded with alarm to the news that the White House employed Porter even after red flags were raised about his past, Kelly defended him as “a man of true integrity and honor.” Kelly’s statement, and reports that he encouraged Porter to stay on the job, reveal the inclinations of a man ruled by attitude, not sober reflection. These actions also threatened Kelly’s own reputation,” D’Antonio wrote.

“Whether Kelly stays or goes, he is now yet another example of the toxic workplace culture created by Donald Trump, who clearly brought into his administration the kinds of men who make him feel at ease<" he continued. "Trump has a lifelong record of bullying, aggression, lying, and extremism. (He is, remember, the man who joked about sexually assaulting women on the infamous 'Access Hollywood' tape.) The six men noted above, and a host of other figures in the administration, have come out of the Trump mold and proven incapable of better."


‘President Trump is finished with John Kelly’: Morning Joe rips Kellyanne Conway’s defense of chief of staff

Travis Gettys
Raw Story
12 Feb 2018 at 07:25 ET                   

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough dismissed Kellyanne Conway’s insistence that White House chief of staff John Kelly still enjoyed the president’s full confidence.

The retired general has come under fire for his handling of domestic abuse allegations against former staff secretary Rob Porter, but Conway claimed Sunday that Kelly’s job was safe.

“A lot of back and forth going on here, it could be confusing,” Scarborough said. “We’ll tell you what, what we usually do on ‘Morning Joe’ when we’re confused and just want to know the facts. We just wish somebody at the White House would give us the facts.”

He pointed out that Conway’s comments sounded remarkably similar to what she said one year ago Monday, when she insisted President Donald Trump had full confidence in then-national security adviser Mike Flynn — who was ousted hours later and has since pleaded guilty in the special counsel probe.

“(She) rushed out, and did what she does so often, said things that have no connection to the truth,” Scarborough said.

He said Conway’s comments were “the exact opposite” of what his own sources inside the White House had told him about Trump and Kelly.

“President Trump is finished with John Kelly, and his staff members around John Kelly can’t wait for him to go,” Scarborough said.


‘A shocking disgrace’: Orrin Hatch’s hometown paper rips him to shreds for defending alleged wife abuser

David Edwards
Raw Story
11 Feb 2018 at 15:53 ET                   

The Salt Lake Tribune took aim at Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) over the weekend after he sided with a White House staffer who was accused of domestically abusing two ex-wives.

In an piece published on Sunday, the paper’s editorial board attacks Hatch for saying that no newspaper should print allegations against Rob Porter, the former White House aide at the center of the abuse allegations.

“Shame on any publication that would print this,” Hatch told the paper. “I know Rob. I’ve known him for years, both as a close friend and as a personal advisor. He is kind and considerate towards all. The country needs more honest, principled people like Rob Porter.”

“Now now that Sen. Orrin Hatch has announced his retirement, it appears that his handlers have taken the muzzle off,” the paper’s editorial board writes in Sunday’s column.

The editorial continues:

    Jennifer Willoughby and Colbie Holderness, Porter’s ex-wives, both told the FBI about Porter’s alleged abuse during a background check. Holderness gave the FBI a picture of herself with a large black eye. Trump’s White House knew of the allegations, and hired him anyway.

    In other words, the White House did not care that a top official had been accused of similar abuse by two ex-spouses.

“That is a shocking disgrace,” the paper contends. “What’s even more shocking is Hatch’s comments regarding this week’s revelation.”

“Don’t ever underestimate what it takes for a woman to speak up,” The Salt Lake Tribune‘s editors conclude.

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« Reply #8 on: Feb 13, 2018, 05:14 AM »

Why Is Skin Color Different? Huge Genetic Study Reveals Prevailing Theory of Pigmentation is Wrong

By Kastalia Medrano

Scientists used to think that the same small handful of genes accounted for about half of all pigment variation in human skin. A new study shows the genetic picture behind skin color is far more complex.

Research supporting the prior, simpler conclusion was skewed by Eurocentrism. Because it focused almost exclusively on Northern Eurasian populations from higher latitudes, the data missed a huge swath of the globe. Now, scientists have factored in people of color living in lower latitudes—and found that the prevailing theory is wrong.

Scientists from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Stanford University, and Stony Brook University worked with groups of indigenous southern African peoples called the KhoeSan, notable to some for their use of “click” language. They interviewed them, measured their respective heights and weights, and used a tool called a reflectometer to measure their skin pigmentation.

After seven years of research, and data gathered from about 400 individuals, the researchers realized that the closer a population lives to the equator, the greater the number of genes play a part in determining skin pigmentation. A paper describing the research was published November 30 in the scientific journal Cell.

"Previous work has shown the biomedical consequences of ethnically biased studies. Over the past 10 years, approximately 80 percent of genetic association studies were performed in European-descent groups," Alicia Martin, a postdoctoral scientist in the lab of Broad Institute member Mark Daly, told Newsweek by email. "What we find here is that the biology of pigmentation or 'architecture' can be very different in Africans." Martin says the findings emphasize the need to fund more genetic work in diverse populations.

Skin pigmentation is still almost 100-percent heritable, meaning the shade of your skin is overwhelmingly determined by your parents, grandparents, and so forth. The KhoeSan’s ancestry doesn’t lighten or darken their skin, just increases genetic variation. Their genetic diversity makes for a fruitful source of study, and they’ve participated in similar research projects in the past.

Before the inclusion of the new data from the KhoeSan, the body of research on skin pigmentation showed it was controlled by a dynamic called “directional selection.” This refers to pigmentation being pushed in one unified direction—either lighter or darker—depending on the latitude of the population in question. Higher altitudes became lighter; lower latitudes became darker.

Directional selection held up for so long because it works in high latitudes, and high latitudes were the only ones ever really considered. But populations closer to the equator follow a different process, known as stabilization selection. In these geographic regions, more genes are involved in pigmentation, which means each one is making a smaller contribution to the end result. Instead of a few known genes contributing about 50 percent of skin pigmentation, each one accounts for about 10 percent. The researchers stated that the field needed to see a greater focus on diverse, understudied populations in order to get a complete picture of the true genetic architecture of skin pigmentation.

"In terms of next steps, we would like to create an online database where scientists can share pigmentation data from populations around the world," said co-author Brenna Henn, assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University. "We are actively working to collect more samples across Africa."

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« Reply #9 on: Feb 13, 2018, 05:16 AM »

Will the Olympics’ Green Makeover Have Lasting Effects?

By Warren Mabee

Every couple of years, billions of dollars flow into an Olympic host city and its environs for the construction of enormous stadiums, guest hotels and athlete accommodations.

In the past decade, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has emphasized the measures taken to make these projects—and the games themselves—sustainable.

But in a world where reducing carbon emissions is an overriding priority, is there still room for the Olympics?

Staging the Olympics comes with a huge environmental footprint. Flying an estimated 28,500 athletes and staff to Brazil for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio generated more than 2,000 kilotonnes (kt) of greenhouse gases (GHG)—not to mention the 2,500 kt of GHGs associated with bringing in about half a million spectators.

What's worse is that the investments made for the Olympics often end up being wasted. After the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, training fields and pools, a beach volleyball court and a hockey stadium were all left to rot, and the Rio facilities look to be on the same track.

The Winter Olympics

The issue of environmental impacts is increasingly important to the Winter Games.

When researchers at the University of Waterloo used climate-change models to look at previous Winter Games locations and predictions of future winter weather, they found that only 12 of the 21 previous hosts could be relied upon to repeat the task in a warmer future.

Many of the places that once cheered on the skiers and bobsledders sliding across snow and ice may be too warm by mid-century to host another Winter Olympics. Reducing the environmental impact of the games—and greenhouse gases in particular—takes on a special significance when the very future of the event is at stake.

The 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Vancouver generated about 278 kt of greenhouse gases between 2005 and 2010. The vast majority, 87 percent, were associated with getting almost 2,800 athletes, 10,000 journalists and as many as half a million spectators to Vancouver and out to event venues.

In fact, Vancouver was touted as hosting one of the greenest games ever. Some of this had to do with smart planning and the relative concentration of event venues in Whistler and Vancouver. But keep in mind that the Winter Olympics host fewer medal events and thus involve less movement of people overall.

Pyeongchang, in comparison, is gushing GHGs. Organizers estimate about 1,590 kt will have been released by the end of the games. That huge increase in emissions may be due to the distance involved in moving athletes and spectators to the Korean peninsula—or simply because we have improved the way we calculate environmental footprints for large and complex events.

But we can be fairly certain that the increase in emissions for the Pyeongchang Games aren't due to an massive influx of spectators—in fact, one of the big concerns about Pyeongchang seems to be the low ticket sales.

Green Games?

The IOC has taken many positive steps in an attempt to "green" the games. Its comprehensive sustainability strategy leans on five strategic areas—infrastructure, material sourcing, mobility, workforce and climate—to reduce the environmental footprint associated with construction and transportation, and to leave the host city with better infrastructure.

Despite the guidance, it doesn't always work. For example, the organizers of the 2016 Rio Olympics promised to restore the city's waterways through investments in the sanitation system. Even with strong planning, the Olympics do not always meet their green potential.

One area where the Olympics have achieved some success is in the use of carbon offsets, which is, in essence, paying for emissions that can't be otherwise avoided.

Today, carbon offsets have become an important part of the Olympic brand. Both Beijing 2008 and Vancouver 2010 used offsets to reduce their emissions significantly.

But offsets aren't always guaranteed. The London 2012 Summer Olympics dropped its offset pledge when it could not find any carbon offset projects in the United Kingdom. The Sochi organizers claimed to have achieved their "carbon neutral" target for the 2014 Winter Games, but others have challenged that assertion, questioning whether emissions associated with construction in preparation for the games were included.

Pyeongchang 2018 is on track to achieve carbon neutrality through the use of Certified Emission Reduction (CER) credits—an internationally recognized offset mechanism. By September 2017, the Pyeongchang organizing committee had secured offsets to cover about 84 percent of the total emissions anticipated with hosting the games, and there are plans to crowdsource funds to purchase the remaining credits required.

Urban Change

The Olympics can leave behind important infrastructure legacies that promote urban sustainability over the long term. The Vancouver Games, for example, included a highway upgrade and the Canada Line—an extension of the city's rapid transit system that connects downtown with the airport and Richmond, part of the metro Vancouver area.

Getting people out of their cars and onto the Canada Line reduces GHG emissions by as much as 14 kt of greenhouse gases per year, suggesting that the entire impact of the Vancouver 2010 Games could be offset in 20 years.

Yet the Vancouver Games came with a $7 billion price tag. And others point out that if the entire amount had been spent on improving the city's public transit system, residents would have benefited from much more than the Canada Line.

Would funds have been available without the impetus of an international spectacle? It seems unlikely, but it's difficult to know for certain.

Olympics as a Showcase

At their best, the Olympics are a powerful movement that can effect change and act as a launchpad for new ideas.

Atlanta 1996 was one of the first games to stage new and innovative technologies in the areas of energy generation and efficiency. The infrastructure built for these games included large-scale solar panel installations and alternative energy vehicles, demonstrating that these technologies were ready for deployment on a broader scale.

Keep in mind that this was more than 20 years ago and nearly a decade before Elon Musk founded Tesla. These installations helped usher in an era of solar deployment and alternative fuel vehicles. The late 1990s and early 2000s saw the development of dozens of new alternative energy programs in countries around the world.

Both Vancouver 2010 and London 2012 featured new "green" buildings that used the latest LEED standard building techniques and incorporated recovered materials in their design. Rio 2016 similarly benefited from new technologies such as LED lighting, which reduced costs and lowered greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet the movement to showcase new technologies may be running out of steam. Pyeongchang 2018 has embraced wind electricity—enough to power the entire games—and has ensured that each of the six major facilities built for the events have green building certifications, incorporating cutting-edge materials, systems and design to minimize energy and water consumption. All of these approaches help reduce the footprint of the games, but few can still be called innovative in 2018.

Creating Awareness

Despite the best efforts of both the IOC and corporate sponsors, however, the impact of the Olympics is hard to miss. With an estimated footprint of 1,590 kt of greenhouse gases, Pyeongchang 2018 will come at a high cost. Couple this with low ticket sales and the potential of abandoned venues in the future, and the games begin to look hopelessly out of step with the concerns of a world working to achieve a low-carbon future.

Perhaps it's time to call for a broader Olympics of sustainability: Ideas that can help us significantly move the needle towards greener living in an inclusive world.

Each Olympics could adopt an area—transport, construction, electricity, ecology—and showcase innovative ideas to inspire the world.

Some of the earlier attempts to green the Olympics have given us dramatic examples—the Richmond Oval, for instance, uses recycled materials to give us a soaring building that was designed not only for the games but for its future use.

The Olympics needs more of this sort of forward-looking thinking.

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.

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« Reply #10 on: Feb 13, 2018, 05:21 AM »

'Dangerous Drift-Prone Pesticide' Threatens Millions of Acres, Hundreds of Endangered Species: Farmers and Conservationists Sue EPA, Monsanto


On Friday, public interest organizations representing farmers and conservationists made their legal case in a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Monsanto Company, challenging EPA's approval of Monsanto's new "XtendiMax" pesticide. XtendiMax is Monsanto's version of dicamba, an old and highly drift-prone weed-killer. EPA's approval permitted XtendiMax to be sprayed for the first time on growing soybeans and cotton that Monsanto has genetically engineered (GE) to be resistant to dicamba.

The 2017 crop season—the first year of XtendiMax use—was an unprecedented disaster. Just as critics warned would happen, dicamba sprayed on Monsanto's GE soybeans and cotton formed vapor clouds that drifted to damage a host of crops and wild plants. Over three million acres of soybeans as well as scores of vegetable and fruit crops, trees and shrubs throughout the country were damaged by dicamba drift. Flowering plants near cropland also suffered, with potential harms to pollinators, as well as hundreds of endangered animal and plant species. Agronomists reported they had never seen herbicide-related drift damage on anything approaching this scale before. As the 2018 season approaches, experts predict similar widespread devastation.

"The evidence shows that, rather than protecting farmers and the public interest, government officials rushed this pesticide to market without the rigorous analysis and data the law requires," said George Kimbrell, of the Center for Food Safety and counsel in the case. "There was good reason that decision had such devastating consequences last year: it was illegal."

The papers filed in court tell the story of how EPA should have known this would occur, yet instead was pressured by Monsanto into approving the pesticide without any measures to prevent vapor drift. The evidence in the case also shows that in late 2017, under pressure to take some action, EPA adopted revised instructions for use Monsanto proposed and approved—measures that agronomists believe will again be ineffective.

Denise O'Brien, Iowa farmer and Board president of Pesticide Action Network, said, "Last year, EPA ignored concerns of farmers, caving to Monsanto's pressure and rushing dicamba-resistant seeds to market. EPA has failed utterly to protect farmers from this exploding crisis."

Ben Burkett, National Family Farm Coalition board president raising soy, old growth pine trees and roughly 20 different vegetables in Mississippi commented: "I'm firmly against using dicamba. Mother Nature will win this fight anyway, but dicamba is very detrimental to the environment and will cause more harm than good to farms and farmers."

Not only did EPA fail to protect farmers, it put at risk literally hundreds of endangered species. Despite its own conclusion that the approval might harm an extraordinary number of the protected birds, mammals and insects in dozens of states, EPA refused to seek the guidance of the federal expert wildlife agencies, as the Endangered Species Act requires, and instead approved Monsanto's pesticide without any measures to protect them, and denied there would be any risk.

"EPA's disregard of both the law and the welfare of endangered whooping cranes, grey wolves, Indiana bats, and hundreds of other species at risk of extinction is unconscionable," Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff said. "That the EPA would indulge in this kind of recklessness and junk science to appease Monsanto is shocking."

"The EPA's foolish approval of dicamba left a deep scar across millions of acres of farms and forests," said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "The ill-advised rush to approve this dangerous drift-prone pesticide reflects just how far the EPA has strayed from its duty to protect Americans and wildlife from harmful toxins."

The plaintiff organizations bringing the lawsuit are National Family Farm Coalition, Pesticide Action Network, Center for Food Safety and Center for Biological Diversity, represented jointly by legal counsel from Earthjustice and Center for Food Safety.


50+ Groups Back Landmark Effort to Halt 'Out of Control' Factory Farming in Iowa

By Jessica Corbett

More than 50 groups are demanding that Iowa lawmakers urgently pass landmark legislation to enact a moratorium on factory farm expansion in a state that is home to more than 10,000 of them.

"Across the nation, factory farming destroys communities and contaminates drinking water supplies and air quality," said Krissy Kasserman, the national factory farm campaigner at Food & Water Watch, one of the groups behind the effort. "A stop to the expansion of factory farming needs to happen now. It begins with Iowa."

In a letter to members of Iowa's General Assembly on Thursday, dozens of local, state and national groups wrote that a ban on new and expanded factory farms would give lawmakers "an overdue opportunity to evaluate the public health, economic and societal impacts of factory farms while providing Iowa's communities with important statutory protections from further expansion of this industry."

"Iowa is in the midst of a serious water pollution crisis," the letter declares, citing research from 2014 that found 750 bodies of water in the state, or more than half tested, contained pollutants or showed other conditions tied to factory farming‚ "including E. coli, excessive algal growth and diminished aquatic life."

The letter chastises the Environmental Protection Agency and state officials who, for decades, "have failed to regulate the environmental impacts of factory farms," and illustrates how existing regulations are "failing Iowa's communities" with a series of examples:

Family farmers and rural residents are often left feeling like prisoners in their own homes, unable to hold family gatherings or hang laundry outside to dry due to the overwhelming stench and air pollution. Retirees are left with the realization that their homes and properties—often their nest eggs—are depreciated due to the decline in property values associated with living next to a factory farm. Research has shown that Iowans living near factory farms are more likely to experience respiratory problems, headaches, diarrhea, burning eyes, nausea and more serious health problems as a result of factory farm air pollution.

Cherie Mortice, board president of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, said even though "state agencies and lawmakers are failing to protect our communities and environment," it is "clear to Iowans that the factory farm industry is out of control." She noted that the state is "seeing a massive expansion" in factory farming, and warned: "we're at a tipping point and need to put a stop to this industry immediately."

Food & Water Watch maps out where factory farms are most concentrated in the country:

In an editorial exploring multiple policy proposals, including a moratorium, the Des Moines Register wrote last fall that "pressing pause may be the only way Iowa can catch up to this fast-growing industry." The newspaper pointed to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report that showed a "record number of hogs and pigs were on Iowa farms as of Sept. 1: 22.9 million, up 3 percent from a year ago," and noted, "That's about 7.3 times more pigs than people in the state."

"Our call for a moratorium is a call for the return of plain, old common sense," explained Chris Peterson, an independent Iowa hog farmer and regional representative for the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project, another signatory on the letter. "Iowa is suffering under the enormous weight of a business that has no respect for the people, environment, animals and future of the state."


Trump's Infrastructure Plan 'Steamrolls' Environmental Safeguards


President Donald Trump boasted "a big week for infrastructure" Monday as the White House announced its long-awaited $1.5 trillion plan to improve the nation's roads, buildings and power supplies.

Infrastructure is usually a bipartisan, consensus issue, but environmental groups criticized the White House's initiative, as it involves a drastic rollback of federal environmental review to shorten the process of approving infrastructure projects.

"President Trump's infrastructure proposal is a disaster," Shelley Poticha, the managing director of the Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. "It fails to offer the investment needed to bring our country into the 21st century. Even worse, his plan includes an unacceptable corporate giveaway by truncating environmental reviews."

Regulatory oversight for infrastructure projects usually falls to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies. Instead, the White House plan calls for the creation of a "one agency, one decision" scheme, or one lead federal agency to streamline environmental review and the permitting process within 21 months.

As Trump said last month in his State of the Union address: "Any bill must also streamline the permitting and approval process—getting it down to no more than two years, and perhaps even one."

The Wilderness Society has also listed a number of concerns about the infrastructure blueprint:

• Dismantling basic environmental safeguards. The leaked version of Trump infrastructure plan would eviscerate the National Environmental Procedures Act (NEPA) by collapsing time lines, freezing out experts and delegating federal authority to states and private interests. NEPA provides for the essential public review process for federal projects. Billed as "streamlining," the infrastructure proposal steamrolls over a wide array of safeguards that protect the nation's air, waters and land.

• Pipelines through parks. The infrastructure plan would give Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke the authority to approve natural gas pipeline routes that cut through national parks.

• Paying for infrastructure by selling off public lands. The White House document on infrastructure called "Funding Principles" included a section titled “Disposition of Federal Real Property." That provision would give the president authority to use executive orders for "disposal of Federal assets to improve the overall allocation of economic resources in infrastructure investment."

"With this infrastructure plan, President Trump would line the pockets of oil and gas companies while steamrolling environmental safeguards," said Drew McConville, senior managing director at The Wilderness Society, in a statement. "He is taking a bipartisan priority and turning it into a divisive scheme to reward friends in the fossil fuel sector."

The Trump administration has already targeted more than 60 environmental regulations, including an Obama-era rule that protects infrastructure projects from flooding and rising sea levels exacerbated by climate change.

"With such a public record of promoting the interests of corporate polluters over communities and the environment, no one should be fooled by Trump's infrastructure scam," the Center for American Progress noted last month. "It is little more than a Trojan horse designed to gut the environmental protections that are necessary for the clean air, clean water, wildlife and national parks that truly make America great."

Finally, as the New York Times pointed out, an infrastructure strategy led by an administration that denies climate change and has reversed critical environmental protections could mean that costly new infrastructure projects may be quickly rendered obsolete by the impacts of a warming planet.

"The impact of not considering climate change when planning infrastructure means you end up building the wrong thing, in the wrong place, to the wrong standards," Michael Kuby, a professor of geographical sciences and urban planning at Arizona State University and contributing author to the National Climate Assessment, told the publication. "That's a whole lot of waste."

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« Reply #11 on: Feb 13, 2018, 05:23 AM »

The Queen Declares War on Plastic

Queen Elizabeth II is banning plastic straws and bottles across the royal estates.


The Telegraph reported that the monarch is behind Buckingham Palace's plans to phase out single-use plastics from public cafes, royal residences and staff dining rooms.

Royal caterers will instead use china plates and glasses or recyclable paper cups. Takeaway food from the Royal Collection cafes must be made of compostable or biodegradable packaging.

"Across the organization, the Royal Household is committed to reducing its environmental impact," a palace spokesman said, according to the Telegraph.

"As part of that, we have taken a number of practical steps to cut back on the use of plastics. At all levels, there's a strong desire to tackle this issue."

The Queen was reportedly inspired to take action after working with famed naturalist Sir David Attenborough on a conservation documentary about wildlife in the Commonwealth.

Attenborough's "Blue Planet II" documentary that aired last year highlighted the devastating effects of plastic on our oceans and marine life.

The Royal family is dedicated to a number of environmental causes. Last year, Prince Charles helped launch a $2 million competition to stop the 8 million tons of plastics from entering our oceans each year, which Charles described as an "escalating ecological and human disaster."

British lawmakers are also urging for more action to fight plastic pollution. A ban on microbeads came into force in Britain last month, an initiative that will "stop billions of pieces of plastic entering our ecosystem, helping to protect our precious seas and oceans," Prime Minister Theresa May tweeted then.

In 2015, a 5p (5 British pennies) fee was introduced on plastic carrier bags, which led to 9 billion fewer bags being used.

"It's making a real difference," May said of the bag fee. "We want to do the same with single use plastics."

Many businesses in the UK are getting on board with cutting out plastics. Starbucks recently introduced a 5p disposable cup charge in 20 to 25 central London outlets to encourage customers to switch to reusable cups. And Iceland Foods, a major UK supermarket chain specializing in frozen food, announced that it will eliminate plastic packaging from its own brand of products by the end of 2023.

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« Reply #12 on: Feb 13, 2018, 05:25 AM »

Canada Pipeline Feud Becomes Trade War as Alberta Boycotts B.C. Wine

By Andy Rowell

They say that oil and water do not mix. And now the proverb applies to oil and wine.

There is an escalating tension in Canada between the Albertan and British Columbian (B.C.) governments over the disputed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline, which is due to transport tar sands from Alberta to the B.C. Coast.

On Tuesday, the Albertan premier announced that the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission would immediately halt the import of all wines from British Columbia, in response to the B.C. government's announcement at the end of January that it would be introducing the Environmental Management Act, which gives it the right to take action that would protect B.C.'s coastline and environment. This would also mean further analysis and review of the risks of an oil spill from the expansion of the pipeline, which is likely to result in a seven-fold increase in the number of oil tankers in B.C. waters.

Rachel Notley, the premier of Alberta, said at a news conference, "The wine industry is very important to B.C. Not nearly as important as the energy industry is to Alberta and Canada, but important nonetheless." Last year Alberta imported about 95 percent of its wine from B.C., worth about $70 million.

She added, "This is one good step to waking B.C. up to the fact that they can't attack our industry without a response from us. The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Control Board will put an immediate halt to the import of B.C. wine into Alberta."

"I'm also encouraging all Albertans: next time you're thinking about ordering a glass of wine, think of our energy workers. Think of your neighbours. Think of our community. Think about our province, and maybe choose some terrific Alberta craft beer instead."

The wine ban adds to the announcement last week by Notley that she was suspending talks to buy electricity from B.C., which could scupper a proposed $500 million a year deal.

"We did play by the rules, and we secured the approval of a new pipeline to tidewater to export energy products that support tens of thousands of jobs across this country," Notley said. "Alberta will not stand by and be the only province impacted by another province's refusal to play by the rules."

Notley's announcement caused an angry response from B.C. Premier John Horgan, who said in a statement, "If Alberta disagrees they can make that argument in the proper venue, in our court system. Our consultation on proposed new regulations hasn't even begun, but Alberta has seen fit to take measures to impact B.C. businesses."

He urged "Alberta to step back from this threatening position" and said he would "respond to the unfair trade actions announced today."

On Wednesday, Horgan added, "It's not the government's intention to respond in any way to the provocation. We're going to focus on the issues that matter to British Columbians and hope that cooler heads on the other side of the Rockies will prevail."

Critics slammed the move by Notley as "utterly absurd" and an act of "pointless grandstanding." One Vancouver-based tech entrepreneur, Nick Routley, tweeted sentiments expressed by many in the Province: "Alberta's #BCWine ban isn't just counterproductive, it's going to spike sales and galvanize anti-pipeline sentiment. Amateur-hour move."

The David Suzuki Foundation added on Facebook: "Does Alberta's boycott of B.C. wines have you perplexed? Us too. We support #bcwine—a fine local industry that when spilled doesn't kill marine life. #toastthecoast #stopkm #pinotnotpipelines. Supporting B.C. wines is easy but stopping a pipeline is hard." The Suzuki Foundation added, " We're also encouraging people to support Indigenous-led resistance to the Kinder Morgan pipeline."

The Canadian press is also reporting that as far away as Quebec, "environmental groups flocked to buy B.C. wine to show their support for the industry." On Wednesday, Quebeckers held a "mass purchase in solidarity to stop Kinder Morgan" at a liquor store in Montreal.

Members of the environmental group Equiterre bought bottles of B.C. wine, holding up signs stating, "Pinot Not Pipelines" and "QC loves BC wines."

Meanwhile, First Nations are gearing up for further protests against the pipeline next month. Members of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation are calling for a mass demonstration on Burnaby Mountain in March. They are expecting hundreds of Indigenous people and supporters to join from across Canada.

Cedar George, a member of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, said, "I'll do whatever it takes to keep this beautiful British Columbia. Ninety percent of our diet came from that water. We are being stewards of the land and when we see an immediate threat to the water, it's time for us to stand up and delay this project."

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« Reply #13 on: Feb 13, 2018, 05:28 AM »

Microplastics pollute most remote and uncharted areas of the ocean

First data ever gathered from extremely remote area of the South Indian Ocean has a surprisingly high volume of plastic particles, say scientists

Sandra Laville

Microplastics have been found in some of the most remote and uncharted regions of the oceans raising more concerns over the global scale of plastic pollution.

Samples taken from the middle of the South Indian Ocean – at latitude 45.5 degrees south – show microplastic particles detected at relatively high volumes. Sören Gutekunst, from the Geomar Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, who analysed the samples, said the data showed 42 particles per cubic metre, which was surprising given the remoteness of the area.

“Data on microplastics has not been taken from this extremely remote area before and what we found was relatively high levels,” he said. “There are places in the ocean which are not being observed and that is why it is so special for us to be doing this. It is amazing that we have the opportunity and this could lead to much further knowledge about what is happening with microplastics in the ocean.”

The samples were gathered by a research vessel taking part in the Volvo round-the-world ocean race as it skirted around the Antarctic exclusion zone. The race takes them through ocean areas so remote they have never been sampled before, allowing Gutekunst and his team to collect new data.

Gutekunst said research on microplastics in the ocean was in its relative infancy. Currently scientists can only account for 1% of the plastic they think is in the ocean.

The data collected during the race showed the highest microplastic levels around Europe’s north Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, where levels range from 180-307 particles/metre cubed. High levels were also recorded off the coast of Cape Town (152 per cubic metre) and the Australian coast (114-115 particles per cubic metre).

More than 8m tonnes of plastic enter the ocean every year. Recent research has shown that billions of pieces of plastic are snagged on coral reefs, sending disease rates soaring.

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« Reply #14 on: Feb 13, 2018, 05:30 AM »

Stanford Engineers: Here's How 139 Countries Can Avoid Blackouts With 100% Clean Energy

By Taylor Kubota

Renewable energy solutions are often hindered by the inconsistencies of power produced by wind, water and sunlight and the continuously fluctuating demand for energy. New research by Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, and Aalborg University in Denmark finds several solutions to making clean, renewable energy reliable enough to power at least 139 countries.

In their paper, published as a manuscript this week in Renewable Energy, the researchers propose three different methods of providing consistent power among all energy sectors—transportation; heating and cooling; industry; and agriculture, forestry and fishing—in 20 world regions encompassing 139 countries after all sectors have been converted to 100 percent clean, renewable energy. Jacobson and colleagues previously developed roadmaps for transitioning 139 countries to 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2050 with 80 percent of that transition completed by 2030. The present study examines ways to keep the grid stable with these roadmaps.

"Based on these results, I can more confidently state that there is no technical or economic barrier to transitioning the entire world to 100 percent clean, renewable energy with a stable electric grid at low cost," said Jacobson, who is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Precourt Institute for Energy and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. "This solution would go a long way toward eliminating global warming and the 4 million to 7 million air pollution-related deaths that occur worldwide each year, while also providing energy security."

The paper builds on a previous 2015 study by Jacobson and colleagues that examined the ability of the grid to stay stable in the 48 contiguous United States. That study only included one scenario for how to achieve the goals. Some criticized that paper for relying too heavily on adding turbines to existing hydroelectric dams—which the group suggested in order to increase peak electricity production without changing the number or size of the dams. The previous paper was also criticized for relying too much on storing excess energy in water, ice and underground rocks. The solutions in the current paper address these criticisms by suggesting several different solutions for stabilizing energy produced with 100 percent clean, renewable sources, including solutions with no added hydropower turbines and no storage in water, ice or rocks.

"Our main result is that there are multiple solutions to the problem," said Jacobson. "This is important because the greatest barrier to the large-scale implementation of clean renewable energy is people's perception that it's too hard to keep the lights on with random wind and solar output."

Supply and Demand

At the heart of this study is the need to match energy supplied by wind, water and solar power and storage with what the researchers predict demand to be in 2050. To do this, they grouped 139 countries—for which they created energy roadmaps in a previous study—into 20 regions based on geographic proximity and some geopolitical concerns. Unlike the previous 139-country study, which matched energy supply with annual-average demand, the present study matches supply and demand in 30-second increments for five years (2050-2054) to account for the variability in wind and solar power as well as the variability in demand over hours and seasons.

For the study, the researchers relied on two computational modeling programs. The first program predicted global weather patterns from 2050 to 2054. From this, they further predicted the amount of energy that could be produced from weather-related energy sources like onshore and offshore wind turbines, solar photovoltaics on rooftops and in power plants, concentrated solar power plants and solar thermal plants over time. These types of energy sources are variable and don't necessarily produce energy when demand is highest.

The group then combined data from the first model with a second model that incorporated energy produced by more stable sources of electricity, like geothermal power plants, tidal and wave devices, and hydroelectric power plants, and of heat, like geothermal reservoirs. The second model also included ways of storing energy when there was excess, such as in electricity, heat, cold and hydrogen storage. Further, the model included predictions of energy demand over time.

With the two models, the group was able to predict both how much energy could be produced through more variable sources of energy, and how well other sources could balance out the fluctuating energy to meet demands.

Avoiding Blackouts

Scenarios based on the modeling data avoided blackouts at low cost in all 20 world regions for all five years examined and under three different storage scenarios. One scenario includes heat pumps—which are used in place of combustion-based heaters and coolers—but no hot or cold energy storage; two add no hydropower turbines to existing hydropower dams; and one has no battery storage. The fact that no blackouts occurred under three different scenarios suggests that many possible solutions to grid stability with 100 percent wind, water and solar power are possible, a conclusion that contradicts previous claims that the grid cannot stay stable with such high penetrations of just renewables.

Overall, the researchers found that the cost per unit of energy—including the cost in terms of health, climate and energy—in every scenario was about one quarter what it would be if the world continues on its current energy path. This is largely due to eliminating the health and climate costs of fossil fuels. Also, by reducing water vapor, the wind turbines included in the roadmaps would offset about 3 percent of global warming to date.

Although the cost of producing a unit of energy is similar in the roadmap scenarios and the non-intervention scenario, the researchers found that the roadmaps roughly cut in half the amount of energy needed in the system. So, consumers would actually pay less. The vast amount of these energy savings comes from avoiding the energy needed to mine, transport and refine fossil fuels, converting from combustion to direct electricity, and using heat pumps instead of conventional heaters and air conditioners.

"One of the biggest challenges facing energy systems based entirely on clean, zero-emission wind, water and solar power is to match supply and demand with near-perfect reliability at reasonable cost," said Mark Delucchi, co-author of the paper and a research scientist at the University of California, Berkeley. "Our work shows that this can be accomplished, in almost all countries of the world, with established technologies."

Working Together

Jacobson and his colleagues said that a remaining challenge of implementing their roadmaps is that they require coordination across political boundaries.

"Ideally, you'd have cooperation in deciding where you're going to put the wind farms, where you're going to put the solar panels, where you're going to put the battery storage," said Jacobson. "The whole system is most efficient when it is planned ahead of time as opposed to done one piece at a time."

In light of this geopolitical complication, they are also working on smaller roadmaps to help individual towns, many of which have already committed to achieving 100 percent renewable energy.

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