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« Reply #15 on: Oct 31, 2017, 04:28 AM »

Oldest recorded solar eclipse could change everything we know about the ancient Egyptians

Event took place more than 3,000 years ago and might help to explain a cryptic passage in the Bible.

Aristos Georgiou
October 31, 2017 17:08 GMT

Researchers have identified what could be the earliest solar eclipse ever recorded, dating it to the 30 October 1207 BCE – a finding that has major implications for our understanding of the ancient world

The discovery – made by a team from the University of Cambridge – could rewrite the dates of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs with the help of an ancient Egyptian text and the Bible – which appears to reference the event in a passage that has puzzled scholars for centuries.

The segment, in the book of Joshua, describes how he led the people of Israel into Canaan – an ancient region that is now Israel and Palestine – before praying with the words: "'Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and Moon, in the Valley of Aijalon'. And the Sun stood still, and the Moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies."

"If these words are describing a real observation, then a major astronomical event was taking place – the question for us to figure out is what the text actually means," said Sir Colin Humphreys, co-author of the paper, from the University of Cambridge's Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy.

The study describing the findings is published in the Royal Astronomical Society journal Astronomy & Geophysics.

"Modern English translations, which follow the King James translation of 1611, usually interpret this text to mean that the sun and moon stopped moving," said Humphreys.

"But going back to the original Hebrew text, we determined that an alternative meaning could be that the sun and moon just stopped doing what they normally do: they stopped shining. In this context, the Hebrew words could be referring to a solar eclipse, when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, and the sun appears to stop shining. This interpretation is supported by the fact that the Hebrew word translated 'stand still' has the same root as a Babylonian word used in ancient astronomical texts to describe eclipses."

Humphreys and Graeme Waddington, the fellow co-author on the study, are not the first to suggest that the text from the book of Joshua refers to an eclipse. However, previous historians had claimed that it was not possible to investigate the possibility further due to the difficult nature of the calculations that would be required.

The Egyptian text in question that could help to date the reigns of the pharaohs – a large granite block known as the Merneptah Stele – contains independent evidence that the Israelites were indeed in Canaan between 1500 and 1050 BCE. It says it was carved in the fifth year of Pharaoh Merneptah's reign and mentions a military campaign in which he defeated the people of Israel.

Previously, historians have tried to use the Stele and the book of Joshua passage to try and date the possible eclipse, but these efforts proved unsuccessful as they were only looking for total eclipses – where the disc of the sun appears to be completely covered by the moon as it passes directly between the Earth and Sun.

The oldest eclipse on record, however, is an annular eclipse – in which the moon passes directly in front of the sun, but does not cover the disc completely, leaving what looks like a 'ring of fire' – and so it was missed. Both kinds of eclipses were described by the same word in the ancient world.

The researchers calculated that the only annular eclipse that would have been visible between 1500 and 1050 BCE was on 30 October 1207 BCE.

If their calculations are correct, then the eclipse would be the oldest ever recorded that we know of. It would also enable researchers to date the reigns of Rameses the Great and his son Merneptah to within a year. Egyptologists have found it difficult to precisely date the reigns of the various pharaohs.

"Solar eclipses are often used as a fixed point to date events in the ancient world," said Humphreys.

According, to the new research, the reign of Merneptah began in 1210 or 1209 BCE, which would mean that Rameses ruled from 1276 to 1210 BCE, as the length of his reign is known from Egyptian texts.

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« Reply #16 on: Oct 31, 2017, 04:30 AM »

Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere surge to record high

Concentrations are now at their highest for 800,000 years.

Aristos Georgiou

Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere accelerated at record-breaking speeds in 2016 to their highest concentrations in 800,000 years, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The abrupt changes in the Earth's atmosphere that have taken place over the past 70 years are without precedent, while rapidly increasing levels of greenhouse gases have the potential to cause significant changes in climate systems, the WMO's annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin says. This could lead to "severe ecological and economic disruptions".

"Without rapid cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, we will be heading for dangerous temperature increases by the end of this century, well above the target set by the Paris climate change agreement," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. "Future generations will inherit a much more inhospitable planet."

"CO2 remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years and in the oceans for even longer. The laws of physics mean that we face a much hotter, more extreme climate in the future. There is currently no magic wand to remove this CO2 from the atmosphere," said Taalas.

Since 1990, there has been a 40% increase in the warming effect on our climate – known as radiative forcing – and a 2.5% increase between 2015 and 2016 alone, according to data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The bulletin describes how a combination of human activity and a strong El Niño event pushed global concentrations of CO2 up from 400 parts per million in 2015 to 403.3 parts per million in 2016 – 145% above pre-industrial (before 1750) levels.

The last time concentrations of carbon dioxide were so high was 3-5 million years ago when temperatures were 2-3°C warmer than they are now and sea levels were 10-20 metres higher.

Some of the major contributing factors to greenhouse gas emissions have been population growth, intensified agricultural practices, deforestation, increased land use, industrialisation and the associated burning of fossil fuels.

The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin examines emissions of greenhouse gases and the concentrations that remain after the complex process of interactions between the biosphere (the sum of all ecosystems on Earth), the oceans, the cryosphere (the portions of the Earth where water is in solid form) and the atmosphere. The oceans absorb around a quarter of total emissions, while the biosphere absorbs another quarter.

"The numbers don't lie. We are still emitting far too much and this needs to be reversed," said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment.

"The last few years have seen enormous uptake of renewable energy, but we must now redouble our efforts to ensure these new low-carbon technologies are able to thrive. We have many of the solutions already to address this challenge. What we need now is global political will and a new sense of urgency."

The WMO's greenhouse gas report comes one week ahead of the next round of UN climate negotiations in Bonn, Germany.

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« Reply #17 on: Oct 31, 2017, 04:32 AM »

Climate change is already damaging the health of millions around the globe

The impacts are disproportionately felt by vulnerable communities in low and middle income countries.

Aristos Georgiou
October 31, 2017 23:30 GMT

Climate change is already damaging the health of millions of people around the world, with the outlook only set to worsen if action is not taken. That's according to a new report produced by an international collaboration of 26 leading organisations.

While the health of all populations will be affected, the impact is disproportionately felt by vulnerable communities in low- and middle-income countries, which are the least responsible for global emissions.

The report – The Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change – suggests the impact of anthropogenic climate change on public health is and will continue to be wide-ranging.

For example, increasing temperatures can exacerbate existing health problems in populations and introduce new health threats, including cardiovascular disease and chronic kidney disease.

Higher temperatures can pose profound threats to occupational health and labour productivity, especially for those who undertake manual, outdoor labour. In 2016 this effectively took more than 920,000 people globally out of the workforce, with 418,000 of them in India alone, the report says. This has important implications for the livelihoods of individuals, families, and communities, especially those relying on subsistence farming.

In addition, the number of people exposed to potentially fatal heatwaves has increased to a record 175 million in 2015. The health impacts of extreme heat range from direct heat stress and heat stroke, to exacerbation of pre-existing heart failure, and even an increased incidence of acute kidney injury from dehydration in vulnerable populations. Elderly people, children younger than 12 months, and people with chronic cardiovascular and renal disease are particularly sensitive to these changes.

There has been a 46% increase in weather-related disasters since 2000, affecting 4.8 billion people and killing more than 500,000. While not all deadly weather events can be directly attributed to climate change, the consensus is that their frequency will only increase as global warming worsens.

Undernutrition is also set to rise as climate change causes a 6% decline in global wheat yields and a 10% fall in rice yields for every 1 °C rise in global temperatures, the report predicts.

Meanwhile, global exposure to air pollution has increased by 11.2% since 1990, while 87% of world cities sampled breached WHO guidelines, meaning billions are breathing in unsafe air. It is estimated that ambient air pollution causes an estimated 3 million deaths a year.

Lastly, the report suggests that more than one billion people may need to migrate to more hospitable regions within the next 90 years due to rising sea levels unless necessary action is taken.

Leading doctors, academics and policymakers from institutions, such as the World Bank, the World Health Organization, University College London and Tsinghua University contributed to the report.

"The Lancet Countdown's report lays bare the impact that climate change is having on our health today," said Christiana Figueres, Chair of the Lancet Countdown's High-Level Advisory Board. "It also shows that tackling climate change directly, unequivocally and immediately improves global health. It's as simple as that."

"Most countries did not embrace these opportunities when they developed their climate plans for the Paris Agreement. We must do better. When a doctor tells us we need to take better care of our health we pay attention and it's important that governments do the same."

Hugh Montgomery, Co-Chair of the Lancet Countdown and Director of the Institute for Human Health and Performance at University College London, adds: "We are only just beginning to feel the impacts of climate change. Any small amount of resilience we may take for granted today will be stretched to breaking point sooner than we may imagine."

"We cannot simply adapt our way out of this, but need to treat both the cause and the symptoms of climate change. There are many ways to do both that make better use of overstretched healthcare budgets and improve lives in the process."

While the scale of the challenge that humanity faces is significant, the report highlights reasons to be optimistic. For example, the momentum behind efforts to cut emissions across a wide variety of sectors. Notably, numerous governments have committed to phasing out coal use, while renewable energy technologies and electric vehicles are on the rise.

The authors also say that the necessary response to climate change actually provides a chance to make substantial gains in public health, with potential benefits and opportunities including cleaning up the air of polluted cities, delivering more nutritious diets, ensuring energy, food and water security, and alleviating poverty, as well as social and economic inequalities.

"Climate change is happening and it's a health issue today for millions worldwide," said Anthony Costello, Co-Chair of the Lancet Countdown and a Director at the World Health Organization. "The outlook is challenging, but we still have an opportunity to turn a looming medical emergency into the most significant advance for public health this century."

"As we move in the right direction, we hope for a step-change from governments to tackle the cause and impacts of climate change. We need urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The health and economic benefits on offer are huge. The cost of inaction will be counted in preventable loss of life, on a large scale."

The 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change concluded that anthropogenic climate change threatened to derail 50 years of gains in public health. The latest research builds on this work, suggesting that the challenges are greater than anticipated.

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« Reply #18 on: Oct 31, 2017, 04:33 AM »

A Yellowstone supervolcano eruption is powerful enough to block the Sun and reverse global warming

Two previous eruptions created a volcanic winter forcing down global temperatures.

Aristos Georgiou
Around 630,000 years ago, the Yellowstone supervolcano produced two huge eruptions in relatively quick succession which were so powerful that they fundamentally altered the global climate, according to new research.

The last catastrophic eruption at the site, which formed the vast Yellowstone caldera - a large crater formed by the collapse of a volcano into itself – was thought to have been a single event.

However, researchers have found evidence of two separate layers of volcanic ash bearing the chemical fingerprint of the super eruption in seafloor sediments off the coast of Southern California.

Together, these sediments and ash layers – known as tephra – form a remarkably detailed record of ocean and climate change, revealing that the last eruption was actually two relatively closely spaced eruptions. The after-effects of these two events temporarily halted a period of global warming, according to researchers.

"We discovered here that there are two ash-forming super-eruptions 170 years apart and each cooled the ocean by about 3 degrees Celsius," said Jim Kennett, a geologist from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Kennett suggests that both of these eruptions caused separate volcanic winters – a phenomenon which occurs when ash and sulphur dioxide from the volcano reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth's surface, temporarily cooling the planet.

These two cooling events came at a time when the Earth was beginning to warm after an ice age – an especially sensitive time for the global climate. Kennett and his fellow researchers found that the events were abrupt, coinciding precisely with the timing of the two eruptions.

Furthermore, according to climate models, both of the cooling periods lasted longer than they should have. "We see planetary cooling of sufficient magnitude and duration that there had to be other feedbacks involved," Kennett said.

The feedback effects that occurred during the two volcanic winters could have prolonged the periods of cooling by causing an increase in sea ice and snow cover - which reflects sunlight - or altering ocean circulation, for example.

If Yellowstone were to erupt today, the event may be powerful enough to trigger another volcanic winter, which could have devastating consequences for humanity. However, predicting when a catastrophic eruption will occur is incredibly difficult and it could be hundreds or thousands of years before the next one.

At Yellowstone, the most recent catastrophic eruptions have occurred 2.1 million, 1.3 million and 630,000 years ago, although numerous less-powerful, non-explosive eruptions have taken place over this time.

The Yellowstone caldera is the second largest in the world and is often referred to as the Yellowstone supervolcano.

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« Reply #19 on: Oct 31, 2017, 04:47 AM »

World's Biggest Coal Company's Bankruptcy Protects It From Climate Lawsuit, Judge Rules


Peabody Energy is not responsible for climate impacts incurred before its 2016 bankruptcy filing, a judge ruled this week.

The world's largest private coal company is one of 37 fossil fuel companies being sued by three municipalities in California for damages due to climate change caused by burning fossil fuels and for conducting a "coordinated, multi-front effort" to discredit climate science.

St. Louis Judge Barry Schermer, who presided over the bankruptcy, ruled that the counties missed the deadline to file claims during Peabody's Chapter 11 filing last year and that language around environmental exceptions in Peabody's bankruptcy plan do not apply to the California suit. The coal giant, which lost $2 billion in 2015, posted a quarterly profit of $200 million this week, six months after emerging from bankruptcy.

As reported by Bloomberg:

"St. Louis-based Peabody was sued in July together with global energy companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell Plc. The suit says the companies have known since at least 1965 that their activities were changing the climate, and that there was only a narrow window of time to reverse from a catastrophic course.

Instead, they 'engaged in a coordinated, multi-front effort to conceal and deny their own knowledge,' discredit scientific evidence and mislead the public, San Mateo County said in its suit.

The global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels extracted by the defendants is expected to lead to 'extreme flooding' on California's coast by 2050, the suits allege."

"We are reviewing the court's decision and considering our options," said Vic Sher, a Sher Edling LLP lawyer representing the California communities, Marketwatch reported. "But it would be a shame if Peabody, the biggest private coal company in the world, can use the bankruptcy laws to avoid defending these cases that call into question their role in damaging our climate, causing sea levels to rise, misleading the public and policy makers about those impacts, and shifting billions of dollars in costs onto coastal communities."


Congresswomen and Environmental Groups Urge Congress to Pass the OFF Act to Combat Climate Change


Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02), Barbara Lee (CA-13) and Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44) joined Food & Water Watch, first responders, non-profit organizations and local government officials to urge Congress to pass H.R. 3671, the OFF Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act (OFF Act) to transition the U.S. to a 100 percent clean energy economy by 2035.

"Our country cannot passively standby while we watch the climate crisis devastate our planet and the livelihoods of working families across the country and the world," said Gabbard, who introduced the bill. "It is our obligation to protect the most vulnerable in our society, to protect our planet, to grow the economy and rebuild America's infrastructure with a stable, domestic clean energy economy."

Gabbard's bill prioritizes the health and wellbeing of the country and the future of the planet by tackling the climate change crisis head on and building on the progress of states like Hawaii.

The OFF Act sets an ambitious timeline to end America's reliance on fossil fuels and avert the catastrophic effects of climate change that have exacerbated natural disasters like the recent hurricanes that devastated Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands and deadly wildfires in California.

Without urgent action, climate change will continue to intensify and accelerate the pace of extreme weather events that devastate coastal and low-lying communities causing widespread unemployment, wage stagnation and deadly health problems, which disproportionately affect low-income, minority, Native Hawaiian and Native American families.

This legislation protects the country's most vulnerable populations from the harmful effects of carbon emissions and toxic chemicals that pollute America's air, land and waterways by strengthening civil rights protections, creating clean energy jobs, and prioritizing the safety and security of the planet above profits for major corporations and the fossil fuels industry.

"We cannot afford any more delays or half-measures in this climate crisis. It's time for bold action to address this emergency and save our planet, before it's too late," said Lee. "This bill is a critical roadmap for climate justice in Congress at the moment we need it the most."

Passing the OFF Act will increase America's global competitiveness by creating domestic clean technologies, jobs and training programs. In addition, this legislation will improve the health and wellbeing of the American people and our planet from toxic pollutants, asthma and respiratory illnesses, and environmental degradation.

"Our dependence on fossil fuels has created a public health crisis. In my district, children exposed to smoke and chemicals from oil and gas drilling operations are wearing asthma inhalers around their necks. It's heartbreaking to see," said Barragán. "This bill is about moving America forward and embracing the energy sources of the future. Getting off fossil fuels and moving to 100 percent renewable energy will help end this public health crisis and can create millions of good jobs."

The OFF Act has been cosponsored by 14 Members of Congress and has been endorsed by nearly four hundred clean energy, climate change and environmental justice organizations.

"The science is clear," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. "In order to avoid the most catastrophic effects of deepening climate chaos, we must break our foolish dependence on fossil fuels, and we must do it now. Fortunately, we have a solution. The OFF Act is the key to a livable future for all of us, and we are mobilizing from coast to coast to make it the law of the land."


Sworn Enemies of EPA Now Just One Step from Heading Key Agency Offices

By Jessica Corbett

The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Wednesday advanced the nominations of four potential assistant administrators for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), raising concerns among conservationists and Democratic lawmakers who worry the candidates' connections to various industries will further endanger regulations that have been in under attack since Trump appointee Scott Pruitt took over as the agency's administrator.

The four EPA nominees whose fate could soon be decided by a full senate vote are:

    William "Bill" Wehrum, nominee to be assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Regulation at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA);

    Michael Dourson, nominee to be assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention at the EPA;

    Matthew Leopold, nominee to be assistant administrator for the Office of General Counsel at the EPA; and

    David Ross, nominee to be assistant administrator for the Office of Water at the EPA.

While Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the committee chairman, introduced the candidates as "well-qualified, experienced, and dedicated public servants," declaring "their confirmation will fill critically important roles in ensuring that all Americans benefit from clean air, clean water, and clean land," conservationists and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the committee's ranking Democrat, expressed concerns about the nominees' ties to industry.

"All four of these nominees, especially Bill Wehrum and Michael Dourson, would accelerate Scott Pruitt's mission to dismantle the EPA from the inside," said League of Conservation Voters vice president for government affairs Sara Chieffo. "Far from draining the swamp, these industry insiders are entirely unfit to serve and pose a grave threat to our communities and our health."

"All four have condemned the very existence of the EPA and want to weaken it beyond recognition, threatening the EPA's mission to protect our clean air and water," Chieffo added. "We call on the Senate to reject their nominations."

Although Leopold and Ross have been criticized, Wehrum and Dourson have garnered the most negative attention.

Carper told Reuters Wehrum and Dourson's nominations were of "grave concern," and called Dourson "one of the most troubling nominees I have ever considered during my time on this committee." Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said Dourson was "so far out of the scientific mainstream, it is outrageous."

"We've done the wrong thing," Carper said after the committee voted along party lines to approve both men. "I have never been this troubled on this committee, or any committee, in 17 years."

Wehrum, an attorney, was nominated for this same position in 2006, but his name was withdrawn over concerns about his industry connections. He "has represented several industry groups and corporations, including the American Petroleum Institute and Kinder Morgan, in fights against clean air and other health protections," reported The Intercept's Sharon Lerner.

During a committee hearing earlier this month, Wehrum reportedly said "I believe that's an open question," when asked whether he believed "with high confidence that human activities [are] the main driver of climate change." If confirmed, Wehrum would oversee various regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

Lerner describes Dourson, who would hold influence over the agency's chemical policy, as "a massively conflicted scientist known within industry for his ability to come up with standards companies liked, create science to justify them, and then 'sell' the package to the EPA." Critics of Dourson worry that his appointment will interfere with update to a major chemical safety law that was updated last year.

"If approved by the full Senate, Dourson will oversee the implementation of the updated law, the Toxic Substances Control Act, though he has been paid by manufacturers and other interested parties to work on 20 of the chemicals that may come before him as part of its implementation," Lerner wrote. "When asked during his confirmation hearing whether he would recuse himself from making decisions about these chemicals earlier this month, Dourson refused."

The Senate committee's ten Democrats sent a letter to Dourson on Tuesday, pointing out that while his assistant administrator position is pending, he has been appointed to serve as an adviser to Pruitt, which they wrote, "creates the appearance, and perhaps the effect, of circumventing the Senate's constitutional advice and consent responsibility" regarding the position to which he has been nominated.

"It has been widely reported that Nancy Beck, previously of the American Chemistry Council, has been working behind the scenes to undermine the protections Congress intended" when updating the toxic substances law last year, the senators noted, just days after the New York Times published a particularly damning piece about Beck's recent revisions to EPA rules.

Similarly, they wrote to Dourson, "Your prior association with the the tobacco industry and your extensive work for the American Chemistry Council and other chemical manufacturers led The New York Times to deem you a 'scientist for hire' and accordingly raises similar concerns."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.


Shameful Congressmen, Industry Bullies Push to Prosecute Environmentalists as 'Terrorists'


In the past days we have seen new desperate attempts by corporate bullies to criminalize protests and spark unfounded fear of community protectors. Greenpeace is committed to standing up not only for our planet but for everyone's right to speak out and peacefully protest. If we don't all stand together against this intimidation, we might be facing a truly dystopian future.

On Tuesday, members of Congress called for individuals and environmental activists protesting pipelines to be prosecuted as terrorists. Today, the fossil fuel echo chamber is repeating both the call for prosecution and the false allegations. Energy Transfer Partners and its cronies in the Trump administration are trying to rewrite the history of Standing Rock in real time. This is shameful.

Washington, DC special interest groups like Energy Builders are just as eager as their Congressional allies to silence dissent however they can. This database is especially absurd in light of the fact that Standing Rock camp security identified infiltrators who were gathering information to inflate security threats at the time of the protests, information later confirmed by internal documents of TigerSwan, the paramilitary contractor, and personal accounts of former TigerSwan personnel.

Greenpeace campaigns for a green and peaceful planet and for the right of free people to speak without fear. This is more fear-mongering by a corporate bully hoping to see what it can get away with in Trump's America. These pipelines threaten human and sovereign rights, compromise drinking water that millions of people rely on, potentially contaminate people's land and livelihoods, and create more climate-charged superstorms affecting vulnerable communities around the world.


While Trump Opens National Parks to Fossil Fuel Drilling, Fee Hikes Would Lock Out Vacationing Families

By Julia Conley

The national parks, heralded by one former director as containing "the highest potentialities of national pride, national contentment, and national health," may soon be off-limits to many working American families due to price hikes that were proposed on Wednesday by Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke.

Citing the need to address maintenance and infrastructure concerns, the National Park Service said it wants to raise rates for vehicle passes from $25-30 to $70 during the busiest months of the year at some of the country's most popular parks, including the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone.

The price increases, which are subject to a public comment period open until Nov. 23, follows the Trump administration's push to redraw the boundaries of several national monuments in the interest of those who Zinke said "rely on these lands for hunting and fishing, economic development, traditional uses and recreation."

The changes are likely to impact many vacationing families as they would be imposed between May and September. Seventeen of the nation's parks would be affected by the rate hikes.

Ben Schreiber, senior political strategist for Friends of the Earth, denounced the proposal, saying it exemplified the administration's antagonistic attitude towards working families and its commitment to serving corporate interests.

"The Trump administration is turning our National Parks into an exclusive playground for the rich," Schreiber said. "Secretary Zinke has given our public lands to oil companies, slashed budgets, and attacked the regulations that ensure taxpayers receive a fair price for their natural resource."

As Schreiber added, the news that the National Park Service's infrastructure projects apparently depend on increased fees for citizens comes as the Republican Party pushes a tax plan that would leave the federal budget with a $5 trillion hole over the next decade, largely via tax cuts for the wealthy.

"While Republican leadership looks to slash taxes for billionaires, price hikes at our National Parks will hurt working Americans," Schreiber said. "This is just the first of the inevitable new fees that will be pushed onto working Americans. We should help give breaks to families who want to go on vacation, not companies who want to drill."


Government Accountability Office Urges Trump to Act on Climate Change


Government Accountability Office Urges Trump to Act on Climate Change

President Trump might think that global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese, but the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress's nonpartisan auditing arm, is urging the administration to craft a plan to confront climate change or else it will have to deal with its massive economic consequences.

According to a new report released by the GAO, the U.S. government has already spent more than $350 billion over the past decade on dealing with natural disasters and losses from flood and crop insurance. The tally does not even include the economic toll from this year's horrific West Coast fires and successive hurricanes, which is estimated to cost at least $300 billion.

Costs will also soar—as much as $35 billion per year by mid-century—if global emission rates are not reduced, the study warns.

"The federal government has not undertaken strategic government-wide planning to manage climate risks by using information on the potential economic effects of climate change to identify significant risks and craft appropriate federal responses," the study states. "By using such information, the federal government could take the initial step in establishing government-wide priorities to manage such risks."

The report, which features interviews with more than two dozen scientific and economic experts and 30 studies, was requested by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME).

"The Government Accountability Office—if you will, the chief bean counter—is basically telling us that this is costing us a lot of money," Cantwell told the New York Times. "We need to understand that as stewards of the taxpayer that climate is a fiscal issue, and the fact that it's having this big a fiscal impact on our federal budget needs to be dealt with."

The Senators hope that the study will prompt Congress and the administration to move towards a bipartisan solution to fight the effects of a warming world.

"My hope is the administration will take a look at this report and realize there is an economic impact here that is significant," Collins told the Times. "We simply cannot afford the billions of dollars in additional funding that's going to be needed if we do not take into account the consequences of climate change."

Trump, however, has notoriously pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement and rolled back several Obama-era environmental regulations designed to address climate change, including the repeal of the Clean Power Plan. The president's EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has close links to the fossil fuel industry and once said that carbon dioxide is not the primary driver of global warming.

Robert N. Stavins, an economist at Harvard University, cast doubt the study would convince the government to act.

“The GAO study is conservative, it's not alarmist, it's realistic and balanced and they go out of their way to point out all of the uncertainties involved," Stavins told the Times. “I don't see any likelihood it's going to be taken seriously."

Indeed, the price tag from the GAO's study is drastically lower than estimates from other recent reports. The non-profit Universal Ecological Fund found that extreme weather and public health issues related to burning fossil fuels could cost the U.S. up to $360 billion annually—nearly half of annual U.S. economic growth—within the next ten years.

President Trump might think that global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese, but the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress's nonpartisan auditing arm, is urging the administration to craft a plan to confront climate change or else it will have to deal with its massive economic consequences.

According to a new report released by the GAO, the U.S. government has already spent more than $350 billion over the past decade on dealing with natural disasters and losses from flood and crop insurance. The tally does not even include the economic toll from this year's horrific West Coast fires and successive hurricanes, which is estimated to cost at least $300 billion.

Costs will also soar—as much as $35 billion per year by mid-century—if global emission rates are not reduced, the study warns.

"The federal government has not undertaken strategic government-wide planning to manage climate risks by using information on the potential economic effects of climate change to identify significant risks and craft appropriate federal responses," the study states. "By using such information, the federal government could take the initial step in establishing government-wide priorities to manage such risks."

The report, which features interviews with more than two dozen scientific and economic experts and 30 studies, was requested by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME).

"The Government Accountability Office—if you will, the chief bean counter—is basically telling us that this is costing us a lot of money," Cantwell told the New York Times. "We need to understand that as stewards of the taxpayer that climate is a fiscal issue, and the fact that it's having this big a fiscal impact on our federal budget needs to be dealt with."

The Senators hope that the study will prompt Congress and the administration to move towards a bipartisan solution to fight the effects of a warming world.

"My hope is the administration will take a look at this report and realize there is an economic impact here that is significant," Collins told the Times. "We simply cannot afford the billions of dollars in additional funding that's going to be needed if we do not take into account the consequences of climate change."

Trump, however, has notoriously pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement and rolled back several Obama-era environmental regulations designed to address climate change, including the repeal of the Clean Power Plan. The president's EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has close links to the fossil fuel industry and once said that carbon dioxide is not the primary driver of global warming.

Robert N. Stavins, an economist at Harvard University, cast doubt the study would convince the government to act.

“The GAO study is conservative, it's not alarmist, it's realistic and balanced and they go out of their way to point out all of the uncertainties involved," Stavins told the Times. “I don't see any likelihood it's going to be taken seriously."

Indeed, the price tag from the GAO's study is drastically lower than estimates from other recent reports. The non-profit Universal Ecological Fund found that extreme weather and public health issues related to burning fossil fuels could cost the U.S. up to $360 billion annually—nearly half of annual U.S. economic growth—within the next ten years.

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« Reply #20 on: Oct 31, 2017, 04:50 AM »

4 Signs to Watch at COP23

By Paula Caballero, David Waskow and Christina Chan

Two years after the world joined together to forge the Paris agreement on climate change, representatives from around the globe will convene in Bonn, Germany, on Nov. 6 for the next round of United Nations talks. The summit marks a critical stepping stone for global climate action.

This year's wave of climate-related natural disasters—hurricanes, floods and wildfires in developing and developing countries alike—drives home the urgency to move full speed ahead at the 23rd Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, known informally as COP23. Increasing public and private investment in the transition to clean energy and transport, in restoring forested areas, and in more sustainable cities demonstrate that significant inroads towards tackling climate change are being made at the national and local level. Countries are also reaffirming their commitment to climate action as a priority—both at home and internationally—including support for the Paris agreement demonstrated at the G7 and G20 summits and at the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN).

Steady progress, however, is not enough. Global greenhouse gas emissions need to start coming down quickly, peaking by 2020 and getting to net-zero by 2050, in order to meet the Paris goal of keeping global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) and optimally1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) above pre-industrial levels. That means there is a small window of opportunity left to make the low-carbon transition in ways that are economically and technically manageable given the options we have today. COP23 must continue to strengthen an international climate regime that sends the right market signals, reaffirms support for more ambitious and transformational implementation, raises awareness of the growing impacts of climate change, and mobilizes an ever greater number of players to act now before it is too late to avoid the most severe consequences of a changing climate.

Here are four signs to look for at COP23:

1. Tangible and Constructive Progress on Making the Paris Agreement Operational

The implementation guidelines of the agreement, sometimes referred to as the rulebook, will put the accord fully into motion when finalized at next year's climate summit in Poland. At Bonn, negotiators need to identify key decision points and the options for resolving them, along with an effective process for crafting clear rules and procedures on a wide range of issues. These include the transparency framework, which includes reporting and review requirements under the agreement, as well as the ambition mechanism to assess progress and ramp up action every five years.

2. A Strong Foundation for 2018, the First Moment under the Paris Agreement for Countries to Assess Progress and Signal their Readiness to Enhance Action

Enhancing climate action every five years, informed by periodically taking stock of progress and identifying new opportunities for action, is a fundamental premise of the Paris agreement. COP 23 will set in motion the first of these stocktaking exercises next year during the 2018 facilitative dialogue—now called the Talanoa Dialogue. The dialogue will assess global progress towards meeting the Paris long-term goals, highlight opportunities to step up action, and help spur countries to move forward on enhancing their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) by 2020.

In addition, events next year such as the Global Climate Action Summit in September 2018, a gathering of states, cities, businesses and others, will also recognize the decisive role that these actors play and encourage even greater action. Other upcoming initiatives like the December climate finance summit organized by French President Emmanuel Macron will contribute to launching 2018 as a year of pivotal change, with a new momentum to put us on track to driving the investment and action needed to achieve a climate resilient future.

3. Heightened Attention to Climate Impacts and Vulnerability, and Concrete, Practical Steps to Help Vulnerable Countries and Communities

As the first small island nation to preside over a global climate summit, the government of Fiji has made protecting the vulnerable a strong focus. Negotiators must agree on how to recognize efforts by developing countries to adapt to increasing climate impacts, evaluate effectiveness and mobilize greater support. That includes finance, as well as technology and capacity building. An important step at COP23 would be to formally link the Adaptation Fund, which has focused on building community-level resilience, to the Paris agreement. Negotiators also need to provide guidance on how to increase the share of adaptation finance as developed countries scale up finance to meet their commitment to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020. Parties must also do more to address loss and damage from climate impacts, even as they recognize the need to curb greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change.

4. A Growing Wave of Support from Non-state Actors Such as Cities, Businesses and Others

Stakeholders outside the negotiations have emerged as critical partners in the fight against climate change. At COP23, look for businesses, states, cities and others around the world to demonstrate how they are intensifying their efforts, rallying around the Paris agreement and contributing to national climate goals. The overwhelming support for climate action from within the United States – despite the Trump administration's efforts to the contrary—is a prime example. States, cities and companies that make up more than half the U.S. economy have declared support for the Paris agreement. Rather than back away, they are stepping up, and together they have the potential to significantly move U.S. climate action forward.

At climate negotiations last year in Morocco, we witnessed the world's steely determination to advance climate action despite any obstacles that may arise. COP23 is a time to carry that spirit forward and make concrete progress on structuring the Paris agreement. Moreover, it is an opportunity to set the stage for 2018 when countries can step up their response to the climate challenge and bequeath a livable world for future generations

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« Reply #21 on: Oct 31, 2017, 04:54 AM »

German Utilities Pay Customers to Use Electricity Thanks to Renewables Surplus


This past May, Germany's renewable energy mix generated so much power that prices actually went negative for several hours, meaning grid operators were forced to pay customers to use electricity.

This coming Sunday, however, wind generation alone is forecast to hit a new record, according to data crunched by Bloomberg. This means average prices will be negative for Germany electricity customers for a whole day, not just for a few hours.

When prices go negative, power producers either close power stations to reduce the electricity supply or pay consumers to take it off the grid, Bloomberg noted.

In May, Germany's mix of solar, wind, hydropower and biomass generated 88 percent of Germany's total electricity demand. While that was an already impressive feat then, on Sunday at 7 a.m, wind generation will peak at 39,190 megawatts—or enough to meet more than half of the country's total demand. That's just from wind power!

Germany's previous wind generation record was 38,370 megawatts on March 18.

The world's fourth largest economy is in the midst of a clean energy revolution known as Energiewende. Fortune reported that German consumers pay a surcharge of around €20 ($23.61) on their energy bills to pay for the initiative. Power prices are higher in Germany than in any other European country except for Denmark, where it costs €0.308 ($0.36) per kilowatt hour versus Germany's €0.298 ($0.34). To compare, residential prices for electricity averages $0.13 cents per kilowatt hour in the U.S.

However, it appears that the overwhelming majority of Germans do not mind paying this extra amount to go green. An survey by the Agency for Renewable Energies (AEE) revealed that 95 percent of Germans rate the expansion of renewables as important to extremely important for energy security and to fight climate change.

"The survey results show the breadth of the societal consensus supporting the Energiewende in Germany," said AEE deputy managing director Nils Boenigk. "People in Germany know the deployment must continue so we can fulflil our obligations regarding climate protection and future generations."

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« Reply #22 on: Oct 31, 2017, 04:55 AM »

Greenpeace Launches Campaign to Create ‘Largest Protected Area on Earth’


Greenpeace has launched a global campaign for an Antarctic sanctuary, covering 1.8 million square kilometers (approximately .7 million square miles) of ocean, to protect whales, penguins and other wildlife.

Following a failure to agree on strong marine protection in the East Antarctic, Greenpeace has called for governments to show "greater vision and ambition" in the coming year and create the largest protected area on Earth: an Antarctic Ocean sanctuary.

The Antarctic sanctuary would be five times the size of Germany, in the Weddell Sea, next to the Antarctic peninsula.

"Over the next 12 months we have an opportunity to make history: to create an Antarctic Ocean sanctuary which would be the largest protected area on Earth," said Frida Bengtsson, head of Greenpeace's Antarctic campaign. "Ocean sanctuaries not only protect incredible wildlife like whales and penguins, but they ensure healthy oceans which soak up carbon dioxide and help us to tackle climate change."

The proposal, submitted by the EU and championed by the German government, will be considered in October 2018 by the governments responsible for management of the Antarctic marine environment (CCAMLR), which have just concluded this year's proceedings. This proposal follows the successful adoption of the Ross Sea sanctuary which was introduced by the U.S. and New Zealand governments and adopted last year.

"From great blue whales to vast colonies of Emperor and Adélie penguins, Antarctic wildlife is already under acute pressure from climate change and now industrial fishing vessels are vacuuming up the tiny shrimp-like krill which Antarctic life relies upon," said Bengtsson. "The fishing industry simply can't be allowed to expand their operations and steal food from threatened penguins and whales. We now have a unique opportunity to make sure that doesn't happen."

"We have just 12 months to create the largest protected area on Earth. With almost half our planet made up of waters outside of national borders, and an urgent global need for more large ocean sanctuaries, governments now need to show greater vision and ambition to protect what belongs to us all."

Alex Rogers, professor of conservation biology at the University of Oxford, said:

"If we're going to avoid the worst effects of climate change and protect biodiversity we need to safeguard more than 30 percent of our oceans and the Antarctic is a fantastic place to start. Threats to the Antarctic are increasing, such as climate change and pollution, including from plastics and fishing. Creating large marine reserves can allow these ecosystems to remain in a fully diverse and functional state. Furthermore, the importance of Antarctic ecosystems in sequestering carbon is only now being realized. There is a narrow window of time for governments to work together to protect the oceans, so the time for action is now."

In January, Greenpeace will be working with independent scientists to gather data which will support proposals to protect large areas in the Weddell Sea and near the Antarctic Peninsula. Greenpeace marine biologist John Hocevar will pilot a two person submarine to explore these remote and pristine waters.
"The pace of action at intergovernmental meetings is not keeping up with how quickly our world is changing," said Hocevar. "We are going to Antarctica to build enough public support that world leaders realize they need to take action now."

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« Reply #23 on: Oct 31, 2017, 05:09 AM »

Planes across Europe to start running on vegetable oil and animal fat in bid to tackle climate change and toxic air

With long-distance electric-powered transport still a long way off, can advances in renewable fuel made from vegetable oil and waste fill the gap to combat climate change and clean up our toxic air?

Ben Chapman

Planes across Europe will soon run on renewable fuel made from vegetable oil and animal fat in a bid to tackle climate change and toxic air.

The new fuel will pour into planes mixed with traditional kerosene at Geneva Airport from next year but the millions of passengers travelling through the busy hub each year won’t notice the difference. The planes will run just as smoothly and engine performance is even slightly improved, says Matti Lievonen, the boss of Neste, the Finnish company that’s supplying the fuel.

He hopes that the deal will act as a blueprint that can be rolled out all over the world and says Neste has spoken with ten hub airports about implementing similar arrangements, including two of Europe’s busiest - Schiphol and Heathrow.  

Geneva is initially aiming for 1 per cent renewable fuel starting from the end of next year and Lievonen says he hopes to increase that in future. There’s certainly room for expansion - Lufthansa tested the fuel on more than 1,000 flights in 2011 with a 50-50 blend of renewables to kerosene. “It worked amazingly well,” Lievonen says. “Engine performance improved. We have a very good track record in aviation and it’s an exciting growth area for us.” Carbon emissions were reduced by 47 per cent.

“We need airlines and hub airports that really want to use the technology,” Lievonen says.

Sustainable fuels have so far made a small dent in the vast and consumption of the airline industry, but their impact is growing. Boeing successfully tested out the renewable fuel on its new 787 Dreamliner jet in 2014 and several airlines have recently begun to use jet fuels made from waste. Last year, United Airlines agreed to purchase 15 million gallons of biofuel from US firm AltAir, while British Airways signed a deal last month with Velocys to supply jet fuel made from some of the 15 million tonnes of waste UK households send to landfill each year.

Despite the competition, Lievonen is confident that his firm will remain the world’s leading producer of renewable diesel. “We have the advanced technology to make renewable fuel and we are the only company that can make it at the real industrial scale required,” he says.

Neste’s renewable diesel comes in a number of forms, which can be used in any traditional diesel engine, meaning it can also make a contribution to cutting the air pollution choking many cities around the world and killing millions of people.

Diesel cars have taken much of the flak for the toxic air blighting many cities after revelations that car makers spent years duping the public into thinking they were pumping out far lower levels of pollutants than they actually were.

London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, earlier this month introduced a charge for older, more polluting, diesel cars and several countries have announced eye-catching deadlines for the eradication of the internal combustion engine altogether.

But the delivery dates for most of these promises lie decades in the future, meaning that those who promised them are unlikely to be held to account. While Khan’s policy is effective immediately, experts estimate it will affect just 6,500 vehicles and is therefore likely to have little impact on air quality or greenhouse gas emissions.

Lievonen says 100 per cent renewable diesel waste can play a significant part in reducing lowering CO2 emissions and air pollution right now.

The Finnish company’s fuel pumps out much less of the harmful pollutants associated with fossil diesel - up to 40 per cent less particulate matter and 10 per cent less NOx. When used in its purest form it also produces up to 90 per cent less carbon emissions.

Renewable diesel is fundamentally different from most other fuel produced with waste fat or vegetable oils, known as biodiesel. The latter has been around in one form or another since Rudolf Diesel used fuel made from peanuts to test the engine he invented at the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris. While biodiesel can only be mixed with normal fuel up to a certain percentage before engines and infrastructure have to be modified, renewable diesel can simply be “dropped in”, meaning it can potentially play a greater role in making existing fleets of vehicles more friendly to the planet.

Thanks to heavy investment in research and development, Lievonen says Neste can now make viable fuel from waste fat that would have been unusable a few years ago, allowing it to ramp up production massively. The company has a sprawling network that reaches all over the world, collecting millions of tonnes of assorted waste from ten different types of sources.

Some of the key inputs are pig, beef and poultry fat which is collected from slaughterhouses and then rendered down. Fish fat from farms in Southeast Asia makes its way to the company’s processing plant in Singapore. Vegetable oil byproducts from industrial food production as well as used cooking oil from restaurants are collected, with the whole mix then refined into a clear, clean-burning liquid.

The process is not entirely uncontroversial. Some of the vegetable oil residue is from palm oil processing. Lievonen says Neste is merely using waste from an industry that would be there anyway. Environmental groups contend that buying the leftovers directly supports palm oil cultivation, which has been linked to large-scale deforestation.

Peter Behrle, a biofuels expert, and founder of US waste treatment firm, Lantern Environmental, says different people have different ideas about what is defined as waste. Animal fats can also be used in many other purposes such as making soap he says.
Planes, trains or automobiles?

While renewable diesel can help clean up our air, filling up the tanks of passenger cars isn’t the most useful application for the product. Whatever may or may not be achieved by policies such as Khan’s T-charge, Lievonen, predicts that all cars in inner-city areas are likely to be electric in the foreseeable future.

Public backlash against the dieselgate scandal has already begun. UK sales of diesel models in September slumped more than a fifth on the same month last year. Electric car sales, while still tiny by comparison, are gathering pace.

But heavy-duty vehicles, such as lorries and buses, as well as shipping and aviation, are responsible for greater proportions of both diesel consumption and CO2 emissions around the world than passenger cars.

In London, for example, the Mayor’s figures show that cars account for 11 per cent of NOx emissions, while rail transport and lorries belched out almost a quarter. In certain busy areas, buses contribute far more to poor air quality than cars do.

Neste has already partnered with a number of cities, including San Francisco, San Diego and Helsinki, to run their entire bus fleets on 100 per cent renewable diesel. By comparison Transport for London uses a 20 per cent biodiesel blend from a UK company, Argent Energy, to fuel around a third of the capital’s buses.

HGVs, which travel punishing schedules over long-distances, often across multiple borders, are likely to take far longer than passenger vehicles to make the switch to electric, Lievonen says, though he won’t put a precise timeline on it. These vehicles have diesel, rather than petrol engines, because the former are seen as more durable and can travel up to 1,000 miles on a single tank.

Batteries that can reliably shift heavy loads over such distances at an economical cost, do not yet exist, and – even at the current rapid pace of technological advancement – appear unlikely to replace diesel any time soon.

Tesla boss Elon Musk said last month that his company would unveil an “unreal” new electric-powered truck before the end of October but it remains to be seen if it will be a viable alternative to diesel equivalents, at least in the short term. Reuters reported that Tesla’s new car will have a maximum range of 200 to 300 miles.

Electric air travel is also a long way off. easyJet recently said it hopes to fly small electric passenger planes up to 335 miles within a decade, but the concept, developed by Wright Electric, relies on batteries continuing to develop at their current rate for the next ten years. And that’s just to fly the distance between London and Edinburgh.  

While Musk is partial to a “moonshot” idea, and easyJet’s announcement is based on speculative assumptions, Lievonen has a solution that is already proven to work.

Demand for clean alternatives to fossil diesel is unlikely to be a problem. On the other hand, supply might be. Even if you account for the ever more sophisticated production methods pioneered by firms like Neste and Argent, there are limits to the sources of renewable fuel, says Behrle.

“Clearly nobody is going to start killing more pigs and chickens to make more diesel, so if one company increases its usage it takes away from others,” he says. “Biodiesel may or may not be the best use for that animal fat but if I’m a soap manufacturer, I’m not going to stop buying it.”

But Neste plans to continue it expansion. In 2015 it became the world's largest producer of renewable fuel from waste and it currently has capacity to make 2.6 million tonnes (3.2 billion litres) a year. It says that it aims to ramp up production to 3 million tonnes by 2020 and 4 million tonnes by 2022 - enough to power several million cars for a year.

Behrle says the real growth area left, particularly in the UK, is in the dirty oil collected in grease traps at restaurants and hotels. Argent now successfully makes fuel out of the vast “fatbergs” that clog up Britain’s sewer system when cooking oil and other solids are thrown down sinks or flushed into loos.

Lievonen admits that there is a finite amount of waste that Neste can refine and says even current production levels are “just a drop” when compared to the world’s current thirst for oil.

The company is focused on continually improving its technology and partnering with the most environmentally minded companies and cities. Neste runs buses for Google in and around the tech firm’s mammoth Santa Clara headquarters, and also powers UPS delivery vans across the US.

Running out of raw materials because of too much demand is not a typical conundrum for a company making a renewable product, but it would be one that Lievonen would no doubt be happy to be faced with.

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« Reply #24 on: Oct 31, 2017, 05:11 AM »

UN releases warning about 'catastrophic' lack of action on climate change

Andrew Griffin

There is a "catastrophic" gap between what needs to be done climate change and what governments and companies are actually doing, the UN has warned.

Despite pledges to work to mitigate and deal with climate change, current plans still lead to a 3-degree Celsius rise in temperatures by the end of the decade, a major new report warns. If that happens, it will not only break through the 2-degrees target set in the Paris agreement, but also lead to deadly changes in the climate across the world.

In its latest "Emissions Gap" report issued ahead of an important climate conference in Germany next week, the program takes aim at coal-fired electricity plants being built in developing economies and says investment in renewable energies will pay for itself — and even make money — over the long term.

Tuesday's report comes as U.N. officials are making a renewed push to maintain momentum generated by the Paris climate accord of 2015. It aims to cap global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius by the year 2100 compared to average world temperatures at the start of the industrial era.

But that agreement has come under threat after Donald Trump suggested he might opt to pull out of it. The new report doesn't include any impact from the US withdrawing, and if it did then the picture would become "even bleaker", the UN said.

More follows…

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« Reply #25 on: Oct 31, 2017, 05:13 AM »

'The help never lasts': why has Mexico's education revolution failed?

Education was meant to be president Enrique Peña Nieto’s flagship policy. Yet salaries are still being paid to ‘ghost teachers’ who never enter a classroom, while children lack the tools – and sometimes even the food – they need to learn

Nina Lakhani in State of Mexico

It’s almost four in the afternoon, and a quarter of the fifth-grade pupils at Ángel Albino Corzo primary school in Buena Vista haven’t eaten all day. The children are fidgety and distracted as their teacher explains decimals on the white board.

They are counting down the minutes until break time, when they will be given a small portion of beans with tortillas – for some, the only meal they will eat today (Mexico’s schooling is split into two distinct shifts; these children study from 1.30-6pm).

“How can they learn if they’ve not eaten and we haven’t got the right tools?” their teacher, Juan Carlos, asks later. He would like to use interactive online worksheets, but the computer lab is closed and there’s no internet. “There’s only so much we can do.”

Buena Vista is a bleak hillside community constructed on industrial wasteland in the sprawling State of Mexico, which wraps around the capital, Mexico City. Crime rates are so high here that in winter months, the school closes early as many children walk home alone. Police do not patrol the neighbourhood.

Attendance at the school is dismal, and drop-out rates are high. Ten of the fifth grade’s 35 enrolled pupils are absent today. Only three of the original class still attend. “We don’t know what happens to them, they just stop coming,” Carlos says.

His fellow teacher, Angelica Rivera, is worried about 14-year-old Pablo, who dropped out of sixth grade two months ago. Pablo was already three years behind but had been doing better until his brother was murdered, at which point he spiralled into drugs and depression. “I pleaded with him to come back and finish school, but he’s working now,” Rivera says. Children who leave here able to read and write are considered a success.

Education was meant to be Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto’s flagship policy. In the year after his election in 2012, he announced ambitious reforms to clean-up corruption in the Mexican teachers union (SNTE), improve teaching standards, and create a fairer education model fit for the 21st century.

    How will the government fund more teachers and technology if it’s still spending millions of dollars on corrupt posts?
    Marco Fernandez

The government introduced mandatory testing for all teachers, promising from then on promotions and salaries would depend on performance, not favours. The first-ever education census revealed tens of thousands of salaries were being paid illegally to union workers, administrators and even dead, retired and “ghost” teachers.

But while some progress has been made, millions of dollars are still being misspent. Teachers’ salaries continue to be paid to people who never enter a classroom, according to federal payroll figures being analysed by the Mexico Evalúa watchdog and Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education. This is illegal but, according to lead investigator Marco Fernandez, no one has been sanctioned.

“The new education model needs money to succeed,” Fernandez says. “How will the government fund more teachers and technology if it’s still spending millions of dollars on corrupt posts, and failing to punish those responsible?
‘Quality doesn’t matter’

Mexico ranks last in education among the 35 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. Mexican children leave school with the worst literacy, maths and science skills, with around half failing to meet the most basic standards. The poorest children in Vietnam outperform the most privileged in Mexico.

“No matter how rich or poor you are in Mexico, your education is bad or very bad. Jobs are given based on connections not merit, so quality doesn’t matter,” says Alexandra Zapata, education specialist from the thinktank Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (Imco).

Like others before him, Peña Nieto put computers and information technology at the heart of his education revolution. Rivera’s class in Buena Vista was one of those selected to benefit from this highly publicised programme of gifting laptops and tablets to fifth-and sixth-graders. Rivera spent six months studying evenings for an online diploma to improve her digital teaching skills.

But around two thirds of the tablets no longer work, and the repair budget has been cut. Some parents simply sold them. In total, a million devices were handed out in six states before the scheme ended; its impact has not been measured.

Another eye-catching policy, announced earlier this year, is to have English-speaking teachers in every school within a decade, and for all children to be bilingual in Spanish and English within 20 years.

Yet Mexico’s teachers are hardly equipped to educate those who already speak a different language: 1.3 million schoolchildren around the country use indigenous dialects as their first – and sometimes only – language. Only 60% of the 55,000 teachers who do speak an indigenous language are in classrooms where students speak the same one.

“Racism has always featured in education policy, and this one fails to recognise that this is a multilingual country where all children have equal rights,” says researcher Ivania de la Cruz Orozco, from the Centre for Research and Teaching of Economics (Cide).

“Education doesn’t exist in a bubble,” Orozco says. “Mexico’s indigenous children do not go to university because of the social and economic conditions they live in. It’s not because they don’t want to go.”

Children in indigenous schools have the lowest achievement levels, with more than 80% falling below the basic level needed to progress. One in four indigenous 15-year-olds cannot read or write – four times the general illiteracy rate. Poverty within indigenous communities is rising.

According to Patricio Solís, a leading inequalities expert at the College of Mexico, education is a double-edged sword. “It can be a vehicle for social mobility or, like in Mexico, it can reflect and reproduce inequalities.”

    There’s no denying we have a quality problem and an inequality problem. Both are very serious
    Sylvia Schmelkes

For Solís, the education system could compensate for a child’s unequal start by offering summer schools in the most marginalised communities and incentives so the best teachers work in the most needy schools. Instead, it does the opposite.

“Our system is designed to reproduce inequalities rather than compensate for them. The children with the most needs get the worst services, like tele-secondary schools [a distance learning model where a reduced number of teachers rely on video and audio materials to teach the curriculum]. I’ve seen no evidence that the situation is improving,” Solís says.

Mexico is currently the OECD’s second most unequal country, after newcomer Chile. School dropout rates, absences and grade repetition are all much worse within its poorer communities.

“Where people live in the poorest conditions, the education always arrives last and is the poorest in every aspect – funding, materials, preparation of teachers – which means inequality is perpetuated,” says Sylvia Schmelkes, outgoing director of the National Institute for the Evaluation of Education.

“There’s no denying we have a quality problem and an inequality problem. Both are very serious.”
Teachers feel demonised

As Peña Nieto enters his final year in office, the future of his “flagship” education reform programme looks bleak. While the education minister, a close ally of the president, insists the government remains committed to its education agenda, and a spokeswoman says that “all the priority programmes that support this educational transformation are sufficiently funded”, the numbers are revealing.

The education budget was slashed by 11.4% this year to £12bn – the lowest since 2011 – as the economy reels from US president Donald Trump’s threats to build a border wall and rip up trade agreements.

The textbook budget has been cut by a third; teacher training and equality programmes reduced by 40% each; and funds to get children digitally connected have been cut completely.

Many teachers feel demonised thanks to the monumental dispute between the government and their union – but in Buena Vista, at least, they’re trying their best under desperately difficult circumstances.

Rivera buys and downloads interactive worksheets on to her personal laptop and projects them on to the whiteboard to try and inspire her class. A high school volunteer is trying to fix the broken desktops but there’s no IT teacher, so the computer lab is largely defunct.

It’s not just technology deficits the teachers have to cope with. The school didn’t receive enough textbooks to go round this year, so children must work in groups or from photocopies.

The local government did, however, donate some reading books – including an unreadable, fine-print version of Gulliver’s Travels. “What child would read this?” asks Rivera, flicking through the pictureless book. “But it means some politician somewhere can say he helped the school.”

When the break-time bell finally rings at 4.30pm, the children bolt towards the dining room – all except Julia, a twinkly-eyed sixth-grader who loiters outside, playing with a ratty looking dog. She only had a glass of milk for breakfast and doesn’t have the five pesos (20p) to pay for lunch. Rivera hands her a coin, and Julia runs in, smiling.

“We’re bang in the middle of the poverty belt,” says the school’s headteacher Norma Jimenez, sitting at her office desk next to an imposing Mexican flag. “There is no doctor, no dentist, no water, no police in this community – this is marginalisation.”

Straight-talking Jimenez is zealous about the potential of education. “Every time there’s a new programme, we get excited and I send my teachers on courses. But then it disappears and we get disillusioned. It’s like boom and bust.

“We could do so much good here, have a real impact,” she adds. “But there’s no assessment of need. The help never lasts.”

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« Reply #26 on: Oct 31, 2017, 05:18 AM »

Father finally reunited with daughter lost in chaos of Rwanda's 1994 genocide

Leonard Sebarinda had not seen Jeanette Chiapello since she was taken to Italy for adoption aged two, but a brother’s search brought a joyful reunion

Johnson Kanamugire
Tuesday 31 October 2017 10.00 GMT

A 70-year-old father has been reunited with his daughter, 23 years after she was taken from Rwanda to Italy for adoption during the genocide, having been mistaken for an orphan.

Jeanette Chiapello flew to Rwanda this month from Italy to meet her father, Leonard Sebarinda, after a brother had spent years tracking her down.

Sebarinda last saw Chiapello, originally named Beata Nyirambabazi, when she was two years old. He had given up all hope of setting eyes on her again.

Chiapello’s mother, a Tutsi, had taken her, her twin sister and her brother to shelter at the Nyamata Catholic church, where she hoped they would be safe from the killings. But Hutu attackers came, throwing grenades and spears into the church, killing those cowering inside, an estimated 10,000 people. The church is now a genocide memorial site.

After the slaughter, villagers found Chiapello alive among the piles of bodies, her mother, and two siblings lying dead nearby. She was taken to a local orphanage to be cared for.

Her father had been hiding in a different location with the couple’s three other children. Sebarinda spent days searching for the rest of his family and eventually found Chiapello at the orphanage, alongside hundreds of children who had lost their families.

“I confirmed that she was indeed my Beata. She even smiled at me when I saw her,” Sebarinda told the East African. “I left her there to plan on how I was going to get her out of the orphanage so that I could take care of her together with her siblings who had survived. I left the orphanage with plans of coming back.”

While he was away, Chiapello was flown to Italy, one of a group of children registered as orphans to be given up for adoption. When Sebarinda returned and found her missing, he was told she had been taken to Italy, but no one at the orphanage had more information about her whereabouts.

Dozens of such children were taken to Europe for adoption, even though some of them still had family living in Rwanda.

In 1997, 92 children were returned to Rwanda from Italy after the intervention of the UN, however, some stayed in Italy despite personal appeals for their return from Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, to the Italian government.

One of Chiapello’s brothers, Vincent Twizeyimana, began searching for her about 10 years ago. He approached the orphanage where she had lived in Rwanda, and managed to get some pictures of her and eventually her name and email address.

Initially, she rejected his overtures, saying she was an orphan and could not be the person Twizeyimana was looking for. However, earlier this year, Chiapello reached out to her brother through Facebook. A DNA test confirmed they were family.

Accompanied by her Italian husband, Chiapello travelled to Ntarama in Bugesera district to meet her family earlier this month, where she was welcomed with a traditional ceremony.

She only knows a few words of Kinyarwanda, the language of her area, but spoke to her relatives through a translator about her life in an orphanage and subsequent adoption by an Italian family.

“It took me until when I was an adult to start reflecting on my African roots and biological parents,” she said.

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Forced to live in a cemetery: the secret shantytown for Juba's homeless

A graveyard in South Sudan’s capital has become home to thousands of people desperate for shelter, their flimsy tents lining the ground among the tombstones

Sam Mednick

Shielding her eyes with one arm, the frail, 50-year-old Rose Juan glances at the tombstone outside her makeshift house. “I see ghosts in my dreams,” she says. For half a decade, the mother of five has been living among the dead. Time hasn’t eased the eeriness that engulfs her home.

Juan is one of thousands of homeless people in South Sudan’s capital, Juba. With nowhere to go, she has been forced to take up residence in the city’s graveyard. “Sometimes men, women and children greet me and ask: ‘Why are you living on top of us?’” said Juan of the ghosts that haunt her sleep.

It has been nearly five years since civil war erupted in the world’s youngest nation. Fighting between President Salva Kiir’s government troops and forces loyal to Riek Machar, the former vice-president, shows no signs of abating. Mass displacement, starvation and allegations of war crimes continue, plunging the country deeper into despair.

Seven years ago, Juan and her family travelled from the small town of Terekeka to Juba in search of help. “My husband is mentally ill and he couldn’t provide for us,” says Juan. She thought coming to the “big city” would yield greater opportunities.

When she first arrived, she lived with her family along the Nile, joining thousands of other desperate people from Terekeka’s Mundari tribe, who came in search of food and assistance during South Sudan’s second civil war.

However, when the comprehensive peace agreement was signed in 2005, putting southern Sudan on the path towards independence, foreign money began pouring in. The Mundaris were told to leave to make room for new hotels and businesses along the waterfront.

The cemetery’s residents say the government told them to go back to Terekeka and refused to provide them with land. Not wanting to return to the desolation they had fled, thousands of people moved into Saint Mary’s cemetery.

The graveyard, concealed behind a long brick wall, has – over the past 10 years – become a sprawling, filthy shantytown in the middle of the capital. Flimsy plastic tents line the muddy ground, while the hard surfaces of tombstones are used for drying clothes or storing household items. Children play on the jagged edges tombs and adults continue to bury the newly deceased in nearby plots.

Most of Juba’s population, including local and international aid agencies based in the city, have no idea there are so many people living in squalor behind the wall.

The cemetery’s residents say they feel abandoned. “The government hasn’t helped us,” says Cecilia Grak, 50. Ten years ago, the mother of eight “heard of a place called Juba” and came from Terekeka looking for food. She tried to squat on other people’s land but, when she was repeatedly kicked off, she sought refuge in the cemetery. Today she eats scraps of discarded food she finds in the market.

South Sudan’s government wants little to do with the graveyard dwellers. The official view is that they are living there illegally and the authorities are under no obligation to help. “They’re not our problem,” says Johnson Swaka, chief executive officer for the city of Juba.

Only one local aid group is providing assistance to the cemetery’s 3,000 inhabitants. Humanitarian workers say that, since the onset of war, things have become worse.

“There’s no work, and whatever little money people get they spend on drink,” says Martha, one of the social workers operating in the cemetery. The Guardian is using only her first name to protect her identity.

She says South Sudan’s economic crisis has left people without jobs, which has fuelled alcoholism and caused a spike in sexual violence and domestic abuse.

Martha’s organisation has been working in the cemetery for the past five years, providing 600 children with money to go school, as well as support against gender-based and domestic violence. Yet, she says, the atmosphere can be volatile at times, with drunkenness often prompting people to turn on those trying to help them.

Civil society groups are calling on the government to do more for its people by providing land to live on that is “affordable or free”. “The ongoing violent conflict in South Sudan has made the economy worse for ordinary citizens,” says Edmund Yakani, executive director for the Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation, a local non-profit advocacy group. Yakani says people can’t afford daily living expenses, let alone housing.

Lawmakers in Juba doubt anything will change. “These people are seen as dead bodies,” says a member of parliament who asked not be named. “They’re not counted as human beings.”

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Trump adviser George Papadopoulos and the lies about Russian links

Campaign foreign policy aide who attempted to arrange Putin meeting is first to be charged over foreign attempts to interfere in 2016 election

Luke Harding, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Shaun Walker in Moscow
Tuesday 31 October 2017 06.00 GMT

For months the White House has denied collusion with Russia. But in court documents released on Monday, new evidence emerged of an ambitious plot by a former Trump foreign policy aide to arrange a meeting with Vladimir Putin on behalf of the future president. The plan featured a mysterious London professor, a female Russian national inaccurately referred to as “Putin’s niece” – and bold promises that the Kremlin was ready to dispense “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

The most explicit evidence yet of a campaign official’s attempts to work with the Kremlin emerged in an indictment brought by Robert Mueller, the special counsel who since May has headed the investigation into Trump-Russia contacts.

It came the same day that Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and adviser Rick Gates were indicted for conspiracy, money-laundering and other charges, and gave themselves up to the FBI.

Up until now George Papadopoulos, a Greek-American who served as a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign and once lived in London, has played a minor role in the scandal. But on Monday he emerged as the first person to agree to cooperate with the Mueller probe under the terms of a plea agreement. He also admitted to lying to investigators at the FBI.

The 14-page “statement of offence” unsealed on Monday sets out how in the spring and summer of 2016, Papadopolous sought tirelessly to forge ties to Kremlin officials – then misled the FBI, and tried to cover up what he had done.

According to the indictment, the FBI questioned Papadopoulos on 27 January 2017, a week after Trump was inaugurated. In that interview, Papadopoulos lied. Or, as the FBI put it, “made material false statements and material omissions”.

In particular, he tried to dupe federal agents about the extensive nature of his contacts with Kremlin officials, and when he first learned that the Russians hacked Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Papadopoulus joined Trump’s campaign early in March 2016. Days later he spoke to an unnamed Trump “supervisor” who spelled out the campaign’s principal foreign policy objective: “an improved US relationship with Russia”.

A week later Papadopoulous flew to Rome where he bumped into a London-based “professor of diplomacy” from a “Mediterranean country”. The professor – identified by the Washington Post as Joseph Mifsud – claimed to have “substantial connections with Russian government officials”.

Mifsud is reportedly based at an institute called the London Academy of Diplomacy. He is a Maltese former foreign office diplomat, reports say. Interviewed by the Washington Post in August, he said he was not connected to the Russian government.

Papadopoulus, it appeared, saw an opportunity to impress his campaign bosses. According to the FBI, the professor was initially “uninterested” in developing ties, until Papadopoulos revealed his Trump connection. After that he became very keen indeed.

On 24 March there was a follow-up meeting in London. The professor brought a “Russian female national” along with him, who Papadopoulos described in an email afterwards as “Putin’s niece”. (Putin does not have any surviving siblings.)

Papadopoulos told the FBI that his exchanges with this woman were pleasantly innocuous, and amounted to little more than “Hi, how are you?” But this was another fib: in the meantime, he had emailed the Trump campaign supervisor to say he was working on setting up a high-level meeting between “us” and the “Russian leadership”.

The “campaign supervisor” replied: “Great work.”

Then on 31 March, Papadopoulos took part in a meeting in Washington with Trump, the Republican frontrunner, and his national security team. He was pictured seated three chairs away from the candidate. Papadopoulos made an interesting pitch, according to the FBI: he told those seated around the table he could broker a ground-breaking meeting between Putin and Trump.

Back in London, Papadopoulus worked with his new friends to make this happen. He sent emails to the Russian woman, who replied in enthusiastic terms, and to the professor, who told him that he was travelling imminently to Moscow. On 18 April the professor emailed from Moscow introducing Papadopoulos to an influential “individual” with links to Russia’s ministry of foreign affairs.

This individual appears to be Ivan Timofeev, a Russian official first identified by the Washington Post in August. Timofeev works for the Moscow-based Russian International Affairs Council. He also leads a programme at the Valdai discussion club, a government organisation that invites western academics for an annual audience with Putin. (Timofeev declined to comment. He has said of Papadopoulos that “George didn’t understand the Russian internal political landscape well”.)

On his return to the UK the professor brought intriguing news. In late April, over breakfast in a “London hotel”, he told Papadopoulos that Russia had got “dirt” on Clinton: “They [the Russians] have dirt on her ... they have thousands of emails.” After this bombshell Papadopoulos “continued to communicate” with the Trump campaign and his Russian government interlocutors.

The indictment against George Papadopoulos reveals evidence of an ambitious plot to arrange a meeting with Putin on behalf of Trump.

At this point, the Democrats had no idea they had been hacked. They discovered their servers had been breached a few weeks later. Meanwhile, according to non-FBI sources, the British eavesdropping agency GCHQ was passing information to the CIA setting out secret meetings between Trump officials and Russian intelligence operatives. The hacking scandal wasn’t made public until June, two months after Trump’s aide had learned of it in London.

According to the FBI, Papadopoulos was upbeat during this period. He told Trump’s “senior policy adviser” he had received “some interesting messages coming in from Moscow” and passed on that Russia was interested “in hosting Mr Trump”. He thanked the professor for his “critical help” in setting up a possible meeting. And added: “It’s history-making if it happens.”

Papadopoulos was making history, but for all the wrong reasons.

Across May, June and August there were further emails and updates, plus messages relayed to the Trump campaign with the unambiguous subject line: “Request from Russia to meet Mr. Trump.” Papadopoulos even offered to fly to Moscow himself, if the candidate couldn’t make it. Despite his efforts the trip never happened.

Few of these details were known until Mueller’s indictment was unsealed on Monday.

In January 2017 agents interviewed Papadopoulos in Chicago, Illinois, after warning him that lying would be a “federal offence”. He did so anyway – downplaying his contacts, scuffing the timeline and hiding the extensive nature of the email trail.

On 16 February the FBI interviewed him again. The following day Papadopoulos changed his cell phone number and deleted his Facebook account – which he’d had since 2005 – in an apparent attempt to bury his exchanges with the professor and the foreign affairs-connected “individual”.

Papadopoulos was arrested without publicity or fuss at Dulles international airport in July. Later he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is described as a “proactive co-operator”.

On Monday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed the revelations of the plea agreement, describing Papadopoulos as a “volunteer” on the campaign. But there can be little doubt that the story is deeply problematic for the president.

The Mueller investigation is ongoing and more revelations are likely. Trump’s agony may only just be beginning.


Here’s how ex-Trump advisor George Papadopoulos could take down Jeff Sessions

Travis Gettys
31 Oct 2017 at 12:29 ET                   

A former Trump campaign aide has agreed to plead guilty to misleading federal investigators — and his testimony could potentially bring down Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy advisor, accepted an Oct. 5 plea agreement announced Monday — the same day indictments against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were unsealed.

According to court documents, Papadopoulos learned from a Russian professor that the Kremlin possessed “dirt” on Hillary Clinton obtained from thousands of stolen emails.

He told investigators he learned about the hacked emails before joining the campaign — but he later admitted to lying and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel probe as part of his guilty plea.

According to court documents, the professor only took an interest in Papadopoulos after he joined the Trump campaign in March 2016.

Three days after joining the campaign as a volunteer advisor, Papadopoulos sent an email to seven campaign officials with the subject line: “Meeting with Russian Leadership – Including Putin.”

He emailed then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in April 2016 saying “Putin wants to host the Trump team when the time is right,” and he emailed Lewandowski and another campaign adviser, Sam Clovis, on May 4, 2016, to ask again about setting up a meeting.

Papadopoulos met in late April 2016 with the Russian professor, who revealed the stolen emails, and investigators said the Trump advisor then shared the information with a “high-ranking campaign official” and “senior policy advisor” the following day.

That’s about six weeks before a British intermediary approached Donald Trump Jr. with a similar offer from a Russian attorney.

Russia continued trying to arrange meetings with the campaign — including Trump himself — through Papadopoulos for weeks, including a June 1, 2016, conversation the advisor had with a top campaign official who referred him to a “campaign supervisor.”

It’s not clear from the court documents which two top campaign associates Papadopoulos told about the stolen emails, but there wouldn’t have been many possible candidates on the relatively small campaign at that time.

Manafort had joined the Trump campaign on March 29, 2016, to help keep Republican delegates loyal to the real estate developer and former reality TV star, and he was promoted to campaign chairman May 19.

Papadopoulos would have reported to Sessions, then a U.S. Senator from Alabama, who oversaw the Trump campaign’s foreign policy advisory committee and would have signed off on Papadopoulos and other unconventional candidates on the team.

Donald Trump announced his foreign policy team during a March 21, 2016, meeting with the Washington Post editorial board, and described Papadopoulos as “an energy and oil consultant, excellent guy.”

The advisory committee surprised and baffled foreign policy experts, who hadn’t heard of many of the advisors — who, for their part, were unable to describe exactly how they were helping Trump.

Sessions had hands-on involvement with the advisory committee Papadopoulos sat on, according to Stephen Miller — the senator’s communications director and, after the election, a senior advisor to the president.

“For first time, Miller detailed the effort Sessions has poured into this new role,” gushed Breitbart News on March 17, 2016, in a recap of an appearance on Fox News.

“Jeff Sessions has been meeting for hours now putting together a team of foreign policy advisers, military experts, [and] intelligence experts,” Miller told “The Kelly Files.” “I had a chance to speak to Sen. Sessions today and his military advisers for about half an hour before coming here and we discussed some robust foreign policy ideas.”

Sessions recused himself from overseeing the Justice Department probe March 2, 2017, after news reports showed he met twice during the campaign with the Russian ambassador — which appear to contradict statements he made during his confirmation hearings.

He met with the Russian ambassador and a small group of other diplomats after speaking at an event hosted by the Heritage Foundation during the Republican National Convention, in July 2016.

Sessions also met with the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, at his Senate office on Sept. 8, 2016, but he insists that meeting was one of many he took with other ambassadors as part of his official duties on Capitol Hill.

He admits to speaking with the ambassadors about the presidential election, but he said those conversations were superficial.

Less than two weeks ago, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) grilled Sessions on his shifting explanations for his conversations with Kislyak.

“How your responses morphed from, ‘I did not have any communications with the Russians,’ to, ‘I did not discuss the political campaign,’ and then finally going to, ‘I did not discuss interference in the election’— that to me is moving the goal post every time,” Franken said. “By the end, we’re going to a 75-yard field goal.”

“Saying, ‘I didn’t discuss interfering in the election is your last statement,’ that’s a very different bar than, ‘I can tell you I did not meet with any Russians,’” he added.

After Sessions’ recusal, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein oversaw the Justice Department probe of alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Rosenstein then appointed special counsel Robert Mueller in May 2017 after the president fired former FBI director James Comey.

It’s not clear whether Papadopoulos, who was introduced to the Trump campaign by Ben Carson, has damaging information on Sessions or anyone else — but his testimony was apparently worth a plea deal from the special counsel.


Here are the 5 biggest links connecting Trump to Manafort and Russian money laundering

Brad Reed
Raw Story
31 Oct 2017 at 11:51 ET                   

The Trump White House is claiming victory in the wake of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s indictment on money laundering charges on the grounds that the indictment did not specifically mention Manafort’s work in the Trump campaign in 2016.

However, the nature of the charges against Manafort serves as a basis for establishing links between President Donald Trump and the Russian mob.

Here are the five biggest links that connect Trump, Manafort and Russian organized crime operations.

    The indictment against Manafort alleges he was laundering money he earned from his work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine. Specifically, the indictment states that, “in order to hide Ukraine payments from United States authorities, from approximately 2006 through at least 2016, Manafort and Gates laundered money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships and bank accounts.”
    Long before he ran Trump’s campaign, Manafort lived in an apartment in Trump Tower. Manafort first purchased an apartment in Trump Tower in 2006, which WNYC notes was right around the time that his lobbying firm signed a $10 million contract with a Kremlin-linked Russian oligarch named Oleg Deripaska — the same man whom Manafort agreed to give personal briefings about the state of Trump’s presidential campaign to in 2016.
    In 2013, the FBI obtained a search warrant to eavesdrop on what it believed to be a massive Russian money laundering operation — and which also happened to be running out of Trump Tower. As ABC News reported earlier this year, the investigation into the operation led “to a federal grand jury indictment of more than 30 people, including one of the world’s most notorious Russian mafia bosses, Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov.”
    Another figure allegedly involved in the Russian money laundering business is Felix Sater — a longtime Trump associate. Sater’s financial relationship with Trump dates back to at least 2003, when the Trump Organization rented out office space to Sater’s former company. Even though Trump initially tried to distance himself from Sater after news of his criminal past came to light in 2007, he subsequently tapped Sater in 2010 to scout out real estate. This is notable because Sater is reportedly cooperating with an investigation into money laundering that used American properties to help hide money.
    Sater’s company, Bayrock Capital, also operated out of Trump Tower — and may have used Trump properties to launder Russian money. A Bloomberg report from earlier this year reveals that a former Bayrock insider, Jody Kriss, now claims that Sater’s firm was all an elaborate money laundering operation. In 2007, Trump teamed with Bayrock to secure funding for the Trump Soho hotel via FL Group, an Icelandic bank that was regularly used by Russians to launder money.


Paul Manafort pushed Trump to choose Pence as VP

31 Oct 2017 at 14:49 ET 

The man who helped put Mike Pence a heartbeat away from the presidency is now facing federal charges.

Paul Manafort, who was hit Monday with 12 counts tied to alleged financial schemes, pushed for Pence to become Trump's running mate and even managed to talk Trump out of his doubts. As the Trump administration now works to distance itself from Manafort, his Pence pick stands among the best evidence of his impact as Trump's short-lived campaign manager.

Before Trump formally announced Pence as his vice presidential candidate, it was Manafort who made sure it happened, as The New York Times reported last year.

Trump had hesitated to settle on Pence, who was serving as governor of Indiana. Trump was fielding last-ditch appeals from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and publicly said he had not made a “final, final decision” until advisers like Manafort reminded him the importance of uniting the Republican Party around conservative Christian values.

CBS News reported Pence was Manafort's "first choice" and Manafort even lied about mechanical problems on Trump's  plane to make the soon-to-be GOP nominee stay an extra day in Indiana to get to know Pence. In a phone call, Manafort assured Trump that Pence was the right choice, and made a case that won over the real estate tycoon.

Manafort would later downplay his behind-the-scenes choice, telling the Times later that Trump never seriously doubted Pence.

The decision came during the three months Manafort served as Trump's campaign manager, after advising him earlier in the year. Just a month after the Pence pick, Manafort was out, with reports about his foreign finances and government lobbying creating a cloud around the campaign.

On Monday, Manafort surrendered to the FBI on charges that included conspiracy against the United States, after Mueller named him and his associate Rick Gates in the first indictment from the probe into the Trump campaign's suspected Russia ties.

With reports emerging through 2017 about Manafort becoming a Mueller target, and The White House started emphasizing that Manafort spent "just under five months" working for Trump. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders further downplayed his role in the campaign on the day he was indicted.

The backpedaling began in March after it emerged that Manafort signed a multimillion-dollar contract in 2006 with a close associate of Vladimir Putin. Trump's team now claims Manafort merely oversaw delegate operations and that Trump was not aware of Manafort's work for other governments, including Russia.

Related: Trump Watched Fox News as His World Burned with Paul Manafort Indictment

Sean Spicer, the former White House press secretary, described Manafort as someone "who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time." In August, Trump downplayed the FBI raiding Manafort's house, remarking that it was a "pretty tough" way to wake someone up. He has not publicly defended Manafort since that press conference.

"I've always found Paul Manafort to be a very decent man," Trump said at the time. "He's like a lot of other people, probably makes consultant fees from all over the place. Who knows. I don't know."

More recently, Trump and his staff have tried deflecting attention to Hillary Clinton and Democrats, whom Trump blames for an explosive dossier sourced from Fusion GPS, an intelligence firm. It alleged Russia supported Trump for at least five years and that there had been a contact between Russian officials and members of Trump’s campaign.

Trump tweeted Monday morning: "Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren't Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?Huh? ....Also, there is NO COLLUSION!"

The indictment from Mueller covers "between at least 2006 and 2015," according to the full text of the document and alleges that Manafort and Gates acted as unregistered agents for Ukraine.

A separate guilty plea from George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, means collusion has been confirmed by at least one member of the campaign.


Here’s why Trump’s Commerce Secretary could be the next official targeted in the Mueller probe

Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet
30 Oct 2017 at 22:31 ET                   

Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment against international lobbyist and Trump campaign chief, Paul Manafort, and pleading by Trump campaign foreign policy aide, George Papadopoulos, cast long shadows over other top Trump administration officials—starting with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross—whose previous financial deals involved the European money-laundering hub of Cyprus.

The banking sector of that small island nation in the Mediterranean appear to a crossroads where top Trump campaign associates, such as Manafort and Papadopoulos, and senior administration officials like Commerce Secretary Ross, crossed paths and had layered financial and political dealings with Kremlin-tied Russian oligarchs.

The Manafort indictment, apart from its detailing of how he spent millions of untaxed overseas earnings for luxury properties in the U.S. that the government wants to seize, listed more than a half-dozen pages of overseas wire transfers adding up to $12 million, where almost all of them originated in Cyprus.

Papadopoulos, whose pleading noted that his overseas contacts had told him about the Russians possessing “dirt” in then-candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails,” and noted that he tried to set up meetings between Russian officials and Trump’s campaign, also had Cyprus connections. Papadopoulos, who lived in London, had been advising the country’s government about joining NATO, a source who interviewed the ex-U.S. ambassador to Cyprus, told Alternet.

Trump’s Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, was vice-chair and leading investor in the Bank of Cyprus, the island’s largest bank, which was “one of the key offshore havens for illicit Russian finance,” according to an extensive investigative report by financial journalist, James Henry of DCReport.org. “Ross has been Vice Chairman of this bank and a major investor in it since 2014. His fellow bank co-chair evidently was appointed by none other than Vladimir Putin.”

“Ross’ involvement in the Bank of Cyprus raises many questions about his judgment, but also about the Trump Administration’s seemingly endless direct and indirect connections with friends and associates of Vladimir Putin, who all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies say conspired to interfere in the November 2016 U.S. election on behalf of Donald Trump,” Henry continued. “Whether or not these connections involve any criminality, these are the kind of relationships that most American business people would not tolerate for 30 seconds.”

“After all, as discussed below, since the 1990s Cyprus has served as one the top three offshore destinations for Russian and former Soviet Union flight capital, most of it motivated by tax dodging, kleptocracy, and money laundering,” Henry said, giving multiple citations. “As of 2013, just before the banking crisis, Russian deposits accounted for at least a third of all bank deposits in Cyprus. As one leading newspaper put it, ‘Russian money is in fact at the heart of the island’s economy.’ Nor is Ross’ Bank of Cyprus in particular—now probably at least half owned by Russians any stranger to money laundering, tax dodging, or odious finance. With a market share of 30 percent, Bank of Cyprus has long been the market leader in Cypriot financial chicanery.”

Russian oligarchs and expatriots have invested millions in Trump properties, as journalist Craig Unger documented for The New Republic this past summer. His report was entitled, “Trump’s Russian Laundromat: How to use Trump Tower and other luxury highrises to clean dirty money, run an international crime syndicate, and propel a failed real estate developer into the White House.”

While there is much that is yet to unfold in the wake of Mueller’s indictments, there are some baseline conclusions that can be drawn.

First is that the special counsel is looking at both financial entanglements and political relationships, and how these differing areas of law overlap in Trump’s orbit. The role of Cyprus as nexus of illicit money laundering—for Manafort and Russians—has been confirmed by the indictment and documented by independent investigative reporters. The next questions will be determining the deeper roles played by Trump associates in this mix: from the campaign, from those holding White House post and fromm past business deals.

Trump’s personal lawyer may be saying the president has nothing to worry about. But Mueller’s probe seems aimed not just at the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia, but to the money-laundering world of the investors that seems destined to touch Trump properties and the recent past of top aides like Secretary Ross.


Republicans are no longer interested in protecting Robert Mueller from being fired

Sarah K. Burris
Raw Story
31 Oct 2017 at 06:54 ET                   

For months, congressional Republicans have attempted to cobble together legislation that would protect special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired by President Donald Trump. In wake of the indictments for Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, and with Muller’s warning of more forthcoming, those GOP attempts have fizzled.

According to interviews with officials on the hill by Daily Beast, they’re suddenly disinterested.

“I don’t feel an urgent need to pass that law until you show me a reason that Mr. Mueller is in jeopardy,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who introduced the bill with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). “I don’t think anybody in their right mind at the White House would think about replacing Mr. Mueller unless there was a very good reason.”

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) wrote their own bill that would allow Muller to challenge his termination if Trump were to fire him. Such actions would take place before a panel of three federal judges chosen after the firing, were it to happen.

But others believe the likelihood of such an act is so slim, conjecture is a waste of time.

“I can’t even imagine any administration taking a move like that,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who has been a loud critic of Trump in recent weeks. “That would be going a step further than I could possibly imagine.”

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) called it was too early to know if something like that is necessary. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said “Mueller knows what he’s doing” and Congress should stay in “our lane.”

“It depends on how the president reacts,” Flake said. “There’s no indication that he’s going to go in and fire or pardon at this point.”

Even Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), both serving on their respective intelligence committees, have indicated they’re interested in such legislation, but have done little to persuade their GOP counterparts to act.

Trump thought about firing Mueller over the last several months. In fact, former senior aide Steve Bannon was reportedly plotted “a much more aggressive legal approach short of firing Mueller,” The Beast reported Monday.

In the past, Fox News touted Mueller’s credibility. When he was appointed, the network listed key components to his background that made him an upstanding, fair and reasonable prosecutor. Recently, however, they’ve been calling for his firing.


Chuck Grassley scrambles through American flags to evade reporters asking about Mueller probe

Elizabeth Preza
Raw Story
31 Oct 2017 at 19:15 ET                   

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee currently investigating Russian influence during the 2016 presidential election, abruptly fled a press conference after questions turned to Monday’s indictments of two former Donald Trump campaign associates—and knocked into multiple American flags in the process.

Republican senators held a press conference to address Trump’s judiciary nominees. As reporters began questioning the senators on special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) repeatedly refused to answer questions.

As Cornyn declined to comment on Monday’s indictments against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and adviser Robert Gates, Grassley began eyeing doors hidden behind a row of American flags. He finally makes a break for it, hitting several flags in his hasty exit.


‘The walls are closing in’: Trump spent day ‘fuming’ at indictments as aides walked corridors in fear

Noor Al-Sibai
Raw Story
30 Oct 2017 at 20:14 ET                   

On Monday morning, as the country waited for the identity of special counsel Robert Mueller’s subpoena recipients to be revealed, President Donald Trump allegedly holed up in his White House residence to wait out the storm.

According to sources close the president who spoke with The Washington Post, Trump frustrated his staff by being late to work at the Oval Office. Instead, he “spent the morning playing fuming media critic, legal analyst and crisis communications strategist” along with making calls to his lawyers “repeatedly.”

Although White House special counsel Ty Cobb said Trump is “spending all of his time on presidential work,” sources close to the president said his “anger Monday was visible to those who interacted with him, and the mood in the corridors of the White House was one of weariness and fear of the unknown.”

“The walls are closing in,” a senior Republican close to White House staffers told the Post. “Everyone is freaking out.”


Distract and dismiss: how rightwing media saw the Russia indictments

Conservative pundits attempted to distance Trump from Paul Manafort, and barely mentioned the guilty plea of former adviser George Papadopoulos at all

Jason Wilson
Tuesday 31 October 2017 05.00 GMT

As news of the FBI indictment of Paul Manafort broke, Donald Trump tweeted: “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?Huh?”

In the symbiosis between Trump and conservative media, it’s hard to tell who is leading and who is following. If these weren’t marching orders, they were good a summary as any of how most rightwing media and pundits were treating the news.

Like Trump himself, conservative media figures attempted to distance the administration from Trump’s former campaign manager, and barely mentioned the guilty plea of former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos, at all. They then tried to refocus their audience on the (so far) more nebulous allegations surrounding the Hillary Clinton campaign, which they have been dutifully amplifying in recent weeks.

On Fox News, as much as they tried, they couldn’t altogether avoid Manafort’s self-surrender to the FBI. But mentions were minimized and soft-soaped, and the focus was on the revelations that the Clinton campaign had paid for research that resulted in the infamous “Steele dossier” about Trump, Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta’s woes, and the Clintons’ supposed involvement in the “Uranium One” deal.

Hosts of morning show Fox & Friends and early afternoon show Outnumbered tried to cast doubt on the credibility of special counsel Robert Mueller, citing media leaks on the investigation’s progress, and running hostile comments on Mueller by Peter King and other pro-Trump voices.

Also, they developed a sudden interest in due process. On Fox & Friends, Brian Kilmeade reminded viewers: “Just because they indict you, it doesn’t mean you are guilty.”

Breitbart News was also uncharacteristically reticent on Monday. There were initially only two stories on the Manafort indictment. One was extremely terse, the other attempted to put a brave face on things by disassociating Manafort from the campaign he once managed.

That story, headlined ‘Paul Manafort Indicted on 12 Counts Unrelated to 2016 Campaign’, offered the big hedge: “The charges, first teased Friday, bear no immediate connection to the Trump campaign or the 2016 presidential race more broadly.”

At least the big daddy of conservative talk radio, Rush Limbaugh, had a fresh approach to reframing the story. After a flurry of nitpicking on early mainstream coverage, Rush hinted that Mueller had only charged Manafort in order to tighten the screws on Tony Podesta, who stepped down from his lobbying firm the Podesta Group on Monday after it came under increasing scrutiny for its lobbying activities on behalf of pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine who Manafort had also been associated with.

Trump’s most loyal media tribune, Alex Jones, used a customary scattergun approach on Infowars. Washington correspondent Jerome Corsi offered some convoluted legal reasoning in arguing that reliance on the Steele dossier would cripple Mueller’s prosecution, and threw in some very thin claims about Clinton money laundering.

The Wall Street Journal devoted considerable coverage to the indictments, despite their editorial on the weekend, which called on Mueller to resign on the grounds that the FBI reportedly at one time considered paying Christopher Steele to continue compiling his dossier on Trump, a potential conflict of interest.

The editorial, later gleefully circulated to journalists by the RNC, called for a broadening of the investigation to include the entirety of the American political system. It argued: “Strip out the middlemen, and it appears that Democrats paid for Russians to compile wild allegations about a US presidential candidate. Did someone say ‘collusion’?”

Some outlets, most with a long history of criticizing Trump, treated Manafort’s charges more soberly. RedState writer Joe Cunningham was aghast at the White House’s weak defense about Trump’s association with Manafort, writing: “Whatever happens to Manafort is a reflection of Trump’s poor taste in people”.

At the American Conservative, Rod Dreher was one of the few to take the Papadopoulos dimension seriously, remarking that his guilty plea establishes “attempts from within the Trump campaign to meet with the Russians to gain compromising material on Hillary Clinton”.

But most conservative writers and broadcasters acted in the spirit of a story at Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller website, which pointed out a minor mistake of fact in the indictment, in the hope that this might discredit it.

“An indictment filed by special counsel Robert Mueller Monday incorrectly identifies Ukrainian politician Yulia Tymoshenko as a former Ukrainian president when she is in fact a former prime minister,” the story began.

For now, the mission is distract, reframe, and try to refocus on Democrats.

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« Reply #29 on: Oct 31, 2017, 10:08 AM »

Mueller’s Investigation Won’t Shake Shitstain Trump’s Base

OCT. 30, 2017

COLUMBIA, Tenn. — On Monday, nothing changed. If you live, as I do, in the heart of Trump country, you know there is no chance that the indictment of Donald Trump’s ex-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, or the guilty plea of a former foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, will alter our political dynamics. Mr. Trump’s supporters will stand by their man. After all, they’ve stood by him through worse, through events and allegations that implicate Mr. Trump himself.

It’s an unfortunate truth that the Republican base not only accepts but also often angrily defends conduct from Mr. Trump that they would never, ever accept in a Democratic president. Forget this week’s news for a moment and take a look at the recent past. Would Republicans have stood idly by if Barack Obama fired an F.B.I. director during an investigation of the president’s top aides and then misled Americans about the reason? Would conservatives tolerate a President Hillary Clinton demanding that praying football players keep their religion to themselves, then calling for firings and boycotts if they didn’t comply?

The interesting question isn’t whether so many Republicans are demonstrating a striking degree of hypocrisy, but why.

No modern Republican president or nominee has been perfect, by any means, but no one can fairly compare their conduct and character to Donald Trump. Since Gerald Ford they have been, to varying degrees, good men. They all upheld and defended American constitutional traditions. They fought hard and tried to win, but there were clear lines of civility and propriety they would not cross.

In other words, for 40 years after the fall of Richard Nixon, it was easy to proclaim that character mattered and still pull the lever for a Republican. In 2016, however, a commitment to virtue became costly. In the battle between virtue and politics, virtue lost, and it’s losing still. I’d like to dwell on two reasons. The first is easy to name — negative polarization. The Pew Research Center has outlined the undeniable growth in enmity between left and right. The parties are not only more ideologically extreme, but partisans are now motivated mainly by antipathy toward the other side.

This phenomenon explains why reluctant Republicans would pull the lever for Mr. Trump even if he was their “last choice.” They were voting in perceived self-defense, and he fights hard against the people they dislike the most.

But this doesn’t entirely explain the curious unwillingness to face bad facts or to critique the most baldfaced lies. Talk to folks in Trump country, and you quickly understand that most of them don’t just want to win, they also want to be good. They want to be proud of their movement. They see themselves as good people, and they want to root for a good man.

The desire to think the best of Mr. Trump combined with the deep distaste for Democrats grants extraordinary power to two phrases: “fake news” and “the other side is worse.” “Fake news” erects a shield of disbelief against the worst allegations and allows a person to believe that Mr. Trump is better than he is. For too many Republicans, every single troubling element of the Russia investigation — including multiple administration falsehoods about contacts with Russian officials — represents “fake news.”

This week’s news can be waved away. Mr. Manafort’s conduct had nothing to do with the campaign, they argue, even though the investigation continues and even though Mr. Trump showed terrible judgment in bringing him on the team. Mr. Papadopoulos was a nobody, they say, even as his guilty plea outlines multiple contacts with a “campaign supervisor” who seemed to encourage him.

And the disbelief isn’t limited to Russia. In a recent poll, a mere 8 percent of Trump voters believe sexual assault and sexual harassment claims against him are credible. This even though he was caught on tape bragging about groping women and in spite of more than a dozen allegations of serious misconduct.

But what about when the misconduct is plain for all to see? Then we move to “the other side is worse.” Rage and fear overwhelm, and the desire for goodness recedes. The extreme edge of the #Resistance is the gift that keeps on giving. In some cases, the actions of the president are deemed less significant than the outrages of celebrities and comedians. Sure, Mr. Trump tweeted, but did you see that Kathy Griffin beheading picture?

For Christian conservatives in particular, these double standards are understandable (who isn’t tempted to compromise for the sake of victory, especially now?) but not defensible. Is the rage that accompanies negative polarization consistent with commands to love even our enemies and bless those who persecute us? There is so little humility. There is so much anger. And the Republican character corrodes.

I’m reminded of an encounter at my church. People know that I opposed both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton. They often ask what I think of the president’s performance. My standard response: I like some things, I dislike others, but I really wish he showed better character. I don’t want him to lie. I said this to a sweet older lady not long ago, and she responded — in all sincerity — “You mean Trump lies?” “Yes,” I replied. “All the time.” She didn’t answer with a defense. She didn’t say “fake news.” We’d known each other for years, and she trusted my words.

For a moment, she seemed troubled. I wanted to talk more — to say that we can appreciate and applaud the good things he does, but we can’t ignore his flaws, we can’t defend his sins, and we can’t let him define the future of the Republican Party.

But just then, her jaw set. I saw a flare of defiance in her eyes. She took a sip of coffee, looked straight at me, and I knew exactly what was coming next:

“Well, the Democrats are worse.”

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