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« Reply #15 on: Sep 06, 2017, 04:41 AM »

EU clears JV creation by US’ Centerbridge Partners, Enel in Greek wind energy

New Europe

The European Commission said on September 5 the EC has approved under the EU Merger Regulation the creation of a joint venture by Centerbridge Partners of the United States and Italy’s Enel.

According to the Commission, the joint venture does not carry out any business activity yet, its object is to build and operate seven wind farms at Kafireas (Euboea) in Greece with a total installed capacity of 154 MW.

Centerbridge Partners is an investment management firm focused on private equity and distressed investment opportunities.

Enel is an Italian multinational company active in the production and distribution of electricity and gas.

The Commission said the EC concluded that the proposed acquisition would raise no competition concerns given the limited overlaps between the companies’ activities.

The transaction was examined under the simplified merger review procedure.

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« Reply #16 on: Sep 06, 2017, 04:45 AM »

Free school fruit contains multiple pesticides, UK report shows

Government experts say adverse health effects are unlikely, but campaigners argue the primary school scheme should switch to organic as a precaution

Damian Carrington Environment editor
6 September 2017 05.30 BST

The free fruit and vegetables provided by the government to millions of young schoolchildren usually contain the residues of multiple pesticides, according to official tests collated in a new report.

In the last decade, residues of of 123 pesticides were found, while apples and bananas given out recently in schools contained more residues than those sold in supermarkets.

Government experts say “none of the residues are likely to result in any adverse health effects”. But campaigners argue there is great uncertainty about the combined effect of cocktails of pesticides and the increased susceptibility of children.

Pesticide Action Network (PAN), which released its new report as children return to school, said a precautionary approach should be taken and that switching the school scheme to organic produce would cost about 1p per child per day.

Since 2004, the Department of Health (DoH) has sought to promote healthy eating by providing one piece of fruit or vegetable every school day to children aged four to six years in England. The School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme (SFVS) reaches about 2.3 million children in 16,300 schools and costs about £40m a year.

The DoH commissions testing of pesticide residues each term and PAN collated the results from 2005 to 2016. It found that 84% of the 2,238 items tested contained at least one pesticide and 66% contained multiple residues, with as many as 13 different chemicals in extreme cases.

Pesticides need to be toxic to kill the pests that destroy food crops and many of those found as residues are known to be harmful to humans. But their effect on health will depend on the dose to which people are exposed and any cocktail effect, The vast majority of the fruit and vegetables tested in the UK contain residues below the maximum level allowed.

PAN also found that the apples, bananas and raisins provided to schools in 2015 contained significantly more pesticide residues than those in tests of produce sold to the public. The reason for this is not known. However, the most commonly found residue, the fungicide imazalil, is discouraged by the Fairtrade scheme now common in supermarkets, while the SFVS bananas are not Fairtrade. Imazalil can cause developmental problems and may be carcinogenic.

“Our aim is not to alarm parents but they do have a right to know what chemicals are in the food being given to their children,” said Nick Mole at PAN. “While we applaud the DoH’s efforts to get children eating more fruit and vegetables, our research shows that the produce they are being given is generally worse than on the supermarket shelves. Given how little it would cost to switch the scheme to organic, the government shouldn’t be putting our children’s health at risk.”

Valentina Gallo, an epidemiologist at Queen Mary University of London, whose own daughter received fruit and vegetables through the scheme, said: “I think one should be reasonably concerned.”

“The report found a lot of pesticides, though we don’t know the doses,” she said. “It is true the cocktail effect may worsen the effect of pesticides and it is very true that children are much more vulnerable to pesticides. However, there is the balancing effect of eating more fruit and vegetables, because this protects against a lot of diseases.”

“Basically we don’t know enough,” Gallo said. “But there is a gap in research funding because there is a lot of lobbying, with big powers not wanting the research on pesticides to be carried out.”

A D0H spokeswoman said that just because a residue is present, it does not mean that it is harmful to health: “Fruit and vegetables supplied through the SFVS follow the same safety and quality legislation as all other fruit and vegetables in the UK. Maximum residue levels are set significantly below a level that could represent a risk to health, with the most sensitive individuals in the population taken into consideration.”

A spokesman for the Food Standards Agency (FSA) said: “The FSA is confident that pesticide maximum residue levels provide a good level of protection to consumers. On rare occasions when an MRL is exceeded, the FSA will assess if action is necessary to protect consumers.”

The FSA states that fruit and vegetables that have residues below the maximum legal level should not require washing and that in any case some residues are contained within the produce and therefore cannot be rinsed off.

Studying the impact of pesticides on human health is difficult because deliberately exposing people would be unethical. But a study published last week of more than 500,000 births to women living in a farming region of California found that those who were the most exposed to pesticides experienced a 5-9% increase in problems such as premature births and abnormalities.

Another recent study, in Canada, estimated that fruit and vegetable consumption prevented many more cancers than the associated pesticide residues caused, but said cutting pesticide exposure was still desirable.


UK citizens are taking air pollution monitoring into their own hands

Thousands of people are using home air quality monitoring kits due to fears official figures are not capturing dangerous pollution levels, say Friends of the Earth

Sarah Marsh

A growing number of citizens are monitoring local air quality because of fears official figures are not capturing “dangerous” levels of pollution.

The environmental charity Friends of the Earth has said 70 local groups are now using their testing kits and noted a “surprising” increase in people taking monitoring into their own hands.

Oliver Hayes, a Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner, said: “We’ve been surprised by the high demand for our air monitoring kits. 4,000 people have used them in less than a year, uncovering worrying levels of pollution in urban and rural areas alike.

“Most people seem understandably keen to learn about air quality where they live, work, or where their children go to school. But more than 70 local Friends of the Earth groups have used multiple testing kits to uncover a more detailed picture of pollution, often in places lacking much in the way of official monitoring stations.”

Dr Benjamin Barratt, senior lecturer in air quality science at King’s College London, agreed that the numbers doing this had risen.

“Air pollution has moved from being seen as an environmental concern to a health concern but it’s both, of course,” he said. “As a health concern people are more worried about their own families and their neighbourhoods so that has led to a rise in people monitoring air pollution for those reasons.”

Barratt says he hopes local work, if done correctly, can help inform decision-making and provide evidence about local situations.

Air Apparent UK, a project in Bristol monitoring local area quality, has been running their work through the Luftdaten website, an open data project that gives advice on how to get monitoring kits and lets people upload their findings online.

Sam Prince, 38, from Bristol said that three UK sites feature on the website at the moment but he has built a further six that will appear soon, and a Leeds resident is also building a monitor that will be added in coming months.

Prince said: “A growing number are doing it … not necessarily in the same way. I know a guy in Bristol who bought a wearable monitor from the US for $200 and that lets him cycle through Bristol on his commute and shows the pollution levels.”

He added: “More people are tracking air quality partly because there is very little local data … You’d think that in a first world country we would be well covered with sensors but there is hardly anything. The air pollution could be good where I am now and 300m down the street it could be bad.”

“The data from the government is useless as far as I am concerned ... so people are trying to collect more evidence to show the big problem of air quality. What I want to build is a map showing the pollution levels all over Bristol so you could avoid a certain street or area, for example, if you were cycling to work.”

Other local groups who have started monitoring air quality include Clean Air Eastbourne in East Sussex and Clean Air Chorley in Lancashire. Residents in Lancing and Shoreham, West Sussex, have also teamed up to explore air pollution levels.

Another concerned group of Catford residents set up their own air monitoring tubes in July 2017 and say the results show “dangerous” levels of pollution.

Ted Burke of Clean Air Catford said they found that the air pollution levels were almost double the legal level in some locations in the area, including next to a number of primary schools.

“We have noted dangerous levels of pollution in some areas. We are now calling on the council to sort it out, want to work with them and know more about what they are doing already,” Burke said.

In Eastbourne, local resident Robert Price said it was finding out that his home town was among the most polluted in the country that got him monitoring air pollution.

“I wanted to get my own data to see if the air was bad where I live. I’ve been running it for a month now, and three of the past seven days alone have breached World Health Organisation guidelines. UK/EU limits for particulate air pollution require a year’s worth of data.”

He added: “Since starting monitoring the air quality where I live, numerous people have been in touch via social media asking how to get involved. I formed Clean Air Eastbourne, and members have contributed to buy another seven sensors to put up around the town.”

Price said that he was motivated by concerns of what air pollution might be doing to his young family and their health. ”We need data to know what the condition of the air we breathe is like … If this data isn’t being tracked, how can we know if there is a problem or not? Building and running our own sensors helps give us this information. This is a matter of vital importance and if the government won’t monitor it properly we must step in.”

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« Reply #17 on: Sep 06, 2017, 04:59 AM »

EPA Attacks AP Reporter for Accurate Coverage of Toxic Waste Sites

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) directly attacked the Associated Press this weekend for accurate reporting around Houston's toxic cleanup.

An AP exclusive posted Saturday reported that AP reporters had been able to access seven flooded Superfund sites in the Houston area, despite the EPA's claims that several of the sites were inaccessible to agency personnel.

In a news release posted Sunday, the EPA personally blasted reporter Michael Biesecker for reporting an "incredibly misleading story ... from the comfort of Washington," citing a story Biesecker wrote earlier this summer on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt that merited a later correction. The news release did not deny the AP's assertion that EPA personnel had not visited the sites in question, or note that reporter Jason Dearen, who shared the story's byline, was on the ground in Houston.

The agency would not confirm to Politico which staffer wrote the release.

"AP's exclusive story was the result of on the ground reporting at Superfund sites in and around Houston, as well as AP's strong knowledge of these sites and EPA practices," AP Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Sally Buzbee said in a statement Sunday.

"We object to the EPA's attempts to discredit that reporting by suggesting it was completed solely from 'the comforts of Washington' and stand by the work of both journalists who jointly reported and wrote the story."

As reported by ThinkProgress:

"President Donald Trump is notorious for attacking individual reporters in his speeches and tweets as part of an effort to generate distrust of the news media among the American public. But it is very rare, if not unprecedented, for a federal agency to specifically target an individual reporter in a press release."


13 Toxic Waste Sites Damaged by Harvey, Houston Awash in Chemicals


Toxic waste and pollution are emerging as a top concern as cleanup continued in Houston over the long weekend.

Owners of the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, which suffered multiple explosions and fires last week, announced Sunday it would conduct controlled burns of the rest of the chemicals stored at the damaged facility as a "proactive measure."

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), at least 13 Superfund sites in the Houston area have been damaged by flooding. Runoff from chemical plants and oil and gas facilities has also mixed with the city's overflowing sewage system to create a toxic soup in the remaining floodwaters, causing concerns around drinking water systems. And filings accumulated by the Center for Biological Diversity estimate that over one million pounds of toxic pollutants from damaged oil and gas and chemical facilities, including several types of carcinogens, have been released into the air since the hurricane made landfall.

"We've never seen precipitation to this level at any Superfund site," Jennifer Horney, an associate professor of epidemiology at Texas A&M University told BuzzFeed. "The main problem is that we don't know what to expect."

"We don't have any precedent to figuring out what the cumulative affect is going to be on someone's health," Horney added. "They're not going to get cancer tomorrow—they may get asthma in three months."


Hudson River Dumps 300 Million Microfibers Into Atlantic Ocean Daily


A new study highlights how our laundry contributes to major oceanic pollution.

The Hudson River could be dumping about 300 million clothing fibers into the Atlantic Ocean per day, according to new research published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin.

For the study, researchers collected 142 water samples throughout the length of the Hudson River and found about one microfiber per liter. That's a lot when you consider that this endless stream of human-made fibers ultimately ends up in our oceans.

"The ocean is the endgame for plastics," marine biologist Abigail Barrows, a principal investigator with Adventure Scientists, told PBS Newshour.

About half the samples were plastic microfibers and the other half were non-plastic microfibers such as cotton or wool.

Microfibers get flushed into our waterways when we wash our clothing or other textiles. Notably, the researchers did not find more fibers near wastewater treatment plants or high-population areas, suggesting that microfiber pollution is pervasive throughout the river.

"There was no pattern across the whole Hudson River—from Lake Tear of the Clouds, an alpine remote beauty, down to the heaving, thriving Manhattan," Rachael Miller, a co-author on the study, told PBS. "It was a real surprise."

You might not be able to see microfibers with the naked eye but the material is pervasive in our environment and can make its way up the food chain, according to The Story of Stuff:

"Microfibers are tiny plastic threads shed from synthetic fabrics like polyester, rayon and nylon. These fabrics currently make up 60 percent of all clothing worldwide and their use as the dominant textile materials [is] dramatically on the rise. When washed, plastic microfibers break off and a single jacket can produce up to 250,000 fibers in washing machine effluent. Less than 1 mm in size, they ultimately make their way through wastewater plants and into marine environments where they have been found to enter the food chain. Microfibers make up 85 percent of human made debris on shorelines around the world according to a 2011 study."

Barrows told PBS she wears wool or other natural materials to reduce her plastic footprint, but even natural materials can be harmful to the environment.

"Toxins and dyes are added into that thread. The science is still out. We don't know how natural fibers are interacting with humans or animals," she said.


Coal and the Curse of Commercialization

By Cher Gilmore

A recent Wall Street Journal editorial crowed "Coal Makes a Comeback," touting the 14.5 percent increase in weekly coal production nationwide in 2017 compared to 2016 and the 58 percent increase in exports during the first quarter alone. That newspaper views the economic growth in coal-producing states like West Virginia, New Mexico and Kentucky stimulated by the current administration's policies as something to celebrate, and the editors conclude that "there's still demand for U.S. coal if regulators allow energy markets to work."

While the increase in coal production and use may be good news for coal companies and the states to which they pay taxes, economic growth is not the only thing to consider when weighing the costs and benefits of an activity. What about the beautiful Appalachian mountain landscapes completely destroyed by "mountaintop removal" and the streams and aquifers filled with toxic mining waste? What about the "black lung" disease suffered by too many miners, and the deaths from collapsed mines? And, perhaps most significantly, what about the fact that coal-burning plants are some of the biggest emitters of the greenhouse gases causing global warming and wreaking havoc on the planet?

These effects of coal production—the ones that affect the daily lives of actual people—are not even considered in the calculation. Why would that be? British author Benjamin Creme said it's because we don't understand the larger purpose of life. "We have replaced our reverence for life with commercialization, a market forces economy and the worship of money. The economy is the new religion of the world, and it is this commercialization that is driving us to the very edge of destruction."

In a world of commercialization, everything becomes a commodity with a price tag. Individuals are seen only as consumers, and those with the biggest bank accounts are able to buy whatever they want. Those who have little get little, and what they do get—including basic necessities like food and water—is often second rate or worse. Corporate and financial interests rank above the needs of human beings and the health of the planet, and unhappy people are either lulled into apathy by 24-hour digital entertainment, or turn to drugs and alcohol to escape from their narrow, unsatisfying lives.

In thrall to market forces, governments compete fiercely with one another, sacrificing the livelihood and well-being of their peoples. The major industrialized countries, making up only a third of the world's population, dominate the global economy and impose their chosen structure—commercialization or "competition" biased in their favor—on the other two-thirds. "This," said Creme, "is economic totalitarianism and must come to an end. It is based on the lie that we all start equal; we do not."

Creme has been the major spokesperson for decades regarding information about the World Teacher for this age: Maitreya. According to Creme, Maitreya is expected to appear at the invitation of the world's media on an international television broadcast when the conditions are right—most likely following the predicted world financial collapse, which will awaken humanity to reality for the first time and open us to hearing Maitreya's advice.

During that broadcast, Maitreya will analyze our present problems and show clearly the consequences of various actions we might take. These revelations will ultimately bring us to an inevitable choice: to continue in our destructive business as usual mode and extinguish all life, or to follow his suggestions for a simpler, saner way of living that will guarantee a happier future for all people.

Maitreya will teach, most basically, the need to share the natural resources of the world, which belong to everyone equally and should not be greedily usurped by the wealthy few. Since this is antithetical to the direction the developed world in particular is moving, in order for Maitreya's central principles—justice, freedom and sharing, for all people on Earth—to be put into practice, the existing social/economic structure will have to be dissolved. The financial collapse will have that effect. In its aftermath, we will begin to know ourselves as brothers and sisters, and with Maitreya's help will come to see that the only way forward is together, in cooperation, for the common good.

When we have come to our senses, we will not choose to "grow our economy" regardless of the burdens it places on ordinary people and the planet. Nor will we choose to promote the burning of coal—which is only today's example of commercialization gone amok—or any other action whose end result is planetary destruction. Benjamin Creme's spiritual Master assures us, "From the ruins of the old, a new civilization will be built by human hands under the inspiration of Maitreya ... Humanity will overcome this time of crisis and enter into a new and better relationship with itself, its planet and its source."


Trump Nominates Climate Change Denier to Head NASA


President Trump's intention to nominate Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma as the next administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has drawn controversy as the Republican congressman denies the human causes of climate change.

"I would say that the climate is changing. It has always changed. There were periods of time long before the internal combustion engine when the Earth was much warmer than it is today," Bridenstine told Aerospace America in a 2016 interview. "Going back to the 1600s, we have had mini Ice Ages from then to now."

Bridenstine—a veteran Navy combat pilot and member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee—is a proponent of space commercialization and introduced the Space Renaissance Act earlier this year. He also wants to send Americans back to the moon.

But NASA is not just a space exploration program—it also plays a major role in global climate science, including "research on solar activity, sea level rise, the temperature of the atmosphere and the oceans, the state of the ozone layer, air pollution, and changes in sea ice and land ice. NASA scientists regularly appear in the mainstream press as climate experts," the agency states.

When Bridenstine was asked if there was any data that would change his view that fossil fuels are not heating the planet, he sidestepped to the carbon emissions of China, Russia and India.

"The United States does not have a big enough carbon footprint to make a difference when you've got all these other polluters out there," he told Aerospace America. "So why do we fundamentally want to damage our economy even more when nobody else is willing to do the same thing?"

Bridenstine confirmed to E&E News in February that he was in the running for NASA chief and said that he was not committed to keeping climate research at the agency but may want to transfer the program to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), even though NOAA might not be as well equipped as NASA in studying climate change.

During his speech on the House floor in 2013, the freshman Rep. demanded an apology from President Obama for spending "30 times as much money" on climate change research than on weather forecasting. This claim is not true.

"For this gross misallocation, the people of Oklahoma are ready to accept the president's apology," Bridenstine said, adding climate denier talking points that "global temperatures stopped rising 10 years ago" and that "global temperature changes, when they exist, correlate with sun output and ocean cycles."

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation "applauded" the choice, as well as Sen. Ted Cruz.

However, Trump's pick has attracted bipartisan criticism. As Inside Higher Ed noted, previous NASA administrators have had extensive work experience in the agency or hold advanced scientific degrees, or both.

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson—the ranking member on the Senate's Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, which oversees NASA and would hear Bridenstine's nomination—told POLITICO that "the head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician."

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida also said Bridenstine would be "devastating for the space program."

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« Reply #18 on: Sep 06, 2017, 05:02 AM »

Irma: Atlantic's most powerful hurricane ever makes landfall in Caribbean

Eye of hurricane passes over Barbuda, bringing down phone lines, as heavy rain and howling winds hit neighbouring island of Antigua

Wednesday 6 September 2017 10.20 BST

The most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history has made its first landfall in the islands of the north-east Caribbean, following a path predicted to then rake Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for Florida over the weekend.

The eye of Hurricane Irma passed over Barbuda at about 1.47am local time, the National Weather Service said. Residents said over local radio that phone lines had gone down. Heavy rain and howling winds hit the neighbouring island of Antigua, sending debris flying as people huddled in their homes or government shelters.

Officials warned people to seek protection from Irma’s “onslaught” in a statement that closed with: “May God protect us all.”

In Barbuda, the storm ripped off the roof of the island’s police station, forcing officers to seek refuge in the nearby fire station and at the community centre that served as an official shelter. It also knocked out communication between islands.

The category 5 storm had maximum sustained winds of 185mph (295km/h) by early Tuesday evening, according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami.

Category 5 hurricanes are rare and are capable of inflicting life-threatening winds, storm surges and rainfall. Hurricane Harvey, which last week devastated Houston, was category 4.

Other islands in the path of the storm included the US and British Virgin Islands and Anguilla, a small, low-lying British island territory of about 15,000 people.

The US president, Donald Trump, declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

Warm water is fuel for hurricanes and Irma is over water that is one degree celsius (1.8F) warmer than normal. The 26C (79F) water that hurricanes need goes about 80 metres (250ft) deep, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private forecasting service Weather Underground.

Four other storms have had winds as strong in the overall Atlantic region but they were in the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico, which are usually home to warmer waters that fuel cyclones. Hurricane Allen hit 190mph in 1980, while 2005’s Wilma, 1988’s Gilbert and a 1935 great Florida Key storm all had 185mph winds.

The storm’s eye was expected to pass about 50 miles (80km) from Puerto Rico late on Wednesday. Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 60 miles from Irma’s centre and tropical storm-force winds extended outward up to 175 miles.

The northern Leeward Islands were expected to see waves as high as 3.3 metres (11ft), while the Turks and Caicos Islands and south-eastern Bahamas could see towering six-metre (20ft) waves later in the week, forecasters said.

Irma is expected to dump up to 45cm (18in) of rain in some areas when it hits land.

“These rainfall amounts may cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,” the NHC warned, calling the storm potentially catastrophic and urging that “preparations should be rushed to completion” in the region.

Schools and government offices in the French overseas territory Guadeloupe have been ordered to shut, while hospitals are stocking up on medicines, food and drinking water. People living on shorelines will be moved to safety, authorities said.

The popular holiday destinations of St Barthélemy and St Maarten – a French territory and a French-Dutch split island respectively – are expected to be especially hard hit. The Dutch defence minister said soldiers had arrived in the Dutch part of St Maarten on Monday and two vessels, including one equipped with a helicopter, were in place to help.

Officials had on Monday ordered the evacuation of 11,000 people living in affected areas on both islands, which began in many neighbourhoods on Tuesday.

“This is not an opportunity to go outside and try to have fun with a hurricane,” the US Virgin Islands governor, Kenneth Mapp, warned. “It’s not time to get on a surfboard.”

The National Weather Service said Puerto Rico had not seen a hurricane of Irma’s magnitude since Hurricane San Felipe in 1928, which killed a total of 2,748 people in Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and Florida.

“The dangerousness of this event is like nothing we’ve ever seen,” the Puerto Rico governor, Ricardo Rossello, said. “A lot of infrastructure won’t be able to withstand this kind of force.”

The director of the island’s power company has warned that storm damage could leave some areas without electricity for about a week and others for four to six months. The utility’s infrastructure has deteriorated greatly during a decade-long recession, and Puerto Ricans experienced an island-wide outage last year.

Government officials began evacuations and urged people to finalise all preparations as store shelves emptied out around Puerto Rico.

“The decisions that we make in the next couple of hours can make the difference between life and death,” Rossello said. “This is an extremely dangerous storm.”

No directly storm-related deaths were reported by Tuesday evening but a 75-year-old man died in the central Puerto Rico mountain town of Orocovis after he fell from a ladder while preparing for the hurricane, police said.

The eye of the storm was expected to roar westward on a path taking it north of millions of people in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba, but meteorologists warned that it could still cause life-threatening storm surges, rains and mudslides.

The northern parts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti could see 25cm (10in) of rain, with as much as 50cm in the south-east Bahamas and Turks and Caicos.

The storm seemed almost certain to hit the United States by early next week.

“You’d be hard pressed to find any model that doesn’t have some impact on Florida,” said the University of Miami senior hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy.

In Florida, people also stocked up on drinking water and other supplies.

The governor, Rick Scott, activated 100 members of the Florida National Guard to be deployed across the state, and 7,000 National Guard members were to report for duty on Friday when the storm could be approaching the area. On Monday, Scott declared a state of emergency in all of Florida’s 67 counties.

Officials in the Florida Keys geared up to get tourists and residents out of Irma’s path, and the mayor of Miami-Dade county, Carlos Giménez, said people should be prepared to evacuate Miami Beach and most of the county’s coastal areas.

Giménez said the voluntary evacuations could begin as soon as Wednesday evening. He activated the emergency operation centre and urged residents to have three days’ worth of food and water.

Associated Press and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

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« Reply #19 on: Sep 06, 2017, 05:04 AM »

1,200 Dead, 41 Million Affected by Flooding in India, Bangladesh and Nepal

By Andy Rowell

As much of the North American media focuses on the ongoing unprecedented flooding and relief efforts in Texas and now potentially Louisiana, another tragedy is unfolding, which is going largely unreported, in Asia.

Whereas the death toll in Texas stands at 20, the death toll in South Asia is estimated at 1,200 after weeks of unusually strong monsoon rains affecting India, Bangladesh and Nepal.

The Red Cross estimates that 14 million people have been affected by flooding in India; more than seven million in Bangladesh and 1.5 million in Nepal. The United Nations puts the total number of people affected by floods and landslides at a total nearly double that, at 41 million.

According to the Red Cross, "Vast swaths of land across all three countries are under water ... Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their homes and their livelihoods. Many medical facilities, schools, markets and other essential services are submerged."

And as the rains continue, many people are worried that the death toll—and the number affected—will rise.

Although the monsoon is an annual event, this year's rains have been considered far worse than usual, and people are blaming climate change for making things much worse.

In India, for example, half the huge state of Uttar Pradesh, which is home to 220 million people, is under water. But they are not alone. One rescue and relief officer recently told Reuters that at least 850 people had been killed in six flood-affected states in the past month.

In the eastern state of Bihar, "People didn't have much time to get out," Hanna Butler at the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRCRC), who has been studying the damage in region, told the Financial Times. "More traditional homes have been wiped out and concrete homes have also been ripped from their foundations."

In India's largest city, Mumbai, which is home to some 20 million people, and which is largely built on reclaimed land, schools and colleges are shut, with the city's transport system said to be "in chaos." One news report said that city has been "paralyzed by incessant rains." In some parts of the city, water is said to be five feet high. Five people are believed to have died in the city in the last 24 hours.

In Bangladesh, at least 134 people have died and 700,000 homes have been impacted, with more than eight million affected. A third of the country is now subject to flooding.

"This is the severest flooding in a number of years," said Matthew Marek, head of disaster response in Bangladesh for the IFRCRC, who recently flew over the country. "I could not find a single dry patch of land. Farmers are left with nothing, not even with clean drinking water."

His colleague, Corinne Ambler, a Red Cross spokeswoman in Bangladesh, who also flew over the affected area, said, "All I could see was water, the whole way. You have tiny little clumps of houses stuck in the middle of water."

Indeed Reaz Ahmed, the director-general of Bangladesh's Department of Disaster Management, told CNN, "This is not normal … Floods this year were bigger and more intense than the previous years."

Meanwhile, in Nepal, 150 people have been killed and some 90,000 homes destroyed. Francis Markus, a spokesman for the IFRCRC told the New York Times from Kathmandu, "We hope people won't overlook the desperate needs of the people here because of the disasters closer home."

That disaster is Superstorm Harvey. Many people have commented at how little press coverage the South Asia floods have received compared to Harvey. Indeed, as with Harvey, climate change is exacerbating the problem in Asia, with one commentator in the Pacific Standard noting, "Climate change appears to be intensifying the region's monsoon rains."

"Thankfully, we are now starting to see media coverage of the devastation in South Asia facilitated by the coverage of Houston," added Jagat Patnaik, the Asia Regional Head at ActionAid International. "If there is one thing that unites us, it's climate change: so perhaps our attention and efforts should be equal."

If you want to donate, you can via the Red Cross appeal or via ActionAid.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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« Reply #20 on: Sep 06, 2017, 05:28 AM »

A trans soldier in the ancient Roman army?

The Conversation
02 Aug 2017 at 07:31 ET   
By Tom Sapsford, Lecturer, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

In a series of recent tweets, Donald Trump proposed to ban transgender people from serving in the U.S. military. This proposal would reverse the inclusive policies introduced during the Obama regime. Trump’s decision was, he claims, based on the burdensome medical costs and disruption that accommodating transgender people in the military has allegedly caused.

Trump’s tweets put me, as a classics scholar, in mind of a rather obscure fable thought to be written in early imperial Rome by one of the Emperor Augustus’ freed slaves, Phaedrus. In this tale, a barbarian is threatening the troops of the military leader, Pompey the Great. All are afraid to challenge this fierce opponent until a “cinaedus” steps forward to volunteer for combat.

Although foreign to us moderns, the cinaedus was a familiar figure to ancient Greeks and Romans, whose identity raised concerns about gender.

The cinaedus and the commander-in-chief

The cinaedus was frequently mentioned in classical sources due to his brazen effeminacy, untoward sexual behavior (most often a “shocking” desire to be anally penetrated by other men), and the ambiguous status of his genitalia.

This figure was first mentioned by Plato in the fourth century B.C., who says little more than that the cinaedus’ life was terrible, base and miserable. Other classical authors provide more detail.

Martial, a Roman poet writing in the first century A.D., for instance, describes a cinaedus’ dysfunctional penis as like a “soggy leather strap” in one epigram. In the same century, the Roman novelist Petronius has a cinaedus suggest that both he and his fellows have had their genitals removed.

In Phaedrus’ fable, the “cinaedus” is described as a soldier of great size but with a cracked voice and mincing walk. After pleading permission in a stereotypically lisping manner from Pompey, his commander-in-chief, the cinaedus steps into battle. He quickly severs the barbarian’s head and, with army agog, is summarily rewarded by Pompey.

What the cinaedus reveals about today

Hold Phaedrus’ fable up and some easy similarities stand out with the situation today. The cinaedus is comparable to a contemporary trans person in that their expression of gender does not match the norms that their society – whether ancient or modern – expects of their sex as assigned at birth.

Ancient Greek and Roman sources show a bias against gender-variant people parallel to Trump’s current-day attitudes.

Both the tweets and the fable display discomfort with the idea of gender-ambiguous fighters, regardless of any true situation on the ground. And while Trump professes exclusion of transgender people on grounds of financial cost and disruption, Phaedrus is a little more open about his motivations.

In Phaedrus’ fable, the cinaedus is untrustworthy. He is described as having stolen valuables from Pompey and then later swears on oath that he hasn’t. A clear connection is made between gender “deception” and treacherous behavior.

This, I believe, is the same unfounded gender panic that Trump is drawing on to appeal to his traditional support base.

Gender diversity

Such consistency in attitudes across millennia is rather depressing. Some points in redress, however, are worth considering.

There are notable differences between a cinaedus and a trans person. The cinaedus was thought of as male, albeit with questionable masculinity. He is only ever described as being effeminate, never as identifying with, or living as, the opposite gender.

In my own work, I use the term “gender diversity” to point out loose, but still meaningful, connections between the ancient cinaedus with both modern trans people and others included under the LGBTQI+ umbrella.

The wide variety of effeminate men, masculine women, eunuchs and intersex individuals mentioned in classical sources suggests a breadth of experiences was possible outside of traditional gender norms.

There is some evidence of female masculinity in antiquity. The mythical women warriors of Greek mythology, the Amazons, might actually have had some basis in historical fact. In his book “Postcolonial Amazons,” scholar of ancient Greek Walter Penrose demonstrates that warrior women were prevalent and highly valued both in Scythian and ancient Indian cultures.

And although classical scholars have debated whether any actual individual in antiquity ever embraced the stigma of being openly called a cinaedus, a series of tax receipts, letters and temple inscriptions from Greco-Roman Egypt do document men who were identified and notably identified themselves using this term.

Being trans and surviving adversity

The cinaedus has a long and persistent history. Being a topic of interest for writers from Plato in the fourth century B.C. through to Byzantine authors in the 11th century A.D., he is truly a survivor.

As gender studies scholar Jack Halberstam writes, trans people will likewise survive Trump’s exclusionary tactics. For, as Phaedrus’ little fable suggests, gender-diverse people have in all ages been capable of some mighty remarkable things.

Like the victorious soldier cinaedus, they can confound expectations and achieve results in some of the most extremely adverse situations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
The Conversation

Tom Sapsford does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

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« Reply #21 on: Sep 06, 2017, 05:31 AM »

How Pope Francis is revolutionizing who becomes a saint

9/6/ 2017 at 07:09 ET   

Pope Francis has created a new category for beatification, the level immediately below sainthood, in the Catholic Church: those who give their lives for others. This is called “oblatio vitae,” the “offer of life” for the well-being of another person.

Martyrs, a special category of saint, also offer up their lives, but they do so for their “Christian faith.” And so, the pope’s decision raises the question: Is the Catholic understanding of sainthood changing?

Who’s a ‘Saint’?

Most people use the word “saint” to refer to someone who is exceptionally good or “holy.” In the Catholic Church, however, a “saint” has a more specific meaning: someone who has led a life of “heroic virtue.”

This definition includes the four “cardinal” virtues: prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice; as well as the “theological” virtues: faith, hope and charity. A saint displays these qualities in a consistent and exceptional way.

When someone is proclaimed a saint by the pope – which can happen only after death – public devotion to the saint, called a “cultus,” is authorized for Catholics throughout the world.


The process for being named a saint in the Catholic Church is called “canonization,” the word “canon” meaning an authoritative list. Persons who are named “saints” are listed in the “canon” as saints and given a special day, called a “feast,” in the Catholic calendar.

Before approximately the year 1000, saints were named by the local bishop. For example, St. Peter the Apostle and St. Patrick of Ireland were considered “saints” long before any formal procedures had been established. But as the papacy increased its power, it claimed the exclusive authority to name a saint.

The Investigation

Today there are four stages in canonization.

Any Catholic or group of Catholics can request that the bishop open a case. They will need to name a formal intermediary, called the “postulator,” who will promote the cause of the saint. At this point, the candidate is called “a servant of God.”

A formal investigation examines “servant of God’s” life. Those who knew the candidate are interviewed, and affidavits for and against the candidate are reviewed. Also, the candidate’s writings – if any exist – are examined for consistency with Catholic doctrine. A “promoter of justice” named by the local bishop ensures that proper procedures are followed and a notary certifies the documentation.

The proceedings of the investigation, called “Acta” or “The Acts,” are forwarded to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints in Rome. The Congregation for the Causes of the Saints is large, with a prefect, a secretary, undersecretary and a staff of 23 people. There are also over 30 cardinals and bishops associated with the congregation’s work at various stages.

The Congregation for the Causes of the Saints appoints a “relator” (one of five who currently work for the congregation) who supervises the postulator in writing a position paper called a “positio.” The positio argues for the virtues of the servant of God and can be thousands of pages long. The congregation examines the positio and members vote “yes” or “no” on the cause. “Yes” votes must be unanimous.

The final decision lies with the pope. When he signs a “Decree of Heroic Virtue,” the person becomes “venerable.” Then two stages remain: beatification and sainthood.

Throughout most of Catholic history, the canonization process was rigorous. One of the key figures in the investigation in the Vatican was the “devil’s advocate,” who functioned like an opposing attorney by challenging the candidate’s holiness. This is the origin of the often-used English phrase referring to someone who takes a position to challenge another person to prove a point more fully.

Few people have received the title of “saint,” although there are more than 10,000 that the Catholic Church venerates. Even 15th-century famous spiritual writer German Thomas à Kempis didn’t make it through the process. His body was exhumed and examined during his case for sainthood. There are stories that there were scratch marks on the inside of his coffin and splinters of wood under his fingernails. These discoveries suggested an escape attempt after being buried alive. The issue would have been that Thomas à Kempis did not peacefully accept death as a saint should. His case did not move forward.

Changes to the Process

In the early ‘70’s, Pope Paul VI revised the canon of the saints to exclude those whose historical existence could not be verified. For example, St. Christopher, the protector of travelers, was removed, although many Catholics still have a St. Christopher medal in their automobiles.

In 1983, John Paul II, who would become a saint himself, changed the waiting period from 50 to five years after the candidate’s death. He also reduced the role of the “devil’s advocate.”

These changes led to criticism that the Vatican had become “a saints’ factory.” This quicker process, however, has not reduced the six-figure costs necessary for those who support the cause to fund an investigation and hire a postulator.

Types of Saints

While the title “saint” is used for all those who are canonized, there are different categories of saints, such as “martyr” and “confessor.”

A “martyr” has been killed for his or her Christian beliefs; a “confessor” has been tortured or persecuted for his or her faith, but not killed. If a saint had been a bishop, a widow or a virgin, that becomes part of their title as well.

For example, St. Blaise is both a bishop and a martyr. Katherine Drexel of Philadelphia has the title “St. Katherine Drexel, Virgin.” St. Katherine Drexel was the second American-born saint and founder of Xavier University of Louisiana, the only American Catholic university established primarily for African-Americans.

At this point, it is unclear whether a special title is associated with the new category of saint declared by Pope Francis.

Miracles and Martyrs

Miracles are an important part of canonization.

A miracle is an event that cannot be explained by reason or natural causes. To be named “blessed,” one miracle has to be proved as having taken place under the influence of the candidate for sainthood. The process begins with a person praying to the saint who “intercedes” with God, usually to cure an illness. The potential miracle is then investigated by a medical board of nine members, who are sworn to secrecy. They can be paid for their work only through bank transfer, a rule to prevent under-the-table payments that could corrupt the process.

After the occurrence of a second miracle is established, the candidate’s title will change from “blessed” to “saint.” With St. John Paul II, this happened in the record time of nine years. First, there was a French nun who was cured of Parkinson’s disease. Then there was the healing of a Costa Rican woman from a brain aneurysm.

Martyrs have a different path to sainthood. They become “blessed” when the pope makes a “Decree of Martyrdom.” After a single miracle, martyrs are “raised to the glory of the Altars,” a phrase that refers to the public ceremony in which a person is formally named a saint.

A New Kind of Saint?

Given this complex history of Catholic sainthood, it’s fair to ask whether Pope Francis is doing anything new.

The pope’s declaration makes it clear that someone who gives his life for others should demonstrate virtue “at least as ordinarily possible” throughout life. This means that someone can become “blessed” not just by living a life of heroic virtue, but also by performing a single heroic act of sacrifice.

Such heroism might include dying while trying to save someone who is drowning or losing one’s life attempting to rescue a family from a burning building. A single miracle, after death, is still necessary for beatification. Now saints can be persons who lead a fairly ordinary life until an extraordinary moment of supreme self-sacrifice.

From my perspective as a Catholic scholar of religion, this is an expansion of the Catholic understanding of sainthood, and yet another step toward Pope Francis making the papacy and the Catholic Church more relevant to the experiences of ordinary Catholics.

Mathew Schmalz is an Associate Professor of Religion, College of the Holy Cross.

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« Reply #22 on: Sep 06, 2017, 05:34 AM »

The Maasai Cricket Warriors from Laikipia – in pictures

Maasai in Kenya are using their love for the game to raise awareness of social injustices in their community. They are actively campaigning against destructive practices such as female genital mutilation and early childhood marriages

Francois Nel/Getty Images

Click to see all: https://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2017/aug/29/the-maasai-cricket-warriors-from-laikipia-in-pictures

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« Reply #23 on: Sep 06, 2017, 05:44 AM »

Take away Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel peace prize. She no longer deserves it

George Monbiot

Once she was an inspiration. Now, silent on the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar, she is complicit in crimes against humanity


Few of us expect much from political leaders: to do otherwise is to invite despair. But to Aung San Suu Kyi we entrusted our hopes. To mention her name was to invoke patience and resilience in the face of suffering, courage and determination in the unyielding struggle for freedom. She was an inspiration to us all.

    She has denied the very identity of the people being attacked, asking the US ambassador not to use the term Rohingya

Friends of mine devoted their working lives to the campaign for her release from the many years of detention imposed by the military dictatorship of Myanmar, and for the restoration of democracy. We celebrated when she was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1991; when she was finally released from house arrest in 2010; and when she won the general election in 2015.

None of this is forgotten. Nor are the many cruelties she suffered, including isolation, physical attacks and the junta’s curtailment of her family life. But it is hard to think of any recent political leader by whom such high hopes have been so cruelly betrayed.

By any standards, the treatment of the Rohingya people, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, is repugnant. By the standards Aung San Suu Kyi came to symbolise, it is grotesque. They have been described by the UN as “the world’s most persecuted minority”, a status that has not changed since she took office.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide describes five acts, any one of which, when “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”, amounts to genocide. With the obvious and often explicit purpose of destroying this group, four of them have been practised more or less continuously by Myanmar’s armed forces since Aung San Suu Kyi became de facto political leader.

I recognise that the armed forces retain great power in Myanmar, and that Aung San Suu Kyi does not exercise effective control over them. I recognise that the scope of her actions is limited. But, as well as a number of practical and legal measures that she could use directly to restrain these atrocities, she possesses one power in abundance: the power to speak out. Rather than deploying it, her response amounts to a mixture of silence, the denial of well-documented evidence, and the obstruction of humanitarian aid.

I doubt she has read the UN human rights report on the treatment of the Rohingyas, released in February. The crimes it revealed were horrific.

It documents the mass rape of women and girls, some of whom died as a result of the sexual injuries they suffered. It shows how children and adults had their throats slit in front of their families.

It reports the summary executions of teachers, elders and community leaders; helicopter gunships randomly spraying villages with gunfire; people shut in their homes and burnt alive; a woman in labour beaten by soldiers, her baby stamped to death as it was born.

It details the deliberate destruction of crops and the burning of villages to drive entire populations out of their homes; people trying to flee gunned down in their boats.

And this is just one report. Amnesty International published a similar dossier last year. There is a mountain of evidence suggesting that these actions are an attempt to eliminate this ethnic group from Myanmar.

Hard as it is to imagine, this campaign of terror has escalated in recent days. Refugees arriving in Bangladesh report widespread massacres. Malnutrition ravages the Rohingya, afflicting 80,000 children.

In response Aung San Suu Kyi has blamed these atrocities, in a chillingly remote interview, on insurgents, and expressed astonishment that anyone would wish to fight the army when the government has done so much for them. Perhaps this astonishment comes easily to someone who has never visited northern Rakhine state, where most of this is happening.

It is true that some Rohingya people have taken up arms, and that the latest massacres were triggered by the killing of 12 members of the security forces last month, attributed to a group that calls itself the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. But the military response has been to attack entire populations, regardless of any possible involvement in the insurgency, and to spread such terror that 120,000 people have been forced to flee in the past fortnight.

In her Nobel lecture, Aung San Suu Kyi remarked: “Wherever suffering is ignored, there will be the seeds of conflict, for suffering degrades and embitters and enrages.” The rage of those Rohingya people who have taken up arms has been used as an excuse to accelerate an existing programme of ethnic cleansing.

She has not only denied the atrocities, attempting to shield the armed forces from criticism; she has also denied the very identity of the people being attacked, asking the US ambassador not to use the term Rohingya. This is in line with the government’s policy of disavowing their existence as an ethnic group, and classifying them – though they have lived in Myanmar for centuries – as interlopers. She has upheld the 1982 Citizenship Law, which denies these people their rights.

When a Rohingya woman provided detailed allegations about her gang rape and associated injuries by Myanmar soldiers, Aung San Suu Kyi’s office posted a banner on its Facebook page reading “Fake Rape”. Given her reputation for micromanagement, it seems unlikely that such action would have been taken without her approval.

Not only has she snubbed and obstructed UN officials who have sought to investigate the treatment of the Rohingya, but her government has prevented aid agencies from distributing food, water and medicines to people displaced or isolated by the violence. Her office has accused aid workers of helping “terrorists”, putting them at risk of attack, further impeding their attempts to help people who face starvation.

So far Aung San Suu Kyi has been insulated by the apologetics of those who refuse to believe she could so radically abandon the principles to which she once appealed. A list of excuses is proffered: that she didn’t want to jeopardise her prospects of election; that she doesn’t want to offer the armed forces a pretext to tighten their grip on power; that she has to keep China happy.

None of them stand up. As a great democracy campaigner once remarked: “It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it.” Who was this person? Aung San Suu Kyi. But now, whether out of prejudice or out of fear, she denies to others the freedoms she rightly claimed for herself. Her regime excludes – and in some cases seeks to silence – the very activists who helped to ensure her own rights were recognised.

This week, to my own astonishment, I found myself signing a petition for the revocation of her Nobel peace prize. I believe the Nobel committee should retain responsibility for the prizes it awards, and withdraw them if its laureates later violate the principles for which they were recognised. There are two cases in which this appears to be appropriate. One is Barack Obama, who, bafflingly, was given the prize before he was tested in office. His programme of drone strikes, which slaughtered large numbers of civilians, should disqualify him from this honour. The other is Aung San Suu Kyi.

Please sign this petition. Why? Because we now contemplate an extraordinary situation: a Nobel peace laureate complicit in crimes against humanity.

• George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist


Aung San Suu Kyi says 'terrorists' are misinforming world about Myanmar violence

De facto leader responds to growing international criticism by attacking ‘fake news’ about the plight of Rohingya Muslims

Michael Safi in Delhi
Wednesday 6 September 2017 08.17 BST

Aung San Suu Kyi has blamed “terrorists” for “a huge iceberg of misinformation” about violence in western Myanmar that has forced more than 140,000 Rohingya refugees into neighbouring Bangladesh.

The de-facto leader of Myanmar is under growing pressure to halt “clearance operations” by security forces in Rakhine state that the United Nations secretary-general has warned could verge on ethnic cleansing.

A statement posted by Aung San Suu Kyi’s office to Facebook on Wednesday said she had spoken with Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan about the crisis that he has repeatedly called a “genocide”.

She said the government “had already started defending all the people in Rakhine in the best way possible and expressed that there should be no misinformation to create trouble between the two countries”.

She referred to “fake news photographs” posted on Twitter by Turkey’s deputy prime minister that purported to show dead Rohingya in Myanmar, but in fact were taken elsewhere.

“That kind of fake information which was inflicted on the deputy prime minister was simply the tip of a huge iceberg of misinformation calculated to create a lot of problems between different communities and with the aim of promoting the interest of the terrorists,” the statement said.

About 146,000 Rohingya people – an estimated 80% of them women and children – are now thought to have crossed into Bangladesh since 25 August, when militants from the ethnic Muslim group attacked dozens of security sites. Authorities responded with a crackdown that UN officials in Myanmar say may have killed up to 1,000 people.

Satellite images show evidence of arson and Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh have claimed their villages are being burned en masse. UN agencies have been barred from providing humanitarian aid in the state and journalists are prevented from entering.

Hindu and Buddhist villagers have also reported being targeted by Rohingya insurgents but the Muslim-minority group, who are denied citizenship and access to basic government services in Myanmar, make up the vast majority of those displaced.

Myanmar has been laying landmines across parts of its border with Bangladesh in recent days, government sources in Dhaka have told Reuters. The sources speculated that mines have been placed to prevent Rohingya refugees from returning to Rakhine state.

Bangladesh is reportedly preparing to lodge a protest against the placement of the mines so close to the border, but a Myanmar military source told the agency the explosives had been in place since the 1990s.

The UN chief, Antonio Guterres, issued a rare letter on Wednesday appealing to Myanmar authorities to “put an end to this violence that, in my opinion, is creating a situation that can destabilise the region”.

Asked if the violence could be described as ethnic cleansing, Guterres told journalists on Tuesday: “We are facing a risk, I hope we don’t get there.”

His intervention was part of a chorus of appeals by world leaders for Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel peace prize winner, to exercise influence over the military leaders that controlled the government for decades until 2015.

The British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, said in a statement earlier this week: “Aung San Suu Kyi is rightly regarded as one of the most inspiring figures of our age but the treatment of the Rohingya is alas besmirching the reputation of Burma.”

Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday met the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, whose government is competing with China for influence in the south-east Asian state.

The Modi government says it is setting up a task force to identify the estimated 40,000 Rohingya believed to be taking refuge in India. A cabinet minister, Kiren Rijiju, said on Tuesday that Rohingya people in India were “illegal immigrants and need to be deported as per law”.

Human rights lawyers in Delhi are challenging the government plan and the supreme court this week ordered the Indian government to explain its position by 11 September.

After the meeting Modi issued a statement saying he shared the Myanmar’s government’s “concerns about extremist violence in Rakhine state and the violence against security forces and also how innocent lives have been affected”.

“We hope that all stakeholders together can find a way out in which unity and territorial integrity of Myanmar is respected,” the statement said.


Who are the Rohingya and what is happening in Myanmar?

Fresh outbreak of violence after decades of ethnic tensions has prompted tens of thousands of people to flee to Bangladesh

Rebecca Ratcliffe
Wednesday 6 September 2017 01.09 BST

Described as the world’s most persecuted people, 1.1 million Rohingya people live in Myanmar. They live predominately in Rakhine state, where they have co-existed uneasily alongside Buddhists for decades.

Rohingya people say they are descendants of Muslims, perhaps Persian and Arab traders, who came to Myanmar generations ago. Unlike the Buddhist community, they speak a language similar to the Bengali dialect of Chittagong in Bangladesh.

The Rohingya are reviled by many in Myanmar as illegal immigrants and they suffer from systematic discrimination. The Myanmar government treats them as stateless people, denying them citizenship. Stringent restrictions have been placed on Rohingya people’s freedom of movement, access to medical assistance, education and other basic services.

What has been happening to them?

Violence broke out in northern Rakhine state on 25 August when militants attacked government forces. In response, security forces supported by Buddhist militia launched a “clearance operation”.

Refugees have spoken of massacres in villages, where they say soldiers raided and burned their homes. The government claims the Rohingya have burned their own homes and killed Buddhists and Hindus, a claim repeated by some residents.

Aid agencies have warned of a growing humanitarian crisis in overstretched border camps and of the dangers facing Rohingya people trapped in conflict zones.

How many have been killed, injured or forced to flee?

The military has reported that 400 people have been killed in the violence. The UN says 123,000 people have fled to Bangladesh. Those who have made it to the border have walked for days, hiding in jungles and crossing mountains and rivers. Many are sick and some have bullet wounds.

More than 30,000 Rohingya are estimated to have sought shelter in the refugee camps of Kutupalong and Nayapara in Bangladesh, which are now believed to be full. Many others are living in makeshift sites and local villages. An unknown number could still be stranded in a narrow strip of no man’s land that separates the two countries, where access to aid is limited. Around 400,000 stateless Rohingya people are thought to be trapped in conflict zones.

On Tuesday the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, said it was “gravely concerned” about the continuing conflict and about reports that civilians had died while seeking safety. On Monday the UN said its aid agencies had been blocked from supplying life-saving supplies such as food, water and medicine to thousands of civilians in northern Rakhine state.

What’s the background to the story?

For decades ethnic tensions have simmered in Rakhine state, with frequent eruptions of violence. Last October nine police officers were killed by armed men, believed by officials to be Muslims. Amid the ensuing violence, 87,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh and government troops expanded their presence in Rakhine state.

At the time, a senior UN official alleged that the Myanmar government was seeking to rid the country of its Muslim minority – an accusation that has repeatedly been made by human rights groups. The government denies the charge.

Last month Myanmar further increased the number of troops in Rakhine, after seven Buddhists were found hacked to death. The buildup of troops prompted warnings of a fresh wave of violence.

The most recent violence is seen as a major escalation not only because of the scale, but also because of the involvement of a new Rohingya militant group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. It says the attacks on government forces were an act of self-defence.

What is the Myanmar government saying?

As well as claiming the Rohingya are burning their own villages and killing Buddhists and Hindus, the Myanmar military has said the majority of those killed in the violence were “terrorists”. Such claims are impossible to verify as access to Rakhine is limited.

The government has accused international aid workers of helping “terrorists” besiege a village in Rakhine state. The claim was condemned as dangerously irresponsible by aid workers, who fear for their safety.

The Myanmar government has repeatedly denied accusations of “ethnic cleansing”. In June it said it would not cooperate with a UN investigation focusing on allegations of killings, rape and torture by security forces against Rohingya Muslims.

Why hasn’t Aung Sun Suu Kyi done anything about it?

When Aung San Suu Kyi rose to power there were high hopes that the Nobel prize winner would help heal the country’s entrenched ethnic divides. But she has been accused of silently standing by while violence is committed against the Rohingya. International pressure is growing on her to curb the military operations.

Last year she appointed Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general, to lead a commission looking at long-term reconciliation in Rakhine state. But she has failed to criticise violence against the Rohingya.

Some argue that Aung San Suu Kyi fears an unpredictable military. Despite her position as state counsellor, the military has retained significant political power, with an allocated 25% of seats in parliament.

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« Reply #24 on: Sep 06, 2017, 05:55 AM »

Trump ends 'Dreamers' program, leaving fate of 800,000 uncertain

Trump terminates Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects migrants from deportation, a move that Obama called ‘cruel’ and ‘wrong’
Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington
6 September 2017 16.03 BST

Donald Trump thrust the fate of nearly 800,000 young, undocumented migrants into uncertainty on Tuesday by terminating the Obama-era program that protects the so-called Dreamers from deportation.

In response, Barack Obama said the decision was “self-defeating” and contrary to “basic decency”.

A “shadow has been cast over some of our best and brightest young people once again”, the former president said.

The 2012 policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) will be phased out by 5 March 2018, leaving Congress with six months to enact new protections for Dreamers through legislation. On Tuesday night, Trump suggested that if Congress failed to “legalize Daca” he would “revisit” the program.

New applications will no longer be accepted, while those currently in the program will all lose their status by March 2020, with the first permits expiring in March 2018 – unless Congress passes legislation allowing the young immigrants to stay.

“I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents,” Trump said in a written statement issued shortly after attorney general Jeff Sessions announced the policy. “But we must also recognize that we are nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws.”

Trump, who later told reporters he had “great love” for Dreamers, said he had advised the Department of Homeland Security that Daca recipients were “not enforcement priorities [for deportation] unless they are criminals, are involved in criminal activity, or are members of a gang”.

And he called on Congress to act, saying he was providing US lawmakers with “a window of opportunity” to address the status of Dreamers. “Congress, get ready to do your job - DACA!” he tweeted earlier.

But the president stopped short of outlining what sort of legislation he would support to codify protections for Dreamers into law.

Sessions announced the administration’s decision in a statement delivered from the Department of Justice headquarters in Washington in which he said Daca was “being rescinded”.

“To have a lawful system of immigration that serves the national interest,” Sessions said, “we cannot admit everyone who would like to come here. It’s just that simple.”

Trump’s move follows months of speculation over whether he would keep intact or tear apart the landmark executive action by Barack Obama that lifted the threat of deportation for migrants brought to the US before they were 16.

In a written statement published on social media that did not mention Trump by name, Obama denounced the decision as “self-defeating”.

“To target these young people is wrong – because they have done nothing wrong,” the former president said. “And it is cruel.”

“Ultimately, this is about basic decency. This is about whether we are a people who kick hopeful young strivers out of America, or whether we treat them the way we’d want our own kids to be treated. It’s about who we are as a people – and who we want to be.”

There are around 800,000 Daca recipients living in the US, who qualified by having been under the age of 31 as of 15 June 2012. Those applying were vetted for any criminal history or threat to national security and had to be students or have completed school or military service. Their status must be renewed every two years.

Sessions repeatedly referred to the group of young, undocumented immigrants as “illegal aliens” while declaring: “We are people of compassion ... But there’s nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws.”

“This does not mean they are bad people or that our nation disrespects or demeans them in any way,” the attorney general, who took no questions from the assembled media, said of Dreamers. “It means we are properly enforcing our laws as Congress has passed them.”

Although Sessions did not provide a timeline for phasing out Daca, he noted that acting DHS secretary Elaine Duke had chosen “to initiate a wind-down process” in a bid to mitigate the immediate effects of the decision.

In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, senior DHS officials said they would allow anyone with a Daca permit expiring between now and 5 March to apply for a two-year renewal, so long as the application is submitted by 5 October. But other Dreamers whose permits do not expire within the next six months would be poised to lose their status as early as 5 March, exposing them to the threat of deportation.

The administration also declared that new applications for Daca dated after 5 September will not be considered, shutting down access to the program for those who are not already beneficiaries.

The specifics of what legislation Trump would be willing to sign to protect Dreamers remained unclear. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested the president would not support a standalone bill to grant permanent legal status to Dreamers, telling reporters on Tuesday: “We can’t take just a one-piece fix. We’ve got to do an overall immigration reform that is responsible and is lawful.”

Instead, Sanders tied any White House support for a legislative fix for Daca to border security. “I don’t think the president has been shy about the fact that he wants a wall,” she said.

    It takes someone with a dark heart to do something as cruel and pointless as this
    Democratic senator Chris Murphy

Trump’s decision was swiftly condemned by immigration advocates, business leaders and Democrats, while attorneys general from New York and Washington state said they would take legal action against the administration.

Many supporters of Daca pointed to the contributions of Dreamers – named after failed legislation in Congress – to their communities and economic prosperity, while noting the program already denied access to anyone who was convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or deemed to be a threat to national security or public safety.

“This is a sad day for our country,” Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement.

“The decision to end Daca is not just wrong. It is particularly cruel to offer young people the American Dream, encourage them to come out of the shadows and trust our government, and then punish them for it.”

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi accused Trump of committing “a deeply shameful act of political cowardice and a despicable assault on innocent young people in communities across America”.

“The president’s cruel and heartless decision to start deporting Dreamers in six months demands an immediate response from the Republican Congress,” she said.

Republican House speaker Paul Ryan, who in recent days expressed his hope that Trump would not terminate Daca, responded to Tuesday’s announcement by characterizing Obama’s policy as “well-intentioned” but “a clear abuse of executive authority [and] an attempt to create law out of thin air”.

“Congress writes laws, not the president, and ending this program fulfills a promise that President Trump made to restore the proper role of the executive and legislative branches,” Ryan said in a statement.

The House speaker nonetheless said it was important for Daca recipients to “have clarity” on how they would be affected in the phase-out period, while calling on Congress to act.

“It is my hope that the House and Senate, with the president’s leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution that includes ensuring that those who have done nothing wrong can still contribute as a valued part of this great country,” Ryan said.

The highly partisan atmosphere in Congress will make the passage of any legislation to protect Dreamers an uphill battle. Democrats are near uniform in their support of the Dream Act, which seeks to provide Dreamers with a path to permanent residency, but previous iterations of the bill have fallen in the face of steep opposition from conservatives.

Democrats were scathing in their assessment of Trump’s decision to upend Daca without providing a legislative solution.

“It takes someone with a dark heart to do something as cruel and pointless as this,” Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut.

US lawmakers, who returned to Washington on Tuesday after the August recess, already face a series of pressing fiscal deadlines in the coming weeks that include averting a government shutdown and securing emergency funding to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Trump’s decision to throw the vexing issue of immigration into the mix not only complicates a packed legislative agenda, but also raises the stakes ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. The president already shares a contentious rapport with Republicans in Congress, who might be reticent to cast politically thorny votes while fending off primary challenges from the right, where any pro-immigrant actions are viewed as “amnesty”.

Pressure had mounted on Trump to determine the fate of Daca. Activists on the right bemoaned the president’s failure to immediately rescind it.

In an attempt to force a decision, 10 state attorneys general, led by Ken Paxton of Texas, imposed an arbitrary deadline of 5 September on which they threatened to take the administration to court. One of those attorneys general, Tennessee’s Herbert Slatery III, backed away from the threat last week.

Immigration advocates intensified their campaign to keep Daca intact while directing their pleas to Republicans in Congress. Youth groups launched a hunger strike in the Wisconsin congressional district represented by House speaker Paul Ryan, calling for legislation to make the status of Dreamers permanent.

Additional reporting by Ben Jacobs


Think Trump was torn about ending Daca? Beware the crocodile tears

Trump was said to have been at war with himself over ending the program, but critics say that the president’s claims of compassion are ‘baloney’

    Trump ends ‘Dreamers’ program, leaving fate of 800,000 uncertain

Donald Trump rescinded the Obama-era program on 5 September, set as an artificial deadline in an ultimatum by 10 state attorneys general.

David Smith in Washington
Wednesday 6 September 2017 07.00 BST

Donald Trump claimed on Tuesday afternoon that he has “a great heart” and “a great love” for the Dreamers. But hours earlier the US president had delivered what many saw as a kick in teeth and, like a school bully, he did so from a position of weakness rather than strength.

Trump’s decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) – the programme that protects young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children or came with families who overstayed visas – marks another victory for his dwindling base, along with the exiled Steve Bannon, now back at Breitbart News.

But it triggered an avalanche of criticism from Barack Obama, Joe Biden and other Democrats, some Republicans and a legion of state governors, business leaders, activists and lawyers. Protesters gathered outside Trump Tower in New York, the White House in Washington and in other major cities. Along with the intense moral opprobrium at the sheer cruelty of the decision, there is a politically heavy price.

So why do it, and why now? The date of 5 September was set as an artificial deadline in an ultimatum by 10 state attorneys general, led by Texas, to put pressure on the administration to rescind Daca. Seemingly for the first time in his life, Trump ran away from a legal battle.

He also gave in to his hardline attorney general, Jeff Sessions, an anti-immigration zealot who contended that Daca could not withstand the legal challenge. Washing his hands of the matter, Trump allowed Sessions to coldly and clinically pronounce Daca’s fate.

This was despite the president not so long ago expressing disappointment in Sessions over his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. It was thought he might fire the attorney general. But he could not bring himself to do it.

    Trump makes decisions based on how he believes he’s perceived. It’s unadulterated populism

Even then, the most powerful man on the planet did not have the courage to make a clean break. He is delegating Daca to Congress to find an alternative in the next six months, clogging up an already overloaded timetable. Then on Tuesday night, he added more uncertainty with a tweet warning that if Congress did not act, then he would “revisit this issue”. It was not immediately clear what he meant.

Rick Tyler, a political analyst and co-founder of consulting firm Foundry Strategies, said: “By making a decision not to make a decision, they’re heading for a legislative collision course. They idea they would be able to fix Daca over the next six months is a bit of a fantasy.

“Politically, they wanted to make clear they rescinded Daca, when they didn’t. It’s like banning transgender people from the military, but not really. There seems to be a pattern.”

What is not certain is whether Trump’s agonising over Daca – the president was “at war with himself over Dreamers”, Politico reported last month – was out of concern for the nearly 800,000 people affected or for himself. Was he sincere in his statement that “I do not favour punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents,” or a case of protesting too much?

Asked if Trump’s claims of compassion seem genuine, Tyler replied: “Baloney. I would think so, but I don’t think Trump is capable of empathy. He makes decisions based on how he believes he’s perceived. It’s unadulterated populism.”

Critics could point to similar examples: Trump told last year’s Republican national convention he would “do everything in my power to protect our LGBT citizens” but, once in power, scrapped protections for transgender students in public schools and banned transgender personnel from the military.

The best test will be his next rally and whether he boasts about the decision in the same breath as guaranteed crowd pleasers such as promising to build a wall and pardon sheriff Joe Arpaio. After all, Trump launched his election campaign describing Mexican immigrants as “killers” and “rapists”, criticised a judge of Mexican ancestry and quickly initiated a travel ban.

Lanhee Chen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution thinktank in Stanford, California, said: “The immigration policy has been part of a piece. I expect him to say, ‘We finally have an administration getting tough on immigration laws and this helps that argument’.”


‘If you’re not white, you’re not welcome’: CNN’s Gergen blisters Trump’s continuing racism in brutal takedown

Tom Boggioni
Raw Story
05 Sep 2017 at 22:53 ET                   

Longtime presidential adviser David Gergen — who has worked for both Republican and Democratic presidents — unloaded on President Donald Trump Tuesday night, not only his decision on DACA, but for virtually every move he has made since taking office.

Appearing on a panel with CNN host Don Lemon, a clearly disgusted Gergen had nothing good to say about Trump after comparing him unfavorably to former President Barack Obama while discussing the Dreamers.

“This is one of the most cruel acts we’ve seen in the presidency in a long time,” Gergen explained. “President Obama and President Trump not only disagree on policies, they disagree on values.”

“It goes to very basic things: whether you have a respect for minorities, whether you have a belief in diversity, whether you think this country should welcome and continue to hold up the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of what we believe in,” he continued. “I’m afraid since Charlottesville and the talk about the white supremacists and putting him on the same level as protesters, we’ve seen now a series of — Sheriff Arpaio and now this.”

“I don’t know what it’s like to be a minority person in this country, and i just often wonder about it,” he confessed, “but I must say if I were in your [Lemon’s] shoes, I would feel increasingly there is a sign out there that’s been hung up in the White House or outside the White House saying, ‘If you’re not white, you’re not especially welcome.’ That is so sad — it’s just not who we are. The vast majority of American people do not believe that, they are much closer to President Obama’s values.”

Watch the video below via CNN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iz1UFS9QRe8


Morning Joe unloads on McConnell and Ryan for pleading impotence while Trump kills DACA

Sarah K. Burris
Raw Story
06 Sep 2017 at 07:06 ET                   

Joe Scarborough railed against the Republican-led Congress during Wednesday’s “Morning Joe” panel. No one was safe. Scarborough ripped House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) as well as Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for pretending that they are powerless against President Donald Trump ending DACA.

Commentator Mike Barnicle wondered how much longer it will take for Republican leaders to understand that Trump has no idea what he’s doing or talking about.

“If it were me, this would be my last straw,” Scarborough agreed. He went on to say that if he were in the leadership he’d tell the White House they were taking over the legislative agenda and demand he stay out of their way.

“We’re going to do what we’re going to do and then you can have pretty bill signing ceremonies,” Scarborough mocked. “Just stay out of the way. Because you don’t know what you’re doing.”

Scarborough railed against Speaker Ryan for doing nothing but tweeting. “He looks horrible! Someone around him needs to tell him he looks horrible when he talks about how shocked and stunned and deeply saddened he is by actions like this. And pretends as if he doesn’t have any power. I’m telling you, how many times can you be insulted if you’re Mitch McConnell, before you say, ‘I’m taking over.'”

Acting as McConnell, Scarborough ultimately concluded what should be said is, “Mr. President you need to shut your mouth.”

Frequent panelist and sometimes host Mark Halperin said that Congress needs Trump because they don’t have the votes without him. They need him to be the leader of the party and given his lack of experience, he doesn’t know how.

Scarborough disagreed saying that he thinks they have 51 votes on DACA. Halperin explained in the House they’d be forced to get Democratic votes. Scarborough claimed they’d get every single Democratic vote.

“Democrats are going to ask for something in return,” Halperin retorted.

“Well, you know what you do? You give it to them!” Scarborough exclaimed. “You know why? Because that’s how our founding fathers saw the Constitution of the United States. There’s give and take.”

Political reporter Kasie Hunt jumped in to say that both McConnell and Ryan would still rather have Trump than have to talk to anyone in the Democratic Party.

“If they’re not smart enough to be able to pass this and say ‘I’m not with Nancy Pelosi – I’m with 75 percent of the American people,’ then they don’t deserve to be in their position,” Scarborough concluded. “They should go into a dark basement in Janesville and tweet the rest of their life. This is not hard. ‘I’m not with Nancy Pelosi, my friend of Green Bay, Wisconsin. I love the Wisconsin Badgers and I love the American dream!’ How’s that? It’s not hard. Seriously? You pick up points in your district when you act this way! You really do! And, yes, I do know this because I crossed my party time and time and time again when they did really really stupid things and [it increased poll numbers].”

Co-host Mika Brzezinski chimed in, “It’s very insulting to the American people they’re not given the option of being treated anything but really dumb by people like Paul Ryan.”


NY to announce multistate lawsuit to protect DACA beneficiaries

06 Sep 2017 at 07:41 ET                   

The New York attorney general plans to announce a multistate lawsuit on Wednesday to protect recipients of a program that shielded children brought into the United States illegally, a day after President Donald Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman will discuss the lawsuit at a news conference with immigration advocates, labor unions and James Milliken, the chancellor of City University of New York, Schneiderman’s office said in a statement.

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« Reply #25 on: Sep 06, 2017, 05:59 AM »

Turkey has closed down 187 media outlets and jailed 171 journalists


In just over a year, Turkey has jailed 171 journalists and closed down 187 media outlets Hurriyet reported on Tuesday.

Most journalists are accused of either inciting violence or of promoting terrorism, in the period following the attempted coup of July 15, 2016.

The figures were contained in the final report of a workshop organized by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in Çanakkale (August 26-30). The workshop entitled “Arrested Journalists and Shuttered Media Outlets Workshop” featured representatives from various Turkish press and journalists associations as well as human rights advocates.

The debate focused on detention and arrest policies, including the controversial single-type uniforms introduced in prisons that no longer differentiate between the different categories of prisoners arrested for “terrorism.”

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« Reply #26 on: Sep 06, 2017, 06:03 AM »

Russia’s ‘surprising’ request for UN peacekeepers

New Europe

Russia will ask the UN Security Council to send peacekeepers to patrol the front line in eastern Ukraine where fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 10,000 people since 2014.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters on August 5 that peacekeepers could help ensure safety for international observers who are monitoring the cease-fire.

As reported by The Washington Post, this new development has been greeted by Germany as a new opportunity for detente.

A 2015 peace deal brokered by Germany and France helped reduce the scale of fighting, but regular clashes have continued.

The separatists have opposed Ukraine’s suggestion to deploy peacekeepers in the war zone.

But Putin insisted that the peacekeepers should be deployed only along the line separating the rebel-controlled territories and the area under government control where the clashes occur.

Putin said Russia’s foreign ministry will file a formal request with the UN Security Council.

In response, Ukraine’s envoy to the United Nations, Volodymyr Yelchenko, said in comments carried by Russia news agencies on August 5 that Kiev is ready to work on the draft resolution.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said he found Putin’s announcement “surprising” but said he was “very glad… the Russian president said today he will continue to negotiate about demands that were rejected in the past by Russia.”

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« Reply #27 on: Sep 06, 2017, 06:07 AM »

EU paves the way to Greek economic growth

New Europe

The European Commission welcomed the August 5 inauguration of Greece’s Ionian Highway, the construction of which was fully funded by the European Union Cohesion Policy funds.

The funding was part of measures the Commission put forward in the 2015 under the “A New Start for Growth and Jobs in Greece” plan.

“The EU invests to improve the everyday lives of Greek citizens with safer roads and reduced travel time,” said EU Commissioner for Regional Policy Corina Creţu. “Better transport connections also mean new economic opportunities and faster growth. The Ionian Highway is a new token of steadfast EU solidarity and friendship with Greece.”

The new, 200km highway connects the city of Ioannina in the region of Epirus (North-Western Greece) to Antirrio, in Western Greece, and cuts travel time by two hours.

The highway reaches the Peloponnese peninsula in the South, via the EU-funded Rio-Antirrio bridge and, in the North, allows smoother access to Greece’s neighbours countries in the Western Balkans.

The Ionian highway is one of the 5 EU-funded motorway concessions in the country, with the Moreas Motorway in the Peloponnese, the Aegean Motorway linking Athens to Thessaloniki, the Olympia Motorway from Corinth to Patras and the middle section of the E65 Motorway in Central Greece. All motorways been supported with €3.6bn worth of EU funds.

According to the Commission, the motorways are a boost for the economy by providing a strategic trans-European network and allow a smooth flow of people and goods.

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« Reply #28 on: Sep 07, 2017, 04:27 AM »

Discovery of 13 million-year-old ape skull shows what human ancestors may have looked like

By Amy B Wang
Wa Post

To the untrained eye, the area west of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya appears to be barren of anything but rocky hills and volcanic ash.

But anthropologists know the Napudet region of the Turkana Basin as a promising new dig site for fossils from the Middle Miocene era, about 13 million years ago. And one professor's persistence there would pay off in a monumental discovery: a rare, complete skull of a baby ape that could give scientists a glimpse at what our common ancestors looked like.

The discovery almost didn't happen.

When Isaiah Nengo, an anthropology professor at De Anza College in California, sought to assemble a team for a three-week expedition there in 2014, no one wanted to go.

“There was nothing useful to be found,” others told Nengo, who also teaches at the Stony Brook University-affiliated Turkana Basin Institute.
Map of Africa and Kenya, showing the location of Napudet, where Alesi was found. (Isaiah Nengo)

Undeterred, Nengo, who had just spent two years at the University of Nairobi on a Fulbright scholarship, returned to Kenya and gathered a ragtag group of local fossil finders. There were six of them in total, including the camp cook.

For two weeks in August, the team dug and found … nothing. Though Nengo knew it wasn't unusual for the site (“You could go for days and days, weeks and weeks without finding anything"), he began hoping to come across some fossil scraps or bone fragments — anything to make the expedition worth it.

On Sept. 4, 2014, the team once again worked for hours at the dig site and came up empty-handed. Exhausted and disappointed, the crew packed up and began walking back to their land cruiser, parked about a mile away from where they had been working.

One team member, Kenyan fossil hunter John Ekusi, pulled out some tobacco and began rolling a cigarette.

“Man, you're gonna kill us with that smoke,” Nengo told him.

Ekusi ambled ahead until he was a couple hundred yards away from the group. After a short while, Nengo noticed Ekusi had stopped, and was inspecting something with a familiar fervor.

“If you're a fossil finder, you know that look,” he said. “It's like an atomic bomb can go off, and you don't care, you're so focused at what you're looking for.”

By the time the group caught up with Ekusi, he had brushed out the top of a fossil.

“Almost instantly we knew it was the skull of a primate,” Nengo said. “We just broke into a dance, we were so happy.”

What the team later excavated would end up being what is thought to be the most complete skull of an extinct ape species in the fossil record. After more than two years of sophisticated imaging work and additional geological research at the dig site, the discovery was published in the Aug. 10 issue of the journal Nature.

According to the article, “younger” fossil finds — those 6- to 7-million-years-old — have shed light on humans' common ancestors with chimpanzees. However, far less is known about the common ancestors of all living apes and humans from before 10 million years ago.

“Relevant fossils are scarce, consisting mostly of isolated teeth and partial jaw bones,” a statement accompanying the Nature article reads. “It has therefore been difficult to find answers to two fundamental questions: Did the common ancestor of living apes and humans originate in Africa, and what did these early ancestors look like?”

The discovery of the infant ape skull — nicknamed “Alesi” after the local Turkana word for “ancestor” — helps bridge some of those gaps, not only because of how intact the outside of the skull is but for what was preserved on the inside.

In September 2015, about a year after the fossil was excavated, Nengo obtained government clearance to hand-carry the skull from Kenya to the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France. It was, he would later admit, one of the most nerve-racking air travel experiences he had ever had.

“I sat with that specimen in my lap all the way until we got to Grenoble,” Nengo said. “It did not leave my sight. If I was in the bathroom, it went with me.”

At the facility, which produces “the world's most intense X-rays,” scientists scanned the skull and arrived at startlingly clear 3-D images of the what it held.

“We were able to reveal the brain cavity, the inner ears and the unerupted adult teeth with their daily record of growth lines,” Paul Tafforeau, an ESRF scientist, said in a statement. “The quality of our images was so good that we could establish from the teeth that the infant was about 1 year and 4 months old when it died.”

At first, researchers suspected Alesi had been a baby gibbon because of the small snout. However, once scans revealed fully developed bony inner ear tubes and the unerupted adult teeth, it was clear Alesi had been an ape.

“Gibbons are well known for their fast and acrobatic behavior in trees,” said Fred Spoor, of University College London and the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology. “But the inner ears of Alesi show that it would have had a much more cautious way of moving around.”

Alesi's teeth showed that the infant skull hadn't just belonged to just any ape, but one of a previously undiscovered species, now named Nyanzapithecus alesi. Up until then, scientists hadn't been certain if the Nyanzapithecus species were apes at all, or whether they had originated in Asia or Africa. Now, Nengo said, they could conclude that N. alesi had been part of a group of primates that lived more than 10 million years ago, and that they had originated in Africa.

“It's always very important to know when you're looking for ancestral lineages which continent they evolved. It helps you to explain the evolution of that particular group,” Nengo said. Alesi provides an important link between apes' and humans' common ancestors and the earliest humans.

“To find this little baby that perished in volcanic ash 13 million years ago … it's a glimpse of what our prehuman stage looked like.”

Alesi is now back in Kenya. Nengo said he plans to continue fieldwork there and also to use Alesi as “kind of an anchor” for the study of babies and the role of babies in the evolution of apes and humans.

Click to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZyR-LsExn44

“The real work is coming now,” he said.

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« Reply #29 on: Sep 07, 2017, 04:34 AM »

The Liver: A ‘Blob’ That Runs the Body

The underrated, unloved liver performs more than 300 vital functions. No wonder the ancients believed it to be the home of the human soul.

NY Times

To the Mesopotamians, the liver was the body’s premier organ, the seat of the human soul and emotions. The ancient Greeks linked the liver to pleasure: The words hepatic and hedonic are thought to share the same root.

The Elizabethans referred to their monarch not as the head of state but as its liver, and woe to any people saddled with a lily-livered leader, whose bloodless cowardice would surely prove their undoing.

Yet even the most ardent liverati of history may have underestimated the scope and complexity of the organ. Its powers are so profound that the old toss-away line, “What am I, chopped liver?” can be seen as a kind of humblebrag.

After all, a healthy liver is the one organ in the adult body that, if chopped down to a fraction of its initial size, will rapidly regenerate and perform as if brand-new. Which is a lucky thing, for the liver’s to-do list is second only to that of the brain and numbers well over 300 items, including systematically reworking the food we eat into usable building blocks for our cells; neutralizing the many potentially harmful substances that we incidentally or deliberately ingest; generating a vast pharmacopoeia of hormones, enzymes, clotting factors and immune molecules; controlling blood chemistry; and really, we’re just getting started.

“We have mechanical ventilators to breathe for you if your lungs fail, dialysis machines if your kidneys fail, and the heart is mostly just a pump, so we have an artificial heart,” said Dr. Anna Lok, president of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases and director of clinical hepatology at the University of Michigan.

“But if your liver fails, there’s no machine to replace all its different functions, and the best you can hope for is a transplant.”

And while scientists admit it hardly seems possible, the closer they look, the longer the liver’s inventory of talents and tasks becomes.

In one recent study, researchers were astonished to discover that the liver grows and shrinks by up to 40 percent every 24 hours, while the organs around it barely budge.

Others have found that signals from the liver may help dictate our dietary choices, particularly our cravings for sweets, like a ripe peach or a tall glass of Newman’s Own Virgin Limeade — which our local supermarket chain has, to our personal devastation, suddenly stopped selling, so please, liver, get a grip.

Scientists have also discovered that hepatocytes, the metabolically active cells that constitute 80 percent of the liver, possess traits not seen in any other normal cells of the body. For example, whereas most cells have two sets of chromosomes — two sets of genetic instructions on how a cell should behave — hepatocytes can enfold and deftly manipulate up to eight sets of chromosomes, and all without falling apart or turning cancerous.

That sort of composed chromosomal excess, said Dr. Markus Grompe, who studies the phenomenon at Oregon Health and Science University, is “superunique,” and most likely helps account for the liver’s regenerative prowess.

Scientists hope that the new insights into liver development and performance will yield novel therapies for the more than 100 disorders that afflict the organ, many of which are on the rise worldwide, in concert with soaring rates of obesity and diabetes.

“It’s a funny thing,” said Valerie Gouon-Evans, a liver specialist at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “The liver is not a very sexy organ. It doesn’t look important. It just looks like a big blob.

“But it is quietly vital, the control tower of the body,” and the hepatocytes that it is composed of “are astonishing.”

The liver is our largest internal organ, weighing three and a half-pounds and measuring six inches long. The reddish-brown mass of four unevenly sized lobes sprawls like a beached sea lion across the upper right side of the abdominal cavity, beneath the diaphragm and atop the stomach.

The organ is always flush with blood, holding about 13 percent of the body’s supply at any given time. Many of the liver’s unusual features are linked to its intimate association with blood.

During fetal development, blood cells are born in the liver, and though that task later migrates to the bone marrow, the liver never loses its taste for the bodywide biochemical gossip that only the circulatory system can bring.

Most organs have a single source of blood. The liver alone has two blood supplies, the hepatic artery conveying oxygen-rich blood from the heart, the hepatic portal vein dropping off blood drained from the intestines and spleen. That portal blood delivers semi-processed foodstuffs in need of hepatic massaging, conversion, detoxification, storage, secretion, elimination.

“Everything you put in your mouth must go through the liver before it does anything useful elsewhere in the body,” Dr. Lok said.

The liver likes its bloodlines leaky. In contrast to the well-sealed vessels that prevent direct contact between blood and most tissues of the body, the arteries and veins that snake through the liver are stippled with holes, which means they drizzle blood right onto the hepatocytes.

The liver cells in turn are covered with microvilli — fingerlike protrusions that “massively enlarge” the cell surface area in contact with blood, said Dr. Markus Heim, a liver researcher at the University of Basel.

“Hepatocytes are swimming in blood,” he said. “That’s what makes them so incredibly efficient at taking up substances from the blood.”

As the master sampler of circulating blood, the liver keeps track of the body’s moment-to-moment energy demands, releasing glucose as needed from its stash of stored glycogen, along with any vitamins, minerals, lipids, amino acids or other micronutrients that might be required.

New research suggests the liver may take a proactive, as well as a reactive, role in the control of appetite and food choice.

Humans are famously fond of sweets, for example, presumably a legacy of our fruit-eating primate ancestors. But to gorge on sugar-rich foods, even in the relatively healthy format of a bucketful of Rainier cherries, could mean neglecting other worthy menu items.

Reporting in the journal Cell Metabolism, Matthew Gillum of the University of Copenhagen and his colleagues showed that after exposure to a high-sugar drink, the liver seeks to dampen further sugar indulgence by releasing a signaling hormone called fibroblast growth factor 21, or FGF21.

The effort is not always successful. For reasons that remain unclear, the hormone comes in active and feeble varieties, and the researchers found that people with a mutant version of FGF21 confessed to a lifelong passion for sweets.

The scientists are searching for other liver-borne hormones that might influence the hunger for protein or fat.

“It makes sense that the liver could be a nexus of metabolic control,” Dr. Gillum said. “At some level it knows more than the brain does about energy availability, and whether you’re eating too many pears.”

The liver also keeps track of time. In a recent issue of the journal Cell, Ulrich Schibler of the University of Geneva and his colleagues described their studies of the oscillating liver, and how it swells and shrinks each day, depending on an animal’s normal circadian rhythms and feeding schedule.

The researchers found that in mice, which normally eat at night and sleep during the day, the size of the liver expands by nearly half after dark and then retrenches come daylight. The scientists also determined the cause of the changing dimensions.

“We wanted to know, is it just extra water or glycogen?” Dr. Schibler said. “Because that would be boring.”

It wasn’t boring. “The total gemish, the total soup of the liver turns out to be different,” he said. Protein production in mouse hepatocytes rises sharply at night, followed by equivalent protein destruction during the day.

Evidence suggests that a similar extravaganza of protein creation and destruction occurs in the human liver, too, but the timing is flipped to match our largely diurnal pattern.

The researchers do not yet know why the liver oscillates, but Dr. Schibler suggested it’s part of the organ’s fastidious maintenance program.

“The liver gets a lot of bad stuff coming through,” he said. “If you damage some of its components, you need to replace them.” By having a rhythm to that replacement, he said, “you keep the liver in a good state.”

Adding to the liver’s repair protocol, Dr. Grompe of Oregon Health and Science University said, is the extreme plasticity of hepatocytes.

He and others have shown that, through their extraordinary ability to handle multiple sets of chromosomes and still perform and divide normally, liver cells become almost like immune cells — genetically diverse enough to handle nearly any poison thrown at them.

“Our ancestors didn’t have healthy refrigerated food,” he said. “They ate a lot of crap, probably literally, and the liver in prehistoric times was continuously bombarded with toxins. You need every mechanism there is to adapt to that.”

The liver rose to the evolutionary challenge. So yes, I’m chopped liver — and proud.

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