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Author Topic: ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CULTURE  (Read 766612 times)
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« Reply #15 on: Apr 11, 2017, 05:52 AM »

Universal healthcare supporters see their chance: 'There’s never been more support'

After Republicans’ failed attempt to replace Obamacare, activists across the country rally on behalf of a single-payer system: ‘It’s a right, not a privilege’

Jessica Glenza in New York
AFP
Tuesday 11 April 2017 12.00 BST

It was a cold, misty, gray, early spring day in Albany, New York – the kind of bone-chilling, turn-up-the-heat weather that encourages residents to flee to Florida.

But 500 New Yorkers were still out on the sidewalk lobbying for healthcare reform that has long seemed like a pipe dream: government-provided universal health insurance.

“I wanna make sure my children get healthcare,” said Minerva Solla, a 66-year-old organizer with the New York State Nurses Association. “It’s a right, not a privilege.” Moments earlier she riled the crowd with call-backs: “If they don’t pass it? Vote them out!”

Americans might know the liberal dream as “Medicare for all”. If it ever passed, it could be as comprehensive as the UK’s National Health Service.

Universal healthcare not a new idea, but one with fresh energy since Republicans’ disastrous attempt to reform the American health system. In Albany, a record number of people turned out to a rally for universal healthcare in New York, several activists and one lawmaker said.

“It’s an uphill battle, and the Republicans are in control of Congress, and there’s no signal they would be willing to let this pass right now,” said Clare Fauke, spokesperson for Physicians for a National Health Program, which advocates for universal healthcare. “But we’ve been thinking in terms of the long game, and there’s never been more support for it than there is right now.”

In a universal healthcare system, New York would pay for every resident not covered by an existing federal health insurance program, like Medicare for the old or Medicaid for the poor. For-profit health insurance companies would be all but eliminated.

That would mean New Yorkers would be freed from “co-pays”, “deductibles”, and “premiums”, all insurance industry jargon for one thing: medical bills.

“We’re unanimous that this is the most logical system going forward,” said Phil DeSalvo, a 29-year-old medical resident from New York City. He and three fellow health workers traveled three hours north on their only day off to protest. Was universal healthcare gaining momentum?

“Absolutely, particularly with the collapse of the plan advanced by the Republicans,” he said. “This is the best solution going forward.”

Despite campaigning for seven years to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, Republicans’ first attempt at a reform bill sank like a stone.

Trump and the Republican leadership’s concessions to both hardline conservatives and moderate Republicans made the bill a mishmash. Tax credits would have helped Americans buy private insurance, but the gutting of insurance regulations would have made policies practically meaningless. It would have left 52 million people uninsured by the end of the decade, at last estimate.

It had an abysmal 17% public approval rating, and lasted two weeks before it was pulled. It is Trump’s single largest loss to date. In the vacuum of ideas, liberals have conjured hope.

“I think fear of the Republican bill, and fear that it will come back in even worse form, is sparking support,” said Richard Gottfried, a New York City Democrat who has sponsored a universal healthcare bill since 1992.

Advocates of universal healthcare are not missing an opportunity to make a fuss. Physicians for a National Health Program held their first day of national rallies to coincide with the Congressional recess on Saturday. Protests were planned from Florida to New Hampshire, Oregon to North Carolina.

Bernie Sanders plans to introduce a bill in the US Senate to support single-payer healthcare. In the House, there is already a single-payer bill with 93 co-sponsors.

In an issue of the British medical journal the Lancet devoted to the US healthcare system this week, Sanders wrote the opening letter.

“The goal of a healthcare system should be to keep people well, not to make stockholders rich,” wrote US Senator Bernie Sanders in an opinion article leading the Lancet issue. “The USA has the most expensive, bureaucratic, wasteful, and ineffective healthcare system in the world.”

Sanders called single-payer healthcare “as American as apple pie” – an attempt to throw off single-payer reform’s negative reputation as “socialized medicine”.

Meanwhile, the American healthcare system may be worsening inequalities, the the Lancet found. A widening income gap, paired with insurance companies’ increasing tendency to push health costs on to consumers, has resulted in a “regressive” system in which the richest 1% of Americans can now expect to live up to 15 years longer than the poorest 1%.

Even for those who have insurance, increasing monthly costs have eroded wage gains, the Lancet reported. Medical debt accounts for more than half (52.1%) of all unpaid personal debt.

“I could tell you this – I’ve been on the job for 25 years. When I first started, I paid nothing” for healthcare, said Chris Tague, who works in road construction. He is also a part-time town supervisor in Schoharie County, New York, which voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump.

Tague’s health insurance costs grew fto $20 per week, then to $50 per week, then $75, then to more than $200 per week, he said. Middle class Americans, he said, “work their asses off for nothing”.

The ACA insures more Americans than ever. Nevertheless, 9% of Americans, or 28 million people, remained uninsured in 2015, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Those people are predominantly in Republican-led southern states, which rejected an expansion of Medicaid, a federal program for the poor, even though the national government paid for it.

Even conservatives admit that government-run healthcare could save money.

“I mean look, you can save money with a single-payer system, don’t misunderstand me,” said Robert Moffit, a policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “But the quality and supply of medical services is going to be determined by government officials.”

For this and other reasons, many argue single-payer reform simply is not viable.

“The history of healthcare reform in the US has dictated that it is politically untenable,” said Richard Boxer, a Los Angeles urologist who studies insurance reform. He pointed out that a public insurance option was proposed when the ACA was first under consideration in 2010. A Democratic Congress rejected the idea.

Grassroots efforts at the state level have also failed.

In Colorado, advocates tried to establish a state-funded universal health program through a ballot initiative last year. State residents would have paid a 10% payroll tax to fund the program.

Though the program would have insured all Coloradans, only 20% of voters favored the effort.

The insurance industry group Coloradans for Coloradans had a seven-to-one fundraising advantage at one point. The group raised more than $4m, its single-largest $1m donation coming from the insurance company Anthem. Comparatively, the pro-universal healthcare group ColoradoCareYES raised $902,000.

“The insurance companies, of course, were worried this would pass,” said Patricia Rice, a spokesperson for ColoradoCareYES. “Because it would signal a tidal wave. Once it passes in one state, I think it would just spread to other states and it would cut into profits.

“They were throwing everything they had at us, and we only had a few spots on television,” said Rice.
Richard Gottfried of the New York state assembly advocates for the New York Health Act, a piece of legislation he has sponsored since 1992, in Albany.

Most analyses of universal healthcare assume that money taxpayers once spent on private insurance would go to support a government program, and that the elimination of bureaucracy and profit would save money.

A 2015 analysis of single-payer health insurance in New York found the system would save $44.7bn in healthcare costs in the first year, assuming the state could negotiate with drug companies. Studies of single-payer healthcare at the federal level have also found savings.One 1998 study found that a single-payer health system would lead “to sizable savings in the future”.

Not all projections are rosy. The non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget analyzed Bernie Sanders’ plan for universal health coverage in 2016, and found it would increase the deficit by $19tn.

New York’s latest battle to pass universal healthcare represents a theme in the long fight – so close to passage, but so far from enactment.

Gottfried’s bill is expected to pass the lower New York state assembly, but could run into trouble in the Republican-controlled senate.

The Republican senate majority leader may never let the legislation come to the floor, and it is an open question whether the moderate Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, would support the legislation.

If the bill did make it to the senate floor, just one Democrat stands in the way of a majority: Simcha Felder. He represents deeply conservative orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn, and often caucuses with Republicans.

“I do not have a position on the New York health act,” Felder said in an email. “This legislation would be a huge overhaul of the healthcare system in New York, and I would like to hear from experts and other senators on the committee.”

“Everybody’s calling about it,” said a worker in Felder’s office, as she folded a “Healthcare is a human right” sign in half and stuffed it into a wastebin.

Just an hour earlier, Dr Roona Ray was whipping up demonstrators, exclaiming, “We can have healthcare that covers everyone as a right and as a public good,” she said. “There will be no premiums, no co-pays, no co-insurance, no deductibles, no doughnut holes, no bills!”

“The other side has money,” she said, “but we have people.”


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« Reply #16 on: Apr 11, 2017, 05:55 AM »

Turkish referendum: all you need to know

Sunday’s vote could lead to the most significant political development since the Turkish republic was declared in 1923

by Kareem Shaheen in Istanbul
AFP
Monday 10 April 2017 11.31 BST

What’s the story and why does it matter?

Turks will go to the polls on 16 April to vote on constitutional amendments that would transform the country from a parliamentary democracy into a presidential system.

The package, which includes 18 amendments, is being put to the people because the proposed changes to the constitution did not get the backing of two-thirds of MPs in parliament. In this case the reforms were passed in the Turkish Grand National Assembly on 16 January with a simple majority, and then approved by the president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The referendum could bring about arguably the most significant political development since the Turkish republic was declared in 1923. The determination with which Erdoğan has pursued it has seen him dispatch ministers to Europe in search of expatriate voters, and attack the Dutch government as “Nazi remnants” when it cancelled campaign events.

Under the new system, Erdoğan will be able to stand in two more election cycles, which means if he wins the 2019 and 2024 polls he could potentially stay on as a powerful head of state until 2029. He could also return to the leadership of the Justice and Development party (AKP), which he co-founded, and which holds the overwhelming majority in parliament.

The post of president used to be largely ceremonial but had some influence over policymaking. Through sheer force of personality, and the loyalty he still commands among the AKP electorate and their lawmakers, Erdoğan has made it a much more powerful job. Should the referendum go his way, it will be more powerful still.

What exactly will people be voting on?

The 18 amendments primarily deal with the powers of the executive and legislative branches. They include:

    The abolition of the post of prime minister. The president will appoint the cabinet and will have a number of vice-presidents. Parliament will no longer oversee the ministers as their power to initiate a motion of no confidence will be removed.

    The president will no longer have to be neutral, but will be able to maintain an affiliation to his political party. Currently the president has to sever ties with his party once he is elected.

    The number of members of parliament will be increased from 550 to 600 and their minimum age lowered to 18.

    It will be possible for the president to be impeached by parliament. At the moment he could only be prosecuted by the legislature if he committed treason.

    The abolition of military courts.

    The president will be able to appoint four out of 13 judges to the highest judicial board in the country.

Isn’t Turkey in a state of emergency?

Yes, and the environment in which the referendum is taking place is extremely challenging, particularly for those who oppose the changes.

The state of emergency was introduced last summer after a failed coup attempt in which 248 people were killed and more than 1,400 injured. The coup is widely believed in Turkey to have been orchestrated by followers of Fethullah Gülen, a reclusive preacher based in the US with a global grassroots movement known as Cemaat or Hizmet. Gülen denies this.

A purge of the civil service, police, military, judiciary, academia and media organisations has led to the dismissal or arrest of tens of thousands of people accused of links to the Gülenists. Erdoğan’s opponents say the purges have gone far beyond the coup’s perpetrators, and have turned into a witch-hunt against any political opposition.

So far, 152 journalists are in jail in Turkey, according to opposition parties, and a wide-ranging crackdown on the opposition People’s Democratic party (HDP) has resulted in a dozen of their lawmakers being detained, including their two chiefs.

Turkey has also endured a slew of terror attacks by Islamic State, the latest of which was an assault on the Reina nightclub on New Year’s Eve that killed 39 people. Attacks by the Kurdistan Workers party (PKK), a designated terror group fighting an insurgency in the south-east, have continued after the collapse of peace talks in June 2015.

Why are some people going to vote ‘yes’?

The majority that approved the constitutional changes in parliament consisted of the AKP in alliance with the nationalists.

Supporters of the changes argue that they will lead to a “strong Turkey” where the executive will be able to wield power to promote economic development and combat terrorism, pointing to the chaos of coalition governments in the 1990s whose bickering drove Turkey into economic recession and catastrophic inflation.

They also believe a powerful executive, which they compare to the system in France, the US or Mexico, will be better able to handle the threat of terrorism at uncertain times, particularly after the coup attempt, the surge in violence in Kurdish-majority areas and the ongoing campaign against Isis and the Gülen network. They see comfort in the stability of ongoing AKP rule.

Supporters also say the change is necessary to move on from an antiquated constitution drafted under military rule, which they say produced a “two-headed executive” with conflicting powers and authorities that could paralyse decision-making in government. They also say there are sufficient checks and balances in the proposed system, such as the ability to impeach the president for a broader set of crimes and to call early presidential elections, to avoid an excessive amount of power being concentrated in one person’s hands.

Muhammet Emin Akbaşoğlu, an AKP MP and member of the constitutional committee, said: “There will be more stability, Turkey won’t lose time any more, the uncertainties and things that can cause instability will be gone, and the state apparatus will shed its weight, the poorly functioning parts.”

Political intricacies aside, Erdoğan can also rely on his personal appeal to supporters who see him as a down to earth leader who is able to stand up to the west. They also see him as a force to empower the poor and downtrodden, and many respect his religious piety and Islamic values.

Why are others going to vote no?

The two main opposition parties, the staunchly secularist Republican People’s party (CHP) and the HDP, which includes primarily Kurdish lawmakers as well as a coalition of leftist and minority groups, voted against the bill.

Opponents believe the presidential system will usher in a one-man regime led by Erdoğan, who they say has grown increasingly authoritarian over the years. They point to the government’s broad crackdown on dissent, as well as the president’s apparent sensitivity to personal slights and insults as evidence of his intolerance of criticism.

They say the changes will empower the president to continue his purge of the bureaucracy, police, military, judiciary and academia, as well as the systematic arrests and harassment of a large cadre of the HDP’s political and grassroots organisation.

Bülent Tezcan, a CHP MP and member of the constitutional committee, said the proposed package means “the democratic regime in Turkey will be replaced with one man rule”. “It gives all the powers, including executive and judicial, [to the president], and all three branches of government will all be connected to one person,” he added.

Opponents also argue that the referendum is taking place under hostile conditions, with opponents effectively silenced by the detention of leading politicians, academics and journalists, including the charismatic HDP chief, Selahattin Demirtaş, and journalists at the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper.

Opponents also dispute the claim that there will be enough checks and balances in the proposed system. They argue it would not do enough to contain the president’s power, removing from parliament the ability to oversee the executive branch, giving him the power to appoint too many judges, and allowing Erdoğan to remain an AKP member in a move that would consolidate his hold on all aspects of political life.

Who’s going to win?

It’s a tight race, and nobody knows what will happen. Polls have varied widely, a sign of a divided electorate. The result may hinge on the 10% of voters who say they are still undecided.


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« Reply #17 on: Apr 11, 2017, 05:57 AM »

François Fillon's rightwing supporters rally behind embattled candidate

Grassroots rightwing support has enabled Les Républicains candidate to weather corruption allegations and stay in France’s presidential election race

Angelique Chrisafis in Angers
AFP
Tuesday 11 April 2017 07.00 BST

By the crepe stand and flower-stalls on the edge of Angers market in western France, Benoît Triot, a manager at a furniture firm, stood handing out manifesto leaflets for the rightwing presidential candidate François Fillon. “Voters are coming back to him,” he argued. “People want the French right in power again and many are starting to doubt whether what they hear about alleged scandals is true.”

Triot felt optimistic – in three hours handing out leaflets bearing Fillon’s face only one person had shouted “Lock him up in prison!”

When Fillon and his British-born wife were last month formally placed under judicial investigation for embezzling state funds by setting up allegedly fake parliamentary assistant jobs, many – including some inside his party, Les Républicains – assumed Fillon’s campaign for the presidency was mortally wounded. Fillon had once been the presidential favourite, but he slipped behind the independent centrist Emmanuel Macron and the far-right Front National’s Marine Le Pen, and now even the hard-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon has begun to close in on him. Some party activists, in Paris for example, had even shied off leafleting in the street after the corruption allegations, complaining that canvassing for Fillon had become excruciating – with passers-by heckling and shouting “Crook!”.

    If Fillon wins or loses, after the presidential election there will be a real in-depth debate on the right on France
    Christophe Billan, Sens Commun

But the core of Fillon’s rightwing support base has held firm and his poll ratings have begun to inch up again, giving his supporters hope that he could still have an outside chance in this highly unpredictable French presidential race.

Fillon’s team are staking everything on his policy programme of austerity for an indebted France – emphasising his manifesto rather than his personality after his reputation took a blow. “I’m not asking you to love me,” Fillon implored at a Paris rally this weekend. “I’m asking you to support me because it is in France’s interest.”

In western France, where Fillon’s social conservatism and Catholic family values have ensured him a devoted base, canvassers have been out on the ground in force trying to harness the vote. Many rightwing voters here believed Fillon when he claimed that the corruption investigation was a plot by the left to keep the right out of power. “If you want a dog killed, you claim it has rabies,” said Éliane, a retired social worker, bitterly.

Others are grudingly returning to the fold. “After he was charged with misusing state funds, I wanted him to quit the campaign,” said Hélène, a 70-year-old retired shop worker and a lifelong rightwing voter. “But he’s still here and he’s the only one who can reform France. This country has to tighten its belt and he has a plan for that. So I’ll vote for him. But I do think it will be hard for him to govern if, once he’s in power, people take to the streets against him accusing him of money-grubbing.”

Triot and half the team of Fillon canvassers at Angers market were members of Sens Commun (Common Sense), a new socially conservative movement for family values inside Fillon’s party, Les Républicains, which was born out of the massive street protests against François Hollande’s legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2013.

Sens Commun prides itself on its ability to mobilise. The 2013 street demonstrations were historic: more than 100,000 people took part – the largest gatherings of conservative and rightwing protesters in France for 30 years. The demonstrators, many of whom marched with their children, were protesting against the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples, and above all adoption and parenting rights for same-sex married couples. Fillon has promised to reverse some of those adoption rights if he wins power.

Sens Commun has been at the forefront of mobilising to keep Fillon afloat – it helped bring together big crowds at an outdoor Paris rally last month that allowed him to stay in the race. But the more Sens Commun takes part in Fillon’s campaign, the more it has become the focus of controversy and rows. The centre-right candidate Alain Juppé, who lost to Fillon in the primary vote to become presidential candidate, took aim at Sens Commun when he recently warned: “The core of activists and sympathisers of Les Républicains have radicalised.” This month, the independent centrist Macron scathingly told a rally in Marseille that Fillon’s clan had “turned their back on the Republic to embrace Sens Commun. Shame on them!” The movement slammed Macron’s “crude bid to paint us as bogeymen”.

Sens Commun has since broadened its focus from family issues like same-sex parents and euthanasia to issues such as reforming the European Union and overhauling the French economy. “It’s as if a spark has been lit with people,” said Triot of his local meetings. “People really identify with what we’re saying.”

Where the US conservative movement the Tea Party remained outside America’s Republican party, Sens Commun believes it can better influence the public debate as a movement inside Les Républicains. It is small but growing fast, with over 10,000 members of an average age between 30 and 35, and is preparing to run a handful of its own candidates in parliamentary elections in June.

Christophe Billan, a former major in the French foreign legion who is president of Sens Commun and a member of Fillon’s campaign team, recently wrote in Le Figaro: “No, Sens Commun is not a tiny nativist and religious group that threatens the founding principles of the Republic”.

He told the Guardian that Sens Commun was born from a fear that the French left was trying to “change civilisation” and the founding stones of family and society without a proper debate. Sens Commun has a long-term strategy to play a key role in the rebuilding of the divided and warring French right. More moderate centrists have recently taken a back seat while the right wing of the party steps forward. The fractured party will inevitably have to face its divisions once the presidential election is over.

“Whatever happens, if François Fillon wins or loses, after the presidential election there will be a real in-depth debate on the right on France,” Billan said. “The right will completely reconfigure itself, I’m convinced of that. And Sens Commun will have something to say on that.”

Roch Brancour, a deputy mayor of Angers, and one of the local Les Républicains politicians who have joined Sens Commun, said: “A lot of voters on the right want more focus on what defines French identity, western identity and the family – everything that goes against the unbridled individualism that is so present nowadays. The right is transforming itself. Sens Commun is just symbolic of trends that were already clear among voters and are growing on the right.”

Whether Fillon still has a chance at a surprise breakthrough days before the first-round presidential vote on 23 April remains to be seen.

At Angers market, one 85-year-old canvasser, who was not a member of Sens Commun, had taken part in every rightwing presidential campaign for 30 years. He was optimistic but conceded of Fillon’s campaign: “This is the hardest candidate I’ve ever had.”


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« Reply #18 on: Apr 11, 2017, 05:59 AM »

North Korea 'ready for war' after US redeploys navy strike team

Pyongyang cites ‘reckless moves’ by US and says it will defend the country from invasion ‘by powerful force of arms’, according to reports

Justin McCurry in Tokyo and Tom Phillips in Beijing
AFP
Tuesday 11 April 2017 07.57 BST

North Korea has warned of “catastrophic consequences” in response to any further provocations by the US, days after a US navy battle group was sent to waters off the Korean peninsula.

The decision to divert the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and other battleships from a planned visit to Australia to the western Pacific came after tensions increased over ongoing military drills involving American and South Korean forces that Pyongyang regards as a dress rehearsal for an invasion.

“We will hold the US wholly accountable for the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by its outrageous actions,” North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying. “(North Korea) is ready to react to any mode of war desired by the US.”

The spokesman cited Washington’s refusal to rule out a pre-emptive strike against North Korean missile sites as justification for its nuclear programme.

“The prevailing grave situation proves once again that (North Korea) was entirely just when it increased in every way its military capabilities for self-defence and pre-emptive attack with a nuclear force as a pivot,” the spokesman said, according to KCNA.

“We will take the toughest counteraction against the provocateurs in order to defend ourselves by powerful force of arms.”

Last week’s US strike against a Syrian base is also being seen as a warning to North Korea, after Donald Trump said Washington was prepared to act alone if China failed to exert more pressure on its neighbour to halt its missile and nuclear weapons programmes.

North Korea again defied UN resolutions banning it from developing ballistic missile technology with another test-launch on the eve of Trump’s summit with the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, in Florida last week.

White House officials have signalled that all options – including pre-emptive strikes – remain on the table in addressing North Korea’s steady advance towards developing long-range missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead as far as the US mainland.

The nuclear-powered Carl Vinson’s presence in the area coincides with speculation that North Korea could be preparing to conduct its sixth nuclear test to coincide with key dates in the country’s history, including the 105th anniversary of the birth of its founder, Kim Il-sung, on Saturday.

China’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, has played down reports that Beijing has deployed 150,000 troops to its border with North Korea.

Hua Chunying, a foreign ministry spokesperson, told reporters she was “not aware” of such a mobilisation by the People’s Liberation Army along the 880-mile border. In the past, similar reports had been proven “groundless and false,” Hua claimed.

However, with regional tensions building ahead of Saturday’s Kim Il-sung commemorations, Hua said China was “closely following” developments on the Korean peninsula.

“We believe that, given the current situation, all relevant parties should exercise restraint and avoid activities that may escalate the tension.”


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« Reply #19 on: Apr 11, 2017, 06:17 AM »

USA

Rachel Maddow Refuses To Be Distracted By Shitstain Trump’s Syria Stunt, Keeps Connecting Russian Dots

By Sean Colarossi on Mon, Apr 10th, 2017 at 10:01 pm
PoliticusUSA

While the rest of cable news fawns over Trump's ineffective and unauthorized strike in Syria, Maddow didn't flinch.

Despite cable news talking heads largely fawning over Donald Trump’s ineffective and politically motivated airstrike in Syria, Rachel Maddow refused to back down from her dogged commitment to shedding light on the ongoing Trump-Russia scandal.

On Monday, she dug back in and connected more dots, this time setting her sights on two new developments in the story:

1. The CIA knew about pro-Trump Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

2. The recent arrest of an infamous Russian hacker who, according to reporting, developed a virus that helped Trump beat Hillary Clinton.

More from Maddow:

Maddow said:

    This new reporting indicates that the CIA last summer somehow came into possession of information that it found sufficiently alarming that the director did one-on-one briefings with the leadership in Congress, not to tell them about Russia interfering with the election, but to tell them about Russia interfering with the election and the distinct possibility that the Trump campaign was helping Russia do that.  So the Trump campaign side of that is something that the FBI would have to handle, not the CIA. And because of that, because that’s FBI territory, at that point the investigation becomes a black box to us in terms of what we know about it, or at least in terms of what the FBI will say about it. But whether or not they are talking about these things, we can see what they’re doing. And one of the things they have just done is request the arrest of this Russian intelligence-linked, criminal mega hacker who’s now sitting in a jail cell in Barcelona presumably about to be extradited to the United States. And the FBI won’t say beep about it … As this administration continues to enjoy its first real bout of shallow, good press about their bombing 2,000 percent of all the planes in Syria, the one potentially existential scandal of this administration really is still moving. Tonight it’s moving in Barcelona. Tomorrow, who knows?

Once again, we don’t really know exactly what is happening behind the scenes in the ongoing probe into Trump’s ties to Russia, but it’s clear that the scandal isn’t going away for this White House and the wheels on this investigation are still rapidly moving.

As Maddow noted on Monday, the intelligence community continues to show that it’s hard at work in what many in the media seem to forget is a bleeping investigation into whether the current President of the United States worked with a foreign power to get elected.

Once the media stops drooling over Trump’s decision to fire some missiles at an empty airfield in Syria, perhaps they’ll remember, as Maddow has, that this is still an important story that needs to be told.

Click to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfaPhgTI1SA

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

Wife of arrested Russian hacker: ‘The virus my husband allegedly created was related to Shitstain Trump’s victory’

David Edwards
PoliticusUSA

10 Apr 2017 at 12:01 ET                   

The wife of an alleged Russian hacker has revealed that her husband’s recent arrest is linked to President Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 election.

Reuters reported on Sunday that Pyotr Levashov was arrested in Spain under a U.S. international warrant on Friday. The Justice Department declined to provide details because the case is under seal.

Levashov’s wife, Maria Levashova, told RT that the arrest is related to Russia’s interference in the U.S. election.

“I asked for a warrant or some papers, they said they showed them to my husband,” she recalled, according to a translation. “With my husband, I talked in the commissariat by phone, he said that he was shown some piece of paper in Spanish without a seal and his photo in poor quality. Something was said about the fact that the virus my husband allegedly created was related to Trump’s victory in the elections.”

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

Blackwater founder Erik Prince admits ‘incidental’ Seychelles meeting with Russian during Shitstain Trump transition

PoliticusUSA
10 Apr 2017 at 11:07 ET                   

Erik Prince, the founder of the mercenary company Blackwater, admitted that he met with an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin during then-President-elect Donald Trump’s transition.

The Washington Post reported last week that Prince held a secret meeting with a Putin confidant in the Seychelles islands “as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump.”

“U.S. officials said the FBI has been scrutinizing the Seychelles meeting as part of a broader probe of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and alleged contacts between associates of Putin and Trump,” the Post noted.

In an interview with the Financial Times that was published on Monday, Prince acknowledge that the meeting had occurred but insisted that it was “incidental.”

    Prince admitted an “incidental” meeting but denied anything of consequence was discussed, blaming “permanent seditious bureaucrats” in the US intelligence community for leaking the information.

Prince also said that the business his current company, Frontier Services Group, was doing with China did not include mercenary services.

But Peter Singer of the New America Foundation told the Financial Times that “Machiavelli would be amused, but not surprised” at Prince’s collaboration with the Chinese government.

“It is fascinating to see someone, who was so quick to wrap himself in the flag whenever there was a controversy in the past, now go to work for a US adversary.” Singer said.

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

Shitstain Trump’s PR Stunt In Syria Backfires Bigly As Americans Now Less Confident In The White House

By Sean Colarossi on Mon, Apr 10th, 2017 at 8:27 pm
PoliticusUSA

Not only was the commander-in-chief's publicity stunt in Syria a political failure, but most Americans believe it was a strategic flop, too.

If Donald Trump thought his publicity stunt in Syria would make Americans feel better about his leadership skills and end Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people, he was sorely mistaken.

According to a new poll from ABC News/Washington Post, a larger number of Americans are less confident in the president than they are more confident because of his ineffective, politically motivated strike on Syria, and the vast majority of people think it won’t do much to help the situation in the region.

The numbers:

Just 25 percent of the country believes the president’s military intervention in Syria will help end Assad’s use of chemical weapons, and more Americans say the strike makes them less likely to have confidence in Trump’s leadership or that it makes no difference at all.

Not to mention the fact that nearly 60 percent of the poll’s respondents said the bombing will worsen the U.S. relationship with Russia, despite Trump’s calculated efforts to never do or say anything to bug Moscow.

In short, not only was the commander-in-chief’s publicity stunt in Syria a political failure, but most Americans believe it was a strategic flop, too.

Trump hoped the imagery of another war in the Middle East would help distract from his scandals and rally the country around him, but it appears to have had, at best, no impact, and, at worst, a negative impact on the way Americans view him and the deteriorating situation in Syria.

The president can try, but so far it appears that he cannot bomb his way out of his political troubles.

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Shitstain Trump Sued Over Veil Of Secrecy Surrounding White House And Mar-a-Lago Visitor Logs

By Jason Easley on Mon, Apr 10th, 2017 at 10:12 am
PoliticusUSA

President Trump is being sued by transparency advocates who are demanding that the visitor logs to both the White House, his private Florida club Mar-a-Lago, and Trump Tower, be made public so that the American people can know who their government is meeting with.

The complaint states:

This is an action under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. §552, and the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201–2202, for injunctive, declaratory, and other appropriate relief.Plaintiffs challenge the failure of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) to disclose to them records of visits to the White House and to President Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago and Trump Tower residences that the Secret Service, a component of DHS, maintains.

This case seeks declaratory relief that DHS is in violation of the FOIA, 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(3)(a), by refusing to search for and provide plaintiffs with all responsive documents on an expedited basis, and injunctive relief ordering DHS to process and release to plaintiffs immediately the requested records.

It is not a shock that the least transparent presidential candidate in modern U.S. history has turned out to be the least transparent president in modern U.S history. The White House doesn’t belong to Donald Trump. President Obama established a precedent that should stand for all future presidents. The American people deserve to know who is visiting their White House.

A president who felt like he had nothing to hide might be more open to releasing the logs, but when it comes to the Trump administration, a look at the visitor logs would be helpful in separating fact from fiction.

Who is visiting this White House? Who is helping to shape policy behind closed doors? As it relates to the Russia scandal, there is most likely some insight that can be gained from access to the White House and Trump properties visitor logs.

The idea that the American people should know who their government is meeting with isn’t radical. It’s democracy.

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Shitstain Trump’s Vacations Will Cost Americans More in 1 Year Than Obama’s Did in 8 Years

By Hrafnkell Haraldsson on Tue, Apr 11th, 2017 at 8:00 am
PoliticusUSA

In 8 years, Obama spent $97 million for travel. According to CNN, Trump "will surpass Obama's spending in his first term, likely within months."

Remember when Donald Trump joked at President Obama’s expense, that he “played more golf last year than Tiger Woods?” Or when he called Obama “The habitual vacationer”?

Like this one, just last year:

    While our wonderful president was out playing golf all day, the TSA is falling apart, just like our government! Airports a total disaster!

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 21, 2016

It turns out Donald Trump plays more golf than President Obama. A lot more. And Trump’s hypocrisy it’s costing American taxpayers a fortune.

“Trump is on pace to surpass 8 years of Obama’s travel spending in 1 year,” according to CNN. Here is the math:

    Given variations in each trip, estimating the security costs around a presidential trip is difficult. But a 2016 Government Accountability Office report about a four-day trip Obama took to Florida in 2013 — one similar to Trump’s trips — found the total cost to the Secret Service and Coast Guard was $3.6 million.
     
    To date, Trump has spent six weekends — and a total of 21 days — at Mar-A-Lago, his private Palm Beach club. The total estimated costs for those trips are around $21.6 million.

In eight years, Obama spent $97 million for travel. According to CNN, “Trump’s frequent weekend travel makes it all but certain the 45th President will surpass Obama’s spending in his first term, likely within months.”

And the only thing that will save us from those $3 million-plus each Mar-a-Lago trips is hot weather. Trump doesn’t want to be in Florida when it’s hot and muggy by the end of May.

Not that the travel will cease. It is suspected he will impose on New York City taxpayers at that point, spending more time at Trump Tower creating traffic problems.

Or golfing at his Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster Township, New Jersey. Rest assured, Donald Trump has no plans to stop spending Americans’ tax dollars and putting his own luxury lifestyle on hold.

Which brings to mind this particularly hypocritical tweet from 2014:

    We pay for Obama's travel so he can fundraise millions so Democrats can run on lies. Then we pay for his golf.

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 14, 2014

There are, by one count, a whopping 38 Donald Trump tweets pertaining to President Obama’s golf game. If you print them all out, that’s a bigly pile of hypocrisy.

The Trump Golf Count now has him at 17 visits and 9 golf outings totaling more than 69 hours. At this rate, it won’t be long before Trump has golfed more than 38 times at our expense.

Donald Trump has told a lot of lies but among the biggest was his claim that “I’m going to be working for you, I’m not going to have time to go play golf.”

In his final campaign appearance on November 7, Trump stuck it to Obama again, claiming,

“I mean he’s played more golf than most people on the PGA Tour, this guy. What is it, over 300 rounds? Hey, look, it’s good. Golf is fine. But always play with leaders of countries and people that can help us! Don’t play with your friends all the time.”

It’s okay to golf with Russian spies though, you can be sure.

The truth is, the promise that he would be too busy working for us to golf was possibly the first thing to land in the Oval Office waste basket.

Upon his taking office, he went right to playing golf instead of working for you, visited his golf courses 6 times in his first month in office, and the pace hasn’t slackened yet.

If there is to be a travel ban, perhaps it should be imposed on Donald Trump’s very expensive vacation habits.

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

Epic Burn: Rick Wilson Calls Shitstain Trump A ‘Man-Baby President’ Who Needs ‘Adult Supervision’

By Sean Colarossi on Mon, Apr 10th, 2017 at 9:09 pm
PoliticusUSA

"Reince Priebus is a nice man, a good administrator in some ways, but he is not adult supervision for this man-baby president."

GOP strategist and outspoken Donald Trump critic Rick Wilson was once again on his best Trump trolling game on Monday when he appeared on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes.

In a discussion about the administration’s mixed messaging on its Syria policy and the overall mismanagement of the White House, Wilson slammed Trump as a “man-baby” in need of somebody who can provide “adult supervision.”

In his epic takedown of Trump and the culture of mismanagement in the White House, Wilson said this:

    Every president benefits from having a strong, effective chief of staff. Reince Priebus is a nice man, a good administrator in some ways, but he is not adult supervision for this man-baby president. He is not able to say to Trump, “Stop tweeting, shut up, read your speeches, go to these events, do these things, make these calls, stop having 47 people rush in and out of your office and change your mind on things every 30 seconds.” There’s a lot of talk about whether Reince Priebus will leave or stay. The question is would you even notice at this point? This is a president who manages himself. He is not managed by a chief of staff and every president needs one. It’s an iron law of Washington.

Not only was Wilson’s latest Trump burn hilarious, but it’s also a spot-on description of the dysfunction that has consumed the new White House over the past several months.

West Wing staff shakeups in this administration mean nothing if the unhinged man at the top remains in his position.

As the headline from a piece in The Daily Beast noted today: “The Trouble With Trump’s White House Is Donald Trump.”

While Trump is surrounded by some questionable figures, like Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus, the main cause of the lack of competence and clear policy focus comes straight from the man – or, as Wilson said, man-baby – in the Oval Office.

When voters elect an unfit man without a trace of policy knowledge, they should expect a bumbling White House without any clear agenda.


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« Reply #20 on: Apr 11, 2017, 06:21 AM »

Why Pig Putin’s power has always been linked to terrorism

Newsweek
11 Apr 2017 at 08:03 ET   

Power, for Vladimir Putin, has always been closely linked to terrorism. Back in 1999, as an unknown and untried prime minister, he first showed Russians his steely character after a series of unexplained bombings demolished four apartment buildings and killed more than 300 people. Putin, in his trademark brand of clipped tough-talk, announced that the those responsible would be “rubbed out, even if they’re in the outhouse,” and launched a renewed war against the breakaway republic of Chechnya. The resulting wave of approval, stoked by fear of terrorism, carried Putin to the presidency months later.

Eighteen years on and Putin has fulfilled his promise by rubbing out many thousands of extremists—with his army in Chechnya and all over the North Caucasus, via Federal Security Service assassins in Turkey and Yemen, and most recently from the air and by the hand of special forces in Syria. What’s more, he has expanded the definition of extremists to include not just Islamist militants but also Ukrainian filmmakers and gay activists who share digitally altered images of Putin in garish makeup on social media. Nonetheless, as the deadly bombing in St. Petersburg’s metro on April 2 showed, neither violence nor repression has put an end to terrorist attacks in Russia.

Post-Attack Playbook

Even as the 14 dead and at least 60 wounded were being stretchered out of the smoke-filled Technology Institute metro station and bomb disposal experts carefully defused an unexploded second device, the usual conspiracy theories began to circulate. Murderous jihadis, of course, were most people’s default assumption. The St. Petersburg news site Fontanka showed closed-circuit TV images of a bearded Muslim in a skull cap leaving the station, naming him as a prime suspect. He “looks like he stepped right out of a poster for…ISIS,” fulminated columnist Denis Korotkov. Ilyas Nikitin was indeed a Muslim from Bashkortostan—but also a law-abiding reserve army captain and Chechnya veteran on the Russian side. Hard-line patriots were quick to blame Ukrainians or supporters of Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption campaigner who brought some 60,000 protesters onto the streets of scores of Russian cities the previous weekend to protest against government sleaze. Meanwhile, in Ukraine, social media was buzzing with unsubstantiated theories that the bombing was a false-flag attack organized by the Russian state as a pretext for a renewed assault on Ukraine.

The Kremlin’s reaction was also one Russians have seen many times before. Putin appeared on television looking grim and promising a full investigation, as well as swift retribution for the guilty. Members of the Russian Duma railed against enemies inside and outside Russia. Large numbers of police with metal detectors and dogs appeared at stations, shopping malls and movie theaters across the country in a massive show of force to reassure the public. (There was a difference, though, from the response to the recent attacks in Europe—a glaring absence of international solidarity. No Russian flag was projected onto Berlin’s Reichstag, as Britain’s had been after an attack on Parliament in March. Tel Aviv was the only Western city to illuminate a public building in the Russian tricolor.)

Another part of the Kremlin’s post-attack playbook that was depressingly familiar was using the bombing as an excuse for a new round of crackdowns on dissent. Over the 18 years of Putin’s rule, every major terrorist outrage has been followed by a crackdown. In 2004, he scrapped direct elections of governors after Chechen militants massacred schoolchildren in Beslan; in 2010, after suicide attacks on the Moscow metro, he enacted legislation to control the internet; in 2013, when Moscow’s Domodedovo airport was bombed, he expanded the definition of extremism to include dissidents of every stripe, from environmentalists to historians.

A day after the latest attack, Yury Shvytkin, deputy chair of the Duma's Defense Committee, proposed a moratorium on public protests. Such a move is necessary for public safety, he said, because terrorists time their attacks to “significant events and significant dates…. We should refrain from holding any planned rallies, especially now.” At the same time, authorities announced a series of “anti-terror rallies” across Russia. (Shvytkin didn’t explain how these would be less of a target for terrorists than opposition marches.) A government source told the Kommersant newspaper that the organizers of the Kremlin-backed anti-terrorist marches would be giving “special attention” to cities that had a large turnout for Navalny’s anti-corruption protests on March 26, the largest anti-government rallies Russia has seen since 2011-2012. Another lawmaker, Vitaly Milonov, is introducing legislation that would criminalize online calls for unsanctioned demonstrations and require all social media users to register their passport data with the police.

“No measures can be called excessive if they protect the lives of Russian citizens,” a senior member of Russia’s National Guard, a 250,000-strong force created by Putin last year for internal security, tells Newsweek . (The source, a former member of the State Duma, was not authorized to speak on the record.) “We are facing the same threat from terror as the rest of the civilized world, yet when we take steps to fight it, we are criticized…. This is pure hypocrisy,” the source says. In March, the National Guard created a dedicated cyber division to monitor social network sites and comb the internet for “extremist content” posted online. And last July, Moscow police chief Anatoly Yakunin told journalists that an 86 percent rise in “online extremism” in the capital had been recorded—and that combating extremism would be the Moscow police’s “highest priority.”

It’s not clear how added vigilance of social networks could have stopped Akbarzhon Dzhalilov, the 22-year-old suicide bomber who attacked the St. Petersburg metro. Russian authorities had not identified him as a security risk, and his page on VKontakte, the Russian version of Facebook, shows no obvious links to radical Islamism. The only violence depicted on his pages were videos about combat sports, such as street fighting and boxing, the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets reported.

A native of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan, Dzhalilov was one of the millions of gastarbeiters (guest workers) who have flooded into Russia from the former Soviet empire in search of work. By 2011, he was granted Russian citizenship and moved to St. Petersburg, where he worked in a sushi bar and as a car mechanic alongside his father, also a naturalized Russian. According to the National Guard source, Dzhalilov dropped off the grid in 2015 and apparently became radicalized, though investigators have not established where. One important clue lies in the bomb he detonated. Packed into an empty fire extinguisher, the device may have used homemade explosives based on ammonium nitrate, an ingredient used in industrial fertilizer. The bomb’s core had nails and coins taped around it. Authorities discovered and defused another bomb hidden in a black men’s bag under a bench in St. Petersburg’s Ploshchad Vosstaniya metro station a few hours after the first. The devices “bear some similarities to devices used in Dagestan over the last five or six years,” says the source.

Connections to ISIS

Islamist rebels continue to fight Russian authorities in both Chechnya and neighboring Dagestan, despite the best efforts of Chechnya’s strongman president, Ramzan Kadyrov. He has won Putin’s support and lavish funding, and Kadyrov has been given a free hand to impose his brand of pro-Kremlin Sharia law by ruthlessly crushing insurgents, using methods that include, according to Human Rights Watch, torture and collective punishment of a suspect’s relatives. Nevertheless, as recently as March 24, six soldiers from the Russian National Guard were killed and three were injured during an overnight raid by authorities on the village of Stanitsa Naurskaya, on the northern edge of Chechnya.

The deeper problem for Russia is that the Islamists of the Caucasus are deeply entwined with the world’s most dangerous dynamo of terrorism, ISIS. Estimates of the numbers of Russian citizens fighting alongside ISIS in Syria and Iraq vary from 2,500 to 7,000, but it’s clear Russians are its largest non-Arab group of foreign fighters. Many were even helped by the Russian Federal Security Service to leave Russia and travel to Syria. A special report by Reuters in May 2016 revealed that authorities encouraged dozens of suspected Islamist militants to depart before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. “I was in hiding. I was part of an illegal armed group. I was armed,” Saadu Sharapudinov, one of six rebels identified in the investigation, told Reuters. He had been hiding in forests in the North Caucasus, he said, when FSB officers offered him immunity from prosecution, a new passport under a new name and a one-way plane ticket to Istanbul. Shortly after arriving in Turkey, Sharapudinov crossed into Syria and joined an Islamist group that would later pledge allegiance to the ISIS.

Exporting troublemakers worked in the short term. There were no attacks on the Sochi Olympics, despite it being just a few hours’ drive from Chechnya. And violence fell all over the troubled North Caucasus in the past few years. “The departure of Dagestani radicals in large numbers made the situation in the republic healthier,” Magomed Abdurashidov, of Dagestan’s anti-terrorist Commission of Makhachkala, told Reuters.

But the problem remained of what to do with these jihadis if and when they come home, now trained and battle-hardened by ISIS. Russian security officials frequently cite fighting terrorism as one of the main reasons for Putin’s decision to start bombing the forces in Syria fighting against President Bashar al-Assad in September 2015. “There are thousands of our citizens fighting there,” Nikolai Kovalev, head of the FSB from 1996 to 1998 and now a member of the Duma Security committee, told Newsweek in January. “It’s a matter of national security to make sure that they don’t bring that ideology back to Russia.” Leonid Kalashnikov, chairman of the Duma Committee on the Former Soviet Union, agreed: “We remember how many radicals came to fight in Chechnya from the Middle East. The region is right next to Central Asia. That is our underbelly. We have to be in [Syria] in order to prevent the contagion of terrorism from spreading.”

Putin’s bombing campaign did kill ISIS militants. How many isn’t clear. Ashton Carter, then the U.S. secretary of defense, told NBC in January that Russia had done “virtually zero” against ISIS in Syria. Days after Russian bombers began their campaign in Syria, Wilayat Sinai, a new ISIS affiliate in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula that had been affiliated with Al-Qaeda, decided to attack a Russian target. Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, emir of ISIS in Syria and the group’s official spokesman, released an audio message on October 13 urging Islamic youth everywhere to “ignite jihad against the Russians and the Americans in their crusaders’ war against Muslims.” Wilayat Sinai was ready to answer the call. The group had infiltrated a recruit into Sharm el-Sheikh airport’s team of baggage handlers. In the early morning of October 31, 2015, the airport insider smuggled a soda can packed with explosives into the hold of a Russian charter plane bound for St. Petersburg, just below seats 31A and 30A, window seats occupied by 15-year-old Maria Ivleva and 77-year-old Natalia Bashakova. Twenty-two minutes after the Metrojet Airbus pushed back from its stand, the bomb detonated, killing all 224 on board. The Metrojet bombing remains ISIS’s deadliest attack to date.

Other groups inside Russia also heeded Adnani’s call. In June 2015, Amir Khamzat, one of the most wanted Islamist rebels in the North Caucasus, defected from a group previously linked to Al-Qaeda and pledged loyalty to ISIS. Today, two main Islamist groups vie for control of Russia’s homegrown rebels: the Caucasus Emirate, which is affiliated with the Nusra Front, and the Caucasus Governorate, an ISIS affiliate under the control of Dagestani Rustam Asilderov, also known as Abu Muhammad al-Kadarskii. They are united by a shared hatred of two things, Shiites and Putin’s Russia.

Whether ISIS, via its affiliates in the Caucasus or elsewhere, was behind the St. Petersburg attack remains to be proved. According to Kommersant, the FSB had arrested and questioned a Russian man with ties to ISIS, after he returned home from fighting in Syria, and he warned of an impending attack. The man was “low in the organization’s hierarchy and did not have a complete picture of the situation,” according to Kommersant ’s “trusted security source,” so the FSB was unable to take more concrete action.

Propaganda Demonizes Dissidents

The key question is whether this is a one-off attack or the start of a major campaign against Russian targets. And would a sustained terrorist campaign undermine Putin’s regime or strengthen it?

Putin has proved his ability to withstand terrorism. After the Metrojet bombing—a massive attack that would have sparked a major political crisis for any Western leader—he used his well-honed propaganda machine to whip up more public support for his Syria campaign, in the guise of protecting Russians. Putin has maneuvered himself into a position where any threat to Russia—whether it’s sanctions following his annexation of Crimea or the St. Petersburg bombing—becomes just another argument for why Russia needs a strong leader. What’s more, it makes his critics, such as the thousands of young people who turned up to protest corruption in March, not just dissidents but dangerous traitors, criticizing the president when their country is under threat. State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin called on lawmakers to defend Russians against Navalny and his vocal anti-corruption campaigns, referring to him as “the voice of the Western security services.”

At the same time, Russia’s diplomats have used the attacks to move the international conversation away from Ukraine and Moscow's alleged meddling in Western elections to the shared problem of terrorism. The St. Petersburg bombing illustrated “the importance of stepping up joint efforts to combat this evil,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists.

Putin’s reputation was built on being tough on terrorism. Over the years, says Brian Whitmore, author of Radio Free Europe’s influential blog The Power Vertical, “power has been consolidated, dissent has been suppressed—and terrorism has continued.” And throughout it all, Russians keep looking to the Kremlin for protection.


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« Reply #21 on: Apr 12, 2017, 04:33 AM »

Researchers give voice to historic sounds of Stonehenge

Reuters
11 Apr 2017 at 12:33 ET                   

If you listen carefully – and with the right app – you can still hear the prehistoric acoustics that swirled around Britain’s ancient monument Stonehenge over the last 5,000 years.

A team of researchers spent eight years creating an app that allows you to hear the different noises the stones generated at various points over thousands of years, long before the traffic noise in the southwest English county of Wiltshire took over.

While most modern archaeologists generally agree Stonehenge was some sort of prehistoric temple aligned to the movements of the sun, the researchers from the University of Huddersfield said the stones also had surprisingly sonorous properties.

“You have a sense of reverberation, a bit like a gigantic bathroom,” lead researcher doctor Rupert Till told Reuters amidst the ancient ruins.

“People say ‘well, you hear that anywhere’. But not two-thousand, three-thousand years ago; there weren’t any large stone buildings. So this would have been one of the few human-made places where you’d have heard these kind of acoustic effects.”

The app, released this week, allows listeners to wander amongst the standing stones while listening to an interactive soundscape – including the sound of birds and the wind moving through the stones.


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« Reply #22 on: Apr 12, 2017, 04:41 AM »

How long will life survive on planet Earth?

Life on Earth will surely be wiped out eventually. But how long does it have, and what will it take to sterilise the entire planet?   

By Colin Barras
BBC
4/12/2017

All things must pass. That includes life on Earth, which will surely be wiped out eventually. But how long does it have?

The fossil record tells us that life on Earth has lasted at least 3.5 billion years. In that time it has survived being frozen, clobbered by rocks from space, mass poisoning, and even lethal radiation. Clearly, it's hard to completely sterilise the planet.

But there's no shortage of potential apocalypses. Which of them will finally render the Earth barren?

Volcanic apocalypse

Timeframe: 0-100 million years? Maybe?

Probably the nearest life has come to ultimate destruction was 250 million years ago, during the end-Permian mass extinction. The event obliterated perhaps 85% of all species living on land - and 95% of all ocean-dwelling species.

    Lava smothered an area eight times the size of the UK

No one is quite sure what happened, but it seems to be no coincidence that the extinction coincided with volcanic activity on a truly apocalyptic scale. Today we worry about the destructive power of supervolcanoes like Yellowstone. But the damage they might bring is nothing compared to what happened 250 million years ago.

Back then, Siberia experienced such a large and sustained period of activity that lava smothered an area eight times the size of the UK. Volcanic activity on that scale is rare, but not unheard of.

No one knows when the next such episode will happen, says Henrik Svensen at the University of Oslo in Norway. Similar-sized eruptions happened 200, 180 and 65 million years ago, so they're not terribly regular. But one will surely happen eventually, and when it does the key question will be where it goes off.

Svensen's research suggests that a mega-eruption's ability to wipe out species will depend on exactly where it punches through Earth's crust. That's because the volcanic activity 250 million years ago might not have been directly responsible for the massive extinction. The killer ingredient might have been salt.

    It's unlikely that life itself would disappear

Siberia is rich in salt deposits. When they were baked by the volcanic activity, Svensen thinks they released vast quantities of ozone-destroying chemicals into the atmosphere. Species all over the world then had to cope with harmful radiation from space that atmospheric ozone normally soaks up. The stress might well have killed most of them.

The bad news is that there are plenty of massive salt deposits on Earth today. "East Siberia is still among the largest reservoirs," says Svensen. "Offshore Brazil is also big."

If a mega-eruption formed in one of these areas, many species would die. But it's unlikely that life itself would disappear. After all, while plants and animals fared poorly during the end-Permian extinction, single-celled organisms like bacteria sailed through virtually unharmed.

Asteroid threat

Timeframe: within 450 million years, maybe?

It's common knowledge these days that asteroids and dinosaurs don't get along. If a massive asteroid could contribute to the extinction of all of the world's large dinosaurs, could one also wipe out all life on Earth?

Again, that might depend on exactly where the rock lands. We know that the Earth has been hit by some very large asteroids that have barely registered as life destroyers.

    Impacts on the scale of the dinosaur killer are rare

The Manicouagan crater in Canada - one of the largest impact craters on the planet - was created in a destructive impact about 215 million years ago. But the fossil record shows it didn't trigger a dinosaur-scale extinction. That might be because the crater formed in relatively inert crystalline rock. Craters that form in volatile-rich sedimentary rocks, in contrast, might send clouds of climate-changing gases into the atmosphere, triggering global mass extinctions.

The good news is that impacts on the scale of the dinosaur killer are rare. Such big rocks may only strike Earth once every 500 million years.

But even if one does come along, mass extinction is unlikely to become mass sterilisation. That would probably only be possible if Earth was hit by something even bigger than an asteroid: a rogue planet.

There might be a precedent for that. Some scientists think Earth was clobbered by a rogue planet soon after it formed, and that the resulting cloud of debris formed the Moon. "We can call this the Melancholia hypothesis, after Lars Von Trier's movie," says Svensen. Still, this possibility seems pretty remote.

When the core freezes over

Timeframe: 3 to 4 billion years

While we're on the subject of movies, consider 2003's The Core. The story is that Earth's core has mysteriously stopped rotating, so the US government backs a plan to drill to the centre of the Earth and restart it – because without an active core, Earth loses its magnetic field and all life is threatened.

    Mars once had, and then lost, a magnetic field

The Core is mostly nonsense and has been rightly derided by scientists. But not all of the science it features is junk. Some researchers really do think that Earth's magnetic field deflects ionising particles from the sun, which would otherwise wear away Earth's atmosphere. If they are right, then without a magnetic field our planet will lose its atmosphere too, and all life will die.

Something like this may have happened on Mars, which may once have been more hospitable to life than it is now.

In 1997, Joseph Kirschvink at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and his colleagues found good evidence that Mars once had, and then lost, a magnetic field. "The Martian magnetosphere collapsed sometime after 3.7 billion years ago, which is about the time that the planet went into a permanent snowball state," says Kirschvink.

You may have heard that Earth's magnetic field is weakening. But don't worry: that's because the magnetic field is in the process of flipping direction, not dying. These flips have happened periodically for millions of years.

    Could Earth's magnetic field eventually disappear?

"If the field reverses, this doesn't mean that it dies out completely," says Richard Holme at the University of Liverpool in the UK. The flip might well do odd things to the magnetic field but "wouldn't greatly disrupt life", he says.

Could Earth's magnetic field eventually disappear? Not any time soon, says Richard Harrison at the University of Cambridge in the UK.

For that to happen the core would have to completely solidify. Currently only the inner core is solid, while the outer core is liquid. "[The inner core] grows about a millimetre a year," says Harrison, and the molten outer core is 2,300 km thick.)

Gamma-ray burst

Timeframe: there's a nearby binary star called WR 104 that might produce one within 500,000 years, but even if it does it might well miss us

Are we alone in the universe? And if not, why haven't we made contact with alien civilisations yet? Another life destroyer could be to blame: intense waves of radiation called gamma-ray bursts (GRBs).

    Many regions of space may have been rendered inhospitable to life

GRBs are formed by intense explosions in space, for instance when a giant star explodes or two stars collide. They can last a fraction of a second, or several minutes. In theory a long GRB could obliterate Earth's ozone layer, leaving the life on the surface exposed to deadly ultraviolet radiation from the Sun.

Many regions of space may have been rendered inhospitable to life by too-frequent GRBs, according to a study published in 2014 by Raul Jimenez at the University of Barcelona in Spain and Tsvi Piran at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. But our neighbourhood may be OK. GRBs happen more often near the centre of the galaxy and in regions where stars are densely packed, and Earth is far away from both.

"Life is present due to the fact that Earth is relatively safe from a true damaging long GRB, those which will cause total extinction," says Jimenez. "If Earth was closer by a factor of two to the centre of the galaxy, life would be gone."

That said, Earth may well have experienced the occasional GRB, and there may even be traces of it in the fossil record. About 440 million years ago, many species were wiped out in the Ordovician-Silurian extinction, which some scientists have suggested was triggered by a GRB.

    Humans would be wiped out, but other forms of life would go on

But even if that's true, it didn't even get close to killing everything. There has been warning after warning that deadly GRBs could one day wipe out life on Earth, but it's unlikely that any of the potential nearby sources pose a credible threat.

In even more good news, the rate that GRBs occur is decreasing. James Annis at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois did some number-crunching for this story, and estimates that the average galaxy will now experience just 5 to 50 GRBs every billion years. Since the Milky Way is big, the chances of any coming near Earth are slim.

Even if a rogue GRB did hit Earth, Annis thinks it would be very unlikely to wipe out all life, because sea water is an excellent radiation shield. "I find it really hard to believe that GRBs could kill off sea vent biomes," he says. "I actually find it hard to believe GRBs would kill most ocean fish. I'm more of the opinion GRBs could kill off ground-based life and maybe the larger surface sea life, sort of resetting the evolution clock back before the colonisation of land."

Of course, humans would be wiped out, but other forms of life would go on.

Wandering stars

Timeframe: possibly within the next million years

For billions of years, the planets of our solar system have been performers in a stately dance around the sun. But what would happen if another star came barrelling through? The idea might sound implausible, but in February 2015 researchers led by Eric Mamajek at the University of Rochester in New York announced that it has happened – and surprisingly recently.

    Astronomers have identified other stars on a collision course with the solar system

Just 70,000 years ago, around the time our species left Africa, a red dwarf called Scholz's star cruised through the outer reaches of the solar system. It passed through a region called the Oort cloud, a sparse cluster of small, icy lumps that lies far beyond the planets.

Scholz's star was not the first rogue star to pass through the solar system, and it won't be the last. Astronomers have identified other stars on a collision course with the solar system in the next few million years.

Also in February 2015, Coryn Bailer-Jones at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany highlighted two stars that might prove problematic. Hip 85605 is due in our neighbourhood in 240,000 to 470,000 years, while GL 710 will arrive in about 1.3 million years. GL 710 is "a bit bigger than Scholz's star", says Mamajek, but will probably pass further away. Even so, could it, or Hip 85605, threaten life on Earth?

In a word, no. "Just because a star perturbs the Oort cloud, this does not mean the Earth is doomed," says Bailer-Jones.

    Things could get hairy if one of those rogue stars went supernova

Either star could push some of the small objects in the Oort cloud onto a collision course with Earth. But as we've already seen, even if some of them did eventually hit our planet, they probably wouldn't destroy all life.

In theory, things could get hairy if a larger rogue star went supernova as it passed through the Oort cloud, sending gamma rays into the inner solar system. "The nearer the supernova, the most intense [the ionising radiation] is. Ten times nearer, 100 times more intense," says Bailer-Jones. "It could be severe enough to cause real harm." But the chances of that "perfect storm" occurring are slim, he says.

A rogue star would also be more dangerous if it passed through the inner parts of the solar system, where the planets are found. But this is again unlikely. "No star we know of has anything but an extremely small probability of entering the inner solar system," says Bailer-Jones. It's too small a target: the distance from the Earth to the Sun is around 50,000 times smaller than the distance to the edge of the Oort cloud.

    There are almost certainly organisms that could survive nearly any cataclysm

Researchers can hypothesise almost no end of threats to life on Earth. February 2015 was evidently apocalypse month: another study suggested that we should even worry about the mysterious "dark matter" in our galaxy. We really shouldn't, says Mamajek, given how little we actually know about dark matter. "We don't know what the dark matter particles are, and we don't know how and if they would annihilate to generate energy," he says.

In fact, the take-home message from all of this research is that there isn't a plausible catastrophic agent from outside the solar system that could wipe out life on Earth within the next few billion years. "There are almost certainly organisms that could survive nearly any cataclysm," says Mamajek.

There is nothing to fear but life itself

Timeframe: 500 million years

But there is one agent of destruction that certainly is powerful enough to wipe out swathes of species. Life's biggest threat could come from within, according to Peter Ward at the University of Washington in Seattle.

    The microbes living on Earth could not cope, and a massive extinction followed

He calls the idea the Medea hypothesis. The name is a nod to the famous Gaia hypothesis, named for the Greek goddess of the Earth, which suggests that life helps keep Earth habitable. Medea, in stark contrast, is a Greek mythological figure famous for killing her own children. Ward argues that many of the mass extinctions in Earth's history were caused by life.

For instance, about 2.3 billion years ago lots of oxygen was released into the atmosphere by new forms of photosynthetic life. There had never before been free oxygen, so the microbes living on Earth could not cope with it, and a massive extinction followed.

Then there were the first land plants, about 450 million years ago. Plant roots broke up bedrock into soil, speeding up the chemical reaction between minerals in those rocks and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This stripped carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and weakened the greenhouse effect, triggering a lethal ice age.

Fast-forward into Earth's distant future, and these kinds of effects could sterilise the planet, says Ward. The sun is getting hotter as it ages, and as a consequence the Earth will warm up. That means the chemical reaction between rocks and atmospheric carbon dioxide will speed up – a process that's accelerated even more by the action of plant roots.

    Alien forensic scientists might well conclude that life on Earth had a hand in its own demise

Eventually, so much carbon dioxide will have been removed from the air that plants can no longer perform photosynthesis. All plants will die, and animal life won't be far behind. This could happen surprisingly soon, says Ward, perhaps in just 500 million years.

There would still be microbes, but they'd be vulnerable. "When you're down to a few microbes and you don't have a strong system, that's when physical perturbations could bring about mass sterilisation," says Ward.

Just as in Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express – spoilers for a novel published in 1934 – it would probably take several killers, acting at roughly the same time, to destroy all life on Earth, says Ward. "They could be large impacts, or nearby supernovae, or even something like freezing of the core. No one single event is going to do it." But if a big rock or GRB was to hit Earth after life had culled itself, mass sterilisation might just follow.

Alien forensic scientists might well conclude that life on Earth had a hand in its own demise.

Expanding Sun

Timeframe: between 1 and 7.5 billion years

If none of that gets us, the Sun will. Our home star bathes us in light, and supplies the energy for almost all the life on Earth. But it won't be friendly forever.

As we saw earlier, the Sun is gradually getting hotter. Eventually it will be hot enough to evaporate all Earth's oceans, and cause a runaway greenhouse effect that sends temperatures soaring upwards. This process might begin in about a billion years, and would wipe out all but the most resistant microorganisms.

But that's not all. Beginning around 5 billion years from now, the Sun will expand, becoming a swollen star called a red giant. By 7.5 billion years in the future, its surface will be past where Earth's orbit is now. So the expanding Sun will engulf, and destroy, the Earth.

It's been suggested that Earth might escape. The Sun will lose mass as it grows, so Earth will spiral further out. But according to calculations performed in 2008, this won't be enough to save our planet.

If that's true, the only hope lies with us. If any humans are still around, they might have the technology to move the Earth to safety. Otherwise, life on Earth has a maximum life expectancy of 7.5 billion years.


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« Reply #23 on: Apr 12, 2017, 05:02 AM »

How hot could the Earth get?

Earth was far hotter in its distant past than it is today, which suggests that global warming could seriously cook the planet   

By Vivien Cumming
BBC
4/11/2017

It has been getting a little warm lately. In November 2015, Brits experienced the hottest November days ever recorded in the UK. That was shortly followed by news from the World Meteorological Organization that 2015 is likely to be the hottest year since records began.

Global temperatures are now set to reach 1 °C above pre-industrial levels. That is halfway to the politically-agreed upper limit of 2 °C, which was set by world leaders in 2009.

For now at least, it seems the world’s temperature is going to go up and up. So how hot could the Earth really get? Is there any limit to the amount of warming humans could eventually cause?

Climate change is not a new experience for Earth. The planet has gone through countless temperature fluctuations over its 4.6-billion-year history, from frozen snowball to blazing tropical heat.

    Without the greenhouse effect, the Earth would have an average temperature of -18 °C

But despite all these changes, Earth always swings back into roughly the same temperature range. That is because it has mechanisms in place to control its own temperature.

A key one is the greenhouse effect. Greenhouse gases in the air, mainly carbon dioxide, methane and water vapour, trap radiation from the Sun and act like a thermal blanket around the planet.

Without the greenhouse effect, the Earth would have an average temperature of -18 °C and be covered in ice. Life as we know it would not be able to survive. The greenhouse effect is clearly a good thing, but like all good things, it is possible to have too much.

Humans have only been here for a relatively short time, yet we have managed to become the most significant driver of climate change on the planet. By burning fossil fuels and cutting down trees, we are releasing more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and that has caused temperatures to rise.

    By the end of this century the world will be at least 4 °C warmer than it was before the Industrial Revolution

Between 2000 and 2010, our rates of emissions more than quadrupled from the previous decade, and so far there is little sign of this upwards trend reversing. The question is, how much will all these extra greenhouse gases heat the planet over the coming decades and centuries?

To predict the state of the planet in the future, scientists build computer models that simulate what will happen to the Earth’s climate. These models are vastly complicated, but they ultimately rely on basic physics such as how air and water behave. By incorporating both man-made and natural changes, the models can estimate how the climate will change when a given amount of greenhouse gases is emitted.

These predictions are compiled into reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), most recently in 2013-2014. They suggest that, if our greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase as they have been over the last 50 years, then by the end of this century the world will be at least 4 °C warmer than it was before the Industrial Revolution.

What’s more, the warming will not stop at the end of this century.

The further forward we go in time, the harder it is to predict what will happen.

Models currently suggest that we will reach 7 °C above pre-industrial levels by 2200, but that temperatures will then stabilise, provided we have stopped emitting greenhouse gases.

    Climate models can only make predictions based on what we know

However, we cannot be certain of this, because the Earth’s climate is a complex system. As the climate warms, several processes operate that can cause even more warming.

For instance, snow and ice melt away in a warmer world, exposing dark ground that absorbs the Sun’s heat rather than reflecting it. Similarly, more water vapour evaporates from the surface, and since water vapour is a greenhouse gas this traps even more heat.

The oceans actually slow climate change, because carbon dioxide dissolves into them from the air. But warmer oceans can hold less carbon dioxide, leaving ever more in the atmosphere.

These feedbacks are relatively well understood, but others are harder to unravel: for example, how changing cloud cover will affect the climate, or when methane locked up in permafrost at the poles will be released. Climate models can only make predictions based on what we know, so as temperatures rise further beyond anything humans have experienced, their predictions become less reliable.

So rather than trying to predict what the climate will do from first principles, we can take another approach: we can look at what has happened in the past.

About 55 million years ago, the Earth experienced one of the fastest temperature rises in its history.

During the “Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum” (PETM), average sea surface temperatures reached up to 10 °C at the poles, compared to -2 °C today. It was a time when there were palm trees as far north as the Arctic Circle, with absolutely no ice at the poles. Some species flourished in the sweltering heat, while others were wiped out.

    Those gases warmed the planet by at least 5 °C and maybe as much as 8 °C

It is clear that greenhouse gases were the main driver. In particular, a massive amount of methane escaped from the seabed into the atmosphere, boosting the greenhouse effect.

It is not clear how the methane escaped. Volcanic eruptions or a comet impact have both been proposed, but the most likely explanation is that the Earth was already gradually warming for some other reason. When it reached a certain temperature, the methane stores under the seabed became unstable.

The PETM shows clear parallels to today’s world. In particular, the pulse of greenhouse gases that set it in motion seems to have been roughly equivalent to what humans could release if we burnt all recoverable fossil fuels. Those gases warmed the planet by at least 5 °C and maybe as much as 8 °C, probably over a few thousand years.

Climate impacts

How climate change will affect us

Sea level: predicted to rise by up to 1m by 2100

Extreme weather: intense hurricanes may become more frequent

Drought: more likely in mid-latitude regions, due to a combination of higher temperatures and 30% less rainfall

Flooding: rainfall is predicted to increase in the tropics and at high latitudes, causing more frequent floods

Food production: global crop yields predicted to decrease by over 30% by 2050

Extinctions: species extinctions will become more likely, with 40% of ecosystems affected this century

Human health: increased instances of respiratory problems and infectious diseases

Source: Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report, IPCC

Is that the limit, or could the planet get even hotter than it was during the PETM?

There is a theoretical mechanism that could massively overheat the Earth: a “runaway greenhouse effect”.

We have already seen that heating the planet releases more greenhouse gases, causing yet more warming. In theory this self-feeding mechanism could become unstoppable, warming the planet by hundreds of degrees.

This has never happened on Earth: we would not be here if it had. But scientists believe that it happened to the nearest planet, Venus, 3-4 billion years ago.

Venus is closer to the Sun than Earth, so it was hotter to begin with. On the surface, temperatures increased so much that all of its liquid water evaporated into the air. This water vapour trapped even more heat, and with no water on the surface there was nowhere to store carbon dioxide.

This led to extreme greenhouse conditions. Eventually all the water vapour was lost to space, leaving Venus with an atmosphere that is 96% carbon dioxide.

The planet now has a global temperature of 462 °C. That is hot enough to melt lead, and makes Venus the hottest planet in the solar system: even beating out Mercury, which is closer to the Sun.

It is almost certain that Earth will succumb to such a catastrophe in a few billion years’ time.

As the Sun gets older, it will slowly run out of fuel and swell up into a red giant star. Eventually it will become so bright that the Earth will no longer be able to dissipate the extra heat out into space. The planet’s surface temperature will increase, boiling the oceans and triggering a runaway greenhouse effect that will end all life as we know it, leaving Earth baking under a thick shroud of carbon dioxide.

    It seems that the likelihood of us being steam-cooked is pretty low

However, these changes to the Sun will happen over billions of years, so they are not a pressing problem. The question is, could we trigger a runaway greenhouse effect ourselves?

A study published in 2013 suggests that it is possible, but we would have to release a truly staggering amount of carbon dioxide. This gas currently makes up almost 400 parts per million of the air, up from 280ppm before the Industrial Revolution. To trigger a runaway greenhouse effect, we would have to get the level up to 30,000ppm.

That would take about 10 times more carbon dioxide than could be released if we burned all known fossil fuels. There are other sources of greenhouse gases, like the seabed methane that escaped during the PETM, so we cannot absolutely rule it out. But it seems that the likelihood of us being steam-cooked is pretty low.

Clearly, that does not mean heating up the planet is a safe thing to do. A temperature rise of just a few °C will have all sorts of unwelcome impacts (see "Climate impacts"). In particular, parts of the planet could still get too hot for humans to survive.

In the hottest places on Earth today, like California’s Death Valley, temperatures can reach well over 50 °C. Such heat is dangerous, but with proper care it is survivable. That is because the air is dry, so we can cool ourselves by sweating.

    A 12 °C rise in temperature would render half of the Earth’s land area uninhabitable

It can be trickier if the air is both hot and humid, as in tropical jungles. The moisture in the air means our sweat evaporates more slowly, so it is harder to cool down.

The best way to assess the combination of heat and humidity is to measure the “wet-bulb temperature”. This is the temperature a thermometer reads if the bulb is wrapped in a damp cloth and a fan is blowing air over it. If you are sweating, this is the lowest temperature that you could cool your skin to.

Humans have to maintain a core body temperature of 37 °C. To ensure that we can always cool off, we keep our skin at around 35 °C. This implies that a wet-bulb temperature of 35 °C or above, if it was sustained for more than a few hours, would be fatal. Even if we could survive it, we would have to sit still.

Even in the most sweltering tropical rainforests, the maximum wet-bulb temperatures recorded have never exceeded 31 °C. This is because hot and humid air is unstable. It rises and cooler air sweeps in beneath, which is what causes tropical thunderstorms.

But that could change.

Air can only rise if the air around it is cooler and denser. So if climate change heats up the tropics, the air will have to be even hotter and more humid before it starts to rise. A study published in 2010 estimated that, with each 1 °C rise in average global temperature, the maximum wet-bulb temperature will rise by 0.75 °C.

That leads to some intimidating conclusions. A 7 °C rise in global temperatures, which we might well hit by 2200, will render some parts of the globe inhospitable to human life. A 12 °C rise in temperature would render half of the Earth’s land area uninhabitable.

Of course, we might try to adapt by installing huge amounts of air-conditioning equipment. But apart from being colossally expensive, this would imprison people inside buildings for days or weeks at a time.

Even if this never comes to pass, on current trends it is likely that Earth will be 4 °C warmer by the end of this century than it was before the Industrial Revolution, and 3 °C warmer than it is now. That would not directly kill us or render parts of the planet uninhabitable, but it will still create enormous upheaval.

20,000 years ago, the Earth was about 4 °C cooler than it is now. This period is known as the “Last Glacial Maximum”. Ice sheets covered most of Canada and northern Europe, including all of the British Isles.

Since then Earth has warmed up by 4 °C. That was enough to remove the ice sheets from Europe and North America. The meltwater from the retreating ice raised sea levels by tens of metres, drowning shallow lands beneath the waves.

When you consider that, it is easy to imagine what another 4 °C rise in temperature could do to the world around us.


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« Reply #24 on: Apr 12, 2017, 05:09 AM »

An Ice Scientist’s Worst Nightmare

By TATIANA SCHLOSSBERG
APRIL 11, 2017
NY Times

Ice from the Canadian Arctic has completely melted, leaving puddles of water in its place and scientists devastated.

O.K., this is what actually happened: Ice cores, millennia-old ice samples extracted by scientists from locations across the Canadian Arctic, melted because of a freezer malfunction in a lab at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. The loss of these ice cores could hinder scientific research into how changes in the atmosphere have shaped Earth’s climate history, and how they could affect its future.

On April 2, the temperature of a storage freezer in the Canadian Ice Core Archive rose to about 100 degrees — some part of the cooling system failed, “then tried to get itself back into action and in the process, piped hot air back into the room,” according to Martin Sharp, the director of the archive. The freezer became so hot that it tripped the fire alarm, Dr. Sharp said, and partially or fully melted 180 ice cores collected by government scientists since the mid-1970s from the snowy expanse of the Canadian Arctic.

Dr. Sharp, also a glaciology professor at the university, said there was water all over the floor, and steam rising from puddles of ancient water.

Ice cores, which are long cylinders scientists extract from glaciers, ice sheets or ice caps, contain gas bubbles, pollen, dust particles, or chemical isotopes that give scientists clues about what Earth’s temperature and atmosphere were like when the ice caps first formed.

The archive contains 12 cores, which are stored in more than 1,400 one-meter segments, containing about 80,000 years of atmospheric history. The cores that were lost accounted for about 12 percent of the collection, and while they leave gaps in the record, none of the 12 main cores were wholly destroyed.

Dr. Sharp said the archive has been used in the past to assist research into long-term climate history and atmospheric pollution, specifically from trace metals. However, he said that technologies have been developed since the cores were first collected that could yield much more information from the collection as a whole, such as about specific weather events, reconstructing sea ice variability, and when pollution from East Asia began crossing the Pacific to affect western Canada.

While the loss of the cores will not affect the ability to research these phenomena, valuable information was lost: Some of the oldest ice cores from Mount Logan, Canada’s tallest mountain, and some from Baffin Island’s Penny Ice Cap, which contained 22,000 years’ worth of atmospheric information, were entirely or partially destroyed.

Luckily, the oldest ice in the collection, from the last continental ice sheet that covered North America, was put into a different freezer, Dr. Sharp said.

“For anybody who has an ice core collection, melting is a perennial fear, and you don’t find out that it’s happened until too late,” Dr. Sharp said.

But the university is taking steps to make sure they have a better alarm system, in case it ever does.

For the moment, Dr. Sharp does not yet know if he and his team will be able to go back to the Arctic to take more cores and replace the samples that were lost.

“Some of these ice caps are disappearing,” he said, “and we’re going to lose this record, in some cases sooner rather than later.”


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« Reply #25 on: Apr 12, 2017, 05:13 AM »

More Permafrost Than Thought May Be Lost as Planet Warms

By HENRY FOUNTAIN
APRIL 11, 2017 
NY Times

As global warming thaws the permafrost, the frozen land that covers nearly six million square miles of the earth, a big question for scientists is: How much will be lost?

The answer, according to a new analysis: more than many of them thought.

A study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that as the planet warms toward 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels, each degree Celsius of warming will lead to the thawing of about 1.5 million square miles of permafrost.

That figure is at least 20 percent higher than most previous studies, said Sarah E. Chadburn, a researcher at the University of Leeds in England and the lead author of the study.

“Previous estimates of global changes in permafrost were done using climate models,” Dr. Chadburn said. “Our approach is more based on using historical observations and extrapolating that to the future. It’s a very simple approach.”

Permafrost thaws slowly over time, but it is already causing problems in the Arctic, as slumping ground affects building foundations, roads and other infrastructure in places like the North Slope of Alaska, Yukon and parts of Siberia. The thawing also contributes to climate change, as warmed-up organic matter is decomposed by microbes, releasing more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Dr. Chadburn and her colleagues looked at how much permafrost would thaw if temperatures were to stabilize at a warming of 2 degrees Celsius, long a target of climate accords, or at 1.5 degrees, which the 2015 Paris agreement set as an ambitious goal.

A 2 degree increase, the researchers found, would lead to a loss of about 2.5 million square miles of permafrost compared with a 1960-90 baseline, or about 40 percent of the current total.

The study showed the advantages to be gained from limiting warming to 1.5 degrees: Thawing would be reduced by about 30 percent, or 750,000 square miles.

But the research also shows the potentially devastating consequences of missing either of those targets. Warming of 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) would leave at most about a million square miles of permafrost, or less than 20 percent of the current total.

Edward A.G. Schuur, a permafrost expert at Northern Arizona University, said the study was “an important and interesting calculation of where permafrost will be at some distant point in the future as we undergo climate warming.”

“What’s really important is this is based on totally different assumptions,” Dr. Schuur said. “It’s useful because it gives us a different perspective.”

Dr. Chadburn said her study did not delve into the details of how different permafrost areas might be affected. Dr. Schuur said that as the planet warms, more southerly regions, where the permafrost occurs in discontinuous patches, would be expected to thaw first.

But there will still be changes even in areas of extensive permafrost in the far north, Dr. Schuur said. “There will be surface changes that affect everyone who lives there,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any place in the permafrost zone that’s remote enough to escape changes.”

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« Reply #26 on: Apr 12, 2017, 05:24 AM »

What’s at Stake in Trump’s Proposed E.P.A. Cuts

By HIROKO TABUCHI
APRIL 11, 2017
NY Times

What is at stake as Congress considers the E.P.A. budget? Far more than climate change.

The Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency budget are deep and wide-ranging. It seeks to shrink spending by 31 percent, to $5.7 billion from $8.1 billion, and to eliminate a quarter of the agency’s 15,000 jobs.

The cuts are so deep that even Republican lawmakers are expected to push back. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the chairwoman of the Interior and Environment Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, pointedly reminded Mr. Trump last month that his budget request was just “the first step in a long process.”

Here are some proposed cuts that are likely to face resistance when the budget reaches Congress.
Tap water

Flint, Mich., is still reeling from its tainted water crisis, and unsafe levels of lead have turned up in tap water in city after city. Still, the E.P.A. is looking to decrease grants that help states monitor public water systems by almost a third, to $71 million from $102 million, according to an internal agency memo first obtained by The Washington Post.

The Public Water System Supervision Grant Program has been critical in making sure communities have access to safe drinking water. In Texas, for example, state-contracted workers collect drinking water samples across the state, an effort funded in part by federal grants.

Much of the risk to the country’s water supply stems from its crumbling public water infrastructure: a network of pipes, treatment plants and other facilities built decades ago. Although Congress banned lead pipes in 1986, between 3.3 million and 10 million older ones remain, primed to leach lead into tap water.
Criminal and civil enforcement

Sharp cuts in the agency’s enforcement programs could curtail its ability to police environmental offenders and impose penalties. The budget proposal reduces spending on civil and criminal enforcement by almost 60 percent, to $4 million from a combined $10 million. It also eliminates 200 jobs.

Just last week, the agency fined Sunoco Pipeline, a subsidiary of the operator behind the Dakota Access pipeline, nearly $1 million over a 2012 spill. The spill sent 1,950 barrels of gasoline into two waterways near Wellington, Ohio, forcing the evacuation of 70 people.

One enforcement activity that could be set for an increase: security for Scott Pruitt, the new E.P.A. administrator. The agency has asked for 10 additional full-time staff members for a round-the-clock security detail — a first for an E.P.A. chief, who usually has only door-to-door protection — and more than doubling the agency’s infrastructure and operations staff.

Geographic programs

The agency is taking an equal-opportunity approach to regional cleanup programs, proposing to virtually eliminate all of them: Chesapeake Bay, Gulf of Mexico, Lake Champlain, Long Island Sound, Puget Sound, San Francisco Bay, South Florida, the Great Lakes.

Americans overwhelmingly believe that global warming is happening, and that carbon emissions should be scaled back. But fewer are sure that it will harm them personally.

Together, those projects amount to a loss of more than $400 million in federal funding for the regions involved. The largest part of that goes to the Great Lakes restoration effort, which is helping revive wetland habitats, clean up toxic pollution, combat invasive species and prevent runoff from farms and cities.

The E.P.A.’s defunding of these projects could backfire. Much of the federal money has gone toward helping bring affected communities to the table to find solutions. Absent that route, communities could sue the E.P.A. for failing to act, ultimately running up the agency’s legal bills and slowing remediation as cases wind their way through the courts.

Superfunds and brownfields

Superfund is as high-stakes as environmental programs get. It makes federal funds available for the cleanup of sites contaminated by hazardous substances and pollutants, like the now-defunct Wolff-Alport Chemical Company in Queens, in New York City, which was designated a Superfund site in 2014. The site is heavily contaminated with thorium, a radioactive metal with a half-life of 14 billion years that has been linked to a higher incidence of lung, pancreatic and bone cancer. Superfund money is helping clean up the thorium.

The Superfund program can actually save taxpayers money, because it lets the E.P.A. identify polluters and compel them to pay for the cleanup. But the proposed budget reduces its enforcement and remedial components by 45 percent, bringing it to $221 million from $404 million.

E.P.A. officials call Brownfields, a program that helps towns and cities redevelop former industrial sites, one of the agency’s most popular programs. The E.P.A. website still lists its success stories: refashioning an old textile mill in Hickory, N.C., into a retail, dining and event space, and redeveloping former factory sites on the banks of Iowa’s Cedar River into riverfront condominiums. Funding to states under the Brownfields program is set for a reduction of 30 percent, to $33 million from $48 million.
Endocrine disrupters

The exact science behind, and health consequences of, a class of chemicals called endocrine disrupters remains unsettled. With the proposed cuts to research at the E.P.A., it could stay that way.

The budget eliminates a $6 million research and screening effort targeting the chemicals, which are found widely in pesticides, plastics, shampoos and cosmetics, cash register receipts, food can linings and other products. The chemicals have been linked to breast cancer in women and hypospadias, a birth defect in boys.

Ending the program, which would result in the loss of nine jobs, would curtail the agency’s ability to review medical data and work with environmental lawyers to fashion an agency response.

Climate protection

It is no surprise that the new E.P.A. is targeting climate change initiatives, given the Trump administration’s hostility toward the science of global warming and a pro-business bent. But many of the programs that fall under the $70 million Climate Protection Program — which would be eliminated under the White House proposal — are industry favorites.

Take the Energy Star program for energy-efficient televisions, washers, dryers, lights and other consumer goods. Companies say Energy Star helps give their products a competitive edge, and also helps them sell overseas, where the standard has been adopted by the European Union, Japan, Australia and Canada, among major markets.

And the SmartWay program works with logistics companies to make their operations more climate friendly. SmartWay helps trucking companies fit their trucks with aerodynamic flaps and low-resistance tires, for example, that save fuel and reduce emissions.

Federal vehicle and fuels standards

It has been barely a year since Volkswagen agreed to pay as much as $14.7 billion to settle claims stemming from its diesel emissions cheating scandal, and the E.P.A. has accused a second automaker, Fiat Chrysler, of evading emissions standards. But the proposed budget cuts would all but eliminate the $48.7 million federal budget for vehicle tests and certification.

The budget foresees getting automakers themselves to pay for testing through fees. But that takes time to set up, and any funding shortfall in the meantime would mean a significant paring back of the work at E.P.A.’s emissions testing labs.

Nonpoint source grants

The Trump administration has declared its intent to roll back business-killing regulations. But the second-biggest item eliminated from the proposed budget, after the Great Lakes Restoration project, exists precisely because federal regulations do not cover all pollutants.

The $165 million Nonpoint Source Grant program helps states deal with pollutants from sources that are not directly regulated under the Clean Water Act — like the phosphorus that flows into Lake Erie from fertilizer, which feeds algae and weeds that starve the water of oxygen, harming fish and other wildlife.

Among other remedies, the nonpoint source grants have been used to help states create “buffer strips” — areas of thick vegetation that help filter the contaminated runoff. The proposed budget would eliminate the grants.

Radiation protection and response preparedness

When the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis in Japan sent radioactive plumes across the Pacific, the E.P.A.’s RadNet system monitored the fallout on America’s shores, deploying additional air monitors in Alaska and Hawaii and ordering accelerated samplings of rain, tap water and milk.

Over the next two months, laboratory analyses detected very low amounts of iodine and other radionuclides across the country. Levels remained far below the safety threshold, and the E.P.A. determined that no action was needed. But in the case of another nuclear accident, RadNet could help officials make science-based decisions on how to protect the public.

The proposed budget would defund the agency’s $3.3 million Radiation Protection program and eliminate 60 jobs. It would also remove four jobs from the Radiation Response Preparedness program; despite those job cuts, funding for that modest program would increase by $177,000, to just over $500,0000, to be used for “essential preparedness work only.”

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Court Orders EPA to Close Loophole, Factory Farms Required to Report Toxic Pollution

Ecowatch
4/11/2017

The DC Circuit Court ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Tuesday to close a loophole that has allowed hazardous substances released into the environment by concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to go unreported.

"We applaud the DC Circuit Court's clear decision to enforce this vital environmental safeguard to protect public safety," said Earthjustice attorney Jonathan Smith, who helped argue the case before the court.

"In the words of the court, the risk of air emissions from CAFOs 'isn't just theoretical; people have become seriously ill and even died' from these emissions. But the public cannot protect itself from these hazardous substances if CAFOs aren't required to report their releases to the public. The loophole also prevented reporting of these toxics to local and state responders and the court held that plainly violated the law."

CAFOs are large-scale livestock facilities that confine large numbers of animals in relatively small spaces. A large CAFO may contain upward of 1,000 cattle, 2,500 hogs or 125,000 chickens. Such facilities generate a massive amount of urine and feces, which is commonly liquefied and either stored under the facility or nearby in open-air lagoons. This waste is known to release high levels of toxic pollutants like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide into the environment.

The court's decision closes a loophole that exempted CAFOs from the same pollutant reporting required of other industries to ensure public safety. Prior to the promulgation of this loophole at the end of the Bush administration in 2008, federal law long required CAFOs, like all other industrial facilities, to notify government officials when toxic pollution levels exceeded public safety thresholds.

"Corporate agricultural operations have always been well-equipped to report on hazardous substances," said Abel Russ of the Environmental Integrity Project. "Now they will once again be required to do so."

This ruling is the latest turn in Earthjustice's advocacy on behalf of environmental and animal advocacy groups including Waterkeeper Alliance, Humane Society of the United States, Sierra Club, Center for Food Safety and Environmental Integrity Project.

"People have a right to know if CAFOs are releasing hazardous substances that can pose serious risks of illness or death into the air near their homes, schools, businesses and communities," said Kelly Foster, senior attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance.

"This ruling ensures that the public will be able to obtain this information in the future and will hopefully spur EPA to start responding when hazardous substances reach toxic levels."

Nearly three-quarters of the nation's ammonia air pollution come from CAFOs. Once emitted into the air, this ammonia then redeposits on land or water, adding to nitrogen pollution and water quality impairments in places like the Chesapeake Bay.

"CAFO waste pollutes our air and waterways and creates dangerous food pathogens. This decision forces these operations to be transparent about their environmental impact," said Paige Tomaselli of the Center for Food Safety.

CAFOs can be terrible air polluters. People who live near them often suffer from constant exposure to foul odors and the toxic effects of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. Low levels of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide can irritate the eyes, nose and throat and high levels can be fatal.

"This safeguard isn't just about protecting the environment; it's about making entire communities safe for the people who live in them," said Sierra Club staff attorney Katie Schaefer.

Unsurprisingly, CAFO pollution also severely impacts the animals raised at the CAFO.

"Animal factories force billions of animals to suffer dangerously high levels of toxic air pollution day after day for their entire lives," said Humane Society of The United States' Chief Counsel Jonathan Lovvorn. "This ruling helps shine a light on the horrors of factory farms and the hidden costs to animals, people and the environment."

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100,000 Acres of Public Land in Colorado at Risk From Fracking, Groups File Administrative Protest

Ecowatch
4/11/2017

Conservation groups have filed Tuesday an administrative protest challenging a federal decision to offer for leasing in June more than 100,000 acres of federal public land in northern Colorado for oil and gas industry fracking. The leasing decision, being pushed by the Trump administration's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over local community opposition, threatens some of Colorado's most treasured and scenic landscapes and wildlife species.

"Fracking these pristine public lands would come at the cost of imperiled wildlife, clean air and clean water, meanwhile worsening climate change," said Michael Saul, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "This is classic Trump corporate cronyism that sacrifices public values for oil industry profits."

The decision paves the way for thousands of new fracked oil and gas wells in the Piceance Basin, increasing the strain on the already overdrawn Upper Colorado River with water withdrawals and the threat of new oil spills. It would pave the way for fracking in largely untouched Grand County, the headwaters of the Colorado River and a world-famous destination for fishing, hiking and tourism.

"The water quality of the Colorado River headwaters is at an all-time low and water demand is at an all-time high. Awarding leases that allow fossil fuel extraction in the headwaters will not improve the looming water crisis," said John Weisheit, Colorado Riverkeeper with Living Rivers. "Restraint on all forms of consumptive use is the best and wisest solution for improving a damaged watershed. Public land management decisions must be based on this reality and BLM must take the lead in restraining those uses, not open the door to more."

This massive plan, casually dismissed by the BLM as having "no significant environmental impact," will harm a host of sensitive and listed species including Colorado River and greenback cutthroat trout, greater sage grouse, Canada lynx, black-footed ferrets, white-tailed prairie dogs, rare wildflowers, deer, elk and moose. Resulting greenhouse gas pollution would worsen climate change, whose impacts the region is already feeling with reduced Colorado River flows.

"Protecting the quantity and quality of Colorado River flows, which face overwhelming challenges from increased demand and reduced supply, is inextricably linked to management decisions on public lands that cut back on water use and protect water quality," said Kate Hudson, western U.S. advocacy coordinator with Waterkeeper Alliance.

"BLM's pending decision to open over 100,000 acres of public lands in the headwaters of the Colorado River to oil and gas leasing and the inevitable impacts that fossil fuel extraction will have on the river, its tributaries and our climate, heads us in exactly the wrong direction. It will only hasten the collapse of this critical and fragile resource."

The giant sale threatens to industrialize lands and pollute air and water at the doorsteps of Rocky Mountain National Park and Dinosaur National Monument. Groups filing the protest include the Center for Biological Diversity, Living Rivers, Waterkeeper Alliance and Sierra Club.

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Family-Run Paper Wins Pulitzer for Exposing Big Ag Corruption

By Nika Knight
Ecowatch
4/11/2017

Prestigious Pulitzer Prizes on Monday were awarded to investigations that tackled President Donald Trump, Big Ag and international offshore tax havens, rewarding reporters that took on today's powers-that-be.

The Pulitzer Prizes this year came "in the face of a combative stance from President Trump, who has called the news media 'the enemy of the American people,'" as the New York Times noted.

The prize shed light on a small family-run paper in Iowa that tenaciously challenged large agricultural corporations over water pollution. The Storm Lake Times forced documents to be released that showed powerful agricultural interests were funding a local county's attempt to quell a lawsuit over nitrogen runoff from farms contaminating drinking water.

Art Cullen, the paper's editor, slammed the close financial ties between Big Ag and county government in editorials described by the Pulitzer Committee as "impressive" and "engaging," while also highlighting the catastrophic effects of nitrogen pollution. In one editorial, for example, Cullen wrote:

Anyone with eyes and a nose knows in his gut that Iowa has the dirtiest surface water in America. It is choking the waterworks and the Gulf of Mexico. It is causing oxygen deprivation in Northwest Iowa glacial lakes. It has caused us to spend millions upon millions trying to clean up Storm Lake, the victim of more than a century of explosive soil erosion.

Everyone knows it's not the city sewer plant causing the problem. And most of us recognize that this is not just nature at work busily releasing nitrates into the water. Ninety-two percent of surface water pollution comes from row crop production.

The Washington Post's David A. Fahrenthold also won an award for his persistent investigations into President Donald Trump's claims of charity donations throughout the 2016 campaign. The Pulitzer Committee described Fahrenthold's reporting, which revealed that the president's charitable donations frequently fell far short of his claims, as "a model for transparent journalism."

In addition, an international collaboration between McClatchy, the Miami Herald and the International Consortion of Investigative Journalists that resulted in the landmark Panama Papers investigation into offshore tax havens was awarded the prize for Explanatory Reporting.

The Guardian listed the wide-ranging ramifications of the revelations contained in the Panama Papers:

Iceland's prime minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson was forced to quit after it emerged that his family had sheltered cash offshore. There were demonstrations in Argentina and a small war in Azerbaijan, initiated—some believed—to distract from revelations concerning the president and his daughters.

In China, censors blocked the words "Panama Papers" and jammed the website of the Guardian. In Russia, aides to Vladimir Putin fumed about a western "spy" conspiracy after it emerged that Putin's oldest friend, the cellist Sergei Roldugin, had about $2bn flowing into a network of British Virgin Islands companies.

The founders of the Panamanian law firm, Jürgen Mossack and Ramón Fonseca, were arrested in February. They are currently in jail on suspicion of money laundering following a coordinated swoop by prosecutors across Latin America.

Other notable prize winners include Eric Eyre of the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia, for his investigative reporting on the state's opiod crisis and the pharmaceutical corporations fueling it; the staff of the East Bay Times in Oakland, California, for their coverage of the "Ghost Ship" fire and city officials' failure to take action that may have prevented the tragedy; and the New York Daily News and ProPublica for an investigation into the New York Police Department's abuse of eviction rules that led to calls for citywide reform.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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Texas Town Opposes BLM's Plan to Frack Public Lands

Ecowatch
4/11/2017

The mayor of Brenham signed Monday the city council's unanimous resolution opposing the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) plans to auction lands beneath and around Lake Somerville for oil and gas development. The resolution cited concerns that loss or contamination of the lake's water supply would be "catastrophic" for its residents. Lake Somerville is the city's sole drinking water source.

A federal lease auction for oil and gas deposits beneath and around Lake Somerville and Choke Canyon Reservoir—a water supply for Corpus Christi—is scheduled for June 8. Lake Somerville lies along the northeastern end of the oil-rich Eagle Ford Shale Play. In recent years advances fracking techniques have made these oil deposits accessible to oil and gas operators and have sparked an oil and gas boom in Texas.

"We applaud Brenham for taking a stand against this dangerous fracking plan. Fracking beneath or near Lake Somerville could have disastrous consequences for communities that depend on this precious water supply, including Brenham, Somerville and Lyons," said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Conservation groups and the city of Corpus Christi filed formal protests in February challenging the lease auction, raising concerns about spills, water contamination and earthquakes that could jeopardize dam integrity.

"Somerville Lake is an important water source for the city of Brenham," said Rita Beving of Clean Water Action. "It is important that city leaders like those of Brenham step in to do all they can to protect the water quality and the infrastructure of their reservoir."

Brenham city officials also plan to send a letter to the BLM opposing the lease auction, although the deadline for filing a formal protest has passed. City officials at the council meeting expressed concerns that it did not receive adequate notice of the lease auction. The BLM only posted notice of the lease sale on the agency's New Mexico state office website.

Records obtained recently by the Center for Biological Diversity through a Freedom of Information Act request to the federal Bureau of Reclamation show that in 2012, two "plugged" oil wells beneath Choke Canyon Reservoir were found by agency staff to be leaking into the reservoir. Records obtained thus far do not indicate the amount or type of pollution that resulted from the leaks or whether those leaks are ongoing.


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« Reply #27 on: Apr 12, 2017, 05:26 AM »

Shell, Dow Hid Cancer-Causing Chemical in Pesticides, Contaminating Drinking Water for Millions

Ecowatch
4/11/2017

For decades, Shell and Dow hid a highly potent cancer-causing chemical in two widely used pesticides, contaminating drinking water for millions of people in California and beyond, according to lawsuits detailed in a new report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

The chemical 1,2,3-trichloropropane or TCP, was formerly an unwanted and ineffective byproduct in Dow's Telone and Shell's D-D pesticides. Internal documents uncovered in lawsuits filed by communities in California's San Joaquin Valley show that the companies saved millions of dollars a year by not properly disposing of TCP, a chemical a Dow scientist once called "garbage," as hazardous waste.

Shell stopped making D-D in 1984 and Dow later took TCP out of Telone, but not before it contaminated the tap water supplies of 94 California utility districts serving 8 million people.

An U.S. Environmental Protection Agency testing program found TCP in tap water supplies for about 4 million people in 13 other states between 2013 and 2015, but the chemical is unregulated at the federal level and in every state except Hawaii.

Regulators in California will meet next week to decide whether to set a legal limit for TCP in tap water. Shell and Dow have paid multi-million dollar settlements to some communities to pay for filtering TCP out of water supplies, but dozens more cases are pending.

Dow and Shell "should have taken it out and disposed of it properly as a toxic waste. But that would have cost them a lot of money, so they left it in and continued to sell these pesticides to farmers throughout California," said Asha Kreiling, an analyst with the Community Water Center, which along with Clean Water Action has pushed the state to set a legal limit.

"This is an outrageous story of how Shell and Dow essentially got farmers who bought the pesticide to pay to help them get rid of a hazardous waste," said Bill Walker, EWG's managing editor and co-author of the report. "How many other hidden examples are there of chemical companies endangering communities through toxic deception?"

TCP was synthesized in the 1930s as one of many byproducts from the manufacture of a chemical used to make plastics. After pineapple growers in Hawaii found that the mixture of byproducts could kill microscopic worms called nematodes, Shell and Dow began marketing slightly different formulations of the mixture and eventually D-D and Telone became the second most heavily used pesticides in California.

But San Francisco attorney Todd Robins, who represents many smaller communities whose water is contaminated with TCP, said the companies knew TCP was useless as a pesticide—in fact, it made the products less effective. Yet both Shell and Dow claimed on the labels that the products were 100 percent active ingredients—false claims that violated federal regulations for registering pesticides. Robins also said the companies knew as early as 1952 that TCP in fumigants did not break down in soil and could migrate into groundwater. Once there, it persists for centuries.

In 2009, California state scientists set an extraordinarily low public health goal for TCP in drinking water of less than 1 part per trillion. Public health goals are not enforceable legal limits but minimal risk levels expected to cause no more than one case of cancer in a million people who drink and shower with the water daily for a lifetime. The only chemical with a lower California public health goal is dioxin, considered one of the most toxic substances known to science.

Staff of the California State Water Resources Control Board have proposed a legal limit of 5 parts per trillion, the lowest level current technology can reliably detect. A public hearing on the proposed standard, which is supported by Community Water Center, Clean Water Action, EWG and other groups, will be held April 19 in Sacramento.

"Shell and Dow put greed for profits ahead of the health of the people who bought and used their products," said Andria Ventura, toxics program manager for Clean Water Action. "We can't reverse the tragic consequences, but setting a drinking water standard that's fully protective of public health can stem the threat going forward."


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« Reply #28 on: Apr 12, 2017, 05:36 AM »

Fracking activists in Lancashire lose high court bid to stop drilling

Residents ‘dismayed’ after judges uphold decision to approve Cuadrilla shale gas operation in Fylde
Anti-fracking demonstrators in Lancashire.

Adam Vaughan Energy correspondent
AFP
Wednesday 12 April 2017 10.25 BST

Lancashire residents fighting to block a fracking site have said they are “truly dismayed” after losing a high court legal challenge.

The Preston New Road Action Group and Gayzer Frackman, a professional clown, had applied for a judicial review of the government’s decision to approve Cuadrilla drilling for shale gas in Fylde. The group had argued five points of law had been breached.

But Mr Justice Dove on Wednesday dismissed the case, which had hoped to overturn Sajid Javid’s decision last year to give the go-ahead for fracking despite the county council rejecting permission in 2015.

Preston New Road Action Group said it would take legal advice on its options and vowed not to give up. Claire Stephenson, a member of the group, said: “Justice and democracy have not been observed in Lancashire. We are truly dismayed at this decision.”

Greenpeace said Lancashire residents’ opposition to fracking had been overruled. “Ordinary members of the community have been peacefully opposing fracking for six years and they won’t stop now,” said Elisabeth Whitebread, the group’s energy campaigner.

The preparatory work by Cuadrilla at the site has been met by daily protests. In the last fortnight, activists have staged a series of protests targeting suppliers to the site and public relations companies representing the industry.

Cuadrilla welcomed the judge’s decision, calling it great news for local businesses. Francis Egan, the CEO, said: “We are very pleased that the planning inspector’s recommendation and the secretary of state’s decision to grant planning consent has been upheld by the high court. We respected the democratic right of those opposed to this consent to challenge the secretary of state’s decision.”

The drilling rig for the wells is expected to arrive within weeks. The process of hydraulic fracturing, which involves water, sand and chemicals being pumped underground at high pressure to release gas trapped in shale, is not expected to begin until later in the summer.


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« Reply #29 on: Apr 12, 2017, 05:38 AM »

No, the Great Barrier Reef is not dead in the water. Not yet

Jules Howard

This spiralling, three-dimensional coral maze is bleached for the second year in a row, but it can recover – if we act immediately

Guardian
Wednesday 12 April 2017 09.00 BST

And so it begins: the end of days. The Great Barrier Reef is bleaching for the second year in a row and now, according to the results of helicopter surveys released on Monday, it is the middle part (all 300 miles-plus of it) that is suffering the awful reef stress that comes courtesy of a warming ocean.

Coral bleaching is incredibly serious. In especially warm summers, the complex balance between the symbiotic algae and the coral becomes disrupted. To save themselves, the coral expels the algae in the hope of better times ahead. In this state, the coral becomes whitened. That’s what bleaching is.

Without the algae to synthesise most of its energy, the coral operates on a kind of “standby” mode. It is vulnerable in this state. Only one third of the entire Great Barrier Reef remains unbleached. The bell, it seems, is tolling for one of the most biologically active parts of planet Earth.

I watched this Great Barrier Reef story unfold, and what started out as quite a conservative bit of science reporting quickly morphed into something else. By midday, many news outlets started running with the line that the Great Barrier Reef was now in a “terminal stage” – a phrase used by one (understandably frustrated) expert in the Guardian’s coverage of the story and recycled into all sorts of other online reports, which then did loops on Twitter.

“Oh Christ,” I thought, “James Delingpole is going to love this.” Skip forward a few hours and the columnist did his thing on Breitbart – don’t go looking for it, but let’s just say I was proved right. For a bleached reef is not a dead reef as you no doubt know – and the climate-change deniers have enjoyed the chance to throw around more allegations of “scaremongering” and their accusations that “Greenies don’t do science” – which is, of course, ridiculous.

Such backlash from climate-change deniers like Delingpole is inevitable. But in this case, I think the conservation hand really was overplayed. Is the Great Barrier Reef really in terminal decline? Is it really done and dusted? I don’t think so. Because coral bleaching, though incredibly serious and concerning, quite simply is not death. (Indeed the scientists involved in the study themselves said: “Bleached corals are not necessarily dead corals …”). Coral reefs can recover. There is reason for hope, therefore. Hope, but not complacency.

Looking at other reefs around the world offers us some perspective. Of 21 reefs monitored by scientists in the Seychelles, for instance, 12 have since recovered after a coral bleaching episode in 1998. (The other nine? Now seaweed-covered ruins). In Palau, many reefs recovered within a decade after being hit by the same 1998 temperature spike. Likewise, in an isolated reef system in Western Australia, that same bleaching episode also affected 90% of the corals. For six years the reef remained bleached, but by 2010 it had recovered.

This isn’t to say that all reefs can recover. But given time and enough protection from other threats, there is hope.

Though bleaching events have never been known to occur back-to-back (for example in 2016 and 2017) as they have in parts of the Great Barrier Reef this year, the reef has recovered from bleaching events before in 1998 and 2002 – and no doubt before that. It can recover, given time and the security a commitment to global carbon emission targets would bring. It can, and must, survive this latest episode of bleaching. After all, the Great Barrier Reef is worth £3.5bn to the Australian economy each year, and keeps 69,000 people in work. As well as being a bubbling, spiralling three-dimensional maze of biological interactions, it’s also an economic nest-egg for Australia. What sort of government would want to squander that?

So it’s not terminal, yet. Instead, the bleaching is an indicator that yet another wild place is taking a battering. That yet another flag is waving. That the climate is changing. That the incredible symbiosis of algae and coral is breaking down. We must act immediately.


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