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« Reply #15 on: Jan 16, 2017, 06:54 AM »

Do not abandon hope of two-state solution, world warns Israel and Trump

Middle East peace conference in Paris was attended by 70 nations – but not by Israel and UK was present only as an observer

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor in Paris
Sunday 15 January 2017 20.11 GMT

The major powers – with the exception of Britain – sent out a warning to Israel and Donald Trump on Sunday not to abandon the hope of a two-state solution to end the Arab-Israeli conflict and urged all parties to disassociate themselves from voices that reject such a diplomatic solution to the deepest conflict in the Middle East.

Britain refused to sign the communique and attended only at observer level, unlike most EU states. It said it had “reservations about an international conference intended to advance peace between the parties that does not involve them – indeed, which is taking place against the wishes of the Israelis – and which is taking place just days before the transition to a new American president when the US will be the ultimate guarantor of any agreement. There are risks therefore that this conference hardens positions at a time when we need to be encouraging the conditions for peace”.

The British government probably fears that the conference risks becoming an attempt to circumscribe US policy on Israel before the Trump team has decided this. It is a primary tenet of UK foreign policy that the “special relationship” with the US is critical to the UK. With Britain expected to leave the EU within two years, the government may feel an even greater need not to alienate Trump.

The French-convened Paris conference on the Middle East on Sunday was attended by 70 nations, including the outgoing US secretary of state, John Kerry. It declared it will not recognise “unilateral steps that prejudge the outcome of negotiations on final status issues including Jerusalem, borders, security and refugees”.

It called for for a reversal of the “current negative trends on the ground including continued acts of violence and ongoing settlement activity”.

The French said the conference, which has been derided by Israel, was not designed for detailed peace talks but to broadly set out the parameters of an agreement and lay out the economic incentives available for each side if they re-engaged in talks.

Jean-Marc Ayrault, the French foreign minister, said “the talks process had come to a grinding halt. There is no peace possible if we do not reaffirm the the two-state solution. There is no other option.” Any solution, the communique said, would have to fully end the occupation that began in 1967 and satisfy Israel’s security needs.

The reference in the communique does not explicitly extend to any steps the incoming US administration might take to move its embassy to Jerusalem from Tel-Aviv, a step that would be seen as a symbolic acceptance that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

Donald Trump’s choice as US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, opposes the two-state solution and has said he could move some of his offices to Jerusalem. Other Trump administration figures have been less clear cut.

Kerry said a direct reference to Trump’s possible embassy plans “does not belong with international fora at the moment”. But Ayrualt said he will tell the incoming US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, that such unilateral moves would be treated as a provocation, adding that there would be extremely serious consequences. “When you are president of the United States, you cannot take such a stubborn and such a unilateral view on this issue. You have to try to create the conditions for peace,” he told France 3 TV.

Kerry said the Paris meeting showed “a constructive readiness to engage with Israel that has not really been put on the table” in recent years.

The wording of the final communique includes some softening from the draft, which highlighted a distinction between products from illegally occupied Israeli territories and the rest of Israel, wording that had been included in the controversial UN security council resolution passed without a US veto in December.

Over recent weeks the Paris conference has gradually transformed from an attempt to reopen talks between Israel and Palestine into a defensive operation to protect the possibility of a two-state solution. The French have repeatedly warned that more illegal Israeli settlements would end the chance of a Palestinian state.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, refused to attend the talks, saying he will only hold direct bilateral talks with the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas.

Ayrault accepted that Netanyahu had changed his mind about the conference, adding that “at present the two sides seem far far removed from coming to the negotiating table”.

But the Palestinian leader, Mahmound Abbas, approved of the conference, saying he will meet the French shortly to discuss the next steps. Netanyahu dismissed the talks as rigged and the “last twitches of yesterday,” a reference to the changing of the political guard in Washington and Paris. “These are the death throes of yesterday’s world. Tomorrow will look different.”

Most senior EU foreign ministers attended, underlining the extent to which Britain may steer a different foreign policy course outside the EU.

François Hollande, the French president, defended the conference from those who said it was worthless, saying his efforts were not naïve and adding “there would be nothing more cynical than to do nothing to bring two parties together to end the region’s oldest conflict”.

In a bid to assuage Israel, Kerry also personally rang Netanyahu to promise that the communique will not be used as a basis to launch a second round of criticism of Israel at the security council this week. However the issue is likely to be taken up at the EU foreign affairs council in Brussels.

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« Reply #16 on: Jan 16, 2017, 07:02 AM »

Germany hits back at Trump criticism of refugee policy and BMW tariff threat

Deputy chancellor blames America’s ‘flawed interventionist policy’ for refugee crisis and warns of ‘bad awakening’ for US carmakers

Philip Oltermann in Berlin and Alec Luhn in Moscow
Monday 16 January 2017 12.46 GMT

Berlin has mounted a staunch defence of its policies after Donald Trump criticised the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, for her stance during the refugee crisis and threatened a 35% tariff on BMW cars imported into the US.

Germany’s deputy chancellor and minister for the economy, Sigmar Gabriel, said on Monday morning that a tax on German imports would lead to a “bad awakening” among US carmakers since they were reliant on transatlantic supply chains.

“I believe BMW’s biggest factory is already in the US, in Spartanburg [South Carolina],” Gabriel, leader of the centre-left Social Democratic party, told the Bild newspaper in a video interview.

“The US car industry would have a bad awakening if all the supply parts that aren’t being built in the US were to suddenly come with a 35% tariff. I believe it would make the US car industry weaker, worse and above all more expensive. I would wait and see what the Congress has to say about that, which is mostly full of people who want the opposite of Trump.”

In an interview with Bild and the Times, the US president-elect had indicated that he would aim to realign the “out of balance” car trade between Germany and the US. “If you go down Fifth Avenue everyone has a Mercedes Benz in front of his house, isn’t that the case?” he said. “How many Chevrolets do you see in Germany? Not very many, maybe none at all … it’s a one-way street.”

Asked what Trump could do to make sure German customers bought more American cars, Gabriel said: “Build better cars.”

Shares in carmakers BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen fell on Monday morning following Trump’s comments. BMW shares were down 0.85%, shares in Daimler were 1.54% lower and Volkswagen shares were trading 1.07% down in early trading in Frankfurt.

All three carmakers have invested heavily in factories in Mexico, where production costs are lower than the US, with an eye to exporting smaller vehicles to the American market.

A BMW spokeswoman said a BMW Group plant in the central Mexican city of San Luis Potosi would build the BMW 3 Series starting from 2019, with the output intended for the world market. The plant in Mexico would be an addition to existing 3 Series production facilities in Germany and China.

Responding to Trump’s comments that Merkel had made an “utterly catastrophic mistake by letting all these illegals into the country”, Gabriel said the increase in the number of people fleeing the Middle East to seek asylum in Europe had partially been a result of US-led wars destabilising the region.

“There is a link between America’s flawed interventionist policy, especially the Iraq war, and the refugee crisis, that’s why my advice would be that we shouldn’t tell each other what we have done right or wrong, but that we look into establishing peace in that region and do everything to make sure people can find a home there again,” Gabriel said.

“In that area Germany and Europe are already making enormous achievements – and that’s why I also thought it wasn’t right to talk about defence spending, where Mr Trump says we are spending too little to finance Nato. We are making gigantic financial contributions to refugee shelters in the region, and these are also the results of US interventionist policy.”

Trump’s remarks on Nato were met more favourably in Moscow, where Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, agreed with the US president-elect that the alliance was “obsolete”.

“Since Nato is tailored toward confrontation, all its structures are dedicated to the ideals of confrontation, you can’t really call it a modern organisation meeting the ideas of stability, steady growth and security,” he said.

But Trump’s suggestion that the US could lift its sanctions on Russia in exchange for an agreement to reduce the countries’ nuclear arsenals elicited a cooler response.

Peskov said Russia had not been conducting talks with the US about nuclear arsenal reduction and said cancelling sanctions was not a political goal in Russia.

“Russia wasn’t the initiator in introducing these restrictions, and Russia, as the president of Russia has underlined, doesn’t intend to raise the issue of these sanctions in its foreign contacts,” he said.

Last month, Putin said Russia needed to strengthen its strategic nuclear forces. Leonid Slutsky, a Russian MP, said he “wouldn’t connect these two issues and make the cancellation of sanctions a negotiating point in such a delicate area as nuclear security”.

Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the foreign affairs committee in the Russian senate, said the cancellation of sanctions was “definitely not an end in and of itself for Russia”.

“It’s not even a strategic goal for which something needs to be sacrificed, especially in the security sphere,” he told state news agency RIA Novosti. “We think [sanctions] are a bad legacy of the departing White House team that need to be sent after it into history.”

Following Trump’s election victory in November, Merkel had offered the president-elect close cooperation on the basis of the shared values of “democracy, freedom, and respect for the law and the dignity of man, independent of origin, skin colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or political views”.

Gabriel, who is expected to run as the centre-left candidate against Merkel in Germany’s federal elections in September, said Trump’s election should encourage Europeans to stand up for themselves.

“On the one hand, Trump is an elected president. When he is in office, we will have to work with him and his government – respect for a democratic election alone demands that,” Gabriel said. “On the other hand, you need to have enough self-confidence. This isn’t about making ourselves submissive. What he says about trade issues, how he might treat German carmakers, the question about Nato, his view on the European Union – all these require a self-confident position, not just on behalf of us Germans but all Europeans. We are not inferior to him, we have something to bring to the table too.

“Especially in this phase in which Europe is rather weak, we will have to pull ourselves together and act with self-confidence and stand up for our own interests.”

Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said the chancellor had read the Trump interview “with interest”, but declined to comment in more detail until the president-elect had been sworn in. “We are now waiting for President Trump to start his term and will then work closely with the new government,” he said.

Martin Schäfer, a spokesman for the German foreign ministry, rejected Trump’s labelling of the EU as a “vehicle for Germany”. He said: “For the German government, Europe has never been a means to an end, but a community of fate which, in times of collapsing old orders, is more important than ever.”

The foreign ministry also rejected Trump’s criticism that creating “security zones” in Syria would have been considerably cheaper than accepting refugees fleeing the war-torn country. “What exactly such a security zone is meant to be is beyond my comprehension and would have to be explained,” said Schäfer, adding that there had not been enough willingness among the international community to lend military support to create a no-fly zone in Syria.



01/15/2017 05:16 PM

Trump's World Order: Merkel Anticipates Frosty Relations with U.S.

Doubts are growing inside Angela Merkel's Chancellery that the incoming American president will mature and become a statesman. The chancellor is preparing for frosty trans-Atlantic relations while at the same time trying to pull Europe together. By SPIEGEL Staff

The hour-long video didn't exactly put the German chancellor in a cheerful mood. The footage was from Donald Trump's recent appearance in Pennsylvania during his so-called Thank You Tour and Angela Merkel, as she told the national executive committee of her center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), watched the rally in its entirety. She recommended that her fellow party members do the same. "It is interesting to see the thought environment he inhabits," she said.

During his speech, Trump celebrated a landslide victory that was anything but; he blasted the press ("the world's most dishonest people") and in no way left the impression that he has matured into a statesman following his election win. But one passage really stood out in Merkel's memory and she quoted it verbatim: "There is no such thing as a global anthem, a global currency, a global flag. We salute one flag, and that is the American flag."

Merkel described Trump's speech as "culturally interesting," saying that it indicated the political direction the president-elect might take. Trump, she said, has announced plans for massive tax cuts and added that his primary focus is America first. Merkel made her comments in a calm tone of voice, but the extent of her concern was clear to all who attended the pre-Christmas meeting: She is preparing for the worst.

Merkel Critical of Trump

Merkel largely refrained from public comment during the US election campaign and she considered it a mistake when Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier publicly described the Republican candidate as a "hate preacher." That doesn't, however, mean that she doesn't share his opinion.

Internally, she makes no secret of what she thinks about Trump's campaign. No other presidential candidate in the history of the United States has ever violated the rules of decency to the degree that Trump has. That's how Merkel sees it. That helps explain why, in a brief statement given to the press following his Nov. 9 election, she held the kind of moral sermon that no previous German chancellor had ever delivered to a US president.

She said that "Germany and America are connected by values of democracy, freedom and respect for law." She then offered close cooperation with the next president on the "basis of these values." It was the language of a parole officer trying to get her charge back on the right track. Merkel didn't just say this publicly -- she also repeated it during an hour-long telephone conversation with Trump on Nov. 11. The future president remained friendly, but was apparently thoroughly unimpressed.

Trump Is No Second Coming of Ronald Reagan

The more optimistic minds in the Chancellery still held the view in the days following Trump's election that the real estate tycoon could become a second Ronald Reagan. Reagan too showed a weakness for crudity. The moment in August 1984 remains memorable -- when, during a sound check prior to his weekly radio address, he jokingly said: "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes." The recording was eventually leaked. By the end of his two terms in office in January 1989, however, Reagan had come to be seen as a leader who had led the US to several years of prosperity.

More recently, though, Merkel's Chancellery staff is coming to the realization that comparisons between Reagan and Trump aren't entirely accurate. Reagan didn't chart a collision course with his own party. And before entering the White House, he had spent eight years as the governor of California, a state that is larger than Germany and has a population of around 40 million people.

Every American presidential candidate must pursue methods during the election campaign that aren't ethically immaculate. But no one has stretched them as far as Donald Trump, and he is showing no intention of changing the style that resulted in him winning the Republican nomination and, ultimately, the presidency.

Merkel and her advisors were shocked that Trump refused to abandon his Twitter account, even after his Nov. 9 victory. How he, in all seriousness, suggested to British Prime Minister Theresa May that she should appoint Brexit populist Nigel Farage, one of her worst political adversaries, as her country's ambassador to Washington. Before then turning his attention to late-night television, issuing grades to actors who spoofed him on "Saturday Night Live." ("Not funny ... Sad.")

It's not Trump's ideology that worries Merkel most. His opinions, after all, morph quickly, something that Merkel has experienced personally. As recently as August 2015, he said the German chancellor was "probably the greatest leader in the world today." Then the refugee crisis came and Trump said, "What she's done in Germany is insane. It's insane."

It's Trump's character that worries Merkel most, his craving to be loved and admired and his fury against all those who refuse to do so. Merkel has been in office for 11 years and she knows very well just how unstable the world order has become. "Many have the feeling that the world has been turned upside down," she said at the CDU's annual party conference at the beginning of December. It was a tone that one seldom hears from Angela Merkel.

A New Berlusconi?

There is, of course, an element of self-interest in her words given that Merkel stands to profit during her re-election campaign this year if Germans see her as the last bastion of stability in a world gone mad. But there was more to it than that.

It was only with considerable effort that the international community managed to persuade China to sign the global climate agreement. How is that agreement going to take root in an environment where the U.S. president considers global warming to be the invention of a few crazed environmentalists?

The nuclear deal with Iran was one of the few diplomatic successes seen in recent years. Now Trump is pining for the days when Iran's economy was "choked" by sanctions, as he puts it. And what will happen with Ukraine if Trump sees sanctions merely as an unnecessary provocation of Russian leader Vladimir Putin?

Merkel is no amateur when it comes to dealing with difficult men. In 2002, Edmund Stoiber, who at the time was head of the powerful Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's CDU, snatched the chancellor candidacy away from her. In 2007, Vladimir Putin took great pleasure in Merkel's angst-ridden face when his Labrador crept up to the dog-shy chancellor's feet. Sources in the Chancellery say the most accurate Trump comparison is former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi -- a man who, even at his advanced age, tolerates no doubts about his virility and, like Trump, doesn't spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about manners.

At a 2009 NATO summit in the city of Kehl, Germany, Berlusconi made hostess Merkel wait on the red carpet as he took his sweet time to finish a call on his mobile phone. That same year, a phone conversation conducted by Berlusconi was leaked in which he made extremely impolite comments about Merkel's figure.

But Merkel has a knack for dealing with a somewhat cocky charm. Within her party, people like to share an anecdote about how Berlusconi actually did fall into line in crunch time, as he did during climate negotiations. "Angela," he then asked, "is today the day I have to give in?"

Merkel Knows Little About Trump Administration

Will Trump ultimately fall into line? Merkel's problem is that she knows very little about the real estate mogul and his new administration. During the election campaign, there was only sporadic contact between the German government and Trump's people, which was also a product of the fact that few in Berlin believed the Republican candidate would actually win.

In April, Steinmeier's state secretary Markus Ederer met with former Air Force colonel Sam Clovis. The Iowa Republican sought to ease the German's concern about a possible Trump victory. But whenever Ederer probed deeper, Clovis was unable to provide satisfactory answers. Germany's Ambassador to Washington, Peter Wittig, had a similar experience when he met with Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner in spring 2016. Steinmeier even made several telephone calls to former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, "but even he couldn't help us," the foreign minister told the German parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee the day after the election.

Since then, the German government has sought to intensify its contacts with the Trump camp. In early December, Andreas Michaelis, the director of the Foreign Ministry, and Thomas Bagger, the head of the ministry's Planning Staff, traveled to the United States. And in mid-December, the chancellor dispatched her foreign policy advisor, Christoph Heusgen, to New York.

It's Merkel's belief that Trump is only impressed by strength. She found it appalling to watch former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney beg Trump for the secretary of state as though he were a candidate on some TV talent show even though, during the campaign, he had described Trump as a "phony" and "fraud" whose "promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University." In the end, Romney lost more than just the casting show -- he also lost his dignity.

Merkel also had trouble understanding why Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was unable to wait to set up an appointment with Trump, instead flying to New York only nine days after his election in order to ensure his good graces.

The End of the World Order as We Know It?

The chancellor is fully aware of what is at stake. If Trump carries out even part of what he promised during his campaign, then the world order as Merkel knows it would be relegated to the dustbin of history. The messages that Merkel's emissaries have been given by Trump's people so far haven't been particularly encouraging. They have reported that the new president will make his decisions based solely on domestic policy considerations. His foreign policy will be dictated by how his decisions will be seen by voters at home.

Trump also has a penchant for dismissing the warnings of his advisers and allies. This creates the additional problem that efforts to coax or even pressure the new president may have the opposite of the intended effect. "To Trump, what matters is not if his decisions are coherent, but how they are perceived," says one diplomat who represented the German government in Washington.

Those in German foreign policy circles are currently examining developments in the Middle East with particular concern. The situation there is already complicated enough: Syria is embroiled in a civil war and the Israeli government has more or less abandoned the two-state solution aimed at creating real peace with the Palestinians. The only ray of light has been the nuclear deal with Iran that was reached in July 2015, to which Steinmeier contributed.

Tying Hands over Tehran

Trump wants to dismantle this deal. Back in March, Trump said he considered the treaty to be a mistake. "My No. 1 priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran," Trump said in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an influential pro-Israel lobbying group.

Dismantling is precisely what Trump has in mind. Trump's advisers in New York have said that the new president will not formally revoke the agreement. But he will do everything he can to ensure that the deal does not result in the resumption of normalized relations. Even without those moves, plans to resume trade between Europe and Iran aren't going as quickly as hoped out of fear of possible reprisals from the United States.

Many European banks have refused to provide financing for deals with Iran out of fears for their US operations. All observers are united in their belief that Trump will increase this pressure. One possible outcome is that the Iranian government could nullify the nuclear deal on its own because it finds itself in the position of no longer being able to justify itself to opposition hardliners.

This, in turn, could spark another arms race in the Middle East. This wouldn't just entail Iran resuming its nuclear efforts, but it could also prompt Saudi Arabia to pursue its own atomic bomb. At that point, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could pull his plans for a preemptive strike back out of the drawer. That's why, Berlin government sources say, even Israeli diplomats are praising the advantages of the nuclear deal with Trump's people behind closed doors.

Difficult Years in Trans-Atlantic Relations

"We have to brace for difficult years in trans-Atlantic relations," says one high-ranking German diplomat. Even during his presidency, Barack Obama shifted much of the US focus to China and the Pacific region, largely leaving it to Merkel and the Europeans to deal with the Ukraine crisis. What assistance he did provide came in the form of supporting sanctions against Russia and preventing Congressional hawks from further heating up the conflict by providing U.S. weapons deliveries to Kiev.

Trump has since announced that he wants to remove the tension in U.S. relations with Putin. During the campaign, Trump indicated that he no longer felt obliged to NATO's mutual defense clause. When asked by the New York Times whether the Baltic states would be defended against a Russian attack, the then-presidential candidate said in July it would depend on whether they had fulfilled their obligations to the United States.

In both the Chancellery and the Defense Ministry there is hope that not even Trump would dare to shake the pillars of the postwar order. This optimism is based largely on Trump's decision to appoint General James Mattis as head of the Pentagon. A number of high-level German officers got to know Mattis in Afghanistan, where he served as brigadier general. They describe him as a straightforward officer not easily intimidated. Mattis is a champion of the trans-Atlantic alliance, having spent two years as the Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, one of NATO's highest posts. Sources in the German Defense Ministry say they believe that Mattis will make clear to the president the importance of Europe and the Western alliance.

Alarm Over Other Appointments

Still, the government in Berlin is less hopeful when it comes to other appointments Trump has made. A number of German military personnel also got to know Trump's designated national security adviser, Michael Flynn, during the time he served as a senior staffer for American ISAF Commander Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan. The verdict among German military officials is as unanimous as it is scathing. "At best, he is useful as a locomotive fire tender and not as a strategist," says one German military officer who has since retired.

In Kabul, Flynn was thought to care little about collateral damage. Whereas his boss McChrystal always took pains to avoid civilian losses, Flynn seemed less concerned about killing innocent Afghans. One German officer says it is little wonder that Flynn never succeeded in getting promoted from a three-star to a four-star general. Soon, though, he will be sitting in the White House, where he will be tasked with coordinating U.S. security policy. Officials in Berlin are certain that those policies will not be overly friendly toward the trans-Atlantic alliance.

So, what can be done? The recognition is slowly sinking in across the continent that Europe in the past relied too heavily on the Americans and their military strength. At the EU summit in Brussels on Dec. 15, Merkel and her colleagues agreed to transfer a bit of sovereignty in defense matters that they had spent decades guarding zealously.

More joint military operations are planned, more civilian interventions and possibly even a joint headquarters: Concerns about America's possible pull-back have hastened things that for years had seemed implausible. "I have to say," Merkel announced after the meeting, "within only a few months, a considerable amount of cooperation has taken shape."

EU member states currently spend around 230 billion euros a year on defense, about one-third of the United States' military budget. But that figure is misleading. "We have 154 different types of weapons in Europe," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is fond of saying. "That figure is 24 in the USA. That shows that we are spending our money on defense poorly." The Commission recently estimated that member states waste between 25 billion and 100 billion euros a year by not working together more closely. They now want to change that.

If Europe were to close ranks, then Trump's election would have at least one positive effect. During his time as secretary of state, Henry Kissinger once famously quipped, "Who do I call if I want to speak to Europe?" It's possible that the EU may soon finally have such a number -- thanks to Donald Trump.

By Konstantin von Hammerstein, Peter Müller, Ralf Neukirch, René Pfister, Gordon Repinski and Christoph Schult

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« Reply #17 on: Jan 16, 2017, 07:04 AM »

French progressives dare to hope as maverick Macron surges in polls

Pro-EU, socially liberal and a political outsider, the former economy minister is drawing crowds who fear rise of Marine Le Pen

Angelique Chrisafis in Lille
Sunday 15 January 2017 18.33 GMT

From the stage in a packed concert hall, France’s youngest presidential candidate looked up at the thousands of people who had come to witness his trademark thunderous speaking style.

“Never accept those who promote exclusion, hatred or closing in on ourselves!” Emmanuel Macron urged the audience in Lille, a city surrounded by France’s leftwing northern heartlands that are increasingly turning to Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front National. “When the Front National promises to restore security points at the border, they are lying,” he said.

Then the maverick centrist, who is running an independent, outsider campaign, did something no others are doing. He hailed the European Union to a standing ovation. “Europe is us! Brussels is us! We need Europe!” he shouted. Cheering supporters, many in their 20s, stood up waving EU flags.

Macron is becoming a growing phenomenon in the highly unpredictable French presidential election campaign. In recent weeks, the maverick former economy minister has begun to rise so steadily in polls that he is now seen as capable of causing a major surprise in the spring vote – perhaps able to reach the final round by knocking out one of the current top contenders: the rightwing, social conservative, free-market reformist François Fillon and the far-right, anti-immigration, anti-EU Marine Le Pen.

When Macron launched his outsider bid to blow apart the inadequacies of the “vacuous” political class two months ago, he was bucking every trend in French politics. The 39-year-old former investment banker, who had been a chief adviser and then economy minister to François Hollande, was not a member of any political party. He had never run for any kind of election. He defined himself as “neither left nor right”, and only two years before, the public had never even heard of him. He was more than a decade younger than any serious presidential contender, and his disgruntled opponents inside French traditional parties said he was a “champagne bubble” waiting to burst.

But now, with huge numbers turning up to his rallies, rising ratings and one poll this week showing he was France’s most popular politician, the political novice who has promised to revolutionise the way France is governed is being eyed nervously by the other main candidates.

There are no foregone conclusions in the French presidential race, and the final line up of candidates for the two rounds in April and May is not yet known. But Macron wants to show he can buck a recent trend in western politics – he styles himself as a liberal “progressive” who believes he can triumph against the odds in a political landscape where support for the extremes is growing.

More than 4,500 people in Lille turned out to see Macron, a very high number in the historically Socialist city. Far from the well-heeled dotcom entrepreneurs who attended Macron’s first rally in Paris last summer, they were of all ages, from students and sixth-formers, to doctors, hauliers, teachers, pensioners and local business people. Macron is economically liberal and a pro-business reformist, but he is firmly on the left on social issues, including on the freedom to practise religion in a neutral state, on equality and immigration.

“I’m afraid of the rise of Marine Le Pen and if Macron proves a possible rampart against her then I’m interested,” said Franck Tronet, a former wedding photographer on disability benefit who lives near Calais and considered himself centre-left. “Macron represents something new in French politics. He’s young, he’s not aggressive, he’s always smiling and that’s a good thing.”

The growing curiosity about Macron and his fledgling movement, En Marche (Forward), is also linked to disappointment in other parties. The Socialists are in disarray and expected to fare badly no matter who they choose as their candidate in an open primary race this month. Fillon’s rightwing campaign is struggling to take off.

Fanny Brunet, 24, an engineering student from Aix-en-Provence, once voted Socialist. “Emmanuel Macron is young; he sees the world the way we see it,” she said. “I want realism; I’m fed up with politicians making promises that can’t be kept.”

Ghislaine Desbordes, 50, a trainer in office management and an independent local councillor from Wambrechies, near Lille, approved of Macron’s regular appearances on the front cover of celebrity magazines with his wife, who is 24 years older and was once his drama teacher. “Having an older wife means he’s tolerant in life. He’s not closed-minded,” she said.

Macron’s critics say France has a long tradition of an outsider “third man” peaking before a presidential election but then fading away. There are many variables – such as whether or not the veteran centrist François Bayrou decides to run, and whether disgruntled Socialists defect to Macron, seeing him as the only way to stop the far right.

Macron’s trip to the north did not all go according to plan. His comments in the former mining heartlands that the difficulties, social and health problems in the area included high rates of “smoking and alcoholism” were attacked by one local Front National mayor as the Parisian elite stereotyping the northern working classes.

Yves-Marie Cann, political director at the Elabe polling group in Paris, said: “Some saw Macron as a bubble that would burst, so far that isn’t the case. The indicators show that he is now a weighty candidate.

“If the momentum around him continues, he could reshuffle the cards and disprove predictions that the final run-off will be between Fillon and Le Pen. He could re-orientate the second round into a battle that is Fillon versus Macron or Le Pen versus Macron. This is not yet the case – Fillon and Le Pen remain the frontrunners – but the campaign is about to begin in earnest and things could change.”

Pierre Mathiot, a politics professor at Lille’s Sciences Po university, said: “There are two questions. First: will French voters accept a candidate who says he is above the left-right divide? Second: is he credible when he says he embodies change, a break with the past and a new way of politically doing things?

“Those factors, added to the poor health of the Socialist party and the poor start for Fillon, could carry him far in terms of results,” said Mathiot.

One 28-year-old IT technician from Lille had come to the rally out of curiosity. He has always voted right but thought Fillon was “too socially conservative and wants too much austerity”. Afterwards he said: “Macron has really given me a boost. If enough people come to see him live, he’ll rise higher and higher. I found him quite exhilarating.”

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Pig Trump and Pig Putin to hold summit 'within weeks'

President-elect reported to be planning to meet Russian counterpart in Reykjavik shortly after becoming assuming office

Alexandra Topping
Sunday 15 January 2017 15.21 GMT

Donald Trump’s first foreign trip is to be to Iceland for a summit with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, according to reports.

In a move that echoes Ronald Reagan’s cold war meeting in Reykjavik with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986, Trump and his team have reportedly told British officials that the summit will take place within weeks of him becoming US president.

The Icelandic capital is thought to be the most likely place host the talks as it did three decades ago, according to the Sunday Times.

The summit would be an attempt to rest reset western relations with the Kremlin, with the agenda thought to include a deal limiting nuclear weapons. The news comes as Trump continues to face claims that Russia holds material which could be used to blackmail him.

On Saturday the president-elect said he would consider dropping sanctions against Russia if Moscow helped tackle terrorism and worked with the US on other goals, although they would remain in place “at least for a period of time”.

He also said he was willing to meet Putin. “I understand that they would like to meet, and that’s absolutely fine with me,” he said.

A source who discussed the plan with Trump and officials at the Russian embassy in London told the Times: “The idea of a summit with Putin is definitely on the cards. The Russians are also keen on it.”

A Trump adviser confirmed the president-elect’s intention to meet Putin very soon and said that Reykjavik was under active consideration.

“What does Putin want?” the adviser said. “Prestige, centre stage at the sum­mit, the one-on-one meet­ing, the hand on the back from Trump. That gives the US tremendous leverage. Mr Trump is master of the photo op and he will use that skill.”

The news is unlikely to be welcomed by senior figures in the British government, who fear a deepening relationship between the US and Russia under Trump risks leaving Britain out in the cold. It is understood Downing Street expects Theresa May to visit Trump at the White House in the second half of February.

Britain has called for sanctions against Moscow over Putin’s aggression in Ukraine and Syria. It is understood that British intelligence has sought reassurance from the CIA that UK agents in Russia will be protected when intelligence is shared, the Times reported.

A British intelligence source with extensive transatlantic experience said US spies had labelled Trump and his advisers’ links to the Kremlin problematic. “Until we have established whe­ther Trump and senior mem­­bers of his team can be trusted, we’re going to hold back,” the source told the Times. “Putting­ it bluntly, we can’t risk betraying sources and methods to the Russians.”

Russia has caused further alarm by announcing plans to move thousands of tanks and tens of thousands of troops to Nato’s borders this year in a development that has caused concern among the Baltic states.

Trump’s claims that he has “nothing to do with Russia” appear to have been contradicted by his son Donald Jr, who reportedly said in a speech in 2008 that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section” of a lot of the Trump Organisation’s assets.

The Russian embassy in London referred calls to the foreign affairs ministry in Moscow, which did not comment­.


Trump plans to end sanctions if Putin agrees to cut nukes: ‘Russia’s hurting very badly right now’

16 Jan 2017 at 06:32 ET                  

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump will propose offering to end sanctions imposed on Russia for its annexation of Crimea in return for a nuclear arms reduction deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he told The Times of London.

Trump, in an interview with the newspaper published online on Sunday, was deeply critical of previous U.S. foreign policy, describing the invasion of Iraq as possibly the gravest error in the history of the United States and akin to “throwing rocks into a beehive”.

But ahead of his inauguration on Friday as the 45th U.S. president, Trump raised the prospect of the first major step toward nuclear arms control since President Barack Obama struck a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia in 2010.

“They have sanctions on Russia — let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia,” the Republican president-elect was quoted as saying by The Times.

“For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it. But Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are gonna benefit.”

The United States and Russia are by far the world’s biggest nuclear powers. The United States has 1,367 nuclear warheads on deployed strategic missiles and bombers, while Russia has 1,796 such deployed warheads, according to the latest published assessment by the U.S. State Department.

Trump has vowed to improve relations with Moscow even as he faces criticism he is too eager to make an ally of Putin, a former KGB spy who rose to the top of the Kremlin in 1999.

The issue has faced renewed scrutiny after an unsubstantiated report that Russia had collected compromising information about Trump.

The unverified dossier was summarized in a U.S. intelligence report presented to him and Obama this month that concluded Russia tried to sway the outcome of the Nov. 8 election in Trump’s favor by hacking and other means. The report did not make an assessment on whether Russia’s attempts affected the election’s outcome.

Trump accused U.S. intelligence agencies of leaking the dossier information, which he called “fake news” and phony stuff.” Intelligence leaders denied the charge.

Russian relations

In the interview with The Times, Trump was also critical of Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war, which along with the help of Iran, has tilted the conflict in President Bashar al-Assad’s favor.

Trump said Putin’s intervention in Syria was “a very bad thing” that had led to a “terrible humanitarian situation”.

The war has killed more than 300,000 people, created the world’s worst refugee crisis and aided the rise of the Islamic State militant group.

On NATO, Trump repeated his view that the military alliance was obsolete but added it was still very important for him.

“I took such heat, when I said NATO was obsolete,” Trump told The Times, speaking of comments during his presidential campaign. “It’s obsolete because it wasn’t taking care of terror. I took a lot of heat for two days. And then they started saying Trump is right.”

Trump added that many NATO members were not paying their fair share for U.S. protection.

“A lot of these countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to be paying, which I think is very unfair to the United States,” Trump said. “With that being said, NATO is very important to me. There’s five countries that are paying what they’re supposed to. Five. It’s not much.”

Trump also said he would appoint his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to broker a Middle East peace deal, urged Britain to veto any new U.N. Security Council resolution critical of Israel and criticized Obama’s handling of the Iran nuclear deal.

On Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Trump said: “Brexit is going to end up being a great thing” and said he was eager to get a trade deal done with the United Kingdom.


John Brennan: Trump's 'Nazi Germany' tweet to US agencies was 'outrageous'

The outgoing CIA director admonished the president-elect for ‘talking and tweeting’ without fully understanding Russia’s threat to national security

Staff and agencies
Sunday 15 January 2017 20.52 GMT

Departing CIA director John Brennan criticized Donald Trump on Sunday for his approach to national security, saying the president-elect should not be carelessly “talking and tweeting” without understanding Russia’s threat to the US.

Brennan also said he took “great umbrage” at Trump’s suggestion that agencies biased against him were behaving as if the US were “Nazi Germany”.

“Now that he’s going to have an opportunity to do something for our national security as opposed to talking and tweeting,” Brennan told Fox News Sunday, “he’s going to have tremendous responsibility to make sure that US and national security interests are protected.

“I think he has to be mindful that he does not have a full appreciation and understanding of what the implications are of going down that road.”

Trump has repeatedly praised Russian president Vladimir Putin and criticized American intelligence officers, accusing them of letting “fake news”, about what intelligence agencies believe to be Russian hacks on political parties and alleged contacts with Trump’s campaign, appear in press reports.

“One last shot at me,” Trump tweeted this week. “Are we living in Nazi Germany?”

    Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)

    Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to "leak" into the public. One last shot at me.Are we living in Nazi Germany?
    January 11, 2017

Brennan called the comparison of the CIA, NSA, FBI and the director of national intelligence offensive to American officers.

“What I do find outrageous is equating an intelligence community with Nazi Germany,” he said. “I do take great umbrage at that, and there is no basis for Mr Trump to point fingers at the intelligence community for leaking information that was already available publicly.”

Undaunted, on Sunday Trump used Twitter to comment further on this week’s publication by BuzzFeed of an unsubstantiated intelligence dossier, writing: “Thank you to [journalist] Bob Woodward who said, ‘That is a garbage document … it never should have been presented … Trump’s right to be upset (angry) about that …

“Those Intelligence chiefs made a mistake here, & when people make mistakes, they should APOLOGIZE. Media should also apologize.”

After weeks of insisting that China or “a 400-pound guy” could have hacked his political opponents, Trump conceded this week: “I think it was Russia.”

His transition team has denied, however, alleged contacts between Trump aides and high-ranking officials in Russia. On Sunday, vice president-elect Mike Pence insisted there were no such contacts during the campaign.

Trump’s national security adviser, retired general Mike Flynn, spoke with Russia’s ambassador to the US, Sergei Kislyak, in late December around the time the US imposed sanctions on Russian officials. According to Pence, the men did not discuss those sanctions.

“It was strictly coincidental that they had a conversation,” Pence told CBS’s Face the Nation. “They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.”


Chinese state media mocks Trump: ‘We cannot help but laugh’

Sarah K. Burris
Raw Story
16 Jan 2017 at 06:39 ET                  

An editorial in the state-run news outlet Global Times of China is literally mocking U.S. President-elect Donald Trump.

“Trump’s thinking about China is becoming increasingly clear: He wants China to make huge economic and trade concessions to the U.S. To achieve that, he is willing to stir certain calm areas in China-U.S. relations, including treating the Taiwan issues as his trump card,” the editorial outlined, according to CNN’s John Berman. “We were simply angry initially, but now we can’t help but laugh at this U.S. leader-in-waiting. Maybe American voters ‘promoted’ him too quickly, his amateur remarks and over-confident manner are equally shocking.”

The op-ed comes as a response to Trump’s phone call with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and comments that the “One China” policy is “negotiable.”


A hellscape of lies and distorted reality awaits journalists covering President Trump

By Margaret Sullivan Media Columnist January 15 at 5:52 PM
WA Post

At the northeast corner of the National Archives building sits Robert Aitken’s sculpture “The Future,” inscribed with some famous words from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”: “What is past is prologue.”

If you buy that, it’s possible to have a solid idea of what Donald Trump’s presidency will be like for the American media and for citizens who depend on that flawed but essential institution.

The short form: hellish.

Consider, for example, the saga of Serge Kovaleski, the highly regarded New York Times reporter whose disability limits the use of his arms.

Yes, this is the reporter whom Trump mocked during the campaign — waving his arms in a crude but unmistakable imitation of Kovaleski’s movements. When criticized for doing so, Trump vehemently denied that mocking Kovaleski was even possible because he didn’t know him. (Which was also a lie.) All this, because Trump wanted to promote a myth — talk about “fake news” — that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated 9/11, which he falsely claimed Kovaleski reported while working at The Washington Post. Any reasonable person looking back at the facts would find that ­absurd.

What can this small chapter tell us about what’s to come?

That Trump will be what columnist Frida Ghitis of the Miami Herald calls “the gaslighter in chief” — that he will pull out all the stops to make people think that they should believe him, not their own eyes. (“Gaslighting” is a reference to the 1940s movie in which a manipulative husband psychologically abuses his wife by denying the reality that the gaslights in their home are growing dimmer and dimmer.)

“The techniques,” Ghitis wrote, “include saying and doing things and then denying it, blaming others for misunderstanding, disparaging their concerns as oversensitivity, claiming outrageous statements were jokes or misunderstandings, and other forms of twilighting the truth.”

But that’s just part of what experience teaches us to expect from Trump.

Here’s another: Trump will punish journalists for doing their jobs. Famously touchy and unable to endure serious scrutiny, he has always been litigious — although, as journalist Tim O’Brien has pointed out based on Trump’s failed suit against him, sometimes unsuccessfully so.

Imagine that tendency, now with executive powers, a compliant attorney general and a lily-livered Congress. Trump’s reign will probably be awash in investigations and prosecutions of journalists for doing their jobs, stirring up the ugliest of class wars along the way.

What’s worse, as investigative reporter James Risen wrote recently, President Obama has set the stage with his administration’s use of the once-forgotten Espionage Act to prosecute government whistleblowers and threaten journalists; the blueprint awaits.

Another: He will relentlessly manipulate. For example, Trump’s first news conference as president-elect last week featured a crowd of paid staffers who cheered his every statement, creating a false picture for viewers.

After all, his public image as reflected in media coverage is perhaps his highest priority. And he has assembled plenty of expert help.

As Emily Bell argued in the Columbia Journalism Review, Trump is a media entity unto himself: “For Trump, the medium is not just the message, it is the office, too.” His coterie stands ready: “His chief of strategy Steve Bannon was most recently editor in chief at Breitbart . . . Jared Kushner, the son-in-law with Trump’s ear, owned the New York Observer. Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley billionaire who put Gawker out of business by backing the multimillion-dollar lawsuit brought by Hulk Hogan, is also in the trusted inner circle of supporters.” And media mogul Rupert Murdoch, head of Fox, is said to talk to Trump several times a week.

So, we can expect President Trump to lie to the media, manipulate reality and go after those who upset the notion that adulation is his birthright.

After last week’s news conference, Russian journalist Alexey Kovalev wrote “A message to my doomed colleagues in the American media .” He warned: “This man owns you. He understands perfectly well that he is the news. You can’t ignore him. You’re always playing by his rules — which he can change at any time without any notice.”

To those who say let’s wait and see, or maybe it won’t be as bad as you think, or stay hopeful, I’m having none of it.

Journalists are in for the fight of their lives. And they are going to have to be better than ever before, just to do their jobs.

They will need to work together, be prepared for legal persecution, toughen up for punishing attacks and figure out new ways to uncover and present the truth.

Even so — if the past really is prologue — that may not be enough.


Bernie Sanders Strikes A Blow For Democracy And Won’t Call Trump A Legitimate President

By Jason Easley on Sun, Jan 15th, 2017 at 11:58 am

During an interview on ABC’s This Week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) raised serious concerns about Trump’s legitimacy, and when asked didn’t call the president-elect a legitimate president.

Transcript via ABC’s This Week:

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I) VERMONT: Well, what Cory Booker and John Lewis are right about is to talk about the racist past of Donald Trump.

We all remember that Trump was one of the leaders of the so-called birther movement trying to delegitimize the presidency of our first African-American President Barack Obama, which is an outrage.

So, I think right now, the focus has got to be on how we hold Trump accountable. What has been doing in the last week, attacking Hollywood actresses for criticizing him, I mean what would is this guy living in?

But right now what my job is, and I think the job of Democrats and Republicans, is to protect the middle class and working families of this country from some devastating ideas that Trump has proposed.

You will remember, George…

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think Donald Trump will be a legitimate president?

SANDERS: Well, I think he’s going to be inaugurated this week. I have great concerns, and apparently Republicans do as well, and there’s going to be an investigation about the role that Russian hacking played in getting him elected.

Do I think Russians supported him? Do I think they tried to get him elected? Do I think it worked against Clinton? I do. And that is something that has to be investigated.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Does that make him illegitimate?

SANDERS: But right now, what my job is — pardon me? Those are just words. Right now, what my — my job is right now going beyond media conflicts and words is to say that Donald Trump, among other things, told the American people he would not cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and right now Republicans in the House and Senate are doing just that.

Sanders, Lewis, Booker and others are far from alone. As long as questions remain about Russia’s role in helping Trump win the election, many will not view him as a legitimate president.

The years of birtherism that Republicans engaged in against Obama have come home to roost. Republicans opened up this door by working endlessly for eight years to delegitimize President Obama. Bernie Sanders is a pretty straight talker, so his lack of answer on questions of Trump’s legitimacy spoke volumes about how he feels.

Bernie Sanders is not willing to openly recognize Trump’s legitimacy. Republicans can try to ignore them, but the concerns are real, and they have already undermined Trump’s presidency.


A Revolution Erupts As Tens Of Thousands Storm Across America To Save Obamacare

By Jason Easley on Sun, Jan 15th, 2017 at 7:07 pm

Tens of thousands of Americans filled up rallies in 70 locations across the country as a new political movement was born in the effort to save Obamacare.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) released a statement on the more than 8,000 people who showed up in Warren, MI to defend the ACA.

At the Michigan rally, Sanders said, “I say to my Republican colleagues: yeah, you’re going to have to worry about Sen. Stabenow and Peters and all of us in the Senate and our friends in the House. But that’s the least of your worries. You’re going to have to worry about millions of people who are standing up, who are fighting back and who demand a day when health care will be a right of all people, not just a privilege.”

Picture of the Michigan crowd:

    @daveweigel 10K in Warren, MI! pic.twitter.com/TVNJNNqRw2

    — Michigan Resistance (@michresist) January 15, 2017

Dave Weigel of The Washington Post had some pics of the crowds:

    So far the Dem effort to reverse-engineer the Feb 2009 Tea Parties looks successful pic.twitter.com/1UMbdbdJZg

    — Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) January 15, 2017

    Rep. Jamie Raskin addressing one of two overflow crowds pic.twitter.com/p9fSOX5EiL

    — Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) January 15, 2017

The pictures of the crowds are direct evidence that contradicts the Republican claims that everyone hates Obamacare, but as Sen. Sanders pointed out, the success of these rallies across the country highlighted a much bigger problem for the GOP.

A health care fight that cost them dearly in 2008 has returned, and Republicans are once again, on the wrong side of the issue.

The Washington Post reported that these rallies attracted more than Democrats, “In Bowie, a number of rally attendees said they were also planning to join the Women’s March to be held in Washington the day after Trump’s inauguration. Some lifted unofficial signs from Sanders’s 2016 primary campaign; others said they had been galvanized by the election itself. Valencia Danner, 23, said that the Bowie rally was her first political event of any kind. Scott Gledhill, 73, said that he’d voted for Gary Johnson for president but was worried about Republicans’ plans regarding the ACA and Medicare.”

Trump has yet to take office, but a new political movement is galvanizing against his Republican Party.

The American people aren’t going sit back and let Trump and the Republicans repeal Obamacare and privatize Social Security and Medicare without a fight.

This isn’t a tea party. It’s a new American revolution, and it’s coming to take America back from Donald Trump.

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Women's March on Washington set to be one of America's biggest protests

Pink hats will be much in evidence as an extraordinarily wide range of groups come together to repudiate President Trump the day after his inauguration

Joanna Walters in New York
15 January 2017 15.00 GMT

It began as a spontaneous feminist rallying cry via social media. It has morphed into what is expected to be one of the largest demonstrations in American history – a boisterous march about a smorgasbord of progressive issues, and an extraordinary display of dissent on a president’s first day in office peppered with knit pink hats.

Before the bunting and barriers are even cleared away from Friday’s inauguration of Donald Trump, hundreds of thousands are likely to attend the Women’s March on Washington the following day, 21 January.

“A march of this magnitude, across this diversity of issues has never happened before,” said Kaylin Whittingham, president of the association of black women attorneys. “We all have to stand together as a force no one can ignore.”

The Women’s March now has almost 200 progressive groups, large and small, signing on as supporting partners. The issues they represent are as varied as the environment, legal abortion, prisoners’ rights, voting rights, a free press, affordable healthcare, gun safety, racial and gender equality and a higher minimum wage. Men are invited.

More than 300 simultaneous local protests will also occur, across all 50 states, and support marches are planned in 30 other countries, organizer Linda Sarsour said.

“We have no choice. We need to stand up against an administration that threatens everything we believe in, in what we hope will become one of the largest grassroots, progressive movements ever seen,” said Sarsour.

June Barrett, a domestic worker in Florida, was spurred to travel from Miami to Washington by Trump’s leaked audio tape in which he boasted of accosting women and “grabbing them by the pussy”.

She had been sexually assaulted by an elderly man in her professional care who grabbed her genitals, she said.

“When that tape came out, I went into a bit of a depression. And I’ve had to walk away from my Baptist church after they were strongly guiding us to vote for Trump and Mike Pence. It’s shaken my whole faith. I have to march against this hate,” said Barrett.

She moved to Florida from Jamaica in 2001.

“I’m a black woman, I’m queer, I’m an immigrant and everything that’s going to happen under Trump and Pence is going to affect me, perhaps adversely. It breaks my heart that so many women voted for them,” she said, referring to results that showed, among other things, that a majority of white women voted for the Republican ticket.

The Women’s March on Washington was conceived on 9 November. Teresa Shook, a retired lawyer in Hawaii, reacting to Trump’s shock win and his comments and actions related to women, posted on Facebook suggesting a protest timed around Trump’s inauguration. The message ended up on Pantsuit Nation, one of the invitation-only Facebook support groups lauded by Hillary Clinton in her concession speech.

Support surged overnight. But there was also an outcry because it was being seen as predominantly a white event.

It was also briefly known as the Million Women March, which sparked some anger because of its echoes of the Million Man March, in Washington in 1995, and the Million Woman March, in Philadelphia in 1997, both organized as predominantly African American demonstrations to protest against racism.

Changes were quickly made to the latest event.

“The presidential election was on the Tuesday and I came in on the Friday,” said Sarsour, who is also a civil rights activist in New York and an Arab American with Palestinian roots.

Gun control campaigner Tamika Mallory, who is black, and Carmen Perez, a Latina and civil rights worker also joined the leadership team, alongside female New York fashion designer Bob Bland.

“Some people think we are tokens, but I’m not just a pretty Muslim face – we’re leading this together,” said Sarsour, who is in charge of fundraising.

Many other grassroots efforts have emerged in the planning of the march. Among the most popular is an initiative to hand-knit pink “pussyhats” that thousands of attendees are expected to wear.

Larry Sabato, director of the center for politics at the University of Virginia, cited anti-Vietnam war demonstrations and civil rights-era protests that attracted crowds up to half a million as among the most prominent in US history – so far.

“It’s never happened that so many people have gathered in opposition to the new administration on day one,” said Sarsour. “Will it be the largest US mass mobilization ever? I’ll be able to tell you on January 22.”

Celebrities slated to attend include Scarlett Johansson, America Ferrera, Uzo Aduba, Zendaya, Katy Perry and Cher.

Thanu Yakupitiyage, spokeswoman for the advocacy group and march partner, the New York Immigration Coalition, is marching not just for immigrants’ rights but for women’s equality, fair police reforms and healthcare protection, she said.

“A lot of immigrant communities were scared by Trump’s vitriolic messages. Some who are undocumented or insecure may be afraid to march in Washington,” she said.

Colleen Flanagan will have to navigate her wheelchair amid seething masses of marching women.

“I may not be marching but I will personally be rolling in Washington – for all women,” said Flanagan, a Boston-based consultant on policy for the disabled.

Of Trump’s astonishing actions in mocking a disabled reporter, on camera, during the campaign, Flanagan said: “Such bullying just turns into wider discrimination in society.”

Following its rapid expansion in scale and scope, the march organizers on Thursday published the event’s new set of “unity principles”.

“It adds up to a comprehensive call for social justice and equal rights,” said Jessica Neuwirth, a human rights lawyer and president of a leading partner group, the Equal Rights Amendment Coalition.

Some progressives are still shunning the event, with reports both of white women feeling excluded by talk of race relations, and minority women citing privileged whites acknowledging too little, too late their struggle against chronic class and race discrimination.

But Jon O’Brien, who will attend the march as president of event partner Catholics For Choice, said the march is about “true solidarity”.

“There will be all kinds of people there,” he said. “White, black, LGBT, straight, Democrat, moderate Republican, rich, poor – in other words, America.”


Women's March on Washington: what to know and what to bring

For those attending the protest after Donald Trump’s inauguration, here’s a list of what you can and can’t bring – and a refresher on what your rights are

Nicole Puglise
Sunday 15 January 2017 14.00 GMT

The Women’s March on Washington will take place at 10am Saturday – the day after Donald Trump is officially sworn into office. More than 200,000 people are expected to attend, with participants traveling across the country.

Logistics can be tricky for any such large event, so if you’re planning to attend, here are some suggestions for what to bring and what you need to know:

What to bring

Posters or flags: both will be allowed, but flags cannot have poles and posters cannot have wooden sign posts, according to the march FAQ. If you’re making your own sign, guides like this one from i-D recommend using foam core instead of poster board. The Amplifier Foundation has chosen a selection of five posters that you can print and bring with you. A number will be distributed for free.

A small bag or clear backpack: be warned, there are size restrictions and bags may be subject to search. Transparent backpacks can be no larger than 17in by 12in by 6in, and small bags, purses or totes cannot exceed 8in by 6in by 4in.

Food: every participant is allowed to have one 12in by 12in by 6in plastic or gallon bag for meals. The FAQ also mentions food trucks, and DC of course has plenty of restaurants.

Your phone: for all your photography needs, live tweeting and, most importantly, keeping in contact with those with whom you travelled. A portable battery charger may not be a bad idea either.

A breast pump, if you need it: there are plans for lactation areas, though more information will be updated later on, the FAQ reads.

Other necessities: wallet, water, tissues, medications, bandages, sunscreen, snacks, hand sanitizer, sunglasses, hand warmers, a camera, and anything else you may need for a day outside.

Other people: the march “is for any person, regardless of gender or gender identity, who believes women’s rights are human rights”, according to the official website, which notes that “the decision to bring your children is a personal one”. The site also has information on accessibility for those with disabilities.

What not to bring

The FAQ says not to bring “anything that can be construed” – by law enforcement – “as a weapon”. The DC government has also compiled a list of security restrictions for public events during inauguration week.

What to wear

Warm clothing or layers: DC can get cold in the winter, so you’ll want to bring a hat, gloves or mittens, scarves and a coat. The Washington Post reports however that Saturday could be warmer than usual for the time of the year, with rain a possibility.

Comfortable shoes: you’ll probably be doing a lot of standing or walking, plus you’ll want warm, dry feet no matter the weather. The March begins at 10am and while details of the route have not yet been publicized, it could last until 5pm, according to the New York Times.

Clothing with pockets: with limitations on bag sizes, it may be easier to stow necessities in jacket or pant pockets.

Coordinated clothing: organizers haven’t specified a color to wear to unify the group, but you’re welcome to plan something with your group.

A pink Pussyhat: the Pussyhat Project hopes to outfit marchers with handmade, cat-eared hats in all shades of pink to create a “unique collective visual statement”, according to their site.
How to stay safe

Know the city: Monica Hopkins-Maxwell, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia, emphasized that attendees should make a plan ahead of time when going to any demonstration. That includes having meeting points in case you get disconnected from your group and understanding the basic layout of the city.

A website established by local DC government advises on street closures and getting around during the chaos of inauguration weekend.

Know what safety means to you: Hopkins-Maxwell recommends knowing what feels safe to you. “Safety is along a spectrum, right?” she asks. “What are you willing to engage in? What are you not willing to engage in?”

Know your rights: The ACLU will pass out pamphlets about knowing your rights when demonstrating in DC, compiled with Black Lives Matter DC, Law4BlackLives-DC and a number of other groups. Hopkins-Maxwell highlighted a few tips for interacting with police officers, including memorizing their badge numbers, which should be in plain view, specifying that you would like to remain silent, and knowing that you can ask if you are free to leave.

Know when not to engage: Should counter-protests occur, Hopkins-Maxwell recommended not engaging. If you are concerned about surveillance, she recommended using FaceTime or an app like Signal for communication, or using a temporary phone.

Though such precautions are an important step, Hopkins-Maxwell said she was not expecting any incidents. “In safety planning, you arm yourself with knowledge in case you need to use it and hope you don’t have to,” she said.

The website for the Women’s March said organizers are not expecting any arrests. The protest is permitted and city agencies have been involved in planning. A private security firm has been hired, trained marshals will be there to help and there will be legal observers too.

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« Reply #20 on: Jan 17, 2017, 05:59 AM »

January 17, 2017

Brain laser sparks ‘killer’ predatory instinct in mice

by Brett Smith
Red Orbit

The neurological source of hunting instincts may originate from two teams of neurons nestled deep in the forebrain of most vertebrates, according to a new study published in the journal Cell.

In the study, researchers found triggering these specific sets of neurons located in a section of the brain known as the amygdala prompted mice to go after prey and to nip at everything in their path, even twigs and bottle caps.

"This area, the central amygdala, seems to allow the animal precise control over the muscles involved in pursuing and capturing prey,'' study author Ivan de Araujo, associate professor of psychiatry at Yale University, said in a press release.

Firing Lasers at the Brain

The study team used a light-based method known as optogenetics to activate neurons of the central amygdala, a part of the brain associated with emotions and motivation. They discovered that one group of neurons caused mice to go after moving objects while a second group of neurons appeared to switch on jaw muscles related to biting. Furthermore, the mice jumped on inanimate objects and bit them when both groups of neurons were triggered, the researchers said.

Triggering these neurons also boosted the effectiveness with which mice searched for and captured live insects. The two groups of neurons appear to function as exchange stations that induce hunting behavior after the animal picks up visual cues of nearby prey.

These areas of the amygdala are found in nearly all vertebrates, a sign of their evolutionary significance, the researchers said. Oddly enough, these areas appear to be missing in brains of some species like lampreys, which have no jaws, de Araujo mentioned.

"It is a major evolutionarily player in shaping the brain," the Yale researcher said. "There must be some primordial subcortical pathway that connects sensory input to the movement of the jaw and the biting."

The study team also noted that stimulating these neurons did not cause the mice to attack other mice.

"The system is not just generalized aggression," de Araujo said. "It seems to be related to the animal's interest in obtaining food."

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« Reply #21 on: Jan 17, 2017, 06:00 AM »

January 17, 2017

Screen time may actually be beneficial to teens, study finds

by Chuck Bednar
Red Orbit

Parents have long been told to limit the amount of time their children spend watching television or playing computer games, but a new study has found that a certain amount of screen time each day isn't harmful– it might actually be helpful!

As part of their study, researchers from the Oxford University Internet Institute collected data from 120,000 UK teens about their wellbeing and the amount of time each day they spent using screen-based devices. They found that there was a so-called “sweet spot” where a few hours of device-use appeared to have a positive impact on those youngsters’ mental health.

Writing in the journal Psychological Science, Dr. Andrew Przybylski and his colleagues stated that “moderate engagement in digital activities is not harmful,” according to BBC News and the Telegraph. While the amount of time varied by activity and device, the authors said that digital connectivity may encourage creativity and improve overall communication skills.

“Use of digital technology is not intrinsically harmful and may have advantages in a connected world unless digital devices are overused or interfere with schoolwork or after school activities,” Dr. Przybylski said to the Telegraph. “Our research suggests that some connectivity is probably better than none and there are moderate levels that as in the story of Goldilocks are just right for young people.”
How much device use is the right amount?

According to BBC News, the study found that wellbeing peaked at four hours and 17 minutes of computer use per day before results started to decline while the maximum benefit for smartphone use was reached at the two-hour mark. One hour and 40 minutes was the most benefit found from playing video games, while three hours and 41 minutes was the max when it came to watching TV.

Furthermore, the research found that the first one to two hours of screen time was actually linked to an increase in mental wellbeing for those using computers or phones, playing video games, or watching television. Dr. Przybylski’s team also found that the positive impact was boosted on the weekend, with the peak lasting up nearly five hours of television viewing.

However, as the Telegraph pointed out, the study only looks at the teens’ mental wellbeing and does not take into account whether their physical health was adversely affected by spending too much time staring at screens. Previous studies have shown that too much internet use can cause brain shrinkage, cause youngsters to become too aroused by technology, or disrupt sleep patterns if used too close to bedtime, the newspaper noted.

Nonetheless, Dr. Przybylski explained in a statement that his team’s findings are important for parents and caregivers. “Our work confirms that policy guidance on digital screens should be based on work that test explicit hypotheses about possible technology effects,” he said. The data suggests that the impact of digital screen time depended on the type of activity, the study authors noted, and future studies should look at the potential benefits by level of engagement.

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« Reply #22 on: Jan 17, 2017, 06:13 AM »

How Nepal got the electricity flowing

Hours-long daily blackouts ended suddenly last October after an engineer approached the problem differently – and got the government's backing to solve it.   

Bikash Sangraula
CS Monitor   

January 17, 2017 Kathmandu, Nepal—For years, Hemkumari Chaulagain dreamed of getting a good night’s sleep. She didn’t mind rising early to receive predawn deliveries at her small shop in Kathmandu, Nepal. What wore her down was powering up the water pump each night to ensure the water storage tank atop her home stayed filled.

The exact hour that she did this depended on the rolling blackout schedule enforced by the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA), the country’s power distribution monopoly.

“Sometimes I needed to wake up at midnight, at other times at 2 in the morning. For a decade, I didn’t sleep properly,” says Mrs. Chaulagain, whose tiny convenience store is tucked into the capital’s Bishalnagar neighborhood.

Last winter, her family had only 12 hours a day with electricity. But because she and her husband had invested $500 – two months’ worth of his salary as a police officer – in an inverter, or power backup device, they had power to light their house and even watch television during blackout hours. Still, it wasn’t enough for the water pump motor.

Then suddenly, in October, the power came on in full.

Chaulagain has slept seven hours a night since then. She’s delighted, but also at a loss – like many others – to explain what happened. No official word was forthcoming.

“They were hiding electricity until now,” she surmises.

Far-fetched though it may sound, her guess is not far from the truth. All it took was the right engineer – and a government desperate to show its people progress – to uncover and dismantle a web of corruption that was stealing power from households for nearly a decade and distributing it round the clock to some industries. 

This Himalayan nation, sandwiched between India and China, has water resources that can generate about 80 times the electricity it needs today, according to a generally agreed estimate that Nepal’s total potential is 83,000 megawatts. 

In the century since construction of the Pharping Hydropower Station – the nation’s first and South Asia’s second – Nepal has been able to harness just 900 MW of that potential for reasons ranging from political instability to cost. As a result, Nepalis have long accepted that rationing is unavoidable.

But NEA insiders say that’s not the case. According to them, those at the helm of the state-run monopoly exaggerated for years a largely manageable power crisis. Their aim was to create a market for inverter importers and the alternative energy lobby, which in return lined the pockets of their benefactors.

“To my knowledge, this has happened at least for the past seven years,” says a senior NEA official who asked to remain unnamed because of the subject’s sensitivity.

The monsoon report

He says that during every monsoon s a forecast was prepared that exaggerated demand and suppressed supply figures. A deliberately inflated energy shortfall was publicized for the following winter.

Explaining the shortfall to the public was easy: During a 10-year armed Maoist insurgency that ended in 2006, generation did not keep pace with rising demand because violence scared away investors.

Trusting a forecast that the media publicized without rigorous examination, many consumers braced for winter by purchasing expensive power backup systems, including inverters and solar panels. According to one estimate, about one-third of the NEA’s 3 million customers installed systems at their homes and offices in the past decade.

The drain on supply is significant: Not only does the use of inverters increase the load when electricity is available, as people are using electronic devices and charging the inverters at the same time, but 30 percent of the energy is also lost between the time an inverter is charged and the time it powers light electronic devices during blackouts.

Meanwhile, the senior NEA official says, the utility secretly supplied excess power, which was sometimes as much as 40 MW or 4.5 percent of the nation’s total generation, to some industries on a 24-hour basis, giving them undue advantage over competitors who had to power their factories during blackout hours using diesel. Electricity generated by diesel units is three times as costly as the electricity the NEA sells.

“For each megawatt of power illegally supplied to an industry, the beneficiary was saving up to 10 million rupees ($91,000) a month in energy cost. Multiply that by 40, and you will understand how much money these people had at their disposal to pay monthly retainers to NEA officials,” the official adds.
New power broker

But when a new power broker took the helm, things changed dramatically.

Mr. Prachanda, who is also chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Center) and was a guerrilla leader in the Maoist insurgency, served as prime minister for nine months after his party’s stunning win in 2008. But having failed to deliver on all their insurgency-era utopian promises and been hit hard in 2013 elections, the Maoists now want to improve living standards ahead of general elections scheduled for early 2018.

With the NEA catering to nearly half of the nation’s 28 million people, it was a perfect target.

Prachanda gave Mr. Ghising full authority to try to solve a problem that sharply constrains a country trying to boost living standards and deal with numerous other challenges, including the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in 2015.

Ghising, an electrical engineer with strong demand-management skills, took just weeks to end blackouts in the capital and 10 adjoining districts. Earlier this month, he ended blackouts in Pokhara, the nation’s second-largest city, as well as half a dozen adjoining districts.

“Ghising took back electricity that some industries were enjoying illegally and distributed it equitably to consumers,” says Bikash Thapa, one of the best-known energy journalists in Nepal. “It helped that he understands the country’s energy scenario inside out. It also helped that the current prime minister and Energy minister are desperate for results, and Ghising is someone who understands the energy sector very well.

“Most importantly,” he adds, “Ghising’s integrity made the difference.”

Honesty and resistance

“All I am doing is managing demand and supply with maximum efficiency and complete honesty,” Ghising says. “Now, no one is getting electricity that belongs to someone else.”

There was resistance, to be sure, but Ghising benefited from Prachanda’s full political backing. Last month, the Energy Ministry, led by Janardan Sharma from Prachanda’s Maoist party, sacked three NEA board members on charges of not cooperating with Ghising in his campaign to solve the country’s energy crisis.

While that sent a strong message to those openly working to block Ghising’s initiatives, others at the NEA welcomed Ghising’s initiatives, largely buoyed by the sudden positive change in the public image of an institution whose employees had long been seen as inefficient and incompetent.

Ghising, who has been associated with the NEA for 23 years, has boosted the power supply by optimizing power-plant operations. He says the plants are now generating about 25 percent more power than they did last winter, which has translated to about 100 MW of additional power.

He has also discontinued the practice of providing uninterrupted power to select industries. This has freed up another 250 MW of power during peak hours.

“Today, no industry gets electricity from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., when national demand soars to its maximum. On the flip side, this means all industries are getting power for 20 hours a day,” Ghising says.

The sudden disappearance of blackouts has also saved another 50 MW of power, since consumers in major cities are not backing up their inverters anymore.

“Inverter load in the nation stood at 100 MW in the past. By ending blackouts in Kathmandu and Pokhara, this has at least halved,” Ghising says.

All these efforts have added 400 MW of power during peak hours, when national demand surges to 1,350 MW. With 600 MW being currently generated by hydropower projects and 330 MW being imported from India, the deficit of about 400 MW has been almost met.

“The situation was so hopeless in the past that people forgot small things do add up and result in change,” Ghising says.

Districts in eastern Nepal are currently getting round-the-clock power, while districts in western Nepal are facing as many as two hours of blackouts on alternate days.

But that is only because Nepal’s power system is not fully integrated. Several power systems are operating in the nation in isolation, making it impossible for excess energy in one system to be transferred to another.

The right backing

Pashupati Murarka, chairman of the Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industries, says industrialists fully support Ghising’s efforts.

“There is a level playing field now, with no industry being favored by NEA at the expense of another. What happened in the past should not happen again,” Mr. Murarka says.

He added that in the beginning, there was apprehension that the NEA would enforce onerous power cuts for industries in order to make electricity available to households.

“But that didn’t happen. Instead of eight or nine hours of power cuts in the past, the industries are facing just four hours of power cuts now. We are very happy,” Murarka says. 

Understandably, businesses dealing in inverters and solar panels aren’t as happy.

“Sales of inverters dropped by 98 percent since blackouts ended in October,” says Anoor Tuladhar, who retails inverters in the Putalisadak neighborhood of Kathmandu. “The few who are still buying inverters are hospitals, hotels, and party palaces. They need the units for emergency use.”

On the other hand, small businesses that cannot function without electricity are jubilant.

Roshan Chaudhary, manager of an iron grill factory in Bishalnagar, says his operating cost has gone down in recent months.

“Until October, we were using a diesel generator that consumed 10 liters of diesel a day. We no longer need it. Production has increased, and we have added four workers in the past two months,” Mr. Chaudhary says. 

A blackout-free Nepal?

Ghising, who has become a national hero, is aiming for what was unthinkable until a few months ago: a blackout-free Nepal.

“It is possible and it is going to happen very soon,” he says.

Nepal relies on hydropower plants to meet its energy needs, apart from the 330 MW imported from India. In total, its hydropower plants produce 900 MW of energy in monsoon season when there is enough water in the rivers feeding the turbines. All but one – the 92-MW Kulekhani – are run-of-river-type plants that suffer from a significant generation drop in winter when water levels in the rivers recede.

“Our challenge is to manage the shortfall in the remaining two months [January and February] of the dry season. Thereafter, we will have excess energy in our system,” Ghising says. “Several plants under construction will come into operation before next winter. So it is absolutely reasonable to expect that the nation will be completely free of blackouts after two months.” 

Ghising is also eyeing an ambitious plan to turn around the NEA, which employs more than 10,000 people, from a loss-making monopoly, which in itself is an anomaly, to a profit-making entity.

Last year, the utility suffered a loss of 12 billion rupees ($110 million), and its cumulative loss stands at 37 billion rupees. Then there is the issue of pilfering. Of the roughly 26 percent of system loss the utility reported last year, about 15 percent results from illegal hooking in by individuals.

“Recovering just 1 percent of pilferage will mean half a billion rupees added revenue for NEA,” Ghising says, adding, “With tariff revision and reduction of expenses, it is very possible to turn the utility’s balance sheet to green in two years.”

Keep inverter for now

For the Chaulagains, the challenge of the moment is what to do with the power backup system they bought. Like most Nepalis puzzled by the sudden energy bonanza, they are cautious, and will let the device occupy a corner of their narrow corridor for rainy days.

“Who knows how long this will last? If the blackouts return, we will need it,” Mrs. Chaulagain says, echoing the sense of disbelief the nation has yet to overcome.

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« Reply #23 on: Jan 17, 2017, 06:15 AM »

To fight poverty in Africa, a new-old solution: cash handouts

Most agree that simple cash transfers can help in the shorter-term. But the longer-term effects are uncertain because of a complex mix of factors.    

By Ryan Lenora Brown, Correspondent 1/17/2017
MAKHOARANE, LESOTHO — Like much of Africa, Lesotho is cluttered with clues that the world cares about its plight.

Its sleepy capital, Maseru, is home to an alphabet soup of global do-gooders – FAO, CARE, UNICEF, HELP, SOS – and the roads that cut through its rural highlands are flanked by slouching signboards announcing a seemingly never-ending parade of aid projects: wells and micro-lenders, new school buildings and community clinics.

And yet, the tiny country – that pebble-shaped dot submerged inside South Africa on a world map – remains perplexingly poor. More than half its population lives below the national poverty line of $1.08 per day, and some 33 percent of all children under the age of 5 have been stunted by malnutrition.
Recommended: Global inequality: How the US ranks

Indeed for many in the humanitarian world, countries like Lesotho raise a question that is both breathtakingly simple and nearly impossible to answer: How do you actually make poor people less poor?

Shake a stick anywhere in Africa, and you’re bound to bump into someone trying to figure that out, whether it’s an NGO doling out pregnant goats to Ugandan villagers, a wheezing Mercedes truck carrying sacks of USAID-sponsored grain into eastern Sierra Leone, or Madagascan government officials negotiating with Asian garment makers to build massive textile factories inside their borders.

But over the past decade, a far simpler approach has also gained traction on the continent, pushed by a growing crowd of governments, NGOs, and researchers.

They argue that the best way to make the poor less poor is just to give them the very thing they don’t have enough of.


That’s it. Cut a check and then cut out. No conditions, no rules, no strings attached.

In some ways, it’s an old idea – welfare payments in the United States, after all, have been going for nearly a century. In others, it seems to fly in the face of nearly every piece of conventional logic about international aid and charity. Won’t money make people dependent? And if the poor don’t need others' smarts and hand-holding, after all, then what are aid workers doing there at all?

“This isn’t a panacea for poverty, but it can be a big contributor to reducing it,” says Mookho Thaane-Ramasike, a social policy officer for UNICEF Lesotho, which provides technical support for a government cash transfer program here that gives small amounts of money to poor families with children.

The idea that donors can just give away money and the lives of the poor will rapidly improve is an captivating one. It means an end to the expensive, byzantine bureaucracy through which aid is often channeled. Giving away money requires far less oversight – and therefore far fewer resources – than almost any other form of assistance, particularly if done without any strings attached.

And if cash grants aren’t the only solution to poverty, they at least provide a useful baseline – if you can’t show your project works better than just giving away the cash equivalent of its cost, then why bother?

It also means that big, complicated ideas aren't needed to improve the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people. 

“This puts the choice in the hands of the poor, and not me,” said Michael Faye, one of the co-founders of the charity GiveDirectly, which distributes unconditional cash to the poor in East Africa, in an interview with The New York Times. “And the truth is, I don’t think I have a very good sense of what the poor need.”

Among the Silicon Valley set, GiveDirectly has achieved an almost mythical status. Google gave the charity $2.4 million in 2012, and last year Facebook’s co-founder, Dustin Moskovitz, and his wife, Cari Tuna, announced they would donate $25 million from their personal fortune, writing that “governments and donors spend tens of billions of dollars a year on reducing poverty, but the people who are meant to benefit from the money rarely get a say in how it’s spent.”
Short-term improvement

But if the notion of giving poor Africans money to solve their own problems has a certain glitzy appeal, scratch below the surface and the reality, predictably, is a bit more complicated.

To start, not all cash transfers are created equal.

As with any social welfare program, how well giving away cash works depends on a wide variety of factors – such as who’s doling out the checks, how much they’re giving, how often, and what aspects of people’s lives they’re trying to improve.

A charity like GiveDirectly that funnels large sums of cash – about $1,000 – to people on a one-time basis is a different animal than, say, monthly social welfare payments from the South African government.

While there isn’t substantial long-term data on either approach, an early study of GiveDirectly’s programs suggests that giving someone a large chunk of cash all at once helps them rapidly acquire expensive assets that might have been out of their reach before, like a sturdier roof or a herd of cows. But the tactic has “decreasing marginal returns” as time passes. (GiveDirectly plans to begin a long-term experiment with a “basic income” grant soon.) 

“The debate on what’s working is clearly not over,” says Berk Ozler, a senior economist for the World Bank who has studied the effects of cash transfers in Africa.

In any case, though, he says it’s clear that giving people money in almost any form makes their lives better in the short term. While they’re receiving the cash, they eat better, their kids go to school at higher rates, they replace their leaky grass roofs with metal. In some cases, they even seem to be demonstrably happier and less stressed.

Proponents say this in itself is an accomplishment for silencing naysayers who said poor people couldn’t be trusted to not blow their newfound stashes of cash on alcohol, cigarettes, or gambling. (A number of critics of money transfers have raised concerns about corruption, but so far there is no substantial evidence that cash is any more prone to being siphoned off or stolen than other donated goods.)

Only a pause button?

On the other hand, says Mr. Ozler, particularly when you’re giving out the equivalent of a year’s wages at a time, as GiveDirectly does,  “it’s not surprising that after a short period of time people are doing much better.” However there’s less evidence to show that such programs make a difference in the long term.

In one study, for instance, Ozler and a team of researchers tracked a group of Malawian school girls who were given small unconditional cash transfers ($10 or less a month) to support their education. While they were receiving the money, researchers found, the gains were impressive: More of them stayed in school and delayed marriage and pregnancy.

But within five years of the program ending, nearly all of the progress had been reversed. The transfer program, the authors concluded, had been “akin to pushing a pause button” on harmful life choices – rather than stopping them altogether.

Similarly, a 2014 analysis of Lesotho’s Child Grant Program, which provides about 26,000 poor families with between $25 and $50 every three months, showed that the money has spurred modest but important gains for families here. More kids have enrolled in school and own shoes. They eat more varied diets. Local economies have picked up.

But the report concluded that it was not entirely clear what the grant – which families continue to receive until their children age out of it – hoped to achieve. Was it meant to simply act as a modest safety net for the country’s very poorest, to keep them from outright destitution? Or was the purpose something more ambitious – say, to actually get people out of poverty altogether?

Those working on the program say it’s the latter, but they now acknowledge that cash alone – especially in small quantities – won’t do the trick.

“The money is never enough,” says Tsosane Monyamane, a local counselor in Makhoarane, near Maseru. “R360 [about $25] in three months can only go so far.”

Companion programs

That is why government, alongside local charities, are now stacking other programs on top of the cash transfers, developing projects to help farmers use their grants to build more efficient, drought-resistant home gardens, or training women how to form savings and lending groups to begin stashing away bits of their new windfall.

“The scope of social protection [for the poor] should be viewed as very wide,” says Molahlehi Letlotlo, Lesotho’s Minister of Social Development. “Cash transfers are just a small portion that enables someone to live from morning to sunset. But if you simply keep people on cash grants then you are not addressing the root problem … of poverty, of unemployment.”

Indeed, researchers have found that giving people money helps most when their main barrier to advancement is just that – a lack of cash. But the challenges of poverty go far beyond money, and when the problem is the 10-mile walk to the nearest clinic or the fact that there’s no market to sell one’s goods, solutions may require more than cash can provide.

In Latin America, where cash transfer programs are older and more institutionalized than they are in Africa, most money is handed out along with conditions – to receive the checks you must keep your child in school, for instance, or take them for regular check-ups at the local clinic.

Though that model has critics, it has largely been effective. But conditions are also expensive and bureaucratic to enforce, which is why many African countries have chosen to forgo them.

Still, without conditions, it can be hard to make small amounts of money spark big social changes. In Lesotho, for instance, the government designed its child grants in large part to help keep children in school, but has found that 60 percent of the grant ends up going toward something far more basic – food.

“That showed us there are actually even bigger problems in the household that need to be addressed” before education can even be considered, says Ms. Thaane-Ramasike of UNICEF.

Lesotho’s government has recently piloted a conditional cash transfer program, where the money is tethered to school attendance and check-ups, but for now, the vast majority of the cash it doles out continues to come without strings attached.

For Mathakane Moroka, a mother of four, that money has been indispensable. She used it to buy her children shoes and replace their uniforms, she says. And on top of that, each month for a year, she managed to squirrel away about $1 in her local savings group. By the time the money came back to her with interest at the end of last year, she had $20.

Then, her 21-year-old daughter died suddenly in another part of the country.

Ms. Moroka was shattered, but she took a small comfort in her savings. 

“At least I had money to buy the bus ticket to her funeral,” she says.

Ryan Lenora Brown traveled to Lesotho with UNICEF.

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« Reply #24 on: Jan 17, 2017, 06:36 AM »

Parts of United States are heating faster than globe as a whole

A new study shows the Northeast USA will reach the dangerous 2°C warming threshold faster than most of the rest of the planet

John Abraham
Tuesday 17 January 2017 11.00 GMT

Global warming obviously refers to temperature increases across the entire globe. We know the Earth is warming, we know it is human-caused, we have a pretty good idea about how much the warming will be in the future and what some of the consequences are. In fact, when it comes to the Earth’s average climate, scientists have a pretty good understanding.

On the other hand, no one lives in the average climate. We live spread out north, west, east, and south. On islands, large continents, inland or in coastal regions. Many of us want to know what’s going to happen to the climate where we live. How will my life be affected in the future?

This type of question is answered in a very recent study published by scientists from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The team, which includes Dr. Raymond Bradley and researcher Dr. Ambarish Karmalkar looked specifically at the Northeastern United States. They found that this area will warm much more rapidly than the globe as a whole. In fact, it will warm faster than any other United States region. The authors expect the Northeast US will warm 50% faster than the planet as a whole. They also find that the United States will reach a 2 degree Celsius warming 10–20 years before the globe as a whole.

So why does this matter? Well first, it matters because some of the effects people will experience are directly tied to the temperature increase in their region. For instance, we know that warmer air leads to more intense precipitation. In fact, we are already observing increases in very heavy rainfall across the United States (especially in the Northeast). Based on this new research, that trend will only get worse. It means that winters in this region will get warmer and wetter – more winter precipitation will likely occur as rain rather than snow. This affects the availability of water into the spring months. It also means that summers will have more intense heat waves which will lead to more severe droughts.

However, there is another impact to this study. We often hear that it is important to avoid increasing the Earth’s temperature by 2°C if we want to prevent the worst risks of climate change. This 2-degree target is somewhat based on science and somewhat based on messaging and politics. There’s nothing magic about this number. It isn’t like everything will be fine so long as we stay below 2 degrees; similarly the world won’t end if we exceed 2 degrees.

It turns out that staying below a 2°C warming means we think we have a reasonable chance of avoiding some of the worst climate impacts and some of the potentially disastrous tipping points. But this is really just an educated guess. Some people have argued convincingly that our target should be lower, perhaps 1.5°C. Others argue that even 2°C is not achievable.

Regardless of the so-called temperature target, what this study shows is that even if we do keep the globe as a whole to a 2°C temperature increase, some regions, like the Northeast United States will far exceed this threshold. So, what is “safe” for the world is unsafe for certain regions.

Not to muddy the waters, but the whole issue of “safe” versus “unsafe” also depends on what climate effects we are concerned about and where we live. As an example, if you are concerned about heavy precipitation and flooding in your area, then local climate change (in your area) is pretty important to you. Conversely, if you are concerned about sea level rise (which is a global phenomenon), then the global temperature change is of most interest.

So really, what this latest paper does is provide sound evidence that we need to keep in mind BOTH the global and the regional climate effects. We need to think about which effects we care about most and how the global and regional temperature changes will cause those effects. Furthermore, we cannot simply be lulled into a sense of safety even if we reduce emissions dramatically and keep global temperature changes small. There still could be large effects in our neighborhood.

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« Reply #25 on: Jan 17, 2017, 06:38 AM »

British Antarctic station to shut down for winter due to crack in ice

Halley VI station moved to safer location but staff to be brought home during southern winter as ‘prudent precaution’

Elle Hunt
Tuesday 17 January 2017 09.24 GMT

A British research station on an ice shelf in Antarctica is being shut down over the southern hemisphere winter because of fears it could float off on an iceberg.

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) said in a statement on Monday that it had decided not to winter at the Halley VI research station on the Brunt ice shelf due to concerns for its staff’s safety amid changes to the ice.

Preparations to relocate the station further inland due to the threat posed by a growing crack in the ice were under way last month, but it was to remain operational.

The station will now be shut down between March and November 2017 and the 16 people who were due to stay there over the winter will move out.

The BAS said changes to the ice – and particularly the growth of a new crack – presented a “complex glaciological picture” that meant scientists were unable to predict with certainty what would happen to the ice shelf in the forthcoming winter and beyond.

Parts of the ice shelf periodically cleave off from the floating ice sheet, creating icebergs. Glaciologists have run computer models and created bathymetric maps to try to determine the likelihood and impact of this happening, but there was “sufficient uncertainty” for concern.

The BAS said there was no immediate risk to the people currently at the station or to the station itself, and that staff were being relocated only “as a precautionary measure”.

There are 88 people on the station, most of whom are only there for the summer and are due to leave. Staff could be evacuated quickly if the ice were to fracture in the summer months, but not during winter with its 24-hour darkness, extremely low temperatures and frozen sea.

Capt Tim Stockings, the director of operations, said in a statement the mission aimed to leave the station ready for reoccupation as soon as possible after the Antarctic winter. “We want to do the right thing for our people. Bringing them home for winter is a prudent precaution given the changes that our glaciologists have seen in the ice shelf in recent months,” he said.

The Halley VI station, made up of eight modules built on stilts with giant skis, has been situated on the Brunt ice shelf since 2012 and was designed with a potential move in mind.

The relocation is in its final stages, with seven of the eight modules dragged 14 miles (23km) inland and off the shelf away from two cracks in the ice. One had lain dormant for at least 35 years before showing signs of growth in 2012, while the other appeared as recently as October 2016. Glaciologists monitoring their growth have found that the recent changes to the Brunt ice shelf have not been seen before.

Stockings said the move had been “going very well” and should be completed on schedule by early March.

Ozone measurements at Halley led to discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole in 1985 and the station is important for monitoring climate change.

The BAS said every effort was being made to continue scientific experiments under way there and that options to temporarily redeploy research and technical support teams to other parts of the organisation were being explored.

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« Reply #26 on: Jan 17, 2017, 06:41 AM »

What lies beneath: discovering surprising jewels in the North Sea

Not far from the mouth of the river Tyne, fabulously-coloured nudibranchs and corals can be spotted amongst rusting sunken ships

Richard Aspinall
Tuesday 17 January 2017 08.00 GMT

As I finned alongside the bulky remnants of the ship’s boilers - three massive blocks of northern iron – the light had almost gone. The gently rusting masses were riddled with fire-tubes, each seemingly host to a wary crab. In some, the red eyes of a velvet swimming crab (Necora puber) reflected my light; in others edible crabs (Cancer pagurus) retreated from my gaze. Small prawns and a few well-camouflaged fish moved to avoid me, drab browns revealed as reds and oranges under my torch light. And there, on a piece of deck plate, covered by a bright red encrusting sponge, was one of the jewel-like animals I’d set out to capture on film.

“That’s a Flabellina!” I said to myself in the dark, angling my flash guns to best illuminate this three-centimetre purple gem and starting to fire the trigger. My fingers were freezing in the water that my dive computer told me was a balmy 14C (57F). Never at any point, did I question the fact that I was entirely happy, 30 metres down on a cold, dark, silty shipwreck not far off the mouth of the Tyne, with a little more than five metres of visibility (a good day). As my flash guns (more properly known as strobes), fired away in the perpetual gloom, I was in critter-shooting heaven.

Satisfied, but running low on gas and heading towards the end of my allowable dive time, I slowly made my way across the landscape of rocks, rusting spars and deck plates, covered in the surprisingly pretty dead man’s fingers (Alcyonium digitatum – they’re lovely when viewed up close, anyway). As I passed a growth of sea chervil, I was rewarded with a real gem: the aptly named crystal sea slug.

Janolus Cristatus boasts finger-like projections from its body, called cerata, that are tipped with blueish-white pigment. It seems to glow under a diver’s torch as the light suffuses its translucent body. It puts me in mind of the opalescence of Lalique glass.

I’ve photographed astounding animals across the tropics including plenty of nudibranchs, yet finding exotic-looking animals in my often gloomy native seas seems far more rewarding. I suspect as well that few people have any idea that off our beaches and cliffs the life can be as rich as it truly is.

Unsure of the status of nudibranchs around the UK and keen to know more about these shell-less molluscs, I contacted fellow diver and amateur expert on the subject, Jim Anderson.

Referencing a now out-of-print guide book, Anderson tells me that although there is no recognised list that can be totalled up, “there are at least 116 nudibranchs with more being added now that the detailed study of their DNA is more readily available.” He also noted that “... there may also be additions to the UK ‘list’ from species moving north with warmer sea temperatures. However, who knows, maybe we will lose some by the same mechanism.”

I hadn’t expected that many – it seems I still associate UK waters with drab, grey animals, robust and sturdy.

Nudibranchs, literally meaning “naked gill” have evolved from shelled molluscs. They have lost the spiral shape, of course, and are without any trace of a shell, unlike some of their relatives (the sea hares, or Aplysiomorpha, for example), which retain an internal remnant of it. The group as a whole demonstrates a stunning variety of body shapes, patterns and colours. Residing within the Opisthobranchia group – which includes other slug-like species such as the sap-sucking sacoglossans and our more familiar terrestrial slugs and snails – the nudibranchs understandably punch above their weight in their allure for divers and biologists. Sea slug, it should be noted, is a catch-all title that can cover animals from across many different taxonomic groups and carries with it a sense of the pejorative amongst true nudi aficionados.

Like many other richly-coloured and patterned slow-moving animals, nudibranch colours and patterns are warnings of their unpalatability. Some species (such as the Aeolids) can even sequester stinging cells from their prey into their cerata. The stinging cells pass through the animal’s gut intact.

Being, in effect blind, nudibranchs have a light-sensing organ, but nothing that would pass for an eye, so colouration is not about attracting a mate. Some rely more on camouflage to survive. The dead man’s finger sea slug, despite being the largest of its kind in UK waters (up to 20cm in length), is amazingly hard to spot against its soft coral prey and like many of its tropical relatives does not advertise its presence.

All nudibranchs are hermaphrodites and after fertilisation lay an egg mass that is typically spiral-shaped and one of the most delicately attractive structures that can be seen underwater.

I suspect I am one of those amateur naturalists and underwater photographers destined to become a fan of the “nudi”. Amongst photographing other tiny life, from cup corals to anemones, it will always be nudibranchs that call me back and the: “what, you found that off Newcastle?!” exclamations of family and friends, will simply add to the delight of shooting these gems.

Jim Anderson’s website chronicling his obsession with marine opisthobranchs in Scottish waters can be found at www.nudibranch.org

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« Reply #27 on: Jan 17, 2017, 06:44 AM »

Paris vehicle pollution sticker scheme comes into force

Police checks last week found only one in 50 vehicles stopped had sticker despite them being available since July

Kim Willsher in Paris
Monday 16 January 2017 15.52 GMT

Drivers in Paris must display an anti-pollution sticker in their vehicles or face fines in the latest attempt by the French authorities to improve air quality.

The sticker scheme, which became mandatory on Monday, includes cars, lorries, motorcycles and scooters, and bans some vehicles from the city during weekdays.

It follows numerous spikes in pollution in which smog has descended over the French capital, forcing traffic reduction measures and the introduction of free public transport on the worst days.

The six different coloured Crit’Air (air criteria) stickers indicate the age and cleanliness of a vehicle. Certain vehicles – including petrol and diesel cars registered before 1996; vans registered before 1997; pre-2000 scooters and motorbikes; and lorries, trucks and buses from before 2001 – are banned from the city between 8am and 8pm.

Foreign-registered vehicles have been given until March to obtain their stickers, which cost €4.18 each, payable online.

The scheme was unveiled last year and stickers have been available since July.

The French government announced 1.4m Crit’Air stickers had been ordered through the official website, but a police check carried out across Paris last week found only one in 50 vehicles stopped had the sticker.

About 600,000 vehicles are estimated to drive in and around the city every day. Those found without stickers can be fined €68 for cars and €138 for lorries.

Other cities in France have anti-pollution sticker schemes, but Paris has chosen to make it permanent. The authorities say that in the event of high pollution it will make it easier to ban less clean vehicles from the city, instead of banning half of all cars depending on the registration plate, as has been done up until now.

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has made it clear she will continue her campaign to reduce by half the number of cars in the city by making life increasingly difficult for motorists.

City hall plans include closing roads to traffic and pedestrianising areas of the capital as well as an eventual ban on all diesel vehicles.

“More cars means more pollution, fewer cars means less pollution. It seems obvious but in this post-truth age there are those who would argue that fewer cars means more pollution. We prefer to stick to the truth,” Hidalgo told journalists last week.

Experts dispute the estimated number of premature deaths caused by air pollution in France, but Hidalgo said there were about 40,000 a year.

“The lead particles are found not just in the lungs, but the heart and brain, especially those of children. So we will continue to try to make Paris a city where people can breathe.”


Oslo temporarily bans diesel cars to combat pollution

Norway’s two-day city centre ban angers motorists who were encouraged to buy diesel vehicles in 2006
Traffic enters and exits the Ekeberg tunnel, a major intersection in Oslo, Norway.

Agence France-Presse
Monday 16 January 2017 14.38 GMT

Oslo will ban diesel cars from the road for at least two days this week to combat rising air pollution, angering some motorists after they were urged to buy diesel cars a few years ago.

The ban will go into effect on Tuesday on municipal roads but will not apply on the national motorways that criss-cross the Norwegian capital. Better atmospheric conditions are expected on Thursday. Motorists violating the ban will be fined 1,500 kroner (£174).

This is the first time Oslo has implemented a ban of this type after the city council – made up of the Labour and Greens parties – agreed in principle in February 2016 on the use of such a measure.

While diesel cars emit less CO2 they emit more nitrogen dioxyde.

“In Oslo, we can’t ask children, the elderly, and those suffering from respiratory problems to remain holed up at home because the air is too dangerous to breathe,” a Greens city councillor Lan Marie Nguyen Berg said.

The measure has angered some motorists, who were encouraged in 2006 by Norwegian authorities to opt for diesel vehicles, which at the time were considered a better environmental choice than petrol-fuelled cars.

“Make up your minds. It wasn’t very long ago that diesel was recommended over petrol by Jens (Stoltenberg, Norway’s former prime minister, now Nato’s secretary general). Not sure you really know what is best,” wrote an annoyed Irene Signora Maier Tziotas on the Facebook page of the newspaper Verdens Gang.

Mazyar Keshvari, an MP from the populist right Progress Party, which is a member of the coalition government, urged motorists to seek compensation.

“The biggest swindle of Norwegian motorists has now become a reality,” he told the Norwegian broadcaster TV2. “This was part of the red-green government’s (Stoltenberg’s coalition) ingenious climate measures

“Not only did they recommend motorists to buy diesel cars, they also changed the taxes to make them less expensive. That led a lot of people buying a car that they can’t use now.”

Other Norwegians were more philosophical. “Very good measure. We should introduce a permanent ban on diesel in all big cities. The fines should also be doubled,” Kenneth Tempel wrote on VG’s Facebook page.

According to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, air pollution causes 185 premature deaths in Oslo each year.

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« Reply #28 on: Jan 17, 2017, 06:46 AM »

Electric car boom fuels interest in Bolivia’s fragile salt flats

Demand for the metal used in electric car batteries has surged. But extraction could threaten the fragile ecosystem of the world’s largest salt flat

Max Opray
Tuesday 17 January 2017 05.00 GMT

In the middle of a vast salt desert in Bolivia, tour guide Angel Calani crouches down and jabs his index finger into the crusted earth. “Litio,” he announces as he withdraws his finger, now glistening with brine. “We could mine it for a thousand years and not run out.”

The 4,000-square-mile Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat and unexploited lithium reserve, with the metal sitting just a few centimetres below the surface.

Demand for lithium – which is used in pharmaceuticals, fertilisers, and smartphone and electric car batteries – has surged in the past year, ahead of an anticipated boom in electric cars, and is projected to outstrip supply by 2023.

The Bolivian government claims that it has 70% of the world’s lithium reserves, piquing the interest of many international companies.

Supplying a raw material needed to develop the electric car industry will help to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and could provide a much-needed economic boon for one of South America’s poorest countries. But there are concerns about the impact of the extraction process on the desert’s fragile ecosystem.

Extraction could mean increased traffic and pollution, pressure on water supply and damage to the site’s natural beauty, affecting tourism.

Luis de la Barra is a tour operator based in Uyuni, a busy tourist hub on the edge of the salt flats and the closest town to the 400 sq km portion of the Salar designated for lithium development. He says there have been few signs of lithium activity in the area so far, but worries about big machines digging up the Salar. “I’m concerned they will destroy the area and the environment,” he says. “People from Uyuni are not going to be happy with that.”

Back in the desert, the brine dripping off Calani’s finger does not just contain lithium, but high levels of magnesium and other elements. This makes it more difficult and costly to process than the purer lithium reserves found in neighbouring Argentina and Chile.

These countries – which along with Bolivia are described as the lithium triangle – have been busily harvesting their salt flats to meet demand. After Australia, Chile is the second largest producer in the world and Argentina is third.

At the moment, Bolivia’s salt plain is a shimmering white elephant, with just a few pilot extraction projects under way. These include a lithium carbonate project spearheaded by German company K-UTEC Ag Salt Technologies and a battery manufacturing plant built by China’s Linyi Dake Trade.

Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, pledged to develop the country’s lithium industry as part of his 2009 re-election campaign. He has since made a series of pledges to invest a total of $995m by 2019. The government has spent $250m of that sum so far, according to a report from Belmont Resources.
Tesla’s reported interest

Morales has been less keen about involving international companies. At the start of his presidency, he declared an end to the “looting” of the country’s resources by foreign countries. He has imposed strict requirements on foreign investment, demanding that the Bolivian government serve as an equal partner in any project processing and manufacturing products made from its lithium.

The country seems to be warming to international investment, however. In November last year, Luis Alberto Echazu, head of Bolivia’s national lithium company Comibol, announced he was in discussions with an unnamed Canadian company about setting up a lithium battery plant in the country. In a report on its website, Comibol said Tesla expressed an interest in building a plant in Bolivia.

Industry observers suspect Pure Energy Minerals, a lithium supplier for Tesla, is the Canadian organisation in question. Sources have confirmed to the Guardian that Pure Energy Minerals is interested in the Bolivian lithium industry. Comibol and Tesla have not responded to requests for comment.

Patrick Highsmith, chief executive of Pure Energy Minerals, says he cannot confirm or deny involvement because of Canadian stock market regulations. But in answer to concerns about the extraction processes used, he says his company is experimenting with a lithium extraction process developed in Israel and particularly suited to the challenges of the Salar de Uyuni.

The process involves passing the brine through nano filters and mixing it with a solvent to separate the lithium from the other minerals. Once the lithium is extracted, the brine is reinjected back into the ground.

“If we can get in there and tinker with the process a little, the team believes it has applicability to the Bolivian salar,” says Highsmith, who adds that it is less water-intensive than traditional methods of extracting lithium, employed by K-UTEC Ag Salt Technologies, that use the sun to evaporate the water from the brine, extracting the lithium from the leftovers.

However, Heiner Marx, director of K-UTEC Ag Salt Technologies, dismisses concerns about the water-intensity of the process. “We evaporate only the brine from the Salar, not the drinking water from the communities around,” he says.

Sign up to be a Guardian Sustainable Business member and get more stories like this direct to your inbox every week. You can also follow us on Twitter.

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« Reply #29 on: Jan 17, 2017, 06:47 AM »

Trump warming to reality of climate change, says senior Chinese official

Beijing’s chief climate negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, talks down fears that joint leadership shown by China and the US will be reversed under new president

Tom Phillips in Beijing
Tuesday 17 January 2017 02.58 GMT

China’s chief climate negotiator has attempted to calm fears that Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House will spell disaster for the fight against climate change.

Trump, who has dismissed climate change as “bullshit” and a Chinese hoax, will become the first climate sceptic to occupy the highest office in the US when he is sworn in on Friday.

Climate scientists and campaigners have expressed alarm at the impact the presence of so many climate deniers and environmental enemies in Trump’s cabinet could have on efforts to prevent catastrophic and irreversible global warming.

But speaking to the government-run China Daily newspaper, China’s special representative for climate change, Xie Zhenhua, played down such concerns.

Xie reaffirmed Beijing’s “firm attitude” towards fighting global warming and noted that the incoming US president had “softened his tone on whether climate change is real” following his election in November.

In an interview with the New York Times after his shock victory Trump said he had an “open mind” about how he would approach the issue and conceded there was “some connectivity” between global warming and human activity.

Xie, a Communist party veteran who spent more than a decade at the helm of China’s environmental agency, told the China Daily the global momentum behind the push towards a low carbon future was now such that no one person was capable of halting progress.

“Industrial upgrades aiming for more sustainable growth is a global trend … It is not something that can be reversed by a single political leader,” he was quoted as saying.

The newspaper said Xie believed “the international community and US citizens will pressure the Trump administration to continue clean energy policies”.

Weeks of tension between Trump’s team and Beijing have sparked fears that collaboration on climate change – one of the few bright spots of US-China relations under Barack Obama – may be at risk.

In September 2016 Obama and the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, earned global plaudits when they jointly announced their decision to ratify the Paris climate accord.

Two years earlier, in November 2014, Obama and Xi unveiled a historic secretly negotiated deal to tackle climate change, including China’s first commitment to cap its greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is a major milestone in US-China relations and shows what is possible when we work together on an urgent global challenge,” Obama said at the time.

Xie played down the suggestion that frictions between Trump and Xi might thwart joint efforts by the world’s top two emitters to fight global warming. “Collaboration on climate change has never ceased amid the political tensions,” he said.

Xie was speaking on the eve of a major speech that Xi Jinping is due to deliver at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos on Tuesday.

Environmentalists and some foreign policy experts hope Xi, the first Chinese president to attend the forum, will use part of his opening address to restate Beijing’s determination to fighting climate change amid fears over the future role of the US.

“I think it is absolutely brilliant that he is going to Davos. I think that is a very smart move on his part. I’m in favour of a China that becomes a global leader doing good things and behaving responsibly,” said Susan Shirk, the chair of the 21st Century China Centre at the University of California San Diego, who expects Xi’s speech to touch on China’s climate leadership.

“Frankly if the US is going to abdicate leadership then it is good to have somebody step forwards and defend positions which I can identify with,” Shirk added.

“But let’s remember, China can’t do this stuff alone … Taking greater leadership on climate will enhance China’s reputation as a responsible global leader … but it’s not going save the planet.

“If the US is pulling in the opposite direction, we are not going to be able to make the progress on climate change the way we should, or could, if we were working together.”

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