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« Reply #2655 on: Jan 01, 2019, 05:10 AM »

The Story of 2018 Was Climate Change

Future generations may ask why we were distracted by lesser matters.

By David Leonhardt
Opinion Columnist
NY Times

Our best hope may be the weather.

For a long time, many people thought that it was a mistake to use the weather as evidence of climate change. Weather patterns contain a lot of randomness. Even as the earth warms and extreme weather becomes more common, some years are colder and calmer than others. If you argue that climate change is causing some weather trend, a climate denier may respond by making grand claims about a recent snowfall.

And yet the weather still has one big advantage over every other argument about the urgency of climate change: We experience the weather. We see it and feel it.

It is not a complex data series in an academic study or government report. It’s not a measurement of sea level or ice depth in a place you’ve never been. It’s right in front of you. And although weather patterns do have a lot of randomness, they are indeed changing. That’s the thing about climate change: It changes the climate.

I wanted to write my last column of 2018 about the climate as a kind of plea: Amid everything else going on, don’t lose sight of the most important story of the year.

I know there was a lot of competition for that title, including some more obvious contenders, like President Trump and Robert Mueller. But nothing else measures up to the rising toll and enormous dangers of climate change. I worry that our children and grandchildren will one day ask us, bitterly, why we spent so much time distracted by lesser matters.

The story of climate change in 2018 was complicated — overwhelmingly bad, yet with two reasons for hope. The bad and the good were connected, too: Thanks to the changing weather, more Americans seem to be waking up to the problem.

I’ll start with the alarming parts of the story. The past year is on pace to be the earth’s fourth warmest on record, and the five warmest years have all occurred since 2010. This warming is now starting to cause a lot of damage.

In 2018, heat waves killed people in Montreal, Karachi, Tokyo and elsewhere. Extreme rain battered North Carolina and the Indian state of Kerala. The Horn of Africa suffered from drought. Large swaths of the American West burned. When I was in Portland, Ore., this summer, the air quality — from nearby wildfires — was among the worst in the world. It would have been healthier to be breathing outdoors in Beijing or Mumbai.

The Rise of Extreme Hurricanes

From year to year, the number of serious hurricanes fluctuates. But the last few decades show a clear and disturbing trend.

By The New York Times | Source: National Hurricane Center; data on hurricanes is considered most reliable since geostationary satellites began tracking them in the 1970s.

Amid all of this destruction, Trump’s climate agenda consists of making the problem worse. His administration is filled with former corporate lobbyists, and they have been changing federal policy to make it easier for companies to pollute. These officials like to talk about free enterprise and scientific uncertainty, but their real motive is usually money. Sometimes, they don’t even wait to return to industry jobs. Both Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke, two now-departed pro-pollution cabinet secretaries, engaged in on-the-job corruption.

I often want to ask these officials: Deep down, do you really believe that future generations of your own family will be immune from climate change’s damage? Or have you chosen not to think very much about them?

As for the two main reasons for hope: The first is that the Trump administration is an outlier. Most major governments are trying to slow climate change. So are many states in this country, as well as some big companies and nonprofit groups. This global coalition is the reason that the recent climate summit in Poland “yielded much more,” as Nat Keohane of the Environmental Defense Fund said, “than many of us had thought might be possible.”

The second reason for hope is public opinion. No, it isn’t changing nearly as rapidly as I wish. Yet it is changing, and the weather seems to be a factor. The growing number of extreme events — wildfires, storms, floods and so on — are hard to ignore.

Only 40 percent of Americans called the quality of environment “good” or “excellent” in a Gallup Poll this year, the lowest level in almost a decade. And 61 percent said the environment was getting worse. In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 66 percent of Americans said they wanted to see action to combat climate change. Some polls even suggest that Republican voters are becoming anxious about the situation.

The politics of climate change remains devilishly hard, especially because so many people around the world feel frustrated about their living standards. France’s “gilet jaune” protests, after all, were sparked by a proposed energy tax. Compared with day-to-day life, the effects of climate change have long felt distant, almost theoretical.

But now those effects are becoming real, and they are terrifying. To anyone who worries about making a case for climate action based on the weather, I would simply ask: Do you have a better idea?

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« Reply #2656 on: Jan 01, 2019, 05:14 AM »

Risks of 'domino effect' of tipping points greater than thought, study says

Scientists warn policymakers not to ignore links, and stress that ‘every action counts’

Jonathan Watts
1/1/2019 19.00 GMT

Policymakers have severely underestimated the risks of ecological tipping points, according to a study that shows 45% of all potential environmental collapses are interrelated and could amplify one another.

The authors said their paper, published in the journal Science, highlights how overstressed and overlapping natural systems are combining to throw up a growing number of unwelcome surprises.

“The risks are greater than assumed because the interactions are more dynamic,” said Juan Rocha of the Stockholm Resilience Centre. “The important message is to recognise the wickedness of the problem that humanity faces.”

The study collated existing research on ecosystem transitions that can irreversibly tip to another state, such as coral reefs bleaching and being overrun by algae, forests becoming savannahs and ice sheets melting into oceans. It then cross-referenced the 30 types of shift to examine the impacts they might have on one another and human society.

Only 19% were entirely isolated. Another 36% shared a common cause, but were not likely to interact. The remaining 45% had the potential to create either a one-way domino effect or mutually reinforcing feedbacks.

Among the latter pairings were Arctic ice sheets and boreal forests. When the former melt, there is less ice to reflect the sun’s heat so the temperature of the planet rises. This increases the risks of forest fires, which discharge carbon into the air that adds to the greenhouse effect, which melts more ice. Although geographically distant, each amplifies the other.

By contrast, a one-way domino-type impact is that between coral reefs and mangrove forests. When the former are destroyed, it weakens coastal defences and exposes mangroves to storms and ocean surges.

The deforestation of the Amazon is responsible for multiple “cascading effects” – weakening rain systems, forests becoming savannah, and reduced water supplies for cities like São Paulo and crops in the foothills of the Andes. This, in turn, increases the pressure for more land clearance.

Until recently, the study of tipping points was controversial, but it is increasingly accepted as an explanation for climate changes that are happening with more speed and ferocity than earlier computer models predicted. The loss of coral reefs and Arctic sea ice may already be past the point of no return. There are signs the Antarctic is heading the same way faster than thought.

Co-author Garry Peterson said the tipping of the west Antarctic ice shelf was not on the radar of many scientists 10 years ago, but now there was overwhelming evidence of the risks – including losses of chunks of ice the size of New York – and some studies now suggest the tipping point may have already been passed by the southern ice sheet, which may now be releasing carbon into the atmosphere.

“We’re surprised at the rate of change in the Earth system. So much is happening at the same time and at a faster speed than we would have thought 20 years ago. That’s a real concern,” said Peterson. “We’re heading ever faster towards the edge of a cliff.”

The fourth most downloaded academic research of 2018 was the Hothouse Earth paper, which considered how tipping points could combine to push the global climate into an uninhabitable state.

The authors of the new paper say their work goes beyond climate studies by mapping a wider range of ecological stress points, such as biodiversity loss, agricultural expansion, urbanisation and soil erosion. It also focuses more on what is happening at the local level now, rather than projecting geo-planetary trends into the future.

“We’re looking at things that affect people in their daily lives. They’re things that are happening today,” said Peterson. “There is a positive message as it expands the range of options for action. It is not just at an international level. Mayors can also make a difference by addressing soil erosion, or putting in place social policies that place less stress on the environment, or building up natural coastal defences.”

Rocha has spent 10 years building a database of tipping points, or “regime shifts” as he calls them. He urges policymakers to adopt a similar interdisciplinary approach so they can better grasp what is happening.

“We’re trying to connect the dots between different research communities,” said Rocha. “Governments also need to look more at interactions. They should stop compartmentalising ministries like agriculture, fisheries and international relations and try to manage environmental problems by embracing the diversity of causes and mechanisms underlying them. Policies need to match the scale of the problem.

“It’s a little depressing knowing we are not on a trajectory to keep our ecosystem in a functional state, but these connections are also a reason for hope; good management in one place can prevent severe environmental degradation elsewhere. Every action counts.”

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« Reply #2657 on: Jan 01, 2019, 05:16 AM »

Time to consider hydrogen, the new clean energy carrier on the block

Rose Amal

The case for hydrogen as a fuel has been well made but there has been little investment to bring it to scale


If Australia wants fair dinkum power, there is a new energy carrier on the block to ensure the supply of reliable renewable electricity.

And if Australia gets its act together, it will lead a new global export industry for this clean energy carrier, be at the forefront of a new economy, and become a trailblazer in new technologies.

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and as a gas can be used in the same way natural gas is used. Hydrogen produces zero carbon emissions when used for energy.

It is called an energy “carrier” because it can be generated using renewable energy, stored and used on demand either to generate electricity, which occurs when it is reacted with oxygen from air, or to provide heat in industrial processes or at home for cooking.

And while there are some obstacles, Australia is ideally placed to lead the world in the supply of hydrogen and the technology to convert it and store it, without the expense and complications involved in batteries, such as the impacts from mining and the disposal of toxic materials.

Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-founder of a global hi-tech company, wants a focus on wind and solar. Hydrogen can complement them by doing what they can’t: it can be used to store renewable energy at large scale and for short periods from hours to months to provide dispatchable, fair dinkum energy when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow.

Hydrogen can now reliably power industrial sites and even cars. In Japan, there are hydrogen stations to top up your hydrogen car.

    The economic, environmental and social benefits are enormous

The public discourse of extreme views around the necessary and unstoppable transition away from pollution emitting energy sources creates a distraction from focusing on the best means to bring to scale the latest advances of renewable energy sources available and favourably position Australia’s economy.

Australia’s Hydrogen Strategy Group, of which I’m a member under the leadership of Australia’s chief scientist, Alan Finkel, recently briefed the Coag energy council, providing a detailed report about the massive opportunity hydrogen provides.

This follows similar reports by the CSIRO, Australian Renewable Energy Agency and other reputable institutions around the world highlighting the advances and benefits of hydrogen as a carrier of energy.

In December the Coag energy council will consider a proposal being developed by the Department of Energy and Environment and the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science for how Australia can develop a coordinated national strategy to put this country at the forefront of producing hydrogen as a major commodity.

The economic, environmental and social benefits are enormous. As an industry, over the coming decades, hydrogen could easily rival the size and scale of the liquefied natural gas sector.

Like natural gas, hydrogen can be used to heat buildings and power vehicles but unlike natural gas or petrol, when hydrogen is burned there are no CO2 emissions.

Currently, non-energy uses of hydrogen dominate consumption, with production of ammonia accounting for around half of hydrogen demand. Use of hydrogen for energy purposes today is small, estimated to be between 1 and 2% of total consumption.

The case for hydrogen as a fuel has been well made but there has been little investment to bring it to scale.

The need for signatory countries to the 2015 Paris accord to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to meet their abatement commitments, along with energy security, are primary drivers for a potentially significant increase in the global demand for hydrogen.

Japan and South Korea are planning to import large quantities to help them transition away from fossil fuels and increase the security of their energy supplies, and Germany is also seriously looking at hydrogen. A number of Middle Eastern countries are considering becoming suppliers of hydrogen.

To create hydrogen, energy is needed to split the water molecules, and this can be easily supplied from wind, hydro and solar plants. Many of the countries considering hydrogen for energy do not have the right conditions as we do in Australia to enable this.

Brown coal can also be used to generate hydrogen and the resulting carbon emissions can be captured and stored to ensure a zero-carbon output to the atmosphere. A Japanese-led consortium is testing the viability of this approach through a $500m demonstration project launched in April to produce hydrogen from brown coal in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley.

Unlike many countries, Australia is a country with exceptional renewable resources, and thus Australia has the capability and conditions to generate renewable hydrogen at large scale.

• Scientia Professor Rose Amal is an ARC laureate fellow, a member of the Australian government’s Hydrogen Strategy Group, and group leader of the Particle and Catalysis Research Laboratory at UNSW Sydney

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« Reply #2658 on: Jan 01, 2019, 05:23 AM »

Fake-porn videos are being weaponized to harass and humiliate women: ‘Everybody is a potential target’

‘Deepfake’ creators are making disturbingly realistic, computer-generated videos with photos taken from the Web, and ordinary women are suffering the damage. A new technology is being used to put women’s faces on porn stars’ bodies.

By Drew Harwell
WA Post

The video showed the woman in a pink off-the-shoulder top, sitting on a bed, smiling a convincing smile.

It was her face. But it had been seamlessly grafted, without her knowledge or consent, onto someone else’s body: a young pornography actress, just beginning to disrobe for the start of a graphic sex scene. A crowd of unknown users had been passing it around online.

She felt nauseated and mortified: What if her co-workers saw it? Her family, her friends? Would it change how they thought of her? Would they believe it was a fake?

“I feel violated — this icky kind of violation,” said the woman, who is in her 40s and spoke on the condition of anonymity because she worried that the video could hurt her marriage or career. “It’s this weird feeling, like you want to tear everything off the Internet. But you know you can’t.”

Airbrushing and Photoshop long ago opened photos to easy manipulation. Now, videos are becoming just as vulnerable to fakes that look deceptively real. Supercharged by powerful and widely available artificial-intelligence software developed by Google, these lifelike “deepfake” videos have quickly multiplied across the Internet, blurring the line between truth and lie.

But the videos have also been weaponized disproportionately against women, representing a new and degrading means of humiliation, harassment and abuse. The fakes are explicitly detailed, posted on popular porn sites and increasingly challenging to detect. And although their legality hasn’t been tested in court, experts say they may be protected by the First Amendment — even though they might also qualify as defamation, identity theft or fraud.

Deepfakes: How a new technology is being used to put women’s faces on porn stars’ bodies: <iframe width='480' height='290' scrolling='no' src='https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/af0cff27-f7d1-4fcc-bb4f-011e6e086f30' frameborder='0' webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>

AI-generated videos that show a person’s face on another’s body are called “deepfakes.” They’re becoming easier to make and weaponized against women. (Jhaan Elker/The Washington Post)

Disturbingly realistic fakes have been made with the faces of both celebrities and women who don’t live in the spotlight, and actress Scarlett Johansson told The Washington Post she worries that “it’s just a matter of time before any one person is targeted” by a lurid forgery.

Johansson has been superimposed into dozens of graphic sex scenes over the past year that have circulated across the Web: One video, falsely described as real “leaked” footage, has been watched on a major porn site more than 1.5 million times. She said she worries it may already be too late for women and children to protect themselves against the “virtually lawless (online) abyss."

“Nothing can stop someone from cutting and pasting my image or anyone else’s onto a different body and making it look as eerily realistic as desired,” she said. “The fact is that trying to protect yourself from the Internet and its depravity is basically a lost cause. . . . The Internet is a vast wormhole of darkness that eats itself.”

In September, Google added “involuntary synthetic pornographic imagery” to its ban list, allowing anyone to request the search engine block results that falsely depict them as “nude or in a sexually explicit situation.” But there’s no easy fix to their creation and spread.

A growing number of deepfakes target women far from the public eye, with anonymous users on deepfakes discussion boards and private chats calling them co-workers, classmates and friends. Several users who make videos by request said there’s even a going rate: about $20 per fake.

The requester of the video with the woman’s face atop the body with the pink off-the-shoulder top had included 491 photos of her face, many taken from her Facebook account, and told other members of the deepfake site that he was “willing to pay for good work :-).” A Washington Post reporter later found her by running those portraits through an online tool known as a reverse-image search that can locate where a photo was originally shared.

It had taken two days after the request for a team of self-labeled “creators” to deliver. A faceless online audience celebrated the effort. “Nice start!” the requester wrote.

“It’s like an assault: the sense of power, the control,” said Adam Dodge, the legal director of Laura’s House, a domestic-violence shelter in California. Dodge hosted a training session last month for detectives and sheriff’s deputies on how deepfakes could be used by an abusive partner or spouse. “With the ability to manufacture pornography, everybody is a potential target,” Dodge said.

Videos have for decades served as a benchmark for authenticity, offering a clear distinction from photos that could be easily distorted. Fake video, for everyone except high-level artists and film studios, has always been too technically complicated to get right.

But recent breakthroughs in machine-learning technology, employed by creators racing to refine and perfect their fakes, have made fake-video creation more accessible than ever. All that’s needed to make a persuasive mimicry within a matter of hours is a computer and a robust collection of photos, such as those posted by the millions onto social media every day.

The result is a fearsome new way for faceless strangers to inflict embarrassment, distress or shame. “If you were the worst misogynist in the world,” said Mary Anne Franks, a University of Miami law professor and the president of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, “this technology would allow you to accomplish whatever you wanted.”

Men are inserted into the videos almost entirely as a joke: A popular imitation shows the actor Nicolas Cage’s face superimposed onto President Trump’s. But the fake videos of women are predominantly pornographic, exposing how the sexual objectification of women is being emboldened by the same style of AI technology that could underpin the future of the Web.

The media critic Anita Sarkeesian, who has been assailed online for her feminist critiques of pop culture and video games, was inserted into a hardcore porn video this year that has been viewed more than 30,000 times on the adult-video site Pornhub.

On deepfake forums, anonymous posters said they were excited to confront her with the video in her Twitter and email accounts, and shared her contact information and suggestions on how they could ensure the video was easily accessible and impossible to remove.

One user on the social-networking site Voat, who goes by “Its-Okay-To-Be-White,” wrote, “Now THIS is the deepfake we need and deserve, if for no other reason than principal.” Another user, “Hypercyberpastelgoth,” wrote, “She attacked us first. . . . She just had to open up her smarmy mouth.”

Sarkeesian said the deepfakes were more proof of “how terrible and awful it is to be a woman on the Internet, where there are all these men who feel entitled to women’s bodies.”

“For folks who don’t have a high profile, or don’t have any profile at all, this can hurt your job prospects, your interpersonal relationships, your reputation, your mental health,” Sarkeesian said. “It’s used as a weapon to silence women, degrade women, show power over women, reducing us to sex objects. This isn’t just a fun-and-games thing. This can destroy lives.”

‘More vulnerable’

The AI approach that spawned deepfakes began with a simple idea: Two opposing groups of deep-learning algorithms create, refine and re-create an increasingly sophisticated result. A team led by Ian Goodfellow, now a research scientist at Google, introduced the idea in 2014 by comparing it to the duel between counterfeiters and the police, with both sides driven “to improve their methods until the counterfeits are indistinguishable.”

The system automated the tedious and time-consuming drudgery of making a photorealistic face-swapping video: finding matching facial expressions, replacing them seamlessly and repeating the task 60 times a second. Many of the deepfake tools, built on Google’s artificial-intelligence library, are publicly available and free to use.

Last year, an anonymous creator using the online name “deepfakes” began using the software to create and publish face-swapped porn videos of actresses such as Gal Gadot onto the discussion-board giant Reddit, winning widespread attention and inspiring a wave of copycats.

The videos range widely in quality, and many are glitchy or obvious cons. But deepfake creators say the technology is improving rapidly and see no limit to whom they can impersonate.

While the deepfake process demands some technical know-how, an anonymous online community of creators has in recent months removed many of the hurdles for interested beginners, crafting how-to guides, offering tips and troubleshooting advice — and fulfilling fake-porn requests on their own.

To simplify the task, deepfake creators often compile vast bundles of facial images, called “facesets,” and sex-scene videos of women they call “donor bodies.” Some creators use software to automatically extract a woman’s face from her videos and social-media posts. Others have experimented with voice-cloning software to generate potentially convincing audio.

Not all fake videos targeting women rely on pornography for shock value or political points. This spring, a doctored video showed the Parkland school shooting survivor Emma González ripping up the Constitution. Conservative activists shared the video as supposed proof of her un-American treachery; in reality, the video showed her ripping up paper targets from a shooting range.

But deepfakes' use in porn has skyrocketed. One creator on the discussion board 8chan made an explicit four-minute deepfake featuring the face of a young German blogger who posts videos about makeup; thousands of images of her face had been extracted from a hair tutorial she had recorded in 2014.

Reddit and Pornhub banned the videos this year, but new alternatives quickly bloomed to replace them. Major online discussion boards such as 8chan and Voat, whose representatives didn’t respond to requests for comment, operate their own deepfake forums, but the videos can also be found on stand-alone sites devoted to their spread.

The creator of one deepfakes site, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of judgment, said his 10-month-old site receives more than 20,000 unique viewers every day and relies on advertising to make a modest profit. Celebrities are among the biggest draws for traffic, he said, adding that he believes their fame — and the wealth of available public imagery — has effectively made them fair game.

The only rules on the site, which hosts an active forum for personal requests, are that targets must be 18 or older and not depicted “in a negative way,” including in scenes of graphic violence or rape. He added that the site “is only semi-moderated,” and relies on its users to police themselves.

One deepfake creator using the name “Cerciusx,” who said he is a 26-year-old American and spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is afraid of public backlash, said he rejects non-celebrity requests because they can too easily spread across a school campus or workplace and scar a person’s life.

Many creators fulfill such requests, though, to make a woman appear “more vulnerable” or bring a dark fantasy to life. “Most guys never land their absolute dream girl,” he said. “This is why deepfakes thrive.”

In April, Rana Ayyub, an investigative journalist in India, was alerted by a source to a deepfake sex video that showed her face on a young woman’s body. The video was spreading by the thousands across Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, sometimes attached to rape threats or alongside her home address.

Ayyub, 34, said she has endured online harassment for years. But the deepfake felt different: uniquely visceral, invasive and cruel. She threw up when she saw it, cried for days afterward and rushed to the hospital, overwhelmed with anxiety. At a police station, she said, officers refused to file a report, and she could see them smiling as they watched the fake.

“It did manage to break me. It was overwhelming. All I could think of was my character: Is this what people will think about me?” she said. “This is a lot more intimidating than a physical threat. This has a lasting impact on your mind. And there’s nothing that could prevent it from happening to me again.”

Identity theft

The victims of deepfakes have few tools to fight back. Legal experts say deepfakes are often too untraceable to investigate and exist in a legal gray area: Built on public photos, they are effectively new creations, meaning they could be protected as free speech.

Civil rights advocates are pursuing untested legal maneuvers to crack down on what they’re calling “nonconsensual pornography,” using similar strategies employed against online harassment, cyberstalking and revenge porn. Lawyers said they could employ harassment or defamation laws, or file restraining orders or takedown notices in cases where they knew enough about the deepfake creators’ identity or tactics. In 2016, when a California man was accused of superimposing his ex-wife into online porn images, prosecutors there tried an unconventional tactic, charging him with 11 counts of identity theft.

Danielle Citron, a University of Maryland law professor who has studied ways to combat online abuse, says the country is in desperate need of a more comprehensive criminal statute that would cover what she calls “invasions of sexual privacy and assassinations of character.” “We need real deterrents,” she said. “Otherwise, it’s just a game of whack-a-mole.”

Google representatives said the company takes its ethical responsibility seriously, but that restrictions on its AI tools could end up limiting developers pushing the technology in a positive way.

But Hany Farid, a Dartmouth College computer-science professor who specializes in examining manipulated photos and videos, said Google and other tech giants need “to get more serious about how weaponized this technology can be.”

“If a biologist said, ‘Here’s a really cool virus; let’s see what happens when the public gets their hands on it,’ that would not be acceptable. And yet it’s what Silicon Valley does all the time,” he said. “It’s indicative of a very immature industry. We have to understand the harm and slow down on how we deploy technology like this.”

The few proposed solutions so far may accomplish little for the women who have been targeted, including the woman whose images were stolen by the requester “willing to pay for good work.” After watching the video, she said she was livid and energized to pursue legal action.

But her efforts to find the requester have gone nowhere. He did not respond to messages, and his posts have since been deleted, his account vanishing without a trace. All that was left was the deepfake. It has been watched more than 400 times.

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« Reply #2659 on: Jan 01, 2019, 05:34 AM »

Apprehension on all sides before launch of Irish abortion services

Legislation and logistics have been fast-tracked to turn last May’s vote into reality

Rory Carroll Ireland correspondent
Tue 1 Jan 2019 05.00 GMT

Ireland is poised to roll out its first regular abortion services in the coming weeks in the wake of the referendum vote to lift the country’s near-total ban on abortion.

Politicians and officials fast-tracked legislation and logistical preparations to turn last year’s landslide vote in favour of liberalisation into reality for women who wish to terminate pregnancies.

About nine of the state’s 19 maternity units, plus clinics run by other organisations, have indicated they will be ready to start abortion services in January.

Only 162 of Ireland’s 4,000 GPs have signed up to provide the service, but the government says that will suffice. The government plans to establish “exclusion zones” to move any protests away from clinics.

The rollout will mark another milestone in the Republic of Ireland’s transformation from a conservative society in thrall to the Roman Catholic church to a liberal, secular country, and will increase the pressure to lift Northern Ireland’s abortion ban, an anomaly in the UK.

“The fact it has been turned around so quickly is brilliant,” said Clare Murphy, a spokesperson for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), which catered to many of the approximately 3,000 women who travelled from Ireland to Britain last year to obtain abortions. “That number will definitely drop, without a doubt.”

The referendum last May delivered a mandate for change: 66.4% of voters chose to repeal the eighth amendment to the constitution, which gave “the unborn” equal rights to pregnant women and made abortion illegal even in cases of rape, incest or severe danger to the mother.

Since then, Ireland’s health minister, Simon Harris, has driven a tight timetable, steering legislation through contentious, marathon debates in parliament and negotiating with medical service providers.

The Irish president, Michael Higgins, signed the regulation of termination of pregnancy bill into law on 20 December, paving the way for services to open in January. Campaigners have hailed it as an overdue breakthrough for women’s rights and equality.

Under the new system, GPs will provide abortions to women up to nine weeks pregnant and hospitals will perform terminations at between nine and 12 weeks. After 12 weeks, abortions will be allowed only in exceptional circumstances. The service will be largely free, with the state paying GPs approximately €400 per patient.

As the rollout nears, all sides are apprehensive. Pro-choice groups bristle at a three-day “cooling off” period for women who request abortions, calling it a sop to anti-abortion activists that lacks medical basis. They also worry about uncertainty over those seeking abortions after 12 weeks, estimated in about 17% of cases.

“We expect there will be a significant cohort of women who won’t be catered for,” said Murphy. She expected hundreds of such cases to end up in British clinics this year.

Pro-life advocates are dismayed, saying the referendum was not a mandate for abortion on demand. Brendan Leahy, the bishop of Limerick, said Ireland was experiencing an “inglorious watermark”.

Doctors, nurses, counsellors and administrators worry about bottlenecks and confusion in a health service already creaking from dysfunction and long waiting lists.

A 24-hour, seven-day helpline will direct women to local GPs who provide abortions. Concern about teething problems has deterred many GPs from signing up to abortion services.

An online consultation by the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) found that 43% were unwilling because of concerns about the rollout, especially “referral pathways” to secondary care involving ultrasound and hospital services.

Tony Cox, the ICGP’s medical director, said: “A small but significant group, particularly younger GPs, see the introduction of abortion services as a significant milestone for women’s health services in Ireland.

“We believe the majority of members are concerned that the introduction has been rushed, that the referral pathways won’t be in place for a while, but are optimistic that it will settle down and that the media interest will subside, and the 24-hour helpline will work smoothly.”

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« Reply #2660 on: Jan 01, 2019, 05:36 AM »

Kim Jong-un's new year message warns of 'new path' if sanctions stay

North Korean leader says he hopes to continue denuclearisation talks but accuses US of breaking promises

Justin McCurry in Osaka and agencies
Tue 1 Jan 2019 03.52 GMT

The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has said he hopes to continue denuclearisation talks with Donald Trump in 2019 but used his New Year’s address to warn that he could be forced to take a “new path” if the US persists with sanctions against his regime.

Wearing a dark suit and seated on a leather armchair in front of portraits of his predecessors – his father, Kim Jong-il, and grandfather Kim Il-sung – Kim said he was willing to meet the US president “at any time” to produce an outcome that would be “welcomed by the international community”.

But he added that North Korea would have “no option but to explore a new path in order to protect our sovereignty” if Washington “continues to break its promises and misjudges our patience by unilaterally demanding certain things and pushes ahead with sanctions and pressure”. He did not give details on what that “new path” might entail.

Kim and Trump signed a vaguely worded statement committing the North to “denuclearisation” during their first meeting in Singapore last June, but negotiations have since stalled over disagreements on the definition of denuclearisation and which side should be the first to make concessions.

Pyongyang has demanded that Washington lift sanctions and declare an official end to the 1950-53 Korean war, while the US has urged the regime to demonstrate its commitment to denuclearisation.

In Tuesday’s televised address, which was also broadcast live in South Korea for the first time, Kim called on South Korea to end its joint military drills with the US – which have largely been halted since his summit with Trump – and not deploy strategic military assets to the South.

Reflecting on a year of inter-Korean rapprochement during which he held three summits with the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, Kim said: “Now that North and South Korea decided on the path of peace and prosperity, we insist that joint military exercises with outside forces should no longer be allowed and deployment of war weapons such as outside strategic assets should be completely stopped.”

Harry Kazianis, director of defence studies at the Center for the National Interest in Washington, said Kim’s speech showed Pyongyang was “clearly willing to engage in dialogue while working towards denuclearisation with Washington and Seoul – but on its terms”.

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« Reply #2661 on: Jan 01, 2019, 05:38 AM »

Emmanuel Macron vows to push on with reforms despite protests

French president goes on offensive with new year message calling for end to ‘hateful’ attacks

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
Tue 1 Jan 2019 10.40 GMT

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has called on the nation to unite, stop “hateful” attacks during protests and avoid falling for “false information” online amid anti-government demonstrations that have sometimes turned violent.

Macron – whose approval ratings have plummeted in 2018 as he failed to shake the label “president of the rich” and faced an unprecedented citizens’ protest movement – went on the offensive in his televised new year’s speech.

He deliberately did not name the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) movement that has been demonstrating against the government at road blockades and weekly city centre protests for six weeks. But he criticised what he called a minority who, he said, claimed to be the voice of the people but were in fact “megaphones of a hateful crowd who have lashed out at elected politicians, security forces, journalists, Jews, foreigners, homosexuals”.

Macron said this hatefulness was “the negation of France” and that “our future depends on our capacity to love each other and to love our nation.” He said he had “seen the unthinkable and heard the unacceptable” in recent weeks and that “order” in France would be maintained.

Macron spoke as more than 147,000 security forces were mobilised across the country for new year’s celebrations, not just because of the terrorist threat in France but also because authorities feared surprise demonstrations by anti-government protestrs.

About 300,000 tourists and revellers were expected on the Champs Élysées on New Year’s Eve for Paris’s annual light show, which is projected on to the Arc de Triomphe and was the target of protesters this month. A security cordon was set up around the area from 4pm and security guards and police checked those who entered. Some gilets jaunes demonstrators called for peaceful protests in Paris.

Over the past decade, hundreds of cars have been set alight on the edge of French cities including Strasbourg and Lyon on New Year’s Eve in what has become a kind of end-of-year ritual. But officials said security services were on alert for unannounced anti-government protests in order to prevent violence.

The gilets jaunes movement, named after protesters’ hi-vis vests, began in November as a tax revolt against a new fuel duty. It has morphed into a nationwide protest against what has been seen as an unfair and unjust tax policy, and Macron’s measures favouring businesses and the wealthy. Rioting, arson and running battles with police have occurred on the edge of demonstrations in Paris and other cities.

In his new year speech, Macron acknowledged the anger that had spread across France and tried to empathise. But he said it had been brewing for a long time – implying he did not accept the blame but instead laid responsibility on decades of mass unemployment and what he has called years of political stagnation.

Macron tried to channel the positivity of the anger, saying it “showed us that we’re not resigned to anything, that our country wants to build a better future”.

He was careful to use the words “us” and “we” to avoid appearing cut off from the public mood. After he was mocked for the staid style of a recent televised speech aimed at calming the protests, which was delivered seated at a desk in a gilded room, this time Macron stood up in a more modern room in the Élysée Palace.

After some in Macron’s shrinking supporter base feared he would step back from his manifesto promise of structural reforms because of the unrest, the president went on the offensive, vowing to press on with his plans to overhaul the social welfare state and social protection in 2019, beginning with changes to unemployment benefits.

He said of his changes so far, including loosening of labour laws: “The results can’t be immediate, and impatience – which I share – can’t justify any kind of giving up.” He repeated his argument that unbridled, lawless “ultra free-market” capitalism was at its end, suggesting he wanted to reinvent a new form of responsible globalisation in a Europe that “protects”.

Macron said one of his key wishes for 2019 was “truth”, including a fight against inaccurate information online. This suggested that Macron might seek to go further on regulating information online, after his government passed a law which aims to empower judges to order the immediate removal of news deemed as fake during election campaigns. He did not give details.

Gilets jaunes demonstrators have called for referendums and a greater role for citizens in everyday politics. Macron said “our institutions must continue to evolve” but didn’t spell out any possible changes to the political system. He has promised to launch a national debate from January and said only that he would write to citizens to set out the parameters in coming days.

The European elections in May will be a major test for Macron’s political party, La République En Marche, which is behind Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally in the polls. Macron said in his speech that he would soon set out a project for Europe.

A year ago, Macron said in his new year’s address: “In my view, 2018 will be the year of national cohesion.” But instead he ends the year with a nation deeply divided, with violent street protests against him, and with his approval ratings reduced from about 40% to 20% over the course of 2018.

He is also again under pressure over the scandal of his former bodyguard and security aide, Alexandre Benalla, who was sacked this summer after he was filmed acting violently to demonstrators.

The Benalla affair was back in the headlines this week over the former aide’s continuing use of diplomatic passports. He also claimed he had remained in personal contact with Macron. The affair has proved damaging in part because of the Elysée’s botched handling of it, making statements that were contradicted and giving the impression of a cover-up. The Elysée on Monday dismissed his claims as invented.

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« Reply #2662 on: Jan 01, 2019, 06:00 AM »

Trump 'ready and willing' to make a deal as shutdown chaos continues

US president uses Fox News interview to blame Democrats for impasse as partial closure stretches into New Year’s Eve

Joanna Walters and agencies
Tue 1 Jan 2019 11.29 GMT

Donald Trump is “ready, willing and able” to negotiate an end to the partial government shutdown that stretched into its 10th day on New Year’s Eve.

Trump told Fox News in a year-end TV interview that Democratic congressional leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi “can come over right now” and “could’ve come over anytime” to try to hash out a solution.

The fresh statement on Monday appeared to be another attempt by the president to convince the public that the federal government shutdown and impasse over funding for a wall on the US-Mexico border is the fault of Democrats.

But he has not been directly in touch with Democratic leaders offering to negotiate, he has simply posted criticism via Twitter and, now, a late year interview, which is unlikely to shift the status quo.

In the interview with Fox, Trump added: “A lot of people are looking to get their paycheck, so I’m ready to go whenever they want.”

There were already indications from the Democratic camp earlier in the day, however, that congressional members are ignoring the president at this point. They intend to go straight for putting forward their own legislation to fund the government, without Trump’s requested funds for a wall, when they take over the House of Representatives in the new session of the US Congress beginning on Thursday.

Trump’s latest statements are in effect another version of his tweet earlier in the day when he said: “I’m in the Oval Office. Democrats, come back from vacation now and give us the votes necessary for Border Security, including the Wall….”

Democrats on Monday unveiled legislation designed to re-open the federal government, without providing money for Donald Trump’s border wall.

According to an anonymous aide quoted by the Associated Press, the House is preparing to vote on the package on Thursday, when the new Congress will convene with Democrats in the majority in the lower chamber for the first time since 2010. It will include one bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security at current levels through 8 February, with $1.3bn for border security. Trump has demanded $5bn.

The package will include six other bills to fund the departments of agriculture, interior, housing and urban development and others closed by the partial shutdown. Some bills have already passed the Senate. Those will provide money through the remainder of the fiscal year, to 30 September.

Monday was the 10th day of the partial government shutdown forced by Trump’s demand for a wall. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers face increasing hardship and key government functions are cast into ever-increasing doubt.

And on Monday afternoon it emerged that some of the most famous national parks in the western US are closing partially because of problems such as overflowing public toilets and garbage facilities, vandalism to fragile areas and resulting dangers to human and wildlife safety.

The shutdown, which has forced furloughs of hundreds of thousands of federal government employees, has left many parks without most of their rangers.

“It’s a free-for-all,” Dakota Snider, 24, who lives and works in Yosemite Valley, northern California, said told the Associated Press by telephone on Monday, as Yosemite national park officials announced closings of some minimally supervised campgrounds and public areas within the park that are overwhelmed.

“It’s so heartbreaking. There is more trash and human waste and disregard for the rules than I’ve seen in my four years living here,” Snider said.


Democrats unveil bill to end shutdown – without money for Trump's wall

    Sources say House to vote on package on Thursday
    Monday represents 10th day of government shutdown


Democrats on Monday unveiled legislation designed to re-open the federal government, without providing money for Donald Trump’s border wall.

According to an anonymous aide quoted by the Associated Press, the House is preparing to vote on the package on Thursday, when the new Congress will convene with Democrats in the majority in the lower chamber for the first time since 2010. It will include one bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security at current levels through 8 February, with $1.3bn for border security. Trump has demanded $5bn.

The package will include six other bills to fund the departments of agriculture, interior, housing and urban development and others closed by the partial shutdown. Some bills have already passed the Senate. Those will provide money through the remainder of the fiscal year, to 30 September.

Monday was the 10th day of the partial government shutdown forced by Trump’s demand for a wall. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers face increasing hardship and key government functions are cast into ever-increasing doubt.

And on Monday afternoon it emerged that some of the most iconic national parks in the western US are closing partially because of problems such as overflowing public toilets and vandalism.

Yosemite national park was closing some of its campgrounds and popular areas. Park officials said that with toilets overflowing, visitors had begun relieving themselves on the side of the road.

In Joshua Tree national park, officials are also closing campgrounds after officials reported that, with only skeleton staff supervising visitors, people were driving off-road illegally and otherwise damaging the park.

Staying open but with barely any staff was “a nightmare scenario” for human and wildlife safety and vulnerable historic sites, John Garder, the budget director of the National Parks Conservation Association, said on Monday.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, confusion reigned about whether Trump actually wants a physical wall along the border with Mexico. Three people close to the president suggested on Sunday he does not. On Monday the president returned to tweeting, stridently, that he does.

Trump campaigned on the promise to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it. He and his allies have claimed a new trade deal with Mexico and Canada, being supposedly better for the US than its predecessor, fulfills the second part of the promise. Over the weekend, the Trump camp tried to explain the president’s thinking on the first.

First, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, the chief of staff, John Kelly, said Trump abandoned the notion of “a solid concrete wall early on in the administration”.

“The president still says ‘wall’,” said Kelly, whose last day on the job is Monday. “Oftentimes frankly he’ll say ‘barrier’ or ‘fencing’, now he’s tended toward steel slats. But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration, when we asked people what they needed and where they needed it.”

Senior adviser Kellyanne Conway then told Fox News Sunday: “There may be a wall in some places, there may be steel slats, there may be technological enhancements. But only saying ‘wall or no wall’ is being very disingenuous and turning a complete blind eye to what is a crisis at the border.”

Senator Lindsey Graham completed the job, telling reporters at the White House after lunch with Trump “the wall has become a metaphor for border security”.

So far, so unclear. And on Monday morning, Trump duly announced: “An all concrete Wall was NEVER ABANDONED, as has been reported by the media. Some areas will be all concrete but the experts at Border Patrol prefer a Wall that is see through (thereby making it possible to see what is happening on both sides). Makes sense to me!”

Graham also said he thought a deal with Democrats might be possible, by which congressional leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi would provide Trump’s money in return for action on the legal status of Dreamers, undocumented migrants brought to the US as children, and other migrant groups.

Saying the president was “open-minded”, Graham added: “Democrats have a chance here to work with me and others, including the president, to bring legal status to people who have very uncertain lives.”

But a previous attempt to reach such a deal broke down, thanks to White House demands.

The president remains at the White House, meeting allies, criticised for not reaching out to Democrats who have happily pointed to an 11 December Oval Office meeting in which Trump said he would be proud to force a shutdown.

A proposed deal for $2.5bn, advanced via the vice-president, Mike Pence, and the Alabama Republican senator Richard Shelby, went nowhere. Conway claimed on Sunday that “the president has already compromised” by dropping his request from $25bn, and called on Democrats to return to the table.

“It is with them,” she said.

Democrats were unmoved.

“It’s clear the White House doesn’t know what they want when it comes to border security,” Justin Goodman, Schumer’s spokesman, told reporters. “The president tweets, blaming everyone but himself for a shutdown he called for more than 25 times.”

Polling shows the public backs the Democrats. But any legislation passed by a Democratic House will have to be backed by the Republican Senate – and Trump.


'It's astonishing': The demise of the daily White House press briefing

The press briefing has become a monthly event in the era of Trump, and concerns are that it may soon disappear altogether

David Smith in Washington
Tue 1 Jan 2019 06.00 GMT

Laptops and phones, winter coats and scarves, a hubbub of different languages. A row of cameras sits on a bench. John Roberts of Fox News has a steely expression as he clutches a mic. Jim Acosta of CNN, press pass reinstated after his run-in with the president last year, speaks simultaneously to his own viewers: “We’ll see how much time we have Sarah Sanders. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, these briefings can end very quickly.”

Then a voice on the public-address system: “The press briefing will begin at 1.20pm. Thank you.” The hundred-or-so journalists crammed into the seats and aisles erupt in knowing laughs and groans. Sanders eventually enters at 1.35pm. It will be the White House press secretary’s sole briefing in the whole of November – a paltry total she will match in December.

The question-and-answer session was described as must-see television in the early months of the Trump administration, gripping millions of viewers and earning the accolade of parody on the TV variety show Saturday Night Live. But now the daily press briefing is no more. It has effectively become a monthly press briefing, raising concerns that it might soon disappear altogether.

“That would be a tragedy and a campaign point in 2020,” said Anthony Scaramucci, who served as White House communications director for 11 days in 2017. “I pray that that does not happen. For the president to be successful, you don’t want that to be a campaign talking point in 2020. The American people intuitively know that there needs to be an open communication between the White House and the free press.”

The first official White House press secretary was George Akerson under President Herbert Hoover in 1929. In recent decades the position became best known to the outside world for the briefing, in which the press secretary stands at a podium and fields questions from reporters in a briefing room (formerly a swimming pool) in the west wing.

Few have made such an explosive start as Sean Spicer, whose debut briefing in January 2017 included a tirade at the media and the now-infamous assertion about Donald Trump’s inauguration: “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration – period – both in person and around the globe.”

Spicer’s briefings became a compulsive, car-crash spectacle. There was fluster, ill-fitting suits, gaffes such as “Holocaust centres” and Melissa McCarthy’s deathless impression of him with motorised lectern on Saturday Night Live. Scaramucci said: “They were must-watch television because he made a decision that he was going to lie and so everyone knew he was lying. There was a contradiction to the press briefing. Every Spice Girl has a nickname. His was Liar Spice.”

When Spicer was replaced by Sarah Sanders, the ship steadied, even though the falsehoods and acrimonious exchanges did not. Briefings became scarcer and lost the old momentum. It was like a long-running TV series that had passed its prime but did not know when to quit.

Sanders gave 11 briefings in January, seven in February, eight in March, eight in April, eight in May, five in June, three in July, five in August, one in September, two in October and one in November, making a total of 59, according to a count by Martha Joynt Kumar, director of the White House Transition Project. Each of the last three was alongside other officials, not on her own.

Over the comparable period in 2010, Barack Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, held 95 briefings, Kumar’s research found. And from January to November 2002, George W Bush’s press secretary, Ari Fleischer, held a total of 85 briefings.

Sanders is not only more infrequent but also terser. Her briefings were usually around 15 to 18 minutes, according to Kumar, whereas Gibbs’s were usually around an hour and Fleischer’s were about 25 minutes.

The shift coincides with the press enjoying increasing access to Trump himself. It has become a ritual for the president to stop on the South Lawn and take questions from a scrum of media, albeit competing with the roar of the Marine One helicopter, before he boards and flies away. Combined with his insatiable tweeting, he has effectively rendered the press secretary close to redundant.

Kumar writes: “The basic finding is that Sarah Sanders doesn’t give briefings when Trump is doing multiple interviews and Q&As. October is a clear, though somewhat extreme, example. Together, Trump gave 71 interviews and short Q&As and she gave two briefings. In January, on the other hand, she gave 11 briefings and he did a total of 15 interviews and Q&As.”

The White House Correspondents Association has raised the issue with the administration. Olivier Knox, its president and author of a 2013 article headlined “Save the (terrible) White House briefing”, said: “It’s largely happened with the president of the United States being significantly more available in terms of taking questions from reporters on the South Lawn and in a series of interviews. He’s become much more his own spokesman.

“I don’t know any White House reporter who thinks the president should take fewer questions. It’s a little bit messy but that’s to be expected. I don’t know if they know they can ask the marines to turn off the helicopter.”

But the decline of briefings by the press secretary is concerning, Knox argues. “The people who are hurt the most are the smaller news outlets. If you’re down to one, two or three people in your Washington bureau, having a set time when the White House is available for questions is important.”

Scaramucci, who during his brief tenure insisted that live TV coverage of the briefings should resume, said: “Any time that the press can talk to the principal and can talk to the principal in volume, which has been experienced in this White House, is in general a very good thing for free press. I would, however, caution that it is still necessary for the comms team to have a regular interaction with the press because there are many things that go on inside the White House and the administration that the comms team and the press secretary need to discuss that is perhaps different from the principal.

“So it’s not a great excuse to use the accessibility of the principal as an alibi for having less press conferences.”

Trump’s freewheeling question-and-answer sessions, interviews and tweets, along with a steady flow of White House leaks, have arguably made this the most transparent presidency in American history. Yet in other ways this administration, with its flouting of norms and lurches from crisis to crisis, is also the most opaque.

Mike McCurry, who was press secretary to President Bill Clinton in the pre-Twitter 1990s, said: “If you have a president who gives you his innermost thoughts by tweets, why do you need a spokesperson to amplify what the president has already told you? But there’s an accountability function where the press has an opportunity to ask about federal government and all the other things going on.

“It was religious that we would do some kind of briefing every day. It was sacrosanct that someone would stand up at the White House every day and answer questions as an essential part of American democracy. The idea you could go a month without a briefing is astonishing.”


N.Y.’s New Attorney General Is Targeting Trump. Will Judges See a ‘Political Vendetta?’

Letitia James, a Democrat, has made no secret that she intends to use her powers as New York’s attorney general to pursue possible legal action against President Trump.

By Jeffery C. Mays
NY Times

Letitia James, the incoming New York attorney general, has made no secret of how she feels about President Trump.

She calls him an “illegitimate president.” She says her decision to run for attorney general was largely “about that man in the White House who can’t go a day without threatening our fundamental rights.”

She has suggested that Mr. Trump could be charged with obstruction of justice, and implied that foreign governments channeled money to Mr. Trump’s family’s real estate holdings, which she characterized as a “pattern and practice of money laundering.”

    Nobody is above the law, not even @realDonaldTrump.

    Forcing the nation’s top law enforcement official to resign doesn’t give him a free pass—it only raises suspicions.

    I want NYers to know I‘ll hold those in power accountable & make sure the Special Counsel’s work continues.
    — Tish James (@TishJames) November 7, 2018

Democratic attorneys general across the country, including Ms. James’s predecessors in New York, have repeatedly used their offices to confront Mr. Trump. But since her election, Ms. James has opened herself up to criticism that she has gone too far in allowing politics to shape her agenda.

Her strident attacks on the president could potentially threaten the legal standing of cases that her office brings against Mr. Trump, his family members or their business interests, legal experts said.

Mr. Trump recently accused Ms. James of winning her election on a “GET TRUMP agenda,” and of doing “little else but rant, rave & politic against me.”

    ....In any event, it goes on and on & the new AG, who is now being replaced by yet another AG (who openly campaigned on a GET TRUMP agenda), does little else but rant, rave & politic against me. Will never be treated fairly by these people - a total double standard of “justice.”
    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018

Ms. James has signaled that she will be as aggressive as New York’s current attorney general, Barbara D. Underwood, and her predecessor, Eric T. Schneiderman, both Democrats, in pursuing Mr. Trump in his home state.

She will continue a lawsuit against the Trump Foundation that was filed by Ms. Underwood and may also examine whether Mr. Trump is in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which bars federal officials from accepting gifts, or emoluments, from foreign powers without congressional approval.

After an investigation by The New York Times showed that Mr. Trump received hundreds of millions of dollars from his parents, most of it by helping them dodge taxes, Ms. James issued a statement calling for “a full examination of these claims” by the state, including the attorney general’s office.
Ms. James with Keith Wofford, her Republican opponent, in October. She is the first woman in New York to be elected as attorney general, the first African-American woman to be elected to statewide office, and the first African-American to serve as attorney general.CreditMichelle V. Agins/The New York Times

“Donald Trump’s days of defrauding Americans are coming to an end,” Ms. James said.

Daniel S. Goldman, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice and a former assistant United States attorney in Manhattan, said that it was unlikely that Ms. James’s remarks could directly lead to a dismissal of charges against Mr. Trump, but that they could put cases in jeopardy because of an appearance of “an individualized political vendetta.”

“If there were to be a motion to dismiss because of bias, the attorney general’s office would have to show a stronger factual basis for the legal issue,” Mr. Goldman said. “If there is a close call along the way, it could have an impact on the way a judge rules.”

A similar issue arose in 2015 when Judge Valerie E. Caproni of Federal District Court in Manhattan chided Preet Bharara for publicly criticizing Sheldon Silver, the former New York Assembly speaker, after he was charged with corruption. Mr. Bharara, then the United States attorney in Manhattan, had suggested to reporters that Mr. Silver had “sold his office to line his pockets.”

Mr. Silver asked for the charges to be dismissed. Judge Caproni declined, but said she was “troubled” that Mr. Bharara’s remarks appeared to “bundle together unproven allegations” about Mr. Silver. She warned his office to try the case “in the courtroom and not in the press.”

Mr. Goldman characterized Mr. Trump’s criticism of Ms. James as the right message from the wrong messenger, given how Mr. Trump has used public remarks on Twitter to discredit criminal and civil investigations involving himself, his family and associates.

“Donald Trump is desperately trying to turn everything into a hyperpartisan issue, including criminal justice,” Mr. Goldman said. “It’s essential that prosecutors maintain their neutrality and an objective view of the facts and the evidence, no matter the politics involved.”

In an interview, Ms. James defended her remarks about the president, adding that she believed that her race and gender were shaping what she characterized as assumptions and misconceptions about how she would perform as attorney general.

Ms. James is the first woman in New York to be elected as attorney general, the first African-American woman to be elected to statewide office, and the first African-American to serve as attorney general. Before winning election, she was the New York City public advocate.

“This is similar to when I was about to take office as public advocate, and individuals expressed concerns,” Ms. James said. “What I have done repeatedly throughout my life is I have been underestimated and have continued to perform.”

Ms. James’s role could take on heightened significance should Mr. Trump decide to issue pardons for anyone implicated in the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Convictions under state law, however, are not covered by federal pardons. Ms. James has championed a change in state law that would allow the prosecution of those who have been pardoned by the president.
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The importance of Ms. James’s position was underscored when Ms. Underwood’s office announced on Dec. 18 that Mr. Trump and his lawyers had agreed to shut down the Donald J. Trump Foundation.

That agreement emerged from an investigation that began under Mr. Schneiderman, and from a lawsuit filed by Ms. Underwood.

The lawsuit, which seeks restitution and penalties and could result in Mr. Trump and his three oldest children being barred from the boards of other New York charities, will proceed under Ms. James’s watch.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers had argued that the case should be dismissed because it was politically motivated. A state judge ruled in November that the case could proceed.

Ms. James began her legal career as a lawyer at the Legal Aid Society, eventually becoming head of the New York attorney general’s Brooklyn regional office. In 2003, she was elected to the New York City Council; she was elected as the New York City public advocate a decade later.

As public advocate, Ms. James sought to redefine the position: She filed 12 lawsuits on behalf of city residents, more than all of her predecessors combined, but to mixed results. A small handful of cases were thrown out because judges ruled that she lacked standing to file the lawsuits.

Even inside the attorney general’s office, some shared concerns that Ms. James’s outspoken approach toward Mr. Trump may undermine her efforts.

Eric Soufer, who served as senior counsel for policy for Mr. Schneiderman, said Ms. James’s bluntness had caused “apprehension and uneasiness” among some high-level officials who have left the office after her election.

“You’ve got to let the cases do the talking,” said Mr. Soufer, now a managing director at Tusk Strategies, a political consulting group. “She doesn’t need to expose what she thinks about Donald Trump. What people want are results.”

Ms. James acknowledged that her words and promises would carry more weight as attorney general.

“I recognize that this is the premier law office in this nation,” Ms. James said in the interview. “I recognize that as the face of this office, one must be circumspect.”

Days later, Ms. James was back in attack mode, telling NBC News that she would use “every area of the law to investigate President Trump and his business transactions and that of his family.”


Trump clearly tried to obstruct probe of himself and his family by pressuring acting AG Whitaker: legal experts

Raw Story

President Donald Trump reportedly tried to pressure acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker to “control” federal prosecutors in New York — where his longtime attorney had implicated the president, his family and his business in a criminal conspiracy.

Trump issued a narrow denial of the CNN report, which he attacked as “fake news,” but a pair of legal experts writing for The Daily Beast called on the incoming Congress to fully investigate this “astonishing” incident as obstruction of justice.

“We don’t know how Mr. Whitaker reacted to the president’s actions, but it’s clear this is an active attempt to thwart an ongoing investigation, so time is of the essence,” wrote Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman, and Mimi Rocah, a former assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. “Every Justice Department official with any knowledge of the president’s conversations with Mr. Whitaker needs to be called to testify and turn over any relevant documents in their possession.”

The pair of legal experts, who are also MSNBC contributors, called on prosecutors in the Southern District of New York — where former Trump Organization attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty — to expand their campaign finance investigation involving Trump and his children to examine obstruction of justice.

“It is clear from the charging documents against Mr. Cohen that the Trump Organization, which was owned and controlled by Mr. Trump and his children at the time of the conduct, is likely implicated in this criminal scheme as well,” Miller and Rocah wrote. “Taken together, these facts make clear that President Trump, the Trump Organization, and … likely one of Mr. Trump’s sons … are subjects and possibly targets of the Southern District’s investigation.”

Miller and Rocah called on Whitaker to recuse himself from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation now that he’s a witness — and “irretrievably compromised.”

“Mr. Whitaker is an accidental attorney general, there only because the president plucked him from relative obscurity to first serve as his eyes and ears inside the department as Mr. Sessions’ chief of staff, and later to oversee – and perhaps thwart – the various probes into the president,” the pair wrote. “He can’t afford to anger the president, and the president knows it.”

The legal experts also called on the Republican-majority Senate to insist that attorney general nominee William Barr commit to recusing himself from any investigation of the president before he is confirmed.

“We know what the president is looking for in an attorney general,” Miller and Rocah wrote, “and Mr. Barr’s secret assurances to the White House mean the Senate must ensure Mr. Trump doesn’t get it.”


Feud erupts between two Trump supporters targeted by Mueller — a sign they may be ready to crack

Matthew Chapman, Alternet

On Sunday, President Donald Trump’s former campaign strategist Roger Stone lashed out at his longtime associate, former InfoWars writer and Birther conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, accusing him of working with special counsel Robert Mueller to take him down in an Instagram post.

“So Jerry Corsi was working with Mueller to sandbag me on a fabricated perjury charge,” Stone wrote. “Mueller’s minion even promised Corsi no jail time if he would lie and say he gave me John Podesta’s stolen e-mails (which he did NOT) Then they were going to say I passed them on to Trump (which I did NOT) . Jerry was willing to LIE about me but not himself ! Now Jerry is lying about legitimate research he did for me regarding the Podesta brothers lucrative business in Russia. Jerry Corsi is starting to make Michael Cohen look like a stand up guy !”

According to the Washington Examiner, Stone’s anger comes from the fact that Corsi stated in recent interviews he had told Stone and “many” others about the Russia-linked theft of emails from Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta before they had been published to WikiLeaks.

Stone hinted he had advance knowledge of the document dump in 2016, tweeting that it would soon be Podesta’s “time in the barrel” weeks before the first of his emails were released on the vigilante intelligence group’s website. He has since tried to claim he was not involved in the operation and only heard about it from comedian Randy Credico — who vehemently denies it. Mueller has opened an investigation into the full extent of Stone’s involvement, and if it turned out that Stone lied to investigators or to Congress, he could be in serious trouble.

But the fact that Stone is now turning on Corsi is especially notable, as Corsi has — at least publicly — been one of Stone’s most steadfast and loyal allies.

Corsi was offered a plea bargain by Mueller in exchange for cooperation, but he refused, telling MSNBC that he “might die in jail” for helping Trump get elected but that he has no regrets. To help him defend against Mueller’s investigation, he retained Larry Klayman, a far-right legal activist who once tried to make a citizen’s arrest of former President Barack Obama and claimed the Florida pipe bomber was a false flag paid for by Democrats. Klayman proceeded to send a fake “criminal complaint” to the Justice Department and the D.C. Bar accusing Mueller of false statements, extortion, and racketeering, and then filed a lawsuit accusing Mueller of blackmail.

It would not be altogether surprising if Corsi ultimately abandoned this bizarre strategy — when people have refused to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation, it has tended to not end well. But while there is no outward sign Corsi is ready to give up, Stone clearly seems to think he could blow up everything.


Conservative annihilates Trump for clinging to ‘parallel universe’ where he’s accountable for nothing but achieves everything

Raw Story

Conservative Washington Post opinion writer Jennifer Rubin annihilated President Donald Trump in her end-of-year commentary for the paper.

The president is reaching his mid-way point in his term and already his lies have forced the paper to create a new category to classify them. Rubin called it a kind of “parallel universe” to which the nation’s leader clings. In Trumpworld, he’s accountable for nothing, yet simultaneously manages to achieve everything.

“Trump is getting worse and more dishonest with time,” Rubin wrote. She then cited fact-checker Glenn Kessler who wrote Sunday that in 2018 alone the president has made 5,000 false or misleading claims. That equals more than 7,600 for his presidency as a whole.

“Trump’s lies are not inconsequential,” Rubin explained. “They are a necessary foundation for his political survival (in an investigation that has indicted more than 30 people, he still screams ‘Witch hunt!’) and for an agenda that is based on ignorance and deception.”

Because lying is such an important component to him, it means his White House staff and cabinet appointees must live with him in the imaginary universe just to survive. Any of those Republicans who refuse to accept his chosen reality find themselves the target of a Trump tweet, if not an attack during a rally speech.

Rubin noted the recent announcement of a pullout from Syria that prompted Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to turn against Trump during a Sunday CNN interview. He swore that he was going to speak to the president over lunch and convince him that a quick withdrawal was dangerous and would harm the U.S. allies.

Graham played it tough when speaking to host Dana Bash, but after his lunch with the president, Graham returned to his comfortable position as official White House lapdog.

“In other words, Graham has to try pleading with Trump to accept reality; otherwise, Trump’s dangerous policy based on his uniformed or intentionally false assertions will harm our national security. That’s the view of a Trump defender,” Rubin wrote.

The most blatant example has been Trump’s enthusiastic declaration that he’ll achieve his “big, beautiful wall” on the U.S.-Mexico border to solve an “immigration crisis.”

The problem is that there isn’t an immigration crisis. Republican Linda Chavez said as much during a CNN interview where she cited raw numbers of those coming into the United States from 2000 to 2018. Meanwhile, chief of staff John Kelly admitted the “wall” was never really going to be a wall in his Los Angeles Times exit interview.

“So we are having a shutdown over a non-solution the president doesn’t even want to a problem that doesn’t actually exist. That’s the tower of lies one has to accept to defend Trump’s actions,” Rubin wrote.

She explained that it’s becoming dangerous, not merely because the lies are counterproductive and “stupid decisions,” but because it’s forcing so many others to submit to the live in a world that doesn’t exist.

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« Reply #2663 on: Jan 02, 2019, 05:02 AM »

New discoveries at Pompeii come amid renaissance at site

Man who died fleeing Mount Vesuvius eruption is one of several key finds in latest dig

Angela Giuffrida in Pompeii

Teresa Virtuoso is more than used to digging up tombs. But when the archaeologist found the skeleton of a man who died while trying to escape the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79, she couldn’t help but think about his final moments.

“At that moment, it wasn’t only about doing a job,” Virtuoso, who is coordinating excavations in part of Regio V, an entire quarter of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii that is yet to open to the public, told the Guardian.

“It made me think about the eruption and how afraid this man must have been as he ran. He was also found in an area that suffered most of Vesuvius’s damage; it would have been impossible to survive.”

He was the first victim to be found during excavations of Regio V, a 21.8-hectare (54-acre) site to the north of the archaeological park. The dig is the most intensive since the 1960s and symbolises a renaissance at the site, which earlier this decade was overcrowded and in parts crumbling.

Surprises unearthed so far this year include the remains of a horse; a home with an elaborate shrine; well-preserved mosaics and a bedroom fresco depicting an erotic scene from the Greek myth Leda and the Swan.

The discovery of the remains in May was even more startling as it appeared that the man had survived the initial phase of the eruption when the city was blanketed in volcanic ash and pumice. His torso was protruding from a large stone block but rather than being decapitated by it (the first appearance of his image online led some to call him history’s unluckiest man) archaeologist believe he was killed by the lethal gases of the eruption’s later stages.

The victim, believed to have been in his mid-30s, was also found with a small sack of 20 silver and two bronze coins, the equivalent of about €500 (£450) in today’s money.

Virtuouso said he probably took refuge in his home in the hours after the initial eruption, leaving only when he thought it was over. Experts established that he suffered from a physical defect that caused him to limp, thus hampering his escape from the doomed city.

In late October, the skeletons of two women and three children were discovered huddled together in the room of a villa in Regio V. A week earlier, the same villa revealed a charcoal inscription that suggested Vesuvius erupted in October AD79, and not in August of that year as previously thought.

Many of the homes uncovered had been damaged by a massive earthquake in Pompeii in AD62, but people continued to live in them, according to Francesco Muscolino, the archaeologist leading the excavations.

Various scrawls have also been found – including one believed to have been done by a child and spelling out “Sabinus”, the surname of an esteemed family of ancient Pompeii.

The city, which attracts almost 4 million visitors a year, has come a long way since 2013, when Unesco threatened to place it on its list of world heritage sites in peril unless Italian authorities improved its preservation.

The threat followed several incidents over the previous years, including the collapse of the House of Gladiators and a number of walls. Other shortcomings included a lack of qualified staff, structural damage and vandalism. Wide-ranging preservation works have taken place since then, while homes and alleys that were previously closed have been reopened, alleviating pressure on tourist congestion in popular areas.
Pompeii with Mount Vesuvius looming over it.

Authorities have also discussed a new evacuation plan in case Mount Vesuvius erupts again.

For Massimo Osanna, the park’s superintendent, the biggest challenge is ensuring that the higher management standard is maintained.

“It doesn’t take much to slip backwards,” he said. “Previously there was a problem with supervision, but we need to be constantly monitoring.”

Part of that monitoring entails trying to educate people to respect the site.

“We had an issue with French schools organising treasure hunts, so children would be running around, touching frescoes and everything else,” added Osanna.

“Then you get those who climb on top of pillars to take selfies – it makes me so angry. The problem is stupidity, not understanding how fragile and unique Pompeii is.”

Tourists stealing artefacts is less of an issue nowadays after a museum displaying relics returned by repentant thieves was created. Park officials have received many letters expressing guilt, with some of the transgressions dating back to the 1980s.

The Pompeii ruins were discovered in the 16th century, with the first excavations beginning in 1748. One thousand five hundred of the estimated 2,000 victims have been found over the centuries.

Contemporary technology and DNA testing, as well as an interdisciplinary team that includes engineers, geologists, anthropologists and technical experts, helps to not only yield new finds but also shed more light on life in Pompeii before it was destroyed by Vesuvius.

With explorations at Regio V continuing into next year, there will no doubt be more to come. Osanna’s favourite discovery so far? “The man with the block on his head, it was astonishing, and the first time we found a victim that was so contextualised.”

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« Reply #2664 on: Jan 02, 2019, 05:05 AM »

Vital ecosystems in tidal flats lost to development and rising sea levels

First global coastline survey shows 16% of tidal flats lost between 1984 and 2016

Lisa Cox

Coastal development and sea level rise are causing the decline of tidal flats along the world’s coastlines, according to research that has mapped the ecosystems for the first time.

Scientists from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and the University of Queensland used machine-learning to analyse more than 700,000 satellite images to map the extent of and change in tidal flats around the globe.

The study, published in Nature, found tidal flat ecosystems in some countries declined by as much as 16% in the years from 1984 to 2016.

Tidal flats are mud flats, sand flats or wide rocky reef platforms that are important coastal ecosystems. They act as buffers to storms and sea level rise and provide habitat for many species, including migratory birds and fish nurseries.

Almost 50% of the global extent of tidal flats is concentrated in just eight countries: Indonesia, China, Australia, the US, Canada, India, Brazil and Myanmar.

Nicholas Murray, the study’s lead author and a senior research fellow at the centre for ecosystem science at the University of New South Wales, said because tidal flats were often at least partially covered by water they had been difficult to monitor in the past.

“This is a big ecosystem,” he said. “It’s all over the planet and highly susceptible to threats but we haven’t known where they are, which has limited the ability to monitor them.”

The research team worked with Google and used its computing resources to analyse every satellite image ever collected of the world’s coastlines.

They found that tidal flats, as an ecosystem, were as extensive globally as mangroves and that coastal development and sea level rise, in particular, were causing their decline.

In parts of China and western Europe, they found tidal flats that were up to 18km wide. In Australia, they occur all over the country, including places such as Moreton Bay in Queensland and along the Gulf of Carpentaria.

For 17% of the world, there was enough data available to measure declines from 1984 to 2016.

In these locations, which were mostly in China, the US and countries in the Middle East, they found declines in tidal flats of 16%.

For a further 61% of the world, there was enough data to analyse changes from 1999 to 2016 and the research showed declines of 3.1% in this period.

Murray said airports, aquaculture and other infrastructure that had been built on top of tidal flats in countries such as China were major threats. Reduced sediment flows from rivers around the world had also led to a reduced amount of sediment being deposited as tidal flats.

Murray said dams were one of the major drivers of reduced sediment flows from rivers. He said further analysis would be needed of the ongoing impact of the other key threat – sea level rise.

“This study has really given the data to start making those links,” he said. “It means you can really start to understand the impact of sea level rise and coastal development.”

The researchers suggest the study could be used to advance protected areas for tidal flats, which have not always been as well-protected historically because they fall between land and sea.

The map is publicly available and Murray said it had laid the fundamentals for an ongoing monitoring system.

“The easiest way to think about this is, for decades we’ve been able to observe deforestation,” he said. “We can now do that for tidal flat ecosystems.

“We can identify places where tidal flat ecosystems are being lost and the main drivers of those losses, which will allow us to respond with conservation action.”

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« Reply #2665 on: Jan 02, 2019, 05:08 AM »

Trump administration to consider changes to Obama-era mercury rule

Move is part of a series of rollbacks pursued on behalf of coal interests, decisions scientists say are detrimental to public health

Emily Holden in Washington

The Trump administration will reconsider the reasoning for restrictions on toxic mercury pollution from coal plants that is linked to developmental delays in children, it was announced on Friday.

The power industry has largely met the restrictions, which were imposed under former president Barack Obama, with plants either installing required controls or shutting down.

The standards will remain in place, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will re-evaluate the government’s argument for why they are necessary and whether they will ultimately be tightened, the agency said on Friday.

The move by the Trump administration is part of a series of environmental rollbacks pursued on behalf of coal interests, decisions scientists say are detrimental to public health.

Charles Driscoll, a professor of environmental engineering at Syracuse University, said the administration was trying to “prolong the operation, the longevity of coal-fired power plants”.

While weakening mercury standards would not bring shuttered coal plants back to life, it could help some plants stay online a little longer, opponents of the change warned before the proposal was released. The rollback could also be part of a broader Trump administration legal strategy to to benefit industry by ignoring some health benefits of cutting pollution.

The Obama-era mercury rule counted the economic effects of curbing mercury and the societal savings from slashing other pollutants that would have come from coal plants that shut down.

The revisions to the mercury rule may be a test, designed to see whether the EPA can stop counting such benefits, called co-benefits, in future air pollution standards. That would result in weaker public health protections, as regulators would consider only a fraction of the benefits of pollution proposals and standards would appear to cost more than they are worth.

“The main reason why they want to do this is to cut the legs off EPA in terms of our ability to protect public health and natural resources from toxics that are impacting our lives today,” said the Obama-era EPA administrator Gina McCarthy.

The National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which represents a politically diverse group of state and local air regulators, argues the administration should continue to weigh co-benefits. Executive director Miles Keogh said co-benefits should be counted because they keep people from having to pay more in doctor’s bills and miss more work.

“When you quit smoking it saves you a lot of money in what you’re paying for cigarettes,” he said, “but it saves you money in other ways that’s not just what you’re paying for cigarettes.”

The mercury rule also helped reduce health problems and early deaths from the small particles of pollution people inhale from coal plants.

Trump agencies have been trying to boost coal by rescinding a slate of rules the industry opposes. For example, the EPA is weakening climate change standards for current and new coal plants, which have trouble competing with cheaper natural gas and renewable power.

In addition to emitting greenhouse gases, coal plants are the major source of mercury pollution in the US. The human body absorbs mercury through the air, land and water, and from fish that accumulate the neurotoxin as methylmercury.

The EPA has previously noted that more than 75,000 newborns in the US each year may have a higher risk of learning disabilities from in-utero methylmercury exposure.

Between 2006 and 2016, Driscoll said, mercury pollution from power plants declined 85% due to a combination of state and federal crackdowns and decline in coal use. Still, most people have mercury in their bodies.

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« Reply #2666 on: Jan 02, 2019, 05:09 AM »

'Momentum is growing': reasons to be hopeful about the environment in 2019

As we reflect on a year of extreme weather and ominous climate talks, Guardian environment writer Fiona Harvey explains why 2019 could see some much-needed breakthroughs

Fiona Harvey
Wed 2 Jan 2019 06.00 GMT

People enjoying the heatwave on Bournemouth beach in Dorset as the hot weather spread across the UK in summer, marking the driest start to a summer since modern records began in 1961.
People enjoying the heatwave on Bournemouth beach in Dorset as the hot weather spread across the UK in summer, marking the driest start to a summer since modern records began in 1961. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA

Extreme weather hit the headlines throughout 2018, from the heatwave across much of the northern hemisphere, which saw unprecedented wild fires in Sweden, drought in the UK and devastating wildfires in the US, to floods in India and typhoons in south-east Asia.

According to the World Meteorological Organisation, last year was the fourth hottest on record and confirms a trend of rising temperatures that is a clear signal that we are having an effect on the climate. Droughts, floods, fiercer storms and heatwaves, as well as sea level rises, are all expected to increase markedly as a result.

Late in the year there was also the starkest warning yet from scientists of what our future will be if we allow climate change to take hold. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the global body of the world’s leading climate scientists, which has been producing regular reports on the state of climate science since 1988, produced its latest comprehensive overview examining what the future will look like if we undergo 1.5C (2.7F) of warming.

That does not sound like a lot – most people would be hard put to notice a temperature difference of 1.5C – but in climate terms, 1.5C above pre-industrial levels is enough to take us into the danger zone. It would see the mass die-off of coral reefs, the extinction of some species, rising sea levels, wet areas of the world becoming wetter and dry areas drier, and the decline of agricultural productivity across swathes of the globe.

That is a future we should obviously try to avoid. But the UN climate conference in Poland that ended the year’s climate-related events in December showed little sign that the urgency of the scientists’ warnings had been heeded. Instead, countries discussed a “rulebook” for putting the 2015 Paris agreement into practice, including such arcane matters as how countries measure and verify their emissions, and how often they should report on them, and rows over carbon credits.

In Poland, there were no firm commitments to ramp up countries’ national targets in line with scientific advice, and this is unlikely to happen before 2020 at the earliest. On current national emissions-cutting targets, we are in for about 3C of warming. Yet the IPCC warned that if we want to avoid 1.5C of warming, we have about 12 years to bring global emissions under control and swiftly move to just half of their current level. That represents a massive shift needed in the global economy, and yet emissions worldwide look to be moving upward again slightly after a decade in which they showed signs of stabilising.

There was also bad news from the US at the talks, which played little part as Donald Trump prepares to withdraw from the Paris agreement, except to hold a side event at the conference celebrating a bright future for coal.

Looked at this way, the omens from 2018 were not good. Fortunately, however, 2019 may indeed be a breakthrough year. Public opinion is mobilising around the world and politicians and businesses are paying attention. There will be a series of high-profile events that will engage the public and governments and may provide a better way forward than was managed last year.

Chief among them is the promise of António Guterres, the UN secretary general, to hold a summit for world leaders that will require them to face up to the dangers of climate change head on. Guterres is uncompromising, warning in Poland that it would be “immoral and suicidal” not to take firm and urgent action commensurate with the scale of the problem.

Leaders will be put on the spot, and will come under very public pressure as coalitions of civil society groups seek to put their case around the summit and in the lead-up to it. The role of women, who are among the most vulnerable to climate change, will be highlighted, and the role of young people, who will have to live with the consequences of their elders’ mistakes in a warming world.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, is also holding a One World Summit, planned for the summer, at which the focus will be on persuading businesses to take a leading role, investing in projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and changing the way they use energy.

There are clear signs of hope on climate change also in the rapidly falling cost of renewable energy technology, which is now competitive with fossil fuels. And the keep it in the ground campaign has succeeded in encouraging many investors to move their money out of fossil fuel stocks.

But most of all the civil society campaigns which have ramped up in 2018 and look set to increase their momentum in the coming year are taking effect. Public opinion around the world is that our leaders, governments and businesses should be doing more on this vital issue. This can be seen in some unexpected ways, such as the rise of veganism and flexitarian eating, as people seek to reduce their impact on the climate from eating meat. Through well-publicised and effective movements and actions, more and more people are refusing silently to acquiesce in ignoring the dangers to the climate.

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« Reply #2667 on: Jan 02, 2019, 05:11 AM »

Young girl’s heartbreaking story makes her symbol of Yemen war

Agence France-Presse

Buthaina Mansur al-Rimi’s life has changed drastically since last year — orphaned in Sanaa, the little girl controversially ended up in Saudi Arabia for medical care and has just returned to Yemen’s capital.

Her entire immediate family was wiped out in an air strike by a Saudi-led coalition that backs Yemen’s government, using an explosive device Amnesty International says was made in the US.

Images of Buthaina’s rescue and a picture of her swollen and bruised at a hospital trying to force open one of her eyes with her fingers were beamed worldwide.

That international fame saw her become something of a propaganda pawn in the war between Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels and Saudi media.

In an interview with AFP, Buthaina and her uncle Ali — her legal guardian — recall the strike that killed her parents, four sisters, only brother and another uncle.

– ‘The house fell’ –

“I was in my mother’s room with my father, sisters, brother and uncle,” Buthaina tells AFP from rebel-held Sanaa, where she has returned from Saudi Arabia to live with Ali and her cousins.

“The first missile hit, and my father went to get us sugar to get over the shock, but then the second missile hit, and then the third,” she says.

“And then the house fell,” adds the little girl, who says she is eight.

It was the night of August 25, 2017.

The uncle who died was her “favourite”, she says.

Along with her family, eight other civilians — including two children — were killed in a house nearby.

A few days later, the picture of Buthaina attempting to force open her right eye went viral.

The Saudi-led alliance admitted responsibility for the air strike describing it as a “technical mistake”.

But it drew strong international condemnation.

In the week ahead of that strike, 42 people were killed in other air strikes, according to the UN.

A month after her close family was wiped out, pictures of Buthaina appeared in Saudi media showing her being treated in Riyadh.

The circumstances surrounding her move from Sanaa to the Saudi capital remain unclear.

The Huthi rebels say Buthaina, her uncle Ali and his family were “kidnapped” by the coalition and taken to government-held Aden, before travelling onwards to Riyadh.

Saudi media said she was brought to the Saudi capital at the request of the internationally-recognised Yemeni government.

Although the Saudi government has never commented officially on Buthaina’s case, pictures of her apparently boarding a private jet from Riyadh to Sanaa were published by the Al Riyadh newspaper on December 19.

The Huthis’ Al-Masirah media outlet has published stories welcoming them back from the “grasps of Saudi Arabia”.

“Eye of humanity exposes the enemy”, ran one headline.

Mahdi Al-Mshat, head of the rebels’ Higher Political Council, has ordered Buthaina and her remaining family be offered a home and salary, according to the rebels’ Saba news agency.

– ‘She doesn’t forget’ –

Buthaina says she is looking forward to going to school for the first time.

Looking healthy, she sits on the floor of her uncle’s home in Sanaa.

She plays alongside her cousins with a doll, braiding its hair.

“I want to go to school and become a doctor,” she tells AFP, her own hair tied in a ponytail.

“I want the war to stop and for us to live in peace… for the children of Yemen to live in peace,” she says.

Her uncle, sitting behind her, nods.

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« Reply #2668 on: Jan 02, 2019, 05:24 AM »

German leftwing movement 'will take to streets like gilets jaunes in 2019'

Inspired by French protests, Get Up’s Sahra Wagenknecht promises action in coming year

Kate Connolly in Berlin
Wed 2 Jan 2019 10.59 GMT

The founder of a movement to unite Germany’s left wing has said it will take to the streets in 2019, inspired by the gilet jaunes protests in France.

Sahra Wagenknecht, who set up Aufstehen (Get Up) in September, said the French demonstrations encouraged her to believe it was possible to effect change without being a political party. She cited growing inequality in Germany and frustration over the government’s failure to adequately tackle it as a powerful motivating force for a protest movement.

The public face of Aufstehen, which has almost 170,000 signed-up members, Wagenknecht said she admired Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) and the Jeremy Corbyn-supporting Momentum in the UK and that she was effectively modelling the movement on them.

“We have big plans for next year, not least because we recognise when people go on to the streets to protest – especially those who have not had a political voice for many years who rediscover their voice by protesting – then political change can happen,” Wagenknecht said, speaking to the foreign press association in Berlin. “This is what we’re seeing in France right now.”

Wagenknecht was quick to stress that she did not support violence, but said she was sympathetic to those who felt the need to use it to express their anger. “I think it’s completely wrong to reduce the yellow vest movement in France to violence,” she said. “Of course there are those ready for violence amongst the protesters, but the movement is much broader than that.

“I’m clear that we don’t want any violence, but at the same time you have to recognise that it is a clear expression of pent-up anger. It doesn’t just come out of nowhere.”

The Marxist politician, who has risen to prominence through the Die Linke (Left) party, did not say what form Aufstehen’s protests would take, but said: “We will be visible on the street and in the public eye in 2019.”

Wagenknecht said Aufstehen, whose supporters include prominent German writers, political scientists, historians and actors, hoped to galvanise support from ordinary voters across the political spectrum and unite leftwing parties – particularly Die Linke and the Social Democrats (SPD), who are struggling in the polls, as well as the Green party – in a common front against the social problems dogging the whole of Europe.

“We don’t intend to compete with these parties. We want a movement that contributes to bringing these parties on the left together and instigates a new social revival,” she said.

She said the examples of France and the UK proved that initiating change outside the strictures of political parties had a better chance of success.

“It is of importance to us to remain above party politics and I believe that for many people who are becoming involved with us, this is part of our charm, as well as of the movements in France and the UK – that they don’t have to fall in line within a rigid party structure.”

Criticism of her initiative has been most vehement from within her own party, with many accusing her of risking its destruction. Die Linke was formed in 2007 after the merger of two parties, including the descendant party of the rulers of communist East Germany. Meanwhile, the SPD, amid fears for its own political survival, has accused Wagenknecht of being “on an ego trip”. Many have voiced suspicions that Wagenknecht wants to set up her own party, a claim she has repeatedly denied.

Wagenknecht said it was harder in Germany than in France to persuade ordinary people to take their protests on to the streets. “France has a completely different protest culture to that of Germany,” she said.

“Repeatedly, from the storming of the Bastille to farmer protests, there are examples of the French rising up against a fatal form of politics. But quite honestly, people in Germany, in particular those who do not feel represented by German politics, will realise that they are far more able to put pressure on the government if they go out and protest.”

She said Aufstehen was being advised by activists at the heart of Momentum.

Wagenknecht blamed “wage dumping” – keeping wages low using cheap labour – for triggering the most dissatisfaction with the EU and said it would lead to the bloc’s “further disintegration” if not tackled. She said the British economy was one that had arguably benefited most from cheap labour from eastern Europe, as well as from low corporation tax. That had led to a low-wage economy, which in turn encouraged Brexit.

“Some of those who voted for Brexit did it out of a sense of social frustration … people working in former industrial areas where the already low wages have not risen, because unlike in Germany the companies have been able to depend on east European workers.” That experience had made it hard to “sell” the EU to many of its citizens, she said.

“The poorer half simply doesn’t have access to the positive things in Europe. The freedom of movement, Erasmus, the possibility to find work in other countries – these are advantages that are only enjoyed by a small proportion of society.”

Adding that she was watching developments in Britain closely, she said Brexit could be viewed as an opportunity for the country if whoever was in power used it as a chance to address the growing inequalities.

“How Britain continues to develop will not be just to do with Brexit, but with who the decision-makers are,” she said. “I could imagine a Britain after Brexit under a Labour government as something very different in which the poor are not the losers. But that’s a question of organisation and where the priorities lie.

“The question will be whether Britain continues as the Tories under Theresa May would like it, becoming once outside the EU a special tax oasis for companies, leading to yet more inequality and more poverty, or will advantage be taken of the freedom to really introduce a new, more social [caring] policy. I like to think that’s what Corbyn and Labour will do if they win an election.”

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« Reply #2669 on: Jan 02, 2019, 05:26 AM »

'All necessary means': Xi Jinping reserves right to use force against Taiwan

Chinese leader calls for reunification and says independence would be a ‘disaster’

Wed 2 Jan 2019 04.52 GMT

Taiwan independence would lead to “disaster”, Chinese president Xi Jinping has said, pledging efforts for peaceful “reunification” with the self-ruled island but warning China would not renounce the use of force.

Speaking at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on the 40th anniversary of a key Taiwan policy statement, Xi said reunification must come under a one-China principle that accepts Taiwan as part of China, anathema to supporters of Taiwan independence.

All people in Taiwan must “clearly recognise that Taiwan independence would only bring profound disaster to Taiwan”, Xi said.

“We are willing to create broad space for peaceful reunification, but will leave no room for any form of separatist activities,” he said.

“We make no promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option of taking all necessary means,” he said, adding that the issue is China’s internal affair and that it would permit “no external interference”.

Taiwan is China’s most sensitive issue and is claimed by Beijing as its sacred territory. Xi has stepped up pressure on the democratically governed island since Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive party became president in 2016.

There was no immediate reaction from Taiwan’s government.

Xi reiterated that China was willing to talk with any party in Taiwan to push the political process – stalled by China since Tsai took office – as long as they accepted the “one China” principle.

He sought to reassure people in Taiwan that there was nothing to fear from Chinese rule, even though most people there had shown no interest in being run by autocratic Beijing.

“After peaceful reunification, Taiwan will have lasting peace and the people will enjoy good and prosperous lives. With the great motherland’s support, Taiwan compatriots’ welfare will be even better, their development space will be even greater,” Xi said.

Tsai, who says she wants to maintain the status quo with China, said on Tuesday China must use peaceful means to resolve its differences with Taiwan and respect its democratic values.

Beijing has regularly sent military aircraft and ships to circle the island on drills in the past few years and has heaped pressure on the island internationally, including whittling down its few remaining diplomatic allies.

Taiwan, where Chinese Nationalist forces fled in December of 1949 after losing a civil war to the Communists, is gearing up for presidential elections in a year. Tsai’s party suffered stinging losses to the China-friendly Kuomintang in mayoral and local elections in November.

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