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Author Topic: ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CULTURE  (Read 2420865 times)
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Darja
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« Reply #3375 on: Aug 27, 2019, 03:43 AM »


Brazil officials failed to act after warning of 'fire day’ in Amazon, prosecutors say

Investigation into why environment agency ignored warnings that farmers and land-grabbers were planning day of coordinated fires

Dom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro
Guardian
27 Aug 2019 23.23 BST

Brazilian environmental officials and federal prosecutors say that they sent a warning that farmers and land-grabbers in the Amazon were planning a day of coordinated fires on 10 August to send a message to far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, but authorities failed to act.

Wildfires and burning deforested land are common during the Amazon’s dry seasons but peaked this month to more than 26,000 – the highest August figure since 2010. The environmental disaster has taken on international dimensions and overshadowed the G7 meeting in Biarritz.

Federal prosecutors in the Amazon state of Pará have now launched an investigation after revealing that they warned Brazil’s environment agency Ibama that a “fire day” demonstration was being planned around the town of Novo Progresso.

The prosecutors noted that the local Folha do Progresso news site had reported on plans for the fire day 5 August. “We need to show the president that we want to work” one local farmer told the website, adding that the only way to clear land for pasture was by felling trees and burning them.

But Ibama did not reply to the warnings until two days after the protests began, when it said that its operations had been hampered because police support had been withdrawn, putting their teams at risk in a region where they already face threats.

“It was a considerable failure,” prosecutor Paulo Moreira Oliveira told the Guardian. “There should have been immediate action to confront the risk of these fires.”

A separate investigation is examining the rise in deforestation on public land in Pará and whether public bodies and authorities could be responsible. Moreira Oliveira said that Ibama has imposed fewer fines for deforestation in Pará even though forest clearance has increased since Bolsonaro took office.

Two environment officials with experience in the region told The Guardian they also knew about the fire day beforehand. One official at the Chico Mendes Institute in Pará – which, like Ibama, is part of the Ministry of the Environment – said officials had asked bosses in Brasília for help, but requests for reinforcements were ignored.

“I know support was requested for an emergency plan, but it was not answered,” the official said. Both spoke anonymously because the government has banned environment officials from talking to media.

Brazil’s prosecutor-general Raquel Dodge said on Monday that there was a “suspicion of orchestrated action,” the G1 news site reported.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly attacked Ibama for running a “fines industry” and vowed to open up the Amazon for development.

He first blamed the fires on NGOs but provided no evidence, then conceded that farmers were also setting land on fire to increase productive areas and called on them to stop.

On Sunday, Brazil’s justice minister Sergio Moro tweeted that Bolsonaro had asked for a “rigorous investigation” and said federal police had been activated, after environment minister Ricardo Salles tweeted an article from the Globo Rural site about the “fire day”.

The site reported that around 70 rural farmers, land grabbers and businessmen from the towns of Novo Progresso and Altamira coordinated ‘fire day’ on the margins of the BR-163, a highway which leads through heavily deforested areas.

“These people are Bolsonaro’s electoral base,” said another environment official who has worked in the area. “The last thing they want to know about is protecting the Amazon.”

On Monday, the leader of a farmers’ union in Novo Progresso denied that there had been a plan for the fire day. “We have no knowledge of this… If there was anything like that, it was an isolated act,” Agamenon Menezes told the Agência Brasil news agency.

The Brazilian environment ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

**********

Amazon rainforest fires: Brazil to reject $20m pledged by G7

Senior official says funds should be spent on reforesting Europe and not on ‘colonialist practices’    

Jonathan Watts Global environment editor, and agencies
Guardian
Tue 27 Aug 2019 08.23

A senior Brazilian official has told Emmanuel Macron to take care of “his home and his colonies” as Brazil rejected an offer from G7 countries of $20m (£16m) to help fight fires in the Amazon.

“We appreciate [the offer], but maybe those resources are more relevant to reforest Europe,” Onyx Lorenzoni, the chief of staff to President Jair Bolsonaro, told the G1 news website.

Leaders of the G7 countries made the aid offer at a weekend summit in the French city of Biarritz hosted by the French president, who had put the fires high on the agenda. Environmental campaigners have dismissed the sum as “chump change”.

“Macron cannot even avoid a foreseeable fire in a church that is a world heritage site,” Lorenzoni said in a reference to the blaze that devastated the Notre Dame cathedral in April. “What does he intend to teach our country?

“Brazil is a democratic, free nation that never had colonialist and imperialist practices, as perhaps is the objective of the Frenchman Macron.”

The Brazilian presidency later confirmed the comments to Agence France-Presse.

0:53..Drone footage reveals devastation from Amazon fires – video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5giZRtzMyaM

Brazil’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles, had earlier told reporters that his country welcomed the G7 funding, but after a meeting between Bolsonaro and his ministers, the Brazilian government changed course.

Satellite data has recorded more than 41,000 fires in the Amazon region so far this year – more than half of those this month alone. Experts said most of the fires were started by farmers or ranchers clearing existing farmland.

The announcement of the $20m assistance package was the most concrete outcome of the three-day G7 summit of major industrialised democracies in Biarritz and aimed to give money to Amazonian nations such as Brazil and Bolivia, primarily to pay for more firefighting planes.

Tensions have risen between France and Brazil after Macron tweeted that the fires burning in the Amazon basin amounted to an international crisis and should be discussed as a top priority at the G7 summit. Bolsonaro reacted by accusing Macron of having a “colonialist mentality”.

Speaking on French TV on Monday night, Macron reiterated that the Amazon was a global issue and intensified his criticism of Bolsonaro.

“We respect your sovereignty. It’s your country,” Macron said. But the trees in the Amazon are “the lungs of the planet”, he added.

“The Amazon forest is a subject for the whole planet. We can help you reforest. We can find the means for your economic development that respects the natural balance. But we cannot allow you to destroy everything.”

He also acknowledged that Europe, by importing soya from Brazil, was not without blame for the agricultural pressure on the rainforest, saying: “We are partly complicit.”

The diplomatic row between the leaders had escalated earlier in the day, when Macron condemned Bolsonaro for what he called “extraordinarily rude” comments made about his wife, Brigitte, after the Brazilian president expressed approval online for a Facebook post implying that Brigitte Macron was not as good-looking as his own wife, Michelle.

“He has made some extraordinarily rude comments about my wife,” Macron said at a press conference in Biarritz when asked to react to statements about him by the Brazilian government. “What can I say? It’s sad. It’s sad for him firstly, and for Brazilians,” he added.

Macron said he hoped for the sake of the Brazilian people “that they will very soon have a president who behaves in the right way”.

The US president, Donald Trump, skipped the summit session aimed at finding solutions to global heating through tree planting and shifting from fossil fuels to wind energy. In a press conference after the summit, he was dismissive of efforts to change direction.

“I feel the US has tremendous wealth … I’m not going to lose that wealth on dreams, on windmills – which, frankly, aren’t working too well,” he said. “I think I know more about the environment than most.”

Environmental groups said G7’s emergency fire aid was insufficient and failed to address the trade and consumption drivers of deforestation.

“The offer of $20m is chump change, especially as the crisis in the Amazon is directly linked to overconsumption of meat and dairy in the UK and other G7 countries,” said Richard George, the head of forests for Greenpeace UK.


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« Reply #3376 on: Aug 27, 2019, 03:47 AM »


Nestlé plan to take 1.1m gallons of water a day from natural springs sparks outcry

Opponents fighting to stop the project say the fragile river cannot sustain such a large draw

Richard Luscombe in Miami
Guardian
27 Aug 2019 06.00 BST

The crystal blue waters of Ginnie Springs have long been treasured among the string of pearls that line Florida’s picturesque Santa Fe River, a playground for water sports enthusiasts and an ecologically critical haven for the numerous species of turtles that nest on its banks.

Soon, however, it is feared there could be substantially less water flowing through, if a plan by the food and beverage giant Nestlé wins approval.

In a controversial move that has outraged environmentalists and also raised questions with authorities responsible for the health and vitality of the river, the company is seeking permission to take more than 1.1m gallons a day from the natural springs to sell back to the public as bottled water.

Opponents say the fragile river, which is already officially deemed to be “in recovery” by the Suwannee River water management district after years of earlier overpumping, cannot sustain such a large draw – a claim Nestlé vehemently denies. Critics are fighting to stop the project as environmentally harmful and against the public interest.

Meanwhile, Nestlé, which produces its popular Zephyrhills and Pure Life brands with water extracted from similar natural springs in Florida, has spent millions of dollars this year buying and upgrading a water bottling plant at nearby High Springs in expectation of permission being granted.

The company needs the Suwannee River water management district to renew an expired water use permit held by a local company, Seven Springs, from which it plans to buy the water at undisclosed cost. Nestlé insists spring water is a rapidly renewable resource and promises a “robust” management plan in partnership with its local agents for long-term sustainability of its water sources.

Yet company officials concede in letters to water managers supporting the permit request that its plans would result in four times more water being taken daily than Seven Springs’ previously recorded high of 0.26m gallons for its customers before Nestlé.

“The facility is in process of adding bottling capacity and expects significant increase in production volumes equal to the requested annual average daily withdrawal volume of approximately 1.152m gallons,” George Ring, natural resources manager for Nestlé Waters North America, wrote in a June letter to the Suwannee district engineers.

Campaigners against Nestlé’s plan, who have set up an online forum and petition and submitted dozens of letters of opposition ahead of a decision that could come as early as November, say that environmental grounds alone should be enough to disqualify the plan.

“The question is how much harm is it going to cause the spring, what kind of change is going to be made in that water system?” said Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, a director of the not-for-profit Our Santa Fe River.

“The Santa Fe River is already in decline [and] there’s not enough water coming out of the aquifer itself to recharge these lovely, amazing springs that are iconic and culturally valued and important for natural systems and habitats.

“It’s impossible to withdraw millions of gallons of water and not have an impact. If you take any amount of water out of a glass you will always have less.”

    It’s impossible to withdraw millions of gallons of water and not have an impact
    Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson

Additionally, Malwitz-Jipson said, the Santa Fe River and its associated spring habitats are home to 11 native turtle species and four non-native species, which rely on a vigorous water flow and river levels.

“Few places on Earth have as many turtle species living together and about a quarter of all North American freshwater turtle species inhabit this small river system. A big threat to this diversity is habitat degradation, which will happen with reduced flows.”

Stefani Weeks, program engineer with the Suwannee River water management district, said that because Seven Springs was seeking a five-year renewal of an existing permit instead of making a new application. Board members could not consider in their final decision the Santa Fe River’s protected designation and a recovery strategy implemented in 2014 to restore reduced water flows and levels.

But the district has its own questions, and wrote to Seven Springs in July for a second time to request answers. “Their first response we didn’t feel was complete, so we asked for them to go into more detail,” she said. “Once they respond we will review that information.”

Among the items the district wants are an evaluation report of any harm that the project might cause to wetlands, and a documented impact study of Ginnie Springs. The permit cannot be granted, the district says, unless Seven Springs can show that there would be no change in “water levels or flows of the source spring from the normal rate and range of function” and “no adverse impacts to water quality, vegetation or animal population”.

Nestlé is no stranger to controversy over its water extraction activities. In 2017, the state water resources control board of California issued a report of investigation concluding that the company appeared to be diverting water “without a valid basis of right” from Strawberry Canyon in the San Bernardino national forest for use in its Arrowhead brand of bottled water.

Nestlé continues to dispute the finding and is still pumping water there – 45m gallons last year, according to published reports. But in the tussle over whether the company had historic rights to all the water it was taking from the creek, groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, the League of Women Voters and the Save Our Forest Association were critical of Nestlé and its operations.

In a written statement Nestlé, which employs 800 people in Florida, said it wanted to address “misconceptions” about its plans.

“We adhere to all relevant regulatory and state standards. Just like all the previous owners of the High Springs factory which manufactured bottled water and other beverages, we are not taking water from a publicly owned source. Instead we are buying water from a private company which holds the valid water use permit,” spokesman Adam Gaber said, adding that Nestlé’s water use “will always remain strictly within the limit set by the permit”.

He said that Nestlé was also a responsible steward of the environment. “Our business depends on the quality and sustainability of the water we are collecting,” he said.

“It would make no sense to invest millions of dollars into local operations just to deplete the natural resources on which our business relies. It would undermine the success of our business and go against every value we hold as people and as a company.”


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« Reply #3377 on: Aug 27, 2019, 03:50 AM »


Industry guidance touts untested tech as climate fix

on August 27, 2019
By Agence France-Presse

Draft guidelines for how industry fights climate change promote the widespread use of untested technologies that experts fear could undermine efforts to slash planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, AFP can reveal.

The guidance appears to encourage high-polluting sectors to take the cheapest route towards limiting global warming, potentially decoupling emissions cuts from the temperature goals outlined in the Paris climate agreement.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO), a global industry-driven non-profit group comprising more than 160 member states, has produced new draft guidance on climate action for businesses.

Rather than measuring climate action by the yardstick of emissions reduction, the draft, seen by AFP, concentrates on managing “radiative forcing”, which is the amount of excess energy trapped in Earth’s atmosphere.

Specifically, it looks at techniques for manipulating the climate through large-scale geoengineering, notably one called Solar Radiation Management (SRM).

SRM entails injecting heat-deflecting aerosols directly into Earth’s stratosphere to bounce more of the Sun’s heat back into space.

Studies have shown that SRM could be extremely effective — and relatively inexpensive — in stemming rising temperatures.

But there are fears that tinkering with Earth’s atmosphere could unleash a tide of unintended consequences, potentially destabilizing global weather patterns and undermining food security.

“There is a really profound risk when you take something as untested, controversial, politically volatile and morally risky as geoengineering and you make it the subject of industry-driven, market-oriented standards,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the Centre for International Environmental Law.

“What is so significant about this process is that the ISO is a global standard-setting body. Companies tout their ISO compliance as a demonstration of the validity of what they are doing,” he told AFP.

An ISO spokeswoman confirmed the validity of the draft guidance but said it was subject to significant further debate and modification.

An ISO working group will meet next week in Berkeley, California, to discuss the draft and will proceed with it only “if there is consensus”, she told AFP.

– ‘Substantial risks’ –

The 2015 Paris climate deal commits governments to capping temperature rises to “well below” two degrees Celsius (3.6 Farenheit) above pre-industrial levels in order to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.

The accord strives to stay within a safer limit of 1.5C of warming.

To do so, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says mankind must eventually reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero, the safest route to this being a rapid, sweeping drawdown in coal, gas and oil burned for energy.

The IPCC, in its landmark 1.5C report last October, decided against including SRM in its climate models, which project several pathways towards net zero.

It said that while SRM could be “theoretically effective” it comes with “large uncertainties and knowledge gaps as well as substantial risks” to society.

In March, discussions at the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi were held up over a dispute centred on the future governance of geoengineering schemes such as SRM.

Sources close to the talks told AFP at the time that the US and Saudi delegations voiced “fierce opposition” to even the mention of international oversight.

“Our interpretation is that they want to avoid further regulation, governance, oversight over these technologies and it’s definitely in the interest of the fossil fuel industry,” said Linda Schneider, senior programme officer at the Heinrich Boll Institute.

Trade organisations funded by oil and gas majors have for several years advocated SRM, including the influential American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

One AEI policy paper from 2013 concluded: “The incentives for using SRM appear to be stronger than those for (greenhouse gas) control.”

AEI did not respond to an AFP request for comment.

Muffett said that geoengineering, and SRM in particular, was preferred by big polluters as it could “allow business as usual to continue in the near term to take slower action to reduce emissions.”

Janos Pasztor, executive director of the Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative and a former UN deputy secretary general for climate change, agreed that the ISO stance on geoengineering could distract from vital emissions cuts.

“Governments, corporations, regions, and cities might wish to continue with the fossil fuel emissions economy because there is another technology now that maybe can give us a solar shield to cool the planet,” he told AFP.

– Upside? –

The October 2018 IPCC 1.5C report made it clear that even drastic cuts in carbon pollution may not be enough to stop potentially dangerous temperature rises.

Its 1,200-page assessment allowed for a climate crisis “Plan B” in the form of bioenergy and carbon capture and storage (BECCS) technology, which would require planting millions of square kilometres in biofuel crops and then drawing off the CO2 produced when they are burned to generate energy.

By contrast, SRM lowers temperatures but does nothing to remove greenhouse gases. Its proponents say it has the potential to buy Earth time to retool its economy away from fossil fuels.

Jessica Strefler, from the carbon management team at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said the technology already exists to implement large-scale SRM.

Computer modelling of the effect of injecting tonnes of sulphate particles into the stratosphere suggest that as few as 200 planeloads of aerosol a year could halt global warming.

SRM has another obvious advantage: cost.

Strefler said the geoengineering tech would cost “at least one order of magnitude” less than emissions cuts.

“It’s dangerously cheap,” added Pasztor. “Peanuts.”

The draft ISO guidelines urges companies to prioritise “cost-effective” approaches to managing temperature rises, something campaigners fear will push firms further towards SRM.

Yet SRM, even if successfully deployed to maintain surface temperatures, will do nothing to offset the other effects of global warming, including acidifying oceans and crop damage.

For Strefler, the main argument against the technology is how it is governed.

“There’s not really a limit to how much we could do. So then who decides which temperature is most desirable? Do we limit them to 1.5C? Do we want to go down to 1C, or to pre-industrial temperatures?” she said.

“Who decides that?” she added. “There’s a huge international conflict potential.”

– Industry influence –

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Chance (UNFCCC), the main international, government-led climate process, measures each nation’s contribution towards fighting global warming in terms of emissions cuts.

But the ISO appears to propose a news standard altogether, in which progress is defined by “management” of radiative forcing to fix the climate to an undefined temperature.

It also defines the Paris temperature goals as “problematic”.

The ISO itself says “industry experts drive all aspects” of the guidance development process, something Muffett said was cause for concern given that industry, including oil and gas majors, often advocate self-regulation when it comes to greening their business models.

“Here you see geoengineering pushed as a solution through precisely the sort of voluntary approach that industry has long advocated,” he said.

While ISO guidelines are voluntary and advisory, they help to shape global international business norms.

“You have a wide array of the world’s most damaging companies from an environmental perspective who can point very proudly to their ISO certification. It’s a body that is by design heavily industry-influenced,” said Muffett.

Pasztor said governance of geoengineering technology, because of its global ramifications, “cannot be left to a subset of actors”.

“When it comes to tough decisions that have large impacts — large-scale land use for carbon capture, but the most obvious is SRM — they need engagement from different governments,” he said.

“When you look at the ISO process, that’s much more limited and that’s not right because most of the impacts, good or bad, will be on developing and vulnerable countries that are not part of that process.”

© 2019 AFP


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« Reply #3378 on: Aug 27, 2019, 03:54 AM »

Do Plants Have Something to Say?

One women scientist is definitely listening.

By Ellie Shechet
NY Times
Aug. 27, 2019

Monica Gagliano says that she has received Yoda-like advice from trees and shrubbery. She recalls being rocked like a baby by the spirit of a fern. She has ridden on the back of an invisible bear conjured by an osha root. She once accidentally bent space and time while playing the ocarina, an ancient wind instrument, in a redwood forest. “Oryngham,” she says, means “thank you” in plant language. These interactions have taken place in dreams, visions, songs and telekinetic interactions, sometimes with the help of shamans or ayahuasca.

This has all gone on around the same time as Dr. Gagliano’s scientific research, which has broken boundaries in the field of plant behavior and signaling. Currently at the University of Sydney in Australia, she has published a number of studies that support the view that plants are, to some extent, intelligent. Her experiments suggest that they can learn behaviors and remember them. Her work also suggests that plants can “hear” running water and even produce clicking noises, perhaps to communicate.

Plants have directly shaped her experiments and career path. In 2012, she says, an oak tree assured her that a risky grant application — proposing research on sound communication in plants — would be successful. “You are here to tell our stories,” the tree told her.

“These experiences are not like, ‘Oh you’re a weirdo, this is happening just to you,’” Dr. Gagliano said. Learning from plants, she said, is a long-documented ceremonial practice (if not one typically endorsed by scientists).

“This is part of the repertoire of human experiences,” she said. “We’ve been doing this forever and ever, and are still doing this.”

Dr. Gagliano knows that these claims, based on subjective experiences and not scientific evidence, can easily be read as delusional. She also knows that this could damage her scientific career — plant scientists in particular really hate this sort of thing. Back in 1973, an explosively popular book, “The Secret Life of Plants,” made pseudoscientific claims about plants, including that they enjoy classical music and can read human minds. The book was firmly discredited, but the maelstrom made many institutions and researchers reasonably wary of bold statements about botanical aptitude.

Regardless, last year Dr. Gagliano published a heady and meandering memoir about the conversations with plants that inspired her peer-reviewed work, titled “Thus Spoke the Plant.” She believes, like many scientists and environmentalists do, that in order to save the planet we have to understand ourselves as part of the natural world.

It’s just that she also believes the plants themselves can speak to this point.

“I want people to realize that the world is full of magic, but not as something only some people can do, or something that is outside of this world,” she said. “No, it’s all here.”

As environmental collapse looms, we’ve never known so much about life on earth — how extraordinary and intricate it all is, and how loose the boundary where “it” ends and “we” begin.

Language, for example, doesn’t seem to be limited to humans. Prairie dogs use adjectives (lots of them) and Alston’s singing mice, a species found in Central America, chirp “politely.” Ravens have demonstrated advanced planning, another blow to human exceptionalism, by bartering for food and selecting the best tools for future use.

The list goes on. Leaf-cutter ants not only invented farming a couple million years before we did, but they have their own landfills — and garbagemen. Even slime molds can be said to make “decisions,” and are so good at determining the most efficient route between resources that researchers have suggested we use them to help design highways.

But it may be plants whose capacities are the most head-rattling, if only because we tend to view them as décor. Plants can do a lot of things we can’t. Trees can clone themselves into 80,000-year-old superorganisms. Corn can summon wasps to attack caterpillars. But research suggests we also have some things in common. Plants share nutrients and recognize kin. They communicate with each other. They can count. They can feel you touching them.

So we know that plants respond to their environments in sophisticated, complex ways — “far more complex than most of us realized a few years ago,” said Ted Farmer, a botanist at University of Lausanne in Switzerland and one of the first to defend the concept of inter-plant communication.

Dr. Farmer is among those still “very” uncomfortable describing plants, which lack neurons, as “intelligent.” But now it’s “consciousness” — another word without a firm definition — that’s really raising hackles in the scientific community.

A group of biologists published a paper this summer with the matter-of-fact title “Plants Neither Possess nor Require Consciousness.” The authors warned against anthropomorphism, and argued that proponents of plant consciousness have “consistently glossed over” the unique capacities of the brain. Though her book went unremarked upon, Dr. Gagliano’s experiments and statements ascribing feelings and subjectivity to plants were among those critiqued, and she was categorized witheringly within “a new wave of Romantic biology.”

Versions of this debate have been simmering for years. In 2013, Michael Pollan wrote about Dr. Gagliano presenting the results of an experiment to an incredulous audience.

That study is likely her most widely known. In it, she sought to discover whether plants, like animals, could demonstrate a basic type of learning called “habituation.”

The Mimosa pudica — you may know it as the “sensitive plant” — contracts its leaves when touched. So, in the experiment, potted mimosas were dropped a few harmless inches onto foam. At first, the leaves closed up immediately. But over time, they stopped reacting.

It wasn’t that they were fatigued, Dr. Gagliano wrote, because, when the pots were shaken, the leaves closed up again. And when the dropping test was repeated a month later, their leaves remained unruffled.

The plants had “learned” that the drop wasn’t a threat, Dr. Gagliano argued. The plants remembered.

And subsequent research has suggested that plants may indeed be capable of some type of memory. But Dr. Gagliano’s conclusion didn’t go over well at the time. Her framing of the data didn’t help. She insists that she doesn’t use metaphors in her work, and that “learning” is the best description we have for what took place, even if we don’t know how the plants are doing it.

This experiment was “a remarkable piece of work,” Mr. Pollan said in an interview. “Humans do tend to underestimate plants, and she’s one of a small group of scientists who are trying to change that story.”

“Monica is a brilliant young woman, and she’s been a major idea generator in the field of plant sensory biology,” said Heidi Appel, a scientist who found that rock cress produce more defensive chemicals when exposed to the stressful sound of a caterpillar chewing. “We’re investigating things I don’t think we would have otherwise.”

But, in Dr. Gagliano’s memoir, Dr. Appel said, “there’s a commingling of science and spiritual experiences that I feel are best disentangled.”

“I think it’s important to separate out what you can prove and what might be true in a more subjective way,” Mr. Pollan said. “And I don’t know where you draw the line, exactly.”

I met Dr. Gagliano at an outdoor cafe in Berkeley, Calif., next to a pot filled with bright, chubby succulents. I found myself watching it, wondering if its inhabitants were aware that we were debating their awareness.

Dr. Gagliano grew up in northern Italy and is a marine ecologist by training. She spent her early career studying Ambon damselfish at the Great Barrier Reef.

After months underwater observing the little fish, Dr. Gagliano said she started to suspect that they understood a lot more than she’d thought — including that she was going to dissect them. A professional crisis ensued.

Plants were inching their way into her life. As Dr. Gagliano tells it, she’d been volunteering at an herbalist’s clinic, and had begun using ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic brew that induces visions and emotional insights (and often nausea). She says that one day, sober, she was walking around her garden and heard, in her head, a plant suggest that she start studying plants.

In 2010, she traveled to Peru for the first time to work with a plant shaman called Don M.

To communicate with plants, Dr. Gagliano followed the dieta, or the shamanic method in the indigenous Amazonian tradition by which a human establishes a dialogue with a plant. The rules can vary, but it usually involves following a diet (no salt, alcohol, sugar or sex; some animal products may also be prohibited, depending on the culture) and drinking a plant concoction (sometimes hallucinogenic, sometimes not) in isolation for days, weeks or months. An icaro, or medicine song, is said to be shared by the plant, as well as visions and dreams, and the plant’s healing knowledge becomes a part of the human. It’s not fun, she warned.

Dr. Gagliano worked with multiple plant shamans, or vegetalistas, in Peru. There she bathed in the foul-smelling pulp of an Ayahuma tree, which then designed a scientific experiment for her, instructing her to “train young plants in a maze and give them freedom of choice.” The Ayahuma also helped her diagram a 2017 study investigating pea plants’ use of sound to detect water.

In the memoir, she wrote that she also traveled to California to work with a health care professional who conducts vision quest ceremonies (that’s when the oak tree spoke to her). She visited “the Diviner,” a man trained by the Dagara people of Ghana and Burkina Faso to channel nature spirits.

At a certain point, Dr. Gagliano began going solo, “working with” plants like basil in her own veggie patch.

“Did you ever wonder if you were going insane?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” she said, and laughed. “I still do.” But she believes she should be free to talk openly about these experiences.

“Maybe we should admit that we hardly understand who we are, we hardly understand where we are at, we know very little compared to what there is to know,” she said. “To be open to explore and learn, I think that is the sign of wisdom, not of madness. And maybe wisdom and madness do look very similar, at some point.”

As a white woman on a journey through sampled bits of sacred rituals, Dr. Gagliano speaks thoughtfully and often about the legacies of colonialism, capitalism and exploitative New Age trends, which certainly includes the rise in ayahuasca retreats. A term like “shaman” can now bring to mind its plunder by an unpopular modern archetype — the personal-growth-obsessed wellness devotee, dreamily trailing sage in circles around her unvaccinated children.

But Dr. Gagliano’s journey, her supporters say, is rooted in a desire to challenge dominant assumptions.

“I have been working with the idea of plant intelligence for many years,” said Luis Eduardo Luna, an anthropologist and ayahuasca researcher in Brazil who has collaborated with Dr. Gagliano. Back in 1984, he published a paper in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology detailing the concept of plants as teachers in the Peruvian Amazon.

Dr. Luna said he was excited to hear these ideas expressed by a scientist, rather than someone in the humanities.

“Perhaps we are living in a much more interesting universe, perhaps we are living in a planet full of intelligent life,” Dr. Luna said. “I think it’s very important that we recover, somehow, this idea of the sacrality of nature, in the terrible situation in which we are today.”

“I’m really interested in the notion of plants as teachers, what we can learn from them as models,” said Robin Wall Kimmerer, an author, botanist and SUNY professor, and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. “And that comes from my work with indigenous knowledge, because that is a fundamental assumption of indigenous environmental philosophy.”

Dr. Kimmerer doesn’t see Dr. Gagliano’s experiences as mystical processes so much as poorly understood ones.

“Some of the medicines that people have made are sophisticated biochemistry over a fire,” Dr. Kimmerer said. “You think, how in the world did people learn this? And the answer is almost always, ‘The plants told us how to do this.’ This is not a matter necessarily of walking in the woods and being tapped on the shoulder, but indigenous cultures have sophisticated protocols that are research protocols, in a sense, for learning from the plants. They involve fasting, ceremonial practices that bring one to a state of such openness to the conversations of other beings that you can hear them.”

“Have you ever had an experience like that?” I asked.

“I have,” she said, preferring to leave it mostly at that. “Suffice it to say, I have had experiences of intense focus and attention with plants where I came away knowing something that I didn’t know before, and it’s quite incredible. You feel like, ‘Wow, where did that come from?’”

The problem with talking about these experiences, Dr. Kimmerer said, is that they “are grounded in a cultural context that is so different from Western science that they are easily dismissed.”

Reality has become rather strange lately. Tech billionaires are trying to colonize the moon. U.F.O.s appear to exist, in some capacity. Parents in conspiracy-minded Facebook groups are poisoning their autistic children with bleach. Reality TV has fused with politics. The future of the planet looks remarkably grim. (Or maybe we’re in a simulation.)

Dr. Gagliano’s more subjective claims may feed, in an unnatural time, a spiking hunger for naturally sourced answers. People are looking for “wisdom from nature,” Mr. Pollan said, when describing the rising interest in psychedelic compounds like ayahuasca and psilocybin mushrooms. The booming wellness industry is certainly packed with all things “natural” and “plant-based.” The novel that won the most recent Pulitzer Prize was inspired by a giant redwood that produced a “religious conversion”; caring for houseplants seems to be a national obsession.

Given this context, it’s logical that critique over her approach hasn’t stopped Dr. Gagliano from finding an audience. She spoke about plant intelligence at last year’s Bioneers Conference, and was invited to speak at last year’s Science and Nonduality conference, along with Deepak Chopra and Paul Stamets, a respected mycologist who believes that mushrooms are trying to communicate with humans through their hallucinogenic properties.

This summer, Dr. Gagliano sat on a sold-out panel called “Intelligence Without Brains” at the World Science Festival. There I eavesdropped on a woman excitedly explaining Mr. Pollan’s recent book on psychedelic therapy to her mom. Why had they come?

“We’re plant ladies!” said one, beaming. “There’s a lot about plants that we don’t know that might end up saving us, in some regard.”

Dr. Gagliano spoke about plants with pointed familiarity. In her telling, they became jaunty little characters; she used pronouns like “he” and “they” — never “it.”

At the festival, a young woman asked Dr. Gagliano how her scientific work had changed her understanding of the world.

“The main difference is that I used to live in a world of objects, and now I live in a world of subjects,” she said. There were murmurs of approval. “And so, I am never alone.”


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« Reply #3379 on: Aug 27, 2019, 04:11 AM »


Italian party leaders 'close' to agreement on alliance

Outgoing prime minister joins heads of PD and M5S in effort to avoid snap election

Angela Giuffrida in Rome
Guardian
27 Aug 2019 23.58 BST

Talks between the leaders of Italy’s Democratic party (PD) and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) went on late into the night on Monday as they sought to thrash out an agreement on a potential alliance that could avert a snap election.

Giuseppe Conte, the outgoing prime minister, joined the meeting between the PD leader, Nicola Zingaretti, and his M5S counterpart, Luigi Di Maio, in a sign that Zingaretti has succumbed to M5S’s demands to reinstate Conte.

The nomination of Conte, who last week ended an ill-fated coalition government between M5S and the far-right League, has been the main obstacle in the talks.

“It’s close, but not set in stone,” a source close to the discussions said before the meeting. “If Conte is nominated prime minister, then it could be in exchange for M5S losing some ministries to the PD.” Di Maio might also be forced to step down as deputy prime minister in exchange, the source added.

Zingaretti declined to respond to questions about Conte’s potential return after an initial meeting with Di Maio in Rome on Monday evening, but said: “We are on the right track. I’m optimistic about making this agreement. Creating a government is a serious thing – we are serious people – and we don’t want [a government] that finishes after 14 months like the M5S-League one.”

The PD leader, who until last week was reluctant to negotiate with M5S, a longstanding foe, told reporters earlier that Italy needed a “turning point” government that required a break from the past.

The president, Sergio Mattarella, is expecting to see serious signs of progress towards the creation of a new parliamentary majority before beginning fresh consultations with the leaders of Italy’s main parties from Tuesday afternoon. Zingaretti and Di Maio are due to meet Mattarella separately on Wednesday. If a viable deal is struck, Mattarella could give them more time to formalise a plan. If the talks implode, he will probably install a caretaker government until new elections.

Zingaretti has been under pressure from his PD colleagues and supporters to accept Conte as a possible prime minister. “I think it’s absurd to fight over Conte, he is a decent person who has shown great courage … we have a great opportunity,” wrote one on Zingaretti’s Facebook page. “Why veto Conte?” asked another. “This agreement should have been done over a year ago.”

A Twitter campaign to reinstate Conte was launched after his blistering attack in the senate last week against Matteo Salvini, who dramatically withdrew his League party from the alliance with M5S this month as he sought to exploit his high popularity to force snap elections and become the next prime minister.

Salvini’s moves have cost the party support: the League has slipped to 33.7% from 38.9% in late July, according to a poll published on Sunday. He had not banked on the possible M5S-PD tie-up or that Conte could emerge as his main rival. Conte eclipses both Salvini and Di Maio in the popularity stakes, commanding 61%, according to a survey on Saturday.

Salvini has made peace overtures to M5S to restore the government. Italian media reported that Salvini and Di Maio were due to meet on Monday, although spokespeople did not respond to a request for confirmation. The chances of them reviving the partnership are remote but cannot be completely ruled out.


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« Reply #3380 on: Aug 27, 2019, 04:14 AM »


G7 summit: last rites of old order as Trump's theatre looms next year

Leaders put on show of common endeavour, aware that meeting could be worse next year when Trump plays circus master

Julian Borger in Biarritz
Guardian
27 Aug 2019 20.43 BST

If next year’s G7 summit turns out to be a branding event at a Trump golf resort in Florida, with Vladimir Putin as de-facto co-chair, the old guard among America’s allies will look back on this year’s meeting in Biarritz with some nostalgia.

Not much was achieved, truth be told, but that is nothing new. To avoid the embarrassment of the previous year in Quebec – when Trump disowned the carefully-crafted joint communiqué soon after boarding Air Force One – Emmanuel Macron, the host in Biarritz, had the wheeze of doing away with the traditional statement altogether. If there was no document, there was nothing to refuse to sign.

The downside was that the meeting left little trace it had ever happened, apart from the enduring resentment of Biarritz, which was cordoned off for three days, and its residents forced to wear violet identity badges to get past the police cordons.

But at least the leaders of the world’s larger industrialised democracies – loosely described as the west – put on a show of common endeavour. They put out a “declaration” with a handful of aspiration thoughts about trade, Iran, Ukraine, Libya and Hong Kong, which was thinner than the single page it was printed on.

There were well-meaning statements on the need to prevent Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and some trade tensions were eased. A vow was also made to do something about the burning Amazon, with a combined down-payment of €20m, significantly less than the cost of the summit, and a particularly paltry sum in view of what was generally agreed to be an existential threat to the planet.

Looming over the whole affair however, was an awareness that everything could become a lot worse next year when Trump will be the circus master, making a fat margin on food and lodging at his golf resort outside Miami airport. He will then be in the middle of his campaign for re-election – and therefore even less engaged or willing to compromise than he was in Biarritz.

The conceit of the G7 is that it represented a club or family of like-minded nations. Next year, they could find themselves to be more little more than Trump’s paying customers.

Fittingly, there was an end of epoque feel to the venue. Biarritz is old-world glamour, overlooking the Bay of Biscay, with gentle breezes and golden evening light on its neatly-raked beaches. It evokes a grandeur from another age when Europe was the centre of the world, and it could assume that its values would be at least admired if not emulated.

One by one, surrounded by their entourages, the leaders took the morning air, strolling from their quarters at the imposing Hotel du Palais, past the art deco casino where the one-armed bandits and blackjack tables were silent for the long weekend, and up a steeply rising path to the meeting rooms at the Bellevue. There sense of importance combined with their evident impotence was reminiscent of Europe’s ruling dynasties on the eve of world war one, utterly oblivious to the fact their world was going to end.

Boris Johnson, with his calculated disheveled and absent-minded demeanor, came across in particular as a character actor in an Edwardian period drama, literally making his small splash by swimming out from the deserted beach to a rock with a broad opening in it, returning to declare it a metaphor for Brexit.

None of the cast had a sense of theatre to match the master of ceremonies, President Macron. From the start he tried to shake the dullness and sense of futility out of the proceedings with the occasional stunt. He corralled Trump immediately on the US president’s arrival, ushering him out on to the hotel terrace where an outside table had been prepared with white linen and places set for two. It was a gambit to get to the man by himself, away from his aides.

The American later declared it to have been their best meeting, but there was enough of a meeting of minds to clear the way for Macron’s second theatrical coup, flying in Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, for talks across the road from the summit, thereby creating a buzz of anticipation of a diplomatic breakthrough between Tehran and Washington at a time when they seem to be drifting towards war.

At the final closing conference with Trump, Macron also had a surprise, declaring himself confident that Trump could meet his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, in the coming weeks. Trump, always keen on a photo-op, did not rule it out. But there was no sign, as the delegations went their own way on Monday morning that the US was prepared to take the requisite first step towards dialogue and relaxing its punishing oil embargo. Without that, the Macron initiative is doomed to remain a piece of performance hard.

Again and again, Macron’s efforts at projecting progressive modernity were belied by the turgid underlying realities. There were sessions on gender equality but when it came for the group photo of the expanded guest list as the sun set outside the Hotel du Palais, there were 24 men on the dais, and one woman, Angela Merkel, in the twilight of her political career.

If there was a moment that sounded the death knell of the old order, it came at dinner in Biarritz’s antique lighthouse. The leaders were served Basque specialities and spoke about the pressing matters of the day.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron (R) and US President Donald Trump shake hands.

But the mood turned sour when Trump interrupted the flow of conversation to press the case for admitting Vladimir Putin back in to the club, to make it the G8 once more. The Europeans, with the exception of the Italians, were outraged. Putin had been booted out in 2014 for breaking all the rules of the postwar world, ignoring borders and annexing Crimea. Since then he has shown no sign of reversing his land grab.

Furthermore, Putin’s regime was becoming more and more repressive. Whatever hopes there might have been that he would take a turn towards economic and political form had long since dissipated.

The G7, the Europeans insisted, was a family of liberal democracies or it was nothing. Trump did not seem to care, the phrase “liberal democracy” meant nothing to him. His nominal allies were stunned by his indifference to what they held sacred and his determination to act on Putin’s behalf.

Macron passed the baton to Trump on Monday with a hug and a show of camaraderie. But there was a distinct sense of the established order being given its last rites – not to be replaced by anything fresh, but by a reversion to something even older and more visceral.

In the new order, the aspirational talk of a fairer and greener future will be dispensed with to be replaced by the pursuit of profit, and the division of the world by a handful of powerful men.


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« Reply #3381 on: Aug 27, 2019, 04:16 AM »


Far-right surge rattles guardians of Nazi era remembrance

on August 27, 2019
By Agence France-Presse

A tour group handpicked by the far-right party Alternative for Germany touched off a scandal last summer while visiting the former Nazi concentration camp Sachsenhausen north of Berlin.

A few members of the delegation began asking the guide pointed questions about Allied bombing at the end of World War II, implying its impact on the civilian population was comparable to the Nazis’ atrocities.

“As our horrified colleague told me, the comments by obviously rhetorically trained people culminated in them questioning the existence of the gas chambers and the mass murders in them,” the director of the camp’s memorial, Axel Drecoll, told AFP.

The guide broke off the tour and Sachsenhausen staff threw the group out. Drecoll, 45, demanded an apology from leading AfD figure Alice Weidel, who had organized the visit, but is still waiting for a response.

This month authorities in Brandenburg state indicted a 69-year-old member of the group on charges including inciting racial hatred.

Defenders of Germany’s sacrosanct atonement for the Nazis’ crimes — the foundation of its Basic Law and political culture — warn it is coming under calculated assault from right-wing extremists.

And ahead of three state elections in the coming weeks in which the AfD is set to do well, Germans like Drecoll are growing nervous about erosion of the country’s culture of remembrance, which many experts argue is unique in the world.

The anti-migrant, anti-Muslim AfD could come in first in Brandenburg as well as neighboring Saxony — which both head to the ballot box on September 1 — and is polling strongly ahead of an October election in Thuringia.

– ‘Tears don’t educate’ –

On a walk around the vast windswept grounds, Drecoll said memorials like Sachsenhausen need to evolve to defend their mission and prepare for a time in which there are no more Holocaust survivors alive to bear witness.

“That means interactive media in the exhibitions, tablets in the seminar rooms, an up-to-date website and audioguides for visitors which may become multimedia guides,” he said.

However he said overemphasis on digital tools or a pivot to gadgets like virtual reality goggles undermined efforts to teach the lessons of the past and the duty to pay respect to the dead.

“We are also a cemetery. We need dignified remembrance and not pure emotion — tears don’t educate.”

Drecoll was similarly circumspect about calls for compulsory visits for Germans to the former camps.

“I really believe in intrinsic motivation — we want to have a conversation among equals,” he said.

“Also some young people are simply overwhelmed by the images they’re confronted with at the place where the crimes were committed — you have to respect that.”

Around 200,000 people — Jews, dissidents from across Europe, gay men and other groups targeted by the Nazis — were held at Sachsenhausen between 1936 and 1945.

At least 40,000 were killed or died under brutal conditions.

The memorial draws about 700,000 visitors each year from around the world — double the number a decade ago. The vast majority, Drecoll said, are “respectful”.

– ‘Playing with fire’ –

Leading AfD politicians, however, have more and more openly challenged Germany’s unflinching reckoning with the legacy of the Nazi terror regime.

Party co-leader Alexander Gauland has called the 12-year Third Reich a “speck of bird poop” in an otherwise glorious German past.

Bjoern Hoecke, who represents the AfD’s extreme right wing, has criticized Berlin’s sprawling Holocaust memorial as a “monument of shame”.

And, after a series of provocations, the former Buchenwald camp banned AfD politicians from memorial ceremonies “as long as they do not credibly distance themselves from historically revisionist positions”.

Even if the AfD comes in first place in Brandenburg, mainstream parties are expected to band together to keep it from taking over the state government.

However Drecoll called the cultural damage wrought by the far right highly dangerous.

“What really, really concerns me is the breaking of verbal taboos. You can’t forget that words create reality, and the use of language stretches the realm of the possible — we learned that in the Nazi period,” he said.

“When you begin to talk about certain groups to say ‘they are like this or like that’, you’re playing with fire.”

The AfD’s main candidate in Brandenburg, Andreas Kalbitz, who frequently rails against “hordes of young Muslim men”, dismissed Drecoll’s concerns as “unjustified”.

Kalbitz, 46, told reporters his party had no plans “to close the memorials or somehow sideline remembrance of the Nazi crimes”, adding: “I think this kind of hysteria with regard to the AfD will dissolve, especially after the (state) elections.”

Back at Sachsenhausen, Dutch hairdresser Lola Rohde, 19, said as she toured former barracks for Jewish prisoners that the lessons of history were clear.

“I think a lot of politicians today use cruel language,” she said.

“They should all come to memorials like this to see what effect they can have with their words, what can happen if they’re turned into action.”


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« Reply #3382 on: Aug 27, 2019, 04:32 AM »


Trump badly embarrasses himself and all of America with ridiculous performance at G7 summit

on August 27, 2019
By Heather Digby Parton, Salon
- Commentary

Over the past week President Trump has seemed to come progressively unglued. He dramatically escalated the trade war with China, declared the whole world to be in recession — except the United States — wondered publicly whether the chairman of the Federal Reserve (whom he appointed) was a bigger enemy than the Chinese president, and “ordered” American companies to stop doing business with China. Oh, and he called American Jews who vote for Democrats either stupid or disloyal and canceled a state visit to Denmark after the Danish prime minister said that his proposal to buy Greenland was absurd.

But it was Trump’s bizarre “chopper talk” press-avail on Wednesday, described by former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson as veering “from topic to topic with utter confidence, alarming ignorance, minimal coherence and relentless duplicity” that had even his own staff alarmed, according to the New York Times.

Trump had appreciatively tweeted out a quote from a right-wing fringe character who claimed that Israelis call our president “the King of Israel” and “love him like he is the second coming of God” earlier in the day. Then, in front of the press, he referred to himself as “the chosen one” while once more “joking” about being in office “10 or 14 years from now.”

That was honestly the least of it. Trump also threatened to release ISIS fighters into France and Germany if they don’t agree to take them (whatever that means) and claimed that Vladimir Putin “made a living off of outsmarting Obama” while nearly begging that Russia be allowed to rejoin the G7, clearly feeling bereft that his buddy wouldn’t be in France for their annual gathering. When asked about his visit to El Paso and Dayton in the wake of mass shootings in those cities, he replied, “the love for me and my love for them was unparalleled.” Also, he assured everyone once again that he is the least racist person to ever hold office.

And there was this:

    Trump says he's "very seriously" looking at trying to change the Constitution by executive order.

    "We're looking at that very seriously — birthright citizenship. Where you have a baby on our land … 'congratulations the baby is now a US citizen' … it's, frankly, ridiculous." pic.twitter.com/5IBNOcMXE9

    — Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 21, 2019

No one is sure exactly what it is that has him so agitated. But one thing is clear at his point. The rest of the world is no longer even pretending that the president of the United States is competent and they are taking matters into their own hands.

The meeting at the G7 this past weekend couldn’t have been more different from last year’s when, as you may recall, Trump treated his colleagues like lackeys and strutted around as if he were a Roman emperor, refusing to sign the joint communiqué in a fit of anger over a comment by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. This year the president of the so-called “essential nation” has been relegated to the status of the dotty old aunt about whom everyone speaks in hushed tones and smiles indulgently when she starts babbling. They seem to have finally realized that Trump can’t be reasoned with like a normal leader and therefore they must gather together like members of the family and stage an intervention to cajole him into changing course.

Before the opening of the meeting, European Council President Donald Tusk gave a speech making the case that Trump’s trade wars are on the brink of causing a global recession. French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump’s supposed buddy, corralled him into a surprise on-on-one luncheon where Macron reportedly laid out the list of crises that must be dealt with while Trump pouted silently. He didn’t want to hear that his trade war is a bust, apparently assuming that he would be lauded for his manliness in confronting China. He also didn’t want to discuss the other items on the agenda, such as the fact that the Amazon rainforest is on fire and we are killing the planet, which he and his staff are said to believe is a “niche” issue beneath the attention of the president of the United States. The G7 nations acted without the U.S. to put pressure on Brazil to deal with the manmade fires.

Evidently, all the leaders spoke at some length about Trump’s demand that Russia be allowed back into the group. But they stuck together, saying that Putin had done nothing to deserve readmission and hadn’t formally requested to be allowed back in any case. Trump sullenly acquiesced, later falsely claiming that unnamed others agreed with him.

In a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump attempted to defend his good friend Kim Jong-un’s repeated missile tests, insisting that the North Korean leader wasn’t in violation of international law and anyway had recently sent him one of those beautiful letters. How bad could he be. Abe was not impressed. He responded, “Our position is very clear that the launch of short-range ballistic missiles by North Korea clearly violates the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

Trump returned serve by saying, “A lot of people are testing those missiles, not just him. A lot of people are testing those missiles. We’re in the world of missiles, folks, whether you like it or not.”  Later he announced what he called a big trade deal with Japan, which Abe likewise contradicted, saying it was only an agreement in principle and stressing that it would be up to actors in the private sector.

Perhaps the most important sign that the U.S. is no longer taken seriously was the audacious move by Macron to invite Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, to meet on the sidelines of the gathering. He reportedly told Trump he was going to do it at their surprise luncheon and Trump later said he had “approved it” although his petulant “no comment” earlier in the day indicated he wasn’t exactly thrilled. It’s unclear whether Macron thought he could get  Trump to meet Zarif or whether this was just a way to let Iran know that the Europeans were independent actors, but it’s hard to imagine such a thing happening without U.S. involvement any time in the past. “The essential nation” is obviously not essential anymore.

What is clear is that the other G7 leaders hammered Trump privately to end his nonsensical trade war. When asked if he was having second thoughts about that doomed enterprise, Trump snarled, “Sure, why not? I always have second thoughts.” He was even publicly chastised by the most Trumpian leader present, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who said, “Just to register the faint, sheeplike note of our view on the trade war, we’re in favor of trade peace on the whole.” The White House later walked back Trump’s “second thoughts” comment with a bellicose statement saying that he only had second thoughts about not raising the tariffs higher.

Trump senses that he’s no longer being taken seriously but because they all have smiles plastered on their faces and are being solicitous, he doesn’t know how to respond. So, as usual, he lies.

    In France we are all laughing at how knowingly inaccurate the U.S. reporting of events and conversations at the G-7 is. These Leaders, and many others, are getting a major case study of Fake News at it’s finest! They’ve got it all wrong, from Iran, to China Tariffs, to Boris!

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 25, 2019

As I write this, Trump is trying to save face, claiming he’s winning the trade war  because “China called” and wants to make a deal. This isn’t quite true either. Chinese officials merely responded that they would like a “calm” resolution to the dispute, so who knows where that’s going?  World leaders no longer taking him literally or seriously. He’s just someone to be managed. Let’s hope they have better luck than Americans have had so far.

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

Donald Trump’s deranged worldview is a nutjob conspiracy theory

on August 27, 2019
By Michael Winship, Common Dreams
- Commentary

Once upon a time, when I first was writing for newspapers and magazines, because I was the junior guy in the rotation, one of my many beats was the conspiracy theorists—in those days, mostly small, cult-like groups with some truly bizarre ideas.

One Thanksgiving weekend, I was assigned to cover a conference on assassination investigations, held at Georgetown University. The place was awash in conspiracy junkies although there also were journalists and others who had performed real research and were raising interesting questions about the motives behind a number of political killings in America, including those of Jack and Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Nonetheless, there definitely was a crackpot current crackling through the event as well. My favorite theory came from a guy who quietly told the crowd that the assassination of JFK occurred because Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally, who was riding in the front seat of the limo in Dallas, got into a political argument and shot each other. He attributed this claim to Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother, Marguerite.

Some of the others were more malevolent. One, in a wheelchair, had some henchmen who at his instructions would grab unsuspecting attendees as they left the conference, slam them against the side of a van and take their photos with a Polaroid camera.

I don’t know why he did this; he refused to let me talk to him or his gang. Clearly, he thought his targets were up to no good. But he and whatever demons flew around inside his skull—and the fact that nobody tried to stop him—came to mind this last couple of weeks as Donald Trump seems to descend even deeper into addlepated lunacy.

True, anyone who has studied the man knows that few conspiracy theories have ever been too wacky to escape Trump’s attention—whether Obama birther fantasies, climate change denial (it’s all a Chinese hoax), trying to connect Ted Cruz’s father to the JFK assassination, or suggesting that Supreme Court Justice Scalia may have been smothered in his sleep, among others. Recently, the suicide of Jeffrey Epstein led Trump to retweet goofball claims that Bill and Hillary Clinton were involved in a plot to murder the notorious pedophile.

This was, in part, an attempt to divert attention from his own past friendship with Epstein and to once again trash the Clintons but it completely fits into his predilection for the secret cabal theory of history.

Yet more important, Trump’s worldview consists of the singular belief that almost the entire planet is engaged in one big conspiracy against him. He often tries to frame it as a plot against the United States, but it always comes down to the proverbial “all about me.” L’etat c’est moi, and while you’re at it, turns out I’m the Chosen One, too. Just kidding, he now says. Good grief.

His list of suspects is huge. There’s the fake news, of course—we all know the media has it in for Trump, he says, and now he even has thugs working to harass journalists.

And Europe is especially mean to him—just look at this weekend’s G7 summit in France, even though they work hard not to make him mad.  Also out to get him are Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, Canada, Mexico, most of Africa, central America and these days, Denmark.

By the way, you can sort of understand Trump’s confusion about not being able to buy Greenland from the Danes—in his reptilian, neo-colonialist brain, he probably thought he could purchase it for $24 worth of beads.

“Nobody can be trusted.  Nobody can be trusted,” Trump intoned last week as he sat with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis. “In my world—in this world, I think nobody can be trusted.”

But as Stephen Colbert recently said in his well-worth-seeing interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “Our president wants to live in a fantasy world where only the way he perceives the world is the way it is… He’s also trying to convince us that that is the only world that exists… It’s extremely solipsistic, but he’s also trying to invite us into this madness that he has. And that is heresy against reality.”

Nonetheless, whether it’s the way he really thinks or even partially a conscious political ploy, Trump’s paranoia plays well with the crowds that turn out for him at rallies and the voting booth; it panders to their own fears and frustrations, amplifying even the smallest bit of distrust, and in fact, is part of a long American tradition. In a now famous 1964 essay in Harper’s magazine, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” historian Richard Hofstadter noted “how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority.”

Hofstadter wrote, “The paranoid’s interpretation of history is distinctly personal, decisive events are not taken as part of the stream of history but as the consequences of someone’s will.”  He pointed to the anti-Masonic and anti-Jesuit movements of the 19th Century and Senator Joe McCarthy of the 20th who warned of “a great conspiracy so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man. A conspiracy of infamy so black that, when it is finally exposed, its principals shall be forever deserving of the maledictions of all honest men.”

The “modern right wing,” Hostadter said, “feels dispossessed.” And so it—and its current leader—point their stubby fingers at conspiracy. Israeli journalist Chemi Shalev writes, “Conspiracy theories are like a religion. Their adherents believe in higher powers that control human developments. They divide the world into forces of light and forces of darkness. They believe only they can perceive the real truth. Like most religions, conspiracy theories are immune to objective refutation: Contradictory facts are quickly digested and transformed into further proof that confirms the original theory.”

But here’s a problem with conspiracy theories and their adherents, beyond the ignoring of facts and desire to be rid of anything that doesn’t back up the false narrative. Such beliefs are the lazy—and cowardly—way out. Why should you do something about anything if everything is rigged and under the thumb of dark forces beyond your control? You’re forfeiting any semblance of responsibility by throwing up your hands because you’re convinced the odds are stacked against you. So you channel your anger through a crazy person who falsely claims he’s got your back and tells you darker skinned people are the source of all your problems.

In the end, the biggest conspiracy is Trump’s—he and his followers in the GOP further radicalizing to the point of violence those who are alienated and furious. They do so with lies, bigoted language and taunts against anyone they perceive lower on the rungs than they because of race or religion or gender. They tear down rules and regulations as they ignore the warnings of those with the expertise and scientific knowledge to keep us safe and secure. They trash and threaten anyone supporting progressive ideals of social justice. Or the truth.

That way madness lies.

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Trump’s fabricated China phone call is ‘a serious escalation of his lying’ which bodes ill for America: reporter

Raw Story
8/27/2019

On Monday, President Donald Trump was once again busted in a lie after claiming the government of China called him and asked to restart talks over his disastrous trade war.

But this seems more egregious than a typical Trump lie, wrote CNN contributor Garrett Graff — as an attempt to mislead world powers about the state of international diplomacy, it could have serious consequences for America’s ability to conduct discussions of any sort, especially in an international crisis situation:

    It kind of seems like a big deal that Donald Trump is just *inventing* phone calls with a key foreign adversary. If this is true, this seems a serious escalation of his lying—and bodes poorly for a future crisis. https://t.co/TgKQxHEas2

    — Garrett M. Graff (@vermontgmg) August 26, 2019

Trump’s tariff hikes on Chinese goods in 2018 alone cost consumers $32 billion, threatening jobs and economic activity across the country. But there is no sign China is interested in negotiating for a deal to end the standoff.

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has suggested that China doesn’t even need to negotiate with the United States — they may decide to just step back, let Trump’s tariffs ruin his own economy, and negotiate with the next administration when people vote Trump out over the losses.

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Ex-CIA chief worries what lies Trump is telling G7 allies behind-closed-doors

Raw Story
8/27/2019

The former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) worried on Monday about what lies President Donald Trump told American allies behind-closed-doors during the G7 Summit in France.

MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes recounted the summit for viewers.

“If you are lucky enough, as frankly I was, to be enjoying a final pre-Labor Day summer weekend and were not paying attention to the minute-by-minute antics of the commander-in-chief, here’s a quick noncomprehensive rundown of Donald Trump’s G7 Summit. Like so much about this president it was at one level bemusing, but also horrifying, because the stakes of the things he’s so glibly blowing off are so high,” Hayes recounted

“For instance, the Amazon, which is still burning at an alarming rate over the weekend The New York Times covered the fact there are now devastating fires in Bolivia and experts say it could take up to, ‘200 years for the forests in Bolivia to heal.’ The world leaders at the G7 had a meeting about it and all leaders were there except one — guess who. The new White House press secretary said Trump skipped because he had scheduled meetings with Germany and India. One problem with that account, the leaders of both those countries were at the climate meeting, so who knows.”

For analysis, Hayes interviewed for CIA Director John Brennan.

“Do you think that over the course of this presidency so far that both world leaders and global diplomatic corp. and intelligence services have changed the way they react to this president’s statements, as they have acclimated themselves to the degree of lack of preparation or tossed-offedness of what he might say in these sort of events?” Hayes asked.

“Oh, absolutely,” Brennan replied. “I think a lot of the leaders have written off what he says publicly.”

“But, also I’m very concerned — given his public dishonesty — what dishonesty is he engaged in in these private meetings with world leaders, with those allies of countries that we have worked with so hard for so long. What is he telling them?” he wondered.

“But I think they realize he is way, way out of his depth, that he is incompetent, but also he is somewhat delusional as far as how he views the world and his inability to grasp the reality of the geostrategic situation around the globe today,” he added.

“Well, it’s bad enough that Donald Trump is so incompetent in terms of carrying out his responsibilities, but it’s the dishonesty that I think really hurts this country most,” he added.

“It’s when the American people listen to him and they know that he is lying, but also the foreign leaders who, again, look to the United States as being the leader of the western world, of the free world, of the entire world,” he explained. “They recognize that Donald Trump is just fabricating one story after another. So how can they put any stock in what he says or what he says he’s going to do?”

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‘Not true’: Fox News’ Shep Smith hammers Trump for claiming Putin outsmarted Obama

Raw Story
8/27/2019

Fox News host Shep Smith detailed the latest lie from President Donald Trump that Russian President Vladimir Putin outsmarted former President Barack Obama.

In his Monday show, Smith played a clip of Trump talking about his trade war with China and how he meandered his way into a conversation about Russia. After France invited Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Trump said that he might invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to the G-7 meeting in the United States. Trump has invited Putin to the U.S. a few times and each of the invitations have been ignored.

“President Trump says the Russians were removed from the group, because president Putin outsmarted President Obama,” Smith said. “That is not true. The decision to remove Russia from the group was unanimous. The reason? Putin invaded and annexed Crimea. In the conflict that continues, in eastern Ukraine, Russian forces support separatists, who have killed more than 10,000 people. During that conflict, a Russian weapon shot a civilian airliner from the sky, killing hundreds. Then, in 2016-2018, the Russians interfered with the American elections. According to American intelligence agencies, they are interfering today.”

French President Emmanuel Macron fact-checked Trump in real-time during the press conference.

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Trump’s G7 disaster proves the world is in a ‘post-America leadership situation’: Top Obama official

Raw Story
8/27/2019

President Donald Trump’s reception at the G7 meeting in France demonstrates that America is no longer the leader of the free world, a top former Obama official explained on MSNBC on Monday.

“Donald Trump’s visit to the South of France for this year’s G7 summit ended earlier today with America’s closest allies essentially resorting to a strategy of speaking in soothing tones and sharing warm fuzzies with the American president to avoid stoking his ire,” “Deadline: White House” host Nicolle Wallace reported. “So we will start with the summit in Donald Trump’s mind — where he’s a great negotiator and the trade war with China is going really, really well.”

For analysis, Wallace interviewed former Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes.

“Ben, I have to start with you. There’s so much madness and lunacy, you have to read some of these stories three, four, five times — read Trump’s transcripts three, four, five times to see where he lands within a single soundbite,” Wallace noted.

“Yeah, it’s a pretty good window into the rotten, corrupt Donald Trump worldview on foreign policy,” Rhodes noted.

Rhodes explained how out-of-place Trump’s views were at the summit.

“It’s supposed to be a forum for likeminded democratic nations to get together and figure out how to deal with the threat of climate change, how to deal with the challenge from Iran, how to deal with China cracking down on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. Russia has no place at that table. Russia would be at the table as a spoiler,” he explained. “And it says everything about Donald Trump that he seems to prefer the company of dictators like Vladimir Putin to the leaders of democracies like Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel and Justin Trudeau and the others at the G7.”

“He is also someone who has created most of the crises being discussed at the G7, whether it’s Iran resuming its nuclear program or the accelerating threats from climate change,” he continued. “So all of these leaders who are in the G7 are forced to be in a situation where they’re moving on from America, they’re moving on from American leadership. They’re just trying to prevent Donald Trump from blowing up that summit so they can actually solve problems. You bring Vladimir Putin into that equation, and things just get worse.”

“This marks a sea change in which the world has moved beyond U.S. leadership,” he said. “The president of the United States is no longer viewed as the leader of the free world.”

“They’re trying to come up with their own agreements and just prevent Donald Trump from coming in and flipping over the table and blowing up the summit. So what we are seeing is what the world looks like in a post-America leadership situation. The climate change session, probably the most closely watched session in most parts of the world, particularly with the Amazon on fire, Donald Trump wasn’t even there,” he added. “I mean, if you want a metaphor for U.S. leadership in 2019, it is the empty chair at the table as world leaders deal with the biggest challenge to the future of the planet at the time the Amazon rainforest is on fire.”

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

Obama ambassador rips Trump’s negotiating skills for offering Putin ‘something for nothing’

Raw Story
8/27/2019

The former ambassador to Russia ridiculed President Donald Trump’s negotiating skills during a Monday appearance on MSNBC.

Ambassador Michael McFaul was interviewed on “Hardball” by Chris Matthews.

“Ambassador McFaul, your thoughts on what the Russians must think at the highest levels at this American president operating as their agent?” Matthews asked.

“Well, they’re delighted by it, of course, because it divides the G7. And it divides the G7 at a time when we could actually really use unity, on how to deal with the global economy, how to deal with China. Instead, we’re having ridiculous — I want to emphasize that adjective — ridiculous discussions about inviting Vladimir Putin back to the G8,” McFaul replied.

“You know, I’m not — I didn’t write Art of the Deal, but I did do some diplomacy,” he noted.

“I don’t understand why President Trump continues to offer something for nothing. Why is that a good deal for the American people? Let’s let him come back in for nothing? He has to do nothing,” McFaul said. “Obviously, nobody else is going to agree with him and I really cannot understand why the president continues to double and triple down on this courtship — this fawning — of Vladimir Putin.”

“As I mentioned earlier, the president suggested he may host next year’s G7 Summit — somebody’s laughing already — at his Trump National Doral golf resort near Miami, despite concerns it would violate the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause prohibiting officers of the U.S. government from accepting a thing of value from a foreign state…” Matthews said.

“Well, today the president downplayed ethical concerns he would profit off the event and turned today’s news conference into an infomercial. Here he is like a pitchman on the Atlantic City boardwalk selling Vegematics — in this case his Doral country club,” the host said, playing a clip of Trump bragging about Doral’s “magnificent buildings with “very luxurious rooms” including some of the biggest ballrooms in Florida.

The host blasted the president.

“This is the marketing director for dural in the guise of a U.S. president and world leader,” Matthews said.

“Since when do we need ballrooms for G7 Summits?” McFaul asked.

“I have a suggestion. There is this place called Camp David,” he suggested. “I don’t know if the president’s heard of it, he’s been there a few times. It’s a government property, fantastic security. President Obama hosted the G8 summit there in 2012. I think that’s a fantastic alternative.”

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

Trump is ‘terrified’ history will remember Obama as a better president: Washington Post columnist

Raw Story
8/27/2019

President Donald Trump’s fixation on size has him worried that his record will stack up poorly with that of former President Barack Obama, a Washington Post columnist wrote on Monday.

“Is it my imagination, or is President Trump’s chronic and debilitating case of Obama envy getting worse? One of the things that genuinely seems to matter to Trump is comparing himself — favorably, of course — with his predecessor, no matter how delusional the rationale. Trump gave an illustration at the end of the Group of Seven summit when he insisted to reporters that former president Barack Obama had been ‘outsmarted’ by Russian President Vladimir Putin,” Eugene Robinson wrote.

“It fit a pattern that goes back years — and may have more to do with Trump’s behavior in office than we realize,” he added.

Robinson offered multiple examples of Obama succeeding on Trump’s goals.

“Trump blasts the Obama administration’s record of creating jobs and claims to be doing much better. Yet, under Obama, the unemployment rate fell from a high of 10 percent to just 4.7 percent. Under Trump, it has dropped further to 3.7 percent,” he noted. “Which president had the bigger impact?”

“Trump blames Obama for being soft on illegal immigration, yet he deports fewer undocumented migrants than Obama did. And when Obama left office, undocumented border crossings were at a multiyear low. The huge increase, driven in part by asylum seekers from Central America, has taken place under Trump,” he continued.

Robinson suggested racism could be part of Trump’s jealousy.

“Obviously, I can’t know for sure what the root cause of Trump’s Obama obsession might be. Everyone should remember, though, that he was an active and vocal proponent of the racist ‘birther’ conspiracy theory, at one point claiming, without evidence, that he had sent investigators to Hawaii to discover the ‘truth’ about Obama’s birth certificate,” he reminded.

“Trump seems terrified that history will look more kindly on Obama’s presidency than on his own. If that’s the case — on this one point — he couldn’t be more right,” Robinson concluded.

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

Trump made the G7 a train wreck — and he plans make the next one a corruption bonanza

on August 27, 2019
By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet
- Commentary

It’s not clear President Donald Trump could ever get what he wants out of the G7 summits. He’s torn by two conflicting desires: the desire to be loved by everyone across the world, and the desire to promote his nationalist, authoritarian, right-wing agenda, which won him power in the United States but inevitably brings him into conflict with other leading democracies.

So it was no surprise that the weekend’s summit was a train wreck. Trump acted as the seventh wheel of the meeting, abandoning the other six world leaders at the most crucial event: the discussion on climate change. He was humiliated by his closest thing to an ally in the group, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who said the president’s tariff-fueled trade war is “not the way to proceed.” Without any serious justification, Trump continued to insist that Russian President Vladimir Putin should be welcomed back into the group, despite lacking any support from the other member nations. And Meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump seemed to be on a completely different page about North Korea’s recent provocations.

The meeting ended with the leaders issuing a brief joint declaration, far more limited than previous communiques, obscuring the serious fractures within the coalition and deep disagreements over central issues.

To top off the troubling conclusion, Trump proposed a blatantly galling and corrupt plan: Next time, the meeting can be held at Trump Doral resort in Florida.

Former Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub said the “sheer brazenness” of Trump’s plan to personally profit off not only his own position but from the coffers of American allies’ governments, was surprising even for this president.

    The prospect of Trump Doral resort hosting the 2020 G7 Summit raises the very real possibility that a corrupting influence tainted the procurement process. The public deserves a full accounting of the procurement process and an explanation as to why Doral was even considered. pic.twitter.com/zM2EbOiY59

    — Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) August 26, 2019

“Millions of dollars are potentially at stake in this contract,” Shaub said. “And I don’t even understand how he could be one of the finalists. Certainly that Trump Doral resort is not exactly cost-effective. And there are just thousands and thousands of facilities in this country — how the president could be one of the 12 that they looked at, as he says, and then potentially be the final choice, just absolutely makes no sense and undermines confidence in our federal government’s procurement system.”

The Washington Post recently reported of the Trump-owned venue:

    Late last year, in a Miami conference room, a consultant for President Trump’s company said business at his prized 643-room Doral resort was in sharp decline.

    At Doral, which Trump has listed in federal disclosures as his biggest moneymaker hotel, room rates, banquets, golf and overall revenue were all down since 2015. In two years, the resort’s net operating income — a key figure, representing the amount left over after expenses are paid — had fallen by 69 percent.

    Even in a vigorous economy, the property was missing the Trump Organization’s internal business targets; for instance, the club expected to take in $85 million in revenue in 2017 but took in just $75 million.

    “They are severely underperforming” other resorts in the area, tax consultant Jessica Vachiratevanurak told a Miami-Dade County official in a bid to lower the property’s tax bill. The reason, she said: “There is some negative connotation that is associated with the brand.”

Shaub noted that Trump could be violating the law if he secured the contract for the resort outside of the federal procurement rules. But even if everything was conducted above board, Shaub said, the venue would still be inappropriate, because it would inevitably give the appearance of corruption.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) issued a statement in response to the plan:

    Under no circumstances should the G7 be held at Trump’s Doral resort, which would be one of the most egregious examples of corruption and self-dealing in a presidency replete with them. Trump is using the office to line his own pockets at the expense of the American people are our standing in the worlD. Requiring our allies to spend money at the president’s hotel would be an insult to them and a violation of our Constitution’s emoluments clause.”


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« Reply #3383 on: Aug 27, 2019, 05:44 AM »


Trump gives a stunning display of incoherence at the G-7

Trump says China wants to restart trade talks

By Editorial Board
WA Post
August 27 2019

ON FRIDAY, President Trump called President Xi Jinping of China an “enemy,” said “we don’t need China” and told U.S. companies they were “hereby ordered” to end their operations there. Over the next 72 hours, he cited a 1977 emergency powers law to back up his threat to end U.S. economic relations with Beijing; announced he did not intend to invoke the law; and, on Monday, declared Mr. Xi to be “a great leader” and “a brilliant man” with whom his administration would probably soon strike a trade deal. It was, all in all, a stunning display of incoherence — even by Mr. Trump’s standards — that encapsulated his performance at the Group of Seven summit.

Mr. Trump’s conflicting statements on China were far from the only puzzlements of his stay in Biarritz, France. He repeatedly touted what he said was a trade deal with Japan, only to be contradicted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Japanese foreign ministry, which said the negotiations were at a preliminary stage. He said there was “tremendous unity” in his talks with the other six leaders, though officials said the U.S. delegation blocked consensus on trade and other issues. Mr. Trump skipped a meeting on climate change, and his pitch to restore Russia to the group was flatly rejected by Germany and Britain, among others.

French President Emmanuel Macron made a valiant effort to use the summit to jump-start negotiations between the United States and Iran, even inviting Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Biarritz. Mr. Trump responded with more confusion: After allowing that Mr. Macron’s suggestion of a summit between him and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani within weeks was possible, he went on to cite conditions for a deal different — and less stringent — from those previously outlined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Mr. Trump lambasted President Barack Obama for striking a deal that granted Iran economic concessions, then suggested that he would support new loans for Tehran if talks got underway.

Mr. Rouhani suggested in a speech Monday that he was open to negotiations, so perhaps something will come from Mr. Macron’s initiative. But there was no way to judge from Mr. Trump’s remarks whether he was seriously contemplating a change of tack on Iran — just as it was anyone’s guess whether he had second thoughts about the trade war he started with China, as he suggested Sunday, or merely wished he had raised tariffs even higher, as his staff later said.

The one subject on which Mr. Trump’s intentions appeared unambiguous was his plan to steer the next G-7 summit, which the United States is due to host, to his own Doral golf resort near Miami — thereby injecting a huge stimulus into what has been a struggling business. When asked whether he was trying to use the presidency to enrich himself, Mr. Trump responded with the ludicrous claim that the presidency had cost him $3 billion to $5 billion. His scheme cries out for congressional intervention; if the emoluments clause of the Constitution means anything, it must forbid such blatant self-dealing.

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Morning Joe panel burns down ‘toady’ Tom Cotton for sucking up to ’emasculated’ Trump

Raw Story
8/27/2019

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and John Heilemann blasted Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and other Republican “toadies” for sucking up to President Donald Trump instead of calling out his clearly “unmoored” behavior overseas.

The “Morning Joe” host was appalled by the president’s conduct during the G7 summit, and Heilemann agreed Trump showed the U.S. was no longer the leader of the free world, and they asked why Republicans were working to prop up his bizarre statements instead of condemning them.

“His performance this weekend was just extraordinarily unmoored — worse than ever,” Scarborough said. “I think everybody agrees Donald Trump is getting worse.”

Trump on Friday impotently ordered U.S. companies to cease their business with China, and the following day claimed legal authority to do it, and things only flew further off the rails after leaving for France.

“Bizarre statements through the weekend, a bizarre defense of Vladimir Putin — just a bizarre obsession,” Scarborough said. “It’s really sad and emasculating that Donald Trump is so obsessed with Barack Obama. It makes him look so, so small but that obsession continued as he attacked a former president while defending an ex-KGB agent.”

After insisting that Putin had outsmarted Obama on Crimea, the president reportedly begged other G7 leaders to let Russia back into the group, before promoting his own golf course as the site for next year’s meeting.

“What are our allies to think of it, and how in the hell can Republicans watch him promoting Doral on the world stage, a property that is collapsing, and to little more write op-eds than saying about Donald Trump is right about purchasing Greenland?” Scarborough said, singling out Cotton.

Heilemann agreed, saying Cotton was “sucking up” to Trump for a bizarre suggestion last week despite his alarming behavior this weekend.

“I believe the words are sycophantic toady,” Heilemann said. “But look, the thing to focus on, because Trump’s performance was quintessentially Trump and the Republican reaction is quintessentially Republican, in the sense they ignore what he’s doing. They suck up to him. They have given up any pretense of having a position that’s not completely in his pocket.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=583&v=GnpiTXbhJYA

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The world is burning, but Trump’s Doral resort is just tremendous

Likely hold next year’s Group of Seven summit at his golf resort in Doral, Fla.

By Dana Milbank
Columnist
August 27 2019

The Amazon is burning, a trade war is escalating, and the world economy is deteriorating.

Enter President Trump, taking the stage on Monday at the Group of Seven gathering of world leaders in Biarritz, France, to assure an anxious world that . . . his golf resort in Miami is just tremendous!

“With Doral, we have a series of magnificent buildings — we call them bungalows — they each hold from 50 to 70 very luxurious rooms with magnificent views,” Trump said at the closing news conference of the international gathering.

Trump, who had been asked to clarify his earlier (inappropriate) remarks promoting his Miami-area property at the international gathering, instead expanded on them: “We have incredible conference rooms, incredible restaurants. And we have many hundreds of acres so that in terms of parking, in terms of all of the things that you need, the ballrooms are among the biggest in Florida, and the best.”

“We.” With that pronoun, Trump spoke not as president of the United States but as de facto head of the Trump Organization. And he now endeavors to abuse his status as host of next year’s G-7 summit to force foreign countries and U.S. taxpayers to pump millions more dollars into one of his properties.

Trump is essentially requiring foreign governments to pay him the very definition of unconstitutional emoluments. Is this a president or a timeshare salesman?

The Trump National Doral golf resort in Florida on March 18. (Joe Skipper/Reuters)

Trump is often criticized for representing only those who voted for him, but even that description seemed generous Monday. On French soil, Trump seemed to be representing only himself.

This isn’t the first time Trump has been unable (or unwilling) to distinguish the national interest from his own. And his l’etat-c’est-moi routine isn’t just for the French. After meeting recently with mass-shooting victims, he rhapsodized about their “love for me — and me, maybe, as a representative of the country — but for me.”

He has badgered the Federal Reserve chairman to reduce interest rates, which would benefit him as a huge borrower. The president has made untold millions from his tax cuts and from foreign governments booking rooms and meals at his properties.

Trump makes geopolitical decisions based on how he’s treated personally. It’s no mere coincidence that Japan, which nominated Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize and gave him a fancy state visit, has escaped the worst of his trade wrath. By contrast, he canceled a visit to Denmark and claimed the prime minister had insulted the United States by labeling “absurd” his (absurd) plan to buy Greenland: “You don’t talk to the United States that way!”

Accordingly, Trump’s peers at the G-7 were careful to stroke his ego with talk of his powerful traits, his lovely wife, his new grandchild. Even so, no one praised Trump as much as Trump.

On the environment: “I think I know more about the environment than most people.”

On oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: “I was able to get ANWR approved. Ronald Reagan wasn’t able to do it.”

On trade: “We never had a president that understood this.” Until now!

Asked about Russia rejoining the G-7, Trump found himself boasting: “I ran one election and I won. Happened to be for president.”

Asked about his mixed messages on trade, he replied: “It’s done well for me over the years, and it’s doing even better for the country.”

He said he’d accept an invitation to visit Berlin, not because Germany is a key ally but because “I have German in my blood.”

Above all, he celebrated the greatness of Trump Organization holdings.

“I own great property in the U.K.” he said when asked about new Prime Minister Boris Johnson, adding, “I own Turnberry and I own in Aberdeen and I own in Ireland, as you know, Doonbeg and great stuff.”

Great stuff! His travels to his properties in Ireland, Scotland, Virginia, New Jersey, Florida and elsewhere (on 255 days of his presidency, The Post calculated in June) have funneled them a fortune in taxpayer dollars.

Now, it’s Doral’s turn. Seated earlier Monday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump gave a hard sell for the resort: “Great place.” “Tremendous acreage.” “Next to the airport.” Nothing “close to competing with it.” Later, he explained that “my people” looked at potential G-7 locations and — surprise! — “they came back and said, ‘This is where we’d like to be.’ ”

It would be a nice boost for the underperforming resort, yet Trump believes he is the one making a sacrifice. The presidency has cost him more than $3 billion, he lamented on Monday, from lost income from giving motivational speeches, for example.

“I don’t care about making money,” Trump claimed Monday. What’s more, “I’m not going to make any money” from hosting the G-7 at Doral.

Of course not. And if you don’t believe him, you can check his tax returns.


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« Reply #3384 on: Aug 28, 2019, 03:34 AM »

Scientists Discover New Cure for the Deadliest Strain of Tuberculosis

Once, a diagnosis of extensively drug-resistant TB meant quick death. A three-drug regimen cures most patients in just months.

By Donald G. McNeil Jr.
NY Times
8/28/2019

TSAKANE, South Africa — When she joined a trial of new tuberculosis drugs, the dying young woman weighed just 57 pounds.

Stricken with a deadly strain of the disease, she was mortally terrified. Local nurses told her the Johannesburg hospital to which she must be transferred was very far away — and infested with vervet monkeys.

“I cried the whole way in the ambulance,” Tsholofelo Msimango recalled recently. “They said I would live with monkeys and the sisters there were not nice and the food was bad and there was no way I would come back. They told my parents to fix the insurance because I would die.”

Five years later, Ms. Msimango, 25, is now tuberculosis-free. She is healthy at 103 pounds, and has a young son.

The trial she joined was small — it enrolled only 109 patients — but experts are calling the preliminary results groundbreaking. The drug regimen tested on Ms. Msimango has shown a 90 percent success rate against a deadly plague, extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis.

On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration effectively endorsed the approach, approving the newest of the three drugs used in the regimen. Usually, the World Health Organization adopts approvals made by the F.D.A. or its European counterpart, meaning the treatment could soon come into use worldwide.

Tuberculosis has now surpassed AIDS as the world’s leading infectious cause of death, and the so-called XDR strain is the ultimate in lethality. It is resistant to all four families of antibiotics typically used to fight the disease.

Only a tiny fraction of the 10 million people infected by TB each year get this type, but very few of them survive it.

There are about 30,000 cases in over 100 countries. Three-quarters of those patients die before they even receive a diagnosis, experts believe, and among those who get typical treatment, the cure rate is only 34 percent.

The treatment itself is extraordinarily difficult. A typical regimen in South Africa requires up to 40 daily pills, taken for up to two years.

Other countries rely on even older regimens that include daily injections of antibiotics that can have devastating side effects, including deafness, kidney failure and psychosis.

But in the trial Ms. Msimango joined, nicknamed Nix-TB, patients took only five pills a day for six months.

The pills contain just three drugs: pretomanid, bedaquiline and linezolid. (Someday, the whole regimen might come in just one pill, as H.I.V. drugs do, one expert said.)

Until recently, some advocacy groups opposed pretomanid’s approval, saying the drug needed further testing. But other TB experts argued that the situation is so desperate that risks had to be taken.

Dr. Gerald Friedland, one of the discoverers of XDR-TB and now an emeritus professor at Yale’s medical school, called Nix “a wonderful trial” that could revolutionize treatment: “If this works as well as it seems to, we need to do this now.”

News that tuberculosis had evolved a terrifying new strain first broke in 2006, when doctors at a global AIDS conference learned of a doomed group of tuberculosis patients in Tugela Ferry, a rural South African town.

Of the 53 patients in whom the strain had been detected, 52 were dead — most within a month of diagnosis. They were relatively young: The median age was 35.

Many of them had never been treated for TB before, meaning they had caught the drug-resistant strain from others who had been infected and had not developed it by failing to take their drugs. Several were health workers who were assumed to have caught it from patients.

Within months, South Africa realized it had cases of the deadly infection in 40 hospitals. Alarmed, W.H.O. officials called for worldwide testing.

The results showed that 28 countries, including the United States, had the deadly strain, XDR-TB, and that two-thirds of the cases were in China, India and Russia. It took far longer to determine how widespread it was in Africa, because most countries there could not do the sophisticated testing.

H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, helped drive the epidemic. Anyone infected with it is 25 times as likely to get TB, according to the W.H.O. But many victims, including Ms. Msimango, catch this type of TB without ever having H.I.V.

In the early years, XDR-TB was a death sentence. Doctors tried every drug they could think of, from those used to treat leprosy to those for urinary tract infections.

“From 2007 to 2014, we threw the kitchen sink at it,’’ said Dr. Francesca Conradie, a researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and director of the Nix trial.

The death rate was about 80 percent. Sometimes the drugs killed patients. In other cases, patients died of the disease, because they could not tolerate the drugs and stopped taking them.

Tuberculosis germs burrow deep into the lungs and barricade themselves inside clumps of dead cells. Breaking those nodules apart and killing all the bacteria inside requires taking drugs for months.

Nearly all antibiotics cause nausea and diarrhea. But some, especially the injections, are far tougher on patients.

“Some get hallucinations,” said Dr. Pauline Howell, a tuberculosis researcher who runs the Nix trial at Sizwe Tropical Diseases Hospital in Johannesburg, where Ms. Msimango was treated. “I had one patient who tried to cut open his skin because he thought bugs were crawling under it.”

The drugs may leave patients in wheelchairs with vertigo, or deaf in just a weekend. Nerves in their feet and hands may wither until they can no longer walk or cook. One of Dr. Howell’s patients suffered so much from ringing in the ears that he tried to commit suicide.

Ms. Msimango, too, veered close to death because the drugs were too much for her.

When she was 19, she said, she caught drug-resistant TB from another young woman — the temporarily homeless daughter of a friend of her mother.

Her mother had generously taken in the young woman and had told her daughter to share her bed, a common arrangement in townships like Tsakane. “A few weeks after she left, I started coughing,” Ms. Msimango said.

“She had not told us that she had drug-resistant TB and had defaulted,” she added, using a common term for dropping out of treatment.

At first, Ms. Msimango got her injections at a hospital and took her pills under her mother’s watchful eye. But they made her feel so awful that she secretly spat them out, stuffing them between the sofa cushions when her mother wasn’t looking.

After she defaulted twice herself, she was transferred to Sizwe, terrified that she would die alone.
No masks, no doctors

Although it lies in South Africa’s largest city, Sizwe does host monkeys, along with feral peacocks and the occasional mongoose. It has long been on the front lines of South Africa’s protracted battle against tuberculosis.

The hospital sits on an isolated hilltop 10 miles from downtown. The British built it in 1895 as Rietfontein Hospital to house victims of contagious diseases like leprosy, smallpox and syphilis.

Gandhi volunteered there during a 1904 bubonic plague outbreak, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a tuberculosis patient there in his youth.

In 1996, with the AIDS epidemic raging, the W.H.O. announced that South Africa had the world’s worst tuberculosis epidemic: 350 cases per 100,000 citizens.

That finding shocked the government, which had been using outdated approaches against the disease. Diagnoses were made by X-ray, which are less accurate than sputum tests, and doctors hospitalized every patient.

I visited shortly after the 1996 announcement, and the situation inside Rietfontein was unnerving. In the men’s ward, dozens of TB patients lay on cots only two feet apart; those with drug-resistant strains slept next to patients with the usual type.

No one wore a mask, and no doctor was on duty. At night, the patients shut the windows and turned up the heat, and the room became a deadly incubator.

A return visit this month showed that far more than the name had changed (Sizwe means “nation” in Zulu).

The former men’s ward is now a mostly empty meeting hall. Patients with TB that is not drug-resistant are treated at home, and even those with partially drug-resistant strains are usually hospitalized only briefly.

The XDR-TB patients rest in a ward atop the hill, and golf carts transport those too weak to walk. Each patient has a separate room and bathroom, hookups for oxygen and lung suction, a TV and big windows and a door to the lawn outside.

The building has a sophisticated ventilation system, but it often breaks down, so the policy is to keep all the doors and windows open as much as possible, said Dr. Rianna Louw, the hospital’s chief executive.

Patients can work in the garden, play pool or foosball, and take classes in sewing, beading or other crafts that might help them earn a living when they get out.

But the months of isolation needed for treatment can be tough. “Our children are scattered, they are falling apart!” a patient who gave her name only as Samantha shouted at a group-therapy session that turned into an airing of grievances.

“The father of my kids is in prison,” she said. “My firstborn son is arrested for robbing people in the street. That would not happen if I was home!”

The counselor interrupted to say: “We understand your frustration. But if we discharge you, we are taking a risk. You are not healthy. You can still expose people to your disease. That’s why you will stay a minimum of four months.”

A rush to approval?

The regimen successfully tested at Sizwe is called BPaL, shorthand for the three drugs it comprises: bedaquiline, pretomanid and linezolid.

The BPaL regimen is “bold, because it’s three killer drugs instead of two killers plus some supportive ones,” Dr. Howell said.

Most regimens, she explained, rely on two harsh drugs that can destroy bacterial walls and include others that have fewer side effects but only stop TB bacteria from multiplying.

But even the new treatment poses hazards.

Short-term use of linezolid against severe hospital infections causes few problems, but use for many weeks against TB can kill nerves in the feet, making it hard to walk, or can suppress the bone marrow where blood cells are made. (To find the ideal linezolid dose, the Nix investigators have started a new trial, ZeNix.)

The F.D.A. approved bedaquiline in 2012 for use against multi-drug resistant TB (the XDR strain is an even deadlier subset), and in 2015 the W.H.O. followed suit. Until Wednesday, pretomanid was in dispute, although in June an F.D.A. advisory committee voted 14 to 4 to approve it.

Some advocacy groups argued at the time that the drug had been too little tested.

“Pretomanid looks like a promising drug, but it’s being rushed forward, and we don’t want to see the F.D.A. lower the bar for approval,” Lindsay McKenna, co-director of the tuberculosis project at the Treatment Action Group, an advocacy organization, said in July.

Her organization and others had asked the F.D.A. to first demand more rigorous testing of the drug.

Pretomanid is not owned by a drug company but by the TB Alliance, a nonprofit based in New York that is seeking new treatments.

Dr. Mel Spigelman, the alliance’s president, had argued that a full clinical trial would be both impractical and unethical.

“Put yourself in a patient’s position,” he said. “Offered a choice between three drugs with a 90 percent cure rate, and 20 or more with less chance of cure — who would consent to randomization?”

Such a trial would cost $30 million and take five more years, he added: “That’s a very poor use of scarce resources.”

‘There is no survival here’

Innocent Makamu, 32, was facing two years in the hospital when he chose to join the Nix trial in 2017.

Like Ms. Msimango, he also had caught drug-resistant TB from a roommate. A plumber, he had shared a room at a distant construction site with a carpenter.

“He was too much on the bottle,” Mr. Makamu said. “He kept defaulting.”

Soon afterward, he began feeling tired and lost his appetite. Doctors at the hospital near his home diagnosed tuberculosis, and put him on 29 daily pills and a daily injection.

“It was deep in my bum,” he said. “I couldn’t sit properly. It hurt every day.”

At the hospital, he watched two other inpatients wither and die because they could not stick to the regimen. “I thought, ‘Oh, there is no survival here.’”

Then further tests showed that he had full-blown XDR-TB. He was transferred to Sizwe and offered a spot in the Nix trial.

Some patients there who were on the standard 40-pill regimens discouraged him. “They said, ‘They are using you as guinea pigs,’” he said. “Even the nurses thought that.”

But he found the possibility of taking only five pills for six months very tempting, and so he volunteered. Within a month, he could tell it was working.

“Then the patients who called us ‘guinea pigs’ — they wished they had taken the research pills,” he said.


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« Reply #3385 on: Aug 28, 2019, 03:36 AM »

   
Colossal mass of volcanic material is drifting toward the Great Barrier Reef

Mike Wehner
BGR
8/28/2019

The Great Barrier Reef is in bad shape, and humans are to blame. Warming seas due to climate change have led to extreme “bleaching” of much of the coral that makes up the reef, effectively killing it and turning once-vibrant stretches of the reef into underwater wastelands.

Australia has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to attempt to revive parts of the reef that are, at the moment, essentially dead, but now it looks like Mother Nature might be trying to offer humanity a helping hand. An absolutely massive “raft” of volcanic material spewed from beneath the ocean has been spotted drifting toward Australia, and once it gets there it could help bolster life in and around the reef.

The rocky pumice is the result of a volcanic eruption near the island of Tonga. Because the pumice is porous, it tends to float, and now tons of the material — some of the rocks are as large as a basketball — is headed for the Great Barrier Reef.

A bunch of floating rocks and debris might not sound like something that could help out a struggling reef, but researchers believe it could be a boon. As the rocks float along ocean currents they become home to a variety of organisms. When the pumice eventually reaches Australia’s coastline, it will introduce millions of these organisms to the reef, potentially promoting regeneration of the coral and giving dead parts of the reef a second chance.

Of course, none of this is going to matter much if sea temperatures continue to warm as they have in recent years. When the water gets too warm, the organisms in and around the reef flee or die off, and all that remains is ghostly white, lifeless coral — hence the term “bleaching.”

At the moment, most of the world’s leaders are engaged in talks on how to manage climate change on a global scale, setting guidelines for how we might be able to save the planet from manmade pollution in the near future. President Trump decided to skip that meeting.


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« Reply #3386 on: Aug 28, 2019, 03:39 AM »

Kenya warms to the water hyacinth as wonder source of biofuel

This invasive plant was reviled for clogging rivers but now it’s helping provide cleaner energy and protect health

Gilbert Nakweya in Kisumu
Guardian
28 Aug 2019 07.00 BST

It is 9am on the shores of Lake Victoria’s Winam Gulf in Kenya’s Kisumu county. Tourists are arriving on the beach in droves, preparing to spend the day sunbathing and taking boat rides. Behind them, enormous marabou storks on spindly grey legs are pacing the beach, waiting for scraps.

Nearby, a group of women scan the horizon, looking for the fishing boats that will soon arrive with their daily catch.

But there’s something else on the horizon too, a sheet of water hyacinth pulled over the surface of the lake. The leaves of the floating plant extending like an oversized green shag carpet, rolling gently in the wind.

“We hope that the boats arrive before the hyacinth covers this area, [because] it will be difficult for [the fishermen] to access the dry land and bring us fish,” says Elizabeth Keita, a fishmonger in the village of Dunga, as she eyes the bobbing green sheet in the distance.

Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), an aquatic plant native to South America, first appeared in countries in Africa in the early 1900s. Scientists there dubbed it the “world’s worst aquatic weed”, after it spread from the Cape in the early 1900s and started clogging up major dams and rivers.

In east Africa, the nefarious invader arrived with Belgian colonists in Rwanda, who liked the look of its glossy leaves and delicate purple flowers floating in their garden ponds.

But by the 1980s, it had slipped out of Rwanda via the Kagera river and made its way downstream to Lake Victoria.

There, with no natural predators and perfect temperature conditions, the plant began gobbling up open space, choking off fishing routes and providing a new habitat for disease-carrying mosquitoes. But for women like Keita, it has meant dwindling income, as the boats that once brought silver lake fish to shore by the hundreds struggled to navigate the clogged waters.

But water hyacinth isn’t her only headache. Like most women here, to smoke the fish she buys, Keita must gather huge quantities of firewood, sometimes walking as far as 10km each way to collect enough kindling to complete her work. And each day as she cooks, she breathes in the thick, grey woodfire smoke.

“I have had chest complications a number of times in the last years,” says Keita, who is chairperson of the local fishmongers’ association.

About three out of four families in Kenya depend on wood or charcoal to cook their daily meals, and the rate is even higher in rural areas, Kenya’s latest demographic and health survey shows.

Using solid fuels like these for cooking increases indoor pollution. The World Health Organization estimates that about 14,300 Kenyans die annually from conditions linked to indoor air pollution – most of which is caused by cooking and heating sources, the most recent estimates released in 2009 show.

Outside Keita’s home on the shores of Lake Victoria, piles of cleared water hyacinth left to rot were a common site. But buried in those decaying waxy leaves was a renewable energy gold mine.

It turns out the floating plant isn’t just good at being abundant – its foliage also contains a high ratio of carbon to nitrogen. It’s a magic combination that has captivated researchers’ imaginations since as early as the 1980s when, across the world, they began to explore its potential as a biofuel. Just about 4kg of the dried plant was enough to cater for a large family’s daily energy needs, early research predicted.

In 2014, Nigerian academics announced they had got better yields of the gas when they mixed the plant with sanitised chicken manure. A few years later, Kenyan scientists confirmed what their Nigerian peers and others had already found: animal dung worked to power charge the process of converting the weed into gas. In India, scientists took this idea and ran with it, mixing water hyacinth with the more famous Cannabis sativa, the same family of plants that marijuana comes from, as a proposed answer for periodic shortages of cow dung.

In 2018, the technology came to Dunga promising a two-for-one solution to the dual menaces of the water hyacinth and dependence on firewood. The community received two donated biogas digesters – machines that would transform a mix of water hyacinth and cow dung into biogas for cooking, as well as material for other household tasks such as incubating chicks and purifying water.

The “digesters” work a bit like a stomach. Food goes in one end – think of it as a mouth – and over the next 20 to 30 days, it ferments and breaks down, giving off gas that comes out the other end. From there, the clean-burning gas is piped to the point of use, just like traditional domestic gas.

Currently, there are about 50 of these biogas digesters slated for Kenya. In Dunga, some are connected to multiple family stoves so that altogether they produce enough gas to serve about 60% of the village’s population.

Kenya’s Biogas International company installed the stoves in partnership with the pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca and the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Sustainability.

The project will test whether biogas can provide an effective alternative to firewood and charcoal in rural Kenyan communities.

The programme is only months old but, anecdotally, it seems to be working. Keita says the members of her fishmongers’ association are already getting sick less often. And because they don’t have to devote hours a day to walking long distances to collect firewood, they’re making more money as well.

Kanyiva Muindi is an epidemiologist and air pollution research fellow at the African Population and Health Research Centre in Nairobi. She says families who switch to the smokeless cooking method could expect fewer respiratory issues and even some forms of cancer because where there’s smoke, there’s PAHs – polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a carcinogen released during burning of certain materials such as wood, corn cobs or cow dung, researchers recently reported.

Women, young girls and children are particularly vulnerable because they spend so much time in the kitchen or outside over cooking fires. Worldwide, scientists are still exploring whether PAHs are linked to pockets of high rates of oesophageal cancer in the country.

How much better the biogas stoves will be for the community’s health still needs more research, says Dominic Kahumbu Wanjihia, Biogas International’s chief executive. But unless the price of the digesters drops, it’s pretty clear that most communities will never be able to afford the machines, which sell for about $750.

Kanyiva says affordability is a challenge worth addressing, given the huge health and environmental dangers posed by “dirty” fuels such as wood, charcoal and kerosene. If biogas could become affordable on a large scale, she says it “would be life-changing for millions on the African continent and beyond”.

For Keita, meanwhile, one unexpected benefit of the stoves has been the way they have changed her view of water hyacinth. For years, she had regarded it as little more than a menace. But now, she says, “the hyacinth is becoming a useful resource!”

    This story was produced by the Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism


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« Reply #3387 on: Aug 28, 2019, 03:42 AM »

Bolivia: catastrophic wildfires devastate forest in echo of Brazil's Amazon crisis

Bolivia’s president announced he would interrupt his re-election campaign for a week to help coordinate foreign aid efforts

Dan Collyns in Iquitos
Guardian
28 Aug 2019 06.30 BST

As fires continue to rage in Brazil, nearly a million hectares (6,200 sq miles) of farmland and unique dry forest have been destroyed by weeks of blazes across the border in Bolivia, where the flames have now reached the country’s Amazon region.

Initial estimates indicate 600 hectares of rainforest have been destroyed in the north-eastern region of Bení, where the fires now threaten indigenous populations.

“This is the biggest ever catastrophe for biodiversity in Bolivia,” said Fernando Vargas, an indigenous leader in the Isiboro Sécure Indigenous territory and national park, known as Tipnis by its Spanish acronym.

“But this is not a natural disaster but a manmade one,” he told the Guardian.

Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, had previously rejected offers of international help to battle the fires, but on Sunday he announced that he would interrupt his re-election campaign for a week to help coordinate foreign aid efforts.

“Any cooperation is welcome, whether it comes from international organisations, celebrities or from the presidents who offered to help,” Morales said in Cochabamba, where he had been campaigning for a fourth term in office.

The leading opposition candidate, Carlos Mesa, also suspended his election campaign in response to the national crisis.

Morales said he had been called by global leaders, including the presidents of Paraguay, Chile and Spain, as the G7 group of the world’s richest nations announced an aid package to fight Amazon fires.

Firefighters from Chile and Argentina as well as France, Spain and Russia were deployed to help fight the flames, according to local media reports.

However protesters and the political opposition say Morales’ government needs to declare a state of emergency in the zone in order to allow foreign help in.

More than 2,700 fires had been registered by Bolivia’s early warning fire detection agency on Monday, in a swath of flames across the country, from the Amazon north-east to the south-eastern Chaco biome.

“It’s not a coincidence that less than a month ago the president declared a law which permitted slash and burn farming practices,” said Adriana Rico, a Bolivian biologist.

Known in Bolivia as chaqueo, slash-and-burn is often practiced by migrant small farmers as a cheap and easy way to clear land, she added. Blazes haves destroyed part of the Chiquitano forest, the Amazon and Bolivia’s Pantanal region which it shares with Brazil and Paraguay.

“It’s very sad for we indigenous peoples, we’ve lost our means of survival,” said Adolfo Chávez, the former president of the Bolivian indigenous confederation CIDOB. He said Morales had turned his back on indigenous peoples by allowing the destruction of their habitat for the advance of agribusiness.

Last week, the pan-Amazon indigenous organisation COICA accused Morales, and his Brazilian counterpart, Jair Bolsonaro, of “gutting every environmental and social strategy to strengthen environmental governance of the Amazon”.

It declared the two governments as not welcome in the Amazon and held them personally accountable for the “cultural and environmental genocide” in the world’s largest wilderness.

“This month’s devastating fires are the all-too-predictable consequence of the Morales government’s decree authorising new land claims on cleared land”, said Carwil Bjork-James, an anthropology professor at Vanderbilt University.

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

Amazon fires a ‘tipping point’: forestry group chief

on August 28, 2019
By Agence France-Presse

The fires tearing through the Amazon represent a “tipping point” for the health of the rainforest, the head of a top global forestry management body said Wednesday, urging the world to do more to save the trees.

The situation in the Amazon is “very urgent,” stressed Gerhard Dieterle, executive director of the International Tropical Timber Organization, an intergovernmental agency group that promotes sustainable forestry use.

“This is something that might affect the integrity of the Amazon as a whole, because if the forest fires spread, the grasslands become more prone to forest fires,” Dieterle told AFP on the sidelines of a conference on African development.

“Many experts fear it may be a tipping point” for the rainforest, as the latest figures show a total of more than 82,000 fires blazing in Brazil, even as military aircraft and troops help battle them.

More than half of the fires are in the massive Amazon basin.

Some of the blazes are down to natural causes, Dieterle said, but they are mostly started deliberately by farmers clearing land for agriculture.

“If tropical dense forests are affected by forest fires, they need many, many years to regroup. It will alter the climate, the local climate, the national climate and the regional climate. It will also have an influence on the global climate,” said the forestry expert.

Asked about the G7’s $20 million pledge to combat the flames, Dieterle said it was “a beginning but much more is needed.”

“This is the national sovereignty of Brazil… if they ask for funding, I think the world might be willing to provide more resources,” he said.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for President Jair Bolsonaro said Brazil would be prepared to accept foreign aid to fight the fires, provided they control the cash.

Earlier, Brazil had appeared to reject the G7 overtures during a war of words between Bolsonaro and French President Emmanuel Macron, who hosted the meeting of the global elite.

“Mr Macron must withdraw the insults he made against me,” Bolsonaro told reporters in the capital Brasilia on Tuesday.

Dieterle made his comments on the sidelines of the TICAD conference on African development held in Yokohama near Tokyo.

Earlier he warned delegates that “deforestation and forest degradation continue at an alarming rate in many African countries.”

Given the expected rise in African populations from 1.2 billion today to 4.4 billion by the end of the century, he also sounded the alarm bell over a lack of wood products for construction and cooking.

“In the same way we talk about food security, we need also to talk about ‘wood security’ and ‘water security’. We must focus more on the role and use of productive forests before it is too late,” Dieterle said.

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

The Amazon Is on Fire. So Is Central Africa

By Julie Turkewitz
NY Times
Aug. 28, 2019

DAKAR, Senegal — As images of wildfires in South America’s Amazon region draw global attention, a large and potentially devastating series of fires is raging in Central Africa and parts of Southern Africa.

Among the regions at risk is the Congo Basin forest, the second-largest tropical rainforest, after the Amazon, mostly in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The region absorbs tons of carbon dioxide, a key in the fight against climate change, and has been called the world’s “second lung,” following the Amazon.

At the Group of 7 summit of political leaders this week, amid a global feud over how to handle the Brazil blazes, President Emmanuel Macron of France published a Twitter message acknowledging the Africa burns and saying he was considering an aid program to help.

Fire experts, however, are cautioning against comparing the situations in Africa and South America too closely. While the fires are racing through environmentally critical rain forests in Brazil and Bolivia, in Central Africa, they are incinerating savanna and scrubbier land, and mostly licking at the edges of the rainforest, said Lauren Williams, a forest expert with Global Forest Watch who is based in Kinshasa, the

Subscribe for original insights, commentary and discussions on the major news stories of the week, from columnists Max Fisher and Amanda Taub.

In Central Africa, as in other parts of the world, many of the fires are typical for this time of year. While some ignite naturally in the dry season, others are deliberately set by farmers to clear land and improve crop yields.

In South America the burns spilled into sensitive areas and grew out of control. In Africa, some experts fear the same outcome, and say that Central African governments may be inadequately prepared to fight the blazes.

Irène Wabiwa Betoko, a forest manager with Greenpeace who is based in Kinshasa, said that regional governments are less equipped to fight these burns than their South American counterparts, both technically and financially.

“If it catches the rainforest in the Congo Basin, it will be worse than in South America,” she said in a telephone interview. “We are calling on governments to not be silent. Start acting now to make sure these fires are not getting out of control.”

Data analyzed by Global Forest Watch show that Angola ranks first in the number of fire alerts by province right now, while Brazil ranks second, with Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo in third and fourth place.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the number of fire alerts in 2019 is running slightly above average, according to Global Forest Watch. But it is still not as high as in some recent years.

A NASA satellite map shows Central Africa as a thick fiery splotch, a rash even denser than the red mass over the Amazon. But experts cautioned that each dot represents a distinct fire in a large geographic region — not one huge conflagration.

Ms. Williams, of Global Forest Watch, also cautioned that satellite technology is not perfect, and that satellites sometimes identify fires that are not actually there.

For generations, fires set by farmers were not a major concern.

But rising temperatures, decreased rain and industrial practices like logging have made forests increasingly vulnerable to out-of-control blazes. Less rain leaves the land dry and more vulnerable to sparks, while logging thins the forest, making it less dense and less humid, and more vulnerable to fire, said Ms. Wabiwa Betoko.

Nations in the Group of 7 pledged more than $22 million to fight the fires in the Amazon.

On Tuesday, Brazil’s government rejected the offer, extending a fight between Mr. Macron and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil over how the fires should be handled.

Mr. Bolsonaro has called the French leader’s involvement part of a campaign to treat Brazil “as if we were a colony.”

And Mr. Bolsonaro’s chief of staff, Onyx Lorenzoni, took a swipe at Mr. Macron by telling Globo, a Brazilian news outlet, that Mr. Macron already “has a lot to look after at home and in the French colonies.”

It was a possible reference to the Africa fires, although many former French colonies are north of the burning areas.


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« Reply #3388 on: Aug 28, 2019, 03:45 AM »

India’s Widows, Abused at Home, Have Sought Refuge in This Holy City for Centuries

By Kai Schultz
Guardian
Aug. 28, 2019

VRINDAVAN, India — Like thousands of other widows exiled from their homes to a city in northern India, Nirmala Maheshwari said she was abused by her family after her husband died.

“They saw me as a burden,” Ms. Maheshwari whispered recently, recalling her first day at a new shelter for widows in Vrindavan, as other women crowded around her bed, comforting her by squeezing her shoulders and hands.

Ms. Maheshwari said she had lost her social value in the eyes of her family, and her son and other relatives starved and beat her.

Given her lowly status at home, Ms. Maheshwari said she was shocked when she stepped into the lobby of her new home: the Krishna Kutir ashram, a government-run facility with about 1,000 beds, a freshly dug swimming pool, and free food and medicine.

Hindu brides are often expected to live with their husbands’ families. This weakens ties with their own, and widowhood can spell disaster. Without a husband, a small portion of India’s approximately 40 million widows are violently purged from their homes each year.

But many of India’s castaway widows — most of them illiterate, some married off as infants — have seen significant improvements in their quality of life over the last few years. Prodded by a flurry of public petitions and court rulings, the government and rights groups have invested tens of millions of dollars into lifting the conditions of abandoned women.

The money has gone not only into building group homes for widows, but also to funding pensions and providing work training and medical treatment.

While some of these changes are taking place across India, they are most visible in Vrindavan.

The town is a maze of narrow streets and regal, sandstone temples. All day long, thousands of pilgrims gather to pray at the base of giant statues of deities.

It is believed that widows have gathered in the city since Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a 16th-century Bengali social reformer, brought a group of them there to escape from suttee, a now-banned practice in which Hindu widows immolated themselves on their husbands’ funeral pyres.

For many years, the widows in Vrindavan, which is considered the childhood home of the Hindu god Krishna, have survived by singing devotional songs in temples for a few rupees a day, and by begging for money in white saris, a signifier that color had drained from their lives.

Homelessness was common among Vrindavan’s widows. Some lived in doorways. When they died, garbage collectors would sometimes stuff their bodies into jute bags and throw them into the Yamuna River, according to local media reports.

While widows often felt they had no place else to go, the trip to Vrindavan was dreaded. Sushila Bala Dasi, 62, said she sobbed so loudly on the train ride to the town that passengers called the police.

The widows’ conditions became so dire that India’s Supreme Court took notice of their plight in 2012, ruling that the government must provide them food, medical care and a sanitary place to live.

Since then, a number of government projects have been introduced, including building Krishna Kutir, or Krishna’s House, which cost $8 million and opened last August. Many of the 129 widows living there arrived alone, by train, from villages hundreds of miles away, with dirty, torn clothing, and some came with serious injuries.

At the ashram’s inauguration, Maneka Gandhi, India’s minister for women at the time, said there was still far to go in improving widows’ treatment, but that she hoped Krishna Kutir’s model could be replicated elsewhere in India. “We want all women to feel safe,” she said.

Vinita Verma, a social worker from Sulabh International, an organization that works with widows, said she had seen a slow erosion of the conditioning that taught the women — who number at least 3,000 in Vrindavan — to view themselves as unworthy of love.

Widows who once refused to wear color are opting for garments dyed blue, burnt orange and pink.

“They used to think only in white, nothing else,” Ms. Verma said. “When they were praying, they were crying. When they were cooking, they were crying. Now, they have a value.”

But some widows still think of their former homes.

Kali Dasi, a frail woman around 75, said that last year, she tried to reconcile with her family in West Bengal, leaving Vrindavan to journey to her village. When she got there, relatives drained her life savings, about $230. Someone bought her a train ticket back to Vrindavan after seeing her begging on the street.

“I want to go again,” Ms. Dasi said. “My mind tells me one thing, but my heart doesn’t agree. I am a mother.”

Though new arrivals are now brought to Krishna Kutir, occupancy is still low because widows say it is too far from the heart of Vrindavan, where many go to pray. From a distance, the building looks a bit like an isolated prison, with high walls and barbed wire strung along the roof to keep monkeys from breaking solar panels. The swimming pool has no water yet.

Other shelters for widows in Vrindavan, run by nonprofit organizations, are less inviting, with stained walls and bare, concrete rooms, but some widows say they prefer staying in them because they provide higher pensions.

At government-run ashrams, women are given just a few hundred rupees each month, or less than $10 — and payments are sometimes delayed by weeks. There are some smaller government homes in other parts of India, but nothing on the scale of Krishna.

The women staying at Krishna Kutir come mostly from poor, rural villages in eastern India.

From Monday to Friday, they make decorative boxes for extra cash. Some attend literacy classes in other parts of Vrindavan, where they have learned to write their names for the first time.

In group therapy sessions, they gather in circles to discuss searing family betrayals.

Niyati Das, 65, who was married at 14, said an abusive son fed her only two pieces of bread a day. Seven months ago, she arrived at Krishna Kutir with a fractured hand and foot. “Please keep me here,” she kept repeating. “Even if you beat me, I will stay.”

From her dormitory, Ms. Maheshwari, who had arrived with a black eye and head wounds, quietly narrated her story.

After her husband died a few years ago, Ms. Maheshwari lived with her son’s family in a city a few hundred miles from Vrindavan. She was kept locked in a room, fed irregular meals and told she was “bad for society.”

A granddaughter slammed her into walls. When she spoke on the phone with her siblings, Ms. Maheshwari’s daughter-in-law kept a stick raised above her head as a threat.

Her brother eventually helped her escape, but he wouldn’t house her.

When she arrived at Krishna Kutir, Ms. Maheshwari cried and begged staff members not to let her son take her away.

In recent weeks, her world has started to brighten. Last month, staff members organized a celebration for a religious festival and Ms. Maheshwari put flowers in her hair.

The women danced in their rooms and in corridors, and near the empty swimming pool. They sang so loudly their voices reached the health clinic, where a widow resting after a surgery rose and danced, too.

On that day — Ms. Maheshwari’s favorite memory, she said — she looked around her new home, its halls filled with the laughter of women like her, and felt “absolutely free.”


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« Reply #3389 on: Aug 28, 2019, 04:03 AM »


'A nuclear option': Hong Kong and the threat of the emergency law

Analysts say use of draconian law that would allow censorship, arrest and deportation could push city into bigger crisis

Verna Yu in Hong Kong
Guardian
Wed 28 Aug 2019 06.55 BST

The Hong Kong government’s hint that it may use a draconian law to quell its biggest crisis in decades has sparked widespread concern, with analysts saying it would plunge the city into a worse crisis.

The city’s leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday the government will use existing laws to “put a stop to violence and chaos”, after the pro-Beijing newspaper Sing Tao Daily said the government was considering invoking the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, a colonial era law with sweeping powers that was last used in 1967, to put an end to the current political crisis.

Another official, Edward Yau, the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, said he did not rule out the option, saying he believed the international community would understand and trade would be unaffected.

The South China Morning Post also quoted a government source on Wednesday saying the administration would not rule out the option.

The violent clashes between riot police and protesters last weekend were the fiercest yet since early June, when a wave of protests started in opposition to a now-suspended extradition bill under which individuals could be sent to mainland China for trial.

Police used water cannon for the first time on Sunday along with teargas and beatings as they fought running battles with protesters, who threw bricks and petrol bombs. Protesters have been demanding the complete withdrawal of the bill, the investigation of police use of force and free elections but Lam reiterated on Tuesday she would not give into their demands.

The Emergency Regulations Ordinance, introduced in 1922, grants the city’s leader sweeping powers to “make any regulations” he or she may consider in the public interest in situations considered “an occasion of emergency or public danger.”

These regulations will empower the government to impose a series of draconian measures, including censorship, control and suppression of publications and other means of communications, arrest, detention and deportation as well as the authorisation of the entry and search of premises and the taking of possession or control of any property.

Professor Michael Davis, a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre and former law professor at the University of Hong Kong, called the law “a nuclear option” which “can literally run a dictatorship and suspend most rights.” He said it should only be used in a situation when “the life of a nation is under threat” and the current demonstrations, in which only a relatively small number of people are using aggressive tactics, do not pose such a threat.

“This nuclear option is not going to solve their problems, it’s going to enhance their problems,” he said.

Kenneth Chan, a political scientist at the Baptist University of Hong Kong, said it would be “a sign of weakness” for the government to use an antiquated law which had been considered obsolete after the Hong Kong Bill of Rights was introduced in 1991.

“There will be fatal political and economic consequences that not all among the ruling elites in Hong Kong and Beijing are prepared to face,” he said.

“I think the international community will draw the conclusion that this idea puts Hong Kong to greater danger than the on-going protests because it sets the stage for the beginning of the end of the rule of law in Hong Kong and paves the way for direct rule from Beijing,” he said.

The threat to use arbitrary emergency powers to crush the anti-government movement “will only fuel public disdain and mobilise stronger support for the anti-government protests”, he said.


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