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« Reply #3600 on: May 15, 2019, 03:43 AM »

Single-use plastics a serious climate change hazard, study warns

Production must end now, says first ever estimate of plastic’s cradle-to-grave impact

Sandra Laville
Wed 15 May 2019 06.00 BST

The proliferation of single-use plastic around the world is accelerating climate change and should be urgently halted, a report warns.

Plastic production is expanding worldwide, fuelled in part by the fracking boom in the US. The report says plastic contributes to greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of its lifecycle, from its production to its refining and the way it is managed as a waste product.

This plastic binge threatens attempts to meet the Paris climate agreement. It means that by 2050 plastic will be responsible for up to 13% of the total “carbon budget” – equivalent to 615 coal-fired power plants – says the research published on Thursday.

The contribution of plastic production and disposal to climate change has been largely hidden, say the authors of the report by the Center for International Environmental Law, which estimates the greenhouse gas footprint of plastic from the cradle to the grave for the first time.

While plastic pollution in the oceans has become a high-profile concern, the effect on climate change of the ubiquitous use of plastic has not been a focus.

“After the extraction of fossil fuels to produce plastic, the carbon footprint of a material which has become ubiquitous across the globe continues through the refining process, and on well past its useful life as a drinks bottle or plastic bag, through the way it is disposed of and the plastic afterlife,” the report says.

The authors say disposable plastic found in packaging and fast-moving consumer goods forms the largest and fastest-growing segment of the plastic economy.

They are calling for urgent action to stem production and flow of throwaway plastic.

“At current levels, greenhouse gas emissions from the plastic lifecycle threaten the ability of the global community to keep global temperature rise below 1.5C,” the report says.

“With the petrochemical and plastic industries planning a massive expansion in production, the problem is on track to get much worse.”

The key actions which the authors say are required are:

• Immediately end the production and use of single-use, disposable plastic.

• Stop development of new oil, gas and petrochemical infrastructure.

• Foster the transition to zero-waste communities.

• Implement a system where polluters pay for the impact of their products – known as extended producer responsibility.

“Plastic is one of the most ubiquitous materials in the economy and among the most pervasive and persistent pollutants on Earth,” say the authors. “It has become an inescapable part of the material world, flowing constantly through the human experience in everything from plastic bottles, bags, food packaging, and clothing to prosthetics, car parts, and construction materials.”

Throwaway plastic packaging makes up 40% of the demand for plastic, fuelling a boom in production from 2m tonnes in the 1950s to 380m tonnes in 2015. By the end of 2015, 8.3bn metric tonnes of plastic had been produced – two-thirds of which has been released into the environment and remains there.

“Packaging is one of the most problematic types of plastic waste, as it is typically designed for single use, ubiquitous in trash, and extremely difficult to recycle. A constant increase in the use of flexible and multilayered packaging has been adding challenges to collection, separation, and recycling,” the researchers said.

Forty per cent of plastic packaging waste is disposed of at sanitary landfills, 14% goes to incineration facilities and 14% is collected for recycling. Incineration creates the most CO2 emissions among the plastic waste management methods.

Nearly all plastic – 99% – is made from fossil fuels.

Refining the material is the most greenhouse gas intensive part of the plastic lifecycle, and major expansions in the US and elsewhere will accelerate climate change, the report says.

A Shell ethane cracker being constructed in Pennsylvania could emit up to 2.25m tonnes of CO2 each year and a new ethylene plant at ExxonMobil’s refinery in Baytown, Texas, could release up to 1.4m tonnes. The annual emissions from just these two new facilities would be equal to adding almost 800,000 cars to the road, the report says.

In 2019 the lifecycle of global plastic production – from extraction to disposal – was equivalent to the impact on the climate of 189 500MW coal-fired power stations. By 2050, the report predicts, the global plastic footprint will be equivalent to 615 coal plants running at full capacity.

“Plastic is among the most significant and rapidly growing sources of industrial greenhouse gas emissions,” the report says. “Emissions from plastic emerge not only from the production and manufacture of plastic itself, but from every stage in the plastic lifecycle – from the extraction and transport of the fossil fuels that are the primary feedstocks for plastic, to refining and manufacturing, to waste management, to the plastic that enters the environment.”

Carroll Muffett, one of the authors, said: “It has long been clear that plastic threatens the global environment and puts human health at risk. This report demonstrates that plastic, like the rest of the fossil economy, is putting the climate at risk as well.”

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« Reply #3601 on: May 15, 2019, 03:45 AM »

Germany’s AfD turns on Greta Thunberg as it embraces climate denial

Rightwing populists to launch attack on climate science in vote drive before EU elections

Kate Connolly in Berlin
15 May 2019 14.16 BST

Germany’s rightwing populists are embracing climate change denial as the latest topic with which to boost their electoral support, teaming up with scientists who claim hysteria is driving the global warming debate and ridiculing the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg as “mentally challenged” and a fraud.

The Alternative für Deutschland party (AfD) is expected to launch its biggest attack yet on mainstream climate science at a symposium in parliament on Tuesday supported by a prominent climate change denial body linked by researchers to prominent conservative groups in the US.

The AfD’s focus on climate change has increased since it entered the Bundestag in autumn 2017. It has added a sceptical voice to the rising number of parliamentary debates on the topic and concentrated its opposition specifically on the scandal over diesel car emissions and plans to phase out brown coal.

But the attention the party paid to the topic has been noticeably ramped up since the emergence last August of Greta, the teenage climate activist who has appeared at climate rallies across Europe, including in Germany.

A joint investigation by Greenpeace Unearthed and the counter-extremism organisation the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) has shown a surge in AfD digital communication on climate issues. While climate change barely got a mention on its social media channels when the AfD was first founded in 2013, it mentioned the topic on its channels about 300 times in 2017-18, and that has tripled over the past year to more than 900, with its main focus on Greta.

The party, whose members have been seen handing out climate change denial leaflets at school climate strikes, has ratcheted up its anti-Thunberg rhetoric ahead of the EU parliamentary elections this month. Its candidates have made comparisons between the Swedish teenager and a member of a Nazi youth organisation and called for her to seek treatment for what Maximilian Krah, an AfD candidate for the EU elections, called her “psychosis”.

It has also been repeatedly claimed on AfD’s Facebook page that she is the leader of a climate movement cult. Posts on the page make repeated use of terms such as “CO2Kult” (CO2 cult), “Klimawandelpanik” (climate change panic) and “Klimagehirnwäsche” (climate brain washing).

Jakob Guhl, an ISD researcher, said climate change denial had become key to the party’s political platform. “The AfD has been denying human-made climate change on its social media pages since 2016, and while it has not shifted its position it is clear that the party decided to communicate it more frequently.

“The fact that many mainstream politicians from across the political divide in Germany supported a 16-year-old female activist who was virtually unknown until a few months ago, allowed the party to present belief in climate change as irrational, hysteria, panic, cult-like or even as a replacement religion. Attacking Greta, at times in fairly vicious ways, including mocking her for her autism, became a way to portray the AfD’s political opponents as irrational.”

The party’s symposium at the Bundestag is backed by the European Institute of Climate and Energy (EIKE), a group that rejects mainstream scientific consensus that climate change is man-made and has links to prominent conservative groups in the US.

EIKE’s annual climate conference is co-sponsored by the Heartland Institute, a fossil fuel industry-funded US thinktank that has a history of funding projects aimed at weakening public confidence in climate science, the investigation found. EIKE’s president, Holger Thuss, co-founded the European branch of another US climate change denial pressure group, Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT).

Thuss acknowledged to Greenpeace Unearthed that he was “one of Heartland’s many experts”, and did not deny financial links between Heartland and EIKE but was keen to stress he was a member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and not the AfD.

He told Greenpeace Unearthed that CFACT Europe had been disbanded, although he did not say when, and denied that EIKE was supporting the AfD’s symposium, despite it promoting it on the homepage of its website as as an opportunity to “set facts against CO2 hysteria and climate activism”.

EIKE’s vice-president, Michael Limburg, who has previously run as a candidate for the AfD, has insisted EIKE was not politically affiliated, but admitted “loose ties” between EIKE, Heartlands and CFACT.

Among the scheduled speakers at the AfD event are the Tirolean glaciologist Gernot Patzelt, the Danish atmospheric physicist Henrik Svensmark, and Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, a former Ukip candidate described as a hereditary peer, hobby mathematician and former adviser to Margaret Thatcher, who claims models used to measure climate change are flawed.

Promotional materials for the event cite Greta as someone placed on the frontline of climate activism “by PR professionals seeking to bedevil the plant-nutrient carbon dioxide” and describe the AfD as “the only party in Germany not willing to back the supposed climate consensus”.

The AfD did not respond to requests for comment.

Karsten Smid, a climate campaigner for Greenpeace Germany, told the Guardian: “The AfD is using the Bundestag as a stage for its dissemination of climate lies. They invite fake experts to a so-called symposium on climate change to generate content for mass dissemination via social media channels and stir up hatred and anger on the internet.

“We are experiencing a shift to the right on social media and in society. In a short period of time, the new right has established its own counter-society on climate issues. With troll armies, agitating magazines and the support of climate sceptics like EIKE, it has created its own sphere that is massively underestimated.”

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« Reply #3602 on: May 15, 2019, 03:59 AM »

'Terrifying' Ebola epidemic out of control in DRC, say experts

More than 1,600 people infected in North Kivu province since outbreak began in August

Sarah Boseley Health editor
Wed 15 May 2019 05.00 BST

An Ebola epidemic in a conflict-riven region of Democratic Republic of Congo is out of control and could become as serious as the outbreak that devastated three countries in west Africa between 2013 and 2016, experts and aid chiefs have warned.

New cases over the past month have increased at the fastest rate since the outbreak began last year, as aid agencies struggle to enact a public health response in areas that have suffered decades of neglect and conflict, with incredibly fragile health systems and regular outbreaks of deadly violence involving armed groups.

“I’m very concerned – as concerned as one can be,” said Jeremy Farrar, the head of the Wellcome Trust, who called for a ceasefire to allow health teams to reach the sick and protect others in the community.

“Whether it gets to the absolute scale of west Africa or not, none of us know, but this is massive in comparison with any other outbreak in the history of Ebola and it is still expanding. It’s remarkable it hasn’t spread more geographically but the numbers are frightening and the fact that they are going up is terrifying.”

A six- to nine-month ceasefire, brokered by the UN, the Red Cross or similar bodies, is vital to stopping the spread, he said. “There was violence in west Africa, in Freetown and Monrovia, but this is on a different scale and it is coming from multiple sources.”

More than 1,600 people have been infected with the Ebola virus in the North Kivu region of DRC and more than 1,000 have died so far – the great majority women and children. At least 10 months since the outbreak began, the numbers are rising steadily and the fatality rate is higher than in previous outbreaks, at about 67%.

Returning from a visit to his teams in the region, David Miliband, the head of the International Rescue Committee, called for a “reset” in the response. “The situation is far more dangerous than the statistic of 1,000 deaths, itself the second largest in history, suggests and the suspension of key services threatens to create a lethal inflection point in the trajectory of the disease,” he said. “The danger is that the number of cases spirals out of control, despite a proven vaccine and treatment.”

IRC teams, who have had three triage units in health centres burned down, have warned that the situation in North Kivu is increasingly volatile and is making progress against the disease impossible. Last week, fighters from the armed Mai-Mai rebel group attacked a treatment centre in Butembo, one of the towns at the centre of the crisis. This week, two patients were killed during an assault on a treatment centre in Katwa, the second such incident in the town this month.

The WHO director general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has also voiced profound disquiet. In March, Dr Tedros said the Ebola outbreak was contracting and would be over in six months. After a visit at the end of April with the regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, he said he was deeply worried about the situation. “Cases are increasing because of violent acts that set us back each time,” he said.

The pair went to Butembo, where a WHO epidemiologist, Dr Richard Mouzoko, was killed by armed men while he and colleagues were working on the Ebola response.

“We are entering a phase where we will need major shifts in the response,” said Dr Tedros. “WHO and partners cannot tackle these challenges without the international community stepping in to fill the sizeable funding gap.” Only half of the currently requested funds have been received, which could lead to WHO and partners rolling back some activities when they are most needed.

Those on the frontline in North Kivu fear no end is in sight. Whitney Elmer, a country director for Mercy Corps, one of the humanitarian NGOs working on preventing the spread, said there had been “a drastic change in the security situation”, which was causing a big rise in the number of cases.

Elmer said there had been about 400 cases over the past month – the highest figure for that time period since the outbreak began – and the number of new cases was increasing at a much higher rate than seen previously.

“We are very concerned,” she said, adding that there was real potential for the outbreak to spread to neighbouring Rwanda or Uganda.

Frontline workers say there has not been enough community involvement and that bringing in armed police and especially cancelling elections in the region have provoked hostility and suspicion. “The overall strategy has been to go full force to do things as quickly as possible,” said Elmer. She added that it was vital that local people and organisations were included in decision-making.

Médecins Sans Frontières, whose volunteer doctors have been at the forefront of every Ebola outbreak, agreed that the failure to engage communities had been a disaster.

“We are very concerned and the signs around the outbreak response are not good right now,” said Kate White, one of its emergency managers.

New cases should be picked up by routine surveillance and testing the contacts of people who fall ill. “But what we see right now is that the majority of confirmed cases are coming through community deaths. It’s a very worrying sign,” she said. “It means communities are not aware or not active participants in the response. People die in their communities and they have the ability to transmit the virus to as many people as possible.”

She said agencies needed to have the local people actively working against Ebola. “Anything else is a band-aid solution.”

WHO recently announced an expansion of the vaccination guidelines and the introduction of a second vaccine to try to protect people. Experimental drugs have also been given to 700 people, although nobody yet knows how successful they have been. But unless it is possible to reach affected communities with vaccines and drugs, the new technologies are useless.

“The tragedy is that we have the technical means to stop Ebola, but until all parties halt attacks on the response, it will be very difficult to end this outbreak,” Dr Tedros tweeted on Friday.

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« Reply #3603 on: May 15, 2019, 04:01 AM »

Bulgaria’s pro-Brussels PM: 'There's no better place to live than the EU'

Boyko Borisov has praise even for Theresa May, but is less keen on questions about corruption
Shaun Walker

Shaun Walker in Sofia
Wed 15 May 2019 05.00 BST

At a time when some politicians in central and eastern Europe are profiting from hostility towards Brussels, Bulgaria’s Boyko Borisov is taking a different path, aiming to winning favour from Europe through charm and flattery.

“I’ve been all over the world and I can say that there’s no better place to live than the EU,” he said during a recent interview with the Guardian in Sofia.

He was careful not to criticise any of his European colleagues. Even Theresa May, who has frustrated many EU leaders after two years of Brexit back and forth, got a positive appraisal. “I have seen with Theresa the way she really puts in all efforts to put her arguments to all those other 27 members that she’s challenged by. I would not want to be in her position at this time. But she’s fighting and fighting hard. She’s putting in all effort to make it work.”

Asked about differing visions of the future of Europe put forward by France’s Emmanuel Macron and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, Borisov declined to criticise either Macron’s idea of a progressive, integrated continent or Orbán’s model of a Europe of strong sovereign nations. “We have a Bulgarian vision. There are certain aspects of our vision that coincides with the Macron or Orbán vision and others that don’t,” he said.

Borisov’s answers reflect a deft policy of not offending any of his European partners, eschewing anti-Brussels rhetoric and preferring instead to highlight the benefits that European integration has brought Bulgaria since it acceded to the bloc in 2007. Ivan Krastev, a Bulgarian political scientist, said: “Boyko wants to be everybody’s best friend. He wants to hear all sides, make them believe that he has taken their side.”

This careful charm and willingness to equivocate means Borisov is viewed positively in Brussels, where many prefer to gloss over issues related to corruption and rule of law in the country. “He is not somebody who blocks anything,” said a source. “But he will try to show how difficult the situation is for his country, while not quite saying aloud: ‘And this is why you should give us more money.’”

Borisov, a former fireman and bodyguard, has an earthy, man-of-the-people charm, which has helped keep him in the prime minister’s seat for the majority of the past decade. Tall and broad, he has a karate black belt and turned out for a Bulgarian second division football side in 2013 aged 54.

That same year he resigned after protests driven by high energy costs and irritation at perceived corruption. Police clashed with protesters and Borisov claimed he could not bear to have blood on his hands. But he was back again as prime minister a year later. In the interview he spoke about his premiership in hand-wringing terms, claiming he had no thirst for power and was more of a martyr to the cause.

“I never imagined that I would be doing what I am doing right now. It’s a difficult life, to be honest. When there was questioning of whether my government was doing the right thing, I gave up power. But then we had elections and people again elected us, so what should I do?”

He uses his humble origins both for domestic consumption and at high-level political gatherings. At one European summit last year, Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, brandished his credentials as a law professor to complain about the way the negotiations were going. “Well I used to be a fireman and this is not how you negotiate,” Borisov responded, according to a source.

There is something of the fireman still in him in the way he speaks proudly about response times: he frequently emphasised how he conducted government business out of hours or while on the road. He bristled when asked about “GP-gate”, a corruption scandal in which Bulgarian and Romanian journalists exposed how EU money was being used without public oversight, and he focused on his own quick response time to news of police detaining the journalists involved.

“Can you imagine if Theresa May’s office had received a signal from some kind of website at that hour: would she have also called the law enforcement services to react?”

He became irate at questions about corruption, and pushed back against the “idiotic claim” that he was not open to questions from critical local media. “There is not a single media that has not done an interview with me, and there’s not a topic they haven’t broached with me,” he said.

Independent local journalists say the media market is dominated by oligarchs who are at least in a friendly coalition with the government, while Reporters Without Borders ranked Bulgaria as 111th in its press freedom index last year, the lowest of any EU member state. Corruption concerns were highlighted in the weeks after the interview when the deputy leader of Borisov’s party resigned over allegations he bought a luxury flat at a severely knocked-down price.

Despite all this, Borisov gets credit for not causing headaches for the European commission, at a time when relations are strained with Poland, Hungary and Romania. “Bulgaria has benefited from the worsening of the situation in Romania,” said one senior diplomat, while claiming the country had “made a lot of efforts” to come closer to EU norms.

Borisov has had to tread a careful line between his western partners and Russia, with many political forces in the country favouring closer ties with Moscow, citing a long history of warm relations. Bulgaria was one of the few EU countries not to expel any Russian diplomats in solidarity with Britain over the assassination attempt on Sergei Skripal last year, something that seemed particularly strange when it transpired that one of the Russian agents allegedly involved may have been in Bulgaria around the time a local arms dealer was poisoned four years ago.

Asked if Russia was a strategic partner or a strategic threat for Bulgaria, Borisov again equivocated. “Your questions are always dichotomies,” he complained. “It would be an absolute mistake to claim that Russia is an enemy or a threat. At the same time, my government and political party are 100% aligned with the EU-Atlantic organisations.”

It was classic Borisov, always careful not to offend. “He thinks that he needs to take on all positions at once,” said Krastev. “He is more pro-American, pro-Russian and pro-European than anyone else.”

Additional reporting by Jennifer Rankin in Brussels and Maria Georgieva in Sofia

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« Reply #3604 on: May 15, 2019, 04:05 AM »

5/15//2019 02:57 PM

The Legacy of Rwandan Genocide: 'Everyone Lives in Fear'

By Cathrin Schmiegel

A quarter-century has passed since the murder of 800,000 people were in the Rwandan genocide. President Kagame presents his country as a place of progress and equality, but that image starts to crack when you look behind the façade.

On a late summer day in 2017, nearly four months after she dared to challenge Rwanda's most powerful man, three plainclothes police officers entered the office of former presidential candidate Diane Rwigara, sneaking up on her with silent strides and pistols drawn. Rwigara was washing her hands in the bathroom. She gazed through the open door, realized that she couldn't escape and that the men had come to arrest her. The authorities took Rwigara and her family into custody and brought them to the police station for questioning.

A friend had warned her two days earlier that she could expect trouble. In Rwanda there are regularly reports of people disappearing whose plans collide with those of the president. They are arrested or abducted -- and some even die, like Diane Rwigara's father.

Diane Shima Rwigara, 37, a slim woman with a shy manner, tells this story in March, during the rainy season, as anthracite clouds billow on the horizon. She's wearing a floor-length dress and sitting on a rattan chair on the veranda of her parents' house, which is built on the same parcel of land as her own home. The garden has ornamental plants and primly trimmed hedges. Six SUVs are parked on the paved courtyard. Rwigara belongs to the country's elite and the surroundings are perfectly idyllic, except that a wall topped with barbed wire separates the property from the outside world.

Rwigara shields herself from the capital Kigali, where she has many supporters who wore T-shirts with her likeness during her election campaign, yet now lower their voices at the mere mention of her name and say: "No comment."

"In Rwanda," Rwigara says firmly, "everyone lives in fear." She has grown cautious and only allows journalists behind the walls of her property after she has learned enough about their intentions. Whenever she talks about the most traumatic events of her life, -- her father's death, the smear campaign against her and her imprisonment for a year and two weeks -- she laughs as if she could color the memories a shade brighter.

She's convinced that one man is responsible for her family's misfortune: Paul Kagame, 61, the man who has served as Rwanda's president for the past two decades.

Most of the others are afraid of him or grateful to him as the commander of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the man who put an end to the genocide of 1994.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of these events and the day that the massacre erupted, April 7, is a national holiday. Memorial sites honoring the victims are scattered throughout the country. Roughly 800,000 people died from April to July 1994 -- most of them Tutsis, but also moderate Hutus who stood up to the death squads. On average, five lives were violently ended every minute during those 100 days.

Unfinished Life Stories

The capital is home to the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where the remains of more than 250,000 people are buried under rose bushes. In one of the rooms inside the building hang photos of the victims during their former lives, showing them in settings like picnics, photo studios and graduation parties. Another room exhibits portrait photos of children, two to three years old, photographed on carefree days before someone split their skulls with a machete, smashed their bodies against a wall or riddled them with bullets.

There are pictures of tens of thousands of unfinished life stories.

All these people died because of the notion that there are differences between ethnic groups, that someone with "Hutu" printed in their passport was worth more than someone with the word "Tutsi."

In a bid to put a stop to this kind of thinking, President Kagame has banned anyone from publicly referring to ethnic groups and has had all references to ethnicity removed from passports. Instead of focusing on the differences, he has forged a constitution in which everyone in Rwanda has equal rights, at least on paper.

Article 16 states: "All Rwandans are born and remain equal in rights and freedoms."

This principle also means that men and women are equal and at least 30 percent of politicians and public employees must be female. There are also pragmatic reasons for this doctrine: For every man who survived the genocide, there were seven women survivors. The Rwandans had no choice but to rebuild the country as widows and orphans.

Today, 61 percent of the members of the lower house of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, are female -- more than in any other country in the world. On top of this, women have the right to divorce and are entitled to half of a married couple's jointly owned property.

Enforced Unity

This enforced unity of all Rwandans undeniably created peace, at least superficially. Conflicts between Hutus and Tutsis rarely surface, and it's hard to find anyone who is willing to talk about the suffering that they experienced or inflicted upon others.

Walking through the streets of the capital Kigali, there's no noticeable trace of this past. People wearing Nike sneakers and shirts sit in cafés or hawk their wares in front of stores: SIM cards for mobile phones, newspapers that claim to be independent, cotton dresses and earrings made of fabric. Women study at universities, launch startups, become professionals, like journalists and neurosurgeons, and generate tax revenue for Rwanda. The economy is booming, the school enrollment rate is close to 100 percent and nearly all Rwandans are covered by the health insurance system.

The streets are lined with many well-kept houses surrounded by trimmed hedges and acacia trees with yellow flowers. Plastic bags have already been banned -- and new buildings are going up all over Kigali.

In recognition of his reforms, Kagame was named "African of the Year" at the 2018 All Africa Business Leaders Awards. The monthly magazine Forbes Africa featured him on its cover, and many in the West praise the progress in Rwanda, with some even calling it the "Sweden of Africa." Rwanda appears to be a wonderland of economic development and equality -- and Kagame is its architect. He offers peace, a prosperous economy, a well-functioning state and a level of equality that is unparalleled in Africa. In return, he demands undivided loyalty.

But how credible is this emancipation that came from above? How freely do people live in a country ruled by a man who oppresses the opposition and condemns any dissent as a betrayal of national unity? What, if anything, is genuine in Kagame's wonderland?

Curled up on a chair on her veranda, Rwigara says: "Everything Kagame does, he does to impress the West."

Gazing Forward, Never Backward

When she was born into an affluent family in 1981, Paul Kagame was living in exile in Uganda because Tutsis like himself already felt unsafe in Rwanda. The Belgians made the Tutsis the elite in the country, even though they comprised only around 10 percent of the population. After the end of Belgian colonial rule in 1962, many Tutsis were persecuted, displaced or killed. The civil war erupted in the early 1990s when the Tutsi-led RPF advanced against the Hutu government from its base in Uganda. The RPF was a militarily superior force, prompting Hutu extremists to vow revenge and plot the annihilation of all Tutsis.

Rwigara was 12 years old when the genocide began. Many members of her family were murdered because they were Tutsis, but she survived because her parents and siblings were living in Belgium when the RPF first advanced from the north to the east and south, then moved into western Rwanda. By July, Kagame's forces had killed thousands of civilians to put an end to the genocide. To this day, Kagame legitimizes his authoritarian rule by pointing to the military victory that he achieved back then.

Rwigara says she didn't return to Rwanda until two years later, at a time when Kagame had already risen to become vice president. In those days, it seemed as if everyone was just gazing forward, never backward, as if there had never been a genocide in which members of her family -- as well as Kagame's -- had perished. Rwanda felt like a free country to her back then.

'Who Would Expect a Murder'

But she says her illusions were shattered on February 4, 2015 -- the evening her father died.

She was in the United States at the time. Her father, as Rwigara was told over the phone, was driving his car up a hill when he hit a bump in the road. He was driving too fast and, according to the official report, crossed into the oncoming lane, where he collided with a truck. The next day, The New Times, a pro-government newspaper, ran the following headline: "Businessman Assinapol Rwigara Dies in an Accident," but his daughter believes it was murder.

Her mother told her that when she rushed to the scene of the accident her father was still alive. She wanted to call an ambulance, but the police prevented her. Rwigara says that her father died because someone hidden in the back seat of a patrol car stabbed him in the neck with a knife.

"He had problems for a long time because he had become too dangerous for the president," she says, again with that same laugh, "but who would expect a murder?"

Assinapol Rwigara was a tobacco and real estate tycoon who helped finance the Tutsi army during the civil war. Later, he was favored by the Kagame regime, allowing him to increase his wealth and fame. But then -- at least according to rumors -- he joined forces with a group of businessmen and former military officials who wanted to revolt against Kagame. Many were killed or imprisoned.

The real reason for her father's death, says Rwigara, is that he was unwilling to relinquish control of his businesses -- a tobacco firm, a construction company and a wholesaler of soaps and cardboard packaging -- to the RPF, which continues to control Rwanda's economy.

After her father's death, she held a press conference, wrote to human rights organizations, and sent a letter to the president to confront him with the autopsy results, but he didn't respond.

Challenging Kagame

On May 3, 2017, she announced her intention to run for president, in effect challenging the man who may be responsible for her father's death.

Only two days later, photos appeared on the internet that allegedly showed her lying on a sofa and standing in front of a closed curtain; in both pictures, she's completely naked. Rwigara says the images are fakes made with Photoshop. Later, government officials said that she didn't have the requisite 600 signatures for a candidacy.

"In reality," says Rwigara, "I had more than twice that amount."

On July 14, she founded the People Salvation Movement to rally all those who wanted to stand up to the government.

And although she was barred from running in the election -- which Kagame won with almost 99 percent of the vote -- she was arrested nearly two months later.

The Rwandan parliament is located in the Kimihurura district. The walls of the building are still pockmarked with 25-year-old bullet holes and there's a museum that glorifies Kagame on large panels as a war hero. It's a sham parliament. The deputies are all either members of the governing RPF party or an opposition that supports the president.

'Without Him, No One Would Be Doing So Well'

On a Friday morning in late March, Clarisse Imaniriho, 24, is sitting in the parliamentary building. Imaniriho is the youngest member of parliament in Rwanda and, as one of the 49 women in the 80-member Chamber of Deputies, she's part of the success story that Kagame likes to project to the world. She says: "My biggest role model is Paul Kagame. Without him and his troops, no one in the country would be doing so well."

She leans back in a leather chair, a stern-looking woman who has her hair woven in a tight braid. When questioned about current policies, regardless of the topic, she glances at a sheet of notes and responds with words of praise about Kagame's regime. On the issue of unemployment, she say it's virtually nonexistent; on the demands of young people, she says that they couldn't be happier; when asked what she, as an individual, wants to achieve, she says that she emulates the RPF soldiers who liberated Rwanda. And she constantly repeats various permutations of the same message: "In Rwanda everyone is equal."

There's a word for this attitude that is propagated by Kagame and regurgitated by parliamentarians like Imaniriho: Rwandanness.

Persistent Racial Tensions

Journalist and professor Christopher Kayumba interprets it in his doctoral thesis. Dressed in a black suit, Kayumba is sitting on the terrace of a café as he explains that the word characterizes the people of Rwanda and reflects "a sense of community through a common nationality."

In his work, Kayumba traces Rwanda's path from a nation ravaged by genocide to a country with a high proportion of women in parliament. He describes how colonial powers and Rwandan rulers provoked conflicts between ethnic groups. He shows how Kagame later did everything in his power to gloss over these ostensible differences.

"Kagame made it illegal to talk about ethnic groups," says Kayumba, adding that the president constantly talks about equal rights. "The role of women has actually changed. They have rights and even sit in parliament," he says, adding: "But the Rwandan parliament has no power."

Emancipation serves Kagame as a billboard where he can advertise the proportion of women in parliament in neon colors. The reality -- that such a quota is worthless in a repressive country -- pales in comparison.

"Just because nobody talks about ethnic tensions," says the professor, "doesn't mean there are no tensions anymore."

'A Cemetery for the Living'

On the day of Rwigara's arrest, the police brought her to the station. Every day, she says, she was questioned for between five and seven hours, for an entire month.

In September, Rwigara, her sister and her mother were put in prison -- and although they were initially arrested on charges of tax evasion, they were indicted for inciting insurrection.

The guards shaved Rwigara's head, gave her prison garb -- a pink dress -- and put her in a cell with two beds, a sink and a toilet that she shared with five other women.

"In prison," Rwigara says, "it's like a cemetery for the living." She picked up the phrase from a fellow inmate who was detained for abortion, which is largely banned in Rwanda.

Rwigara became friends with many of the women who, after a few days or weeks, were replaced with other prisoners. It soon dawned on her that the women were supposed to spy on her, so the government could finally get some inside information on the People Salvation Movement. She says that she kept quiet after that.

It was not until a year and two weeks later that she was released on bail along with her mother. The charges were dropped shortly thereafter. Rwigara says she was only let go thanks to pressure from abroad after the media and human rights lawyers started calling her a political prisoner.

Rebuilding a Movement

Sitting on her veranda, Rwigara says she wants to continue and that she's not afraid to be arrested again. "It's part of life in the opposition to be imprisoned or killed."

She wants to rebuild the People Salvation Movement and, when presidential elections are held again in 2024, run for the highest office in the land -- perhaps. "What else is the point of living for me?" she says, adding: "Living in Rwanda feels like prison."

Back in parliament, Deputy Imaniriho is busy scrutinizing her red-painted fingernails when she's hit with one more question:

"What should change for women? The abortion laws?"

Imaniriho laughs for the first time during a one-hour interview full of the same rote responses and says: "No comment."

Then she quips: "Everyone loves Rwanda. We're all free here."

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« Reply #3605 on: May 15, 2019, 04:27 AM »

Trump’s lawyers are now under investigation for helping him obstruct justice

Raw Story

It’s long been speculated how President Donald Trump’s lawyers were working with aides and former aides to reveal as little as possible to investigators looking into ties between the campaign and Russia in 2016. Now the House Intelligence Committee is looking into whether those lawyers helped shape false testimony and obstruct an investigation.

According to the New York Times, the inquiry came from the testimony of Trump’s former personal lawyer and so-called “fixer” Michael Cohen. While answering questions from Congress, Cohen revealed lawyers edited false testimony he provided to Congress in 2017 about the Trump Tower Moscow project.

Cohen also noted that Trump’s lawyers would “dangle” potential pardons to try and secure Cohen’s loyalty to the president. The committee is investigating whether the lawyers did similar things to other witnesses testifying before Congress.

There are already several cases of false testimony from Trump aides and the president’s son Don Trump Jr. is being asked to return to the Senate to “clarify” his previously false testimony that was revealed with special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

So far the lawyers that have been called are: Jay Sekulow, who represents the president; Alan S. Futerfas, who represents Donald Trump Jr.; Alan Garten, the top lawyer at the Trump Organization; and Abbe D. Lowell, who represents Ivanka Trump. Rudy Giuliani was not named.

“Among other things, it appears that your clients may have reviewed, shaped and edited the false statement that Cohen submitted to the committee, including causing the omission of material facts,” wrote Intelligence Committee chair, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) in a letter to the men.

“In addition, certain of your clients may have engaged in discussions about potential pardons in an effort to deter one or more witnesses from cooperating with authorized investigations,” it goes on to say.

The Trump lawyers are denying everything and painting it as political.

“Instead of addressing important intelligence needs, the House Intelligence Committee appears to seek a truly needless dispute — this one with private attorneys — that would force them to violate privileges and ethical rules,” Patrick Strawbridge, who represents Sekulow, told The Times. “As committed defense lawyers, we will respect the constitution and defend the attorney-client privilege — one of the oldest and most sacred privileges in the law.”


House Democrats ‘throwing down the gauntlet’ by going after Trump attorneys under ‘crime-fraud exception’: Ex-DOJ official

Raw Story

House Democrats are “throwing down the gauntlet” by going after President Donald Trump’s attorneys, a former top justice official explained on MSNBC on Tuesday.

“The New York Times up with a story just before we came on the air. House panel investigates obstruction claims against Trump lawyers,” Wallace reported.

The host read from the story.

“The House Intelligence Committee is investigating whether lawyers tied to President Trump and his family helped obstruct the panel’s inquiry into Russian election interference by shaping false testimony, a series of previously undisclosed letters from its chairman show,” The Times reported.

“The line of inquiry stems from claims made by the president’s former personal lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, who told Congress earlier this year that the lawyers in question helped edit false testimony that he provided to Congress in 2017 about a Trump Tower project in Moscow,” the newspaper continued.

“The line of inquiry stems from claims made by the president’s former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen who told Congress earlier this year that the lawyers in question help edit false testimony that he provided to Congress,” Wallace reported. “This is a new development to an allegation that Cohen has made. But clearly, the investigations birthed by Cohen’s testimony and hours and hours with federal investigators and SDNY and [Robert] Mueller live on.”

For analysis, Wallace interviewed former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Harry Litman.

“This seems like a very clear escalation of at least the house Intel committee taking very seriously their oversight responsibilities. What happens next?” she asked.

“They are throwing down the gauntlet,” Litman replied.

“This one, in particular, will be litigation under the crime-fraud exception, that is, they are not going to be looking to charge them, they’re going to be looking to say ‘your attorney/client privilege, executive/client privilege, it doesn’t exist,” he explained. “It’s vitiated because what you were doing was a crime.”

He also noted the implications for Donald Trump, Jr.

“Likewise with Trump Jr. who has been suggested he’s cooperating. Notice he’s studiously avoided saying anything since he gave the testimony that was probably false to Congress. He’ll now be on the hot seat and he’s avoided all efforts, but he’ll be at a real quandary and will probably wind up taking the Fifth Amendment,” he predicted.


Unlike his father, Don Jr will have to defend himself in person with verbal testimony: Jim Sciutto

Raw Story

On Monday, the Senate Intelligence Committee reached an agreement with Donald Trump Jr. over the subpoena for information about his former statements under oath to Congress, a move that was in many ways favorable to the president’s son.

Nonetheless, the deal does provide the Senate with a window to grill him over his prior claims to lawmakers, since contradicted by new evidence, that he was only marginally involved in the Trump Tower Moscow project. And as CBS national security correspondent Jim Sciutto told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Trump Jr. will be less insulated from legal threats than his father for a very big reason.

“What’s also significant is that this will be a verbal Q&A for between two to four hours, not simply written questions and written answers,” Blitzer pressed him. “That was one of the options that we were told yesterday could be on the table, as well. This is a significant development.”

“Absolutely. And of course, that is the way that the president answered questions from the special counsel,” said Sciutto. “The special counsel — and we learned this again, confirmed in the Mueller report — sought to have a face to face interview, but in effect gave up on that. Took those written answers, to which the president frequently answered, ‘I cannot recall.'”

“It is a qualitative difference to be able to sit face to face with the witness and challenge their answers in person on the spot,” said Sciutto.


Fox News legal analyst warns Trump Jr. that he’ll get hauled away in cuffs if he takes Lindsey 'i love being Trump's drag queen' 'Graham’s advice

Raw Story

Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano on Tuesday said he was shocked to hear Sen. Lindsey 'i love being Trump's drag queen Graham (R-SC) encourage Donald Trump Jr. to snub his nose at a subpoena issued by his colleague Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC).

While speaking with Fox Business’s Neil Cavuto, Napolitano said it was unprecedented to have a senator tell witnesses to ignore subpoenas — and especially not when those subpoenas come from a member of his own party.

“I never heard of a senator saying disobey a valid lawful subpoena issued by the chairman of another Senate committee,” Napolitano said. “The subpoena, just like the one to Bill Barr, is presumed valid.”

He then said that Trump Jr. would be putting himself in serious legal jeopardy if he took Graham’s advice.

“If you can’t or don’t want to comply with it, you’ve got to challenge it in court,” Napolitano said. “You can’t just sit on it and you can’t not show. Somebody will show up with handcuffs.”

Napolitano said that this rule applied to everyone, no matter who you are or “who your father is.”

Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTQcS6sPA30


Ex-federal prosecutor slams Barr’s ‘joke’ investigation into the Russia probe — and explains why Kamala Harris made him ‘squirm’

Elizabeth Preza, AlterNet
15 May 2019

Elie Honig, who served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, on Tuesday explained why he believes Bill Barr’s investigation into the origins of the Russia probe “is a joke” — and knocked the attorney general for his glib response to Sen. Kamala Harris’ line of questioning during his May 1 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Honig explained that Donald Trump doesn’t need to directly ask Barr to open an investigation when the president  is “out there every day on Twitter and making public declarations that ‘we need to look into this, this is the real conspiracy.’”

“It doesn’t require a direct conversation from the president in order for Bill Barr to know what he wants and Bill Barr is I think nothing if not tuned into the president’s political wishes,” Honig said. “And I really think Bill Barr is making a big mistake here.”

Reminded by CNN’s Brooke Baldwin that he previously described Barr’s investigation as a joke, Honig replied, “I said it is a joke — that is the PG version.”

“Barr’s acting as a political operative first and a serious prosecutor second,” Honig continued. “This is the opposite of what real prosecutors do. In real life when you are prosecuting a case, sometimes you learn that some other office or some other agency has an overlapping investigation. And what we do then is we de-conflict. You sit down with the other agency and make sure all on the same page and not replicating effort or running into each other.”

“Here Barr is throwing a new investigator into the mix,” Honig explained. “It is the opposite of what a serious prosecutor would do.”

Honig also slammed Barr’s lack of candor during a now-infamous exchange with Harris, who sites on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Barr was stumped by Harris’ line of questioning as she demanded to know whether someone in the White House “suggested” he open any investigations.

“Bill Barr is a very smart person,” Honig began. “And he gets asked about whether the White House or the president directed him to open an investigation and all of a sudden he can’t hear and understand basic English — like what ‘suggest’ means — and his answer is, ‘I don’t know.’”

“How do you not know?” Honig demanded. “So I’m very suspicious of that response and I — it could well be this is what Barr had in mind when Sen. Harris was asking this which caused him to squirm so badly.”


Maddow breaks down the ‘revelation’ that has had Trump attacking the FBI director for three days

Raw Story

MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow on Tuesday explained why President Donald Trump has been lashing out at FBI Director Chris Wray.

She believes the key involves not what Robert Mueller has done, but what he did not do.

“The intelligence committee has issued a subpoena to obtain the counter-intelligence information and the foreign intelligence information that Mueller turned up,” Maddow noted. “They shouldn’t have to issue a subpoena to get that. Under black-letter law, under federal statute, the intelligence committees are supposed to be able to get that whenever they want it. They’re supposed to get briefed whenever they want to on matters at the Justice Department or in any other investigating agency that pertain to counterintelligence or foreign intelligence. That’s their purview. They have oversight over all of that.”

“Well, the Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff, has been saying that his committee hasn’t been receiving those briefings. They haven’t received any information on any foreign intelligence or counterintelligence related to Mueller’s investigation since James Comey was fired back in 2017,” she noted. “They’ve gotten nothing.”

“Well, that revelation from Adam Schiff and the fact that we can now see the redacted Mueller report, and the redacted Mueller report has no information at all on the counterintelligence consequences of any factual information they turned up, those two things together have led to this sort of slowly dawning revelation that Mueller might have not done a counterintelligence investigation at all,” Maddow explained.

“That if there was a counterintelligence investigation into the Russia attack and potential links to President Trump or the Trump campaign, it looks like maybe Mueller isn’t the one who did it,” she continued. “I mean, we know a counterintelligence investigation was started, we know one was authorized and open at the FBI. We know a counterintelligence investigation was publicly announced by James Comey to Congress when he was still FBI director.”

“In terms of what that investigation might look at, off the top of your head, you right now could list ten important questions a counterintelligence investigation on this matter might possibly be looking into,” she noted. “All of those questions, to the extent that counterintelligence investigation was done, it appears that that was handled at the FBI, outside the confines of the special counsel’s office, which means it was not under Robert Mueller’s purview.”

“It means it was under the purview of the FBI director, Chris Wray,” she concluded. “Chris Wray is the one who appears to have been supervising the counterintelligence investigation, not Mueller. Mueller just did criminal.”

“As that revelation I think is slowly creeping across Washington and the news media and all of us, all of a sudden we now find ourselves in day three of the president publicly attacking FBI director Chris Wray,” Maddow noted.


‘Remember what this investigation led to’: CNN legal analyst warns Republicans against going after Mueller and the FBI

Raw Story

In a Tuesday panel discussion, CNN legal analyst Jeff Toobin nailed Attorney General Bill Barr for a purely partisan political crusade against the FBI and Justice Department investigators.

“Let’s remember what this investigation led to,” Toobin explained to CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “We’re not talking about, you know, ‘Oh, the crazy FBI, just this one meeting and they set off on this wild goose chase.’ It wasn’t a wild goose chase. They found that there was this incredibly elaborate effort by the Russians to elect Donald Trump president. They found the Internet research agency in St. Petersburg, which was using social media. They found that the GRU was hacking the DNC e-mails.”

Republican Trump supporter David Urban asked whether former President Barack Obama knew about what was happening.

“They knew some of it and Mitch McConnell wouldn’t agree to have it made public,” Toobin cut in. “You know, Mitch McConnell said, ‘If you reveal this, I’m going to say it’s a partisan smear against Donald Trump.'”

Toobin also noted that the act of going after the FBI and DOJ prosecutors like this sets an alarming precedent.

“Think about the chilling message it sends to career non-political people in the FBI and the Justice Department,” he said. “What it means is if you defy the president’s wishes, his political appointees like the attorney general, they won’t initiate one investigation, they won’t initiate two, three investigations of you for doing your job.”

He characterized it as “harassing people” for nothing more than doing their jobs.

Trump and his cadre of apologists have argued that Americans deserve answers for what happened and why the investigation was launched. Such an investigation will likely reveal Sen. McConnell’s decision not to tell Americans and bar Obama from doing so and will ultimately prolong the story about Russia intervening with Russia to help Trump win.


House Democrats to read the entire Mueller report aloud on floor of Congress on Thursday

Raw Story

House Democrats announced a new effort on Tuesday to educate the American people on the special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

“More than 20 House Democrats will stage a marathon public reading of the entire redacted Mueller report beginning Thursday at noon, and likely ending in the early morning hours of Friday,” The Washington Post announced.

The effort is being organized by Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), the vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

“We’ve been saying for weeks that if you think there was no obstruction and no collusion, you haven’t read the Mueller report. So the ongoing quest has been, ‘How do we get that story out there while we are waiting for the witnesses to come in?’” Scanlon explained.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) will be the second reader, after Scanlon.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) has volunteered to read the last pages, likely after midnight.

“I’d be amazed if even 1 percent of the American people have read the Mueller report, in part or in its entirety,” Raskin said. “We have to catch up the American people any way we can. I would hope this would spur reading of the Mueller report all over the country.”

“The Mueller report was a mandate from the Department of Justice that there be an investigation into these very troubling aspects about what was happening in our government,” Scanlon said. “So you know, it may be inconvenient, it may be time consuming, but it’s what we have to do.”


Trump lawyers strike out in subpoena hearing — and judge warns he won’t let them ‘drag this out’

Raw Story

Attorneys representing President Donald Trump on Tuesday faced a tough grilling by a federal judge who expressed skepticism of their claims that Congress must have a legitimate “legislative purpose” in order to seek documents related to the president’s finances.

Politico reports that Amit Mehta, a district court judge in Washington D.C., indicated during a hearing that he would be very reluctant to declare a congressional subpoena of Trump’s finances unconstitutional based on Congress’ role in overseeing the executive branch as outlined in the Constitution.

Mehta was particularly skeptical of the Trump attorneys’ claims that Congress needed to show a legitimate legislative reason before it could subpoena documents related to the president’s finances.

“Does Congress have to do that — do they have to identify a bill in advance?” he asked at one point. “The Supreme Court has said the opposite.”

In particular, Mehta said that congressional investigations of former presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were not attached to any specific legislative purpose.

Mehta also shot down Trump lawyers’ objections to his decision to consolidate the legal procedural steps in an effort to speed up the case.

“We’re not going to drag this out,” he said, according to Law & Crimes.


House Democrats put more pressure on Bill Barr over his controversial Obamacare decision

Alex Henderson, AlterNet
15 May 2019 at 11:03 ET                  

In a letter to Attorney General William Barr, a group of Democrats in the House of Representatives are demanding that he give them documents pertaining to the Trump Administration’s recent decision not to defend the Affordable Care Act of 2010, a.k.a. Obamacare, in court. The Democrats are also asking Russell Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), to sit with them for an interview and discuss his role in the decision.

In the lawsuit Texas v. Azar — which has been making its way through the courts — a group of Republicans assert that the ACA is unconstitutional and must be throw out entirely. U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, who represents the Northern District of Texas, upheld the lawsuit on December 30, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) under Barr subsequently agreed that the entire law should be invalidated. Previously, the DOJ favored invalidating only portions of the ACA.

In a letter sent to Barr on Monday, five Democrats in the House asserted, “It is Congress’ responsibility as an independent and coequal branch of government to understand how this decision was made, including whether the president or anyone in the White House instructed the department to override its legal conclusions and take a position that would result in the loss of health insurance coverage for millions of Americans.”

How the courts will ultimately rule on Texas v. Azar remains to be seen. The case could eventually make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And if the High Court were to agree with the lawsuit and strike down the ACA in its entirety, all of the law’s protections would be eliminated — including the rule that health insurance companies could not deny someone coverage because of a pre-existing condition. Critics of President Donald Trump’s anti-ACA efforts are warning that millions of Americans will lose their health insurance if Texas v. Azar is successful and Obamacare is eliminated without some type of replacement.

When Republicans in Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 and Trump signed the tax bill into law, the individual mandate portion of the ACA was eliminated—and Americans were no longer required to purchase health insurance or face a penalty. However, most of Obamacare remained. And in Texas v. Azar, Republicans are arguing that because the individual mandate was ended, the entire law is invalid and unconstitutional.


Lawrence O’Donnell makes a public request for mental health professionals to ‘explain Lindsey 'i love being Trump's drag queen' Graham’

Bob Brigham
Raw Story

MSNBC anchor Lawrence O’Donnell slammed Sen. Lindsey 'i love being Trump's drag queen' Graham (R-SC) for witness tampering and made a public appeal for mental health professionals to attempt to figure out what changed him.

The host of “The Last Word” reported that “Donald Trump, Jr. is going to respond to a subpoena issued by the Republican chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, even though on Sunday the Republican chairman of another Senate committee publicly advised Donald Trump Jr. to ignore that Senate subpoena.”

The host played a clip of the Republican senator.

“If I were Donald Trump, Jr.’s lawyer, I would tell him you don’t need to go back into this environment anymore. You’ve been there for hours and hours and hours and nothing being alleged here changes the outcome of the Mueller investigation. I would call it a day,” Graham said.

“The 27 psychiatrists and mental health professionals who wrote the book about Donald Trump are going to have to find some time to explain Lindsey Graham,” O’Donnell said.

The host put up an image of the 2017 book The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump which was edited by Dr. Bandy Lee.

“The Last Word” graphic of the 2017 book ‘The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump’

Lindsey Graham is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the committee with jurisdiction over our criminal justice system and our civil justice system. That’s the committee that writes federal laws about, among other things, how federal subpoenas are enforced, and the chairman of that committee — who is a lawyer — is publicly advising a witness subpoenaed by the United States Senate to ignore that subpoena,” he noted. “Publicly advising him to commit a crime.”

“Lindsey Graham is an obstruction of justice,” O’Donnell declared. “This is clearly witness tampering.”

O’Donnell noted Graham could face disbarment and even expulsion from the United States Senate.

“Lindsey Graham could be disbarred as a lawyer for that. And by publicly tampering with a Senate witness, Lindsey Graham violated his oath of office,” he noted.

“In any previous Senate, the Senate Ethics Committee would begin an investigation of Lindsey Graham today that would very likely lead to his expulsion from the United States Senate,” he continued.

“Something very serious has happened to Lindsey Graham and we don’t know what it is. Something deeply disturbing has happened to Lindsey Graham, and we don’t know what it is,” O’Donnell said.

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« Reply #3606 on: May 15, 2019, 05:50 AM »

British general says there’s no evidence of ‘increased threat’ from Iran — undermining Trump-Bolton war narrative

Common Dreams
15 May 2019 at 07:34 ET                   

A British general threw a wrench into the Trump administration’s narrative that Iran is plotting attacks on American troops in the Middle East by telling reporters gathered at the Pentagon Tuesday that “there’s been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces” in the region.

“We monitor them along with a whole range of others because that’s the environment we’re in,” said Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika, speaking via video from Baghdad. “If the threat level seems to go up then we’ll raise our force protection measures accordingly.”

Apparently eager to squash the general’s remarks, the U.S. Central Command issued a statement just hours later disputing Ghika’s comments and repeating national security adviser John Bolton’s unsubstantiated claim that American intelligence has “identified credible threats” from “Iranian-backed forces” in Iraq and Syria.

The public dispute came as anti-war voices and foreign policy analysts warned that the United States, led by Bolton, may be attempting to manufacture a false pretext to justify launching a war with Iran.

As Common Dreams reported on Tuesday, U.S. officials are—without any concrete evidence—attempting to blame Iran for attacks on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz over the weekend.

The effort to pin the tanker attacks on Iran came just over a week after Bolton used the planned deployment of an American aircraft carrier and bomber task force to the Persian Gulf to threaten Iran with military action and warn—again, without evidence—of “escalatory indications” from Iran.

According to the New York Times—which reported Monday that President Donald Trump has reviewed a Bolton-crafted plan to send 120,000 troops to the Middle East to threaten Iran—Trump administration officials are having a difficult time convincing America’s European allies to join them on their march to war.

As the Times reported Tuesday:

    Intelligence and military officials in Europe as well as in the United States said that over the past year, most aggressive moves have originated not in Tehran, but in Washington—where John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, has prodded President Trump into backing Iran into a corner.

    One American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential internal planning, said the new intelligence of an increased Iranian threat was “small stuff” and did not merit the military planning being driven by Mr. Bolton. The official also said the ultimate goal of the yearlong economic sanctions campaign by the Trump administration was to draw Iran into an armed conflict with the United States.

The anonymous American official’s assessment aligns with that of foreign policy observers, who have urgently warned in recent days that the Trump administration is escalating tensions with Iran in an effort to provoke an attack and spark an all-out war.

“John Bolton is methodically setting the stage for war with Iran—forcing Iran into a corner and then readying war plans for when Iran takes the bait,” Jamal Abdi, president of the National Iranian American Council, said in a statement on Monday.

Iran has thus far acted with restraint in the face of U.S. belligerence, urging diplomacy and attempting to restart negotiations with Europe over the terms of the Iran nuclear accord.

With tensions between the two nations reaching dangerous levels, U.S. Democratic presidential candidates have joined progressive anti-war groups in vowing to oppose the Trump administration’s efforts to start a military conflict with Iran.

In a speech streamed online Tuesday night, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said “a war with Iran would be an absolute disaster.”

“The United States Congress must do everything it can,” said Sanders, “to prevent the Trump administration’s attempts to put us on the brink of a catastrophic and unconstitutional war with Iran that could lead to even more deaths than the Iraq War.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) echoed Sanders in a tweet Tuesday night, announcing her decision to co-sponsor a bill aimed at stopping a war with Iran.

“We cannot let the Trump admin drag us into yet another war in the Middle East,” Warren wrote. “This is exactly why the president doesn’t have the constitutional authority to declare war. That’s Congress’s job—and that’s why I’m supporting this legislation to prevent a war with Iran.”

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« Reply #3607 on: May 16, 2019, 03:52 AM »

One-off injection may drastically reduce heart attack risk

Doctors hope to trial gene therapy on people with rare disorder in next three years

    Why researchers are turning to gene therapy to treat heart failure

Ian Sample Science editor
16 May 2019 17.00 BST

Doctors in the US have announced plans for a radical gene therapy that aims to drastically reduce the risk of heart attack, the world’s leading cause of death, with a one-off injection.

The researchers hope to trial the therapy within the next three years in people with a rare genetic disorder that makes them prone to heart attacks in their 30s and 40s. If the treatment proves safe and effective in the patients, doctors will seek approval to offer the jab to a wider population.

“The therapy will be relevant, we think, to any adult at risk of a heart attack,” said Sekar Kathiresan, a cardiologist and geneticist at Harvard Medical School who will lead the effort. “We want this not only for people who have heart attacks at a young age because of a genetic disorder, but for garden variety heart attacks as well.”

Heart disease is the No 1 killer in many countries. An estimated 18m deaths are attributed to the condition every year, the vast majority of which, about 85%, are caused by heart attacks and strokes.

People who are at risk of a heart attack are typically put on a range of medicines, such as blood thinners, cholesterol-lowering statins, and pills for high blood pressure. Most must be taken daily for the rest of the person’s life, but many drift off their medication over time.

With a one-off gene therapy that permanently protects against heart attacks, the researchers hope to transform not only the impact heart disease has on lives, but the costs that health services face in caring for patients. Cardiovascular disease accounts for a quarter of all deaths in England and costs the NHS £7bn a year.

“The most exciting part of this is changing from a chronic care approach to a ‘one and done’ approach,” said Kathiresan. “We really think we can turn the tide against coronary disease by moving from a chronic care model to [eradication with] a one-time treatment.”

High cholesterol is prevalent in Kathiresan’s family. His brother and an uncle both died at age of 42 from heart attacks. Kathiresan keeps his own cholesterol under control with drugs and a healthy lifestyle. Having spent the past 15 years identifying genes that raise or lower the risk of heart attack, he has resigned from Harvard and as director of the Center for Genomic Medicine at Massachusetts general hospital to run a startup called Verve Therapeutics, which will develop the new therapy. It has received $58.5m (£45m) from investors, including a venture fund run by Google’s parent company, Alphabet.

Rather than targeting the heart itself, the therapy will modify genes in the liver that are involved in making low-density lipoprotein (LDL), often referred to as “bad cholesterol”. With age, cholesterol tends to build up in arteries and ultimately cause the blockages that lead to heart attacks.

Research has shown that some people carry mutations that dramatically lower their natural levels of LDL, and in turn their risk of heart attack. For example, about one in 50 African Americans has only one, instead of the usual two, working copies of a gene called PCSK9. They have extremely low cholesterol as a result. “These people are healthy and remarkably resistant to heart attack,” said Kathiresan.

The therapy will inject scores of tiny, fatty spheres called nanolipids into the bloodstream which will home in on liver cells. When the nanolipids arrive, they will slip inside the cells and release a molecular gene editing kit known as Crispr-Cas9. This finds and then disables PCSK9 or a similar gene. The aim is to turn off about 30% to 40% of PCSK9 to mimic the natural mutation that protects against heart attacks.

Kiran Musunru, a geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania and chief scientific adviser to Verve Therapeutics, has used genome editing to modify PCSK9 in mice and reduce their cholesterol by 35% to 40%. If follow-up trials in monkeys work as well, the scientists will launch a trial in patients with homozygous familial hypercholesterolaemia, or HoFH. The rare genetic disorder causes very high cholesterol that is hard to control with statins and other medicines. Patients often have heart attacks in their 30s and 40s.

Kathiresan anticipates the first human trials will take place in three years. But even if the therapy works well in people with HoFH, some scientists foresee difficulties in offering the injection to others. All gene therapies have risks, they point out: it may be hard to control how many genes are turned off, and to ensure that only target genes are edited. If pills have side effects, a patient can simply stop taking them, but gene therapy is practically irreversible.

“The problem with all gene therapies is that you cannot withdraw people from treatment,” said Sian Harding, a professor of cardiac pharmacology at Imperial College London. “We need cholesterol for some things, and if you were to reduce it by too much it would have devastating effects on the body. It’s a problem if it’s not controllable and not reversible.”

Martin Farrall, a professor of cardiovascular genetics at the University of Oxford, said: “He’s going about it the right way. First target those individuals with extremely high LDL cholesterol, and then look at those who just by bad luck have inherited a whole load of genetic factors that put them at higher than average risk of coronary disease.

“But with gene therapy there can be a small risk of inducing cancer, so you’d want a damn good reason to do it. I’m not sure everybody in the country would want to have this jab like a vaccination.”

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« Reply #3608 on: May 16, 2019, 03:54 AM »

Plastic pollution may harm marine bacteria that produces 5% of the world’s oxygen


A new study suggests that the most abundant photosynthetic organism on Earth — which plays a major role in the global oxygen production, carbon fixation, and biogeochemical cycling — may be negatively impacted by plastic leachates.

Plastic debris is a growing problem for marine ecosystems, threatening countless species. Most of our attention is focused on larger species such as turtles or marine birds which can choke on or get entangled in plastic bags. However, not much is know about the effects plastic pollution has on the tiniest, but also the most numerous organisms in the ocean: phytoplankton.

Australian scientists led by Sasha Tetu, a researcher at Macquarie University in Sydney, studied the effect of plastic leachate exposure on two strains of Prochlorococcus, representing two distinct ecotypes.

Prochlorococcus was discovered in 1986 by Sallie (Penny) Chisholm of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Robert J. Olson of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. These are one of the smallest types of marine bacteria in the world’s oceans. They’re also the most numerous photosynthetic cells in the ocean, with an estimated population of approximately 10^27 cells.

Previous research suggests that Prochlorococcus may be vulnerable to organic pollutants, UV radiation, and elevated copper concentrations.

The researchers exposed Prochlorococcus bacteria commonly found in tropical and subtropical oceans to leachates from common plastic items such as high-density polyethylene (HDPE) bags and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) matting.

The leachates impaired in vitro growth for both strains of Prochlorococcus (MIT9312 and NATL2A) across the full range of tested dilutions (50, 25, 12.5, 6.25 and 3.125% for HDPE; 10, 2, 1, 0.5 and 0.25% for PVC). The higher the concentration of the leachate, the greater was the reduction in population density, indicating a dose-dependent effect.

HDPE and PVC exposure also caused clear declines in oxygen production rates. What’s more, the transcription of up to 500 bacterial genes was also altered as a result of coming into contact with the leachates.

    “Exposure to both leachates led to increased transcription of common stress response genes,” the authors reported in the journal Nature.

Of the two leachates, PVC was found to produce by far the worst effects. This may be explained by the relatively larger proportion of additives used in PVC manufacturing, including plasticizers, heat stabilizers, and biocides.

    “Exposure to PVC leachates affected Prochlorococcus to a greater degree than HDPE leachates, reflected in considerably less PVC leachate required to negatively affect Prochlorococcus growth and photophysiological responses,” researchers wrote.

These concerning findings suggest that plastic pollution may severely impact the photosynthetic bacteria’s ability to fixate carbon, harvest light, and produce oxygen. Studies in the future might answer how Prochlorococcus respond to real-life conditions in the ocean, where leachate concentrations are likely much lower than the dilutions tested in this study. In all likelihood, this cyanobacteria is not seriously threatened — not yet, at least. As more and more plastic is being produced and subsequently dumped into waterways, this could easily become a major problem.

    “Consequently, plastic leachate exposure could influence marine Prochlorococcus community composition and potentially the broader composition and productivity of ocean phytoplankton communities,” the Australian researchers concluded.

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« Reply #3609 on: May 16, 2019, 03:56 AM »

Scientists develop plant-based, environmentally-friendly alternative to Styrofoam


Researchers have developed a plant-based material that has better insulating properties than Styrofoam and can support up to 200 times its own weight without changing shape. Styrofoam is a widely used constructions material which is made out of toxic ingredients, requires petroleum for its manufacturing, and pollutes the environment when burnt.

For some time, Amir Ameli and Xiao Zhang of Washington State University have been investigating a more environmentally-friendly alternative to polystyrene foam, widely known under the brand name Styrofoam. After many trials and errors, the researchers settled on a foam that is mostly made from cellulose nanocrystals and which uses water as a solvent in the manufacturing process rather than harmful solvents.

This isn’t the first time someone has made a styrofoam-like material from plant-based matter. However, previous versions weren’t nearly as reliable as styrofoam as they lacked in strength, insulating abilities, and resilience to temperature and humidity.

The new material is made from about 75% cellulose nanocrystals from wood pulp, which was combined with polyvinyl alcohol — a polymer that bonds with the nanocellulose crystals to make the foam more elastic. The cellulose crystals themselves were made using acid hydrolysis, a chemical process that involves a non-toxic acid that cleaves chemical bonds.

The resulting material has a uniform cellular structure, making it an excellent insulator. It is very lightweight being able to support up to 200 times its own weight without altering its shape. When it is burned, it does not produce toxic and polluting ash.

    “We have used an easy method to make high-performance, composite foams based on nanocrystalline cellulose with an excellent combination of thermal insulation capability and mechanical properties,” Ameli said. “Our results demonstrate the potential of renewable materials, such as nanocellulose, for high‑performance thermal insulation materials that can contribute to energy savings, less usage of petroleum-based materials, and reduction of adverse environmental impacts.”

In the future, the researchers want to scale their manufacturing process so it is commercially viable. Hopefully, it won’t take too long until this promising material moves from the lab to the real world.

    “This is a fundamental demonstration of the potential of nanocrystalline cellulose as an important industrial material,” Zhang said. “This promising material has many desirable properties, and to be able to transfer these properties to a bulk scale for the first time through this engineered approach is very exciting.”

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« Reply #3610 on: May 16, 2019, 04:04 AM »

It was 84 degrees near the Arctic Ocean this weekend as carbon dioxide hit its highest level in human history

WA Post
May 14 at 9:53 AM

Over the weekend, the climate system sounded simultaneous alarms. Near the entrance to the Arctic Ocean in northwest Russia, the temperature surged to 84 degrees Fahrenheit (29 Celsius). Meanwhile, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eclipsed 415 parts per million for the first time in human history.

By themselves, these are just data points. But taken together with so many indicators of an altered atmosphere and rising temperatures, they blend into the unmistakable portrait of human-induced climate change.

Saturday’s steamy 84-degree reading was posted in Arkhangelsk, Russia, where the average high temperature is around 54 this time of year. The city of 350,000 people sits next to the White Sea, which feeds into the Arctic Ocean’s Barents Sea.

    Anomalously hot day on the coast of Arctic ocean: Arkhangelsk, Russian just recorded +29°C (at 11.00 UTC). That's only 500 km east of Finnish border. #RussianHeatwave pic.twitter.com/Ax97zt9XP6
    — Mika Rantanen (@mikarantane) May 11, 2019

In Koynas, a rural area to the east of Arkhangelsk, it was even hotter on Sunday, soaring to 87 degrees (31 Celsius). Many locations in Russia, from the Kazakhstan border to the White Sea, set record-high temperatures over the weekend, some 30 to 40 degrees (around 20 Celsius) above average. The warmth also bled west into Finland, which hit 77 degrees (25 Celsius) Saturday, the country’s warmest temperature of the season so far.

The abnormally warm conditions in this region stemmed from a bulging zone of high pressure centered over western Russia. This particular heat wave, while a manifestation of the arrangement of weather systems and fluctuations in the jet stream, fits into what has been an unusually warm year across the Arctic and most of the mid-latitudes.

    Above average temperatures so far this year across the entire #Arctic, especially near Alaska (>5°C anomalies)... pic.twitter.com/oOvhWjKP6R
    — Zack Labe (@ZLabe) May 13, 2019

In Greenland, for example, the ice sheet’s melt season began about a month early. In Alaska, several rivers saw winter ice break up on their earliest dates on record.

Across the Arctic overall, the extent of sea ice has hovered near a record low for weeks.

Data from the Japan Meteorological Agency show April was the second warmest on record for the entire planet.

These changes all have occurred against the backdrop of unremitting increases in carbon dioxide, which has now crossed another symbolic threshold.

Saturday’s carbon dioxide measurement of 415 parts per million at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory is the highest in at least 800,000 years and probably over 3 million years. Carbon dioxide levels have risen by nearly 50 percent since the Industrial Revolution.

The clip at which carbon dioxide has built up in the atmosphere has risen in recent years. Ralph Keeling, director of the program that monitors the gas at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, tweeted that its accumulation in the last year is “on the high end.”

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that, along with the rise of several other such heat-trapping gases, is the primary cause of climate warming in recent decades, scientists have concluded.

Eighteen of the 19 warmest years on record for the planet have occurred since 2000, and we keep observing these highly unusual and often record-breaking high temperatures.

They won’t stop soon, but cuts to greenhouse emissions would eventually slow them down.

Carbon dioxide levels from approximately 1750 to present..below image

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« Reply #3611 on: May 16, 2019, 04:07 AM »

The women defying menace and mistrust to rid Pakistan of polio

A hoax video showing children falling ill after polio vaccinations underlines the obstacles facing health workers for whom danger has become a way of life

Lucy Lamble in Karachi
16 May 2019 07.00 BST

It began with a rumour, a breathless video circulating on Facebook saying children in Peshawar had been taken ill after being vaccinated for polio.

Within hours, a second video emerged showing the same children being instructed to lie down and feign illness. But it was too late. The latest attempt to derail Pakistan’s formidable drive to eradicate polio had already taken hold, leaving thousands of parents panic-stricken and a government health facility partially burned down.

The man who orchestrated the alarmist video was arrested, but Babar Bin Atta, the prime minister’s focal person on polio eradication, was plainly exasperated.

“The man is a trouble-maker caught red-handed on video telling children to act as though they are ill,” he said. “The real enemy is social media.”

With three days to reach more than 9,000 children in the Mustafabad district of Karachi, workers going door to door are frustrated at having to deal with yet another swirl of misinformation. Yet, armed with essential vaccine drops and children’s vitamins – not to mention facts, smartphone videos and the endorsements from doctors, clerics and celebrities that have become an essential part of attempts to eradicate the centuries-old disease in Pakistan – they remain resolute.

Nationwide, a quarter of a million frontline workers are involved in efforts to vaccinate the 40 million children in the country under the age of five. Zahoor Jah, 55, a grandfather who lives locally, says the repeated drives can be tedious, especially in areas that aren’t well served by health clinics. But he hopes polio will go the way of smallpox.

“It’s a lack of education that leads to these things,” he says of the Peshawar videos. “But these women are doing a fantastic job of convincing almost everyone. Being local makes a big difference. Everyone recognises them and trusts them.”

Across town, Syeeda Bahuu, 40, is engaged in vaccination efforts at Karachi Cantonment, the city’s main railway station. Originally from Quetta, she moved south to Karachi following “some troubles”. Two of her own children have been affected by polio. A typical shift brings in 700 rupees (£7.61) a day.

While most children will be vaccinated at home, the team’s presence here, and at tollgates into the city, reflects how mobile people’s lives can be, from seasonal workers to those visiting family. In three hours, Bahuu has converted 16 refusals into successful vaccinations, using her personal experience and videos from the city’s emergency operating centre. In all, 418 children have been inoculated here this morning.

Polio is now endemic in just three countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Pakistan is tantalisingly close to eradication. The number of cases here has dropped from 306 in 2014 to 13 so far this year, but environmental tests show the virus is still present in the country.

Naeemjan Barki was devastated when his young son was diagnosed with polio. Now 11, Naseebullah likes to go out with his father to support vaccination teams in volatile Gulshan Town. He loves cricket, but says not everyone will play with him. Naseebullah seizes the opportunity to go into bat with Jim Bailey, who is visiting Karachi with the One Last Push campaign.

At 62, Bailey is a member of the last British generation living with the long-term effects of polio. A former taxi driver from Belfast’s Falls Road, he now teaches IT skills to school leavers.

He’s here in Karachi to see ‘“how they are dealing with what we left in the past”. Bailey is struck by the resilience of those affected.

“It’s a massive programme going on here,” he says. “I suppose I thought: ‘I have polio, that’s it, done and dusted, I don’t have to be worried about it any more.’ But polio can come back. It can affect my kids, my grandkids, unless it is eradicated. It’s amazing, the effort the vaccinators have to go to here. They cannot fail.”

Gulnaz Shirazi, 35, ensures every child entering the social security hospital in the industrial Landhi area of the city is vaccinated. Her deft checks are fuelled by personal involvement. In 2012, as she wrapped up for the day, she heard the shots that killed her sister-in-law and niece, both polio prevention workers, a few streets away. “I decided I couldn’t let their lives go to waste. It just made my resolve stronger.”

Khalida Nasareen, 61, first got involved 22 years ago, when she was a local councillor in Orangi Town, in the city’s north. She has been instrumental in recruiting women from the community who have the right skills, education, trust and access. Two health workers were killed in the area in 2012, and it wasn’t easy to persuade parents to allow their daughters to vaccinate street to street for 7,500 rupees.

“There was a lot of fear, but that has got better since the community-based approach took off,” she says.

“We build up a relationship with families through hearing their problems, knowing them. We can spot the extra pair of shoes by the doorstep that belong to a visiting child.”

Now 61, she has taken to getting around by quad bike so that she can quickly be on site if one of her team calls in with problems. Her diabetes means she has numbness in one foot, but nothing will stop her. “You cannot shut the programme until polio is eradicated,” she says. “No young child should get the virus these days.”

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« Reply #3612 on: May 16, 2019, 04:21 AM »

'Things are quite tense': Taiwan on edge as same-sex marriage vote looms

Supporters uneasy ahead of parliamentary debate on marriage equality bills

Chris Horton
Thu 16 May 2019 06.57 BST

Two years ago, Taiwan’s constitutional court made a historic ruling, declaring the country’s civil code, which posited that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, unconstitutional.

The court gave Taiwan’s legislature two years to pass a law that would give legal recognition to same-sex marriages, or else they would automatically become legal. On Friday, one week before the court-mandated deadline, lawmakers will vote on three draft bills, one put forward by the cabinet, two submitted by anti-LGBT groups.

For the people at the forefront of the marriage equality movement, it is a make-or-break moment, and success is anything but guaranteed.

Lawyer Victoria Hsu is the founder and executive director of the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights. Her team represented LGBT pioneer Chi Chia-wei in the lawsuit that led to the constitutional court’s landmark ruling two years ago.

The court’s ruling allowed the legislature some discretionary leeway, Hsu said, giving it room to amend the civil code or add a new law specifically for same-sex couples. Taiwan’s LGBT community overwhelmingly prefers an amended civil code, while viewing a separate law as being intrinsically unequal.

The bill submitted to the Legislative Yuan by president Tsai Ing-wen’s cabinet would create a separate law, however, it is far more preferable to the other two bills, she said, which use the language of “same-sex union” or “same-sex family” instead of the word “marriage”.

“We hope the Legislative Yuan can pass the cabinet’s bill,” Hsu said. “Even though it’s not perfect, it’s still marriage.”

Opponents of LGBT rights in Taiwan, many of them conservative Christians, have been emboldened by last November’s referendum, in which same-sex marriage was rejected by voters. The constitutional court’s decision, on the matter, Hsu said, carried more legal weight than the referendum result.

In the local elections that were held concurrently with the referendum last year, there was a bright spot for the LGBT community here, however. Miao Po-ya, of the Social Democratic party was voted into office as a Taipei city councillor, making history as the first openly gay person to hold such a position in Taiwan.

Miao said the cabinet’s draft law was the only one of the three up for consideration that could satisfy the constitutional court’s ruling. While there is significant support for it among legislators, she said it was not guaranteed to pass.

“Things are quite tense now,” she said.

Failure to pass the cabinet’s bill would be a major political setback for Tsai’s Democratic Progressive party (DPP), which holds a majority in the Legislative Yuan, Miao said. In the wake of the constitutional court ruling two years ago, the party could have easily pushed for full marriage equality legislation, with the cover of following court orders. Political considerations, including fear of retribution from conservative groups, led to inertia.

“Two years ago was an excellent opportunity” for the DPP, she said. “Now is their last chance to make this happen.”

Partisan politics aside, Taiwan’s image as one of Asia’s most progressive countries will also suffer if the cabinet’s bill fails to pass on Friday.

“People already have the impression that Taiwan will have same-sex marriage,” Miao said. If either of the anti-LGBT groups’ bills pass tomorrow, “the world will wonder what happened”, she said.

Jay Lin, organiser of the Taiwan International Queer Film Festival, said that while the cabinet’s bill wasn’t the ideal version of full marriage equality with full adoption rights, it was a start.

“I think it’s the best that we are able to get at this stage,” said Lin, who is father to two sons with his husband, who he married abroad. “We are coming down to the home stretch, and given the alternative, we must come together one final time to ensure the cabinet’s marriage bill passes.”

The cabinet’s bill is the only one of the three that allows for adoption rights for same-sex couples, Hsu said, but permitting only one partner to adopt the other’s biological children.

“It’s like not allowing a step-parent in a straight marriage to ever be allowed to adopt their spouse’s children,” Lin said.

Jennifer Lu, coordinator of the Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan, said that even though the best-case scenario tomorrow – passage of the cabinet’s bill – was still not ideal, Taiwan was making quick progress with regard to same-sex marriage.

“We’ve seen other countries go through this process, and it can take 10 to 20 years, but we’re trying to do it in three,” she said. “I’m happy to see the government show leadership with this bill.”

Lu said she felt that if the bill passed, much of the conservative opposition to same-sex marriage here would likely abate. “In every country, marriage equality has been a big fight,” she said. “But after it passes, people realise it’s not a big deal.”

Should the cabinet bill pass, Lu said, it won’t be the end of the LGBT community’s fight for full marriage equality and adoption rights.

“I’m looking forward to the day our fight is over,” she said. “The last three years have been exhausting.”

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« Reply #3613 on: May 16, 2019, 04:24 AM »

India’s Most Oppressed Get Their Revenge

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s rule came with an attack on Dalits and the minorities. Now Dalit leaders are fighting back to defeat the Hindu nationalists.

By Meena Kandasamy
Ms. Kandasamy is a poet and a novelist.
May 16, 2019

Corruption scandals surrounding the Congress Party-led government, promises of inclusive growth and job creation, and calibrated anti-Muslim dog whistles helped Narendra Modi rise to power and become the prime minister of India in 2014.

And there was another factor: The Dalits, India’s most oppressed community, whom the Hindu caste system relegates to the lowest rung, doubled their votes for his Bharatiya Janata Party to 12 percent in 2014 from 6 percent in 2009.

To make up for centuries of violence, discrimination and lack of opportunity, India’s Constitution lays out that political parties can field only Dalit candidates for 84 out of 543 parliamentary seats in general elections. Five years earlier, Mr. Modi’s B.J.P. won 40 of the 84 seats reserved for the Dalits, sending the single largest contingent of Dalit lawmakers to the Parliament.

But neither increased Dalit votes nor the greater number of Dalit lawmakers within the B.J.P.’s ranks helped transform the party’s aggressive, casteist ideology. Mr. Modi’s rule has highlighted the antagonism between his party’s pandering to the dominant upper castes and the radicalism of Dalits fighting for the elimination of caste.

Mr. Modi’s election emboldened upper-caste thugs from Hindu extremist organizations to translate their religiously ordained contempt and hatred for Dalits into systematic violence against the community. Under the guise of protecting cows, upper-caste Hindu vigilantes set upon lynching Muslims and Dalits on suspicions of having consumed beef or transporting cattle for slaughter.

In July 2016, in the town of Una in the western Indian state of Gujarat, hard-line Hindu vigilantes stripped and flogged four Dalit youth for several hours. Their crime was skinning a dead cow. The videos of the incident spread across the country, and Dalits — many of whom earn their livelihood from skinning dead animals and selling their hides to leather traders — rose up in protests across Gujarat.

Unproductive, old cows are routinely abandoned by their owners on the streets or at cow shelters. Bans on cow slaughter in India mean the cows cannot be sold for meat and die of old age, infirmity or disease.

After the assault in Una, Dalits went on strike, leaving hundreds of dead cows rotting on the streets. That singular act of defiance mocked the caste system, which ascribes menial tasks to the Dalits. “If the cow is your mother, why don’t you bury her?” they asked.

Quickly moving from symbolism to structural challenge, Jignesh Mevani, a young Dalit who led the protest in Una, raised the important and urgent question of land. “You keep the cow’s tail, just give us our land,” Mr. Mevani demanded. He was reminding India of the bleak fact that 71 percent of Dalit farmers don’t own their land and work for meager wages on land owned by others.

The question Mr. Mevani raised was ignored by the government, but the protests in Una galvanized Dalit movements, which face the onerous task of reacting to mounting everyday caste atrocities and waging an unrelenting struggle against state apathy and systemic oppression by taking to the streets.

On Jan. 1, 2018, thousands of Dalits gathered in Bhima-Koregan, a village in the western state of Maharashtra, to commemorate the historic battle when Dalit soldiers in the British Army defeated an army of the dominant-caste Peshwa dynasty, which enforced untouchability. As the Dalits gathered, a mob carrying saffron flags — associated with Hindu nationalist groups — attacked them with stones.

The government failed to act against the perpetrators. Dalit workers in Maharashtra responded by going on strike. The Maharashtra government, run by Mr. Modi’s B.J.P., responded by criminalizing the protesters and claiming that the strikes were a plot by the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). Several activists and lawyers were arrested, but the repressive tactics have not stopped Dalits from mobilizing to seek justice.

In March 2018, the Supreme Court of India diluted legal safeguards for Dalits by passing orders demanding additional procedural requirements for arrests under the Prevention of Atrocities Against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act, a law that deals with crimes against Dalits and indigenous tribes of India.

Indian courts have consistently acquitted most perpetrators of massacres of Dalits. Conviction rates in violent crimes against Dalits and indigenous tribes are a mere 23.8 percent and 16.4 percent compared with 40.2 percent in general criminal cases.

The federal government failed to counter the dilution of the law, forcing Dalits to organize nationwide strikes in August to demand a legislative reversal. Mr. Modi eventually passed an amendment bill through the Parliament to reverse the court order to stop the unrest.

Mr. Modi’s shocking demonetization of India’s currency and the faulty rollout of a new national sales tax have rendered serious blows to a majority of Dalits who work in the informal, unorganized sector.

Likewise, education is an urgent issue for India’s Dalits and other marginalized people, because without modern education we wouldn’t have been able to overcome the limitations imposed by the caste system.

Mr. Modi and his Hindu nationalist colleagues time and again tried to defer the Dalit dream by adding hurdles to college and university admissions, withholding scholarships and deferring the award of degrees to Dalit students. New national tests have created increased difficulties for Dalits wanting to get into schools of medicine and dentistry.

And the intense hostility faced by Dalit students in India’s colleges and university campuses continues. We saw the most tragic illustration of caste prejudice and violence when Rohith Vemula, a brilliant Dalit scholar and student leader at the University of Hyderabad, was driven to suicide in January 2016 after senior leaders of Mr. Modi’s B.J.P. and their supporters at the university expelled him from the university dorm, ostracized him and crushed his dreams of getting his doctorate.

Constitutional mandates of affirmative action are constantly flouted, and positive discrimination in university recruitment has similarly been reduced through a new system of hiring. Dalits who aim to escape the curse of the caste system through educational social mobility are finding the doors barred.

A silver lining of the Hindu nationalist attack on the civil liberties of the Dalits and the minorities has been the emergence of new Dalit leaders and autonomous Dalit political groups. And Kumari Mayawati, the first Dalit chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and leader of Bahujan Samaj Party, has forged an alliance with Samajwadi Party, her biggest rival, to combat the Hindu nationalists. Most analyses of the continuing elections suggest that this coalition against the BJ.P. in Uttar Pradesh will significantly reduce Mr. Modi’s chances of getting a majority of the seats.

While usurping Dalits’ rights and damaging their livelihoods, Mr. Modi’s government has tried to orchestrate a Dalit-friendly image by including the images and words of B.R. Ambedkar, the Dalit revolutionary and architect of India’s Constitution, in its propaganda.

But the Dalits, who form about 17 percent of Indian voters, are a politically aware community. In the past five years of Mr. Modi’s rule, the Dalits have fought back in the face of the intense oppression. Polling days are payback time.

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« Reply #3614 on: May 16, 2019, 04:27 AM »

'There is less fear': restoration of Kabul repairs the ravages of war

Afghanistan rebuilds the old town and creates register of dwellings to promote peace and help residents feel safer

Stefanie Glinski in Kabul
16 May 2019 07.00 BST

Amir Gol first arrived in Kabul after fleeing his home – a Taliban stronghold – in Nangahar. He had no idea where to settle, so he rented a small mud house and started collecting and selling used plastic to make a living. Almost a decade later, little has changed for the 60-year old father of eleven. He sits cross-legged on a cushion outside the house he rents for 600 Afghani (£5) a month. Occasionally, he says, members of insurgent groups come to his neighbourhood, a settlement specked with poorly constructed mud houses and plastic tents in the city’s outskirts.

“They try to recruit us for money,” Gol says. He admitts that cash would help the family, but says he’s setting a positive example for his children. “Besides that, even during this war, Kabul is starting to change. It’s finally developing and becoming more organised. I want my family to be part of this change.”

Barely built for a million people, Kabul, now has close to five million residents with the majority – 80% – still living in informal, unplanned areas such as Gol’s. More than one million properties still need to be officially registered, according to City for All, a government urban planning initiative.

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan’s urban population has grown by 2.5 million. The country is on the move, with people fleeing conflict, poverty and drought.

But while decades of war have destroyed much of the capital, an urban revolution is growing, creating small pockets of peace.

Just north of the Kabul river, in between traffic-jammed roads and steep hills lined with colourful houses lies Murad Khani, the city’s old town, dating back to the 18th century. Years of war, neglect and soviet ambitions of modernisation turned the once prosperous neighbourhood into a garbage dump, with much of the hand carved wooden designs rotting away. Today, Murad Khani is slowly coming back to life.

It started as a community effort in 2006 and since then, 150 houses have been restored and renovated. “Every skilled person in the neighbourhood came to work, hoping to maintain as much of the old structures as possible,” explains conservation architect Boris Bogdanovic, who works for Turquoise Mountain, a foundation that has largely financed the project. “It’s easy to knock down and restore, but it’s harder to work with what’s there and rebuild,” he adds.

Murad Khani is home to about 550 people who once again live in a labyrinth of old brown mud houses with elaborate wood carvings and a vibrant bazaar with a mix of shopkeepers, jewellery makers, food stalls, and fresh popcorn vendors.

Abdul Baqi, a carpenter master who helped restore the neighbourhood’s buildings, now works in the midst of it all, teaching the younger generation about traditional carving. With simple tools, he chisels round patterns into pillars, furniture and wooden bowls.

“I don’t want our children to forget about our historical background. Both regime changes and war destroyed our country. As Kabul is growing, many modern buildings are put up carelessly,” he says. “We can’t forget about our architectural history and its beauty.”

While armed soldiers and police roam the area – like any other part of the city – a relaxed atmosphere prevails. “It’s a pocket of Kabul where you can have normalcy. People feel safe behind their walls and there’s a sense of communal reliance,” explains Bogdanovic.

Such restoring and registering of Kabul’s informal neighbourhoods has been both a challenge and a success. “Informal,” explains deputy mayor Shoaib Rahim, “means that those parts of the city were initially not planned properly. There aren’t enough hospitals, water sources, waste management arrangements, roads or even markets.” Many new arrivals built houses wherever they found empty land, but it’s something the municipality is now trying to tackle.

“We’ve had an unnatural population growth in those areas. This is wartime governance. We try our best and keep our fingers crossed,” Rahim adds, but also admits that land disputes have become a “national pastime” in Afghanistan.

“It’s often powerful warlords who steal land. That’s what happened to my family,” explains Negina Ali, a journalist who spoke on condition that her name would be changed. “It’s strategic. We legally purchased our property, but we can’t fight the warlords. For now we’re keeping silent about it, it’s too dangerous,” she says.

“It’s chaos and carnage,” explains Habiba Azimi, a government worker with City for All. “Warlords might show up with fake certificates and bribe authorities to get their way. Sometimes it results in the destruction and eviction of people. It’s unfair and we hope that registering and formalising neighbourhoods will help the issue.”

“The court system is still flooded with illegal land grab claims,” says Rahim. “New Kabul residents need to develop roots and by registering houses and starting to provide services, we hope to help them do just that.”

Allah Dad, who originally moved to Kabul from Herat to seek better employment opportunities in a down-spiralling economy, says that he has seen his neighbourhood change as soon as properties were officially registered this year.

I bought my house seven years ago, but we had no official ownership certificate. It’s made my family feel uneasy,” he says. “We were always scared that one day, someone would knock on our door, claiming the land was theirs.” A few weeks ago, the family’s house was measured and registered by the city’s municipality, adding it to a daily growing database of parts of Kabul that move from being informal to formal.

Dad’s neighbourhood is evolving. Over the past year, water pipes were installed and small, privately owned garbage trucks have started to clean the streets. “Our whole street is being registered and it has changed people’s attitudes. It’s positive. There is less fear and it feels safer and more peaceful.”

Kabul has seen a growth rate of 10% throughout the last decade, according to UN Habitat. “By 2050, one in two Afghans will live in cities,” explains the agency’s Head of Communications Koussay Boulaich.

“The most difficult part was that we previously didn’t have a vision for Kabul even though the city kept growing,” says deputy mayor Rahim. “We finally set urban planning goals. We might be diverse, but we all want peace. I hope Kabul can help change the perception of Afghanistan on a global stage. It’s not just a narrative of struggle – but of achievement and constant change.”

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